MOLLY BROWN'S SENIOR DAYS
BY NELL SPEED
AUTHOR OF "MOLLY BROWN'S FRESHMAN DAYS," "MOLLY BROWN'S SOPHOMORE DAYS," "MOLLY BROWN'S JUNIOR DAYS," ETC., ETC.
WITH FOUR HALF-TONE ILLUSTRATIONS BY CHARLES L. WRENN
NEW YORK HURST & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1913 BY HURST & COMPANY
I. GOOD NEWS AND BAD 5
II. A TROUBLED SUNDAY 20
III. GOSSIP OVER THE TEACUPS 38
IV. THE SENIOR RAMBLE 51
V. ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL 66
VI. THE RETORT COURTEOUS 77
VII. A STOLEN VISIT 89
VIII. BARBED ARROWS 104
IX. THE SUBSTITUTE 114
X. THE POLITE FREEZE-OUT 126
XI. THE WAYS OF PROVIDENCE 138
XII. FRIENDLY RIVALS 152
XIII. THE DROP OF POISON 164
XIV. JUDY DEFIANT 180
XV. THE CAMPUS GHOST 195
XVI. ON THE GRILL 208
XVII. A CHRISTMAS EVE MISUNDERSTANDING 220
XVIII. TWO CHRISTMAS BREAKFASTS 236
XIX. FACING THE ENEMY 251
XX. THE JUBILEE 267
XXI. FAREWELLS 277
XXII. THE FINAL DAYS 289
"You're Right in the Fashion, Miss Brown," observed Adele Frontispiece
Before She Had Time to Realize the Danger, Jimmy Lufton Had Torn Off His Coat 132
Molly Glanced Back. Sure Enough, the Phantom ... was Running Behind Them 198
Good-bye to Wellington and the Old Happy Days 303
Molly Brown's Senior Days
GOOD NEWS AND BAD.
Summer still lingered in the land when Wellington College opened her gates one morning in September. Frequent heavy rains had freshened the thirsty fields and meadows, and autumn had not yet touched the foliage with scarlet and gold. The breeze that fluttered the curtains at the windows of No. 5 Quadrangle was as soft and humid as a breath of May. It was as if spring was in the air and the note of things awakening, pushing up through the damp earth to catch the warm rays of the sun. It was Nature's last effort before she entered into her long sleep.
Molly Brown, standing by the open window, gazed thoughtfully across the campus. Snatches of song and laughter, fragments of conversation and the tinkle of the mandolin floated up to her from the darkness. It was like an oft-told but ever delightful story to her now.
"Shall I ever be glad to leave it all?" she asked herself. "Wellington and the girls and the hard work and the play?"
How were they to bear parting, the old crowd, after four years of intimate association? Did Judy love it as she did, or would she not rather feel like a bird loosed from a cage when at last the gates were opened and she could fly away. But Molly felt sure that Nance would feel the pangs of homesickness for Wellington when the good old days were over.
All these half-melancholy thoughts crowded through Molly's mind while Judy thrummed the guitar and Nance, busy soul, arranged the books on the new white book shelves.
Presently the other girls would come trailing in, the "old guard," to talk over the events of that busy first day: Margaret Wakefield, bursting with opinions about politics and woman's suffrage; pretty Jessie Lynch, and the Williams sisters whose dark lustrous eyes seemed to see beyond the outer crust of things. Last of all, after a discreet interval, would come a soft, deprecating tap at the door, and Otoyo Sen, most charming of little Japanese ladies, with a beaming, apologetic smile, would glide into the room on her marshmallow soled slippers.
"Everybody's late," exclaimed Judy, unexpectedly breaking in on her friend's preoccupation. "I do wish my trunk were unpacked. I can't bear to be unsettled. It's the most disagreeable thing about the first day of college."
"Why don't you go unpack it, then, lazybones?" asked Nance, a trifle sternly. As much as she loved her care-free Judy, she never quite approved of her.
"How little you understand my nature, Nance," answered Judy, reproachfully.
"I know that people who pride themselves on having the artistic temperament never like to unpack trunks or do any kind of so-called menial work, for that matter. But there can be just as much art in unpacking a trunk as in a painting a picture——"
"Ho, ho!" interrupted Judy, who loved these discussions with her serious-minded friend. "How would you like to engage for all your life in the immortal work of unpacking trunks?"
"I never said anything about doing it always—" broke in Nance, when the argument was brought to a sudden end by the arrival of the other girls.
There was a great noise of talk and laughter while they draped themselves about the room.
College girls in kimonos never sit in straight-backed chairs. They usually curl themselves up on divans or in Morris chairs, or sit, Turkish fashion, on cushions on the floor.
"Well, and what's the news?" they asked. Most of them had caught only flying glimpses of each other during the day.
"Wait until I make my annual inspection," ordered Judy, carefully examining the fourth finger of the left hand of every girl. "No rings or marks of rings," she said at each inspection until she came to Jessie, who was endeavoring to sit on her left hand while she pushed Judy away with her right. "Now, Jessica, no concealments," cried Judy, "and from your seven bosom friends! It's not fair. Are you actually wearing a solitaire?"
"I assure you it's my mother's engagement ring," Jessie protested, but Judy had extricated the pretty little hand on the fourth finger of which sparkled not one, but two, rings.
"Caught! Caught, the first of all!" they cried in a chorus.
"Honestly and truly I'm not."
"It looks to me as if you had been caught twice, Jessie," said Molly laughing.
"No, no, one of them is really Mama's and the other—well, it was lent to me. It's not mine. I simply promised to wear it for a few months."
Jeers and incredulous laughter followed this statement.
"We only hope you'll hold out to the end, Jessie," remarked Katherine in tones of reproach.
"What, leave dear old Wellington and all of you for any ordinary, stupid man? I'd never think of it," cried Jessie.
"I'm not afraid," here put in Edith. "Fickle Jessica may change her mind and her ring half a dozen times before June. Who can tell?"
"I'm not fickle where all of you are concerned, anyhow," answered Jessie reproachfully.
"You're a dear, Jessie," broke in Molly. She never did quite enjoy seeing other people teased.
"Will some one kindlee make for me explanation of the word 'jubilee'?" asked Otoyo Sen, seated cross-legged on a cushion in the very center of the group, like an Oriental story-teller.
"Jubilee?" said Edith. By an unspoken arrangement, it was always left to her to answer such questions. "Why jubilee means a rejoicing, a celebration."
"There will be singing and dancing and feasting greatlee of many days enduring?" asked Otoyo.
"It depends on who's doing the enduring," Edith said, smiling.
"Wellington will be enduring of greatlee much rejoicing," went on the little Japanese. "For Wellington will give jubilee entertainment for fifty years of birthday, perhaps, maybe."
Here was news indeed for seven seniors at the very head and front of college affairs.
"And where did you get this interesting information, little one?" demanded Margaret.
Otoyo blushed and hesitated; then cocked her head on one side exactly like a little song sparrow and glancing timidly at Nance, replied:
"Mr. Andrew McLean, second, he told it to me."
Nance smiled unconcernedly. She never dreamed of being jealous of the funny little Japanese.
"And why, pray, didn't Miss Walker announce it this morning at chapel when she made her opening address?" asked Margaret.
"Ah, that is for another veree sadlee reason," answered Otoyo, her voice taking on a mournful note. "You have not heard?"
"No, what?" they demanded, bursting with curiosity.
"Professor Edwin Green, the noble, honorable gentleman of English Literature, he is veree ill. You have not heard such badlee news? Miss Walker, she will announce nothing of jubilee while this poor gentleman lies in his bed so veree, greatlee ill."
"Why, Otoyo," cried Molly, her voice rising above the excited chorus, "is it really true? You mean dangerously ill? What is the matter with him?"
"He has been two weeks in the infirmaree with a great fever."
"You mean typhoid?"
Otoyo nodded. It was a new name to her. She had not had much to do with illness during her two years in America, but she remembered the dread name of typhoid. It had a sad association to her, for she had been passing the infirmary at the very moment when a black, sinister looking ambulance had brought Professor Edwin Green from his rooms to the hospital.
Molly relapsed into silence. Somehow, the joy of reunion had been spoiled and she tasted the bitterness of dark forebodings. It came to her with unexpected vividness that Wellington would not be the same without the Professor of English Literature, whose kind assistance and advice had meant so much to her. Only a little while ago she had made a secret resolution to seek him in his office on the morrow for counsel on a very vital question. In plain words: how to avoid being a school teacher. And now this brilliant and learned man, by far the brightest star in the Wellington faculty, was dangerously ill. Molly felt suddenly the cold clutch of disappointment.
The other girls were sorry but not really shaken or unnerved by the news.
"The jubilee must be to celebrate the fiftieth birthday of the new Wellington—" began Margaret, after an interval of silence. "Do you suppose—" she began again and then broke off.
"Suppose what?" asked the inquisitive Judy.
"Oh, nothing. It would seem rather unfeeling to put in words what I had in my mind. I think I'll leave it unsaid."
There was a silence and again came that cold clutch at Molly's heart. She felt pretty certain that Margaret had started to say:
"Do you suppose, if Professor Green dies, it will interfere with the jubilee?"
"If there is a jubilee," suddenly burst out Judy, who had been lying quite still with her eyes closed, "if they do give it, we shall be at the head and front of it being seniors, and I already have a wonderful suggestion to make. Would it not be splendid to have an old English pageant? The whole college could take part in it. Think of the beautiful costumes; the lovely colors; the rustic dances and open air plays on the campus."
Judy's eyes sparkled and her face was flushed with excitement. With her amazing faculty for visualizing, the spectacle of the pageant stretched before her imagination like a great colored print. She saw the capering jesters in cap and bells; ox carts filled with rustics; the pageant of knights and ladies and royal personages; the players; the dancers——
"It would be too glorious," she cried, beside herself from her inflamed imagination.
The other girls, unable to follow Judy's brilliant vision, watched her with amused curiosity.
"I should think you would remember that Professor Green was at his death's door before you began making plans for a jubilee," admonished Nance.
But Judy, too intoxicated with her visions to notice Nance's reproof, continued:
"They would have it in May, of course, when the weather is warm and everything is in bloom. First would come the pageant; then the king and queen and court would gather as spectators in front of all the various side shows; morality plays and——"
The picture had now become so real to Judy that her galloping imagination had leaped over every difficulty, as the hunter leaps the intervening fence rail. In a flash she had decided on her own costume, of violet velvet and silk—a gentleman of the court, perhaps—when Molly, sitting pale and quiet beside the window, suddenly remarked:
"Miss Walker did look very serious this morning, I thought. Just before chapel I saw her in the court talking to Dr. McLean. She must have had bad news then."
Judy's inflated enthusiasm collapsed like a pricked balloon. She flushed hotly and relapsed into silence. Presently, after the others had departed to their rooms, she crept over to Molly and sunk on her knees beside her at the open window.
"I didn't mean to be such a brute, Molly, darling," she said. "I forgot about your being such friends with the Greens and I really am awfully sorry about the Professor. Will you forgive me?"
"You foolish, fond old Judy," said Molly, slipping an arm around her friend's neck. "I only dimly heard your wanderings. I was so busy thinking of—of other things; sending out hope thoughts like Madeleine Petit. Poor Miss Green! I wonder if she knows. She has been in Europe all summer. I had post cards from her every now and then."
Molly looked wistfully through the darkness in the direction of the infirmary. "I wish I knew how he was to-night," she added.
"I'll go and inquire," cried Judy, leaping to her feet, eager to make amends for past offenses. She glanced at the clock. "The gate isn't locked until a quarter past to-night on account of the late train. There'll be time if I sprint there and back."
"But, Judy," objected Molly.
"Don't interfere, and don't try to come, too. You can't run and I can," and before either of the other girls could say a word, Judy was out of the room and gone.
"I don't know what we are going to do about her, Molly," Nance observed, as soon as the door had slammed behind that impetuous young woman, "she's worse than ever."
Molly shook her head silently. Suddenly she felt quite old and apathetic, like a person who has lost all ambitions and given up the fight.
"I think I'll turn in, Nance. I'm tired to death."
With silent sympathy, Nance turned down the cover of Molly's little white bed and laid out her night-gown.
It seemed an incredibly short time when Judy burst into the room again, too breathless to speak, her face scarlet with running.
"I just did make it," she gasped presently. "The night nurse said Professor Green was very ill, but that Dr. McLean was hopeful because of his strong constitution."
"I feel hopeful, too. Thank you, Judy, dearest," said Molly, drawing the covers up over her shoulders while Nance turned out the light.
A TROUBLED SUNDAY.
It was Sunday morning and Molly had been washing her head. She had spread a towel on the window-sill and now hung her hair out of the window that sun and wind might play upon her auburn locks.
"I always heard it was better to dry the hair by the sun than by a fire; hot air dries up the natural oils," she observed to Nance in a muffled voice.
Nance was engaged in the meditative occupation of manicuring her nails. As she rubbed them back and forth on a chamois buffer her thoughts were busy in far other fields.
"Yes," she replied absently to Molly's observation. "I suppose you learned that from Judy's new friend," she added, coming back to her present beautifying occupation. "She'll be introducing rouge to us next," Nance went on in a disgusted tone.
Molly smiled and gave her hair a vigorous shake in the breeze. In the bright sunlight it sparkled with glints of gold as if a fairy wand had touched it.
"No, I didn't, really," she answered. "I read it on the beauty page of a Sunday paper, but I knew it anyhow instinctively before I read it."
"Do you think her hair is naturally red," asked Nance, punching the dull end of her orange stick into a sofa cushion with unusual force.
"I suppose lots of people ask the same question about mine," Molly answered evasively.
"Never," Nance asserted hotly. "I don't know much about the subject but I do know that no dyes have ever been invented that could imitate the color of your hair."
"How do you know it, Nance, dear?"
"Well, because so many people would dye their hair that color. There would be no more drab browns like mine, or rusty blacks or faded tans."
"But, Nance, your hair is lovely. It's smooth and glossy and fine and thick. Has that girl been talking to you about your looks?"
"They both have," admitted Nance. "They've got me to thinking I'm plain but would be greatly improved if I wore a rat and waved my bang and did my hair in a bunch of curls in the back like Jessie."
"But Jessie's hair curls naturally," put in Molly.
"Yes, of course, and mine doesn't. It would be a fearful nuisance, but one can't help listening to such talk when it concerns oneself. You know how Judy does run away to things, and there is something convincing about Adele's arguments."
"She's very bright," admitted Molly. "What do you think she wants me to do, Nance? Something much worse than crimping."
"There is no telling. Probably lather your face with that horrible white-wash stuff called 'Youthful Bloom,' Judy was telling us about."
"No, worse still. She says my face is too thin and that I am getting lines from nose to mouth. She wants me to have it filled."
Nance gave a wild whoop of derision.
"Can't you see Judy Kean's head being stuffed with such nonsense until it bursts?" she cried, breaking off suddenly as the door opened and Judy herself appeared on the threshold.
"May I bring in a visitor?" she asked stiffly, feeling from the sudden stillness that her own name had been under discussion. "Nobody likes to have her name bandied back and forth even between intimate friends," she thought with some indignation. But Judy's little fly-ups never lasted long and when Molly called out hospitably: "Yes, indeed, delighted," and Nance said: "Certainly, Judy," her sensitive feelings immediately withdrew into the dark caverns of her mind.
"I've brought a friend up to see our rooms," Judy went on, putting special emphasis on friend.
Judy had introduced a new member to the Old Queen's circle and while that body was only exclusive in the matter of intelligence and good breeding, and the new member seemed to meet both requirements, still the circle as a whole was not entirely agreeable to Judy's latest find.
The new girl had a very grand sounding name, "Adele Windsor," and Judy was hurt when Edith Williams demanded if Adele was related to "The Widow of Windsor." Adele was certainly very handsome,—tall, with a beautiful figure, dark eyes and hair more red than brown.
"She dresses with artful simplicity," Margaret had remarked, but hardly a girl in college had handsomer clothes than Adele Windsor.
Nobody could cast aspersions against her intelligence, either. She had entered the junior class of Wellington as a special; which was pretty good work, in the opinions of our girls. If any name could be given to the objections they all secretly felt for Judy's new friend, it was that she was so excessively modern. She was a product of New York City; and so thoroughly up to date was this bewildering young person regarding topics of the day, from fashions and beauty remedies to international politics, that she fairly took the breath away even of such advanced persons as Margaret Wakefield.
Adele now followed Judy into the room, and Molly, shaking back the hair from her face, bowed and smiled politely. Nance was not so cordial in her greeting. She had already prophesied what the history of Judy's friendship with this girl would be.
"Judy will get terribly intimate and then awfully bored. I know her of old."
"You're right in the fashion, Miss Brown," observed Adele, taking a seat near Molly and regarding her hair with admiration.
"That's the first time anybody ever said such a thing about me," exclaimed Molly with a laugh. "I'm usually three years behind. Now, you couldn't mean this gray kimono, could you? Or maybe it's my pumps," she added. "I know low heels are coming back again." Thrusting out one of her long, narrow feet, she looked at it quizzically.
"No, no, it's your hair," replied Adele. "Red hair is the fashion now. You see it everywhere; at the theaters, in society, at the opera——"
"You mean everywhere in New York," corrected Nance.
Adele smiled, showing a row of even white teeth. She was really very handsome.
"Well, isn't New York the hub of the world?" put in Judy.
"No," answered Nance firmly. "Boston and San Francisco and Chicago and St. Louis are just as much hubs as New York—to say nothing of the smaller cities. Any place with telegraph wires and competent people at both ends can keep up with the times nowadays——"
"Yes, but what about the theaters and operas," Judy began hotly.
"And clothes," added Adele softly, with a quick glance at Molly's old blue suit which had been well brushed and cleaned that morning and hung on the back of a chair to dry. Molly had not even noticed the glance. She was looking across the campus in the direction of the infirmary and at the same time forming a resolution to go over and inquire for Professor Green as soon as she could arrange her tumbled hair.
But Nance had caught the slightly contemptuous expression in Adele's eyes and resented it with warm loyalty.
"I don't see what clothes have to do with it," she asserted. "Because in New York people look at one's clothes before they look at one's face, it doesn't follow that they are more advanced than people in other places."
"New York only shows one how to improve one's clothes and one's face," put in Adele calmly.
Nance felt somehow reproved by this elegant cold-blooded creature whom Judy had thrust upon them. And now Judy must needs take a flying leap into the discussion.
"Nance, you are behind the times," she cried. "There is no excuse now for women to be badly dressed or plain. Even poor people can dress in taste and there are ways for improving looks so that the most ordinary face can be beautified."
"Can you make little eyes big?" demanded Nance.
"Don't be silly," said Judy.
And it looked for a moment as if a quarrel were about to be precipitated between the friends, when Molly, glancing at Adele Windsor, began to laugh.
"And all this because somebody said red hair was the fashion," she said, but she had an uncomfortable feeling that Adele was fond of starting a fight in order to look on and see the fun, and she wished in her heart that her beloved Judy had not taken up with such a dangerous young woman. She now tactfully changed the subject to the theater.
Adele had signed photographs of almost all the actors and actresses in the country and could give interesting bits of personal history about many of them. Having launched the company on this safe topic, Molly seized the old blue suit and departed into her bedroom. Judy and presently Nance also were soon absorbed in an account of Miss Windsor's visit at the home of a famous actress. Molly, indeed, was careful to leave her door open a crack in order not to miss a word. After all, it was fun to live at "the hub," as Judy called it, and know great people and see the best plays and hear all the best music. But this stunning metropolitan person did make one feel dreadfully provincial and shabby. She wondered if Adele had noticed the shabby dress. Molly sighed.
"I don't think clothes would interfere so much with my good times," she thought, "if only I didn't love them so."
Then she resolutely pinned on the soft blue felt, which at least was new if not expensive, slipped on her jacket and returned to the next room.
"I'll see you at dinner, girls," she said. "Good-bye, Miss Windsor."
"I'm going to dinner with Adele at Beta Phi," announced Judy.
Adele occupied what the girls now called the "hoodoo suite" at Beta Phi. This was none other than Judith Blount's old apartment, afterwards sub-let to the unfortunate Millicent Porter.
"Shall Nance and I call by for you on the way to vespers, then?" asked Molly.
"I'm not going to vespers. You don't mind, do you, Molly?"
Ever since they had been at college the three girls had kept their engagement for vespers on Sunday afternoons. They had actually been known to refuse other invitations in order to keep this friendly compact. And Judy was breaking away from what had come to be an established custom. Of course, it was just this once and absurd to feel disappointed, only Molly, glancing over Judy's head at Adele standing by the window, had caught a glint of triumph in her eyes. What was she after, anyway? Did she wish to wean the tempestuous Judy from her old friends? The two girls exchanged a quick, meaningful look.
"We'll miss you, Judy," said Molly, and went into the corridor, closing the door softly behind her. Hardly had she reached the head of the staircase, when Judy came tearing after her.
"You aren't angry with me, Molly, dearest?" she cried. "Adele and I have a wonderful scheme on hand. I'll tell you what it is some day. Don't you think she's perfectly fine? So handsome—so clever——"
"Yes, indeed," answered Molly, trying to be truthful. "I hope you'll have a beautiful time, Judy, but we'll miss you just the same, especially on the walk afterwards. Had you forgotten about the walk?"
"Oh dear, Molly, you are hurt," ejaculated Judy, who couldn't bear to be in anybody's black books, yet, nevertheless, desired to have her own way.
"I'm not, indeed, Judy. We can't tie ourselves to Sunday afternoon engagements. Nance and I wouldn't have you feel that way for anything."
The stormy Judy, calmed by these assuring words, returned to her rooms, while Molly hurried downstairs and across the campus toward the infirmary.
A number of people had gathered at the door of the hospital. Dr. McLean's buggy and a doctor's motor car waited outside. There was an ominous look about the picture that filled Molly with dark forebodings. Most of the people in the group at the door were members of the faculty, Miss Pomeroy, Miss Bowles and the Professor of French literature. They were talking in low voices. Dodo Green and Andy McLean leaned against the wall of the house, their hands thrust deep in their pockets, their faces the very picture of dejection. Molly began to run.
"He's dead!" a voice cried in her heart. "Oh, Dodo," she exclaimed to the Professor's young brother, who had run out to meet her, "please tell me quickly what has happened."
"The old boy's had a tough time, Miss Molly," said Dodo, struggling hard to keep his voice from breaking. "He had one of those infernal sinking spells about ten this morning. It was his heart, they say. It's been something awful, just a fight to keep him alive. But he's come through it. The doctor from Exmoor came over to help Andy's father." Dodo paused and gulped back his tears and Molly did not dare trust herself to speak.
"Let's walk a little way down the avenue," he said presently. "I feel all bowled over from anxiety and waiting around so long."
"I know, I know, poor Dodo," said Molly sympathetically. "But he'll get well, now. I'm sure of it. The doctor said his fine constitution would carry him along."
"The doctor was thinking of what Edwin used to be, say a year ago. The old boy has been overworking. The truth is," he added in a burst of confidence, "he got into debt somehow; borrowed money on prospects that didn't materialize, or something."
Instantly the thought of the comic opera came into Molly's head.
"And he worked all summer without taking any vacation, night and day. Grace was abroad or she never would have allowed it. He just weakened his constitution until he was ready to take any disease that happened to be floating around."
It was a great relief to Dodo's pent-up feelings to talk and he now poured out his troubles to listening, sympathetic Molly.
"Grace and I don't know what he wanted to use the money for——"
"Maybe it was for the opera."
"No, I know for a fact it wasn't that infernal old opera, though writing it was one of the things, that pulled him down. But the debt's all paid now and the good old boy is lying at death's door as a result. By the way," he added, drawing a key from his pocket, "Sister wants me to get something out of Edwin's office on the cloisters. Will you come with me, Miss Molly? There are such a lot of girls always in the court on Sunday."
"I only wish I could do more for you, Dodo," answered Molly, as the two young people hastened across the campus.
"I guess you know as much about the old boy's office as I do, Miss Molly," said Dodo opening the study door. "I'm glad you came along to help me find what I am looking for."
"What are you looking for?"
"Did you ever see a blue paper weight on his desk?"
"Oh, yes. Lots of times."
"Well, that's just what he wants. He's got a sort of delirious notion in his poor old head that he'd like that blue paper weight. It's enough to make a strong man shed tears, and he's so weak he couldn't pick up a straw. Alice Fern brought it to him from Italy."
"Oh," said Molly.
They found the blue paper weight in one of the drawers of the desk and Dodo thrust it into his pocket. There was a strong smell of over-ripe apples in the office and Molly presently discovered two disintegrated wine saps in the Japanese basket on the table.
"We'd better take these," she said, seizing one in each hand and following Dodo into the corridor.
The young people parted in the arcade and Molly went into the library and hid herself in one of the deep window embrasures with a book she only pretended to be reading. That afternoon the Reverend Gustavus Larsen repeated the prayers for the sick, and Molly in a far back pew hoped that Nance could not see the tears that trickled down her cheeks.
GOSSIP OVER THE TEACUPS.
The gloom that had been hanging over Wellington since Professor Green's illness gradually lifted as the young man steadily improved. Each morning Molly received the latest news from one of the nurses. Miss Grace was never visible. She was sitting up at night with her brother and slept during the day. One morning Molly encountered not the day nurse but Miss Alice Fern in the hall of the infirmary. She was dressed in white linen and might have been taken for a post-graduate nurse except that she wore no cap. Miss Fern had a cold greeting for Molly, and for Judith Blount, also, who presently joined them.
"Edwin is much better," she informed them.
"He is seeing people now, isn't he?" asked Judith eagerly.
Miss Fern stiffened.
"No," she answered, "only me—and his brother and sister, of course." She added this as an afterthought. "It will be many weeks before he is allowed to see any of the Wellington people. The doctor is particularly anxious for him not to be reminded of his work. Excitement would be very dangerous for him."
"Is that what the doctor says or is it your verdict, Alice?" put in Judith, who had small liking for the Professor's cousin on the other side of the family.
"I'm in entire authority here," answered Miss Fern in such a hostile tone that Molly felt as if they had been accused of forcing their way into the sick room. "I am nursing during the day in conjunction with the infirmary nurse."
"Why don't you wear a cap, Alice?" asked Judith tauntingly. "It would make you look more like the real thing."
With a hurried excuse, Molly hastened out of the hall. It went against her grain to be involved in the quarrels of Alice Fern and Judith Blount. She was walking rapidly toward the village when she heard Judith's voice behind her calling.
"Wait, and I'll walk with you. I see you're going my way. I had to stay and give a last dig to that catty Alice Fern," she added breathlessly, catching up with Molly.
Molly smiled. She didn't know but that she agreed with Judith, but it was not her way to call people "cats."
"I'm so glad you arranged to take the post-grad., Judith," she began as they started down the avenue.
"Isn't it great?" answered Judith exultantly. "It's all Madeleine's doing, you know. We've had a wonderful summer, Molly. Almost the first summer I can remember when I wasn't bored."
"What have you two been up to?" Molly asked with some curiosity. The cloak of enthusiasm was a new one for Judith to wear and it was very becoming to her, Molly thought.
"We've been making money," Judith announced with sparkling eyes. "I've made almost enough to carry me through another year here."
"Goodness," Molly thought, "how the world does change. Think of the proud Judith working and then telling me about it, me whom she used to detest!"
"It's been jolly fun, too, and I didn't mind the work a bit."
"I hope you made a great deal," remarked Molly, not liking to ask too many questions but burning to know how money had been made by a girl who had once stamped her foot and declared she would never work for a living.
"A friend of brother Richard's, an actor, lent him his bungalow on the coast for the summer, and Mama and Madeleine and I spent four months in it, with Richard down for the week-ends. It was a pretty bungalow with a big living-room and a broad piazza at the back looking right out to sea, and Madeleine conceived the notion of opening a tea-room there. Richard was willing and so was Mama and we started in right away. Madeleine had all sorts of schemes for advertising in the post office and at the general store, and at last we had a sign painted and hung out in front on a post. The coast road goes by the house and streams of automobiles are passing all day long, so that we began to have lots of customers immediately. I don't know how it happened, but it was a sort of fashionable meeting place for all the people in the neighborhood. Pretty soon we had to buy dozens of little blue teapots and crates of cup and saucers and plates. Even Mama helped with the sandwiches and Richard, too, when he could come down. But you should have seen Madeleine. Every afternoon she put on a cap and apron and turned waitress. She served everybody. She was the neatest, quickest, prettiest little waiting maid you ever saw. Mama and I worked in the kitchen filling orders. Sometimes the sandwiches would give out and then Mama and I and Bridget, our Irish maid who has stayed with us through everything, would slice bread like mad. Madeleine knew dozens of different ways of making sandwiches. We used to make up dishes of fillings ahead of time and keep them on ice. Sometimes at night we were so tired we'd simply fall into bed, but we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams and we had a splendid time in spite of the hard work."
"I think you are wonderful," cried Molly. "I should never even have hoped to make anything like that go."
"It's Madeleine who is the wonder," broke in Judith loyally. "She has the brains and energy of a real genius."
"Are you down at O'Reilly's this winter? I haven't seen either one of you to speak to before."
"Oh, yes, we have the same old rooms. I'm working up in two or three different subjects and taking a course in physical culture with a view to teaching it. You know, we are going to open a school, Madeleine and I?"
"Where?" demanded Molly, filled with interest in her old-time enemy's schemes.
"We don't know yet. It may be in the South. Madeleine has two more years here. I shall go to Paris next year for a course at the Sorbonne, so that I shall be up in French by the time we are ready to start."
Molly was almost too amazed over the change Madeleine had wrought in Judith to comment politely on the glowing future Judith mapped out for herself. She recalled how Judith had once insulted the little Southern girl at a Sophomore ball, and she remembered how Madeleine had said: "I shall make a friend of her, yet. You'll see."
"I wish I could make plans and stick to them," Molly thought. "How can I ever get anywhere when I don't even know where I want to get? If I am not to teach school, then what am I to do?"
Many times a day Molly asked herself this question. There were times during the summer when she heard the call still infinitely far away to write, and on hot afternoons when the others were napping she would steal down to the big cool parlor with a pencil and pad. Here in the quiet of the darkened room, with strained mind and thoughts on tiptoe for inspiration, she would try to write, but the stories were crude and childish. Sometimes she would read over Professor Green's letter of advice about writing. "Be as simple and natural as if you were writing a letter," he had said, and her efforts to be natural and simple were invariably elaborately studied and self-conscious.
"I don't see why I want to do what I can't do," she would cry with despair in her heart, and then the next day perhaps she would try it again.
So it was that Molly had a feeling of unrest that was quite new to her. It was like entertaining a stranger within the gates to admit this unfamiliar spirit into her mind. And now, as she parted with Judith with a friendly handclasp, she felt the dissatisfaction more keenly than ever before.
Her errand in the village that afternoon was really to call on Mrs. Murphy, who, you will recall, was once housekeeper for Queen's. For many months the good soul had been laid up with rheumatism and for the sake of old times the Queen's girls plied her with attentions. The Murphys now lived in a small cottage near the depot and they were exceedingly poor, since the office of baggage-master brought in only a small pay. But Mrs. Murphy, crippled as she was, her fingers knotted at the joints like the limbs of old apple trees, managed to keep her rooms shining with neatness.
"And it's glad I am to see you, Miss," exclaimed the good woman, much aged since the days at Queen's.
She led Molly through a little hallway into the kitchen opening upon a small garden now bright with rows of cosmos, graceful and delicate in color, and brilliant masses of vari-colored, ragged chrysanthemums.
"It's the little Japanese lady that's tended my garden for me all summer, Miss. She may be a haythen, but she's as good as gold. Our Blessed Mother herself could not have been kinder."
Molly's heart was filled with admiration for Otoyo, who instead of moping about by herself all summer had been making herself useful.
"I'm ashamed," she thought. "Madeleine and Judith and Otoyo all make me feel awfully ashamed."
In the meantime, Mrs. Murphy had spread a cloth on the little kitchen table and laid out her best cups and saucers. It was her heart's delight to drink tea with the young ladies.
"And how is the poor gintleman, Mr. Edwin, I mean?"
"He's getting better every day, Mrs. Murphy."
"And I'm that glad to hear the news. It would have been a sad day for the poor young lady if she had lost him—though, may the Howly Mother forgive me for saying it, she's not good enough for the loikes of him, I'm thinkin'."
"Let me pour the tea for you, Mrs. Murphy," Molly interposed, taking the blue teapot out of Mrs. Murphy's crippled hands after it had been filled with boiling water. "What young lady did you say it was?" she asked presently, her eyes on a tea leaf swirling round and round in her cup.
"'Tis Miss Fern, the gintleman's cousin, and they do say they're to be married before spring. I'm not for sayin' she ain't pretty, Miss. She's prettier than most and she's kind to the gintleman. Oh, you may be sure but she's got a different set of manners for him! And the day she had tea here with little Miss Sen and the Professor, she was all graces, to be sure. But another day she was here to meet him and little Miss Sen brought the message he could not come. It was a regular spitfire she was that day, Miss, and no mistake."
So that was why the Professor had wanted the blue paper weight. Perhaps there was some reason in his delirium after all.
"Have you seen her, Miss?" asked Mrs. Murphy.
"Oh, yes," answered Molly. "I think she is very pretty. May I look at your garden, Mrs. Murphy? Dear little Otoyo, I can see her working out here in the flowers. Don't you just love her, Mrs. Murphy?"
But the Irish woman had gone into the next room to get an old pair of shears.
"I'll take it as a favor, Miss Molly, if you'll cut two bunches, one for yourself and one for the Professor, God bless him and the Saints preserve him for strength and happiness; though I ain't sayin' I wish him to be preserved for Miss Alice Fern, pretty though she be."
When Molly appeared at the hospital some half an hour later she made a picture the infirmary nurse would not soon forget.
"These are for Professor Green from Mrs. Murphy," Molly said, giving the nurse the largest half of the bunch.
The nurse gave her a long quizzical look. She was new at Wellington and not familiar with the girls.
"Are you Miss Molly Brown?" she asked suddenly.
"Why, yes," answered Molly, surprised.
"I thought so," said the nurse, and departed before the astonished Molly could say another word.
THE SENIOR RAMBLE.
"Ramblers, ramblers, Ramblers all are we: Life is gay, Life is free, Rambling all the day.
"When the sun sinks to his rest, Our rambling days are gone, Seniors, Seniors, Sound the call! Back to Wellington!"
"Did you put in the olives?" some one cried over the confusion of singing and talking.
"Do be careful of the stuffed eggs. It would be a shame to ruin an hour and a half of hard work."
"Tell the man to wait. I forgot my tea basket."
"Haste thee, nymph," called Edith Williams, after the fleeing Judy. "And bring your volume of Shelley along, there's a dear. I forgot mine."
"Bring my sweater," Nance called.
Already the van load of girls in front was moving down the avenue, while the crowd in the second van waited impatiently for Judy's return. The two big vehicles were decorated with lavender and primrose, the class colors, for this was the day of the Senior Ramble, and the whole class was off for the woods.
At last Judy appeared, laden with many things—a tea basket, a book, her camera and two sweaters; also a brass trumpet.
"Who says I'm not good-natured?" she exclaimed, handing up the articles and clambering into the vehicle. "I'm the kindest soul that ever lived."
"I'm glad you feel that way about it, Juliana. It must be a sweet personal satisfaction," remarked Edith, seizing the book and thrusting it into the pocket of her ulster.
The seniors were to ramble in Fern Woods that year, so-called not because of the superabundance of ferns, but because they were a part of the estate of Major Fern, father of Alice Fern. The Major had no objections to the students of Wellington and Exmoor using his woods for picnics, but the Exmoor boys were not given to such excursions and it was a long drive from Wellington, six miles over a rough road. However, Fern Woods it was to be this time, and away went the two vans, Judy blowing her trumpet with a grand flourish as they passed out of the Wellington grounds.
The Ramble was always the occasion for the most childish behavior among the seniors; a last frenzied outburst, as it were, before putting away childish things for all time and settling down to the serious work of life.
And now the seniors in the first wagon stood up and began singing back to the girls in the second wagon:
"Seniors, do you hear the call? Great Pan has blest the day. Heed the summons, one and all, Voulez vous danser?"
The seniors behind answered:
"We will make the welkin ring, Voulez vous danser? Sound the trumpet, shout and sing, Voulez vous danser?"
"I think this should be called the 'Senior Rumble,' and not ramble," some one said, as the wagon groaned and creaked on the hilly road.
"What's the matter with 'Grumble'?" asked Mabel Hinton.
But there was no real grumbling, although the six miles that lay between Fern Woods and Wellington included some rough roads. They were jolted and shaken and tumbled about and there were shrieks of laughter and cries of "Wait, wait! I'd rather walk!" But the stolid driver went calmly on without taking the slightest notice.
"One would think we were a lot of inmates in a crazy wagon," cried Molly, wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes.
A box of salted nuts had come open and the contents were scattered all over the bed of the wagon, and some apples had tumbled out of a hamper and were rolling about under people's feet.
"If I had known—if I had only known that this was going to be the rocky road to Dublin, wild horses couldn't have dragged me," cried Jessie.
At last after a time of infinite confusion the wagons drew up at the edge of a forest and there was sudden quiet in the noisy company. It was as if they stood at the threshold of a great cathedral, so still and majestic were the woods. Through the dense greenness of the pines there was an occasional flash of a silver birch. The scarlets and yellows of oak and maple trees gleamed here and there, making a rich background for the somber company of pines.
"It was worth it! It was worth it," exclaimed the seniors, now that the worst was over.
The class had divided itself into three "messes" for lunch. After lunch it was to assemble in a body, sing the class songs to be bequeathed to the juniors, and do the class stunts which were familiar enough to all of them now. And first of all, by the unwritten law of custom, the seniors were to spend an hour communing with nature. This constituted the "Ramble." Judy had been delegated by the Ramble Committee to blow a blast on her trumpet when the time came to eat. In the meantime the drivers had taken themselves and their wagons down the road two miles to a small village where they were to rest and refresh themselves with food until half past four o'clock, when they were to return for the rambling seniors.
So it was that the three hampers of food were deposited in a safe and secluded spot under some bushes and left unguarded while everybody went off for the ramble.
Of course all this had been planned weeks ahead of time by the committee and the destination kept a profound secret, according to the traditions of the school.
Scarcely had the last unsuspecting senior disappeared in the pine woods, when a motor car rounded the curve in the road and stopped at the signal of an individual in a long dark ulster and a slouch hat well down over the face, who had leaped out from behind a clump of bushes on the other side of the road. Two other persons similarly disguised now jumped out of the car, leaving the chauffeur quietly examining the speedometer and seeing nothing.
"Do you know where they put them?" whispered one.
The other did not reply, but led the way at a run to the clump of bushes where the hampers had been left. In five minutes the three thieves, for such they certainly were, had stored the hampers on the floor of the car. Then they jumped in themselves.
"Go ahead!" cried the thief on the front seat, and presently the motor car was a mere speck in the distance.
In the meantime, the unconscious seniors rambled happily on. There were places to visit in the woods: a beautiful spring that bubbled out of the side of a rock and broadened into a basin below; an old log cabin, long since deserted and open to the weather, and last of all, "Charlie's Oak." Half a century ago, an Exmoor boy had hanged himself on this tree. Another Exmoor boy, many years later, had carved a cross on the tree and by that sign and others learned from Exmoor boys, they finally found the gruesome spot.
"Why did he do it?" asked Judy.
"It was never told," answered Nance, who had learned all there was to know concerning the tragedy from Andy McLean.
"Poor boy," cried Molly, seeing in her mind a picture of the body dangling from a lower limb of the old oak. "Let's make him a garland of leaves," she proposed, "just to signify that we are sorry for him."
The whole class now assembled at Charlie's Oak and proceeded to gather branches of autumn leaves. With the aid of a handkerchief and a ribbon, these were arranged in the semblance of a large wreath. On the fly leaf, torn from the volume of Shelley, Judy wrote:
"In memory of poor Charlie. May his soul rest in peace. Class of 19—, Wellington."
The wreath was laid against the tree and the inscription secured with a pin stuck into the bark. Then the Class of 19—Wellington went on its way rejoicing, never dreaming of the reward the wreath of autumn leaves was to bring them. Perhaps the restless spirit of poor Charlie felt grateful for the sympathy and whispered into the ear of somebody—at any rate, luck came of the incident of the wreath.
Not long after this, seniors roaming about the woods heard the blast of Judy's trumpet. It was still too early for lunch and they felt instinctively that it was a call to arms. Presently wandering classmates came running up from every direction like a company of frightened nymphs.
Just about this time an old gentleman, strolling down the wood path, paused at Charlie's Oak. He was a very youthful looking old man, his cheeks as ruddy as winter apples and his blue eyes as clear and bright as a boy's. He carried a cane which he used to toss twigs from his path. Two Irish setters followed at his heels sniffing the ground trodden down a little while before by the feet of numerous Wellington maids.
"Ahem! What's this?" remarked the old gentleman aloud, fitting his glasses on his nose and leaning over to examine the wreath. Then he released the inscription from the pin and carefully read it twice, replacing it afterward just over the wreath. Baring his head, he stood quite still under the limb for so long a time that the impatient dogs trotted off down the path, and then came back again to look for their master.
"Poor Charlie," repeated the old man. "May his soul rest in peace." With a sigh he put on his hat and started slowly down the path. "Poor Charlie, poor old Charlie," he was still saying, when he found himself on the edge of a company of very indignant and excited young women.
"This must be the Class of 19—Wellington," he was thinking as he turned to go the other way, when Margaret Wakefield in the very center of the crowd thundered out:
"It's an outrage! A miserable, cowardly trick!"
Some of the girls were actually crying; others looked grave, while still others conferred together in low indignant tones.
"I beg pardon, young ladies, has anything serious happened?" asked the old gentleman, lifting his hat politely.
There was a complete silence at this unexpected interruption, and then Margaret, ever the spokesman of her class, replied in a suspiciously tearful tone of voice:
"We've been robbed, sir. Somebody has stolen our luncheon."
"Dear, dear!" murmured the old gentleman, looking from one face to another with real sympathy, "dear, dear! but that was an unkind trick—and quite a large meal, too, I imagine," he added, noting the size of the company.
"Three hampers full," cried one girl.
"And we had worked so hard over it," cried another.
"Is this the Class of 19—Wellington?" asked the old gentleman.
"Yes, sir. We were giving the Senior Ramble."
"And while you were rambling thieves came and robbed you, eh?"
"We are disgraced," ejaculated Margaret.
"Do you suppose tramps could have done it?" Jessie asked.
"It would have been difficult to dispose of three hampers full," answered the old gentleman. "A tramp would have helped himself to what he could carry and nothing more."
"Could it have been Gypsies?" suggested Judy, fired with the romantic notion.
The old gentleman shook his head.
"I think the thieves rode in a motor car," he said. "As I crossed the road some little time ago I saw one waiting there for no apparent reason. I hardly noticed who was in it. Perhaps it was some of your own classmates. In my day the boys used to play tricks like that, worse ones, even. Exmoor was a lively place fifty years ago."
The old gentleman sighed.
"Wellington girls play tricks, too, sometimes, but not such mean ones," put in Margaret. "Once a girl cut the electric light wiring during an entertainment in the gym. But even that wasn't so low as this: making a crowd of people go hungry."
"Ah, I see," answered the old gentleman. "Well, that is scarcely to be mentioned in the same breath with cutting wires." He paused a moment and dug into the ground with the end of his cane thoughtfully. "Young ladies," he said presently, "would you do an old Exmoor boy the honor of lunching with him to-day?"
"Oh, how kind!"
"So many of us?"
"It's too much," a dozen voices answered.
"Not at all. There could not be too many of you. I am Major Fern. I live down the road a bit. You can find the house by the big iron gates opening onto the avenue." Major Fern looked at his watch. "It's now a little past twelve. May I expect you at a quarter past one? Mrs. Fern will be delighted. There are—how many of you?"
Margaret told him promptly.
"That's as small as an Exmoor class," he observed. "An unusually small class. But—I've heard of you from Miss Walker—an unusually bright one, I understand. It will be a great pleasure to entertain so many charming young ladies at once."
The girls were almost speechless with surprise and gratitude. Even Margaret was for once reduced to a state of shyness.
"We are very grateful to you, Major Fern," she said, after some hesitation, "and if you are sure it is not too much of an imposition, we accept with pleasure."
So it was that Charlie's Oak was the indirect means of bringing the Senior Ramble of that year to a successful termination.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
"Will somebody please inform me how they can get up a lunch for this crowd in an hour's time?" asked Nance, who, having spent her life in the narrow quarters of a boarding house, was not accustomed to avalanches of unexpected guests.
"Oh, I don't think it will be very difficult," Molly replied. "Major Fern is a farmer. He probably has lots of hams in the smoke house and plenty of eggs in the hen house and milk in the dairy and preserves and pickles in the pantry, and if there isn't enough bread the cook can make up some hot biscuits or corn bread."
"I know it couldn't embarrass you, Molly, dear. You'd be sure to find plenty of food for company," laughed Nance.
But Molly was not far wrong in her suppositions of the lunch that Major Fern unexpectedly called upon his wife and daughters and servants to prepare. Alice was the only member of his family who was not entirely cordial when the senior class of Wellington at last descended upon the big old farmhouse at lunch time. She had buttered and sliced bread until her back ached, and she cast many angry glances at her ruddy-faced father tranquilly slicing ham in the pantry.
"There are times when Papa is a real nuisance," she thought angrily.
While Mrs. Fern pointed out piles of plates on the pantry shelf to a maid, her husband told her the history of the morning.
"So you see, my dear," he finished, "that this party is really Charlie's party. We are doing it for his sake. It would be just the sort of thing he would have done himself. I remember he brought his entire class home once to Sunday morning breakfast. He had invited them and forgotten to mention it to Mother."
"And they made a wreath for him?" asked Mrs. Fern irrelevantly, as she wiped a tear from her eye.
The Major blinked and went on slicing ham industriously.
"It's as fresh in my mind as if it had happened yesterday," he said presently in a low voice.
"How handsome and gay he was," added his wife, sighing, as she counted out a pile of napkins.
And now there came the sound of singing in front of the house. The seniors had arrived and were serenading the Major and his family. "Wellington, my Wellington," they sang, and Mrs. Fern paused in her counting to listen to the song she herself had sung as a girl.
"Listen to the children, they are serenading us, Major. Do come out with me and meet them."
The Major laid down his carving knife and fork and followed his wife to the front door, and presently the girls found themselves in the comfortable, sunny parlor of the big old house that seemed to ramble off at each side into wings and meander back into other additions in the rear. They forgot their grievances in the fun of that lunch party. By the miracle which always provides for generosity to give, there was plenty of lunch, just as Molly had predicted.
"It wasn't a very difficult guess," she observed to Nance. "If you had lived in the country and were subject to unexpected arrivals, you'd know just how to go about getting up an impromptu meal for a lot of people."
As for the good old Major, he was quite determined to enjoy himself. He wanted to hear all the college jokes and songs. He even told some Exmoor jokes, and after each joke he laughed until his face turned an apoplectic red and the tears rolled down his cheeks. Mrs. Fern laughed, too. She was an old Wellington girl and her eldest daughter, Natalie, had graduated from the college a year before Molly had entered. It had been a great disappointment to Mrs. Fern that Alice, the youngest daughter, was not inclined to college and had gone to a fashionable boarding school.
After the senior stunts, when Judy had succeeded in throwing the Major into another apoplectic fit of laughing by playing "Birdie's Dead" on the piano, it was time to go back to Fern Woods where they were to meet the wagons. While the girls were pinning on their hats the Major, in a voice husky from much laughing, asked Nance, as it happened to be, which girl had suggested the wreath he had seen at the foot of the oak tree. Nance pointed out Molly and the Major presently beckoned her to follow him into his library. Unlocking one of the desk drawers, he drew out a faded photograph. The picture showed a laughing, handsome boy not more than eighteen. His curly hair was ruffled all over his head as if he had just come in out of the wind, and his merry eyes looked straight into Molly's.
"That is Charlie," said the Major, looking over Molly's shoulder at the picture. "My younger brother, Charlie. His death was the greatest sorrow I have ever known. Poor Charlie! Poor boy!"
The old man turned away to hide the tears in his eyes and Molly laid the photograph back in the drawer.
"Charlie would have enjoyed all this even more than I have," went on the Major. "It would have been just what he would have done under the circumstances. I saw the wreath, you see, and it touched me very deeply."
"The girls will appreciate your kindness all the more when I tell them," said Molly, not knowing how else to express the sympathy she felt.
"Ah, well, it all happened half a century ago," he said, shaking her hand and patting it gently at the same time.
"He is a dear," thought Molly, following him into the hall.
She saw one other photograph in the Fern house that interested her. It was a picture of Professor Edwin Green, very elaborately framed, standing on a dressing table in one of the bedrooms.
Alice Fern kept well in the background while her mother and father and elder sister entertained the senior class of Wellington. She had done her duty by the lunch and she was not going to mingle in this crowd of unknowns.
"I never could bear a college romp," she had said to her mother who had remonstrated with her daughter.
"I trust you don't call your mother a college romp," answered the old lady indignantly.
"Not at all, Mama. You belonged to the early days of Wellington before romps came into existence," Alice replied sharply.
"I'm sure you may have to see a great deal of college, if——" began Mrs. Fern, and broke off abruptly.
Alice shrugged her shoulders.
"If—if——" she thought. "How I detest that word."
On the way back that afternoon the old Queen's girls held a council of war.
"I think we ought to make it our business to find out who played this trick on us," cried Margaret, "if it takes detective work to do it. Our dignity as seniors has been attacked and the standards of Wellington lowered."
"I don't believe any juniors had a hand in it," put in Judy, "because we are so friendly with them."
Nance nudged Molly.
"She's afraid somebody's going to blame that charming Adele," she whispered.
"If it's any of the Wellington girls, it's more likely to be among the sophomores," announced Edith decisively. "They were rather a wild lot last year but we were too busy to notice them; a good deal like a gang of bad boys in their own set; always playing practical jokes——"
"Yes, but would they dare play jokes on us?" interrupted Margaret.
"They'd dare do anything," answered Edith. "Anne White is the ringleader. I only know her by sight so I can't judge of her character, but I heard that Miss Walker had her on the grill several times last winter."
"What does she look like?" some one asked.
"Why, she's as demure as anything; a petite, brown-haired, inconspicuous little person. You'd never suspect her of being so daring, but I happen to know of one reckless performance of hers that Prexy hasn't heard of."
"Do tell," they demanded with breathless curiosity.
"You'll let it go no farther? Word of honor, now?"
"Word of honor," they repeated in a chorus.
"One night last spring she let herself down from the dormitory with a rope ladder and went—well, I don't know where she went, but she got back safely enough——"
"Up the ladder?"
"No. That was the wonderful part. She simply waited till morning and when the gates were open slipped in in time for chapel."
The girls were rather horrified at this story.
"It's shocking," the chorus exclaimed.
"It does sound so," went on Edith impressively, "if I didn't happen to know that she spent the night with good old Mrs. Murphy, who told it to me herself one day in a burst of tea-cup confidence, and I never let it out to any one but Katherine until to-day. But it does seem the moment for telling it, if she did play that dastardly trick——"
"But we aren't sure it was Anne White," put in Molly.
"No, but it's her style. She sent a girl a live mouse through the mail and she broke up one of the sophomore class meetings by putting ticktacks on the window."
"How silly," ejaculated Mabel Hinton.
"But what was she doing down on the campus and what did Mrs. Murphy think of being waked up at midnight?" asked Judy.
"It wasn't midnight. It was only a little before eleven and Anne told Mrs. Murphy she had done it for a lark. She was awfully frightened and Mrs. Murphy began by being shocked and ended by being kind-hearted. The ladder had slipped down and she couldn't get up and she didn't know what to do."
So it happened, that without meaning to be unjust, the seniors secretly blamed Anne White for the pillaging of their lunch hampers. But there was no evidence and they could only wait and be watchful, as Margaret expressed it.
THE RETORT COURTEOUS.
Because of the happy ending of the Ramble the seniors made no secret of the theft of the lunch hampers. If they had been obliged to go hungry, they would probably have kept the entire story to themselves. Such is human nature. When the story reached Miss Walker's ears, as most things about Wellington did sooner or later, she sent for Margaret Wakefield and got the history of the case from her in an exceedingly dramatic and well connected form.
"And we had gone to no end of trouble, Miss Walker, and a good deal of expense," Margaret finished. "Lots of us had had cakes and pickles and things sent on from home."
Miss Walker smiled. She could have named the contents of those hampers without any outside assistance.
"What none of us understands is where they took the hampers afterward. They couldn't have brought them back to college without being found out."
"No," answered the Principal, "that would have been impossible, of course, and yet the hampers have managed to find their way back." Shifting her chair from the table desk, she pointed underneath. "So, you see," she continued, "that the sandwiches and pickles and stuffed eggs and fudge may have found their way into college after all. Major Fern discovered the hampers. They had been tossed into a ditch near his place." Miss Walker sighed and frowned. "If the Exmoor boys were given to this kind of thing, I might have suspected some of them. But the standards at Exmoor are above such things as this," she indicated the hampers with a gesture of mingled disgust and pain. "If only—only I could bring my Wellington to that point. But every year there is something."
Margaret felt sorry for the Principal who had striven so hard for the honor of Wellington in the face of so many discouragements.
"It was a thoroughly silly and undignified act," she remarked later to the Queen's crowd, telling them of the interview, "to break up a time-honored custom like the Senior Ramble by stealing all the food; and I'm sorry for the girl who did it if she ever gets caught."
An effort had been made to find out if there had been any sophomore spreads the night of the Ramble with the stolen banquet, but these young women were either very wily or very innocent, for nothing was found against them.
In the meantime, things went on happily enough at Wellington and there were no more escapades to wrinkle the President's brow or enrage the girls who happened to be the victims. Molly's life was so filled with work and interests that she had little leisure for reflection, and about this time there came to her an unsolicited and entirely unexpected honor. She was elected sub-editor of the Wellington Commune, the fortnightly review of college news and college writings. Edith Williams, beyond a doubt the most literary girl in college, was editor-in-chief, Caroline Brinton was business manager, and there was besides a staff of six girls from other classes who gathered news and ran their various departments.
"I can't imagine why they chose me," Molly exclaimed one afternoon to Edith, when the two girls were closeted in the Commune office.
"For your literary discrimination," answered Edith.
"But I think my themes are dreadfully crude and forced. I can't help feeling self-conscious when I write."
"That's because you try too hard," answered Edith, who always spoke the brutal truth regarding the literary efforts of her friends. "Let your thoughts flow easily, lightly," she added, making a flowing gesture with her pencil to illustrate the gentle trickling of ideas from an overcharged brain.
"You remind me of Professor Green. 'Be simple,' was his advice—as if an amateur can be simple."
Edith, in the act of writing an editorial, smiled enigmatically.
"It's about as hard as getting a cheap dressmaker to make simple clothes," she said. "Amateurs always want to put in ruffles and puffles."
The two girls were seated at the editorial desk. There was a pile of manuscript in front of Molly: themes recommended by Miss Pomeroy for publication and contributed book reviews. Presently only the ticking of the clock on the book shelves broke the stillness. Both girls had plunged into work with a will. Edith's soft pencil was already flying over the sheets.
"Flowing easily and lightly," Molly thought, smiling as she turned a page.
For more than half an hour they worked in silence. At last Molly, having selected from the reviews the ones she considered best for publication, leaned her chin on her hand and closed her eyes. How peaceful it was in this little office, and how nice to be with Edith who went at her work—this kind of work—with force and swiftness.
Rap, rap, rap, came the sound of knuckles on the door, while some one shook the knob and the voice of Judy called:
"Let me in, let me in, girls, I've got something to show you that will make your blood boil."
"Run away, we're awfully busy," answered Edith, who kept the door to the private office locked.
"I tell you it will make your blood boil with rage and fury," went on the extravagant Judy. "As editors of the Commune, everybody calls on you to resent an insult to college. Please let me in," she pleaded.
Molly opened the door and her impetuous friend rushed in, waving a newspaper.
"Be calm, child. Don't take on so. Sit down and tell us easily and lightly and flowingly what's the matter," she said.
"Look at this base, libelous article," Judy ejaculated, spreading the paper on the table.
With an expression of amused toleration as of one who must bear the whims of a spoiled child, Edith drew the paper in front of her while Molly and Judy seated themselves on the arms of her chair and read over her shoulders.
The first things that caught their eyes were the pictures: drawings of wildly disheveled beings in gymnasium suits playing basket ball and hockey. One picture, also, represented a blousy looking young person in a sweater, carrying a bundle of linen under one arm and a bottle of milk under the other. In still another this same blousy model was yelling "Hello" to her twin sister across the page. They saw her again in the drug store dissipating in chocolate sundaes; and once more, chewing gum; hobnobbing with the grocery boy, too, or perhaps it was the baggage man or the postman. The article occupied a full page under flaring headlines:
"THE PRESENT DAY COLLEGE GIRL, NO LONGER A PLEASING FEMININE TYPE. SHE IS VULGAR, AGGRESSIVE, SLANGY. COLLEGES FOR GIRLS THE RUIN OF AMERICAN HOMES—So says Miss Beatrice Slammer, the popular writer and well-known anti-suffragist."
"It's ironic, untrue and insulting," observed Edith, in a choking voice as her eyes traveled down the columns.
"She seems especially hard on poor girls who have to get their own meals," broke in Molly. "Is there anything unfeminine in getting a bottle of milk from the corner grocery, I wonder? Or saying good-morning to the postman or Mr. Murphy? What would Miss Slammer think of us if she knew how often we had tea with Mrs. Murphy and Mr. Murphy, too?"
"She recommends colleges for women to pattern themselves after a Fifth Avenue school that teaches manners before it teaches classics," burst out Judy. "I wonder if she went to that school?"
"She is evidently opposed to higher education for women," remarked Edith. "The style of her writing shows that as much as her sentiments do."
"I know one thing," cried Judy, "this settles it. I'm going to join the Woman's Suffrage Society to-day. If this is the way an anti thinks, I'm for the other side."
Edith and Molly laughed.
"It's an excellent reason for changing your political views, Judy," said Molly.
And now the office of the Commune was besieged by numbers of students from the three upper classes. There were even one or two indignant freshmen present. Those who had received the article by the first mail had handed it to those who had not. Many of the girls had already written letters in reply and sent them to be published in New York papers. Would the editors of the Commune do anything about the base, libelous article? Were these stinging falsehoods about college girls to be allowed to be scattered over the country without a single protest?
"You may add my name to the Suffrage Club, Miss Wakefield," called a junior.
So Margaret's list of converts swelled amazingly that afternoon.
Edith was enjoying herself immensely.
"What funny creatures girls are," she said to Molly, still sitting on the arm of the editorial chair.
The question was: how was the article to be answered? No doubt college girls everywhere were thinking the same thing; therefore, the Wellington girls would not like to be backward in coming forward.
"I suppose all the other colleges will be answering the article in about the same way," said Margaret. "I wish we could think of something original and different. Something more personal than a letter to a newspaper."
"She speaks on anti-suffrage, doesn't she?" asked Edith.
"Oh, yes," cried Margaret. "She is evidently one of those women who believes she can stem the tide of human progress by taking a stand against higher education and universal suffrage. Do you think women like that are ever silent? They are always standing on the street corners trying to lift their little puny voices above the multitude—but who hears them?"
There was a burst of laughter at Margaret's eloquence.
"Why not ask her to speak here?" suggested Edith.
"What good would that do?"
"Besides, she wouldn't come."
"Oh, yes she would. Wait until all this blows over and then send her the invitation. People who write like that always want to talk."
"But how will we get any personal satisfaction out of it?" Margaret asked.
"Well, by showing her what perfect ladies we are, in the first place. We can be very attentive and still 'freeze' her. We can entertain her without talking to her any more than is necessary, and we can listen to her speech and make no comments."
After consideration of the suggestion, most of the girls began to see a good many possibilities in this courteous revenge. They were taken with the notion of inviting Miss Slammer into the enemy's camp and treating her as a guest too honored to be familiar with. It was agreed that the invitation should be dispatched in about two weeks, so that Miss Slammer would feel no suspicions.
A STOLEN VISIT.
One morning not long after the stormy meeting in the Commune room, Molly, racking her brain over "The Theory of Mathematics," heard Otoyo's tap at the door. She knew it was the little Japanese. Nobody else could knock so faintly and still so distinctly.
"Come in," she called, and Otoyo glided in as softly as a mouse.
"You are much busy, Mees Brown?" she asked, retreating toward the door when she saw Molly bending over her book.
"Oh, I can spare a few moments for a dear little friend any day," answered Molly. "What's happened? Nothing wrong, I hope?"
The Japanese girl appeared excited. Her eyes shone with more than their usual luster and she seemed hardly able to keep back the news she had to tell.
"No, no, nothing wrong. Something very right. My honorable father is coming to Wellington to see his humble little daughter. O, I am so happee!" and Miss Sen executed a few steps of the "Boston," she had lately learned to dance. Molly watched the plump little figure gliding about the room and smiled. What a dear, funny little person Otoyo was.
"I am so glad. How joyful you must be. When is he coming, Otoyo?"
"He has arriving——" Otoyo broke off quickly. Excitement always strangely affected her English. "He has arrived now in New York and he will come here to-morrow for the end-week."
"Week-end, you mean, child. Now, what shall we do to amuse him besides showing him the sights? Wouldn't you like us to give him a dance or a fudge party or something?"
Otoyo clasped her hands joyfully.
"It will be enough for my honorable father to see all the beautiful young American ladees and the buildeengs. He will not require of his humble daughter amusements. He is much grateful to young ladees for kindness to little Otoyo. My honorable father will be thankful to you."
"Perhaps you would like us to go with you to the train to meet him?" Molly suggested, wondering why Otoyo still lingered, now that she had unburdened herself of the good news and had seen plainly that Molly was very, very busy. But no, Otoyo thought so many young ladees at once might embarrass her honorable parent. She would prefer to bring him to call at No. 5 Quadrangle on Sunday afternoon if entirely acceptable.
It would be acceptable. They would all be delighted and the crowd would be there to receive the honorable gentleman. And now, Molly was sure Otoyo would go. But Otoyo had something else on her mind, evidently. Molly sighed. Not for worlds would she hurt her small friend's feelings, but she did wish she had put a busy sign on the door. It had been such a perfect time to study, with Nance at a lecture and Judy practicing basket ball.
"Will Mees Brown do me one great beeg favor?" began Otoyo with some embarrassment.
"Yes, indeed. Anything."
It appeared that Otoyo was very anxious to call on Professor Green and she wished Miss Brown to go with her.
"You have seen the honorable Professor?" she asked innocently.
"No, I have been to inquire every day, but Miss Fern told me he was not permitted to see visitors."
For the first time in their acquaintance Molly saw Otoyo show signs of real displeasure.
"Mees Fern?" she repeated. "She cannot say no and yes. It is for the nurse to say."
Molly admitted that she had not seen the nurse.
"Then you will come?" cried Otoyo, with almost as much enthusiasm as she had shown over the coming visit of her honorable father.
"But——" began Molly.
"You will so kindlee go this afternoon?" broke in the voluble little Japanese. "Will four o'clock be an hour of convenience?"
"I really don't——" began Molly again.
"You said 'anything,'" interrupted Otoyo. "You will not go back on poor little Japanese? You will come?" she finished, cocking her head on one side in her own peculiarly irresistible manner.
Molly glanced at the clock. She had already lost nearly twenty minutes of her precious study hour.
"Very well, little one, come for me at four," she said, and Otoyo fairly flew from the room before Molly could change her mind. Out in the corridor Miss Sen danced the Boston again, just a pas seul to express her happiness. Of course Mees Brown should never know that she had just that moment come from seeing the great Professor.
At four o'clock Otoyo again appeared at the door of No. 5. It was pouring down rain, but she had no intention of releasing Molly from her promise. In her miniature rain coat and jaunty red felt hat, she looked like a plump little robin hopping into the room.
"You are readee?" asked Otoyo.
"Why, I never dreamed you would go in the rain!" began Molly, looking up from her writing.
Otoyo's face lengthened and the corners of her mouth drooped disconsolately.
"Why, bless the child! Molly, aren't you ashamed to disappoint her?" cried Judy from the divan where she was resting after her athletic labors.
"Why, Otoyo, dear, I didn't know you were so keen about it. Of course I'll go," said Molly remorsefully, fumbling in the closet for her over-shoes, while Nance calmly appropriated Judy's rain coat from the back of a chair where that young woman had flung it and held it up for Molly to slip into.
"Better take my umbrella," she said. Molly had never owned a rain coat and couldn't keep an umbrella.
"You know we may not be allowed to see him," Molly observed, when the two girls had started on their wet walk down the avenue. "Miss Fern distinctly told Judith Blount and me one day that he was not to see any one except the family. The doctor particularly did not wish him to see students who would remind him of his work and worry him."
"Mees Fern know too much," said Otoyo, making what she called a "scare face" by wrinkling her nose and screwing up her mouth. "Mees Fern veree crosslee sometimes."
"Adverbs, adverbs, Otoyo," admonished Molly.
"Excusa-me," said Otoyo. "It is when I become a little warm here in my brain that I grow adverbial."
Molly laughed. In her heart there was a secret, unacknowledged feeling of relief that she was going to try to see Professor Green in spite of Miss Fern. It was a relief, too, to find herself in the outdoors after her long vigil of study. The rain beat on her face and the fresh wind nipped her cheeks until they glowed with color.
"You are much too small and feeble to come out in all this weather, Otoyo," she said, slipping her arm through her friend's. "You are so tiny you might easily fall into a puddle and drown."
"Ah, thees is notheeng," cried Otoyo. "In Japan it rains—oceans! And for so long. Days and days without refraining from." She was very apt to use big words instead of smaller ones, her own language being exceedingly formal and grandiose. "Notheeng is dry. Not even within the edifices."
"But a house is an edifice, is it not so?"
"Oh, yes, but we wouldn't use such a showy word."
Otoyo was still puzzling out why the longer word was not the better when they reached the infirmary. The regular nurse of the infirmary who usually sat in the waiting room was not visible to-day. A freshman was ill and she was probably busy, Otoyo explained.
"Who is looking after the Professor?" Molly asked.
Miss Fern, it appeared, assisted by the infirmary nurse, attended her cousin during the day, and his sister nursed him at night. Having imparted this information in a loud whisper, Otoyo started upstairs on tiptoe, Molly following. Somehow, she felt quite courageous and not at all afraid of Miss Fern, with the little Japanese to lead her on.
All the doors were closed in the corridor above and on the ward room door hung a sign, "No Admittance."
"She must be quite ill," whispered Molly.
"She has a taking disease," answered Otoyo. "Like this." And she puffed out both jaws to the roundness of the full moon.
Molly stifled a laugh.
"Mumps, do you mean?"
"It was so called to me by the honorable nurse," she added gravely.
The two girls lingered a moment in the hall. Molly was opposed to rapping on the Professor's door, but Otoyo, amiably but unswervingly persistent in attaining her ends, gently tapped on the door.
"Come in," called Professor Green's voice, weak almost beyond recognition.
Otoyo peeped into the room.
"He is alone," she whispered, and with that she pushed Molly through the door with arm of steel. "I will keep watch for ten minutes without. Then I will call." She closed the door and Molly found herself looking fearfully through the dim shadows cast by half-drawn green blinds, at an emaciated face on the pillow. Her pulses throbbed and she wanted very much to cry. Indeed, it required almost superhuman effort to keep back the tears. Was this emaciated, wax-like face on the pillows her Professor's?
"I'm afraid I ought not to be here," she began in a low voice.
"If you leave I shall cry," said the Professor. "Won't you come nearer?"
Molly crept over to the bedside and stood looking down into the changed face. Only the brown eyes seemed the same. She choked and tried to smile. One must be cheerful with sick people, and she hoped the Professor would think it was the rain that had wet her cheeks.
"Shake hands, Miss Molly," said the Professor, lifting one transparent hand and then dropping it weakly.
With an impulse she could hardly explain she knelt beside the bed and put her hand over his.
"You are much better?" she whispered.
"I'll soon be well, now," he replied. "But I've been on a long journey. It seemed endless—so many mountains to climb and rivers to cross—such impenetrable forests——" he paused and shook his head. "I was beginning to get very tired and lonely, too—it's dismal taking the journey alone—but I've come to the end now—it's over——" again he paused and smiled. "I'm glad to find you at last. I've been looking for you a long time."
"I would have come sooner, but they—but she said no one was to see you."
Molly shook her head.
"No, Miss Fern."
"I never was so bossed in my life——" a sudden strength came into his voice. "These women!" he added in a tone of disgust.
The door opened and Otoyo's voice was heard saying in a loud whisper.
"The ten minutes have passed away."
"Good-bye," whispered Molly.
"Will you come again?" he asked.
She nodded and tiptoed hurriedly out of the room. She had caught a glimpse of the blue paper weight on the table during that stolen interview.
"No wonder Miss Alice Fern is so bossy with him," she thought. "I suppose she has a right to be." Molly sighed. Somehow she wished she had not seen the blue paper weight. It had spoiled all the happiness in the visit, except of course her happiness over his recovery.
When the two girls reached the head of the stairs, the door to the ward opened and the nurse looked out. She exchanged a smiling nod with Otoyo.
"Why, Miss Sen, you naughty little thing, I believe this visit was all arranged beforehand," exclaimed Molly.
But Miss Sen only laughed and not one word of excuse or explanation would she give.
"Otoyo, you are as deep as deep——" Molly began.
But Otoyo pressing closely to her side, looked up into Molly's face and smiled so sweetly it was impossible to scold her.
"You are very kindlee to humble little Japanese girl," she said. "Better than all the young ladies of Wellington, I like you best, Mees Brown. There is no one so good and so beautiful——"
"You outrageous little flatterer, you are changing the subject," cried Molly.
"With all my honor, I give you assurance that I speak trulee."
"You make me very happee, then," laughed Molly, "but what has that got to do with Professor Green?"
"Did I say there was any connecting?" asked Otoyo innocently.
And so Miss Sen, unfathomable and still guileless, never explained about the stolen visit, and Molly Brown, baffled and still glad in her heart, had to think up any explanation she could.
"I don't know which was the most highly polished, his manners or his shiny bronze face," ejaculated Judy when the door of No. 5 had closed upon Otoyo and her honorable father.
The small grizzled Japanese gentleman had taken tea American fashion with his daughter's Quadrangle friends. With punctilious enjoyment he had eaten everything that was offered to him, cloudbursts, salmon sandwiches, stuffed olives and chocolate cake. The girls had heard that raw carp was a favorite Japanese dish, and salmon being the only fish convenient, they had bought several cans of it in the village in honor of the national taste.
"Wasn't his English wonderful?" put in Margaret. "He said to me, 'I entertain exceedingly hopes in my daughter's educationally efforts.'"
"He asked me if I were quadrangular," laughed Edith. "I said no, quadrilateral."
"The funny part of it was that he used all those big words and spoke with such a perfect accent and yet he didn't understand anything we said," observed Molly. "All the time I was telling him how much we loved Otoyo and what a dear clever child she was, he blinked and smiled and said: 'Indeed. Is it truly? Exceedingly interestingly.'"
While they were laughing and discussing Otoyo's father, Adele Windsor, Judy's new bosom friend, walked into the room. She had formed a habit of entering their room without announcing herself, an unpardonable breach of etiquette at Wellington, as well it might be anywhere. Lately she had made herself very much at home at No. 5, lounging on the divan with a novel between lectures, or occupying the most comfortable chair while she jotted down notes on a tablet. Nance called her "the intruder" to Molly, and once she had even ventured to remark to Judy:
"I should think your friend would know that it's customary to knock on a door before opening it."
"It's because she's never had any privacy," explained Judy apologetically. "She was brought up in a New York flat and slept on a parlor sofa all her life until two years ago when her father began suddenly to make money."
"Being brought up in a parlor ought to give her parlor manners," Nance thought, but she had not voiced her thought to the sensitive Judy, who really had not intended to force Adele Windsor on her chums. It was only that Adele had a way of taking for granted she was persona grata, that Nance thought was rather too free.
Molly, always polite to guests whether welcome or not, greeted Adele cordially and made her a cup of tea.
"We were just discussing Otoyo Sen's funny little father," she explained, in order to draw Adele into the conversation. "He's been here to call—the queerest English!" And Molly repeated some of Mr. Sen's absurd speeches.
Adele listened with interest. She was always interested in everything, one might almost say inquisitive, and she had a peculiar way of making people say things they regretted. Judy, artless soul, had told her everything she knew long ago. And now, turning her intelligent dark eyes from one to another and occasionally putting out a pointed question, Adele succeeded in starting a new discussion on Otoyo's father. With the most innocent intentions in the world, they imitated his voice and manner, his stiff formal bows and his funny squeaky laugh.
It was not until later when the friends had scattered to tidy up for supper that Molly felt any misgivings about having made fun of Otoyo's father, and these she kept to herself, feeling, indeed, that they were unworthy of her. Adele had not left with the others. She was to remain for supper with Judy, and the two girls sat chatting together while Molly took a cat-nap and Nance began clearing away the tea things.
"You shall not help," she had insisted, when Molly had offered to do her share. "You are dead tired and I'm not, so go and rest and don't bother."
Nance's manner was often brusquest when she was tenderest, but Molly understood her perfectly. She was very tired. What with her new duties on the Commune, club meetings and the pressure of studies, the world was turning so fast she felt that she might fly off into space at any moment.
"Professor Green would have scolded me for trying to overdo things," she was thinking, half sadly. Gradually her body relaxed and her eyelids dropped. Through the mists of half consciousness she heard the musical rattle of the tea things, and presently there came the catchy, rather nasal tones of Adele's voice over the clatter of china and silver.
"I like all your friends, Judy. They are remarkably bright."
"Aren't they a sparkling little coterie," answered Judy proudly.
"Now, Miss Wakefield is a born leader. Of course a leader must have the gift of gab. She's a great talker, isn't she? Takes the conversation right into her own hands and keeps it there, doesn't she?"
"Margaret does talk a lot," Judy admitted.
"Too much perhaps for any one not deeply interested, but then of course I always am. Now, Edith Williams is the brighter of the two, but she knows it, don't you think so?"
"Well, I suppose she does," replied Judy reluctantly.
"Katherine has more surface brightness, but of course she's superficial, that is, compared with her sister."
"Edith is the brightest," said Judy.
"Mabel Hinton is all right, but she does dress so atrociously. And those glasses! Can you imagine how she can wear them?"
Molly felt suddenly hot. She flung the comfort off and sat up impatiently.
"I should think Judy would have sense enough to see she's being made to discuss every friend she has," she thought.
"The Intruder" had now commenced on pretty Jessie Lynch. "Awfully jolly to have so many beaux. Most men-crazy girls have none," she was saying, when Molly marched into the room. She had not decided what she was going to say, but she intended to say something.
"How red your face is, Molly, dear," observed Judy carelessly.
"And how fortunate that it's so seldom that way," went on the imperturbable Miss Windsor. "Red faces are not becoming to red heads, that is, generally speaking, but your skin is such an exquisite texture, Miss Brown, that it doesn't matter whether it's red or white. Did you see where a girl had written to a beauty editor and asked for a cure for blushing? The editor told her that age was the only cure. Sometimes, however, one gets very good suggestions off those pages, good hygienic suggestions, I mean."
And so Adele carried the conversation along at such a swift pace that Molly did not have the chance to say what she had intended. She had always regarded that kind of talk with supreme contempt: praise that tapered into a sting. "It would have been more honest to have given the sting without the praise," she thought, "and less hypocritical and censorious."
It was Adele's trick to make you agree with her, and if you did, lead you on to further and more dangerous ground, until you suddenly felt yourself placed in the awkward position of saying something unkind without having intended it.
It was strange that Judy was so blind to this trait of Adele's. But then Adele was very attractive. There was a kind of abandon about her that suited Judy's style. They had a great many tastes in common. Adele was very talented and the two girls often went off on Saturday afternoon sketching expeditions together.
"Nance, I'm ashamed of myself for thinking such things," whispered Molly, on the way down to supper, "but there is something almost Mephistophelean about Adele Windsor."
"She-devil, you mean," broke in Nance bluntly.
"Mephistophelean was more high sounding. Besides she's just like Mephistopheles in 'Faust.' She doesn't speak right out, only whispers and suggests. Innuendo is the word, isn't it? Sometimes I'm really frightened for Judy."
"She is awfully crushed, but she'll wake up soon enough. She always does," answered Nance carelessly.
But Molly had secret misgivings, in spite of Nance's assurances, and furthermore, she was convinced that the crafty Adele was well aware of these misgivings and that it gave her much private enjoyment to make Molly uncomfortable.
"The trouble is I can't fight her with her own weapons," Molly thought. "I'm not clever enough, and besides I wouldn't if I could. After all, boys' methods of settling disputes by drawing a circle and fighting it out are somehow much more honest. It would be worth a black eye and a bloody nose to lay forever all that innuendo and sly insinuation."
"She's hypnotized Judy into putting her up for the Shakespeareans and the Olla Podridas," said Nance. "And she'll get in. Nobody will dream of blackballing her, you'll see."
Molly compressed her lips into a firm red line and said nothing, but she was almost led to wish that school societies did not exist at all.
Miss Walker had not failed to see the stinging article against women's colleges written by Miss Beatrice Slammer for a newspaper, and when she recalled that Miss Slammer had recently spent a day at Wellington as a guest of the college under plea of gathering material, she felt somewhat embittered. When, therefore, it came to her ears that the students intended to ask Miss Slammer to Wellington ostensibly for the purpose of hearing her views on anti-suffrage, she smiled and said nothing to anybody except Miss Pomeroy, who had raised some objections.
"Don't worry over it, my dear," said Miss Walker, "they won't do anything to make us ashamed. It's Miss Slammer who will be ashamed, I rather imagine."
Perhaps Miss Slammer was surprised at receiving an invitation from Wellington University after her lampoon of college girls. Whatever qualms she may have felt in writing it had been hushed to sleep with the insidious thought that the views, if not true, were at least sensational enough to catch the public eye; and this was more important to Miss Slammer than anything else. It flattered her to be asked to speak at this small but distinguished college. Of course they had never seen the article or they would never have sent the invitation. Miss Slammer had her doubts as to whether any person outside New York ever read a newspaper, especially a lot of college girls who had no interests beyond amateur plays and basket ball. So she promptly dispatched a polite note of acceptance to "Miss Julia Kean." Then at the last moment, only a few hours before train time, her courage failed her.
"I can't do it," she said. "I simply haven't the nerve."
"Do what?" asked Jimmy Lufton, glancing up from his typewriter to the somewhat battered and worn countenance of Miss Slammer.
"Face a lot of women and talk to them about anti-suffrage."
Jimmy grinned. He had the face of a mischievous schoolboy. In his eyes there lurked two little imps of adventure while his broad and sunny smile was completely disarming. "Sunny Jim" was the name given him by his friends in the office, a name that still clung to him after five tempestuous years of newspaper work.
"Would you like a substitute?" he asked. "I think I could give some pretty convincing arguments."
"What do you know about it?" demanded Miss Slammer doubtfully.
"Did you read the article that came out last Sunday—'Anti's to the front, by a Wife and Mother.' That was me. I thought I gave a pretty fair line of argument."
"Jimmie, you are the limit," exclaimed Miss Slammer. Then she paused and began to think quickly. Suppose Jimmy did go up to Wellington with a letter of introduction from her, and take her place? Well, why not? She was too ill to come, and had sent the well-known young writer on this vital subject. She would be keeping her engagement in a way, and Jimmy would be getting a holiday and perhaps material for another story at the same time. The editor's consent was gained. "See if you can't get something about basket ball," he had ordered, and Jimmy dashed out of the office, the railroad ticket contributed by Wellington in one pocket and Miss Slammer's note in the other.