"Well," said Bryan in a business-like tone, "I'm secretary. Joe, you call that prayer committee together Thursday night at your house at half-past seven, and I'll send a notice to each one. You make Jane Bristol chairman, and I'll be on the committee; and I'll go after her and take her home. Now, who else are you going to have on it?"
The president assented readily. He was one not used to taking the initiative, but he eagerly did as he was told when a good idea presented itself.
"We want you on it," he said, nodding to Allison and then, looking shyly at Leslie, added, "And you?"
"Oh!" said Leslie, flushing in fright, "what would we have to do? I never prayed before anybody in my life. I'm not sure I even know how to pray, only just to say 'Thank you' to God sometimes. I think you could find somebody better."
"We've got to have you this time," said the president, shaking his head. "You needn't pray if you don't want to, but you must come and help us through."
"But I couldn't go and be a—a sort of slacker!" said Leslie, her cheeks quite beautifully red.
"That's all right! You come!" said Bryan, looking solemnly at her.
When the visitors finally took themselves away, Allison, polite to the last, closed the door with a courteous "Good-night," and then stood frowning at the fire.
Julia Cloud came softly into the room, and went and stood beside him with loving question in her eyes. He met her gaze with a new kind of hardness.
"Now, you see what you let me in for, Cloudy, when you made me go to that little old dull Christian Endeavor! But I won't do it! That's all there is to it. You needn't think I'm going to. The idea! Why, what did we come here to college for? To run an asylum for sick Sunday schools, I'd like to know? As if I had time to monkey with their little old society! It's rank nonsense, anyhow! What good do they think they can do, a couple of sissies, and two or three kid vamps, setting up to lisp religion? It's ridiculous!"
He was working himself up into a fine frenzy. Julia Cloud stood and watched him, an amused smile growing on her sweet lips. He caught the amusement, and fired up at it.
"What are you looking like that at me for, Cloudy? You know it is. You know it's all foolishness. And you know I couldn't help them, anyhow. Come, now, don't you? What are you looking like that for, Cloudy? I believe you're laughing at me! You think I'll go and get into this thing, but I'll show you. I won't! And that's an end of it. Cloudy, I insist on knowing what you find to laugh at in this situation."
"Why, I was just thinking how much you reminded me of Moses," said Julia Cloud sweetly.
"Of Moses!" screamed Allison half angrily. "Why, he was a meek man, and I'm not meek. I'm mad! Out and out mad, Cloudy. What do you mean?"
"Oh, no, he wasn't always meek," said his aunt thoughtfully; "and he talked just as you are doing when God called on him first to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. He said he couldn't and he wouldn't and he shouldn't, and made every excuse in the calendar; and finally God had to send along Aaron to help him, although God had said He would be with him and make him perfectly able alone to do what He wanted done."
"I suppose I'm Aaron," sighed Leslie, settling into a big chair by the fire. "But I don't like those girls one bit! And I don't care if they stay in seven Egypts."
"Now, look here, Cloudy Jewel," pleaded Allison. "You're not going to get me into any such corner as that. The idea that God would call me to do any of His work when I never had anything at all to do with the church in my life, and I don't want to. How should I know what to do? Why should He ever call me, I'd like to know, when I don't know the first thing about churches? You're all off, Cloudy. Think again. Why, I'm not even what you'd call a Christian. He surely wouldn't call people that haven't—well, what you'd call enlisted with Him, would He?"
"He might," answered Julia Cloud reflectively. She was sitting on the end of the big blue couch, and the firelight played over her white hair with silvery lights, and cast a lovely rose tint over her sweet face. "There were several instances where He called people who had never known Him at all, who, in fact, were worshipping idols and strange gods, and told them to go and do something for Him. There was Paul; he was actually against Him. And there was Abraham; he lived among regular idol-worshippers, and God called him to go into a strange land and founded a new family for him, the beginning of the peculiar people through whose line was to come Jesus, the Saviour of the world. And Abraham went."
"Oh, nonsense, Cloudy! That was in those times. Of course. There wasn't anybody else, I suppose; and He had to take some one. But now there are plenty of people who go to church all the time and like that sort of thing."
"How do you know, Allison? Perhaps you are the only one in this town, and God has sent you here just to do this special work."
"Well, I won't, and that's flat, Cloudy; so you can put the idea right out of your head. I won't, not even for you. Anything that has to do with your personal comfort I wouldn't say that about, of course; but this belongs entirely to that little old ratty church, and I haven't anything at all to do with it; and I want you to forget it, Cloudy, for I'm not going to do it!"
"Why, Allison, you're mistaken about me. It isn't my affair, and I don't intend to make it so. I didn't get this up. It's between you and God. If God really called you, you'll have to say no to Him, not to me. I don't intend to make excuses to God for you, child. You needn't think it. And, besides, there's another thing you're very much mistaken about, and that is that you haven't anything to do with the church. When you were a little baby six months old, your father and mother brought you home to our house; and the first Sunday they were there they took you to the old church where all the children and grandchildren had been christened for years, and they stood up and assented to the vows that gave you to God. And they promised for themselves that they would do their best to bring you up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord until you came to years and could finish the bond by giving yourself to the Lord. I shall never forget the sweet, serious look on the face of your lovely girl-mother when she bowed her head in answer to the minister's question, 'Do you thus promise?'"
Allison had stopped in his angry walk up and down the room, and was looking at her interestedly.
"Is that right, Cloudy? Was I baptized in the old Sterling church? I never knew that. Tell me about it," and he seated himself on the other end of the couch, while Leslie switched off the light and nestled down between them, scenting a story.
"Wasn't I, too, Cloudy?" she asked hungrily.
"No, dear, I think you were baptized in California in your mother's church, and I'm sorry to say I wasn't there to see; so I can't tell you about it; but I remember very distinctly all about Allison's christening, for we were all so happy to have it happen in the East, and he was the first grandchild, and we hadn't seen your father for over two years, nor ever seen his young wife before; so it was a great event. It was a beautiful bright October day, and I had the pleasure of making the dress you wore, Allison, every stitch by hand, hemstitching and embroidery and all. And right in the midst of the ceremony you looked over your father's shoulder, and saw me sitting in the front seat, and smiled the sweetest smile! Then you jumped up and down in your father's arms, and spatted your little pink hands together, and called out 'Ah-Jah!' That's what you used to call me then, and everybody all over the church smiled. How could they help it?"
"Gee! I must 'a' been some kid!" said Allison, slipping down into a comfortable position among the pillows. "Say, Cloudy, I knew a good thing when I saw it even then, didn't I?"
"You know, Allison, that ceremony wasn't just all on your father's and mother's part; it entailed some responsibility upon you. It was part of your heritage, and you've no right to waste it any more than if it were gold or bank stock or houses and lands. It was your title to a heavenly sonship, and it gave God the right to call upon you to do whatever He wants you to do. It's between you and God now, and you'll have to settle it yourself. It's not anything I could settle for you either way, much as I might want it, because it is you who must answer God, and you must answer Him from the heart either way; so nobody else has anything to do with it."
"Oh, good-night! Cloudy, you certainly can put things in an awkward way. Oh, hang it! Now this whole evening's spoiled. I wish I hadn't gone to the front door at all. I wish I'd turned out the lights and let 'em knock. And there was that story you were going to read, and now it's too late!"
"Why, no; it's not too late at all," said Julia Cloud, consulting her little watch in the firelight. "It's only quarter to nine, and I'm sure we can indulge ourselves a little to-night, and finish the story before we go to bed. Turn the light on, and get the magazine."
With an air of finality Julia Cloud put aside the debated question, and settled herself in the big willow chair by the lamp with her book. Leslie went back to her chair by the fire, and Allison flung himself down on the couch with a pillow half over his eyes; but anybody watching closely would have seen that his eyes were wide open and he was studying the calm, quiet profile of his aunt's sweet face as she read in a gentle, even tone, paragraph after paragraph without a flicker of disturbance on her brow. Allison was not more than half listening to the story. He was thinking hard. Those things Julia Cloud had said about obligations and Moses and Abraham and Paul stuck hard in his mind, and he couldn't get away from them.
Julia Cloud said nothing more to her boy about that Christian Endeavor Society, but she said much to her Lord, praying continually that he might be led to see his duty and want to do it, and that through it he might be led to know Christ.
In the meantime she went sunnily about setting the new home to rights and getting the right maid to fit into their household regime. Julia Cloud had never had a maid in her life, but she had always had ideas about one, and she put as much thought and almost as much care into preparing the little chamber the maid was to occupy as she had put upon the other rooms. To begin with, the room itself was admirably adapted to making the right maid feel at home and comfortable. It had three windows looking into gardens on the next block, and a blaze of salvia and cosmos and geraniums would greet her eyes the first time she looked out from her new room. Then it had a speck of a bathroom all its own, which Julia Cloud felt would go a long way toward making any maid the right maid, for there would be no excuse for her not being clean and no excuse for her keeping her tooth-brush down on the edge of the kitchen sink or taking a bath in the laundry tubs, as she had heard that some of her neighbors' maids had done at various times.
The windows were shrouded with white curtains of the same kind as those all over the house, and within were draperies with bright flower borders. The bureau was daintily fitted out, and the bed was spotless and inviting-looking. A cushioned rocking-chair stood beside a small table, with a dainty work-basket on the shelf below; and against the wall were some shelves with a few interesting books and magazines. A droplight with a pretty shade gave a home-like air, and the room was as attractive as any other in the house. Any maid might think her lines had fallen in pleasant places who was fortunate enough to occupy that room. As a last touch Julia Cloud laid a neat coarse-print Testament on the table, and then knelt beside the rocking-chair and asked God to make the unknown comer a blessing to their house, and help them all to be a blessing to her. Then she went down to the car, and let Allison take her out to the addresses that had been given her. As a result, by Wednesday the little gay chamber half-way up the stairs was occupied by a pleasant-faced, sturdy colored girl about eighteen years old, who rejoiced in the name of Cherry, and was at once adopted as part of the new household with the same spirit with which everything else had been done. Perhaps if every household would go about it in the same way it would go far toward settling the much-mooted servant question.
When Cherry was introduced into her bedchamber the look on her face was worth seeing. It was in the early evening when she arrived, riding on the front seat of the wagon that brought her trunk; and, when she was ushered in by Julia Cloud, with Leslie in the offing to see what the newcomer would say to it, the girl stepped in, gave a wild glance around, then backed off, and rolled her eyes at her new mistress.
"This ain't—you-all ain't puttin' me inta dis year fine bedroom!" she exclaimed in a kind of horror.
"Yes, this is your room," said Julia Cloud kindly, stepping in and moving a chair a little farther from the bed, that there might be room for the girl's trunk. "You can put your trunk right here, I should think; and here is your closet," swinging open the closet door and showing a plenitude of hooks and hangers, "and that is your bathroom." She pushed back the crash curtain that shut off the tiny bathroom, and stood back smiling. But the girl was not looking at her. She had cast one wild look around, and then her eyes had been riveted on the little vase on her bureau, containing a single late rose that Leslie had found blooming in the small garden at the rear, and put there for good luck, she said. Could it be that any one had cared to pick a flower for a servant's room? Her eyes filled with tears; she dropped her bundles on the floor, and came over to where her new mistress stood.
"Oh!" she said in a choked voice. "If you-all is goin' to treat me like comp'ny, I'se jest goin' to wuk my fingahs to de bone for youse!"
After the advent of Cherry things began to settle down into something like routine. The inn was abandoned entirely, and each meal was a festive occasion. Cherry took kindly to the cooking-lessons that Julia Cloud knew well how to give. Light, wonderful white bread came forth from the white-enamel gas-range oven, sweet, rich, nutty loaves of brown bread, even more delectable. Waffles and muffins and pancakes vied with one another to make one meal better than another; apple dumpling, cherry pie, and blackberry roly-poly varied with chocolate steamed pudding, lemon custard, and velvet whip made the desserts an eagerly awaited surprise.
Leslie hovered over everything new that was made, and wanted to have a hand in it. Each day she learned some new and wholesome fact about housekeeping, and seemed to take to the knowledge readily. Her first attempt at real cooking was learning to make bread; and, when she succeeded so well that Allison thought it was his aunt's baking, she declared her intention of making it once a week just to keep her hand in.
Allison had said no more about Christian Endeavor; and, when Thursday afternoon came, he asked his aunt to ride to the city after a few little articles that were still needed to make the house complete. They had a pleasant trip, and Julia Cloud entirely forgot that the young people had been asked to attend the committee meeting that evening. Perhaps Allison was waiting for her to speak about it; for he looked at his watch uneasily several times, and glanced back at his aunt suspiciously; but she sat serenely enjoying the ride, and said nothing. At last, just as they were nearing home he burst forth with, "Cloudy, do you really think we ought to go to that bl-looming thing to-night?"
Julia Cloud lifted quiet eyes and smiled.
"I didn't say you ought to go; did I, dear?"
"Well, yes, you sorta did, Cloudy."
Julia Cloud shook her head.
"I don't think I did. I said it wasn't a matter for me to meddle with."
"Well, don't you?"
"No, Allison, not unless you feel that God has called you and you are willing to do what He wants you to. If you just went because you thought I wanted you to go, I don't believe it would be worth while, because you wouldn't be working with the right spirit. But, as I said before, that is something you have got to account for to God, not to me."
Allison drew his brows in a frown, and said no more; but he was almost silent at supper, and ate with an abstracted air. At quarter to eight he flung down the magazine he had been reading, and got up.
"Well, I s'pose I've got to go to that bloomin' thing," he said half angrily. "Come on, kid; you going?"
Leslie hurried into her hat and cape, and they went off together, Allison grumbling in a low, half-pleasant voice all the time. Julia Cloud sat apparently reading, watching the little byplay, and praying that God would strengthen the young heart.
"Dear Moses!" she murmured with a smile on her lips as the front door banged behind the children and she was left reading alone.
Two hours later the two returned full of enthusiasm. Leslie was brimming over.
"O Cloudy, we're going to give this sleepy old town the surprise of a lifetime! We're going to have a grand time to-morrow night, just getting all the members together and doping it out what to do. And you ought to hear Allison talk! He's just like a man! He made a wonderful speech telling them how they ought to get together, and everybody do teamwork and all that, like they do in football; and they asked him to make it over again to-morrow night, and he's going to!"
Leslie's eyes were shining with pride, and she looked at her brother lovingly. He flushed embarrassedly.
"Well, what could you do, Cloudy? There they were sitting like a lot of boobs, and nobody knowing what to do except that Jane Bristol. She's the only sensible one of the bunch, and they don't listen to her. They made me mad, ignoring her suggestions the way they did; so I had to speak up and say she was right; and I guess I talked a lot more when I got started, because she really had the right dope, all right, and they ought to have had sense enough to know it. She's been in this work before, and been to big State conventions and things. Say, Cloudy, that Christian Endeavor stuff must be a pretty big thing. It seems to have members all over the world, and it's really a kind of international fraternity. I rather like their line. It's stiff all right, but that's the only way if you're going into a thing like that."
"And how did the praying go?" asked Julia Cloud, watching her boy's handsome, eager face as he talked.
"All right," he evaded reticently.
"He prayed, Cloudy!" announced Leslie proudly. "It was regular!"
"Well, what could a fellow do?" said Allison apologetically, as if he had done something he was half ashamed of. "That poor girl prayed something wonderful, and then they all sat and sat like a parcel of boobs until you could feel her cheeks getting red, and nobody opening their mouths; so I started in. I didn't know what to say, but I thought somebody ought to say something. I did the best I knew how."
"It was regular, Cloudy!" repeated Leslie with shining eyes.
"Well, it got 'em started, anyhow," said Allison. "That was all that mattered."
Julia Cloud with lips trembling joyously into a smile of thanksgiving listened, and felt her heart glad. Somehow she knew that her boy had yielded himself to the call of his God to lead this band of young people out of an Egypt into a promised land, and she saw as by faith how he himself would be led to talk with God on the mount before the great work was completed.
"It really was regular, Cloudy," reiterated Leslie. "I didn't know my brother could pray like that, or talk, either. After he prayed everybody prayed, just a sentence or two, even that little baby doll Lila that was here the other night. They didn't say much, but you could see they wanted to do the right thing and be right in it. But everybody was in earnest; they really were, Cloudy. That Jane Bristol is wonderful! The president had told her she was chairman, and all about the meeting; and she read some verses out of the Bible about Christ's being always in a meeting where there were just two or three, and about two or three agreeing to ask for something and always getting it. I never knew there were such verses in the Bible, did you? Well, and after that it seemed awfully solemn, just as if we had all come into God's reception-room and were waiting to ask Him as a big favor to help this little Christian Endeavor Society to be worth something in His kingdom. Those aren't my words, Cloudy; you needn't look surprised. That's the way Jane Bristol put it, and it made me feel queer all down my back when she said it, as it did the first time I went to hear some great music. And—why, after that you couldn't help praying just a little, so the promise would hold good. It wasn't square not to help them out, you see."
"And we're not going to have anybody to-morrow night but the regular members until we get them all to understand and be ready to help," went on Allison.
"Yes, they asked Allison to take charge and help plan it all out; and Allison is going to hunt up some of the big Christian Endeavor people in the city, and get them to come out one or two at a time to our meetings,"—Julia Cloud noted the pronoun "our" with satisfaction,—"and stir things up on Sundays; and we'll drive in and get them, and bring them to our house to supper, maybe, and put them wise to things so they'll know best how to help; and then we'll drive them home after church that night, see? And Allison suggested that we have pretty soon a series of parties or receptions, just for the young people to get together and bring new ones in one at a time, just as the boys in college have rushing-parties, you know. We'll have a reception, real formal, with regular eats from a caterer, and flowers and invitations and everything, for the first one; and a Hallowe'en party for the October meeting, and a banquet for the November meeting, just about Thanksgiving time, you know. Oh, it's going to be lots of fun. And, Cloudy, I told them we'd make a hundred sandwiches for to-morrow night; you don't mind, do you? We can buy the bread, and it won't take long to make them. I know how to cut them in pretty shapes, and I thought I'd tie them with ribbons to match the lemonade."
Julia Cloud with radiant face entered into the plans eagerly, and to have heard them talk one would never have imagined that twenty-four hours before these two young people had been exceedingly averse to having anything to do with that little dying Christian Endeavor Young People's Society.
"And, Cloudy, that Jane Bristol is real pretty. She had on a charming collar to-night, and her hair fixed all soft around her face. She has beautiful hair! I think they were all surprised at the easy way she talked; I don't believe she is a day older than I am, either. And she is going to college. I'm awfully glad, for I want to get to know her. We'll invite her down here sometimes, won't we? I want you to know her, Cloudy. You'll like her, I'm sure."
So Julia Cloud went to her pretty gray bed that night, and lay marvelling at the goodness of God to answer her prayers. As for the children, they could hardly settle down to sleep, so full of plans were they for the revivifying of that Christian Endeavor Society. They kept calling back and forth from room to room, and after everything had been quiet for a long time and Julia Cloud was just dropping off to sleep, Leslie woke them all up calling to know if it wouldn't be a good plan to have the Hallowe'en party there at the house and have everybody come in costume. Then they had to begin all over again, and decide what they would wear and who they would be. Allison declared he was going to be a firecracker; he had a "dandy" costume for it in California, and he would write to-morrow morning to the housekeeper to look it up.
Leslie wanted to have a candy-pull, with apples and nuts and raisins for refreshments. Julia Cloud began to wonder whether it was just as acceptable to God to have play mixed up with the religion as these children were doing it.
"You must look out that your festivities don't get ahead of your righteousness," she warned half laughingly; but Allison took her in earnest.
"You're right there, Cloudy. That's one of the things we have to look out for in frats. We have to see we don't have too many social things. If we do, the marks suffer; and right away we lose ground. We'll have to keep those Sunday meetings up to the mark—see, kid?—or the other things will only bring in a lot of dead-wood that won't count. They must come to the Sunday meetings, or they don't get invited to the parties. That's the way we'll fix 'em."
"There's no use saying 'must,'" said Leslie wisely. "If you don't have your meetings interesting, they won't come anyhow you fix it."
"That's a girl for you!" scorned Allison. "No loyalty in the whole bunch. They've got to like everything. Now, the real spirit is to come and make the meetings good, just because they're your meetings. See, kid?"
"Yes, I see," snapped Leslie; "but I won't come to your old meetings at all if you are going to talk that way about girls. I guess I've always been loyal to everything, especially you, and I won't stand for that!"
"Oh, I didn't mean you, kid; I was talking about girls in general," soothed the brother. "You're all right, of course. But those little fluffy-ruffles that sat in the back seat, now, you'll have to teach them what loyalty means. See?"
Finally the household settled to sleep.
The next day the little house saw little else done save the making of marvellous dainty sandwiches in various forms and shapes.
Even Cherry entered into the work with zest, and Julia Cloud proved herself rich in suggestion for different fillings, till great platters of the finished product reposed in the big white refrigerator, neatly tucked about with damp napkins to keep them from drying.
All that day Allison flew hither and yon in his car, carrying some member of the committee on errands connected with the evening social. Never had such a stir been made about a mere church social in all the annals of the society. Every remotest member was hunted out and persuaded to be present, and Allison agreed to go around in the evening and pick up at least a dozen who had professed their inability to get there alone. So the big blue car was enlisted in Christian Endeavor service, and the young people were as busy and as happy as ever they had been in getting their little new home settled. They drove away about seven o'clock after a hasty supper, with their platters of sandwiches safely guarded on the back seat; and Julia Cloud watched them, and smiled and was glad. She wondered whether this work would get such a hold upon them that it would last after they started their college work, and fervently hoped that it might, so that there would be another link to bind them to God's house and His work. She sighed to think how many things there would likely be to draw them away.
About ten o'clock Leslie telephoned. She wanted to bring Jane Bristol home for the night, as the people where Jane was living were away, and she would otherwise have to stay alone in a big house. Julia Cloud readily assented, and she and Cherry had a pleasant half-hour putting one of the guest-rooms in order. It was while she was doing this that she began to wonder seriously what Jane Bristol would be like. Who was brought intimately into their new home might mean so much to her two children. And in this room, too, after Cherry had gone to bed, she knelt and breathed a consecrating prayer. Then she went down-stairs to wait for the coming of her children, building up the fire and lighting the porch light so that all would be cheery and attractive for them and their guest. Only a little, lonesome child who did housework for her living, but it was good to be able to give her a pleasant welcome.
In a few minutes the car arrived, and the two girls came chattering in, while Allison put the car away. At least, Leslie was chattering.
"I think you look so lovely in that soft blue dress!" she was saying. "It is so graceful, and the color just fits your eyes."
"It's only some old accordion-pleated chiffon I had," answered the guest half ashamed. "I had to wash it and dye it and make it myself, and I wasn't sure the pleats would iron out, or that it would do at all. You know I don't have much use for evening dresses, and I really couldn't afford to get one. That's the reason I hesitated at your suggestion about having receptions and parties. But I guess you have to have them."
"You don't mean to say you made it all yourself! Why you're a wonder! Isn't she, Cloudy? Just take her in and look for yourself! She made that dress all herself out of old things that she washed and dyed. Why, it looks like an imported frock. Doesn't it look like one, Cloudy? And that girdle is darling, all shirred that way!"
That was Julia Cloud's introduction to the guest as she stood in the open door and watched the two trip along the brick terrace to the entrance.
Leslie snatched away the long, dark cloak that covered Jane Bristol's dress; and she stood forth embarrassed in the firelight, clad in soft, pale-blue chiffon in simple straight lines blending into the white throat in a little round neck, and draping the white girlish, arms. The firelight and lamplight glimmered and flickered over the softly waved brown hair, the sweet, serious brow, the delicate, refined face; and Jane Bristol lifted two earnest deep-blue eyes, and looked at Julia Cloud. Then between them flashed a look of understanding and sympathy, and each knew at once that she liked the other.
"Isn't she a dear, Cloudy Jewel?" demanded Leslie.
"She is!" responded Julia Cloud, and put her arms softly around the slender blue-clad shoulders. Then she looked up to see the eyes of Allison resting upon them with satisfaction.
They turned down the light and sat before the fire for a little while, telling about the success of the evening and talking of this and that, just getting acquainted; and, when they finally took Jane Bristol up to the pretty guest-room, it was with a sense that a new and lasting friendship had been well begun. Julia Cloud as she lay down to sleep found herself wondering whether her children would always show so much good sense in picking out their friends as they had done this time.
The day when college opened was a great day. The children could hardly eat any breakfast, and Allison gave Leslie a great many edifying instructions about registering.
"Now, kid, if you get stuck for anything, just you hunt me up. I'll see that you get straightened out. If you and Jane Bristol could only get together, you could help each other a lot. I'll get some dope from some of the last-year fellows. That's the advantage I get from finding a chapter of my frat here. They'll put me wise as to the best course-advisers, and you stick around near the entrance till I give you the right dope. It doesn't pay to get started wrong in college."
Leslie meekly accepted all these admonitions, and they started off together in the car with an abstracted wave of good-by to Julia Cloud, who somehow felt suddenly left out of the universe. To have her two newly-acquired children suddenly withdrawn by the power of a great educational institution and swept beyond her horizon was disconcerting. She had not imagined she would feel this way. She stood in the window watching them, and wiped away a furtive tear, and then laughed to herself.
"Old fool!" she said softly to the window-pane. "The trouble with you is, you'd like to be going to college yourself, and you know it! Now put this out of your mind, and go to work planning how to make home doubly attractive when they get back, so that they will want to spend every minute possible here instead of being drawn away from it. They love it. Now keep them loving it. That's your job."
When the two came back at noon, they were radiant and enthusiastic as usual, albeit they had many a growl to express. One would have thought to hear Allison that he had been running colleges for some fifty years the way he criticized the policy and told how things ought to be run. At first Julia Cloud was greatly distressed by it all, thinking that they surely had made a mistake in their selection of a college, but it gradually dawned upon her that this was a sort of superior attitude maintained by upper-class men toward all institutions of learning, particularly those in which they happened to be studying, that it was really only an indication of growing developing minds keen to see mistakes and trying to think out remedies, and as yet inexperienced enough to think they could remedy the whole sick world.
The opening days of college were turbulent days for Julia Cloud. Her children were so excited they could neither eat nor sleep. They were liable to turn up unexpectedly at almost any hour of the morning or afternoon, hungry as bears, and always in a hurry. They had so many new things to tell her about, and no time in which to talk. They mixed things terribly, and gave her impressions that took months to right; and they could not understand why she looked distressed at their flightiness. They were both taken up eagerly by the students and invited hither and yon by the various groups and societies, which frequently caused them to be absent from meals while they were being dined and lunched and breakfasted. Of course, Julia Cloud reflected, two such good-looking, well-dressed, easy-mannered young people, with a home in the town where they could invite people, a car in which to take friends out, and a free hand with money, would be popular anywhere. Her anxiety grew as the first week waxed toward its end and finished up Saturday night with invitations to two dances and one week-end party at a country house ten miles away.
Leslie rushed in breathless about six o'clock Saturday evening, and declared she was too much in a hurry to eat anything; she must get dressed at once, and put some things in her bag. She rattled on about the different social functions she was expected to attend that evening until Julia Cloud was in hopeless confusion, and could only stand and listen, and try to find the things that Leslie in her hurry had overlooked. Then Allison arrived, and wanted some supper. He talked with his mouth full about where he was going and what he was going to do, and at the end of an hour and a half Julia Cloud had a very indefinite idea of anything. She had a swift mental vision of church and Sabbath and Christian Endeavor all slipping slowly out of their calculation, and the WORLD in large letters taking the forefront of their vision.
"You are going to a dance!" she said in a white, stricken way she had when an anxiety first bewildered her. "To two dances! O my dear Leslie! You—dance, then? I—hadn't thought of that!"
"Sure I dance!" said Leslie gayly, drawing up the delicate silk stocking over her slim ankles and slipping on a silver slipper. "You ought to see me. And Allison can dance, too. We'll show you sometime. Don't you like dancing, Cloudy? Why, Cloudy! You couldn't mean you don't approve of dancing? Not really! But where would we be? Everybody dances! Why, there wouldn't be anything else to do when young people went out. Oh, do you suppose Cherry would press out this skirt a little bit? It's got horribly mussed in that drawer."
Julia Cloud had dropped into a chair with an all-gone feeling and a lightness in the top of her head. She felt as if the world, the flesh, and the devil had suddenly dropped down upon the house and were carrying off her children bodily, and she was powerless to prevent it. She could not keep the pain of it out of her eyes; yet she did not know what to say in this emergency. None of the things that had always seemed entirely convincing in forming her own opinions seemed adequate to the occasion. Leslie turned suddenly, and saw her stricken face.
"What's the matter, Cloudy? Is something wrong? Aren't you well? Don't you like me to go to a dance? Why, Cloudy! Do you really object?"
"I have no right to object, I suppose, dear," she said, trying to speak calmly; "but—Leslie, I can't bear to think of you dancing; it's not nice. It's too—too intimate! My little flower of a girl!"
"Oh, but we have to dance, Cloudy; that's ridiculous! And you aren't used to dances, or you wouldn't say so. Can't you trust me to be perfectly nice?"
Julia Cloud shuddered, and went to the head of the stairs to answer a question Allison was calling up to her; and, when, she came back, she said no more about it. The pain was too great, and she felt too bewildered for argument. Leslie was enveloped in rose-colored tulle, with touches of silver, and looked like a young goddess with straps of silver over her slim shoulders and a thread of pearls about her throat. The white neck and back that the wisp of rose-color made no attempt to conceal were very beautiful and quite childish, but they shocked the sweet soul of Julia Cloud inexpressibly. She stood aghast when Leslie whirled upon her and demanded to know how she liked the gown.
"O my dear!" gasped her aunt. "You're not going out before people—men—all undressed like that!"
Leslie gave her one glance of hurt dismay, whirled back to her glass, and examined herself critically.
"Why, Cloudy!" Her voice was almost trembling, and her cheeks were rosier than the tulle with disappointment. "Why, Cloudy, I thought it was lovely! It's just like everybody's else. I thought you would think I looked nice!" The child drooped, and Julia Cloud went up to her gently.
"It is beautiful, darling, and you are—exquisite! But, dear! It seems terrible for my little girl to go among young men so sort of nakedly. I'm sure if you understood life better, you wouldn't do it. You are tempting men to wrong thoughts, undressed that way, and you are putting on common view the intimate loveliness of the body God gave you to keep holy and pure. It is the way cheap women have of making many men love them in a careless, physical way. I don't know how to tell you, but it seems terrible to me. If you were my own little girl, I never, never would be willing to have you go out that way."
"You've said enough!" almost screamed Leslie with a sudden frenzy of rage, shame, and disappointment. "I feel as if I never could look anybody in the face again!" And with a cry she flung herself into the jumble of bright garments on her bed, and wept as if her heart would break. Julia Cloud stood over her in consternation, and tried to soothe her; but nothing did any good. The young storm had to have its way, and the slim pink shoulders shook in convulsive sobs, while the dismayed elder sat down beside the bed, with troubled eyes upon her, and waited, praying quietly.
In the midst of it all Allison appeared at the door.
"What in thunder is the matter? I've yelled my head off, and nobody answers. What is the matter with you, kid? It's time we started, and you doing the baby act! I never thought you'd get hystericky."
Leslie lifted a wet and smeary face out of her pillow and addressed her brother defiantly:
"I've good reason to cry!" she said. "Cloudy thinks I'm not decent to go out in this dress, and she won't believe everybody dresses this way; and I'm not going! I'm never going anywhere again; I'm disgraced!" And down went her head in the pillow again with another long, convulsive sob.
Her brother strode over to her, and lifted her up firmly but gently.
"There, kid, quit your crying and be sensible. Stand up and let's look at you."
He stood her upon her feet; and she swayed there, quivering, half ashamed, her hands to her tear-stained face, her pink shoulders heaving and her soft, pink chest quivering with sobs, while he surveyed her.
"Well, kid, I must say I agree with Cloudy," he said half reluctantly at last. "The dress is a peach, of course, and you look like an angel in it; but, if you could hear the rotten things the fellows say about the way the girls dress, you wouldn't want to go that way; and I don't want them to talk that way about my sister. Couldn't you stick in a towel or an apron or something, and make a little more waist to the thing? I'm sure you'd look just as pretty, and the fellows would think you a whole lot nicer girl. I don't want you to get the nickname of the Freshman Vamp. I couldn't stand for that."
Poor Leslie sank into a chair, and covered her face for another cry, declaring it was no use, it would utterly spoil the dress to do anything to it, and she couldn't go, and wouldn't go and wear it; but at last Julia Cloud came to the rescue with needle and thread and soft rose drapery made from a scarf of Leslie's that exactly matched the dress; and presently she stood meek and sweet, and quite modest, blooming prettily out of her pink, misty garments like an opening apple-blossom in spite of her recent tears.
"But when are you coming back?" asked Julia Cloud in sudden dismay, her troubles returning in full force as she watched them going out the door to the car, Allison carrying two bags and telling Leslie to hurry for all she was worth.
The two children turned then, and faced their aunt, with a swift, comprehending vision of what this expedition of theirs meant to her. It had not occurred to them before that they were deliberately planning to spend most of the night, Saturday night, in mirth, and stay over Sunday at a house-party where the Sabbath would be as a thing unknown. Nobody had ever talked to them about these things before. They had accepted it as a part of the world of society into which they had been born, and they had never questioned it. They were impatient now that their tried and true friend and comrade did not comprehend that this occasion was different from most, and that it must be an exception. They were willing to keep the Sabbath in general, but in this particular they felt they must not be hampered. The whole idea shone plainly in their faces, and the pain and disappointment and chagrin shone clearly, emphatically in Julia Cloud's eyes as she faced them and read the truth.
"Why, we don't know, just for sure, Cloudy," Allison tried to temporize. "You see, they usually dance to all hours. It's Saturday night, and no classes to-morrow, and this is an unusual occasion. It's a week-end party, you know——"
"Then—you won't be back to-night! You are not going to church to-morrow! You will spend the Sabbath at a party!"
She said these things as if she were telling them to herself so that she could better take in the facts and not cry out with the disappointment of it. There was no quality of fault-finding in her tone, but the pain of her voice cut to the heart the two young culprits. Therefore, according to the code of loving human nature, they got angry.
"Why, of course!" chirped Leslie. "Didn't you expect that? That's what week-end parties are!"
"Oh, cut this out, Leslie," cried Allison. "We've gotta beat it. We're way late now! Cloudy, you can expect us when we get here. Don't bother about anything. There's no need to. We'll telephone you later when we expect to come back. Nightie, nightie, Cloudy. You go rest yourself. You look tired."
He gave her a hurried, deprecatory kiss, and swept his sister out into the night. Julia Cloud heard the purring of the engine, saw the lights of the car glide away from the door down the street and out of sight. They were gone! She felt as though a piece of herself had been torn away from her and flung out for the world to trample upon. For a long time she stood staring from the window into the darkness, unshed tears burning behind her eyes and throat, trying to steady the beating of her heart and get used to the gnawing trouble that somehow made her feel faint and weak.
It came over her that she had been a fool to attempt to fill the place of mother to these two modern young things. Their own ideas were fully made up about all questions that seemed vital to her. She had been a fossil in a back-country place all her life, and of course they felt she did not know. Well, of course she did not know much about modern society and its ways, save to dread it, and to doubt it, and to wish to keep them away from it. She was prejudiced, perhaps. Yes, she had been reared that way, and the world would call her narrow. Would Christ the Lord feel that way about it? Did He like to have His children dressing like abandoned women and making free with one another under the guise of polite social customs? Did He want His children to spend their Sabbaths in play, however innocent the play might be? She turned with a sigh away from the window. No, she could not see it any other way. It was the way of the world, and that was all there was to it. Leslie had made it plain when she said they had to do it or be left out. And wasn't that just what it meant to be a "peculiar people" unto the Lord, to be willing to give up doubtful things that harmed people for the sake of keeping pure and unspotted from the world? "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you," came the familiar old words. Well, and what should she do now? It wouldn't do to rave and fuss about things. That never did any good. She couldn't say she wouldn't stay if they danced and went away over the Sabbath. Those were things in which she might advise, but had no authority. They were old enough to decide such matters for themselves. She could only use her influence, and trust the rest with the Lord. Yes, there was one thing she could do. She could pray!
So Julia Cloud gave her quiet orders to Cherry, and went up to her rose-and-gray room to kneel by the bed and pray, agonizing for her beloved children through the long hours of that long, long evening.
It was a quiet face that she lifted at last from her vigil, for it bore the brightness of a face-to-face communion with her Lord; and she rose and went about her preparations for the night. Then, just as she had taken down her hair and was brushing it in a silver cloud about her shoulders, she heard a car drive up. A moment more a key turned in the latch, and some one came in.
Julia Cloud stood with the hair-brush poised half-way down a strand of hair, and listened. Yes, the car had gone on to the garage. What could have happened?
It was all still below stairs, then a soft, stealthy silken movement, cautiously coming up the stairs. Julia Cloud went quickly to the hall door, and switched on the light. On the landing stood Leslie, lovely and flushed, with her hair slightly ruffled and her velvet evening cloak thrown back, showing the rosy mist of her dress. She stood with one silver slipper poised on the stairs, a sweet, guilty look on her face.
"O Cloudy! I thought you were asleep, and I didn't want to waken you," she said, penitently; "but you haven't gone to bed yet, have you? I'm glad. We wanted you to know we were home."
"Is anything the matter?" Julia Cloud asked with a stricture of emotion in her throat.
"No; only we got tired, and we didn't want to stay to their old party, anyway, and we'd rather be home." Leslie sprang up the stairs, and caught her aunt in her arms with one of her sweet, violent kisses.
"O my dear!" was all Julia Cloud could say. And then they heard Allison closing the door softly below, and creaking across the floor and up the stairs.
"Oh, you waked her up!" he said reproachfully as he caught sight of his sister in Julia Cloud's arms.
"No, you're wrong. She hadn't even gone to bed yet. I knew she wouldn't," said Leslie, nestling closer. "Say, Cloudy, we're not going to trouble you that way again. It isn't worth it. We don't like their old dancing, anyway. I couldn't forget the way you looked so hurt—and the things you said. Won't you please come down to the fire awhile? We want to tell you about it."
Down on the couch, with Allison stirring up the dying embers and Leslie nestled close to her, Julia Cloud heard bits about the evening.
"It wasn't bad, Cloudy, 'deed it wasn't. They dance a lot nicer in colleges than they do other places. I know, for I've been to lots of dances, and I never let men get too familiar. Allison taught me that when I was little. That's why what you said made me so mad. I've always been a lot carefuller than you'd think, and I never dance with anybody the second time if I don't like the way he does it the first time. And everybody was real nice and dignified to-night, Cloudy. The boys are all shy and bashful, anyway; only I couldn't forget what you had said about not liking to have me do it; and it made everything seem so—so—well, not nice; and I just felt uncomfortable; and one dance I sent the boy for a glass of water for me, and I just sat it out; and, when Allison saw me, he came over, and said, 'Let's beat it!' and so I slipped up to the dressing-room, and got my cloak, and we just ran away without telling anybody. Wasn't that perfectly dreadful? But I'll call the girl up after a while, and tell her we had to come home and we didn't want to spoil their fun telling them so."
They sat for an hour talking before the fire, the young people telling her all about their experiences of the last few days, and letting her into their lives again with the old sweet relation. Then they drifted back again to the subject of dancing.
"I don't give a whoop whether I dance or not, Cloudy," said Allison. "I never did care much about it, and I don't see having my sister dance with some fellows, either. Only it does cut you out of lots of fun, and you get in bad with everybody if you don't do it. I expected we'd have to have dances here at the house, too, sometimes; but, if you don't like it, we won't; and that's all there is to it."
"Well, dear, that's beautiful of you. Of course I couldn't allow you to let me upset your life and spoil all your pleasure; but I'm wondering if we couldn't try an experiment. It seems to me there ought to be things that people would enjoy as much as dancing, and why couldn't we find enough of them to fill up the evenings and make them forget about the dancing?"
"There'll be some that won't come, of course," said Leslie; "but we should worry! They won't be the kind we'll like, anyway. Jane Bristol doesn't dance. She told me so yesterday. She said her mother never did, and brought her up to feel that she didn't want to, either."
"She's some girl," said Allison irrelevantly. "She entered the sophomore class with credits she got for studying in the summer school and some night-work. Did you know that, kid? I was in the office when she came in for her card, and I heard the profs talking about her and saying she had some bean. Those chumps in the village will find out some day that the girl they despised is worth more than the whole lot of them put together."
Julia Cloud leaned forward, and touched lightly and affectionately the hair that waved back from the boy's forehead, and spoke tenderly.
"Dear boy, I'll not forget your leaving your friends and coming back to me and to the Sabbath and church and all that. It means a lot to me to have my children observe those things. I hope some day you'll do it because you feel you want to please God instead of me."
"Sure!" said Allison, trying not to look embarrassed. "I guess maybe I care about that, too, a little bit. To tell the truth, Cloudy, I couldn't see staying away from that Christian Endeavor meeting after I've worked hard all the week to get people to come to it. It didn't seem square."
The moment was tense with deep feeling, and Julia Cloud could not bring herself to break it by words. She brought the boy's hand up to her lips, and pressed it close; and then just as she was about to speak the telephone rang sharply again and again.
Allison sprang up, and went to answer.
"Hello. Yes. Oh! Miss Bristol! What? Are you sure? I'll be there at once. Lock yourself in your room till I get there."
He hung up the receiver excitedly.
"Call up the fire department quick, Leslie! Tell them to hurry. There's some one breaking into the Johnson house, and Jane Bristol is there alone with the children. It's Park Avenue, you know. Hustle!"
He was out the door before they could exclaim, and Leslie hastened to the telephone.
"He went without his overcoat," said Julia Cloud, hurrying to the closet for it. "It will be very cold riding. He ought to have it."
Leslie hung up the receiver, and flung her velvet cloak about her hurriedly, grabbing the overcoat.
"Give it to me, Cloudy; I'm going with him!" she cried, and dashed out the door as the car slid out of the garage.
"O Leslie! Child! You oughtn't to go!" she cried, rushing to the door; but Leslie was already climbing into the car, moving as it was.
"It's all right, Cloudy!" she called. "There's a revolver in the car, you know!" and the car whirled away down the street.
Julia Cloud stood gasping after them; the horrible thought of a revolver in the car did not cheer her as Leslie had evidently hoped it would. What children they were, after all, plunging her from one trouble into another, yet what dear, tender-hearted, loving children! She went in, and found a heavy cloak, and went out again to listen. Then it came to her that perhaps Leslie had not made the operator understand; so she went back to the telephone to try to find out whether any one had been sent. Suppose those children should try to face a burglar alone! There might be more than one for aught they knew. Oh, Leslie should not have gone! A terrible anxiety took possession of her, and she tried to pray as she worked the telephone hook up and down and waited for the operator. Then into the quiet of the night there came the loud clang of the fire-bell, and a moment later hurried calls and voices in the distance, sounding through the front door that Julia Cloud had left open. For an instant she was relieved, and then she reflected that this might be a fire somewhere else, and not the call for the Johnson house at all; so she kept on trying to call the operator. At last a snappy voice snarled into her ear. "We don't tell where the fire is; we're not allowed any more," and snap! The operator was gone again.
"But I don't want to know where the fire is!" called Julia Cloud in dismay. "I want to ask a question."
No answer came, and the dim buzz of the wire sounded emptily back to her anxious ear. At last she gave it up, and went out to the street to look up and down. If she only knew which way was Park Avenue! She could hear the engine now, clattering along with the hook and ladder behind; and dark, hurrying forms crossed the street just beyond the next corner, but no one came by. She hurried out to the corner, and called to a boy who was passing; and he yelled out: "Don't know, lady. Up Park Avenue somewhere." Then the street grew very quiet again, and all the noise centred away in the distance. A shot rang out, and voices shouted, and her heart beat so loud she could hear it. She hurried back to the house again, and tried to get the telephone operator; but nothing came of it, and for the next twenty minutes she vibrated between the street and the telephone, and wondered whether she ought not to wake up Cherry and do something else.
It seemed perfectly terrible to think of those two children handling a burglar alone—and yet what could she do?
Pretty soon, however, she heard the fire-engine returning, with the crowd, and she hurried down to the corner to find out.
"It wasn't no fire at all, lady," answered a boy whom she questioned. "It was just two men breakin' into a house, but they ketched 'em both an' are takin' 'em down to the lockup. No, lady, there wasn't nobody killed. There was some shootin', sure! A girl done it! Some college girl in a car. She see the guy comin' to make a get-away in her car, see? And she let go at him, and picked him off the first call, got him through the knee; an' by that time the fire comp'ny got there, and cinched 'em both. She's some girl, she is!"
Julia Cloud felt her head whirling, and hurried back to the house to sit down. She was trembling from head to foot. Was it Leslie who had shot the burglar? Leslie, her little pink-and-silver butterfly, who seemed so much like a baby yet in many ways? Oh, what a horrible danger she had escaped! If she had escaped. Perhaps the boy did not know. Oh, if they would but come! It seemed hours since they had left. The midnight train was just pulling into the station! How exasperating that the telephone did not respond! Something must be out of order with it. Hark! Was that the car? It surely was!
How welcome a sound was the churn of the engine as it came flying up the road and turned into the driveway!
Julia Cloud was at the door, waiting to receive them, straining her eyes into the darkness to be sure they were both there.
Leslie sprang out, and dashed into her arms.
"O Cloudy! You waited up, didn't you? We thought you must be asleep and didn't hear the telephone. We tried to call you up and explain. You see, Jane was there alone, and of course she didn't much enjoy staying after what had happened; so we waited till the Johnsons got back from the city. They had been to the theatre, and they just came on that midnight train. If I lived in a lonely place like that, I wouldn't leave three babies with a young girl all alone in the house. It seems the servants were all away, or left, or something. I guess they were pretty scared when they got back. I wanted to bring the children up here to stay all night with us, and let them be scared when they got home; but she wouldn't, of course; so we stayed with her."
Leslie tossed aside her velvet cloak as she talked.
"It was awfully exciting, Cloudy. I'm glad I went. There's no telling what might have happened to Allison if somebody hadn't been there. You see he shut down the motor as we came up to the house. We'd been going like a streak of lightning all the way, and we tried to sneak up so they wouldn't hear us and get away; but there was one man outside on the watch, and he gave the word; and just as Allison got out of the car he disappeared into the shadows. The other one came piling out of a window, and streaked it across the porch and down the lawn. Allison made for him; but he changed his course, and came straight toward the car. I guess they thought it was empty. And then the other one came flying out from behind the bushes, and made for Allison; so I just leaned out of the car and shot. I don't know how I ever had the nerve, for I was terribly frightened; but he would have got Allison in another minute, and Allison didn't see him coming. He had a big club in his hand. I saw it as he went across in front of the window, and I knew I must do something; so I aimed right in front of him, and I saw him go down on his knees and throw up his hands; and then I felt sick, and began to think what if I had killed him. I didn't, Cloudy; they say I only hit his knee; but wouldn't it have been awful all my life to have to think I had killed a man? I couldn't have stood it, Cloudy!" and with sudden breaking of the tension the high-strung child flung herself down in a little, brilliant heap at Julia Cloud's knees, buried her bright face in her aunt's lap, and burst into tears.
"You brave little darling!" Julia Cloud caressed her, and folded her arms about her.
"She's all of that, Cloudy! She saved my life!" It was Allison who spoke, standing tall and proud above his sister and looking down at her tenderly. "Come now, kiddie, don't give way when you've been such a trump. I knew you could shoot, but I didn't think you could keep your head like that. Cloudy, she was a little winner, the cool way she aimed at that man with the other one coming right toward her and meaning plainly to get in the car and run away in it. He'd have taken her, too, of course, and stopped at nothing to get away. But, when he saw the good shot she was, and heard his pal groaning, he threw up his hands, and turned sharp about for me. He knew it was his only chance, and that whoever was shooting wouldn't shoot at him while he was all tangled up with me; so he made a spring at me before I knew what he was doing, and threw me off my feet, and got a half Nelson on me, you know——"
"Yes, Cloudy, he was fiendish, and I couldn't do a thing, for fear of hitting Allison; and just then I heard a motor-cycle chugging by the car. I hadn't heard it before, there was so much going on; and a big, strong fellow with his hair all standing up in the wind jumped off, and ran toward them where they were rolling on the ground. Then I thought of the flash-light, and turned it on them; and that motor-cycle man saw just how things were, and he jumped in, and grabbed the burglar; and then all of a sudden the yard was full of men and boys and a terrible noise and clanging, and the fire-engine and hook and ladder came rushing up, Cloudy! You didn't tell them there was a fire, did you? I didn't. I told that telephone girl there was a burglar and to send a policeman. But somehow she got it that the house was on fire. And Jane Bristol was in the house, with the baby in her arms and the other little children asleep in their cribs; and she didn't know what was happening because she didn't dare to open the window."
Into the midst of the excitement and explanations there came a loud knock on the door, and Allison sprang up, and went to see who was there. A young man with dishevelled garments, hair standing on end, and face much streaked with mud and dust stood there. A motor-cycle leaned against the end of the porch.
"Pardon me," he said half shyly. "I saw the light, and thought some one was up yet. Did the lady drop this? I found it in the grass when I went back to hunt for my key-ring. It was right where she stood."
He held forth his hand, and there dropped from his fingers a slender white, gleaming thing.
Allison flashed on the porch-light, and looked at it.
"Leslie, is this yours?"
The motor-cycle man looked up, and there stood the princess, her rosy garments like the mist of dawn glowing in the light of fire and lamp, her tumbled golden curls, her eyes bright with recent tears, her cheeks pink with excitement. He had seen her dimly a little while before in a long velvet cloak and a little concealing head-scarf, standing in a motor-car shooting with a steady hand, and again coming with swift feet to her brother's side in the grass after he was released from the burglar's hold; but he had not caught the look of her face. Now he stood speechless, and stared at the lovely apparition. Was it possible that this lovely child had been the cool, brave girl in the car?
Leslie had put her hand to her throat with a quick cry, and found it bare.
"My string of pearls!" she said. "How careless of me not to have noticed they were gone! I'm so glad you found them! They are the ones that mamma used to have." Then, looking up for the first time, she said:
"Oh, you are the young man who saved my brother's life. Won't you please come in? I think you were perfectly splendid! I want my aunt to meet you, and we all want to thank you."
"Oh, I didn't do anything," said the stranger, turning as if to go. "It was you who saved his life. I got there just in time to watch you. You're some shot, I'll tell the world. I sure am proud to meet you. I didn't know any girl could shoot like that."
"Oh, that's nothing!" laughed Leslie. "Our guardian made us both learn. Please come in."
"Yes, we want to know you," urged Allison. "Come in. We can't let you go like that."
"It's very late," urged the young man.
But Allison put out a firm arm, and pulled him in, shutting the door behind him.
"Cloudy," he said, turning to his aunt, "this man came in the nick of time, and saved me just as I was getting woosey. That fellow sure had a grip on my throat, and something had hit my head and taken away all the sense I had, so I couldn't seem to get him off."
"That's all right. I noticed you were holding your own," put in the stranger. "It isn't every man would have tackled two unknown burglars alone." He spoke in a voice of deep admiration.
"Well, I noticed you were the only man on the spot till the parade was about over," said Allison, slapping him heartily on the shoulder. "Say, I think I've seen you before riding that motor-cycle; tell me your name, please. I want to know you next time I see you."
"Thanks, I'm not much to know, but I have an idea you are. My name's Howard Letchworth. I have a room over the garage, and take my meals at the pie-shop. My motor-cycle is all the family I have at present."
Allison laughed, and held out his hand with a warm grip of admiration.
"I'm Allison Cloud; and this is my sister, Leslie Cloud, and my aunt, Miss Cloud; and this house we call Cloudy Villa. You'll always be welcome whenever you are willing to come. You've saved my life and brought back my sister's pearls, and put us doubly in your debt. I'm sure no one in this town has a better right to be welcome here. Please sit down a minute, and tell us who you are. You don't belong to the church bunch, and I don't think I've seen you about the college."
"No," said Letchworth, "not this year. I'm a laboring man. I work over at the ship-building plant. If everything goes well with me this winter, I may get back to college next fall. I was a junior last year, but I couldn't quite make the financial part; so I had to go to work again."
There was a defiance in his tone as he told it, as if he had said, "Now perhaps you won't want to know me!" and he had not taken the offered chair, but was standing, as if he would not take their friendship under false pretences.
But trust Allison to say the graceful thing.
"I somehow felt you were my superior," he said with his eyes full of real friendship. "Sit down just a minute, so we can be sure you really mean to come again."
"Yes, do sit down," said Julia Cloud. "I was just going to get these children a bite to eat, and I'm sure they'd like to have you share it with them. It's a long time since supper, and you have been through a good deal. Aren't you hungry? The pie-shop won't be open this time of night."
She smiled that welcoming home smile that no young person could resist, and the young man sat down with a swift, furtive glance at Leslie. She seemed too bright and wonderful to be true. He let his eyes wander about the charming room; the fire, the couch, the lamplight on the books, the little home touches everywhere, and then he sank into the big cushions of the chair gratefully.
"Say, this is wonderful!" he said. "I haven't known what home was like for seven years."
"Well, it's almost that long since we had a real home, too," said Leslie gravely; "and we love this one."
"Yes," said Allison, "we've just got this home, and we sure do appreciate it. I hope, if you like it, you'll often share it with us."
"Well, I call that generous to an utter stranger!"
Then Julia Cloud entered with a tray, and Allison and Leslie both jumped up to help her. Leslie brought a plate with wonderful frosted cakes and little sandwiches, which somehow Julia Cloud always managed to have just ready to serve; Allison passed the cups of hot chocolate with billows of whipped cream on the top, and they all sat down before the fire to eat in the coziest way. Suddenly, right in the midst of their talk the big grandfather clock in the corner chimed softly out a single clear, reminding stroke.
"Why, Cloudy! It's one o'clock! Sunday morning, and here we are having a Sunday-morning party, after all, right at home!" laughed Leslie teasingly.
The stranger stood up with apology.
"Oh, please don't go for a minute," said Leslie. "I want you to do one more thing for me. Now, Allison, I can see it in your eyes that you mean to get ahead of me, but I have first chance. He's my find. Mr. Letchworth, you don't happen to belong to a Christian Endeavor Society anywhere, do you?"
The startled young man shook his head, a look of being on his guard suddenly coming into his eyes.
"Do I look like it?" he asked half comically, suddenly glancing down at his muddy, greasy garments and old torn sweater.
"Well, then I want you to come to the meeting to-morrow night—no, to-night, at seven o'clock, down at that little brick church on the next street. Everybody had to promise to bring some one who has never come before, and I didn't have anybody to ask because all the college people I know are off at a house-party; and I ran away from it, and came home; so I couldn't very well ask them. Will you go?"
The young man looked at the lovely girl with a smile on his lips that might easily have grown into a sneer and a curt refusal; but somehow the clear, true look in her eyes made refusal impossible. Against all his prejudices he hesitated, and then suddenly said:
"Yes, I'll go if you want me to. I'm not in the habit of going to such places, but—if you want me, I'll go."
She put her slim, cool hand into his, and thanked him sweetly; and he went out into the starlight feeling as if a princess had knighted him.
"There!" sighed Leslie as the sound of his motor-cycle died away in the distance. "I think he's a real man. It's queer; but he and Jane Bristol are the nicest people we've met in this town yet, and they both work for their living."
"I was just thinking that, too," said Allison, vigorously poking the fire into a shower of ruby sparks. "Don't you like him, Cloudy?"
"Yes," said Julia Cloud emphatically. "He looks as if he took life in earnest. But come, don't you think we better go to bed?"
So they all lay down to sleep at last, Julia Cloud too profoundly thankful for words in the prayer her heart fervently breathed.
The routine of college classes became settled at last, and gradually the young people found bits of leisure for the family life which they craved and loved. Allison came in one day, and announced that he had bought a canoe.
"It's a peach, Cloudy, and I got it cheap from a fellow that has to leave college. His father has got a job out in California, and they are going to move, and want to transfer him to a Western college so he won't be so far away from them. I got it for fifteen dollars with all the outfit, and it's only been used one season. But he couldn't take it with him. There are three paddles and two cushions and some rugs belonging to it, and I've arranged to keep it down behind the inn so it won't be far for us to go to it. Now, I want you to be ready to take a trial trip this afternoon at three when Leslie and I get through our classes."
With much inward questioning but entire loyalty Julia Cloud yielded herself to the uncertainties of canoeing, but it needed but that first trip to make her an ardent admirer of that form of recreation. Re-creation it really seemed to her to be, as she sank among the pillows in the comfortable nest the children had prepared for her, and felt herself glide out upon the smooth bosom of the creek into the glow of the autumn afternoon. For in the shelter of the winding ravine where the creek wandered the frost had not yet completed its work, and the trees were still in glowing colors, blending brilliantly with the dark green of the hemlock. A few stark trunks were bare and bleak against the sky in unsheltered places, but for the most part the banks of the creek still set forth a most pleasing display to the nature-lover who chose to come and see. Winding dark and soft and still, with braided ripples here and there, and little floating brown leaves that slithered against the boat as they passed, the creek meandered between the hills, now turning almost upon itself around a mossy, grassy stretch of meadow-land, skirting a chestnut-grove, or slipping beneath great rocks that cropped out on the hillside, where moss had crept in a lovely carpet, and graceful hemlocks found a foothold and leaned over to dip in the water and brush the faces of those who passed. Up, up, and up, through the frantic little rapids that bubbled and fought and were conquered, into the stiller waters above, between banks all dark and green and quiet, most brilliantly and cunningly embroidered with exquisite squawberry vines and scarlet berries. It was most entrancing, and Julia Cloud was reluctant to come home. No need ever to coax her any more. She was ready always to go in that canoe, jealous of anything that prevented a chance to go.
Often she and Cherry, instead of getting a hot lunch at home, would put up the most delectable lunch in paper boxes, and when the children came home she would be ready to go right down to the canoe and spend two delightful hours floating up and down the creek and eating an unconscionable number of sandwiches and cakes. This happened most often on Wednesdays, when the children had no classes from eleven o'clock until three and there was time to take the noon hour in a leisurely way. Not even cool weather coming on could daunt them. Steamer-rugs and warm sweaters and gloves were requisitioned, and the open-air lunches went on just the same. One day they took a pot of hot soup and three small bowls and spoons. They landed at the great rocks, and, climbing up, built a fire and gave their soup another little touch of heat before they ate it. Such experiences welded their hearts more and more together, and Julia Cloud came to be more and more a part of the lives of these two young people who had taken her for their mother-in-love.
It was on these outings that they talked over serious problems: whether Leslie should join one of the girls' sororities, what they should do about the next Christian Endeavor meeting, why it was that Howard Letchworth and Jane Bristol were so much more interesting than any of their other friends, why Cloudy did not like to have Myrtle Villers come to the house, and what Allison was going to do in life when he got through with college. They were absolutely one in all their thoughts and wishes just at this time, and there was not anything that any one of them would not willingly talk over with the others. It was a beautiful relation, and one that Julia Cloud daily, tremblingly prayed might last, might find nothing to break it up.
By this time the young people had begun to bring their college mates to the house, and everybody up there was crazy for an invitation to the little lunches and dinners and pleasant evening gatherings that had begun to be so popular. There were not wanting the usual "boy-crazy" girls, who went eagerly trailing Allison, literally begging him for rides and attention, and making up to Julia Cloud and Leslie in the most sickening of silly girl fashions.
And of these Myrtle Villers was at once the most subtle and least attractive. Julia Cloud had an intuitive shrinking from her at the start, although she tried in her sweet, Christian way to overcome it and do as much for this girl as she was trying to do for all the others who came into their home. But Myrtle Villers was quick to understand, and played her part so well that it was impossible to shake her off as some might have been shaken. She studied Leslie like an artist, and learned how to play upon her frank, emotional, impulsive nature. She confided in her, telling the sorrows of an unloved life, and her longings for great and better things, and fell to attending Christian Endeavor most strenuously. She was always coming home with Leslie for overnight and being around in the way.
Allison did not like her in the least, and Julia Cloud barely tolerated her; but, as the weeks went by, Leslie began to champion her, to tell the others they were unfair to the girl, and that she really had a sincere heart and a lovely nature, which had been crushed by loneliness and sorrow. Allison always snorted angrily when Leslie got off anything like that, and habitually absented himself whenever he knew "the vamp," as he called her, was to be there.
It was one day quite late in the fall, almost their last balmy picnic before the cold weather set in, that they were sitting up on the rocks around a pleasant, resinous pine-needle fire they had made, discussing this. Allison was maintaining that it was not good for Leslie to go with a girl like that, that all the fellows despised; and Leslie was pouting and saying she didn't see why he had to be so prejudiced and unfair; and Julia Cloud was looking troubled and wondering whether her heart and her head were both on the wrong side, or what she ought to do about it, when a step behind them made them all turn around startled. It was the first time they had been interrupted by an intruder in this retreat, and it had come to seem all their own. Moreover, the cocoa on the fire was boiling, and the lunch was about to be served on the little paper plates.
There stood a tall man with a keen, care-worn face, a scholarly air, and an unmistakably wistful look in his eyes.
"Why, is this where you spend your nooning, Cloud? It certainly looks inviting," he said with a comprehensive glance at the wax-papered sandwiches and the little heap of cakes and fruit.
Allison arose with belated recognition.
"O Dr. Bowman," he said, "let me introduce you to my aunt, Miss Cloud, and my sister Leslie."
The scholarly gentleman bowed low in acknowledgment of the introduction, and fairly seemed to melt under the situation.
"Well, now, this certainly is delightful!" he said, still eying the generously spread rock table. "Quite an idea! Quite an idea! Is this some special occasion, some celebration or something?" He glanced genially round on the group.
"Oh, no, we often bring our lunch out here," said Julia Cloud in a matter-of-fact tone. "It keeps us out-of-doors, and makes a pleasant change." There was finality in her tone, and a sensitive-minded professor would have moved on at once, for the cocoa was boiling over, and had to be rescued, and he might have seen they did not want him; but he lingered affably.
"Well, that certainly is an original idea. Quite so. It really makes one quite hungry to think of it. That certainly looks like an attractive repast."
There was nothing for it but to invite him to partake, which Allison did as curtly as he dared, considering that the intruder was one of his major professors, and hoping sincerely that he would refuse. But Professor Bowman did not refuse. No such good chance, and quite to Julia Cloud's annoyance—for she wanted to have the talk out with her children—he sat himself down on the rock as if he were quite acclimated to picnics in November, and accepted so many sandwiches that Leslie, seated slightly behind and out of his sight, made mock signs of horror lest there should not be enough to go around.
It appeared that he had started out to search for his pocket-knife, which his young son had borrowed and lost somewhere in that region as nearly as he could remember, and thus had come upon the picnickers.
"Old pill!" growled Allison gruffly when at last the unwelcome guest had departed hastily to a class, with many praises for his dinner and a promise to call to see them in the near future. "Old pill! Now we'll never dare to come here again as long as he's around. Bother him. I wish I'd told him to go to thunder. We don't want him. He lives right up here over that bluff. His wife's dead, and his sister or aunt or something keeps house for him. She looks like a bottle of pickles! Say, Cloudy, we'll just be out evenings for a while till he forgets it."
But Dr. Bowman did not forget it as Allison had hoped. He came the very next week on a stormy night when no one in his senses would go out if he could help it; and there were the gay little household, with the addition of Jane Bristol and Howard Letchworth, down on their knees before the fire, roasting chestnuts, toasting marshmallows, and telling stories. His grim, angular presence descended upon the joyous gathering like a wet blanket; and the young people subsided into silence until Leslie, rising to the occasion, went to the piano and started them all singing. A wicked little spirit seemed to possess her, and she picked out the most jazzy rag-time she could find, hoping to freeze out the unwelcome guest, but he sat with patient set smile, and endured it, making what he seemed to think were little pleasantries to Julia Cloud, who sat by, busy with some embroidery. She, poor lady, was divided between a wicked delight at the daring of the children and a horror of reproach that they should be treating a college professor in this rude manner. She certainly gave him no encouragement; and, when he at last rose to go, saying he had spent a very pleasant and profitable evening getting acquainted with his students, and he thought he should soon repeat it, she did not ask him to return. But he was a man of the kind who needs no encouragement, and he did return many times and often, until he became a fixed institution, which taxed all their faculties inventing ways of escape from him. The winter went, and Dr. Bowman became the one fly in the pleasant ointment of Cloud Villa.
"We'll just have to send Cloudy away awhile, or put her to bed and pretend she is sick every time he comes, or something!" said Leslie one night, after his departure had made them free to express their feelings. "We've tried everything else. He just won't take a hint! What do you say, Cloudy; will you play sick?"
"My dear!" said Julia Cloud aghast, "he doesn't come to see me! What on earth put that in your head?" Her face was flaming scarlet, and distress showed in every feature.
The children fairly shouted.
"You dear, old, blind Cloudy, of course he does! Who on earth else would he come to see?"
"But," said Julia Cloud, tears coming into her eyes, "he mustn't. I don't want to see him! Mercy!"
"That's all right, Cloudy; you should worry! I'll go tell him so if you want me to."
"Allison! You wouldn't!" said Julia Cloud, aghast.
"No, of course not, Cloudy, but we'll find a way to get rid of the old pill if we have to move away for a while."
Nevertheless, the old pill continued to come early and often, and there seemed no escape; for he was continually stealing in on their privacy at the most unexpected times and acting as if he were sure of a welcome. The children froze him, and were rude, and Julia Cloud withdrew farther and farther; but nothing seemed to faze him.
"It's too bad to have so much sweetness wasted," mocked Leslie one night at the supper-table when their unwelcome visitor had been a subject of discussion. "Miss Detliff is eating her heart out for him. She's always noseying round in the hall when his class is out, and it's about time for hers to begin, just to get a word with him. She kept us waiting for our papers ten whole minutes the other day while she discussed better classroom ventilation with him. 'O Doctah, don't you think we might do something about this mattah of ventilation?'" she mimicked, convulsing Allison with her likeness to her English teacher.
"That's an idea!" said Allison suddenly. "No, don't ask me what it is. It would spoil things. Cloudy, may I bring a guest to dinner to-morrow night?"
"Certainly, anybody you please," replied Julia Cloud innocently; and the incorrigible Allison appeared the next afternoon with Miss Detliff, smiling and pleased, sitting up in the back seat of the car. Julia Cloud received her graciously, and never so much as suspected anything special was going on until later in the evening, when Dr. Bowman arrived and was ushered in to find his colaborer there before him. He did not look especially pleased, and Julia Cloud caught a glance of intelligence passing between Leslie and Allison, with a sudden revelation of a plot behind it all. During the entire evening she sat quietly, saying little, but her eyes dancing with the fun of it. What children they were, and how she loved them! yes, and what a child she was herself! for she couldn't help loving their pranks as well as they did.
However, though Dr. Bowman had to take Miss Detliff home, and got very little satisfaction out of his call that evening, it did not discourage him in the least, and Julia Cloud decided that extreme measures were necessary to rid them of his presence.
"We might go away during Thanksgiving week; only there's the Christian Endeavor banquet," said Leslie. "We couldn't be away from that. And then I wanted to have Jane to dinner. She's gone up to college this week to live. She's doing office work there, and she'll be alone on Thanksgiving Day."
"Yes, and there's Howard. I thought we'd have him here," put in Allison dubiously.
"Of course!" said Julia Cloud determinedly. "And we don't want to go away, anyway. You children run up to your rooms this evening and study. Stay there, I mean, no matter who comes. Do you understand?"
With a curious look at her they both obeyed; and a little later, when the knocker sounded through the house, they sat silently above, not daring to move, and heard their aunt open the door, heard Dr. Bowman's slow, scholarly voice and Julia Cloud's even tones, back and forth for a little while, and then heard the front door open and shut again, and slow steps go down the brick terrace and out to the sidewalk.
What passed in that interview no one ever knew. Julia Cloud came to the foot of the stairs, and called them down, and her eyes were shining and confident as she sat by the lamp and sewed while they studied and joked in front of the fire; but the unwelcome guest came no more, and whenever they met him in the street, or at receptions, or passing at a college game, he gave them a distant, pleasant bow; that was all. Julia Cloud had done the work well, however she had done it. The little Bowmans need not look to her to fill their mother's place, for she was not so minded.
Meantime, the winter had been going on, and the little pink-and-white house was becoming popular among the students at college as well as among the members of the Christian Endeavor Society of the little brick church. Many an evening specially picked groups of girls or boys or both spent before that fire, playing games, and talking, and singing. Sometimes the college glee-club came down and had dinner. Again it was the football team that was feasted. Another time Allison's frat came for his birthday, aided and abetted by his sister and aunt.
Jane Bristol became a frequent visitor, though not so frequent as they would have liked to have her, for her time was very much taken up with her work and her studies. Julia Cloud often wished she might lift the financial burden from the young shoulders and make things easier for her, both for her own sake and Leslie's, who would have liked to make her her constant companion; but Jane Bristol was too independent to let anybody help her, and there seemed no way to do anything about it. Meantime, Myrtle Villers improved each idle hour, and kept Leslie busy inventing excuses to get away from her, and Julia Cloud busy worrying. Leslie was so dear, but she was also self-willed. And she would go off with that wild girl in the car for long rides. Not that Julia Cloud worried about the driving; for Leslie was most careful, and handled a car as if she had been born with the knowledge, as indeed she did all things athletic; but her aunt distrusted the other girl.
And then one clear, cold afternoon in December Leslie went off for a ride in the car with Myrtle. Of course Julia Cloud did not know that the girl had pestered the life out of Leslie for the ride, and had finally promised that, if she would go, she would stop going with a certain wild boy in the village of whom Leslie disapproved. Neither did she know that Leslie had resolved never to go again without her aunt along. So she sat at the window through the short winter afternoon, and watched and waited in vain for the car to return; and Allison came back at half-past six after basket-ball practice, and still Leslie had not appeared.
There had been a little friction between Allison and Leslie about the use of the car. Allison had always been most generous with it until his sister took up this absurd intimacy with Myrtle Villers. It has been rather understood between them that Leslie should use the car afternoons when she wanted it, as Allison was busy with basket-ball and other things; but several times Allison had objected to his sister's taking her new friend out, and Leslie told him he was unfair. After a heated discussion they had left the question still unsettled. In fact, it did not seem that it could be settled, for Leslie was of such a nature that great opposition only made her more firm; and Julia Cloud advised her nephew to say nothing more for a time. Let Leslie find out for herself the character of the girl she had made her friend. It was really the only way she would learn not to be carried away by flattery and high-sounding words. Allison, grumbling a little, assented; but in his heart he still boiled with rage at the idea of that girl's winding his sister around her little finger just for the sake of using the car when she wanted it. It was not, perhaps, all happening that for two or three days Allison had left the switch-key where his sister could not find it, and a hot war of words ended in Leslie's quietly ordering a new switch-key so that such a happening would be impossible in future, She would have one of her own. A card had come that very morning from the express office, notifying Leslie that there was a package there waiting for her; so, when she started out with Myrtle, she stopped and got it. She tossed it carelessly into the car with a feeling of satisfaction that now Allison could not hamper her movements any longer by his carelessness.
"Which way shall we go?" she asked as she always did when taking her friends out, and Myrtle named a favorite pike where they often drove.
Out upon the smooth, white road they sped, rejoicing in the clear beauty of the day and in the freedom with which they flew through space. Myrtle had chosen to sit in the back seat, and lolled happily among rugs and wraps, keeping a keen eye out on the road ahead and chattering away like a magpie to Leslie, telling her what a darling she was—she pronounced it "dolling"—and how this ride was just the one thing she needed to recuperate from her violent study of the night before, incident to an examination that morning. Myrtle professed to be utterly overcome and exhausted by the physical effort of writing for three whole hours without a let-up. If Leslie could have seen her meagre paper, through which a much-tortured professor was at that moment wearily plodding, she would have been astonished. Leslie herself was keen and thorough in her class work, and had no slightest conception of what a lazy student could avoid when she set herself to do so.
Five miles from home two masculine figures came in sight ahead, strolling leisurely down the road. Any one watching might have seen Myrtle suddenly straighten up and cast a hasty glance at Leslie. But Leslie with bright cheeks and shining eyes was forging ahead, regardless of stray strollers.
At exactly the right moment Myrtle leaned forward, and clutched Leslie's shoulder excitedly:
"O Leslie! That's my cousin Fred Hicks! And that must be his friend, Bartram Laws! They're out for a hike. How lucky! Stop a minute, please; I want to speak to my cousin."
At the same moment the two young men turned, with a well-timed lifting of surprised hats in response to Myrtle's violent waving and shouting.
Leslie of course slowed down. She could not carry a girl past her own cousin when she asked to stop to speak to him; besides, it never occurred to her not to do so.
Myrtle went through the introductions glibly.
"Mr. Laws, meet my friend Miss Cloud; my cousin, Fred Hicks, Leslie. Pile in, boys! Isn't this great that we should meet? Out for a hike? We'll give you a lift. Which way are you going? Fred, you can sit in front with Leslie. I want Bart back here with me."
Leslie caught her breath in a troubled hesitancy. This wasn't the kind of thing she had bargained for. It was the sort of thing that her aunt and brother would object to most strenuously. Yet how could she object when her guest had asked them? Of course Myrtle didn't realize that it was not quite the thing for them to be off here in the country unchaperoned, with two strange young men, though of course they weren't strangers really, both of them friends of Myrtle's, and one her cousin. Myrtle could not be expected to think how it would seem to her.
But the young men were not waiting for Leslie's invitation. They seemed to feel that their company would be ample compensation for any objections that might be had. They scrambled in with alacrity.
The color flew into Leslie's cheeks. In her heart she said they were altogether too "fresh."
"Why, I suppose we can give you a lift for a little way," said Leslie, trying to sound patronizing. "How far are you going? We turn off here pretty soon."
"Oh, that's all right," said Cousin Fred easily; "any old road suits us so it's going in this direction. Want me to take the wheel?"
"No, thank you," said Leslie coldly, "I always drive myself. My brother doesn't care for me to let other people use the car."
"That's all right; I thought you might be tired, and I'm a great driver. People trust me that won't trust any one else."
"That's right, Leslie," chimed in Myrtle. "Fred can drive like a breeze. You ought to see him!"
Leslie said nothing, but dropped in the clutch, and drove on. She was not prepossessed in Fred Hicks's favor. She let him make all the remarks, and sat like a slim, straight, little offended goddess. But Fred Hicks was not disturbed in the least. He started in telling a story about a trip he took from Washington up to Harrisburg in an incredibly brief space of time, and he laughed uproariously at all his own jokes. Leslie was a girl of violent likes and dislikes, and she took one of them now. She fairly froze Cousin Fred, though he showed no outward sign of being aware of it.
"Here's a nice road off to the right," he indicated, reaching out a commanding hand to the wheel suddenly. "Turn here."
Leslie with set lips bore on past the suggested road at high speed.
"Please don't touch my wheel," was all she said, in a haughty little voice. She was very angry indeed.
They were nearing an old mansion, closed now for the winter, with a small artificial lake between the grounds and the highway.
Leslie felt a passing wish that she might dump her undesired cargo in that lake and fly away from them.
"I think you will have to get out at the next crossroads," she said with more dignity. "I have to go home now."
"Why, Leslie Cloud! You don't any such thing!" broke in Myrtle. "You told me you could be out till quarter of six. It's only half-past four! I thought you were a good sport."
"I've changed my mind," said Leslie coldly, bringing the car to a standstill. "I'm going back right now. Do you and your friend want to get out here, Mr. Hicks?"
Fred Hicks lolled back in the car, and leered at Leslie.
"Why, no, I can't say I'm particularly anxious to get out, but I think I'd like to change around a little. If you'll just step over here, I'll run the car for you, my dear. I don't think Myrtle is ready to go back yet. How 'bout it, Myrt?" He turned and deliberately winked at Myrtle, who leaned over with a light laugh, and patted Leslie on the shoulder.