A LITTLE MISS NOBODY
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BOOKS FOR GIRLS By Amy Bell Marlowe
12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.
THE OLDEST OF FOUR Or Natalie's Way Out THE GIRLS OF HILLCREST FARM Or The Secret of the Rocks A LITTLE MISS NOBODY Or With the Girls of Pinewood Hall THE GIRL FROM SUNSET RANCH Or Alone in a Great City WYN'S CAMPING DAYS Or The Outing of the Go-Ahead Club FRANCES OF THE RANGES Or The Old Ranchman's Treasure THE GIRLS OF RIVERCLIFF SCHOOL Or Beth Baldwin's Resolve
THE ORIOLE BOOKS
WHEN ORIOLE CAME TO HARBOR LIGHT WHEN ORIOLE TRAVELED WESTWARD
(Other volumes in preparation)
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS—NEW YORK
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A LITTLE MISS NOBODY
With the Girls of Pinewood Hall
AMY BELL MARLOWE
Author Of The Oldest of Four, The Girls of Hillcrest Farm, Wyn's Camping Days, Etc.
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers
Made in the United States of America
Copyright, 1914, By Grosset & Dunlap A Little Miss Nobody
I. Miss Nobody from Nowhere 1 II. The Boy in the Millrace 14 III. On the Way To Pinewood 23 IV. Bearding the Lion 29 V. Nancy's Curious Experience 39 VI. The Unrivaled Scorch 47 VII. First Impressions 57 VIII. The Madame 65 IX. Cora Rathmore 74 X. Who Is She, Anyway? 84 XI. On Clinton River 99 XII. The First Advance 112 XIII. It Proves Disastrous 127 XIV. Heaps of Trouble 138 XV. A Great Deal Happens 150 XVI. It Comes to a Head 162 XVII. A Rift in the Clouds 176 XVIII. Better Times 185 XIX. The Races 202 XX. The Freshman Election 212 XXI. Senator Montgomery 222 XXII. Is it a Clue? 235 XXIII. Back To School Again 247 XXIV. The Thanksgiving Masque 260 XXV. Getting on 274 XXVI. Mr. Gordon Again 280 XXVII. The Man in Gray Again 293 XXVIII. Scorch "On the Job" 302 XXIX. All About Nancy 310 XXX. No Longer a Nobody 319
MISS NOBODY FROM NOWHERE
The girls at Higbee School that term had a craze for marking everything they owned with their monograms. Such fads run through schools like the measles.
Their clothing, books, tennis rackets, school-bags—everything that was possible—blossomed with monograms, more or less ornate.
Of course, some girls' initials offered a wider scope than others' for the expression of artistic ideas; but there wasn't a girl in the whole school who couldn't do something with her initials, save Nancy.
"N. N." What could one do with "N. N."? It was simply impossible to invent an attractive-looking monogram with those letters.
"N. N.—Nancy Nelson—just Nobody from Nowhere," quoth Nancy to Miss Trigg, the teacher and school secretary who, despite her thick spectacles and angular figure, displayed more of a motherly interest in Nancy than anybody else at Higbee School.
Miss Prentice, the principal, never seemed to be interested in Nancy. The latter had nobody to "write home to," either good or bad about the school—so the principal did not have to worry about her. And it didn't matter whether Nancy's reports showed "improvement" or not—there was nobody to read them.
Miss Trigg was also a lonely person; perhaps that was why she showed some appreciation for "Miss Nobody from Nowhere." Sometimes in the long summer vacation she and Nancy were alone at the school. That drew the two together a little. But Miss Trigg was a spinster of very, very uncertain age—saving that she couldn't be young!—and it was the more surprising that she seemed to understand something of what the sore-hearted young girl felt.
"The really great people of this world—the worth-while people—have almost all been known by one name. There were many Caesars, but only one Caesar, who crossed the Rubicon, and in his 'Commentaries' said: 'All Gaul is divided into three parts.' One never hears what Cleopatra's other name was," pursued Miss Trigg, with her queer smile. "Whether Isabella of Spain—the Isabella that made the voyages of Columbus possible—had another name, or not, we do not inquire. How many of us stop to think that the married name of the English Victoria—that great and good queen—was 'Victoria Wettin,' and that for the years of her widowhood she was in fact 'the Widow Wettin'?
"The greatest king-maker the world ever saw—the man who turned all Europe topsy-turvy—was known only by one initial—and that your own, Nancy. Here! I will make you a more striking monogram than any of the other girls possess," and quickly, with a few skilful strokes of her pencil, Miss Trigg drew a single "N" surrounded by a neat, though inverted, laurel wreath.
"Now your monogram will not conflict with Napoleon's," she said, with one of her rare laughs; "but it is quite distinctive. It stands for 'Nancy.' Forget that 'Miss Nobody from Nowhere' chatter. You may be quite as important as any girl in the school—only you don't know it now."
That was what really troubled Nancy Nelson. She was too cheerful and hopeful to really care because she couldn't entwine the two initials of the only name she knew into an artistic bowknot! It was because "N. N." really meant nothing.
For Nancy didn't know whether the name belonged to her or not. She knew absolutely nothing about her identity—who she was, who her people had been—of course, it was safe to say she was an orphan—where she had lived before she came to the Higbee Endowed School when she was a little tot, who paid her tuition here, or what was to become of her when she was graduated.
And Nancy Nelson, now approaching the end of her last year at the school, was more and more persuaded that she should know something about herself—something more than Miss Prentice, or Miss Trigg could tell her.
Years before Nancy had listened to the story of her earlier life as it was whispered into her ear when she and Miss Trigg were alone together, just as though it was a story about some other little girl.
One September day, just after the fall term had opened, a gentleman brought a tiny, rosy-cheeked, much beruffled little girl to Miss Prentice and asked the principal of Higbee School to take charge of the little one for a term of years—to bring her up, in fact, as far as she could be brought up and taught at that institution.
This gentleman—who was a lawyer rather well known at that time in Malden, the small city in which the school was situated—could only say that the little girl's name was Nancy Nelson, that she had no parents nor other near relatives, and that he could assure the principal that the tuition and other bills would be paid regularly and that Nancy would have a small fund of spending money as she grew.
Who she really was, where she had lived, the reason for the mystery that surrounded the affair, the lawyer would not, or could not explain. He had left Malden soon afterward, but was established in Cincinnati—and he met all Nancy's bills promptly and asked each quarter-day after her health. But he showed no further interest in the little girl.
As for Nancy herself, she remembered nothing before her appearance at the school. And that was not strange. She was a kindergartner when Miss Prentice accepted the responsibility of training her—the very youngest and smallest girl who had ever come to Higbee School.
Miss Prentice was too firm a disciplinarian to be a very warm-hearted woman. Save for Miss Trigg's awkward attempts at motherliness, and the surreptitious hugs and kisses of certain womanly servants about the school who pitied the lonely child, Nancy Nelson had experienced little affection.
She was popular in a way with her fellow pupils, yet there had always been a barrier between her and the rest of the school. She was the refuge of the dull scholars, or of the little ones who needed help in their lessons; but Nancy never made a real chum.
It was not the girl's fault. She was heart-hungry for somebody to love, and somebody to love her. But circumstances seemed always to forbid.
A new girl was scarcely settled at Higbee before somebody pointed Nancy out to her as a girl who was "peculiar." Sometimes the story of Nancy's coming to the school, and of her circumstances, were sadly twisted. She was often looked upon as a combination of Cinderella and the Sleeping Princess.
However that might be, it set Nancy in a class by herself. Girls came and went at Higbee. Some took the entire course and were graduated. But none save Nancy remained at the school from year's end to year's end.
Miss Prentice saw to it that the girl had a sufficient supply of neat and serviceable dresses. She had all that she could possibly need, but little that she really wanted.
When her spending money was increased moderately, Nancy was able to buy herself the little trifles that persons like Miss Prentice never realize a girl's longing for. Nancy's private expenditures occasioned even Miss Trigg to say that she was "light-minded" and would never know how to spend money.
They did not take into consideration that Nancy had nobody to give her the little trifles so dear to every growing girl's heart. She never had a present. That is, nothing save some little things at Christmas from some of the smaller girls whom she had helped. Miss Prentice discouraged the giving of presents among the girls at Higbee. She said it occasioned jealousies, and "odious comparisons" of family wealth.
Miss Prentice was a very good teacher, and she exerted a careful oversight over both the girls' health and conduct. Most of the girls had their particular friends, and even the few other orphans beside Nancy in the school had those who loved and cared for them.
But here was a heart-hungry girl with absolutely no apparent future. The end of her last year at Higbee was approaching and neither Nancy, nor Miss Trigg, nor Miss Prentice herself, knew the first thing about what was to "be done with her."
Curiosity about herself—who she was, what was in store for her, and all—sometimes scorched Nancy Nelson's mind like a devouring flame. She kept a deal of it to herself; it was making her a morose, secretive girl, instead of the open-hearted, frank character she was meant to be. Nancy's future as a girl and woman was in peril.
She scarcely believed that the name she was known by was her own. Some time before she had begun to refer to herself as "Miss Nobody from Nowhere." It was continually on her mind.
So Miss Trigg's suggestion about the monogram was not entirely satisfactory to Nancy. It is all right to have brave thoughts about doing great deeds in the future; but—supposing there is no future?
That's the way it looked to Nancy Nelson. June was approaching and all the other girls of the graduating class were exchanging stories of what they were to do, where they were to go, and all about their future lives. But Nancy couldn't tell a single thing that was going to happen to her after breakfast the day following graduation.
Of course, Miss Prentice was not bound to keep her a minute longer than her contract called for. Nothing had been said by the lawyer in whose hands Nancy's fate seemed to be, regarding his future intentions. He had acknowledged the school principal's last letter at Easter, and that was all.
A girl who has spent all her days—almost—in a boarding school must of necessity possess some small amount of independence, at least. Although very young, Nancy felt perfectly able to start out into the world alone and make her way.
Just how she should earn her living she did not know. But she had read story books. Sometimes girls of her age were able to help housewives do their work, or help take care of little children, or even be parcel-wrappers in big city stores.
Of course she could not remain at the school. There would be nothing for her to do here. And Miss Prentice carried her pupils no farther than the grammar grades.
Some of the other girls would begin in the autumn at other and more famous schools—college preparatory schools, and the like. Nancy loved books, and she hoped for a college education, too; dimly, in some way, she hoped to find means of preparing for college. But how? That was the problem.
One noon, as Nancy filed into the long, cool dining room, Miss Prentice, who often stood at the door to review the girls as they filed before her, tapped Nancy on the shoulder.
"My room after luncheon, Miss Nancy," said the principal, severely.
She always spoke severely, so this did not disturb the girl. But the latter was so anxious about her own affairs that she flushed deeply and only played with her food.
Both of these things did not trouble Nancy. In the first place, she was very pretty when she blushed, having an olive complexion and dark, crisp hair which she wore in two plaits down her back. And she was so plump that the loss of luncheon wasn't going to hurt her.
She was glad when the bell rang for the girls to rise and listen to Miss Trigg's murmured "thanks for meat." Then she ran eagerly over to the principal's cottage and found Miss Prentice waiting for her.
"I have heard from Mr. Gordon," began that lady.
"My guardian!" gasped Nancy, clasping her hands.
"I do not know that he is your guardian," responded Miss Prentice, with an admonitory look. "You must remember that he merely pays your fees here."
"Well!" breathed Nancy, trying to contain herself within bounds.
"He asks me to keep you here this summer as before," continued the principal.
"He has made no other plans for tiding you over the summer," went on the very practical lady. "He objects to entering into arrangements with any other person for the brief time between your graduation here and your matriculation at Pinewood Hall in September——"
"Oh, Miss Prentice! Pinewood Hall!" cried Nancy, unable to restrain herself.
She knew all about Pinewood Hall. It was one of the most popular preparatory schools in the Middle West. Nancy had never even dreamed that she would be allowed to attend such a select institution.
"I do wish you would restrain yourself, Nancy," said the principal. "They will think at Pinewood that you have had no proper training here, at all."
"Oh, I beg pardon, Miss Prentice," cried the girl. "I really will try to be a credit to you if I go there."
"I hope so," observed the principal, grimly, and nodded as though she thought this terminated the interview.
"But, Miss Prentice! Is—is that all he says?" queried Nancy, anxiously.
"That you will remain here—if I agree, which I shall; Miss Trigg will look after you—until fall, when you will receive your transportation to Clintondale and will go there, prepared to continue your studies."
"And—noth—ing—more?" sighed Nancy, hopelessly.
"Indeed! What more could you wish?" demanded Miss Prentice, tartly. "It seems to me you are a very fortunate girl indeed. Pinewood! There isn't another girl in the class whose parents can afford to send her to such a fashionable preparatory institution."
"I know, Miss Prentice. I ought to be grateful, I suppose," admitted the girl, wearily. "But—but I did so hope Mr. Gordon would write something about me—about who I am—about what I am going to be in life——"
"I declare!" snapped the principal. "I call this downright ingratitude, Nancy Nelson. Suppose I wrote what you say to Mr. Gordon? And he should in turn transmit my report to—to the people who furnish the money for all this——"
"That's just it! that's just it, Miss Prentice!" wailed the girl, suddenly bursting into tears. "Who furnishes the money? Why do they furnish it? Oh, dear! what have I done that I am treated like a colt to be broken instead of like a girl?"
Miss Prentice was silenced for the moment. She looked down upon the girl's bowed head, and upon the young shoulders heaving with sobs, and a strange expression flitted for the moment across her grim face.
Perhaps never before had the principal of Higbee School looked into Nancy's heart and seen the real tragedy of her young life.
THE BOY IN THE MILLRACE
That summer was much like other summers in Malden. Nancy had been graduated with some honor; but there was nobody to rejoice with her over her success. The school had been crowded on the last day with friends and parents of the other girls; there was not a soul who more than perfunctorily wished Nancy Nelson "good luck."
The neighborhood of Higbee School was very quiet a week after the term closed. The serving force was greatly reduced; most of the big house was closed, and all the cottages. Even Miss Prentice, four days after graduation, started for Europe with a party of teachers, and Miss Trigg and Nancy were left practically alone.
But the orphaned girl had something this summer on which to feed her imagination. She was going to Pinewood Hall. And Pinewood Hall was exclusive, and on the very top wave of popularity.
It cost a lot of money to go to that school, Miss Trigg had suggested to Miss Prentice to remind the lawyer that Nancy would need a more elaborate outfit of gowns, and Mr. Gordon had sent the extra money for that purpose without a word of objection.
The thought had taken root in Nancy's mind at last that she must be somebody of importance. At least, she was an heiress. Whether she owned a single relative, or not, she commanded money. That was something.
Of course, the other girls at Higbee had always looked down upon her and considered her "a charity scholar;" but Nancy believed that at Pinewood Hall she could hold up her head with the best.
Nobody would know her there. She would begin a fresh page of her history. She would make the girls love her for herself; it would not matter there that she had no near relatives. Mr. Henry Gordon, her guardian, must know all about her, and with regard to this gentleman the girl had a very grave determination in her mind—a determination which she did not confide even to Miss Trigg.
Nancy Nelson meant to see and speak with the lawyer before she went to Pinewood Hall.
Whether he wanted to or not, Mr. Gordon must tell her something about herself. If she had relatives living she wanted to know, at least, why they were ashamed of her. Or, if she was merely the ward of an estate, she wanted to know what the estate was—and how big it was.
The girl had thought so much about her equivocal position that her future troubled her. If there was just enough money to give her a college education, she wanted to know it. If she must prepare herself for taking some place at the end of her schooldays in the work-a-day world, she wanted to know that, too.
These were practical thoughts for so young a girl; but Nancy Nelson was practical, despite her imagination.
She had already looked up Clintondale on the map, and upon the railroad time-table. It was half a day's ride east of Malden, and Cincinnati was one of the points where she changed cars.
Although she had never traveled by train herself, Nancy had heard the other girls exchanging experiences, and she knew that she could get a "stop-over" from the conductor of the train.
She had seen one of Mr. Gordon's letters which he had written Miss Prentice; the principal had shown it to her.
At that time the girl had memorized the street and number printed at the top of the lawyer's stiffly-worded communication. She would never forget "No. 714 South Wall Street."
That was the one secret Nancy Nelson kept hidden within her heart all that long summer while she waited with Miss Trigg, the secretary and general utility teacher, for the return of the principal of Higbee School and the beginning of her new life.
Miss Trigg tried to be nice to her; indeed, she was nice to her after a fashion. But Miss Trigg's pleasures were between bookcovers; Nancy Nelson was too healthy a girl not to desire something of a more exciting nature than Roman history or higher mathematics on a long, hot summer afternoon.
That was why she stole away from the deeply absorbed Miss Trigg on one such occasion late in August, when they had ridden out to Granville Park to spend an hour or two in the open.
Granville Park bordered a good-sized pond, dammed at its lower end, where was an old mill site. An automobile road crossed the bridge that had been built here; but the mill had not been in commission for years. It was a quiet and picturesque spot.
Just above the millrace was a quiet pool under the bank where great, fragrant water-lilies floated upon the surface. Those lilies always attracted Nancy. She wished she were a boy. Boys could do so many things forbidden to girls!
She longed to strip off her shoes and stockings and wade into the black water to obtain some of the lilies. She had no idea that, just beyond the little patch of marine plants, the bottom of the pond fell away abruptly, and that a current tugged stoutly for the millrace.
On this particular day, when she had left Miss Trigg reading in her favorite summer-house high on the rocky hill, and Nancy had tripped lightly down to the path that skirted the pond's steep edge, there was a boy doing just what she had so wished to do herself.
He was a good-natured looking boy, with plump cheeks and a mass of light, curly hair that he probably hated, but Nancy thought it made him look "too cute for anything."
He might have been three years her senior, and was a strong, healthy-looking youth.
Nancy stopped in the fringe of bushes and watched him. She saw him pluck several of the long-stemmed beauties, and she wondered, if she showed herself when he came ashore, he would offer her some.
Then she became aware of several voices in the neighborhood—girls' voices. They seemed to be calling to the boy, for once he lifted his shining face and shouted something.
Nancy looked keenly in the direction his eyes took. Through the trees she saw that an automobile stood on the bridge—or right at its beginning. The boy belonged to the automobile party. They had spied the lilies, and he had come down to wade into the pond for them.
Of course he was getting them for the other girls—he would give none to Nancy.
She could see the chauffeur, in his duster and goggles, standing in the road, too. But the girls who chatted so gaily, and shouted to the boy in the water, she could not see at all, try her best.
The lad had now a great bunch of the water-lilies; but the girls above evidently wanted them all. They encouraged him to wade out farther; there were some fine ones on the outer edge of the patch.
"Don't be afraid!" Nancy heard one shrill-voiced girl call. "What's the matter, Bob? Is the water wet?"
"That's all right, Goosey!" said the boy. "But you know well enough I can't swim. And there's a hole here——"
The boy, lilies and all, suddenly went under! His half-strangled cry did not reach the ears of those in the automobile. And it was evident that they could not see the lily patch very well, for they were laughing and chattering without an idea that the boy was in danger.
He came to the surface in a moment. Nancy had only sprung out upon the open path. But it was plain he had told the exact truth when he said he could not swim—and his mouth had been open when he went under that first time.
The boy uttered a sobbing cry and went down again. Nancy knew that the water must be already in his lungs. He was drowning—swiftly and surely—while the current bore him steadily toward the millrace.
How could she help him? Nancy could swim—and swim well. Miss Prentice did not neglect proper outdoor athletics for her girls. She engaged a swimming instructor at one of the big public baths in Malden for two afternoons a week all through the school year.
But the girl very well knew that she could not swim in the swift current of the race. She could not plunge in and aid the drowning boy.
Nor was there anything that she could fling to him—anything that would bear him up until help could come. The bank was so steep and high! For an instant Nancy could only scream, and her sturdy voice drowned immediately the chatter and laughter of the girls in the automobile.
She saw the chauffeur spring down the path toward the bank of the pond and she ran to meet him. For a second time the boy's head appeared above the surface. The hand gripping the great bunch of lilies beat the air; but Nancy saw that his eyes were wide open and that he seemed to have recovered his courage.
Although he could not fight the current, he was trying to get his breath without swallowing any more water.
"The boy'll drown!" gasped the chauffeur, white-faced and helpless.
Nancy could see the side of the automobile more clearly now. Lashed to the running-board was an extra tire, fully inflated. She seized the shaking man by the hand.
"Get a knife! get a knife!" she commanded. "Haven't you a knife?"
"Ye-yes," he gasped, fumbling in his pocket.
"Come on!" she ordered, and ran up the path to the road where the automobile stood.
He came, opening the knife as he ran. The girls in the car were shrieking now. Nancy did not even look at them; it is doubtful if they saw her. She pointed to the tire and the chauffeur understood.
He started to cut the lashings recklessly; but she stopped him with a cry. The stout cord was what she wanted. Quickly she looped it around the tire and he seized it and ran back to the pond's edge.
The imperiled boy was half-way through the race; the brown current curled about him, trying to bear him down.
With a shout the chauffeur threw the tire into the water ahead of the boy. The latter had sufficient presence of mind to seize it, and the chauffeur dragged him toward the bank.
But it was too steep, and the boy was too much exhausted to climb out without help.
"You'll—you'll have to help me!" gasped the boy in the water.
But the man could not both cling to the rope and lend the unfortunate victim of the accident a hand. Nor was there a tree or bush to which he might tie the rope.
The boy had hooked one arm over the improvised life-preserver. But his head had sunk low on his breast. He was almost completely exhausted, and the current, tugging at his legs, must soon sweep him from his insecure hold.
ON THE WAY TO PINEWOOD
For half a minute Nancy Nelson had been inactive. Her quick mind had suggested the way the boy in the millrace might be saved; but the chauffeur of the automobile was the instrument by which the helpless victim's course down the current had been retarded.
But now it looked as though he would be lost, after all. Below the race the water was most boisterous—and there were many jagged rocks. If he was drawn through the race he would be seriously injured on the rocks, if not drowned.
The bright-minded girl saw all this in those few seconds. She scrambled down the steep bank, clutching at the chauffeur's ankle as she went.
"You'll have to hold both of us for a minute!" she cried.
"Go ahead! I understand!" he returned, swaying his body back as he clung to the stout cord, and digging his heels into the bank.
Nancy hung over the swift current and stretched her right hand down to the boy.
"Get hold! Grab me!" she called, gaspingly.
"I—I'll pull you in," he replied, in a strangled tone.
"Do what I tell you!" she cried, angrily.
She flung herself farther out just as his left arm was unhooked from the inflated tire. She seized his wrist; he had presence of mind enough to seize hers in return.
"Let go of the tire!" she sang out to the chauffeur, and he obeyed.
He was a strong young man. As the tire went whirling down the stream he drew them both up the bank—the girl first, clinging with desperation to the wrist of the half-drowned boy.
Wet, spattered, with mud, and exhausted, Nancy got a footing on firm ground once more. The chauffeur grabbed at the boy's other arm, and he was quickly lying on the bank, too.
"It—it almost got me!" gasped the boy.
His face was streaked with mud, and he was altogether a sorry spectacle. But through it all he had clung to the bunch of water-lilies.
"Here! Take 'em!" he panted, thrusting the blooms into Nancy's hand. "You—you're all right! Say! wha-what's your name——"
Nancy heard the other girls coming down the path now. The danger was over and she suddenly realized that she must look a perfect fright.
"N-never mind! Thanks!" she blurted out, and turning sharply, dashed into the cover of the thicket and was almost instantly out of sight—out of sound, as well.
But she was so excited that she did not think again how she looked until she appeared before Miss Trigg.
The short-sighted teacher looked up at her—stared, evidently without identifying her charge for the moment—and then gave voice.
"Nancy! Nancy Nelson! Whatever have you been doing to yourself?"
Nancy had already heard the motor get under way. She knew that the boy and his friends were now out of hearing, or reach.
"Aren't these lilies pretty?" she asked, holding out the flowers as a peace-offering to Miss Trigg.
"What?" screamed the teacher, getting up nimbly, and backing away from the mud-bedaubed figure of the girl. "Your feet are wet! Did—did you dare get into such a mess, just to get those—those weeds?"
Nancy nodded. It was true. Her bedrabblement had been the forerunner of the gift of flowers from the boy.
"Well! of all things!" gasped Miss Trigg.
"I—I believe you've taken leave of your senses. Why—why, whatever will people think of you, going home? We—we can't ride in the car. They wouldn't let you get on. And I'd be ashamed to be seen with you."
"Oh! I'm sorry, Miss Trigg," murmured Nancy.
"Being sorry won't take the mud off that dress—or bring a new pair of stockings—or clean those boots. We've got to have a cab—a closed cab. I wouldn't go home with you in anything else."
"I—I'll go home alone, Miss Trigg," said the contrite girl.
"No! While Miss Prentice is away you shall never again be out of my sight in waking hours—no, Miss! And for a bunch of weeds!"
"Oh Miss Trigg! they are so-o pretty——"
"Don't you say another word!" commanded the teacher. "And you stand right here until I can signal a cab on the drive below. There, there's one now!"
The teacher burst through the bushes and waved madly to a taxi rolling slowly along the macadam below the hill. The driver saw her and stopped.
"Come!" spoke Miss Trigg. "Here! give me those—those things."
She snatched the lilies from Nancy's hand and flung them in the path. The girl looked back at them longingly; but she thought it best to trifle with the teacher no further.
So she followed slowly the gaunt, angry woman down the steep path, and only the memory of the boy's gift remained with her through the rest of the days of that last vacation at Higbee School.
Nancy was in disgrace with Miss Trigg, and was very lonely. She wondered who the boy was—and where he lived—and who the girls were with him—and if he had suffered any bad result from his adventure.
Above all, she wondered if she should ever see him again.
But that was not likely. Miss Prentice came home in a week, and in another week the school would open.
Mr. Gordon had sent the ticket for Nancy's fare to Clintondale. Her modest trunk was packed. Miss Prentice bade her a perfunctory good-bye. It was a cold farewell, indeed, to the only home the girl could remember and in which she had lived for at least three-quarters of her life.
But as the cab which was to take her to the railway station was about to start, Miss Trigg hurried out. She had scarcely recovered from the shock of Nancy's adventure at the millpond; but after all there was a spark of human feeling deep down in the teacher's heart.
"I—I hope you'll do well, Nancy," she stammered. "Do—do keep up well in your studies and be a credit to us. And for mercy's sake don't venture into a pond again after nasty weeds. It's not—not ladylike."
Nancy thought she was going to kiss her. But it had been a long time since Miss Trigg had kissed anybody, and it is doubtful if she really knew how. So she thought better of it, shook hands with Nancy in a mannish way, turned abruptly, and stalked back into the house.
The taxi rolled away, and Nancy winked back the tears. It was not hard. After all, the orphan girl was leaving nothing behind that she really loved.
BEARDING THE LION
Nancy Nelson's hopes ran high. She was going out into a new world—the world of Pinewood Hall. The girls would all be strangers to her there; not one of them would know her history—or, rather, her lack of a history.
But as to the latter, the girl was determined to learn all there was to know about herself before she arrived at Pinewood.
In two hours the train would be in Cincinnati. She had but half an hour—or less—to wait for the train on the other road to Clintondale. But she had studied the time-table and she knew that, by waiting four hours in Cincinnati, she could get another train to her destination.
She was to telegraph back to Miss Prentice when she arrived at Cincinnati. At the same time she was supposed to telegraph ahead to the principal of Pinewood Hall,—Madame Schakael. This had all been arranged beforehand; Nancy had been thoroughly instructed by Miss Prentice.
But the girl had made up her mind not to send the dispatch on to Pinewood Hall until she was ready to leave Cincinnati. There should be no telegraphing back and forth between the two schoolmistresses if she could help it.
In the interim Nancy proposed to find Mr. Gordon's office and have the long-wished-for interview with the man whom she called her guardian. All the guardians she had ever read of seemed to have a much deeper interest in their wards than this lawyer had shown in her.
The cab driver checked her trunk and then spoke a word to the conductor of the train that would take the girl to Cincinnati. But Nancy felt quite independent and "grown up."
She asked the conductor about stopping over at the big city until the later train and he assured her that she would need no stop-over check for that. She spent a good part of the time until she got to Cincinnati inventing speeches which she would make to Mr. Gordon when she reached his office.
She filed the telegram to Miss Prentice as soon as she got off the train; then she checked her handbag at the parcel counter and walked out of the station.
Of course, she had no idea in which direction South Wall Street lay; but she knew a policeman when she saw one, and believed those minions of the law to be fountains of information.
She told the officer exactly what she wanted to do—to go to the lawyer's office and return to the station in time for the afternoon train to Clintondale.
"It's quite a little walk, Miss, and you might get turned around. Suppose I put you into a taxi and take the man's number, and he can bring you back, if you like?"
Nancy had some few dollars in her pocketbook; but she was careful to have the policeman estimate the cost of her cab-ride, which he kindly did. She would have sufficient to pay for this, and a luncheon, as well, if she got back in season. So the girl bravely entered the taxi-cab and was whirled through the unfamiliar streets to the lawyer's office.
Then she began to quake. She was to beard a lion in his den—and she knew very little about lions!
Number 714 South Wall Street was a big office building; there were, too, taxis passing all the time; so Nancy paid off her chauffeur and entered the building with more boldness in her carriage than she really felt in her heart.
She was studying the building directory when the hall-man came to her assistance.
"Who are you looking for, Miss?" he asked.
"Mr. Henry Gordon."
"Gordon? Is that Gordon & Craig, architects?"
"Mr. Gordon is a lawyer."
"Oh! That's Mr. Gordon, of Ambrose, Necker & Boles. Twelve-forty-four. This way, Miss. Number 6—going up!"
She was hustled into the elevator with a crowd of other people and the car almost immediately began to ascend.
"Floor! Floor!" the boy who manipulated the lever kept calling, and the passengers began to thin out rapidly after the fourth floor was passed.
"What floor, Miss?" he snapped at her.
"Mr. Gordon," stammered Nancy, more than a little confused by the rush of it all. "Twelve-forty-four, the—the gentleman said."
"Twelfth! Here you are!" and the car stopped with a jerk while the boy opened the sliding door with a flourish.
"Forty-four, to the right!" advised the youth, and immediately the car shot up the well out of sight.
The clang of the cage-door echoed through the empty corridor. There were rows of doors, with ground-glass panes, all painted in black or gold with the name of firms, or with the single word, "Private."
For a minute Nancy hesitated. Somehow, her ears rang and she had to wink fast to keep back the tears. Yet it was merely nervousness. She knew of no reason why she should be frightened.
Surely her guardian must wish to see her! He probably was a very busy man—perhaps a man without a family. Maybe he lived at a hotel where he could not have his ward come to see him. That was why she had had to spend her vacations heretofore at Malden. Nancy thought of these things, and began to take courage.
She glanced along the corridor. "To the right," the elevator boy had said. She took a few uncertain steps and came opposite Room 1231. Room 1244 must be near.
She persevered, walking almost on tiptoe so as not to awaken the echoes of the lofty corridor, and quickly came before the door numbered 1244. Stenciled upon it was the firm name: "Ambrose, Necker & Boles, Attorneys."
There was nothing about Mr. Gordon. His name did not appear, and she was not sure now that she had reached the goal.
She turned the knob with a flutter at her heart, and stepped into the office. She found herself immediately in a sort of fenced-off stall, with a glass partition on one hand, through which she saw many desks and typewriter tables, at which a score of men and girls were busy.
Directly before her, however, was a gate in the railing and beside the gate—and evidently the Cerberus of the way—was a small, thin boy sitting at a small desk, with his legs wound around his chair legs like immature pythons with blue worsted bodies.
He was supposed to be doing something with a pile of papers and long envelopes; but the truth was he had rigged, with rubber bands, a closely-printed, "smootchy" looking paper-backed storybook before him on the desk, so that on the instant Nancy approached, the rubbers snapped the book back under the desk lid out of sight.
He looked up with little, red-lidded eyes, grinning queerly at her.
"Gee!" he gasped under his breath. "I thought it was the boss." Then aloud he demanded, with hauteur: "Who do you wish to see, lady?"
Now Nancy had not been used to being addressed in so cavalier a manner, and for a moment she did not know how to reply. But in that moment she took a mental picture of the boy that she was not likely to forget.
Besides being diminutive and fleshless, his features were very small and very, very sharp. The generous hand of Nature had sprinkled freckles across his nose. He had lost a front tooth, which fact made his smile perfectly "open."
His watery blue eyes twinkled with mischief. His grin wrinkled up his preternaturally old face in a most remarkable way. His shock of hair was flame-colored—and exactly matched the tie he wore.
"Say!" this youngster said. "You'll know me again; eh? My name's 'Scorch' O'Brien. What's yours?"
"I—I'm Nancy Nelson," confessed the girl, but beginning to smile at him now. He was too funny for anything. "And I've come to see Mr. Gordon."
"Not Old Gudgeon? He never had a lady come to see him before," announced the office boy, explosively. "Sure it's him you want?"
"Mr. Henry Gordon," declared Nancy, in some doubt.
"Henery is his front name," admitted Scorch, rumpling his red top-knot. "But I guess I'd better ask first if he'll have you in."
"Just tell him it's me, please," said Nancy, faintly.
"What did you say the name was, Miss?"
"Nancy Nelson. He'll know. I'm his ward."
"Aw, no! You ain't?"
"Yes, I am," said Nancy, nodding.
"Never knowed he had one. So he is yer guardeen?" grunted the red-haired boy, unwinding his legs.
The girl thought she had chatted quite enough with this very bold youth, so made no further reply.
"Ain't he the sly one?" proceeded "Scorch" O'Brien, shaking his head. "Him a guardeen—an' I never knowed it before."
Evidently the fact that anything of such moment had escaped him rasped the temper of the boy. He went off muttering, and came back again, in a minute, grinning.
"Say! he must have robbed you of the estate. It sure scared him when I announced your name. Never seen him turn a hair before; but he wasn't looking for no 'Nancy Nelson' ter come up and confront him like this."
Nancy, rather offended at this "fresh" youth, swept by him through the gateway and approached the door to which she had seen the flame-haired "Scorch" go in his quest of Mr. Gordon.
Yes! "Mr. Henry Gordon" was painted upon the door. She opened it slowly and looked in.
There was a great, broad table-desk, piled high with books and papers—a veritable wilderness of books and papers. In a broad armchair, with his back to the door, sat "Old Gudgeon," as "Scorch" had disrespectfully called Mr. Henry Gordon.
He was as broad as his chair. Indeed, he seemed to have been forced into it between the arms, by hydraulic pressure. Nancy did not see how he ever could get out of it!
He had enormous shoulders, fairly "humped" with layers of fat. His head was thrust forward as he wrote, and his shaven neck was pink, and bare, and overlapped his collar in a most astonishing way.
"Ahem!" said Nancy, clearing her throat a little. She had come inside and closed the door, and it seemed that Mr. Gordon was giving her no attention.
Then she chanced to look up and, on the wall beyond the desk, was a broad mirror tilted so that the lawyer needed but to raise his eyes to see reflected in the glass all that went on behind him.
And in that glass Nancy got her first glimpse of Henry Gordon's face.
It was really something more than a glimpse. The lawyer was evidently staring at her—had been doing so for some seconds. His great, broad, unwrinkled countenance seemed to have paled on her first appearance, for now the color was washing back into it in a wave of faint pink—a ruddy hue that was natural to so full-bodied a man.
"Come here, girl!"
The voice that rumbled out of Mr. Gordon's throat was commensurate with his bulk. He slowly turned his chair upon its pivot. Trembling, Nancy made her way across the rug to the corner of his desk.
All of a sudden every bit of courage she had plucked up, was swept away. She felt a queer emptiness within her. And in her throat a lump had risen so big that she could not swallow.
NANCY'S CURIOUS EXPERIENCE
Mr. Gordon's eyes were brown. They were heavy-lidded so that Nancy could see very little of their expression. He was a smoothly-shaven man and his thick lips seemed grim.
"You—you are the girl?" demanded the lawyer.
"Yes—yes, sir," she said. "I'm Nancy Nelson."
"What are you doing here? Have you run away?" he shot at her, accentuating the query with a pointed forefinger.
Afterward she realized that that impaling index finger was a gesture of habit—it was his way of "spearing" witnesses in court when they were under fire.
"No, sir," replied Nancy, with more confidence.
"How do you come here, then?"
"I am on my way to Clintondale."
"Pinewood Hall, you know. There—there is a four-hour wait here at Cincinnati, you know."
"I did not know," he rumbled forth. Then, like a flash, he demanded: "Who sent you here?"
This question took the last breath of wind out of Nancy's sails. She had, through it all, believed that he might be glad to see her. But now she realized that the opposite was the truth.
"Nobody sent me," she stammered.
"Not the woman at the other school—Miss—Miss Prentice?"
"No, sir. She does not know. I—I just wanted to see you."
"What for?" he asked, in the same sudden, gruff way.
"I—I thought you might want to see me, too," she hedged. "You—you know guardians usually do want to see their wards."
"Ha! who told you that I was your guardian?"
"No—no one; but you are, sir?" she questioned, fearfully.
"No, Miss. I am not."
"Then—then you only act for my guardian?"
He looked straight at her, and steadily, for several moments, without speaking. Nancy could learn nothing from his expression.
"I do not know that, legally speaking or otherwise, you have a guardian," he finally said.
"Money passes through my hands for your support and schooling. That is all I can tell you. I am not your guardian."
"Oh, but surely!" cried the greatly perturbed girl, "you know something about me?"
"I know what your teachers have reported. They say you are fairly intelligent, remarkably healthy, and quite obedient."
"I consider this a flagrant case of disobedience. Don't let it happen again," pursued Mr. Gordon, sternly.
"But, sir! I cannot help it," cried poor Nancy, the tears now beginning to flow. "I feel sometimes as though I couldn't live unless I learned something about myself—who I am—who my folks were—why I am being educated—who is paying for it, and all——"
"You would better smother your curiosity," interrupted Mr. Gordon, the fat fingers of one hand playing a noiseless tattoo upon the edge of his desk. "I can tell you nothing."
"You are forbidden to tell?" gasped the girl.
"I know nothing, therefore I cannot tell. You came to me anonymously—that is, your identity aside from the name you bear was unknown to me. The money which supports you comes to me anonymously."
"Oh!" The girl's real pain and disappointment were evident even to the case-hardened lawyer. He was silent while she sobbed with her eyes against her coat-sleeve. But no change of expression came into the face that, for long years, he had trained to hide emotion before juries and witnesses.
"I might have refused the task set me years ago when—when I introduced you into Miss Prentice's school," he said, at last. "I might have gone to the authorities and handed you over to them—money and all. To what end? I was assured that no further money would be devoted to your up-keep and education. You would then have had no better chance than that of any foundling in a public charitable institution. Not so nice; eh?"
"Oh!" exclaimed the girl again, looking at him now through her tears.
"So I accepted the responsibility—as I accept many responsibilities in the way of business. It is nothing personal to me. I am paid a certain sum for handling the money devoted to your support. That is all."
The girl asked a strange question—strange for one so young, at least. The thought had stabbed her like a knife:
"What would you do if I should die? How would you tell those—those who send the money?"
If the lawyer hesitated it was but for a moment. And his huge face was a veritable mask.
"I should advertise in the personal column of a certain metropolitan newspaper—that is all," he declared.
"Then—then I'm just nobody, after all?" sighed the girl, wiping her eyes.
"Why—why—I wouldn't say that!" and for the first time a little human note came into Mr. Gordon's voice, and his pink face seemed to become less grim.
"But that's what I am—Miss Nobody from Nowhere. I had no friends at Higbee School because of it; I'll have no standing at Pinewood Hall, either."
"Nonsense! nonsense!" ejaculated Mr. Gordon, tapping his desk again.
"Girls who have homes—and folks—don't want to associate with girls who come from nowhere and don't know anything about themselves."
"Well, well! That's a thought that had never entered my mind," said the lawyer, more to himself than to Nancy.
"You see how it is, sir. I thought there might be an estate, maybe. I thought maybe that, as so much money was being spent for me—I might be of some importance somewhere——"
"Ha!" exclaimed the lawyer, still staring at her.
"But now you say there's nobody—and nothing. Just money comes—comes out of the air for me. And you pass it on. Oh, dear me! it's very mysterious, sir."
He said nothing, but still looked at her.
"And you're not even my guardian! I hoped when I went to Pinewood and the girls began to get curious, I could talk about you," confessed Nancy, plaintively. "I thought maybe, if you even weren't married——"
"Ahem! I am not married," said the lawyer, quickly.
"But, then, if you were truly my guardian, I might come and see you once—or you could come to the school and see me," pursued the girl, wistfully. "But now—now there's nothing—absolutely nothing."
"Now there's nothing," repeated Mr. Gordon, uncompromisingly.
"And the girls at Pinewood Hall will be just like those at Higbee," sighed Nancy.
"How's that?" demanded Mr. Gordon.
"They won't want to associate with me—much. Their mothers won't let them invite me home. For I am a nobody. I heard one lady tell Miss Prentice once that one never knew what might happen if one allowed one's girls to associate with girls who had no family. Of course not. I couldn't blame 'em."
"Ha!" ejaculated Mr. Gordon again.
"You see, my people might have been dreadful criminals—or something," went on Nancy. "It might all come out some day,—and then nice people wouldn't want their girls to have been associated with me."
"Ha!" repeated the lawyer.
"You see how it is; don't you?" explained Nancy, softly. "Miss Prentice would not let the girls write home about me. And when they learned last June that I was going to Pinewood they all thought my folks must really be rich. So that was all right.
"But I thought if I could see you, you would tell me all there was to know about myself—and my people; and that maybe I could talk about my guardian and make it all right with those new girls."
"I've told you all I know," said Mr. Gordon, almost sullenly, it seemed.
"Well, then, I—I guess I'll be going," said Nancy, faintly, and turning from the desk. "I—I'm sorry I bothered you, sir."
"Where are you going?" demanded the lawyer.
"Why—why, to Clintondale, sir."
"Ha! I'll make sure that you get on the right train, at any rate," he said, and pressed a button under the edge of his desk. "Have you had your luncheon?"
"No, sir. Not yet."
He plucked a ten-dollar note out of his vest pocket and thrust it into her hand. "Get your luncheon." The door opened and the red-headed boy looked in. "Pay for 'Scorch's' luncheon, too."
"Ye-es, sir," said Nancy, faintly.
"Scorch!" commanded Mr. Gordon.
"Yessir!" snapped the office boy.
"It's about your lunch hour?"
"Take—take Miss Nancy Nelson to Arrandale's. Afterward take her to the station and put her aboard the right train for Clintondale. Understand?"
Mr. Gordon wheeled back to his desk. He did not even say good-bye to Nancy as Scorch held the door open for her to pass out.
THE UNRIVALED SCORCH
"Say! ain't Old Gudgeon a good one?" murmured the red-headed boy, as he followed Nancy to the gate.
She did not answer. That lump had come back into her throat and she was industriously swallowing it. It seemed to her just then as though it would never be possible for her to eat luncheon at Arrandale's,—wherever that might be.
Scorch caught up his cap and hustled her out of the gate, and out of the main office door, and whistled shrilly to an elevator that was just shooting down.
"Come on, Nancy!" he said, with immense patronage. "We'll have a swell dinner and it takes time to do it. When does your train get away?"
She managed to tell him.
"Golly! we are all right, then. We can talk over the eats, an' you can tell me your troubles and I'll relate the story of my life to you—eh?"
The girl tried to smile at him, for she realized that his chatter was kept up partly for the purpose of covering her disappointment. But Nancy was no baby-girl; by the time the elevator reached the lower floor of the building she had winked back her tears and the ache had gone out of her throat.
"This way, Nancy," said her conductor, cheerfully rushing her through the revolving door to the sidewalk. "There's Arrandale's over yonder. If I'd known I was going to eat at such a swell place to-day I'd have worn my glad rags—good duds, you know."
"You—you look all right," returned Nancy, smiling, for the red-headed boy did indeed have a neat appearance. Somebody took pains to make him spruce when he started for the office in the morning. "I guess you've got some folks?" she questioned.
"Sure. My mother scrubs out the offices. That's how I come by my job. My big sister keeps house for us, an' the kids are in school. Yes! there's folks enough belonging to me. But my father is dead."
"I—I don't know anything about my father or mother—or any of my folks."
"No! Don't old Gordon know?"
"He says not."
"And he's your guardeen?"
Nancy was silent for a moment. But she was a perfectly honest girl and she knew she was allowing Scorch to gain a wrong impression.
"He—he isn't my guardian," she blurted out as they crossed the street.
"Hey? I thought you said he was!"
"And I thought so, then. This is the first time I ever saw him. He says he is not my guardian and that he doesn't know anything about me. He only has money sent to him to spend for me."
"You don't mean it?" cried Scorch, his eyes twinkling. "That's like a story; ain't it? You're the mysterious heiress who doesn't know who she is. That's great!"
"Do you think so?" demanded Nancy, rather warmly. "Well, let me tell you it isn't nice at all."
"Why not?" demanded the romance-loving youth.
"Why.... The girls at school think it's so odd. I'm just Miss Nobody from Nowhere. And they've all got folks."
"Gee!" observed Scorch, getting a new idea of the situation.
They reached the door of the fashionable restaurant and Scorch led the way in with characteristic sang froid. He would have approached a king or an emperor with perfect ease. Nothing ever "feazed" him, as he was wont to boast.
The head-waiter looked a little askance at the red-headed office boy; but Nancy, in her neat outfit, reassured him, and he led them to a table and drew out the chair for the girl.
"Bring us a couple of time-tables so we can pick our eats," ordered Scorch.
"Hush!" commanded Nancy, blushing a little. "Other people will hear you."
"That's what I talk for," declared the unabashed boy.
"Well, now you're going to be a real nice boy while you're with me; aren't you? They might take you for my brother, and I wouldn't want to be ashamed of your manners."
"That's a hot one!" observed Scorch, admiringly. "You're not so slow after all, Nancy."
"Miss Nancy, please," corrected the girl, smiling at him.
"Say! but you are particular."
"I believe you know how to conduct yourself much better than you appear," said the girl, looking at him seriously.
"Discovered!" mocked the red-haired one, grinning. "But it's hard work to be proper."
"Because of my hair."
"I don't see what—what light-colored hair has to do with your manners," confessed Nancy.
"'Light-colored'—I like that!" exclaimed Scorch. "Trying to let me down easy—eh?"
"It's red. Say! nobody's ever let me forget it since I could creep," declared the boy. "I useter lick all the boys I could at Number Six school, an' those that I couldn't lick I throwed stones at. For calling my hair out o' name, I mean."
"I suppose being red-headed is hard," commented Nancy.
"Say! bein' an heiress without no folks ain't in it with being a carrot-top," said Scorch, grinning.
"Don't you think so?"
"The folks in the office began getting fresh right away," went on the boy, earnestly. "Some of the girls that run the typewriters was as bad as the Willy-boys, too. They'd come up and try warming their hands over my head, an' all those back-number jokes.
"So I had ter give 'em better than they sent, or they'd have put it all over me. Men that come in to see the boss, or Old Gordon, or the others, see my fiery top-knot, and they try to crack jokes on me. So I have to crack a few.
"So that's why I act so fresh. Natcherly I'm as tame as though I wore a velvet jacket and curls; it's just havin' to defend myself, that's made me what I am," declared Scorch, shaking his head, mournfully, as he prepared to eat his soup with much gusto.
"Oh, don't!" begged Nancy. "Don't make so much noise."
"That's so! I was thinkin' I was at Joe's, where I us'lly feeds," and the boy proceeded to use his spoon with a proper regard for the niceties of the table.
"There! I knew very well you knew how," said Nancy.
"But it hurts!" exclaimed Scorch, with a wicked grin.
"And that is never your real name?" asked Nancy, after a moment.
"Yes. It refers to your hair, I suppose."
"You're a clairvoyant, lady," said the boy. "I gotter real, sure-'nuff name. But I forget it. My mother don't even remember it any more. But 'Scorch' don't just mean my color. It's because I'm some scorcher," proceeded the boy, with pride.
"There weren't any kids my size or age could outrun me at school—nix! and I won a medal when I worked for the District Telegraph Company. I was the one fast kid that ever rushed flimsies."
"What's that?" demanded Nancy, in wonder.
"Carried telegrams. But I couldn't stop there. The other kids pounded the life pretty near out of me," he said, with perfect seriousness.
"Oh! why were they so mean?"
"'Cause I set 'em all a pace that they couldn't keep up with. So they fired me out of the union, and then the boss fired me because I was always all marred up from fighting the other kids. So I come to work at that law shop."
Under advice from the knowing Scorch, Nancy had ordered the very nicest little luncheon she had ever eaten. And the boy gave evidence of enjoying it even more than she did.
Indeed, her appetite was soon satisfied; but Scorch kept her answering questions about herself; and soon she found that she was being quite as confidential with this red-headed office boy as she ever had been with anybody in her life.
"Say! did it ever strike you that Old Gordon might be stringing you?" demanded Scorch.
His slang puzzled the girl not a little; but the red-headed one explained:
"Suppose he did know all about you and your folks—only he didn't want to tell?"
"Oh, ain't you green?" demanded Scorch. "Don't you see he might be making money out of you? Mebbe there's a pile of money, and he's using only a little for you and putting the rest of it in his pocket?"
"Oh, I don't believe Mr. Gordon would do such an awful thing," gasped Nancy, shaking her head vigorously.
"Well, they do it to heiresses in stories," returned Scorch, doggedly. "And worse."
"But I don't believe it."
"That's all right—that's all right," said the boy. "You're not supposed to believe it. You're the heroine; they never believe anything but what's all nice and proper," urged Scorch. "You lemme alone. I'm goin' to watch Gordon. If he's up to something foxy, I'll find it out. Then I'll write to you. Say! where's this jail they're goin' to put you in?"
"It's no jail," laughed Nancy, immensely amused, after all, by this romantic and slangy youth. "It's a beautiful school. It's Pinewood Hall. It's at Clintondale, on Clinton River. And it's very select."
"Select. It costs a lot of money to go there. The girls are very nice."
"All right. You can get a letter, just the same; can't you?"
"Why—I suppose so. I—I never did receive a letter—not one."
"All right. You'll get one from me," promised Scorch, with assurance. "If I find out anything about Old Gordon that looks like we was on his trail, I'll let you know."
"That's very nice of you," replied Nancy, demurely, but quite amused. "Now, have you finished, Scorch?"
"Full up," declared the youngster. "The gangplank's ashore and we're ready to sail—if we ain't overloaded," and he got up from his chair with apparent difficulty.
Nancy had paid the bill and tipped the waiter. She had a good bit of the ten dollars left to slip back in her pocketbook; but she reserved a crisp dollar-bill where it would be handy.
They had plenty of time to walk to the station, and Nancy was glad to do this. Besides, Scorch declared he needed the exercise.
The red-headed boy was a mixture of good-heartedness and mischievousness that both delighted Nancy and horrified her. He was saucy to policemen, truckmen, and anybody who undertook to treat him carelessly on the street. But he aided his charge very carefully over all the crossings, and once ran back into the middle of the street and held up traffic to pick up an old woman's parcel.
They came to the station, got Nancy's bag, and Scorch insisted upon taking her to the very step of the car. When she shook hands with him Nancy had the banknote ready and she left it in his hand.
Before she got up the steps, however, he ran back, pushed aside the brakeman, and reached her.
"Say! you can't do that," he gasped, his face as red as his hair.
"Do what?" demanded the girl.
"You can't tip me. Say! I ain't the waiter—nor the janitor of the flat. I'm the hero—and the heroine never tips the hero—nix on that!"
The next moment he had thrust the dollar-bill into her hand, jumped down to the platform, and scuttled through the crowd, leaving Nancy with the feeling that she had offended a friend.
When the train pulled out of the station Nancy Nelson noticed for the first time that the sky had become overcast and the clouds threatened rain. Scorch O'Brien, the odd new friend she had made, was so sprightly a soul that she really had not observed the change in the weather.
"Oh! I'd like to have a brother like him," she thought. "I don't care if he is slangy—and fresh. I guess he wouldn't be so if—as he says—everybody didn't try to poke fun at his red hair. And how homely he is!"
She smiled happily over some of Scorch's sayings and his impish doings; so they were some miles on the journey before she began to look about the car.
Her ticket had called for a chair in the parlor-car; and she immediately discovered that she was not the only girl who seemed to be traveling alone.
At least there were half a dozen girls not far from her own age who were chattering together some distance forward of her seat. When the conductor came along he smiled down upon Nancy and asked, as he punched her ticket:
"You going to Pinewood, too?"
"Your first term there?"
"Oh, yes, sir."
"Then you don't know these other girls?" and he nodded to the group further up the car.
"No, sir. Are they going there, too?" asked Nancy, eagerly.
"Yes. I've been carrying a lot of them to Clintondale this week. The Hall opens day after to-morrow. Anybody to meet you, Miss?"
"I telegraphed on from Cincinnati," said Nancy.
"That's all right, then. One of the 'bus men will be on the lookout for you."
"But are those all new girls, too?" asked Nancy, earnestly, as the conductor was about to pass on.
"No. But most of them have been there only one term. That tall girl is named Montgomery. Her father's a State Senator—guess you've heard of Senator Montgomery? Go up and speak to them," and the conductor passed on.
But Nancy did not have the courage to take his advice. She, however, observed the girls with renewed interest.
The tall one—the Montgomery girl—was very richly dressed, and she seemed to think a good deal of what she wore. She was always arranging her gown, and looking in the glass to see if her hat was on straight—and occasionally Nancy caught her powdering her nose.
There was a black-haired girl, too, with very sharp eyes and a lean face, who laughed whenever the Montgomery girl said anything supposed to be funny, and seemed to ape the Senator's daughter in other ways, too. The other girls called her "Cora."
Once Nancy went forward to get a drink of water. She passed the group of her future schoolmates slowly, hoping that some of them would speak to her. But none did, and when she came back down the aisle, the tall girl eyed her with disdain.
Nancy flushed and hurried by; but not too quickly to hear the Montgomery girl say:
"Trying to butt in, I guess."
The girl called Cora laughed shrilly.
"I guess I'm not going to like those girls," sighed Nancy. And then she shivered as she thought of how mean they might be if they ever found out that she was "Miss Nobody from Nowhere."
The rain began to slant across the open fields and trace a pattern upon the broad, thick, glass beside her so that she could no longer see out. Besides, it was growing dark early.
The train passed through towns that seemed all gloomy, smoky brick buildings, or shanties clinging like goats to the sides of high bluffs. A pall of dun vapor hung over these towns, and the lonely Nancy was glad when the train did not stop.
Sometimes they dashed into a tunnel, and a cloud of stifling smoke wrapped the cars about and the cinders rattled against the ventilators and roof.
On and on swept the train, and at last the brakeman, as they left one station, announced:
"Next stop Clintondale!"
Nancy began to gather her things together and put on her coat long before the train slowed down. Then the other girls got ready leisurely, still chatting.
The rain beat harder against the window. It was after seven o'clock. They passed a block-tower with its lights and semaphore. Then the grinding brakes warned her that her destination was at hand.
The end of the wet platform flashed into view. There were dazzling lights, rumbling hand-trucks, and people running about.
As she came to the door of the car—she did not go out by the one chosen by the Senator's daughter and her friends—the roar of voices burst upon her ear:
"Clinton Hotel! This way!"
"Pinewood Hall! This is the 'bus for the school! Pinewood Hall!"
"Carriage, Miss! Private carriage, Miss!"
"Pinewood Hall! Pinewood Hall!"
"Clinton House! Come on, here, you that want the hotel."
"'Bus for Pinewood. That you, Miss Briggs? Going with me? Where's yer check?"
"This way for the school. Pinewood Hall! Hi, there, Jim! Found that other one? Miss Nelson! Miss Nelson! Who's seen Miss Nelson?"
Suddenly Nancy realized that the big man in front of her was roaring her name in stentorian tones.
"Oh, oh!" she gasped. "I'm Miss Nelson."
"All right. Here she is, Jim! Right this way to the 'bus. Where's your check, Miss? All right. Have the trunk and bag up some time to-night—if they are here."
"They should have come on the earlier train," explained Nancy.
"All right. Then you'll git 'em on this load. There's the 'bus, Miss. Yes! there's room for you in there."
The omnibus was backed up against the platform under the hood of the station. There was a crowd of laughing, chattering girls before her in the vehicle.
"Now, Jim! you can't put another livin' soul in this 'bus—you know you can't," cried one, to the driver.
"Boss says so, Miss," growled Jim.
"What do you think we are—sardines? Oh! my foot!" shrieked another girl.
"And she's a greeny, too. Any of you ever see her before?" demanded one of the girls nearest the half-closed door.
"Say! what's your name?" asked another girl, leaning out to speak to Nancy.
Nancy told her.
"She's green—what did I tell you? And we're all sophs here. Say, Freshie! don't you know you don't belong in here?"
"She'll have to ride with you, Jim, on the front seat."
"Now! you know what the Madame would say to that, Miss," growled Jim.
"Here!" interposed Nancy herself. "I don't want to ride with you any more than you seem to want me. But it's raining, and I don't propose to get wet," and she sturdily shouldered her way past the driver and into the 'bus between the knees of the girls on either hand.
"I can stand," she said, grimly.
"But don't stand on my foot, please, Miss!" snapped a girl she was crowding. "Haven't you any feet of your own?"
"Oh, cracky, Bertha! you know she's got to stand somewhere. And your feet——"
"Ouch! who are you shoving?"
"Step forward, please!"
"Plenty of room up front!"
"Why, Belle Macdonald's piled her bags up in the corner and has gone to sleep on 'em!" shrieked somebody from ahead, as the 'bus lurched forward.
Nancy was confused, hurt, and ashamed. The horse splashed through the puddles and the 'bus plunged and shook over the cobbles.
There were few street lights, and such as there were were dim and wavering in the mist and falling rain. She could see nothing of Clintondale, except that huge trees lined the streets.
The girls were cross, or loud. Not one spoke to her kindly. She was shaken about by the 'bus, and scolded by those whom she was forced to trample upon when she lost her footing.
The new girl from Higbee was much depressed. All her pride and satisfaction in being sent to such a popular school as Pinewood had oozed away.
Her experience with Mr. Gordon added to her unhappiness. She had learned nothing by going to him. He had even called her disobedient.
If these girls were a sample of Pinewood Hall pupils, Nancy knew that she had a hard row to hoe ahead of her. And she had not liked the appearance of those other girls in the train, either.
It was a hopeless outlook. She would have cried—only she was ashamed to do so in the sight of these sharp-tongued, quarreling sophomores. Poor Nancy Nelson's introduction to Pinewood Hall seemed a most unfortunate one.
The omnibus lurched through a wide gateway where two huge stone pillars almost hid a tiny lodge, the latter aglow with lamplight. Pinewood had once been a famous private estate, and a Vice-president of the United States had lived in it.
But for many years it had been a girls' school, and Madame Schakael had come from Germany to be its principal. As a little girl she had attended the school herself, Nancy knew, and she had afterward—after being an instructor in college—married a German professor and gone to his country.
He was now dead and Madame had come back to her native land and to her much beloved preparatory school.
The door of the lodge opened and Nancy saw a very neat looking woman with a dark dress and gingham apron standing in the doorway. She waved a hand and her cheerful voice reached the ears of the wrangling girls in the 'bus.
"Welcome, young ladies! Are you all right? Are there any new ones there?"
"We're all sophs but one greeny," called one of the girls. "Glad to see you, Jessie Pease."
"Thank you, Miss. The new one is to go to the Madame at once. That is the order. Let her go before supper."
The driver snapped his whip and the 'bus rumbled on. The drive was winding and the trees soon hid the lighted lodge.
But other bright lamps began to appear ahead. By stooping, as she clung to one of the hand-straps, Nancy was able to descry the outlines of several big buildings—or a huge building with several wings; she did not know which it was, and did not feel like inquiring.
Indeed, after entering the 'bus she had not spoken to the girls at all. Some of them had thrown a question at her now and then, but it had been either an impudent or an unkind one, and she had grimly held her tongue.
At last the 'bus stopped at the foot of a wide flight of steps. A great awning of glass and iron sheltered the porch and steps. Under this burned a bright light, and within the building Nancy could see a great hall with two staircases rising out of it.
This was indeed a very different place from Higbee School, with its cottages and one small recitation hall.
"Come on! You get out first, Greeny," commanded one girl. "You were the last sardine shoved into this awful box. Move; can't you?"
Nancy rescued her bag from under their feet and staggered out of the door of the 'bus. The other girls piled after her.
There were very few on the porch to receive them; boisterousness would not have been allowed here. But there were lights in a long room at one side—Nancy could see them shining through the windows—and a rattle of china and glass, and loud talking and laughter, pointed the way to the dining room.
"But you're on starvation diet, Greeny," said one of the girls, with a malicious laugh. "No dinner for you till you've seen the Madame."
At that moment considerable disturbance was raised over the fact that the 'bus was driving off with one of the girls still in it.
"Let Belle Macdonald out! I told you she was asleep in there," cried one of the sophs, running after the driver through the puddles.
He pulled up and they managed to rouse Miss Macdonald, who was a fat girl with innumerable bags and parcels. She staggered out of the 'bus, dropping sundry of her impedimenta, sleepy and yawning.
"I don't care, girls. I was up all last night at a party at home, and I haven't slept much for a week," she said, heavily. "Come on, Judy. You bring part of my things; will you?"
"Come on in to dinner," said the girl who helped the sleepy one.
"Believe me! I'd be asleep in a minute. I'm going to tumble into bed. Anybody know if Judy and I have got the same old hole-in-the-wall to sleep in?"
"Go up and grab it, anyhow," advised her chum. "I'll bring the rest of these things when I come. And don't fall down in one of the corridors and go fast asleep, Belle, for I'll never be able to drag you off to bed."
They trooped away, leaving Nancy and her bag practically alone on the porch. Nancy had never realized that girls could be so hateful.
But she forgot that these were all sophomores, and the second-year girls and freshmen at Pinewood Hall were as far apart as the poles.
The new girl went timidly into the hall. The chime of distant laughter still came from the room where the new arrivals were eating their evening meal, evidently under little discipline on this first night.
There seemed to be no real "greeny" but herself about. She saw several girls pass and repass at the far end of the hall, and others mounted the staircases; but at first nobody spoke to Nancy.
She was not naturally a timid girl; but all this was strange to her. She faced a row of closed doors upon the side of the corridor opposite the dining place. One of these might be the door of the principal's office; but which one Nancy could not guess.
For five minutes she waited. Then suddenly she was aware of a tall and very dark girl coming down one of the great staircases.
This newcomer must have been eighteen or nineteen—a "big girl" indeed in Nancy's eyes. And such a pretty girl! The "greeny" had never in her life seen so pretty a girl before.
She was dark, her eyes were black, her hair was banded about her head, and her lips were so red that they might have been painted. But her color was natural—cheeks as well as lips. A flashing, cheerful countenance she turned on Nancy, and she said, before she reached the foot of the stairs:
"You're a new girl, I am sure. Hasn't anybody spoken to you? Where do you want to go?"
The mere tone of this girl's voice seemed to change the atmosphere that had so depressed Nancy. That lump was in her throat again, but she could smile at the serene beauty.
"I was told to see Madame Schakael—before having dinner. But I don't know where to find her," confessed Nancy.
"Oh, that's easy," cried the other girl. "I'll show you. What is your name, please?"
Nancy told her.
"I am Corinne Pevay," said the other, pronouncing her name in the French manner. "I am a senior. I hope you will be happy here, Nancy Nelson."
"Thank you!" gasped the younger girl, having hard work now to keep from crying. The kind word moved her more than the neglect of the other girls.
Corinne led the way to one of the doors and opened it composedly. Through a richly furnished anteroom she preceded the new girl and knocked lightly upon another doer.
"Enter!" responded a pleasant voice.
Corinne turned the knob, looked in, said "Good-evening!" brightly, and then stood aside for Nancy to pass her.
"Another newcomer, Madame—Nancy Nelson."
"Come in, too, Corinne," said the pleasant voice.
Nancy passed through and saw the owner of the voice. She was a little lady—a veritable doll-like person. She sat on a high chair at a desk-table, with her tiny feet upon a hassock, for they could not reach the floor.
"Come hither, Nancy Nelson. You are the girl of whom my good friend, Miss Prentice, of the Higbee School, wrote me? I am glad to see you, child," declared Madame Schakael.
Her hair was a silvery gray, but there was a lot of it, and her complexion was as rosy as Nancy's own. She must have passed the half-century mark some time before, but the principal of Pinewood Hall betrayed few marks of the years in her face.
She had shrewd gray eyes, however, and rather heavy brows. Nancy thought at once that no girl would undertake to take advantage of Madame Schakael, despite her diminutive size. Those eyes could see right through shams, and her lips were firm.
She took Nancy's hand and drew the girl around to her side. There she studied the newcomer's face earnestly, and in silence.
"We have here one of the sensitive ones, Corinne," she said, at last, speaking to the senior instead of to Nancy. "But she is 'true blue.' She will make a fine Pinewood girl—yes, yes!
"We will try to make her happy here—though she does not look entirely happy now," and Madame laughed in a quick, low way that pleased the new girl vastly.
"Ah! there she smiles. Nancy Nelson, you look much prettier when you smile—cultivate smiling, therefore. That must be your first lesson here at Pinewood Hall.
"Happiness is born of making other people happy. See if you can't do someone a good turn every day. You'll get along splendidly that way, Nancy.
"Now, as for the lessons—you stood well in your classes at Higbee. You will find it no harder to stand well here, I am sure. I shall expect to hear good reports of you. Classes begin day after to-morrow.
"Meanwhile, make yourself at home about the Hall; learn your way about; get acquainted—especially with the members of your own class. I shall put Nancy Nelson on your side of the Hall, Corinne—the West Side."
"Then I'll take her right up and show her the room. What is it to be, Madame?" asked Corinne, cheerfully.
The principal ran through several pages of a ledger before replying.
"Number 30, West."
"She's chummed with Miss Rathmore, then," said the older girl, quickly.
"Yes. I must break up that clique. Put her with Miss Rathmore. And do see that the child has some dinner; she must be hungry," said the Madame, laughing again.
Then she once more shook Nancy's hand.
"Go with Corinne, dear. If you want to know anything, ask her. Read the rules of the Hall, which you will find framed in your room. If you obey them cheerfully, you can't go far wrong. Good-night, Nancy Nelson! and I hope you will sleep well your first night at Pinewood Hall."
Nancy followed the senior out of the principal's presence, feeling much encouraged. Madame Schakael was so different from Miss Prentice, the principal of the school at which Nancy had lived so many years.
"Isn't she just the sweetest woman you ever met?" demanded Corinne, enthusiastically.
"She is lovely," responded Nancy.
"But she is firm. Don't try to take any advantage of her," laughed the senior. "You will find that she is only doll-like in appearance. She is a very scholarly woman, and she believes strongly in discipline. But she gets effects without dealing out much punishment. You'll learn."
"I hope I won't need to learn her stern side," said Nancy, smiling.
"Well, you seem a sensible kid," said the older girl, patting her on the shoulder. "Come on, now, and have your dinner. Then I'll take you up into our side of the hall."
"I hope I am not taking up your time too much, Miss—Miss Pevay," said Nancy.
"Not at all," laughed the senior. "What is the good of being boss of a 'side' if one has no responsibilities? It's an honor to be captain of the West Side of Pinewood Hall."
"Oh! it must be," agreed Nancy, who thought this beautiful girl a very great person indeed.
They came to the long room in which the tables were set. There were only a few girls in the room. Nancy at once saw the Montgomery girl and her friends at one table, but was glad that Miss Pevay did not approach them.
Indeed, Corinne took her to one of the senior tables where two or three of the older pupils of Pinewood were grouped.
"Here's a little 'greeny' who has come among us hungry," laughed the senior, urging Nancy into a chair and beckoning to one of the waitresses.
The other big girls were kind to the newcomer; but they had interests of their own and what they chatted about was all "Greek" to Nancy Nelson. So she gave her strict attention to the food.
The dinner was nicely served and was much better than the food usually put on the table at Higbee School. By this time Nancy was hungry, and she did full justice to the repast. Meanwhile an occasional brisk fire of conversation between Corinne and her friends penetrated to Nancy's rather confused understanding.
"Are all the nice boys back at Clinton Academy this half, do you know, Corinne?"
"Don't ask me! I can't keep run of all Dr. Dudley's boys," laughed Miss Pevay.
"Well, I hope Bob Endress has come. He's certainly one nice boy," cried another of the seniors.
"Why! he's only a child!" drawled another young lady. "If he is back this fall it is only to begin his junior year."
"I don't care," said Corinne. "He really is a nice boy. I agree with Mary."
"Say! the Montgomery girl told me Bob came near being drowned this summer. What do you know about that?"
"She had all the details, so I guess it's so. He is some sort of a distant relative of hers——"
"I'd want the relationship to be mighty distant if I were Bob," laughed the girl named Mary.
"Quite so," said the teller of the tale. "However, he went automobiling with the Montgomerys through to Chicago. And on the road he fell into some pond, or river, and he can't swim——"
"But he can skate—beautifully," sighed Corinne. "I hope there'll be good skating this winter on Clinton River."
"Me, too! And me! Oh, I adore skating!" were the chorused exclamations from the group.
Corinne now noted that Nancy had finished.
"Come! I've got to stow little 'greeny' away for the night," she said, pinching Nancy's plump cheek. "Come on, kid! It'll soon be bedtime for first-readers."
Nancy did not mind this playful reference to her juvenile state, it was said so pleasantly. She followed Corinne docilely up the broad flight into the west wing of the great building. Once it had been a private residence; but it was big enough to be called a castle.
The rooms on the lower floor had not been much changed when Pinewood Hall became a preparatory school for girls. But above the first story the old partitions had been ripped out and the floors cut up on each side of the main stairways into a single broad, T-shaped corridor and many reasonably spacious bedrooms and studies.
One walked out of the corridor into the studies; the bedrooms were back of these dens, with broad windows, overlooking the beautiful grounds.
On the first dormitory floor were the instructors' rooms, for the most part. One lady teacher only slept on the second floor; above, the seniors and juniors governed their own dormitories. By the time the girls came to their last two years at Pinewood Hall, Madame Schakael believed that they should be governed by honor solely.
The freshies were paired on the first dormitory floor—two girls in each apartment. Number 30, Nancy found, was upon one of the "arms" of the corridor, and a good way from any of the teachers' studies, and from the main stairway.
When Corinne and Nancy came to Number 30 there was nobody in the study or bedroom. The older girl snapped on the electric lights by pushing a button in the wall beside the entrance door.
"Rathmore is your chum," said Corinne, lightly. "I hope you two girls will get on well together. I like to have all the chums live together without friction—for it is easier for me, and easier for the teachers.
"Now, Cora Rathmore has been here half a term already. Some of your class came in last spring so as to take up certain studies to fit them for the beginning of the fall work. I presume, from what Madame Schakael says, that your school was a pretty good one, and that you were brought along farther in your primary and grammar studies than some of the others.
"However, Rathmore knows her way about. She—she's not a bad sort; but she and some of her friends last spring made the former West Side captain considerable trouble.
"So those girls who were bothersome," pursued Corinne, "can't room together again this half. There! that is your side of the room. That's your bed, and your cupboard and locker, and your dressing table. Keep everything neat, Nancy. That's the first commandment at Pinewood Hall. And the other commandments you can read on that framed list," and she pointed to a brief schedule of rules and duties hanging on the wall of the study.
Then the senior put her arm around the new girl and gave her a resounding kiss upon her plump cheek.
"You're a nice little thing, I believe. Good-night!" she said, and ran out of the room.
But she left Nancy Nelson feeling almost as though she had deliberately deceived the senior. Would Corinne Pevay have been so friendly—and kissed her—if she had been aware that Nancy was just "Miss Nobody from Nowhere?"
After a little, however, the new girl opened her handbag and took out her toilet articles and her, nightgown, robe, and slippers. She arranged the brushes, and other things on the dressing table, and hung her robe and gown in their proper place.
It was now nearly nine o'clock. She understood that, during term time, at least, the freshman class were to be in bed at nine; and even the seniors must have their lights out at ten o'clock.
She read the list of rules through carefully. They did not seem hard, or arbitrary. Miss Prentice had been strict, indeed. To Nancy these "commandments" seemed easily kept.
There were two small desks in the room. Nancy examined the one upon her own side of the study and found only stationery, blank books, pencils, and pen and ink. There were no books.
But she ventured to look in the other desk, which was not locked, and saw that here were several text-books, evidently to be studied by the freshmen this first year.
In each book was written the name of Cora Rathmore. It was an erect, angular handwriting, and somehow Nancy drew from it that she would not like the owner of the books.
And yet she wanted to like her. Nancy longed for a real chum. She wished that her suspicions might prove to be unfounded, and that her roommate might be a jolly, open-hearted girl who would like her, and——
"Well! perhaps you don't know that that is my desk?" snapped a voice suddenly, behind her.
Nancy dropped the book, startled. She wheeled to see confronting her, just within the room, the black-eyed, thin-faced girl who had seemed on the train to be Grace Montgomery's chief friend.
"Well! haven't you got anything to say?" demanded the sharp-voiced girl.
"Why, I wondered what our books were going to be like——"
"Now you know. Keep out of my desk hereafter," interposed the other girl. "And please to inform me what you're doing in here, anyway?"
"Why, I—I have been chummed with you—if you are Cora Rathmore," said Nancy.
"You?" shrieked the other. "No! it's not so! I won't have it! I was just going to get my books and go to Grace's room——"
"Oh, I know nothing about that," said Nancy, hastily. "I only know that Miss Pevay brought me to this room and said I must chum with the girl who was here."
"It's not so! I don't believe you!" cried Cora. "And that stuck-up thing,—that French-Canadian smartie!—just did it to be mean. I'm going to Madame——"
Nancy really hoped she would. She hoped with all her heart that it would prove a mistake that Cora Rathmore was chummed with her. She knew very well now that her suspicions had justification in fact. This girl was a most unpleasant roommate.
At that moment the door banged open and another girl came flying in.
"Oh, Cora! have you found out? We can't do it?"
"Found out what?" snapped Cora.
"We can't pick our rooms as we did last spring. Grace has been sent clear over into the other corridor, and is paired with a greeny——Say, who's this?"
"Oh, I don't know!" said Cora, sullenly sitting down. "It's just too mean! I've got to stop here, I suppose."
"And they've taken Belle from me and given me Annie Gibbons," cried the visitor. "And Annie snores—horridly!"
"It's a hateful place," snarled Cora Rathmore.
"I wish my folks hadn't sent me here," groaned the other.
"I'd run away—for half a cent," declared the Rathmore girl.
"Where would you run to?" demanded her friend.
"Anywhere. To the city. I don't care. Pinewood Hall isn't going to be any fun at all, if we can't pair off as we choose."
"Who's your chum?" asked the visitor again, eyeing Nancy, who had returned to her own side of the room and had turned her back to them.
"Oh, I don't know. Some nobody, of course!"
The words cut Nancy to the heart. The very phrase, uttered by chance, was the one she had feared most in coming to Pinewood Hall.
"Oh," thought she, "if they say that of me already, what will they say when they find that I really have no home and no folks?"
"WHO IS SHE, ANYWAY?"
The curfew bell sent the younger girls to their rooms a few moments later; but Cora Rathmore went to bed without speaking to her roommate. And Nancy felt too unhappy herself to try to overcome the other girl's reticence.
The girl from Higbee School had had so many adventures that day that she could not at once go to sleep. She lay awake a long time after Cora's heavy and regular breathing assured her that her companion in Number 30 was in the land of dreams.
She heard the gong at ten which demanded silence and "lights out" of the girls on the upper dormitory floors. Then a list-slippered teacher went through the corridor. After that she went to sleep.
But her own dreams were not very restful. She was hiding something all night long from some creature that had a hundred eyes!
In the morning, when she awoke, she knew that what she had been trying to hide—what she must hide, indeed—was the knowledge that she was "Miss Nobody" from all these eager, inquisitive, perhaps heartless girls.
Nancy had been in the habit of rising early, and she was up and dressed before rising bell at seven. When Cora rolled over sleepily and blinked about the sun-flooded room, she saw Nancy tying her hair-ribbon, being otherwise completely dressed, and she whined:
"Well! I sha'n't like you, Miss. I can see that, plainly. You don't know enough to lie abed and let a fellow sleep."
"I am sure I did not wake you," replied Nancy, composedly. "It was the gong."
"Bah!" grumbled Cora, crawling out of bed.
Nancy had read over the rules again and she knew that from rising bell until breakfast at half-past seven she was free to do as she chose. So, not caring to listen to her roommate's ill-natured remarks, she slipped out and found her way downstairs and out of the building.
It was a clear, warm September morning. The leaves on the distant maples had only just begun to turn. The lawns before Pinewood Hall were beautiful. Behind and on both sides of the great main building was the grove of huge pine trees that gave the place its name.
Beautifully smooth, pebbled paths led through this grove in several directions. Nancy chanced upon one that led to the gymnasium and swimming pool. There were tennis and basketball courts, and other means of athletic enjoyment.
Down the easy slope, from the top of the knoll where the gym. stood, flowed the wide, quiet Clinton River, with a pennant snapping in the morning breeze on the staff a-top the school boathouse.
"Oh, this is the most beautiful place!" thought Nancy. "What a perfectly lovely time I should have here if only the girls liked me. I must make them like me. That's what I've got to do."
She saw only two or three other girls about the grounds, and those at a distance. As she ran back to the main building, however, that structure began to hum with life. More than anything else did Pinewood Hall remind Nancy of a great beehive.
Many of the bedroom windows were wide open now; the more or less tousled heads of girls in all stages of dressing appeared, and disappeared again, at these windows. They called back and forth to each other; laughter rang happily from many of the dormitories; the waking life of the great school seemed, to the lonely girl, very charming indeed.