"Sis!" groaned Dozia. "The lover's only a big brother!" She slumped in her seat dejectedly.
"Shirley's brother," reasoned Jane, "and we have been blaming that girl! She helped her brother to get back to college!" The voice reeked with dismay and incredulity.
"Can you imagine college running in her family?" questioned Dozia the incredulous.
"I suppose we should hardly have read the letter—"
"Why not? Should we have risked our precious lives up in that attic and then turned down this important clue? Indeed I'm all for asking Shirley to introduce me," and Dozia strutted off to show her height if not to display the "runs" in her hose and the "threadbares" in her sweater elbows.
"But it does sort of take one down," mused Jane, following her companion toward Warburton Hall. "I hate to feel I have so misjudged Shirley."
"Pure personal pride on your part, Jane. I have proof positive of the girl's perfidy. Every single day I must paste anew the paper decoration that hides her work. I mean that crack in my mirror. More than once it has done dreadful things to my poor face. If I move just one inch to the left the crack gashes my right cheek. You know how a glass reflects. But this brother. May I see the paper, Jane? His name might be between the lines."
"Oh, it's Ted," said Jane innocently. "See the signature here, but no address, of course. And from that immature hand, Doze, I am sure Ted is a junior."
"But, Jane!" almost gasped Dozia. "What can you do with that letter? It would be positively dangerous to let Shirley know you found it. It would mean, logically, that she rang the ghost chains, and that you knew she had helped her brother financially." All the nonsense had now died out of Dozia's voice, and she compelled Jane to stand while she proclaimed this ultimatum.
"But how could she get up there, Dozia, when we know positively she was not on the campus the night of the big alarm?"
"And little Sarah is innocent, I am sure," went on Dozia, "for she handled that trash with an interest too keen for previous acquaintance with the stuff. Each piece gave her a little spasm of surprise. I watched just how it affected her."
"Queer, I noticed that also," said Jane. "Yes, I'm sure she never saw the armor before. But Shirley is never around in any excitement. I am afraid she spends a lot of time in Dol Vin's."
"But how could she ever get two hundred dollars for brother Ted?"
"I—wonder, Dozia, could she be in partnership with Dol?"
"She might, but wouldn't that mean an outlay?"
"Of course. There'll be little profit there—and two hundred!" The amount was appalling to Jane's practical mind.
Voices broke in on the soliloquy.
"Here come the girls from their ride, and what a shame you didn't go, Jane. Laying a ghost is all right, but if I rode a horse as you do, I'd assign the ghosts to others. 'Lo, girls! Break your necks or anything?" chirped Dozia.
Judith hurried to gain Jane's arm and squeezed it affectionately as she fell in step.
"Such a glorious ride, Jane!" enthused Judith, "and we all missed you so much. Firefly was good, but he knew you were not on his back." Judith looked "nobby" in her riding togs.
"And whom do you think we saw out with a stable horse and instructor?" asked Janet Clarke. "The Rebel Shirley Duncan! And you know, Jane, what a price Clayton asks for his horses."
Jane was amazed. A riding instructor, horse and hired outfit for Shirley Duncan!
What was the secret spring of her prodigious income?
Excitement subsided with a thud at the discovery of the cast-iron ghost, and for some days a round of studies and basketball completely absorbed the girls of Wellington. Whatever the restless freshmen had in hand was not evident to the other classes, and only Jane, Judith and Dozia shared the interest, and possible anxiety, following the clues and suspicions in the undertow.
"It's a dreadful thing to be proud," confessed Jane to these companions after a rather too vigorous hour in the gym on Saturday afternoon. "Somehow, when I think of my own darling daddy's scholarship being dragged in the mud this way, I feel—dangerous."
"Don't blame you," acquiesced Judith. "The very impudence of a girl like Shirley breaking into college that way, then boasting she doesn't care a whang what happens! What do you suppose WILL happen at mid-year?"
"A neat little note, 'unable to keep up with her class,' I suppose," said Jane. "And while I don't wish that girl any more harm than she's bent on, I am bound to confess I would sigh in relief at her departure."
"But that lovely brother Ted," mourned Dozia. Judith had been made fully acquainted with the fragmentary letter recovered in the ghost raid.
"That would be hard," agreed Judith.
"And I'm sure there's a sweet little mother—but we saw the mother!" Jane broke off suddenly. "How incongruous that those two country folks should have a son at college like our Ted!"
"Our Ted," echoed Judith, allowing her head to droop on Jane's shoulder impressively.
"Awful!" moaned Judith.
"Turrible," groaned Dozia.
They were walking leisurely up from the gym, and the clouds of young Winter wrapt the gay sunset in fleecy blankets, while capering elves picked up every frightened little leaf and tossed it cruelly from its hiding place.
"It seems to me," said Jane, influenced by the spirit of her surroundings, "that this year has been rather unsatisfactory. Not that I want to shine by the reflected glory of dad's winner, but it would be consistent to have the scholarship always won by good students."
"Rather a jolt," agreed Judith, "to have the romp come in on merit when she can't prove it. It really looks like a trick somewhere, Jane."
"But the exams are very severe and I've seen the report. Nothing 'foohey' about that. Yes, I have known girls to sail along beautifully in school and flunk everything in college. It really can be done."
"But two hundred dollars can't be done that way," Dozia interposed, "and no one seems to be missing her change purse."
"Beyond me," Jane owned up, "and I've almost ceased to wonder about the dumb-waiter tenant. Wish you would agree to my ascent in that car, Judith."
"Yes, you want a party to your folly. You don't feel free to break your pretty neck without fastening the crime on poor Judy Stearns. No, Jane, dear, you don't ride in that Ferris wheel while I'm your side partner. You know scorpions are deadly and love dark corners. Ugh! How could you think of going up in that beastly cage!"
"Don't get excited, dear, I have promised not to try it," acceded Jane. "Although I have felt there might be some clue in the old derrick. Don't go indoors yet, the air is—"
She stopped to watch two girls on horseback gallop along the bridle path.
"Shirley Duncan and some stranger," exclaimed Judith. "And how they are going—oh, mercy!"
"Oh, oh!" screamed all three, for at that moment both riders were vainly trying to check their horses in a sudden dash down one of the steepest grades, straight over a hill almost perpendicular in its slope.
"The horses have left the path," breathed Jane, watching with fascinated gaze the two mounts galloping down at a speed surely disastrous. One, the taller girl, seemed to have some control, but poor Shirley!
"Heavens!" screamed Judith, "she's gone!"
The horse had stumbled and its rider was rolling headlong down the hill, while the frightened animal pawed the earth in a wild attempt to regain its feet. The girls, terrified, started swiftly for the spot, but even as they ran the unfortunate rider went over a sharper turn and struck. Then—she lay in an inert heap against a jagged rock! In a moment they were at her side.
"Her head!" exclaimed Jane, frightened at the deathly face she now stared down at.
"Can we carry her? This is so far from a building," gasped Judith. "Oh, Jane, see the blood!"
"I can easily carry her," answered Dozia quickly. "Let me pick her up, and take her or my shoulder."
"Wait," Jane cautioned. "It might be dangerous. We must stretch her out flat so that her head is down. There, she may soon regain consciousness. I wonder if one of us should run up to Madison?"
"I'll go," volunteered Judith, evidently glad to escape from the horror of the scene. "See, the other rider is still galloping! She can't stop her horse. Oh, how terrible if the runaway gets out among the autos."
"Hurry, Judith," Jane begged. "Have them bring a stretcher. I am sure we shouldn't lift her head; her face is bloodless."
"She appears to be recovering," Dozia whispered. "Poor Shirley! How dreadful that this should happen!"
"If only she lives," moaned Jane, contrition in voice. Somehow it was unbearable that this country girl had been so severely censored by Jane and her companions. As she lay there, all the horrors of her unhappy school days seemed to fly up and strike Jane in a charge of bitterness.
"I'm sure she is only stunned," Dozia said consolingly. "See, Jane, there is a tiny streak of color coming. She will soon react."
Yes, the pallor was melting into a film more lifelike, but the heavy eyelids looked so deathly! How awful to gaze upon that mockery of death-complete unconsciousness'.
"Her horse is walking off quietly, Jane," again Dozia spoke. "I believe the animal is wise enough to know he should not go without his rider."
Even the riderless horse, with his solemn clip-clapping, echoed a terrifying note to the scene. It was all so appalling.
"Shirley! Shirley!" whispered Jane, close to the ear of the stricken girl.
Then "Shirley?" repeated the blue lips in a questioning answer. "Where? Oh, my head!" and a spasm of pain struck across the white face.
"You are all right, Shirley, dear," Jane comforted, relief in her voice. "You just fell from your horse. Lie still until we can take you to the infirmary. Do you feel a little better?" How wonderful to hear the stricken girl speak again!
"The awful noise in my ears!" she gasped. "Like a torrent rushing—"
"That's only the returning circulation," said Dozia in the same quiet monotone Jane had used.
What a relief! To know her mind was clear! And the blood streak on her neck seemed now only from surface scratches—the briars had torn her flesh cruelly as she dashed down that hill.
Over the same hill, but not by the same route, could now be seen the stretcher bearers. With four seniors were also Miss Rutledge, the dean, and Miss Fairlie, the matron of Madison. They were hurrying and silent, only the light tread of crackling leaves on the bridle path accompanying the grave little procession.
Jane and Dozia were chafing Shirley's hands. At the approach of the litter they stood waiting to lift with gentle hands the prostrate girl. It seemed so strangely pathetic: the big country girl in that gay riding habit, the glaring red coat such a contrast now to the helpless wearer. Her little velvet jockey cap still held on with its chin strap, and the new chamois gloves hiding her untamed hands were so strikingly new!
Few words were spoken as the rescuers met. Miss Rutledge gave quiet orders and these were carried out with intelligent care. Finally Shirley was on the canvas stretcher, and Jane was holding a restorative close to her nostrils.
"There, dear. It's all done and you won't move another bit now to hurt your head. See how steadily the girls carry you?"
Dozia held one hand opposite Jane's side and the older students moved, over the uncertain hill, tense and powerful against a possible jolt or jarring movement of the patient. Once down on the path the task was less difficult, and as the corps turned back to take the path from the gateway into the grounds again, Shirley's horse, standing by the post, whinnied after them. No one spoke, but Shirley put a gloved hand over her strained eyes, and it was plain she feared even the sound of the faithful animal's call to her.
At the infirmary Dr. Pawley was waiting, and quickly as they reached the big white room the students were dismissed, while he and his nurse took charge.
"Judy," Jane gulped, but before they could reach a secluded spot her tense nerves gave way.
"Judy! Judy!" she cried. "Why didn't we try to save her from those reckless strangers? Why didn't we beg her to give up the company of Dolorez Vincez?"
"But we did, Janie. We tried every possible way," consoled Judith. "This accident could happen to anyone—to a skilled rider as well as to a beginner. Besides—she will be all right. See how quickly she became fully conscious!"
"But to think—" Jane's words were lost in choking sobs, and for the first time Judith saw what genuine grief could do to sunny little Jane Allen.
Wisely her companion allowed the storm to beat itself out. That sort of hysteria is always best spent unchecked, and Judith Stearns merely stroked the red gold head that had buried itself in her lap, while the shoulders pulsed and throbbed under Jane's continuous sobbing. At last she raised her head and smiled piteously.
"I feel better," she said. "It's awful to have that sort of thing clutch at one's throat. Now my weakness has passed, let us see if there is anything wanted. Hereafter I shall not trust dad's scholarship girl to strangers' handling." And she meant every word she said.
Quickly the news of the accident spread, and gust as quickly came the keen suspense and wave of suppressed excitement. Rumors were whispered: first that the victim was in danger of death, next that her injuries were not serious, until even the most sensational among the many pupils realized the importance of withholding their opinions.
Hushed voices around that part of college where the infirmary was situated bespoke an active sympathy, and the weight of oppression that comes with dread had suddenly changed the whole atmosphere into a cloud of gloom.
Dear, thoughtless, headstrong Shirley!
The days of watching and anxiety that followed the accident left no time for the lesser interests among Shirley's group at Wellington. For that awful uncertain period there was grave danger of brain concussion, and in the fear of that it must be said every girl in Lenox, besides many outside the freshmen's quarters, showed their loyalty to the untamed country girl. No messages could be sent, no flowers even allowed to attest to their kindness, as in the critical time absolute solitude was imperative. Then, like a flash of that robust country vitality, the patient rallied and all danger was pronounced past.
One particular, however, caused Jane keen annoyance. All messages to Shirley's folks had been passed out through Dolorez Vincez, who claimed to be a personal friend of the family. Not even a mother would have been allowed to see the patient, and as Shirley begged that this plan of Dolorez' agency be carried out, no objection was made to it by the very much alarmed dean, Miss Rutledge.
Another puzzling detail was the fact that Sarah Howland begged Jane not to interfere with these arrangements, as any such interference would undoubtedly shock the stricken girl, she argued. Sally and Jane had just left Lenox and were discussing these details.
"And I'm so glad now," breathed Sally in her entreaty to Jane, "that you listened to me and did not report that matter to Miss Rutledge."
"So am I," said Jane in bewilderment. "I am glad of anything I may have done to make her path smoother here. I can't see why Dolorez should step in at this critical moment, though, but I do know she took Shirley's folks around when they were here, and as you say, Sally, to suddenly change the whole line of communication with her family might not only shock Shirley, but also terrify her folks. What a relief that she is now out of danger!"
"I felt like running away at first," confessed Sally, "it was so terrifying. But I realized I might be the very one most wanted here- -if anything serious should happen."
Jane cast a quick inquiring glance at the younger girl following that statement, but was not rewarded by a further gleam of confidence.
"I'm afraid I have neglected her," said Jane, "and I mean to make amends. The juniors usually help backward freshmen, but Shirley seemed to resent my attempts even at friendship."
"Miss Allen," said Sarah in a compelling voice, "you may not know it but—that girl is gifted at mathematics. She can solve the most difficult problems and is always ahead at geometry and trig. Other studies seem to confuse her, and she just laughs at the languages, but she's a perfect gem at math."
"Is that so? I'm so glad!" exclaimed Jane, "for if she is capable at math she ought to pull through her other work. How strange I never heard anyone mention her talent?"
Sally shook her head and smiled. "She is so odd and defiant, but under it all I believe the girl is just a big-hearted, untamed creature. That is why, Miss Allen, I have kept as near to her as she would allow me to come. She is too honest even to affect changes."
"Capable at math?" Jane repeated, trying to believe it. "I am so glad, Sally. I can't tell you what it means to me that this student is not wholly—dull."
"I can guess," replied Sally simply, and Jane wondered then if she knew about the scholarship.
"Why did the girls abandon their plans for the ghost show?" asked Jane suddenly. "I thought they were all so keen about it."
"Perhaps I am to blame," faltered Sally timidly. "But you see, Miss Allen—well, there was a complication there—and—" she stumbled piteously. Jane tried to rescue her.
"But it would only have been a lark, and the freshmen have had no Barnstorm this season!"
"I know," said Sally helplessly, "but Shirley was so sick and—we have given the idea up."
Jane had to be content with that, but the veiled explanation only whetted her curiosity.
Few accidents were recorded in Wellington's history, and the mishap of Shirley ran its course in intense interest. Then presently the patient was again defending herself just as before, scorning even the humblest sympathy offered.
"Served me right," she insisted, talking to Sally. "I know how to ride and can handle any old farm horse that ever pulled a plough, but I want my hands free and my horse must be unchecked. Stylish togs, gloves, saddles and trappings get in my way, and that hill!"
So the accident had served as a lesson, and the fallen pride was not wasted in its effect upon the ambitious equestrian.
Thanksgiving had passed with few of the girls leaving college, as special permission was required for that privilege, and now the holiday season was imminent. Even basketball had lost some of its power to enthuse, and the fact that Shirley was not considered well enough to go into the rough game, and also that Sally Howland was too small and light to be eligible, served to lessen the interest of Jane and Judith in the personnel of the teams, for as juniors in a second extension year they felt a little too grown up to go themselves generally into the big games.
Jane was chosen and acted as referee, and Judith was forced to play center in the Breslin game, but even winning over the neighboring academy somehow had lost its thrill. Golf was the popular game now with Jane, Judith, Dozia and Janet Clarke; Ted Guthrie, too, toddled around the links, and golf permitted such opportunities for confidences and was so independent of stated hours and limits of endurance that time was given on the course to talk many things over.
The girls had covered the frosted field and were returning before the first period of study, and that magic beautifier, the air of early morning, left little undone in his art of tone and tonic for Jane and Judith, when they dropped their bags and hurried to the day's tasks in mental exploits,
"This very afternoon I am going to talk with Shirley," Jane decided. "And wouldn't it be wonderful, Judy, if she turned out worth while after all?"
"No, it wouldn't," glowered Judith. "Any girl who can be as sick as she was and not have her brother Ted come to see her—well, my interest lags at that point and I don't intend to 'rouse it."
"I still have that letter," Jane reflected. "Never seem to get a chance to turn it in. And I didn't want to destroy it."
"Give it to me, Janie, do," teased Judith. "Next to knowing the darling Ted, having his letter in installments might serve. Tonight we'll read it over again. It seems so long since we found it with the ghost."
"Doesn't it? And even the play was given up when Shirley was stricken."
"But they used the armor the other night in their pageant," said Judith, "and everyone thought it wonderful. What a shame they expunged the ghost story."
"Freshmen are so unreliable," sagely commented Jane. "But I'm afraid outside influence spoiled the plot for the spook tragedy. I hope my things come today for the prom. I feel rather in need of a first class time under the beneficent influence of a real orchestra and prudently shaded lights."
"Me, too," agreed Judith promptly if inelegantly.
So the gay season advanced apace, and it was soon one round of trying on gowns and fussing with sample hair dressing in all the "dorms" of Wellington. For the one big function known simply as The Dance all students were eligible, and it was just in advance of this that Shirley "broke loose."
She openly and unqualifiedly "cut loose" from Dol Vin's "interference," as she called it.
"I'm through with her," she told her companions; but it was to Sally she confided the details.
The girls had been planning their dance costumes and Sally was insisting she did not care to go to the dance, when Shirley took another spasm of revolt. She would never again go into that hateful place, she declared, and more than that, she threatened exposure to the beauty shop methods if its proprietor did not soon return some of the "loans" long over due to her (Shirley).
"Kitten," she exploded without warning, "I've had my lesson. Do you know that Dol Vin is actually sending bills to my innocent dad for her entertainment of the country folks? Imagine all she's begged and borrowed from me to meet 'emergencies' in her business, and then to ask my dad to pay her dinner bills! Of course she thinks I'm helpless, and that she has me in her power, but I am not such a 'greenie' now. And we will both be free soon!"
The deep-set eyes took on a look more confident than defiant, and even "Kitten" did not fail to observe a marked improvement in the speaker's manner and appearance.
Shirley was powerful and forceful, with that unruly aggressiveness conspicuous in young children, when the weakness is classified as "having their own way" before twelve years, and as "being capable" after that—the latter faculty true fruit of the former germ. So it was with this country girl; her very crimes were molding into virtues, and that again proves a world old philosophy.
"Your hair is very becoming that way," ventured the blonde Sally, whose own hair was always a most exacting halo—Sally had to live up to it. "And you don't mind being called Bobbie?"
"I like it," answered Shirley. "I suppose you know what a time I had to get the wig back to hair after the treatment. I am positive that east side French woman was trying an experiment on my poor head. But among other things the accident did for me, it gave my hair a chance to shoot." She ran her long fingers through the rather stubby growth that had taken on a decided unruliness in splendid imitation of curl. "You see it was rubbed every day, and that charitable nurse rubbed curl right in it. I just love it and wouldn't interfere with it for anything. Curling hair artificially, I know, simply makes it cranky."
"Yes, spoils its temper and breaks its character. Just like twisting a tender vine and forcing it to turn away from its chosen paths. How are you getting on with your cramming? Can I help you?" asked Sally, diverging suddenly.
"Hopeless," replied the other. "I don't believe I'll wait to face the music."
"Oh, you must, Miss Allen is so interested——"
"That's the hard part of it now. I can't face Miss Allen. She's such a good sport." The bobbed brown head was suddenly dropped into her cupped hands reflectively. "You see, at first, Kitten, I was just a rebel; satisfied to get in here and to have the name of it. Then, these girls whom I so despised were so fine to me," again the look of dejection, "and, girlie, when I lay on my back at the foot of that hill and Jane Allen whispered 'Shirley' into my buzzing ears— it did something to me." Her companion allowed the pause to act without venturing to interrupt it. It was the working of the miracle! "Yes, and she meant it, too," went on Shirley reflectively. "No silly stuff just because she feared I was done for. She and big, brown-freckled Dozia just seemed to drag me back to earth, while the other!" her eyes blazed. "Do you know why I have never spoken of my companion on that hateful ride?"
"I've been ashamed to," declared Shirley, "and thankful the juniors who helped me did not torture me with questions. Well—she was that foreign element with a name like a crocheted alphabet and a face like a week old Easter egg—running its colors, you know. Dol has her down from New York to practice for the stage," this thought revived Shirley's spirits and she gave a gay howl. "I can see why she needs the woods to practice the yells she's cultivating," a foot was kicked out at the thought. "But I'm through with them, Kitten, but please don't think I've reformed," she gasped. "I despise turncoats and—traitors."
Shirley wore an angora tarn, leaf green sweater and big plaid golf skirt just then. No one in Wellington could have criticised her outfit. Even her attire seemed benefited by the miracle.
"Bye-by, little sister," she addressed Sally. "This experience has done something else for me other than opening my stupid eyes—it has given me a real chum."
And she got away before Sally could answer.
"Have you noticed, Judy," asked Jane, "what a miraculous improvement is manifest in our two pet freshies? To wit: Sally and Shirley."
"Yes," snapped Judith, "and I've noticed something else. You are apt to fall in love with the rebel."
Jane laughed. She was looking so lovely after a wild time in the pool, and a girl who can look well after a swim is surely very pretty. But Jane's hair loved the water, and a flash of sunshine after it just whipped the little ringlets into flossy tangles. Then her eyes always danced from excitement, and her agile form just vibrated energy. Don't blame Jane for this description—it is given through Judy's eyes, whose hair went stringy, whose eyes went blinky, and who actually turned "goose flesh" from a pool swim in December.
"No," said Jane, "I couldn't really love a girl who has been so temperamental, but I could tolerate her, and that's a concession."
"If I don't rub down quickly I'm afraid these goose fleshings will freeze into pebbles. I fee like a big stone as it is," said Judith, shivering, chattering and turning bluer. "Wait for me in the run; I want to talk to you."
The "run" was that part of the gym kept clear for free exercise and was used especially by such students as demanded a substitute for the "beach run in the sand" after swimming. Also, it gave space for track work, although the open season for cross country runs was rarely closed at Wellington.
Jane was dressed and out before Judith appeared. It was Saturday again, a free day; free from study but simply crowded with other contingencies. Students were knotted together, ready for basketball, golf, handball and all other forms of exercise, not to omit the dress rehearsal at dancing already well under way in a corner clear of apparatus and ropes. Here girls were dreamily dancing who knew how to dance well, while others were showing steps to companions and comparing notes on new dances, as applied from various sections of the country. What Boston had last year, Chicago was disclaiming as too old; and again there was Maud Leslie from Jersey actually teaching Nellie Saunders from Buffalo the Drop Step.
Inez Wilson was endangering her life and limb "toeing" and each time she pirouetted on those toes, without the usual padding of the oriental shaped supports, a perfect flock of other dancers slid from danger of her avalanche.
"You'll skid, Ina!" yelled Nellie Brocton. "Besides, this dance isn't going to be for soloists," and Nettie swung away with Janet, crooning and humming to the imaginary orchestra.
Judith came out from the lockers, a challenge now to the effects of her long swim. True, her hair was wispy, and every snap on her blouse had not joined its partner, but taking her all in all Judith Stearns "looked dandy" and said she felt just like that.
"I'm too lazy to run," she told Jane, "besides, my shoe laces would trip me. I'm plenty warm and proof positive against getting cold. Sit down while I tie my shoes."
"See Shirley and Sally practicing," remarked Jane indifferently.
"I don't want to!" retorted Judith. "Jane, I'm alarmed and I know your sinister motive. You have heard Teddy is coming to the dance!"
"No!" gasped Jane, unable to hide her surprise.
"There, I knew you would take it that way. But be warned! Teddy is to be my partner for as many dances as his sister can spare," and Judith tucked a wad of shoestring in at her ankles as if the pocket were in a commodious knitting bag instead of a tennis shoe.
"I hope he's fat and awkward and red headed and clumsy," snapped Jane, tearing off the qualifications like coupons.
"And I know he's tall and graceful and has chestnut hair," fawned Judith. "I've loved Ted from the moment I saw how he curls his cross letters like a riding crop. That's always a sign of originality and genius." There was a hint of strut in Judith's ordinarily graceful motion, and tiny drops of pool water flicked her eyelashes unnoticed. When Judith Stearns professed to "love a boy" she did so heroically, though he be myth or just an ordinary "full back."
Jane made her way over to the dancers' corner. Shirley was howling over her own failure at the Drop Step. She choked back her uproariousness as Jane came along.
"Can't do it," she confessed. "Guess I shall have to stick to 'One Steps.'"
"Every fault is an art at the big dance," said Jane. "It's the one chance we have to stand by our home towns; we all seem to dance so differently. But that's very good, Shirley. I wouldn't give it up if you really want to get it. There's just a queer little knack this way." She threw her arm around the novice and led her off. Judith had condescended to follow Jane up and was now talking to Sally.
For the length of the "arena" Jane and Shirley struggled along, chatting and smiling without restraint or self-consciousness. Girls "made eyes" in criticism, but none ventured to shape their criticism into words, for the rebel Shirley was doing pretty well in everything these days, and why should not a junior take her up if she wished to?
At the turn Shirley drew Jane aside from the dancers and said in an undertone:
"Miss Allen, I do wish you could persuade little Kitten—I mean Sally, to come to the dance. First, I was determined not to go and she persuaded me. Then I found she herself had no idea of attending. Of course it's always a question of clothes!"
"Surely we must insist on her coming," said Jane decisively. "But it is awkward to get around clothes. You know her so well, can you suggest a way?" Jane dared not hint that she would ask nothing better than providing the dance dress for little Sally herself.
"She is so proud, and then lately she has had reverses," said Shirley gently. "But if she doesn't go I simply won't. Nothing could induce me to," and she flashed through with her old time defiance.
"But this one dance is counted the real get-together of the whole year," argued Jane. "When a girl absents herself it usually sort of disqualifies her for all the other affairs. Besides, it is really a benefit and we do so need a new dormitory."
"If we could smuggle a box to her and pretend—-Here she comes! I'll think it over and come for advice if I may," said Shirley quickly.
Jane stepped back to the dancers' whirling rim. She was almost deciding that the country girl was charming! But like the country girl herself, Jane detested "reformers" and was unwilling to admit that a change of heart is something wholesome and even commendable. She knew naught of the miracle.
More puzzled than ever at Shirley's proposal that they "smuggle a box to Sally," Jane became anxious lest Shirley might be getting funds from some unusual, if not unlawful, source. The malicious influence of Dol Vin was ever a disturbing factor to be reckoned with, and as yet Jane had no way of knowing that the confidential relation between the two freshmen and the beauty parlor proprietor had been broken off.
Later that day Jane confided in Judith.
"What would I do if I had no Judy to tell my troubles to," she said with a show of sincerity. "You may talk about new loves, but there is, and only will be, one darling Judy."
"Don't kiss me," protested Judy, although Jane was on the other side of the room and gave no hint of any such intention. "I can't bear being babied—makes me homesick." Then she laughed and blew a substitute over to Jane. "Have you seen my dance frock? I know Ted will adore it. Even the box is pretty and has violets on the cover," she sniffed. "I'll try it on tonight—not the box—and make believe you're Teddy."
"Judy, if some of the girls were to hear you rave that way they might take it seriously——"
"And they would be perfectly justified in so doing," mocked Judith.
"Please hear me. I want to talk seriously and started off with such a lovely preamble," interrupted Jane. "It's this way, Judy. Shirley shows the earmarks of wealth, I mean money. Now, where does she get it, and after that poor boy's letter?"
"If I only knew," pursued Judith, refusing to be serious. "How I'd love two hundred!"
"Well, we have got to find out where it comes from," fired back Jane, flushing with determination. "I am not going to be fooled by a change in manner and an improvement in style. If beauty shop money is beginning to flow in here it must be stopped."
"Bravo! We haven't had a real lively little scrap since the ghost fell, and I'd love it."
"You may joke, Judith, but——"
"Calling me by my baptismal name settles it," said Judith, with assumed finality. "I'll apologize, Jane Allen. What do you propose to do, and when are you going to do it? May I act as your honorable secretary?"
"Yes, come with me tonight and pay a visit at Lenox. I want to talk Sally into going to the dance. The girls are so fond of her and she happens to be one of our pets. I really don't know how it happens but it has, and it would look shabby if we were to leave her out. So she must come."
"Got to," agreed Judith. "She's so smart, every freshman is envious. Did you hear Miss Roberts, the real Noah Webster of Wellington, rave about her thesis?"
"Clever girls are so apt to cut dances," said Jane. "We must assume the missionary spirit—-" her voice trailed solemnly.
This was too much for the turbulent Judith, as Jane intended it should be.
"I'll go, I'll go!" she cried out in protest. "Although I hate to think of Teddy having to choose between me and daffodilly Sally; still I'll go, Jane, to save you another spasm like that. Where's the Logic? Do you suppose Ethics will be easier? Or perhaps worse— likely worse," she was slamming book pages violently. "Now don't speak to me for one half hour. Then do your worst."
But while Judith was studying Jane slipped out of the room ostensibly for a breath of fresh air. All her chum's hilarity was appreciated, but just now things were assuming a serious turn and Jane felt some responsibility for the swing of the turntable.
"Judy's a dear, but she hasn't a daddy's scholarship to fight for," Jane told herself. "And the marked change in my rebellious Shirley may only be a preliminary to another outbreak. I've just got to see the girls before the lecture," and she flew from the inopportune mirth of Judith Stearns.
Shirley and Sarah were together in Shirley's room—not at the foot of the attic stairs now, but a tiny "nest" under the artistic eaves, chosen for effect on the purse, as well as on the eye.
"I can't do it," Shirley was arguing, as Jane came to the door. "I simply am through at mid-year."
Surprised at this statement, Jane knocked quickly to forestall further disclosure. Both girls answered, and Jane found them glad— even anxious to see her.
"You are both surely coming to the dance," she began, falling into Sally's prettiest cushions. "I came over just to make sure." "Oh, Miss Allen," wavered Sally. "I can't go——"
"Now, Sally," Jane began, "please don't consider it is at all ignoble to be financially embarrassed. In fact, more than half of our girls are continually 'rationed,' as they call a cut in allowance. And if it is only a matter of a pretty little flowered gown——"
"No, that isn't it," interrupted Sally.
"The fact is, Miss Allen, we are both getting ready to—escape," said Shirley, with a double-edged laugh.
"Go home and desert!"
Jane showed her astonishment. "You couldn't mean anything like that!" she gasped. "Oh, you wouldn't be so disloyal!"
The girls looked at each other, puzzled, neither seeming to know what might be best to reply. Finally Shirley said:
"You must know, Miss Allen, I am totally unprepared for exams, and I see no reason why I should face them. I plan to stay home after the Christmas vacation."
"Shirley!" exclaimed Jane. "If you ever knew my dad you wouldn't treat him like that," her voice quavered with excitement. "He seems to think more of the record of his scholarship girl than of his own daughter's achievements. Oh, you can't mean you are going to cut!"
"Your daddy!" repeated Shirley. "I didn't suppose he cared a snap for his—beneficiary."
"Beneficiary indeed! He called you a very different name. He is a great, big western man, with a heart as fine as the hills and a soul as true as their granite." Jane did not pause to note the effect of her words, although Shirley was almost gasping. "He has what some might call a deep personal interest in the girl he sponsors at Wellington, but it's more than interest," she was almost breathless, "it's affection; my dad just naturally loves the girl he sends here, and if she fails him utterly—-"
"Stop! Miss Allen, please do," Shirley entreated. Her face was flushed and her breathing plainly audible. "I had no idea it was like that. Your dad would care? And I would be a coward?"
Sally stood like one shocked into deadly silence. Not even her lips parted, and the color left her face sickly white.
"Don't you know, don't you understand what it means for a student to deliberately flunk? Not even to try?" demanded Jane.
"Bobbie!" said Sally to the big girl who was trying to find words. "We have got to try—you cannot—go."
Then Jane knew why the girls had been calling Shirley Bobbie. It was her companion's affectionate name for her.
"Yes, Kitten," Shirley said. "We have got to, but now, how can we do it?"
The situation was becoming more difficult each moment, and when presently Jane Allen left the two freshmen, she had taken on the weight of a new mystery.
Those girls were in a conspiracy to desert before exams. Why?
"Now, what can we do? However are we going to get out of this?" Sally asked Shirley. They seemed desperate.
"I don't know. How differently things have turned out from our expectations? I wouldn't mind anything but that darling dad of Jane's. The thought sickens me," and the bobbed head drooped dejectedly.
"But I am more at fault than you," sobbed Sally. "I feel like running away from everything."
"So do I, but we neither will do it. That's the trouble with reformation. I told you I should hate to be reformed—it tags on so many responsibilities. But we are both in for it. And the dance and Ted wanting to come!"
"Yes, isn't it just dreadful? What shall we do?"
"He has got to come, of course. Couldn't disappoint that boy. Oh, I'll tell you, Kitten! Let's write and tell him he must play cousin to both of us. We'll give him a name, say Teddy Barrett, and then all the girls will be crazy about him, and he will be sure to go in for a lark!"
"That might do," agreed Sally. "It would seem cruel to keep him away. But how about our mail? We can't have it come to Dol's box any more."
"Don't want to; won't have anything to do with her," snapped Shirley. "I have a box of our own, and don't see why we didn't think of it before. She is writing me all sorts of apologies, of course, just wants more money, but I know now we might have done this whole thing differently if it had not been for her interference. It was she who scared us so of Jane Allen and her friends. And they would have been such a help if I had not been—so mulish."
"Never mind," Sally tried to console her. "We could not possibly foresee—although I should like to foresee how to get out of it all without scandalizing Jane."
"Trust one step to lead to the next," said Shirley, and that sounded like a proverb of Jane's. (Queer how much Jane and Shirley were alike fundamentally.) "Write to Ted and we'll have one 'whale' of a time at the dance."
"But I haven't decided to go?"
"Oh, yes, you have, Kitten. Wait until you see the old fairy godmother unload her pumpkin. Or did she carry the dress on a broomstick? I forget the details. At any rate, while I'm thinking of a way to appease the wrath of Jane's father by not dishonoring his scholarship, it is the very least you can do to get ready for the dance. I know where you can hire a love of a dress—lots of girls do it—" as Sally drew up a little, "and it only costs five dollars. Let me give you that for Christmas. Write your letter, or shall I do it? Bamboozle Ted until he won't even guess our real meaning, but insist we are his cousins, with first names only."
"But he would have to introduce us to his boy friends?" objected Sally.
"Well, that's all right. He can do that and we'll just tell him we are playing a joke. College boys adore jokes, don't they?"
"Pretty much of a muddle, but I'll try it," assented Sally finally. "And I suppose I could spare that five dollars."
"I can at any rate. And did you see Miss Allen stare when you called me Bobbie?"
"Yes, but many of the girls have taken that up. It goes so well with your bobbed hair. Don't mind do you?"
"Not a bit. Call me Pickles if you like—that would go well with my disposition." Shirley was hurriedly gathering up books and papers from the little table both girls used as a desk in Sally's room under the eaves. "Do you realize we have spent one hour talking? It's all very well for you, Kitten; you can have a recitation prepared or write a theme as easily as I can fail. If I had your talent I would never leave this college without an A.B.," she declared emphatically.
"I wonder, Bobbie, did we make a gigantic mistake. If we had not been so influenced by Dol Vin's idea, perhaps we might have managed some way without all that hateful pretense. I can't help blaming myself dreadfully. And to think Miss Allen is so kind without being patronizing—-"
"Look here, Kit," demanded Shirley. "I know YOU could have come here without that plan, but what could have put ME through? Nothing but the scholarship. So please don't be getting morbid. We may have been foolish, but we did what seemed right, and Dol Vin was a mighty convincing friend, I'll admit. The question now is the dance, then Ted, and then—I don't know, maybe I'll escape in the night," and the old time rebel spirit danced in the sharp, dark eyes.
Sally piled up her notes and followed Shirley out to recitation. It was not easy now to finish the task which at first seemed almost alluring. It was like trying to uproot some gentle affection to plan to actually leave Wellington.
The girls' secret was spreading poisonous tendrils over every other act and thought; nothing now seemed untouched by that malicious deception, and the very crisis now imminent—was ugly! And this was what both had planned and worked for—to leave Wellington at midyear?
They had not reckoned on the power of girls' love for girls, and of education's influence on sentiment.
Sally Howland had been steeling herself against "growing fond of things" and that very repression made her its victim; Shirley Duncan defied these conditions and was punished with a "true case" of the epidemic called Environment. So that both now seemed all but helpless at the crisis.
A day or two before the dance, when arrangements were running as smoothly as the little lake that dripped through the big grounds of Wellington, a general hike was planned. Each department, freshmen, sophs, juniors and seniors, arranging to go out tramping over the wonderful hills of upper New York state, touching quarries, testing rocks, hunting nuts and cramming into the one pre-holiday jaunt such various needs of outdoor work as were found in the studies then being under test in all grades and classes.
Thus far it was an open winter; no snow, flurries failing miserably to do more than make the air look pretty for a few minutes, and even brooks had kept up their rippling music, chattering away over rock and rill, blissfully unconscious that Winter's deathly breath must soon paralyze every little vein and artery into a rigid, frozen crystal surface.
The December hike was a fixture at Wellington, and as many of the faculty as could do so went with the classes, to urge, to inspire, to prompt and to supervise; not to omit the more enjoyable function of chumming with the students. Troopers they all were, dressed in imitation of the Girl Scouts as far as khaki went around, the others sporting golf togs and carrying water bottles or even "grub" in the convenient golf bags slung over sturdy young shoulders.
No need to dwell on the glories of that day, for a hike on paper carries little sport and usually less material of vital interest. A hike must be "hiked" to be real, the "grub" must be munched by the side of a stream, and the wild things venturing out for crumbs must be "seen to be appreciated," as the "ad" says; so that it would seem unreal to attempt to put into words the glories of a day in the woods with the Wellingtons.
What if Ted Guthrie, the fat, funny, facetious Ted, did slide down a hill and take most of the hill with her? or if Nettie Brocton climbing a tree for dogwood berries attempted to fly by the merest accident? She had no choice but to drop into an ugly hole otherwise, so she spread out and gave a flying leap to the side of safety and made it. No one tried to keep track of "Bobbie," as the country girl was now popularly known, for she ran, climbed, crawled and burrowed, until Jane and Judith had cause to step lively indeed to keep up with her. Jane, accustomed to the great fastnesses of the Northwest around her Montana home, fairly glowed with the spirit of contest, and being Jane it must ultimately be set down that Bobbie lost a point or two in the final scoring.
What a day and what scratches, bruises and blisters recorded it!
"No bones broken!" was the guide's slogan, and they were well satisfied to have the precept fulfilled without undue court plaster.
Coming home the gay groups fell into their usual lines, and separated into such little parties as suited best the confidences of their members.
Ted Guthrie chose to take a ride in the big car of Temple Gaitley, the sponsor of Wellington who lived at its gates and shared her prosperity with any student worthy of the name. Ted would rather ride than walk, after her sliding tournament, and along with her there piled into the car as many foot-sore hikers as the big open car could possibly hold, stretching the word at that.
It was almost evening, the day turned so quickly, when Jane, Judith, Dozia and the two freshmen, Sally and Shirley, cut across the golf links to touch town for some drug store supplies, before going into the college grounds.
The little village always seemed kindly at this hour, for folks going home from work formed its chief feature of public interest, and the tan bark streets were now being fairly well utilized.
"I'll get some stamps," said Shirley, "while you girls hunt for your soaps. Let's round this corner—-" She stopped short, for as they cut suddenly from the side street into the main avenue they almost stumbled into a crowd!
"What's up?" asked Shirley tritely.
"An arrest," answered a man pushing his bicycle. "And I guess old Sandy ain't made no mistake this time. He's caught the banshee!"
"Yes, sir," snapped an overgrown boy. "That's what she is. Keepin' folks awake howlin'!"
Sally clutched Shirley's arm. "See, it's Dol's friend, the actress!"
"Sure enough, the foreign element with a name like crocheting," said Shirley. "I always knew she would come to grief with that howling. Girls!" to Jane and the others. "Could we go to the Town Hall and find out what happens? That's the ghost of Lenox Hall, the woman who screamed at midnight."
Too astonished to offer comment the girls drifted along with the crowd, and a break in the ranks afforded just a glimpse of Officer Sandy with a very tall, fancifully dressed, but very much disheveled prisoner. She walked along with the officer as if he might have been a creature of a lower order of creation, but as the boys said, "Sandy did have her goin'."
And she was the "foreign element," the obnoxious visitor at the beauty shop, who was so sorely and fatally stage struck that she had seriously disturbed the peace of decorous little Bingham!
"She would yell right out in the night, like a hoot owl only fiercer!" insisted one of her followers. "And she ain't safe to be loose with a habit like that."
"Defyin' the law and disturbin' the peace," growled Sandy. "I've had a warrant for that noise ever since it scared old Mrs. Miner into fits and she was took to the horspittal on account of it."
"City folks is all right in their place," squeaked a thin little woman, one of the very few women in that crowd, "but if that kind is allowed to run wild over our quiet home towns, I say what is Bingham comin' to?" Queer noises without words gave answer.
The Wellingtons, with other followers, were now almost in front of the Town Hall, when the victim of this country prejudice espied Shirley.
"There is someone who knows me!" she cried out. "Ask that young lady and she'll tell you I'm a legitimate actress, and that I came out here to have room to practice!"
Shirley "ducked," as Judith put it, but Sally, more sympathetic, offered to interfere.
"Don't," begged Jane. "We were at this court only a short time ago. We don't want to wear out our welcome. Come along, girls; I, as junior, am responsible for getting you back on time. Come along."
"Yes," said Shirley bitterly. "Do come along, girls. That's about the way this lady left me when my horse threw me off on the hill. She was not anxious about me then and I guess she isn't as much in danger now as I was at that time," and when Officer Sandy piloted his charge in before the recorder, the doors were closed and the hearing was made private.
Once more Shirley had the center of the stage—a position she loved when it entailed the telling of a thrilling story. And at last the ghost story "was ripe," as Jane expressed it.
"Tell us," she demanded, without regard for the race to college during the telling, "who is that woman and what do you mean by calling her the ghost."
"She's an actress," declared Shirley, "that is, she thinks she is, and she has lots of money and a poor head for managing it. In fact, I have always thought her erratic. You see," went on Shirley, supporting herself by "linking" into the accommodating arms extended, "Dol Vin fetched her out here from the city so that she could practice her howling. She was cast for a part with a wild scream in it, and every time she attempted to practice someone interfered, the police usually."
"No wonder," interrupted Jane. "Why couldn't she stick to the theater for rehearsing?"
"Her own idea," went on Shirley, importance of the occasion echoing in her tone. "She wanted to get it down pat and startle her manager into starring her. It seems a great deal depended on that frightful scream and she kept at it every chance she got." Here the girls threatened to outdo the "lady of the scream," but rough walking checked the attempts. They also realized her fate.
"But how did she get the chance to go up in Lenox attic?" asked Dozia when her voice could be heard. "As I suppose it was she who ripped out that terrifying yell—-"
"That I rang the fire bell to cover," put in Sally gleefully.
"And that the fire department wanted to turn the hose on," chimed in Judith.
"Now let me tell it," demanded Shirley.
"Please do," insisted Jane.
"Well, she had more than a scream to put in her important part, so she said! She had also to do some wild acting and Dol Vin is responsible for the idea of Madam Zwachevsky—-"
"Oh, spare us," cried Jane. "That sounds like an epidemic."
"It's the name she wastes ink on, but I will spare you girls. Hereafter she shall be Madam Z," agreed Shirley.
"Oh, hurry! Shirley," entreated Dozia. "Here we are at the Cedars, and we never could wait for the rest of that story until after supper."
"I'll rush it through, but Sally, do stop pinching me," she teased, just to make Sally run on ahead in contradiction. "Well, Dol Vin didn't want that racket around her shop, so I suppose she told Madam Z to try it on Lenox," continued the raconteur. "They both insisted it would be a wonderful hazing stunt, and that no college freshman's life was complete without a lively ghost scare. I didn't think it would be more than a lot of fun, so I promised not to tell," admitted Shirley.
They were at the very gate now where the girls had no choice but to separate in preparation for the evening meal, but it was wonderful how quickly the food was disposed of and how soon they were back again in Jane's room for the conclusion of the ghost story.
Jane and Judith could not but notice satisfaction glowing in the freshmen's manner when they were invited into the junior's room. This had been one of Shirley's ambitions, and she did not hide her pleasure at its fulfillment. And if she and Sally felt any qualms of conscience for their own small part in the tragedy of Madam Zeit was entirely covered by the eagerness with which the girls hailed the recital.
"We both insisted at first that she should not dare come on the campus—-" began Sally.
"Now, Kitten, I'll take all the blame," interrupted Bobbie. "Land knows, you made fuss enough. Cried—-"
"Well, you did," insisted Bobbie, "even went into hysterics. But I thought it would be a lark, although really I had no idea the creature would ever find her way up there. I don't see how she did. We had no part in her getting in," she explained eagerly.
"Dol Vin knew all about the attic," declared Janet Clarke. "She was always prowling about there for theatrical stuff; don't you remember, Jane, how she frightened the girls one night with some foolish prank when she was dressed like a bear or something worse?"
"Oh, yes, of course I do," recalled Jane. "And she did continually hunt around Lenox, although she belonged with the sophs."
"That accounts for it then," finished Bobbie. "I am willing to confess that I conspired to hide the crime, but I took no part in planning it. Little Kitten almost died of fright during the whole thing, but I thought it a lot of fun to hear the chains rattle, and I hunted up stories to match. But I was not in Lenox the night of the grand finale when she actually tried out the big scream."
"Well, no wonder the poor babes were scared blue," said Judith. "And Jane, you can now tell all about your discovery of the old dumb- waiter under the tower. That will make the story complete."
"Don't let any more girls in here," ordered Dozia, for knocking at the door gave warning of an influx. "There is no need to give everyone this private hearing. We might want to make a real story of it for the 'Blare'—our holiday edition just needs a live feature like this." So the taps were "deflected" and Jane recounted her story. She told it so graphically that by the time she reached the "big, black hole, and the groaning ropes of the old dummy" the girls were howling and tumbling around in a pretty good imitation of Madam Z herself. They shuddered, acted the spook, and Judith proclaimed something like the old "Curfew shall not" in her swing out the window that she imagined went with the wild night's terrors. This detail of Judith's upset things some, for she fell off the couch (her pedestal for the tragic act), and although she rebounded quickly there were squeals and protests from "toes and fingers."
Sally's eyes were like two twinkling blue stars during all this. Jane and Judith, more than any of the others, guessed correctly what a relief this hour of fun had brought to her tortured mind. And to think there was no blame, not even criticism! What is there more delightfully elastic than the mind and the heart of the young college girl?
"And I'll tell you how this same lady induced me to put on those foolish togs and hire the friskiest horse at Clayton's," further volunteered Shirley. She evidently thought if that much had been good a lot more would be a lot better. So she allowed herself to rock a little in Jane's cozy chair while she told of a bet—yes, she had actually fallen so low—she did bet five dollars that she could ride any horse in that stable. Again the girls applauded—there was danger now in their generous approval.
"And so I could have done it safely if old Zeezie had kept to the roads. But she wanted to show off on the hill in front of Warburton Hall," flared Shirley, "and you all know how I made out at that." Howls, groans and wails answered this.
"And what happened to the five?" asked practical Dozia.
"She never had the courage to collect," replied Shirley, and Jane then felt the obligation of quickly shifting the subject, for just a hint of gloom crossed the country girl's face at this point.
"But what about this last episode?" asked Jane. "How do you suppose Zeezie came into Sour Sandy's clutches?"
"I know how that happened," spoke up Sally, doing her part to relieve Shirley of the embarrassment that seized her at mention of her accident. "This so-called actress is really not right mentally. I know it, but, as Bobbie says, she has lots of money, so of course- -"
"Dol Vin snapped her up," said Judith.
"Yes, and you know the Rumson place? That old stone mansion right in the heart of the country folks settlement?" (They all knew the Rumson.) "Well, I believe she has been going out there every afternoon to rehearse. She would drive out in a hired car and dismiss the man. Then she raved around and did so much loud talking to herself, and even screaming, that the whole neighborhood was up in arms. I heard the other day the folks around Rumson had called on the police to stop the nuisance."
"No wonder they would," agreed Jane. "The children must have been frightened out of their senses."
"They were," went on Sally. "So I suppose old Sandy just set his trap for her—"
"And snapped it tonight," concluded Jane. "Well, I must say she was a character. And to think we all missed the open air performance!"
"And to think you and I let her escape from Lenox, Jane, the night of the alarm."
"What a shame we didn't know she was making her exit by way of the dummy?"
"But in that awful dark place," put in Janet with an appropriate shudder.
"Oh, she was just armed to the eyes with flash lights," Shirley told them. "I never saw such an outfit as that tragedy queen sported."
"Oh, woe is us!" cried out Judith, so loudly that a pair of hands, one from Jane, the other from Janet, was clapped over the unruly mouth. When she promised to speak lower she was allowed to proceed. "But think of missing the court room scene! I am sure she went through a Lady Macbeth act and tried to stab poor old Sour Sandy!" Again the spontaneity of Dozia illustrated the talk, and she made a jab at Jane with the latter's riding crop.
"And then think of the fun of actually hearing her give the famous screech as exhibit A?" put in Jane. "What a pity they made the hearing private?"
"I'll explain that," condescended Janet, who, having no story to tell, needed some outlet. "You see, they arrest people here in Bingham just to keep things going, and have the officers do something besides draw their pay envelopes, so Sandy took in Zeezie as his quota of service for December."
"And I suppose I filled that requirement for November," recalled Judith, with a disdainful pucker.
"Take care YOU are not listed next, Dozia," warned Janet. "You do talk very loud at times. Woke me up last night."
Shirley arose and glanced at the little gilt clock.
"I guess we little 'uns will have to cut this lovely party," she said politely. "We really have a lot of things to do tonight. And who hasn't for the dance?"
"We will walk over with you," volunteered Jane. "Judy and I always take a stroll before we start cramming."
"Which is just about equivalent to saying we may vamoose," said Dozia. "All right, stroll along, the ghost is safe tonight, at any rate."
"And if she gets off with a fine I suppose she will be on a train for New York before morning," concluded Sally, with a satisfied quirk of her yellow head.
Outside the hall Shirley and Sally almost smothered Jane with protestations.
"I thought I would die!" cried Shirley, "but the steely fire of your eyes, Miss Allen, kept urging me on. And now I have at least told all that hateful story!"
"I could hardly sit still," gasped Sally, holding tightly to Jane's friendly arm. "It was like a play, but I was so ashamed—"
"Ashamed! I was never more proud of two girls in all my life," declared resourceful Jane, with unmistakable sincerity. "Why, you both had the girls fascinated—"
"You had them hypnotized," insisted Sally. "It is really wonderful to be popular among such a set of girls," and her voice just touched a tone of regret.
"Indeed, we all have to share honors with you two entertainers," said Jane positively. "You see, the girls first of all want a good time, and if you help provide that legitimately, of course, you can count on polling a heavy vote in any popularity contest."
"Jane Allen is no monopolist," said Judith significantly. It was obvious Jane was determined to share honors with the two bewildered freshmen. That was her way of making things pleasant.
"Now run along and get your togs ready for the dance," said Jane, "and be sure to give me a lot of dances with Teddy!"
"Teddie!" sang out the two freshmen.
"Why yes, your nice brother, Ted," said Judith innocently. "We heard he was coming—"
"And we found a piece of paper long ago," added Jane gently, "that bore the name Ted. It was in the attic, and we dug it out of the ghost's breastplate."
"You didn't!" exclaimed Shirley, in a tone that meant "You don't say so!" She stopped short in her tracks. "And that was the letter we never got, Kitten. Zeezie had been entrusted to deliver it and she claimed she lost it." Shirley could hardly speak distinctly—emotion seemed to choke her.
"Oh, can we have it?" asked Sally, her trembling lips telling on the jerky sentence.
"Right here," replied Jane indifferently, taking a small white slip from her blouse. "I have wanted so much to give it to you, but there never seemed to be a real opportunity."
It was Sally who put out her hand.
"I think it is for Shirley," interposed Jane.
"Give it to Kitten," said Shirley. "We have no secrets from each other now."
"But Ted and the dance?" asked Judith, not to be put off on that score.
"Oh," faltered Sally. "Of course we will hand Ted around." She had not quite recovered from her surprise at the finding of the long lost letter. "And, Miss Allen, please, whatever happens, don't let anything spoil tonight—"
"I won't, certainly not," replied Jane, as the freshmen broke away towards Lenox.
The night of the dance had come, than which Wellington could produce no more momentous occasion. For days the students had been decorating Old Warburton Hall, stripping their own rooms to the point of desolation to pile their banners, their flags, and even their mandolins around the big hall, in artistic and effective settings from ceiling to the smallest nook around the chimney corner windows. Judith and Jane were responsible for the "Bosky Dell" created around the Inglenook. Here the mandolins were cluttered, and about the walls were such artistic woodiness as branches of bright red berries, then sprays of dark gray bayberry, glowing sumac, deep brown oak leaves, and this applied foliage provided the "Bosky" for the juniors' pretty dell.
All college departments shared the honors of decorating, each depending upon its originality to outshine the others, so that now when all was finished and the students drew apart to decorate themselves the atmosphere fairly vibrated with expectancy.
Under the eaves in Sally's room she and Bobbie were putting on finishing touches. Too full of youth to give place to regret, these two freshmen were keyed to the full pitch of the big, jolly, gleeful occasion.
"Can you imagine us going, and bound for such a good time?" said Sally, while Bobbie fluffed the maline butterfly from her companion's shoulders.
"Like a jolly time at a funeral," replied the other, her tone of voice softening the comparison.
"Dear me, must we really leave?" sighed Sally. "I have been hoping for a miracle."
"So have I, Kitten, but we have had a couple of miracles lately and it wouldn't be fair to overwork the fairies. There, you look just like a golden butterfly. Oh, really, Kit, you—are—a dream!"
Bobbie was responsible for the color scheme adopted by her chum, and its success was just now rather inadequately reflected in the conventional mirror that formed a door to the narrow wardrobe. Sally was gowned in gold and white, and the gold of her hair completed the "dream." A big yellow butterfly she was indeed, with the sleazy, clinging, white draperies wound around her slender form, then the wings of golden maline pinioned on either softly rounded shoulder. Sally was a perfect little beauty, and also possessed that whimsical manner so attractive in this delicate, fragile type.
"How do I look, anyhow?" asked Bobbie, and the "anyhow" betrayed her hopelessness.
"Don't you really know you are stunning?" replied Sally. "Bobbie, your height and figure are in such splendid accord with that American Beauty! Whew, girl! I can see who shall charm the partners tonight."
"Do I honestly look—well?" persisted the other. "I wish my hair were long enough to turn up."
"I don't. It is so becoming in that halo just as round as a crown, and more curly every minute. If all misfortunes really have their compensations, then, Bobbie, put down the curls opposite your accident."
The big girl peered closer to the mirror. She never could be vain but just now she might be pardoned a flicker of satisfaction. She did look well, the American Beauty satin made such a startling background for her peculiarly true American type.
"Now, if we are all primped and preened, suppose we rehearse," said Bobbie, powdering the last finger of her left hand to a finish. "You are sure Ted has his lesson all clear and that our—masquerade will not be spoiled?"
"He was just wild about the lark, and wrote a whole page of effusions such as boys always indulge in," replied Sally. "He says he may stick to Barrett for a name, it has such a twangy sound, whatever that may mean; and he also promised to be led by us even to the extent of breaking his own gay heart."
"Nice boy. I hope our little skit won't spoil his fun. It is just for that, you know, little chum, I have agreed to postpone my flight. But be sure of one thing—I shall fly before I ever face that wonderful crowd of girls we were with last night, after the discovery."
"Does it all seem so hideous still?" asked Sally. "I have felt as if some of the black horror were wearing off."
"Mine is turning green—a dark, dark moldy green of envy. Why didn't I know four months ago just a few of the precious things I see so vividly now?" Bobbie sat down at the risk of spoiling some of her preening. Also she ruffed her long (now well cared for) fingers through her short hair with distracting indifference, but not a ringlet showed any ill effects, each fell back on her broad, low forehead in its original place, without a kink of disorder in the line.
"I have learned more than the Wellington course offered," said Sally, "and one thing I am now sure of. Our small towns may offer advantages in freedom and security, but they restrict us in a choice of friends and companions. How could we possibly have guessed that the very girl and her group we expected to antagonize should be our deliverers?"
"I don't quite get your flow of words, Kitten, but I do agree with their meaning. Yes, small towns can turn out gigantic specimens of conceited ego. And that conceit is like a paraffine coating; air tight against personal progress, absorbent for the poisons of jealousy and envy. There, that sounds as if I have learned a little English, doesn't it? But it isn't enough to face Miss Robert's exams."
"It's after eight. There are the girls slamming doors in the first jazz number," said Sally. "Come along, Bobbie, and smile your warmest. Then we shall defy fate for a few more happy hours at least."
Swallowed up immediately in the swirl of young students heading for the dance "Kitten and Bobbie" were presently on the high road to defying fate as per schedule. The music from the dance room was just feeling its way out of brilliantly lighted windows, and the grand old campus seemed very proud of itself indeed, as it stretched out and made a background for the entire picture.
Flocks of automobiles were nestling along the drives, and many a Wellington heart skipped its regular beat at the preliminary thought:
"I wonder if he came yet?"
From companion colleges the boys were making their way into old Wellington, and the students of Yorktown were apt to be especially plentiful. It was from this big college that Ted Barrett—alias Ted- -somebody's brother, was expected.
In contrast to the usual line for receiving, such as so often makes a farce of the formal social event, the seniors and juniors had formed themselves into a ring that surrounded the entrance, and through this ring each guest was forced to pass in at one end and out at the other in initiation to Wellington. Jane was chosen to form one "clasp" of the circlet, with two tall seniors at her side. She gave the welcoming pass-word for the juniors, and in her hand clasp delivered the secret sign.
As the girls from Lenox entered, the eyes of our two special friends immediately sought out Jane. Not even the possible presence of Teddy offered a distraction, for it seemed now as if their fate rested more fully than ever in the hands of the girl whose father had given them the much abused scholarship.
"How sweet!" breathed Sally. "Like a pansy."
"Exactly," answered Shirley. "Did you ever see anything prettier?"
Jane's appearance supported this flattery in every detail. She wore a flowered frock, georgette with pansies sprinkled over it, and in her coppery hair a small bunch of the same velvet flowers was clustered. Among all the others this flowered gown seemed distinctive, although Dozia in her ruffles (to cut her height), and Judith in her sea foam green (to give her color), were indeed highly attractive.
The indescribable jazz music was see-sawing in and out of harmony, and if there were anything actually shy on the score it was more than plentifully supplied by the "ukes," mandolins and banjos of the visiting college boys.
Sally and Shirley had scarcely crossed the circle and were melting into the crowd, when someone tapped Sally on the shoulder.
"Teddy!" exclaimed both girls at once.
"The same, your obedient coz," replied the good looking young fellow, eager to show at once how well he had learned his lesson.
"Come over here," breathed Sally. "I am just dying to speak to you."
"No fair," cautioned Shirley. "Don't forget your lines, Kit."
"Say, girls, tell me," implored the youth, letting his critical eye scale the crowd of pretty girls, "what's this your name is? You're—" to Sally.
"I'm Sally," she replied, twinkling prettily, "and this is Shirley," indicating Bobbie.
"Shirley?" he echoed increduously.
"Yes, and please don't ask any more questions just now, Cousin Ted. I have promised to introduce you to half of Wellington." This was said so that more than one girl standing near overheard; one was Nettie Brocton and she quickly took the cue.
"Just look at that?" she said to Ted Guthrie. "Sally acts as if the Teddy were her especial cousin."
"Yes, and Shirley is all but blushing."
"Queer," commented Ted Guthrie.
Presently the music suggested a One Step and without waiting for further coaxing Shirley and the handsome Ted floated out among the assembling dancers.
He was handsome, and, although that fact seems trite just here, it may better be known and reckoned with. He was tall, light, nimble and flexible as a young birch, as he swayed in and out leading the excited Bobbie.
"Guess I'll have to call you Bobbie, too," he said in his partner's ear, after more than one girl had pointedly called out, "Hello, Bobbie!"
"Yes, do, please," replied Bobbie. "I am getting so accustomed to it I rather feel it is really mine."
"Suits you splendidly," said Ted, with a boy's idea of compliments being put on thick at dances. "And I am sure I would give the game away if I ever tried on the Shirley."
Bobbie acquiesced just in time to feel Judith Stearns' black eyes demanding to know Teddy. The dancers stopped, and after an introduction Bobbie was swept off her feet by a new partner, while Judith glided off with Teddy.
"Where is Sally?" asked Judith, not seeing the little butterfly on the floor.
"Sally?" repeated the bewildered Ted. Then he recovered himself. "Oh, yes, Cousin Sally. She's just over there," pointing to Jane's "Bosky Dell" in a far corner.
"Your cousin?" repeated the shrewd Judith.
"Yes, little coz, I allus calls her," he lisped, to cover any possible attempt at piercing his disguise.
"But she said she was not related to Bobbie?" persisted the irrepressible Judith.
"She isn't," frankly offered Ted. "She is only related to me. Oh, I say, Miss Stearns," he broke off. "Who's the golden girl over by the punch bowl?"
"I knew it," trilled Judith. "No one could possibly miss her. She's Jane Allen."
"Jane Allen!" he almost interrupted. "She whose pater is a benefactor of Wellington?"
"Yes, the only Jane," answered Judith glibly. "Come over and meet her. I know you will like her even better on acquaintance. I don't mind being generous, for Jane and I started together here, and from present appearances we seem liable to end it together."
While she spoke they had ceased dancing, and Judith fancied she just caught a look of question on the young man's face. This coupled with his inquiry about Jane's father, Judith at once assigned to his knowledge of the scholarship Bobbie had obtained. But even that was not just a correct guess, and it seemed the actual presence of this good looking boy from Yorktown threatened to add new complications to those already surrounding the mysterious freshmen.
Both reached Jane's side as Judith and her partner came up. Judith presented the much talked of "lovely Ted" and perhaps a part of Jane's ebullition was attributable to the code shot out from Judith's flashing eyes. It said plainly:
"Now isn't he lovely? I told you so!"
While Jane remembered her own wish:
"I hope he's big, clumsy, ugly, etc.," and of course he wasn't.
He claimed the dance and presently swept the Golden Girl from her place in the little circle.
"Your cousin?" questioned Judith with a very comprehensive smile. "Bobbie, I never saw a girl blush as you did when a coz whispered into her dancing ear."
Wise, discerning Judith!
Bobbie blushed again, but she was not going to be tricked into telling her secret. Her eyes flickered until they rested on Nettie Brocton.
"I must ask Net for a dance," she said. "I suppose it is perfectly proper for a mere freshie to do so?"
"Absolutely," replied Judith, "but you are not slighting me?"
"Not for worlds, Judy. May I have the next?"
"What's your hurry just now Bobbie? Trying to duck me?"
But a sly glance of challenge gave Judith answer, as Bobbie hurried away to dance with Nettie Brocton.
KING PIN OF THE FRESHIES
Music and laughter, youth and happiness!
What a splendid affair the dance turned out to be! Even the staid faculty, acting as patronesses, looked on with generous smiles of absolute approval.
As if to add to the gentle flame of curiosity in Jane's circles, she accepted a number of dances from Teddy—in fact the big fanciful "T" which Jane remembered so well in the spook letter, was scribbled all over her dancing card, while Judith accepted Ray Mann, a chum of Ted's, in complacent substitution. Ray was a capital fellow, with such a stock of chestnut hair he might have matched up pretty well with Bobbie, if her spare time had not been so filled in with Dave Jordan, also a "Yorktown man."
Wellington had a reputation for this one big social event, the invitations for which were always censored by a committee of the officials, each boy accepted being socially vouched for by the patronesses. This was as near as the old college would go to co-ed functions, and perhaps the fact that these young girls were always left to themselves for good times (except at the big dance) gave added zest and novelty to the pre-holiday event.
All went merrily indeed, except that Jane was almost lost in bewilderment before she and Teddie had finished out two dances (halves) and one "sitting out" in the Bosky Dell.
Who was this boy's relation? she wanted to know. And why did Sally so promptly surrender him to all other partners? Sally danced so gracefully, and they seemed to step together as dancers do who have learned at the same functions, yet she did surrender him willingly.
Jane dragged Judith out of the din, and after fortifying herself and her chum with two drinks of fruit punch, she dragged her further into semi-seclusion in the cloak room.
"What do you make of it?" asked Judith fairly twittering with suppressed excitement.
"That is what I wanted to ask you," replied Jane, swirling her scarf over her shoulders to tame down a frolicsome little breeze that danced to the jazz music stealing in the cloak room. "There is a positive mystery about all this. Can't you see how much Ted Barrett looks like Sally Howland?"
"Of course I can," replied Judith. "But surely that letter said 'sister' and was written to Shirley."
"And he is not in any way like Bobbie."
"No, and Bobbie is as shy as a baby when speaking with him." Jane bit her lip in serious reflection.
"But isn't he very nice?"
"Lovely manners and a very takable boy," admitted Jane. "And say, Judy, I love this mystery, but we can't let the freshies beat us at it. Be sure you keep your eyes and ears open and report anything— suspicious."
"Glad to," Judith accepted the commission. "But don't you like my Ray?"
"Couldn't help it," said Jane affably. "Of the two boys I like Ray's hair best. It's so—smoky."
"And Jane! Have you seen who Dozia is lugging around? That awfully big boy, the football giant of Yorktown."
"Makes Doze look small by comparison, and that's an achievement," said Jane. "There's my dance with Nettie Brocton. It would be dreadful if we forgot to take care of our own little playmates. Isn't everything going lovely?"
"Nothing could be improved upon unless it be Miss Robert's hair. That's a bit lopsided."
"But her feather fan is a gem," said Jane, moving toward the dance floor.
"So is her back comb," laughed Judith, as the chums drifted apart among the dancers.
A waltz encore was just then being demanded. The dancers stood about clapping and insisting upon a repetition of the number. Jane and Judith waited a moment before their partners espied them, and as they lingered they heard the girls commenting on Sally. She was, indeed, a charming figure as she stood out there with her partner, who happened to be Ted; and it was Inez Wilson who most particularly noticed the two dancers in the center of the floor. She seized Jane's hand and whispered:
"Oh, Jane, just see how much Sally looks like her partner!"
"Yes," put in Janet Clarke, "they even have the same pose."
"Cousins," said Jane simply, as she and Nettie swung out into the repeated waltz.
The resemblance was very remarkable and standing with the tall boy in his "Tux" the girl in her butterfly gown made quite a charming little picture. Their isolation at the moment, standing well out on the floor almost alone at the end of the "first half," gave them somewhat undue prominence, but it also gave everyone a splendid opportunity of seeing Ted and of admiring Sally's evening frock.
When the number ended a group of freshmen cornered themselves in a window arch and promptly set about whispering some plans. Nellie Saunders was leading, and she declared Sally was the one to make the presentation. Presently a committee of seniors joined them, and the purpose of the secret session became evident.
Miss Rutledge, dean of Wellington and beloved mother of the entire flock, was to be presented with a glorious bouquet of golden chrysanthemums and Sally Howland, the pet freshman, had been voted by her class the one to do the public honors.
"Where is she?" asked Anne Morley, the senior, waiting to complete the details.
"Just finished dancing," volunteered Nellie. "I'll go get her."
"When the orchestra plays 'Wellington,' that's your cue," said Miss Morley. "The senior class president will make her speech and you freshmen then send up the flowers. Be sure you do it promptly, as the speech has the flowers planted in it," finished the tall, capable senior, leaving the younger girls to carry out her orders.
Nellie was back with Sally immediately.
"Here she is, and doesn't her gown go wonderfully with the golden ball chrysanthemums?" panted Nellie.
"Just like a picture," exclaimed Dolly Lloyd. "Be sure you carry them like a bride's-maid, Sally. Maybe a long time before you get another chance."
"But what is this all about?" gasped Sally, a little bit frightened at the importance of the great sheaf of yellow blooms propped up in the corner.
"You are to present the flowers to Deanie," said Nellie. "You see, the girls always give her something at this dance, and they choose the freshies just to act in the capacity of page. You don't have to say a word," as Sally showed reticence. "A senior makes a speech and you just walk up prettily with this corn shock."
"Oh, girls, I couldn't," exclaimed Sally tragically.
"You couldn't! Why not?" came a chorus.
"Because—oh, I can't just explain, but won't you please excuse me?"
"No, indeed we will not," declared Nellie. "Just another touch of that timidity we fought out when you first came. This is an honor, Sally, and we know whom to choose for it. We know how you stand in the half year's record," and she proceeded to straighten out the maline butterfly on Sally's shoulders—no one could seem to resist that temptation.