THE CAMPFIRE GIRLS SERIES
A CAMPFIRE GIRL'S FIRST COUNCIL FIRE A CAMPFIRE GIRL'S CHUM A CAMPFIRE GIRL IN SUMMER CAMP A CAMPFIRE GIRL'S ADVENTURE A CAMPFIRE GIRL'S TEST OF FRIENDSHIP A CAMPFIRE GIRL'S HAPPINESS
A CAMPFIRE GIRL'S HAPPINESS
JANE L. STEWART
CAMPFIRE GIRLS SERIES
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
AKRON, OHIO—NEW YORK
Made in U.S.A.
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING CO.
THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AT THE SEASHORE
FROM THE ASHES
The sun rose over Plum Beach to shine down on a scene of confusion and wreckage that might have caused girls less determined and courageous than those who belonged to the Manasquan Camp Fire of the Camp Fire Girls of America to feel that there was only one thing to do—pack up and move away. But, though the camp itself was in ruins, there were no signs of discouragement among the girls themselves. Merry laughter vied with the sound of the waves, and the confusion among the girls was more apparent than real.
"Have you got everything sorted, Margery—the things that are completely ruined and those that are worth saving?" asked Eleanor Mercer, the Guardian of the Camp Fire.
"Yes, and there's more here that we can save and still use than anyone would have dreamed just after we got the fire put out," replied Margery Burton, one of the older girls, who was a Fire-Maker. In the Camp Fire there are three ranks—the Wood-Gatherers, to which all girls belong when they join; the Fire-Makers, next in order, and, finally, the Torch-Bearers, of which Manasquan Camp Fire had none. These rank next to the Guardian in a Camp Fire, and, as a rule, there is only one in each Camp Fire. She is a sort of assistant to the Guardian, and, as the name of the rank implies, she is supposed to hand on the light of what the Camp Fire has given her, by becoming a Guardian of a new Camp Fire as soon as she is qualified.
"What's next?" cried Bessie King, who had been working with some of the other girls in sorting out the things which could be used, despite the damage done by the fire that had almost wiped out the camp during the night.
"Why, we'll start a fire of our own!" said Eleanor. "There's no sort of use in keeping any of this rubbish, and the best way to get rid of it is just to burn it. All hands to work now, piling it up and seeing that there is a good draught underneath, so that it will burn up. We can get rid of ashes easily, but half-burned things are a nuisance."
"Where are we going to sleep to-night?" asked Dolly Ransom, ruefully surveying the places where the tents had stood. Only two remained, which were used for sleeping quarters by some of the girls.
"I'm more bothered about what we're going to eat," said Eleanor, with a laugh. "Do you realize that we've been so excited that we haven't had any breakfast? I should think you'd be starved, Dolly. You've had a busier morning than the rest of us, even."
"I am hungry, when I'm reminded of it," said Dolly, with, a comical gesture. "What ever are we going to do, Miss Eleanor?"
"I'm just teasing you, Dolly," said Eleanor. "Mr. Salters came over from Green Cove in his boat, when he saw the fire, to see if he couldn't help in some way, and he's gone in to Bay City. He'll be out pretty soon with a load of provisions, and as many other things as he can stuff into the Sally S."
"Then we're really going to stay here?" said Bessie King.
"We certainly are!" said Eleanor, her eyes flashing. "I don't see why we should let a little thing like this fire drive us away! We are going to stay here, and, what's more, we're going to have just as good a time as we planned to have when we came here—if not a better one!"
"Good!" cried half a dozen of the girls together.
Soon all the rubbish was collected, and a fire had been built. And, while Margery Burton applied a light to it, the girls formed a circle about it, and danced around, singing the while the most popular of Camp Fire songs, Wo-he-lo.
"That's like turning all the unpleasant things that have happened to us, isn't it?" said Eleanor. "We just toss them into the flames, and they're gone! What's left is clean and good and useful, and we will make all the better use of it for having lost what is burning now."
"Isn't it strange, Miss Eleanor," said Bessie King, "that this should have happened to us so soon after the fire that burned up the Pratt's farm?"
"Yes, it is," replied Eleanor. "And there's a lesson in it for us, just as there was for them in their fire. We didn't expect to find them in such trouble when we started to walk there, but we were able to help them, and to show them that there was a way of rising from the ruin of their home, and being happier and more prosperous than they had been before."
"We're going to do that, too," said Dolly, with spirit. "I felt terrible when I first saw the place in the light, after the fire was all out, but it looks different already."
"Mr. Salters will be here soon," said Eleanor. "And now there's nothing more to do until he comes. We'll have a fine meal—and if you're half as hungry as I am you'll be glad of that—and we'll spend the afternoon in getting the place to rights. But just now the best thing for all of us to do is to rest."
"I'll be glad to do that," said Dolly Ransom, as she linked her arm with Bessie's and drew her away. "I am pretty tired."
"I should think you would be, Dolly. I haven't had a chance to thank you yet for what you did for me."
"Oh, nonsense, Bessie!" said Dolly, flushing. "You'd have done it for me, wouldn't you? I'm only just as glad as I can be that I was able to do anything to get you away from Mr. Holmes—you and Zara."
"Zara's gone to pieces completely, Dolly. She was terribly frightened—more than I was, I think, and yet I don't see how that can be, because I was as frightened as I think anyone could have been."
"I never saw them get hold of you at all, Bessie. How did it happen?"
"Well, that's pretty hard to say, Dolly. You know, after we found out that that yacht was here just to watch us, I was nervous, and so were you."
"I think we had reason to be nervous, don't you?"
"I should say so! Well, anyhow, as soon as I saw that the tents were on fire, I was sure that the men on the yacht had had something to do with it. But, of course, there wasn't anything to do but try as hard as I could to help put out the fire, and it was so exciting that I didn't think about any other danger until I saw a man from the boat that had come ashore pick Zara up and start to carry her out to it."
"They pretended to be helping us with the fire, and they really did help, Bessie. I guess we wouldn't have saved any of the tents at all if it hadn't been for them."
"Oh, I saw what they were doing! When I saw the man pick Zara up, though, I knew right away what their plan was. And I was just going to scream when another man got hold of me, and he kept me from shouting, and carried me off to the yacht in the boat. Zara had fainted, and they kept us down below in a cabin and said they were going to take us along the coast until we came to the coast of the state Zara and I were in when we met you girls first."
"We guessed that, Bessie. That was one of the things we were all worrying about when we came here—that they might try to carry you two off that way. I don't see how it can be that you're all right as long as you're in this state, and in danger as soon as you go back to the one you came from."
"Well, you see, Zara and I really did run away, I suppose. Zara's father is in prison, so they said she had to have a guardian, and I left the Hoovers. So that old Farmer Weeks—you know about him, don't you?—is our guardian in that state, and he's got an order from the judge near Hedgeville putting us in his care until we are twenty-one."
"But that order's no good in this state?"
"No, because here Miss Mercer is our guardian. But if they can get us into that other state, no matter how, they can hold us."
"Oh, I see! And, of course, Miss Eleanor understood right away. When we told the men who had helped us with the fire that you were missing, they said they were afraid you must have been caught in the fire, but Miss Eleanor said she was sure you were on the yacht. And they just laughed."
"I heard that big man, Jeff, talking to her when she went aboard the yacht."
"Yes. They wouldn't let her look for you, and he threatened to put her off if she didn't come ashore. You heard that, didn't you?"
"Oh, yes! Zara and I could hear everything she said when she was in the cabin on the yacht. But we couldn't let her know where we were."
"Well, just as soon as she could get to a telephone, Miss Eleanor called up Bay City, and asked them to send policemen or some sort of officers who could search the yacht. But we were terribly afraid that they would sail away before those men could get here, and then, you see, we couldn't have done a thing. There wouldn't have been any way of catching them."
"And they'd have done it, too, if it hadn't been for you, Dolly! I don't see how you ever thought of it, and how you were brave enough to do what you did when you did think of it."
"Oh, pshaw, Bessie—it was easy! I knew enough about yachts to understand that if their screw was twisted up with rope it wouldn't turn, and that would keep them there for a little while, anyhow. And they never seemed to think of that possibility at all. So I swam out there, and, of course, I could dive and stay down for a few seconds at a time. It was easier, because I had something to hold on to."
"It was mighty clever, and mighty plucky of you, too, Dolly."
"There was only one thing I regretted, Bessie. I wish I'd been able to hear what they said when they found out they couldn't get away!"
"I wish you'd been there, too, Dolly," said Bessie, laughing. "They were perfectly furious, and everyone on board blamed everyone else. It took them quite a while to find out what was the matter, and then even after they found out, it meant a long delay before they could clear the screw and get moving."
"I never was so glad of anything in my life, Bessie, as when we saw the men from Bay City coming while that yacht was still here! We kept watching it all the time, of course, and we saw them send the sailor over to dive down and find out what was wrong. Then we could see him going down and coming up, time after time, and it seemed as if he would get it done in time."
"It must have been exciting, Dolly."
"I guess it was just as exciting for you, wasn't it? But it would have been dreadful if, after having held them so long, it hadn't been quite long enough."
"Well, it was long enough, Dolly, thanks to you! I hate to think of where I would be now if you hadn't managed it so cleverly."
"What will they do to those men on the yacht, do you suppose?"
"I don't know. Miss Eleanor wants to prove that it was Mr. Holmes who got them to do it, I think. But that won't be decided until her cousin, Mr. Jamieson, the lawyer, comes. He'll know what we'd better do, and I'm sure Miss Eleanor will leave it to him to decide."
"I tell you one thing, Bessie. This sort of persecution of you and Zara has got to be stopped. I really do believe they've gone too far this time. Of course, if they had got you away, they'd have been all right, because in that other state where you two came from what they did was all right. But they got caught at it. I certainly do hope that Mr. Jamieson will be able to find some way to stop them."
"I'm glad we're going to stay here, aren't you, Dolly? Do you know, I really feel that we'll be safer here now than if we went somewhere else? They've tried their best to get at us here, and they couldn't manage it. Perhaps now they'll think that we'll be on our guard too much, and leave us alone."
"I hope so, Bessie. But look here, there were two girls on guard last night, and what good did it do us?"
"You don't think they were asleep, do you, Dolly?"
"No, I'm sure they weren't. But they just didn't have a chance to do anything. What happened was this. Margery and Mary were sitting back to back, so that one could watch the yacht and the other the path that leads up to the spring on top of the bluff, where those two men we had seen were sitting."
"That was a good idea, Dolly."
"First rate, but those people were too clever. They didn't row ashore in a boat—not here, at least. And no one came down the path, until later, anyhow. The first thing that made Margery think there was anything wrong was when she smelt smoke and then, a second later, the big living tent was all ablaze."
"It might have been an accident, Dolly, I suppose—"
"Oh, yes, it might have been, but it wasn't! They were here too soon, and it fitted in too well with their plans. Miss Eleanor thinks she knows how they started the fire."
"But how could they have done that, if there were none of them here on the beach, Dolly?"
"She says that if they were on the bluff, above the tents, they could very easily have thrown down bombs that would smoulder, and soon set the canvas on fire. And there was a high wind last night, and it wouldn't have taken long, once a spark had touched the canvas, for everything to blaze up. They couldn't have picked a much better night."
"I don't suppose that can be proved, though, Dolly."
"I'm afraid not. That's what Miss Eleanor says, too. She says you can often be so sure of a thing yourself that it seems that it must have happened, without being able to prove it to someone else. That's where they are so clever, and that's what makes them so dangerous. They can hide their tracks splendidly."
"I don't see why men who can do such things couldn't keep straight, and really make more money honestly than they can by being crooked."
"It does seem strange, doesn't it, Bessie? Oh, look, there's the Sally S. with our breakfast—and there's another boat coming in. I wonder if Mr. Jamieson can be here already?"
In a moment his voice proved that it was possible, and a few minutes later, while the girls were helping Captain Salters to unload the stores he had brought with him, Eleanor was greeting her attorney from Bay City.
A NEW ALLY
"I guess you haven't met Billy Trenwith properly yet, Eleanor," said Charlie Jamieson, smiling.
"Maybe not," said Eleanor, returning the smile, "but I regard him as a friend already, Charlie. He was splendid this morning. If he hadn't understood so quickly, and acted at once, the way he did, I don't know what would have happened."
"I'm afraid I didn't really understand at all, Miss Mercer," said Trenwith, a good looking young fellow, with light brown hair and grey blue eyes, that, although mild and pleasant enough now, had been as cold as steel when Bessie had seen him on the yacht. "But I could understand readily enough that you were in trouble, and I knew that Charlie's cousin wouldn't appeal to me unless there was a good reason. So I didn't feel that I was taking many chances in doing what you wished."
"I'm afraid you took more chances than you know about, Billy," said Charlie, gravely. "You're in politics, aren't you? And you have ambitions for more of a job than you've got now?"
"Oh, yes, I'm in politics, after a fashion," admitted Trenwith. "But I guess I could manage to keep alive if I never got another political office. I had a bit of a practice before I became district attorney, and I think I could build it up again."
"Well, I hope this isn't going to make any difference, Billy. But it's only fair for you to know the sort of game you're running into. I don't want to feel that you're going ahead to help us without understanding the situation just as it is."
"You talk as if this might be a pretty complicated bit of business, Charlie. Suppose you loosen up and tell me about it. Then I may be able to figure better on how I can help you."
"That's just what I'm going to do, old man. I want you to meet two of cousin's protegees here—Bessie King and Zara, the mysterious. If we knew more about Zara and her affairs this wouldn't be such a Chinese puzzle. But here goes! Ask me all the questions you like. And you girls—if I go wrong, stop me.
"In the first place, Miss Mercer here took a party of her Camp Fire Girls, these same ones that you can see there so busy about getting breakfast, over the state line, and they went to a camp on a lake a little way from a village called Hedgeville."
"I know the place," nodded Trenwith. "Never been there, but I know where it is."
"Well, one morning they discovered these two—Bessie and Zara. And they'd had a strange experience. They were running away!"
"Bad business, as a rule," commented Trenwith. "But I suppose there was a good reason?"
"You bet there was, old chap! Bessie had lived for a good many years with an old farmer called Hoover and his wife. They had a son, too, a worthless young scamp named Jake, lazy and ready for any sort of mischief that turned up!"
"Is she related to them in any way, Charlie?"
"Not a bit of it! When she was a little bit of a kid her parents left her there as a boarder, and they were supposed to send money to pay for her keep until they came back to get her. For a while they did, but then the money stopped coming."
"But they kept her on, just the same?"
"Yes, as a sort of unpaid servant. She did all the work she could manage, and she didn't have a very good time. Zara, here, has a father. How long ago did Zara and her father come to Hedgeville, Bessie?"
"They'd been there about two years when we—we had to run away, Mr. Jamieson. They came from some foreign country, you know."
"Yes. And the people around Hedgeville couldn't make much out about them, so they decided, of course, being unable to understand them, that there must be something wrong about Zara's dad. No real reason at all, except that he only spoke a little English, and liked to keep his business to himself."
"I know," he said. "I see a lot of that sort of thing."
"Well, the day before the two of them ran away—or the day before they found the girls, rather—there'd been a fine shindy at the Hoovers. Zara went over to see Bessie, and Jake Hoover locked her in a tool shed. Then he managed, without meaning to do it, to set the tool shed afire, and said he was going to say that Bessie had done it."
"Fine young pup, he must be!"
"Yes—worth knowing! Anyhow, Bessie had only too good reason to know that his mother would believe him and take his word, no matter what she and Zara said. So, being scared, she just ran. I don't blame her! I'd have done the same thing myself. You and I both know that knowing he's innocent doesn't keep a man who is unjustly accused from being afraid."
"No," said Trenwith, thoughtfully. "I've had to learn that it doesn't pay to think a man's guilty because he's scared and confused. It's an old theory that innocence shows in a prisoner's eyes, and it's very pretty—only it isn't true."
"Well, even so, they might not have run away if it hadn't happened that that was the day Zara's father was arrested. Apparently with an old miser and money lender called Weeks as the moving spirit, a charge of counterfeiting was cooked up against him, and they took him off to my town to jail."
"But it's in another state!"
"United States case, you see. My town's the centre of the Federal district. Zara and Bessie happened to get on to this, and when they crept up to Zara's house to find out if it was true, they overheard enough to show them that it was—and, what was more, that old Weeks meant to get himself appointed Zara's guardian, and take her home with him."
"Oh, that was his game, eh?"
"Yes, and if you'd ever seen him, you wouldn't blame Zara for being ready to run away before she went with him. He's the meanest old codger you ever saw. But he had a big pull in that region, because he held mortgages on about all the farms, and he could do about as he liked."
"Well, I don't see why they didn't have a perfect right to run away," said Trenwith, "legally and morally. They didn't owe anything in the way of gratitude to any of these people."
"That's just what I said!" declared Eleanor, vehemently. "I looked into the story they told me, and I found out it was perfectly true. So we helped them, and took them into this state."
"Yes. And old Weeks chased them, and got Zara away from them once. Bessie tricked him and got her back," said Jamieson. "And then the old rip got a court order making him Zara's guardian, but he tried to serve it across the state line, and got dished for his trouble. So it looked as if they'd shaken him pretty well."
"I should say so! Do you mean that he kept it up after that?"
"He certainly did! And he got pretty powerful help too. Here's where the part of it that ought to interest you really begins. Miss Mercer took the two girls home with her, and almost at once, in the middle of the night, Zara was spirited away. At first we thought she'd been kidnapped but later it turned out that she'd been deceived, and gone with them willingly."
"This is beginning to sound pretty exciting, Charlie."
"I got interested in the case, Billy, and I tried to do what I could for Zara's father. He didn't trust me much, and I had a dickens of a time persuading him to talk. And then, just as I was about on the point of succeeding, he shut up like a clam, fired me as his lawyer, and hired Isaac Brack!"
"That little shyster? Good Heavens!"
"Right! Well, she—Zara, I mean—seemed to have vanished into thin air. We couldn't get any trace of her at all, until Bessie here dug up a wild idea that it was in Morton Holmes's car she'd been taken off."
"Holmes, the big dry goods merchant?" said Trenwith, with a laugh. "How in the world did she ever get such a wild idea as that? He wouldn't be mixed up in anything shady!"
"Just what we told her," said Charlie, unsmilingly, "but she insisted she was right. And, a little while later, after Miss Mercer had taken the girls to her father's farm, Holmes came along, tricked her into getting in his car with another girl, and ran them over the state line. He met Weeks and this Jake Hoover—but Bessie was too smart for them, and got back over the state line safely. And the same day, putting two and two together, I found Zara, held a prisoner in an old house that Holmes had bought!"
"Good Lord!" said Trenwith, blankly. "So Holmes had been in it from the start?"
"I don't know how long he's been mixed up in it, but he was in it then, with both feet. He was hand in glove with old Weeks, and for some reason he was mighty anxious to get both the girls across the state line and into old Weeks's care as guardian appointed by one of their courts over there."
"But why, Charlie—why?"
"I wish I knew. I've been cudgelling my brains for weeks to get the answer to that question, Billy. It's kept me awake nights, and I'm no nearer to it now than I was at the beginning. But hold on, you haven't heard it all yet, by a good deal!"
"What? Do you mean they weren't content with that?"
"Not so that you could notice it, they weren't! The girls went to Long Lake, up in the woods, and while they were there, a gypsy tried to carry them off. He mixed them up a bit, and, partly by good luck, and partly by Bessie's good nerve and pluck, he was caught and landed in jail at Hamilton, the county seat up there."
"Was Holmes mixed up in that?"
"Yes. He'd been fool enough to write a letter to the gypsy, and sign his own name to it. He hired lawyers to defend the gypsy, too, but that letter smashed his case, and the gypsy went to jail. They were afraid of Holmes, though, at Hamilton and we couldn't touch him. He's got a whole lot of money and power, too, especially in politics. So he can get away with things that would land a smaller man in jail in a jiffy."
"His money and pull won't do him any good down here," said Trenwith, his eyes snapping. "Have you any reason to think he was mixed up in this outrage here this morning and last night, Charlie?"
"Every reason to think so, Billy, but mighty little proof to back up what I think. There's the rub. Still—well, we'll see what we see later. I'll give you some of the reasons."
"You'd better," said Trenwith, grimly. "I think it's pretty nearly time for me to take a hand in this." He shot a look at Eleanor that Bessie did not fail to notice. Evidently her charms had already made an impression on him.
"Yesterday, when Miss Mercer brought the girls down to Bay City from Windsor," Jamieson went on, "the train was to stop for a minute at Canton, which, though they had none of them thought of it, is in Weeks's state. And Bessie happened to discover that Jake Hoover was spying on them. She stayed behind the others at Windsor, discovered that he was telegraphing the news to Holmes, and guessed the plot."
"Good for her!" exclaimed Trenwith.
"So she got a message through to Miss Mercer on the train, and, being warned, Zara was able to elude the people who searched the train for her at Canton. Bessie went on a later train that didn't stop at Canton at all, so they were all right."
"That looks like pretty good evidence," said Trenwith, frowning. "He knew they were coming here and he'd made one attempt to get hold of them on the way."
"Yes, and there's more. When this yacht turned up here last night, Miss Mercer and the girls were nervous. And Bessie and her chum Dolly Ransom happened to overhear two men who were put at the top of that bluff to watch the camp. They talked about the 'boss' and how he meant to get those girls and had been 'stung once too often.' But they didn't mention Holmes by name."
"Too bad. Still, that fire was too timely to have been accidental. I think maybe we can convict them of starting it. Then if these fellows think they're in danger of going to prison, we might offer them a chance of liberty if they confess and implicate Holmes, do you see?"
"It would be a good bargain, Billy."
"That's what I think. I'd let the tool escape any time to get hold of the man who was using him. They and the yacht are held safely at Bay City, in any case, and we have plenty of time to decide what's best to be done there."
"If I know Holmes, he'll show you his hand pretty soon, Bill. I believe he thinks that every man has his price, and he probably has an idea that he can get you on his side if he works it right and offers you enough."
"He's got several more thinks coming on that," said Trenwith, angrily. "What a hound he must be! We've got to get to the bottom of this business, Charlie. That's all there is to it!"
"Won't Jake Hoover help, Charlie?" suggested Eleanor. "He told Bessie he would go in to see you."
"He did come, but I was called away, and meant to talk to him again this morning, Nell. Then of course I had to come down here when I got this news from you and so I didn't have a chance. But I may get something out of him yet."
"We've decided, Mr. Trenwith," Eleanor explained, "that the reason Jake is doing just what they want is that he's afraid of them—that they know of some wrong thing he has done, and have been threatening to expose him if he doesn't obey them."
"Well, if they're scaring him," said Charlie, "the thing for us to do is to scare him worse than they can. He'll stick to the side he's most afraid of."
"Let's get him down here," said Trenwith. "Then we can not only handle him better, but we can keep an eye on him. I'm with you in this, Charlie, for anything I can do."
"Good man!" said Charlie. "Then you're not afraid of Holmes? He's pretty powerful, you know."
Trenwith looked at Eleanor. And when he saw the smile she gave him, and her look of liking and of confidence, he laughed.
"I guess I can look after myself," he said. "No, I'm not afraid of him, old man! We'll fight this out together."
AN UNEXPECTED REUNION
"I like that Mr. Trenwith, Bessie," said Dolly, when the meal was over and she and Bessie were working together. They usually managed to arrange their work so that they could be together at it.
"So do I, Dolly. He doesn't seem to be a bit afraid of Mr. Holmes, and I do believe he will help Mr. Jamieson an awful lot."
"I guess he'll need help, all right," said Dolly, gravely. "The more I think about that fire, the more scared I get. Why, how did those wretches know that some of us wouldn't be hurt?"
"I guess they didn't, Dolly."
"Then they simply didn't care, that's all. And isn't that dreadful, Bessie? The idea of doing such a thing!"
"I wish we knew why they did it, or why Mr. Holmes wants them to do such things. It's easy enough to see why they did it—they wanted the money he had promised to pay if they got Zara and me away from here."
"You remember what I told you. Mr. Holmes expects to make a lot of money out of you two, in some fashion. I know you laughed at me when I said that before, and said he had so much money already that that couldn't be the reason. But there simply can't be any other, Bessie; that's all there is to it."
Bessie sighed wearily.
"I wish it was all over," she said. "Sometimes I'm sorry they haven't caught me and taken me back."
"Why, Bessie, that's an awful thing for you to say! Don't you want to be with us?"
"Of course I do, Dolly! I've never been so happy in my whole life as I have been since that morning when I saw you girls for the first time. But I hate to think of the trouble my staying makes, and when I think that maybe there's danger for the rest of you, as there was last night—"
"Don't you worry about that, Bessie! I guess we can stand it if you can. That's what friends are for—to share your troubles. You mustn't get to feeling that way—it's silly."
"Well, it doesn't make much difference, Dolly. I don't seem to be able to help it. But I wish it was all over. And do you know what worries me most of all?"
"Why, what that nasty lawyer, Isaac Brack, said to me one time. Do you remember my telling you? That unless I went with him, and did what he and his friends wanted, I'd never find out about my father and my mother."
"I don't believe it, Bessie! I don't believe he knows anything at all about them, and I don't believe, either, that that's the only way you'll ever hear anything about them."
"But it might be true!"
"Oh, come on, Bessie, cheer up! You're going to be all right. And I'll bet that when you do find out about your parents, and why they left you with Maw Hoover so long, you'll be glad you had to wait so long, because it will make you so happy when you do know."
Just then Eleanor's voice called the girls together.
"All hands to work rebuilding the camp," she said. "We want to have the new tents set up, and everything ready for the night. I'd like those people to know, if they come snooping around here again, that it takes more than a fire to put the Camp Fire Girls out of business!"
"My, but you're a slave driver, Nell," said Charlie Jamieson, jovially. He winked in the direction of Trenwith. "I'm sorry for your husband when you get married. You'll keep him busy, all right!"
Hearing the remark, Trenwith grinned, while Eleanor flushed. His look said pretty plainly that he wouldn't waste any sympathy on the man lucky enough to marry Eleanor Mercer, and Dolly, catching the look, drew Bessie aside. Her observation in such matters was amazingly keen.
"Did you see that?" she whispered, excitedly. "Why, Bessie, I do believe he's fallen in love with her already!"
"Well, I should think he would!" said Bessie, surprisingly. "I wouldn't think much of any man who didn't! She's the nicest girl I ever saw or dreamed of seeing."
"Oh, she's all of that," agreed Dolly, loyally. "You can't tell me anything nice about Miss Eleanor that I haven't found out for myself long ago. But Mr. Jamieson isn't in love with her—and he's known her much longer than Mr. Trenwith has."
"That hasn't got anything at all to do with it," declared Bessie. "People don't have to know one another a long time to fall in love—though sometimes they don't always know about it themselves right away. And, besides, I think she and Mr. Jamieson are just like brother and sister. They're only cousins, of course, but they've sort of grown up together, and they know one another awfully well."
"You may know more about things like that than I do," agreed Dolly, dubiously. "But I know this much, anyhow. If I were a man, I'd certainly be in love with Miss Eleanor, if I knew her at all."
She stopped for a moment to look at Eleanor.
"Better not let her catch us whispering about her," she went on. "She wouldn't like it a little bit."
"It isn't a nice thing to do anyhow, Dolly. You're perfectly right. I do think Mr. Trenwith's a nice man. Maybe he's good enough for her. But I think I'll always like Mr. Jamieson better, because he's been so nice to us from the very start, when he knew that we couldn't pay him, the way people usually do lawyers who work so hard for them."
"He certainly is a nice man, Bessie. But then so is Mr. Trenwith."
"Look out, Dolly!" cautioned Bessie, with a low laugh. "You'll be getting jealous and losing your temper first thing you know."
"Oh, I guess not. Talking about losing one's temper, I wonder if Gladys Cooper is still mad at us?"
"Oh, I hope not! That was sort of funny, wasn't it, as well as unpleasant? Why do you suppose she was so angry, and got the other girls in their camp at Lake Dean to hating us so much when we first went there?"
"Oh, she couldn't help it, Bessie, I guess. It's the way she's been brought up. Her people have lots of money, and they've let her think that just because of that she is better than girls whose parents are poor."
"Well, the rest of them certainly changed their minds about us, didn't they?"
"Yes, and it was a fine thing! I guess they realized that we were better than they thought, when Gladys and Marcia Bates got lost in the woods that time, and you and I happened to find them, and get them home safely."
"I think they were mighty nice girls, Dolly—much nicer than you would ever have thought they could be from the way they acted when we first met them, and they ordered us off their ground, just as if we were going to hurt it. When they found out that they'd been in the wrong, and hadn't behaved nicely, they said they were sorry, and admitted that they hadn't been nice. And I think that's a pretty hard thing for anyone to do."
"Oh, it is, Bessie. I know, because I've found out so often that I'd been mean to people who were ever so much nicer than I. But there's one thing about it—it makes you feel sort of good all over when you have owned up that way. I wish Gladys Cooper had acted like the rest of them. But she was still mad."
"Oh, I think you'll find she's all right when you see her again, Dolly. I guess she's just as nice as the rest of them, really."
"That's one reason I'm sorry she acted that way. Because she's as nice as any girl you ever saw when she wants to be. I was awfully mad at her when it happened, but now, somehow, I've got over feeling that way about her, altogether, and I just want to be good friends with her again."
"You lose your temper pretty quickly, Dolly, but you get over being angry just as quickly as you get mad, don't you?"
"I seem to, Bessie. And I guess that's helping me not to get angry at people so much, anyhow. I'm always sorry when I do get into one of my rages, and if I'm going to be sorry, it's easier not to get mad in the first place."
While they talked, Bessie and Dolly were not idle, by any means. There was plenty of work for everyone to do, for the fire had made a pretty clean sweep, after all, and to put the whole camp in good shape, so that they could sleep there that night, was something of a task.
Trenwith and Jamieson, laughing a good deal, and enjoying themselves immensely, insisted on doing the heavy work of setting up the ridge poles, and laying down the floors of the new tents, but when it came to stretching the canvas over the framework, they were not in it with the girls.
"You men mean well, but I never saw anything so clumsy in my life!" declared Eleanor, laughingly. "It's a wonder to me how you ever come home alive when you go out camping by yourselves."
"Oh, we manage somehow," boasted Charlie Jamieson.
"That's just about what you do do! You manage—somehow! And, yet, when this Camp Fire movement started, all the men I knew sat around and jeered, and said that girls were just jealous of the good times the Boy Scouts had, and predicted that unless we took men along to look after us, we'd be in all sorts of trouble the first time we ever undertook to spend a night in camp!"
Charlie shook his head at Trenwith in mock alarm.
"Getting pretty independent, aren't they?" he said to his friend. "You mark my words, Billy, the old-fashioned women don't exist any more!"
"And it's a good thing if they don't!" Eleanor flashed back at him. "They do, though, only you men don't know the real thing when you see it. You have an idea that a woman ought to be helpless and clinging. Maybe that was all right in the old days, when there were always plenty of men to look after a woman. But how about the way things are now? Women have to go into shops and offices and factories to earn a living, don't they, just the way men do?"
"They do—more's the pity!" said Trenwith.
Eleanor looked at him as if she understood just what he meant.
"Maybe it isn't so much of a pity, though," she said. "I tell you one thing—a girl isn't going to make any the worse wife for being self-reliant, and knowing how to take care of herself a little bit. And that's what we want to make of our Camp Fire Girls—girls who can help themselves if there's need for it, and who don't need to have a man wasting a lot of time doing things for them that he ought to be spending in serious work—things that she can do just as well for herself."
She stood before them as she spoke, a splendid figure of youth, and health and strength. And, as she spoke, she plunged her hand into a capacious pocket in her skirt.
"There!" she said, "that's one of the things that has kept women helpless. It wasn't fashionable to have pockets, so men got one great advantage just in their clothes. Camp Fire Girls have pockets!"
"You say that as if it was some sort of a motto," said Charlie, laughing, but impressed.
"It is!" she replied. "Camp Fire Girls have pockets! That's one of the things you'll see in any Camp Fire book you read—any of the books that the National Council issues, I mean."
"I surrender! I'm converted—absolutely!" said Jamieson, with a laugh. "I'll admit right now that no lot of men or boys I know could have put this camp up in this shape in such a time. Why, hullo—what's that? Looks as if you were going to have neighbors, Nell."
His exclamation drew all eyes to the other end of the cove, and the surprise was general when a string of wagons was seen coming down a road that led to the beach from the bluff at that point.
"Looks like a camping party, all right," said Trenwith. "Wonder who they can be?"
Eleanor looked annoyed. She remembered only too well and too vividly the disturbance that had followed the coming of the yacht, and she wondered if this new invasion of the peace of Plum Beach might not likewise be the forerunner of something unpleasant.
"They've got tents," she said, peering curiously at the wagons. "See—they're stopping there, and beginning to unload."
"They're doing themselves very well, whoever they are," said Trenwith. "That's a pretty luxurious looking camp outfit. And they're having their work done for them by men who know the business, too."
"Yes, and they're not making a much better job of it than these girls did," said Charlie. "Great Scott! Look at those cases of canned goods! They've got enough stuff there to feed a regiment."
"Oh, I'm sorry they're coming!" said Eleanor, "whoever they are! I don't want to seem nasty, but we were ever so happy last summer when we were here quite alone."
"These people won't bother you, Nell," said Jamieson.
"You don't suppose this could be another trick of Mr. Holmes's, do you, Charlie!"
"Hardly—so soon," he said, frowning.
"He didn't leave us in peace very long after we got here, you know. We only arrived yesterday—and see what happened to us last night!"
"Well, we might stroll over and have a look," suggested Trenwith. "I guess there aren't any private property rights on this beach. We'll just look them over."
"All right," said Eleanor. "Want to come, Dolly and Bessie? I see you've finished your share of the work before the others."
So the five of them walked over.
"Who's going to camp here?" Trenwith asked one of the workmen.
"I don't know, sir. We just got orders to set up the tents. That's all we know about it."
The three girls exchanged glances. That sounded as if it might indeed be Mr. Holmes who was coming. But before any more questions could be asked, there was a sudden peal of girlish laughter from above and a wild rush down from the bluff.
"Dolly Ransom! Isn't this a surprise? And didn't we tell you we had a surprise for you?"
"Why, Marcia Bates!" cried Dolly and Bessie, in one breath, as the newcomer reached them. "I didn't know you were going to leave Lake Dean so soon."
"Well, we did! And we're all here—Gladys Cooper, and all the Halsted Camp Girls!"
ONE FRIEND LESS
In a moment the rest of the Halsted girls had reached the beach and were gathered about Bessie and Dolly. There was a lot of laughter and excitement, but it was plain that the girls who had once so utterly despised the members of the Camp Fire were now heartily and enthusiastically glad to see them. And suddenly Eleanor gave a glad cry.
"Why, Mary Turner!" she said. "Whatever are you doing here? I thought you were going to Europe!"
"I was, until this cousin of mine"—she playfully tapped Marcia on the shoulder—"made me change my plans. I'll have you to understand that you're not the only girl who can be a Camp Fire Guardian, Eleanor Mercer!"
"Well," gasped Eleanor, "of all things! Do you mean that you've organized a new Camp Fire?"
"We certainly have—the Halsted Camp Fire, if you please! We're not really all in yet, but we've got permission now from the National Council, and the girls are to get their rings to-night at our first ceremonial camp fire. Won't you girls come over and help us?"
"I should say we would!" said Eleanor. "Why, this is fine, Mary! Tell me how it happened, won't you?"
"It's all your fault—you must know that. The girls have told me all about the horrid way they acted at Lake Dean, but really, you can't blame them so much, can you, Nell? It's the way they're brought up—and, well, you went to the school, too, just as I did!"
"I know what you mean," said Eleanor. "It's a fine school, but—"
"That's it exactly—that but. The school has got into bad ways, and these girls were in a fair way to be snobs. Well, Marcia and some of the others got to thinking things over, and they decided that if the Camp Fire had done so much for Dolly Ransom and a lot of your girls, it would be a good thing for them, too."
"They're perfectly right, Mary. Oh, I'm ever so glad!"
"So they came to me, and asked me if I wouldn't be their Guardian. I didn't want to at first—and then I was afraid I wouldn't be any good. But I promised to talk to Mrs. Chester, and get her to suggest someone who would do, and—"
"You needn't tell me the rest," laughed Eleanor. "I know just what happened. Mrs. Chester just talked to you in that sweet, gentle way of hers, and the first thing you knew you felt about as small as a pint of peanuts, and as if refusing to do the work would be about as mean as stealing sheep. Now, didn't you?"
Mary laughed a little ruefully.
"You're just right! That's exactly how it happened," she said. "She told me that no one would be able to do as much with these girls as I could, and then, when she had me feeling properly ashamed of myself, she turned right around and began to make me see how much fun I would have out of it myself. So I talked to Miss Halsted, and made her go to see Mrs. Chester—and here we are!"
Suddenly Eleanor collapsed weakly against one of the empty packing boxes that littered the place, and began to laugh.
"Oh, my dear," she exclaimed, "if you only knew the awful things we were thinking about you before we knew who you were!"
"Why? Do you mean to say that you're snobbish, too, and didn't want neighbors you didn't know? Like my girls at Lake Dean?"
"No, but we thought you might be kidnappers, or murderers, or fire-bugs, like our last neighbors!"
"Eleanor! Are you crazy—and if you're not, what on earth are you talking about?"
"I'm not as crazy as I seem to be, Mary. It's only fair to tell you now that this beach may be a pretty troubled spot while we're here. We seem to attract trouble just as a magnet attracts iron."
"I think you are crazy, Nell. If you're not, won't you explain what you mean?"
"Look at our camp over there, Mary. It's pretty solid and complete, isn't it?"
"I only hope ours looks half as well."
"Well, this morning at sunrise there were just two tents standing. Everything else had been burnt. And I was doing my best to get the police or someone from Bay City to rescue two of my girls who were prisoners on a yacht out there in the cove!"
Mary Turner appealed whimsically to Charlie Jamieson.
"Does she mean it, Charlie?" she begged. "Or is she just trying to string me?"
"I'm afraid she means it, and I happen to know it's all true, Mary," said Charlie, enjoying her bewilderment. "But it's a long story. Perhaps you'd better let it keep until you have put things to rights."
"We'll help in doing that," said Eleanor. "Dolly, run over and get the other girls, won't you? Then we'll all turn in and lend a hand, and it will all be done in no time at all."
"Indeed you won't!" said Marcia. "We're going to do everything ourselves, just to show that we can."
"There isn't much to do," said Mary Turner, with a laugh. "So you needn't act as if that were something to be proud of, Marcia. You see, I thought it was better to take things easily at the start, Eleanor. They wanted to come here with all the tents and things and set up the camp by themselves, but I decided it was better to have the harder work done by men who knew their business."
"You were quite right, too," agreed Eleanor. "That's the way I arranged things for our own camp the day we came. To-day we did do the work ourselves, but there was a reason for the girls were so excited and nervous about the fire that I thought it was better to give them a chance to work off their excitement that way."
"I'm dying to hear all about the fire and what has happened here," said Mary. "But I suppose we'd better get everything put to rights first."
And, though the girls of the new Camp Fire insisted on doing all the actual work themselves, they were glad enough to take the advice of the Manasquan girls in innumerable small matters. Comfort, and even safety from illness, in camp life, depends upon the observance of many seemingly trifling rules.
Gladys Cooper, who, more than any of her companions at Camp Halsted, had tried to make things unpleasant for the Manasquan girls at Lake Dean, had not been with the first section of the new Camp Fire to reach the beach. Dolly had inquired about her rather anxiously, for Gladys had not taken part in the general reconciliation between the two parties of girls.
"Gladys?" Marcia said. "Oh, yes, she's coming. She's back in the wagon that's bringing our suit cases. We appointed her a sort of rear guard. It wouldn't do to lose those things, you know."
"I was afraid—I sort of thought she might not want to come here if she knew we were here, Marcia. You know—"
"Yes, I do know, Dolly. She behaved worse than any of us, and she wasn't ready to admit it when you girls left Lake Dean. But she's come to her senses since then, I'm sure. The rest of us made her do that."
Bessie King looked a little dubious.
"I hope you didn't bother her about it, Marcia," she said. "You know we haven't anything against her. We were sorry she didn't like us, and understand that we only wanted to be friends, but we certainly didn't feel angry."
"If she was bothered, as you call it, Bessie, it served her good and right," said Marcia, crisply. "We've had about enough of Gladys and her superior ways. She isn't any better or cleverer or prettier than anyone else, and it's time she stopped giving herself airs."
"You don't understand," said Bessie, with a smile. "She's one of you, and if you don't like the way she acts, you've got a perfect right to let her know it, and make her just as uncomfortable as you like."
"We did," said Marcia. "I guess she's had a lesson that will teach her it doesn't pay to be a snob."
"Yes, but don't you think that's something a person has to learn for herself, without anyone to teach her, Marcia? I mean, there's only one reason why she could be nice to us, and that's because she likes us. And you can't make her like us by punishing her for not liking us. You'll only make her hate us more than ever."
"She'll behave herself, anyhow, Bessie. And that's more than she did before."
"That's true enough. But really, it would be better, if she didn't like us, for her to show it frankly than to go around with a grudge against us she's afraid to show. Don't you see that she'll blame us for making trouble between you girls and her? She'll think that we've set her own friends against her. Really, Marcia, I think all the trouble would be ended sooner, in the long run, if you just let her alone until she changed her mind. She'll do it, sooner or later."
"I guess Bessie's right, Marcia," said Dolly, thoughtfully. "I don't see why Gladys acts this way, but I do think that the only thing that will make her act differently will be for her to feel differently, and nothing you can do will do that."
"Well, it's too late now, anyhow," said Marcia. "I see what you mean, and I suppose you really are right. But it's done. You'll be nice to her, won't you? She's promised to be pleasant when she sees you—to talk to you, and all that. I don't know how well she'll manage, but I guess she'll do her best."
"There's no reason why we shouldn't be nice to her," said Bessie. "She isn't hurting us. I only hope that something will happen so that we can be good friends."
"She really is a nice girl," said Marcia, "and I'm awfully fond of her when she isn't in one of her tantrums. But she is certainly hard to get along with when everything isn't going just to suit her little whims."
"Here she comes now," said Dolly. "I'm going to meet her."
"Well, you certainly did give us a surprise, Gladys," cried Dolly. "You sinner, why didn't you tell us what you were going to do?"
"Oh, hello, Dolly!" said Gladys, coolly. "I didn't see much of you at Lake Dean, you know. You were too busy with your—new friends."
"Oh, come off, Gladys!" said Dolly, irritated despite her determination to go more than half way in re-establishing friendly relations with Gladys. "Why can't you be sensible? We've got more to forgive than you have, and we're willing to be friends. Aren't you going to behave decently?"
"I don't think I know just what you mean, Dolly," said Gladys, stiffly. "As long as the other girls have decided to be friendly with your—friends, I am not going to make myself unpleasant. But you can hardly expect me to like people just because you do. I must say that I get along better with girls of my own class."
"I ought to be mad at you, Gladys," said Dolly, with a peal of laughter. "But you're too funny! What do you mean by girls of your own class? Girls whose parents have as much money as yours? Mine haven't. So I suppose I'm not in your class."
"Nonsense, Dolly!" said Gladys, angrily. "You know perfectly well I don't mean anything of the sort. I—I can't explain just what I mean by my own class—but you know it just as well as I do."
"I think I know it better, Gladys," said Dolly, gravely. "Now don't get angry, because I'm not saying this to be mean. If you had to go about with girls of your own class you couldn't stand them for a week! Because they'd be snobbish and mean. They'd be thinking all the time about how much nicer their clothes were than yours, or the other way around. They wouldn't have a good word for anyone—they'd just be trying to think about the mean things they could say!"
"Why, Dolly! What do you mean?"
"I mean that that's your class—the sort you are. Our girls, in the Manasquan Camp Fire, and most of the Halsted girls, are in a class a whole lot better than yours, Gladys. They spend their time trying to be nice, and to make other people happy. There isn't any reason why you shouldn't improve, and get into their class, but you're not in it now."
"I never heard of such a thing, Dolly! Do you mean to tell me that you and I aren't in a better class socially than these girls you're camping with?"
"I'm not talking about society—and you haven't any business to be. You don't know anything about it. But if people are divided into real classes, the two big classes are nice people and people who aren't nice. And each of those classes is divided up again into a lot of other classes. I hope I'm in as good a class as Bessie King and Margery Burton, but I'm pretty sure I'm not. And I know you're not."
"There's no use talking to you, Dolly," said Gladys, furiously. "I thought you'd had time to get over all that nonsense, but I see you're worse than ever. I'm perfectly willing to be friends with you, and I've forgiven you for throwing those mice at us at Lake Dean, but I certainly don't see why I should be friendly with all those common girls in your camp."
"They're not common—and don't you dare to say they are! And you certainly can't be my friend if you're going to talk about them that way."
"All right!" snapped Gladys. "I guess I can get along without your friendship if you can get along without mine!"
"I didn't mean to," she said, disgustedly, to Bessie and Marcia, "but I'm afraid I've simply made her madder than ever. And there's no telling what she'll do now!"
"Oh, I guess there's nothing to worry about," said Marcia, cheerfully enough. "We can keep her in order all right, and if she doesn't behave herself decently I guess you'll find that Miss Turner will send her home in a hurry."
"Oh, I hope not," said Bessie. "That wouldn't really do any good, would it? We want to be friends with her—not to have any more trouble."
"I wish I'd kept out of it," said Dolly, dolefully. "I think I can keep my temper, and then I go off and make things worse than ever! I ought to know enough not to interfere. I'm like the elephant that killed a little mother bird by accident, and he was so sorry that he sat on its nest to hatch the eggs!"
"Maybe it's a good thing," said Marcia, laughing at the picture of the elephant. "After all, isn't it a good deal as Bessie said? If there's bad feeling, it's better to have it open and aboveboard. We all know where we are now, anyhow. And I certainly hope that something will turn up to change her mind."
THE COUNCIL FIRE
"I hope it will, Bessie," said Dolly. "But you know what a nasty temper I've got. If she keeps on talking the way she has, I don't know what I'll say."
"Well, you might as well say what you like, Dolly. I believe she wants a good quarrel with someone—and it might as well be you."
"You mean you think she likes me to get angry?"
"Of course she does! There wouldn't be any fun in it for her if you didn't. Can't you see that?"
Dolly looked very thoughtful.
"Then I won't give her the satisfaction of getting angry!" she declared, finally. "Of course you're right, Bessie. If we didn't pay any attention at all to her it wouldn't do her a bit of good to get angry, would it?"
"I wondered how long it would take you to see that, Dolly."
They were walking back to their own tents as they spoke. Once arrived there, neither said anything about the spirit Gladys had shown. They both felt that it would be as well to let the other girls think that Gladys shared the friendly feelings of the other Halsted girls. And since Bessie and Dolly happened to be the only ones who knew that Gladys had been the prime mover in the trouble that had been made at Lake Dean, it was easy enough to conceal the true facts.
"She can't do anything by herself," said Dolly. "Up at Lake Dean nothing would have happened unless the rest of those girls had taken her part against us."
"I'm going to try to forget about her altogether, Dolly," said Bessie. "I'm not a bit angry at her, but if she won't be friends, she won't and that's all there is to it. And I don't see why I should worry about her when there are so many nice girls who do want to be friendly. Why, what are you laughing at?"
"I'm just thinking of how mad Gladys would be if she really understood! She's made herself think that she is doing a great favor to people when she makes friends of them—and, if she only knew it, she would have a hard time having us for friends now."
* * * * *
Charlie Jamieson and Billy Trenwith accepted Eleanor's pressing invitation to stay for the evening meal, but Trenwith seemed to feel that they were wasting time that might be better spent.
"Not wasting it exactly," he said, however, when Eleanor laughingly accused him of feeling so. "But I do sort of think that Charlie and I ought to keep after this man Holmes. He seems to be a tough customer, and I'll bet he's busy, all right."
"The only point, Billy," said Charlie, "is that, no matter how busy we were, there's mighty little we could do. We don't know enough, you see. But maybe when I get up to the city, I'll find out more. I'll go over the facts with you in Bay City to-night, and then I'll go up to town and see what I can do with Jake Hoover and Zara's father."
"Well, let's do something, for Heaven's sake!" said Trenwith. "I hate to think that all you girls out here are in danger as a result of this man's villainy. If he does anything rotten, I can see that he's punished but that might not do you much good."
"I tell you what would do some good, and that's to let Holmes know that you will punish him, if he exposes himself to punishment," said Charlie Jamieson. "That's the chief reason he's so bold. He thinks he's above the law—that he can do anything, and escape the consequences."
"Well, of course," said Trenwith, "it may enlighten him a bit when he finds that those rascals we caught to-day will have to stand trial, just as if they were friendless criminals. If what you say about him is so, he'll be after me to-morrow, trying to call me off. And I guess he'll find that he's up against the law for once."
"Did you get that telephone fixed up, Nell?" asked Charlie. "You're a whole lot safer with a telephone right here on the beach. Being half a mile from the nearest place where you can ever call for help is bad business."
Eleanor pointed to a row of poles, on which a wire was strung, leading into the main living tent.
"There it is," she said, gaily. "I don't see how you got them to do it so fast, though."
"Billy's a sort of political boss round here, as well as district attorney," laughed Jamieson. "When he says a thing's to be done, and done in a hurry, he usually has his way."
Eleanor looked curiously at Trenwith, and Charlie, catching the glance, winked broadly at Dolly Ransom. It was perfectly plain that the young District Attorney interested Eleanor a good deal. His quiet efficiency appealed to her. She liked men who did things, and Trenwith was essentially of that type. He didn't talk much about his plans; he let results speak for him. And, at the same time, when there was a question of something to be done, what he did say showed a quiet confidence, which, while not a bit boastful, proved that he was as sure of himself as are most competent men.
Also, his admiration for Eleanor was plain and undisguised. Charlie Jamieson, who was almost like a brother in his relations with Eleanor, was hugely amused by this. Somehow cousins who are so intimate with a girl that they take a brother's place, never do seem able to understand that she may have the same attraction for other men that the sisters and the cousins of the other men have for them. The idea that their friends may fall in love with the girls they regard in such a perfectly matter-of-fact way strikes them, when it reaches them at all, as a huge joke.
All the girls were sorry to see the two men who had helped them so much go away after dinner, but of course their departure was necessary. Just now, after the exciting events of the previous night, there seemed a reasonable chance of a little peace, but the price of freedom from the annoyance caused by Holmes was constant vigilance, and there was work for both the men to do. Moreover, the sight of the cheerful fire from the other camp, and the thought of the great camp fire they were presently to enjoy in common consoled them.
"The Halsted girls are going to build the fire," said Eleanor. "It's their first ceremonial camp fire, so I told Miss Turner they were welcome to do it. They're all Wood-Gatherers, you see. So we'll have to light the fire for them, anyhow. See, they're at work already, bringing in the wood. Margery, suppose you go over and make sure that they're building the fire properly, with plenty of room for a good draught underneath."
"Who's going to take them in, and give them their rings, Miss Eleanor?" asked Dolly. "You, or Miss Turner?"
"Why, Miss Turner wants me to do it, Dolly, because I'm older in the Camp Fire than she is. She's given me the rings. I think it's quite exciting, really, taking so many new girls in all at once."
"Come on," cried Margery Burton, then. "They're all ready and they want us to form the procession now, and go over there."
"You are to light the fire, Margery. Are you all ready?"
"Yes, indeed, Miss Eleanor. Shall I go ahead, and start the flame?"
Then while Margery disappeared, Eleanor, at the head of the girls, started moving in the stately Indian measure toward the dark pile of wood that represented the fire that was so soon to blaze up. As they walked they sang in low tones, so that the melody rose and mingled with the waves and the sighing of the wind.
Just as the first spark answered Margery's efforts with her fire-making sticks, they reached the fire, and sat down in a great circle, with a good deal of space between each pair of girls. Eleanor took her place in the centre, facing Margery, who now stood up, lifting a torch that she had lighted above her head. As she touched the tinder beneath the fire Eleanor raised her hand, and, as the flames began to crackle, she lowered it, and at once the girls began the song of Wo-he-lo:
Wo-he-lo means love. Wo-he-lo, wo-he-lo, wo-he-lo. We love love, for love is the heart of life. It is light and joy and sweetness, Comradeship and all dear kinship. Love is the joy of service so deep That self is forgotten. Wo-he-lo means love.
Outside the circle now other and unseen voices joined them in the chorus:
Wo-he-lo for aye, Wo-he-lo for aye, Wo-he-lo, wo-he-lo, wo-he-lo for aye!
Then for a moment utter silence, so that the murmur of the waves seemed amazingly loud. Then, their voices hushed, half the Manasquan girls chanted:
Wo-he-lo for work!
And the others, their voices rising gradually, answered with:
Wo-he-lo for health!
And without a break in the rhythm, all the girls joined in the final
Wo-he-lo, wo-he-lo, wo-he-lo for love!
Then Margery, her torch still raised above her head, while she swung it slowly in time to the music of her song, sang alone:
O Fire! Long years ago when our fathers fought with great animals you were their great protection. When they fought the cold of the cruel winter you saved them. When they needed food you changed the flesh of beasts into savory meat for them. During all the ages your mysterious flame has been a symbol to them for Spirit, So, to-night, we light our fire in grateful remembrance of the Great Spirit who gave you to us.
Then Margery took her place in the circle, and Eleanor called the roll, giving each girl the name she had chosen as her fire name.
Then Mary Turner, in her new ceremonial robe, fringed with beads, slipped into the circle of the firelight, bright and vivid now.
"Oh, Wanaka," she said, calling Eleanor by her ceremonial name, "I bring to-night these newcomers to the Camp Fire, to tell you their Desire, and to receive from you their rings."
One by one the girls of the Halsted Camp Fire stepped forward, and each repeated her Desire to be a Wood-Gatherer, and was received by Eleanor, who explained to each some new point of the Law of the Fire, so that all might learn. And to each, separately, as she slipped the silver ring of the Camp Fire on her finger, she repeated the beautiful exhortation:
Firmly held by the sinews which bind them, As fagots are brought from the forest So cleave to these others, your sisters, Whenever, wherever you find them.
Be strong as the fagots are sturdy; Be pure in your deepest desire; Be true to the truth that is in you; And—follow the law of the Fire!
One by one as they received their rings, the newcomers slipped into seats about the fire, each one finding a place between two of the Manasquan girls. Marcia Bates, flushed with pleasure, took a seat between Bessie and Dolly.
"Oh, how beautiful it all is!" she said. "I don't see how any of us could ever have laughed at the Camp Fire! But, of course, we didn't know, about all this, or we never would have laughed as we did."
"I love the part about 'So cleave to these others, your sisters,'" said Dolly. "It's so fine to feel that wherever you go, you'll find friends wherever there's a Camp Fire—that you can show your ring, and be sure that there'll be someone who knows the same thing you know, and believes in the same sort of things!"
"Yes, that's lovely, Dolly. Of course, we've all read about this, but you have to do it to know how beautiful it is. I'm so glad you girls were here for this first Council Fire of ours. You know how everything should be done, and that seems to make it so much better."
"It would have pleased you just as much, and been just as lovely if you'd done it all by yourselves, Marcia. It's the words, and the ceremony that are so beautiful—not the way we do it. Every Camp Fire has its own way of doing things. For instance, some Camp Fires sing the Ode to Fire all together, but we have Margery do it alone because she has such a lovely voice."
"I think it was splendid. I never had any idea she could sing so well."
"Her voice is lovely, but it sounds particularly soft and true out in the open air this way, and without a piano to accompany her. Mine doesn't—I'm all right to sing in a crowd, but when I try to sing by myself, it's just a sort of screech. There isn't any beauty to my tones at all, and I know it and don't try to sing alone."
"Aren't they all in now?" asked Bessie.
There had been a break in the steady appearance of new candidates before Eleanor. But, even as she spoke, another figure glided into the light.
"No. There's Gladys Cooper," said Marcia, with a little start.
"I wonder if she sees what there is to the Camp Fire now," said Dolly, speculatively.
"What is your desire?" asked Eleanor.
"I desire to become a Camp Fire Girl and to obey the law of the Camp Fire," said Gladys, in a mechanical, sing-song voice, entirely different from the serious tones of those who had preceded her.
"She's laughing to herself," said Marcia, indignantly. "Just listen! She's repeating the Desire as if it were a bit of doggerel."
They heard her saying:
"Seek beauty, Give service, Pursue knowledge, Hold on to health, Glorify work, Be happy. This law of the Camp Fire I will strive to follow."
"Give service," repeated Eleanor slowly. "You have heard what I said to the other girls, Gladys. I want you to understand this point of the law. It is the most important of all, perhaps. It means that you must be friendly to your sisters of the Camp Fire; that you must love them, and put them above yourself."
"I must do all that for my chums—the girls in our Camp Fire, you mean, I suppose?" said Gladys. "I don't care anything about these other girls. And, Miss Mercer, all that you're going to say in a minute—'So cleave to these others, your sisters'—that doesn't mean the girls in any old Camp Fire, does it?"
Startled, Eleanor was silent for a moment. Mary Turner looked at Gladys indignantly.
"It means every girl in every Camp Fire," said Eleanor, finally. "And more than that, you must serve others, in or out of the Camp Fire."
"Oh, that's nonsense!" said Gladys. "I couldn't do that."
"Then you are not fit to receive your ring," said Eleanor.
AN UNHAPPY ENDING
There was a gasp of astonishment and dismay from the girls. Somehow all seemed to feel as if Eleanor's reproach were directed at them instead of at the pale and angry Gladys, who stood, scarcely able to believe her ears, looking at the Guardian. There had been no anger in Eleanor's voice—only sorrow and distress.
"Why, what do you mean, Miss Mercer?" Gladys gasped.
"Exactly what I say, Gladys," said Eleanor, in the same level voice. "You are not fit to be one of us unless you mean sincerely and earnestly to keep the Law of the Fire. We are a sisterhood; no girl who is not only willing, but eager, to become our sister, may join us."
Slowly the meaning of her rejection seemed to sink into the mind of Gladys.
"Do you mean that you're not going to let me join?" she asked in a shrill, high-pitched voice that showed she was on the verge of giving way to an outbreak of hysterical anger.
"For your own sake it is better that you should not join now, Gladys. Listen to me. I do not blame you greatly for this. I would rather have you act this way than be a hypocrite, pretending to believe in our law when you do not."
"Oh, I hate you! I hate the Camp Fire! I wouldn't join for anything in the world, after this!"
"There will be time to settle that when we are ready to let you join, Gladys," said Eleanor, a little sternness creeping into her voice, as if she were growing angry for the first time. "To join the Camp Fire is a privilege. Remember this—no girl does the Camp Fire a favor by joining it. The Camp Fire does not need any one girl, no matter how clever, or how pretty, or how able she may be, as much as that girl needs the Camp Fire. The Camp Fire, as a whole, is a much greater, finer thing than any single member."
Sobs of anger were choking Gladys when she tried to answer. She could not form intelligible words.
Eleanor glanced at Mary Turner, and the Guardian of the new Camp Fire, on the hint, put her arm about Gladys.
"I think you'd better go back to the camp now, dear," she said, very gently. "You and I will have a talk presently, when you feel better, and perhaps you will see that you are wrong."
All the life and spirit seemed to have left the girls as Gladys, her head bowed, the sound of her sobs still plainly to be heard, left the circle of the firelight and made her lonely way over the beach toward the tents of her own camp. For a few moments silence reigned. Then Eleanor spoke, coolly and steadily, although Mary Turner, who was close to her, knew what an effort her seeming calm represented.
"We have had a hard thing to do to-night," she said. "I know that none of you will add to what Gladys has made herself suffer. She is in the wrong, but I think that very few of us will have any difficulty in remembering many times when we have been wrong, and have been sure that we were right. Gladys thinks now that we are all against her—that we wanted to humiliate her. We must make her understand that she is wrong. Remember, Wo-he-lo means love."
She paused for a moment.
"Wo-he-lo means love," she repeated. "And not love for those whom we cannot help loving. The love that is worth while is that we give to those who repel us, who do not want our love. It is easy to love those who love us. But in time we can make Gladys love us by showing that we want to love her and do what we can to make her happy. And now, since I think none of us feel like staying here, we will sing our good-night song and disperse."
And the soft voices rose like a benediction, mingling in the lovely strains of that most beautiful of all the Camp Fire songs.
Silently, and without the usual glad talk that followed the ending of a Council Fire, the circle broke up, and the girls, in twos and threes, spread over the beach.
"Walk over with me, won't you?" Marcia Bates begged Dolly and Bessie. "Oh, I'm so ashamed! I never thought Gladys would act like that!"
"It isn't your fault, Marcia," said Dolly. "Don't be silly about it. And, do you know, I'm not angry a bit! Just at first I thought I was going to be furious. But—well, somehow I can't help admiring Gladys! I like her better than I ever did before, I really do believe!"
"Oh, I do!" said Bessie, her eyes glowing. "Wasn't she splendid? Of course, she's all wrong, but she had to be plucky to stand up there like that, when she knew everyone was against her!"
"But she had no right to insult all you girls, Bessie."
"I don't believe she meant to insult us a bit," said Dolly. "I don't think she thought much about us. It's just that she has always been brought up to feel a certain way about things, and she couldn't change all at once. A whole lot of girls, while they believed just what she did, and hated the whole idea just as much, would never have dared to say so, when they knew no one agreed with them."
"Yes, it's just as Miss Eleanor said," said Bessie, "She's not a hypocrite, no matter what her other faults are. She's not afraid to say just what she thinks—and that's pretty fine, after all."
"I wish she could hear you," said Marcia, indignantly. "Oh, it's splendid of you, but I can't feel that way, and there's no use pretending. I suppose the real reason I'm so angry is that I'm really very fond of Gladys, and I hate to see her acting this way. She's making a perfect fool of herself, I think."
"But just think of how splendid it will be when she sees she is wrong, Marcia," said Bessie. "Because you want to remember if she's plucky enough to hold out against all her friends this way she will be plucky enough to own up when she sees the truth, too."
"Yes, and she'll be a convert worth making, too," said Dolly. "There's just one thing I'm thinking of, Marcia. Will she stay here? Don't you suppose she'll go home right away? I know I would. I wouldn't want to stay around this beach after what happened at the Council Fire to-night."
They never heard Marcia's answer to that question, for in the darkness, Gladys herself, shaking with anger, rose and confronted them.
"You bet I'm going to stay!" she declared, furiously. "And I'll get even with you, Dolly Ransom, and your nasty old Miss Mercer, and the whole crew of you! Maybe you've been able to set all my friends against me—I'm glad of it!"
"No one is set against you, Gladys," said Marcia, gently.
"Maybe you don't call it that, Marcia Bates, but I've got my own opinion of a lot of girls who call themselves my friends and side against me the way you've done!"
"Why, Gladys, I haven't done a thing—"
"That's just it, you sneak! Why, do you suppose I'd have let them treat you as I was treated to-night? If it had happened to you and I'd joined before, I'd have got up and thrown their nasty old ring back at them! I don't want their old ring! I've got much prettier ones of my own—gold, and set with sapphires and diamonds!"
"I'm very glad you're going to stay, Gladys!" said Dolly. "I'm sorry I've been cross when I spoke to you lately two or three times, and I hope you'll forgive me. And I think you'll see soon that we're not at all what you think we are in the Camp Fire."
"Oh, you needn't talk that way to me, Dolly Ransom! You can pretend all you like to be a saint, but I've known you too long to swallow all that! You've done just as many mean things as anyone else! And now you stand around and act as if you were ashamed to know me. Just you wait! I'll get even with you, and all the rest of your new friends, if it's the last thing I ever do!"
Bessie's hand reached out for Dolly's. She knew her chum well enough to understand that if Dolly controlled her temper now it would only be by the exercise of the grimmest determination. Sure enough, Dolly's hand was trembling, and Bessie could almost feel the hot anger that was swelling up in her. But Dolly mastered herself nobly.
"You can't make me angry now, Gladys," said Dolly, finally. "You're perfectly right; I've done things that are meaner than anything you did at Lake Dean. And I'm just as sorry for them now as you will be when you understand better."
"Well, you needn't preach to me!" said Gladys, fiercely. "And you can give up expecting me to run away. I'm not a coward, whatever else I may be! And I'd never be able to hold up my head if I thought a lot of common girls had frightened me into running away from this place. I'm going to stay here, and I'm going to have a good time, and you'd better look out for yourselves—that's all I can say! Maybe I know more about you than you think."
And then she turned on her heel and left them.
"Whew!" said Marcia. "I don't see how you kept your temper, Dolly. If she'd said half as much to me as she did to you, I never could have stood it, I can tell you! Whatever did she mean by what she said just then about knowing more than we thought?"
"I don't know," said Dolly, rather anxiously. "But look here, Marcia, I might as well tell you now. There's likely to be a good deal of excitement here."
"Yes," said Bessie, rather bitterly. "And it's all my fault—mine and Zara's, that is."
"I don't see what you can mean," said Marcia, mystified.
"Well, it's quite a long story, but I really think you'd better know all about it, Marcia," said Dolly.
And so, with occasional help from Bessie herself, when Dolly forgot something, or when Bessie's ideas disagreed with hers, Dolly poured the story of the adventures of Bessie and Zara since their flight from Hedgeville into Marcia's ears.
"Why, I never heard of such a thing!" Marcia exclaimed, when the story was told. "So that fire last night wasn't an accident at all?"
"We're quite sure it wasn't, Marcia. And don't you think it looks as if we were right?"
"It certainly does, and I think it's dreadful, Dolly—just dreadful. Oh, Bessie, I am so sorry for you!"
She threw her arms about Bessie impulsively and kissed her, while Dolly, delighted, looked on.
"Doesn't it make you love her more than ever?" she said. "And Bessie is so foolish about it sometimes. She seems to think that girls won't want to have anything to do with her, because she hasn't had a home and parents like the rest of us—or like most of us."
"That is awfully silly, Bessie," said Marcia. "As if it was your fault! People are going to like you for what you are, and for the way you behave—not on account of things that you really haven't a thing to do with. Sensible people, I mean. Of course, if they're like Gladys—but then most people aren't, I think."
"Of course they're not!" said Dolly, stoutly. "And, besides, I'm just sure that Bessie is going to find out about her father and mother some day. I don't believe Mr. Holmes would be taking all the trouble he has about her unless there were something very surprising about her history that we don't know anything about. Do you, Marcia?"
"Of course not! He's got something up his sleeve. Probably she is heiress to a fortune, or something like that, and he wants to get hold of it. He's a very rich man, isn't he, Dolly?"
"Yes. You know he's the owner of a great big department store at home. And Bessie says that it can't be any question of money that makes him so anxious to get hold of her and of Zara, because he has so much already."
"H'm! I guess people who have money like to make more, Dolly. I've heard my father talk about that. He says they're never content, and that's one reason why so many men work themselves to death, simply because they haven't got sense enough to stop and rest when they have enough money to live comfortably for the rest of their lives."
"That's another thing I've told her. And she says that can't be the reason, but just the same she never suggests a better one to take its place."
"Look here," said Marcia, thoughtfully. "If Mr. Holmes is spending so much money, doesn't it cost a whole lot to stop him from doing what he's trying to do, whatever that is? I'm just thinking—my father has ever so much, you know, and I know if I told him, he'd be glad to spend whatever was needed—"
Bessie finished unhappily.
"Oh, that's one thing that is worrying me terribly!" she cried, "I just know that Miss Eleanor and Mr. Jamieson must have spent a terrible lot on my affairs already, and I don't see how I'm ever going to pay them back! And if I ever mention it, Miss Eleanor gets almost angry, and says I mustn't talk about it at all, even think of it."
"Why, of course you mustn't. It would be awful to think that those horrid people were able to get hold of you and make you unhappy just because they had money and you didn't, Bessie."
And Dolly echoed her exclamation. Naturally enough, Marcia, whose parents were among the richest people in the state, thought little of money, and Dolly, who had always had plenty, even though her family was by no means as rich as Marcia's, felt the same way about the matter. Neither of them valued money particularly; but Bessie, because she had lived ever since she could remember in a family where the pinch of actual poverty was always felt, had a much truer appreciation of the value of money.
She did not want to possess money, but she had a good deal of native pride, and it worried her constantly to think that her good friends were spending money that she could see no prospect, however remote, of repaying.
"I wish there was some way to keep me from having to take all the money they spend on me," she said, wistfully. "As soon as we get back to the city, I'm going to find some work to do, so that I can support myself."
She half expected Marcia to assail that idea, for it seemed to her that, nice as she was, she belonged, like Gladys Cooper, to the class that looked down on work and workers. But to her surprise, Marcia gave a cry of admiration.
"It's splendid for you to feel that way, Bessie!" she said. "But, just the same, I believe you'll have to wait until things are more settled. It would be so much easier for Mr. Holmes to get hold of you if you were working, you know."
"She's going to come and stay with me just as long as she wants to," said Dolly. "And, anyhow, I really believe things are going to be settled for her. Perhaps I've heard something, too!"
When Bessie and Dolly returned to their own camp they found Eleanor Mercer waiting for them, and as soon as she was alone with them, she did something that, for her, was very rare. She asked them about their talk with Marcia Bates.
"You know that as a rule I don't interfere," she said. "Unless there is something that makes it positively necessary for me to intrude myself, I leave you to yourselves."
"Why, we would have told you all about it, anyhow, Miss Eleanor," said Dolly, surprised.
"Yes, but even so, I want you to know that I'm sorry to feel that I should ask you to tell me. As a rule, I would rather let you girls work all these things out by yourselves, even if I see very plainly that you are making mistakes. I think you can sometimes learn more by doing a thing wrong, provided that you are following your own ideas, than by doing it right when you are simply doing what someone else tells you."
"I see what you mean, Miss Eleanor," said Bessie. "But this time we really haven't done anything, We saw Gladys, too, and—"
She went on to tell of their talk with Marcia and of the unpleasant episode created by Gladys when she had overheard them talking.
"I think you've done very well indeed," said Eleanor, with a sigh of relief, when she had heard the story. "I was so afraid that you would lose your temper, Dolly. Not that I could really have blamed you if you had, but, oh, it's so much better that you didn't. So Gladys has decided to stay, has she!"
"Yes," said Dolly. "But Marcia seemed to think Miss Turner might make her go home."
"She won't," said Eleanor. "She was thinking of it, but I have had a talk with her, and we both decided that that wouldn't do much good. It might save us some trouble, but it wouldn't do Gladys any good, and, after all, she's the one we've got to consider."
Dolly didn't say anything, but it was plain from her look that she did not understand.
"What I mean is," Eleanor went on, "that there's a chance here for us to make a real convert—one who will count. It's easy enough to make girls understand our Camp Fire idea when they want to like it, and feel sure that they're going to. The hard cases are the girls like Gladys, who have a prejudice against the Camp Fire without really knowing anything at all about it. And if the Camp Fire idea is the fine, strong, splendid thing we all believe, why, this is a good time to prove it. If it is, Gladys won't be able to hold out against it."
"That's what I've thought from the first, Miss Eleanor," said Bessie. "And I'm sure she will like us better presently."
"Well, if she is willing to stay, she is to stay," said Eleanor. "And she is to be allowed to do everything the other girls do, except, of course, she can't actually take part in a Council Fire until she's a member. We don't want her to feel that she is being punished, and Miss Turner is going to try to make her girls treat her just as if nothing had happened. That's what I want our Manasquan girls to do, too."
"They will, then, if I've got anything to say," declared Dolly, vehemently. "And I guess I've got more reason to be down on her than any of the others except Bessie. So if I'm willing to be nice to her, I certainly don't see why the others should hesitate."
"Remember this, Dolly. You're willing to be nice to her now, but she may make it pretty hard. You're going to have a stiff test of your self-control and your temper for the next few days. When people are in the wrong and know it, but aren't ready to admit it and be sorry, they usually go out of their way to be nasty to those they have injured—"
"Oh, I don't care what she says or does now," said Dolly. "If I could talk to her to-night without getting angry, I think I'm safe. I never came so near to losing my temper without really doing it in my whole life before."
"Well, that's fine, Dolly. Keep it up. Remember this is pretty hard for poor Miss Turner. Here she is, just starting in as a Camp Fire Guardian, and at the very beginning she has this trouble! But if she does make Gladys come around, it will be a great victory for her, and I want you and all of our girls to do everything you can to help."
Then with a hearty good-night she turned away, and it was plain that she was greatly relieved by what Bessie and Dolly had told her.
"Well, I don't know what you're going to do, Bessie," said Dolly, "but I'm going to turn in and sleep! I'm just beginning to realize how tired I am."
"I'm tired, too. We've really had enough to make us pretty tired, haven't we?"
And this time they were able to sleep through the whole night without interruption. The peace and calm of Plum Beach were disturbed by nothing more noisy than gentle waves, and the whole camp awoke in the morning vastly refreshed.
The sun shone down gloriously, and the cloudless sky proclaimed that it was to be a day fit for any form of sport. A gentle breeze blew in from the sea, dying away to nothing sometimes, and the water inside the sand bar was so smooth and inviting that half a dozen of the girls, with Dolly at their head, scampered in for a plunge before breakfast.