"I do appreciate the honor," faltered Sally, "but there is a reason- -a serious reason why I feel I should decline."
"Wait a minute! I'll persuade her," said Dolly, and in the time specified she was back in the corner again and had Jane with her.
"She simply has got to deliver those flowers," explained Nellie. "She matches as if she were dressed for the part. See her yellow head, her yellow and white gown, the dear little golden slippers; then the great huge, gigantic bunch of chrysis—we all chipped in for those—"
"Miss Allen, please let me off," begged Sally, turning two blue eyes, overflowing with meaning, full on Jane.
"I cannot go back on a sorority order," said Jane, wondering why she should. "There's your cue, and Sally, here are the flowers. Bun along, little girl. There's a dear."
Sally was "running along" in the freshmen's glide, almost hidden behind the shock of golden balls, before she could further protest.
"Wellington, dear Wellington!" finished the chorus; and then the senior who was on the little platform by the orchestra, called the dean forward and in "a few well chosen words" told Miss Rutledge how much every girl in college loved her.
Dear, gentle, beloved Miss Rutledge! Her cameo beauty was not lost even in that group of glowing students. She wore her stately heliotrope brocade, and her perfectly white wavy hair just framed a face soft as damask, with enough natural warmth of color to defy any record of years.
Sally glided along with the bouquet, while the dean spoke softly, gently, in that strangely far-reaching voice peculiar to those who train for such concentration. Directly Sally placed the flowers in her extended hands applause broke loose.
What music can compete with the simple inspiration of hand clapping? And these students knew that score in jazz perfectly.
Finally, Sally turned back again in the little aisle made for her through the assemblage, and before she had proceeded more than a few paces Bobbie rescued her.
"Kitten!" she whispered, putting her strong arms about the now trembling Sally. "How perfectly lovely! Here's Ted. He is too excited to speak. I have just been trying to restore him."
"King Pin of the Freshies!" Ted managed to orate, seizing Sally's hand in congratulation. "That stunt is something we fellows miss. If it were our old 'Shuffles' now, likely we would treat him to a soft little ball on his renowned pate."
"King Pin of the Freshies!" took up Bobbie. "Splendid! I'll tell Nellie that and she can chime it in her new class song. Here they are claiming you, Kitten. Come on and see what's doing in the rear. Boys"—to Teddy—"not allowed."
"Never are when there's anything good in sight," replied Ted pleasantly. "Where's that pretty girl—my dance—oh, here she is," and he seized Judith for the Drop Step just being inaugurated.
In another hour—how short a time it seemed—the dance was over. University boys were piling into their cars, and the girls of Wellington would presently be back again in that cozy, if limited, little world, all their very own.
What a glorious success it had been! Even the night was perfect, and now at the happy shouting of "good-byes" the stars blinked down mischievously, and a busy old moon took time from his science to send out a couple of searchlight flashes to greet youth on its merry way.
Ted "Barrett" was saying good-bye to Jane. He made opportunity for this, although his companions were honking their horn recklessly, bidding him "come now or stay as long as he pleased."
"Miss Allen," said the Yorktown boy, "I can't help telling you personally how fine this has been. To have—the girls here, I know is due to your—special generosity, and some day I hope I'll have a chance to tell you what it has meant to me. Just now," he smiled broadly, "those freshies have me bound in their riddle game and I can't talk intelligently; tongue-tied," he finished.
"I understand," spoke up Jane, smiling herself. "They are a wonderful team—and I am much interested in both."
"So am I," called out the chivalrous Ted, as he answered an ear- splitting honk from his chums and rushed out to the big waiting car.
Sally and Shirley were at the steps to see him off, and now Jane joined them. Ted tossed back a freshman's cap, snatched from the head of a luckless "stude" who must go all the way to Yorktown uncapped. He threw the "inkspot" out high in the air, and as it came down, somehow it managed to come within reach of Jane's outstretched palm.
Promptly she donned it, of course, and the trophy instantly became an object of excited interest among the retiring dancers.
It was only a very small black cloth cap, and a poor freshman was now going home with his inadequate hand on a cold head in lieu of it, but somehow when Jane stuck it on the wall between two Wellington pennants, the juniors' and freshmen's, it seemed a symbol of her mystic relationship with the girl who carried the Allen scholarship.
"I'll leave it here until we can clean up," she said looking affectionately at the small black spot on the wall. "Then, of course, it goes to my room."
"Of course," echoed Judith dolefully. "I suppose the ownership of that puts you in a Yorktown frat."
"Hardly, but it will be a little souvenir of this wonderful night."
Both Sally and Bobbie were beside her now. Their cheeks blazed still with excitement, and eyes continued the dance even now echoing through those beam-bedecked walls.
"Wasn't it wonderful?" exclaimed Sally.
"I never thought I could have such a perfect time," sighed Bobbie.
"That's Wellington," commented Jane loyally. "We do everything just right under that banner," and picking up her little party bag she was ready to leave for sleeping quarters.
"And do you know what Ted called Kitten when she came down from presenting the flowers?" teased Bobbie.
"What?" asked Jane merrily.
"King Pin of the Freshies!" replied Bobbie. "Doesn't that sound like a class yell?"
"I hope it will be some day," said Jane. But Sally's blue eyes were proclaiming something—something far removed from the honor and glory promised by her junior sponsor.
And even Bobbie's insistent joking could not dispel that strange foreboding.
"Sally!" charged Jane, noting her sudden preoccupating, "are you seeing things?"
"Why?" A flush suffused the face just showing the tell-tale lines of fatigue.
"I sometimes think you two girls are base deceivers," Jane joked. "You change your cast of countenance as quickly as—"
"Now Janie, you leave our little star alone," ordered Judith. "Seems to me any girl would be flustered after a first night of this kind."
"Of course," dimpled Jane. "Here, children, please take these things. I will be held responsible for them and there's no telling who might take a notion to cover her couch with that lovely silk scarf."
They gathered up the precious trophies, flags and scarfs. Then the lights were out at last.
THE DAY AFTER THE BIG NIGHT.
The flush of success invaded old Wellington. As a whole the place seemed suffused with a pardonable pride, and as individuals each girl seemed justly proud of the small part she played in making up that grand total. Even the big city papers sent out reporters to get a "good story" of the mid-year dance, and more than one scribe waylaid the popular girls, pleading for pictures.
Judith Stearns, as sub-editor of the Blare, the college paper, had a part in giving out this general publicity, and what a joy it was to describe the gowns of Jane, Bobbie, Doze and lists of others!
Jane was busy dismantling the dance room—the big assembly room in Warburton—and no classes were to be called for any work during the morning, so that conditions and students might just slide back into orderliness and thence to the serious work of finishing the last semester.
Party dresses were packed away by reluctant hands, boxes tied up and labelled hopefully for the next dance, while heads that had been curled for the big occasion bore testimony to the skill of many willing fingers (not a few of the fingers bearing blisters to still further testify to such achievements), and altogether the atmosphere was distinctly and decidedly that of the small day after the big night before.
Sally was ruefully tieing up her finery in rather compressed packages and Bobbie was begging her not to spoil the stuff outright.
"Don't act so suicidal, Kitten. Be brave today for tomorrow we fly!" she misquoted.
"I can't see how you can joke about it," whimpered Sally, bruising her fingers with a jerk at too strong a piece of bundle cord. "Really, Bobbie, if I ever dreamed it would be as hard as this to go, I don't believe anything would have induced me to come." She bit her bruised finger as well as her trembling lip.
"You don't mean that, Kitten," drawled the indifferent Bobbie, who had agreed to help pack, although she much preferred "firing things in trunks" and utilizing packing time out of doors. "You would never have known the fun we have had here, if you hadn't come, and isn't it heaps better to pay now than never to have known it?"
"Nothing seems better now—everything is worse, coal black, pitch dark, bitter, worse," snapped the usually complaisant Sally.
"If I had your talent, wild horses couldn't drag me from Wellington," said Bobbie seriously. "And I do hope, little Kitten, that I am not wholly to blame for your unhappy predicament," her voice dropped to seriousness.
"Now, Bobbie," and the good-natured little Sally smiled through, "never forget that you really made it possible for me to come here, and that you—"
"Now, that's enough, Kitten. If you start going back we shall find ourselves in each other's arms with awfully red eyes—first thing you know. I still think the miracle will save you, but poor me!" and she affected a most juvenile boohoo. "I am surely doomed."
"Why don't you try it, Bobbie? You might get through—"
"Not in a thousand years. And suppose I did, where would it land me?"
"In your proper place, in class, of course."
"And have every one know—I couldn't, Kitten. I talk bravely, but I'm a rank coward at heart. There, the boxes are tied, I hope to your satisfaction, and it's sweet of you to do the tags. No one would be able to read the addresses if I wrote them. Oh, me, oh, my! somehow today reminds me of old Polly Jenkins' funeral. Her abandoned bedroom looked just about like this," surveying the disorder of the little room under the eaves.
"Well, you run along and attend to the outside errands; I must hide the evidences of our flight," said Sally, with something between a laugh and a sigh. "You may pay all my bills, just say we want to settle things so we can run off home when the holiday is proclaimed, then, if you don't mind, just hand this music to Dolly Lloyd."
"Couldn't I kiss a few of the girls for you so as to save time later?" asked Bobbie in naive sarcasm. "I am so sentimental today I could hug the very old trees, I do believe. All right, little sister, I'll go out and do the financial chores, but my head and my heart are still at the dance," and she hummed herself out with a feeble dance step—to do the aforesaid chores.
Left alone the blonde little freshman dropped her hands in her lap and ceased her nervous activity.
"Really going!" she kept thinking, "and I thought the half year would be endless in its days and hours!" A newly painted calendar- sample just finished by Nellie Saunders and offered as a model for Christmas gifts—focused the girl's attention. How dainty, yet how rugged the deft bit of water color! Trees and landscape all melting into that big flourish "W" for Wellington! It seemed like that; everything attractive just now was blended into the college opportunities, and Sally was about to turn her back on them, for what?
The housemaid tapped at her door and announced a caller. Hurriedly gathering up trifles to put the room in a semblance of order, she hurried down to the reception room, there to confront Dolorez Vincez!
"Oh, good morning," said Sally, trying to cover her surprise. "Bobbie has just gone out."
"I met her," replied the visitor, without returning the salutation. "But I would like a few words with you—if we could be alone."
Sally glanced about at the open doors and continually flapping draperies: whatever Dol Vin had to say could certainly not be said in that public room. A coat tree at the door held Sally's tam and Mackinaw. She got into these and suggested a walk outside.
There was no denying it, Dol Vin was a striking looking girl, and even her flashy clothes could not altogether disguise her rather handsome foreign type. Today she wore a big black velvet tam jabbed rakishly on her black head, a flame colored coat that buttoned around her tight as a toboggan ulster, and only the deep olive tint of her face in any way withheld the eye from a criticism of "too much color." Today Dol's cheeks were not tinted, and the way her deep set black eyes flashed, further told how angry she was, and how reckless.
Scarcely had the girls from Lenox gone far enough to be out of hearing than she started in on helpless little Sally.
"What are you two thinking of?" she demanded angrily. "Do you think you can kick out and leave me without warning? Don't you know how short I am—"
"Miss Vincez," interrupted Sally, "I don't see what possible claim you have on either of us. The fact is we both feel you have very much overworked your alleged claim as it is."
"Oh, you do!" and she gripped Sally's arm viciously. "Well, I'll just tell you, sissy, I fixed it so you both could get in here." (Sally pried her arm loose and kept at a safe distance.) "I helped you along, played all your tricks—"
"Stop, please," demanded Sally indignantly. "You know perfectly well it was against any wish of ours that you brought that crazy creature in here to frighten the girls sick in the name of sport, hazing," declared Sally, her voice rising at each word. "And then, you turned the same foolish creature loose to frighten all the other children who might hear her wild voice. How can you dare say to me that such a trick was ever countenanced by us?"
"Oh, my, really!" sneered the foreigner. "How we have grown! Please don't bite me with your sharp tongue. As you say, yes, I did turn her loose, and do you know that now she has been sent away? Put in a hospital! Bah! It is in an asylum for the crazy" (Dol was very foreign now), "where the state, this great big powerful state, shall take all that poor harmless woman's money! Could I not allow her to live a little when she paid me? But they will kill her and get paid for the murder! That's the way they treat the poor crazy folks in their big stone prisons!" she alleged angrily.
"She has been declared insane?"
"Declared insane!" she mocked. "You call it that? Yes, I call it kidnapped, and poor old Zola was so harmless if they would but let her scream and play at acting."
Sally was dumbfounded. The woman who had played ghost was really a lunatic, and this unprincipled adventuress had dared allow her to get into a place like Lenox, and to go about the countryside without restraint! Sally felt almost sick at the thought, and having walked the full length of the hedge-rows she attempted to end the unpleasant interview.
"If you will excuse me—" she began feebly.
"But I shall not," almost shouted the angry South American. "I know what this place can do! I know how your spiteful Jane Allen and her chums got me out—"
"Stop!" cried Sally sharply. "Jane Allen is my friend, and I will not hear her spoken of in that manner."
"Your friend!" and she sneered like some animal snorting. "She may make of you a cat's paw to play at her feet, but she shall never be your friend. If she just knows what you are—"
But Sally turned and deliberately fled from her persecutor. She could no longer stand the tirade, and nothing that she seemed able to do or say had any softening effect upon the angry young woman. Suppose she did meet some of the girls and attempt to tell what she knew of Sally's secret? Would anyone stand by and listen? Was not this expelled pupil actually trespassing even to be upon Wellington grounds?
It was getting close to the noon hour and studies were to be resumed after the luncheon period. Students who had taken advantage of the morning recess to be out at some favorite sports were now returning in flocks, and Sally quickened her steps to reach Lenox before the rush of late comers. She turned just once to see if Dolorez was going through the grounds to leave at the opposite gate, but the blazing red coat was not in sight.
"She probably knows some other way of leaving," thought Sally, recalling the uncanny knowledge of the campus secrets that had been responsible for the entrance of the eccentric Madam Z—.
In the hall Sally met a very much excited Bobbie. "Oh, did she eat you up? Or put horns on you? Or turn you into a goat?" she began. It happened that the hallway was clear just then. "Wasn't she furious? I am so glad I escaped! Come in and tell me all about it."
"Not much to tell," replied Sally, "except that I just turned on her and defied her. I felt the time had passed for intimidation, and I told her so."
"Good for you, Kitten," and Bobbie demonstrated her approval. "I always knew your spunk was just smoldering, ready to burst into flame at the right moment. Now, I saw the cause of Dol's disquietude. Her shop is closed, shut up tight, barred windows and a cute little white sign tacked right under the former artistic door. The sign reads 'To Let' and it is easy to imagine the crepe hanging from the knocker."
"She told me she lost a lot—by the arrest of Madam Z, and do you know, Bobbie, that woman was a real lunatic?"
"Of course I know it. Didn't I ride horseback with her? But they are all gone now and as the poet says: 'Good riddance.' Come along, Kitten, and eat grub. That's a function I decline to omit, Dol Vin or any other threat hanging over my poor bobbed head. Come on, dear, cheer up! The worst is yet to come!"
"Wait a minute, please do, Bobbie. I just can't think straight. You know every afternoon now there is an open forum or a class meeting and I wish we could go before we run into a further danger."
"Oh, no, dearie, don't think of that," cheered Bobbie, strangely irrepressible ever since the big dance. "You can't tell yet what may happen. Stay on the burning deck until the fog horn blows, then take to the life-boats, is my plan of action. I hope we have a substantial meal right now, for paying up bills and collecting receipts is painfully appetising. Come on, dear, and smile while the smiling is good."
"But just suppose Jane or Judy should drop in on us this afternoon and see the things packed up?"
"Tell them I am eloping, break the news gently and blame it on me. I feel as if I could stand for any monumental conspiracy that was ever conspired. I am that experienced in intrigue. Perhaps I'll apply for a government position in the diplomatic corps. I believe I could carry it off beautifully, brass buttons, plumes and all. There's Dolly. Just look at her hair! Like an escaped watch spring."
"Did you meet any little fairy in your walk? Some one who has promised immunity? You seem tragically jolly?"
"No, not a fairy, nor yet a ghost. This is just my natural reaction. And while I think of it, Kit," she let the door slam violently, "don't forget I have not reformed. I positively refuse to be any better than I ever was; I have simply developed, and outgrown the antagonistic influence of some defunct ancestors. Oh, how good it all seems here today? I believe I am glad Dol came and went and took her particular influence with her. Wasn't it lucky I had called in my head and that she didn't leave me with one side done and one side undone? Wonder if we will notice any painfully deserted blondes in her wake?"
It might be the reaction, but Sally could not help wondering why Bobbie was in such high spirits. Then she recalled the old saying, "Too much joy is sorrowful," and hoped her chum's joy would not be thus rudely transformed.
Judith and Jane were waiting for them at the dining hall door.
"Truants," said Jane, "where have you been? We have been planning to send a bell boy after you. My famous dad has just written he is coming through New York and wants to take me and my stepsister home with me. You know who he thinks bears that relationship to me, of course?"
They knew she referred to the scholarship girl, and Sally looked dumb while Shirley looked startled.
"Oh, that would be lovely," said Shirley with marked evasion, "but— "
"My dad never entertains a but," said Jane, "so I hope, Bobbie, you will hurry up your plans to come out and ride a real horse on a real ranch in Montana. Won't she look stunning on a bronco, Sally?"
But the invitation, alluring as it was, did not seem to add zest to the appetite of Bobbie. It had simply swept her off her trustworthy feet, and Sally seemed little better. Another corner to escape from!
A SURPRISE IN RECORDS
Holidays, holidays! The air was full of them, and it seemed all the girls in Jane's group were to spend the big Christmas event away from Wellington.
Jane's letter from her father, that which suggested she bring "the little country girl" back to Montana with her for the holidays, seemed like an answer to her own secret wish. She wanted to bring Bobbie home with her, but very much preferred the invitation would come from headquarters. Jane, like Bobbie, did not wish to appear too ingratiating, also she did not want to make the girl feel she was in any way patronizing her.
The bulletin boards in all "dorms" bore the notice of special assembly in the study hall, and thither the students were now progressing.
"This is where we get all that is coming to us," said Bobbie more literally than elegantly. "I believe the idea is, we are to know before we leave, where we will be put when we come back." She was talking to Sally as they walked out from Lenox.
"Yes, and I wish, Bobbie, we might have escaped it. Think of hearing all the reports read and not being able to take up our exams?"
"If only we didn't have to take them I would feel better. Of course you are safe," said Bobbie ruefully.
"Perhaps it is better to have this one last spasm of courage," replied Sally, although her whimsical expression did not register anything "better"; it bespoke the condition as "worse."
The assembly was well filled up when the two conspiring freshmen took their places as near the door as seats could be found. The biting wintry air permeated the big auditorium, and when the restless shuffling of feet had finally come down to a murmur of soft sporadic shiftings—some girls never could keep their feet still— then the dean, Miss Rutledge, made her annual announcement.
No girl was ever dropped from Wellington without having first received due warning, she told the classes; also she announced that ratings given at this time would afford students opportunity to make the next half year's plans while at home with their families.
It is easy to guess that many hearts fluttered wildly in anxious anticipation during this trying moment. But Wellington was always fair, and no one would be denied a chance to "pull up" if native ability seemed equal to the trial.
The seniors, almost all self-reliant and assured of their standing, had little to speculate upon, and their report was quickly disposed of. In the juniors were many whose standing held interest, but almost all got off favorably. Ted Guthrie had worked off "conditions," as had Inez and Janet, one in math and the other in Greek, but the first half year was pronounced satisfactory for almost all the students whose names have figured in this little tale. Jane and Judith were always counted among the lucky number.
It was in the freshmen's ranks that things were sure to happen. Here were girls just trying out college; some sure to be found unsuitable for pursuing the higher branches of education, others evidently capable as to intellect but poorly prepared, and were thus handicapped with too heavy a burden of "conditions." Again there were those who had drifted through "High" without much effort, and relying on this pace had mistaken the very serious work of college for that of the rather indifferent preparatory work.
Much of this explanation was embodied in Miss Rutledge's statement to the assembled pupils.
"There is also this to be considered," she said. "Some pupils show remarkable aptitude in certain studies, and when this is found in the exact science of mathematics we have reason to feel that the student will eventually make up other deficiencies, and so keep up with her class."
"That's for you," whispered Sally to Bobbie with a very broad nudge, but Bobbie's eyes answered with that look pet animals throw out when in doubt of a master's exact meaning.
Then, there were cited the highest averages, and the first name called was that of Miss Sarah Howland! As Miss Rutledge read the name she looked up from her reports.
"I feel I should add," she said gently, "that Miss Howland has covered more than the work required, and has the peculiarly well balanced intellect that seems to feed from one subject to another. I must congratulate Miss Howland upon her splendid record as a first- year student."
Jane Allen's hands led the applause that followed this, but it was not ended until the ranks of the freshmen had paid ample tribute to their star member. Sally was dreadfully embarrassed. She shook her head in continual protest, but her objection had only the effect of increasing the acclamation. Finally the dean proceeded.
Bobbie was all but biting her nails in sheer nervousness. After all, this had required an amount of courage. Her nails pressed into her palms fiercely. Perhaps it would have been simpler to have avoided the final reckoning? The girls' names being read gave to her tingling ears merely a blurred murmur. Yes, Dolly Lloyd would pass: and there was Margie Winters—Margie was a star in English. Next—
"Miss Shirley Duncan," came the dean's voice, and then she paused.
"Here is a student who has shown exceptional work in mathematics," she continued, "and while her preparation for college has been undoubtedly faulty, her teachers recommend that she continue her work and apply herself with special tutors for those studies in which she has been especially deficient."
Shirley was all but gasping, when again from Jane Allen's seat came the approval of applause.
"She made it," the girls were whispering. "I always knew she was a wizard at math," insisted Nellie Saunders.
"Bobbie is perfectly all right," declared the wise little Margie Winters. "It was all on account of her country ideas—"
"Hush," whispered Dolly Lloyd. "We are all more or less from the country. Do you want to claim the Grand Central Station?"
This set Margie back in her seat—and presently all the "freshies" had been given their ratings. A few very sharp warnings were administered, and that a great deal of cramming would have to be done by some before the mid-year exams, to take place early in January, was made especially plain by the dean. No one would be dropped without warning, but the standards of Wellington would have to be maintained, she concluded.
Little reader, if you expect to get to college begin your "cramming" now in high school, and let each day's record be such as will surely make a satisfactory total in preparation. If more students could only realize this in time!
Assembly was dismissed and the girls surrounded Bobbie and Sally. Jane and Judith seemed personally responsible for these two freshmen, and no one could discount the gleam in Jane's eyes when she squeezed Bobbie's clammy hand.
"Why so—frightened?" she demanded. "Isn't it just wonderful to know you couldn't break away even though you tried so flagrantly?" There was a twinkle thrown in with this, and Jane next piled compliments on Sally.
Never were there two "satisfactory" students so manifestly unhappy. No one could miss the nervous manner Sally tried so hard to hide, nor yet the heightened color in Bobbie's cheeks when she flatly refused to comment on the surprise.
"Queer," observed Dolly Lloyd. "If I turned out satisfactory when I just waited for my little return home notice, it seems to me I would at least emit a smile."
Freed from the scrutiny of their companions at last, Sally and Bobbie bolted for Lenox. It had been a trying ordeal and both felt its effects too keenly to throw it off at once.
"It's over," eulogized Bobbie, slamming down her hat on Sally's camp chair and promptly sitting on it.
"Yes, and you ought to be the happiest girl in all Wellington," declared Sally, standing limp before the dresser that reflected a sad little face unobserved.
"I ought to be happy!" repeated Bobbie. "How about you? Ted knew his guess when he called you King Pin of the Freshies. Sallylun, why don't you try to finish? Couldn't I help you?"
"You know the conditions, Bob? We went into this together and together we quit—" said Sally, rather crudely for her.
"It's a shame," grumbled Bobbie. "I just love it all now."
"But you can remain! Even your conditions are assured."
"And as you said we went in together, etc.," said Bobbie.
Jane Allen was at the door before they heard her step.
"Now," she called out in announcement of her presence, "Bobbie, you have no excuse. Even dad will be delighted, but he couldn't feel as I do about it. Bobbie, I'm just proud of you!" The dry lips moved but did not answer.
"Why don't you trust me?" asked Jane flatly. "I know you are planning something, of course."
"Oh, we do trust you, indeed," declared Sally with quivering lips, "and we both are too grateful to frame words in expression."
"But you are not quite—confidential," pressed Jane. Her eye was checking up the hat boxes and other evidences of "house cleaning" scattered around.
They had positively decided to write her a full explanation to be delivered after they left. This was finally agreed upon as the one practical plan and neither would attempt to violate it now. But this moment, with Jane's affectionate manner as a lure, was indeed a strong temptation! What might have happened did not happen, however, for a team of girls burst in at that very minute and put an abrupt end to the developing confidences.
They descended upon the serious ones with such exhilaration that even the neatly tied-up boxes were threatened with violence.
"We are going to give a 'Dingus' tonight," shouted Betty, "and you are not going to spoil it as you did our ghost party. Sally, this time you two will be left off the committee, then perhaps we can have our fun without your interference. Not that we wouldn't love to have you," she hastened to temporize, "but we know how you do duck our sports, and this time we are bound to put one through. We merely dropped in to invite you, and if you are not on hand be warned!"
"Be warned that we will drag you from your lair!" threatened Nellie Saunders. "This is going to be one grand final rally, and we want above all the two famous members of the clan."
"You may wear your kilts and whitewash brushes," conceded Nellie.
"You should wear a laurel crown, Sally. I suppose next half you will jump right in junior and skip us poor little sophs, at least I hope we'll be sophs," said Margie Winters.
Jane managed to hide her impatience, but she was disappointed. She had expected to draw out the confidence of Sally and Bobbie, realizing she might help them if she but understood the mysterious predicament. But there was no chance of further pressing that point, so she turned and fled, to leave the freshies to their own particular little affairs.
Judith was anxiously waiting to hear the outcome of her visit, as it had been planned between them.
"No wiser than when I left you," confessed Jane. "Whatever those two youngsters are up to I can't sense it nor get them to own up. But, Judy, just keep a sharp watch out. If they run off it shall be our joyful ju-ty to run them back. Some of the old Dol Vin nonsense is still brewing in their childish brains I fear, and it behooves us to eliminate it."
"But why should they want to go now?" puzzled Judith.
"I have admitted I cannot even guess," replied Jane, "but whatever it is it began long ago and it just ripened now. Keep a watch on Lenox, that is all I can advise. I hardly know now which of the two fascinating little creatures I am most in love with. Sally is as dear as ever, and Bobbie more—compelling. If I had a brother I should imagine him just about as deliciously rebellious as Bobbie."
Which was saying a good deal for Bobbie when it came from Jane.
"Do you really think they will attempt to run away?" queried Judith, deeply perplexed.
"There is every evidence of it."
"After everything turning out so beautifully—"
"That's just it. There is some secret behind it all," reasoned Jane. "I am just as much in the dark as ever."
"Didn't you—couldn't you ask them outright Janie? How dreadful if they should spoil everything, by acting so horrid! To run away!"
"But we must not allow them to do so," argued Jane. "Surely now that we are both warned, we ought to be able to forestall any such attempt."
"You know now how hard it is to keep track of things over at Lenox," faltered Judith. "Not that I wouldn't be willing to sit up nights to watch those babes, but even at that they could slip off," she reasoned.
"The freshies are having an affair tonight, that will mean we must be doubly watchful during the excitement."
"Why not tell some of the other girls, and get them to help us?"
"I should hate to do that," replied Jane. "After all we have only suspicion; it would never do to start a story like that."
"I suppose you are right," sighed Judith, "but if I thought Dol Vin- -"
"There is nothing you can't think about Dol Vin, if that helps you any. But just the same, she still acts the adroit meddler. When I recall how she tried all last year to spoil our time here—yours and mine—and now when I see she is making tools of these two innocents- -" Jane paused from sheer indignation.
"I don't believe the girl is fully civilized," blurted out Judith.
"Of course she isn't, if you mean by 'civilized' being human and kind and American. I would rather be hot headed and fiery, and have all the other bad traits I plead guilty of, than to be as smart and business-like as she is, but have no heart. I honestly believe Dol Vin has a human motor in place of a flesh and blood heart." Jane was getting excited now, and she paced up and down quite like a regular stage person.
"My poor noodle just thumps with the thinking," confessed Judith. "Of course I am not willing to take the responsibility of policing Lenox Hall all night Jane. There must be some other way."
"I positively decline, Judy, to tell the office or ask for official help. That would be too silly if we have made a mistake," decided Jane falling into a convenient seat.
Judith did not speak directly. She was loath to cross Jane further, yet unwilling to shoulder this rather serious responsibility.
"Why not invite both Bobbie and Sally over here and have them remain all night?" she suggested. "That would be a treat for the—"
"You forget the Lenox girls are having a party," Jane interrupted.
"Then let us break in on the party," followed Judith quickly.
"I agree, Judy, we must keep as close to them for a day at least, as it is possible to do without actually locking them up. Dear me, Jude! Look at the time! And I've got to get in some gym practice. My joints are as stiff as sticks, and I had congested headaches just from laziness. Coming to the gym?"
"No, not today. My head aches from activity. You have me all swirled up. Don't mind if I take a rest, do you? Suppose we have to go on picket duty?"
Jane laughed, defying her fears for Sally and Bobbie.
"When I have anything important to do I must be alert," explained Jane. "Go to sleep if you like Judy, but be ready if you hear me whistle. It may be a race between the freshies and juniors you know."
"Oh—hum!" groaned Judith as Jane raced off.
THE REAL STORY
It was just before six o'clock that same evening when Dolly Lloyd burst into the gym where Jane was exercising.
"They're gone!" she exclaimed. "Sally and Bobbie have left Lenox, and are rushing to get the six-thirty train. Why do you suppose they have sneaked off like that?"
"Gone? Are you sure?" asked Jane.
"Positive, we have a note and—"
But Jane heard no more. Snatching up her sweater, she jabbed her arms into it as she ran, and hardly stopped until she hammered on the door of the stable where her horse, Firefly, with others were kept.
Jim, the stable-boy, answered immediately, but seemed unable to comprehend the unseemly haste, as Jane dashed in, loosened the headstall of her intelligent mount, led him to the path and then sprang up bareback to overtake the runaways.
Jim stood speechless. That a student should romp off like that in bloomers too—and without a hat!
And how she was a-going it!
Her hair flew out in a cloud about her head, while Firefly, who was plainly wildly excited at his unexpected caper, just did as Jane told him without the slightest regard for lack of bridle or saddle. Wasn't he from Montana and didn't his mistress train him to go as she chose without foolish restrictions? Students along the way looked in amazement at the racing girl, but being Jane Allen some allowance was made for the caprice.
At the cedars a shrill train whistle warned Jane she had but a few seconds more to make the little Bingham station, and she promptly imparted the same message to Firefly.
"We'll make it, boy," she whispered. "Take Janie to the station, careful—careful—" in that droning, even voice a horse always knows how to interpret.
There, she touched the back platform, told her horse to wait, and threw his strap over the livery post; then she hurried to the front to find her freshmen.
There they were! Bags in hand, standing now as the train was pulling in.
Jane saw them some seconds before they espied her, and quick as a flash she had a hand on each of the others.
"Girls," she called, "drop those bags. Where are you going?"
Sally dropped her bag from sheer surprise, but Bobbie had a firmer grip.
"Oh, please, Miss Allen," begged Bobbie tearfully, "don't detain us, we must go. This is our train."
"If you go you must take me with you—and this way," she included her gym togs in the statement. "Just be reasonable and rational. There, let the train go" (it was going). "There are others. But you just come over to that bench and tell me. What does all this mean?" There was no time for recrimination. The story so long bound up in the hearts of these two girls sprung freely to their lips.
"You will hate us both, Miss Allen," stumbled Sally. "But we never meant to deceive you for so long a time."
"We were silly geese," retorted the impetuous Bobbie, "and I suppose now, outside of Wellington grounds, we may as well try—to confess. We have both deceived you! There is Shirley Duncan and I am Sally Howland."
"What!" gasped Jane, unable to understand the shifting of names from one to the other.
"I never won your father's scholarship," went on Bobbie, her voice trailing evenly over every incriminating word. "Shirley won it and— "
"I sold it to her," sobbed the other, eager to have done with the hateful admission.
"Yes, there was no other way. Ted—my brother Ted—had to have two hundred dollars to get back to Yorktown, and everything seemed gone when uncle died. I had won the scholarship, to come to Wellington, but I couldn't leave Ted stranded in his junior year," choked the little freshman.
"That was it!" exclaimed Jane, leading the girls away from the tracks, now cleared of the New York express, and guiding them to the back of the station where Firefly waited proudly. What a relief!
"You rode—that way?" gasped Bobbie. "Without a saddle?"
"Why certainly. It was the best gallop I've had in months. Now, naughty girls, wait. Sit down. I'm too excited to stand up. You" (to Sally) "are Shirley Duncan, and you" (to Bobbie) "are Sally Rowland?"
"Yes," replied both miserably.
Then she, whom we must know as the real Shirley, spoke.
"I know it must seem despicable, Miss Allen, but there was dear Ted, so disappointed, and he was such a splendid student. I could come here, but he simply had to have that two hundred dollars to go back to Yorktown." The voice took courage with its tale of loyalty.
"And you are simply a wonderful little girl to have managed it all," declared Jane, showing not a single trace of resentment. "It is actually fascinating—to think you actually exchanged identities!"
"But I had no such laudable excuse," moaned Bobbie. "My folks just wanted me to go to college—any old college in any old way—and we always thought dad's good honest money would pave the way. But it didn't, and I never could pass the exams, so I simply fell into this from sheer vanity."
"That is not so," expostulated the new Shirley. "Bobbie would never have dreamed such a thing if Dol Vin did not happen along with her wonderful plan. You may imagine she was the real brains—of the plot."
"Yes, she taught—a summer gym class at our place," explained Bobbie, "and when she heard my wail about not being able to get into college she offered the scheme. At first it did seem abhorrent, but she glossed it over so—"
"And obtained such a generous commission—" put in the real Shirley.
"Then you see, Kitten here was passed right in on her second exams, while I sailed in on the exams she took for the scholarship," confessed Bobbie, digging her heels in the cinder path recklessly.
"And you both thought this an unpardonable offense?"
"Certainly, we knew every moment we were both hypocrites," blurted Bobbie. "Kitten has been fairly blistering under the stigma."
"The train is gone," said Shirley the original. "And, Miss Allen, you are not dressed for this. We will have to go back, I suppose."
Jane had been thinking quickly, in fact her brain had been fairly churning with the new turn in events. She jumped from the bench and confronted the downcast freshmen.
"I have it!" she exclaimed. "It is just perfect. Here you two girls both came in on dad's scholarship, have both made good and are both now eligible to finish the course. Don't you see how magically it has all turned out?"
"We don't," admitted Bobbie.
"That's because you don't know how generous Deanie Rutledge can be. We will go right back and tell her the whole thing and she will, I am positive, think the matter one inspired by the noble effort you made" (to Shirley) "to keep your brother in college. Bobbie, you did want to come to college, that is always a laudable ambition, and think of the thousands who fail every year?"
"But they don't come," persisted the still doubting Bobbie. "But you did. And if you WERE a little rebel at first, doesn't that explain it? Your preparation was all wrong—you heard Deanie say so. Come on, now, I'll walk and let you lead Firefly, Bobbie. I know it will be a treat to you to even lead him. Sorry you can't ride in that tight skirt."
"Wait a minute," demanded Bobbie, stopping short, "do you mean to say, Miss Allen—"
"All right," with a smile. "Do you mean to say, Jane, that the dean would ever understand and condone all this?"
"What are deans for?" asked Jane, the miracle worker. "I'm just wild over the whole thing and daddy will want to adopt you both. It is simply thrilling! You have doubled the value of the scholarship."
"But if we did come back and the girls knew it? Our change of names?" queried the real Shirley, apprehensively.
"Don't you see how simple it is? We will just explain that you exchanged identities to try out how one girl could work on another girl's reputation. That you both intended to go back to your real selves at the half year—"
"So we did," declared Bobbie. "Shirley was to be transferred to Breslin and I expected to—withdraw."
"But you don't want to?"
"No," hesitating, "but I can't see—"
"I can. The whole thing is a wonderful story and when we give the girls the one fact, that you simply exchanged places for a lark, and then didn't know how to get out of it, that will be enough for them. Come along there, Firefly, meet my two college chums. And now, Bobbie, talk to him once in a while, so he will remember you when you dash over the hills of Montana."
"Sort of—fairy story," breathed Shirley, a little tragically.
"And Teddy is your brother?" asked Jane. "However did he keep the lark up at the dance?"
"He thought it was only a lark," replied his sister.
"And so it was," suddenly declared Bobbie. "Jane Allen has made it so and I'm for a full A.B. course at old Wellington! Let gossips do their worst," and she capered ahead to the playful clip-clap of Firefly, every step indicating the relief she was experiencing.
"If Bobbie feels that way I am sure I should not hold out," relented Shirley. "In fact, both Ted and I have our own incomes now. We only had to wait for an adjustment, but at the time we were simply panic- stricken. I wanted to pay Bobbie back last month, but have not succeeded in getting her to take the money as yet."
"I think it is all perfectly delicious!" declared Jane. "Won't Judy and Dozia just howl? Of course no one need know about the loan. That is purely a personal matter." (More miracles.)
"Jane," called back Bobbie, "don't you remember how you used to question that name Shirley? Didn't seem to think it fitted me. Well, you see how you were right. I should have been plain old-fashioned country Sarah."
"Nevertheless," insisted Jane, "you have proven how well you can act. Take care we don't cast you for a leading role in some of our masquerades!"
They turned into the campus again, happy in their new-found security, for what Jane undertook she was sure to accomplish, and even this complication melted away into a fascinating story under her skillful guidance.
"Hurry! Hurry!" she prompted, "we must account for this little race. There's Judy. Run on ahead and tell anyone you meet—tell them we're coming," she ended foolishly to Bobbie. "Your turn to think."
"Tell them we had a race, and with a good handicap, Kitten won," suggested Bobbie, responding quickly to Jane's suggestion.
"But what about all our things? Our hats and coats?" demurred the real Shirley.
"They'll be too interested to notice that detail," said Jane. "I'm so happy, happy, happy! Run along Firefly—there's Jim waiting. Now, come girls, after we deliver Firefly to his keeper we are going right up to the hall—Judy! Judy!" she broke off, for Judith evidently had not seen them come in the gate. "Over here Judy!" she shouted again, and this time Judy responded.
She rushed up to the culprits and likewise confronted Jane.
"Don't you three dare to deceive me!" she stormed with good nature sufficient to hide the girl's evident embarassment. "Where have you been and what have you been doing?"
"I wouldn't attempt to deceive you Judith," said Bobbie bravely, "we were running away!"
"Why?" the question was put seriously.
"Because we have both been deceiving you all, and no matter how generous you two friends try to be, I am at least going to set that matter straight before the whole college. I am Sarah Howland and this is Shirley Duncan." She placed her hand on little Shirley's arm.
Judith was dumfounded! They expected she would be, naturally, but she now stood there speechless.
"Be a good sport Judy," urged Jane, "and help us stage a real happy ending. Don't you want to jump on Firefly and ride him over to the stable?"
"I don't. Why has Shirley become Bobbie?"
Jane wanted to laugh, but Bobbie's face was very serious, and Shirley's lip was quivering. Jane released her horse and watched him canter over to the stable.
"We'll all be late for tea, but never mind," she said. "Let us tell Judy all about it. She'll die of curiosity if we don't. Look at her poor face."
"Jane Allen if I knew a big secret I'd tell you," declared the abused one.
"Here's a seat; there, now listen," began Jane. "Shirley Duncan exchanged places on the scholarship certificate with Sally Howland, that's Bobbie, because Sally couldn't get in otherwise, and Shirley- -"
"Needed the money," confessed Shirley, insisting on having a part in the confession.
"But it was for her brother Ted, you know," interrupted Bobbie loyally.
"Is that Teddy your brother? And Bobbie you blushed so when you danced with him, and I accused you—" It was Judith's turn to talk quickly now, and she made good use of the opportunity.
Finally something like order was restored.
"You must help us Judy—" pleaded Jane. "I insisted the girls should come right along and simply tell their story frankly to Deanie. You know how splendidly she came to the rescue of our friends last year."
"You need not be afraid to tell her your story girls," agreed Judith. "In fact I think she'll be just tickled to death to have two such little Trojans in our midst. But what about the others?"
"Oh, I don't want to face it," faltered Shirley nearly in tears. "Why can't we withdraw and do as we planned, Bobbie?"
"Because we won't let you," insisted Jane. "Just now you are bound to feel a little frightened, but if you could see it as I do; as Judy does," she hurried to add. "I tell you girls the others will just want to carry you around on their shoulders, they'll be so proud of you," finished Jane a little breathlessly.
"Carry us around?" questioned Bobbie. "If you hadn't caught us we would be making pictures of ourselves with our faces pressed to the damp window panes of that train you hear whistling now," she declared, with a flash of her natural humor. "Kitten's face wouldn't be pretty either, if she puckered it that way."
Jane knew the battle was won, now that Bobbie joked and smiled, so she jumped up quickly and urged them along.
"Come on everyone, there's a light in the office," she said. "We will just have a few minutes to talk to Deanie."
The girls went back, and when the holiday finally came both freshmen were hailed as the particular friends of Miss Allen and were to spend their vacation at her father's ranch in Montana.
* * * * * *
The next volume of this series will sustain Jane's reputation for unmatched personality in her Wellington record as "Jane Allen: Senior."