Meanwhile Betty, propped up among her pillows, was trying to answer Nan's last letter.
"You seem to be interested in so many other people's affairs," Nan had written, "that you haven't any time for your own. Don't make the mistake of being a hanger-on."
"You see, Nan," wrote Betty, "I am at last a heroine, an interesting invalid, with scars, and five bouquets of flowers on my table. I am sorry that I don't amount to more usually. The trouble is that the other people here are so clever or so something-or-other that I can't help being more interested in them. I'm afraid I am only an average girl, but I do seem to have a lot of friends and Miss Ferris, whom you are always admiring, has asked me to five o'clock tea. Perhaps, some day——"
Writing with one's left hand was too laborious, so Betty put the letter in a pigeon-hole of her desk to be finished later. As she slipped the sheets in, Miss Ferris's note dropped out. "I wonder if I shall ever want to ask her anything," thought Betty, as she put it carefully away in the small drawer of her desk that held her dearest treasures.
A TRIUMPH FOR DEMOCRACY
By Wednesday Betty was well enough to go to classes, though she felt very conspicuous with her scratched face and her wrist in a sling. And so when early Wednesday afternoon Eleanor pounced on her and Katherine and demanded why they were not starting to class-meeting, she replied that she at least was not going.
"Nor I," said Katherine decidedly. "It's sure to be stupid."
"I'm sorry," said Eleanor. "We may need you badly; every one is so busy this week. Perhaps you'll change your minds before two-thirty, and if you do, please bring all the other girls that you can along. You know the notice was marked important."
"Evidently all arranged beforehand," sniffed Katherine, as Eleanor departed, explaining that she had promised to be on hand early, ready to drum up a quorum if necessary.
Betty looked out at the clear winter sunshine. "I wanted a little walk," she said. "Let's go. If it's long and stupid we can leave; and we ought to be loyal to our class."
"All right," agreed Katherine. "I'll go if you will. I should rather like to see what they have on hand this time."
"They" meant the Hill-School contingent, who from the initial meeting had continued to run the affairs of the class of 19—. Some of the girls were indignant, and a few openly rebellious, but the majority were either indifferent or satisfied that the Hill clique was as good as any other that might get control in its stead. So the active opposition had been able to accomplish nothing, and Hill's machine, as a cynical sophomore had dubbed it, had elected its candidates for three class officers and the freshman representative on the Students' Commission, while the various class committees were largely made up of Jean Eastman's intimate friends.
"I hope that some of the crowd have nicer manners than our dear Eleanor and are better students," Mary Brooks had said to Betty. "Otherwise I'm afraid your ship of state will run into a snag of faculty prejudices some fine day."
Betty belonged to the indifferent faction of the class. She was greatly interested in all its activities, and prepared to be proud of its achievements, but she possessed none of the instincts of a wire-puller. So long as the class offices were creditably filled she cared not who held them, and comparing her ignorance of parliamentary procedure with the glib self-confidence of Jean, Eleanor and their friends, she even felt grateful to them for rescuing the class from the pitfalls that beset inexperience.
Katherine, on the other hand, was a bitter opponent of what she called "ring rule," and Adelaide Rich, who was the only recruit that they could succeed in adding to their party, had never forgotten the depths of iniquity which her pessimistic acquaintance had revealed in the seemingly innocent and well conducted first meeting, and was prepared to distrust everything, down to the reading of the minutes.
The three were vigorously applauded when they appeared in the door of No. 19, the biggest recitation room in the main building and so the one invariably appropriated to freshman assemblies. Katherine whispered to Mary that she had not known Betty was quite so popular as all that; but a girl on the row behind the one in which they found seats explained matters by whispering that three had been the exact number needed to make up a quorum.
The secretary's report was hastily read and accepted, and then Miss Eastman stated that the business of the meeting was to elect a class representative for the Washington's Birthday debate.
"Some of you know," she continued, "that the Students' Commission has decided to make a humorous debate the main feature of the morning rally. We and the juniors are to take one side, and the senior and sophomore representatives the other. Now I suppose the first thing to decide is how our representative shall be chosen."
A buzz of talk spread over the room. "Why didn't they let us know beforehand—give us time to think who we'd have?" inquired the talkative girl on the row behind.
The president rapped for order as Kate Denise, her roommate, rose to make a motion.
"Madame president, I move that the freshman representative aforesaid be chosen by the chair. Of course," she went on less formally, turning to the girls, "that is by far the quickest way, and Jean knows the girls as a whole so well—much better than any of us, I'm sure. I think that a lot depends on choosing just the right person for our debater, and we ought not to trust to a haphazard election."
"Haphazard is good," muttered the loquacious freshman, in tones plainly audible at the front of the room.
"Of course that means a great responsibility for me," murmured the president modestly.
"Put it to vote," commanded a voice from the front row, which was always occupied by the ruling faction. "And remember, all of you, that if we ballot for representative we don't get out of here till four o'clock."
The motion was summarily put to vote, and the ayes had it at once, as the ayes are likely to do unless a matter has been thoroughly discussed.
"I name Eleanor Watson, then," said Miss Eastman with suspicious promptness. "Will somebody move to adjourn?"
"Well, of all ridiculous appointments!" exclaimed the loquacious girl under cover of the applause and the noise of moving chairs.
"Right you are!" responded Katherine, laughing at Adelaide Rich's disgusted expression.
But Betty was smiling happily with her eyes on the merry group around Eleanor. "Aren't you glad, girls?" she said. "Won't she do well, and won't the house be proud of her?"
"I for one never noticed that she was a single bit humorous," began Mary indignantly.
Katherine pinched her arm vigorously. "Don't! What's the use?" she whispered.
"Nor I, but I suppose Miss Eastman knows that she can be funny," answered Betty confidently, as she hurried off to congratulate Eleanor.
She was invited to the supper to be given at Cuyler's that night in Eleanor's honor, and went home blissfully unconscious that half the class was talking itself hoarse over Jean Eastman's bad taste in appointing a notorious "cutter" and "flunker" to represent them on so important an occasion, just because she happened to be the best dressed and prettiest girl in the Hill crowd.
The next afternoon most of the girls were at gym or the library, and Betty, who was still necessarily excused from her daily exercise, was working away on her Latin, when some one knocked imperatively on her door. It was Jean Eastman.
"Good-afternoon, Miss Wales," she said hurriedly. "Will you lend me a pencil and paper? Eleanor has such a habit of keeping her desk locked, and I want to leave her a note."
She scribbled rapidly for a moment, frowned as she read through what she had written, and looked doubtfully from it to Betty. Then she rose to go. "Will you call her attention to this, please?" she said. "It's very important. And, Miss Wales,—if she should consult you, do advise her to resign quietly and leave it to me to smooth things over."
"Resign?" repeated Betty vaguely.
"Yes," said Jean. "You see—well, I might as well tell you now, that I've said so much. The faculty object to her taking the debate. Perhaps you know that she's very much in their black books but I didn't. And I never dreamed that they would think it any of their business who was our debater, but I assure you they do. At least half a dozen of them have spoken to me about her poor work and her cutting. They say that she is just as much ineligible for this as she would be for the musical clubs or the basket-ball team. Now what I want is for Eleanor to write a sweet little note of resignation to-night, so that I can appoint some one else bright and early in the morning."
Betty's eyes grew big with anxiety. "But won't the girls guess the reason?" she cried. "Think how proud Eleanor is, Miss Eastman. It would hurt her terribly if any one found out that she had been conditioned. You shouldn't have told me—indeed you shouldn't!"
Jean laughed carelessly. "Well, you know now, and there's no use crying over spilt milk. I used that argument about the publicity of the affair to the faculty, but it was no go. So the only thing for you to do is to help Eleanor write a nice, convincing note of resignation that I can read at the next meeting, when I announce my second appointment."
"But Eleanor won't ask my help," said Betty decidedly, "and, besides, what can she say, after accepting all the congratulations, and having the supper?"
Jean laughed again. "I'm afraid you're not a bit ingenious, Miss Wales," she said rising to go, "but fortunately Eleanor is. Good-bye."
When Betty handed Eleanor the note she read it through unconcernedly, unconcernedly tore it into bits as she talked, and spent the entire evening, apparently, in perfect contentment and utter idleness, strumming softly on her guitar.
The next morning Betty met Jean on the campus. "Did she tell you?" asked Jean.
Betty shook her head.
"I thought likely she hadn't. Well, what do you suppose? She won't resign. She says that there's no real reason she can give, and that she's now making it a rule to tell the truth; that I'm in a box, not she, and I may climb out of it as best as I can."
"Did she really say that?" demanded Betty, a note of pleasure in her voice.
"Yes," snapped Jean, "and since you're so extremely cheerful over it, perhaps you can tell me what to do next."
Betty stared at her blankly. "I forgot," she said. "The girls mustn't know. We must cover it up somehow."
"Exactly," agreed Jean crossly, "but what I want to know is—how."
"Why not ask the class to choose its speaker? All the other classes did."
Jean looked doubtful. "I know they did. That would make it very awkward for me, but I suppose I might say there had been dissatisfaction—that's true enough,—and we could have it all arranged——Well, when I call a meeting, be sure to come and help us out."
The meeting was posted for Saturday, and all the Chapin house girls, except Helen, who never had time for such things, and Eleanor, attended it. Eleanor was expecting a caller, she said. Besides, as she hadn't been to classes in the morning there was no sense in emphasizing the fact by parading through the campus in the afternoon.
At the last minute she called Betty back. "Paul may not get over to-day," she said. "Won't you come home right off to tell me about it? I—well, you'll see later why I want to know—if you haven't guessed already."
The class of 19— had an inkling that something unusual was in the wind and had turned out in full force. There was no need of waiting for a quorum this time. After the usual preliminaries Jean Eastman rose and began a halting, nervous little speech.
"I have heard," she began, "that is—a great many people in and out of the class have spoken to me about the matter of the Washington's Birthday debate. I mean, about the way in which our debater was appointed. I understand there is a great deal of dissatisfaction—that some of the class say they did not understand which way they were voting, and so on. So I thought you might like to reconsider your vote. I certainly, considering position in the matter, want you to have the chance to do so. Now, can we have this point thoroughly discussed?" Then, as no one rose, "Miss Wales, won't you tell us what you think?"
Betty stared helplessly at Jean for a moment and then, assisted by vigorous pushes from Katherine and Rachel, who sat on either side of her, rose hesitatingly to her feet. "Miss Eastman,—I mean, madame president," she began. She stopped for an instant to look at her audience. Apparently the class of 19— was merely astonished and puzzled by Jean's suggestion; there was no indication that any one—except possibly a few of the Hill girls—had any idea of her motive. "Madame president," repeated Betty, forcing back the lump that had risen in her throat when she realized that the keeping of Eleanor's secret lay largely with her, "Miss Watson is my friend, and I was very much pleased to have her for our representative. But I do feel, and I believe the other girls do, as they come to think it over, that it would have been better to elect our representative. Then we should every one of us have had a direct interest in the result of the debate. Besides, all the other classes elected theirs, and so I think, if Miss Watson is willing——"
"Miss Watson is perfectly willing," broke in Jean. "A positive engagement unfortunately prevents her being here to say so, but she authorized me to state that she preferred the elective choice herself, and to tell you to do just as you think best in the matter. She——Go on, Miss Wales."
"Oh, that was all," said Betty hastily slipping back into her seat.
A group of girls in the farthest corner of the room clapped vigorously.
"Nothing cut-and-dried about that," whispered Katherine to Adelaide Rich.
"Are there any more remarks?" inquired the president. No one seemed anxious to speak, and she went on rather aimlessly. "Miss Wales has really covered the ground, I think. The other classes all elected their debaters, and I fancy they want us to do the same. As for the faculty—well, I may as well say that they almost insist upon a change."
"Good crawl," whispered Katherine, who was quick to put two and two together, to Adelaide Rich, who never got the point of any but the most obvious remarks, and who now looked much perplexed.
Meanwhile Betty had been holding whispered consultations with some of the girls around her, and now she rose again. Her "madame president" was so obviously prior to Kate Denise's that when Kate was recognized there was an ominous murmur of discontent and Jean apologized and promptly reversed her decision.
"Perhaps I oughtn't to speak twice," said Betty blushing at the commotion she had caused, "but if we are to change our vote, some of us think it would be fun to hold a preliminary debate now, and choose our speaker on her merits. We did that once at school——"
"Good stunt," called some one.
"I move that Miss Wales as chairman select a committee of arrangements, and that we have a five minute recess while the committee meets."
"I move that there be two committees, one for nominating speakers and the other for choosing a subject."
"I move that we reconsider our other vote first."
The motions were coming in helter-skelter from all quarters, instead of decorously from the front row as usual. The president was trying vainly to restore order and to remember whose motion should have precedence, and to make way somehow for the prearranged nomination, which so far had been entirely crowded out, when three girls in one corner of the room began thumping on their seat-arms and chanting in rhythmic, insistent chorus, "We—want—Emily—Davis. We—want—Emily—Davis. We—want—Emily—Davis."
Hardly any one in the room had ever heard of Emily Davis, but the three girls constituted an original and very popular little coterie known individually as Babe, Babbie, and Bob, or collectively as "the three B's." They roomed on the top floor of the Westcott House and were famous in the house for being at the same time prime favorites of the matron and the ringleaders in every plot against her peace of mind, and outside for their unique and diverting methods of recreation. It was they who had successfully gulled Mary Brooks with a rumor as absurd as her own; and accounts of the "spread" they had handed out to the night-watchman in a tin pail, and dangled just out of his reach, in the hope of extracting a promise from that incorruptible worthy not to report their lights, until the string incontinently broke and the ice cream and lobster salad descended as a flood, were reported to have made even the august president of the college laugh. Ergo, if they "wanted" Emily Davis, she must be worth "wanting." So their friends took up the cry, and it quickly spread and gathered volume, until nearly everybody in the room was shouting the same thing. Finally the president stepped forward and made one determined demand for order.
"Is Miss Emily Davis present?" she called, when the tumult had slightly subsided.
"Yes," shouted the Three and the few others who knew Miss Davis by sight.
"Then will she please—why, exactly what is it that you want of her?" questioned the president, a trifle haughtily.
"Speech!" chorused the Three.
"Will Miss Davis please speak to us?" asked the president.
At that a very tall girl who was ineffectually attempting to hide behind little Alice Waite was pulled and pushed to her feet, and amid a sudden silence began the funniest speech that most of the class of 19— had ever listened to; but it was not so much what she said as her inimitable drawling delivery and her lunging, awkward gestures that brought down the house. When she took her seat again, resolutely ignoring persistent cries of "More!" the class applauded her to the echo and elected her freshman debater by acclamation.
It was wonderful what a change those twenty riotous minutes had made in the spirit of the class of 19—. For the first time in its history it was an enthusiastic, single-hearted unit, and to the credit of the Hill girls be it said that no one was more enthusiastic or joined in the applause with greater vigor than they. They had not meant to be autocratic—except three of them; they had simply acted according to their lights, or rather, their leaders' lights. Now they understood how affairs could be conducted at Harding, and during the rest of the course they never entirely forgot or ignored the new method.
To Betty's utter astonishment and consternation the lion's share of credit for the sudden triumph of democracy was laid at her door. The group around her after the meeting was almost as large and quite as noisy as the one that was struggling to shake hands with Miss Davis.
"Don't! You mustn't. Why, it was the B's who got her, not I," protested Betty vigorously.
"No, you began it," said Babe.
"You bet you did," declared Bob.
"Yes, indeed. We were too scared to speak of her until you proposed something like it," added Babbie in her sweet, lilting treble.
"You can't get out of it. You are the real founder of this democracy," ended Christy Mason decidedly. Betty was proud of Christy's approval. It was fun, too, to have the Hill girls crowding around and saying pleasant things to her.
"I almost think I'm somebody at last. Won't Nan be pleased!" she reflected as she hurried home to keep her promise to Eleanor. Then she laughed merrily all to herself. "Those silly girls! I really didn't do a thing," she thought. And then she sighed. "I never get a chance to be a bit vain. I wish I could—one little wee bit. I wonder if Mr. West came."
It did not occur to Betty as at all significant that Jean Eastman and Kate Denise had not spoken to her after the meeting, until, when she knocked on Eleanor's door, Eleanor came formally to open it. "Jean and Kate are here," she said coldly, "so unless you care to stop——"
Jean and Kate nodded silently from the couch where they were eating candy.
"Oh, no," said Betty in quick astonishment. "I'll come some other time."
"You needn't bother," answered Eleanor rudely. "They've told me all about it," and she shut the door, leaving Betty standing alone in the hall.
Betty winked hard to keep back the tears as she hurried to her own room. What could it all mean? She had done her best for Eleanor, and nobody had guessed—they had been too busy laughing at that ridiculous Emily Davis—and now Eleanor treated her like this. And Jean Eastman, too, when she had done exactly what Jean wanted of her. Jean's curtness was even less explainable than Eleanor's, though it mattered less. It was all—queer. Betty smiled faintly as she applied Alice Waite's favorite adjective. Well, there was nothing more to be done until she could see Eleanor after dinner. So she wiped her eyes, smoothed her hair, and went resolutely off to find Roberta, whose heavy shoes—another of Roberta's countless fads—had just clumped past her door.
"I'm writing my definitions for to-morrow's English," announced Roberta. "For the one we could choose ourselves I'm going to invent a word and then make up a meaning for it. Isn't that a nice idea?"
"Very," said Betty listlessly.
Roberta looked at her keenly. "I believe you're homesick," she said. "How funny after such a jubilant afternoon."
Betty smiled wearily. "Perhaps I am. Anyway, I wish I were at home."
Meanwhile in Eleanor's room an acrimonious discussion was in progress.
"The more I think of it," Kate Denise was saying emphatically, "the surer I am that she didn't do a thing against us this afternoon. She isn't to blame for having started a landslide by accident, Jean. Did you see her face when Eleanor turned her down just now? She looked absolutely nonplussed."
"Most people do when the lady Eleanor turns and rends them," returned Jean, with a reminiscent smile.
"Just the same," continued Kate Denise, "I say you have a lot to thank her for this afternoon, Jean Eastman. She got you out of a tight hole in splendid shape. None of us could have done it without stamping the whole thing a put-up job, and most of the outsiders who could have helped you out, wouldn't have cared to oblige you. It was irritating to see her rallying the multitudes, I'll admit; but I insist that it wasn't her fault. We ought to have managed better."
"Say I ought to have managed better and be done with it," muttered Jean crossly.
"You certainly ought," retorted Eleanor. "You've made me the laughing-stock of the whole college."
"No, Eleanor," broke in Kate Denise pacifically. "Truly, your dignity is intact, thanks to Miss Wales and those absurd B's who followed her lead."
"Never mind them. I'm talking about Betty Wales. She was a friend of mine—she was at the supper the other night. Why couldn't she leave it to some one else to object to your appointing me?"
"Oh, if that's all you care about," said Jean irritably, "don't blame Miss Wales. The thing had to be done you know. I didn't see that it mattered who did it, and so I—well, I practically asked her. What I'm talking about is her way of going at it—her having pushed herself forward so, and really thrown us out of power by using what I—" Jean caught herself suddenly, remembering that Eleanor did not know about Betty's having been let into the secret.
"By using what you told her," finished Kate innocently. "Well, why did you tell her all about it, if you didn't expect—"
Eleanor stood up suddenly, her face white with anger. "How dared you," she challenged. "As if it wasn't insulting enough to get me into a scrape like this, and give any one with two eyes a chance to see through your flimsy little excuses, but you have to go round telling people——"
"Eleanor, stop," begged Jean. "She was the only one I told. I let it out quite by accident the day I came up here to see you. Not another soul knows it but Kate, and you told her yourself. You'd have told Betty Wales, too,—you know you would—if we hadn't seen you first this afternoon."
"Suppose I should," Eleanor retorted hotly. "What I do is my own affair. Please go home."
Jean stalked out in silence, but Kate, hesitating between Scylla and Charybdis, lingered to say consolingly, "Cheer up, Eleanor. When you come to think it over, it won't seem so——"
"Please go home," repeated Eleanor, and Kate hurried after her roommate.
SAINT VALENTINE'S ASSISTANTS
If Eleanor had taken Kate's advice and indulged in a little calm reflection, she would have realized how absolutely reasonless was her anger against Betty Wales. Betty had been told of the official objections which made it necessary for Eleanor to be withdrawn from the debate. Her action, then, had been wholly proper and perfectly friendly. But Eleanor was in no mood for reflection. A wild burst of passion held her firmly in its grasp. She hated everybody and everything in Harding—the faculty who had made such a commotion about two little low grades—for Eleanor had come surprisingly near to clearing her record at mid-years,—Jean, who had stupidly brought all this extra annoyance upon her; the class, who were glad to get rid of her, Betty, who—yes, Jean had been right about one thing—Betty, who had taken advantage of a friend's misfortune to curry favor for herself. They were all leagued against her. But—here the Watson pride suddenly asserted itself—they should never know that she cared, never guess that they had hurt her.
She deliberately selected the most becoming of her new evening gowns, and in an incredibly short time swept down to dinner, radiantly beautiful in the creamy lace dress, and—outwardly at least—in her sunniest, most charming mood. She insisted that the table should admire her dress, and the pearl pendant which her aunt had just sent her.
"I'm wearing it, you see, to celebrate my return to the freedom of private life," she rattled on glibly. "I understand you've found a genius to take my place. I'm delighted that we have one in the class. It's so convenient. Who of you are going to the Burton House dance to-night?"
So she led the talk from point to point and from hand to hand. She bantered Mary, deferred to Helen and the Riches, appealed in comradely fashion to Katherine and Rachel. Betty alone she utterly, though quite unostentatiously, ignored; and Betty, too much hurt to make any effort, stood aside and tried to solve the riddle of Eleanor's latest caprice. On the way up-stairs Eleanor spoke to her for the first time. She went up just ahead of her and at the top of the flight she turned and waited.
"I understand that you quite ran the class to-day," she said with a flashing smile. "The girls tell me that you're a born orator, as good in your way as the genius in hers."
Betty rallied herself for one last effort. "Don't make fun of me, Eleanor. Please let me come in and tell you about it. You don't understand——"
"Possibly not," said Eleanor coldly. "But I'm going out now."
"Just for a moment!"
"But I have to start at once. I'm late already."
"Oh, very well," said Betty, and turned away to join Mary and Roberta.
Eleanor's mind always worked with lightning rapidity, and while she dressed she had gone over the whole situation and decided exactly how she would meet it; and in the weeks that followed she kept rigidly to the course she had marked out for herself, changing only one detail. At first she had intended to have nothing more to do with Jean, but she saw that a sudden breaking off of their friendship would be remarked upon and wondered at. So she compromised by treating Jean exactly as usual, but seeing her as little as possible. This made it necessary to refuse many of her invitations to college affairs, for wherever she went Jean was likely to go. So she spent much of her leisure time away from Harding; she went to Winsted a great deal, and often ran down to Boston or New York for Sunday, declaring that the trips meant nothing to a Westerner used to the "magnificent distances" of the plains. Naturally she grew more and more out of touch with the college life, more and more scornful of the girls who could be content with the narrow, humdrum routine at Harding. But she concealed her scorn perfectly. And she no longer neglected her work; she attended her classes regularly and managed with a modicum of preparation to recite far better than the average student. Furthermore her work was now scrupulously honest, and she was sensitively alert to the slightest imputation of untruthfulness. She offered no specious explanations for her withdrawal from the debate, and when Mary Brooks innocently inquired "what little yarn" she told the registrar, that she could get away so often, Eleanor fixed her with an unpleasantly penetrative stare and answered with all her old-time hauteur that she did not tell "yarns."
"I have a note from my father. So long as I do my work and go to all my classes, they really can't object to my spending my Sundays as he wishes."
Betty observed all these changes without being in the least able to reconcile them with Eleanor's new attitude toward herself. Unlike the friendship with Jean, Eleanor's intercourse with her had been inconspicuous, confined mostly to the Chapin house itself. Even the girls there, because Eleanor had stood so aloof from them, had seen little of it, so Eleanor was free to break it off without thinking of public opinion, and she did so ruthlessly. From the day of the class meeting she spoke to Betty only when she must, or, if no one was by, when some taunting remark occurred to her.
At first Betty tried her best to think how she could have offended, but she could not discuss the subject with any one else and endless consideration and rejection of hypotheses was fruitless, so after Eleanor had twice refused her an interview that would have settled the matter, she sensibly gave it up. Eleanor would perhaps "come round" in time. Meanwhile it was best to let her alone.
But Betty felt that she was having more than her share of trouble; Helen was quite as trying in her way as Eleanor in hers. She had entirely lost her cheerful air and seemed to have grown utterly discouraged with life.
"And no wonder, for she studies every minute," Betty told Rachel and Katherine. "I think she feels hurt because the girls don't get to like her better, but how can they when she doesn't give them any chance?"
"She's awfully touchy lately," added Katherine.
"Poor little thing!" said Rachel.
Then the three plunged into an animated discussion of basket-ball, and Rachel and Katherine, who were on a sort of provisional team that included most of the best freshman players and arrogated to itself the name of "The Stars," showed Betty in strictest confidence the new cross-play that "T. Reed" had invented. "T. Reed" seemed to be the basket-ball genius of the freshman class. She was the only girl who was perfectly sure to be on the regular team.
It is one of the fine things about college that no matter who of your friends are temporarily lost to you, there is always somebody else to fall back upon, and some new interest to take the place of one that flags. Betty had noticed this and been amused by it early in her course. Sometimes, as she said to Miss Ferris in one of her many long talks with that lady, things change so fast that you really begin to wonder if you can be the same person you were last week.
Besides the inter-class basket-ball game, there was the Hilton House play to talk about and look forward to, and the rally; and, nearer still, St. Valentine's day. It was a long time, to be sure, since Betty had been much excited over the last named festival; in her experience only children exchanged valentines. But at Harding it seemed to be different. While the day was still several weeks off she had received three invitations to valentine parties. She consulted Mary Brooks and found that this was not at all unusual.
"All the campus houses give them," Mary explained, "and the big ones outside, just as they do for Hallowe'en. They have valentine boxes, you know, and sometimes fancy dress balls."
And there the matter would have dropped if Mary had not spent all her monthly allowance three full weeks before she was supposed to have any more. Poverty was Mary's chronic state. Not that Dr. Brooks's checks were small, but his daughter's spending capacity was infinite.
"You wait till you're a prominent sophomore," she said when Katherine laughed at her, "and all your friends are making societies, and you just have to provide violets and suppers, in hopes that they'll do as much for you later on. The whole trouble is that father wants me to be on an allowance, instead of writing home for money when I'm out. And no matter how much I say I need, it never lasts out the month."
"Why don't you tutor?" suggested Rachel, who got along easily on a third of what Mary spent. "I hope to next year."
"Tutor!" repeated Mary with a reminiscent chuckle. "I tried to tutor my cousin this fall in algebra, and the poor thing flunked much worse than before. But anyway the faculty wouldn't give me regular tutoring. I look too well-to-do. Ah! how deceitful are appearances!" sighed Mary, opening her pocketbook, where five copper pennies rattled about forlornly.
But the very next day she dashed into Betty's room proclaiming loudly, "I have an idea, and I want you to help me, Betty Wales. You can draw and I'll cut them out and drum up customers, and I guess I can write the verses. We ought to make our ad. to-night."
"Our what?" inquired Betty in an absolutely mystified tone.
Then Mary explained that she proposed to sell valentines. "Lots of the girls who can't draw buy theirs, not down-town, you know—we don't give that kind here,—but cunning little hand-made ones with pen-and-ink drawings and original verses. Haven't you noticed the signs on the 'For Sale' bulletin?"
Betty had not even seen that bulletin board since she and Helen had hunted second-hand screens early in the fall, but the plan sounded very attractive; it would fill up her spare hours, and keep her from worrying over Eleanor, and getting cross at Helen, so she was very willing to help if Mary honestly thought she could draw well enough.
"Goodness, yes!" said Mary, rushing off to borrow Roberta's water-color paper and Katherine's rhyming dictionary.
So the partnership was formed, a huge red heart covered with hastily decorated samples was stuck up on the "For Sale" bulletin in the gymnasium basement, and, as Betty's cupids were really very charming and her Christy heads quite as good as the average copy, names began to appear in profusion on the order-sheet.
Mary had written two sample verses with comparative ease, and in the first flush of confidence she had boldly printed on the sign: "Rhymed grinds for special persons furnished at reasonable rates." But later, when everybody seemed to want that kind, even the valuable aid of the rhyming dictionary did not disprove the adage that poets are born, not made.
"I can't—I just can't do them," wailed Mary finally. "Jokes simply will not go into rhyme. What shall we do?"
"Get Roberta—she writes beautifully—and Katherine—she told me that she'd like to help," suggested Betty, without looking up from the chubby cupid she was fashioning.
So Katherine and Roberta were duly approached and Katherine was added to the firm. Roberta at first said she couldn't, but finally, after exacting strict pledges of secrecy, she produced half a dozen dainty little lyrics, bidding Mary use them if she wished—they were nothing. But no amount of persuasion would induce her to do any more.
However, Katherine's genius was nothing if not profuse, and she preferred to do "grinds," so Mary could devote herself to sentimental effusions,—which, so she declared, did not have to have any special point and so were within her powers,—and to the business end of the project. This, in her view, consisted in perching on a centrally located window-seat in the main building, in the intervals between classes, and soliciting orders from all passers-by, to the consequent crowding of the narrow halls and the great annoyance of the serious-minded, who wished to reach their recitations promptly. But from her point of view she was strikingly successful.
"I tell you, I never appreciated how easy it is to make money if you only set about it in the right way," she announced proudly one day at luncheon. "By the way, Betty, would you run down after gym to get our old order sheet and put up a new one? I have a special topic in psychology to-morrow, and if Professor Hinsdale really thinks I'm clever I don't want to undeceive him too suddenly."
Betty promised, but after gym Rachel asked her to stay and play basket-ball with "The Stars" in the place of an absent member. Naturally she forgot everything else and it was nearly six o'clock when, sauntering home from an impromptu tea-drinking at the Belden House, she remembered the order sheet. It was very dusky in the basement. Betty, plunging down the steps that led directly into the small room where the bulletin board was, almost knocked down a girl who was curled up on the bottom step of the flight.
"Goodness! did I hurt you?" she said, a trifle exasperated that any one should want to sit alone in the damp darkness of the basement.
There was no answer, and Betty, whose eyes were growing accustomed to the dim light, observed with consternation that her companion was doing her best to stop crying.
As has already been remarked, Betty hated tears as a kitten hates rain. Personally she never cried without first locking her door, and she could imagine nothing so humiliating as to be caught, unmistakably weeping, by a stranger. So she turned aside swiftly, peered about in the shadows for the big red heart, changed the order sheet, and was wondering whether she would better hurry out past the girl or wait for her to recover her composure and depart, when the girl took the situation out of her hands by rising and saying in cheery tones, "Good-evening, Miss Wales. Are you going my way?"
"I—why it's Emily—I mean Miss—Davis," cried Betty.
"Yes, it's Emily Davis, in the blues, the more shame to her, when she ought to be at home getting supper this minute. Wait just a second, please." Miss Davis went over to the signs, jerked down one, and picking up her books from the bottom step announced without the faintest trace of embarrassment, "Now I'm ready."
"But are you sure you want me?" inquired Betty timidly.
"Bless you, yes," said Miss Davis. "I've wanted to know you for ever so long. I'm sorry you caught me being a goose, though."
"And I'm sorry you felt like crying," said Betty shyly. "Why, Miss Davis, I should want to laugh all the time if I'd done what you did the other day. I should be so proud."
Miss Davis smiled happily down at her small companion. "I was proud," she said simply. "I only hope I can do as well week after next. But Miss Wales, that was the jam of college life. There's the bread and butter too, you know, and sometimes that's a lot harder to earn than the jam."
"Do you mean——" began Betty and stopped, not wanting to risk hurting Miss Davis's feelings.
"Yes, I mean that I'm working my way through. I have a scholarship, but there's still my board and clothes and books."
"And you do it all?"
Miss Davis nodded. "My cousin sends me some clothes."
"How do you do it, please?"
"Tutor, sort papers and make typewritten copies of things for the faculty, put on dress braids (that's how I met the B's), mend stockings, and wait on table off and on when some one's maid leaves suddenly. We thought it would be cheaper and pleasanter to board ourselves and earn our money in different ways than to take our board in exchange for regular table-waiting; but I don't know. The other way is surer."
"You mean you don't find work enough?"
Miss Davis nodded. "It takes a good deal," she said apologetically, "and there isn't much tutoring that freshmen can do. After this year it will be easier."
"Dear me," gasped Betty. "Don't you get any—any help from home?"
"Well, they haven't been able to send any yet, but they hope to later," said Miss Davis brightly.
"And does it pay when you have to work so hard for it?"
"Oh, yes," answered Miss Davis promptly. "All three of us are sure that it pays."
"Three of you live together?"
"Yes. Of course there are ever so many others in the college, and I'm sure all of them would say the same thing."
"And—I hope I'm not being rude—but do girls—do you advertise things down on that bulletin board? I don't know much about it. I never was there but once till I went to-day on—on an errand for a friend," Betty concluded awkwardly. Perhaps she had been an interloper. Perhaps that bulletin board had not been meant for girls like her.
Miss Davis evidently assumed that she had been to leave an order. "You ought to buy more," she said laughingly. "But you want to know what I was there for, don't you? Why yes, we do make a good deal off that bulletin board. One of the girls paints a little and she advertises picture frames—Yale and Harvard and Pennsylvania ones, you know. I sell blue-prints. A senior lends me her films. She has a lot of the faculty and the campus, and they go pretty well. We use the money we make from those things for little extras—ribbons and note-books and desserts for Sunday. We hoped to make quite a bit on valentines——"
"Valentines?" repeated Betty sharply.
"Yes, but a good many others thought of it too, and we didn't get any orders—not one. Ours weren't so extra pretty and it was foolish of me to be so disappointed, but we'd worked hard getting ready and we did want a little more money so much."
They had reached Betty's door by this time, and Miss Davis hurried on, saying it was her turn to get supper and begging Betty to come and see them. "For we're very cozy, I assure you. You mustn't think we have a horrid time just because—you know why."
Betty went straight to Mary's room, which, since she had no roommate to object to disorder, had been the chief seat of the valentine industry.
"You're a nice one," cried Katherine, "staying off like this when to-day is the eleventh."
"Many orders?" inquired Mary.
Betty sat down on Mary's couch, ruthlessly sweeping aside a mass of half finished valentines to make room. "Girls, this has got to stop," she announced abruptly.
Mary dropped her scissors and Katherine shut the rhyming dictionary with a bang.
"What is the trouble?" they asked in chorus.
Then Betty told her story, suppressing only Emily's name and mentioning all the details that had made up the point and pathos of it. "And just think!" she said at last. "She's a girl you'd both be proud to know, and she works like that. And we stepped in and took away a chance of—of ribbons and note-books and dessert for Sunday."
"May be not; perhaps hers were so homely they wouldn't have sold anyway," suggested Katherine with an attempt at jocoseness.
"Don't, please," said Betty wearily.
Mary came and sat down beside her on the couch. "Well, what's to be done about it now?" she asked soberly.
"I don't know. We can't give them orders because she took her sign down. I thought perhaps—how much have we made?"
"Fifteen dollars easily. All right; we'll send it to them."
"Of course," chimed in Katherine. "I was only joking. Shall we finish these up?"
"Yes indeed," said Mary, "they're all ordered, and the more money the better, n'est ce pas, Betty? But aren't we to know the person's name?"
Betty hesitated. "Why—no—that is if you don't mind very much. You see she sort of told me about herself because she had to, so I feel as if I oughtn't to repeat it. Do you mind?"
"Not one bit," said Katherine quickly. "And we needn't say anything at all about it, except—don't you think the girls here in the house will have to know that we're going to give away the money?"
"Yes," put in Mary, "and we'll make them all give us extra orders."
"We will save out a dollar for you to live on till March," said Betty.
"Oh no, I shall borrow of you," retorted Mary, and then they all laughed and felt better.
On St. Valentine's morning Betty posted a registered valentine. The verse read:—
"There are three of us and three of you, Though only one knows one, So pray accept this little gift And go and have some fun."
But if the rhyme went haltingly and was not quite true either, as Betty pointed out, since Adelaide and Alice had contributed to the fund, and the whole house had bought absurd quantities of valentines because it was such a "worthy object" ("just as if I wasn't a worthy object!" sighed Mary), there was nothing the matter with the "little gift," which consisted of three crisp ten dollar bills.
"Oh, if they should feel hurt!" thought Betty anxiously, and dodged Emily Davis so successfully that until the day of the rally they did not meet.
That week was a tremendously exciting one. To begin with, on the twentieth the members of both the freshman basket-ball teams were announced. Rachel was a "home" on the regular team, and Katherine a guard on the "sub," so the Chapin house fairly bubbled over with pride and pleasure in its double honors. Then on the morning of the twenty-second came the rally with its tumultuous display of class and college loyalty, its songs written especially for the occasion, its shrieks of triumph or derision (which no intrusive reporter should make bold to interpret or describe as "class yells," since such masculine modes of expression are unknown at Harding), and its mock-heroic debate on the vital issue, "Did or did not George Washington cut down that cherry-tree?"
Every speaker was clever and amusing, but Emily Davis easily scored the hit of the morning. For whereas most freshmen are frightened and appear to disadvantage on such an occasion, she was perfectly calm and self-possessed, and made her points with exactly the same irresistible gaucherie and daring infusion of local color that had distinguished her performance at the class meeting. Besides, she was a "dark horse"; she did not belong to the leading set in her class, nor to any other set, for that matter, and this fact, together with the novel method of her election made her interesting to her essentially democratic audience. So when the judges—five popular members of the faculty—announced their decision in favor of the negative, otherwise the junior-freshman side of the debate, 19—'s enthusiasm knew no bounds, and led by the delighted B's they carried their speaker twice round the gym on their shoulders—which is an honor likely to be remembered by its recipient for more reasons than one.
As the clans were scattering, it suddenly occurred to Betty that, if Emily did not guess anything, it would please her to be congratulated on the excellence of her debate; and if, as was more likely, she had guessed, there was little to be gained by postponing the dreaded interview. She chose a moment when Emily was standing by herself in one corner of the gymnasium. Emily did not wait for her to begin her speech of congratulation.
"Oh, Miss Wales," she cried, "I've been to see you six times, and you are never there. It was lovely of you—lovely—but ought we to take it?"
"Yes, indeed. It belongs to you; honestly it does. Don't ask me how, for it's too long a story. Just take my word for it."
"Well, but——" began Emily doubtfully.
At that moment some one called, "Hurrah for 19—!" Betty caught up the cry and seizing Emily's hand rushed her down the hall, toward a group of freshmen.
"Make a line and march," cried somebody else, and presently a long line of 19— girls was winding in noisy lock-step down the hall, threading in and out between groups of upper-class girls and cheering and gaining recruits as it went.
"Hurrah for 19—!" cried Betty hoarsely.
"Take it for 19—," she whispered to Emily, as the line stopped with a jerk that knocked their heads together.
"If you are sure—— Thank you for 19—," Emily whispered back.
"Here's to 19—, drink her down! Here's to 19—, drink her down!"
As the chorus rose and swelled Betty felt, as she never had before, what it meant to be a college girl at Harding.
As Betty was leaving the gymnasium she met Eleanor face to face in the hallway.
"Wasn't it fun?" said Betty, shyly. Perhaps, now that the debate was over, Eleanor would be ready to make friends again.
"Patronizing the genius, do you mean?" asked Eleanor slowly. "I hope she didn't buy that hideous salmon-pink waist with your money."
"Oh, Eleanor, how did you ever find out?" cried Betty, deeply distressed. Only a few of the Chapin house girls knew anything about the disposition of the valentine money, and not even the rest of the firm had been told who had received it. So Betty had thought the secret perfectly safe.
"No one told me about your private affairs," returned Eleanor significantly. "I guessed and I congratulate you. The genius will be a useful ally. She will get all the freaks' votes for you, when——"
"Eleanor Watson, come on if you're coming," called a voice from the foot of the stairs, and Eleanor marched blithely off, without finishing her sentence.
Betty stared after her with unseeing eyes. So that was it! She was to blame because Jean had told her of Eleanor's predicament—told her against her wish. And now she was supposed to be trying to get votes.
"Votes for what, I wonder? How perfectly absurd!" said Betty to the brick wall she was facing. But the appropriate smile would not come, for the absurdity had cost her a friend whom she had loved dearly in spite of her faults.
A BEGINNING AND A SEQUEL
"I shan't be here to dinner Sunday," announced Helen Chase Adams with an odd little thrill of importance in her voice.
"Shan't you?" responded her roommate absently. She was trying to decide which dress to wear to the Hilton House play. Her pink organdie was prettiest, but she really ought to save that for the Glee Club concert. And should she ask her cousin Jack Burgess up from Harvard for the concert, or would it be better to invite Mr. Parsons? These absorbing questions left her small attention to bestow on so comparatively commonplace a matter as an invitation out to Sunday dinner.
"I thought you might like to have some one in my place," continued Helen, moving the pink organdie waist on to the same chair with the batiste skirt.
Betty came to herself with a start. "I beg your pardon. I didn't see that I had taken up all the chairs. I was trying to decide what to wear to the dramatics."
"And I was thinking what I'd wear Sunday," said Helen.
It was so seldom nowadays that she obtruded her affairs upon any one's notice that Betty glanced at her wonderingly. Her eyes had their starry look, and a smile that she was futilely endeavoring to keep in the background played around the corners of her mouth.
"I'm glad she's got over the blues," thought Betty. "Why, where are you going?" she asked aloud.
"Oh, only to the Westcott House," answered Helen with an assumption of unconcern. "Would you wear the blue silk waist or the brown dress?"
"Well, the Westcott is the swellest house on the campus, you know. When I go there I always put on my very best."
"Yes, but which is my best?"
Betty considered a moment. "Why, of course they're both pretty," she began with kindly diplomacy, "but dresses are more the thing than waists. Still, the blue is very becoming. But I think—yes, I'm sure I'd wear the brown."
"All right. If you change your mind before Sunday you can let me know."
"Yes," said Betty briefly. She was examining the batiste skirt to see if it would need pressing for the dramatics. After all, Jack was more fun, and probably Mr. Parsons was invited by this time anyhow—he knew lots of Harding girls. What was the name of Jack's dormitory house? She would ask the Riches; they had a brother in the same one. So she strolled off to find the Riches, and incidentally to get the latest basket-ball news from Rachel and Katherine. At nine o'clock they turned her out; they were in training and supposed to be fast asleep by nine-thirty. When she opened her own door, Helen was still sitting idly in the wicker rocker, looking as if she would be perfectly content to stay there indefinitely with her pleasant thoughts for company.
Betty had quite lost interest in Helen lately; she had small patience with people who moped, and besides, between Eleanor and the valentine enterprise, her thoughts had been fully engrossed. But this new mood made her curious. "She acts as if she'd got a crush," she decided. "She's just the kind to have one, and probably her divinity has asked her to dinner, and she can't put her mind on anything else. But who on earth could it be—in the Westcott House?"
She was on the point of inquiring, when Helen diverted her attention to something else. "I made a wonderful discovery to-day," she said. "Theresa Reed and T. Reed are the same person."
Betty laughed. "They might easily be," she said. "I don't see that it was so wonderful."
"Why, I've known Theresa all this year—she was the one that asked me to go off with her house for Mountain Day. She's the best friend I have here, but she never told me that she was specially interested in basket-ball and I never thought—well, I guess I never imagined that a dear friend of mine could be the celebrated T. Reed," laughed Helen happily. "But all sorts of nice things are happening to me lately."
"That's good," said Betty. "It seems to be just the opposite with me," and she plunged into her note to Jack, which must be ready for the next morning's post.
All that week Helen went about fairly wreathed in smiles. Her shyness seemed to have vanished suddenly. She joined gaily in the basket-ball gossip at the table, came out into the hall to frolic with the rest of the house at ten o'clock, and in general acted as a happy, well-conducted freshman should.
The Chapin house brought its amazement over the "dig's" frivolity to Betty, but she had very little to tell them. "All I know is that she's awfully pleased about being a friend of T. Reed's. And oh yes—she's invited out to dinner next Sunday. But of course there must be something else."
"Perhaps she's going to have a man up for the concert," suggested Katherine flippantly.
"Are you?" inquired Mary Rich, and with that the regeneration of Helen was forgotten in the far more absorbing topic of the Glee Club concert.
Sunday came at last. "I'm not going to church, Betty," said Helen shyly. "I want to have plenty of time to get dressed for dinner."
"Yes, indeed," said Betty carelessly. She had just received an absurd letter from Jack. He was coming "certain-sure"; he wanted to see her about a very serious matter, he said. "Incidentally" he should be delighted to go to the concert. There was a mysterious postscript too:—"How long since you got so fond of Bob Winchester?"
"I never heard of any such person. What do you suppose he means?" Betty asked Mary Brooks as they walked home from church together. Mary had also invited a Harvard man to the concert and Dorothy King had found them both seats, so they were feeling unusually friendly and sympathetic.
"I can't imagine. Do let me see his letter," begged Mary. "He must be no end of fun."
"He's a worse tease than you," said Betty, knocking on her door.
"Come in," called Helen Chase Adams eagerly. "Betty, would you please hook my collar, and would one of you see what time it really is? I don't like to depend too much on my watch."
"She'll be at least ten minutes too early," sighed Betty, when Helen had finally departed in a flutter of haste. "And see this room! But I oughtn't to complain," she added, beginning to clear up the dresser. "I'm always leaving it like this myself; but someway I don't expect it of Helen."
"Who asked her to dinner to-day?" inquired Mary Brooks. She had been sitting in a retired corner, vastly enjoying the unusual spectacle of Helen Adams in a frenzy of excitement.
"Why, I don't know. I never thought to ask," said Betty, straightening the couch pillows. "I only hope she'll have as good a time as she expects."
"Poor youngster!" said Mary. "Wish I'd asked Laurie to jolly her up a bit."
It is to be presumed that these fears were groundless, since the bell was ringing for five o'clock vespers when Helen came back. Betty was sitting at her desk pretending to write letters, but really trying to decide whether she should say anything to Eleanor apropos of her remarks about Emily Davis, and if so, whether she should do it now. Mary Brooks curled up on Betty's couch, dividing her attention between Jack Burgess's picture and a new magazine.
"Had a good time, didn't you?" she remarked sociably when Helen appeared.
"Oh, yes," said Helen happily. "You see I don't go out very often. Were you ever at the Westcott House for dinner?"
"Once," chuckled Mary. "But I found they didn't have ice-cream, because the matron doesn't approve of buying things on Sunday; so I've turned them down ever since."
Helen laughed merrily. "How funny! I never missed it!" There was a becoming flush on her cheeks, a pretty new confidence in her manner.
"Helen, who did you say asked you to the Westcott?" inquired Betty.
"I didn't say, because you didn't ask me," returned Helen truthfully, "but it was Miss Mills."
"Miss Mills!" repeated Mary. "Well, my child, I don't wonder that you were rattled this noon, being invited around by the faculty. Gracious, what a compliment to a young freshman!"
"I should think so!" chimed in Betty eagerly.
In spite of her embarrassment Helen evidently enjoyed the sensation she was producing. "I thought it was awfully nice," she said.
"Why didn't you tell us sooner?" demanded Mary. "Why, child, you must be a bright and shining shark in lit."
Helen's happy face clouded suddenly. "I'm not, am I, Betty?" she asked appealingly.
Betty laughed. "Why no, since you ask me. No, she isn't, Mary. She sits on the back row with me and we don't either of us say an extra word. It's math, and Latin and Greek that Helen shines in."
"Well, are you awfully devoted to Miss Mills?" pursued Mary. "Is that why she asked you?"
Helen shook her head. "I like her. She reads beautifully and sometimes she says very interesting things, doesn't she, Betty?"
"I hadn't noticed," answered her roommate hastily.
"Well, I think she does, but I never told her I thought so. It couldn't be that."
"Then why did she ask you?" demanded Mary.
"I suppose because she wanted me," said Helen happily. "I can't think of any other reason. Isn't it lovely?"
"Yes indeed," agreed Mary. "It's so grand that I'm going off this minute to tell everybody in the house about it. They'll be dreadfully envious," and she left the roommates alone.
Helen pulled off her best gloves carefully, and laid them neatly away, then she put up her hat and coat and sat down in her favorite wicker chair. "I guess I left the room in a dreadful muss this noon," she said apologetically. "I guess I acted silly and excited, but you see—I said I hadn't been out often—this is the very first time I've been invited out to a meal since I came to Harding."
"Really?" said Betty, thinking guiltily of her own multitude of invitations.
"Yes, I hoped you hadn't any of you noticed it. I hate to be pitied. Now you can just like me."
"Just like you?" repeated Betty vaguely.
"Yes. Don't you see? I'm not left out any more." She hesitated, then went on rapidly. "You see I had a lovely time at first, at the sophomore reception and the frolic and all, but it stopped and—this was a good while coming, and I got discouraged. Wasn't it silly? I—oh, it's all right now. I wouldn't change places with anybody." She began to rock violently. Betty had noticed that Helen rocked when other girls sang or danced jigs.
"But I thought—we all thought," began Betty, "that you had decided you preferred to study—that you didn't care for our sort of fun. You haven't seemed to lately."
"Not since it came over me why you girls here in the house were nice to me when nobody else was except Theresa," explained Helen with appalling frankness. "You were sorry for me. I thought it out the day after you gave me the violets. Before I came to Harding," she went on, "I did think that college was just to study. It's funny how you change your mind after you get here—how you begin to see that it's a lot bigger than you thought. And it's queer how little you care about doing well in class when you haven't anything else to care about." She gave a little sigh, then got up suddenly. "I almost forgot; I have a message for Adelaide. And by the way, Betty, I saw your Miss Hale; she and somebody else were just going in to see Miss Mills when I left."
She had scarcely gone when Mary sauntered back as if by accident. "Well, have you found out?" she asked. "As a student of psychology I'm vastly interested in this situation."
"Found out what?" asked Betty unsmilingly.
"Why Miss Mills asked her, and why she is so pleased."
"I suppose Miss Mills asked her because she was sorry for her," answered Betty slowly, "and Helen is pleased because she doesn't know it. Mary, she's been awfully lonely."
"Too bad," commented Mary. Unhappiness always made her feel awkward.
"But she says this makes up to her for everything," added Betty.
"Oh, I've noticed that life is a pretty even thing in the end," returned Mary, relieved that there was no present call on her sympathies, "but I must confess I don't see how one dinner invitation, even if it is from——"
Just then Helen tapped on the door.
Down in Miss Mills's room they were discussing much the same point.
"It's a shame for you to waste your Sundays over these children," said Miss Hale.
Miss Mills stopped her tea-making to dissent. "It isn't wasted if she cared. She was so still that I couldn't be sure, but judging from the length of time she stayed——"
"She was smiling all over her face when we met her," interrupted Miss Meredith. "Who is she, anyway?"
"Oh, just nobody in particular," laughed Miss Mills, "just a forlorn little freshman named Adams."
"But I don't quite see how——" began Miss Hale.
"Oh, you wouldn't," said Miss Mills easily. "You were president of your class when you were a freshman. I was nobody in particular, and I know what it's like."
"But why not leave it to her friends to hearten her up?"
"Apparently she hasn't any, or if she has, they're as out of things as she is."
"Well, to the other girls then."
"When girls are happy they are cruel," said Miss Mills briefly, "or perhaps they're only careless."
Betty, after a week's consideration, put the matter even more specifically. "I tried to make her over because I wanted a different kind of roommate," she said, "and we all let her see that we were sorry for her. Miss Mills made her feel as if——"
"She had her dance card full and was splitting her waltzes," supplied Mary, who was just back from an afternoon at Winsted.
"Exactly like that," agreed Betty, laughing. "I wish I'd done it," she added wistfully.
"You kept her going till her chance came," said Mary. "She owes a lot to you, and she knows it."
"Don't," protested Betty, flushing. "I tell you, I was only thinking of myself when I tried to fix her up, and then after a while I got tired of her and let her alone. I was horrid, but she's forgiven me and we're real friends now."
"Well, we can't do but so much apiece," said Mary practically. "And I've noticed that 'jam,' as your valentine girl called it, is a mighty hard thing to give to people who really need it."
Nevertheless the gift had been managed in Helen's case; she had gotten her start at last. Miss Mills's tactful little attention had furnished her with the hope and courage that she lacked, had given her back the self-confidence that Caroline Barnes had wounded. Whatever the girls might think, she knew she was "somebody" now, and she would go ahead and prove it. She could, too—she no longer doubted her possession of the college girl's one talent that Betty had laughed about. For there was Theresa Reed, her friend down the street. She was homely and awkward, she wore dowdy clothes and wore them badly, she was slow and plodding; but there was one thing that she could do, and the girls admired her for it and had instantly made a place for her. Helen was glad of a second proof that those things did not matter vitally. She set herself happily to work to study T. Reed's methods, and she began to look forward to the freshman-sophomore game as eagerly as did Betty or Katherine.
But before the game there was the concert. Jack Burgess, having missed his connections, arrived in Harding exactly twenty-seven minutes before it began. As they drove to the theatre he inquired if Betty had received all three of his telegrams.
"Yes," laughed Betty, "but I got the last one first. The other two were evidently delayed. You've kept me guessing, I can tell you."
"Glad of that," said Jack cheerfully, as he helped her out of the carriage. "That's what you've kept me doing for just about a month. But I've manfully suppressed my curiosity and concealed the wounds in my bleeding heart until I could make inquiries in person."
"What in the world do you mean, Jack?" asked Betty carelessly. Jack was such a tease.
Just then they were caught in the crowd that filled the lobby of the theatre, and conversation became impossible as they hurried through it and into the theatre itself.
"Checks, please," said a businesslike little usher in pink chiffon, and Jack and Betty followed her down the aisle. The theatre was already nearly full, and it looked like a great flower garden, for the girls all wore light evening gowns, for which the black coats of the men made a most effective background; while the odor of violets and roses from the great bunches that many of the girls carried strengthened the illusion.
"Jove, but this is a pretty thing!" murmured Jack, who had never been in Harding before. "Is this all college?"
"Yes," said Betty proudly, "except the men, of course. And don't they all look lovely?"
"Who—the men?" asked Jack. Then he gave a sudden start. "Bob Winchester, by all that's wonderful!"
"Who is he?" said Betty idly. "Another Harvard man? Jack"—with sudden interest, as she recognized the name—"what did you mean by that postscript?"
"Good bluff!" said Jack in his most tantalizing drawl.
"Jack Burgess, I expect you to talk sense the rest of the time you're here," remonstrated Betty impatiently.
"Well, I will on one condition. Tell me why you sent it to him."
"Sent what to whom?" demanded Betty.
"Oh come," coaxed Jack. "You know what I mean. Why did you send Bob that valentine? It almost crushed me, I can tell you, when I hadn't even heard from you for months."
Betty was staring at him blankly, "Why did I send 'Bob' that valentine? Who please tell me is 'Bob'?"
"Robert M. Winchester, Harvard, 19—. Eats at my club. Is sitting at the present moment on the other side of the aisle, two rows up and over by the boxes. You'll know him by his pretty blush. He's rattled—he didn't think I'd see him."
"Well?" said Betty.
"Well?" repeated Jack.
"I never saw Mr. Robert M. Winchester before," declared Betty with dignity, "and of course I didn't send him any valentine. What are you driving at, Jack Burgess?"
Jack smiled benignly down at her. "But I saw it," he insisted. "Do you think I don't know your handwriting? The verses weren't yours, unless they turn out spring poets amazingly fast up here, but the writing was, except that on the envelope, and the Cupids were. The design was the same as the one on the picture frame you gave me last winter. Beginning to remember?" he inquired with an exasperating chuckle.
"No," said Betty severely. Then a light broke over her face. "Oh yes, of course, I made that. Oh Jack Burgess, how perfectly rich!"
"Don't think so myself, but Bobbie will. You see I told him that I could put up a good guess who sent him that valentine, and that I'd find out for sure when I came up. But evidently he couldn't wait, so he's made his sister ask him up too, in the hope of happening on the valentine lady, I suppose. Know his sister?"
"No," said Betty, who was almost speechless with laughter. "Oh, Jack, listen!" and she told the story of the valentine firm. "Probably his sister bought it and sent it to him," she finished. "Or anyway some girl did. Jack, he's looking this way again. Did you tell him I sent it?"
"No," said Jack hastily, "that is—I—well, I only said that the girl I knew up here sent it. He evidently suspects you. See him stare."
"Jack, how could you?"
"How couldn't I you'd better say," chuckled Jack. "I never heard of this valentine graft. What should I think, please? Never mind; I'll undeceive the poor boy at the intermission. He'll be badly disappointed. You see, he said it was his sister all along, and——"
The curtain rolled slowly up, disclosing the Glee Club grouped in a rainbow-tinted semicircle about the leader, and the concert began.
At the intermission Jack brought Mr. Winchester and his sister to meet Betty, and there were more explanations and much laughter. Then Jack insisted upon meeting the rest of the firm, so Betty hunted up Mary. Her Harvard man knew the other two slightly, and the story had to be detailed again for his benefit.
"I say," he said when he had heard it, "that's what I call enterprise, but you made just one mistake. Next year you must sell your stock to us. Then all of it will be sure to land with the ladies, and your cousin's feelings won't be hurt."
"Good idea," agreed Jack, "but let's keep to the living present, as the poets call it. Are you all good for a sleigh ride to-morrow afternoon?"
"Ah, do say yes," begged Mr. Winchester, looking straight at Betty.
"But your sister said you were going——"
"On the sleeper to-morrow night," finished Mr. Winchester promptly. "And may I have the heart-shaped sign?"
Betty stopped in Mary's room that night to talk over the exciting events of the evening. "Betty Wales, your cousin is the nicest man I ever met," declared Mary with enthusiasm.
Betty laughed. "I shan't tell you what he said about you. It would make you entirely too vain. I'm so sorry that Katherine wasn't there, so she could go to-morrow."
"It was too bad," said Mary complacently. "But then you know virtue is said to be its own reward. She'll have to get along with that, but I'm glad we're going to have another one. Those valentines were a lot of work to do for a girl whose very name I don't know."
AT THE GREAT GAME
"Well, I thought I'd seen some excitement before," declared Betty Wales, struggling to settle herself more comfortably on the scant ten square inches of space allotted her by the surging, swaying mass of girls behind. "But I was mistaken. Even the rally was nothing to this. Helen, do you feel as if they'd push you under the railing?"
"A little," laughed Helen, "but I don't suppose they could, do you?"
"I guess not," said Betty hopefully, "but they might break my spine. They're actually sitting on me, and I haven't room to turn around and see who's doing it. Oh, but isn't it fun!"
The day of the great basket-ball game had come at last. A bare two hours more and the freshman team would either be celebrating its victory over the sophomores, or bravely shouldering its defeat; and the college had turned out en masse to witness the struggle. The floor of the gymnasium was cleared, only Miss Andrews, the gym teacher, her assistant line-keepers and the ushers in white duck, with paper hats of green or purple, being allowed on the field of battle. On the little stage at one end of the hall sat the faculty, most of them manifesting their partisanship by the display of class-colors. The more popular supporters of the purple had been furnished with violets by their admirers, while the wearers of the green had American beauty roses—red being the junior color—tied with great bows of green ribbon. The prize exhibit was undoubtedly that of the enterprising young head of the chemistry department, who carried an enormous bunch of vivid green carnations; but the centre of interest was the president of the college, who of course displayed impartially the colors of both sides.
He divided interest with a sprightly little lady in a brilliant purple gown, whose arms were so full of violets and daffodils and purple and yellow ribbons that she looked like an animated flower bed. She smiled and nodded at the sophomore gallery from behind their floral tributes; and the freshmen watched her eagerly and wished she had worn the green. But of course she wouldn't; she had nothing but sophomore lit., and all her classes adored her.
In the gallery were the students, seniors and sophomores on one side, juniors and freshmen on the other, packed in like sardines. The front row of them sat on the floor, dangling their feet over the edge of the balcony—they had been warned at the gym classes of the day before to look to their soles and their skirt braids. The next row kneeled and peered over the shoulders of the first. The third row stood up and saw what it could. The others stood up and saw nothing, unless they were very tall or had been lucky enough to secure a place on a stray chair or a radiator. The balcony railings and posts were draped with bunting, and in every hand waved banners and streamers, purple and yellow on one side, red and green on the other.
In the middle of each side were grouped the best singers of the classes, ready to lead the chorus in the songs which had been written for the occasion to the music of popular tunes. These were supposed to take the place of "yells," and cheers, both proscribed as verging upon the unwomanly. By rule the opposing factions sang in turn, but occasionally, quite by accident, both started at once, with deafening discords that rocked the gallery, and caused the musical head of the German Department to stop her ears in agony.
Most of the girls had been standing in line for an hour waiting for the gymnasium doors to open, but a few, like Betty and Helen, had had reserved seat tickets given them by some one on the teams. These admitted their fortunate holders by a back door ahead of the crowd. All the faculty seats were reserved, of course, and the occupants of them were still coming in. As each appeared, he or she was met by a group of ushers and escorted ceremoniously across the floor, amid vigorous hand-clapping from the side whose colors were in evidence, and the singing of a verse of "Balm of Gilead" adapted to the occasion. Most of these had been written beforehand and were now hastily "passed along" from a paper in the hands of the leader. The rhymes were execrable, but that did not matter since almost nobody could understand them; and the main point was to come out strong on the chorus.
"Oh, there's Miss Ferris!" cried Betty, "and she's wearing my ro—goodness, she's half covered with roses. Helen, see that lovely green dragon pennant!"
"Here's to our Miss Ferris, drink her down!"
sang the freshman chorus.
"Here's to our Miss Ferris, drink her down! Here's to our Miss Ferris, may she never, never perish! Drink her down, drink her down, drink her down, down, down!"
Back by the door there was a sudden commotion, and the sophomore faction broke out into tumultuous applause as a tall and stately gentleman appeared carrying a "shower bouquet" of daffodils with a border and streamers of violets.
"Here's to Dr. Hinsdale, he's the finest man within hail! Drink him down, drink him down, drink him down, down, down!"
sang the sophomores.
"There is a team of great renown,"
began the freshmen lustily. What did the sophomores mean by clapping so? Ah! Miss Andrews was opening a door.
"They're coming!" cried Betty eagerly.
"Only the sophomore subs," amended the junior next to her. "So please don't stick your elbow into me."
"Excuse me," said Betty hastily. "Oh Helen, there's Katherine!"
Through the door at one side of the stage the freshman subs were coming, through the other the sophomores. Out on the floor of the gym they ran, all in their dark blue gym suits with green or purple stripes on the right sleeves, tossing their balls from hand to hand, throwing them into the baskets, bouncing them adroitly out of one another's reach, trying to appear as unconcerned as if a thousand people were not applauding them madly and singing songs about them and wondering which of them would get a chance to play in the great game. In a moment a little whistle blew and the subs found their places on the edge of the stage, where they sat in a restive, eager row, each girl in readiness to take the field the moment she should be needed.
The door of the sophomore room opened again and the "real team" ran out. Then the gallery shook indeed! Even the freshmen cheered when the mascot appeared hand in hand with the captain. He was a dashing little Indian brave in full panoply of war-paint, beads, and feathers, with fringed leggins and a real Navajo blanket. When he had finished his grand entry, which consisted of a war-dance, accompanied by ear-splitting war-whoops, he came to himself suddenly to find a thousand people staring at him, and he was somewhat appalled. He could not blush, for Mary Brooks had stained his face and neck a beautiful brick-red, and he lacked the courage to run away. So he waited, forlorn and uncomfortable, while the freshman team rushed in, circling gaily about a diminutive knight in shining silver armor, with a green plume. He marched proudly, but with some difficulty, for his helmet was down and his sword, which was much too long for him, had an unbecoming tendency to trip him up. When his hesitating steps had brought him to the middle of the gymnasium, the knight, apparently perceiving the Indian for the first time, dropped his encumbering sword and rushed at his rival with sudden vehemence and blood-curdling cries. The little Indian stared for a moment in blank amazement, then slipping off his blanket turned tail and ran, reaching the door long before his sophomore supporters could stop him. The knight meanwhile, left in full possession of the field, waited for a moment until the laughter and applause had died away into curiosity. Then, deliberately reaching up one gauntleted hand, he pulled off his helmet, and disclosed the saucy, freckled face of the popular son of a favorite professor.
He grinned cheerfully at the stage and the gallery, gallantly faced the junior-freshman side, and waving his green plume aloft yelled, "Hip, hip, hurrah for the freshmen!" at the top of a pair of very strong lungs. Then he raced off to find the seat which had been the price of his performance between two of his devoted admirers on the sub team, while the gallery, regardless of meaningless prohibitions and forgetful of class distinctions, cheered him to the echo.
All of a sudden a businesslike air began to pervade the floor of the gymnasium. Somebody picked up the knight's sword and the Indian's blanket, and Miss Andrews took her position under the gallery. The ushers crowded onto the steps of the stage, and the members of the teams, who had gathered around their captains for a last hurried conference, began to find their places.
"Oh, I almost wished they'd sing for a while more," sighed Betty.
"Do you?" answered Helen absently. She was leaning out over the iron bar of the railing with her eyes glued to the smallest freshman centre. "Why?"
"Oh, it makes me feel so thrilled and the songs are so clever and amusing, and the mascots so funny."
"Oh, yes," agreed Helen. "The things here are all like that, but I want to see them play."
"You mean you want to see her play," corrected Betty merrily. "I don't believe you care for a single other thing but T. Reed. Where is she?"
Helen pointed her out proudly.
"Oh, what an awfully funny, thin little braid! Isn't she comical in her gym suit, anyway? You wouldn't think she could play at all, would you, she's so small."
"But she can," said Helen stoutly.
"Don't I know it? I guarded her once—that is, I tried to. She's a perfect wonder. See, there's Rachel up by our basket. Katherine says she's fine too. Helen, they're going to begin."
The assistant gym teacher had the whistle now. She blew it shrilly. "Play!" called Miss Andrews, and tossed the ball out over the heads of the waiting centres. A tall sophomore reached up confidently to grab it, but she found her hands empty. T. Reed had jumped at it and batted it off sidewise. Then she had slipped under Cornelia Thompson's famous "perpetual motion" elbow, and was on hand to capture the ball again when it bounced out from under a confused mass of homes and centres who were struggling over it on the freshman line. The freshmen clapped riotously. The sophomores looked at each other. Freshman teams were always rattled, and "muffed" their plays just at first. What did this mean? Oh, well, the homes would miss it. They did, and the sophomores breathed again, but only for a moment. Then T. Reed jumped and the ball went pounding back toward the freshman basket. This time a home got it, passed it successfully to Rachel, and Rachel poised it for an instant and sent it cleanly into the basket.
The freshmen were shouting and thumping as if they had never heard that it was unlady-like (and incidentally too great a strain on the crowded gallery) to do so. Miss Andrews blew her whistle. "Either the game will stop or you must be less noisy," she commanded, and amid the ominous silence that followed she threw the ball.
This time T. Reed missed her jump, and the tall sophomore got the ball and tossed it unerringly at Captain Marion Lawrence, who was playing home on her team. She bounded it off in an unexpected direction and then passed it to a home nearer the basket, who on the second trial put it in. The sophomores clapped, but the freshmen smiled serenely. Their home had done better, and they had T. Reed!
The next ball went off to one side. In the scramble after it two opposing centres grabbed it at once, and each claimed precedence. The game stopped while Miss Andrews and the line-men came up to hear the evidence. There was a breathless moment of indecision. Then Miss Andrews took the ball and tossed up between the two contestants. But neither of them got it. Instead, T. Reed, slipping in between them, jumped for it again, and quick as a flash sent it flying toward the freshman goal. There was another breathless moment. Could Rachel Morrison put it in from that distance? No, it had fallen just short and the sophomore guards were playing it along to the opposite end of the home space, possibly intending to—— Ah! a stalwart sophomore guard, bracing herself for the effort, had tossed it over the heads of the centres straight across the gymnasium, and Marion Lawrence had it and was working toward the basket, meanwhile playing the ball back to a red haired competent-looking girl whose gray eyes twinkled merrily as her thin, nervous hands closed unerringly and vice-like around the big sphere. It was in the basket, and the freshmen's faces fell.
"But maybe they've lost something on fouls," suggested Betty hopefully.
"And T. Reed is just splendid," added Helen.
Everybody was watching the gallant little centre now, but she watched only the ball. Back and forth, up and down the central field she followed it, slipping and sliding between the other players, now bringing the ball down with a phenomenal quick spring, now picking it up from the floor, now catching it on the fly. The sophomore centres were beginning to understand her methods, but it was all they could do to frustrate her; they had no effort left for offensive tactics. Generally because of their superior practice and team play, the sophomores win the inter-class game, and they do it in the first half, when the frightened freshmen, overwhelmed by the terrors of their unaccustomed situation, let the goals mount up so fast that all they can hope to do in the second half is to lighten their defeat. What business had T. Reed to be so cool and collected? If she kept on, there was strong likelihood of a freshman victory. But she was so small, and Cornelia Thompson was guarding her—Cornelia stuck like a burr, and the "perpetual motion" elbow had already circumvented T. Reed more than once.
After a long and stubborn battle, the freshmen scored another point. But in the next round the big sophomore guard repeated her splendid 'crossboard play, and again Marion Lawrence caught the ball.
Ah! Captain Lawrence is down, sliding heavily along the smooth floor; but in an instant she is up again, brushing the hair out of her eyes with one hand and making a goal with the other.
"Time!" calls Miss Andrews. "The goals are three to two, fouls not counted."
The line-men gather to compare notes on those. The teams hurry off to their rooms, Captain Lawrence limping badly. The first half is finished.
A little shivering sigh of relief swept over the audience. The front row in the gallery struggled to its feet to rest, the back rows sat down suddenly for the same purpose.
"Oh, doesn't it feel good to stretch out," said Betty, pulling herself up by the railing and drawing Helen after her. "Aren't you tired to death sitting still?"
"Why no, I don't think so," answered Helen vaguely. "It was so splendid that I forgot."
"So did I mostly, but I'm remembering good and hard now. I ache all over." She waved her hand gaily to Dorothy King, then caught Mary Brooks's eye across the hall and waved again. "T. Reed is a dandy," she said. "And Rachel was great. They were all great."
"How do you suppose they feel now?" asked Helen, a note of awe in her voice.
"Tired," returned Betty promptly, "and thirsty, probably, and proud—awfully proud." She turned upon Helen suddenly. "Helen Chase Adams, do you know I might have been down there with the subs. Katherine told me this morning that it was nip and tuck between Marie Austin and me. If I'd tried harder—played an inch better—think of it, Helen, I might have been down there too!"
"I couldn't do anything like that," said Helen simply, "but next year I mean to write a song."
Betty looked at her solemnly. "You probably will. You're a good hard worker, Helen. Isn't it queer," she went on, "we're not a bit alike, but this game is making us feel the same way. I wonder if the others feel so too. Perhaps it's one reason why they have this game—to wake us all up and make us want to do something worth while."
"Betty Wales," called Christy Mason from the floor below. Betty leaned over the railing. "Don't forget that you're coming to dinner to-night. We're going to serenade the team. They'll be dining at the Belden with Miss Andrews."
Kate Denise joined her. She had never mentioned the afternoon in Eleanor's room, but she took especial pains to be pleasant to Betty.
"Hello, Betty Wales," she called up. "Isn't it fine? Don't you think we'll win? Anyway Miss Andrews says it's the best game she ever saw."
"Betty Wales," called Dorothy King from her leader's box, "come to vespers with me to-morrow."
Betty met them all with friendly little nods and enthusiastic answers. Then she turned back to Helen. "It's funny, but I'm always interrupted when I'm trying to think," she said. "If there were six of me I think I might be six successful persons. But as it is, I suppose I shall always be just 'that little Betty Wales' and have a splendid time."
"That would be enough for most people," said Helen.
"Oh, I hope not," said Betty soberly. "I don't amount to anything." She slipped down into her place again. The teams were coming back.
"See Laurie limp!"
"Their other home—the one with the red hair—looks as fresh as a May morning."
"Well, so does T. Reed."
"We have a fighting chance yet."
Thus the freshman gallery.
But the second half opened with the rapid winning of three goals by the sophomores. Cornelia Thompson had evidently made up her mind that nobody so small as T. Reed should get away from her and mar the reputation of her famous "ever moving and ever present" elbow. The other freshman centres were over-matched, and once Marion Lawrence and the red-haired home got the ball between them, a goal was practically a certainty.
"Play!" called Miss Andrews for the fourth time.
T. Reed's eyes flashed and her lips shut into a narrow determined line. Another freshman centre got the ball and passed it successfully to T. Reed, who gave it a pounding blow toward the freshman basket. A sophomore guard knocked it out of Rachel Morrison's hands, and it rolled on to the stage. There was a wild scuffle and the freshman balcony broke into tumultuous cheering, for a home who had missed all her previous chances had clutched it from under the president's chair and had scored at last.
A moment later she did it again. There was a pause while a freshman guard was carried off with a twisted ankle and Katherine Kittredge ran to her place. Then the sophomores scored twice. Then the freshmen did likewise. "Time!" called Miss Andrews sharply. The game was over.
"Score!" shrieked the galleries.
Then the freshmen bravely began to sing their team song,
"There is a team of great renown."
They were beaten, of course, but they were proud of that team.
"The freshmen score one goal on fouls. Score, six to eight in favor of the purple," announced Miss Andrews after a moment. "And I want to say——"
It was unpardonably rude, but they could not help interrupting to cheer.
"That I am proud of all the players. It was a splendid game," she finished, when the thoughtful ones had hushed the rest.
Then they cheered again. The sophomore team were carrying their captain around the gym on their shoulders; the freshmen, gathered in a brave little group, were winking hard and cheering with the rest. The gallery was emptying itself with incredible rapidity on to the floor. The stage was watching, and wishing—some of it—that it could go down on the floor and shriek and sing and be young and foolish generally.
Betty and Helen ran down with the rest. "Helen," whispered Betty on the way, "I don't care what happens, I will, I will, I will make them sing to me some day. Oh Helen, don't you love 19—, and aren't you proud of it and of T. Reed?"
At the foot of the stairs they met the three B's. "Come on, come on," cried the three. "We're going to sing to the sophomores," and they seized upon Betty and bore her off to the corner where the freshmen were assembling. Left to herself Helen got into a nook by the door and watched. It was queer how much fun it was to watch, lately.
"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them:"—she had read it in the library that morning and it kept running in her head. Was it selfish and conceited to want to be worth something to her college—to long to do something that would give her a place among the girls? A month ago Theresa had stood with her high up on the bank and watched the current sweep by. Now she was in the stream; even Betty Wales envied her; she had "achieved greatness." Betty wanted to be sung to. Well, no doubt she would be, in spite of the "interruptions"; she was "born great." Helen aspired only to write a song to be sung. That wasn't very much, and she would try hard—Theresa said it was all trying and caring—for she must somehow prove herself worthy of the greatness that had been "thrust upon" her.
Betty was in the centre of an excited group of freshmen. Christy Mason was there too; probably they were planning for the serenade. "She won't mind if I go," thought Helen. She would have liked to speak to Theresa, but she had delayed too long; the teams had disappeared. So she slipped out alone. There would be a long, quiet evening for theme work—for Helen had elected Mary's theme course at mid-years, though no one in the Chapin house knew it.
Betty did not get home till quarter of ten, and then she went straight off to find Katherine and Rachel. "I came to see if there's anything left of Rachel," she said.
"There's a big bump on my forehead," said Rachel, sitting up in bed with a faint smile. "I'm sure of that because it aches."
"Poor lady!" Betty turned to Katherine. "You got your chance, didn't you? I felt it in my bones that you would. Wasn't it all splendid?"
"Yes indeed," assented the contestants heartily.
"It made me feel so energetic," Betty went on eagerly. "Of course I felt proud of you and of 19—, just as I did at the rally, but there was something else, too. You'll see me going at things next term the way T. Reed went at that ball."
"You're one of the most energetic persons I know, as it is," said Rachel, smiling at her earnestness.
"Yes," said Betty impatiently. "I fly around and make a great commotion, but I fritter away my time, because I forget to keep my eyes on the ball. Why, I haven't done anything this year."
Katherine pulled Betty down beside her on the couch. "Child, you've done a lot," she said. "We were just considering all you've done, and wondering why you weren't asked to usher to-day. You've sub-subed a lot and you know so many girls on the team and are such good friends with Jean Eastman."
To her consternation Betty felt a hot flush creeping up her neck and over her cheeks. It had been the one consolation in the trouble with Eleanor that none of the Chapin house girls had asked any questions or even appeared to notice that anything was wrong.
"Oh, I don't know Miss Eastman much," she said quickly. "And as for substituting on the subs, that was a great privilege. That wasn't anything to make me an usher for."
"Well, all the other girls who did it much ushered," persisted Katherine. "Christy Mason and Kate Denise and that little Ruth Ford. And you'd have made such a stunning one."
"Goosie!" said Betty, rising abruptly. "I know you girls want to go to bed. We'll talk it all over to-morrow."
As she closed the door, Rachel and Katherine exchanged glances. "I told you there was trouble," said Katherine, "and mark my words, Eleanor Watson is at the bottom of it somehow."
"Don't let's notice it again, though," answered the considerate Rachel. "She evidently doesn't want to tell us about it."
Betty undressed almost in silence. Her exhilaration had left her all at once and her ambition; life looked very complicated and unprofitable. As she went over to turn out the light, she noticed a sheet of paper, much erased and interlined, on Helen's desk. "Have you begun your song already?" she asked.
"Oh, no, I wrote a theme," said Helen with what seemed needless embarrassment. But the theme was a little verse called "Happiness." She got it back the next week heavily under-scored in red ink, and with a succinct "Try prose," beneath it; but she was not discouraged. She had had one turn; she could afford to wait patiently for another, which, if you tried long enough and cared hard enough must come at last.
A CHANCE TO HELP
Eleanor Watson had gotten neither class spirit nor personal ambition from 19—'s "glorious old defeat," as Katherine called it. The Saturday afternoon of the game she had spent, greatly to the disgust of her friends, on the way to New York, whither she went for a Sunday with Caroline Barnes. Caroline's mother had been very ill, and the European trip was indefinitely postponed, but the family were going for a shorter jaunt to Bermuda. Caroline begged Eleanor to join them. "You can come as well as not," she urged. "You know your father would let you—he always does. And we sail the very first day of your vacation too."
"But you stay three weeks," objected Eleanor, "and the vacation is only two."
"What's the difference? Say you were ill and had to stay over," suggested Caroline promptly.
Eleanor's eyes flashed. "Once for all, Cara, please understand that's not my way of doing business nowadays. I should like to go, though, and I imagine my father wouldn't object. I'll write you if I can arrange it."
She had quite forgotten her idle promise when, on the following Monday morning, she stood in the registrar's office, waiting to get a record card for chapel attendance in place of one she had lost. The registrar was busy. Eleanor waited while she discussed the pedagogical value of chemistry with a sophomore who had elected it, and now, after a semester and a half of gradually deteriorating work, wished to drop it because the smells made her ill.
"Does the fact that we sent you a warning last week make the smells more unendurable?" asked the registrar suggestively, and the sophomore retreated in blushing confusion.
Next in line was a nervous little girl who inquired breathlessly if she might go home right away—four days early. Some friends who were traveling south in their private car had telegraphed her to meet them in Albany and go with them to her home in Charleston.
"My dear, I'm sorry," began the registrar sympathetically, "but I can't let you go. We're going to be very strict about this vacation. A great many girls went home early at Christmas, and it's no exaggeration to say that a quarter of the college came back late on various trivial excuses. This time we're not going to have that sort of thing. The girls who come back at all must come on time; the only valid excuse at either end of the vacation will be serious illness. I'm sorry."
"So am I," said the little girl, with a pathetic quiver in her voice. "I never rode in a private car. But—it's no matter. Thank you, Miss Stuart."
Eleanor had listened to the conversation with a curl of her lip for the stupid child who proffered her request in so unconvincing a manner, and an angry resentment against the authorities who should presume to dictate times and seasons. "They ought to have a system of cuts," she thought. "That's the only fair way. Then you can take them when you please, and if you cut over you know it and you do it at your peril. Here everything is in the air; you are never sure where you stand——"
"What can I do for you, Miss Watson?" asked the registrar pleasantly.
Eleanor got her chapel card and hurried home to telegraph her father for permission to go to Bermuda, and, as she knew exactly what his answer would be, to write Caroline that she might expect her. "You know I always take a dare," she wrote. "My cuts last semester amounted to twice as much as this trip will use up, and if they make a fuss I shall just call their attention to what they let pass last time. Please buy me a steamer-rug, a blue and green plaid one, and meet me at the Forty-second Street station at two on Friday."