"Come back!" commanded Alberta Wicks harshly, as Grace stood with her hand on the door knob. Grace turned and walked toward them. Her face gave no sign of her surprise.
"Do you really intend to take up this affair with every member of the sophomore class?" demanded Alberta, eyeing Grace sharply. There was a faint note of dismay in her voice, despite her attempt to appear unconcerned.
"Yes," answered Grace firmly. "The only alternative would be to take it to the faculty, and that is not to be thought of. I shall make a personal appeal to each sophomore for Miss Briggs."
"Then I suppose rather than bring down a hornet's nest about our ears, we might as well tell you that the majority of the class know nothing of this. A number of sophomores, with a view to the good of the college, decided themselves to be justified in sending the letter to Miss Briggs. We do not wish young women of her type at Overton, and Miss Briggs will do well to go elsewhere. She will never be happy at Overton."
"Is that a threat?" asked Grace quickly.
Alberta merely shrugged her shoulders in answer to Grace's question.
"You may call it what you please," remarked Mary Hampton sullenly.
"Thank you," said Grace gravely. "I think I have a fair idea of the situation. I believe I know too, just how many sophomores were concerned in the writing of the letter, and am sure that their adverse opinion will neither make nor mar Miss Briggs. Good afternoon."
With this Grace walked serenely out of the house, leaving behind her two discomfited and ignominiously defeated young women.
"Do you believe she would have kept her word and put the matter before the class?" asked Mary Hampton after Grace had gone.
"Yes," responded Alberta, frowning. "She wouldn't have hesitated. She meant what she said. She is one of those tiresome persons who is forever advocating fair play. She only does it as a pose. She imagines, I suppose that it will attract the attention of the upper class girls. I should like to teach her a lesson in humility, but it is dangerous, for with all her faults she is by no means stupid, and unless we were very careful we would be quite likely to come to grief."
THE SOPHOMORE RECEPTION
It was the night of the sophomore reception and the gymnasium was ablaze with light and color. All day the valiant sophomore class had labored as decorators. Sofa cushions, portieres, screens and anything else that might add to the beauty of the decorations had been begged and borrowed from good-natured residents of the campus and nearby boarding houses. There were great branches of red and gold leaves festooning and hiding the gymnasium apparatus, and the respective sophomore and freshman colors of blue and gold were in evidence in every nook and corner of the big room. There was a real orchestra of eight pieces from the town of Overton, seated on a palm-screened platform which had been erected for the occasion; while a long line of freshmen in their best bib and tucker crowded up to pay their respects to the receiving line of sophomores, headed by the class president.
The freshmen of Wayne Hall had elected to go together, and Ruth Denton had also been invited to take dinner and dress with Anne, then go with her and her friends to the reception. At first Ruth demurred on account of her gown, which was a very plain little affair of white dotted swiss. Then Grace had come to the rescue and insisted that Ruth should wear a very beautiful white satin ribbon belt with long, graceful ends, belonging to her, which quite transformed the simple frock. There was also a white satin hair ornament to match, and Miriam's clever fingers had done her soft brown hair in a new, becoming fashion. Even Elfreda had insisted on lending her a white opera cape and praising her appearance until the little girl was in a maze of delight at so much unexpected attention. Grace, Anne, and Miriam had put on their graduating gowns and Elfreda was arrayed in all the glory of the gown she had ordered for the occasion and afterward entertained so little hope of wearing.
Just as they were ready to start the door bell rang. There was a sound of laughing voices and the patter of slippered feet on the stairs, and Mabel Ashe, accompanied by Frances Marlton, Constance Fuller, and two other juniors, appeared on the landing.
"Better late than never," announced Mabel cheerily, as Grace appeared in the doorway. "We've come to take you to the reception. We weren't invited until the eleventh hour, but we're making up for lost time."
"Why, I didn't know juniors were invited to the reception," exclaimed Grace, taking Mabel's extended hand in both her own. "Judging from all outward signs I suppose you are going to the reception, else why wear your costliest raiment?"
"Your deduction is not only marvelous but correct," returned Mabel. "We were invited because the sophomores found themselves lacking not in quality, but quantity. There weren't nearly enough sophomore 'gentlemen' to go round, so we juniors were pressed into service.
"I'm so glad," returned Grace warmly. "We know nearly all the freshmen, but we know only a few sophomores. We were lamenting to-night because we expected to be wall flowers."
"Not if Frances and I can help it," promised Mabel. "Girls, I want you to meet Miss Graham and Miss Allen, both worthy juniors. You already know Constance."
The "worthy juniors" nodded smilingly as Mabel presented Grace and her friends.
"Get your capes and scarfs," directed Mabel briskly. "We must be on our way. I'm sure it's going to be a red-letter affair. The sophomores have nearly worked their dear heads off to impress the baby class. Do you girls all dance, and how many of you can lead?"
"Miriam and I," answered Grace. "Anne is not tall enough. Elfreda and Ruth will have to answer for themselves."
Ruth Denton confessed to being barely able to dance. Elfreda, who looked really handsome in her blue evening gown, answered in the affirmative. Grace noted with secret satisfaction that the stout girl was keeping strictly in the background and making no effort to push herself forward. "If she only behaves like that all evening the girls will be sure to like her, and if anything comes up later about this registrar business there won't be such fuss made over it," Grace reflected.
"Come on, Grace!" Frances Marlton's merry tones broke in on Grace's reflections. "I'm going to be your faithful cavalier. I'll offer you my arm as soon as we get downstairs. We never could walk two abreast in state down these stairs."
Grace followed Frances's lead, smiling happily. Julia Graham, a rather stout, pleasant-faced young woman in pink messaline, bowed to Miriam. Anne found herself accepting the arm of Edith Allen, while Constance Fuller took charge of Ruth Denton. The crowning honor fell to J. Elfreda, for Mabel Ashe walked up to her, slipped her arm in that of the astonished girl, saying impressively, "May I have the pleasure, Miss Briggs?"
The little party fairly bubbled over with high spirits as they set out for the gymnasium in couples, but to Elfreda the world was gayest rose color. To be escorted to the reception by the most popular girl in college was an honor of which she had never dreamed. Only a few days before she had resigned all hope of even going, but through the magic of Grace Harlowe she was among the elect. For almost the first time in her self-centered young life, she was swept by a wholly generous impulse to do the best that lay within her in college if only for Grace's sake. While she listened to Mabel's gay sallies, answering them almost shyly, her mind was on the debt of gratitude she owed Grace, who, without mentioning her visit to Alberta Wicks, had assured her that she had made inquiry and found that the letter was not the work of the sophomore class as a body. Grace had refused to voice even a suspicion regarding the writer's identity, but had so strongly advised Elfreda to pay no attention to the cowardly warning, but attend the reception as though nothing had happened, that the stout girl had taken her advice.
Grace was now quietly jubilant over the way things had turned out. She was so glad Mabel had chosen Elfreda. "I wonder how she knew," she said half aloud.
"How who knew, and what did she know?" inquired Frances quickly.
"Nothing," replied Grace, in sudden confusion. "I was just wondering."
"I know what you were wondering and I'll tell you. A certain junior who is a friend of a certain sophomore told Mabel certain things."
"Frances, you are a wizard!" exclaimed Grace in a low tone. "How did you know of what I was thinking?"
"The question is," replied Frances, "do you understand me?"
"I think I know who the sophomore is," hesitated Grace, "but I don't understand about the junior."
"And I can't tell you," replied Frances gravely. "I can only say that Mabel likes you very much, Grace, and that a certain junior who is fond of Mabel is jealous of your friendship. Both Mabel and I admire your stand in the other matter. You are measuring up to college standards, my dear, and I am sure you will be an honor to 19——."
Frances finished her flattering prediction just as they stepped inside the doorway of the gymnasium. Before Grace had time to reply they found themselves among a bevy of daintily gowned girls that were forming in line to pay their respects to the president of the sophomore class and five of her classmates who formed the receiving party. After this formality was over the girls walked about the gymnasium, admiring the decorations. Mabel Ashe was fairly overwhelmed by her admirers. It seemed to Grace as though she attracted more attention than the receiving party itself. It was: "Mabel, dear, dance the first waltz with me;" "Come and drink lemonade with us, Queen Mab," and "Why, you dear Mabel, I might have known the sophomores couldn't get along without you."
"She knows every girl in college, I believe," remarked Anne to Edith Allen, as Mabel stood laughing and talking animatedly, the center of an admiring group.
"Every one loves her from the faculty down," replied Edith. "She hadn't been here six weeks as a freshman until the whole class was sending her violets and asking her out to dinners. She was elected president of the freshman class, too, and had the honor of refusing the sophomore nomination. They want her for junior president, but she will refuse that nomination, too. She is as unselfish and unspoiled as the day she came here and the most sympathetic girl I have ever known. We are all madly jealous of Frances."
Anne smiled at this statement. "It is nice to be liked," she said simply. "That is the way it is with Grace at home."
"I'm not surprised," replied Edith, regarding Grace critically. "She has a fine face. That Miss Nesbit seems nice, too. She is a beauty, isn't she?"
Anne replied happily in the affirmative. To her praise of her two dearest friends was as the sweetest music.
"Shall we dance?" said Edith, rising and offering her arm in her most manly fashion. A moment later the two girls joined the dancers, who were circling the floor with more or less grace to the strains of a waltz.
"What kind of a time are you having?" asked Grace an hour later as she and Miriam met in front of one of the lemonade bowls.
"I'm enjoying it ever so much," was the enthusiastic answer. "I've met a lot of sophomores that I've been wanting to know, and they have been so nice to me. Have you seen Elfreda lately?"
"No," said Grace with a guilty start. "I've been having such a good time I forgot her. Let's go and find her now."
The two began a slow promenade of the room in search of the missing girl. Suddenly Grace clutched her friend's arm. "Look over there, Miriam!" she exclaimed.
Seated on a divan beside Mabel Ashe and surrounded by half a dozen sophomores was J. Elfreda. She was talking animatedly and the girls were urging her on with laughter and cries of "Now show us how some one else in Fairview looks."
"What do you suppose she is saying?" wondered Miriam. "Let's go over." They neared the group just in time to hear Elfreda say, "The president of the Fairview suffragist league." Then her round face set as though turned to stone. Her eyes took on a determined glare, and drawing down the corners of her mouth she elevated her chin, rose from the divan and shrilled forth "Votes for Women" in a tone that fairly convulsed her hearers. Then suddenly catching sight of Grace and Miriam she sat down abruptly and said with an embarrassed gesture of dismissal, "The show's over. I see my friends are looking for me. I'll have to go."
"You funny, funny girl!" exclaimed Mabel Ashe. "What a treasure you'll be when we give college entertainments. You'll make the Dramatic Club some day."
"Nothing like it," returned Elfreda, resorting to slang in her embarrassment.
"Where did you ever learn to mimic people so cleverly?" asked one sophomore.
"Oh, I don't know," replied Elfreda almost rudely. "I've imitated folks ever since I was a kid—little girl," she corrected. "You said you'd waltz with me to-night, Miriam, so come on. That's a Strauss waltz, and I don't want to miss it. Please excuse me," she said, turning to the assembled girls. She was making a desperate effort to be polite when she preferred to be rude.
"Mabel Ashe, you're the dearest girl," Grace burst forth as the little crowd dissolved and strolled off in different directions. "You have been lovely to Elfreda, and instead of her evening being spoiled, you know what I mean, she has actually made a sensation."
"I am not the only one who has been looking out for J. Elfreda's interests," reminded Mabel. "I am glad that she has this talent. It will help her to make friends with the girls, and if nothing more is said about the registrar affair she will soon have a following of her own."
"Do you think anything more will be said?" asked Grace anxiously.
"Not if I can help it," was the response.
It was almost midnight when, after seeing Ruth Denton home, the four girls climbed the steps of Wayne Hall.
"It was lovely, wasn't it, Anne?" declared Grace as she slipped into her kimono and began taking the pins from her hair.
"Yes," said Anne with a half sigh. She was deliberating as to whether she had better tell Grace a disturbing bit of conversation she had overheard. After all it wasn't worth repeating. She had simply heard one freshman say to another that she had been prepared to like Miss Harlowe, but something she had heard had caused her to change her mind. Anne suspected that in some way Elfreda's troubles had been shifted to Grace's shoulders.
"Hurrah!" cried Miriam Nesbit gleefully, coming into the living room of Wayne Hall where Grace sat at the old-fashioned library table absorbed in writing a theme for next day's composition class.
"What's happened?" asked Grace curiously, looking up from her writing.
"We're to go over to Exeter Field to-morrow for a try out in basketball. I do hope we'll both make the team."
"So do I," agreed Grace promptly. "But there are so many girls that we may not be even chosen as subs. Besides, our playing may not compare with that of some of the others."
"Nonsense," returned Miriam stoutly. "Your playing would stand out anywhere, Grace, even on a boys' team. I consider myself a fair player, too," she added, flushing a little.
"I should say you are!" exclaimed Grace. "Who told you about the try out?"
"It's on the bulletin board. I don't see how you missed it."
"I didn't look at the bulletin board this morning. I meant to, then something else took my attention, and I forgot all about it." The "something else" had been the extremely frigid manner in which two freshmen she particularly liked had greeted her as she caught up with them on the way to her Livy class that morning. Grace wondered not a little at this cavalier treatment, but could arrive at no satisfactory conclusion regarding it. She finally tried to dismiss the matter by ascribing it to over-sensitiveness on her part, but every now and then it haunted her like an offending spectre.
"I always look at the bulletin board, no matter what happens," declared Miriam emphatically. "I must hurry upstairs and impart the glorious news to Elfreda. We had elected to spend Saturday afternoon in moving our furniture about, hoping to gain a few square inches of room space, but we'll have to postpone doing it. We can do it the first rainy Saturday. Hurry along with your paper and come upstairs. I'm going to make tea, and I've acquired a new kind of cakes. They're chocolate covered and taste like home and mother."
After Miriam had gone upstairs Grace sat staring at her theme with unseeing eyes. Disagreeable thoughts would come, and try as she might she could not drive them away. She had been snubbed and she could not forget it. Giving herself a little impatient shake she turned her attention to her theme and went on writing rapidly. Half an hour later she folded it neatly, placed it inside one of her books, and went slowly upstairs. She found Miriam, Anne and Elfreda seated on the floor deep in tea drinking. Before them was a plate piled high with the new kind of cakes, and a five-pound box of candy that Elfreda had received from New York that morning.
"Sit down here, Grace," invited Anne, making room for her friend. "Give her some tea this minute, Miriam. She is a working woman and needs nourishment. Did you finish your theme, dear?"
Grace nodded. Then taking the cup Miriam offered she dropped two lumps of sugar in it, and began drinking her tea in silence.
"What's the matter, Grace?" asked Anne anxiously.
"Nothing," replied Grace. "I feel reflective. I suppose that's why I haven't anything to say. Did Miriam tell you about the basketball try out on Exeter Field?"
"Yes; but not for mine—I mean—I'm not interested in basketball," amended Elfreda, hastily. "I tell you this trying to cut out slang is no idle dream."
There was a shout of laughter from the three girls.
"Now, see here," bristled the stout girl. "You needn't laugh at me. What I meant was that—that it is very difficult to refrain from the use of slang," finished Elfreda with such affected primness that the laughter broke forth afresh.
"Humph!" she ejaculated disgustedly. "I don't see anything to laugh at. Goodness knows I'm trying hard to break myself of the habit."
"Of course you are," sympathized Anne. "We aren't laughing at you. It was the funny way you ended your last sentence."
Elfreda's face relaxed into a good-natured grin. "I am funny sometimes," she admitted calmly. "Even Pa, who doesn't smile once a year, says so."
"I must go," said Anne, rising. "I haven't looked at my history lesson, and it is frightfully long, too."
"I'll go with you," announced Grace. "I must mend my blue serge dress. I stepped on it while going upstairs this morning and tore it just above the hem. I had to change it for this, and was almost late for chapel."
"I waited for you in the hall as long as I could," said Anne. "I meant to ask you what happened, but forgot it. Grace, what do you suppose Elfreda said before you came upstairs?"
"I can't possibly guess," rejoined Grace. "J. Elfreda's remarks are varied and startling."
The two girls were now in their own room.
"These are nice ones," averred Anne. "She said that you and Miriam and I were the first girls she'd ever cared much about. She said that she had never tried to do anything to please any one but herself until she came here. Then when you stood up for her, and fixed things so she could go to the reception, she said she held up her right hand and swore to herself that she'd try to be worthy of our friendship. That's why she's trying not to use slang, and to be more generous. She keeps her things in order, too. You noticed how nice everything looked to-day."
"Miriam, not I, is responsible for the change," said Grace. "She is a born diplomat. She knows exactly how to proceed with J. Elfreda. I hope there won't be anything more said about the registrar affair, though. I want Elfreda to like college better every day."
"Grace," said Anne hesitatingly, "if I tell you something, will you promise not to worry over it?"
"What do you mean?" asked Grace quickly, a puzzled look in her eyes. "I can't promise not to worry until I know that there's nothing to worry over. If you have heard something disagreeable about me, I'm not afraid to listen."
"I know it," said Anne. Then she went on almost abruptly. "I heard two freshmen talking about you the other night at the reception. One of them said that she had been prepared to like you, but had heard something that had caused her to change her mind." Anne looked distressed.
For a moment Grace sat very still.
"Oh, dear!" lamented Anne. "I'm sorry I told you. Now I've hurt your feelings."
"Nonsense!" retorted Grace stoutly. "It will take more than that to hurt my feelings. I am beginning to see a light, however. At the reception the other night Frances told me that Mabel had heard about my call at Stuart Hall from a senior who is a friend of a certain sophomore. Now, that sophomore is either Miss Wicks or Miss Hampton. It looks as though these two girls were not willing to let bygones be bygones. I haven't the slightest idea what they may have said about me, but I am sure they must have circulated some untruthful report among the freshmen. I don't like to accuse any one of being untruthful, but I am quite sure that I have done nothing reprehensible. Now that you have told me I'm going to watch closely. If a number of the girls snub me, I shall know that it is serious."
"Then you will fight for your rights, won't you?" pleaded Anne. "It isn't fair that you should be misjudged for trying to help Elfreda."
"I don't know," replied Grace doubtfully. "It might not be worth while. I have a theory that if one is right with one's conscience nothing else matters."
Anne shook her head dubiously. "That won't protect you from unpleasantness unless the girls think so, too. Our freshman year is our foundation year, and if we allow any one even to think that we are not putting our best material into it, the shadow is likely to follow us to the very threshold of graduation. It is easy enough to start a rumor but once let it gain headway, it is almost impossible to check it. Nearly all of your sophomore year in high school was spoiled through standing up for me. That's why I'm so determined to make you look out for your own interests."
While Anne was earnestly urging Grace to action, Grace was frantically rummaging in her closet for her blue dress. It was several minutes before she found it. If the blue dress could have spoken it would have borne witness to the fact that its owner dashed her hand suspiciously across her eyes before emerging from the closet with it over her arm.
THE MAKING OF THE TEAM
Saturday dawned clear and sunshiny. It was an ideal autumn day, and luncheon at Wayne Hall was eaten rapidly. Everyone was eager to give an opinion regarding the basketball try out, and with one or two exceptions each girl cherished the secret hope of making the team. Anne was one of the exceptions. She had no basketball yearnings. She was ready and willing to be an enthusiastic and loyal fan, but aside from walking and dancing she had no desire to take an active part in college sports. She was extremely proud of Miriam's and Grace's fine playing, however, and never doubted for an instant that both girls would make the team. "I'm sure you and Miriam will be chosen," she asserted to Grace, as the latter stood before her mirror, viewing herself in her new felt walking hat, that had arrived that morning.
The two friends had run up to their room after luncheon to hurry into their coats and hats, preparatory to going to Exeter Field. Anne eyed Grace admiringly. "Your new hat is so becoming," she said.
"I think yours is ever so pretty, too," returned Grace. "It looks like new. No one would know that you bought it last season. You take such good care of your clothes, Anne. I wish I could take as good care of mine. I hang them up and keep them in repair, but somehow they just wear out all at once."
"Don't stop to mourn over wearing out your clothes on this gala day," laughed Miriam Nesbit, who had appeared in the open door in time to hear Grace's plaintive assertion. She was wearing a becoming suit of blue and a blue hat to match.
"Where's Elfreda?" asked Grace. "She's going, too, isn't she?"
Miriam nodded, then said slyly, "If she ever gets ready."
Just then an anguished voice called out, "Miriam, please come back. That pin you fastened in the back of my waist is sticking me and I can't reach it."
Miriam flew to the rescue, smothering an involuntary laugh as she ran. Five minutes later she and Elfreda, in a new brown suit and hat, wearing the expression of a martyr, joined Grace and Anne on the veranda, and the four set out for Exeter Field.
"I'm not going to talk about certain things to-day, Grace, but did you notice that all the girls at our table were as nice with you as ever?" said Anne in a low tone.
"Yes; I noticed it," returned Grace. "If they continue to be the same, I shall think that we have been making a mountain of a molehill."
"Look at that crowd ahead of us," called Miriam.
A veritable procession of girls wound its way up the hilly street to Exeter Field. There were big girls and little girls, all talking and laughing happily, until the still October air rang with the sound of their gay, young voices. The majority of them were well-dressed, although here and there might be seen a last year's hat or coat that no one seemed to notice or to mind. Overton had a reputation for democracy in spite of the fact that most of its students came from homes where there was no lack of money.
Arriving at the field the four girls followed the crowd, which for the most part made for a long, low building at one end of the field.
"Where are they going?" asked Grace.
"For ice cream, of course," replied a young woman who stood near enough to overhear Grace's question.
"Oh, I want some ice cream," piped up Elfreda.
"Very well, my child, you shall have it," said Miriam in a grave, motherly tone.
The young woman who had answered Grace's question glanced at Miriam with twinkling eyes. Then she smiled broadly. That smile warmed Grace's heart.
"Won't you come with us?" she asked.
"Thank you, I believe I will," she replied. "I think I have the advantage. I know you are Miss Harlowe, but you don't know me. My name is Gertrude Wells, and I am a freshman, too. Now, suppose you introduce your little friends, and we'll go over to the club restaurant. I was waiting for my chum, but she has evidently deserted me."
Grace decided that she liked Miss Wells better than any other freshman she had met. She had a dry, humorous way of saying things that kept them all in a gale of laughter. Elfreda, too, seemed especially interested in her, and exerted herself to please. After their second ice all around they strolled over to where the manager of the college athletics association was marshaling the candidates for the try out. Grace and Miriam hurried off to the training quarters at one end of the field to put on their gymnasium suits.
The girls who wished to play were formed into teams and tried out against one another and the most promising of the players ordered to step off to one side after having lined up for play three times. It was after four o'clock when Grace and Miriam were called to the field. The long wait had made Grace rather nervous. Miriam, however, was cool and self-possessed, and played with snap and vigor.
"I don't know what ails me," said Grace despairingly, as she and Miriam stood waiting for the next line up. "I didn't play my best. I tried to, but I couldn't."
"You're nervous," rejoined Miriam. "Just make yourself believe you are back in the gym at home and you can show them some star playing."
"I will," promised Grace. "See if I don't."
It was after five o'clock before the last ambitious freshman had been given a chance to display her basketball prowess or lack of it. Grace had made good her word and forgetting her nervousness had played with the old-time dash and skill that had won fame for her in her high-school days. Her playing had elicited cries of approval from those watching and she had the satisfaction of hearing, "You play an excellent game, Miss Harlowe," from the manager. Miriam, after her third trial, also received her full measure of applause, and flushed and happy the two girls clasped hands delightedly when they received word that they were to report for practice at four o'clock Monday afternoon. As they were leaving the field to go to the training shed Gertrude Wells hurried toward them. "Miss Harlowe," she called, "please wait a minute."
Grace paused obediently while Miriam and Anne walked on ahead.
"Will you and your friends, Miss Nesbit, Miss Briggs and Miss Pierson, come over to Morton Hall to-night at half-past seven o'clock. I have invited a number of my freshmen friends, and I'd love to have you come, too. It's Saturday night you know, so you won't have to worry about recitations to-morrow."
"Thank you," replied Grace. "I will come with pleasure. Girls," she called to the three ahead, "come back here."
Gertrude repeated her invitation, which was instantly accepted. "Be sure to come early," was her parting admonition.
"This is our first freshman invitation," remarked Grace after Gertrude had left them. "I'm so glad. I had begun to think we would never get acquainted with the rest of our class."
"I understand that 19—— is the largest class Overton has ever had," said Anne.
"All the more reason why we should be proud of it," declared Miriam quickly.
"I wonder what they'll have to eat," said Elfreda reflectively.
A derisive giggle greeted this remark.
"Well, you needn't laugh," retorted Elfreda good-naturedly. "I didn't say that because I'm so fond of eating. I was just wondering whether it would be worth while to eat supper or not."
"Take my advice and eat your supper, Elfreda," laughed Anne. "I have an idea that we shall be fed on plowed field, fudge or something equally nourishing."
"Humph!" commented Elfreda. "That's just about what I thought. I hope we have something sour for supper to-night. I'm getting tired of sweet stuff. It's frightfully fattening, too."
"What on earth has come over you, Elfreda," laughed Grace. "I thought you were devoted to chocolate and bonbons."
"I was," confessed Elfreda, "until I saw you and Miriam play basketball this afternoon. I was crazy to play, too. But imagine how I'd look on the field. I couldn't run six yards without puffing. I'm going to try to get thinner, and perhaps some day I can make the team, too."
ANNE WINS A VICTORY
The pleasurable excitement of making the team and receiving the invitation to the spread had driven all thought of the conversation overheard by Anne from Grace's mind. Above all things Grace wished if possible to establish friendly relations with every member of her class. Now that she and her friends were invited to Morton House they would meet a number of new girls. The Morton House girls had the reputation of being both jolly and hospitable. Grace had the feeling that so far they had made little or no social headway among their classmates. Aside from Ruth Denton and the students at Wayne Hall they knew practically no other freshmen.
"This spread will help us to get in touch with some of the girls we don't know," she confided to Anne while dressing that night for the party.
"I hope so," replied Anne. "We seem to be rather slow about making friends here at Overton; that is, among the freshmen. We really know more upper class girls, don't we?"
"Yes," assented Grace. "But after to-night things will be different."
It was only a few minutes' walk to Morton House and the four girls enjoyed the brief stroll.
"I wonder if we're too early," said Grace, consulting her watch. "It lacks three minutes of being half-past seven. That's Morton House, isn't it?" pointing at the substantial brick house just ahead of them. The little party climbed the stone steps. Miriam rang the bell. Almost instantly the door opened and Gertrude Wells smilingly ushered them into the hall. "So glad you have come," she said. "All the other girls are here."
"We need not have been afraid of being too early, then," laughed Grace.
"Hardly," smiled Gertrude, "the majority of us live here. There are twenty freshmen in this house, and we invited ten more from outside. Thirty girls in all, but the living room is large enough to hold us, and Mrs. Kane doesn't mind if we make a good deal of noise. Come upstairs to my room and take off your wraps. Then we'll join the crowd." A little later they followed their hostess downstairs to the big living room, that seemed fairly overflowing with girls. The buzz of conversation ceased as they entered. Gertrude introduced them one after another to the assembled crowd of young women, who received them with varying degrees of cordiality.
Anne's observant eyes noted that one group of girls in the corner barely acknowledged the introduction. She also noted that the two freshmen whose conversation she had overheard at the reception formed the center of that group. The four girls found seats at one end of the room and the conversation began again louder than ever. Grace and Miriam found themselves surrounded by half a dozen girls who were eager to know where they had learned to play basketball. Elfreda espied two freshmen who recited history in the same class with her and was soon deep in conversation with them. Anne, being left to her own devices, sat quietly watching the throng of animated faces around her. With her, the study of faces was a favorite pastime, and she furtively watched the little knot of girls, whose lack of cordiality had been so noticeable to her.
They were carrying on a low-toned conversation among themselves, and by the frequent glances that were being cast first in the direction of Grace, then Elfreda, Anne knew that the story of Elfreda's report to the registrar was being talked over. Anne felt her anger rising. Why should Grace be made to suffer for Elfreda's mistake, and why should Elfreda have her freshman year spoiled on account of that mistake. Of course, no one liked a tale bearer, but Elfreda would never again tell tales. Besides, why should the freshmen undertake to champion the cause of two sophomores, unless the latter had entirely misrepresented things?
Anne could never tell what prompted her to rise and stroll over to the group. The young women were so busily engaged in their conversation that they did not notice her approach. Anne heard one of them say in a disgusted tone, "I can't understand why Gertrude invited them. She knows we dislike them."
"She seems very friendly with them," grumbled another girl. "If I had known they were to be here I should have stayed upstairs or gone out rather than meet them. They showed extremely bad taste accepting Gertrude's invitation."
"Perhaps they don't know that we are down on them," suggested a pale-faced girl rather timidly.
"Of course they know it," sputtered one of the two disgruntled freshmen. "Nell and I almost cut that Miss Harlowe the other morning. Don't try to stand up for her, Lillian. She and that Miss Briggs are beneath the notice of the really nice girls here. Overton doesn't want bullies and tale-bearers. They're not in accordance with college spirit."
The contempt with which these words were uttered stung Anne to action. Stepping forward she said quietly, although her eyes flashed, "Pardon me, but I could not help hearing what you said. Will you permit me to speak a few words in defense of my friend, Grace Harlowe?"
An astonished silence fell over the group of girls. Before one of them had time to recover from her surprise at Anne's intrusion, she began to speak in low tones that attracted no attention outside themselves, but whose earnestness carried conviction to those listening:
"You are evidently not in possession of the true account of what happened to Miss Briggs the day she came to Overton. You know, perhaps, that two sophomores took advantage of her verdancy and hazed her. Perhaps they neglected to state, however, that they accepted her invitation to eat ice cream before they returned her hospitality by conducting her to the hall of a public building where they left her to wait for the registrar. Considering the fact that she was tired from her long ride, and had had no supper, I think it was an extremely poor exhibition of the much vaunted Overton spirit. It was late that night before she reached her boarding house. She was naturally indignant and next day reported the matter to the registrar. This, I must admit, was unwise on her part. She is very sorry, now, that she did so."
"All this is not news to us," snapped Marian Cummings, one of the two freshmen Anne had overheard at the reception. She stared insolently at Anne.
"But what I am about to tell you will perhaps surprise you," Anne answered evenly. "Miss Briggs received a note purporting to come from the whole sophomore class. The writer of the note threatened her with vague penalties if she attended the sophomore reception, and practically ordered her to leave college."
The girls looked at one another without answering. This silence showed only too plainly that this was indeed news.
"Miss Briggs showed the letter to Miss Nesbit, her roommate, and to Miss Harlowe," Anne continued composedly. "She was heartbroken over it and would have left Overton if Miss Harlowe had not persuaded her to stay. Miss Harlowe did a little investigating on her own account. She suspected two sophomores of being responsible for the letter, believing the rest of the class knew nothing about it. She called on the two young women and forced them to admit their knowledge of the note. Both denied writing it. It is evident that they have misrepresented matters among their friends. As far as Grace Harlowe is concerned she is utterly incapable of doing a mean or dishonorable act. We were classmates in high school and she was beloved by all who knew her."
Anne paused and glanced almost appealingly around the circle of tense faces. Then Elizabeth Wade, the other hostile freshman, said slowly: "Girls, I am inclined to think we have been imposed upon. Miss Pierson, I will be perfectly frank with you. We knew nothing about the note. Personally, I consider it an outrageous thing to do, and in direct violation of what we are taught regarding college spirit. Briefly, what we did hear was that Miss Briggs had reported two sophomores for playing an innocent trick on her, and that Miss Harlowe had urged her to do so. Also that Miss Harlowe had visited the two upper classmen and, after rating them in a very ill-bred manner, had ordered them to apologize to Miss Briggs."
Anne smiled. "I can't help smiling," she apologized. "If you knew Grace as I know her, you'd smile, too."
Marian Cummings's face softened. "I do wish to know her, now," she smiled. "After what you've told us I think the rest of us feel the same. I'm glad you made us listen to you, Miss Pierson."
"So am I," "and I," agreed the other girls.
Anne's face flushed with joy at her victory. "I hope 19—— will be the best class Overton has ever turned out," she said simply, "and I hope that any misunderstandings that may arise will be cleared away as easily as this one has been."
"Suppose we go over and congratulate Miss Harlowe on her playing this afternoon," proposed a tall freshman, "and we might incidentally pay our respects to Miss Briggs. We must help her to live up to her good resolutions, you know," she added slyly.
Anne was in a maze of delight at her success. The other guests had been so busily engaged with their own little groups, no one of them had overheard Anne's defense of her friend. Grace, who was giving an eager account of the famous game that won her team the championship during her sophomore year at high school, looked up in surprise at the crowd of merry girls which suddenly surrounded her. For an instant she looked amazed, then smiled at them in the frank, straightforward fashion that always made friends for her.
Gertrude Wells, who, with three other freshmen, had been in the kitchen preparing the refreshments, appeared in the door just in time to see the girls surround Grace. She smiled contentedly, and nodding to the fluffy-haired little girl standing beside her said gleefully: "What did I tell you? Look in there."
The fluffy-haired little girl obeyed. "How did you do it?" was the quick answer.
"They did it themselves. I just did the inviting and they did the rest. Of course there was a certain amount of chance that they wouldn't get together, but it was worth taking. After meeting her this afternoon I felt sure that the girls were wrong, but I wished them to find out for themselves. How it happened, I don't know, but we are sure to hear the story after the party is over."
While Gertrude Wells was congratulating herself on the success of her experiment, Grace Harlowe was remarking to Miriam Nesbit that she thought Gertrude Wells would be an ideal president from 19—— and that she intended pointing out this fact to the freshmen of Wayne Hall.
UPS AND DOWNS
At breakfast the next morning Grace began her campaign, and she continued to sing Gertrude Wells's praises when she encountered a group of her freshmen friends after the services. Then Anne, Miriam, Elfreda and she went for a stroll down College Street and into Vinton's for ices. Here they encountered quite a delegation of girls from Morton House, among whom was Gertrude herself, and a great deal of mysterious intriguing went on behind that young woman's back, who, quite unconscious of the honor about to be thrust upon her, was telling her chum that she thought Grace Harlowe would make a good president for 19——.
On her way home Grace exclaimed delightedly: "Look across the street, girls! There is Mabel Ashe. Let's go over and speak to her."
Suiting the action to the word the four girls hurried across the street to greet their favorite. Mabel smiled pleasantly, stretching forth a welcoming hand, but the young woman with her regarded their presence as an intrusion and glared her displeasure at the newcomers.
"How do you do, Miss Alden?" ventured Grace politely, but Miss Alden stared over her head and with a frigid, "Really, Mabel, under the circumstances, you'll have to excuse my leaving you," she turned and marched off in the other direction.
"I suppose we are the circumstances," said Grace, with a faint smile. She was furiously angry at the unlooked-for snub, but refused to show it. Anne looked distressed, Miriam was frowning, while Elfreda glowered savagely.
"Don't mind what she says," soothed Mabel. "She feels awfully cross this afternoon because she has met with a disappointment. She has an invitation to a Pi Kappa Gamma dance and she has been refused permission to go. Result, she is in a raging, tearing humor."
"But I thought one could always go to a fraternity dance if properly chaperoned," remarked Grace innocently.
"One can," mimicked Mabel, "if one doesn't ask permission to go too often, and if one has no conditions to work off. Now, you see why Mistress Beatrice is obliged to languish at home while the man who invited her will no doubt have to invite some other girl, who is lucky enough to have no conditions."
"Isn't it rather early in the year to be conditioned?" asked Miriam.
"Yes, but Beatrice has been cutting classes ever since she came back this year," confided Mabel. "I am not betraying a confidence in telling you this. She admits that she neglects her work. She says she is going to settle down after mid-year's exams and work."
"I think she's about the most snobbish proposition I ever came across," announced Elfreda. "It would serve her right if she did flunk in her examinations. I hope with all my heart she falls down with an awful bump."
Elfreda had forgotten her former aspirations toward cultivating the true college spirit.
"You mustn't wish even your bitterest enemy bad luck," smiled Mabel Ashe. "Superstitious people say that the bad luck will be visited on the head of the one who wishes it."
"I'm not superstitious," retorted Elfreda. "Of course, I believe that pins cut friendship, and that it's bad luck to see the new moon through the window, or to walk under a ladder. It's a sure sign of death to break a looking glass or dream of white flowers, too, and to drop a spoon means certain disappointment, but aside from a few little things like that, I certainly don't believe in signs."
"Oh, no, you don't believe in signs," chorused the girls, in gleeful sarcasm.
"Well, I don't," reiterated Elfreda. "That is, not a whole lot of them."
"Good-bye, children, I must leave you at this corner," announced Mabel. "Come and see me soon. I'll look you up the first evening I have free."
"I should think that Miss Alden would hate herself," remarked Elfreda scornfully, as she marched along beside Grace. "She hates you, that's sure enough."
"Nonsense, why should Miss Alden hate me? You are letting your imagination run away with you, Elfreda," laughed Grace.
"Don't you believe it," declared Elfreda doggedly. "She doesn't like you, because Mabel likes you, and she likes Mabel. Some one told me the other day that she can't bear to have Mabel look cross-eyed at any other girl here. She claims that it's because she loves her so much, but I think it's because she wants to have the most popular girl at Overton for her friend," finished the stout girl shrewdly.
"What shall we do this afternoon?" called Miriam Nesbit over her shoulder.
"Go on boosting our candidate," laughed Anne. "Let us go for a walk after dinner. We will call on Ruth Denton. Then we'll take her with us to Morton House. That will be a nice way for her to meet the Morton House girls. While we are there we can find out how the land lies. Then we will take Ruth home with us for supper and the rest of the evening, if she doesn't have to study."
At the dinner table that day Grace again introduced the subject of the class election and was pleased to note that her suggestion regarding Gertrude Wells as the best possible choice for class president had borne fruit. The two sophomores at the table who had been through two class elections, having just elected their president, smiled tolerantly at the excitement exhibited by the "babies," and advised them not to elect in haste and repent at leisure.
"Why don't you children find out something about what the rest of the class think before you rush into electing Miss Wells, just to please two or three girls?" asked Virginia Gaines, the sophomore who had assiduously cultivated the acquaintance of Elfreda—then dropped her at the first sign of trouble. "We sophomores wouldn't allow ourselves to be influenced by cliques. We consider the good of the class of more importance than the good of any individual member."
She smiled disagreeably at Grace, who looked at her steadily, then said, "Was your remark intended for me and my friends, Miss Gaines?"
"Not necessarily," flung back the sophomore, "unless you feel that it applies to you and to them."
"No, I don't believe it does," declared Grace with a quiet smile. "In fact, I quite agree with you in saying that the good of the class should always come first. That is why we are all anxious to nominate Miss Wells for president of 19——."
A dull flush rose to Virginia Gaines's sallow face. She was not quick-witted and could think of no reply. The other freshmen at the table were taking no pains to disguise their glee at Grace's retort. Virginia's sarcastic comment had proved a boomerang and she had gained nothing by launching it. She hurried through with her dessert and left the table without another word, casting a half malignant look at Grace as she went.
"Virginia's mad, And I am glad,"
sang a freshman softly as the door banged.
"Please, don't," said Grace soberly. "I'm sorry she's angry, but I couldn't help it. I seem always fated to arouse sophomore ire."
"I wouldn't mind a little thing like that," comforted Elfreda. "I'd rather be the enemy than the friend of some girls."
"But I don't want to be the enemy of any girl," declared Grace, looking almost appealingly about the table.
"Of course you don't," soothed Emma Dean, a tall, near-sighted girl at the end of the table, who had the reputation of making brilliant recitations. "You couldn't antagonize the rest of us if you tried. That is, unless you deliberately broke my glasses."
A shout of laughter went up from the table. Virginia Gaines, who had lingered in the hall, heard it, and her face darkened. In spite of Grace's declaration for peace she had made an enemy.
GRACE TURNS ELECTIONEER
Directly after dinner that afternoon, the four girls, looking very smart in their new fall suits and hats, set out for Ruth's. They found her seated at her little table eating a very humble dinner of her own cooking. "I'm sorry I can't offer you anything to eat. I have 'licked the platter clean,' you see. But won't you have some tea? I think I have cups enough to go round, only I'm afraid I haven't enough saucers."
"Thank you," began Elfreda, "but—" then a warning pinch from Miriam caused her to eye the latter reproachfully and subside.
"We'd love to have tea with you," smiled Miriam. "Wouldn't we, girls?"
Elfreda, who had divined the reason for the pinch, said "yes" with the others, and Ruth bustled about with pink cheeks and a delicious air of importance. She took down from the cupboard shelf a box of Nabiscos that she had been treasuring for some such occasion as the present, placing them on a little hand-painted plate, the only piece of china she possessed. When the tea was made the guests emptied the little tea-pot and ate all of the Nabiscos, to the intense satisfaction of their hostess, to whom entertaining was a new and delightful pastime.
"Now, you must put on your wraps and go with us," commanded Grace, setting her cup on the table. "We are going to Morton House to make our party call. The future president of 19—— lives there. That is, we think she is the future president and we hope to make others think so, too."
Ruth obediently went to the closet where her plain little hat and shabby, old-style coat hung. She looked hesitatingly from the smartly tailored suits of her guests to her own well-worn coat, then with a proud little lifting of her head, she took it down and began putting it on.
During their walk to Morton House the girls met several freshmen they knew, and these were faithfully interviewed as to their preference in the matter of 19——'s president. To Grace's delight none of them had made any choice in regard to candidates, so her glowing remarks as to Gertrude Wells's ability to make a good president fell on fertile soil. Fortune favored them, for when they reached Morton House they found Miss Wells out and two-thirds of the girls downstairs in the living room listening to the new songs that the curly-haired little girl at the piano had received from New York the day before. She was in the middle of one when the girls entered the room. Grace held up a warning finger and pointed to the piano.
The song ended several notes short and the little girl turned her head toward her audience, saying, "I knew some one came in."
"Won't you sing for us?" asked Anne, who loved music. The little girl's voice reminded her of Nora O'Malley's, and Nora's singing had always been a source of delight to Anne.
"Not now," smiled the singer. "I wish to talk, but I'll sing for you later."
"We came over this afternoon," said Grace to the girl sitting next to her, "to find out who Morton House wants for president. We would like to have Miss Wells——"
Grace was interrupted by a little cry of delight. The girl sprang to her feet and cried, "Hear! hear!" Then she took Grace by the shoulders and laughingly commanded, "Arise, occupy the center of the room and tell the girls what you have just told me."
Before she knew it Grace was standing in the middle of the room, earnestly advocating Gertrude Wells's cause, while the Morton House girls were making as much demonstration as was considered decorous on Sunday. Grace concluded with, "I'm quite sure that every girl at Morton House will vote for Miss Wells and every freshman at Wayne Hall, too. Before class meeting next Friday I hope to be able to convince the majority of 19—— that they will make no mistake in voting for Miss Wells."
Grace sat down amid subdued applause, and every one began talking to her neighbor about the coming election. Ruth Denton listened to the gay chatter with shining eyes. She had forgotten all about her shabby suit. Presently the curly-haired little girl came over and sat down beside her, asking her if she liked college. Ruth looked admiringly at the little girl, whose dainty gown, silk stockings and smart pumps bespoke luxury, and answered earnestly that she liked it better every day. "You must come and see me," said the curly-haired little girl, whose name was Arline Thayer. "We recite Livy in the same section, so we have something in common to grumble about. Isn't the lesson for to-morrow terrific, though?"
"I haven't looked at it to-day," confessed Ruth happily. "I study hard on Sunday as a rule, but to-day is the first time, you see——" Ruth hesitated.
"I see," said Arline kindly. "Hereafter you mustn't study all day on Sunday. You must come and take dinner with me next Sunday and stay all afternoon. Promise, now, that you'll come."
"Oh, thank you. I'd love to come," stammered Ruth. She could scarcely believe that this dainty little girl who wore such pretty clothes had actually invited her to dinner at Morton House.
"Did you have a good time, Ruth?" asked Miriam, as they started for home late that afternoon.
"Don't ask her," interposed Anne mischievously. "She forsook me and hob-nobbed openly all afternoon with that curly-haired girl, Miss Thayer. I am terribly jealous, and there is a deadly gleam in my eye."
"Please, don't think, Anne——" began Ruth nervously, looking distressed.
"I am past thinking," retorted Anne melodramatically. "The time for action has come. I shall challenge my rival to a duel the first time I see her. We will fight with——"
"Brooms," grinned Elfreda. "I once fought a duel down in our orchard with my cousin Dick. Brooms were the chosen weapons. We certainly did great execution with them. They were new ones and the brushy part kept getting in our way until we happened to think of cutting it off and fighting with the handles. After that things went more scientifically, until Dick hit me on the nose by mistake. I wailed and shrieked and had the nose bleed, and Ma whipped Dick and sent him home. That was about the only duel I ever fought," concluded the stout girl reflectively, "but if there's the slightest possibility of either of you choosing brooms for weapons, I'll give you the benefit of my experience by training you for the fray."
"Shall I take her at her word, Ruth?" laughed Anne.
"No, I'm not worth all that trouble," returned Ruth half shyly.
"We won't have time to escort you home, Ruth," remarked Grace, looking at her watch. "We must leave you at this corner. Be a good child and don't sit up all night to study. Come over Tuesday evening to dinner, and we'll all study together."
"Thank you, I will if I don't have too much mending on hand," replied Ruth. "Good-bye. I can't begin to tell you how much I've enjoyed being with you."
"Don't try," advised Elfreda laconically. "We've had just as much fun as you have."
Miriam and Grace exchanged glances. Elfreda was making rapid strides along the road to fellowship.
"I like that girl," she announced as Ruth disappeared around the corner. "She has lots of pluck. When we asked her to go out with us to-day she looked at her old coat and hat, then at us. I could see that she was ashamed of them. But she wasn't ashamed for more than five seconds. She straightened up and looked as proud as a princess. I could see——"
"A great deal more than we did," finished Miriam. "I believe you have eyes in the back of your head, Elfreda."
"I don't miss much," agreed Elfreda modestly. "I saw you and Grace look at each other when I said we'd had just as much fun as Ruth," she added slyly. "I know what you were both thinking, too. You were thinking that I wasn't so selfish as when I came here. You needn't color so because I caught you. I am selfish, but I'm beginning to find out, just the same, that there are other people in the world besides myself."
AN INVITATION AND A MISUNDERSTANDING
The class elections went off with a snap. Grace nominated Gertrude Wells for president. There were two other nominations, and after the three young women had gone through the ordeal of inspection before the class, the votes were cast. Gertrude Wells was elected president by an overwhelming majority, and the nomination and election of the other class officers quickly followed. The next night Grace and Miriam gave a dinner in honor of her election at Vinton's, to which twelve girls were invited, and for a week the new president was feted and lionized until she laughingly declared that a return to the simple life was her only means of re-establishing her lost reputation for study and avoiding impending warnings.
The class of 19—— soon became used to being a regularly organized body and held its class meetings with as much pride as though it were the most important organization in college. Thanksgiving plans now occupied the foreground, and as the vacation was too short even to think about going home, the girls began to make plans to spend their brief holiday as advantageously as possible at or at least very near Overton.
"There's a football game over at Willston, on Thanksgiving Day," remarked Grace, looking up from the paper on which she was jotting down possible amusements for vacation. Miriam had run into Grace's room for a brief chat before dinner. "We don't know any Willston men, though. I think football is ever so much more interesting when one knows the players. If we were nearer the boys we might attend a fraternity dance once in a while."
"David says in his last letter that he is waiting impatiently for the holidays. Just think, Grace, won't that be splendid to be back in dear old Oakdale again?"
"It seems years since I kissed Mother and Father good-bye," said Grace, rather wistfully. "How I'd like to be at home for Thanksgiving."
"Don't think about it," advised Miriam. "I was as blue as indigo last night. Let's keep our minds strictly on what we're going to do with our holiday. What have you put down?"
"The football game first. Then I have tickets for a play that the Morton House girls intend to give. We might go to Vinton's for supper on Thanksgiving night. If we have a Thanksgiving dinner here that day it's safe to say supper won't amount to much. I think——"
Grace did not finish with what she was saying. A quick step sounded down the hall and an instant later Anne ran into the room waving an open letter in her hand. "Girls, girls!" she cried, "you never can guess!"
"What is it? Tell us at once," commanded Grace, springing from her chair. "You've received good news from some one we know."
"Yes," replied Anne happily. "My letter is from Miss Southard. She wishes us to spend Thanksgiving with her and her brother in New York City. Isn't that glorious, and do you think we'll be allowed to go?"
"Hurrah!" cried Grace. "Since we can't go home, it's the very nicest sort of plan. I think we'll be allowed to go. We haven't any conditions to work off, and I haven't planned to do any extra studying either. Thank goodness, my allowance had an extra ten dollars attached to it this month. Mother wrote that she thought I might need the money, and I do. I couldn't possibly have stretched my regular allowance over this trip."
"I have money enough, I think," said Miriam. "I am a thrifty soul. I saved ten dollars out of my last month's allowance. It was really extra money that I had asked Mother for. I intended to buy a sweater and then changed my mind."
"The expenses of my trip will have to come out of my college money," confessed Anne, a trifle soberly, "but I'd be willing to spend twice that much to see the Southards. Mr. Southard is playing 'Hamlet' and so we shall have the opportunity of seeing him in what the critics consider his greatest part."
"Remember, we haven't asked permission to go, yet," remarked Grace.
"The registrar couldn't be so cruel as to refuse us," said Miriam cheerfully. "Let's besiege her fortress in a body."
"When shall we make our plea?"
"To-morrow morning after chapel," suggested Anne. "Then we'll have more time to plan our trip."
The registrar's office was duly besieged the next morning, as agreed, and the three girls hurried off to their classes with beaming faces. When they returned to Wayne Hall after recitations that afternoon it was to find Elfreda hanging over the railing in the upstairs hall, an unusually solemn expression on her face.
"Are you going?" she called down anxiously. "Yes," nodded Grace. "At three o'clock Wednesday afternoon."
Elfreda gave a smothered exclamation that sounded like, "What a shame," and disappeared into her room, slamming the door.
"I'm coming into your room for a while," said Miriam. "Elfreda will open the door before long."
"Yes, do," returned Grace hospitably. "Is she angry because you are going away over Thanksgiving?"
"No, not angry, but awfully disappointed. She almost cried last night when I told her about it. I suspect she is crying now. She's like an overgrown child at times."
"I'm sorry we can't take her with us," deplored Grace. "Does she know where we are going?"
"Yes," returned Miriam. "She was practically thunderstruck when she learned we were to visit the Southards. The queer part of it is this. She saw Mr. Southard and Anne in 'As You Like It' last year. She thinks Mr. Southard the greatest actor she ever saw, and she even spoke of Anne's cleverness as Rosalind; she doesn't know it was Anne who played the part."
"Anne doesn't wish her or any one else here to know it," cautioned Grace. "Do you suppose any other girl here saw Anne as Rosalind?"
"Goodness knows," replied Miriam, with a shrug. "There's an old saying that 'murder will out.' If any one here did see her, sooner or later she'll be identified and lionized."
"That's just why I don't wish the girls here to know," protested Anne, who had been listening to the conversation of her friends, a slight frown puckering her smooth forehead. "I don't care to be patronized and petted, but secretly held at arms' length because I am a professional player. If the girls find out that I played Rosalind in Mr. Southard's company I'll never hear the last of it." In her anxiety Anne's voice rose above its customary low key. In fact, all three had been talking rather loudly, and the entire conversation had been carried straight to the ears of the girl who stood outside the almost closed door. Elfreda had come across the hall to hear the details of the proposed visit, but had remained outside the door transfixed at what she heard. Then she found her voice.
"So that's your idea of true friendship, is it?" demanded an angry, choking voice that caused the surprised young women to start and look toward the door. Elfreda stepped into the room, her face flushed with anger, her blue eyes fairly snapping. "You make a great fuss over me when there's nothing going on, but none of you would invite me to go with you to New York, when you know I'm crazy to go. And that's not enough, you can't get along without talking about me. I heard every word Anne said. I know now that it was she who played Rosalind in 'As You Like It' last winter, because I saw her with my own eyes. If you girls had been as honorable as you pretend to be you'd have told me about it and I never would have said a word. But, no, Anne was afraid to tell, for fear she'd 'never hear the last of it,'" sneered Elfreda, mimicking Anne. "She's right, too. She never will. I'll not stop until I tell every girl at Overton the whole story. When you come back," she went on, turning to Miriam, "you'll find that I've moved. I thought you were nice and I tried to be like you, but now I don't care to live in the same house with you, and I don't intend ever to notice any of you again. With that she rushed across the hall, slammed the door, and turned the key.
"Locked out," said Miriam grimly. "I hope she'll let me in before the dinner bell rings. I'd like to change this grimy blouse for a clean one. I'll try to reason with her, once she opens the door."
"Shall we go in, too, and try to explain matters?" asked Anne. "I didn't say that she would tell the girls about my stage work. Surely, she understands, too, that we are not at liberty to invite her to go with us. I'll tell you what I will do. I'll telegraph the Southards and ask permission to invite her. They will be perfectly willing for us to bring her."
"That might be a good plan," reflected Grace. "Don't waste another minute, Anne, but telegraph Miss Southard at once."
"Yes, go ahead," counseled Miriam, "and while you're gone I'll try to pacify Elfreda."
But all Miriam's efforts to restore peace failed. When a little later she knocked gently on the door, Elfreda unlocked it, but received her roommate's friendly overtures in sulky silence. After dinner, for the first time since the sophomore reception, she spent the evening in Virginia Gaines's room and that night the two girls prepared for sleep without exchanging a word.
Meanwhile Anne telegraphed, "May we bring friend? Will explain later. Anne," and was anxiously awaiting a reply. It came the next morning while they were at breakfast and read: "Your friends always welcome. Telegraph train you will arrive. Mary Southard." Anne passed the telegram to Grace, who sat next to her. After one quick glance at it Grace passed it to Miriam. Elfreda, who sat directly opposite her, watched the passing of the telegram with compressed lips. Miriam, raising her eyes from the yellow slip, found those of her angry roommate fixed on her in mingled curiosity and disdain. Ignoring the look she said quietly, "I should like to see you for a moment after breakfast, Elfreda. I have something to tell you."
The stout girl's eyes narrowed. She glanced about the table and saw Virginia Gaines watching her with a disagreeable smile. The sophomore raised her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders as though to say, "So, you are going to allow her to order you about." Elfreda's face grew dark with angry purpose. She leaned well forward across the table and said in a tone of suppressed fury: "Kindly keep your remarks to yourself. I don't care to hear them."
"Very well," replied Miriam coldly, although her eyes flashed and the temper that had been all but uncontrollable in days gone by threatened to burst forth in all its old fury. Several girls smiled, and Virginia Gaines laughed aloud.
"A new declaration of independence has evidently been signed," she jeered. "Too bad, isn't it, Miss Harlowe? You'll have to begin all over again on some one else."
"I am not likely to trouble you, at any rate, Miss Gaines," returned Grace pointedly.
This time the laugh was at Virginia's expense. A dull flush overspread her plain face. Her angry eyes met Grace's steady gray ones, then fell before the honest contempt she read there. During that brief instant she saw herself through Grace's eyes and the sharp retort that rose to her lips remained unuttered.
In the next instant Grace was sorry for her rude retort. It would have been far better to remain silent, she reflected. By answering she had shown Virginia that the latter's taunt had annoyed her.
"I wish I hadn't answered Miss Gaines," she confided to Miriam as they were leaving the dining room. "It doesn't add to one's freshman dignity to quarrel."
"I am glad you did," returned Miriam. "It was a well-merited snub, and she deserved it."
GREETING OLD FRIENDS
To spend their brief holiday with the Southards was the next best thing to going home, in the opinion of the Oakdale girls. Mr. Southard met them at the station with his automobile, and a twenty minutes' drive brought them to the Southard home. Miss Southard met them at the door with welcoming arms. She was particularly delighted to see Anne, for the few weeks Anne had spent in their house had endeared her to the Southards and made them wish her their "little sister" in reality rather than by fond adoption.
"What shall we do after dinner to-night?" asked Miss Southard, as she showed her guests to their rooms after the first affectionate greetings had been exchanged. "Everett, as you know, is appearing as Hamlet, and wishes you to see him in the part. However, he has engaged a box for us for to-morrow night. To-night we will go to some other theatre if you wish."
"To tell you the truth," replied Anne, slipping her hand into that of the older woman, "we'd rather spend the evening quietly with you. That is, unless you care particularly about our going out."
Miss Southard's face revealed her pleasure at this announcement. "Would you really?" she asked. "I should like to have you girls to myself rather than go to the theatre, but I supposed you would prefer seeing a successful play to staying at home with me."
"Nothing could drag us from the house after that confession," laughed Grace. "For my part I think it would be much nicer to stay at home. We have so much to tell you."
Dinner was a merry meal. Mr. Southard, who in the meantime had come in from the theatre, became so absorbed in the conversation of his young guests that both he and his sister forgot the time. The entrance into the dining room of James, his valet, with his hat and coat, and the warning words, "Ten minutes past seven, sir," caused him to spring from his chair, glance at his watch with a rueful smile, and hurry out to where his car stood waiting for him.
"It's nice to be an idol of the public, but it's hard on the idol just the same," sighed Grace, as the door closed after him. "Shall we see him again to-night?"
"You may stay up and wait for him if you wish," returned Miss Southard, "but it will be after midnight. 'Hamlet' is a long play."
"I saw Mr. Southard in 'Hamlet' long before I knew him," remarked Anne. "My father and I were in New York rehearsing the play in which I afterwards refused to work. The manager of our company was a friend of Mr. Southard. One night he asked me if I would like to see the greatest actor in America play 'Hamlet.' I said that Everett Southard was the only man I ever wished to see in the role. I shall never forget how I felt when he handed me a slip of paper. It was in Mr. Southard 's handwriting and called for two seats at the theatre where he was playing. He said he had asked Mr. Southard for the passes purposely for me, because," Anne flushed slightly, "he insisted that in me lay the making of a great artist, and that I ought to see nothing but the great plays, enacted by great players."
"How interesting!" exclaimed Grace. "You never told us anything about your stage days before. What did you think after you saw 'Hamlet'?"
"I went about in a dream for days afterward," confessed Anne. "Then, I began to hate the play we were rehearsing, and finally ended by refusing to stay in the company. Mother was with my sister in Oakdale, so I went to them. I felt that there was no chance for me to ever become great. I had no faith in my own ability, and I was determined not to waste my life as a second or third rate actor. So I gave up the stage and decided to try to get an education, then teach. You know the rest of my story. Now comes the hardest part. After giving up all idea of the stage, the door that I thought was barred has been opened to me. The unbelievable has come to pass, and I have in a measure achieved what once seemed unattainable. Do you think that I ought to bury my one talent when my college days are over and become a teacher, or do you believe that I should put it to good use by becoming an exponent of the highest dramatic art?"
Anne paused, looking almost melancholy in her earnestness.
"My dear child," said Miss Southard gravely. "You are straining your mental eyes with trying to look into the future. Wait until graduation day comes. By that time you will know what is best for you to do. As far as your work in the theatre is concerned, I consider that it is far more to your credit to use the talent God has given you to help yourself through college, than to wear yourself out doing tutoring or servants' work. There is no stigma attached to my brother's art, why should there be to yours?"
"Good for you, Miss Southard," cheered Grace. "I'll tell you a secret. Anne thinks just as you do, only she won't say so."
"While you are here, Anne, Everett wishes you to meet Mr. Forest, the manager of the stock company he wrote you about," continued Miss Southard.
"He is a playwright, producer and manager all in one, isn't he?" asked Miriam. "I have seen ever so many pictures of him, and read a great deal about him. They say he is always on the lookout for material for stars."
"Yes," returned Miss Southard. "He was in Europe during Anne's engagement here last winter. Nevertheless, he heard of her and asked Everett a great many questions about her. I think he will offer her an engagement for next summer with a certain stock company which he controls."
"How can I ever repay you and Mr. Southard for all you have done for me?" said Anne earnestly.
"By accepting the engagement," laughed Grace.
"Grace is right," agreed Miss Southard. "Everett and I are trying to help Anne in the way we think best."
"Then I will be pleasing myself, too," confessed Anne. "For I love my dramatic work as well as I do that of the college. Now, let us talk about Oakdale and all our friends. We have so many things to tell you."
It was after eleven o'clock when the girls retired. They had decided not to stay up until Mr. Southard's return. Once in their rooms they found themselves too sleepy for conversation and five minutes after their lights were out they were fast asleep.
They were up in good season the next morning, as it had been agreed that they should be present at the morning service in the church the Southards attended. Thanksgiving dinner was to be served at exactly half past twelve o'clock, instead of at night, for Mr. Southard had a matinee as well as an evening performance to give and never left the theatre for dinner during this short intermission.
In church that morning as she sat listening to the beautiful service, Grace felt that she had everything for which to be thankful. In her heart she said an earnest little prayer for all those unfortunates to whom life had grudged even bread. She resolved to be more kind and helpful during the coming year, and prayed that she might see the right clearly and have the courage always to choose it.
"I felt as though I wanted to be superlatively good all the rest of my life," confessed Miriam on the way home. "That minister preached as though he loved the whole world and wished it to be happy."
"He does. He is a very fine man," said Miss Southard, "and does splendid work among the very poor people. It will perhaps surprise you to know that he was at one time an actor of great promise in Mr. Southard's company. Then he received the conviction that his duty lay in entering the ministry and he left the stage, entered a theological institute and after receiving his degree came back to New York as the pastor of a small church on the East Side. Everett and I were among his most faithful parishioners. Then later on he received an appointment to the church we just left, and has been there ever since."
"That will be an interesting story to tell the girls when we go back to college," said Grace thoughtfully. "He is a wonderful man, he made me feel as though it paid to do one's best."
"That is the reason he has been so successful in his work, I suppose," remarked Anne. "He makes other people feel that it pays to be good, too."
From the subject of the actor-minister the conversation drifted to Overton. Miss Southard listened interestedly to Grace's vivid description of the college, the various halls and even the faculty.
"Then you are satisfied with your choice? You never wish that you had entered Vassar or Smith or any other college?"
"Yes, I am satisfied," declared Grace, while Miriam and Anne echoed her reply, but Grace might have truthfully added that there were times when even the glorious privilege of being an Overton freshman had its drawbacks.
THANKSGIVING WITH THE SOUTHARDS
Thanksgiving dinner was served at exactly half-past twelve o'clock, and eaten with much merriment and good cheer. At half-past one Mr. Southard was obliged to leave his sister and guests, and at two o'clock they were getting into their wraps, preparatory to accompanying Miss Southard to another theatre to see one of the most successful plays of the season. That night they saw the actor in "Hamlet," and his remarkable portrayal of the ill-fated Prince of Denmark was something long to be remembered by the three girls as well as by the rest of the enthusiastic assemblage that witnessed it.
"I shall never forget the awful look in his poor eyes," said Grace solemnly. Then she joined in the insistent applause that Everett Southard's art had evoked. Presently the actor appeared and bowed his appreciation of the tribute. Then he made his exit nor could he be induced to appear again.
Anne sat as though turned to stone. She could not find words to express the emotions that had thrilled her during Mr. Southard's marvelous portrayal of the role. His own personality was completely submerged in that of the melancholy ghost-ridden youth, who, dedicating his life to the purpose of avenging his father's murder, welcomed death with open arms when his purpose had been accomplished. She had seen a great play and a great actor. The first time she saw "Hamlet" she left the theatre heartsick and discouraged. To-night she was leaving it alert and triumphant.
"Anne has been touched by the finger of Genius," smiled Miss Southard, as she marshaled her charges to their automobile.
"How did you know?" asked Anne, but in spite of her smiling lips her brown eyes were full of tears.
"My dear, living with Everett has taught me the signs," said his sister simply.
"I should like to play Ophelia to Mr. Southard's Hamlet," said Anne dreamily.
"Perhaps you will have the chance to do so some day. Everett thinks you would be a more convincing Ophelia than the young woman you saw in the part to-night," encouraged Miss Southard.
Anne looked so delighted at those words that Miriam and Grace exchanged swift glances. It was evident that the genuine love of her profession lay deep within the soul of their friend.
"We will go for a short drive, then come back for Everett," planned Miss Southard. "He has promised to hurry to-night—then we will have a nice little supper at home." Their hostess and her brother had agreed that there should be no after-the-theatre suppers at any of the so-called fashionable restaurants for their young guests. "I am sure their mothers would not approve of it," Miss Southard had said, "and I feel that I am responsible for them every moment they are here."
The party at home was an informal affair in which there were many cooks, but no broth spoiled. To see Mr. Southard earnestly engaged in making a Welsh rarebit, an accomplishment in which he claimed to be highly proficient, one would never have suspected him of being able to thrill vast audiences by his slightest word or gesture.
"I can't believe that only two hours ago you were 'Hamlet,'" laughed Grace. "You look anything but tragic now."
"He looked every bit as tragic just a moment ago. I saw a distinct Hamlet-like expression creep into his face," stated Miriam boldly.
"You have sharp eyes," smiled Mr. Southard. "I happened to remember that I had forgotten what goes into this rarebit next. I could feel myself growing cold with despair. Then the inspiration came and now it will be ready in two minutes."
The rarebit was voted a success. After decorating the actor with a bit of blue ribbon on which Miriam painstakingly printed "first premium" with a lead pencil, he was escorted to the head of the table and congratulated roundly upon being able not only to act but to cook.
The next morning every one confessed to being a trifle sleepy, but appeared at breakfast at the usual time. After breakfast Mr. Southard carried Anne off to met Mr. Forest, while Miss Southard, Miriam and Grace decided to go for a drive through Central Park. It was a clear, cold, sparkling day with just enough snow to make it seem like real Thanksgiving weather.
"Too bad Anne can't be with us," said Grace regretfully.
"Everett will take her for a drive before bringing her home," replied Miss Southard.
Shortly after their return to the house Mr. Southard and Anne returned from their drive. Anne's eyes were sparkling and her cheeks rosy as she ran up the steps.
"Anne must have heard good news!" exclaimed Grace, running from her post at one of the drawing room windows into the hall, Miriam at her heels.
"The deed is done, girls," laughed Anne. "Behold in me the future star of the Forest Stock Company. It doesn't sound much like Rosalind, does it? and it means awfully hard work, but I'll earn enough money next summer to almost finish paying my way through college."
"Hurrah!" cried Grace. "We won't allow you to become lonesome. We will come and visit you during vacation."
"That ought to reconcile me to having to work all summer," smiled Anne. "I shall be selfish and manage to have some of you girls with me all the time."
"How do you like Mr. Forest?" asked Miriam.
"Ever so much," returned Anne. "Like most successful men, he is quiet and unassuming. Mr. Southard and he did almost all the talking. I spoke when I was spoken to and did as I was bid."
"Good little Anne," jeered Miriam. "As a reward of merit we will take you shopping this afternoon."
"How would you like to go to the opera to-night?" asked Mr. Southard. "'Madame Butterfly' is to be sung."
"Better than anything else, now that I've seen 'Hamlet'!" exclaimed Grace, with shining eyes. Miriam and Anne both expressed an eager desire to hear Puccini's exquisite opera, and Miss Southard called two of her friends on the telephone, inviting them to join the box party. The same evening gowns had to do duty for the opera as well as for "Hamlet," but this did not detract one whit from their pleasant anticipations. "The people who saw us at the theatre the other night won't see us at the opera," argued Grace. The three girls were in Grace's room holding a consultation on the subject of what to wear.
"That is if they saw us at all," laughed Miriam. "Elfreda says Oakdale isn't down on the map, you know."
"That reminds me, what excuse did you make to Miss Southard about Elfreda not coming with us, Anne?" asked Grace.
"I merely said she had changed her mind about coming."
"Did you mention that she changed it violently?" slyly put in Miriam.
"I did not," was the smiling assertion. "I don't like to think about it, let alone mention it."
"Do you suppose she'll improve the opportunity and tell Anne's private affairs all over college?" questioned Miriam.
"I don't know," said Grace briefly. "Let us put her out of our minds for now. It won't do any good to worry about what she may or may not do. When we go back to Overton we shall know."
That night the girls listened to the wonderful voice of the prima donna whose name has become synonymous with that of "Chu Chu San," the little Japanese maid. Anne wondered as she drank in the music whether this beautiful young prima donna had ever had any scruples about appearing before the public. Miriam was thinking that David would be bitterly disappointed when he knew that Anne was going back to the stage during vacation. While, though she would not have confessed it for worlds, the throbbing undercurrent of heart break that ran through the music was filling Grace with unmistakable homesickness. She wanted her mother and she wanted her badly. What would she not give to feel her mother's dear arms around her. When the curtain shut out the still form of the Japanese girl and the prima donna received her usual ovation, the tears that stood in Grace's eyes were not alone a tribute to the singer and the tragic death of Chu Chu San.
* * * * *
On Saturday morning the girls went on another shopping expedition, and in the afternoon attended a recital given by a celebrated pianist. After the recital, instead of going home, Miss Southard surprised her guests by taking them over to the theatre where her brother was playing. Mr. Southard had arranged that they should be admitted to his dressing room. It was the same theatre in which Anne had played the previous winter and several of the stage hands recognized her and bowed respectfully to her as she passed through to the actor's dressing room. They found him still in costume. He never changed to street clothing on matinee days.
"You are respectfully and cordially invited to eat dinner in my dressing room," announced Mr. Southard the moment they were fairly inside the door. "I have ordered dinner for six o'clock."
Eating dinner in a dressing room was an innovation as far as Grace and Miriam were concerned, but to Anne it was nothing new. It had been in the usual order of things during her brief engagement in "As You Like It." As it was after five o'clock when they arrived it seemed only a little while until a waiter appeared with table linen and silver, which Mr. Southard ordered arranged on the table that had been brought in for the occasion. Then the dinner was served and eaten with much gayety and laughter. After dinner, a pleasant hour of conversation followed, and later on the visitors were introduced to the various members of the company. Unlike many professionals who have achieved greatness, Mr. Southard was thoroughly democratic, and displayed none of the snobbish tactics with his company which so often humiliate and embitter the lesser lights of a theatrical company.
At eight o'clock they said good-bye to the actor. Through the courtesy of Mr. Forest they were to witness a play in which a wonderful little girl of fifteen who had taken New York by storm was to appear. After the play they were to pick up Mr. Southard at his theatre and go home together. That night another jolly little supper was held in the Southards' dining room, then three sleepy young women fairly tumbled into their beds, completely tired out by their eventful day.
As the return to Overton was to be made on the noon train, the Southard household rose in good season on Sunday morning. Breakfast was rather a quiet meal, for the shadow of saying good-bye hung over the little house party.
"When shall we see you again, I wonder?" sighed Miss Southard regretfully. "You are going home for Christmas, I suppose."
"Oh, yes," replied Grace quickly. "I wish you might spend it with us, but I suppose it would be out of the question. You must come to Oakdale next summer. We can't entertain you with plays and recitals, but we can get up boating and gypsy parties. The boys will be home, then, and we can arrange to have plenty of good times. Will you come?"