Miss Slammer's nature was a casual one. Life had been so hard with her that she had long since grown callous under the blows of fate and grimly indifferent to other people's feelings. Somewhere she had heard that Jimmy Lufton was a born orator. At any rate, she thought he could carry off the adventure and her conscience was easy.
At eight o'clock the next morning when the night train from New York pulled into Wellington station, a crowd of well-dressed young women on the platform gazed at the door of the Pullman car with expectant eyes. Judy Kean in a black velvet suit and a big picture hat headed the delegation. Only two passengers descended from the sleeper: a middle-aged, worn-looking woman in shabby black and a young man whose alert brown eyes took in at once the crowd of college girls and Judy, resplendent in velvet and plumes.
"Miss Slammer?" began Judy, intercepting the woman passenger who was looking up and down the platform, somewhat bewildered.
"No, no, that is not my name. I am looking for Miss Windsor," answered the woman nervously.
"Oh," said Judy, rather surprised. "You will find her at her rooms in the Beta Phi House. Take the 'bus up. It's quite a walk."
The woman bowed and hurried over to the 'bus just as the young man with the alert brown eyes came up, hat in hand. Judy noticed at once that his head was large and rather distinguished in outline and that his close-cropped black hair had a tendency to curl.
"You were looking for Miss Slammer?" he asked, speaking to Judy, whose face, as the train receded, showed mingled feelings of disappointment and anger.
"Oh, yes," she replied, startled somewhat at being addressed by a strange young man.
"She couldn't come, and I came down as a substitute," he went on, handing her the note hastily dashed off by the intrepid Beatrice.
Judy's eyes only half took in the words of the note. She read it silently and passed it on to the rest of the delegation.
"A man!" she thought. "Now, isn't that too much? Everything is ruined. We can't teach Miss Slammer a lesson in politeness through a proxy."
"I hope it's all right," Jimmy began, watching Judy's face with undisguised admiration.
"Oh, yes," she answered hastily. "We are very glad to see you, Mr. Slammer——"
Jimmy broke into his inimitable laugh.
"My name is Lufton," he said, and the mistake seemed so funny that Judy laughed, too, and everybody felt more at ease immediately.
"We were to have had you up to breakfast—I mean Miss Slammer," Judy stammered.
"I'll get something—er somewhere," said Jimmy in a reassuring tone.
"There's an inn in Wellington village," suggested one of the girls.
"Miss Slammer was scheduled to speak at three o'clock this afternoon," began Judy.
"And am I banished to the village all that time?" Jimmy broke in. "You don't bar men from the grounds, do you? I'd like to look around the place a little."
"No, indeed. This isn't a convent. If you will come up to the Quadrangle after breakfast, we'll be delighted to show you the buildings and the cloisters—whatever would interest you."
"Thanks, awfully," said Jimmy, and presently they watched him stroll off up the road to the village, whistling as gaily as a schoolboy.
There were scores of faces at the windows of the Quadrangle when the special 'bus drew up at the archway.
"She didn't come," Judy called to a group of girls lingering in the tower room. "A man came."
"Young or old?" cried half a dozen voices.
"Young and passing fair," said Jessie.
"Passing dark, you mean. He had black hair."
"But where is old Miss Slammer?" demanded Edith Williams.
"Old Miss Slammer was afraid to face the music, I suppose. Anyway, she sent Mr. James Lufton down to take her place and he is at present breakfasting in the village."
"Somehow, all the sweetness has gone out of revenge!" exclaimed Edith. "I foresee that nobody will be willing to practice the 'freeze-out' on an innocent man, passing fair, if he is a substitute."
"Well, he's coming up this morning to be shown around college. If any one wants to take the job of showing him, I'm willing to resign my place. Anybody who is willing to do the 'freeze-out' act, I mean. I don't think it will be easy. He has a way of laughing that makes other people laugh. You couldn't be mean to him if you tried."
Already, Judy had unconsciously set herself the task of protecting Mr. James Lufton from the fate planned for Miss Slammer.
"Aren't we to listen in cold silence when he makes his speech?" asked a girl.
"Of course," put in Margaret, "you couldn't listen in any other way to a speech against suffrage. I shan't applaud him, I know. If he represents Miss Slammer, like as not he shares her views about college girls, too, and is just as deserving as she is to a polite 'freeze-out.'"
"It was a mad scheme from the first," put in Katherine Williams. "I never did approve of it. I don't imagine such a subtle revenge would have had the slightest effect on Miss Slammer."
"We intend to have our revenge," cried a dozen voices, followers of Margaret.
In the midst of the hot argument that followed this statement, Judy hurried off to Beta Phi House to eat her share of the fine breakfast some of the girls there had undertaken to give to the enemy of women's colleges. She felt that things looked pretty black for Mr. James Lufton. Running upstairs to Adele Windsor's rooms, she knocked on the door impatiently. It was quite two minutes before it was cautiously opened by Adele, whose face looked flushed and there were two white dents at the corners of her mouth.
"I heard she didn't come," Adele began, without waiting for Judy to speak. "Let's go down to breakfast. We're late as it is." She closed the door with a slam and pushed Judy in front of her toward the stairs.
"By the way, did a visitor find you?" asked Judy. "She inquired where you lived at the station."
"Oh, yes. Just a woman—on business. About some clothes," she added carelessly. "Dressmakers are dreadful nuisances sometimes."
Judy said nothing, but it occurred to her that Adele must be a very good customer for a dressmaker to come all the way to Wellington to consult her.
While the Beta Phi girls and their guests were breakfasting in the paneled dining-room, the little woman in shabby black came softly out of Adele's rooms and tiptoed downstairs. Under cover of the noise of laughter and talk she opened the front door and went out. Jimmy Lufton saw her later at the inn in the village where she had coffee and toast and inquired the hour for the next train to New York. Jimmy himself was occupied in jotting down notes on an old envelope.
"If it makes me laugh, I should think it would make them," he chuckled to himself.
THE POLITE FREEZE-OUT.
They had seen the cloisters and the library and the Hall of Science and all the show places at Wellington, and now Miss Julia Kean and Mr. James Lufton might be seen strolling across the campus in the direction of the lake.
It was one of those hazy, mid-autumnal days, neither cold nor hot; a blue mist clothed the fields and hung like a canopy between sun and earth.
Judy had changed her best velvet for a walking skirt and a red sweater and Jimmy Lufton glanced at her with admiration from time to time.
"It's a mighty becoming way of dressing you young ladies have here," he said. "Those sweaters and tam o' shanters are prettier to me than the fittest clothes on Fifth Avenue."
"Then you don't agree with Miss Slammer?" asked Judy.
"I probably don't, but, as it happens, I never asked her opinion."
"You don't know what Miss Slammer thinks of college girls, the way they dress and talk?"
Jimmy hesitated. As a matter of fact he had never seen the libelous article by Miss Slammer. He had been absent in a remote village in the mountains writing a murder trial when the article had appeared. Therefore he was not suspicious of Judy's unexpected question.
"I can tell you what I think of college girls," he went on as they neared the edge of the lake. "I think they are the jolliest, most natural, interesting, wholesome, best looking, companionable——"
Judy began to blush. He was looking straight at her as he delivered himself of this stream of adjectives.
"Would you like to canoe a little?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Would I," exclaimed Jimmy, with the sudden boyish expression that made his face so attractive. "I should rather think I would. I haven't had the chance to paddle a canoe since I left college."
It was just the day for canoeing. The surface of the lake was as smooth as glass except where the paddles of other canoeists stirred its placid surface into little ripples and miniature waves.
Judy thought it would be nice, too. She was enjoying herself immensely with this lecturer who looked like a boy without any of a boy's diffidence.
"Do you lecture often?" she asked, when they had settled themselves in the canoe and he was paddling with a skill she recognized as far from being amateur.
"I don't mind making speeches," answered Jimmy. "I made a lot of them the last campaign. 'Cart-tail' speeches they are called, only our cart was an automobile. There were four or five of us who toured the East Side and took turns talking to the crowds."
"I should think you'd be a politician instead of a writer on anti-suffrage," remarked Judy.
Jimmy grinned as he shot the canoe toward the center of the lake.
"Is that what I'm credited as being?" he asked.
"'A well-known writer on the subject,'" quoted Judy.
"If I had read that note over I think I would have been tempted to scratch out the 'well-known,'" he said, "especially as the only article I ever wrote was signed 'A Wife and a Mother.'"
Judy's eyes darkened. Was Miss Slammer to libel them and then send down an impostor to make fun of them? Her impressionable mind was as subject to as many changes as an April day and her recent pleasure in Mr. Lufton's society changed to displeasure as the suspicion clouded her thoughts.
"You had a good deal of courage to come to Wellington, then," she observed after a pause. "At least we think you did after what Miss Slammer wrote about us."
A hunting dog on the scent of quarry was not keener than Jimmy when it came to scenting out news, and it took about five minutes of careful and skillful questioning for Judy to explain the entire situation.
"By Jove, but that was like old 'Bee-trice' to send me down here into a hornet's nest," he thought. "I'll have to get square with them somehow before the lecture or it will never come off. I assure you I didn't know anything about the article," he said aloud to Judy. "I only came to accommodate Miss Slammer. She told me yesterday at the office she was ill."
"Then you aren't a lecturer or a writer?" broke in Judy.
"Miss Slammer and I work on the same paper. Didn't she say that in the letter?"
Judy shook her head.
"I'm afraid you'll think I'm an impostor, Miss Kean, but I had no intention of sailing under false colors. I think I'd better take the next train back to New York and give up the lecture. It would be better to run away before I'm frozen out, don't you think so?"
Judy was silent for a moment. Her rage against Mr. James Lufton had entirely disappeared and she again had that feeling that she would like to protect him from the wrath to come.
"What is a 'polite freeze-out' exactly?" Jimmy asked.
"Well, while you lecture, you are to look into rows of stony faces and when you finish, there is not to be a word spoken, not a single handclap, nothing but stillness as the girls file out of the hall."
"A sort of glacial exit, I suppose. It makes me chilly to think of it. Miss Slammer had a lucky escape."
They were paddling now in the very center of the upper lake, but so absorbed were they in their conversation that they had scarcely noticed a canoe in front of them.
Suddenly there came a cry, a splash and then a moment of perfect stillness followed by a confused sound of voices from the shore. The next instant Judy saw in front of them an upturned canoe and two heads just rising above the water. Before she had time to realize the danger, Jimmy Lufton had torn off his coat, flung his hat into the bottom of the canoe and, with a carefully planned leap, had cleared the side of the canoe, sending it spinning over the water, shaking and quivering like a frightened animal. And now Judy beheld him swimming with long strokes toward the place where the two heads had appeared, disappeared and once more reappeared. In that flash of a moment she had recognized the blonde plaits of Margaret Wakefield and the wet curls of Jessie Lynch. As she mechanically paddled toward the struggling figures, she remembered that Jessie could not swim a stroke and that Margaret could only swim under the most favorable circumstances in a shallow tank.
"He can't hold them both up at once," thought Judy, with a throb of fear as she frantically beat the water with her paddle in her effort to reach them.
For a moment Jimmy himself was in a quandary. It looked as if he would have to let one girl go to save the other, when he saw one of the canoe paddles floating within reach. He gave it a swift push toward the struggling Margaret.
"Put that under your arms and go slow," he shouted, and made for Jessie. In two strokes he had caught her by her coat collar and was swimming swiftly toward the upturned canoe.
"Even in the water, Jessie's irresistible attraction had prevailed," the girls said afterward when they could discuss this almost tragic event with calmness.
"Hold on tight to the canoe, little girl," he said, and turned toward Margaret, who was all but exhausted now. He caught her just as she was sinking, and held her up until a row boat from shore reached them. Margaret was pulled in, with much difficulty owing to her large bulk, and at last Jimmy, feeling a trifle weary himself, returned to Jessie and helped her into another boat. She was still sufficiently herself to achieve a smile of thanks to the handsome young man who had saved her life.
It was all over in a flash, and yet it seemed as if the entire college of Wellington could be seen running across the campus to the lakeside.
By the time the half-drowned trio reached land Miss Walker herself was there looking frightened and pale. The girls were to go straight to the Quadrangle, be rubbed down with alcohol and put to bed. As for the brave young man who had saved their lives, he was to be taken to the infirmary where he could be made comfortable while his clothes were being dried.
When Jimmy Lufton, dripping like a sea god, found himself in the center of a group of beautiful young ladies all eager to show him honor as they hurried him along to the infirmary, he gave a low, amused chuckle.
"I hope I've squared myself with them now," he thought, "and there'll be no polite freeze-out for me and no lecture, either, thank heavens."
While a delegation of three went to the village inn and ordered his suit case sent up to the infirmary, another delegation made him a hot lemonade in the infirmary pantry, and a third went to the flower store in the village and purchased a huge bunch of violets. This was laid on his lunch tray with a card, "From the Senior Class of 19—in grateful recognition of your brave deed."
And so the world goes. He who is down one day is up the next and Jimmy who was to have been the victim of a blighting freeze-out by the Wellington students was now an object of tender attention.
There came to Mr. Lufton that afternoon a note stating that if he were quite recovered—("Meaning my clothes," thought Jimmy)—the students of the Quadrangle would be glad to have him dine with them that evening at six-thirty.
"I do feel like a blooming hypocrite," he exclaimed to himself remorsefully. "Here I came down to Wellington at their expense to give them a fake lecture and they are treating me like a king."
But he accepted the invitation, trusting to luck that his clothes would be dry and tipping the infirmary cook to press his trousers and black his shoes.
At half past six, then, Jimmy appeared at the Quadrangle archway. He wore some of the violets in his buttonhole and his keen, dark eyes shone with suppressed humor. A delegation of seniors met him and conducted him back to the dining-hall, where several hundreds of young persons all in their very best stood up to receive him. A seat of honor was given to him at the end of the long table and every girl in the room liked him immensely, not only for his broad jolly smile, but because at the end of dinner he arose and, without the slightest embarrassment, made the most deliciously funny speech ever heard. Then the walls resounded with the college yell, ending with "What's the matter with Mr. Lufton? He's all right. Who's all right? Lufton—Lufton—James Lufton." Never was one unknown and entirely unworthy individual more honored.
THE WAYS OF PROVIDENCE.
Providence had not gone to such lengths to bring Jimmy Lufton to Wellington and set him in the good graces of the college without some purpose. It was not only that he had been sent in time to save two prominent seniors from drowning, but Jimmy's destiny was henceforth to weave itself like a brightly colored thread in and out of the destinies of some of Wellington's daughters.
Wherever Jimmy went he brought with him gaiety and good will. The sympathy and charm of his nature had made him so many friends that of himself did not know the number. And now he had come down to Wellington and made a host of new ones eager to show him how much Wellington thought of courage.
On Sunday morning Jimmy not only met Dodo Green and Andy McLean, but he was led in and introduced to Professor Green, now sitting up against a back rest. There was an expression of ineffable happiness on the Professor's face because his bed had been moved near the window where he might catch a glimpse of the campus and of an occasional group of students strolling under the trees. Such are the simple pleasures of the convalescent.
Furthermore, Jimmy had met Miss Alice Fern, immaculate in white linen, and now he was carried off to the McLeans' to breakfast where he was to meet Molly Brown.
This was Molly's first glimpse of the famous hero. She had not gone down to dinner the evening before, having remained with Nance to minister to the wants of Margaret and Jessie.
Nance and Judy were at the breakfast, too, and Otoyo Sen, and Lawrence Upton who had come over on the trolley from Exmoor. It was, indeed, a meeting of old friends and the genial doctor gave them a gruff and hearty welcome as they gathered in the drawing-room.
"Gude morning to you," he said, rubbing his hands and beaming on them from under his shaggy eyebrows. "I'm verra glad to see the lads and lassies once more. The wife was only saying last week that in another year they'd be scattered to the four ends of the earth. And is this the young lad who picked up the drowning lassies out of the lake? Shake hands, boy. It was a brave and bonny thing to do."
"Any man would have done it in my place, doctor," said Jimmy, grasping the big hand warmly.
"Not any man, but some would. Andy and Larry, I make no doubt, and that wild buffalo, Dodo."
Dodo didn't mind being called a wild buffalo by the doctor if only he was given the credit of courage at the same time, but Mrs. McLean objected.
"Now, doctor," she said, "you mustn't call your guests ugly names. You know I won't permit it at all."
"Don't scold him, Mrs. McLean," said Dodo. "I think it's better to be called a wild buffalo than a wild boar."
"A bore is never wild, if that's the kind you mean," answered Mrs. McLean. "That's why they are bores, because they are so tame."
"Mither, mither," put in the doctor, laughing, "how you go on. As if you'd like 'em any way but tame. She's a great talker, Mr. Lufton, as you'll perceive before the morning's half over, but she doesn't mean the half she says, like every other woman under the sun."
Jimmy laughed. How delightful it was to him to be among these gay, simple-hearted people who found a good deal of enjoyment in life without the aid of things he had been accustomed to. Presently he heard Andy McLean's voice saying:
"Miss Brown, Mr. Lufton," and turning quickly, he confronted a tall slender girl with very blue eyes and red-gold hair. Miss Brown smiled a heavenly smile and gave him her hand.
"I'm glad to meet you," she said. "I've been hearing a great deal about you in the last few hours."
The soft musical quality of her voice stirred Jimmy's soul.
"It's like the harp in the orchestra. When a hand sweeps over the harp strings, you can hear it above all the trumpets and drums, it's so—so ineffably sweet, only there's never enough of it."
All this Jimmy thought as he exchanged Molly's greetings.
"Are you from the South?" he asked later when he found himself beside her at the breakfast table.
"I'm from Kentucky," she answered promptly and proudly.
"So am I," he almost shouted, and then they exchanged new glances of deeper interest and presently were plunged in a conversation about home.
Jimmy forgot that Judy, his sponsor at Wellington, sat at his right hand and Molly was oblivious to Lawrence Upton on her left.
"I suppose you never get any corn bread here?" Jimmy asked.
"Not our kind," replied Molly. "What they have here is made of fine meal with sugar in it."
Jimmy made a wry face.
"Wouldn't you like to have some fried chicken with cream gravy?" he whispered.
"And some candied sweet potatoes and corn pones and pear pickle," Molly broke in.
"And hot biscuits. But what shall we finish off with, Miss Brown?"
"Brandied peaches and ice cream and hickory-nut cake."
Jimmy gave a delighted laugh.
"That's a good old home dessert I used to get at Grandma's," he said. "At least the peaches and the ice cream were. She always had cup-cake with frosted icing."
"Do you ever have kidney hash and waffles Sunday mornings, nowadays?" asked Molly.
"I haven't had any for years, Miss Brown. But at the restaurant where I get breakfast I do get 'batty' cakes and molasses."
"'Batty' cakes," repeated Molly. "How funny that is. Do you know I've always said that, too, just because I learned to say it that way as a child. And hook and 'laddy' wagon. I can't seem to break myself of the habit."
"Don't try," said Jimmy. "I'd rather hear the good old talk than Bernhardt speaking French."
And so from food they came to discuss pronunciation, as most Southerners do sooner or later, and from that subject they drifted into mutual friendships and thence naturally into newspaper work.
"I'm a sub-editor," announced Molly proudly, and she told him about the Commune and her work. "Perhaps you'd like to see our office after a while?" she said.
"I'd be only too glad," said Jimmy, delighted to be able to prolong his tete-a-tete with this gracefully angular young woman with blue eyes and red hair, who spoke with the "tongue of angels" and had the same yearnings he did for corn-bread and fried chicken with cream gravy.
And all this time something strange was taking place in Judy's mind that she could not understand. At first she thought she was catching the grippe. She felt cold and then hot and finally unreasonably irritated against everybody except Molly. At least, she put it that way to herself.
"She never looked more charming," thought Judy to herself.
Molly in her faded blue corduroy skirt and blue silk blouse was a picture to charm the eye. Judy herself looked unusually lovely in her pretty gray serge piped in scarlet with Irish lace collar and cuffs. There were glints of gold in her fluffy hair and her eyes shone with unusual brightness. But Mrs. McLean's good food tasted as sawdust on her palate and the conversation of the eager Dodo sounded trite and stupid to her. Once she had said a word or two to Jimmy Lufton and he had turned and answered her politely and agreeably, but as soon as he decently could he was back with Molly again deep in bluegrass reminiscences.
There were other people who were disgruntled that morning at Mrs. McLean's breakfast. Not Nance and Andy, who seemed well pleased with themselves and the bright fall day; not the doctor nor the doctor's wife beaming at her guests behind the silver tea urn, but Otoyo was strangely silent and averted her face from Molly's if by chance their glances met; looked carefully over Nance's head and avoided Judy's gaze as much as possible. Lawrence Upton, too, had little to say, except to Dr. McLean at his end of the table.
So it was that half the guests thought the breakfast had been a great success and the other half put it down as stupid and dull.
"Would anybody like to go over to the Commune office with us?" Molly vouchsafed some three-quarters of an hour later when the company was breaking up. "I am going to show Mr. Lufton our offices."
But nobody seemed anxious to accept.
"You'll come, won't you, Judy?" Molly asked.
No, Judy had other things to do apparently.
"Won't you come, Otoyo, dear?" asked Molly, slipping her arm around the little Japanese's waist and giving it a squeeze.
"It is not possible. I am exceedingly sorrowful," answered Otoyo a little stiffly and drew away from Molly's embrace.
"Aren't you well, little one?" asked Molly. "Is anything the matter?"
"Oh, exceedingly, quite well, but I cannot go to-day, Mees Brown," Otoyo answered, trying to infuse a little warmth into her tone.
So it ended by Molly's going off alone with the young man from New York to the Commune office, where she showed him their files and the proofs sent up by the printer in the village, which had to be corrected; then she introduced him into the little alcove office where Edith was wont to write her famous editorials.
"How would you like to write an article for my paper, Miss Brown?" Jimmy asked suddenly. "We run a page of college news, you know."
He had no idea that Molly could write or that the paper would take anything from her if she did. He had merely talked at random and was a little taken back when Molly clasped her hands joyously and cried:
"Oh, and would they pay me?"
"Of course," he answered, hoping devoutly in his heart they would. "I'll tell you what you do. This is the Jubilee Year at Wellington, isn't it?"
"Yes; it's been officially announced at last."
"Well, you could use that as a starter, with a little of the history of Wellington and the big festival you're going to have, and then you could go on and give some talk about the girls,—what you do and all that. There could be pictures of the cloisters and the library, perhaps."
"What a wonderful chance to answer Miss Slammer's article," Molly thought. "It's just what we would have wanted and never dreamed of getting. It's so kind of you," she said aloud. "I would be proud to do it for nothing if the paper doesn't want to pay——"
"Oh, it'll pay you all right if it takes the story. You may get anywhere from ten to thirty-five dollars for it."
"Why, that's enough to buy a dress," she exclaimed involuntarily, and Jimmy decided in his heart that he would sell that article if he had to wear the soles off his boots walking up and down Park Row.
"I suppose you'd like it simple," said Molly.
"Well, we don't like anything flowery," he said, "but you write it the way you like and I'll change it if necessary. Just tell about things as if you were writing a letter home."
"There it is again," thought Molly. "First the Professor and now Mr. Lufton."
They finished the morning with a walk and Jimmy Lufton entertained Molly with a hundred stories about his life in New York, and then he listened to her while she talked about college and home and her hopes.
At last they parted at the Quadrangle gates, where Andy McLean was waiting to take Jimmy home with him to dinner, and Molly saw him no more, since he was to catch the three-thirty train back to New York; but she had his address carefully written on a scrap of paper and already the opening paragraph of the newspaper article was beginning to shape itself in her mind. She saw nothing of Judy until bedtime. Judy had been with her friend, Adele, she said. But when the two friends parted that night Judy flung her arms around Molly's neck and kissed her so tenderly that Molly could not help feeling a bit surprised, since only a few hours before Judy had seemed cold somehow.
A few days after Jimmy Lufton had returned to New York he received six letters from the following persons: Margaret Wakefield, Senator and Mrs. Wakefield, Jessie Lynch, and Colonel and Mrs. Lynch. Any time James Lufton tired of his job he could get another from Senator Wakefield or Colonel Lynch. That was stated plainly in the letters of the two fathers.
"And all because of an anti-suffrage speech that was never made," thought Jimmy.
It is not often that rivals for the same office are champions for each other, and yet that is what happened when the seniors elected their permanent president toward the end of October. It followed that Molly, as the most popular girl in the junior class, would be elected president the next year.
"Of course you'll get it," Nance assured her as the time approached.
"It's a great honor," replied Molly, "but, oh, Nance, I'm such a diffident, shy person with a shrinking nature——"
"You mean," interrupted Nance, "that Margaret wants it so badly, you can't bear to deprive her of it."
"No, that isn't it. It's not sentiment, really, but I can't make speeches and I haven't got the organizing nature."
Nance shook her head.
"You ought not to throw away gifts from the gods. It's as bad as hiding your light under a bushel."
Nevertheless, Molly was sure she did not want the place and she hoped Margaret would get it. As for Margaret, the spirit of a politician and the spirit of a loyal friend were struggling for mastery within her soul. The girls knew by this time what sort of president she could make. They were well acquainted with her powers of oratory and organization. Nobody understood as well as she did the ins and outs of parliamentary law; how to appoint committees and chairmen and count yeas and nays; in other words, how to swing the class along in proper form. They knew all this, but hitherto it had been necessary to call it to their minds each year, when by the sheer force of oratory, Margaret won the election.
But, as luck would have it, on the day set for the election Margaret, who had taken a deep cold from her upsetting in the lake, was too hoarse to say a word. It would have moved a heart of stone to see her, sitting in the president's chair sucking a lemon, as she called the class to order in a husky tone of voice that had not the faintest resemblance to the organ she had used with such force for three years.
There were only two nominations for the office of president, and it was difficult to judge toward which of the nominees the sentiment of the class leaned. Nance had nominated Molly, who had tried to drag her friend back on the bench.
"Don't you see they might think I had put you up to it?" Molly had exclaimed.
"They never would think that about you, Molly," whispered Nance, and promptly had announced her candidate and the nomination was immediately seconded. Then Molly shot up blushingly and nominated Margaret Wakefield, almost taking the words out of Jessie's mouth. Margaret smiled at her rather shamefacedly, knowing full well that she would not have nominated Molly for that coveted office.
Other nominations followed. Edith Williams and her sister were rival candidates for the office of vice president, and Caroline Brinton and Nance were put up for secretary.
"Has anybody anything to say?" asked Margaret, still sucking the lemon frantically as a last effort to clear her fogbound voice.
Molly stood up.
"I think I'd like to speak a few words, Madam President," she said. Then, blushing deeply and trembling in her knees she turned toward the familiar faces of her classmates and began:
"I'm not much of a speechmaker, girls, and I don't know that I ever really addressed you before, but I feel I must say something in favor of my candidate, Miss Margaret Wakefield, who has made us such an excellent president for three years."
There were sounds of hand-clapping and calls of "Hear! Hear!"
Molly paused and cleared her throat. She did wish they wouldn't interrupt until she had finished.
"I think we ought to remember, girls, that when we elect a president for this last year, we are choosing some one to represent us for always; at class reunions and alumnae meetings and all kinds of things. When there is a distinguished visitor, it's always the senior president who has to step up and do the talking. The kind of president we want is some one with presence and dignity. We want a handsome president who dresses in good taste and can talk. Girls,"—Molly raised her hand as if calling upon heaven to strengthen the force of her arguments,—"we don't want a thin, lank president without any shape" (sounds of tumultuous laughter and the beginning of applause)—"one of those formless, backboneless people who can't talk and who dress in—well, ragtags. I tell you, girls, Margaret is the president for us. She's been a mighty fine president for three years and I don't think we ought to try experiments on a new one at this stage in the game."
Then there came wild applause and Margaret presently arose and raised her hand for silence after the manner of the true speechmaker. She was much moved by what Molly had said. It was more than she herself would have been capable of doing, but she intended to speak now if it cracked her voice till doomsday.
"I can't talk much, girls, on account of hoarseness, but I do want to say that nobody could represent this class better than Molly Brown, the most beloved girl not only of the senior class, but of all Wellington. I hope you will cast your votes for her, girls, and I'm proud to write down her name as my choice for president."
"Three cheers for Molly and Margaret," cried Judy, always the leader of the mobs.
Edith, funny and diffident, now rose and addressed the class. She said she sincerely hoped the class was not looking for handsome, plump vice-presidents, since the two candidates for that office were neither the one nor the other; but that if they placed any confidence in a "rag and a bone and a hank of hair," she felt sure she could fill the bill just as well as the opposing candidate.
Then Katherine shot up and said she could prove that she weighed a pound more than her sister, and instead of putting her allowance into books that autumn, she had laid in a stock of clothes.
It was all very funny and good natured: the most friendly close election that had ever taken place, some one said, and when the votes were counted it was found that Margaret had won by one vote and Katherine by two in excess of the other candidates. Edith and Molly locked arms and rushed over to congratulate the successful opponents.
"You won it for me, Molly," announced Margaret in a voice husky as much from emotion as cold. "I doubt if I should have got half a dozen votes if it hadn't been for your speech and I shall never forget it. It was what father calls 'a nice thing.'"
"You are the president for me, Margaret," Molly laughed. "I can't see myself in that chair, not in a thousand years. I should be all wobbly like a puppet on a throne and I'd probably slide under the table from fright at the first class meeting."
"You would have adorned it far better than I would, Molly, and popularity will outweigh speechmaking any day; not but what you didn't make a fine speech."
But neither Edith nor Molly felt any regrets over the election. They had all they could do to attend to the Commune, go to society meetings and keep up their studies.
That very day, too, there came a letter for Molly that added to her labors. Judy brought it up from the office below. She looked at her friend curiously, as Molly glanced at the address written in a rather large, scrawly masculine hand. In a corner of the envelope was printed the name of a New York newspaper.
"Corresponding already?" Judy asked. "You lose no time, Molly, darling."
Molly was so much occupied in tearing open the envelope that she did not notice the strained tone in Judy's voice.
"I'm so excited," she exclaimed, drawing out the letter. "This will decide my fate."
"Are you ready, Judy?" called Adele Windsor, opening the door and walking in, in her usual unceremonious fashion. Her quick glance took in the envelope Molly had flung on the table in her haste to read the note. "Oh, these southern girls," she remarked, raising her eyebrows and blinking at Judy.
Molly looked up quickly. It was certainly no affair of Adele's and still she felt like making an explanation.
"This is a business letter," she said quickly, the blood rushing into her face.
"Do business letters make one blush?" Adele said teasingly.
Molly could not tell why Adele irritated her so profoundly. She was ashamed afterward of what she called her unreasonable behavior. Certainly she did not appear very well in the passage of arms that now followed.
"It's none of your business at any rate," she exclaimed hotly, "and I'm not blushing."
After this outburst, she turned and walked into her room. Her face was crimson and she knew she would have wept if she had stayed another minute, and so have been further disgraced.
"Really, Molly, don't you think you are rather hard on poor Adele?" she heard Judy's voice saying. But not a word of apology would she make to Adele Windsor, whose high nasal tones now came to her through the half closed door.
"Never mind, I don't care, Judy. She can't help it. Didn't you ever hear about the temper that goes with red heads?"
Molly paid for her outburst of temper by having a headache all the afternoon and an achey lump in her chest—indigestion, no doubt.
She stretched herself on her little bed, her haven of refuge in time of trouble and the safe confidante unto whose soft bosom she poured her secrets and hopes. At last, calmed and remorseful for her hasty tongue, she opened the note again and reread it:
"DEAR MISS BROWN:
"I have hypnotized the editor into accepting that article of yours; only you must hurry up with it. It will run probably for two and a half columns on the College Notes page and we can use three pictures. Just tell whatever you want about the college and the girls and what they do, starting off with the Jubilee, as I suggested. Send it to me here by Friday and I will appreciate it. Thank you for the wonderful time you gave me at Wellington.
"Sincerely your friend, "JAMES LUFTON."
Late that afternoon Molly rushed over to the Commune office, and, seizing a pencil and paper, began to write. At the top of the page she wrote, "Dearest Mother"—"just to make myself think it's a letter," she thought. But the words worked like a magic talisman, for the pencil traveled busily and by suppertime she had almost finished.
On the way back from the village next morning, where she had been to buy the photographs, she stopped at the Beta Phi House and left a note on the hall table for Miss Windsor.
"I am sorry I was rude to you. I suppose red-headed people have got high tempers and henceforth I shall try to curb mine."
THE DROP OF POISON.
Molly was very proud of her first newspaper article and exultant at being able to answer the unjust libels of Miss Slammer. She could scarcely wait to tell Nance and Judy about it, but decided to drop in at the infirmary and relate her triumph to the Professor if it was possible to see him. Alice Fern was on guard that morning, however, and the Swiss Guards at the Vatican could not have been more formidable.
"I'm sure the Pope of Rome doesn't live a more secluded life," thought Molly as she departed.
Glancing at the tower clock, Molly saw that she still had three quarters of an hour before the lecture on early Victorian Poets by the Professor of English Literature from Exmoor, who came over several times a week to substitute for Professor Green.
"I think I'll run in and see Otoyo a few minutes," Molly said to herself. "The girls can wait. There's been something queer about Otoyo lately. She keeps to herself like a little sick animal. I can't make her out at all."
There was no response to Molly's knock on Otoyo's door a few minutes later, and, after a pause, she opened the door and peeped in.
The blinds had been drawn, an unwonted thing with the little Japanese, who usually let the sunlight flood her room through unshaded windows. But a shaft of light from the open door disclosed her seated cross-legged on the floor in front of a beautiful screen showing Fujiyama, the sacred Japanese mountain. At the foot of the screen she had placed two statues, one of Saint Anthony of Padua and one of Saint Francis of Assisi, presents from Mr. and Mrs. Murphy on two successive Christmases. And still another graven image caught Molly's eye as she tiptoed into the room: a small figure of Buddha seated cross-legged. He was placed at a little distance from the two saints and his antique, blurred countenance contrasted strangely with the delicately molded and tinted faces of the new statues.
If Molly had come unannounced upon Nance on her knees or Judy at her devotions, she would have beat a hasty retreat, but it came to her that Otoyo, sitting there cross-legged before the images of strange gods, needed help of some sort.
"You aren't angry with me for coming in, Otoyo?" she began. "I knocked and you didn't hear. I'm afraid something is the matter. Won't you let me help you? I have not forgotten how you helped me once when I was unhappy. Don't you remember how you let me sit in your room and think over my troubles that Sunday afternoon at Queen's?"
Otoyo rose quickly, flushing a little under her dark skin. She seemed very foreign to Molly at that moment, in her beautiful embroidered kimono of black and gold. Also she seemed very formal in her manner and distant, like an exiled princess who still clings to the dignity of her former position.
First she made a low Japanese bow, quite different from the little smiling nods she had learned to give her friends at Wellington.
"I feel much honored, Mees Brown. Will you be seated and I will bring refreshments."
"Why, Otoyo," exclaimed Molly, filled with wonder at this new phase in her friend, "I don't want any refreshments. I thought I'd drop in for half an hour before English V. and find out what has happened to you. You never come to see me any more," she added reproachfully. "You haven't been since that Sunday afternoon with your father, and you always have a 'Busy' sign on your door. Are you really so busy or are you trying to avoid us?"
Otoyo drew up her one chair she used for visitors and sat down again on the floor.
"I have been much engaged," she said, avoiding Molly's eye. Molly noticed that her English was perfect. She spoke with great precision and avoided adverbial mistakes with painful care.
She had had a great deal to think about lately, Otoyo continued, and she was reading a book of Charles Dickens, the English novelist. It was very difficult.
With an impetuous gesture, Molly rose and pushed the chair out of the way. Then she sat flat on the floor beside Otoyo, and took one of the little plump brown hands in hers.
"Otoyo, you're unhappy. Something has happened and you're praying to Catholic saints and Fuji and Buddha all at once. Isn't it so?"
"The saints are very honorable gentlemen," answered Otoyo quickly. "Mrs. Murphy has told me many things of their goodness. And Fuji is the mountain that brings comfort to all Japanese people. Holy men dwell on Fuji and pilgrims climb to the summit each year to worship. And Buddha, he is a great god," she added. "He is kind to lonely little Japanese girl."
As she neared the end of her speech her voice was as faint and thin as a sick child's, but she steadily repressed all emotion, for no well-bred Japanese lady is ever seen to weep.
"Otoyo, my dear, my dear, what can have happened?" cried Molly, turning the averted face toward her so that she might look into the almond-shaped eyes. "I can't bear to see you so miserable. It makes me unhappy, too. Don't you know that you are one of the dearest friends I have in the world and that we all love you?"
"It is not easy to believe that is true," said Otoyo, looking at her with an expression of mingled reproach and incredulity. "I cannot believe it is so, Mees Brown."
A look of utter amazement came into Molly's face. It had never entered her head that Otoyo was angry with her.
"What is that? Say it again, Otoyo. I can't believe my own ears."
"I say it is not easy to believe that is true," said Otoyo, repeating her words with the precision of a Japanese.
Molly rose to her feet, and grasping Otoyo's hands pulled her up.
"I can't talk sitting on the floor, Otoyo. Come over here and sit on the bed where I can look at you. Now, tell me exactly what you meant by that speech."
The two girls now sat face to face on the bed and there was a look of sternness in Molly's eyes that Otoyo had never seen there before. Otoyo's eyes dropped before her gaze and she began plucking at the Japanese crepe of her kimono.
"You must speak, Otoyo," Molly insisted.
There was a long silence and then Otoyo looked up again.
"It was my father, my honorable good father. I am too humble to care. But my noble father!"
She rose quickly and walked across to the window. If there were tears in her eyes Molly should not see them. Having drawn the blind, she drew a deep breath and came back to the bed. But Molly was doing some rapid thinking during that brief interval. Some one had been telling Otoyo that they had made game of her father—and that some one——
But Molly was too angry to think coherently.
"Otoyo," she began, "you know how much all the Queen's girls think of you. You are really our property, child. If any of us felt that we had hurt or grieved you, we would really never forgive ourselves."
"But my father, he was mock-ed. Of me it was of not much matter."
"Child, what we did was in innocent fun. It was only that we repeated his funny English, even funnier than yours, and we have often teased you about your adverbs, haven't we?"
"Yes," admitted Otoyo, "but this was made to be so cruel. It cut me——" she choked.
"Who repeated it to you, Otoyo?" asked Molly with sudden calmness, afraid to give rein to her indignation for fear of doing rash things. "People who tell things like that are quite capable of inventing them or at least making them much worse."
"I have given my word not to speak the name," answered Otoyo.
It was almost time for the lecture now and Molly slipped down on her knees beside the bed and put her arms around Otoyo's waist.
"Dear little Otoyo, before I go, I want you to tell me that you have forgiven us. None of us meant to be cruel or unkind. We are too fond of you for that. I shall tell all the other girls what has happened and to-night they will come in and make you an apology themselves. We will all come. As for the girl who made the trouble, she is a wicked mischief maker and I wish she had never come to Wellington. And now, will you say 'Molly, I forgive you?'"
"I do, I do," cried Otoyo, her face transformed with happiness. "I should not have listened to her ugly speeches, but it was the way she did it. She told me my father had been mock-ed and ridiculed. I was veree unhappee."
"Never, never let her get her clutches on you again," said Molly, opening the door.
"Never, never, never," repeated the Japanese girl.
It was a real reconciliation surprise party that took place in Otoyo's room that evening. All the Queen's girls were there except Judy, who had been absent for a whole day, having cut two lectures and taken supper with Adele Windsor at Beta Phi House. It had been agreed among them that Adele should never be welcomed in their circle again; for they were morally certain that it was Adele who had done the mischief, although Otoyo loyally kept her word not to tell the name.
Otoyo, bewildered and happy over this avalanche of company, toddled about the room in her soft house slippers looking for refreshments. From strange foreign looking packing boxes in the closet she produced tin cases of candied ginger and pineapple, boxes of rice cakes, nuts and American chocolate creams which Otoyo liked better than the daintiest American dish that could be devised.
Every guest had brought Otoyo a gift of flowers. They made her sit in the armchair while they circled around her, singing:
"Old friends are the best friends, The friends that are tried and true."
Then they made her dress up in her finest kimono and sit cross-legged at the foot of the bed while one by one they filed before her and each made an humble apology.
"Oh, it is too much," Otoyo cried. "I implore you forgeeve me. It was madlee of me to listen to so much weekedness. Humble little Japanese girl is bad to entertain such meanly thoughts."
At last when all the rites and ceremonies were over and they had settled down to refreshments in good earnest, Edith began the tale of "The Fall of the House of Usher," which she recited in thrilling fashion. The girls always huddled together in a frightened group at this performance. At the most dramatic moment, as if it had been timed purposely, the door was flung open and a tall lady in black stood on the threshold. She hesitated a moment and then sailed in, her black chiffon draperies floating about her like a dark cloud. Then she flung a lace mantilla from her head and stood before them revealed as Judy, in a black wig apparently.
"Judy Kean, what have you been up to?" asked Nance suspiciously.
"Where did you get your black wig?" demanded Molly.
"Don't you think it becoming?" asked Judy. "Don't you think it enhances the whiteness of my skin and the brightness of my eye?"
"All very well for a fancy dress party, but you don't look yourself, Judy. Do take it off."
"Now, don't say that," answered Judy, "because I can't take it off without cutting it. I've changed the color. That's where I've been all day. It's awfully exciting. You've no idea how many things you have to do to change your hair dark. Of course, it's perfectly ladylike to make it dark. It's only bad form to dye it light."
"Judy, you haven't?" they cried.
"I certainly have," she answered carelessly, and she proceeded to take out all the hair pins from her fluffy thick hair and let it down. "It's raven black."
It was, in fact, an unnatural blue-black, something the color of shoe blacking.
"Oh, Judy, Judy, what will you do next?" cried Molly in real distress.
"What will that girl make her do next?" put in Nance, in a disgusted tone.
"Now, Nance, I knew you'd say just that, but it's not true. I did it of my own free will. I always loved black and I've wanted black hair all my life."
"What will Miss Walker say?" asked some one.
"She probably won't know anything about it. I doubt if she remembers the original color of my hair, anyhow. I'm sorry you don't think it's becoming to me. Adele thought it suited me perfectly. Much better than the original mousy-brown shade."
"I recognize Adele's fine touch in that expression, 'mousy-brown,'" put in Edith.
"Did Adele do anything to change her appearance?" asked Margaret.
"Oh, no, she is just right as she is. Her hair is a perfect shade, 'Titian Brown,' it's called. But, girls, I must tell you about the marvelous face cream, 'Cucumber Velvet'; it bleaches and heals at the same time."
"Oh, go to," cried Katherine. "Judy, you are so benighted, I don't know what's coming to you. Don't you know that Adele Windsor made Otoyo, here——"
"No, no," broke in Otoyo. "I have never told the name. I gave my honorable promise not to. I beg you not to mention it."
"What's all this?" Judy began when the ten o'clock bell boomed and the girls scattered to their various rooms.
That night, undressing in the dark, Nance and Molly explained to Judy what had happened.
"But are you sure she did it?" Judy demanded. "Otoyo never said so, did she?"
"No, but we are sure, anyway."
"I don't believe it," exclaimed Judy hotly. "Adele is the soul of honor. I shall never believe it unless Otoyo really tells the name."
And so Judy went off to bed entirely unreasonable about this new and fascinating friend.
"All I can say for you, Judy," said Molly, standing in Judy's bedroom doorway, "is that I hate your black hair, but do you remember that old poem we used to sing as children? I'm sure you must have known it. Most children have."
Then Molly recited in her musical clear voice:
"'I once had a sweet little doll, dears, The prettiest doll in the world, Her cheeks were so red and so white, dears, And her hair was so charmingly curled. But I lost my poor little doll, dears, As I played on the heath one day; And I cried for her more than a week, dears, But I never could find where she lay.
"'I found my poor little doll, dears, As I played in the heath one day: Folks say she is terribly changed, dears, For her paint is all washed away, And her arm trodden off by the cows, dears, And her hair not the least bit curled: Yet for old sake's sake, she is still, dears, The prettiest doll in the world.'"
"Humph!" said Judy. "Is that the way you feel about it?"
"Thanks, awfully," and with a defiant fling of the covers, Judy turned her face to the wall.
When Judy Kean appeared at Chapel next morning she seemed serenely unconscious of the sensation she was creating. Her usual black dress and widow's bands had always made her conspicuous and those who only knew her by sight, yet carried with them a vivid impression of her face: the large gray eyes swimming with visions, the oval creamy face, the mouth rather large, the lips a little too full, perhaps, and framing all this, her fluffy bright hair.
The Quadrangle dining-room had already buzzed with the news of Judy's reckless act, and now, as the seniors marched two by two up the aisle after the faculty, a ripple of laughter swept over the chapel. Necks were craned all over the room to see Judy's mop of blue-black hair arranged in a loose knot on the back of her neck, drawn well down over the forehead in a heavy dark mantle, carefully concealing the ears.
But Miss Walker was not pleased with the liberties Judy had taken with her appearance. She had heard the ripple of laughter, stifled almost as soon as it had commenced, and having reached her chair and faced the audience while the procession was still on its way up the aisle she noticed the amused glances directed toward Judy's head. It took only a second glance to assure herself of what Judy had done and she frowned and compressed her lips. When the service was over, she made a little impromptu address to the students. College, she said, was a place for serious work and not for frivolity. Of course there were no objections to innocent fun, but absurdities would not be tolerated. All the time she was speaking she was looking straight at Judy, who, with chin resting on her hand and eyelids drooped, apparently read a hymn book. That afternoon Miss Julia Kean received a summons to appear at Miss Walker's office immediately. From this interview Judy emerged in a stubborn, angry humor. Miss Walker was a wise woman in her generation, but she had never had a girl of Judy's temperament to deal with before. Judy's rather contemptuous indifference had inflamed the President into saying some rather harsh things.
If one girl dyed her hair a great many others might. Such things often struck a college in waves and she was not going to tolerate it.
Therefore, Judy, unreasonably angry, as she always was under reproof, had no word to say to her anxious friends awaiting her at No. 5, Quadrangle.
"Was it very bad, Judy, dear?" Nance asked, when Judy walked into the room, white and silent.
"It was worse than that," replied Judy in a steady even voice. "If she had given me twenty lashes on my bare shoulders I should have liked it better. What business is it of hers what color I turn my hair? This is not a boarding school. I detest her!" Whereupon, she slammed her door and the girls did not see her again for several hours.
When she did finally emerge, she was calm and smiling, but the girls felt instinctively that her dangerous mood had not passed, only deepened, and Molly felt she would give a great deal to win her friend away from the malign influence of Adele Windsor.
It seemed to her sometimes that Judy was cherishing a secret grievance against her as well as against Miss Walker. But Molly had little time for brooding over such things in the daytime and at night sleep overtook her as soon as her tired head dropped on the pillow.
A great many things were in the air at Wellington just now. A prize had been offered for the best suggestion for a jubilee entertainment. It was only ten dollars, but every girl in college competed except Judy. One morning Adele Windsor's name was posted on the bulletin board as winner of the prize, and not long afterward they learned that it was Judy's scheme, unfolded on the opening night of college, that Adele had appropriated, no doubt with Judy's full consent.
Molly's exchange of brief notes with Jimmy Lufton had ripened into a correspondence, and she was prepared therefore for the enormous package containing at least a dozen Sunday newspapers that came to her one morning—also a check for fifteen dollars. With eager fingers she tore wrappers from the papers, and began to search through multitudinous columns for her article about Wellington.
At last, with Nance's and Judy's help, she found it, not tucked away in a corner as she had half expected, but spread out over the page. It is true the pictures were rather blurred, but there were the columns of writing, all hers, so she fondly believed, so skillfully had Mr. Lufton wrought the changes he had been obliged to make.
The article was signed "M. W. C. B." and a framed copy of it hangs to this day on the crowded walls of the Commune office. There was not much doubt who "M. W. C. B." was and Molly was deluged with calls and congratulations all day. It was glorious to have been the means of refuting Miss Beatrice Slammer's criticisms, and she could not help feeling very proud as she hurried down the avenue to the infirmary, one of the papers tucked under her arm, devoutly hoping that Alice Fern had gone home by now. It was reported that the Professor was walking about and in a few days was to go to Bermuda to stay until after the Christmas holidays. The Professor himself, and not Miss Fern, opened the door for Molly before Miss Grace Green, reading aloud by the window, could remonstrate with him. He was a mere ghost of his former self, pale, emaciated. His clothes seemed three sizes too big for his wasted frame and he had grown quite bald around the temples. Molly thought him very old that afternoon.
"I've brought something to show you," she said, after she had shaken hands with the brother and sister and the three had drawn up their chairs by the window. Then Miss Grace Green read the article aloud and Molly explained that it was Mr. Lufton, to whom they were already so deeply indebted, who had arranged to get it published.
"I took him over to the Commune office," said Molly, "and that started it."
Miss Green smiled and the Professor shifted uneasily in his chair. Presently Miss Green rose.
"It's time for your buttermilk, Edwin, and you and I shall have some tea, Miss Molly," she added as she slipped out of the room.
"Tell me a little about yourself, Miss Molly," observed the Professor, when they were left alone. "Did you have a pleasant summer and how is the old orchard?"
"Oh, the orchard was most shamefully neglected," replied Molly. "Simply a mass of weeds and the apples left rotting on the ground all this fall, so mother writes. William, our colored man, cut down the worst of the weeds with a scythe last summer and I kept the ground cleared where the hammock hangs. It's been such a rainy summer, I suppose that's why things grew so rank, but I'm sorry the old gentleman is neglecting his property after making such a noble start."
The Professor laughed.
"You have made the acquaintance of the owner, then?" he asked.
"Oh no, we have never even learned his name, but I feel quite sure he is very old. Sometimes I seem to see him in the orchard, an old, old man leaning on a stick. I think he is old and eccentric because a young man would never have bought property he had never seen."
"Can't a young man be eccentric?"
"Oh, yes, but mother and my brothers and sisters, all of us believe this man is old from something the agent said. He told mother that the new owner of the orchard had bought it because he was looking for a retired spot in which to spend his old age."
Again the Professor laughed and the color rose in his face and spread over his cheeks and forehead.
Presently Miss Green returned with the tea things and the buttermilk.
"Has Miss Fern gone?" asked Molly.
"Oh yes, we finally prevailed on her to go home," answered Miss Green. "She really need not have been here at all. The infirmary nurse would have looked after Edwin, but she seemed to think she was indispensable."
"Grace, my dear sister," remonstrated the Professor.
From Miss Fern the talk drifted to many things. Molly told them more of Jimmy Lufton: how he had charmed everybody and what a wonderful life he led in New York.
"I should like to be on a newspaper," she said suddenly. "It would be lots more exciting than teaching school."
The Professor looked up quickly.
"I should be sorry to see you take that step, Miss Molly."
"Well, I haven't taken it yet, but I was only thinking that Mr. Lufton might be a great deal of help to me."
"You must not," said the Professor sternly. "Don't think of it for a moment. The Commune is putting ideas into your head, or this Mr. Lufton."
Molly felt uncomfortable for some reason and Miss Green changed the subject.
"By the way," she said, "I heard the other day what had become of some of the luncheon you seniors lost the day the Major took you in and fed you. The thieves probably took all they could carry with them and dumped the rest in a field between Exmoor and Round Head. Like as not they picnicked on top of Round Head. Some of the Exmoor boys found a pile of desiccated sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs and cake one day when they were out walking, and Dodo and Andy brought the story to me."
"Think of the waste of it," exclaimed Molly. "They might at least have given what they didn't want to the poor."
"There aren't any poor people around there, child."
"Well, to Mrs. Murphy, then. She's poor and we wouldn't have minded having worked so hard to feed Mrs. Murphy."
"I wonder who did it," put in the Professor.
"None of the Exmoor boys, I'm sure," said his sister, who had a very soft spot for the boys of her younger brother's college.
"Some day it will come out," announced Molly. "Things always do sooner or later and we needn't bother about playing detective. It's a horrible role to act, anyway."
"I remember when I was a boy at college," began the Professor, "some fellows played rather a nasty practical joke on some of us and they were caught by a trick of fate. On the night of the senior class elections, which always take place just before a banquet at the Exmoor Inn, some of the students broke into the inn kitchen, masked, overpowered the cook and the waiter and stole all the food they conveniently could carry away. One of the saucepans contained lobster, and the next morning there were six very ill young men at the infirmary with ptomaine poisoning and it was not hard to guess who were the thieves of our supper."
"Were they punished?" asked Molly.
"Oh, yes. Exmoor never permits escapades like that. They were suspended for six weeks, although they had saved the entire senior class from a pretty severe illness."
"At least, you might have felt some gratitude for that," observed Miss Green.
"We did, but the President took only a one-sided view of the matter."
"I'm afraid it's too late for attacks of indigestion from our lunch," observed Molly. "The only thing out of common we had at the lunch were 'snakey-noodles.'"
"What in the world?" asked the brother and sister together.
"It doesn't sound very appetizing, does it? But they are awfully good. Our old cook makes them at home. They are coils of very rich pastry with raisins and cinnamon all through."
"Don't mention it," exclaimed the Professor, whose appetite was greater than his official allowance of food. "I would give anything for a hot snakey-noodle with a glass of milk."
"When you come back from Bermuda, I'll see that your wish is gratified," replied Molly, laughing, as she rose to go.
"Miss Molly," said the Professor, as he bade her good-bye at the door, "I wish you would promise me three things: don't overwork; don't make plans to work on a newspaper instead of teaching school, and—don't forget me."
"I'm not likely to do that, Professor. I'm always wanting to go to your office and ask you questions and advice. The last time we were there, Dodo and I, I found two old rotten apples. I took the liberty of throwing them away."
"It's too bad for good apples to be left rotting on the ground or anywhere," said the Professor, and he closed the door softly. While this surely was a very simple statement, somehow he seemed to mean more than he said.
Just why Molly's thoughts were on the lost snakey-noodles as she walked up the campus, she could not say. She recalled that they had been carefully done up in a box marked on top in large print, "Snakey-noodles from Aunt Ma'y Morton." That was the Browns' cook.
"I wonder if they were left with the half of the lunch in Exmoor meadow," she thought with fond regret for this wasted gift of their old colored cook, who had taken unusual pains to make the snakey-noodles as crusty and delicious as possible.
"So passeth snakey-noodles and all good things," she said to herself as she entered the Quadrangle.
THE CAMPUS GHOST.
About this time Wellington was filled with strange rumors that were much discussed in small sitting rooms behind closed doors. It was said, and this part of the story could be credited as truth, that a woman had been seen wandering about the campus late at night wringing her hands and moaning. Some of the Blakely House girls had seen her from their window one night and had rushed to find the matron, but the strange woman had disappeared by the time the matron had been summoned. Another night she had been seen, or rather heard, under the Quadrangle windows. She had been seen at other places and some of the Irish maids had been filled with superstitious dread because, absurd as it might seem to sensible persons, it was reported that the weeping, moaning lady was the ghost of Miss Walker's sister who had died so many years ago.
"It's an evil omen, Miss," a waitress said to Nance one evening. "In Ireland ghosts come to foretell bad news. It's no good to the college, shure, that she's wandering here the nights."
"Don't you worry, Nora. It's just some poor crazy woman," said Nance sensibly.
"Then where does she be after keeping herself hid in the daytime, Miss?"
"I can't say, but it will come out sooner or later. Ghosts don't exist."
"Shure an' you'll foind a-plenty of 'em in the old country, Miss."
"Well, maybe this is an imported ghost," laughed Molly.
Nevertheless, not a girl in college but felt slightly uneasy about being out after dark alone, and most trans-campus visitors were careful to come home early.
One night Molly and Nance had been down to the village to supper with Judith Blount and Madeleine Petit. They had had a gay time and a jolly supper and it was quite half past nine before they hurried up the hilly road to Wellington. The two girls had locked arms and were walking briskly along talking in low voices. It was a wonderful night. There was no moon, but the stars were brilliant and Molly was inclined to be poetical.
"Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art," she began, waving her free arm with expressive gestures. "Not in lone splendor hung aloft the night——"
"Molly," hissed Nance, in a frightened whisper, "do be still, look!" They had turned in at the avenue now, and there, directly over where old Queen's once stood, was a tall figure draped in black. As the girls came up, she began to moan in a low voice and wring her hands.
"Oh, Molly, I'm so scared, my knees are giving away. What shall we do?"
"Let's run," whispered Molly, admitting silently that the phantom was a bit unnerving. "Here, take my hand and let's fly. She's crazy, of course, and she might do anything to us."
With hands clasped, the two girls flew up the campus. Glancing over her shoulder, Nance gave a wild cry and pressed along faster.
"She's chasing us," she gasped. "Oh, heavens, she'll kill us!"
Molly glanced back. Sure enough, the phantom, keeping well within the shadow of the elms, was running behind them.
"Oh, Nance, can't you run a little faster?" she cried, now thoroughly frightened.
Not a soul was on the campus that night. The place was entirely deserted, and it looked for a few minutes as if they were going to have a very uncomfortable time, but as they neared the Quadrangle, the figure slipped away and was lost in the dense shadow of the trees that bordered the avenue.
"Lay me on a stretcher," gasped Molly, as she dropped on a bench inside the gates while Nance went to inform the gate-keeper of the strange presence on the campus.
Immediately the gate-keeper, who was also night watchman, rushed out with a lantern to chase the phantom, which was a poor way to catch her, you will admit.
Once in the privacy of their own sitting room, Nance had a real case of hysterics, laughing and weeping alternately, and Molly felt quite faint and had to lie on the sofa, while Judy, who had been moodily strumming her guitar most of the evening, gave them aromatic spirits of ammonia.
"I should think you would have been frightened," she said sympathetically, "but fancy old Nance's running! It's the first time on record."
"I don't think you would have stood still under the circumstances," she answered.
"I don't think I would, but I should like to have known who the ghost was just the same. Suppose you had stopped still and let her come up to you, do you think she would?"
"Heavens!" exclaimed the other two in one breath.
"She ran after you because you were running from her," observed the wise Judy.
"People always give advice about ghosts and robbers and mad dogs," said Molly. "And they are the ones that run the fastest when the ghosts and robbers and mad dogs appear."
"Do you think it was a ghost?" asked Judy, ignoring the irritation of her friends.
"If it had been a ghost it would have caught up with us," answered Molly, while Nance in the same breath said emphatically:
"I don't believe in ghosts."
Nance and Molly were heroines for several days after this, and during this time the "ghost" did not reappear on the campus, although a close watch was kept for her. The Williams sisters insisted on walking down the avenue every night at half past nine in hopes of seeing a real phantom, but she was careful to keep herself well out of sight during this vigilance.
One night some ten days later, just as the town clock tolled midnight, Molly waked suddenly with a draught of cold air in her face. She sat up in bed and glanced sleepily through the open door into the sitting room.
"Where did the air come from?" she wondered, and then noticed that Judy's door was open and slipped softly out of bed. Why she did not simply close her own door she never could explain, but some hidden impulse moved her to look into Judy's room. A shaded night lamp turned quite low cast a soft luminous shadow right across Judy's bed, which was empty. Molly started violently. Once before they had come into Judy's room at midnight and found her bed empty. The startling recollection caused Molly to run to the open window. As she leaned out her hand touched something rough—a rope.
"A rope ladder!" she whispered to herself, horrified. "Great heavens, Judy has done for herself now." Just then the rope scraped her knuckles and she felt a tug at it from below. "Some one is coming up." Molly looked out.
"Judy," she whispered in a tone filled with reproach. "How could you?"
The voice from above must have frightened the climber, for, with an excited little gasp, she missed her hold on the rope and fell backward, where she lay for a moment perfectly still. It was not a very great fall, but it must have hurt, and instantly Molly climbed to the window sill and began to make her way slowly down the ladder.
It was not so difficult as she had thought, but she was frightened when at last she bounded onto the ground, and she was freezing cold in spite of her knitted slippers and woolen dressing gown.
"Have you hurt yourself badly?" she asked, leaning over Judy, who was endeavoring to sit up.
"No, only dazed from the fall," whispered Judy. "Go on up, will you, or we'll both get caught."
"You'd better go first," said Molly, "I'm afraid to leave you down here alone. Go on, instantly," she added, remembering that she must be stern since Judy richly deserved all the reproaches she could think of.
Judy began the ascent and pulled herself over the window sill. Then exhausted, she sat on the floor, holding her throbbing temples in both hands. That is why she did not see what was presently to happen. Just as Molly placed her foot on the first rung of the ladder, a firm hand grasped her arm. Why she did not shriek aloud with all the power of her lungs she never knew, but she remained perfectly silent while a voice—and it was Miss Walker's voice—said in her ear:
"You will say nothing about this to-night. I wish you to come to my office to-morrow morning at ten. Do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," answered Molly, reverting to her childhood's method of answering older people. She climbed the ladder in a dazed sort of way. It was more difficult than climbing down, but at last she scaled the window sill and jumped into the room. Judy was still sitting on the floor, holding her temples. Perhaps it had been only five minutes, but it seemed like a thousand years. However, she felt little sympathy for Judy, bruised temple or not.
"Get up from there and get to your bed," she whispered. "And I want to hear from you exactly what you were doing down there and where you got that ladder."
"The rope ladder belonged to Anne White," Judy answered in a stifled voice. "I borrowed it to win a wager from Adele. Of course, I don't mean to blame her, but she teased me into it. It was silly, I know, looking back on it now."
"What was the bet?"
"She bet that I would be afraid to climb down that ladder at midnight when the ghost is supposed to walk. I was simply to climb down, touch the ground and climb back again."
"Idiots, both of you," said Molly furiously.
"I know it, and I am sorry now," said the penitent Judy, "but fortunately no harm has been done except to my silly head, which needed a good whacking, anyhow."
"No harm," thought Molly angrily. "I wonder what's going to happen to me to-morrow. One of us will be expelled, I suppose. Miss Walker is already down on Judy."
"Thank you for coming down to me, Molly, dearest."
Molly closed the door.
"Judy, I want you to promise me something," she said. "If you get out of this scrape——"
"But no one knows it but you."
"I have no idea of telling on you, Judy, but things leak out. How do you know you weren't observed?"
Judy looked startled.
"I want you to promise me to give up this Adele Windsor and her crowd. She's never done you any good. She's a malicious, dangerous, wicked girl and if you haven't the sense to see it, I'll just tell you."
This was strong language coming from Molly.
"If you don't, mid-years will certainly see your finish, if you aren't dropped sooner. You're not studying at all and you are simply acting outrageously, dyeing your hair and borrowing rope ladders. I'm disgusted with you, Judy Kean, I am indeed."
"Miss Walker has a grudge against me," announced Judy, in a hot whisper.
"Nonsense," said Molly, and she swept out of the room and crawled into her bed, very weary and cold and frightened, wondering what the morrow would bring forth in the way of punishment for her—or was it to be for Judy?
In the meantime, foolish Judy carefully coiled up the rope ladder and hid it in the bottom of her trunk.
ON THE GRILL.
Not a word did Molly say to Nance or the unsuspecting Judy next morning about her appointment with President Walker.
"Don't forget Latin versification at ten," Nance had cautioned her as she left the sitting room a quarter before ten.
Molly had forgotten it and everything else except the matter in hand, but the President's word was law and she prepared to obey and skip the lecture.
The President was waiting for her in the little study. No one was about and an ominous quiet pervaded the whole place.
"Sit down," said Miss Walker, without replying to Molly's greeting of good morning. "So it's you, is it, who has been wandering about the grounds at night in a gray dressing gown, scaring the students? I need not tell you how disgusted and grieved I am, Miss Brown."
Molly turned as white as a sheet. She had never dreamed that Miss Walker suspected her of being the campus ghost.
But she answered steadily:
"You are mistaken, Miss Walker. The ghost chased Nance and me the other night when we were coming back from the village. We were really frightened. I suppose it's some insane person."
"Then what were you doing on the campus at that hour, and where did you get that ladder?"
Molly turned her wide blue eyes on the President with reproachful protest, and Miss Walker suddenly looked down at the blotter on the desk.
"Answer my question, Miss Brown," she asked more gently.
How could Molly explain without telling on
Judy, and yet did not that reckless, silly Judy deserve to be told on?
Suddenly two tears trickled down her cheeks. She let them roll unheeded and clasped her hands convulsively in her lap.
"I insist on an answer to my question, Miss Brown," repeated the President, without looking up. Molly pressed her lips together to keep back the sobs.
"I never saw the ladder until a few minutes before you did," she answered hoarsely. "I—oh, Miss Walker, you make it very hard," she burst out suddenly, leaning on the table and burying her face in her hands.
And then the most surprising thing happened. The President rose quickly from her chair, hurried over to where Molly was sitting with bowed head and drew the girl to her as tenderly as Molly's own mother might have done.
"There, there, my darling child," she said soothingly. "I haven't the heart to torture you any longer. I know, of course, that it was your friend, Miss Kean, who was at the bottom of last night's performance, and as usual you came down to help her when she fell. I only wanted you to tell me exactly what you knew."
The truth is, the President had tried an experiment on Molly and the experiment had failed, and no one was more pleased than Miss Walker herself in the failure. She liked to see her girls loyal to each other. But things had not been going well at Wellington that autumn. There was an undercurrent of mischief in the air, a dangerous element, carefully hidden, and still slowly undermining the standards of Wellington. Miss Walker was very much enraged over the rumor that the ghost of her beloved sister had been seen wandering about the campus. This was too much. Her Irish maid had repeated the story to her and she had determined to lay that ghost without the assistance of the night watchman or any one else.
The surprise of first being stretched on the grill and then embraced by the President of Wellington College brought Molly to herself like a shock of cold water. She looked up into the older woman's face and smiled and the two sat down side by side on a little sofa, the President still holding Molly's hand. There might be some who could resist the piteous look in those blue eyes, but not President Walker.
"I'm afraid I'm just a weak old person," she said to herself, giving the hand a little squeeze and then releasing it.
"Judy wasn't the ghost, either, Miss Walker," said Molly, glad to be able to defend her friend on safe grounds. "The night we were chased Judy was in our rooms all the time. Last night was the first time she had ever done anything so foolish. It was only because a girl she goes with bet she wouldn't. It was the same girl that made her dye her hair," Molly added, without any feeling of disloyalty.
"Ahem! And who is this young woman who has such a bad influence on Miss Kean?"
Molly flushed. Was she to be placed on the grill again? But after all there was no harm in telling the name of the girl who had brought all Judy's trouble on her.
"And what do you know of her?"
"I don't know anything about her except that she has fascinated Judy."
"And Judy must be punished," mused the President. "Judy is a very difficult character and she must be brought to her senses if she expects to remain at Wellington."
"Judy loves Wellington, indeed she does, Miss Walker. It's only that she has got into a wrong way of thinking this year. I've heard her tell freshmen how splendid it was here and how they would grow to love it like all the rest of us."
"She has not been doing well at all. She never studies. You see I know all about my girls."
"You didn't know," went on Molly, "that the Jubilee entertainment was all Judy's idea. She gave it to Adele Windsor—I don't know why—just because she was in one of her obstinate moods, but I heard her plan out the whole thing the opening night of college—and it was all for the glory of Wellington."
The President's face softened.
"Molly," she said, as if she had always called the young girl by her first name, "do you wish very much to save your friend?"
"Oh, I do, I do. I can't think of any sacrifice I wouldn't make to keep Judy from being——" she paused and lowered her eyes. Was Miss Walker thinking of expelling Judy? But Miss Walker was not that kind of a manager. She often treated her erring girls very much as a doctor treats his patients with a few doses of very nasty but efficacious medicine.
"What is your opinion of what had best be done, then? You know her better than I do. What do you advise?"
Molly was amazed.
"Me? You ask my advice?" she asked.
The President nodded briskly.
"Well, the best way to bring Judy to her senses is to give her a good scare and let it come out all right in the end."
The President smiled.
"You're one of the wisest of my girls," she said, "now, run along. If I've made you miss a lecture I'm sorry."
"It will come out all right in the end, Miss Walker?" asked Molly, turning as she reached the door.
"I promise," answered the other, smiling again as if the question pleased her.
And so Molly escaped from the grill feeling really very happy, certainly much happier than when she entered the office.
Late that evening while Molly and Nance were preparing to take a walk before supper, Judy rushed into the room. There was not a ray of color in her face and her hair stood out all over her head as if it had been charged with electricity.
"Oh, Molly, Molly," she cried, "did you know the President had overheard everything that was said last night? She was at the foot of the ladder all the time. You are not implicated, I saw to that, and I've not told where I got the ladder. I simply said some one had given it to me. No one is in it but me. But I'm in it deep. Girls, I've lost out. It's all over. I've got to go. Oh, heavens, what a fool I've been."
Judy flung herself on the divan and buried her face in the pillows.
For a moment Molly almost lost faith in the President's promise.
"What do you mean when you say you must go, Judy?" she asked.
"It can't be true," burst out Nance, whose love for Judy sometimes clothed that young woman's sins in a garment of light.
"Not expelled?" added Molly, in a whisper.
"No, no, not that; but suspended. I can come back just before mid-years, but don't you see the trick? How can I pass my exams then? And Mama and Papa, what will they think? And, oh, the Jubilee and all of you and Wellington? Molly, I've been a wicked idiot and some of my sins have been against you. I was jealous about that Jimmy Lufton because he had seemed to be my property and you took him away. And, Nance, I was mad with you because you were always preaching. I didn't really like Adele Windsor. I think she is horrid. She's malicious and she makes trouble. I've found that out, but she got me in her toils somehow——"
And so poor Judy rambled on, confessing her sins and moaning like a person in mortal pain. She had worked herself into a fever, her face was hot and she looked at the girls with burning, unseeing eyes.
"Papa will be so disappointed," she went on. "It will be harder on him than on Mama for me not to graduate with the class, and oh, I did love all of you—I really did."
Tears, which Molly had never seen Judy shed but once before, now worked two tortuous little paths down her flushed cheeks.
Molly and Nance comforted and nursed her into quiet. They bathed her face and loosened her dyed locks which were now beginning to show a strange tawny yellow at the roots and a rusty brownish color at the ends. All the time Molly was thinking very hard.
"Judy," she said, at last, when they had got her quiet. "There's no reason why you shouldn't pass the mid-years and graduate with your class if you want to."
"But how? I'm so behind now I can hardly catch up, and if I miss six weeks I can never do it."
"Yes, you can," said Molly. "This is what you must do. Go down to the village and get board anywhere, with Mrs. Murphy or Mrs. O'Reilly. Take all your books and begin to study. Every day some of us will come down and coach you, Nance or I, or Edith—I know any of the crowd would be glad to, so as not to lose you."
"But the Christmas holidays," put in Judy.
"I shall be here for all the holidays," said Molly. "It will be all right."
And so the matter was settled. The very next day Judy's exile began. She engaged a room at Mrs. O'Reilly's, her obstinate mood slipped away from her and she was happier and more like her old self than she had been in weeks. And Molly was happy, too. She felt that she had saved Judy and freed her at the same time from the clutches of Adele Windsor.
A CHRISTMAS EVE MISUNDERSTANDING.
The old Queen's crowd rallied around the exiled Judy, even as Molly had predicted, and Judy was prostrated with gratitude. Nothing could have stirred her so deeply as this devotion of her friends.
"I feel like Elijah being fed by the ravens in the wilderness, only you are bringing me crumbs of learning," she exclaimed to Molly who had taken her turn in coaching Judy. "I hope you don't mind being called 'ravens,'" she added apologetically.
"Not at all," laughed Molly. "I'd rather be called a raven than a catbird or a poll parrot or an English sparrow."
But Judy was already deep in her paper. Being a recluse from the world, her life consecrated to study, she was playing the part to perfection.
If Adele Windsor knew that Judy was in the village, she gave no sign, and so the exile, in her old room at O'Reilly's overlooking the garden, had nothing to do but bury herself in her neglected text books. Indeed, very few of the girls knew where Judy was. When she went out for her walks after dusk she wore a heavy veil and thoroughly enjoyed the disguise. One night the old crowd gave her a surprise party which Edith had carefully planned. Dressed in absurd piratical costumes with skirts draped over one shoulder in the semblance of capes, brilliant sashes around their waists, many varieties of slouch hats and heavy black mustaches, they stormed Judy's room in a body.
"Hist!" said Edith, "the captive Maiden! We must release her ere sunrise!" Then they trooped in, danced a wild fandango which made Judy envious that she herself was not in it, and finally opened up refreshments.
So it was that Judy's exile was happy enough, and when Christmas holidays approached she had made up most of her lost work and was ready for Molly's careful coaching.
Thus it is that heaven protects some of the foolish ones of this earth. Judy wrote to her mother and father that she was behind in her classes and would remain to study with Molly Brown, and as Mr. and Mrs. Kean were at this time in Colorado, they thought it a wise decision on the part of their daughter.
Molly had grown to love the Christmas holidays at college. It was a perfect time of peace after the excitement and hurry of her life—a time when she could steal into the big library and read the hours away without being disturbed, or scribble things on paper that she would like to expand into something, some day, when her diffidence should leave her.
To-day, curled up in one of the big window seats, Molly was thinking of a curious thing that had happened that morning at O'Reilly's.
She had gone in to say good-bye to Judith Blount and Madeleine Petit, who were leaving for New York by the noon train.
"I suppose you'll be visiting all the tea rooms in town for new ideas," Molly had said pleasantly.
"Yes, indeed," said Madeleine. "I never leave a stone unturned and everything's grist that comes to my mill. This fall I got six new ideas for sandwiches and the idea for a kind of bun that ought to be popular if only because of the name. I haven't the recipe, but I think I can experiment with it until I get it."
"What's the name?" Molly asked idly, never thinking of what a train of consequences that name involved.
"'Snakey-noodles.' Isn't it great? Can't you see it on a little menu and people ordering out of curiosity and then ordering more because they're so good?"
"Snakey-noodles," Molly repeated in surprise.
"That's the name, isn't it, Judith?" asked Madeleine.
"Oh, yes, I remember it because the bun is formed of twisted dough like a snake coiled up."
"It's very strange," said Molly.
"Why, that name, snakey-noodle. You see it's a kind of family name with us. Our old cook has been making them for years. I really thought she had originated it, but I suppose other colored people know it, too. Where did you have one?"
"At a spread, oh, weeks and weeks ago."
"But where?" insisted Molly. "I have a real curiosity to know. Was it a Southern spread?"
"Far from it," said Madeleine. "Yankee as Yankee. One of the girls in Brentley House gave the spread."
"But she didn't provide the snakey-noodles," put in Judith. "What's that girl's name who talks through her nose?"
"Coming to think of it, I believe she said they had been sent to her from an aunt in the South," went on Madeleine. "So you see, Molly, nobody has been poaching on your preserves."
Molly only smiled rather vaguely. She would have liked to ask a dozen more questions, but kept silent and presently, after shaking hands with the two inseparable friends, she went up to the library to think. Somehow Molly was not surprised. Nothing that Adele Windsor could do surprised her. The surprising part was how she avoided being found out. It was just like her to have planned the theft of the Senior Ramble lunch. There was something really diabolical in her notions of amusement. And now, what was to be done?
Should she tell the other girls after the holidays, or should she wait? It was all weeks off and Molly decided to let the secret rest in her own mind safely. Even if she told, it would be hard to prove the accusation at this late day, but perhaps—and here Molly's thoughts broke off.
"I detest all this meanness and trickery," she thought. "I don't blame Miss Walker for wanting to clean it out of the school. Anyway," she added, smiling, "if that girl bothers Judy any more, I intend to pronounce the mystic name of snakey-noodles over her head like a curse and see what happens."
That afternoon Molly packed a suitcase full of clothes and lugged it down to Mrs. O'Reilly's, where she had consented to spend Christmas with Judy instead of in her own pretty Quadrangle apartment. Secretly Molly would much rather have stayed in No. 5, where she could have rested and read poetry as much as she liked. But she was rarely known to consult her own comfort when her friends asked her to do them a favor, and, after all, if she were going to put Judy through a course of study, she had better be on the spot to see that the irresponsible young person stuck to her books.
So the two girls established themselves in the pleasant fire-lit room overlooking the garden. Judy had brought down two framed photographs of her favorite pictures and a big brass jar by way of ornament, and on Christmas Eve the girls went out to buy holly and red swamp berries.
They were walking along the crowded sidewalk arm in arm, recalling how last year they had done exactly the same thing, when they came unexpectedly face to face with Mr. James Lufton.
"Well, if this isn't good luck," he exclaimed. "Nobody at the Quadrangle seemed to know where you were."
He included both girls, but he really meant Molly.
"And what are you doing here?" asked Molly, giving him her hand after he had shaken Judy's hand.
"Andy McLean asked me down for Christmas," he said.
He failed to mention that he had pawned his watch, a set of Balzac and two silver trophies won at an athletic club, and, furthermore, had given out at the office that he was down with grippe, in order to accept the invitation.
"Andy's up the street now looking for you. He thought perhaps Mrs. Murphy might know where you were."
"What did he want with us?" asked Judy, lifting her mourning veil.
"He was thinking of getting up a Christmas dance, but——" He looked at Judy's black dress.
"She's not in mourning, Mr. Lufton," laughed Molly. "It's only that she prefers to look like a mourning widow-lady."