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THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS IN GLORIOUS FRANCE
BY MARGARET VANDERCOOK Author of The Ranch Girls Series, The Red Cross Girls Series, etc.
PHILADELPHIA THE JOHN C. WINSTON CO. PUBLISHERS
Copyright 1919, by The John C. Winston Company
CHAPTER PAGE I. A March Day 7 II. The Chateau Yvonne 20 III. The Retreat 31 IV. The Road to Paris 47 V. Armistice Day in Paris 57 VI. Versailles 71 VII. Next Morning 83 VIII. A Home in Versailles 96 IX. The Dinner Party 111 X. Plans and Purposes 125 XI. A Day in Paris 139 XII. Peace 159 XIII. A Pilgrimage 172 XIV. Foundation Stones 184 XV. An Intimate Conversation 197 XVI. Another Afternoon 216 XVII. An Unexpected Intrusion 229 XVIII. One Afternoon 241 XIX. L'Envoi to Glorious France 253
Can't You Guess at Least Something of My Reason? _Frontispiece_ PAGE It Was Impossible to Climb the Wall 81 They Were Both too Angry to Pay the Slightest Attention to Her! 165 She Was Able to Talk and Tell Me What She Had Endured 227
The Camp Fire Girls in Glorious France
CHAPTER I A March Day
One afternoon in March, the windows of an old French farmhouse stoodopen, the curtains blowing in the breeze like white flags of truce, whilefrom indoors came the murmur of a number of voices, girls' voices, gayand animated and speaking in English, not French.
The next moment there was a brief silence; afterwards one of them begansinging, with an odd foreign accent, a song strange to hear in thisFrench countryside, the song of an American camp fire:
The fire of our camp is burning, Sing sweet, sing low, sing far, From the long, long trail returning Led by the evening star.
Bright is our fireside's glowing, Sing sweet, sing low, sing high, Fragrant the wind now blowing Over the fields nearby.
Pleasant shall be our resting, Sing sweet, sing low, sing clear, Others life's storms are breasting, Ours is the home fire dear.
Yet what is the night wind sighing? Sing sweet, sing low, sing true, The ill, the hungry and dying, Are they not calling you?
Back over the long trail moving, Sing sweet, sing low, sing wide, Following the law of loving, France, we come to thy side!
A murmur of applause, and then a group of girls in Camp Fire costumesstepped out of the house and into the front yard. The March afternoon wasunusually warm with a flood of pale sunshine covering the landscape, thesky was a delicate blue, the clouds changing into fantastic shapes.Beyond, the open country was showing little patches of green in theupturned fields; on the branches of a few newly planted fruit trees weretiny buds.
I want to congratulate you, Bettina, on your original Camp Fire song,one of the girls declared. She had dark hair with red lights in it, aslightly tanned skin, a little slender figure, as forceful and erect as ayoung boy's. Indeed both in her appearance and manner Mary Gilchrist gaveone the impression at this time in her life that she possessed certainqualities of mind and character which are not supposed to be essentiallyfeminine.
Bettina Graham, who was a tall, fair girl, older than her companion,smiled.
It is good of you, Gill, to congratulate me, when I realize that youwere longing to be outdoors and at work during all our Camp Fireceremony. If there was any value in my song it was due to Yvonne'ssinging.
Standing close beside the two American girls was a young French girl whoapparently had not heard their conversation. Her expression was troubled,there was a frown between her brows. It was as if she were listening,straining her ears for the sounds of battle which had been resoundingthrough France for almost four years.
It was now the memorable spring of the year before the last desperateGerman drive and the final victory of the Allies.
Slipping her arm through Yvonne Fleury's, Bettina Graham made an effortto distract her attention.
Try not to be unhappy, Yvonne. Even if the Germans are winning anunexpected success in Flanders, surely you cannot think they will everreach the valleys of the Marne and Aisne a second time! I don't believeour work of reconstruction will go for nothing. Of course it is hard foryou to be compelled to give up your brother after so brief a timetogether when for so long you had supposed him killed. Yet he hasscarcely had opportunity to have rejoined his regiment at the front,since he was first to report at Soissons. We must do our best to continueour efforts here at our farmhouse on the Aisne until his return. Surelythe war cannot last much longer!
At this instant Bettina's conversation was interrupted.
Behold a sight to banish all gloom! exclaimed Mary Gilchrist, pointingover toward a field which adjoined the farmhouse yard.
There in truth was an amazing spectacle to be seen in a quiet Frenchcountryside!
Mounted upon an American tractor, which was ploughing vigorously throughthe earth, was an elderly American woman. She was wearing the usual blueblouse of the French peasant made slightly longer and showing underneathan unmistakable pair of full trousers of the same material. Upon her headwas a large straw hat, tied under her chin with a bright red ribbon.
Forgetting their anxieties the three girls laughed in chorus.
Count upon Miss Patricia Lord's doing and saying exactly what shepleases at any time or place, Mary Gilchrist continued. As it happens Ipromised Miss Patricia to run our tractor over that particular field sometime this afternoon, as soon as our Camp Fire ceremony closed. But yousee she has preferred not to wait for me. In regard to her presentcostume, I heard Mrs. Burton say to Miss Patricia the other day that sucha costume was not to be endured, France having already suffered enoughwithout being compelled to behold Miss Patricia looking as she does atpresent. She even suggested that the influence of our Camp Fireorganization in this neighborhood might be affected if Miss Patriciapersisted in wearing so ridiculous an outfit. Yet observe Miss Patricia!Recently she has been acting as if she intended to plow and sow everyacre in the devastated regions of France within the next few weeks, as ifactually she were racing with fate. I don't believe the German armyitself will be able to stop her, certainly not for long. But I must go tofulfill my promise.
Concluding her speech, Mary Gilchrist left her two companions, and at thesame time the two girls turned to greet a newcomer.
She was a woman between thirty and forty years of age, slender, withbrilliant blue eyes and dark hair; seated in a wheeled chair she wasevidently recovering from a serious illness. About her there was a lookof extreme delicacy, nevertheless her expression was gay, almostchallenging.
Do please let me get out of this absurd chair at once, she demanded ofthe two girls who had charge of her. After a little more of this I shallfeel like a mummy! I am just as well as I ever was before that smallpiece of German shell chose me for its victim and turned Aunt Patriciainto a true prophet of evil. How persistently she did object to myjourney into southern France! But what an exquisite afternoon! I thinkone never appreciates the true value of sunshine until one has been shutaway from it. And how peaceful the French country about us seems! Surelythe Germans will never again overrun this portion of France!
To understand the present scene, one must know that a number of monthsbefore, Mrs. Richard Burton, the famous American actress, had arrived inone of the devastated districts of France near the river Aisne, bringingwith her a group of American Camp Fire girls to help with the restorationwork and also to originate the first Camp Fire organization among youngFrench girls. Accompanying them was Miss Patricia Lord, an Americanspinster of great wealth.
At the end of her speech, the Camp Fire guardian, arising from her chair,stood up a little shakily, resting her arm upon that of her niece, PeggyWebster.
The young girl was like and at the same time unlike her, as she was thedaughter of Mrs. Burton's twin sister.
At the present time Peggy was about eighteen years old, with vivid darkcoloring, a short, straight nose and a firmly modeled chin.
There was a suggestion of splendid physical vitality in contrast with theolder woman's frailty. Yet the woman and girl had the same look of adetermined will hidden beneath natural sweetness and gaiety.
Perhaps it may be as well for you not to recover too promptly, Tante. Wemay all be driven from this area of France as soon as you are strongenough to travel. I believe there is no reason for immediate anxiety, yetrecently the news from the front is not encouraging. I believe the Frenchauthorities are beginning to feel it may be as well to send the women andchildren back from the Marne and Aisne a second time to some place ofgreater security. But I agree with you, the idea seems impossible. Tothink of the Germans again overrunning the dear little French villageswhich have so recently been restored is a nightmare. Personally I won'teven consider it. Suppose the Germans are enjoying another temporarysuccess, they will be thrust back eventually.
As if anxious fully to absorb the beauty and tranquility of the sceneabout them, until they were really convinced that there was no furtherdanger threatening the Allied lines in France, the Camp Fire guardian andthe group of girls surrounding her remained silent a moment, afterPeggy's speech.
Nevertheless, each one of them concealed a nervousness, impossible underthe circumstances to confess.
Rumors, none of them especially reliable, but gaining strength throughtheir number, had recently been reaching the Camp Fire farmhouse on theAisne that the German attack against the British line further north wasmeeting with unexpected triumph. This did not mean that the victory wouldcontinue, or that the enemy would ever reach the neighborhood of theAisne.
Yet each one of the present group of Camp Fire girls had lately facedthis possibility.
Peggy's words may have been intended to reassure them as well as herself.
Perhaps with an effort to interrupt an unhappy train of thought,suddenly, with a smothered exclamation compounded of amusement andhorror, Mrs. Burton pointed toward Miss Patricia Lord.
At the instant Miss Patricia was descending from her tractor and was soonstanding in the center of her freshly plowed field. In this situation hercostume appeared more remarkable than ever. Yet one had to accept thefact that it represented a new order of American service in France.
What impression do you think our French neighbors receive of AuntPatricia? Mrs. Burton demanded. I know most of them are puzzled by herand a few of them are genuinely afraid of her and yet she hasaccomplished more for their happiness in the last few months than half adozen other persons. Yet she will wear the clothes she likes and she willnot attempt to speak French that any human being can understand.
A little in the French fashion, since one is apt to be influenced by themannerisms about one, Mrs. Burton now shrugged her shoulders.
At least, girls, you know no one can move Aunt Patricia!
Talking without any special significance, the Camp Fire guardian hadobserved that Miss Lord and Mary Gilchrist were no longer standing alonein the freshly plowed field not far from the farmhouse yard.
Running toward them across the heavy furrows was old Jean, the Frenchpeasant who had been assisting Miss Patricia with the work of the farm.
A little in advance of him was a French boy of about fourteen.
Ordinarily old Jean's back was bent with age and long years of outdoortoil, yet at the present time he held himself nearly erect. He waspanting and seemed nearly exhausted. The boy was running like a youngrace horse, and under the influence of an intense excitement.
Hearing their approach both Miss Patricia and Mary Gilchrist startedtoward them.
Suppose we go and find out what news old Jean is bringing us, Mrs.Burton suggested, her voice as controlled and quiet as usual. He looksas if he had something important to say!
As she was compelled to walk slowly and as the Camp Fire girls would notdesert her, before they had gone any distance, Miss Patricia was seen toturn from old Jean and to come stalking toward them, followed by MaryGilchrist.
She appeared like a general about to assume command of his troops.
Polly Burton, within twenty-four hours you must be ready to leave ourfarmhouse and to take the Camp Fire girls with you. Jean has just arrivedwith the story that the Germans will soon begin an attack in thisneighborhood. There is a possibility that they may push forward a certaindistance. Personally I don't believe a word of it, yet I can't have youand a group of girls here on my hands. Besides, Jean says we are to haveno choice. The French authorities insist that all women and girls,children and old men, move further back from the battle line.
You will go first to Yvonne Fleury's chateau, which is nearer the roadto Paris. As Jean says there is no immediate danger, you will wait therefor a few days until I can make arrangements to join you. If the Germansever arrive at our farmhouse--and understand I don't believe for a momentthis will occur--why they will find very little for their refreshment.
I shall probably keep Vera Lagerloff here with me, as she is the mostsensible of the Camp Fire girls. But, Polly Burton, will you kindly notstand there staring at me as if you did not grasp what I have just toldyou. I assure you the Germans are again laying waste this beautifulFrench country. It really seems to me that I cannot endure it.
And half leading, half carrying Mrs. Burton, Miss Patricia Lord enteredthe old French farmhouse.