"Now, Hippy, stick to the truth," commanded Mrs. Gray, shaking her finger at him, but handing him the plate at the same time. Hippy swooped down upon it with a gurgle of delight.
"It's the truth. I swear it," he declared, holding up one fat hand in which he clutched a cake.
"What made you give him the plate, Aunt Rose?" asked Tom reproachfully.
"Bless you, child, there are plenty of cakes. Let Hippy have as many as he can eat."
"Vindicated," chuckled Hippy, between cakes, "and given full possession besides."
"I wouldn't be so greedy," sniffed Nora O'Malley.
"I'm so glad. I dislike greedy little girls," retorted Hippy patronizingly.
"Stop squabbling," interposed Grace. "Here we are on the eve of separation and yet you two are bickering as energetically as when you first caught sight of each other two weeks ago. Did you ever agree on any subject?"
"Let me see," said Hippy. "Did we, Nora?"
"Never," replied Nora emphatically.
"Then, let's begin now," suggested Hippy hopefully. "If you will agree always to agree with me I will agree—"
"Thank you, but I can't imagine myself as ever being so foolish," interrupted Nora loftily.
"She spoke the truth," said Hippy sadly. "We never can agree. It is better that we should part. Will you think of me, when I am gone? That is the burning question. Will you, won't you, can you, can't you remember me?" He beamed sentimentally on Nora, who beamed on him in return, at the same time making almost imperceptible signs to Grace to capture the plate of cakes, of which Hippy was still in possession. In his efforts to be impressive, Hippy had, for the moment, forgotten the cakes. But he was not to be caught napping. The instant Grace made a sly movement toward the plate it was whisked from under her fingers.
"Naughty, naughty, mustn't touch!" he exclaimed, eyeing Grace reprovingly.
"Let him alone, girls, and come over here," broke in David Nesbit. "He only does these things to make himself the center of attraction. He wants all the attention."
"Ha," jeered Hippy exultantly. "David thinks that crushing remark will fill me with such overwhelming shame that I shall drop the cakes and retire to a distant corner. He little knows what manner of man I am. I will defend my rights until not a vestige of doubt remains as to who is who in Oakdale."
"There is not a vestige of doubt in my mind as to what will happen in about ten seconds if certain people don't mend their ways," threatened Reddy, rising from his chair, determination in his eye.
"Take the cakes, Grace," entreated Hippy, hastily shoving the plate into Grace's hand. "Nora, protect me. Don't let him get me. Please, mister, I haven't any cakes. I gave them all to a poor, miserable beggar who—"
"Here, Reddy, you may have them," broke in Grace decisively. "It is bad enough to have an unpleasant duty thrust upon one, but to be called names!"
"I never did, never," protested Hippy. "It was a mere figure of speech. Didn't you ever hear of one?"
"Not that kind, and you can't have the cakes, again," said Jessica firmly. "Give them to me, Grace."
"Jessica always helps Reddy," grumbled Hippy. "Now, if Nora would only stand up for me, we could manage this whole organization with one hand. She is such a splendid fighter—"
"I'll never speak to you again, Hippy Wingate," declared Nora, turning her back on him with a final air of dismissal.
"Gently, gently!" exclaimed Hippy, raising his hand in expostulation. "I was about to say that you, Nora, are a splendid fighter"—he paused significantly—"for the right. What can be more noble than to fight for the right? Now, aren't you sorry you repudiated me? If you will say so immediately I will overlook the other remark. But you must be quick. Time and I won't wait a minute. Remember, I'm going away to-morrow."
"Good-bye," retorted Nora indifferently. "I'll see you again some day."
"'Forsaken, forsaken, forsaken am I,'" wailed Hippy, hopelessly out of tune.
"Now, see what you've done," commented David Nesbit disgustedly.
"I'm truly sorry," apologized Nora. "Hippy, if you will stop singing, I'll forgive you and allow you to sit beside me." She patted the davenport invitingly.
"I thought you would," grinned Hippy, seating himself triumphantly beside her. "I always gain my point by singing that song. It appeals to people. It is so pathetic. They would give worlds to—"
"Have you stop it," supplemented Tom Gray.
"Yes," declared Hippy. "No, I don't mean 'yes' at all. Tom Gray is an unfeeling monster. I refuse to say another word. I have subsided. Now, may I have some more tea?"
Anne filled the stout young man's cup and handed it to him with a smile. "What are you going to be when you grow up, Hippy?" she asked mischievously.
"A brakeman," replied Hippy promptly. "I always did like to ride on trains. That's why I am spending four years in college."
"Don't waste your breath on him, Anne," advised Nora. "He won't tell any one what he intends to do. I've asked him a hundred times. He knows, too. He really isn't as foolish as he looks."
"I'm going to try for a position in the Department of Forestry at Washington after I get through college," announced Tom Gray.
"I'm going into business with my father," declared Reddy.
"I don't know yet what my work will be," said David Nesbit reflectively.
"All you children will be famous one of these days," predicted Mrs. Gray sagely. She had been listening delightedly to the merry voices of the young people. To her, as well as to his young friends, Hippy was a never-failing source of amusement.
"To choose a profession is easier for boys than for girls," declared Grace. "I haven't the slightest idea what I shall do after my college days are over. Most boys enter college with their minds made up as to what their future work is going to be, but very few girls decide until the last minute."
"Girls whose parents can afford to send them to college don't have to decide, as a rule," said Nora wisely, "but almost every young man thinks about it from the first, no matter how much money his father is worth."
"That is true, my dear," nodded Mrs. Gray.
"Yet I am sure my girls as well as my boys will astonish the world some day. In fact, Anne has already proved her mettle. Nora hopes to become a great singer, Jessica a pianiste and Grace and Miriam—"
"Are still floundering helplessly, trying to discover their respective vocations," supplemented Grace.
"Yes, Mrs. Gray," smiled Miriam, "our future careers are shrouded in mystery."
"Time enough yet," said Mrs. Gray cheerily. "Going to college doesn't necessitate adopting a profession, you know. Perhaps when your college days are over you will find your vocation very near home."
"Perhaps," assented Grace doubtfully, "only I'd like to 'do noble deeds, not dream them all day long,'" she quoted laughingly.
"'And so make life, death and the vast forever One grand sweet song,'"
finished Anne softly.
"That is what I shall do when I am a brakeman," declared Hippy confidently.
"You mean you will make life miserable for every one who comes within a mile of you," jeered Reddy Brooks.
"Reddy, how can you thus ruthlessly belittle my tenderest hope, my fondest ambitions? What do you know about my future career as a brakeman? I intend to be touchingly faithful to my duty, kind and considerate to the public. In time the world will hear of me and I shall be honored and revered."
"Which you never would be at home," put in David sarcastically.
"What great man is ever appreciated in his own country?" questioned Hippy gently.
Even Reddy was obliged to smile at this retort.
"Let the future take care of itself," said Tom Gray lazily. "The night is yet young. Let us do stunts. Grace and Miriam must do their Spanish dance for us. Then it will be Nora's and Jessica's turn. Hippy can sing, nothing sentimental, though. David, Reddy, Hippy and I will then enact for you a stirring drama of metropolitan life entitled 'Oakdale's Great Mystery,' with the eminent actor, Theophilus Hippopotamus Wingate as the 'Mystery.' Let the show begin. We will have the Spanish dance first."
"Come on, Miriam," laughed Grace. "We had better be obliging. Then we shall be admitted to the rest of the performance."
The impromptu "show" that followed was a repetition of the "stunts" for which the various members of the little circle were famous and which were always performed for Mrs. Gray's pleasure. "Oakdale's Great Mystery," of which Hippy calmly admitted the authorship, proved to be a ridiculous travesty on a melodrama which the boys had seen the previous winter. Hippy as the much-vaunted Mystery, with a handkerchief mask, a sweeping red portiere cloak, and an ultra-mysterious shuffle was received with shrieks of laughter by the audience. The dramatic manner in which, after a series of humorous complications, the Mystery was run to earth and unmasked by "Deadlock Jones, the King of Detectives," was portrayed by David with "startling realism" and elicited loud applause.
"That is the funniest farce you boys have ever given," laughed Mrs. Gray, as Hippy removed his mask with a loud sigh of relief and wiped his perspiring forehead with it. "You will be a playwright some day, Hippy."
"I'd rather be a brakeman," persisted Hippy with his Cheshire cat grin.
It was half-past ten o'clock when the last good night had been said and the young people were on their way home. As the Nesbit residence was so near Mrs. Gray's home, Miriam was escorted to her door by a merry body guard. At Putnam Square the little company halted for a moment before separating, Nora, Jessica, Hippy and Reddy going in one direction, Grace, Anne, Tom and David in the other.
"Are you coming down to the train to-morrow morning to see us off?" asked David Nesbit, his question including the four girls.
"Of course," replied Grace. "Don't we always see you off on the train whenever you go back to school before we do?"
"Then we'll reserve our sad farewells until the morn," beamed Hippy.
"Sad farewells!" exclaimed Nora scornfully. "I never yet saw you look sad over saying good-bye to us. You always smile at the last minute as though you were going to a picnic."
"'Tis only to hide my sorrow, my child," returned Hippy lugubriously. "Would'st have the whole town look upon my tears and jeer, 'cry baby'?"
"That's a very good excuse," sniffed Nora.
"Not an excuse," corrected Hippy, "but a cloak to hide my real feelings."
"That will do, Hippopotamus," cut in David decisively. "We don't wish to hear the whys and wherefores of your feelings. If we stayed to listen to them we would be here on this very spot when our train leaves to-morrow morning."
"Wait until we come back for Easter, Hippy, then if you begin the first day you're home you'll finish before we go back to college," suggested Grace.
"That's a good idea," declared Hippy joyfully. "I shall remember it, and look forward to the Easter vacation."
"I shan't come home for Easter, then," decided Nora mercilessly.
"Then I shan't look forward to anything," replied Hippy with such earnestness that even scornful Nora forgot to retort sharply.
"We all hope to be together again at Easter," said Grace, looking affectionately from one to the other of the little group. "Remember, every one, your good resolution about letters."
"We'll talk about that in the morning," laughed Reddy, who abhorred letter writing.
"You mean you'll forget about it," said Jessica significantly.
"We all have our faults," mourned Hippy. "Now, as for myself—"
"Take him away, Nora," begged David.
"I will," agreed Nora. "Come on, Hippy. Reddy, you and Jessica help me tear him away from this corner."
"How can you tear me away now? At the precise moment when I had begun to enjoy myself, too?" reproached Hippy.
"This is only the beginning," was Reddy's threatening answer. "We are going to leave you stranded on the next corner. Then you can go on enjoying yourself alone."
"Try it," dared Hippy. "If you do I shall lift up my voice and tell everyone in this block how unfeeling and hard-hearted some persons are. I shall mention names in my most stentorian tones and the public will rush forth from their houses to hear the truth about you. Ah, here is the corner! Now, leave me at your peril."
"His mind is wandering," said Reddy sadly. "He imagines he is still 'Oakdale's Great Mystery.' We had better lead him home. I'll take his left arm, and Nora——"
"Will take my right," interrupted Hippy. "Reddy, you may attend to your own affairs, and keep your distance from my left arm. Jessica, please look after Reddy. His mind is wandering. In fact, it always has wandered. Crazy is as crazy does, you know."
"Yes, we know," flung back David significantly.
"Do you?" asked Hippy in apparent innocence. "I was so afraid you didn't. To lose one's mind is a dreadful affliction, but not to know that one is crazy is even worse. I am so relieved, David, Grace, Tom, and all of you, that at last you know the truth concerning yourselves. It is indeed a sad——"
A moment later the loquacious Hippy was hustled down the street by three determined young people, while the other four turned their steps in the opposite direction.
"It was beautiful to be at home, but it is nice to be here, too. If it wasn't for mid year exams, I could be happy," sighed Grace Harlowe, as she rearranged three new sofa pillows she had brought from home, the gifts of Oakdale friends. Grace and Anne had invited Arline Thayer and Ruth Denton to dinner, and Miriam and Elfreda had dropped in for a brief chat before the dinner bell rang.
"We'll all survive even mid year," predicted Miriam confidently.
"We had a perfectly lovely time in New York, didn't we, Arline?" asked Ruth Denton, looking at the little curly-haired girl with fond eyes.
Arline nodded. "I wish our vacation had been two weeks longer," she remarked wistfully. "I just begin to get acquainted with Father, when it is time to go back to college again. Have you seen many of the girls?"
"Only the Morton House girls and you," answered Arline. "This is the first call I've made outside the house. Are all the Wayne Hall girls here?"
"Miss Taylor hasn't come back yet," said Elfreda. "Do you girls happen to know where she spent her vacation?"
"No," said Grace. "I didn't see her before I left. When first she came to Wayne Hall she seemed to like me. At the sophomore reception I hurt her feelings, unintentionally you may be sure. I am afraid she has never forgiven me, for since then she has avoided me."
"She must have very sensitive feelings," remarked Elfreda bluntly. "What did you do to hurt them?"
"I missed asking her to dance," explained Grace. "I didn't see her until late that evening, and when I apologized and asked to see her card she refused, saying coldly that my forgetting to ask her to dance was of no consequence. Since then she has hardly spoken to me."
"Why didn't you tell me that before?" asked Elfreda quickly. "That accounts for certain things."
"Don't be mysterious, Elfreda," put in Miriam. "Tell us what you mean by 'certain things'?"
"You girls know that on several occasions before Christmas Alberta Wicks and Mary Hampton were invited here to dinner. Who invited them? Miss Taylor. So Alberta Wicks retaliated by taking Miss Taylor home with her for the holidays."
"Really?" asked Miriam, in surprise. "Who told you?"
"They went home on the same train with Emma Dean," returned Elfreda. "She sat two seats behind them. Has any one seen the Anarchist?"
No one answered.
"Why don't we change the subject and talk about something pleasant," complained Arline Thayer.
"Do you remember saying to me the night before we went home that you had thought of a lovely plan?" reminded Grace.
"Yes," returned Arline. "I am glad you reminded me of it while we are all here. Just before I went home for my vacation the idea popped into my head that we ought to organize some kind of society for helping these girls who come to Overton with little or no money and who depend on the work they find to do here to help them through college."
"Like me," put in Ruth slyly.
"Don't interrupt me," retorted Arline, smiling at Ruth. "When I went home I had a talk with Father, and he has promised to give me five hundred dollars with which to start a fund. Now, what I propose to do is to organize a little society of our own with this same object in view. There is one society of that kind here at Overton, but it is always so besieged with requests for help that I don't imagine it more than keeps its head above water. There is room for another, at any rate. I don't see why we can't be the girls to organize it." Arline looked questioningly about the circle of interested faces.
"I think it would be splendid," said Miriam emphatically. "I know my mother would contribute toward it."
"So would Pa and Ma," declared Elfreda. "Suppose we all write home to-night."
"What do you think of it, Grace and Anne?" asked Arline. "So far neither of you has said a word."
"Neither has Ruth made any remarks," replied Anne. "Why don't you ask her? I think she has something to say on the subject."
All eyes were immediately turned on Ruth, who flushed, looked almost distressed, then said slowly, "Could the girls who asked for help borrow the money and return it as soon as they were able?"
"Of course," responded Arline. "Don't be afraid that you are going to have charity thrust upon you, Ruth."
"That would be the only basis on which we could establish a society of that kind," commented Miriam. "An Overton girl would hesitate to make use of the money except as a loan."
"What would we call ourselves?" asked Elfreda abruptly.
"We can decide on a name later," said Arline. "The thing to decide now is, shall we or shall we not form this society? Answer yes or no?"
"Yes," was the chorus.
"Don't you think," said Grace after a slight deliberation, "that it would be nicer if we could finance this society ourselves, instead of asking our fathers and mothers for money? It isn't any particular effort for most of us to write home for money. How much better it would be if we could say that we had earned the money ourselves, or saved it from our allowances."
"But what about my five hundred dollars?" questioned Arline plaintively. "As the originator of this scheme I claim the privilege of putting in as much capital as I please. I am going to be the exception that proves the rule. Besides, Father has already promised me the money. Take the five hundred dollars for the basis of our fund, then we will pledge ourselves hereafter to earn or contribute whatever money we put into it."
"What do you say to that, girls?" asked Grace.
"I think Arline ought to be allowed to give the five hundred dollars if she wishes," said Miriam. "It is her money and her plan. Besides, we need the money!"
"I think so, too," echoed Elfreda. "We might call the society the 'Arline Thayer Club.'"
"If you dare—" began Arline.
"Save your breath, my child, I didn't mean that seriously," drawled Elfreda. "However, we had better begin our society here, to-night. There are six of us. Shall we add to our number or let well enough alone?"
"I'd like to have Gertrude Wells in it," said Arline. "Shall we make it strictly a sophomore affair?"
"I think it would be better," replied Grace.
"Then let us ask Emma Dean, Elizabeth Wade, Marian Cummings and Elsie Wilton," pursued Arline.
"Seven, eight, nine, ten," counted Anne.
"Let us make it a dozen," suggested Miriam.
"Then who shall the other two members be?"
"Why not ask the Emerson Twins?" suggested Arline. "They would be good material, and they are both splendid on committees. Julia Emerson nearly worked her head off for the sophomore reception last fall."
"Very well, we will ask them," agreed Grace. "In case any one of the girls we have named but haven't yet interviewed should not wish to belong to our society we can propose some one else to take her place. In the meantime you must each be thinking of a name for our little club. We can meet in the library after the last class to-morrow afternoon, and go from there to Vinton's to talk it over. Arline, you must tell Gertrude Wells, Elizabeth Wade and Marian Cummings. We can easily see the others."
"The dinner bell! Thank goodness!" exclaimed Elfreda fervently. "I am almost starved. I hope dinner will be better than last night's offering. Everything we had to eat was warranted to fatten one."
"Never mind, Elfreda," consoled Arline. "Think how nice it will be when you make the team. That will be a reward worth having."
"Yes, if I make it," grumbled the stout girl.
"We will go on with our new plan after dinner," said Grace. Then as an afterthought she added: "Don't say anything about it at the table. Suppose we keep it a secret until our society is in running order?"
"Hello, children," greeted Emma Dean, as they entered the dining room that night. "Has the board of directors been holding a meeting? I see you are all here."
Several girls already seated at the table looked up smilingly as the six girls slipped into their places. Laura Atkins returned Arline's friendly nod with a cold bow. She did not appear to see the others. During the progress of the meal she said little, keeping up a pretense of indifference as to what went on around her. Nevertheless her eyes strayed more than once toward the end of the table where Elfreda was entertaining the girls sitting nearest to her with a ludicrous account of what had happened to her on her way back to Overton. Miriam accidentally intercepted one of these straying glances. In it she fancied she read reproach. A quick flush rose to Laura Atkins's cheeks. Drawing down her eyebrows she scowled defiantly at Miriam, then turned her head away, and went on with her dinner.
After dinner the discussion of the proposed club was renewed with energy. Emma Dean's innocent allusion at dinner to the meeting of the board of directors had brought smiles to the faces of the six girls. After they had again gathered in Grace's room, Elfreda was despatched to Emma's room with orders to bring her to the council, no matter what her engagements or obligations might be.
"I knew something was going to happen," was Emma's calm announcement as she followed Elfreda into the room. "To quote my esteemed friend, Miss Briggs, 'I could see' it in your eyes at dinner. I have a theme to write, a dressmaker to see, and four letters to answer, but, still, I am here."
"We can readily understand how deeply it must have grieved you to shun the dressmaker, put off writing your theme, and tear yourself away from your correspondence," sympathized Miriam Nesbit, her eyes twinkling.
"Then, as long as you understand it, we won't say anything more about it," was Emma's hasty reply. "I move that we avoid personalities and proceed to business."
A WELCOME GUEST
The meeting in the library the next day, followed by a social session at Vinton's, resulted in the enthusiastic organization of the society proposed by Grace. As had been suggested, every girl had brought with her a slip of paper on which was written the name she had selected for the society. Arline collected the names and read each one in turn to the assembled girls.
"Which one do you like best?" she asked, looking from one to another of her friends.
"The first one," said Miriam Nesbit.
"So do I," echoed half a dozen voices.
"'Semper Fidelis,'" repeated Grace musingly. "I like the sound of that, too. Who proposed that name?"
"I did," admitted Emma Dean. "I thought it might stand for our motto as well. It means 'always faithful,' you know. That applies to us, doesn't it?"
"Of course we shall be always faithful to our cause," declared Grace. "All those in favor of the name Semper Fidelis, please manifest it by holding up their right hands."
Twelve right hands were raised simultaneously.
"That settles it," stated Grace. "From now on we are the Semper Fidelis girls. Let us lose no time in leaving the sacred precincts of the library for Vinton's. We can make more noise there."
After the second sundae all around had been disposed of the society settled down to business. It was decided that the club should be a purely social affair. Arline was chosen for president, Grace for vice-president and Gertrude Wells as secretary and treasurer. There was to be no special day set aside for meetings. A meeting might be called at any time at the united request of three members. The sole object of the club was to extend a helping hand to the young women who were making praiseworthy efforts to put themselves through college. The foremost duty of the society would be to ascertain the names of these girls and offer them pecuniary assistance. Arline had written her father for the promised check for five hundred dollars, which would be deposited in the bank in Gertrude Wells's name as soon as it arrived.
"I might as well tell you now that I wrote and asked Pa for a check in spite of what Grace said," confessed Elfreda rather sheepishly.
"I might as well confess that I mentioned the club idea to Mother," said Miriam. "I didn't ask her for a check, but I wouldn't be astonished if she sent one in her next letter."
"You two girls are traitors to the cause," laughed Grace. "Perhaps you will be disappointed."
"I won't," asserted Elfreda boldly. "Pa might as well help us as any one else. I told him so, too."
"The important question is what can we do to earn money for our cause?" asked Grace.
"We might give a play," said Miriam Nesbit. "Anne can star in it. I should like to have the Overton girls see her at her best."
"I don't wish to be seen 'at my best,'" protested Anne. "I want the other girls to have a chance, too. Why not give a vaudeville show? Grace and Miriam can dance. Elfreda can give imitations. There are plenty of things we can do. We will advertise the show in all the campus houses, and each one of us must pledge ourselves to sell a certain number of tickets. I think we would be allowed to use Music Hall for the show, and if we could sell tickets enough to fill it, even comfortably, it would mean quite a sum of money for our treasury. We might charge fifty cents for admittance, or, if you think that is too much, we might put the price down to twenty-five cents."
"I think we had better charge fifty cents," said Elfreda shrewdly. "It will be as easy for those who come to pay fifty cents as to pay twenty-five. We might as well have the other quarter as Vinton's or Martell's."
"Elfreda, you are a brilliant and valuable addition to this society," commended Arline. "I agree with you. We are likely to reap almost as many half dollars as quarters."
"We might give an act from one of Shakespeare's plays," remarked Gertrude Wells doubtfully. "Still, I think it would be more fun to have just stunts. Those of us who know any ought to be willing to come forward and do them. We can ask some of the upper class girls to help. Beatrice Alden sings; so does Frances Marlton. Mabel Ashe can do almost any kind of fancy dancing. There is plenty of talent in college. The junior glee club will sing for us, I am sure.
"We can make it a regular vaudeville entertainment, and have posters announcing each number. We can have two girls, costumed as pages, to bring out and remove the posters announcing the numbers."
"That's a good idea," approved Arline. "I can sing baby and little-girl songs and dance a little. I might sing one to fill in."
"You are engaged to sing one the first time you come to see me," laughed Grace. "Here is talent of which we never dreamed. I knew you could sing, but you never before confessed to being a real song and dance artist."
"We shall have all 'headliners in our show,' as the billboard advertisements beautifully put it," commented Miriam. "I wish Eleanor were here, don't you, Grace? Then Anne could recite 'Enoch Arden.'"
"Who is Eleanor, and why can't Anne recite 'Enoch Arden' without her?" were Elsie Wilton's curious inquiries.
"The 'Eleanor' we speak of is in Italy, studying music, or was the last time we heard from her. She used to live in Oakdale and is one of our dearest friends. She arranged music to be played during Anne's recital of 'Enoch Arden.' They gave it at a concert at home and it was a tremendous success."
"I wish she were to be here to our show, then," said Arline plaintively. "We would feature her. What's her other name?"
"Savelli," replied Grace quickly.
"Eleanor Savelli, the famous Italian pianiste," announced Arline, bowing to an imaginary audience. "Her name is the same as that of Savelli, the great virtuoso, isn't it?"
"He is her father," said Grace simply.
A little murmur of astonishment went up.
"Oh, if she had only come to Overton instead of going to Italy!" sighed Elizabeth Wade. "I heard Savelli play at a concert three years ago. I shall never forget him."
"We were awfully disappointed," interposed Miriam. "Eleanor's father was to tour America this winter, but changed his mind. There was talk of a spring tour, but we haven't heard from Eleanor for over a month, so we don't know whether there is any possibility of his sailing for America. If he did come to this country, Eleanor would be sure to accompany him. She has promised us that."
"There is no use in wishing for the impossible, children," said Emma Dean briskly, rising from the table and beginning to put on her coat. "There is also no use in being late for dinner. In spite of this bounteous repast," she indicated the empty sundae glasses, "I yearn for Mrs. Elwood's simple but infinitely more satisfying fare. It's almost six o'clock. Those that are going with me, hurry up."
"We must have another meeting within the next two or three days," declared Grace. "Can all of you girls come to our room next Friday evening? In the meantime we will arrange a programme which will be brought before the club for approval at our next meeting. Don't any of you fail to be there."
As the Wayne Hall girls flocked in the front door that night, Mrs. Elwood met them with: "Miss Harlowe, there is a young lady in the living room, waiting for you. She's been there almost an hour."
"For me?" inquired Grace in surprise. "I'll go in at once."
An instant later the girls heard a delighted little cry of "Eleanor, you dear thing!" Then Grace sprang to the door, exclaiming: "Girls, girls! come in here at once. You can never guess who is here!"
At the cry of "Eleanor," Miriam and Anne, who were half way upstairs, ran down again and into the living room. They were followed by Elfreda, who paused on the stairs, then turned and went slowly up to her room. "Last year I wouldn't have known enough to go on about my business," she muttered as she walked stolidly into her room and sat down on the end of the couch.
Ten minutes later Miriam burst into the room with: "Come downstairs, Elfreda. Don't you want to meet Eleanor? You know you have said so ever so many times. She's very anxious to meet you."
"Of course I want to meet her," returned Elfreda with a short, embarrassed laugh. "This room is the place for me, though, until you are ready to introduce me. Are you sure you want me to go downstairs?"
"You funny girl," laughed Miriam. "Of course we want you. We have just been telling Eleanor about you. She hasn't time to come upstairs now, for her father is waiting for her at the 'Tourraine.' He is going back to New York City to-night. He has a concert to-morrow. Grace, Anne and I are going to dine with them. I'm sorry I can't take you along, but perhaps he will come again to Overton. Eleanor is going to stay a week longer if we can coax her to remain. She is traveling with her father. We must hurry downstairs, for Eleanor is to meet her father at half-past six o'clock, and it is a quarter-past now."
Elfreda shook hands with Eleanor almost timidly. She was deeply impressed with the latter's exquisite beauty.
"So this is Elfreda," smiled Eleanor, patting the stout girl's hand. "I have learned to know you through the letters my friends have written me. I feel as though you were an old friend."
"It's awfully nice in you to say so," murmured Elfreda, her eyes shining with pleasure.
"Won't you go with us to the 'Tourraine'?" asked Eleanor sweetly. "I would like to have you meet my father."
"Thank you," almost gasped Elfreda. "I'd love to meet him, but I think—"
"Never mind thinking," interrupted Eleanor, gayly. "Just hurry into your wraps and come along. We'll wait for you."
"That's sweet in you, Eleanor," said Grace in a low tone as Elfreda ran upstairs. "She was wild to go with us. She has worshipped you ever since we showed her your picture. She has heard your father play, too, and considers him the greatest violinist living."
"I suspected she wished to be included in the invitation," smiled Eleanor. "I imagine I am going to like her very much."
Guido Savelli had engaged a private dining room at the "Tourraine" for his young guests. He welcomed them with true Latin enthusiasm, and to see him seated at the head of the table one would never have suspected him to be the moody, temperamental genius whose playing had made him famous in two continents. When the time came to leave the hotel for the train he was escorted to the station by an admiring bodyguard of five young women.
"Remember, you have promised to visit Overton again before you leave New York," reminded Grace as he walked down the station platform between Grace and Eleanor.
"He will," declared Eleanor. "I shall make him come back to Overton for me. Good-bye, Father. Take care of yourself. Remember to go for your walk every day, won't you? He's the nicest father," she said softly as the little group turned to leave the station after the train had gone. "Now take me to your house and let us have an old-fashioned gossip. I have so much to tell you, and I want to hear about Overton."
A happy party gathered in Grace's room that night for an old-time talk about Oakdale. Elfreda was the only outsider present. For her benefit the story of the stolen class money and its timely recovery by Grace and Eleanor, as related in "Grace Harlowe's Senior Year at High School," was retold, as well as many other eventful happenings of their high school life. At a quarter to ten o'clock the four girls escorted Eleanor to the "Tourraine," returning just inside the half-past ten o'clock limit.
"Well, what do you think of Eleanor, Elfreda?" asked Grace, stopping for a moment outside the room shared by Miriam and Elfreda before going to her own.
"Don't ask me," rejoined Elfreda fervently. "I can't thank you girls enough for the good time I've had to-night. But I want to say that if there is anything I can do for any of you, just count on J. Elfreda Briggs to do it."
"It isn't necessary for you to tell us that, Elfreda," said Anne. "We know that you are true blue, and so does Eleanor."
"Does she really like me?" asked Elfreda eagerly.
"She likes you very much," interposed Grace. "She said so."
"Then I'm going to give a luncheon for her to-morrow afternoon at Vinton's," declared Elfreda with shining eyes. "I wanted to suggest it, to-night, but I was afraid she might not care to come."
"Couldn't you 'see' that she liked you?" teased Miriam.
"No, I couldn't. There are lots of things I can't 'see.' One of them is why you girls ever went to so much trouble to make me 'see.' Good night." Casting one glance of love and loyalty toward her friends, Elfreda vanished into her room, and wise Miriam took care not to enter the room until the stout girl's moment of self-communion had passed.
A GIFT TO SEMPER FIDELIS
When the news was whispered about through Overton College that the attractive young woman who was frequently seen in company with Grace Harlowe and her friends was the daughter of Guido Savelli, the renowned virtuoso, it created a wide ripple of excitement among the four classes. Curious juniors and dignified seniors grew interested, and Mabel Ashe and Frances Marlton, who were Eleanor's sworn cavaliers, were besieged with requests for introductions. Far from being spoiled by so much adulation, Eleanor laughingly attributed it to her father's genius, and flouted the idea that her own delightful personality had made her a reigning favorite during her stay in Overton.
It took Grace some time to recover from the surprise occasioned by Eleanor's unexpected arrival. During the month in which she had received no letter from Eleanor, Guido Savelli had reconsidered his decision not to appear in America and instead of canceling his contract had sailed at the eleventh hour to fulfill it, taking Eleanor with him.
"You arrived just in time for our show!" exclaimed Grace gleefully to Eleanor. The two girls sat opposite each other at the library table in the living room at Wayne Hall, making up the programme for the vaudeville performance which was to be held in Music Hall, on the following Friday evening. "Oh, Eleanor, don't you think you can go home with me for Easter? Never mind if 'Heartsease' is closed. You can have just as much fun at our house. We have only one more week here, you know, and your father's concert tour doesn't end for another month," pleaded Grace.
"I think I can arrange it," reflected Eleanor. "It is only that Father misses me so. In some ways he is like an overgrown child. All great musicians are like that, I believe."
"It is a pity to take you away from him," admitted Grace, "but we would like to have you with us. Besides, Tom Gray is going to bring Donald Earle to Oakdale with him for the Easter. Donald will be so disappointed if he doesn't see you, Eleanor."
"I'd like to see him, too," returned Eleanor frankly. "He is one of the nicest young men I know. Father is coming down here for our show, unless something unforeseen happens. I shall coax him to play. I imagine he will be willing. He will play if you ask him, Grace."
"I wish we might feature him on the bulletin board," reflected Grace, with a managerial eye to business, "but he wouldn't like that. We could have him for a surprise, though."
"I'll tell you what I will do," volunteered Eleanor. "I will telephone to his hotel in New York and ask him. If he says yes, we can go ahead and count on him to furnish Overton with a surprise."
"Oh, Eleanor, could you, would you do it?" asked Grace, a note of excitement in her voice.
"I'll telephone at once," nodded Eleanor, rising. "Suppose we go over to the 'Tourraine' to do it."
Within the next hour Eleanor and Grace had talked with Guido Savelli. It had taken very little coaxing to secure his promise to play at Overton on Friday night, as he gave his last performance in New York on Thursday evening, and was free until the following Monday, when he would appear in Boston.
"It seems almost providential, doesn't it?" asked Eleanor, as she hung up the receiver. "He could not have come here at any other time."
"I'm so happy over it I could hurrah," declared Grace jubilantly.
"I knew Father would not refuse us," smiled Eleanor. "Now hadn't we better hurry home and make up the rest of the programme?"
By eight o'clock Friday evening every available foot of space in Music Hall was crowded with Overton students. The front rows of the hall had been reserved for the faculty, who were quite in sympathy with the idea of the new club. In order to obtain permission to use this hall, Grace had gone to the dean with the story of the organization of Semper Fidelis and its purpose. The dean had sympathized heartily with the movement, and had at once laid the matter before the president of the college, who willingly gave the desired permission.
As the Semper Fidelis Club was composed entirely of sophomores, twelve young women of the sophomore class had been detailed as ushers and ticket takers. The majority of the club members were down on the programme, therefore these duties had been turned over to their classmates. Grace, besides appearing in the Spanish dance with Miriam, had taken upon herself the duties of stage manager. The two smallest sophomores in the class, dressed as pages, had been chosen to place the posters announcing the various numbers on the standards at each side of the stage. These posters had been designed and painted by Beatrice Alden and Frances Marlton, who, with Mabel Ashe, Constance Fuller and several other public-spirited seniors, had generously offered their services. As both Beatrice and Frances possessed considerable skill with the brush they turned out extremely decorative posters, which were afterward sold to various admiring students for souvenirs of the club's first entertainment.
"I am so tired," declared Grace to Eleanor as they stood at one side of the stage while the Glee Club, composed of juniors and seniors, arranged themselves preparatory to filing on to the stage. "Everything seems to be going beautifully though. Not a single performer has disappointed us. How pretty the Glee Club girls look to-night."
"Lovely," agreed Eleanor. "The audience is out in its best bib and tucker, too. Nearly every girl in the house is in evening dress."
"Consider the occasion," laughed Grace. "Our show would not have amounted to much if it had not been for you and your distinguished father. Anne could not have recited 'Enoch Arden,' without your accompaniment, and the crowning glory of having the great Savelli play would have been missing. It reminds me of our concert, Eleanor," she added softly.
Eleanor's blue eyes met Grace's gray ones with ineffable tenderness. "The concert that brought me my father," she murmured. "It seems ages since that night, Grace. I can't realize that I have ever been away from Father."
"It does seem a long time since our senior year in high school," agreed Grace musingly. "Good gracious, Eleanor, the Glee Club are waiting for the signal to go on while we stand here reminiscing!" Grace hurried to the wing where one of the pages stood patiently holding the Glee Club poster, and signaled to the page on the opposite side. An instant later the singers had filed on the stage for their opening song.
As the show progressed the audience became more enthusiastic and clamored loudly for encores. Elfreda's imitations provoked continuous laughter, and dainty Arline Thayer, looking not more than seven years old, was a delightful success from her first babyish lisp. Her song of the goblin man who stole little children to work for him in his underground cellar, with its catchy chorus of "Run away, you little children," was immediately adopted by Overton, and when later it was noised about that Ruth had written the words while Arline had composed the music, both girls were later rushed by the Dramatic Club and made members, an honor to which unassuming Ruth had some difficulty in becoming accustomed.
Anne's "Enoch Arden," to Eleanor's piano accompaniment, met with an ovation. Guido Savelli had been purposely placed last on the programme. "No one will care for anything else after he plays. The audience will have the memory of his music to take away with them," Grace had said wisely. Knowing the musician's horror of being lionized, Grace had confided the secret to no one except Miriam, Anne, Mabel Ashe and Elfreda, who, in company with her and Eleanor, had met him at the train and dined with him at the "Tourraine." It had been arranged that at half-past nine o'clock Anne and Elfreda should go for him and escort him to Music Hall.
At precisely ten minutes past ten o'clock he was escorted through the side entrance to the hall by his two smiling guides, and into the little room just off the stage that did duty for a green room. Eleanor's quick exclamation of, "You have plenty of time, Father, there are two more numbers before yours," caused the various performers to open their eyes, and when Eleanor turned to those in the room, saying sweetly, "Girls, this is my father. He is going to play for us," astonishment looked out from every face.
In order that the surprise might be complete, Grace had purposely withheld until the last moment the posters bearing Guido Savelli's name. When the two pages placed them up on their respective standards, a positive sigh of astonishment went up from the audience that changed to vociferous applause as Eleanor appeared and took her place at the piano. A second later the great Savelli walked on the stage, violin in hand. Eleanor, having frequently accompanied him on the piano in private, had begged to be allowed for once to accompany him in public.
As the delighted audience listened to the music of the man whose playing had won for him the homage of two continents, they realized that they had been granted an unusual privilege.
"How did he happen to stray into Overton?" "I supposed great artists like him never condescended to play outside of the large cities," were the whispered comments.
One stately old gentleman in particular, who had been the guest of the president at dinner, and who sat beside him during the performance, grew enthusiastically curious, asking all sorts of questions. Who had planned and managed the entertainment? What was the object of the "Semper Fidelis Club"? How long had it been in existence? Who had been on familiar enough terms with Savelli to induce him to play at the "show"? The president answered his questions with becoming patience, promising to introduce him to Grace Harlowe and Arline Thayer, who, he stated, had been responsible for the organization of the club.
Later, the curious old gentleman was presented to Grace and Arline, who answered his flow of inquiries so courteously and with such apparent good will that he left the hall, smiling to himself as though he had gained possession of some wonderful bit of information.
The vaudeville show netted the Semper Fidelis Club two hundred dollars, which Arline deposited in the bank the following morning.
"'Every little bit helps'" chuckled Arline as she opened the bank book and pointed to the new entry. She and Grace were on their way from the bank.
"I should say it did," returned Grace warmly. "I only wish we could always make money as easily and pleasantly as we made that two hundred dollars."
"It was lots of fun, wasn't it?" declared Arline happily. "When we come back next fall as juniors we can give another show and add to our fund. We won't have time this year. We are all going home next week and after Easter it will be too late in the year to bother with entertainments."
"We might give a carnival in the gymnasium next fall," suggested Grace. "We had a bazaar at home and made over five hundred dollars. If we gave it early in the fall we would have as much as a thousand dollars on hand to lend where it was needed. I imagine we can find plenty of places for it."
"We can be thinking about it through the summer," planned Arline.
That night when Grace reached Wayne Hall she found a letter bearing her address in the bulletin board at the foot of the stairs. After glancing curiously at the superscription, Grace tore it open and read:
"To MISS GRACE HARLOWE, "Wayne Hall, "Overton.
"MY DEAR MISS HARLOWE:
"I am enclosing a check made payable to you, which I should like you to accept in behalf of the Semper Fidelis Club. I am greatly interested in your association and wish to say that at this time each year as long as the club exists I pledge myself to contribute the same amount of money. Trusting that the club will continue to thrive and prosper,
"Yours very truly,
Grace lay down the letter and stared at the check with incredulous eyes. It was for one thousand dollars.
It took but an instant to dart down the hall to Miriam's room, where Anne had just gone to borrow Miriam's Thesaurus.
"Look, look!" cried Grace, holding the check before Anne's astonished eyes.
Miriam rose from her chair and peered over Anne's shoulder. "Three cheers for Mr. Redfield!" she exclaimed. Three cheers for the fairy godfather of Semper Fidelis!
After the Easter vacation there seemed very little left of the college year. Spring overtook the Overton girls unawares, and golf, tennis, Saturday afternoon picnics and walking tours crowded even basketball off their schedule. It was delightful just to stroll about the fast-greening campus arm in arm with one's best friend under the smiling blue of an April sky. It was ideal weather for planning for the future, but it was anything but conducive to study.
"It's a good thing we work like mad in the winter," grumbled Elfreda Briggs, giving her Horace a vindictive little shove that sent it sliding to the floor. "I can't remember anything now, except that the grass is green, the sky is blue—"
"Sugar is sweet, and so are you," supplemented Miriam Nesbit slyly.
"That wasn't what I was going to say at all," retorted Elfreda reprovingly.
"Then I beg your pardon," returned Miriam, with mock contrition. "What were you going to say?"
"Nothing much," grinned Elfreda, "except that I was weighed to-day and I've lost five pounds. I am down to one hundred and forty-five pounds now. If I can lose five pounds more this summer I shall be in fine condition for basketball next fall."
"You did splendid work on the sub team this year," replied Miriam warmly. "I am sure that you will make the regular team next fall."
"The upper class girls say they have very little time for basketball," mused Elfreda. "All kinds of other stunts crowd it out. I'm not going to be like that, though. I love to play and I shall manage to find time for it."
"Where is Grace to-night?" asked Elfreda. "I didn't see her at dinner."
"She had a dinner engagement with Mabel Ashe."
"Vinton's?" asked Elfreda.
"Grace is lucky," sighed Elfreda. "She is always being invited to something or other. Her dinner partners always materialize, too," she added ruefully.
"Which is more than can be said of some of yours," laughed Miriam. "Strange you never found out about that, isn't it?"
It was Elfreda's turn to nod. "I have often thought I would go to Miss Atkins and ask her why she left me to languish dinnerless in my room after inviting me to eat, drink and be merry," mused Elfreda. "I hate to go home with the mystery unsolved. I believe I will go ask her now," she declared, with sudden energy. "I know she's alone, for the Enigma isn't there to-night." Elfreda had recently bestowed this title upon Mildred Taylor on account of her inexplicable attitude toward Grace.
"I have been disappointed in little Miss Taylor," remarked Miriam slowly. "I was so sure that she would prove another Arline Thayer. She had the same fascinating little ways and at first she seemed so genuinely frank and straightforward."
"I wonder what made her change so suddenly," said Elfreda, walking to the door, "and toward Grace, especially. She doesn't speak to Grace when she meets her. She is an Enigma and no mistake. Now for our friend the Anarchist. If I don't come back within a reasonable length of time you will know that I have been annihilated."
Ten minutes went by, then ten more. At the end of half an hour Miriam wondered slightly at her roommate's continued absence. Just before time for the dinner bell to ring, Elfreda burst into the room with: "Miriam, will you help me to dress? I am invited to dinner and this time I am going. The An—Miss Atkins has forgiven me, peace has been restored and we are going out to dine, arm in arm." Elfreda pranced jubilantly about the room, then flinging open the door of the wardrobe brought forth two large boxes that had come by express the day before, one of them containing her new spring hat, the other a smart suit of natural pongee.
"Stop hurrying for a minute and give me a true and faithful account of this miracle," demanded Miriam. "I had begun to think the worst had happened. What did you say first, and what did she say?"
"The door of her room stood partly open and I knocked on it, then marched in without an invitation," replied Elfreda. "She was so surprised she forgot to be angry, and before she had time to remember that she didn't like me I surprised her still further by asking her to tell me why she had refused to speak to me for so long. Before she knew it she had stammered something about Grace and I calling her names and making fun of her behind her back when she had asked me in all good faith to have dinner with her at Vinton's. She declared she had heard us.
"The instant she said that I remembered that I had mimicked her that night while dressing and that Grace had laughed, but had said in the same breath, that it wasn't fair. So I asked her point blank if that was what she meant, and she said 'yes,' only she hadn't waited long enough to hear what Grace had said about unfairness. She had come to the door just in time to hear me mimic her, and had rushed back to her room angry and hurt. Then I explained to her that I had a bad trick of imitating even my friends, and that I had offended more than one person by my thoughtlessness. I was really dreadfully sorry and asked her to forgive me. She had half a mind not to do it, then she relented, smiled a little and actually offered me her hand. Of course, after that I stayed a few minutes to talk things over with her and she proposed going to dinner. She is changed. In just what way I can't explain, except that she is more gentle and not quite so prim. Will you look in the top drawer of the chiffonier and see if I put my gold beads in that green box? You know the one I mean."
Miriam obediently opened the drawer and taking the beads from the box deftly fastened them about Elfreda's neck. "Grace will be glad to hear of this," she remarked. "May I tell her and Anne?"
"Yes," returned Elfreda, "but please don't tell any one else." Pinning on her new hat she hurried off to keep her long-delayed engagement with the now thoroughly pacified Anarchist.
When the dinner bell rang, Miriam suddenly remembered that of the four friends she was the only stay-at-home that night. Anne had gone to take supper and spend the evening with Ruth Denton. As she took her seat at the table she noted that Emma Dean's and Mildred Taylor's places were also vacant.
"Where is everyone to-night?" asked Irene Evans, who sat opposite Miriam.
"Grace, Anne and Elfreda were all invited out this evening," answered Miriam. "I don't know anything about Miss Dean and Miss Taylor."
"Emma is spending the evening with her cousin, that other Miss Dean of Ralston House," replied Irene. "Miss Taylor," she shrugged her shoulders slightly, "is with Miss Wicks and Miss Hampton, I suppose."
"I don't think I shall overstudy to-night," announced Miriam, a little later, as she rose from the table. "I'm going for a walk. Want to go with me?"
"I'm sorry," replied Irene regretfully, "but I've a frightfully hard chemistry lesson ahead of me to-night."
It had been an unusually balmy April and now that the moon was at the full, the Overton girls took advantage of the fine nights to walk up and down College Street or the campus. Sure of finding some one she knew, Miriam slipped on her sweater, and, disdaining a hat, strolled down the street toward the campus. Exchanging numerous greetings with students, she wandered aimlessly across the campus toward a seat built against a tree where she and Grace had had more than one quiet session.
As she neared the seat, which was somewhat in the shadow, she gave a little startled exclamation. A girl was crouching at the darkest end of the seat, her face hidden in her hands. Turning away, Miriam was about to recross the campus when the utter despondency of the girl's attitude caused her to go back. Stopping directly in front of the bowed figure, she said gently, "Can I help you?"
The girl rose, and without answering was about to hurry away, when Miriam, after one swift glance at her face, ran after her, exclaiming, "Wait a moment, Miss Taylor!"
Mildred Taylor stopped and eyed Miriam defiantly. Despite her expression of bravado, she looked as though she had been crying. "What do you want?" she asked in a low voice.
"To talk with you," said Miriam boldly, stepping forward and slipping her arm through Mildred's. "Shall we sit down here and begin? All my friends have deserted me to-night. There were ever so many vacant places at the dinner table. I noticed you were away, too."
"I—I—have—haven't had any dinner," faltered Mildred. Then, staring disconsolately at her companion for an instant, she dropped her head on her arm and gave way to violent sobbing. "I am so miserable," she wailed.
Miriam sat silent, touched by Mildred's distress, yet undecided what to do. Things were evidently going badly with the "cute" little girl. "She has done something she is sorry for," was Miriam's reflection. After a slight deliberation she said gently, "Is there anything you wish to tell me, Miss Taylor?"
Mildred raised her head, regarding Miriam with troubled, hopeless eyes. Miriam took one of the little girl's hands in hers. "Do not be afraid to tell me," she said earnestly. "I am your friend."
"You wouldn't be if you knew what a miserable, contemptible coward I am," muttered Mildred. "I can't tell you anything. Please go away." Her head dropped to her arm again.
Miriam, still holding her other hand, patted it comfortingly. "No one is infallible, Miss Taylor. I once felt just as you do to-night. Only I am quite sure that my fault was much graver than yours can possibly be."
Mildred raised her head with a jerk. She looked at Miriam incredulously. "I don't think you ever did anything very contemptible," she said sceptically.
"Let me tell you about it," replied Miriam soberly. "Then you can judge for yourself. The person whom I wronged has long since forgiven me, but I can never quite forgive myself or forget. It was during my first year in high school that I began behaving very badly toward a new girl in the freshman class, of whom I was jealous. I was the star pupil of the class until she came, then she proved herself my equal if not my superior in class standing, and I tried in every way to discredit her in the eyes of her teachers and her friends. At the end of the freshman year, a sum of money was offered as a prize to the freshman who averaged highest in her final examinations. Feeling sure that this other girl would win it, I managed, with the help of some one as dishonest as myself, to gain possession of the examination questions, but before I had finished with them, I was obliged to drop them in a hurry, to escape discovery by the principal. By the merest chance the girl I disliked happened along just in time to be suspected of tampering with the papers. But she had friends who fought loyally for her and cleared her of the suspicion.
"She won the prize. Nothing was ever said to me about it, but I knew that the principal and at least four girls in school knew what I had done. When I entered the sophomore class in the fall I felt a positive hatred for this girl and for her friends. I did all sorts of cruel, despicable things that year, and succeeded in dividing my class into two factions who opposed each other at every point.
"Toward the last of the year I grew tired of being so disagreeable. My conscience began to trouble me seriously. Then, one day, the two girls I despised did me a great service, and my enmity toward them died out forever.
"I can't begin to tell you how differently I felt after I had acknowledged my fault and been forgiven. Those girls are my dearest friends now. You know them, too."
"You—you don't mean Miss Harlowe and Miss Pierson?" asked Mildred in a low tone, her eyes fixed upon Miriam.
Miriam nodded. "Grace and Anne are the most charitable girls I ever knew," she said softly, "If they were not they would never have forgiven me. Anne was the girl who won the prize. Grace was one of the friends who stood by her. If you feel that you have done some one an injustice, you will not be happy until you have righted matters. If the person refuses to forgive you, you at least will have done your part."
"I can't go to the—the—person and tell her," faltered Mildred. "I should die of humiliation."
"But you don't wish to go away from Overton carrying this burden with you," persisted Miriam. "It will weigh heavily upon you when you come back next fall—"
"I'm not coming back next fall," mumbled Mildred. "I shall never again be happy at Overton."
"Brace up, and square things with the other girl, and you'll feel differently," retorted Miriam.
"If it were any one else besides Miss Harlowe," began Mildred.
"Oh, I am so sorry you told me her name!" exclaimed Miriam regretfully. "Now that I know it is Grace, however, I shall redouble my advice about going to her. You need have no fear that she will not forgive you. Grace never holds grudges."
"I can't do it," declared Mildred tremulously, "I am afraid."
Miriam looked at her companion rather doubtfully. "I think Grace is the person with whom to talk this matter over," she declared. "Suppose we go over to Wayne Hall now? She went to dinner at Vinton's with Mabel Ashe, but she must be at the hall by this time."
"Oh, I can't," gasped Mildred nervously, "Yes, yes, I will if you will come with me while I tell her."
"I think it would be better for you to go to her by yourself," said Miriam dubiously.
"I can't do it," protested Mildred miserably. "Please, please come with me."
"Then, let us go now," returned Miriam decisively. "We may catch Grace at home and alone."
During the walk across the campus the two girls exchanged no words. Mildred was trying to summon all her courage in order to make the dreaded confession.
Miriam was thinking of the day that belonged to the long ago when she had confessed her fault, and, joining hands with Anne Pierson and Grace Harlowe, had sworn eternal friendship. She felt only the deepest sympathy for the unhappy little girl at her side, for having been through a similar experience she understood clearly the struggle that was going on in Mildred's mind.
Twice the little freshman stopped short, declaring she could not and would not go on, and each time, with infinite patience, Miriam buoyed and restored to firmness her shaking resolution.
"You do not know Grace Harlowe," Miriam said as they neared Wayne Hall, "or you would not be afraid to go to her and tell her what you have just told me. She is neither revengeful nor unforgiving, and I am sure that she will be only too glad to help you begin all over again."
"But not here at Overton," quavered Mildred.
"You can decide that later," Miriam said kindly, as they entered the house. But she smiled to herself, for she felt reasonably sure that Mildred would come back to Overton for her sophomore year.
A FAULT CONFESSED
Grace came home from Vinton's with the firm intention of putting in a full evening of study. "It is only half-past eight," she exulted. "I'll have plenty of time for everything. I suppose Anne won't be home until the last minute's grace."
As she passed through the hall to the stairs she poked her head inquisitively into the living room. Three or four girls sat at the library table industriously engaged in writing. Grace turned away without disturbing them, and went quietly up the stairs. As she walked down the hall to her own room she noticed that Miriam's room was dark.
"I wonder where the girls are!" Grace exclaimed. "I didn't know they were to be away to-night, too. Perhaps they have gone for a walk." Grace lighted the gas in her own room and, hanging up her hat, sat down in the Morris chair, beside the table on which lay her books piled ready for work. "If no one bothers me for the next hour and the girls obligingly stay away, the rest will be easy," she smiled to herself as she worked at her French.
At five minutes of ten she closed her text book on chemistry with a triumphant bang. "Nothing left to do now but my theme and that can wait until to-morrow night. I think I'll read until the girls come in." Grace reached for her book, which lay on the table conveniently near her, opened it at the place she had marked and began to read. She had not read more than two or three pages when, through the half opened door, came the sound of voices.
Grace's gray eyes opened in surprise as Miriam Nesbit walked into the room followed by Mildred Taylor.
"I thought you would be here," greeted Miriam.
Grace rose and walked toward Mildred. Without the slightest show of hesitation she held out her hand. "I am glad to see you, Mildred. Why haven't you come in before?" she asked frankly.
Mildred looked from Miriam to Grace. "I can't tell you why!" she exclaimed in a choked, frightened voice. "I thought I could, but I can't." She began to cry softly.
Grace sprang to her side, and, placing her arm about the little girl's waist, said soothingly, "Don't cry, and don't tell us anything you don't wish to tell. I am so glad you came at all. The early part of the year I thought we were going to be friends. I am sorry I hurt your feelings on the night of the sophomore reception. I told you so then, but I am afraid you thought I didn't mean what I said."
"It wasn't that," quavered Mildred, wiping her eyes. "It was—it was—I had no business to take it. It was stealing!"
Miriam looked sharply at Mildred's distressed face, as though trying to gain some inkling of what was to come. Grace's expression was one of anxious concern. Neither girl spoke.
"I might as well tell you, Grace," went on Mildred in a low, shamed voice. "I am the person who stole your theme. I found it at the foot of the stairs. I did not look at the name written on it until I was in my own room. I ought to have given it to you at once, but I stopped to read it. It was so clever I wished I had written it. Themes are my weak point, and Miss Duncan had criticised my work so severely that I was feeling blue and discouraged. Then came the temptation to take your theme, copy it, and hand it in as my own. You had lost it, so you would never know what became of it. You could write another theme as easily as you had written that. It did occur to me that you might be able to rewrite that particular theme from memory. So I changed the title of your theme, copied it that night and changed the ending a little and took particular pains to hand it in early the next morning, so that if any suspicion were aroused it would not fall on me, but on you. It was thoroughly contemptible in me, and after I handed in the theme I felt like a criminal. When Miss Duncan sent for me, I grew frightened and instead of owning to what I had done I told more lies and tried to make it appear that you were the real offender. At first she believed me, but afterward she didn't, and made me admit that I had lied. When she told me about promising you that she would give me another chance and that you neither knew nor cared to know my name, I could hardly believe it. Since that time I've never dared to speak to you. I have been so dreadfully ashamed." Her voice broke.
"Don't think about it ever again," comforted Grace. "Everyone is likely to make mistakes. I think you have suffered enough for yours. I am sure you would never do any such thing again."
Mildred shook her head vigorously. "Never," she declared sadly.
Miriam, who had listened to the little girl's confession, an inscrutable expression on her dark face, said practically, "Was there anything besides what you have told us that made you unhappy to-night?"
"Why—why," stammered Mildred. "Yes, there was. How did you know?"
"I didn't know," declared Miriam dryly. "I just wondered."
"It was something that made me unhappy, yet glad, too," said Mildred, her face flushing. "I thought I hated Grace and said horrid things about her to two other girls I know, who are not her friends. To-night I was with them at Martell's, and I quarreled with them about you girls. Ever since I heard Savelli play at your entertainment I have felt differently about everything. His music brought me to my real self and made me realize how small and mean and contemptible I was. I discovered that it was not you but myself I hated, and when these girls began to say things about you, all of a sudden I found myself standing up for you as staunchly as ever I could. Then we quarreled and I got up from the table and almost ran out of Martell's.
"I walked and walked until I was all tired out. Then I sat down on that seat by the tree where Miriam found me. In defending you, Grace, I found myself. I saw clearly that my college life was all wrong. The mean things I had done stared me in the face. The theme was the worst of all. No wonder I cried. Now that I've told you everything I am happier than I have been since last fall. Next year I am going to start all over again in some other college where no one knows me."
"Besides yourself, there are only three who know, Miriam, Miss Duncan and I," said Grace slowly. "When Miss Duncan sent for me about the theme I told myself then that, although I had no desire to know the name of the other girl, if ever I should learn her identity I would try to be the best friend she ever had. I am ready to keep my word, Mildred, if you are ready to come back to Overton next year and help me keep it."
Mildred glanced timidly from Grace to Miriam. "I'd love to come back," she faltered, "only I'm afraid you girls would never believe in me again."
"My friends did," reminded Miriam softly, extending her hand to Mildred. "I believe in you now."
"Of course we will believe in you," declared Grace cheerfully. "Come back next fall and give us a chance to show you that we trust you."
"I will," answered Mildred with solemn resolution, "but you shall give me the chance to show you that your trust is not misplaced. Good night," she put out her hand again rather uncertainly. Grace's hand went quickly out to meet it, holding it in a warm, friendly clasp, and Mildred went to her room a changed girl.
"How did you happen to be her confessor, Miriam?" asked Grace wonderingly, after the freshman had gone.
Miriam related the evening's happenings.
"I never even suspected her," said Grace. "I believed her to be angry with me for overlooking her at the reception. I always tried not to think of any particular girl as being guilty of taking my theme. It has turned out beautifully, hasn't it?"
"Yes," nodded Miriam. "As a matter of fact everything generally does turn out well in the end if one has the patience to wait."
"Two more days, then good-bye to Overton," mourned Elfreda Briggs sadly.
The stout girl was seated on the floor, the contents of her trunk spread broadcast about her.
"Elfreda would like to stay here and study all summer," remarked Miriam slyly to Anne, who was watching Elfreda's movements with amused eyes.
"Oh, no, I wouldn't," retorted Elfreda good-naturedly. "I am as anxious to go home as the rest of you, but I'm sorry to leave here, too. What's the use in explaining?" she grumbled, catching sight of her friends' laughing faces. "You girls know what I mean, only you will tease me."
"Never mind, we won't tease It any more," said Miriam soothingly.
"There is only one thing you can do to convince me that you are in earnest," stipulated Elfreda.
"Name it," laughed Anne.
"Invite me to a banquet, and have cakes and lemonade," was the calm request.
"I thought you were strongly opposed to sweet things," commented Anne.
"Not at the sad, sorrowful end of the sophomore year," returned Elfreda, impressively. "Besides, lemonade isn't fattening."
"And it will be such splendid exercise for you to make it," added Miriam mischievously.
Elfreda looked disapprovingly at Miriam, then a broad smile illuminated her round face. "So nice of you to think about the exercise," she beamed affectedly. "Lead me to the lemons."
Miriam rose, took Elfreda by the arm, and leading her to the closet, pointed upward to the shelf. Elfreda grasped the paper bag with a giggle. Then Miriam led her calmly out again, just in time to encounter Grace, Mabel Ashe and Frances Marlton, who, in passing down the hall, had heard voices, and could not resist stopping for a moment.
"What is going on here?" asked Mabel curiously. "Why is J. Elfreda in leading strings?"
"She is taking exercise," replied Miriam gravely. "J. Elfreda, explain to the lady."
"This exercise is compulsory," grinned Elfreda. "No exercise, no lemonade. Of course, you will stay and have some."
"Of course," agreed Mabel. "I may not have a chance for a very long time to drink lemonade again with the Wayne Hallites."
"You mustn't say that," remonstrated Grace. "Remember, you are going to visit me at Oakdale. Elfreda is going to visit Miriam. Can't you can arrange to come, too, Frances?"
"I'm sorry," declared Frances, shaking her head, "but we are going to sail for Europe within a week after I reach home. I shall have to say good-bye in earnest on Thursday. But I'll write you, and make you a visit some time."
"How comfortingly definite. I'll see you again during the next hundred years," jeered Mabel.
"You know I don't mean that," reproached Frances.
"I do intend before the end, This happy couple shall meet again,"
chanted Elfreda as she peered into the lemonade pitcher.
"Precisely," laughed Frances. "Did you play 'Needle's eye' when you were a little girl, Elfreda?"
"Yes, and 'London Bridge' and 'King William was King James's son,' too. I always loved to play, but was hardly ever chosen because I was so fat and ungainly. I remember once, though, when I went to a children's party in a pale blue silk dress that made me look like a young mountain. I thought myself superlatively beautiful, however, and the rest of the little girls were so impressed that I was a great social triumph, and made up for the times when I had been passed by," concluded Elfreda humorously.
"Your adventures are worthy of recording and publishing," said Anne lightly. "Write a book and call it 'The Astonishing Adventures of Elfreda'."
The stout girl eyed Anne reflectively, the lemon squeezer poised in one hand. "That's a good idea," she said coolly. "I'll do it when I come back next fall. Now I'm not going to say another word until I finish this lemonade, so don't speak to me." When she left the room for ice water, Mabel Ashe observed warmly, "She is a credit to 19—, isn't she?"
"Yes," returned Grace. "They are beginning to find it out, too."
"Your sophomore days have been peaceful, compared with last year," remarked Frances Marlton. "Certain girls have kept strictly in the background."
"We have not been obliged to resort to ghost parties this year," reminded Mabel Ashe. "It requires ghosts to lay ghosts, you know."
Grace could have remarked with truth that certain ghosts had not been laid as effectually as she desired, but wisely keeping her own counsel she was about to essay a change of subject when the return of Elfreda with the lemonade served her purpose.
"'How can I bear to leave thee?'" quoted Mabel sentimentally, as she and Frances reluctantly rose to go half an hour later. "I hope you feel properly flattered. Graduates' attentions are at a premium this week. They ought to be, too, when one stops to think that it takes four years to reach that dizzy height of popularity. Four long years of slavish toil, my children. Observe my careworn air, my rapidly graying locks, my deeply-lined countenance."
"Yes, observe them," grinned Elfreda. "You look younger than Anne, and she looks like a mere chee—ild. Don't forget that you are going to send us pictures of you in your cap and gown, will you?" she added, looking affectionately at the two pretty seniors, whose help and kindly interest had meant much to her individually.
"We will see you to the door," laughed Grace, slipping her arm through Mabel's.
"Did you ever find the girl?" asked Mabel in a low tone. "You know the one I mean. I have often wondered about her."
"Yes," replied Grace in the same guarded tones. "I can't tell even you her name, but everything has been explained."
Mabel pressed Grace's arm in silent understanding. "Good-bye," she said, "we shall see you again before we leave Overton."
"You had better come into our room and finish the lemonade," declared Miriam, as they watched their guests go down the walk.
"But I haven't begun my packing yet, and I have so many things to do and so many girls to see that I ought not waste a minute."
"Time spent with us is never wasted," reminded Elfreda significantly.
"Quite true," responded Grace gaily. "I am sorry I had to be reminded. To prove my sorrow I will help you with your packing, when I ought to be doing my own."
"Come on, then," challenged Elfreda. She ran lightly up the stairs, her three friends at her heels.
"I'll pour the lemonade while you and Grace pack," volunteered Miriam.
"I choose to do nothing," said Anne lazily. "I am going to work all summer. I need a little rest now."
"You won't know where you are to be for the summer until Mr. Forest writes, will you?" asked Miriam.
"The Originals will be lonesome without you, Anne," mourned Grace. "You must be sure to visit me. That is, unless you are too far west."
"I am going to have a visitor of my own," announced Elfreda proudly. "You can never guess who it is."
"I know," laughed Anne, after a moment's reflection. "It is the Anar—Miss Atkins, I mean."
"Who told you?" demanded Elfreda. "It is true, though. She is coming to Fairview the last two weeks in July, and I am going to give her the time of her life. Just think, girls, she has never had any girl friends until she came here. Her mother died when she was a baby, and a prim old aunt kept house for them. Her father is Professor Archibald Atkins, that Natural Scientist who went to Africa and was held captive by a tribe of savages for two years.
"Living with the heathen didn't improve him, for when he came home he behaved so queerly that people thought him crazy. Then the aunt, who was the professor's sister, died, and poor Laura had to live alone with her father in a great big country house. Finally, she grew so tired of it she asked him to send her to college. She had always had a tutor, so she was ready for the entrance examinations, but she had never associated with other girls and didn't know much about them. I can't feel sorry enough for calling her names and imitating her. We had a long talk at Martell's the other night and I am going to be her knight errant from now on."
"You found the rainbow side of your sophomore year in helping some one else, didn't you, Elfreda?"
"I don't know what you are talking about," rejoined Elfreda bluntly.
"I know you don't," laughed Grace. "It was nothing much. Last year at this time Anne and I were lamenting because we couldn't be freshmen all over again, and Anne said that being a sophomore was sure to have its rainbow side."
"It has been the nicest year of my life," said Elfreda earnestly. "If being a junior is any nicer than being a sophomore—well—you will have to show me. There, I've ended by using slang. But I've found my rainbow side in another way, too."
"Name it," challenged Miriam mischievously.
"By losing twenty pounds," announced Elfreda, with proud triumph. "I weigh one hundred and forty pounds now, and next fall you will see me on the team, or it won't be my fault."
"I hope I shall have time for basketball," said Grace. "There will be so many other things. Remember, girls, if during vacation you think of any good plan for the Semper Fidelis Club to make money, make a note of it. Just because we have money in our treasury, we mustn't become lazy. We will find plenty of uses for every cent we can earn. There are dozens of girls struggling through Overton who need help."
"You never told us to what girls you and Arline played Santa Claus last winter, Grace," said Elfreda reproachfully.
"And I never will," laughed Grace, "and Arline won't tell, either."
"I know something, too," declared Elfreda, "but I'm not as stingy as Grace. I know who poked that envelope with the ten dollars in it under Grace's door."
"Who?" came simultaneously from the three girls.
"Mildred Taylor," replied Elfreda. "I saw her do it. I was just coming down the hall that night as she slipped it under the door and ran away. I never told any one, because I could see she didn't want any one to know she did it."
"Elfreda always sees more than appears on the surface," commented Miriam mischievously.
"Elfreda's energy has inspired me to go to my room and begin my own packing," declared Anne, rising.
"I'll go with you," volunteered Grace. "I think Elfreda can be trusted to finish her packing by herself."
"I think I'll accomplish more, at any rate," declared Elfreda pointedly.
"It is half over, Anne, dear," said Grace, almost wistfully, as they strolled down the hall, school girl fashion, their arms about each other's waists.
"Our life at Overton, you mean?" asked Anne.
Grace nodded. "I was sure I should never like college as well as high school, but I've found it even nicer."
"And we are going to like being juniors best of all," predicted Anne.
How completely the truth of Anne's prediction was proven will be found in "Grace Harlowe's Third Year at Overton College."