"Miss Lee, can you give me half an hour? I was on my way to Dr. Caton's office when——"
"You nearly knocked me over!"
"Yes—thinking you were one of the school children——"
"We can go into my library or—down in my office."
"Your office, by all means." John Westley was immensely curious to see Miss Lee's "office."
It was as business-like in its appearance as his own. A flat-topped desk, rows of files, a bookcase filled with books bearing formidable titles, and three straight-backed chairs against the wall gave an impression of severity. Two redeeming things caught John Westley's eye—a bowl of blooming narcissi and a painting of Sir Galahad.
"I brought that from Paris," explained Barbara Lee. "I stood for hours in the Louvre watching a shabby young artist paint it and—I had to have it. It seemed as if he'd put something more into it than was even in the original—a sort of light in the eyes."
"Strange——" John Westley was staring reflectively at the picture. "Those eyes are like—Jerry Travis!"
"Yes—yes! I had never noticed why, but something familiar in that child's expression has haunted me."
Though John Westley had come to Highacres that morning with an important matter on his mind and had, on a sudden impulse, begged Miss Lee to give him a half-hour that he might talk it over with her, he had to tell her, now, of Jerry and how he had found her standing on the Wishing-rock, visioning a wonderful world of promise that lay beyond her mountain.
"Her mother had made an iron-clad vow that she'd always keep the girl there on Kettle. Why, nothing on earth could chain that spirit anywhere. She's one of the world's crusaders."
Barbara Lee had not gone, herself, very far along life's pathway, yet her tone was wistful.
"No, you can't hold that sort of a person back. They must always go on, seeking all that life can give. But the stars are so very far off! Sometimes even the bravest spirits get discouraged and are satisfied with a nearer goal."
John Westley, sitting on the edge of the flat-topped desk, leaned suddenly forward and gently tilted Miss Lee's face upward. There was nothing in the impulsive movement to offend; his face was very serious.
"Child, have you been discouraged? Have you started climbing to the stars—and had to halt—on the way?"
The girl laughed a little shamefacedly. "Oh, I had very big dreams—I have them still. And I had a wonderful opportunity and had to give it up; mother wanted me at home. She isn't well—so I took this position." She made her little story brief, but her eyes told more than her words of the disappointment and self-sacrifice.
"Well, mothers always come first. And maybe there's a different way to the stars, Barbara."
There was a moment's silence between them. John Westley was the first to break it.
"I want your advice, Miss Lee. I believe you're closer to the hearts of these youngsters out here than anyone else. I've something in my mind but I can't just shape it up. I want to build some sort of a scholarship for Lincoln that isn't founded on books.
"The trouble is," he went on, "that every school turns out some real scholars—boys and girls with their minds splendidly exercised and stored—and what else? Generally always—broken bodies, physiques that have been neglected and sacrificed in the struggle for learning. Of what use to the world are their minds—then? I've found—and a good many men and women come under my observation—that the well-trained mind is of no earthly value to its owner or to the rest of the world unless it has a well-trained body along with it."
"That's my present business," laughed Miss Lee. "I must agree with you."
"So I want to found some sort of a yearly award out here at Highacres for the pupil who shows the best record in work—and play."
"That will be splendid!" cried Miss Lee, enthusiastically.
"Will you help me?" John Westley asked with the diffidence of a schoolboy. "Will you tell me if some of my notions are ridiculous—or impossible?" He picked up one of the sharpened pencils from the desk and drew up a chair. "Now, listen——" and he proceeded to outline the plan he had had in mind for a long time.
One week later the Lincoln Award was announced to the pupils of the school. So amazing and unusual was the competition that the school literally buzzed with comments upon it; work for the day was abandoned. Because the award was a substantial sum of money to be spent in an educational way, most of the pupils considered it very seriously.
"Ginny Cox has the best chance 'cause she always has the highest marks and she's on all the teams."
"It isn't just being on teams," contradicted another girl, studying one of the slips of paper which had been distributed and upon which had been printed the rules covering the competition. "It's the number of hours spent in the gym, or in out-of-door exercise. And you get a point for setting-up exercises and for walking a mile each day. And for sleeping with your window open! Easy!"
"And for drinking five glasses of water a day," laughed another.
"And for eating a vegetable every day. And for drinking a glass of milk."
"That lets me out. I just loathe milk."
"Of course—so do I. But wouldn't you drink it for an award like that?"
"Look, girls, you can't drink tea or coffee," chimed in another.
"And you get a point for nine hours' sleep each school night! That'll catch Selma Rogers—she says she studies until half-past eleven every night."
"I suppose that's why it's put in."
"And a point for personal appearance—and personal conduct in and out of school! Say, I think the person who thought up this award had something against us all——"
Patricia Everett indignantly opposed this. "Not at all! Miss Lee, and she's the chairman of the Award Committee, said that the purpose of the award is to build up a Lincoln type of a pupil whose physical development has kept pace with the mental development. I think it will be fun to try for it, though eating vegetables will be lots worse than the bridge chapter in Caesar!"
Jerry Travis, too, had made up her mind to work for the award. She had read the rules of the competition with deep interest; here would be an opportunity to make her mother and Little-Dad proud of their girl. And it ought not to be very hard, either—if she could only bring up her monthly mark in geometry! She had, much to her own surprise, lived through the dreaded midwinter examinations, though in geometry only by the "skin of her teeth," as Graham cheerfully described his own scholastic achievements.
Jerry found that Gyp had been carefully studying the rules—Gyp who had never dreamed of trying for any sort of an honor! But poor Gyp found them a little terrifying; like Pat Everett she hated vegetables and she despised milk; there was always something awry in her dress, a shoelace dangling, a torn hem, a missing button. But if one could win a point for correcting these little failings just the same as in chemistry or higher math., was it not worth trying?
"Whoever do you s'pose thought of it all?" Gyp asked Jerry and Graham. The name of the Lincoln "friend" who was giving the award had been carefully guarded.
Not one of the younger Westleys suspected Uncle Johnny who sat with them and listened unblushingly and with considerable amusement to their varied comments.
"Well, I'll try for it," conceded Graham. "Who wouldn't? Even Fat Sloane says he's goin' to and he just hates to move when he doesn't have to! But five hundred dollars for washing your teeth and walking a mile——"
"And standing well in Cicero," added Uncle Johnny, mischievously.
"Do you s'pose Cora Stanton will be marked off in personal appearance 'cause she rouges and uses a lipstick?" asked Gyp, with a sly glance toward Isobel, who turned fiery red. "I know she does, 'cause Molly Hastings went up and deliberately kissed her cheek and she said she could taste it—awfully!"
"Cora's a very silly girl. Anyway, if she lives up to the rules of the competition she won't need any artificial color—she'll have a bloom that money couldn't buy!"
"Well, I'm not going to bother about the silly award," declared Isobel. "Grind myself to death—no, indeed! I don't even want to go to college. If you're rich it's silly to bother with four whole years at a deadly institution—some of the girls say you have to study awfully hard. Amy Mathers is going to come out next year and I want to, too." Isobel talked fast and defiantly, as she caught the sudden sternness that flashed across Uncle Johnny's face.
Mrs. Westley started to speak, but Uncle Johnny made the slightest gesture with his hand.
Into his mind had come the memory of that half-hour with Barbara Lee and something she had said—"the stars are very far off!" Her face had been illumined by a yearning; he was startled now at the realization that, in contrast, Isobel's showed only a self-centered, petty vanity—his Isobel, who had been so pretty and promising, for whom he had thought only the very noblest things possible.
But although he saw the dreams he had built for Isobel dangerously threatened, he clung staunchly to his faith in the good he believed was in the girl; that was why he lifted his hand to stay the impulsive words that trembled on the mother's lips and made his own tone tolerant.
"Making plans without a word to mother—or Uncle Johnny? But you'll come to us, my dear, and be grateful for our advice. I don't believe just a lot of dances will satisfy my girl—even if they do Amy Mathers. And after they're over—what then? Will you really be a bit different from the other girl because you've 'come out'? What do you say to taking up your drawing again and after a few years going over to Paris to study?"
The defiant gleam in Isobel's eyes changed slowly to incredulous delight. Uncle Johnny went on:
"And even an interior decorator needs a college training."
"John Westley, you're a wonder," declared Mrs. Westley after the young people had gone upstairs. "You ought to have a half-dozen youngsters of your own!"
He stared into the fire, seeing visions, perhaps, in the dancing flames. "I wish I did. I think they're the greatest thing in the world! To make a good, useful man or woman out of a boy or girl is the best work given us to do on this earth!"
CUPID AND COMPANY
"The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea——"
scanned Gyp in a singsong voice. Then she stopped abruptly; she realized that Miss Gray was not hearing a word that she was saying!
Miss Gray had asked Gyp to come to her after school. It was a glorious winter day and Gyp's friends were playing hockey on the little lake. Gyp had faced Miss Gray resentfully.
"Please scan three pages, Miss Westley," Miss Gray had said, putting a book into Gyp's hands. And now, in the middle of them, Miss Gray was staring out across the snowy slopes of the school grounds, not hearing one word, and blinking real tears from her pale-blue eyes!
Little Miss Gray, for years, had come and gone from Lincoln in such a mouse-like fashion that no one ever paid much attention to her; upon her changing classes, as an individual, she left scarcely any impression; as a teacher she was never cross, never exacting, gave little praise and less censure; she worked more like a noiseless, perfect machine than a human being.
Gyp had never noticed, until that moment, that she had blue eyes—very pretty blue eyes, fringed with long, dark lashes. No one could see them because she was nearsighted and wore big, round, shell-rimmed glasses, but now she had removed these in order to wipe her tears away. Gyp, fascinated by her discoveries, stared openly.
Gyp's heart never failed to go out to the downtrodden or oppressed, beast or human. Now she suddenly saw Millicent Gray, erstwhile teacher in Second-year English, as an appealing figure, very shabby, a pinched look on her oval-shaped face that gave the impression of hunger. Her hair would really be very pretty if she did not twist it back quite so tight. She was not nearly as old as Gyp had thought she was. And her tears were very pathetic; she was sniffing and searching in a pocket for the handkerchief that was probably in her knitting bag.
"T-that will d-do, Miss Westley," she managed to say, still searching and sniffing.
But Gyp stood rooted.
"I'm sorry you feel bad, Miss Gray. Will you take my handkerchief? It's clean," and Gyp, from the pocket of her middy blouse, proudly produced a folded square of linen.
"You wouldn't believe that just that could open the flood-gates of a broken heart," she exclaimed later to Jerry and Pat Everett, feeling very important over her astonishing revelation.
"Who'd ever dream that Miss Gray could squeeze out the littlest tear," laughed Pat, at which Gyp shook her head rebukingly.
"Teachers are human and have hearts, Pat Everett, even if they are teachers. And romance comes to them, too. Miss Gray is very pretty if you look at her real close and she's quiet because her bosom carries a broken heart."
Sympathetic Jerry thought Gyp's description very wonderful. Pat was less moved.
"What did she tell you, Gyp?"
Gyp hesitated, in a maddening way. "Well, I suppose it was giving her the handkerchief made her break down and I don't believe she thought I'd come straight out here and tell you girls. And I'm only telling you because I think maybe we can help her. After she'd taken the handkerchief and wiped her nose she took hold of my hand and pressed it hard and told me she hoped I'd never know what loneliness was. And then I asked her if she didn't have anyone and she said no—not a soul in the whole wide world cared whether she lived or died. Isn't that dreadful? And she said she didn't have a home anywhere, just lived in a horrid old boarding house. Well, she was beginning to act more cheerful and I was afraid she was recovering enough to tell me to go on with the scanning, so I got up my nerve and I asked her point-blank if she'd ever had a lover——"
"Gyp Westley——" screamed Pat.
"Well, there wasn't any use beating 'round the bush and I knew we'd want to know and I read once that men were the cause of most heartaches, so I asked her——"
"What did she say? Wasn't she furious?"
"No—I think she was glad I did. Maybe, if you didn't have any family and lived in a great big boarding house where you couldn't talk to anyone except 'bout the weather and the stew and things, you'd even like to confide in me. She just blushed and looked downright pretty, but dreadfully sad. She said she'd had a very, very dear friend—you could tell she meant a lover—but that it was all past and he had forgotten her. I suppose I should have said to her that it's 'better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,' but I just asked her if he was handsome, which was foolish, because she'd think he was if he was as homely as anything."
"And was he?"
"She said he was distinguished—a straight nose and a firm chin and black hair with a white streak running straight down through the middle, like Lee's black-and-white setter dog, I guess. Girls, mustn't it be dreadful to have to go on day after day with your heart like a cold stone inside of you and no one to love you and to teach school?"
Each girl, with her own life full to brimming with love, looked as though they felt very sorry, indeed, for poor little Miss Gray.
"Let's do something to make her happy," suggested Pat.
"Do you suppose we could find the man? They must have quarreled and maybe, if he knew——"
"There can't be many men with white streaks in their hair and if we get the other girls to help us, perhaps by watching real closely, we can find him."
"And I thought, too, we might send her some flowers after a few days without any name or any sign on them where they came from. She'll be dreadfully excited and curious and then in a week or so we can send some more——"
"Aren't flowers very expensive?" put in Jerry. Gyp understood her concern; Jerry had very little spending money.
"I know—Pat and I'll buy the flowers and maybe some of the others will help, and you write some verses to go with them, Jerry."
Though to write verses would, ordinarily, to Jerry be a most alarming task, she was glad of anything that she could do to help Miss Gray and assented eagerly.
Peggy Lee was enlisted in the cause, and the next day the conspirators made a trip to the florist's shop. They were dismayed but not discouraged by the exorbitant price of flowers; they scornfully dismissed the florist's suggestion of a "neat" little primrose plant—they were equally disdainful of carnations. Patricia favored roses, and when the florist offered them a bargain in some rather wilted Lady Ursulas, she wanted to buy them and put them in salt and water overnight, to revive them. Finally they decided upon a bunch of violets, which sadly depleted their several allowances. And Jerry attached her verses, painstakingly printed on a sheet of azure-blue notepaper in red ink. "Blue's for the spirit, you know, and the red ink is heart's blood. Listen, girls, isn't this too beautiful for words?" Gyp read in a tragic voice:
"Only to love thee, I seek nothing more, No greater boon do I ask, Only to serve thee o'er and o'er, And in thy smile to bask.
"Only to hear thy sweet voice in my ear, Though thy words be not spoken for me, Only to see the lovelight in thy eyes, The love of eternity.
"They're wonderful, Jerry! And so sad, too."
"Do they sound like a lover?" asked Jerry anxiously.
"Exactly," declared Pat, solemnly. "Oh, won't it be fun to see her open it? And she'll think, of course, that it comes from the black-and-white man."
"And we must each one of us pledge to keep our eyes open for the creature."
"Think of it, girls—if we could make Miss Gray happy again it would be something we could remember when we're old ladies. Mother told me once that things we do for other people to make them happy come back to us with interest."
In the English class, on the following day, four girls sat very demurely in the back row, their eyes riveted on their books. When presently there was a knock at the door (Gyp had timed carefully the arrival of the messenger), Pat Everett exclaimed, "my goodness" aloud, and Jerry dropped her book to the floor. But their agitation passed unnoticed; Miss Gray's attention was fixed upon the little square box that was brought to her.
Jerry had a moment of panic. She scribbled on the top of a page in her text-book: "What if she's angry?" To which Gyp replied: "If your life was empty, wouldn't you jump at a crumb?"
Only for a moment was the machinelike precision of the English class broken. Miss Gray untied the cord, and peeped under the cover. The girls, watching from the back row, saw a pink flush sweep from her small nose to the roots of her hair, then fade, leaving her very white. Then:
"Please continue, Miss Chase."
When the class was dismissed even Gyp had not the courage to linger and watch Miss Gray open the box. "She might suspect you," Patricia had warned. But at recess she rushed to the girls, her eyes shining.
"Jerry! Pat! She's crazy about 'em! I went in after the third hour and pretended I was hunting for my book. The violets were sitting up on her desk and she had a few of them fastened in her old cameo pin—and she looked different—already! Let's keep up our good work! Let's swear that we'll leave no stone unturned to find the black-and-white man!"
FOR THE HONOR OF THE SCHOOL
"Oh, I'm sick of winter! I wish I was a cannibal living on a tropical island eating cocoanuts."
"——Missionaries, you mean," laughed Isobel.
Virginia Cox threw her skates over her shoulder; Isobel, Dorrie Carr and herself were the last to leave the lake. The school grounds were deserted.
"Oh, look at the snowman someone's started," cried Ginny, as they walked through the grounds. "Say, this is spliffy snow to pack! Let's finish up the work of art." In her enthusiasm over her suggestion her ennui was forgotten. "I know, let's make him into a snowlady."
Ginny's fingers were clever. Her caricatures, almost always drawn in ridicule of the faculty or her fellow-classmates, were famous. If, in her make-up, she had had a kindlier spirit and a truer sense of the beautiful, she might have become a great artist or sculptor.
Now she worked feverishly, shaping a lifelike figure from the huge cakes of snow that the others brought to her. As she stood back to view her handiwork a naughty thought flashed into her mind.
"Girls—it's going to be Miss Gray! And mother's got a funny old lavender crocheted shawl like that thing Miss Gray wears when it's cold, that the moths won't even eat. And I can fix a hat like the dreadful chapeau of hers that came out of the ark. And glasses, too——"
Isobel and Dorrie laughed delightedly.
"How can you get them out here?"
"Oh, I'll find a way!" Ginny always could! "Do you think that nose is pug enough?" She deftly packed it down on each side with a finger, then gave it a quick, upward touch. "Isn't that better?"
Her companions declared the likeness perfect—as far as snow could make it.
"And I can hunt up two blue glass allies for eyes." There was, plainly, no end to Ginny's resourcefulness. "You just wait and see what you'll see in the morning."
During the night King Winter maliciously abetted Ginny in her work, for a turn in his temper laid a sparkling crust over everything—and especially the little snowlady who waited, immovable, on a little rise of ground near the main entrance of the school.
The pupils, arriving at Highacres the next morning, rubbed their eyes in their amazement. Not one failed to recognize the English teacher in the funny, shawl-draped figure, with enormous glasses framing round blue eyes, shadowed by a hat that was almost an exact counterpart of the shabby one Miss Gray had hung each morning for the past three winters on her peg in the dressing-room. But there was something about the rakish tilt of the hat that was in such strange contrast to the severe spectacles and the thin, frosty nose, that it gave the snowlady the appearance of staggering and made her very funny.
All through the school session groups of pupils gathered at the windows, laughing. There was much speculating as to who had built the snowlady; the three little sub-freshmen who had begun the work Ginny had finished were vehement in their assertions that they had not. Gradually it was whispered about that Ginny Cox had done it.
"We might have known that," several laughed, thinking Ginny very clever.
Then, over those invisible currents of communication which convey news through a school faster than a flame can spread, came the rumor that trouble was brewing. One of the monitors had told Dorrie Carr that Miss Gray had had hysterics in the office; that, in the midst of them, she had written out her resignation and that, after the first period, not an English class had been held!
Another added the information that Barbara Lee had quieted Miss Gray with spirits of ammonia and that Dr. Caton had refused to accept her resignation and had been overheard to say that the culprit would be punished severely.
Ginny's prank began to assume serious proportions. Ginny was more thoughtless than unkind; it had not crossed her mind that she might offend little Miss Gray. But she was not brave, either—she had not the courage to go straight to Miss Gray and apologize for her careless, thoughtless act.
There had been, for a number of years, one well-established punishment at Lincoln; "privileges" were taken away from offenders, the term of the sentences depending upon the enormity of the offence. And "privileges" included many things—sitting in the study-room, mingling with the other pupils in the lunch rooms at recess, sharing the school athletics. This system had all the good points of suspension with the added sting of having constantly to parade one's disgrace before the eyes of the whole school.
"If Ginny Cox is found out, she can't play in the game against the South High," was on more than one tongue.
Gyp, deeply impressed by the criticalness of the situation, summoned a meeting of the Ravens. Her face was very tragic.
"Girls—it's the chance for the Ravens to do something for the Lincoln School! We've had nothing but spreads and good times and now the opportunity has come to test our loyalty."
Not one of the unsuspecting Ravens guessed what Gyp had in mind!
"Ginny Cox did build that snowlady—Isobel saw her. But if she gives herself up she'll be sent to Siberia!"
"Well, it'll serve her right. She needn't have picked out poor little Miss Gray to make fun of."
Gyp frowned at the interruption. "Of course not. We know all about Miss Gray and feel sorry for her, but Ginny doesn't. And, anyway, that isn't the point. I was talking about loyalty to Lincoln." Gyp made her tone very solemn. "Disgrace—everlasting, eternal, black disgrace threatens the very foundations of our dear school!" She paused, eloquently.
"Next week, Tuesday, our All-Lincoln girls' basketball team plays our deadly enemy, South High. And what will happen without Ginny Cox? Who else can make the baskets she can? Defeat—ignominious defeat will be our sad lot——" Her voice trailed off in a wail that found its echo in every Raven's heart.
"I'd forgotten the game! What a shame!"
"Why couldn't Ginny have thought of that?"
"Maybe Doc. Caton will just let her play that once."
"Not he—he's like iron. Didn't he send Bob Morely down for three whole days just before the Thanksgiving game 'cause he got up in Caesar class and translated 'bout the 'Garlic Wars'?"
Gyp sensed the psychological moment to strike.
"Never before in the history of our secret order has such an opportunity to serve our school been given to us——"
"What can we do?"
"One of us can offer ourself on the altar of loyalty——"
Her meaning, stripped of its eloquent verbage, slowly dawned upon six minds! A murmur of protest threatened to become a roar. Gyp hastily dropped her fine oratory and pleaded humbly:
"It's so little for one of us to do compared to what it means, and if we didn't do it and South High beat us, why, we'd suffer lots more with remorse than we would just taking Ginny's punishment for her. Anyway, what did the promise we solemnly made mean? Nothing? We're a nice bunch! I'm perfectly willing to take Ginny Cox's place, but I think each Raven ought to have the chance and we should draw lots——"
"Yes, that would be the fairest way," agreed Pat Everett in a tone that suggested someone had died just the moment before.
"I always draw the unlucky number in everything," shivered Peggy Lee.
"There'll have to be two this time, then, for I always do, too," groaned a sister Raven.
"Shall we do it, girls? Shall we prove to the world that we Ravens can make any sacrifice for our school?"
"Yes—yes," came thickly from paralyzed throats.
In a dead silence Gyp and Pat prepared seven slips of paper. Six were blank; upon the seventh Pat drew a long snake with head uplifted, ready to strike. The slips were carefully folded and shaken in Jerry's hat. Gyp put the hat in the middle of the room.
"Let's each one go up with her eyes shut tight and draw a slip. Then don't open it until the last one has been drawn." They all agreed—if they had to do it they might as well make the ceremony as much of a torture as possible!
So horrible was the suspense that a creaking board made the Ravens jump; a shutter slamming somewhere in another part of the building almost precipitated a panic. After an interval that seemed hours each Raven sat with a white slip in her nervous fingers.
"Now, one—two—three—open!" cried Gyp.
Another moment of silence, a sharp intake of breath, a rattle of paper, then: "Oh—I have it!" cried Jerry in a small, frightened voice.
"Will the young gentleman or lady who built the snow-woman that stood on the school grounds yesterday morning go at once to my office?"
Dr. Caton's tone was very even; he might have been asking the owner of some lost article to step up and claim it, but each word cut like a sharp-edged knife deep into poor Jerry Travis' heart.
She sat in the sixth row; that meant that, to reach that distant door, she must face almost the entire school! Her eyes were downcast and her lips were pressed together in a thin, bluish line. She heard a low murmur from every side. Above it her steps seemed to fall in a heavy, echoing thud.
Not one of the Ravens dared look at poor Jerry; each wondered at her courage, each felt in her own heart that had the unlucky slip fallen to her lot she could never have done as well as Jerry had——
Then, instinctively, curious eyes sought for Ginny Cox—Ginny, who had been unjustly accused by her schoolmates. But Ginny at that moment was huddled in her bed under warm blankets with a hot-water-bag at her feet and an ice-bag on her head, her worried mother fluttering over her with a clinical thermometer in one hand and a castor-oil bottle in the other, wishing she could diagnose Ginny's queer symptoms and wondering if she had not ought to call in the doctor!
Jerry had had a bad night, too. At home, in her room, Gyp's eloquent arguments had seemed to lose some of their force. Jerry persisted in seeing complications in the course that had fallen to her lot.
"It's acting a lie," she protested.
"The cause justifies that," cried Gyp, sweepingly. "Anyway, I don't believe Dr. Caton will be half as hard on you as he would have been on Ginny Cox. It's your first offence and you can act real sorry."
"How can I act real sorry when I haven't done anything?" wailed Jerry.
"You'll have to—you must pretend. The harder it is the nobler your sacrifice will be. And some day everyone will know what you did for the honor of the school and future generations will——"
"And I was trying so hard for the Lincoln Award!" Real tears sprang to Jerry's eyes.
"Oh, you can work harder than ever and win it in spite of this," comforted Gyp, who truly believed Jerry could do anything.
"And I can't play on the hockey team in the inter-class match this week!"
"Of course it's hard, Jerry." Gyp did not want to listen to much more—her own conviction might weaken. "But nothing matters except the match with South High. That's why you're doing it! Now if you want to just back out and bring shame upon the Ravens as well as dishonor to the school—all right! Only—I've told Ginny."
"I'll do it," answered Jerry, falteringly. But long after Gyp had gone off into dreamless slumber she lay, wide-eyed, trying to picture this sudden and unpleasant experience that confronted her. Her whole life up to that moment when, in Mr. John's automobile, she had whirled around her mountain, bound for a world of dreams, had been so simple, so entirely free from any tangles that could not be straightened out, in a moment, by "Sweetheart" that her bewilderment, now, made her lonely and homesick for Sunnyside and her mother's counsel. The glamour of her new life, happy though it was, lifted as a curtain might lift, and revealed, in the eerie darkness of the night, startling contrasts—the rush and thronging of the city life against the peaceful quiet of Jerry's mountain. It was so easy, back there, Jerry thought, to just know at once, what was right and what was wrong; there were no uncertain demands upon one's loyalty to the little old school in the Notch—one had only to learn one's lesson and that was all; even in her play back there there had not been any of the fierce joy of competition she had learned at Highacres!
And mother, with wonderful wisdom, had brought her so close to God and had taught her to understand His Love and His Anger. Jerry dug her face deep into her pillow. Wouldn't God forgive a lie that was for the honor of the school? Wouldn't He know how Ginny was needed as forward on the Lincoln team? It was a perplexing thought. Jerry told herself, with a sense of shame, that she had really not thought much about God since she had come to the Westleys. She had gone each Sunday with the others to the great, dim, vaulted church, but she had thought about the artists who had designed the beautiful colored saints in the windows and about the pealing music of the organ and not about God or what the minister was saying. Back home she had always, in church, sat between her mother and the little window where through the giant pines she could see a stretch of blue sky broken by a misty mountain-top; when one could see that and smell the pine and hear, above the drone of the preacher's voice, the clear note of a bird, one could feel very close to the God who had made this wonderful, beautiful world and had put that sweet note in the throat of a little winging creature.
Then Gyp's words taunted her. "You can back out—if you want to!" Oh, no—she would not do that—now; she would not be a coward, she would see it through; she would measure up to the challenge, let it cost what it might she would hold the honor of the school—her school (she said it softly) above all else!
Jerry had never been severely punished in her life; as she sat very quietly in Dr. Caton's office waiting for assembly to end she wondered, with a quickening curiosity, what it would seem like. Anyway, nothing could be worse than having to walk out of the room before all those staring boys and girls.
But Jerry found that something was! Barbara Lee came into the room, looking surprised, disappointed and unhappy.
"Jerry," she exclaimed, "I can't believe it."
Jerry wanted to cry out the truth—it wasn't fair. Miss Lee sat down next to her.
"If you had to make fun of someone, why didn't you pick out me—anyone but poor little Miss Gray! I think that if you knew how unhappy and—and drab poor Miss Gray's life has been, how for years she had to pinch and save and deny herself all the little pleasures of life in order to care for her mother who was a helpless invalid, you'd be sorry you had in the smallest measure added any to her unhappiness."
"I wouldn't hurt her feelings for the world," burst out Jerry. Did she not know more about poor little Miss Gray than did even Barbara Lee?
"Then why——" But at this dangerous moment Dr. Caton walked into the room.
Jerry's sentence was very simple. She listened with downcast eyes. She was to lose all school privileges for a week; during that time she must occupy a desk in the office, she must eat her lunch alone at this desk, she must not share in any of the school activities until the end of suspension. She must apologize to Miss Gray.
In Jerry's punishment there was an element of novelty that softened its sting. It was very easy to apologize to Miss Gray, partly because she was really innocent and partly because a fresh bunch of violets adorned Miss Gray's desk toward which Jerry had contributed thirty-four cents. Then a message from the Ravens was spirited to her.
You're wonderful! We're proud of you. Keep up your nerve. Blessed is the lot of the martyr when for honor he has suffered.
P. S. Coming out of history I heard Dana King say to another boy that he didn't believe you did it at all—that you are shielding SOME ONE else!
Your Adoring Gyp.
Too, Jerry found the office a most interesting place. No one glanced toward her corner and she could quietly watch everything that happened. And on the second day Uncle Johnny "happened"—in a breezy fashion, coming over and pinching her cheek. Uncle Johnny did not know of her disgrace; by tacit agreement not a word of it had been breathed at home. Dr. Caton, annoyed and disapproving, crisply intimated why Jerry was there. Uncle Johnny tried to make his lips look serious but his eyes danced. Over Dr. Caton's bald head he winked at Jerry.
Uncle Johnny had come to Highacres to talk over some plans for an enclosed hockey rink. For various reasons, of which he was utterly unconscious, he was enjoying "mixing" school interests with the demands of his business. He lingered for half an hour in the office, talking, while Jerry watched the back of his brown head and broad shoulders. Before leaving he walked over to her corner.
"My dear child," he began in a severe tone. He leaned over Jerry so that Dr. Caton could not hear what he said. A trustee had privileges!
"I wouldn't give a cent for a colt that never kicked over the traces!" Which, if Jerry had really been guilty of any offence, would have been very demoralizing. But she was not and she watched Uncle Johnny go out of the room with a look of adoration in her eyes.
A sense of reward came to Jerry, too, when Ginny Cox returned to school. Having fully recovered from the funk that had laid her, shivering and feverish, in bed, that first day she came back in gayer spirits than ever, declaring to many that she thought Miss Gray a "pill" to make such a fuss over just a little joke and, to a few, that it was fine in Jerry to shoulder the blame so that she might play in the game against South High. But her gaiety covered the first real embarrassment she had ever suffered, for Ginny, who had always, because of her peculiar charm, coming from a sense of humor, a hail-fellow spirit, an invariable geniality and an amazing facility in all athletics, exacted a slavish devotion from her schoolmates, and was accustomed to dispense favors among them, hated now to accept, even from Jerry, a very, very great one! And Jerry sensed the humility that this embarrassment called into being.
Ginny waylaid Jerry going home from school. Jerry was carefully living up to the terms of her "sentence"; each day, directly after the close of school, she walked home alone.
"Jerry, I—I haven't had a chance to tell you—oh, what a peach you are," Ginny's words came awkwardly; she knew that they did not in any way express what she ought to be saying.
Jerry did not want Ginny's gratitude. She answered honestly: "I didn't want to do it. I had to—I drew the unlucky slip, you see. And you were needed on the team."
"It's all so mixed up and not a bit right. Can I walk along with you? Who'd ever have thought that just building that silly snow-woman would have made all this fuss!"
"Dr. Caton says thoughtlessness always breeds inconsiderateness and inconsiderateness develops selfishness, selfishness undermines good fellowship and good fellowship is the foundation of the spirit of Lincoln," quoted Jerry in a voice so exactly like Dr. Caton's that both girls laughed.
"He's dead right," answered Ginny, with her characteristic bluntness. "I just wanted to amuse the others and make them think I was awfully clever and that was plain outright conceit and selfishness. I guess that's the way I do most things. Well, I've learned a lesson. And there isn't anything I wouldn't do for you, Jerry Travis. If I don't play better basketball Friday night than I ever have in my life, well, you can walk all over me like dirt." There was a humble ring in Ginny's voice that had surely never sounded there before!
But the hard part of Jerry's punishment came when the others, without her, trooped off to the game against South High, the blue and gold colors of Lincoln tied on their arms. It promised to be the most exciting game of the season; if Lincoln could defeat South High it would win the Interschool cup.
There had, alas, to be practiced a little more deception to explain why Jerry remained at home. Gyp had announced that Jerry had a headache and Mrs. Westley had been much concerned—Jerry, who never had an ache or a pain! She had gone to Jerry's room, had tucked her in bed and had sat by the side of the bed gently smoothing Jerry's guilty forehead.
"When I get through this I'll never, never tell a lie for anybody or anything," vowed Jerry in her heart, as she writhed under the loving touch.
Two hours later Gyp tiptoed to her door, opened it softly and peeped in. Jerry, expecting her, sat bolt upright. Gyp bounded to the exact centre of the bed.
"We won! We won! But, oh, Jerry, it was a squeak! Honest to goodness, my heart isn't beating right yet. Tied, Jerry—at the half. Then Muff Bowling on the South High made two spliffy baskets—they were great, even if she made 'em! Our girls acted as though they were just dummies, but didn't they wake up? You should have seen their passing then. Why, honest, Midge Fielding was everywhere! Caught a high ball and passed it under—before you could wink! And, oh, Ginny—she was possessed. She could make that basket anywhere. And, listen, Jerry, with only two minutes more to play if they didn't make another and then Ginny fell—flat, Jerry, with the South High guard right on her chest and her wrist doubled under her—and she got up like a flash and her face was as white as that sheet—and she made a basket! And we won!" And Gyp, drawing a long, exultant breath, dropped her chin on her knees.
"Did—did they all cheer, then, for Ginny?"
"I should say so." With a long yawn Gyp uncurled her legs. "I'm dead. I'm going to bed." She turned toward the door. "Oh, say, I most forgot. Ginny told me to tell you that the reason she played the way she did to-night was 'cause she kept thinking of you and what you'd done for her and she wanted to prove that she was worth it. Ginny is a good sort, isn't she?"
THE RAVENS CLEAN THE TOWER
The Ravens, now enjoying a pleasant distinction among the Lincoln students because of Jerry's suffering, the truth of which had become known after a few weeks to nearly everyone in the school, except, of course, the faculty, decided to admit more members to their circle. This necessitated an elaborate ceremony of initiation, and an especially elaborate spread.
"Let's us clean the tower room," suggested Gyp one afternoon, with this in mind. "I don't mean sweep or scrub or anything like that—'cause the dust and the cobwebs make it lots more romantic. I mean just shove things further back. We'll need more room."
Jerry agreed. So the two pushed George Washington aside and climbed the little stairway. A sharp wind howled around the tower room, making weird, wailing sounds.
"Isn't it spooky up here this afternoon?" whispered Gyp. "Let's hurry. Here, I'll hand you these books and you pile them over there in that corner."
Gyp tossed the books about as though they were bricks. Jerry handled them more carefully. From her infancy she had been brought up to respect any kind of a book; those at home had seemed almost a part of her dear mother and Little-Dad; these had belonged to Peter Westley. He must have spent a great deal of his time reading, she thought, the volumes were worn about their edges, the pages thumbed. She peeped into one or two. Peter Westley, who had shunned the companionship of his fellow-mortals, had made these his friends.
Gyp divined what was passing in Jerry's thoughts.
"These books look all dried up and dreary—just like Uncle Peter was," she exclaimed, throwing one over.
Jerry opened it at random.
"Oh, this isn't! Listen, isn't it beautiful?
"Now morn, her rosy steps in th' eastern clime, Advancing, sow'd the earth with orient pearl——
"It makes me think of a sunrise from Rocky Point. Often Little-Dad takes me up there and we sleep all night rolled in blankets."
"I wish I could do things like that," sighed Gyp longingly. "I hate just doing the regular sort of things that everyone else is doing."
Jerry regarded her in astonishment; that Gyp might, perhaps, envy her the childhood she had had on Kettle had never occurred to her!
"Perhaps sometime you can visit me in Sunnyside." Her eyes shone at the thought. "Don't you love poetry?" She read again:
"If 'chance the radiant sun with farewell sweet Extend his ev'ning beam, the fields revive, The birds their notes renew, and bleating herds Attest their joy, that hill and valley ring——
"It's like that—at sunset—in the Witches' Glade," Jerry said slowly. She closed the book. "I think Peter Westley must have had something nice in him to like this. There used to be an old, old lady who lived in a funny little house in the Notch; I always pretended she was old Mother Hubbard who lived in the cupboard. Jimmy Chubb used to throw apples at her roof to make her run out and chase him. But her garden was the loveliest anywhere around—mother used to beg seeds from her. And she'd talk to her flowers—sometimes when we'd hide behind the hedge next door to her house we'd hear her. And mother said that there must be something lovely in her soul if she cared so much for flowers. Perhaps that's the way it was with your Uncle Peter and his books."
Gyp frowned as though she was trying very hard to think this possible. She lifted a huge Bible and dusted it thoughtfully with her handkerchief.
"I don't know—I heard Uncle Johnny say once to my father that Uncle Peter was as hard as rocks when it came to driving a bargain and he'd never give a cent to anyone. Mother said that riches that came like that only brought unhappiness and she was sorry we had any of it, though——" Gyp laughed. "Money's funny. It wouldn't matter how much of an allowance father gave Graham or me we'd never have any and I don't know where it goes. And Isobel always has a lot. Maybe she's going to be like Uncle Peter——" There was horror in Gyp's voice.
Jerry sat on the table, the huge Bible on her knees. Her eyes stared out through the dusty window-glass.
"She wouldn't be like him because she won't have to work hard to get the money the way he did! Mother says——" Jerry had a way of saying "mother says" as though it was precious, indisputable wisdom. "Mother says that sometimes when a person sets his heart on just one thing in this world and thinks about it all the time, he kills everything else in him. Doesn't that seem dreadful? Not to enjoy all the beautiful, jolly things in the world?"
Jerry's philosophy was beyond Gyp's practical mind. "What would you do if you had lots and lots of money, Jerry?"
This was a stupendous question and one Jerry had often liked to ask of herself. Her answer was prompt.
"I'd keep going to school just as long as ever I could. And then I'd go all over the world—to Japan and Singapore and India and to the Nile and Venice and Switzerland and Gibraltar——" her tongue stumbled in its effort to circle the globe. "Oh—everywhere. I'd want to see everything."
How many young hearts have dreamed of such adventure!
"And yet," Jerry went on, "if I had all the gold in the world right in my hand I don't believe I could make myself go so far away from Sweetheart and Little-Dad and the dogs and—and Sunnyside!"
"Oh," Gyp quickly settled such an obstacle. "If you had all the gold in the world you could take 'em with you."
At that moment they were startled by a loud thud in the hall beneath them. The Bible crashed to the floor. Each girl instinctively clapped her hand to her mouth to smother a cry. Then they laughed.
"What ever do you suppose it was? Hark—I hear footsteps." Gyp spoke in sepulchral tones.
"They're going away," whispered Jerry, relieved. "Goodness, how it frightened me!" Jerry leaned over to lift the poor Bible. From its pages had dropped a long envelope. It lay, white and smooth, the address side upward, on the dusty floor.
"Look, Gyp—a letter! It must have been in this Bible."
Gyp took the envelope gingerly.
"It's addressed to father! It's never been opened. It looks as though it had just been written! Jerry—that's Uncle Peter's handwriting!"
Jerry stared at the envelope—except that the letter had been pressed very flat, it did indeed look as though it had just been written.
"Isn't it creepy?" Gyp shivered. "Do you believe in ghosts? Could Uncle Peter Westley have come here and written that—just—maybe, last night?"
It was a horrible thought—Jerry tried not to entertain it. But the wailing wind made it seem possible!
"What'll we do with it?" Gyp had laid it on the table.
"Let's put it back in the Bible"—that seemed a safe place—"and take it home. Maybe there is an important message in it that someone ought to see! But I wish we'd never come here this afternoon."
"And see how dark it is—it's getting late. Let's let these other things go." Jerry's voice, betraying her eagerness to quit the tower room, made Gyp feel creepier than ever.
Each took a corner of the ghostly envelope and slipped it between the pages of the Bible.
"There—it's safe enough now. We can take turns carrying it." The girls hurriedly donned their outer wraps. Then, without one backward glance, they tiptoed down the narrow stair. But, to their amazement, the panel at the foot of the stair would not budge. Vainly they shoved, and pressed their shoulders against the solid oak. Breathless, Gyp sat down on the Bible.
"What'll we do?"
"We'll have to shout and bring someone—'cause we can't open the other door."
"Then Old Crow will know our secret," wailed Gyp.
"But we don't want to stay here all night!"
Gyp gave one swift, backward glance up the secret stairway to the haunted tower room.
"No—no! Well, let's shout together."
They shouted and shouted, with all the strength of their young lungs. But Old Crow, who really was Mr. Albert Crowe, for many years janitor of Lincoln School, had gone, ten minutes earlier, in his Sunday best, to attend the annual banquet of the Janitors' Association and his assistant had made his last rounds of the School, so that the shouts of the girls echoed and re-echoed vainly through the deserted halls of Highacres.
Jerry leaned, exhausted, against the wall.
"I don't believe it's a bit of use—not a soul can hear us."
"What'll we do?" asked Gyp again—Gyp, who was usually so resourceful. "If we only hadn't found that old letter we never'd have thought of ghosts and we wouldn't have minded a bit being shut in the tower room."
Jerry commenced to laugh nervously. "Gyp, maybe you don't know you're sitting on the Bible!" Gyp sprang up.
"I don't think it's anything to laugh about! Not me, I mean, but—but having to stay all night—up there!"
Jerry started back up the stairway.
"Come on," she encouraged. "I'm not afraid. If there are ghosts I want to see one." Gyp followed with the Bible. The tower room was shadowy in the fast-falling twilight. The girls tried to open each of the small windows; though they rattled busily enough they would not budge.
Gyp sat down resignedly on the window-seat. "We'll just sit here until we're rescued. Only—no one will guess where we are."
"I think it's a grand adventure," declared Jerry valiantly.
"If we only hadn't begun to think about ghosts! You never can see them, anyway—you just feel them. Is that the wind? Sit close to me, Jerry."
Jerry sat very close to her chum and they gripped hands; it was easier, that way, to endure the dreadful silence.
"I'm hungry," whispered Gyp, after awhile. Then, a moment later, "Did you hear something, Jerry—like a long, long sigh?"
Jerry nodded and Gyp drew closer to her, shivering.
"Of course," she murmured in a voice lowered to the etiquette of a haunted room. "You're not frightened because you didn't know Uncle Peter. If I was afraid of him when he was alive what——"
"Sh-h-h!" commanded Jerry. Uncle Peter's ghost might be hovering very close to them and might hear! Gyp's words did not sound exactly respectful.
Jerry tried to talk of everyday things but it was of no use—what mattered the color of Sue Knox's new sweater when the very air tingled with spirits?
"Oh-h!" Gyp clutched Jerry in a spasm of fright. "Something grabbed my elbow——" her voice was scarcely audible. "Jerry—true as I live—cross my heart! Long—bony—fingers—just like Uncle Peter's used to feel—Oh-h!"
"I don't understand——" Mrs. Westley lifted anxious eyes from her soup-plate. "Gyp always telephones! And both of them——"
"I saw Peggy Lee and Pat Everett coming home from the dressmaker's and she wasn't with them," offered Isobel. "But she's all right, mother."
"Such dreadful things happen——"
"I'd like to see anyone try to kidnap Gyp," laughed Graham. Then he added, in an off-hand way: "The ice broke on the lake out at Highacres to-day. Guess the skating's over."
"Graham!" cried Mrs. Westley, springing to her feet so precipitously that her chair fell backward with a crash. Her face was deathly white.
Graham, frightened by his careless remark, went to her quickly.
"Mother—I didn't mean to frighten you! Why there's only one chance in a hundred the girls were on the ice. If they'd been skating some of us would have seen them!"
"Where are they?" groaned the mother. "They might have gone on the lake—afterwards—and not known—and broken through—and—no one would—know——" She shuddered; only by a great effort could she keep back the tears.
"Mother, please don't worry," begged Isobel. "Let's call up every one of the girls and then we'll surely find them."
Not one of them wanted any more dinner. They went to the library and Graham began telephoning to Gyp's schoolmates—a tedious and discouraging process, for each reported that she had not seen either Gyp or Jerry since the close of school.
"I can't bear it! We must do something——" Mrs. Westley sprang to her feet. "Graham, call Uncle Johnny and tell him to come at once."
Something of the mother's alarm affected Isobel and Graham. Graham's voice was very serious as he begged Uncle Johnny, whom he found at his club, to come over "at once." Then he slipped his arm around his mother as though he wanted her to know that he would do anything on earth for her.
Uncle Johnny listened to the story of Gyp's and Jerry's disappearance with a very grave face. He made Graham tell twice how the ice had broken that afternoon on the lake, frightening the skaters away.
"What time was that?"
"Oh—early. About three o'clock. There were only four or five of us on the lake. You see, hockey practice is over."
"But I remember Gyp saying this morning that she was going to have one more skate!" cried Isobel suddenly.
"Before we report this to the police, Mary, we'll go out to Highacres," Uncle Johnny said. And the thought of what he might find there made Mrs. Westley grip the back of a chair for support. "Come with me, Graham. Isobel—stay with your mother."
Graham went off to the garage to give such directions as Uncle Johnny had whispered to him. Just then Barbara Lee, whom Isobel had reached on the telephone, came in, hurriedly.
"I talked to the girls for a moment after the close of school. They were standing near the library door. They had on their coats and hats." Her report was disquieting.
"May I go with you?" she asked John Westley. He turned to her—something in her face, in her steady eyes, made him feel that if out at Highacres he found what he prayed he might not find—he would need her.
"Yes—I want you," he answered simply, wondering a little why, at this distressed moment, he should feel such an absurd sense of comfort in having her with him.
They drove away, two long poles and a coil of rope in the tonneau. In the library Isobel sat holding her mother's hand, wishing she could say something that would drive that white look from her mother's face. But her distress left room for the little jealous thought that Uncle Johnny had told her to stay at home and then had taken Barbara Lee! And she wondered, too, if it were she who was lost, and not Gyp, would mother care as much?
At that moment Mrs. Westley threw her arms about her and held her very close.
"I just must feel you, dear, safe here with me—or I couldn't—stand it—waiting."
* * * * *
"Jerry! Look! That flash—it comes—and goes!" Gyp's voice, scarcely a whisper, breathed in Jerry's ear.
The two girls were huddled in the little window of the tower room. Gyp was almost hysterical; Jerry had had all she wanted of ghosts. Gyp had felt thin fingers grip her elbow, her shoulder—even her ankle. Someone had breathed in her ear. Jerry, too, had admitted that she had heard sounds of irregular breathing from a corner of the room near the secret door. And there had been a constant tap-tapping! And something had laughed—a horrible, thin, ghost laugh, though Jerry said afterwards that it might have been the wind.
Gyp had seen white figures floating about outside, too. Uncle Peter had brought spirit-cronies with him! And now the ghostly flash of light——
"Gyp——" Jerry suddenly spoke aloud. "It's a—flashlight! See, someone is swinging it as they walk. Oh——" Inspired to action, Jerry seized a huge book and sent it crashing through the window. "Help! Help!" she screamed, through the broken glass.
Startled, Uncle Johnny, Graham, Barbara Lee and the assistant janitor, whom they had aroused, halted. Graham, dropping the coil of rope, pointed excitedly to the tower.
"Look—they're in the tower room! Well, I never——" That the tower room and its mysteries should remain under lock and key had been a grievance to Graham.
Uncle Johnny shouted to the girls; a great relief, surging through him, made his voice vibrate with joy. And in the light of the electric flash he saw that Barbara Lee's eyes were glistening with something suspiciously like tears.
"Now, to rescue the imprisoned maidens," he laughed, turning to the engineer.
It took but a few moments for the little party to reach the third floor. Then from above came a plaintive voice.
"If you'll just touch George Washington on the left-hand side of the—the frame—he'll move—and——"
For a moment, John Westley, staring at the panel, wondered if he were crazy or if Gyp and Jerry——
"We got in—that way," the voice explained. "You can't open the other door! And please hurry—it's dreadfully dark and——"
The truth flashed over Graham. "Of all things! A secret door!" he shouted. He put his shoulder to the huge box of books that had been shoved close to the picture, until it could be unpacked. "Give a hand here!" he commanded excitedly.
They all obeyed him—even Barbara Lee, next to Uncle Johnny, shoved with all the strength of her muscular arms. And Uncle Johnny commenced to chuckle softly.
"The imps," he muttered. "Trapped in their lair."
The box well out of the way, Graham pressed the left-hand side of the panel picture and it swung out under his amazed eyes, revealing a white-faced Gyp standing in the narrow aperture, and Jerry close behind. Their big, frightened eyes blinked in the flashlight.
Uncle Johnny managed to embrace both at once. He wisely asked no explanations, for he could see that tears were not far away. Barbara Lee hugged them, too, and the assistant janitor, who had a girl of his own and at the suggestion of dragging the lake, had been startled "out of a year's growth" as he said afterwards (though he was six feet tall, then), beamed on them as though he would like to caress them, too. Graham was excitedly swinging the panel back and forth and peering longingly up the dark, narrow stairway.
"How'd you find it? Does it open right into the tower room? Were you scared?" he asked.
"I'm hungry," declared Gyp.
"Let's hear all about it on the way home," suggested Uncle Johnny. "And we'll put George Washington back in place—there's no use letting the entire school know about this." His words were directed to Graham and to the janitor. "Now, my girlies—what in the world have you got?" For Jerry had picked up the huge Bible.
"It's a—a letter we found—in the Bible——"
"So you brought the whole thing?" Uncle Johnny laughed. "Lead the way, Miss Lee."
In the automobile Gyp had to have an explanation of the poles and the rope. When she heard of their fears her face grew troubled.
"Oh—how mumsey must have worried!" As the automobile drew up at the curb she sprang from it and rushed into the house, straight into her mother's arms—Mrs. Westley had heard the car stop and had walked with faltering steps to the door.
"Mother, I didn't want you to be worried—not for the world! But we couldn't help it."
With the girls safe at home the horrible fears that had tortured them all seemed very foolish. The entire family listened with deep interest while Gyp told of that first afternoon when she and Jerry had discovered the secret stairway and of the subsequent meetings of the Ravens in the tower room.
"Please, Uncle Johnny, make Isobel and Graham promise they won't tell anybody! It ought to be ours 'cause we found it and we're Westleys," begged Gyp.
"Whatever in the world possessed Peter Westley to build a secret stairway in his house?" Mrs. Westley asked John Westley. "Who ever heard of such a thing in this day and age?"
"It's not at all surprising when one recalls how persistently he always avoided people. He planned that as a way of escaping from anyone—even the servants. Can't you picture him grinning down from those windows upon departing callers? Doubtless many a time I've walked away myself, after that man of his told me he couldn't be found."
"I think it's deliciously romantic," exclaimed Isobel, "and I have just as much right to use it as Gyp has."
"My girls—I am afraid the whole matter will have to go to the board of trustees. Remember—Uncle Peter gave Highacres to Lincoln School—we have nothing to say about it."
"Wasn't it dark up there?" asked Graham.
Gyp looked at Jerry and Jerry looked at Gyp. By some process of mental communication they agreed to say nothing about Uncle Peter's ghost. Back here in the softly-lighted, warm living-room, those weird voices and clammy fingers seemed unreal. However, there was the letter—Gyp reached for the Bible.
"We were looking through some books—and we found this." Holding the envelope gingerly between her thumb and forefinger, she handed it to Uncle Johnny.
He read the address, turned the envelope over and over in his hand.
"How strange—it has never been opened. It's addressed to Robert. I'll give it to you." He handed it to Mrs. Westley.
She took it with some of Gyp's reluctance. "It's Uncle Peter's handwriting—but how fresh it looks. It's dated two days before he died, John! I suppose he put it in that Bible and it was never found." She tore the envelope open and spread out the sheets. "It's to both you and Robert—read it."
My Dear Nephews:
It won't be long before I go over the river, and I'm glad—for I am an old man and I've lived my life and I can't do much more, and I'd better be through with it. But I wish I could live long enough to right a few things that are wrong. I mean things that I've done, especially one thing. Lately there isn't much peace of mind for me. I've tried to find it in the Bible, but though there's a lot about forgiveness I can't figure out what a man ought to do when he's waited almost a lifetime to get it. I've always been hard as rock; I thought a man had to be to make money, but now it all don't seem worth while, for what good is your money when you're old if your conscience is going to torment you?
Right now I'd give half I possessed if I could make up to a young fellow for a contemptible wrong I did him. So I'm writing this to ask you to do it for me, and then I guess I'll rest easier—wherever I am.
Neither of you knew, I suppose, just what made the Westley Cement Mixer a success; it came near not being one. Back there when we were just starting it up, Craig Winton, a young, smart-looking chap, came to me with a mechanical device he'd invented that he believed we needed in our cement-mixing machine. We did—I knew right off that that invention was what we had to have to make our business a success; without it every cent the other stockholders and myself had put into the thing would be lost. I offered the young fellow a paltry amount, and when he wouldn't accept it, I let him go away. Our engineers worked hard to get his idea, but they couldn't. After a few months he came back. He looked ill and he was shabby and low-spirited. I told him we wouldn't give him a cent more, that I didn't think his invention would help us much, and I let him go away again. The directors were all for paying him any amount, but I told them that if we'd wait he'd come back and as good as give the thing to us or I couldn't read signs, for I'd seen something mighty like desperation in the chap's eyes. Even though the directors talked a lot about failure, I thought the gamble was worth a try, and I made them wait. I was right—young Winton came back, looking more like a wreck than ever, and he took just what I offered him, which was a little less than my first price. And I made him sign a paper waiving all future claims on the patents or the stockholders of the firm. That little invention made all our money. But lately I can't get the fellow's eyes out of my mind—they were queer eyes, glowing like they were lighted, and that last time they had a look in them as though something was dead.
I'm too old to face this thing before the world, but I want you to find Craig Winton and give him or his heirs a hundred thousand dollars, which I've figured would be something like his percentage of the profits if I had drawn an honorable contract with him. The time he came to me he lived in Boston. I've always laughed at men that talked about honor in business, but now that I'm looking back from the end of the trail I guess maybe they're right and I've been wrong....
THE FAMILY COUNCILS
Uncle Johnny laid Peter Westley's letter down. A silence held them all; it was as though a voice from some other world had been speaking to them. Mrs. Westley shivered.
"How I hate money," she cried impulsively. Then, the very comfort and luxury of the room reproaching her, she added: "I mean, I hate to think that wherever big fortunes are made so many are ground down in the process."
Graham was frowning at the letter.
"Of course you're going to hunt up this fellow?" he asked, anxiously, a dull red flushing his cheeks. "Wasn't that as bad as stealing?"
"Maybe he's dead now and it's too late," cried Gyp, who thought the whole thing full of intensely interesting possibilities.
"Uncle Peter cannot defend himself, now, Graham, so let us not pass judgment upon what he has done. And I don't suppose I can act on this matter until your father comes home."
"Oh, John, I know he will want to carry out his Uncle Peter's wish! You need not wait; too much time has been lost already," urged Mrs. Westley.
Graham was standing in front of the fire, his back to the blaze. It struck Uncle Johnny and his mother both that there was a new manliness in the slim, straight figure.
"I want to help find him. It's when you know about such tricks and cheating and—and injustice that you hate this trying to make money. I think things ought to be divided up in this world and every fellow given an equal chance."
John Westley laid his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Real justice is the hardest thing to find in this world, sonny. But keep the thought of it always in your mind—and look out for the rights of the other fellow, then you'll never make the mistakes Uncle Peter did."
"Poor old man, all he cared about in the world was making money, and then in his old age it gave him no joy—only torment. And he'd killed everything else in him that might have brought him a little happiness! I'm glad you and Robert aren't like him," Mrs. Westley added.
"I am, too," cried Gyp, so fervently that everyone laughed.
"How do you find people?" put in Tibby, who was trying very hard to understand what it was all about.
"It will be somewhat like the needle in the hay-stack. Boston is a big place—and a lot can happen in—let me see, that must have been fifteen years ago."
"Will you hire detectives?" Gyp was quivering with the desire to help hunt down the mysterious Craig Winton.
"I don't want to; I've always had a sort of distrust of detectives and yet we may have to. We have so little to start on. I'll get Stevens and Murray together to-morrow—perhaps they can tell me more about the buying of the patent. And I'll have Watkins recommend some reliable Boston attorney." Uncle John's voice sounded as though he meant business.
Isobel had said nothing during the little family council. She suddenly lifted her head, her eyes dark with disapproval.
"Won't giving this person all that money make us poor?"
Something in her tone sent a little shock through the others.
"My dear——" protested her mother.
"Oh, you'd go on cheating him—just like Uncle Peter! That's like you—just think about yourself," accused Graham, disgustedly.
"Do you want tainted money?" cried Gyp grandly.
Isobel's face flamed. "You're hateful, Graham Westley. I don't like money a bit better than you do—you'd be squealing if you couldn't get that new motorcycle and go to camp and spend all the money you do. And I think it's silly to hunt him up after all this time. He's probably invented a lot of things since and doesn't need any money, and if he hasn't—well, inventors are always poor, anyway." Isobel tried to make her logic sound as reasonable to the others as it did to her.
"Bonnie, dear——" That was the name Uncle Johnny had given to her in nursery days; he had not used it for a long time. "There are two reasons why we must carry out the wish Uncle Peter has expressed in this letter. One is, because he has asked it. He thought he would have time to give the letter to us himself—perhaps tell us more about it; he did not dream that it would lie for two years in that Bible. The other reason is that it is the honorable thing to do—and it not only involves the honor of Uncle Peter's name but your father's honor and mine—your mother's, yours, Graham's—even little Tibby's. We would do it if it took our last cent. But it won't——"
"Oh, Uncle Johnny, you're great——" Graham suddenly turned his face to the fire to hide his feeling. "When I'm a man I want to be just like you—and father."
Isobel would not let herself be persuaded to accept her family's point of view. In her heart there still rankled the thought that Uncle Johnny had taken Barbara Lee with him to Highacres and had made her stay at home. And it had been silly for them all to get so excited and make such a fuss over Gyp and Jerry—they might have known that they'd turn up all right. When she had seen Uncle Johnny pull Jerry down to a seat beside him on the davenport she had hated her!
Mrs. Westley followed John Westley to the little room that was always called "father's study."
"Won't it be exciting hunting up this Craig Winton?" Gyp asked the others. "Isn't it an interesting name? Maybe he'll have a lot of children. I hope there'll be some girls." Gyp hugged her knees in an ecstasy of anticipation. "If they're dreadfully poor it'll be like their finding a fairy godmother. Think of all they can have with that money!"
"All I hope"—Isobel's voice rang cruelly clear—"is that Uncle Johnny won't want to bring any more charity girls here!" She rose, then, and without looking at any of them, walked from the room.
Gyp opened her lips to speak, then closed them quickly. Whatever she might say, she knew, instinctively, would only add to the hurt Isobel had inflicted. She could not even throw her arms around Jerry's neck and hug her the way she wanted to do, because the expression of Jerry's face forbade it. It was a very terrible expression, Gyp thought, a little frightened—Jerry's eyes glowed with such a fierce pride and yet were so hurt!
After a moment Jerry said slowly, "I—I am going to bed." Gyp wished that Graham would say something and Graham wished Gyp would say something, and both sat tongue-tied while Jerry walked out of the room.
"Do you think we ought to tell mother?" Gyp asked, in a hushed voice.
"N-no," Graham hated the thought of tale-bearing. "But Isobel's an awful snob. It's her going around with Cora Stanton and Amy Mathers." To think this gave some comfort to Graham and Gyp.
"Well—I don't know what Jerry will do," sighed Gyp forlornly.
The door of Jerry's room was shut and Gyp had not the courage to open it. She listened for a moment outside it—there was not a sound from within. She went into her own room and undressed slowly, with a vague uneasiness that something was going to happen.
There had been no sound in Jerry's room because she had been standing rigid in the window, staring with burning, angry eyes out into the darkness. Her beautiful, happy world, that she had thought so full of kindness and good-fellowship, had turned suddenly upside down! "Charity girl——" She did not know just what it meant, but it made her think of homeless, nameless, unloved waifs—motherless, fatherless, dependent upon the world's generosity. Her hand went to her throat—charity girl—was not her beloved Sunnyside, with Sweetheart and Little-Dad, richer and more beautiful than anything on earth? And hadn't she always had——Like a flash, though, she saw herself in the queerly-fashioned brown dress that had seemed very nice back at Miller's Notch, but very funny when contrasted with the pretty, simple serge dresses that the other girls at Highacres wore. Perhaps they had all thought she was a "charity girl," a waif brought here by Uncle Johnny. To be sure, her schoolmates had welcomed her into all their activities, but perhaps they had felt sorry for her and, anyway, it had been after Uncle Johnny had given her the Christmas box——
She looked down at the dress she wore—it was the school dress that had been in the box. Perhaps she should not have taken it—taking it may have made her a charity girl. She should never have come here. It was costing someone money to send her to Highacres and to feed her; and often Mrs. Westley gave little things to her—and none of this could she repay!
With furious fingers Jerry unfastened and tore off the Christmas dress. From its hook in her clothes closet she took down the despised brown garment. Her only thought, then, was to sort out her very own possessions, but, as she collected the few things, the plan to go away—anywhere—took shape in her mind. She would go to Barbara Lee until her mother could send for her!
Then her door opened slowly. On the threshold stood Gyp in her red dressing-gown. It was not so dark but that Gyp could see that Jerry wore her old brown dress and that she held her hat in her hand. With one bound she was at her friend's side, holding her arm tightly.
"Jerry, you're not going away! You're not——"
"I've—got—to. I won't be——"
"You're not a—whatever Isobel said! She's horrid—she's jealous of you because Dana King and—and everybody thinks you're the most popular girl at Lincoln. Peggy Lee said she heard a crowd of girls saying so—that it was 'cause you're always nice to everybody and 'cause you like to do everything—I won't let you go!" There was something very stubborn in Gyp's dark face; Jerry wished she had not come in. Just before it had seemed so easy to slip away to Barbara Lee's and now——
"I never should have come here. I never should have let you all——"
Gyp gave her chum a little shake.
"Jerry Travis, Uncle Johnny brought you 'cause he said he knew you could give Lincoln School and Isobel and me a lot—oh, of something—mother read it in his letter—I remember. He said it was like a sort of scholarship. And I heard mother tell him the day I was teasing her to let me cut my hair short like yours, that she'd be willing to let me do anything if I could learn to be as sunny as you are—I heard her, 'cause I was listening to see if she was going to let me. So you've more than paid for everything. There's something more than just money! You're too proud; you're prouder than Isobel herself——"
Jerry dropped her hat on the bed. Gyp took it as a promising sign and she closed her arms tight around Jerry's shoulders.
"If you go away it will break my heart," she declared. "I love you more'n any chum I ever had—more than anybody—except my family, of course, and I love them differently, so it doesn't count. And mother loves you, too, and so does Tibby, and so does Uncle Johnny. And if you don't tell me right off that you won't go away I'll go straight to mother and then we'll have to tell her how nasty Isobel was, and that'll make her unhappy. And I mean it." There was no doubt of that.
Gyp's concluding argument broke down Jerry's determination to go. No, she could not; as Gyp had said, if she went away Mrs. Westley and Uncle Johnny must know why. She could not do a single thing that would make either of them the least unhappy. That would be poor gratitude. Perhaps Gyp was right, too—that she was too proud! Surely her mother would never have let her come if it was going to bring the least humiliation to her.
Gyp with quick fingers began to unbutton the brown dress. "Let's just show Isobel that we don't care what she says. I think it's that horrid Cora Stanton and Amy Mathers that makes her act so, anyway. They're horrid! Amy Mathers puts peroxide on her hair and Cora Stanton cheated in the geometry exam—everyone says so—I know what let's do, Jerry, there were some cup cakes left; I saw them in the pantry—let's go down ever so quietly and get them—and we'll have a spliffy spread." As she spoke she caught up Jerry's warm eiderdown wrapper and threw it around her.
Gyp's devotion was very soothing to poor distraught Jerry—so, too, was the suggestion of the cup cakes. But half-way down the stairs Jerry stopped short and whispered tragically in Gyp's ear:
"Gyp—we can't eat them! Our school record—no sweets between meals!" And at the thought of school Jerry's world suddenly righted again.
"Oh, well——" Gyp would have liked to suggest missing a point. "We can eat crackers and peanut butter—instead."
The rawness of March gave way to a half-hearted April, days of pelting rain with a few hours now and then of warm sunshine. Patches of grass showed green against the dirty snowbanks lingering stubbornly in sheltered corners; here and there a tiny purple or yellow crocus put up its bright head; a few brave robins started their nest-keeping and, perched shivering on bare boughs, valiantly sung the promise of spring.
There were other signs to mark the changing of the seasons—an organ-grinder trundled his wagon down the street, rag-pickers chanted, small, scurrying figures darted in and out on roller-skates, marbles rattled in ragged pockets, and the Lincoln boys and girls at Highacres turned their attention from basketball and hockey to swimming and the school dramatics.
Isobel Westley had been chosen to play the part of Hermia in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Her family shared her pleasure—they felt that a great distinction had come to them. Gyp and Jerry, particularly, were immensely excited. Jerry, who had only been to the theatre twice in her life, thought Isobel far more wonderful than the greatest actress who ever lived. Both girls sat by the hour and listened admiringly while Isobel rehearsed her lines before them.
Mrs. Westley, who had never quite outgrown a love of amateur dramatics, gave her approval to Isobel's plans for her costume. The other girls, Isobel explained, were making theirs, but Hermia's should be especially nice—so couldn't Madame Seelye design it? Madame Seelye did design it—Isobel standing patiently before the long mirror in the fashionable modiste's fitting-room while Madame, herself, on her knees, pinned and unpinned and pinned again soft folds of pink satin which made Isobel's face, above it, reflect the color of a rose.
"You'd think the whole world revolved 'round your old play," exclaimed Graham, not ill-humoredly. He had asked to be allowed to use the car to take a "crowd of the fellows" out to see if any sap was running in the woods and Mrs. Westley had explained that Isobel had to have her last fitting, stop at the hair-dresser's to try on a wig, and then go on to Alding's to match a pair of slippers.
"It does," laughed Isobel back, her eyes shining. She was very happy, and when she was happy she was a gay, good-natured Isobel and a very beautiful Isobel. All through the school year her spirit had smarted under the prominence attained by her schoolmates in the various school activities—Ginny Cox was conspicuous in everything and on the honor roll, besides; Peggy Lee played hockey and basketball, Dorrie was in the Glee Club, Pat Everett was a lieutenant in her scout troop, Cora Stanton was editor of the school paper, Sheila Quinn was the class president—even Gyp was a sub on the all-school basketball team, and Jerry—since that day she had skied down Haskin's Hill she had pushed her way into everything (that was the way Isobel thought of it); she played on the hockey team and had "subbed" on the sophomore basketball team and it was certain she would be picked on the swimming team. Though Isobel scorned all these activities because they were not "any fun," according to her creed, deep in her heart she had envied the girls who could enjoy them. But now her vanity was soothed and satisfied; anyone could play basketball or skate or swim, but no one could be the Hermia that she was going to be! Miss Gray had complimented her upon the interpretation she gave the role and her eyes told her what she saw in Madame Seelye's mirror.
And Dana King was playing Lysander—a fine Athenian lad he made. Isobel could afford now to forget the grudge she had nursed against him ever since the Christmas party. He looked so really grown-up that it pleased her to be a little shy with him, as though she had just met him—to forget that they had been schoolmates since kindergarten days. She read admiration in his eyes. What would he think, she said to herself, with a little flutter, when he saw the rose-pink costume?
"Isobel Westley, what fun to have a rehearsal every afternoon," had cried one of a group of girls which surrounded her.
"Does Lysander walk home with Hermia every day?" asked another, with a meaning laugh.
"Tell us all about it," coaxed Amy Mathers. "It's too romantic for anything."
Isobel blushed and laughed and pushed them away. She knew that they all envied her—she wanted them to envy her. She knew that anyone of them would gladly change places with her. Even Gyp and Jerry had sighed and begged their mother to help them get up some sort of a play in which they could take part. Gyp had asked Miss Gray to be allowed to help in the make-up room, even if she did nothing more than pass the little jars of cream and sticks of paint. And to Jerry had been assigned the especial task of shoving Puck, who was sadly rattle-brained, upon the stage, when the cues came.
The play was to be given on Saturday evening. On Friday evening a full-dress rehearsal was called. Hermia's costume was finished and was spread, in all its ravishing beauty, across the guest-room bed. On the floor from beneath it peeped the slippers which had been made to order.
"It'll make all the others look cheap," declared Isobel, thrilling at the pretty sight.
Mrs. Westley looked troubled. Certain doubts had been disturbing her ever since that first moment of enthusiasm when she had yielded to Isobel's coaxing. Isobel had said that the other girls were making their own costumes—she knew that the faculty disliked any extravagance or great expenditures of money in any of the school affairs—might it not have been better to have helped Isobel fashion something simple and pretty at home? Then when she watched Isobel's flushed, happy face, radiantly pretty, she smothered her doubt.
"Pride goeth before a fall, daughter mine. Take care that your costume doesn't make you forget your part," she laughed. After all, Isobel was so pretty that she would outshine the others, anyway—let her costume be ever so dowdy!
Gyp, Jerry, Tibby, even Graham, superintended Isobel's preparations for the dress rehearsal. Gyp sat back on her heels and declared that Hermia was "good enough to eat." Jerry thought so, too, though she had not the courage to say so. Graham straddled the footboard of the bed and passed scathing remarks concerning girls' "duds," but his eyes were proudly admiring and in his pocket he treasured a ticket for the first row that he had bought from another fellow at an advanced price. Isobel ready, they all squeezed merrily into the automobile, taking care not to crush the rose-pink finery, and whirled off to Highacres.
Isobel, who loved dramatic situations in real life quite as well as in make-believe, planned to conceal her radiance until her first appearance on the stage, when she would startle them all, and especially Lysander, with her dazzling loveliness. She stood in a shadow of the wings with her coat wrapped about her. Except for Jerry, waiting to do her humble part, she was alone. She listened to the ceaseless chatter in the dressing-room with a happy smile. She heard Mr. Oliver, the coach, giving sharp orders. There was some trouble with the curtain. She took a quick step forward to see what it was; the high heel of her satin slipper caught in a coil of rope from the staging and she fell forward to her knees. With the one thought to save the satin gown, she jerked her body quickly backward.
"Oh, Isobel, are you hurt?" Jerry was at her side in a moment.
"N-no, only——" Isobel managed to get to her feet, but she leaned dizzily against the scene propping. "Whoever left that old rope here! They ought to be reported!" She glared angrily at poor Jerry as though the fault must be hers. "I've—I've ruined my dress," she sobbed.
Jerry examined the satin skirt. "There isn't the tiniest spot, Isobel. But are you sure you are not hurt? Please try to walk."
That was exactly what Isobel did not want to do, for there was a horrible aching pain around her knee. Then she heard Mr. Oliver's voice again. The curtain had been fixed; in a moment——
"Leave me alone! You'd just like it if I couldn't go on——"
"Isobel! Oh, here you are." Dana King stuck his head around the corner. Isobel let her cape drop to the floor. The whiteness of her face only added to the pleasing effect. "Whew!" Lysander whistled. "Some class! Say, you're great! Come on—old Oliver's throwing a fit."
With Jerry's anxious eyes and Dana King's admiring gaze upon her, it was possible for Isobel to walk out upon the stage. Somehow or other she got through her part—miserably, she knew, for again and again Mr. Oliver made her repeat her lines and once, in despair, stopped everything to ask her if she was ill, and did not wish to have Miss Lee take her part. Isobel did not intend giving up her part to anyone; she gritted her little white teeth and went on.
Upon arriving home she declined the hot cocoa Mrs. Westley had waiting for her and hurried to her room on the plea of being very tired. She sat huddled in her dressing gown waiting, with a white, strained face, until she heard the girls' steps on the stairs. Then she called Jerry.
"Close the door," she whispered, without further greeting. "I want you to promise not to tell mother or—or anyone that—I hurt myself. I didn't hurt myself—much, and, anyway, I'm going to be in that play if I die!" Isobel had hard work to keep back the tears.
Jerry was all sympathy. "I won't tell anyone, Isobel, if you don't want me to. And let me look at your knee—it is your knee, isn't it? I know a lot about those things 'cause Little-Dad's a doctor, you see." Jerry knelt by the side of Isobel's chair and gently drew aside the dressing gown. "Oh, Isobel!" she cried softly. The knee was badly swollen and the flesh had discolored. "That looks—maybe you ought——"
Isobel jerked away from her. "If you're going to make a fuss you can go to bed! But if you know anything—oh, it hurts—terribly——"
Without another word Jerry went after hot water and towels. Half through the night she sat by Isobel's bed, her eyes heavy with sleep, patiently administering pack after pack. Gradually the pain subsided and Isobel dropped off into slumber.
All the next day Isobel's secret weighed heavily on Jerry's conscience; with it, too, was an uncertain admiration for Isobel's grit. But Jerry wondered if she, even though she might be the Hermia that Isobel was and wear the rose satin—could want it enough to endure the pain silently.
Isobel had begged to be allowed to stay in bed all day and "rest" and her mother had willingly acquiesced, carrying her meals to her room and chatting with her, unsuspecting, while she nibbled at what was on the tray.
Jerry helped Isobel dress. The pain caused by the effort to stand on the injured leg brought a deep flush to Isobel's cheeks and tiny purplish shadows under her pretty eyes, so that she made even a lovelier Hermia than on the evening before. That knowledge, the murmur of admiration that swept through the crowded hall, the envy she read on the other girls' faces, the shy, boyish wonder in Lysander's lingering glance, helped her through the agony of it all until the very end when, quite suddenly, she crumpled into Lysander's quickly-outstretched arms! The last scene had a touch of reality not expected; no one had the presence of mind to ring down the curtain; the girls and boys rushed pell-mell upon the stage.
Graham and Dana King carried Isobel to an empty classroom where she quickly regained consciousness. Her first sensation was a deep thankfulness that the play was over and that she could tell about her injured knee. Jerry had already done so, a little conscience-smitten, and Uncle Johnny had rushed away for a doctor. Isobel looked at her crumpled rose-pink skirts with something akin to loathing and clung tightly to her mother's hand. Graham, in a voice that sounded far off, was assuring her that he could carry her out to the car without hurting her the least bit! And Dana King was asking, at regular intervals, and in an anxious voice, if she felt better. Oh, it was nice to have them all care—it made the pain easier——
...She liked the funny bright lights swimming all around her and the quick steps and the hushed voices.... Mrs. Hicks' little round eyes blinking at her ... the feel of the soft sheets and the doctor's cold touch on her poor, swollen knee ... the swinging things before her eyes and the far-off hum of voices that were really very close and the tiny star of light over the blur in the other end of the room ... the million stars ... the slippery taste of the medicine someone gave her ... and always mother's fingers tight, tight about her own....
"This is very serious," came in a small voice that couldn't be the doctor's because he spoke with a deep boom ... then she went to sleep....
JERRY WINS HER WAY
Poor, pretty Hermia—trying days followed her little hour of triumph. While the whole school buzzed over the gorgeousness of her costume, over the satin and silver-heeled slippers, over her prettiness and how she had really acted just as well as Ethel Barrymore, she lay very still on her white bed and let one doctor after another "do things" to her poor knee. There were consultations and X-ray photographs, and all through it old Doctor Bowerman, who had dosed her through mumps and measles, kept saying, at every opportunity, with a maddening wag of his bald head: "If you only hadn't been such a little fool as to walk on it!" Finally, after what seemed to Isobel a great deal of needless fuss, the verdict was given—in an impressive now-you'll-do-as-I-tell-you manner; she had torn the muscles and ligaments of her knee; some had stretched, little nerves had been injured; she must lie very quietly in bed for a few weeks and then—perhaps——
"I know what he means," Isobel had cried afterwards, in a passion of fear; "he means he can tell then whether I will ever be able to—to dance again or not!" The thought was so terrible that her mother had difficulty soothing her.
"If you do what he tells you now you'll be dancing again in less than no time," reassured Uncle Johnny. "Dr. Bowerman wants to frighten you so that you will be careful."
The first week or so of the enforced quiet passed very pleasantly; mother had engaged a cheery-faced nurse who proved to be excellent company; every afternoon some of the girls ran in on their way home from school with exciting bits of school gossip and the whispered inquiry—of which Isobel never wearied—how had it felt to faint straight into Dana King's arms? Uncle Johnny brought jolly gifts, flowers, books, puzzles; Gyp tirelessly carried messages to Amy Mathers and Cora Stanton and back again.
But as the days passed these pleasant little excitements failed her, one by one. Mother decided that the nurse was not needed—there was no medicine to be given—and a tutor was engaged, instead, to come each morning. Her school friends grew weary of the details of Isobel's accident and the limitations of her pink-and-white room; other things at school claimed their attention—a new riding club was starting, and the Senior parties; they had not a minute, they begged Gyp to tell Isobel, to play—they were "awfully" sorry and they'd run in when they could. Gyp and Jerry, too, were swimming every afternoon in preparation for the spring inter-school swimming meet. The long hours dragged for the little shut-in; she nursed a not-unpleasant conviction that she was abused and neglected. She consoled her wounded spirit with morbid pictures of how, after a long, bedridden life, she would reap, at its end, a desperate remorse from her selfish, inconsiderate family; she refused to be cheered by the doctor's assertion that she was making a tremendously "nice" recovery and would be as lively on her feet as she'd ever been—though he never failed to add: "You don't deserve it!"
One afternoon, three weeks after the accident, Isobel looked at her small desk clock for the fourth time in fifteen minutes. A ceaseless patter of rain against the window made the day unusually trying. Her mother had gone, by the doctor's orders, to Atlantic City for a week's rest, leaving her to the capable ministrations of Mrs. Hicks. That lady had carried off her luncheon tray with the declaration that "a body couldn't please Miss Isobel anyways and if Miss Isobel wanted anything she could ring," and Isobel had mentally determined, making a little face after the departing figure, that she'd die before she asked old Hicks for anything! It was only half past two—it would be an hour before even Tibby would come, or Gyp or Jerry. What day was it?
When one spent every day in one small pink-and-white room it was not easy to remember! Thursday—no, Wednesday, because Mrs. Hicks had said the cook was out——
A door below opened and shut. Footsteps sounded from the hall; quick, bounding, they passed her door.