THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AT SUNRISE HILL
THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AT SUNRISE HILL
First of a series
Betty Ashton sighed until the leaves of the book she held in her hand
quivered then she flung it face downward on the floor.
"Oh dear I do wish some one would invent something new for girls!" she
exclaimed although there was no one in the room to hear her. "It seems
to me that all girls do nowadays is to imitate boys. We play their
games read their old books and even do their work when all the time
girls are really wanting girl things. I agree with King Solomon: 'The
thing that hath been it is that which shall be; and that which is done
is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun.'
At least not for girls!"
Then with a laugh at her own pessimism Betty like Hamlet having found
relief in soliloquy jumped up from her chair and crossing her room
pressed the electric button near the fireplace until the noise of its
ringing reverberated through the big quiet house.
"There that ought to bring some one to me at last" she announced.
"Three times have I rung that bell and yet no one has answered. Do the
maids in this house actually expect me to build my own fire? I suppose
I could do it if I tried."
She glanced at the pile of kindling inside her wood box and then at the
sweet smelling pine logs standing nearby but the thought of actually
doing something for herself must have struck her as impossible for the
next moment she turned with a shiver to stare through the glass of her
closed window first up toward the sullen May sky and then down into her
Outside the gray clouds were slowly pursuing one another against a
darker background and in the garden the lilacs having just opened their
white and purple blossoms were now looking pale and discouraged as
though born too soon into a world that was failing to appreciate them.
In spite of her petulance Betty laughed. She was wearing a blue
dressing gown and her red-brown hair was caught back with a velvet
ribbon of the same shade. Her room was in blue "Betty's Blue" as her
friends used to call it the color that is neither light nor dark but
has soft shadows in it.
Betty herself was between fifteen and sixteen. She had gray eyes a
short straight nose and her head which was oddly square conveyed an
effect of refinement that was almost disdain. Her mouth was a little
discontented and somehow she gave one the impression that though she
had most of the things other girls wish for she was still seeking for
"The outdoors is as dismal as I am no wonder we used to be sun
worshipers" she said after a few more minutes of waiting; "but since
Prometheus stole the fire from heaven some ages ago I really don't see
why I should have to freeze because the sun won't shine."
Frowning and gathering her dressing gown more closely about her with
another impatient gesture Betty swept out into the hall.
The house was strangely silent for the middle of a week-day afternoon;
not a sound came either from below stairs or above not the rattle of a
window blind nor the echo of a single pair of footsteps.
At some time has a sudden silence ever fallen upon you with a sense of
foreboding like the hour before a storm or the moment preceding some
unexpected news or change in your life?
Betty hurried toward the back-stairs. She was leaning over the
banisters and had called once for one of the maids when she ceased
abruptly and stood still for several moments with her head tilted back
and her body tense with surprise.
So long as Betty could recall there had been a vacant room in the rear
of the old Ashton homestead which had stood for more than a hundred
years at the comer of Elm Street in Woodford New Hampshire. She was
stupider than other people about remembering the events of her childhood
and yet she was sure that this room had never been used for any purpose
save as a storehouse for old pieces of furniture for discarded
pictures for any odds and ends that found no other resting place about
the great house. It was curious because the room was a particularly
attractive one with big windows overlooking the back garden but then
there was some story or other connected with it (old houses have old
memories) and this must have made it unpopular. Betty did not know what
the story was and yet she had grown up with a queer childish dread of
this room and rarely went into it unless she felt compelled.
Now though she was not a coward it did give her an uncanny sensation
to hear a low humming sound proceeding from this supposedly empty room.
Cautiously Betty stole toward its closed door and quietly turned the
knob without making the least noise. Then she looked in.
What transformation had taken place! The room was a store place no
longer for most of the old furniture and all the other rubbish had been
cleared away and what was left was arranged in a comfortable living
fashion. An old rug was spread out on the floor a white iron bed stood
in one corner with an empty bookshelf above it. There was a vase on a
table holding a branch of blossoming pussy willow and seated before one
of the big open windows was a strange girl whom Betty Ashton never
remembered to have seen before in her life.
The girl was sewing but this was not what kept Betty silent. She was
also singing a new and strangely beautiful song.
"Lay me to sleep in sheltering flame 0 Master of the Hidden Fire; Wash
pure my heart and cleanse for me My soul's desire."
Unconscious of the intruder and forgetful of everything else the
singer's voice rose clearer and sweeter with the second verse.
"In flame of sunrise bathe my mind 0 Master of the Hidden Fire That
when I wake clear-eyed may be My soul's desire."
Then in silence as she leaned closer to the window to get a better
light on her sewing an unexpected ray of sunshine managing at this
moment to break through the clouds fell directly on her bowed head. Her
hair was not auburn like Betty's but bright undeniable red.
"That is a charming song and you have lovely voice but would you mind
telling me who you are where you have come from and how you happen to
be so at home in a room in our house?" Betty Ashton inquired coolly
still keeping her position just outside the opened door.
The stranger jumped instantly to her feet letting fall some brown
embroidery silk and a number of bright-colored beads then she stood
with her eyes fixed anxiously on the apparition before her nervously
twisting her big rather coarse-looking hands. She was a year older
than Betty Ashton and at the first glance it would have been difficult
to imagine two persons more unlike. Betty was slender but perfectly
proportioned and had an air of unusual beauty and refinement which her
friends believed must come of her long line of distinguished ancestors
while the new girl was thin and angular with hands and feet that seemed
too big for her and a pale freckled skin. She too had gray eyes but
while Betty's brows and lashes were the color of her hair this girl's
were so light that they failed to give the needful shadows to her eyes.
In order to gain time and courage the newcomer walked slowly across the
room but when she spoke the beauty of her voice gave her unexpected
charm and dignity.
"Hasn't your mother told you of my coming? didn't she ask you if you
wanted me to come?" she questioned slowly. "I am sorry; my name is
Esther Clark but my name can mean nothing to you. Your mother has
asked me here to live to take care of your clothes to read to you to
take walks when there is no one else--"
"Oh you mean you are to be my maid" Betty finished coming now into
the center of the room and studying the other girl critically her eyes
suddenly dark with displeasure and her lips closed into a firm red line.
"I must say it is strange no one has thought to mention your coming to
me and as I am not a child I think I might have been consulted as to
whether I wished to be bothered with you." Betty bit her lips for she
did not mean to be unkind; only she was extremely provoked and was
unaccustomed not to having her wishes consulted.
The older girl's face was no longer pale but had suddenly grown crimson.
"No I am not to be your maid" she returned. "At least Mrs. Ashton
said I was to be a kind of companion; though I am to be useful to you in
any way you like I am still to go to school and to have time for
studying. Of course the holidays are nearly here now but later on I
hope to graduate. If you don't wish me to stay you will please explain
it to your mother only--" Esther tried to speak naturally but her
voice faltered "I hope you will be willing to let me stay at least
until I can find some other place. I am too old to go back to the
"Asylum!" Betty stepped back in such genuine that her companion laughed
showing her white even teeth and the softer curve to her mouth that
relieved her face of some of its former plainness.
"Oh I only meant the orphan asylum so please don't be frightened" she
explained. "I have lived there it is just at the edge of town ever
since I was a little girl because when my mother and father died there
was nothing else to do with me. But you need not feel specially sorry
because I have never been ill-treated in the fashion you read about in
books. Most of the people in charge have been very kind and I have been
going to school for years. Only when your mother came last week and
said she wanted me to come here to live why it did seem kind of
wonderful to find out what a beautiful home was like and then most of
all I wanted to know you. You will think it strange of me but I have
been seeing you with your mother or nurse ever since you were a little
girl of three or four and I a little older and I have always been
interested in you."
Betty smiled showing a dimple which sometimes appeared after an
exhibition of temper of which she felt ashamed. "Oh you will be sorry
enough to know what I am really like" she answered "and will probably
think I am dreadfully spoiled. But do please stay for a while if you
wish at least until we find how we get on together."
Since Betty's first speech at the door had startled her Esther had
never for a moment taken her eyes from her face. Never in all her life
even when she had seen and learned far more of the ways of the world
could this girl learn not to speak the truth. So now she slowly shook
her head. "Your mother did say you were spoiled; it was one reason why
she wished me to come here to live" she replied. "You see she said
that you had been too much alone and had too much done for you and that
your brother was so much older that he only helped to spoil you. But"
Esther was hardly conscious of her listener and seemed only to be
thinking aloud "I shall not mind if you are spoiled for how can you
help being when you are so pretty and fortunate and have all the things
that other girls have just to dream of possessing."
It was odd perhaps but the new girl's speech was made so simply and
sincerely that Betty Ashton instead of feeling angry or complimented was
instead a little ashamed. Had fortune been kinder to her than to other
girls kinder than to the awkward girl in front of her in her plain gray
Betty now backed toward the door which she had so lately opened. "I am
sorry to have disturbed you but usually this room isn't occupied and I
was curious to know who could be in here. I should have knocked. Some
day you must sing that lovely song to me again for I think I would
like very much to know just what my soul's desire is. The worst of life
is not knowing just what you want."
Esther had followed Betty toward the hall. "How funny that sounds to
me" she returned shyly "because I think the hard part of life is not
having what you want. I know very well. But can't I do something for
you now? Your mother said you were not well and perhaps would not wish
to see me this afternoon but I could read to you or--"
Betty's irritability returned. "Thank you very much" she returned
coldly "but I can think of nothing in the world that would amuse me at
present. I simply wish not to freeze and to save my life I can't get
one of our tiresome maids to answer my bell."
Betty's grand manner had returned but in spite of her haughtiness the
newcomer persisted. "Do let me make the fire for you. I am only a wood-
gatherer at present but pretty soon I shall be a real fire-maker for I
have already been working for two months."
"A wood-gatherer and fire-maker; what extraordinary things a girl was
forced to become at an orphan asylum!" Betty's sympathies were
immediately aroused and her cheeks burned with resentment at the sudden
vision of this girl at her side trudging through the woods her back
bent under heavy burdens. No wonder her shoulders stooped and her hands
were coarse. Betty slipped her arm through the stranger's.
"No I won't trouble you to make my fire but do come into my room and
let us just talk. None of my friends have been in to see me this
afternoon not even the faithless Polly! They are too busy getting
ready for the end of school to think about poor ill me." And Betty
laughed gayly at the untruthfulness of this picture of herself.
Once inside the blue room without asking permission Esther knelt
straightway down before the brass andirons and with deft fingers placed
a roll of twisted paper under a lattice-like pile of kindling arranging
three small pine logs in a triangle above it. But before setting a
match to the paper she turned toward the other girl hovering about her
like a butterfly.
"I wonder if you would like me to recite the fire-maker's song?" she
asked. "I haven't the right to say it yet but it is so lovely that I
would like you to hear it."
Betty stared and laughed. "Do fire-makers have songs?" she demanded.
"How queer that sounds! Perhaps the Indians used to have fire songs
long ago when a fire really meant so much. But I can't imagine a maid's
chanting a song before one's fire in the morning and I don't think I
should like being wakened up by it."
"You would like this one" the other girl persisted.
Little yellow spurts of flame were now creeping forth from between the
sticks some leaping away into nothingness others curling and enfolding
them. The paper in the grate crackled noisily as the cold May wind
swept down the chimney with a defiant roar and both girls silently
watched the newly kindled fire with the fascination that is eternal.
Betty had also dropped down on her knees. "What is your song?" she
asked curiously an instant later raising her hands before her face to
let the firelight shine through.
Esther's head was bent so that her face could not be seen but the
beauty of her speech was reflected in the other girl's changing
"As fuel is brought to the fire So I purpose to bring My strength my
ambition My heart's desire My joy And my sorrow To the fire Of
Purposely Esther's voice dropped with these last words and she did not
continue until a hand was placed gently on her shoulder and a voice
urged: "Please go on; what is the 'fire of humankind'?"
"For I will tend As my fathers have tended And my fathers' fathers Since
time began The fire that is called The love of man for man The love of
man for God."
At the end Esther glancing around at the girl beside her was surprised
to see a kind of mist over her gray eyes.
But Betty laughed as she got up to her feet and going over to her table
stooped to pick up the book she had thrown on the floor half an hour
"I might have made my own fire if I had known that song" she said
switching on the electric light under the rose-colored shade. For the
clouds outside had broken at last the rain was pouring and the blue
room save for the firelight would have been in darkness.
Betty sat down putting her feet under her and resting her chin on her
hands. "I wonder what it feels like to be useful?" she asked evidently
questioning herself for afterwards she turned toward her companion.
"You must have learned a great many things by being brought up at an
orphan asylum how to care for other people and all that but I never
would have dreamed that poetry would have played any part in your
Esther had turned and was about to leave the room but now at Betty's
words she looked at her strangely.
Her face had reddened again and because of the intensity of her feelings
her big hands were once more pressed nervously together.
"Why no I never learned anything at the asylum but work" she answered
slowly "just dull hateful routine work; doing the same things over
again every day in the same way cooking and washing dishes and
scrubbing. I suppose I was being useful but there isn't much fun in
being useful when nobody cares or seems to be helped by what you do. I
know I am ugly and not clever but I love beautiful people and
Unconsciously her glance traveled from her listener's face to the small
piano in the corner of the room. "And it never seemed to me that
things were divided quite fairly in this world but now that I know
about the Camp Fire Girls I am ever so much happier."
"Camp Fire Girls?" Betty queried. "Do sit down child I don't wish you
to leave me and please don't say horrid things about yourself for it
isn't polite and you never can tell how things are going to turn out.
But who are the Camp Fire Girls; what are the Camp Fire Girls; are they
Indians or Esquimaux or the fire-maidens in 'The Nibelungen'? Perhaps
after all something new has been invented for girls and a little while
ago I felt as discouraged as King Solomon and believed there was nothing
new and nothing worth while under the sun."
Betty's eyes were dancing with fun and anticipation her bored look had
entirely disappeared but the other girl evidently took her question
seriously. She had seated herself in a small desk chair and kept her
eyes fixed on the fire. "It seems very queer to me that you don't know
about the 'Camp Fire Girls'" she answered slowly "and it may take me a
long time to tell you even the little bit I know but I think it the
most splendid thing that has ever happened."
"METHINKS YOU ARE MY GLASS"
Just across the street from the old Ashton place was another house
equally old and yet wholly unlike it for instead of being a stately
well-kept-up mansion with great rooms and broad halls and half an acre
of garden about it this was a cottage of the earliest New England type.
It was low and rambling covering a good deal of ground and yet without
any porch and very little yard because as the village closed about it
and Elm Street became a fashionable quarter the land had been gradually
sold until now its white picket fence was only a dozen feet from the
front door and passers-by could easily have looked inside its parlor
windows save for the tall bushes that served as a shield. By immemorial
custom the cottage had always been painted white and green but for a
good many years it had not been troubled by any paint at all "but had
lived" as Polly said "on its past and like a good many persons in
Woodford had gotten considerably run down by the process."
Now there were no lights at any of the front windows although it was
eight o'clock in the evening but as the warm steady glow of a lamp
shone from the rear of the house it was plainly occupied.
There was no doubt of this in the mind of the girl who stood knocking
noisily at the closed door saying in an imploring voice:
"Oh do please hurry Polly dear you know it is only me and that I
can't bear to be kept waiting."
At this moment a candle was evidently being borne down the hall for the
door opened so quickly afterwards that two girls one on either side the
door fell into one another's arms.
"Dear me it's 'The Princess' and she is no more ill than I am though
we were told she couldn't possibly be at school to-day on account of her
ill health" the girl on the inside spoke first recovering her breath.
"I suppose royal persons may lie abed and nurse their dispositions
while poor ones have to keep on washing dishes. But come on into the
kitchen Betty we are in there to-night and I haven't yet finished my
She led the way with the candle down the shabby hall until both girls
entered the lighted room. There with a little cry of surprise Betty
ran over and dropped down on her knees by the side of a lounge.
The woman on the lounge was not so large as the girl although her brown
hair showed a good deal of gray and her face looked tired and worn. She
had been holding a magazine in her hands but evidently had not been
reading for her eyes had turned from the girl who stood only a few
feet away from her drying some cups and saucers to the two others who
had just come in without an instant's delay.
"I am quite all right dear" she answered the newcomer "only the
kitchen seemed so warm and cozy after the wet day and I was tired."
Betty was too familiar with the lovely old-fashioned kitchen of her
dearest friends even to think about it but to-night she did look about
her for a moment.
The room was the largest in the cottage; the walls were of oak so dark a
brown from age that they were almost black; there were heavy rafters
across the ceiling and swinging from them bunches of dried sweet-
smelling herbs. The windows had broad sills filled with pots of red
geraniums and ground ivy and as they were wide open the odor of the
wet spring earth outside mingled with the aromatic fragrance of the
An old stove was set deep into the farthest wall with a Dutch oven at
one side and above it a high severely plain mantel holding a number of
venerable pots and pans of pewter and copper and two tall copper
candlesticks. The candles were lighted as the room was too large for
the single light of the lamp on the table near the lounge.
Polly O'Neill had gone straight to her sister and putting both hands on
her shoulders had pushed her steadily back inch by inch until she forced
her into a large armchair.
"Mollie Mavourneen you know I hate washing dishes like an owl does the
day light but I am not going to let you do my work and to-night you
know the agreeable task of cleaning up belongs to me. I asked you to
leave things alone when I went to the door and I don't think you play
fair." Polly seized a cup with such vehemence that it slipped from her
hand and crashed onto the floor but neither her mother nor Mollie
showed the least sign of surprise and only Betty's eyes widened with
Strangers always insisted that there were never twin sisters in the
world so exactly alike as Mollie and Polly O'Neill (not that their names
had ever been intended to rhyme in this absurd fashion for they had
started quite sensibly as Mary and Pauline) but to the friends who