"With pleasure if all is well with us at that time," promised Mr. Southard, and his sister.
When the last good-byes had been said and the girls were comfortably settled for the afternoon's ride that lay before them they were forced to admit that they were just a little tired.
"We have had a perfectly wonderful holiday," asserted Grace, "and the Southards are the most hospitable people in the world, but it seems as though I'd never make up my lost sleep. I shall become a rabid advocate of the half-past ten o'clock rule for the next week at least. I wonder how the boys spent Thanksgiving. Of course they went to the football game. I'll warrant Hippy ate too much."
"I wish Jessica and Nora could have been with us," remarked Anne. "Miss Southard wrote them, too, but they couldn't come. Did you see Nora's telegram?"
"Yes," replied Grace. "It said a letter would follow. I suppose she'll explain in that. Well, it's back to college again for us. I wonder if Elfreda has moved."
"We shall know in due season," returned Miriam grimly. "I have visions of the appearance of my hapless room, if she has vacated it. I expect to see my best beloved belongings scattered to the four corners or else piled in a heap in the middle of the floor."
"Perhaps she has thought it over and come to the conclusion that there are worse roommates than you," suggested Anne hopefully.
The early winter darkness was falling when the three girls hurried up the stairs at Wayne Hall as fast as the weight of their suit cases would permit. Miriam's door was closed. She knocked on it, at first softly, then with more force. Hearing no sound from within she turned the knob, flung open the door and stepped inside. Striking a match, she lighted the gas and looked about her. The room was in perfect order, but no vestige of Elfreda's belongings met her eye. The stout girl had kept her word.
The month of December seemed interminably long to Grace Harlowe. Since her visit to the Southards the longing to be at home remained with her. She hung a little calendar at the head of her bed and every night marked off one day with an air of triumph. During the three weeks that followed their trip to New York, Overton had not been the most congenial spot in the world for Grace or Anne. 19—— was a very large class, and considered itself extremely democratic; nevertheless, the story of Anne's theatrical career was bandied about among the freshmen and passed on to the sophomores, until the truth of it was lost in the haze of fiction that surrounded it.
A certain percentage of the class who knew Everett Southard's standing in the theatrical world and understood that Anne must have the highest ability to be able to play in his company treated the young girl with the deference due an artist. Then there were a number of young women who, though fond of attending the theatre, looked askance at the clever men and women whose business it was to amuse them. They approved of the theatre, but for them the foot-lights divided the two worlds, and they wished no trespassing of the stage folks on their territory. Quite their opposite were the girls who were desperately stage struck and cherished secret designs on the stage. They were extremely friendly for the sake of plying Anne with questions about her art. At first Anne's position among her classmates was rather difficult to define. After the ball which Elfreda had set in motion had rolled itself to a standstill for want of more gossip to keep it going, Grace saw with secret trepidation that despite the loyalty of a few, Anne had lost caste at Overton.
"History is repeating itself," she remarked gloomily to Miriam, as together the two left the library one afternoon and set out for a short walk before dinner. "Anne told me last night that the girls in her elocution class are very distant since she came back from New York. It's Elfreda's fault, too. How could she deliberately try to make it hard for a girl like Anne?"
A slow flush mounted to Miriam's forehead. She gave Grace a peculiar look.
Grace, interpreting the look, exclaimed contritely: "Forgive me, Miriam. I wasn't thinking of you when I spoke."
"I know it," replied Miriam. "It seems as though I can never do enough for Anne to make up for behaving so contemptibly toward her in high school."
"Anne had forgotten all that, ages ago," comforted Grace. "Don't think about it again."
"I'd like to find an opportunity for a serious talk with Elfreda," returned Miriam. "I think I could bring her to her senses. She keeps strictly away from me. She knows that I wish to talk with her, too. I wonder how she likes rooming with Virginia, or rather how Virginia likes rooming with her."
"She is furious with both Anne and me," declared Grace. "She won't look at either of us. It seems a pity, too. She can be awfully nice when she chooses, and I had begun to feel as though she belonged with us. Here we are on the threshold of 'Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men,' and are at odds with at least five different girls. Miss Alden doesn't like us because Mabel Ashe does. Miss Gaines disapproves of us on general principles. Miss Wicks and Miss Hampton dislike me for defending Elfreda's rights. Elfreda thinks us disloyal and deceitful. And it isn't mid-year yet. We are not what you might call social successes, are we?" she concluded most bitterly.
"Still we have made some staunch friends like Ruth and Mabel and Frances. Then there are the girls at Morton House, and Constance Fuller, and I think the freshmen at Wayne Hall are friendly."
"Perhaps they are," sighed Grace. "I hope I'm not growing pessimistic, but I can't help feeling that the girls in our own class are not as friendly as the upper class girls have been. I supposed it would be just the opposite."
Miriam was on the point of saying that she wished she had been wise enough to refuse to room with Elfreda. Then she bit her lip and remained silent.
"I'm glad I've kept up in all my work," Grace said after they had walked some distance in silence. "Mother will be glad and so will Father. I've done my level best not to disappoint them, at least." She sighed, then said abruptly, "Have you bought all your presents yet?"
"I bought some of them in New York. I shopped as long as my money held out. Almost all the things were for the girls here. I'll have to buy my home presents in Oakdale."
"That is just about my case," remarked Grace. "I sent Eleanor's almost two weeks ago, and Mabel Allison's last week. And I gave Miss Southard hers and her brother's with strict injunctions not to open them until Christmas."
"So did I," laughed Miriam. "I forgot to mention it to you at the time. I hope I haven't left out any one. I shall have to ask Mother for more money, too."
The few intervening days before Christmas seemed all too short to the students who were going home for their Christmas vacations. Interest in study declined rapidly. Those girls who usually made brilliant recitations distinguished themselves by just scraping through, while those who were inclined to totter on the ragged edge unhesitatingly confessed themselves to be unprepared. One had, of course, to decide just what to pack, whether to take the morning or evening train and whether it would be worth while to take one's books home on the chance of studying a little during vacation. These were weighty problems to solve satisfactorily, and coupled with the constant, "Have I forgotten any one's present?" were sufficient to drive all idea of study to the winds.
In spite of the mischief Elfreda had endeavored to make, Grace found that she had calls enough to pay to fill in every unoccupied moment before going home.
Late in the afternoon of the day before leaving Overton, she started out alone to pay two calls, going first to Morton House to say good-bye to Gertrude Wells and Arline Thayer. Gertrude was in and welcomed her with enthusiasm, but, to her disappointment, Arline was out. She spent a pleasant half hour with 19——'s president, then, looking out at the rapidly gathering twilight, said with a start: "I didn't know it was so late. I must go down to Ruth Denton's before dinner."
"Perhaps you'll meet Arline there," suggested Gertrude. "She was going there, too. She and Ruth are great friends. She was greatly disappointed to learn that Ruth has been invited somewhere else for Christmas. She had set her heart on taking her home with her. Considering the fact that Arline's father has so much money, she is an awfully nice little girl. She isn't in the least snobbish or overbearing."
"I like her immensely," agreed Grace. "Do you know whether Ruth accepted the invitation, Gertrude?" she asked suddenly.
"Arline said she thought Ruth wanted to go with her, but was too loyal to the other girl to even intimate any such thing," replied Gertrude.
Five minutes later the two students had exchanged good-byes and Grace was on her way to Ruth's with Gertrude's words ringing in her ears. Several weeks ago she had invited Ruth to go with her to Oakdale for the holidays. At first Ruth had demurred, then accepted with shy gratitude. The three Oakdale girls had become greatly attached to Ruth, and Anne, in particular, had looked forward to taking her home with them. Grace had purposely forestalled Anne in inviting Ruth, because she had decided in her mind that her facilities for entertaining were greater than Anne's. She had managed so adroitly, however, that Anne had never even dreamed of her real motive in inviting the lonely little girl. Now, there was Arline Thayer's invitation to be considered. Grace suspected that Ruth secretly worshipped dainty little Arline. She would have died rather than admit to the girls who had been so good to her that she could find it in her heart to care more for another Overton girl than for them. "I'm sorry, of course," Grace murmured to herself as she hurried along through the shadows, "but I'm going to make her accept Arline's invitation. She can go home with us at some other time."
She rang the bell at the dingy old house where Ruth lived, was admitted by the tired-faced landlady and ran upstairs two at a time. Ruth's door stood partly open. Grace heard Arline Thayer say regretfully, "You are sure you can't go, Ruth?"
Then she heard Ruth say, very quietly: "I am quite sure I can't. I promised Grace first."
Without waiting to hear more, Grace walked briskly into the room, saying decisively, "Of course she can go, Arline."
"Why, Grace Harlowe, where did you come from?" exclaimed Arline, her blue eyes opening wide with surprise.
"From downstairs," laughed Grace. "Just in time, too, to make Ruth change her mind. Now, Ruth, tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Wouldn't you rather go to New York City with Arline than to Oakdale with us?"
Ruth flushed. "That isn't a fair question," she protested. "It isn't because I care more about going to New York than Oakdale. It is——" she hesitated.
"Because you care more for Arline than for us," finished Grace calmly. "I understand the situation, I think. Your friendship for Arline is growing to be the same as mine for Anne. Naturally, you'd rather be with her than with any one else. Now, Arline, I'll leave her in your hands. We wouldn't have her go to Oakdale with us if she begged on her knees to do so," concluded Grace.
"Grace Harlowe, you're a dear!" exclaimed Arline, catching Grace's hand in both of her warm little palms. "I just love you. Next to Ruth, I think you are the nicest girl at Overton. Thank you a thousand times for being so nice over Ruth. Now, you simply must go," she announced, turning to Ruth.
"I will," answered Ruth happily. "You don't blame me for saying so?" she asked, looking pleadingly at Grace.
"Not after having just given my official consent," retorted Grace. "Your penalty for deserting us is that you must come to see us at Wayne Hall to-morrow. We have rich gifts for you. Now I must go. Are you going my way home?"
"No," answered Arline. "I'm sorry, but Ruth and I are going to cook our own supper. I've been asked to help. We are going to have a regular feast. Won't you stay and help eat it? Ruth doesn't care who I invite," she added saucily.
"Please stay, Grace," begged Ruth.
Grace shook her head. "Not to-night. Invite me some evening after the holidays. Good-bye, Arline." She extended her hand, but Arline put both arms around Grace's neck, kissing her warmly. "I hope I can do something for you some day," she whispered. After the usual good wishes for a Merry Christmas had been exchanged, Grace emerged from the house, filled with that sense of warmth and elation that comes from having made others happy. She smiled to herself as her mother's face rose before her. It was only a matter of hours now until she would see her. She could almost hear her father's voice and feel his hand on her shoulder in the old caressing way. Smiling to herself Grace walked rapidly on toward Wayne Hall, so rapidly, in fact, that she ran squarely against a tall girl, who, coming from the opposite direction, had apparently been traveling at the same rate of speed. The collision occurred directly under the arc light. The tall girl gave a smothered exclamation and would have rushed on, but Grace put forth a detaining hand, saying: "Stop a moment, Elfreda. I wish to say something to you."
"I don't wish to hear anything you have to say," sneered Elfreda. "Take your hand off my arm. You can't fool me twice. I know What a hypocrite you are."
Grace's hand dropped to her side. "I beg pardon," she said formally. "I am sorry you have such a bad opinion of me. I was about to say that Anne, Miriam and I join in wishing you a Merry Christmas."
"You can keep your good wishes," snapped Elfreda. "I don't want them." With that she turned on her heel and walked angrily away from Grace and reconciliation.
After the holidays a great interchanging of visits began at Overton that drove away, for the time being, the terrifying shadows of the all too rapidly approaching mid-year examinations. Almost every girl had brought back with her some treasure that she insisted her friends must see, or some delicious goody they must taste. It was all very delightful, but extremely demoralizing as far as study was concerned.
Santa Claus had been particularly kind to Anne, Grace and Miriam, as Miriam's muff and scarf of Russian sable, Grace's camera, and Anne's diamond ring (a present from the Southards) testified. Then there were the less expensive but equally valued remembrances in the way of embroidered sofa pillows, center pieces, and collar and cuff sets, every stitch of which had been taken by the patient fingers of their girl friends.
Miriam and Grace, while at home, had been given permission to raid the preserve closet and had brought back an assortment of jellies, preserved fruits and pickles, tucking them in every available space their trunks and suit cases contained, regardless of the risk of breaking glass.
The evening after their arrival they had picked out a number of the choicest goodies in their stock and accompanied by Anne had called on Ruth Denton. They found her wrapped in the folds of a blue eiderdown bathrobe, Arline's Christmas present to her. There were slippers to go with it, she declared, proudly thrusting forth a felt-incased foot for their inspection. A most mysterious thing had happened, however. The night before she had gone on her vacation two large boxes had been delivered to her by a messenger. One of them contained a beautiful navy blue cloth suit, the other a dark blue velvet hat. On a plain card were written the words, "'Take the goods the gods provide.' I Wish you a Merry Christmas."
"Have you the card?" Grace asked, after the first exclamations regarding the mysterious boxes had subsided.
Ruth opened the top drawer of her bureau and took out a card. Then going to her wardrobe she displayed the blue suit on its hanger, then took the new hat from the shelf. "Here they are," she said.
The three girls praised the suit and hat so warmly that a flush of pure pleasure in her clothes rose to Ruth's face. Grace, however, examined the inside of the coat and the lining of the hat with the utmost care. Every telltale mark had been removed. Even the boxes themselves were plain. The giver had evidently wished his or her identity to remain a mystery. The writing on the card was not particularly distinctive. There was only one thing of which Grace made mental note. The s's were unfinished and the a's were not closed at the top. This in itself amounted to little, and Grace decided that as far as she was concerned the mystery would have to remain unsolved. So she said nothing about this unimportant discovery, and handed Ruth's treasures back to her without comment.
"I thought Arline might have sent it," declared Ruth, "but she swears solemnly she knows nothing of it, and has given me her word that she had nothing whatever to do with it."
"You'll find out some day if you have patience," declared Miriam. "Sooner or later good deeds like that are sure to come to light."
"I wish I knew," sighed Ruth, "but if I had known, then I couldn't have accepted them, you see."
"Evidently the person who sent them was aware of that," reflected Anne. "Therefore, it is some one who knows all about Ruth Denton's pride."
The flush on Ruth's face deepened. "I can't help it," she said. "I don't like to feel dependent on any one."
On the way to Wayne Hall, the mysterious presents formed the main subject for discussion.
"We ought to have Elfreda's opinion," laughed Miriam. "She would find a clue. Don't you remember what she said about Ruth's pride the first time we took her to call on Ruth?"
"Yes," replied Grace absently. Then the full force of Miriam's words dawning on her she looked at her friend in a startled way. "I know who sent Ruth those presents. It was Elfreda herself. I'm sure of it. She knew Ruth to be too proud to accept clothes, so she sent them anonymously. Now I know why those 'a's' and 's's' looked so familiar. That's Elfreda's writing. I know she did it. She just had to be nice in spite of herself," concluded Grace.
"But why do you think it was Elfreda?" persisted Miriam.
"It was what you said that put me on the right track," replied Grace. "I believe she made up her mind that day to send Ruth the suit and hat."
"If she did send them, there is still hope that she will come back to us," said Anne.
It was agreed among the three girls that not even Ruth should be told of their suspicions, and that if any possible opportunity arose to conciliate Elfreda it should be promptly seized.
During the short space of time that elapsed before the dreaded examination week swooped down upon them, the three friends were too busy preparing for the coming ordeal to give much thought to the discovery they had made. Elfreda avoided them so persistently that there seemed small chance of getting within speaking distance. It was a week of painful suspense, broken only by brief outbursts of jubilation when some particularly formidable examination, that everyone had worried over, seemingly to the point of gray hairs, turned out better than had been expected.
In the campus houses wholesale permission to burn midnight oil had been granted. Lights shone until late hours and flushed faces bent earnestly over text books as though trying to absorb their contents verbatim. On Friday, the strain, that had been lessening imperceptibly with each succeeding examination, snapped, and Overton began to think about many things that had no bearing on examinations.
"I'm almost dead!" exclaimed Grace, coming into her room on Friday afternoon and dropping into the Morris chair near the window.
"I'm tired, too," returned Anne, who had come in just ahead of her, and was engaged in putting her freshly laundered clothing in the two drawers of the chiffonier that belonged to her.
"Thank goodness, we have four whole days of rest between terms at any rate," sighed Grace. "I'm going to skate and be out of doors as much as I can. I must make a few calls, too. I'm going to give a dinner at Vinton's, too. I'll invite Mabel, Frances, Gertrude Wells, Arline Thayer, Ruth, of course. That makes five," counted Grace on her fingers. "Oh, yes, Constance Fuller, six, you two girls, and myself. That makes nine. I told Mother about it when I was at home and she gave me the money for it. I'll have it Tuesday night. The new term begins Wednesday. To-morrow I'll go calling and deliver my invitations in the morning. There's a trial basketball game to-morrow afternoon."
"When will there be a real game?" asked Anne. "I haven't heard you mention basketball for ages."
"Christmas and examinations put a damper on it, but now all the girls are anxious to play and we have challenged the sophomores to play against us the second Saturday afternoon in February. I am going to play right guard, and Miriam is to play left forward. A Miss Martin is our center, and two freshmen I don't know very well are to play the left guard and right forward. We have a good team. Miss Martin is a wonder. You can see us practice if you wish, Anne."
"Perhaps I will," returned Anne. "Who is on the sophomore team?"
"I don't know," answered Grace. "I don't have much to say to the sophomores. Most of them appear to dislike me, consequently I shall greatly enjoy vanquishing them at basketball."
At the dinner table that night a discussion concerning Saturday's practice game arose, to which Grace and Miriam listened quietly without taking part.
"I suppose I ought to go to this practice game, to see what the freshmen team can do. I think we can make them look sick and sorry before we are through with them," drawled Virginia Gaines.
Grace and Miriam exchanged lightning glances. This was the first intimation they had received that Virginia intended to play on the sophomore team. Miriam frowned. She was thinking of the time when she had been Grace's enemy on the basketball field and off. The recollection was not pleasant. It was very unfortunate that they had to oppose Virginia. Miriam determined to look out for herself and Grace, too, on the day of the game. Involuntarily her face hardened with resolve. She set her lips firmly, then glancing in the direction of Virginia she saw Elfreda, who sat next to the sophomore at the table, eyeing her intently. There was a disagreeable smile on the stout girl's face as she leaned toward Virginia and made a low-toned remark. Miss Gaines looked toward Miriam, smiled maliciously, and shrugged her shoulders.
"That's a danger signal," decided Miriam. "She does mean mischief. I'll speak to Grace about it as soon as we go upstairs." But before they left the dining room the door bell rang. The maid admitted Gertrude Wells and Arline Thayer, and in the pleasure of seeing them, Miriam's resolve to warn Grace was quite forgotten.
The practice game ended in an overwhelming advantage for Grace's team. The other team behaved good-naturedly over their defeat and challenged the winners to play again the following Saturday. They promptly accepted the challenge, and, when the second practice game was played, again came off victorious.
Grace's old basketball ardor had returned threefold and every available moment found her in the gymnasium hard at work. The other members of the teams had imbibed considerable of her enthusiasm. Miss Martin, the center, laughingly said Grace was a human whirlwind and simply made the rest of the team play to keep up with her. Miriam's playing also evoked considerable praise. The first Saturday in February marked the last game with the Number Two team. It turned out to be quite an event and the gallery of the gymnasium was crowded with a mixed representation of classes. Virginia Gaines and Elfreda sat in the first row, and as the play proceeded Virginia watched the skilful tactics of Miriam and Grace with anything but enthusiasm. Elfreda, narrowly watching her companion, read apprehension in Virginia's face, although she made light of the playing of the freshmen team and predicted an easy victory for the sophomores. Scarcely knowing why she did so, Elfreda had doggedly insisted that if the sophomores hoped to beat that freshman team, they would have to play exceptionally well. Whereupon an argument arose regarding the respective merits of the two teams that lasted all the way to Wayne Hall, and ended in the two girls not speaking to each other again that night.
"Did you see Elfreda in the gallery this afternoon?" asked Anne, as she and Grace left the gymnasium and set out for Wayne Hall. Anne had waited in the dressing room until Grace finished dressing.
"I did not see any one," laughed Grace. "I was far too busy. I am surprised to learn that she came to the game."
"She was there, in the third row balcony," replied Anne. "She sat with Virginia Gaines, who looked ferocious enough to bite."
"I wish something would happen to make Elfreda see that we are her friends," sighed Grace.
"She will see, some day," predicted Anne. "Sooner or later she will realize her mistake and come back to us."
A GAME WORTH SEEING
The second Saturday in February dawned anything but encouragingly. The night before a blizzard had set in, and at one o'clock Saturday afternoon the temperature had dropped almost to zero. The wind howled and shrieked dismally, and to venture out meant to nurse frozen ears as a result of facing the blast. But neither wind nor weather frightened the enthusiastic basketball fans. With knitted and fur caps pulled down over their ears they gallantly braved the storm. Even the majority of the faculty were in the front seats that had been reserved for them and by two o'clock every available inch of space in the gallery was filled.
The sophomore colors of blue and gold mingled with the red and white of the freshmen colors in the decorations that were displayed lavishly about the gymnasium. The faculty, too, wore the colors of their respective favorites, while the president of the college held two immense bouquets, one of red, the other of yellow roses, showing that he at least was impartial. On each side of the gallery a group of girls stood ready to lead their respective classes in the basketball choruses that are sung solely With the object of urging the teams on to deeds of glory. These choruses had been written hurriedly by loyal fans who had more enthusiasm than ability as verse writers, and fitted to popular airs. The fact that they possessed neither rhythm nor style troubled no one. The main idea was to make a great deal of noise in singing them, and nothing else counted.
The freshmen and sophomore substitutes were the first to emerge from their dressing rooms on either side of the gymnasium, dressed in their respective gymnasium suits of black and blue, the sleeves and sailor collars of which were ornamented with their colors. They were greeted with a gratifying burst of song from both sides which lasted until they took their places, eager and alert, ready to make good if the opportunity presented itself. After a brief interval the dressing room doors opened again and the real teams appeared. This time the burst of song became so jubilantly noisy that the president of the college half rose in his seat as though to signal for order, then, apparently changing his mind, settled himself in his chair, smiling broadly. Immediately the song ended the referee's whistle blew and the great game began.
From the moment the ball was put in play it was plain to the spectators that this was to be a game worth seeing. The sophomores, with Virginia Gaines as center, adopted whirlwind tactics from the start and the freshmen did little more than defend themselves during the first half, which came to an end without either side scoring. That the freshmen could hold their own was evident, and when the whistle blew for the second half the freshmen in the gallery applauded their team with renewed vigor.
During the brief intermission Grace and Miriam had clasped hands and vowed to outplay the sophomores in the second half or perish in the attempt. The three other members had thereupon insisted on being included in the vow, and when the five girls trotted to their respective positions at the sound of the referee's whistle, it was with a determination to stoutly contest every inch of the ground. Luck seemed against them, however, for the sophomores scored through the clever playing of Virginia Gaines. The freshmen then set their teeth and resolved to die rather than allow the enemy to score again. Then Miriam secured the ball and dodging and ducking this way and that she passed the ball to another player who made the basket and the score was tied. This put the sophomores not only on the anxious seat, but also on their mettle, and try as they might the freshmen found themselves unable to pile up their score.
The end of the second half crept nearer and the score still remained tied. Grace, who was becoming more and more apprehensive as the minutes passed, stood anxiously watching the ball, which was being played perilously near their opponents' goal. Catching the eyes of Miriam, who stood nearest it, Grace made a desperate little upward motion. Miriam understood and redoubled her efforts to secure the ball, which she finally did by springing straight up into the air and intercepting it on its way to the basket. A shout went up from the freshmen which grew to a roar. Miriam had thrown the ball unerringly to Grace, who caught it, and facing quickly toward the freshman goal, balanced herself on her toes preparatory to tossing her prize into the basket.
"She'll never make it," groaned a freshman. But her remark was lost in the clamor.
With one quick, comprehensive glance, Grace measured the distance, then with a long, swift overhand toss she sent the ball curving through the air. It dropped squarely into the basket, bounded up in the air, then dropped gently into place.
For the next few minutes pandemonium reigned in the gymnasium. The happy freshmen burst into song and drummed on the floor in expression of their glee. The freshmen team had outplayed that of the sophomores. Only once before in the history of the college had such a thing occurred. To Grace Harlowe and Miriam Nesbit was given the principal credit for this latest victory. Grace's goal toss had been a record-breaker. Never had a freshman been known to make such a toss.
Now that the excitement was over, Grace felt suddenly weak in the knees. She started for a seat at the side of the gymnasium, but before she reached it there was a rush from the freshman class. Her classmates lifted her to their shoulders and began parading about the gymnasium floor, singing:
"Nineteen—— is looking sad, Tra la la, Tra la la, I wonder what has made her mad, Tra la la, Tra la la, Her coaching was in vain, The freshman team has won again, Little sophomores, run away, Come again some other day."
Then there followed a song that brought a shout of laughter from hundreds of throats, and one in which the sophomores did not join:
Backward, turn backward, O ball in your flight, Why did you drop in the basket so tight? Sadly the sophomores are rueing the day They asked the freshmen in their yard to play, Sophomore banners are hung at half mast, Sophomore tears they are falling so fast, Sophomore faces are turned toward the wall, Sophomore pride has had a hard fall.
Grace had been seized and carried around and around the gymnasium on the shoulders of her exulting classmates, who sang lustily as they marched, then gently deposited her in the dressing room. Miriam also had received that honor. When the two girls left the dressing room twenty minutes later, they were taken charge of by a delegation of admiring freshmen and informed that there would be a dinner given that night at Vinton's in honor of them.
An air of deep gloom pervaded the sophomore dressing room, however. Virginia Gaines dressed in gloomy silence. One or two of her team ventured to speak to her. She answered so shortly that they did not trouble her further, but went out talking among themselves as soon as they had changed their gymnasium suits for street clothing. Outside Elfreda waited impatiently. "I thought you were never coming," grumbled the stout girl. Then the unpleasant side of her disposition, which she had tried to eliminate during her brief friendship with the Oakdale girls, came to the surface and she said maliciously: "I thought you said they couldn't play, Virginia. Funny, wasn't it, that you had such a poor idea of their playing? It was the best game I ever saw, but all the star playing was on the freshman side."
Virginia's face grew dark. "Stop trying to be sarcastic," she stormed. "I won't stand it. Do you hear me?"
"Yes, I hear you. I'm not deaf," returned Elfreda dryly. "As for standing it, you don't have to. Good-bye." Turning sharply about she set off in the opposite direction, her hands in her pockets, a look of intense disgust on her round face. "That's the end of that," she muttered. "I'll move to-morrow. This time it will have to be out of Wayne Hall, unless——." Then she shook her head almost sadly: "Not there," she added. "She wouldn't have me for a roommate."
GRACE OVERHEARS SOMETHING INTERESTING
After the famous basketball game a marked change was noticeable in the attitude of the freshman class toward the Oakdale girls. Grace and Miriam received numerous invitations to dinners and spreads, in which Anne was frequently included. Then the girls at Wayne Hall gave a play in which Anne enacted the role of heroine, stage manager, prompter, and producer, besides doing all the coaching. After that her star was also in the ascendant and the little slights and coolnesses that had been noticeable after Elfreda's ill-timed gossip had done its work, died a natural death.
The stout girl had lost no time in leaving Virginia. The evening after her quarrel with the sophomore she had moved her belongings into the hall the moment she reached her room, then gone downstairs and demanded another room. As it happened, a freshman whose cousin lived at Morton House had invited her to share her room. She had departed that very afternoon and Mrs. Elwood offered Elfreda the now vacant half of her room. Emma Dean, the tall, near-sighted freshman, occupied the other half. There was a single room in the house of Mrs. Elwood's sister, but Elfreda had refused to consider it. Despite the fact that there were now four young women at Wayne Hall with whom she was not on speaking terms, she could not bring herself to leave the house. In her inmost heart she knew that it was because she did not wish to leave the three girls she had repudiated, but not for worlds would she have acknowledged this to be the case.
Several times she had been on the point of throwing her pride to the winds and apologizing to Grace, Miriam and Anne for her childish behavior. Then she would scoff at her own weakness and go doggedly on. Her new roommate, Emma Dean, was a cheery sort of girl who lived every day as it came and refused to borrow trouble. She never criticized other girls, nor did she gossip, and she was extremely thoughtful of the comfort of her roommate. After several days of dubious speculation the stout girl decided she liked Emma, and Emma decided that Elfreda was rather an agreeable disappointment.
There were two young women, however, who had suddenly appeared to take a great interest in Elfreda. Alberta Wicks and Mary Hampton had met Elfreda in Vinton's late one afternoon, and had made distinctly friendly overtures to her. At any other time she would have passed them by in disdain, but on that particular occasion, feeling gloomy and downcast, she decided to forget her grievance against them. Then, too, she did not know them to be the girls who had sent her the anonymous letter. Grace had never told her the truth of the affair, so she played unsuspectingly into their hands. They had invited her to have ice cream with them, and she had insisted that they be her guests at dinner. After that they had invited her to Stuart Hall to dinner and she had entertained them at Wayne Hall one evening, greatly to the surprise of Grace, who suddenly remembered that, after all, Elfreda was not so much to blame as she did not know the truth. But why should these two girls accept the hospitality of the very girl they had tried to drive away from Overton? It was a puzzle that Grace could not solve. She discussed it with Anne and Miriam but they could throw no light on the mystery.
The coming of the Easter vacation gave the three girls more pleasant matters of which to think. This time Ruth Denton accompanied them to Oakdale as Grace's guest, while Miriam invited Arline Thayer also, as a surprise to Ruth. When Arline serenely joined them at the station the morning of their departure, Ruth could hardly believe the evidence of her own eyes.
The two weeks in Oakdale flew by on wings. With the boys and the other members of the Phi Sigma Tau at home, too, there were more things to do and places to go than could possibly be squeezed into that brief space of time. Arline Thayer, who was a joyous, irrepressible spirit, announced with conviction that Oakdale was even nicer than New York. She and Nora became sworn friends and the joint guardians of Hippy, who declared that he never would have believed there were two such relentless tyrants in the world, if he had not seen them face to face.
Mrs. Gray, who had been in Florida during the Christmas holidays, had returned in time to welcome her adopted children home. She was especially delighted to see Anne and would scarcely allow the quiet little girl out of her sight. She had been greatly disappointed because Anne had refused to accept from her the money for her college education, but secretly exulted in Anne's independence and smiled to herself when she thought of a certain clause in her will that had amply provided for her adopted daughter's future welfare.
Altogether it was a vacation long to be remembered, and the four originals separated with the glad thought that the next time they met it would be months instead of weeks before their little company would again set their faces in opposite directions.
The night after their return to Overton, Grace, after having made a conscientious effort to study, threw down her history in despair. "I know a great deal more about the history of Oakdale than I do about the history of Rome," she sighed.
"I wish I had never heard of trigonometry," returned Anne, shutting her book with a snap. "I can't think of anything except the good time we've had. Home has completely upset my student mind." She rose, laid down her book and walked listlessly toward the window. It had been an unusually warm day for early spring and the night air had that suspicion of dampness in it that betokens rain. "It will rain before morning," she declared. "There isn't a star in sight and the moon has gone behind a cloud."
Grace joined Anne at the window. The two girls stood peering out into the darkness of the spring night. "I feel as though I'd like to go out and walk miles and miles to-night," declared Grace.
"So do I," agreed Anne. Then glancing back at the clock, she remarked, "It's twenty minutes past ten. Too late for us to go now. We can go to-morrow night, can't we?"
Grace nodded. "We'll get our work done early, or, better still, we can go walking early in the evening and study when we come back. I wish you'd remind me that I must call on Mabel Ashe this week. In fact, all three of us ought to go over to Holland House."
The next day, however, Anne remembered regretfully that she had promised to help a troubled freshman through the mazes of an especially trying trigonometry lesson, while Miriam had a theme to write which she had neglected until the last minute, and had to rush through on record time.
"You're a set of irresponsible young things who don't know your own mind from one minute to the next," laughed Grace. "As I can't very well go walking alone, I'll make my call on Mabel."
Directly after dinner she set out for Holland House and Mabel's delighted: "I'm so glad you came, Grace. Where have you been keeping yourself?" sounded very sweet to Grace, who adored Mabel and outside of her own particular chums liked her better than any other girl she knew at home or in college. The two young women were deep in conversation when a rap sounded at the door. Mabel opened it, looked inquiringly at the girl who stood outside and exclaimed contritely: "Oh, Helen, I'm so sorry I forgot all about you. I'll get ready this minute. Come in. Miss Harlowe, this is Miss Burton. Grace, I wonder if you will mind making a call to-night. I promised Helen I'd take her down to Wellington House and introduce her to a junior friend of mine who plays golf. Helen is a golf fiend."
"So am I," laughed Grace. "I brought my golf bag to Overton, but didn't play much in the fall. I'm going to try it, though, as soon as the ground is in shape."
"How nice!" exclaimed Helen Burton, with a friendly smile that lighted up her rather plain face and brought the dimples to her cheeks. "We can have some nice times together. You had better come with us now."
"Thank you, I shall be pleased to go," replied Grace politely. "I have never been in Wellington House. It is an upper class house, isn't it?"
"Yes," replied Mabel. "It is given up entirely to juniors and seniors. It is the oldest house on the campus, and very difficult to get into. Personally, I like Holland House better. I had an opportunity to get into Wellington House last fall, but refused it." Grace noted that Mabel frowned slightly and set her lips as though determined to shut out an unpleasant memory.
To reach Wellington House was merely a matter of crossing one end of the campus. Grace looked about her curiously as they were ushered into the long, old-fashioned hall that extended almost to the back of the house. They entered the parlor at one side of the hall and sat down while Mabel excused herself and ran upstairs after Leona Rowe, the junior she had come to see. She had hardly disappeared before a flaxen head was poked in the door and a surprised voice said: "For goodness sake, Helen Burton, when did you rain down? You are just the one I want to see. What do you think of to-morrow's German? I can't translate it. It's frightfully hard. Come up and help me, dearest."
The ingratiating emphasis she placed on the word "dearest" caused both Grace and Helen to laugh.
"All right, I will for just two minutes. Want to come upstairs, Miss Harlowe?"
Grace smilingly shook her head. "I'll stay here in case Mabel comes back."
"Thank you," returned Helen. "Miss Harlowe, this is Miss Redmond."
The two girls exchanged friendly nods. Then the flaxen-haired girl led the way, followed by Helen Burton, and Grace settled herself in the depths of a big chair to await their return. As she sat idly wondering what the subject of her next theme should be, the sound of voices reached her ears, proceeding from the back parlor that adjoined the room in which Grace sat. Two girls had entered the other room, but the heavy portieres which hung in the dividing arch, hid them from view. The voices, however, Grace recognized with a start as belonging to Beatrice Alden, the disagreeable junior, and Alberta Wicks of the sophomore class.
"I'll be glad when my sophomore year is over," grumbled Alberta Wicks. "Mary and I have asked for a room here. I hope we get it. If we do we will be able, at least, to eat our meals without the eternal accompaniment of Miss Harlowe's and Miss Nesbit's doings. Ever since that basketball game, Stuart Hall has talked of nothing else."
"Are there many freshmen at Stuart Hall?" asked Beatrice Alden.
"Too many to suit me," was the emphatic answer.
"If you are so down on freshmen in general, how in the world do you manage to endure that dreadful Miss Briggs?"
"J. Elfreda is a joke," replied Alberta. "Nevertheless, she is a very useful joke. In the first place, she has plenty of money to spend, and we see to it that she spends a good share of it on us. Then, too, we can borrow money of her. She is a great convenience. The funny part of it is she doesn't know about that letter we wrote. For once that priggish Miss Harlowe did manage to hold her tongue to some purpose."
"Suppose she does find out?"
"She can't prove that we wrote the note," was the quick retort. "When Miss Harlowe tried to pin us to it that day at Stuart Hall I merely said that a number of sophomores felt justified in sending the note. Of course, she drew her own conclusions, but conclusions are far from proof, you know. She would hardly dare circulate any reports concerning it. We aren't going to bother with J. Elfreda much longer at any rate. It's getting too near warm weather to risk being bored to death. Mary expects a check from home soon, and I've written Mother for some extra money, so we won't need hers. Besides, I don't wish to let our acquaintance lap over into my junior year. She's frightfully ill bred, and I'm going to begin to be more careful about my associates next year."
"What a frightful snob you are, Bert," said Beatrice rather disgustedly.
"Well, you are my first cousin, you know," retorted Alberta significantly. "I never considered you particularly democratic."
"I'm not deceitful, at any rate," reminded Beatrice. "If I dislike a girl I take no pains to conceal it, and I am certainly not a grafter."
"Neither am I, Beatrice Alden, and the fact of your being my cousin doesn't give you the right to insult me. I intended to tell you about a stunt we had planned for Friday night, but since you seem to be so conscientious about Miss Briggs, I shan't tell you anything."
Then a silence fell that was broken the next instant by the violent slam of the front door. Grace rose to her feet, took a step forward, paused irresolutely, then pushing apart the heavy curtains walked into the other room. Beatrice Alden stood unconcernedly running through the leaves of a magazine she had picked up from the table.
The senior turned quickly, looking inquiringly, then sternly, at Grace. "How long have you been here?" she said abruptly.
"I heard part of the conversation," replied Grace coldly. "When you began talking I recognized your voices, then I heard my name mentioned, and true to the old adage about listeners I heard no good of myself. When I heard Miss Briggs's name spoken I decided that under the circumstances I was justified in listening further, as I intended at any rate to announce my presence and just what I heard as soon as you two had finished speaking. Miss Wicks's sudden departure prevented me from carrying out my intention as far as she was concerned. I shall, however, notify her at the earliest opportunity." Grace paused, looking squarely at the older girl.
Beatrice Alden's expression of intense displeasure gave way to one of reluctant admiration with dislike struggling in the background. "You are extremely frank in your statements, Miss Harlowe," she said sarcastically.
"There is no reason why I should not be," returned Grace composedly. "Miss Wicks and Miss Hampton, for reasons best known to themselves, chose to make Miss Briggs the victim of an unwomanly practical joke on the very day of her arrival at Overton. I think you are in possession of the story. Miss Briggs's method of retaliation was unwise, I will admit, but Miss Wicks and Miss Hampton had no right to try to drive her from Overton on account of it. In her distress over a certain anonymous letter she received, Miss Briggs came to me, and I, suspecting the source from which the letter came, tried as best I could to straighten out the tangle, without allowing Miss Briggs to know who was at fault.
"Since then, unfortunately, a misunderstanding has arisen between us. I have now no influence whatever with Miss Briggs, and she has played directly into the hands of the only two enemies she has in college. All along I have been certain that Miss Wicks and Miss Hampton meant mischief. What I have heard to-day confirms it. Miss Alden, you are Miss Wicks's cousin. I heard her say so. As a true Overton girl, will you not use your influence with her in persuading her to abandon whatever plan she and Miss Hampton have made to annoy Miss Briggs?"
Beatrice Alden eyed Grace reflectively but said nothing.
Grace looked pleadingly at the irresponsive junior. For a moment tense silence reigned. Then Beatrice Alden shook her head.
"I'm sorry, Miss Harlowe," she said soberly. All trace of hauteur had disappeared. "But you know how angry Alberta was when she left here. She wouldn't listen to me. I doubt if she speaks to me again this year. She has a frightful temper and holds the slightest grudge for ages. She will carry out her plan now, merely to show me how utterly she disregards my disapproval."
"I'm sorry, too," smiled Grace ruefully. "I shall try to see Miss Briggs, but she is utterly unapproachable."
The two girls looked into each other's eyes. Then they both laughed. Beatrice Alden stretched out her hand impulsively. "We're both in an evil case, aren't we?" she laughed.
Grace met the hand half way. "But we are of the same mind, aren't we?" she asked.
"Yes," replied Beatrice simply. She hesitated, looked rather confused, then added: "I used to think I disliked you, Miss Harlowe, but I find my feelings toward you are quite the opposite. I hope we shall some day be friends."
"I hope so, too," agreed Grace earnestly. "We have a mutual friend, you know, in Mabel Ashe, although yours and Mabel's friendship began long before I came to Overton." A shadow crossed Beatrice's face. Grace noted it and interpreted it correctly. "You are very fond of Mabel, are you not, Miss Alden?" she asked.
"Very," was the short answer.
"Anne Pierson is the dearest girl friend I have in the world," declared wily Grace. "Then two Oakdale girls who are studying in an eastern conservatory of music come next, and after that Miriam Nesbit. There are also three other girls, members of a high school sorority to which I belong, and a girl in Denver, who have very strong claims on my affection. I have a number of dearest friends, you see. Some time I should like to tell you more of them."
Beatrice had brightened visibly as Grace talked. She now felt assured that this attractive freshman with her clear grey eyes and straightforward manner would never attempt to monopolize Mabel's entire attention.
At this moment Mabel's voice was heard at the head of the stairs. She descended, followed by Leona Rowe and Helen Burton.
"Why, hello, Bee!" cried Mabel. "I asked for you upstairs, but was told you were out."
"So I was," smiled Beatrice, "but I'm here now. What is your pleasure?"
"Come over to Holland House and have tea and cakes and candy, if there's any left in the box of Huyler's that came last night. Every girl in the house sampled it. You know what that means."
"I'll go for my hat and coat," returned Beatrice brightly. "See you in a minute." She ran lightly up the stairs, smiling to herself. Helen and Leona rushed out in the hall to interview a girl who had just come in. Finding themselves alone for the moment Mabel turned to Grace with a solemnly inquiring air, "How did you do it?" she asked in a low tone.
"I'll tell you some other time," replied Grace. "It was a surprise to me, but the chance just happened to come and I took advantage of it."
The return of the three young women cut off further opportunity for explanation, but as Grace walked back to Holland House, one arm linked in that of Mabel Ashe, while Beatrice Alden, heretofore frigid and unapproachable, walked at the other side of the popular junior, she could not help wishing a certain other tangle might be as easily straightened.
AN UNHEEDED WARNING
The next day found Grace rather at a loss how to proceed in the case of Elfreda. From what she had overheard it was evident that Alberta Wicks and Mary Hampton had decided to make Elfreda the victim of some well-laid plot of their own. What the nature of it was Grace had not the remotest idea. To approach Elfreda was embarrassing to say the least. To warn her against the two mischievous sophomores without being able to state anything more definite than what she had overheard at Wellington House was infinitely more embarrassing.
"What time had I best try to see her?" Grace asked herself. She had come from Overton Hall with Anne and Miriam late that afternoon and the three girls had lingered on the steps of Wayne Hall, reluctant to go indoors. Spring was getting ready to fulfill all sorts of tender promises she had made to her children. The buds on the trees were bursting into tiny new green leaves. The crocuses were in bloom in the yards along College Street, and the grass on the campus was growing greener every hour. The roads, too, were obligingly drying, so that adventurous walkers might visit their favorite haunts in the country surrounding Overton without running the risk of wading in the mud.
There was Guest House, the famous colonial tea shop that had been built and used as an inn during the Revolution. In this quaint historic place ample refreshment was to be found. There one could satisfy one's appetite with dainty little sandwiches, muffins and jam, tea cakes and tea, fresh milk or buttermilk.
There was also Hunter's Rock that overhung the river, and whose smooth, flat surface made an ideal spot for picnickers. It was five miles from Overton, but extremely popular with all four classes, and from early spring until late fall, it was occupied on Saturday by various gay gipsy parties from the college. Then there were canoes for the venturesome, and staid old rowboats for the cautious, to be hired at a nominal sum, while girlish figures dotted the golf course and the tennis courts. Girls strolled about the campus in the early evenings, or gathered in groups on the steps of the campus houses. It was the time of year when spring creeps into one's blood, making one forget everything except the blueness of the sky, the softness of the air and the lure of green things growing.
"I must go into the house," sighed Miriam Nesbit. "I have that appalling trigonometry lesson for to-morrow to prepare from beginning to end. I haven't looked at it yet."
"I peeped at it yesterday," said Anne. "It's the worst one we've had, so far."
"The end is not yet," reminded Grace.
"Well it will be in sight before long. Our freshman year is almost over, didn't you know it, children!" queried Miriam laughingly.
"It has seemed long in some respects and short in others," reflected Grace. "I think—" Grace paused. A tall, rather stout girl came hurriedly up the walk. She stalked up the steps and into the house without looking to the right or left. Even in that fleeting moment Grace noted that she seemed rather excited and that she carried in her hand an open letter. "I wonder if now would be a good time to tackle her," speculated Grace. Then deciding that, after all, there was nothing to be gained without making a venture, Grace walked resolutely to the door. "I'll see you later, girls," was her only remark as she passed inside.
Once outside Elfreda's door, Grace did not feel quite so confident. Summoning all her courage, however, she knocked. An impatient voice called, "Come in," and Grace accepted the rather ungracious invitation to enter. J. Elfreda sat facing the window intent upon the letter Grace had seen in her hand. She turned sharply as the door closed, then catching sight of Grace, sprang to her feet, her face clouded with anger. "How dare you come in here?" she stormed.
"You said 'Come in,' Elfreda," returned Grace quietly.
"Yes, but not to you," raged Elfreda. "Never to you. Leave my room instantly and don't come back again."
"I won't trouble you long," returned Grace. "I came to put you on your guard against two young women who are about to make mischief for you. I am very sorry I did not tell you long ago that Miss Wicks and Miss Hampton were the originators of the anonymous letter which caused you so much unhappiness. I suspected as much at the time, and accused them of writing it. They neither affirmed nor denied their part in the affair, although they admitted that certain members of the sophomore class wrote the letter. I threatened to take up the matter with the sophomore class if the two young women persisted in making you unhappy, and this threat evidently influenced them to drop their crusade against you.
"To a certain extent I feel responsible for what has followed, for if I had told you this before you would hardly have afterward become friendly with them. However, I can do this much. From a conversation I overheard the other day I am convinced that Miss Wicks and Miss Hampton intend to play a practical joke on you on Friday night. I am afraid that it will not be of the tame variety either, and may cause you trouble. These two girls do not like you, Elfreda, and they have not forgiven you nor never will."
"You are awfully anxious to make me think that no one but you and your friends ever liked me, aren't you?" sneered Elfreda. "Well, just let me tell you something. Those girls may have their faults, but they aren't stingy and selfish, at all events. This letter here is an invitation to——, well, I shan't tell you what it is, but it's far from being a practical joke, I can assure you."
Grace looked doubtfully at Elfreda, who stood very erect, her head held high with offended dignity. Perhaps, after all, she had been too hasty. Perhaps the two sophomores really intended playing some harmless trick. Then the words, "We are not going to bother with J. Elfreda much longer," returned with a force that left Grace no longer in uncertainty.
"Elfreda," she said earnestly, "I wish you would listen to me for once. Miss Wicks and Miss Hampton are not your friends. If you accept their invitation for Friday night you will be sorry. Take my advice, and steer clear of them."
"Please mind your own business and get out of my room," commanded Elfreda fiercely.
Casting one steady, reproachful look at the angry girl, Grace left the room in silence. Once outside her own door she clenched her hands and fought back her rising emotion. Tears of humiliation stood in her gray eyes, then winking them back bravely, she drew a long breath and opened her door. Anne, who in the meantime had come upstairs, turned expectantly. "What luck?" she questioned.
"None," returned Grace shortly. "She ordered me out of her room."
At this juncture Miriam Nesbit joined them. "What's the latest on the bulletin board?" she inquired, smiling mischievously.
"Don't laugh, Miriam," rebuked Grace. "Things are serious. Elfreda has some sort of engagement for Friday night with those two girls. She almost told me what it was, then changed her mind and invited me to mind my own business and leave her room. I'm going to try to find out something about Friday night and see that she gets fair play. After that I shall never trouble myself about her," concluded Grace, her voice trembling slightly.
"Don't feel so hurt at Elfreda's rudeness, Grace," soothed Miriam. "She doesn't mean half she says. She'll be sorry some day."
"I wish 'some day' was before Friday," replied Grace mournfully. "I wonder who else is to take part in this affair?"
"Watch Miss Wicks and Miss Hampton," advised Anne quietly.
"That's sound advice," agreed Grace. "I appoint you and Miriam as secret service agents. You must unearth the enemy's plans for Friday night."
"What will you do if we should happen to stumble upon them?" asked Miriam curiously.
"I don't know, yet," said Grace slowly. "It will depend entirely on what they are. Since we can't prevent Elfreda from going to her fate, we may be obliged to go along with her. If I were to ask you girls to drop everything and follow me on Friday night, would you do it?"
Anne and Miriam nodded.
"Then that's settled," was her relieved comment. "I am going to take two other girls into our confidence. I shall tell Mabel Ashe and Frances Marlton. They will come to the rescue if I need them. Besides they are juniors, and if I am not mistaken, upper class support may be very desirable before we are through with this affair."
"And all this anxiety over J. Elfreda," smiled Miriam. "But to tell you the truth, girls, I shall be only too glad to fare forth in the cause of Elfreda. I thought her a terrible cross when she first came, but now I am positively lonesome without her, and I don't care how soon she comes back."
TURNING THE TABLES
For the next two days the three girls bent their efforts toward discovering the plot on foot against Elfreda, but to little purpose. So far, Grace had refrained from imparting her vague knowledge of what impended to Mabel and Frances. Her naturally self-reliant nature would not allow her to depend on others. She preferred to solve her own problems and fight her own battles if necessary. Whatever the two sophomores had planned was a secret indeed. By neither word nor sign did they betray themselves, and by Thursday evening Grace was beginning to show signs of anxiety.
"I haven't been able to find out a thing," she declared dispiritedly to Anne. "I suspect one other girl, but I'm not sure about her. Anne, do you think Virginia Gaines is in this affair, too?"
"Hardly," replied Anne. "She and Elfreda are not friendly, and Elfreda could not be coaxed to go where she is likely to see Miss Gaines."
"But suppose Virginia Gaines kept strictly in the background, yet helped to play the trick," persisted Grace.
"Of course she could easily do that," admitted Anne. "But what makes you think she would?"
"Just this," replied Grace. "I saw her in conversation to-day with Mary Hampton. They were standing outside Science Hall. They didn't see me until I was within a few feet of them. Then they said good-bye in a hurry, and rushed off in opposite directions. Now, what would you naturally infer from that?"
"It does look suspicious," agreed Anne.
"That is what causes me to believe Virginia Gaines to be one of the prime movers in this affair," was the quiet answer. "They are all very clever. Too clever, by far, for me."
A knock at the door caused Grace to start slightly. "Come in!" she called, then exclaimed in surprise as the door opened: "Why, Miriam, where did you go? You disappeared the moment dinner was over."
"I had to go to the library," replied Miriam quickly. "Do you know whether the girls on both sides of us are out?"
Grace nodded. "What's the matter, Miriam?" she asked curiously. "What has happened? You look as mysterious as the Three Fates themselves."
"I've made a discovery," announced Miriam, taking a book from under her arm and opening it. "I found something in this book that you ought to see. I was in one of the alcoves to-night looking for a book that I have been trying to lay hands on for a week. It has been out every time. To-night I found it and inside the leaves I found this." She handed Grace a folded paper.
Grace unfolded it wonderingly and began to read aloud:
"We decided that the haunted house plan would be quite likely to subdue a certain obstreperous individual. We have already invited her to a moonlight party at Hunter's Rock, as you know. Once she is there we will see to the rest. Sorry you can't be with us, but that would give the whole plan away. A little meditation in spookland will do our friend good, and this time if she is wise she will keep her troubles to herself. Of course, if any one should see her going home in the wee small hours of the morning it might be unpleasant for her, but then, we can't trouble ourselves over that.
Grace stared first at Anne, then Miriam, in incredulous, shocked surprise.
"What a cruel girl!" she exclaimed. "Poor Elfreda!"
"Of course, the writer meant Elfreda," agreed Miriam. "'Bert,' I suppose, stands for Alberta. In the first place, what haunted house does she mean?"
"I don't know," answered Grace, knitting her brows. "Wait a minute! I'll go down and ask Mrs. Elwood."
Within five minutes she had returned, bristling with information. "I found out the whole story," she declared. "It is an old white house not far from Hunter's Rock. Two brothers once lived there, and one disappeared. It was rumored that he had been killed by his older brother, and that the spirit of the murdered man haunted the place so persistently that the other brother left there and never came back. They say a white figure, carrying a lighted candle, walks moaning through the rooms."
"How dreadful!" shivered Anne. "It is bad enough to think of those girls coaxing Elfreda to go there. I believe they intend to persuade her to go there, then leave her, too."
"We might show Elfreda this note," reflected Miriam. "No; on second thought I should say we'd better make up a crowd and follow the others to Hunter's Rock. Of course, we won't stay there. Those girls are breaking rules by going there at night. We shall be breaking rules, too, but in a good cause."
A long conversation ensued that would have aroused consternation in the breast of a number of sophomores, had they been privileged to hear it. When the last detail had been arranged, Grace leaned back in her chair and smiled. "I think everything will go beautifully," she said, "and several people are going to be surprised. Miriam, will you see Mabel Ashe, Constance Fuller and Frances Marlton in the morning? Anne, will you look out for Arline Thayer and Ruth? That will leave Leona Rowe and Helen Burton for me, and, oh, yes, I'll have a talk with Emma Dean."
To all appearances, Friday dawned as prosaically as had all the other days of that week, but in the breasts of a number of the students of Overton stirred an excitement that deepened as the day wore on. As is frequently the case, the object of it all went calmly on her way, taking a smug satisfaction in the thought that she was the only freshman invited to the select gathering of sophomores who were to brave the censure of the dean, and picnic by moonlight at Hunter's Rock. For almost the first time since her arrival at college Elfreda felt her own popularity. Despite her native shrewdness, she was particularly susceptible to flattery. To be the idol of the college had been one of her most secret and hitherto hopeless desires. Now, in the sophomore class she had found girls who really appreciated her, and who were ready to say pleasant things to her rather than lecture her. She was glad, now, that she had dropped Grace and her friends in time, and resolved next year that she would put the width of the campus between herself and Wayne Hall.
As she slipped on her long blue serge coat that night—the air was chilly, though the day had been warm—a flush of triumph mounted to her cheeks. Then glancing at the clock she hurriedly adjusted her hat. Her appointment was for half-past seven. Alberta said the party was to be in honor of her and she must not keep her friends waiting. She looked sharply about her to see who was in sight. She had been pledged to secrecy. Alberta had said they would return before half-past ten, so there would be no need of asking Mrs. Elwood to leave the door unlocked for her. Then she walked briskly down the steps and up the street.
Fifteen minutes before she left the house, three dark figures had marched out single file down the street. Two blocks from the house they had been met by a delegation of dark figures, and without a word being spoken, the little party had taken a side street that led to Overton Drive, a public highway that wound straight through the town out into the country. The company had proceeded in absolute silence, and finally leaving the road had turned into the fields and plodded steadily on. It was the new of the moon and the landscape was shrouded in heavy shadows. On and still on the silent procession had traveled, and when their eyes, now accustomed to the darkness, had espied the outlines of a tumble-down, one-story house that stood out against the blackness of the night a halt had been made and each dark figure had taken from under her arm a bundle. Then the faint rustle of paper accompanied by an occasional giggle or a smothered exclamation had been heard, and last but most remarkable, the dark figures had given place to a company of sheeted ghosts who had glided over the fields with true ghost-like mien and disappeared in a little grove just off the highway.
In the meantime, Elfreda had been received with acclamation by the treacherous sophomores, who vied with each other as to who should be her escort. There were nine girls, and each of them also bore a bundle, which contained not sheets, but the eatables for the picnic. This procession also set out in silence, which was broken as soon as the town was left behind. Alberta, who walked with her arm linked in Elfreda's, began to relate the story of the haunted house.
"Do you suppose for one minute that that house is really haunted?" said Elfreda sceptically.
"No one knows," was the disquieting reply. "People have seen strange sights there."
"What sights?" demanded Elfreda.
"They say the murdered brother walks through the house and moans," replied Alberta, shuddering slightly.
"That's nonsense," said Elfreda bravely. Nevertheless, the idea was not pleasant to contemplate. "I don't believe in ghosts," she added.
"I dare you to go into the room where the man was murdered," laughed Mary Hampton.
"I'm not afraid," persisted Elfreda.
"Prove it, then," taunted Mary.
"All right, I will," retorted Elfreda defiantly. "Show me the room when we get there and I'll go into it."
"I don't think we ought to go near that old house at night," protested a sophomore. "We'd get into all sorts of trouble as it is, if the faculty knew we were out."
"Now, don't begin preaching," snapped Alberta Wicks. "If you are dissatisfied, go home."
"I wish I'd stayed at home," growled the other sophomore wrathfully.
While this conversation was being carried on, the party was rapidly nearing the haunted house. They halted directly in front of it, and Mary Hampton said, "Now, Miss Briggs, make good your promise."
Elfreda walked boldly up to the house, although she felt her courage oozing rapidly.
"I'll go inside with you, and show you the room. It's that little room off the hall," volunteered Alberta.
The outside door stood wide open. Elfreda peered fearfully down the little hall, then stepped resolutely into the little room at one side of it. A door slammed. There was the sound of a key turning in a lock, a rush of scurrying feet; then silence. Across the field fled the dark figures, nor did they stop until they had crossed the highway and entered the little grove that led to Hunter's Rock.
Suddenly a piercing scream rang out. It was followed by a succession of wild cries, and with one accord the terror-stricken conspirators made for the highway. But at every step a white figure rose in the path filling the air with weird, mournful wails. Fright lent speed to sophomore feet, and without daring to look behind, eight badly scared girls ran steadily along the road to Overton, intent only on putting distance between themselves and the terrifying apparitions that had sprung up before them. If they had stopped to deliberate for even five seconds they would, in all probability, have stood their ground, but the silent, ghostly figures that had bobbed up as by magic, coupled with the tale of the haunted house which Alberta had related, was a little too much for even vaunted sophomore courage.
A death-like stillness followed the ignominious flight of the plotters. Then from behind a tree stepped a white figure and a cautious voice called softly: "Come on, girls. They have gone. We must hurry and let Elfreda out of that awful house." At this command a ripple of subdued laughter rose from all sides and the ghosts began to appear from their nearby hiding places.
"Wasn't it funny?" laughed a tall ghost with the voice of Frances Marlton.
"I know several sophomores who will walk softly for the rest of this year at least," predicted another ghost, ending with the giggle that endeared Mabel Ashe to all her friends.
"These masks are frightfully warm," complained a diminutive spectre. A quick movement of her hand and the mask was removed, showing the rosy face of Arline Thayer.
"Keep your mask on, Arline," warned Gertrude. "Even in this secluded spot some one may be watching you."
The party proceeded with as little noise as possible to the haunted house. Pausing at the front door a brief council was held. Then removing their masks and the sheets that enveloped them, Grace and Miriam resolutely entered the hall and went straight to the locked door, behind which Elfreda was a prisoner. The key had been left in the lock. It turned with a grating sound. Slipping her hand in the pocket of her sweater, Grace produced a tiny electric flashlight which she turned on the room. In one corner, seated on the floor, her back against the wall and her feet straight in front of her, sat Elfreda. She eyed the flashing light defiantly, then saw who was behind it and said grimly: "I might have known it. If I had taken your advice I wouldn't be here now."
"Oh, Elfreda!" exclaimed Grace. "I'm so glad you are not frightened. It was a cruel trick, but, thank goodness, we found out about it in time."
Elfreda rose and walked deliberately up to Grace and Miriam. "I'm sorry for everything," she said huskily. "I've been a ridiculous simpleton, and I don't deserve to have friends. Will you forgive me, girls? I'd like to start all over again."
"Of course we will. That was a direct, manly speech, Elfreda," laughed Miriam, but there were tears in her own eyes which no one saw in the darkness. She realized that in spite of her childish behavior she was fond of the stout girl and was glad that peace had been declared.
"Let us forget all about it, shake hands and go home," proposed Grace, "or we may find ourselves locked out."
The two girls shook hands with Elfreda, and all around again for good luck, then linking an arm in each of hers they conducted the rescued prisoner to where the rest of the party awaited them. During their absence the ghosts had doffed their spectral garments and the instant the three joined them the order to march was given. Once fairly in Overton, conversation was permitted, and on the same corner where they had met, the rescuers parted, after much talk and laughter.
"Come into my room and have tea to-night, Elfreda," invited Miriam, as they entered the house. "I have a pound of your favorite cakes."
"I'd like to come to stay," said Elfreda wistfully. "But I've been too hateful for you ever to want me for a roommate again."
"It's rather late for you to move now," replied Miriam slowly. "But I'd love to have you with me next year."
"Would you, honestly?" asked Elfreda, opening her eyes in astonishment.
"Honestly," repeated Miriam, smiling.
"I'll think about it," returned Elfreda, flushing deeply.
"But there is nothing to think about," protested Miriam. "I wouldn't ask you if I did not care for you."
"That isn't it," said Elfreda in a low tone. "It isn't you. It's I. Don't you understand? You are letting me off too easily. I don't deserve to have you be so nice to me."
"We wish you to forget about what has happened, Elfreda," said Grace earnestly. "Everyone is likely to make mistakes. We are not here to judge, we are here to help one another. That is one of the ways of cultivating true college spirit."
"I'll tell you one thing," returned Elfreda, her eyes shining, "whether I cultivate college spirit or not, I'm going to try to cultivate common sense. Then, at least, I'll know enough to treat my best friends civilly."
VIRGINIA CHANGES HER MIND
What the vanquished sophomores thought of the trick that had been played on them was a matter for speculation. Once back in Overton, the truth of the situation had dawned upon them. Their common sense told them that real ghosts, if there were any, never congregated in companies the size of the one that had risen to haunt them the previous night. Obviously some one had overheard their plan to picnic at Hunter's Rock and treated them to an unwelcome surprise. It did not occur to any one of them until they had returned to their respective houses that they had left J. Elfreda locked in the haunted abode of the two brothers. Then consternation reigned in each sophomore breast.
Directly after chapel the next morning, eight young women were to be seen in an anxious group just outside the chapel. Several freshmen and two or three juniors glanced appraisingly at them, then passed on.
"Did you notice the way that Miss Wells looked at me this morning?" muttered Mary Hampton to her satellites.
"Never mind a little thing like that," snapped Alberta Wicks. "The question is, where is J. Elfreda? If she is still shut up in that house we might as well go home now instead of waiting to be sent there."
"Nonsense, Bert," scoffed one of the sophomores. "You are nervous. We may not be found out."
"Found out! J. Elfreda will be raging. She'll go straight to the dean, the minute she is free. Oh, why didn't we think to run back and let her out in spite of those ridiculous white figures?"
"What made you lock her in there, then, if you were afraid she'd tell?" asked one of the others rather sarcastically.
"Yes, that's what I say!" exclaimed a second. "This affair has been very silly from start to finish. I'm ashamed of myself for having been drawn into it, and in future you may count me out of any more such stunts."
"You girls don't understand," declared Alberta Wicks angrily. "We only meant to even an old score with the Briggs person. We were going to call for her on the way home, and tell her that we had evened our score. She wouldn't have breathed it to a soul. She knew that we'd make life miserable for her next year if she did. She wouldn't tell a little thing like that, but to leave her there all night. That really was dreadful. Mary and I are in for it. That's certain."
"If I'm not mistaken, there goes Miss Briggs now!" exclaimed a girl who had been idly watching the students as they passed out of the chapel.
"Where? Where?" questioned Mary and Alberta together.
The sophomore pointed.
"Yes; it is J. Elfreda," almost wailed Alberta Wicks. "I'm going straight back to Stuart Hall and pack my trunk. Come on, Mary."
"Better wait a little," dryly advised the sophomore who had announced her disapproval of the night's escapade. "You may be sorry if you don't."
"Good-bye, girls," said Alberta abruptly. "If I hear anything, I'll report to you at once. Now that J. Elfreda is among us, we'd better steer clear of one another for a while at least."
She hurried away, followed by Mary Hampton.
"That was my first, and if I get safely out of this, will be my last offense," said another sophomore firmly. "All those who agree with me say 'aye.'" Five "ayes" were spoken simultaneously.
In the meantime, Grace was trying vainly to make up her mind what to do. Should she go directly to the two mischievous sophomores, revealing the identity of the ghosts, or should she leave them in a quandary as to the outcome of their unwomanly trick? One thing had been decided upon definitely by Grace and her friends. They would tell no tales. Grace could not help thinking that a little anxiety would be the just due of the plotters, and with this idea in mind determined to do nothing for a time, at least, toward putting them at their ease.
But there was one person who had not been asked to remain silent concerning the ghost party, and that person was Elfreda. Grace had forgotten to tell her that the night's happenings were to be kept a secret and when late that afternoon she espied Alberta Wicks and Mary Hampton walking in the direction of Stuart Hall she pursued them with the air of an avenger. Before they realized her presence she had begun a furious arraignment of their treachery. "You ought to be sent home for it," she concluded savagely, "and if Grace Harlowe wasn't——"
"Grace Harlowe!" exclaimed Alberta, turning pale. "Do you mean to tell me that it was she who planned that ghost party?"
"I shall tell you nothing," retorted Elfreda. "I'm sorry I said even that much. I want you to understand, though, that if you ever try to play a trick on me again, I'll see that you are punished for it if I have to go down on my knees to the whole faculty to get them to give you what you deserve. Just remember that, and mind your own business, strictly, from now on."
Turning on her heel, the stout girl marched off, leaving the two girls in a state of complete perturbation.
"Had we better go and see Miss Harlowe?" asked Mary Hampton, rather unsteadily.
"The question is, do we care to come back here next year?" returned Alberta grimly.
"I'd like to come back," said Mary in a low voice. "Wouldn't you?"
"I don't know," was the perverse answer. "I don't wish to humble myself to any one. I'm going to take a chance on her keeping quiet about last night. I have an idea she is not a telltale. If worse comes to worst, there are other colleges, you know, Mary."
"I thought, perhaps, if we were to go to Miss Harlowe, we might straighten out matters and be friends," said Mary rather hesitatingly. "Those girls have nice times together, and they are the cleverest crowd in the freshman class. I'm tired of being at sword's points with people."
"Then go over to them, by all means," sneered Alberta. "Don't trouble yourself about your old friends. They don't count."
"You know I didn't mean that, Bert," said Mary reproachfully. "I won't go near them if you feel so bitter about last night."
It was several minutes before Mary succeeded in conciliating her sulky friend. By that time the tiny sprouts of good fellowship that had vainly tried to poke their heads up into the light had been hopelessly blighted by the chilling reception they met with, and Mary had again been won over to Alberta's side.
Saturday evening Arline Thayer entertained the ghost party at Martell's, and Elfreda, to her utter astonishment, was made the guest of honor. During the progress of the dinner, Alberta Wicks, Mary Hampton and two other sophomores dropped in for ice cream. By their furtive glances and earnest conversation it was apparent that they strongly suspected the identity of the avenging specters. Elfreda's presence, too, confirmed their suspicions.
In a spirit of pure mischief Mabel Ashe pulled a leaf from her note book. Borrowing a pencil, she made an interesting little sketch of two frightened young women fleeing before a band of sheeted specters. Underneath she wrote: "It is sometimes difficult to lay ghosts. Walk warily if you wish to remain unhaunted." This she sent to Alberta Wicks by the waitress. It was passed from hand to hand, and resulted in four young women leaving Martell's without finishing their ice cream.
"You spoiled their taste for ice cream, Mabel," laughed Frances Marlton, glancing at the now vacant table. "I imagine they are shaking in their shoes."
"They did not think that the juniors had taken a hand in things," remarked Constance Fuller.
"Hardly," laughed Helen Burton. "Did you see their faces when they read that note?"
"It's really too bad to frighten them so," said Leona Rowe.
"I don't agree with you, Leona," said Mabel Ashe firmly. Her charming face had grown grave. "I think that Miss Wicks and Miss Hampton both ought to be sent home. If you will look back a little you will recollect that these two girls were far from being a credit to their class during their freshman year. I don't like to say unkind things about an Overton girl, but those two young women were distinctly trying freshmen, and as far as I can see haven't imbibed an iota of college spirit. Last night's trick, however, was completely overstepping the bounds. If Miss Briggs had been a timid, nervous girl, matters might have resulted quite differently. Then it would have been our duty to report the mischief makers. I am not sure that we are doing right in withholding what we now know from the faculty, but I am willing to give these girls the benefit of the doubt and remain silent."
"That is my opinion of the matter, too," agreed Grace. "It is only a matter of a few days until we shall all have to say good-bye until fall. During vacation certain girls will have plenty of time to think things over, and then they may see matters in an entirely different light. I shouldn't like to think that almost my last act before going home to my mother was to give some girl a dismissal from Overton to take home to hers."
A brief silence followed Grace's remark. The little speech about her mother had turned the thoughts of the girls homeward. Suddenly Mabel Ashe rose from her chair. "Here's to our mothers, girls. Let's dedicate our best efforts to them, and resolve never to lessen their pride in us with failures."
When Elfreda, Miriam, Anne and Grace ran up the steps of Wayne Hall at a little before ten o'clock they were laughing and talking so happily they failed to notice Virginia Gaines, who had been walking directly ahead of them. She had come from Stuart Hall, where, impatient to learn just what had happened the night before, she had gone to see Mary and Alberta. Finding them out she managed to learn the news from the very girl who had declared herself sorry for her part in the escapade. This particular sophomore, now that the reaction had set in, was loud in her denunciation of the trick and congratulated Virginia on not being one of those intimately concerned in it.
But Virginia, now conscience-stricken, had little to say.
She still lingered in the hall as the quartette entered, but they passed her on their way upstairs without speaking and she finally went to her room wishing, regretfully, that she had been less ready to quarrel with the girls who bade fair to lead their class both in scholarship and popularity. It was fully a week afterward when a thoroughly humbled and repentant Virginia, after making sure that Anne was out, knocked one afternoon at Grace's door.
"How do you do, Miss Gaines," said Grace civilly, but without warmth. "Won't you come in?"
Virginia entered, but refused the chair Grace offered her. "No, thank you, I'll stand," she replied. Then in a halting fashion she said: "Miss Harlowe, I—am—awfully sorry for—for being so hateful all this year." She stopped, biting her lip, which quivered suspiciously.
Grace stared at her caller in amazement. Could it be possible that insolent Virginia Gaines was meekly apologizing to her. Then, thoughtful of the other girl's feelings, she smiled and stretched out her hand: "Don't say anything further about it, Miss Gaines. I hope we shall be friends. One can't have too many, you know, and college is the best place in the world for us to find ourselves. Come in to-night and have tea and cakes with us after lessons. That is the highest proof of hospitality I can offer at present."
"I will," promised Virginia. Then impulsively she caught one of Grace's hands in hers. "You're the dearest girl," she said, "and I'll try to be worthy of your friendship. Please tell the girls I'm sorry. I'll tell them myself to-night." With that she fairly ran from the room, and going to her own shed tears of real contrition. Later, it took all Grace's reasoning powers to put Elfreda in a state of mind that verged even slightly on charitable, but after much coaxing she promised to behave with becoming graciousness toward Virginia.
Over the tea and cakes the clouds gradually dispersed, and when Virginia went to her room that night, after declaring that she had had a perfectly lovely time, Grace took from her writing case the note that Miriam had found, and tore it into small pieces. She needed no evidence against Virginia.
SAYING GOOD-BYE TO THEIR FRESHMAN YEAR
The few intervening days that lay between commencement and home were filled with plenty of pleasant excitement. There were calls to make, farewell spreads and merry-makings to attend, and momentous questions concerning what to leave behind and what to take home to be decided. The majority of the girls at Wayne Hall had asked for their old rooms for the next year. Two sophomores had succeeded in getting into Wellington House. One poor little freshman, having studied too hard, had brought on a nervous affection and was obliged to give up her course at Overton for a year at least. There was also one other sophomore whose mother was coming to the town of Overton to live and keep house for her daughter in a bungalow not far from the college.
It now lacked only two days until the end of the spring term, and what to pack and when to pack it were the burning questions of the hour.
"There will be room for four more freshmen here next year," remarked Grace, as she appeared from her closet, her arms piled high with skirts and gowns. Depositing them on the floor, she dropped wearily into a chair. "I don't believe I can ever make all those things go into that trunk. I have all my clothes that I brought here last fall, and another lot that I brought back at Christmas, and still some others that I acquired at Easter. If I had had a particle of forethought I would have taken home a few things each trip. Don't dare to leave the house until this trunk is packed, Anne, for I shall need you to help me sit on it. If our combined weight isn't enough, we'll invite Elfreda and Miriam in to the sitting. I am perfectly willing to perform the same kind offices for them. Oh, dear, I hate to begin. I'm wild to go home, but I can't help feeling sad to think my freshman joys are over. It seems to me that the two most important years in college are one's freshman and senior years.
"Being a freshman is like beginning a garden. One plants what one considers the best seeds, and when the little green shoots come up, it's terribly hard to make them live at all. It is only by constant care that they are made to thrive and all sorts of storms are likely to rise out of a clear sky and blight them. Some of the seeds one thought would surely grow the fastest are total disappointments, while others that one just planted to fill in, fairly astonish one by their growth, but if at the end of the freshman year the garden looks green and well cared for, it's safe to say it will keep on growing through the sophomore and junior years and bloom at the end of four years. That's the peculiarity about college gardens. One has to begin to plant the very first day of the freshman year to be sure of flowers when the four years are over.
"In the sophomore year the hardest task is keeping the weeds out, and during the junior and senior years the difficulty will be to keep the ground in the highest state of cultivation. It will be easier to neglect one's garden, then, because one will have grown so used to the things one has planted that one will forget to tend them and put off stirring up the soil around them and watering them. I'm going to think a little each day while I'm home this summer about my garden and keep it fresh and green."
Grace laid the gown she had been folding in the trunk and looked earnestly at Anne as she finished her long speech.
"What a nice idea!" exclaimed Anne warmly. "I think I shall have to begin gardening, too."
"Your garden has always been in a flourishing condition from the first," laughed Grace. "The chief trouble with mine seems to be the number of strange weeds that spring up—nettles that I never planted, but that sting just as sharply, nevertheless. It hurts me to go home with the knowledge that there are two girls here who don't like me. I know I ought not to care, for I have nothing to regret as far as my own conduct is concerned, but still I'd like to leave Overton for the summer without one shadow in my path."
"Perhaps, when certain girls come back in the fall they will be on their good behavior."
"Perhaps," repeated Grace sceptically.
The entrance into the room of Elfreda and Miriam, who had been out shopping, brought the little heart talk to an abrupt close.
"We've a new kind of cakes," exulted Miriam. "They are three stories high and each story is a different color. They have icing half an inch thick and an English walnut on top. All for the small sum of five cents, too."
"We bought a dozen," declared Elfreda, "and now I'm going out to buy ice cream. This packing business calls for plenty of refreshment to keep one's energy up to the mark. I've thought of a lovely plan to lighten my labors."
"What is it?" asked Grace. "Your plans are always startlingly original if not very practical."
"This is practical," announced the stout girl. "I'm going to give away my clothes; that is, the most of them. I found a poor woman the other day who does scrubbing for the college who needs them. I found out where she lives and I'm going to bundle them all together and send them to her. I don't wish her to know where they came from. I'll just write a card, and—"
The three broadly smiling faces of her friends caused her to stop short and regard them suspiciously. "What's the matter?" she said in an offended tone.
Grace ran over and slipped her arm about the stout girl's shoulders. "You are the one who sent Ruth her lovely clothes last Christmas. Don't try to deny it. I was sure of it then."
"Oh, see here," expostulated Elfreda, jerking herself away, her face crimson. "I—you—"
"Confess," threatened Miriam, seizing the little brass tea kettle and brandishing it over Elfreda's head.
"I won't," defied Elfreda, laughing a little in spite of her efforts to appear offended.
"One, two," counted Miriam, grasping the kettle firmly.
"All right, I did," confessed Elfreda nonchalantly. "What are you going to do about it?"
"Present you with your Christmas gifts now," smiled Miriam. "You wouldn't look at us last Christmas, so we've been saving our gifts ever since. Wait a minute, girls, until I go for mine."
As she darted from the room, Grace said softly: "We hoped that you would understand about Thanksgiving and that everything would be all right by Christmas, so we planned our little remembrances for you just the same. Then, when—when we didn't see you before going home for the holidays, Anne suggested that we put them away, because we all hoped that you'd be friends with us again some day." Rummaging in the tray of her trunk she produced a long, flat package which she offered to Elfreda. Anne, who, at Grace's first words, had stepped to the chiffonier, took out a beribboned bundle, and stood holding it toward the stout girl. Another moment and Miriam had returned bearing her offering. "I wish you a merry June," declared Miriam with an infectious giggle that was echoed by the others. Then Elfreda opened the package from Miriam, which contained a Japanese silk kimono similar to one of her own that her roommate had greatly admired. Grace's package contained a pair of long white gloves, and Anne had remembered her with a book she had once heard the stout girl express a desire to own.