"Sing a lil'?" she asked, smiling persuasively and kissing her hand to the party.
Then she sat down on the pile of cushions and played and sang, first a quaint little folk-song suited to her part, and then one or two dashing popular airs, until the unaccommodating fudge was quite forgotten, except by Betty, who stirred and frowned, and examined the flame and tested the thickness of the rich brown liquid, quite unnoticed. Eleanor had just shrugged her shoulders and announced, "I no more sing, now," when somebody else knocked on the door, or rather pushed it open, and a grotesque figure slouched in.
At least half of it was head, black and awful, with gruesome green features. Short, unjointed arms came out of its waist, with green claws dangling where the hands should have been; and below its short skirt flapped the tails of a swallow-tail coat. The girls were too much astonished to speak, as the creature advanced silently into the room, and without a word began dancing something that, as Katherine expressed it afterward, was a cross between a double-shuffle and a skirt-dance. When it had succeeded in reducing its audience to a state of abject and tearful mirth, the creature stopped suddenly, announced, "You've seen the Jabberwock," in sepulchral tones, and flopped on to the end of a couch, saying breathlessly, "Mary Brooks, please help me out of this. I'm suffocating."
"How did you do it, Miss Lewis?" inquired the stately senior, who was Mary's guest, wiping her eyes and gasping for breath as she spoke.
"It's perfectly simple," drawled Roberta indifferently. "The head is my black silk petticoat. I painted on the features, because the children like to have me do it at home, and it's convenient to be ready. The arms are a broom-handle, stuck through the sleeves of this old coat, which is buttoned around my waist."
"And now you're going to do the Bandersnatch, aren't you?" inquired the senior craftily, perceiving that the other side of the petticoat was decorated with curious red spots.
"I—how did you—oh, no," said Roberta, blushing furiously, and stuffing the telltale petticoat under a convenient pillow. "I don't know why I brought the things for this. I never meant to do it up here. I—I hope you weren't bored. I just happened to think of it, and Eleanor couldn't sing forever, and that fudge——"
"That fudge won't cook," broke in Betty in tragic tones. "It doesn't thicken at all, and it's half-past nine this minute. What shall I do?"
Everybody crowded around the chafing-dish, giving advice and suggesting unfailing remedies. But none of them worked.
"And there's nothing else but tea and chocolate," wailed Adelaide.
"But you can all have both," said Betty bravely, "and you've forgotten the crackers, Adelaide. I'll pass them while you and Katherine go for more cups."
"And you can send the fudge round to-morrow," suggested Mary Brooks consolingly. "It's quite the thing, you know. Don't imagine that your chafing-dish is the only one that's too slow for the ten-o'clock rule."
Betty insisted upon sitting up to finish the fudge, but she ended by getting up before breakfast the next morning to cook it on Mrs. Chapin's stove.
"Nobody seemed to care much about its being so slow, except me," she said to Helen, as they did it up in neat little bundles to be handed to the guests of the evening at chapel. "Weren't Eleanor and Roberta fine?"
"Yes," agreed Helen enthusiastically. "But isn't it queer that Roberta won't let us praise her? She seems to be ashamed of being able to be so funny."
Betty laughed. "That's Roberta," she said. "It will be months before she'll do it again, I'm afraid. I suppose she felt last night as if she had to do what she could for the honor of the house, so she came out of her shell."
"She told Rachel that she did it on your account. She said you looked as if you wanted to cry."
Betty flushed prettily. "How nice of her! I did want to cry. I felt as if I was to blame about the fudge. I wish I had a nice stunt like that of Eleanor's to come to people's rescue with."
"Were those what you call stunts?" inquired Helen earnestly. "I didn't know what they were, but they were fine."
"Why, Helen Chase Adams, do you mean that you've been in college two months and don't know what a stunt is——" began Betty, and stopped, blushing furiously and fearing that she had hurt Helen's feelings. For the reason why she did not know about stunts was obvious.
Helen took it very simply. "You know I'm not asked to things outside," she said, "and I don't seem to be around when the girls do things here. So why should I know?"
"No reason at all," said Betty decidedly. "They are just silly little parlor tricks anyway—most of them—not worth wasting time over. Do you know Miss Willis told us in English class that a great deal of slang originated in college, and she gave 'stunt' as an example. She said it had been used here ever so long and only a few years outside, in quite a different meaning. Isn't that queer?"
"Yes," said Helen indifferently. "She told my division too, but she didn't say what it meant here. I suppose she thought we'd all know."
Betty, stealing a glance at her, saw her wink back the tears. "She does care about the fun," thought Betty. "She cares as much as Rachel or I, or Eleanor even. And she is left out. It isn't a bit fair, but what's to be done about it?"
Being young and very happy herself, she speedily forgot all about the knotty problem of the unequal distribution of this world's goods, whether they be potatoes or fudge parties. Occasionally she remembered again, and gave Helen a helping hand, as she had done several times already. But college is much like the bigger world outside. The fittest survive on their own merits, and these must be obvious and well advertised, or they are in great danger of being overlooked. And it is safer in the long run to do one's own advertising and to begin early. Eleanor understood this, but she forgot or ignored the other rules of the game. Betty practiced it unconsciously, which is the proper method. Helen never mastered its application and succeeded in spite of it.
* * * * *
Several evenings after that one on which the fudge had refused to cook, Alice Waite was trying to learn her history lesson, and her "queer" roommate, who loved to get into her bed as well as she hated to make it, was trying to go to sleep—an operation rendered difficult by the fact that the girl next door was cracking butternuts with a marble paper-weight—when there was a soft tap on the door.
"Don't answer," begged the sleepy roommate.
"May be important," objected Alice, "but I won't let her stay. Come in!"
The door opened and a young gentleman in correct evening dress, with an ulster folded neatly over his arm, entered the room and gazed, smiling and silent, about him. He was under average height, slightly built, and had a boyish, pleasant face that fitted ill with his apparent occupation as house-breaker and disturber of damsels.
The roommate, who had sat up in bed with the intention of repelling whatever intruder threatened her rest, gave a shriek of mingled terror and indignation and disappeared under the bedclothes. Alice rose, with as much dignity as the three heavy volumes which she held in her lap, and which had to be untangled from her kimono, would permit. She moved the screen around her now hysterical roommate and turned fiercely upon the young gentleman.
"How dare you!" she demanded sternly. "Go!" And she stamped her foot somewhat ineffectively, since she had on her worsted bedroom slippers.
At this the young gentleman's smile broke into an unmistakably feminine giggle.
"Oh, you are so lovely!" he gurgled. "Don't cry, Miss Madison. It's not a real man. It's only I—Betty Wales."
"Betty!" gasped Alice. "Betty Wales, what are you doing? Is it really you?"
"Of course," said Betty calmly, pulling off her wig by way of further evidence, and sitting down with careful regard for her coattails in the nearest chair. "I hope," she added, "that I haven't really worried Miss Madison. Take the screen away, Alice, and see what she's doing."
"Oh, I'm all right now, thank you," said Miss Madison, pushing back the screen herself. "But you gave me an awful fright. What are you doing?"
"Why, we're going to give a play at our house Saturday," explained Betty, "and to-night was a dress rehearsal. I wanted to bring Alice a ticket, and I thought it would be fun to come in these clothes and frighten her; so I put on a skirt and a rain-coat and came along. I left my skirt in your entrance-way. Get it for me please, Alice, and I'll put it on before I send any one else into hysterics."
"Oh, not yet," begged Miss Madison. "I want to look at you. Please stand up and turn around, so I can have a back view."
Betty readjusted her wig and stood up for inspection.
"What's the play?" asked Alice.
Betty considered. "It's a secret, but I'll tell you to pay for giving you both such a scare. It's 'Sherlock Holmes.' Mary Brooks saw the real play in New York, and she wrote this, something like the real one, but different so we could do it. She could think up the plot beautifully but she wasn't good at conversation, so Katherine helped her, and it's fine."
"Is there a robbery?" inquired Alice.
"Oh, yes, diamonds."
"And a murder?"
"Well, a supposed murder. The audience thinks it is, but it isn't really. And there's a pretend fire too, just as there is in the real play."
"And who are you?"
"I'm the villain," said Betty. "I'm to have curling black mustaches and a fierce frown, and then you'd know without asking."
"I should think they'd have wanted you for the heroine," said Alice, who admired Betty immensely.
"Oh, no," demurred the villain. "Eleanor is leading lady, of course. She has three different costumes, and she looks like a queen in every one of them. Katherine is going to be Sherlock Holmes, and Adelaide Rich is Dr. Watson and—oh, I mustn't tell you any more, or Alice won't enjoy it Saturday."
"We had a little play here," said Miss Madison, "but it was tame beside this. Where did you get all the men's costumes?"
"Rented them, and the wigs and mustaches and pistols," and Betty explained about the dancing-school money which the house had voted to Roberta's project instead of to the spread.
"I wish I could act," said Alice. "I should love to be a man. But my mother wouldn't let me, so it's just as well that I'm a perfect stick at it."
"Roberta's father wouldn't let her either," said Betty, "but mother didn't mind, as long as it's only before a few girls. I presume she wouldn't like my coming over here and frightening you. But I honestly didn't think you'd be deceived."
"I'm so glad you came," said Miss Madison lying back luxuriously among her pillows. "Does the story of the play take place in the evening?"
"Yes, all of it. I'm dressed for the theatre, but I'm detained by the robbery."
"Then I have something I want to lend you. Alice, open the washstand drawer, please—no, the middle one—in that flat green box. Thank you. Your hat, sir villain," she went on, snapping open an opera hat and handing it to Betty with a flourish.
"How perfectly lovely!" exclaimed Betty. "But how in the world did you happen to have it?"
"Why, I stayed with my cousins for two weeks just before I came up here, and I found it in their guest-chamber bureau. It wasn't Cousin Tom's nor Uncle Dick's, and they didn't know whose it was; so they gave it to me, because I liked to play with it. Should you really like to use it?"
"Like it!" repeated Betty, shutting the hat and opening it again with a low bow. "Why it will be the cream of the whole performance. It would make the play go just of itself," and she put it on and studied the effect attentively in the mirror.
"It's rather large," said Alice. "If I were you, I'd just carry it."
"It is big," admitted Betty regretfully, "or at least it makes me look very small. But I can snap it a lot, and then put it on as I exit. Miss Madison, you'll come to the play of course. I hadn't but one ticket left, but after lending us this you're a privileged person."
"I hoped you'd ask me," said Miss Madison gratefully. "The play does sound so exciting. But that wasn't why I offered you the hat."
"Of course not, and it's only one reason why you are coming," said Betty tactfully. "Now Alice, you must bring in my skirt. I have to walk so slowly in all these things, and it must be almost ten."
When Sir Archibald Ames, villain, had been transformed into a demure little maiden with rumpled hair and a high, stiff collar showing above her rain-coat, Betty took her departure. A wave of literary and dramatic enthusiasm had inundated the Chapin house. The girls were constantly suggesting theme topics to one another—which unfortunately no one but Mary Brooks could use, at least until the next semester; for in the regular freshman English classes, subjects were always assigned. And they were planning theatre parties galore, to see Jefferson, Maude Adams, and half a dozen others if they came to Harding. Betty, who had a happy faculty of keeping her head just above such passing waves, smiled to herself as she hurried across the dark campus.
"Next week, when our play is over it will be something else," she thought. Rachel was already interested in basket-ball and had prospects of being chosen for the freshman class team. Eleanor had been practicing hard on her guitar, hoping to "make" the mandolin club; and was dreadfully disappointed at finding that according to a new rule freshmen were ineligible and that her entrance conditions would have excluded her in any case.
"So many things to do," sighed Betty, who had given up a hockey game that afternoon to study history. "I suppose we've got to choose," she added philosophically. "But I choose to be an all-around girl, like Dorothy King. I can't sing though. I wonder what my one talent is.
"Helen," she said, as she opened her door, "have you noticed that all college girls have one particular talent? I wonder what ours will turn out to be. See what I have for the play."
Helen, who looked tired and heavy-eyed, inspected the opera hat listlessly. "I think your talent is getting the things you want," she said, "and I guess I haven't any. It's quarter of ten."
AFTER THE PLAY
"Sherlock Holmes" was quite as exciting as Miss Madison had anticipated. Most college plays, except the elaborate ones given in the gymnasium, which are carefully learned, costumed and rehearsed, and supervised by a committee from the faculty—are amusing little farces in one or two short scenes. "Sherlock Holmes," on the other hand, was a four act, blood-curdling melodrama, with three different stage settings, an abundance of pistol shots, a flash-light fire, shrieks and a fainting fit on the part of the heroine, the raiding of a robbers' den in the denouement, and "a lot more excitement all through than there is in Mr. Gillette's play," as Mary modestly informed her caste. It was necessarily cruder, as it was far more ambitious, than the commoner sort of amateur play; but the audience, whether little freshmen who had seen few similar performances, or upper class girls who had seen a great many and so fully appreciated the novelty of this one, were wildly enthusiastic. Every actress, down to Helen, who made a very stiff and stilted "Buttons," and Rachel and Mary Rich who appeared in the robbers' den scene as Betty's female accomplices, and in the heroine's drawing-room as her wicked mother and her stupid maid respectively, was rapturously received; and Dr. Holmes and Sir Archibald, whose hat was decidedly the hit of the evening, were forced to come before the curtain. Finally, in response to repeated shouts for "author," Mary Brooks appeared, flushed and panting from her vigorous exertions as prompter, stage manager, and assistant dresser, and informed the audience that owing to the kindness of Mrs. Chapin there was lemon-ice in the dining-room, and would every one please go out there, so that this awful mess,—with a comprehensive wave of her hand toward the ruins of the robbers' den piled on top of the heroine's drawing-room furniture, which in turn had been a rearrangment of Dr. Holmes's study,—could be cleared up, and they could dance there later?
At this the audience again applauded, sighed to think that the play was over, and then joyfully adjourned to the dining-room to eat Mrs. Chapin's ice and examine the actors at close range. All these speedily appeared, except Helen, who had crept up-stairs quite unnoticed the moment her part was finished, and Eleanor, who, hunting up Betty, explained that she had a dreadful headache and begged Betty to look after her guests and not for anything to let them come up-stairs to find her. Betty, who was busily washing off her "fierce frown" at the time, sputtered a promise through the mixture of soap, water and vaseline she was using, delivered the message, assured herself that the guests were enjoying themselves, and forgot all about Eleanor until half-past nine when every one had gone and she came up to her room to find Helen in bed and apparently fast asleep, with her face hidden in the pillows.
"How queer," she thought. "She's had the blues for a week, but I thought she was all right this evening." Then, as her conjectures about Helen suggested Eleanor's headache, she tiptoed out to see if she could do anything for the prostrate heroine.
Eleanor's transom was dark and her door evidently locked, for it would not yield when Betty, anxious at getting no answer to her knocks, tried to open it. But when she called softly, "Eleanor, are you there? Can I do anything?" Eleanor answered crossly, "Please go away. I'm better, but I want to be let alone."
So, murmuring an apology, Betty went back to her own room, and as Helen seemed to be sound asleep, she saw no reason for making a nuisance of herself a second time, but considerately undressed in the dark and crept into bed as softly as possible.
If she had turned on her light, she would have discovered two telltale bits of evidence, for Helen had left a very moist handkerchief on her desk and another rolled into a damp, vindictive little wad on the chiffonier. It was not because she knew she had done her part badly that she had gone sobbing to bed, while the others ate lemon-ice and danced merrily down-stairs. Billy was a hard part; Mary Brooks had said so herself, and she had only taken it because when Roberta positively refused to act, there was no one else. Helen couldn't act, knew she couldn't, and didn't much care. But not to have any friends in all this big, beautiful college—that was a thing to make any one cry. It was bad enough not to be asked anywhere, but not to have any friends to invite oneself, that was worse—it was dreadful! If she went right off up-stairs perhaps no one would notice; they would think at first that somebody else was looking after her guests while she dressed, and then they would forget all about her and never know the dreadful truth that nobody she had asked to the play would come.
When it had first been decided to present "Sherlock Holmes" and the girls had begun giving out their invitations, Helen, who felt more and more keenly her isolation in the college, resolved to see just how the others managed and then do as they did. She heard Rachel say, "I think Christy Mason is a dear. I don't know her much if any, but I'm going to ask her all the same, and perhaps we shall get better acquainted after awhile."
That made Helen, who took the speech more literally than it was meant, think of Caroline Barnes. One afternoon she and Betty had been down-town together, and on the way back Miss Barnes overtook them, and came up with them to see Eleanor, who was an old friend of hers. Betty introduced her to Helen and she walked between them up the hill and necessarily included both of them in her conversation. She was a homely girl, with dull, inexpressive features; but she was tall and well-proportioned and strikingly well dressed. Betty had taken an instant dislike to her at the time of their first meeting and greatly to Eleanor's disgust had resisted all her advances. Eleanor had accused her frankly of not liking Caroline.
"No," returned Betty with equal frankness, "I don't. I think all your other friends are lovely, but Miss Barnes rubs me the wrong way."
Helen knew nothing of all this, and Miss Barnes's lively, slangy conversation and stylish, showy clothes appealed to her unsophisticated taste.
When the three parted at the head of the stairs, Miss Barnes turned back to say, "Aren't you coming to see me? You owe me a call, you know."
Helen and Betty were standing close together, and though part of the remark applied only to Betty, she looked at them both.
Betty said formally, "Thank you, I should like to," and Helen, pleased and eager, chorused, "So should I."
Later, in their own room, Betty said with apparent carelessness but with the covert intention of dropping Helen a useful hint, "You aren't going to see Miss Barnes, are you? I'm not."
And Helen had flushed again, gave some stammering reply and then had had for the first time an unkind thought about her roommate. Betty wanted to keep all her nice friends to herself. It must be that. Why shouldn't she go to see Miss Barnes? She wasn't asked so often that she could afford to ignore the invitations she did get. And later she added, Why shouldn't she ask Miss Barnes to the play, since Eleanor wasn't going to?
So one afternoon Helen, arrayed in her best clothes, went down to call and deliver her invitation. Miss Barnes was out, but her door was open and Helen slipped in, and writing a little note on her card, laid it conspicuously on the shining mahogany desk.
That was one invitation. She had given the other to a quiet, brown-eyed girl who sat next her in geometry, not from preference, but because her name came next on the class roll. This girl declined politely, on the plea of another engagement.
Next day Miss Barnes brushed unseeingly past her in the hall of the Science Building. The day after that they met at gym. Finally, when almost a week had gone by without a sign from her, Helen inquired timidly if she had found the note.
"Oh, are you Miss Adams?" inquired Miss Barnes, staring past her with a weary air. "Thank you very much I'm sure, but I can't come," and she walked off.
Any one but Helen Adams would have known that Caroline Barnes and Eleanor Watson had the reputation of being the worst "snobs" in their class, and that Miss Ashby, her neighbor in geometry, boarded with her mother and never went anywhere without her. But Helen knew no college gossip. She offered her invitation to two girls who had been in the dancing-class, read hypocrisy into their hearty regrets that they were going out of town for Sunday, and asked no one else to the play. If she had been less shy and reserved she would have told Rachel or Betty all about her ill-luck, have been laughed at and sympathized with, and then have forgotten all about it. But being Helen Chase Adams, she brooded over her trouble in secret, asked nobody's advice, and grew shyer and more sensitive in consequence, but not a whit less determined to make a place for herself in the college world.
She would have attached less significance to Caroline Barnes's rudeness, had she known a little about the causes of Eleanor's headache. Eleanor had gone down to Caroline's on the afternoon of the play, knocked boldly, in spite of a "Don't disturb" sign posted on the door, and found the pretty rooms in great confusion and Caroline wearily overseeing the packing of her books and pictures.
Eleanor waited patiently until the men had gone off with three huge boxes, and then insisted upon knowing what Caroline was doing.
"Going home," said Caroline sullenly.
"Why?" demanded Eleanor.
"Public reason—trouble with my eyes; real reason—haven't touched my conditions yet and now I have been warned and told to tutor in three classes. I can't possibly do it all."
"Why Caroline Barnes, do you mean you are sent home?"
Caroline nodded. "It amounts to that. I was advised to go home now, and work off the entrance conditions and come again next fall. I thought maybe you'd be taking the same train," she added with a nervous laugh.
Eleanor turned white. "Nonsense!" she said sharply. "What do you mean?"
"Well, you said you hadn't done anything about your conditions, and you've cut and flunked and scraped along much as I have, I fancy."
"I'm sorry, Caroline," said Eleanor, ignoring the digression. "I don't know that you care, though. You've said you were bored to death up here."
"I—I say a great deal that I don't mean," gulped Caroline. "Good-bye, Eleanor. Shall I see you in New York at Christmas? And don't forget—trouble with my eyes. Oh, the family won't mind. They didn't like my coming up in the first place. I shall go abroad in the spring. Good-bye."
Eleanor walked swiftly back through the campus. In the main building she consulted the official bulletin-board with anxious eyes, and fairly tore off a note addressed to "Miss Eleanor Watson, First Class." It had come—a "warning" in Latin. Once back in her own room, Eleanor sat down to consider the situation calmly. But the more she thought about it, the more frightened and ashamed she grew. Thanksgiving was next week, and she had been given only until Christmas to work off her entrance conditions. She had meant to leave them till the last moment, rush through the work with a tutor, and if she needed it get an extension of time by some specious excuse. Had the last minute passed? The Latin warning meant more extra work. There were other things too. She had "cut" classes recklessly—three on the day of the sophomore reception, and four on a Monday morning when she had promised to be back from Boston in time for chapel. Also, she had borrowed Lil Day's last year's literature paper and copied most of it verbatim. She could make a sophistical defence of her morals to Betty Wales, but she understood perfectly what the faculty would think about them. The only question was, how much did they know?
When the dinner-bell rang, Eleanor pulled herself together and started down-stairs.
"Did you get your note, Miss Watson?" asked Adelaide Rich from the dining-room door.
"What note?" demanded Eleanor sharply.
"I'm sure I can't describe it. It was on the hall table," said Adelaide, turning away wrathfully. Some people were so grateful if you tried to do them a favor!
It was this incident which led Eleanor to hurry off after dinner, and again at the end of the play, bound to escape nerve-racking questions and congratulations. Later, when Betty knocked on her door, her first impulse was to let her in and ask her advice. But a second thought suggested that it was safer to confide in nobody. The next morning she was glad of the second thought, for things looked brighter, and it would have been humiliating indeed to be discovered making a mountain out of a mole-hill.
"The trouble with Caroline was that she wasn't willing to work hard," she told herself. "Now I care enough to do anything, and I must make them see it."
She devoted her spare hours on Monday morning to "making them see it," with that rare combination of tact and energy that was Eleanor Watson at her best. By noon her fears of being sent home were almost gone, and she was alert and exhilarated as she always was when there were difficulties to be surmounted.
"Now that the play is over, I'm going to work hard," Betty announced at lunch, and Eleanor, who was still determined not to confide in anybody, added nonchalantly, "So am I." It was going to be the best of the fun to take in the Chapin house.
But the Chapin house was not taken in for long.
"What's come over Eleanor Watson?" inquired Katherine, a few days later, as the girls filed out from dinner.
"She's working," said Mary Brooks with a grin. "And apparently she thinks work and dessert don't jibe."
"I'm afraid it was time," said Rachel. "She's always cutting classes, and that puts a girl behind faster than anything else. I wonder if she could have had a warning in anything."
"I think she could——" began Katherine, and then stopped, laughing. "I might as well own up to one in math.," she said.
"Well, Miss Watson is going to stay here over Thanksgiving," said Mary Rich.
Then plans for the two days' vacation were discussed, and Eleanor's affairs forgotten, much to the relief of Betty Wales, who feared every moment lest she should in some way betray Eleanor's confidence.
On the Wednesday after Thanksgiving Eleanor burst in on her merrily, as she was dressing for dinner.
"I just wanted to tell you that some of those conditions that worry you so are made up," she said. "I almost wore out my tutor, and I surprised the history department into a compliment, but I'm through. That is, I have only math., and one other little thing."
"I don't see how you did it," sighed Betty. "I should never dare to get behind. I have all I want to do with the regular work."
Eleanor leaned luxuriously back among the couch cushions. "Yes," she said loftily. "I suppose you haven't the faintest idea what real, downright hard work is, and neither can you appreciate the joys of downright idleness. I shall try that as soon as I've finished the math."
"Why?" asked Betty. "Do you like making it up later?"
"I shouldn't have to. You know I'm getting a reputation as an earnest, thorough student. That's what the history department called me. A reputation is a wonderful thing to lean back upon. I ought to have gone in for one in September. I was at the Hill School for three years, and I never studied after the first three months. There's everything in making people believe in you from the first."
"What's the use in making people believe you're something that you're not?" demanded Betty.
"What a question! It saves you the trouble of being that something. If the history department once gets into the habit of thinking me a thorough, earnest student, it won't condition me because I fail in a written recitation or two. It will suppose I had an off day."
"But you'd have to do well sometimes."
"Oh, yes, occasionally. That's easy."
"Not for me," said Betty, "so I shall have to do respectable work all the time. But I shall tell Helen about your idea. She works all the time, and it makes her dull and cross. She must have secured a reputation by this time; and I shall insist upon her leaning back on it for a while and taking more walks."
PAYING THE PIPER
"I feel as if there were about three days between Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Rachel, coming up the stairs, to Betty, who stood in the door of her room half in and half out of her white evening dress.
"That leaves one day and a half, then, before vacation," laughed Betty. "I'm sorry to bother you when you're so pressed for time, but could you hook me up? Helen is at the library, and every one else seems to be off somewhere."
"Certainly," said Rachel, dropping her armful of bundles on the floor. "I'm only making Christmas presents. Is the Kappa Phi dance coming off at last?"
"Yes—another one, that is; and Mr. Parsons asked me, to make up for the one I had to miss. Now, would you hold my coat?"
"Betty! Betty Wales! Wait a minute," called somebody just as Betty reached the Main Street corner, and Eleanor Watson appeared, also dressed for the dance.
"Why didn't you say you were going to Winsted?" she demanded breathlessly. "Good, here's a car."
"Why didn't you say you were going?" demanded Betty in her turn as they scrambled on.
"Because I didn't intend to until the last minute. Then I decided that I'd earned a little recreation, so I telegraphed Paul West that I'd come after all. Who is your chaperon?"
"Well please introduce me when we get down-town, so that I can ask if I may join her party."
Ethel Hale received Betty with enthusiasm, and Eleanor with a peculiar smile and a very formal permission to go to Winsted under her escort. As the two were starting off to buy their tickets, she called Betty back.
"Aren't you going to sit with me on the way over, little sister?" she asked.
"Of course," said Betty, and they settled themselves together a moment later for the short ride.
"You never come to see me, Betty," Miss Hale began, when they were seated.
"I'm afraid to," confessed Betty sheepishly. "When you're a faculty and I'm only a freshman."
"Nonsense," laughed Miss Hale. Then she glanced at Eleanor, who sat several seats in front of them, and changed the subject abruptly. "What sort of girl is Miss Watson?" she asked.
Betty laughed. "All sorts, I think," she said. "I never knew any one who could be so nice one minute and so trying the next."
"How do you happen to know her well?" pursued Miss Hale seriously.
"And you think that on the whole she's worth while?"
"I'm afraid I don't understand——" Betty was beginning to feel as if she was taking an examination on Eleanor's characteristics.
"You think that on the whole she's more good than bad; and that there's something to her, besides beauty. That's all I want to know. She is lovely, isn't she?"
"Yes, indeed," agreed Betty enthusiastically. "But she's very bright too. She's done a lot of extra work lately and so quickly and well. She's very nice to me always, but she dislikes my roommate and she and I are always disagreeing about that or something else. I don't think—you know she wouldn't do a dishonorable thing for the world, but I don't approve of some of her ideas; they don't seem quite fair and square, Ethel."
"Um," assented Ethel absently. "I'm glad you could tell me all this, Betty. I shouldn't have asked you, perhaps; it's rather taking advantage of our private friendship. But I really needed to know. Ah, here we are!"
As she spoke, the train slowed down and a gay party of Winsted men sprang on to the platform, and jostled one another down the aisles, noisily greeting the girls they knew and each one hunting for his particular guest of the afternoon. They had brought a barge down to take the girls to the college, and in the confusion of crowding into it Betty found herself separated from Ethel. "I wish I'd asked her why she wanted to know all that," she thought, and then she forgot everything but the delicious excitement of actually being on the way to a dance at Winsted.
Most of the fraternity house was thrown open to the visitors, and between the dances in the library, which was big enough to make an excellent ball-room also, they wandered through it, finding all sorts of interesting things to admire, and pleasantly retired nooks and corners to rest in. Mr. Parsons was a very attentive host, providing partners in plenty; and Betty, who was passionately fond of dancing and had been to only one "truly grown-up" dance before, was in her element. But every once in awhile she forgot her own pleasure to notice Eleanor and to wonder at her beauty and vivacity. She was easily belle of the ball. She seemed to know all the men, and they crowded eagerly around her, begging for dances and hanging on her every word. Eleanor's usually listless face was radiant. She had a smile and a gay sally for every one; there was never a hint of the studied coldness with which she received any advances from Helen or the Riches, nor of the scornful ennui with which she faced the social life of her own college.
"Aren't you glad you came?" said Betty, when they met at the frappe table.
"Rather," said Eleanor laconically. "This is life, and I've only existed for months and months. What would the world be like without men and music?"
"Goodness! what a wise-sounding remark," laughed Betty.
Just then Miss Hale came up in charge of a very young and callow freshman.
"Please lend me your fan, Betty," she said. "I was afraid it would look forward for a chaperon to bring one, and I'm desperately warm."
Eleanor, who had turned aside to speak to her partner, looked up quickly as Ethel spoke, and meeting Miss Hale's gray eyes she flushed suddenly and moved away.
Betty handed Ethel the fan. "I wish——" she began, looking after Eleanor's retreating figure. But as she spoke the music started again and a vivacious youth hurried up and whisked her away before she had time to finish her sentence; and she could not get near Ethel again.
"Men do make better partners than girls," she said to Mr. Parsons as they danced the last waltz together. "And I think their rooms are prettier than ours, if these are fair samples. But they can't have any better time at college than we do."
"We certainly couldn't get on at all without you girls across the river," Mr. Parsons was saying gallantly, when the music stopped and Eleanor, followed by Mr. West, hurried up to Betty.
"Excuse me one moment, Mr. Parsons," she said, as she drew Betty aside. "I've been trying to get at you for ever so long," she went on. "I'm in a dreadful fix. You know I told you I hadn't intended to come here to-day, but I didn't tell you the reason why. The reason was that to-day was the time set for my math. exam, with Miss Mansfield. I tried to get her to change it, but I couldn't, so finally I telephoned her that I was ill. Some one else answered the 'phone for her, saying that she was engaged and, Betty—I'm sure it was Miss Hale."
Betty looked at her in blank amazement. "You said you were ill and then came here!" she began. "Oh, Eleanor, how could you! But what makes you think that Miss Hale knows?"
"I'm sure I recognized her voice when she asked you for the fan, and then haven't you noticed her distant manner?" said Eleanor gloomily. "Are they friends, do you know?"
"They live in the same house."
"Then that settles it. You seem to be very chummy with Miss Hale, Betty. You couldn't reconcile it with your tender conscience to say a good word for me, I suppose?"
"I—why, what could I say after that dreadful message?" Then she brightened suddenly. "Why, Eleanor, I did. We talked about you all the way over here. Ethel asked questions and I answered them. I told her a lot of nice things," added Betty reassuringly, "though of course I couldn't imagine why she wanted to know. What luck that you hadn't told me sooner!"
Eleanor stared at her blankly. "I suppose," she said at last, "that it will serve me right if Miss Hale tells Miss Mansfield that I was here, and Miss Mansfield refuses me another examination; but do you think she will?"
Betty glanced at Ethel. She was standing at the other end of the room, talking to two Winsted men, and she looked so young and pretty and so like one of the girls herself that Betty said impulsively, "She couldn't!" Then she remembered how different Ethel had seemed on the train, and that the girls in her classes stood very much in awe of her. "I don't know," she said slowly. "She just hates any sort of cheating. She might think it was her duty to tell. Oh, Eleanor, why did you do it?"
Eleanor shrugged her shoulders expressively. Then she turned away with a radiant smile for Mr. West. "I am sorry to have kept you men waiting," she said. "How much more time do we have before the barge comes?"
Whatever Miss Hale meant to do, she kept her own counsel, deliberately avoiding intercourse with either Ethel or Betty. She bade the girls a gay good-bye at the station, and went off in state in the carriage they had provided for her.
"I suppose it's no use asking if you had a good time," said Betty sympathetically, as she and Eleanor, having decided to go home in comfort, rolled away in another.
"I had a lovely time until it flashed over me about that telephone message. After that of course I was worried almost to death, and I would give anything under the sun if I had stayed at home and passed off my math. like a person of sense."
"Then why don't you tell Miss Mansfield so?" suggested Betty.
"Oh, Betty, I couldn't. But I shan't probably have the chance," she added dryly. "Miss Hale will see her after dinner. I hope she'll tell her that I appeared to be enjoying life."
The next morning when Eleanor presented herself at Miss Mansfield's class-room for the geometry lesson, another assistant occupied the desk. "Miss Mansfield is out of town for a few days," she announced. Eleanor gave Betty a despairing glance and tried to fix her attention on the "originals" which the new teacher was explaining. It seemed as if the class would never end. When it did she flew to the desk and inquired if Miss Mansfield would be back to-morrow.
"To-morrow? Oh no," said the young assistant pleasantly. "She's in Boston for some days. No, not this week; next, I believe. You are Miss Watson? No, there was no message for you, I think."
The next week was a longer and more harassing one than any that Eleanor could remember. She had not been blind to Betty's scorn of her action. Ever since she came to Harding she had noted with astonishment the high code of honor that held sway among the girls. They shirked when they could, assumed knowledge when they had it not, managed somehow to wear the air of leisurely go-as-you-please that Eleanor loved; but they did not cheat, and like Betty they despised those who did. So Eleanor, who a few months before would have boasted of having deceived Miss Mansfield, was now in equal fear lest Miss Hale should betray her and lest some of her mates should find her out. She wanted to ask Lil Day or Annette Gaynor what happened if you cut a special examination; but suppose they should ask why she cared to know? That would put another knot into the "tangled web" of her deception. It would have been some comfort to discuss the possibilities of the situation with Betty, but Eleanor denied herself even that outlet. No use reminding a girl that she despises you! If only Betty would not look so sad and sympathetic and inquiring when they met in the halls, in classes or at table. At other times Eleanor barricaded herself behind a "Don't disturb" sign and studied desperately and to much purpose. And every morning she hoped against hope that Miss Mansfield would hear the geometry class.
The suspense lasted through the whole week. Then, just two days before the vacation, Miss Mansfield reappeared and Eleanor asked timidly for an appointment.
"Come to-day at two," began Miss Mansfield.
"Oh thank you! Thank you so much!" broke in Eleanor and stopped in confusion.
But Miss Mansfield only smiled absently. "Most of my belated freshmen don't express such fervent gratitude for my firmness in pushing them through before the vacation. They try to put me off." She had evidently quite forgotten the other appointment.
"I shall be so glad to have it over," Eleanor murmured.
Miss Mansfield looked after her thoughtfully as she went down the hall. "Perhaps I've misjudged her," she told herself. "When a girl is so pretty, it's hard to take her seriously."
She said as much to Ethel Hale when they walked home to lunch together, but Ethel was not at all enthusiastic over Miss Watson's earnestness.
"She's very late in working off a condition, I should say," she observed coldly.
"Yes, but I've been away, you know," explained Miss Mansfield. "Oh, Ethel, I wish you could meet him. You don't half appreciate how happy I am."
Ethel, who had decided after much consideration to let Eleanor's affairs take their course, made a mental observation to the effect that an engagement induces shortness of memory and tenderness of heart. Then she said aloud that she also wished she might meet "him."
* * * * *
Time flies between Thanksgiving and Christmas, particularly for freshmen who are looking forward to their first vacation at home. It flies faster after they get there, and when they are back at college it rushes on quite as swiftly but rather less merrily toward the fateful "mid-years." None of the Chapin house girls had been home at Thanksgiving time, but they were all going for Christmas, except Eleanor Watson, who intended to spend the vacation with an aunt in New York.
They prepared for the flitting in characteristic ways. Rachel, who was very systematic, did all her Christmas shopping, so that she needn't hurry through it at home. Roberta made but one purchase, an illustrated "Alice in Wonderland," for her small cousins, and spent all her spare time in re-reading it herself. Helen, in spite of Betty's suggestions about leaning back on her reputation, studied harder than ever, so that she could go home with a clear conscience, while Katherine was too excited to study at all, and Mary Brooks jeered impartially at both of them. Betty conscientiously returned all her calls and began packing several days ahead, so as to make the time seem shorter. Then just as the expressman was driving off with her trunk, she remembered that she had packed her short skirt at the very bottom.
"Thank you ever so much. If he'd got much further I should have had to go home either in this gray bath robe that I have on, or in a white duck suit," she said to Katherine who had gone to rescue the skirt and came back with it over her arm.
She and Katherine started west together and Eleanor and Roberta went with them to the nearest junction. The jostling, excited crowd at the station, the "good-byes" and "Merry Christmases," were great fun. Betty, remembering a certain forlorn afternoon in early autumn, laughed happily to herself.
"What's the joke?" asked Katherine.
"I was thinking how much nicer things like this seem when you're in them," she said, waving her hand to Alice Waite.
At the Cleveland station, mother and Will and Nan and the smallest sister were watching eagerly for the returning wanderer.
"Why, Betty Wales, you haven't changed one bit," announced the smallest sister in tones of deepest wonder. "Why, I'd have known you anywhere, Betty, if I'd met you on the street."
"Three months isn't quite as long as all that," said Betty, hugging the smallest sister, "but I was hoping I looked a little older. Nobody ever mistakes me for a senior, as they do Rachel Morrison. And I ought to look years and years wiser."
"Nonsense," said Will with a lordly air. "Now a college girl——"
Everybody laughed. "You see we all know your theories about intellectual women," said mother. "So suppose you take up the suit case and escort us home."
The next morning a note arrived from Eleanor.
"DEAREST BETTY," it ran:
"As you always seem to be just around the corner when I get into a box, I want to tell you that I rode down to New York with Miss Hale. She asked me to sit with her and I couldn't well refuse, though I wanted to badly enough. She knew, Betty, but she will never tell. She said she was glad to know me on your account. She asked me how the term had gone with me, and I blushed and stammered and said that I was coming back in a different spirit. She said that college was the finest place in the world for a girl to get acquainted with herself—that cowardice and weakness of purpose and meanness and pettiness stood out so clearly against the background of fineness and squareness; and that four years was long enough to see all sorts of faults in oneself, and change them according to one's new theories. As she said it, it didn't sound a bit like preaching.
"I didn't tell her that I was only in college for one year. I sent her a big bunch of violets to-day—she surely couldn't regard it as a bribe now—and after Christmas I'll try to show her that I'm worth while.
"Merry Christmas, Betty.
Nan frowned when Betty told her about Eleanor. "But she isn't a nice girl, Betty. Did I meet her?"
"Yes, she's the one you thought so pretty—the one with the lovely eyes and hair."
"Betty," said Nan soberly, "you don't do things like this?"
"I!" Betty flushed indignantly. "Weren't there all kinds of girls when you were in college, Nan? Didn't you ever know people who did 'things like this'?"
Nan laughed. "There certainly were," she said. "I'll trust you, Betty. Only don't see too much of Miss Watson, or she'll drag you down, in spite of yourself."
"But Ethel's dragging her up," objected Betty. "And I gave her the first boost, by knowing Ethel. Not that I meant to. I never seem to accomplish things when I mean to. You remember Helen Chase Adams?"
"With great pleasure. She noticed my youthful appearance."
"Well, I've been all this term trying to reform her clothes, but I can't improve her one bit, except when I set to work and do it all myself. I should think you'd be afraid she'd drag me into dowdiness, I have to see so much of her."
Nan smiled at the dainty little figure in the big chair. "I don't notice any indications yet," she said. "It took you an hour to dress this morning, exactly as it always does. But you'd better take care. What are you going to do to-day?"
"Make your friend Helen Chase Adams a stock for Christmas," announced Betty, jumping up and pulling Nan after her. "And you've got to help, seeing you admire her so much."
After Christmas there were goodies from home to eat and Christmas-gifts to arrange in their new quarters. Betty's piece de resistance was a gorgeous leather sofa pillow stamped with the head of a ferocious Indian chief. Eleanor had a great brass bowl, which in some mysterious fashion was kept constantly full of fresh roses, a shelf full of new books, and more dresses than her closet would hold. Katherine had a chafing-dish, Rachel a Persian rug, and Roberta an illustrated "Alice in Wonderland" of her own. To Betty's great relief Helen had brought back two small pillows for her couch, all her skirts were lengthened, and the Christmas stock of black silk with its white linen turnovers replaced the clumsy woolen collars that she had worn with her winter shirt-waists. And—she was certainly learning to do her hair more becomingly. There wasn't a very marked improvement to be sure, but if Betty could have watched Helen's patient efforts to turn her vacation to account in the matter of hair-dressing, she would have realized how much the little changes meant, and would have been more hopeful about her pupil's progress. Not until the end of her junior year did Helen Adams reach the point where she could be sure that one's personal appearance is quite as important a matter as one's knowledge of calculus or Kantian philosophies; but, thanks largely to Betty, she was beginning to want to look her best, and that was the first step toward the things that she coveted. The next, and one for which Betty, with her open-hearted, free-and-easy fashion of facing life, was not likely to see the need, must be to break down the barriers that Helen's sensitive shyness had erected between herself and the world around her. The self-confidence that Caroline Barnes had cruelly, if unintentionally wounded, must be restored before Helen could find the place she longed for in the little college world.
No one had had any very exciting vacation adventures except Rachel, who was delayed on her way home by a freight wreck and obliged to spend Christmas eve on a windswept siding with only a ham sandwich between her and starvation, and Eleanor, whose vacation had been one mad whirl of metropolitan gaiety. Her young aunt, who sympathized with her niece's distaste for college life, and couldn't imagine why on earth Judge Watson had insisted upon his only daughter's trying it for a year at least, did her utmost to make Eleanor enjoy her visit. So she had dined at the Waldorf, sat in a box at the theatre and the opera, danced and shopped to her heart's content, and had seen all the sights of New York. And at all the festivities Paul West, a friend of the family and also of Eleanor's, was present as Eleanor's special escort and avowed admirer. Naturally she had come back in an ill humor. Between late hours and excitement she was completely worn out. She wanted to be in New York, and failing that she wanted Paul West to come and talk New York to her, and bring her roses for the big brass bowl that she had found in a dingy little shop in the Russian quarter. She threw her good resolutions to the winds, received Miss Hale's thanks for the violets very coldly, and begged Betty to forget the sentimental letter that she had written before Christmas.
"But I thought it was a nice letter," said Betty. "Eleanor, why won't you give yourself a chance? Go and see Ethel this afternoon, and—and then set to work to show her what you said you would," she ended lamely.
Eleanor only laughed. "Sorry, Betty, but I'm going to Winsted this afternoon. Paul has taken pity on me; there's a sleighing party. I thought perhaps you were invited too."
"No, but I'm going skating with Mary and Katherine," said Betty cheerfully, "and then at four Rachel and I are going to do Latin."
"Oh, Latin," said Eleanor significantly. "Let me think. Is it two or three weeks to mid-years?"
"Well, I suppose I shall have to do a little something then myself," said Eleanor, "but I shan't bother yet awhile. Here comes the sleigh," she added, looking out of the window. "Paul's driving, and your Mr. Parsons has asked Georgie Arnold. What do you think of that?"
"I should certainly hope he wouldn't ask the same girl to everything, if that's what you mean," said Betty calmly, helping Eleanor into her new coat.
Eleanor shrugged her shoulders. "Good-bye," she said. "For my part, I prefer to be the one and only—while I last," and snatching up her furs she was off.
Betty found Mary and Katherine in possession of her room and engaged in an animated discussion about the rules of hockey.
"I tell you that when the thing-um-bob is in play," began Katherine.
"Not a bit of it," cut in Mary.
"Come along, girls," interrupted Betty, fishing her skates from under her couch, and pulling on her "pussy" mittens. "Never mind those rules. You can't play hockey to-day. You promised to skate with me."
It was an ideal winter's afternoon, clear, cold and still. The ice on Paradise was smooth and hard, and the little pond was fairly alive with skaters, most of them Harding girls. Betty was a novice, with one weak ankle that had an annoying habit of turning over suddenly and tripping her up; so she was timid about skating alone. But between Mary and Katherine she got on famously, and thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon. At four Mary had a committee meeting, Katherine an engagement to play basket-ball, and Betty had agreed to meet Rachel. So with great reluctance they took off their skates and started up the steep path that led past the boat-house to the back gate of the campus.
"Goodness, but I'm stiff," groaned Mary, stopping to rest a minute half way up. "I'd have skated until dinner time though, if it hadn't been for this bothering committee. Never be on committees, children."
"Why don't you apply your own rules?" inquired Katherine saucily.
"Oh, because I'm a vain peacock like the rest of the world. The class president comes to me and says, 'Now Mary, nobody but you knows every girl in the class. You can find out the sentiments of all sorts and conditions on this matter. And then you have such fine executive ability. I know you hate committees, but——' Of course I feel pleased by her base flattery, and I don't come to my senses until it's too late to escape. Is to-day the sixteenth?"
"No, it's Saturday, the twentieth," said Katherine. "Two weeks next Monday to mid-years."
"The twentieth!" repeated Mary in tones of alarm. "Then, my psychology paper is due a week from Tuesday. I haven't done a thing to it, and I shall be so busy next week that I can't touch it till Friday or Saturday. How time does fly!"
"Don't you even know what you're going to write on or anything that you're going to say?" asked Betty, who always wrote her papers as soon as they were assigned, to get them off her mind, and who longed to know the secret of waiting serenely until the eleventh hour.
"Why, I had a plan," answered Mary absently, "but I've waited so long that I hardly know if I can use it."
Just then Alice Waite and her roommate came panting up the hill, and Mary, who seldom took much exercise and was very tired, fell back to the rear of the procession. But when the freshmen stopped in front of the Hilton House she trilled and waved her hand to attract their attention.
"Oh. Betty, please take my skates home," she said as she limped up to the group. Then she smiled what Roberta had named her "beamish" smile. "I know what you girls are talking about," she said. "Will you give me a supper at Holmes's if I'm right?"
"Yes," said Katherine recklessly, "for you couldn't possibly guess. What was it?"
"You're wondering about those fifty freshmen," answered Mary promptly.
"What freshmen?" demanded the four girls in a chorus, utterly ignoring the lost wager.
"Why, those fifty who, according to a perfectly baseless rumor, are going to be sent home after mid-years."
"What do you mean?" gasped Betty.
"Hadn't you heard?" asked Mary soothingly. "Well, I'm sure it will be all over the college by this afternoon. Now understand, I don't believe it's true. If it were ten or even twenty it might be, but fifty—why, girls, it's preposterous!"
"But I don't understand you," said Miss Madison excitedly. She had grown very pale and was hanging on to Katherine's arm. "Do you mean that there is such a story—that fifty freshmen are to be sent home after mid-years?"
"Yes," said Mary sadly, "there is, and that's what I meant. I'm sorry that I should have been the one to tell you, but you'd have heard it from some one else, I'm sure. A thing like that is always repeated so. Remember, I assure you I don't believe a word of it. Somebody probably started it on purpose to frighten you little freshmen. If you would take my skates, Betty. I hate to lug them around till dinner time. Now good-bye, and do cheer up."
Left to themselves the four freshmen stared blankly at one another. Finally Katherine broke the mournful silence.
"Girls," she said solemnly, "it's utter foolishness to worry about this report. Mary didn't believe it herself, and why should we?"
"She's not a freshman," suggested Alice gloomily.
"There are almost four hundred freshmen. Perhaps the fifty wouldn't be any of us," put in Betty.
Miss Madison maintained a despairing silence.
"Well," said Katherine at last, "if it is true there's nothing to be done about it now, I suppose; and if it isn't true, why it isn't; so I think I'll go to basket-ball," and she detached Miss Madison and started off.
Betty gave a prolonged sigh. "I must go too," she said. "I've promised to study Latin. I presume it isn't any use, but I can't disappoint Rachel. I wish I was a fine student like Rachel. She won't be one of the fifty."
Alice, who had been in a brown study, emerged, just as Betty turned away.
"Wait a minute," she commanded. "Of course it's awfully queer up here, but still, if they have exams. I don't see the use of cooking it all up beforehand. I mean I don't see the use of exams. if it is all decided."
Her two friends brightened perceptibly.
"That's a good idea," declared Betty. "Every one says the mid-years are so important. Let's do our best from now on, and perhaps the faculty will change their minds."
As she walked home, Betty thought of Eleanor. "She'll be dreadfully worried. I shan't tell her a word about it," she resolved. Then she remembered Mary Brooks's remark. Yes, no doubt some one else would enlighten Eleanor. It was just too bad. But perhaps Mary was right and the story was only a story.
It is hard for freshmen on the eve of their mid-year examinations to be perfectly calm and philosophical. The story of the fifty unfortunates ran like wild-fire through the college, and while upper-class girls sniffed at it as absurd and even freshmen, particularly the clever ones, pooh-poohed it in public, it was the cause of many anxious, and some tearful moments. Betty, after her first fright, had accepted the situation with her usual cheerfulness, and so had Alice and Rachel, who could not help knowing that her work was of exceptionally high grade, while Helen irritated her house-mates by affecting an anxiety which, as Katherine put it, "No dig, who gets 'good' on all her written work, can possibly feel." Katherine was worried about her mathematics, in which she had been warned before Thanksgiving, but she confided to Betty that she had counted them up, and without being a bit conceited she really thought there were fifty stupider girls in the class of 19—. Roberta and the Riches, however, were utterly miserable, and Eleanor wrote to Paul West that she was busy—she had written "ill" first, and then torn up the note—and indulged in another frantic fit of industry, even more violent than its predecessors had been.
"But I thought you wanted to go home," said Betty curiously one afternoon when Eleanor had come in to borrow a lexicon. "You say you hate it here, and you hate to study. So why do you take so much trouble about staying?"
Eleanor straightened proudly. "Haven't you observed yet that I have a bad case of the Watson pride?" she asked. "Do you think I'd ever show my face again if I failed?"
"Then why——" began Betty.
"Oh, that's the unutterable laziness that I get from my—from the other side of the house," interrupted Eleanor. "It's an uncomfortable combination, I assure you," and taking the book she had come for, she abruptly departed.
Betty realized suddenly that in all the year Eleanor had never once spoken of her mother.
After that she couldn't help being sorry for Eleanor, but she pitied Miss Madison more. Miss Madison was dull at books and she knew it, and had actually made herself ill with work and worry. Going to see her Hilton House friends on the Friday afternoon after the skating party, Betty found Miss Madison alone and undisguisedly crying.
"I know I'm foolish," she apologized. "Most people just laugh at that story, but I notice they study harder since they heard it. And I'm such a stupid."
Betty, who hated tears, had a sudden inspiration. "Why don't you ask about it at the registrar's office?" she suggested.
"Oh, I couldn't," wailed Miss Madison.
"Then I shall," returned Betty. "That is, I shall ask one of the faculty."
"Would you dare?"
"Yes, indeed. They're human, like other people," said Betty, quoting Nan. "I don't see why some one didn't think of it sooner."
That night at dinner Betty announced her plan. The freshmen looked relieved and Mary Brooks showed uncalled-for enthusiasm.
"Do go," she urged. "It's high time such an absurd story was shown up at its real value. It's absurd. The way we talk and talk about a report like that, and never dare to ask the faculty if it's true."
"Do you take any freshman courses?" inquired Eleanor sarcastically.
Mary smiled her "beamish" smile. "No," she said, "but I'm an interested party nevertheless—quite as much so as any of the famous fifty."
"Whom shall you ask, Betty?" pursued Katherine, ignoring the digression.
"Miss Mansfield. I have her the first hour, and besides, since she's been engaged she's so nice and sympathetic."
Next day the geometry class dragged unmercifully for three persons. Eleanor beat a nervous tattoo on the seat-arm, Miss Madison stared fixedly at the clock, and Betty blushed and twisted and wished she could have seen Miss Mansfield before class. The delayed interview was beginning to seem very formidable. But it wasn't, after the first plunge.
"What an absurd story!" laughed Miss Mansfield. "Not a word of truth in it, of course. Why I don't believe the girl who started it thought it was true. How long has it been in circulation?"
Betty counted the days. "I didn't really believe it," she added shyly.
"But you worried," said Miss Mansfield, smiling down at her. "Next time don't be taken in one little bit,—or else come to headquarters sooner."
Eleanor and Miss Madison were waiting outside the door when Betty dashed at them with a little squeal of ecstasy. There was a moment of rapturous congratulation; then Miss Madison picked up the note-book she had dropped and held out her hand solemnly to Betty.
"You've—why I think you've saved my life," she said, "and now I must go to my next class."
"You're a little hero," added Eleanor, catching Betty's arm and rushing her off to a recitation in Science Hall.
Roberta received the joyful news more calmly. "We may any of us flunk our mid-years yet," she said.
"But we can study for them in peace and comfort," said Adelaide Rich.
Mary Brooks asked endless questions at luncheon. Did the girls all accept Miss Mansfield's denial as authoritative? Did it travel as fast as the original story had done? How did people think the rumor had started?
"Why, nobody mentioned that," said Rachel in surprise. "How odd that we shouldn't have wondered!"
"Shows your sheep-like natures," said Mary, rising abruptly. "Well, now I can finish my psychology paper."
"Haven't you worked on it any?" inquired Betty.
"Oh, yes, I made an outline and developed some topics last night. But I couldn't finish until to-day. I was so worried about you children."
Toward the end of the next week Rachel came in to dinner late and in high spirits. "I've had such a fine walk!" she exclaimed. "Hester Gulick and I went to the bridge, and on the way back we overtook a senior named Janet Andrews. She is such fun. She'd walked down-town with Professor Hinsdale. He teaches psychology, doesn't he? They seem to be very good friends, and he told her such a funny thing about the fifty-freshmen story. How do you suppose it started?"
"Oh, please tell us," cried everybody at once.
"Why, an awfully clever girl in his sophomore class started it as an experiment, to see how it would take. She told it to some freshmen, saying explicitly that it wasn't true, and they told their friends, and so it went all over the college until last Saturday Betty got Miss Mansfield to deny it. But no one knew how it started until yesterday when Professor Hinsdale looked over a paper in which the girl had written it all up, as a study in the way rumors spread and grow. This one was so big to begin with that it couldn't grow much, though it seems, according to the paper, that some people had added to it that half the freshmen would be conditioned in math."
"How awfully funny!" gurgled Betty. Then she jumped almost out of her chair. "Why, Mary Brooks!" she said.
Everybody looked at Mary, who blushed guiltily and remarked with great dignity that Professor Hinsdale was an old telltale. But when she had assured herself that the freshmen, with the possible exception of Eleanor, were disposed to regard the psychological experiment which had victimized them with perfect good-nature, and herself with considerable admiration, she condescended to accept congratulations and answer questions.
"Seriously, girls," she said at last, "I hope no one got really scared. I wanted to explain when I heard Betty tell how unhappy Miss Madison was, but I really thought Miss Mansfield's denial would cheer her up more and reach her almost as quickly, and at the same time it would help me out so beautifully. It made such a grand conclusion!
"You see," she went on, "Professor Hinsdale put the idea into my head when he assigned the subjects away back last month. He said he was giving them out early so we would have time to make original observations. When he mentioned 'Rumor,' he spoke of village gossip, and the faked stories that are circulated on Wall Street to make stocks go up or down, and then of the wild way we girls take up absurd reports. The last suggestion appealed to me, but I couldn't remember anything definite enough, so I decided to invent a rumor. Then I forgot all about it till that Saturday that I went skating, and 'you know the rest,' as our friend Mr. Longfellow aptly remarks. When I get my chef-d'oeuvre back you may have a private view, in return for which I hope you'll encourage your friends not to hate me."
"Isn't she fun?" said Betty a little later, when she and Helen were alone together. "Do you know, I think this rumor business has been a good thing. It's made a lot of us work hard, and only seriously frightened three or four."
"Yes," said Helen primly. "I think so too. The girls here are inclined to be very frivolous."
"Who?" demanded Betty.
Helen hesitated. "Oh, the girls as a whole."
"That doesn't count," objected Betty. "Give me a name."
"Well, Barbara Gordon."
"Takes sixteen hours, has her themes read in Mary's class, and in her spare moments paints water colors that are exhibited in Boston," said Betty promptly.
"Really?" gasped Helen.
"Really," repeated Betty. "Of course she was very well prepared, and so her work here seems easy to her. Next year I hope that you and I won't have to plod along so."
Helen said nothing, but she was deeply grateful to Betty for that last sentence. "You and I"—as if there was something in common between them. The other girls set her apart in a class by herself and labeled her "dig." If one was born slow and conscientious and plodding, was there any hope for one,—any place among these pretty girls who worked so easily and idled so gracefully? Helen shut her lips firmly and resolved to keep on hunting.
MID-YEARS AND A DUST-PAN
Viewed in retrospect the tragic experiences of one's freshman year seem often the most insignificant of trifles; but that does not prevent their being at the time momentous as the fate of empires. There are mid-year examinations, for instance; after one has survived them a few times she knows that being "flunked out" is not so common an experience as report represents it to be, and as for "low grades" and "conditions," if one has "cut" or been too often unprepared she deserves and expects them, and if she has done her best and still finds an unwelcome note or two on the official bulletin board, why, she must remember that accidents will happen, and are generally quite endurable when viewed philosophically. But in freshman year one is inexperienced and easily the dupe of mischievous sophomores. Then how is one to prepare for the dreadful ordeal? The distinction is not at all clear between the intelligent review that the faculty recommend and the cramming that they abhor. There is a disconcerting little rhyme on this subject that has been handed down from generation to generation for so long that it has lost most of its form and comeliness; but the point is still sharp. It is about a girl who followed the faculty's advice on the subject of cramming, took her exercise as usual, and went to bed each night at ten o'clock, as all good children should. The last stanza still rhymes, thus:
"And so she did not hurry, Nor sit up late to cram, Nor have the blues and worry, But—she failed in her exam."
Mary Brooks took pains that all her "young friends," as she called them, should hear of this instructive little poem.
"I really thought," said Betty on the first evening of the examination week, "when that hateful rumor was contradicted, that I should never be scared again, but I am."
"There's unfortunately nothing rumorous about these exams.," muttered Katherine wrathfully. "The one I had to-day was the real article, all right."
"And I have my three worst to-morrow and next day," mourned Betty, "so I've got permission to sit up after ten to-night. Don't all the rest of you want to come in here and work? Then some one else can ask Mrs. Chapin for the other nights."
"But we must all attend strictly to business," said Mary Rich, whereat Helen Adams looked relieved.
And business was the order of the week. An unwonted stillness reigned over the Chapin house, broken occasionally by wild outbursts of hilarity, which meant that some examination or other was over and had not been so bad after all. Every evening at ten the girls who felt it necessary to sit up later assembled in one room, comfortably attired in kimonos—all except Roberta, who had never been seen without her collar—and armed with formidable piles of books; and presently work began in earnest. There was really no reason, as Rachel observed, why they should not stay in their own rooms, if they were going to sit up at all. This wasn't the campus, where there was a night-watchman to report lights, and Mrs. Chapin was very accommodating about giving permission.
"This method benefits her gas bill though," said Katherine, "and therefore keeps her accommodating. Besides, it's much easier to stick to it in a crowd."
Eleanor never went through the formality of asking Mrs. Chapin's permission to do anything, and she did not care for the moral support of numbers. She was never sleepy, she said, pointing significantly to her brass samovar, and she could work best alone in her own room. She held aloof, too, from the discussions about the examinations which were the burden of the week's table-talk, only once in a while volunteering a suggestion about the possible answer to an obscure or ambiguous question. Her ideas invariably astonished the other freshmen by their depth and originality, but when any one exclaimed, Eleanor would say, sharply, "Why, it's all in the text-book!" and then relapse into gloomy silence.
"I suppose she talks more to her friends outside," suggested Rachel, after an encounter of this sort.
"Not on your life," retorted Katherine. "She's one of the kind that keeps herself to herself. She hates us because we have to know as much about her as we do, living here in the house with her. I hope she gets through all right."
"She's awfully clever," said Mary Rich admiringly. "She'd never have said that a leviathan was some kind of a church creed, as I did in English."
"Yes, she's a clever—blunderer, but she's also a sadly mistaken young person," amended Katherine.
It was convenient to have one's examinations scattered evenly through the week with time for study between them, but pleasanter on the whole to be through by Thursday or Friday, with several days of delicious idleness before the new semester began. And as a certain faction of the college always manages to suit its own convenience in such matters, the campus, which is the unfailing index of college sentiment, began to wear a leisurely, holiday air some time before the dreaded week was over.
The ground was covered deeply with snow which a sudden thaw and as sudden a freeze had coated with a thick, hard crust. This put a stop to snow-shoeing and delayed the work of clearing the ice off Paradise pond, where there was to be a moonlight carnival on the evening of the holiday that follows mid-year week. But it made splendid coasting. Toboggans, "bobs" and hand sleds appeared mysteriously in various quarters, and the pasture hills north of the town swarmed with Harding girls out for fresh air, exercise and fun.
On Friday afternoon an ingenious damsel who had no sled conceived the idea of substituting a dust-pan. So she borrowed one of an obliging chambermaid and went out to the little slope which divides the front from the back campus to try her experiment. In twenty minutes the hill was alive with girls, all the available dust-pans had been pressed into service, and large tin pans were found to do nearly as well. Envious groups of girls who could get neither the one nor the other watched the absurd spectacle from the windows of the nearest campus houses or hurried down-town to buy tinware. Sleds were neglected, toboggans despised; the dust-pan fad had taken possession of the college.
Betty, who had the happy faculty of being on hand at interesting moments, was crossing the campus on her way home from the Hilton House. She had taken her last examination, had helped Alice Waite finish up a box of candy, and now had nothing to do until dinner time, so she stopped to watch the novel coasting, and even had one delicious ride herself on Dorothy King's dust-pan.
Near the gate she met Mary Brooks and Roberta and asked them if they had been through the campus.
"No," said Mary, "we've been having chocolate at Cuyler's." And she dragged her companions back to within sight of the hill. Then she abruptly turned them about and hurried them off in the other direction.
"Let's go straight down and buy some dust-pans," she began enthusiastically. "We have just time before dinner, and we can slide all to-morrow afternoon."
"Oh, no," demurred Roberta. "I couldn't."
Betty laughed at her expression of alarm, and Mary demanded, "Why not?"
"Oh, I couldn't," repeated Roberta. "It looks dangerous, and, besides, I have to dress for dinner."
"Dangerous nothing!" jeered Mary. "Don't be so everlastingly neat and lady-like, child. What's the use? Well," as Roberta still hung back, "carry my fountain pen home, then, and don't spill it. Come on, Betty," and the two raced off down the hill.
Roberta looked after them admiringly, wishing she were not such a "muff" at outdoor sports.
The next afternoon Betty and Mary hurried over to the campus directly after luncheon to try their new toys. The crust was still firm and the new sport popular as ever.
"You see it's much more exciting than a 'bob,'" a tall senior was explaining to a group of on-lookers. "You can't steer, so you're just as likely to go down backward as frontward; and being so near the ground gives you a lovely creepy sensation."
"The point is, it's such a splendid antidote for overstudying. It just satisfies that absolutely idiotic feeling that every one has after mid-years," added an athletic young woman in a gray sweater, as she joined the group with her dust-pan tucked scientifically under her arm.
She was Marion Lawrence, sophomore vice-president, and Mary Brooks's best friend. Betty, fearing to be in the way, joined another lone freshman from the Belden House.
"Do you suppose you could sit up to study to-night if you had to?" inquired the freshman as they stood waiting their turns to go down.
"No, only it seems as if you always could do what you have to," answered Betty, starting off.
She decided presently that dust-pan coasting was not so much fun as it looked. Mary Brooks, coming to find her and ask her to join a racing tournament captained by herself and Marion Lawrence, declared noisily that she was having "the time of her gay young life," but Betty after the first coast or two began to think of going home. Perhaps it was because she was so tired. It seemed so much trouble to walk up on the slippery crust and such a long way round by the path. So she refused to enter the tournament. "I'm not going to stay long enough," she explained. "I shall just have two more slides. Then I'm going home to take a nap. That's my best antidote for overstudy."
The next coast was nicer. Perhaps the dust-pan had been too new. The Belden House freshman said that hers went better since her roommate had used it and scraped off all the paint in a collision.
"I wonder there aren't more collisions," said Betty, preparing for her last slide.
Half-way down she discovered that the other freshman and the rest hadn't started—that the hill was almost clear. Then somebody called shrilly, "Look out, Miss Wales." She turned her head back toward the voice, the dust-pan swirled, and she turned back again to find herself slipping rapidly sidewise straight toward a little lady who was walking serenely along the path that cut the coast at right angles. She was a faculty—Betty hadn't the least idea what her name was, but she had noticed her on the "faculty row" at chapel. In an instant more she was certainly going to run into her. Betty dug her heels frantically into the crust. It would not break.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, but I can't stop!" she called.
At that the little lady, who was walking rapidly with her head bent against the wind, looked up and apparently for the first time noticed the dust-pan coasters. Mirth and confusion overcame her. She stopped an instant to laugh, then started back, then changed her mind and dashed wildly forward, with the inevitable result that she fell in an undignified heap on top of Betty and the dust-pan. The accident took place on the edge of the path where the crust was jagged and icy. Betty, who had gone head-first through it, emerged with a bleeding scratch on one cheek and a stinging, throbbing wrist. Fortunately her companion was not hurt.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" sighed Betty, trying to brush the snow off her victim with one hand. "I do hope you'll forgive me for being so careless." Then she sat down suddenly on the broken crust. "It's only that my wrist hurts a little," she finished abruptly.
The girls had gathered around them by this time, sympathizing and lamenting that they had not warned Betty in time. "But we thought of course you saw Miss Ferris," said the tall senior, "and we supposed she was looking out for you."
So this was Miss Ferris—the great Miss Ferris. Rachel had sophomore zoology with her and Mary Brooks had said that she was considered the most brilliant woman on the faculty. She was "house-teacher" at the Hilton, and Alice Waite and Miss Madison were always singing her praises.
She cut Betty's apologies and the girls' inquiries short. "My dear child, it was all my fault, and you're the one who's hurt. Why didn't you girls stop me sooner—call to me to go round the other way? I was in a hurry and didn't see or hear you up there." Then she sat down on the crust beside Betty. "Forgive me for laughing," she said, "but you did look so exactly like a giant crab sidling along on that ridiculous dust-pan. Have you sprained your wrist? Then you must come straight over to my room and wait for a carriage."
Betty's feeble protests were promptly overruled, and supported by Mary Brooks on one side and Miss Ferris on the other she was hurried over to the Hilton House and tucked up in Miss Ferris's Morris chair by her open fire, to await the arrival of the college doctor and a carriage. In spite of her embarrassment at having upset so important a personage, and the sharp pains that went shooting up and down her arm, she was almost sorry when doctor and carriage arrived together. Miss Ferris was even nicer than the girls had said. Somehow she made one feel at home immediately as she bustled about bringing a towel and a lotion for Betty's face, hot water for her wrist, and "butter-thins" spread with delicious strawberry jam to keep her courage up. Before she knew it, Betty was telling her all about her direful experiences during examination week, how frightened she had been, and how sleepy she was now,—"not just now of course"—and how she had been all ready to go home when the spill came. And Miss Ferris nodded knowingly at Mary and laughed her little rippling laugh.
"Just like these foolish little freshmen; isn't it?" she said, exactly as if she had been one last year too. And yet there was a suspicion of gray in her hair, and she was a doctor of philosophy and had written the leading article in the learned German magazine that lay on her table.
"You must come again, both of you, when I can make tea for you properly," she said as she closed the carriage door.
Betty, leaning whitely back on Mary's shoulder, with her arm on Miss Ferris's softest down pillow, smiled happily between the throbs. If she was fated to have sprained her wrist, she was glad that she had met Miss Ferris.
Saturday night and Sunday were long and dismal beyond belief. The wrist ached, the cheek smarted, and a bad cold added its quota to Betty's miseries. But she slept late Monday morning, and when she woke felt able to sit up in bed and enjoy her flowers and her notoriety. Just after luncheon the entire Chapin house came in to congratulate and condole with her.
"It's too windy to have any fun outdoors," began Rachel consolingly.
"Who sent you those violets?" demanded Katherine.
"Miss Ferris. Wasn't it dear of her? There was a note with them, too, that said she considered herself still 'deeply in my debt,' because of her carelessness—think of her saying that to me!—and that she hopes I won't hesitate to call on her if she 'can ever be of the slightest assistance.' And Mary, she said for us not to forget that Friday is her day at home."
"You are the luckiest thing, Betty Wales," sighed Rachel, who worshiped Miss Ferris from afar.
"Now if I'd knocked the august Miss Ferris down," declared Katherine, "I should probably have been expelled forthwith. Whereas you——" She finished the sentence with an expressive little gesture.
"Who gave you the rest of this conservatory, Betty?" asked Mary Brooks.
"Clara Madison brought the carnations, and Nita Reese, a girl in my geometry division, sent the white roses, and Eleanor the pink ones, and the freshman I was sliding with these lilies-of-the-valley. It's almost worth a sprained wrist to find out how kind people are to you," said Betty gratefully.
"Too bad you'll miss to-night," said Mary, "but maybe it will snow."
"I don't mind that. The worst thing is my not being able to get my conditions off the bulletin," said Betty, making a wry face.
"Goodness! That is a calamity!" said Katherine with mock seriousness.
"Nonsense! You've studied," from Rachel.
"If you should have any conditions, I'll bring them to you," volunteered Eleanor quietly. Then she looked straight at Rachel and Katherine and smiled pleasantly. "I'm sorry to say that I haven't studied," she said.
Betty thanked her, feeling more pleased at the apparent harmony of the household than she had been with all her flowers. It was so difficult to like Eleanor and Rachel and Katherine and Helen, all four, so well, when Rachel and Katherine had good reason for disliking Eleanor, and Helen wouldn't hitch with any of the rest.
"Do you know that Prexy had forbidden sliding on dust-pans?" asked Mary Rich in the awkward pause that followed.
"Oh, yes," added Mary Brooks, "I forgot to tell you. So it's just as well that I lost mine in the shuffle."
"But I'm sorry to have been the one to stop the fun," said Betty sadly.
"Oh, it wasn't wholly that. Two other girls banged into each other after we left."
"But you're the famous one," added Rachel, "because you knocked over Miss Ferris. She looked so funny and knowing when Prexy announced it in chapel."
"I wish I could do something for you too," said Helen timidly, after the rest had drifted out of the room.
"Why you have," Betty assured her. "You helped a lot both times the doctor came, and you've stayed out of the room whenever I wanted to sleep, and brought up all my meals, and written home for me."
Helen flushed. "That's nothing. I meant something pretty like those," and she pointed to the tableful of flowers, and then going over to it buried her face in the bowl of English violets.
Betty watched her for a moment with a vague feeling of pity. "I don't suppose she has ten cents a month to spend on such things," she thought, "and as for having them sent to her——" Then she said aloud, "We certainly don't need any more of those at present. Were you going to the basket-ball game?"
"I thought I would, if you didn't want me."
"Not a bit, and you're to wear some violets—a nice big bunch. Hand me the bowl, please, and I'll tie them up."
Helen gave a little gasp of pleasure. Then her face clouded. "But I couldn't take your violets," she added quickly.
Betty laughed and went on tying up the bunch, only making it bigger than she had at first intended. After Helen had gone she cried just a little. "I don't believe she ever had any violets before," she said to the green lizard. "Why, her eyes were like stars—she was positively pretty."
More than one person noticed the happy little girl who sat quite alone in the running track, dividing her eager attention between the game and the violets which she wore pinned to her shabby, old-fashioned brown jacket.