BEATRICE LEIGH AT COLLEGE
A Story for Girls
JULIA A. SCHWARTZ
* * * * * *
A SONG-CALENDAR BY A. L. C.
"When blood of autumn Runs warm and red In all the branches Over head— Sing clear bright sunshine, And tender haze, Sing glad beginning Of College Days!
"When pines and spruces Are bowed with snow, When ponds are frozen And keen winds blow— Sing cozy corners Or jingling sleighs, Sing work or frolic Of College Days!
"When comes sweet April, With soft slow rain, And earth has broken Her frozen chain— Sing low shy birdnotes, And woodland ways, Sing mirth and music Of College Days!
"When June days linger, And warm winds blow O'er fields of daisies Adrift like snow— Sing sad leave-takings And tender praise Of all the mem'ries Of College Days!"
* * * * * *
Cordial acknowledgment is due to the editors of the Youth's Companion for their courteous permission to reprint in the following chapters of college life the episodes entitled respectively "Wanted: a Friend," and "Her Freshman Valentine."
* * * * * *
BEATRICE LEIGH AT COLLEGE
A Story for Girls
JULIA A. SCHWARTZ
Author of "Elinor's College Career" etc.
Illustrated by Eva M. Nagel
The Penn Publishing Company Philadelphia MCMVII
Copyright 1907 by the Penn Publishing Company
CHAPTER PAGE I Bea's Roommate 9 II Enter Robbie Belle 35 III A Question of Economy 59 IV Her Freshman Valentines 81 V The Giftie Gie Us 92 VI A Wave of Reform 115 VII Four Sophomores and a Dog 145 VIII Classes in Manners 172 IX This Vain Show 198 X Consequences 214 XI A Girl to Have Friends 231 XII An Original in Math 255 XIII Just This Once 283 XIV Classmates 299 XV Victory 321
PAGE SHE HID HER FACE AGAINST MARTHA'S DRESS Frontispiece Lila Stood Staring Out at the Snow 28 "Anything New?" 73 "Oh, Thank You; I Don't Want Anything to Eat" 96 We Handed Over Five Dollars Apiece 201 She Waved an Open Letter In Her Hand 276 She Held Both Hands, Smiling 301
BEATRICE LEIGH AT COLLEGE
Lila Allan went to college in the hope of finding an intimate friend at last. Her mother at home waited anxiously for her earliest letters, and devoured them in eager haste to discover some hint of success in the search; for being a wise woman she knew her own daughter, and understood the difficulty as well as the necessity of the case.
The first letter was written on the day of arrival. It contained a frantic appeal for enough money to buy her ticket home immediately, because she had a lonesome room away up in the north tower, and nobody had spoken to her all the afternoon, and her trunk had not come yet, and she did not know where the dining-room was, and the corridors were full of packing-boxes with lids scattered around, and girls were hurrying to and fro with step-ladders and kissing each other and running to hug each other, and everything.
The second letter, written the following day, said that a freshman named Beatrice Leigh had come up to help her unpack. Beatrice had a long braid too, and her hair was the loveliest auburn and curled around her face, and she laughed a good deal. Lila had noticed her the very first evening. She was sitting at one of the tables in the middle of the big dining-room. When Lila saw her, she was giggling with her head bent down and her napkin over her eyes, while the other girls at that table smiled amused smiles. Lila knew instantly that this poor freshman had done something dreadful, and she was sorry for her. Later that same evening in Miss Merriam's room she told how she had marched in to dinner alone and plumped down at that table among all those seniors. She seemed to consider it a joke, but Lila was sure she had been almost mortified to death when she learned of her mistake, and that was why she had laughed so hard. Several other freshmen were at Miss Merriam's. Two of them were named Roberta, and one was named Gertrude something. But Lila liked Beatrice best. Miss Merriam called her Bea. Miss Merriam was a junior who had invited in all the students at that end of the corridor to drink chocolate. Lila did not care for her much, because she had a loud voice and tipped back in her chair and said yep for yes.
The third missive was only a postal card bearing a properly telegraphic communication to the effect that it was Saturday morning, and Bea was waiting to escort her to the chapel to hear read the lists of freshman names assigned to each recitation section. Mrs. Allan scanned the message with a quick throb of pleasure; then sighed as she laid it down. The indications were hopeful enough if only Lila would be careful not to drive away this friend as she had the others.
Meanwhile on that Saturday morning Bea and Lila, silent and shy, had crowded with their two hundred classmates into chapel. The two friends sat side by side. Lila was in terror of making some horrible blunder that might overwhelm her with a vast indefinite disgrace. She leaned forward in the pew, the pencil trembling between her fingers, the blood pounding in her ears, while from the platform in front a cool voice read on evenly through page after page of names. And then at last the tragic despair of finding that she had jotted down herself for two sections in English and none in Latin! When she managed to gasp out the awful situation in Bea's ear, that young person looked worried for full half a minute. It was a very serious thing to be a freshman. Then her cheery common sense came to the rescue.
"Never mind. We'll go up and look the lists over after she has finished them all."
"Oh, can we? Will you truly go with me?" Lila drew a quick breath of relief and gratitude. This was one of the precious privileges of having found a friend. She gazed at Bea with such an adorable half-wistful, half-joyful smile on her delicate face that Bea never quite forgot the sensation of realizing that it was meant wholly for her. The memory of it returned again and again in later days when Lila's exacting ways seemed beyond endurance. For Lila's nature was one of those that give all and demand all and suffer in a myriad mysterious ways.
On the afternoon of that Saturday when Bea skipped up the narrow tower stairs to invite Lila to go to the orchard to gather a scrapbasket full of apples, she discovered the door locked. In answer to her lively rat-tattoo and gay call over the transom, she heard the key turn.
Bea started to dash in; then after one glance stopped and fumbled uneasily with the knob. In her happy-go-lucky childhood with many brothers and sisters at home, tears had always an embarrassing effect.
"Let's—let's go to the orchard," she stammered. "It's lovely, and the fresh air will help your—your headache." She had a boyish notion that anybody would prefer to excuse heavy eyes by calling it headache rather than tears.
Lila pointed to the bed which was half made up.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she demanded in agonized reproach. "I thought the maids attended to the beds here. I left the mattress turned over the foot all day long, and the door was wide open. Everybody in the neighborhood must have looked in and then decided that I was lazy and shiftless. They believe that I have been brought up to let things go undone like that. They do, they do! Miss Merriam just the same as said so. She poked in her head a minute ago and said, 'Heigho, little one, time to make up your bed. It has aired long enough and the maid is not expected to do it.' She said that to me! Oh, I hate her!" Lila caught her breath hard.
Bea opened her candid eyes wider in astonished curiosity. "But didn't you want to know about the maid?"
"She mortified me. Do you know how it feels to be mortified? The—the awfulness—" Lila stopped and swallowed once or twice as if something stuck in her throat. "She might have told me in a different manner so as not to wound me so heartlessly. She isn't a lady."
"Please." Bea twirled the door-knob in worried protest. "Don't talk that way. She is my friend. We live in the same town. She's nice, really. You've only seen the outside. Please!"
"Oh, well!" Lila raised her shoulders slightly. "She isn't worth noticing, I dare say. Such people never are. I can't help wishing that you were not acquainted with her. I want you all to myself. I'm glad she belongs to another class anyhow."
Into Bea's puzzled face crept a troubled expression. "You're a funny girl, Lila," she said; "let's go to the orchard."
On their way across the campus, they passed countless girls hurrying from building to building. Every doorway seemed to blossom with a chattering group, a loitering pair, or an energetic single lady on pressing business bent. Bea met every glance with a look of bright friendliness in her eager eyes and lips ready to smile, no matter whether she had ever been introduced or not. But Lila's wild-flower face, in spite of its lovely tints and outlines, seemed almost icy in its expression of haughty criticism. No wonder, then, that this miniature world of college reflected a different countenance to each.
"Aren't they the dearest, sweetest girls you ever saw!" exclaimed Bea as the two freshmen turned from the curving concrete walk into the road that led to the orchard.
"I saw only one who was truly beautiful," commented her companion. "I expected to find them prettier."
"Oh, but they are so interesting," protested Bea in quick loyalty. "Nearly everybody appears prettier after you get acquainted. I've noticed that myself. It is better to dawn than to dazzle, don't you think? Sue Merriam, for instance, improves and grows nicer and nicer after you know her. You will learn to love her dearly."
At the tone Bea gave an involuntary whistle; then checked herself at sight of Lila's quivering lips. "Oh, well, don't bother. Let's go on to the orchard. Look! There comes Roberta Abbott with about a bushel of russets. She is a funny girl too. To judge from her appearance, you would say she was sad and dignified. She has the most tragic dark eyes and mouth. But just wait till you hear her talk. Didn't you meet her last night at Sue's?"
"Yes." Lila turned away to hide the flicker of jealousy, for she had learned long since how transparently every emotion showed in her features. "I think we ought not to waste any time now. And anyway I'd rather get acquainted with you all alone this afternoon."
Bea stared. "You're the funniest girl!" She walked on after waving a sociable hand at Roberta. "It is interesting to have friends that are different, don't you think?"
"To have one friend who is different," corrected Lila.
"All right," laughed Bea. "Oh, see what a gorgeous glorious place this is, with the trees and scarlet woodbine and the lake sparkling away over there, and girls, girls, girls! But I don't believe that there is a single other one exactly like you."
During the next week this thought recurred to her more than once. By means of some diplomatic maneuvering, the two friends managed to have their single rooms exchanged for a double. After moving in, Lila seized a moment of solitude to plan a beautiful cozy corner for Bea. She dragged her own desk into a dusky recess and set Bea's at an artistic angle at the left side of the sunniest window. Just as she was hanging her favorite picture above it, Bea came rushing in with her arms full of new books.
"Oh, no, no, no!" she exclaimed impulsively, "that won't do at all. You must put it at the right so that the light will fall over the left shoulder. Otherwise the shadow of your hand will go scrambling over the paper ahead of your pen. Here, let me show you."
By the time she had hauled the desk across to its new position, Lila had vanished. Bea found her huddled in a woe-begone heap behind the wardrobe door in her bedroom, and flew to her in dismay.
"Oh, Lila, dearie, did you smash your finger or drop something on your foot? There, don't cry. I'll get the witch-hazel and arnica and court-plaster. What is it? Where? Why-ee!" she gasped bewildered, "why, Lila!" for her weeping roommate had pushed her gently away and turned her face to the wall.
"I was doing it for you," she sobbed. "I was trying to please you, and then you were so cr-cr-cruel! You were cruel."
"Cruel?" echoed Bea, "why, how? I haven't done a thing except buy the books I ordered last week. Yours were down in the office, too, but I didn't have enough money for all, because Sue Merriam borrowed four dollars. She asked after you and said——" Bea hesitated, smitten with novel doubt that she ought to begin to think three times before speaking once where such a sensitive person was concerned.
Lila sat up in swift attention and winked away her tears. "Said what?"
"Oh, nothing much." Bea wriggled. "Just talking."
"Oh, well, it doesn't signify. I was only thinking——" Bea paused again before blurting out. "She said that roommates are good for the character."
At this Lila rose with such an air of patient endurance that poor Bea felt clumsy, remorseful, injured and perplexed simultaneously. A cloud of resentful silence hovered over them both through the weary hours of the afternoon. Not until the ten o'clock gong sent the echoes booming through the deserted corridors, did Lila break down in a storm of weeping that terrified Bea. She found herself begging pardon, apologizing, caressing, explaining and repenting wholesale of rudeness about the desk, of selfish neglect in the case of the books, of disloyalty in giving ear to Miss Merriam's gratuitous comments. This gale blew over, leaving one girl with darker circles under her eyes and a more pathetic droop at the corners of her mouth, leaving the other with a fellow feeling for any unfortunate bull who happens to get into a china shop, intentionally or otherwise. Life at college promised to be like walking over exceedingly thin ice every day and all day long.
And yet, after she had learned to make allowances for the oversensitiveness, Bea found Lila more lovable and winning week by week. She was philosopher enough to recognize the fact that every one has the "defects of his qualities." The very quality that sent Lila hurrying up-stairs in an agony of mortification because a senior had forgotten to bow to her, was the one that inclined her to enter into Bea's varying moods with exquisite responsiveness. It was delightful to have a friend who was ever ready to answer gayety with gayety and sober thoughts with sympathy. Indeed, when Lila was not wrapped up in her own suffering, she could not be surpassed in the priceless gift of sympathy. For the sake of that, much might be forgiven.
Much but not everything. Just before the midyear examinations came a crisis in the growth of their friendship. One afternoon Lila reached the head of the stairs barely in time to make a sudden swerve out of Miss Merriam's breezy path.
"Heigho, Eliza Allan," she called in careless teasing, "why don't you spell your name the way it is in the catalogue? More dignified, I think. By the way, I've been into your room and left some burned cork for your chapter play. We had more than we needed last night. By-bye."
Lila walked on in frosty silence. By-bye, indeed! And to address her as Eliza, too, on this very afternoon when she had as much as she could bear anyhow. To hear her essay read aloud and criticised before the class, and then to have it handed to her across the desk, so that anybody could see the awful REWRITE in red ink scrawled on the outside! To be sure, all the essays had been distributed at the same time, and nobody knew for sure that hers had been the one read aloud. Still they might have seen the name on it or noticed how red and pale she turned, or something. And worse still, the examinations were coming soon, and she was sure she would fail. If it were not for leaving Bea, she would go home that night. She certainly would!
As she entered, Bea looked up brightly from the cardboard which she was cutting into squares.
"Here you are!" she exclaimed in cheery greeting, though her eyes had shadowed instantly at sight of the unhappy drooping of every line. "Sue Merriam has been in to show me how to make you up for the play next month. It takes quite an artistic touch to darken the brows and touch up the lashes. Catch these corks and put them away. They're messing up my dinner-cards."
Lila's shoulders quivered as if pricked by a spur even while she mechanically caught the bits of black and fumbled them in her fingers.
"She meant that my brows are too thin and my lashes too light. I would thank her to keep her criticism until it is called for."
For half a minute Bea kept her head down while her chest heaved over a sigh of weary anticipation. Then she turned with an affectionate query: "What has happened now, Lila? Tell me, dear."
Upon hearing about the affair of the essay, she expostulated consolingly, "Of course that is no disgrace. She is severe with all the girls, tears their essays into strips and empties the red ink over them. She doesn't mean it personally, you know. How can we learn anything if nobody corrects our mistakes? Anyway it was an honor to have it read aloud. Very likely the girls did not see the REWRITE. She never bothers much with the utterly hopeless papers. Come, cheer up! The red ink was a compliment."
"Do you really think so?" Lila smiled a little doubtfully. "It sounds like one of the sophists—'to make the worse appear the better reason.' I'd love to believe it, and you are sweet to me." She laid one arm caressingly across Bea's shoulders. "It is queer that I don't mind more when you scold me so outrageously."
"Scold you?" repeated the other in amazement at such a description of her soothing speech.
Lila nodded. "I never stood it from anybody else. Maybe it is because you are my special dearest friend. That is why I came to college, you know. At home the girls disappointed me. There were several in the high school who might have been my friends if they had been different from what they were. Ena Brownell and I were inseparable for weeks till one morning she went off with another girl instead of waiting for me on the corner, though I had telephoned that I would meet her there. Even if I was a few minutes late, she would have waited if she had really cared. I cried myself to sleep every night for a long time but I never forgave her."
"Um-m-m," muttered Bea, her head again bent over the cardboard, "how horrid! See, isn't this a lovely daisy I'm drawing? They're to be dinner cards for my next spread. This is for your place."
"It's sweet. I think you are the most talented girl in the class." Lila stooped for a hug but carefully so as not to interfere with the growth of the silvery petals. "There was another girl, and her name was Daisy. She seemed perfect till I discovered that she prized her own vanity more highly than my happiness. She refused to take gym work the third hour when I was obliged to have it. She said the shower bath spoiled the wave in her hair, and so she chose the sixth hour class. Yet she knew very well that I had Latin at that period. I don't care for that selfish kind of friendship, do you?"
"Um-m, no!" Bea's brush dropped an impatient splash of yellow in the heart of the flower. Then she glanced up with a penitent smile.
"You're so awfully loyal yourself, Lila," she said. "You try to measure everybody up to that standard. I shan't forget that day in hygiene when you declined to answer the question that floored me. It was like that poem about the girl who wouldn't spell a word that the boy had missed, because she hated to go above him. And at the tennis tournament you wouldn't leave till I had finished the match, though you shivered and shook in the frosty October air. You do a lot for me, and I am downright ashamed sometimes. See, behold the completed posy!"
"It is too pretty for a mere dinner card." Lila dropped into a rattan chair and idly tossed the corks from hand to hand. "Aren't you planning a long time ahead? Your family knows exactly what to send in a box. That last was the most delicious thing! I suppose we'll just ask our crowd of freshmen, Berta and Gertrude and the rest."
Lila's eyes were so intent upon the dancing corks that she failed to note the swift glance which Bea darted in her direction.
"Um-m-m," she said cautiously, "I think I might like an upper class girl or two. Some of them have been awfully kind to me this year. Sue Merriam escorted me to the first Hall Play, and she proposed our names for Alpha, and on her birthday she asked me to sit at her table and meet some seniors as an invited guest. She said the "invited" with such a thump on it that my heart almost broke. Isn't she the greatest tease?"
"It was mostly due to her that I came to college," continued Bea with an effort to speak naturally though her fingers shook the least bit in their grasp of the brush, and one anxious eye was watching Lila's face. "I've known her all my life. She persuaded the family to send me, and she tutored me last summer and helped in a million different ways. You don't understand how much I owe her. It is such a little thing to invite her to my—to our party. I'd love to do it, Lila."
Still no answer. The silence lengthened out minute after minute. Finally Bea ventured to raise her head and hold up another card for inspection. "See, a new daisy, but this one has a different disposition. Do you observe the expression—sort of grinning and cheerful? This is like Sue, while the first one is like you, an earnest young person, not one bit impudent. See it, lady. The dearest flower-face. I love it."
"And yet"—Lila's voice sounded choked, "you want to invite her to the party. You know it will spoil my pleasure. You—know—I—hate—her."
Bea's frame trembled once in a nervous shiver. Her fascinated eyes followed Lila to the window, where she stood staring out at the dazzling winter world of snow.
"You must choose between Susan Merriam and me. I have a right to demand it. I have a right. I have a right."
Bea saw Lila lift her arm as if to brush away the tears. Then one hand fumbled for her handkerchief, while the other squeezed the burned corks with unconscious force. She was certainly wiping her eyes.
"You must—you must—choose to-day—between Susan Merriam and me. If you choose her, I shall never speak to you again. If you choose me, you must have nothing to do with her. Nothing! You must drop her acquaintance. You cannot have both."
Bea suddenly tipped back in her chair, teetered to and fro for a frantic moment, then brought it down with a bump on all four feet.
"Nonsense!" she snapped.
Lila stood motionless so long that Bea had time to notice the ticking of her watch. Then she turned slowly around from the window.
"And this is friendsh——"
"Oh!" squealed Bea, "oh, oh, oh! Ha, ha, ha!" Flinging her arms out over the desk she buried her face upon them and shook with uncontrollable laughter.
Lila crimsoned to her hair, then went white with anger. Without a word she walked into her own room and locked the door.
Half an hour later when she rose from the bed and began to pour out a basinful of water to bathe her smarting eyes, she heard a rustle on the threshold. Glancing quickly around she saw a square of white paper being thrust beneath the door. It was a letter from home on the five o'clock mail. Lila picked it up and opened it listlessly. The fit of weeping had left her exhausted.
"My darling daughter," she read,
"This is a hasty note to say that your great aunt Sarah is on her way east, and will stop at the college for a day's visit with you. I wish to caution you, dear girl, against even the semblance of a slight in your treatment of her. Do not forget to inquire after Gyp the terrier, Rex the angora cat, Dandy the parrot, and Ellen the maid. Your aunt is exceedingly sensitive about such small attentions. You might invite your friends to meet her at afternoon tea, and if you can manage it tactfully you might warn them not to discuss topics with which she is unacquainted. She has, as you know, a very peculiar disposition. The least suspicion of neglect or hint of criticism exasperates her beyond endurance. In her childhood she suffered continually because of this oversensitive nature. I suspect that she made no effort to conquer the fault. Indeed so far as I may judge from her present attitude, she has always considered it a proof of superior delicacy and refinement. She has cherished her selfishness instead of fighting it. As a consequence her life has been embittered and unspeakably lonely. I believe that she has not a friend on earth except her pets, and even Gyp has learned not to frisk with joy at sight of anybody but his mistress.
"I am sure I may trust you, dear, to make her visit as happy as possible, although in truth it seems irony to speak of real happiness in connection with such a temperament. You may not be aware that even your Aunt Sarah was once the heroine of a romance. He was an extraordinarily fine man, and she would have found happiness with him, if with anybody. But one day in the rush of an important law-suit, he forgot to keep an engagement with her, and she never forgave the slight. After that disappointment—and it was a grievous disappointment, however self-inflicted—especially grievous to such an expert in self-torture—her nature grew rapidly and steadily more self-absorbed and unlovely.
"My darling little daughter, sometimes I have feared that you may have inherited a similar tendency. It has been difficult, dearest, to guide aright where even the slightest word of criticism stings and burns and lashes. You, more than many girls, need the discipline of wisest, frankest friendship with others of your own age. I see that during your high school days I did wrong in trying to supply their place to you with my own companionship. A child, however precious, cannot be forever kept wrapped in cotton-wool.
"So, dearest daughter, you will understand how joyful I am this year in hearing of your new friends. Don't let them slip away through any fault of yours. Whatever is worth winning is worth keeping, even at the cost of many a sacrifice of foolish pride.
"When you see your aunt, be sure to remember me to her.
"With a heart full of love, "Mother."
Lila read the letter, replaced it in the envelope, and walking across the little room threw herself again face downward on the bed. After a while the dressing-gong whirred its tidings through the corridors. Lila slid to her feet and began to walk mechanically toward the mirror.
"But Bea laughed. She laughed at me. Mother doesn't know that Bea laughed. And I thought she was my friend." Lila felt another sob come tearing up toward her throat and clenched her teeth in the struggle to choke it back. Blinded by a rush of fresh tears, she opened the top drawer of the bureau and felt for her brush with groping fingers.
"She laughed right in my face. I—I—could have forgiven everything else. But—but mother doesn't know that Bea in-insulted me. She—laughed—right—in—my——"
Then through the blur Lila happened to catch sight of her reflection in the looking-glass. The last sob broke off sheer in the middle, and left her with her lips still parted in an unfinished quiver.
The horrified face that stared back at her from the mirror was striped and rayed with startling streaks of black. The astonished eyes shone out from white circles framed in ebony sunbursts; the nose was like an islet washed by jetty waves; the mouth slowly widened under a fiercely upcurved line of inky hue.
In the study on the other side of the door, remorseful Bea was wearing several paths in their best rug, as she waited for some sign. Suddenly a new sound welled up and she bent her head to listen, in quick dread of another storm of weeping. But, no! This was different. It was not a sob, though it did seem rather gaspy. It bubbled and chuckled. It was laughter.
"Lila!" cried Bea, and made a dash toward the room. Lila flung open the door.
"Bea!" she answered, "I am going to give a tea for my Aunt Sarah. Do you think Sue Merriam will come if I invite her?"
ENTER ROBBIE BELLE
Now it happened one evening in the early fall, while Bea and Lila were learning to live together, that the Students' Association held a meeting to appoint corridor wardens for the year.
In the throng that came pouring out of chapel afterward, Bea, who had an eel-like rapidity in gliding through crowds, found herself at the doors some yards in advance of Lila. Halting to wait in the vestibule, she overheard a junior instructing a new freshman officer in her duties.
"It is very simple. Oh, no, Miss Sanders, no, indeed! There is nothing meddlesome about it. You're not expected to spy upon the girls in your neighborhood. The aim is merely to preserve a certain degree of quiet. Girls are often thoughtless about being noisy in the corridors. Simply remind them now and then in flagrant cases that they are disturbing those who wish to study. Of course you must be tactful, though it is rarely that a student wilfully disregards the rights of others."
Bea peered around the edge of her particular door in order to catch a glimpse of this freshman so distinguished. It was the tall, fair-faced child with the splendid long braid, who lived at the end of Berta's transverse. Now the sweet mouth was drooping disconsolately, and the big eyes looked dewy with anxious tears.
"I—I don't think I'd like to," she said.
"Oh, but it is something that must be done, and you have been selected as the one in that vicinity who strikes us as best fitted for the duties of the position. It is really, you know, a case of public service. Every one at some time or other ought to be willing to make sacrifices of personal desires for the good of the community, don't you think? But forgive me for preaching. I didn't mean to. By the way, how do you like college, Miss Sanders?"
"It isn't so much fun as I had expected," said she. Bea's head popped around the door again. The junior was smiling with an air of amused superiority.
"Ah, yes, I understand. Probably you used to have a sister or cousin at college, and from her letters you supposed that the life was composed chiefly of dancing, fudges and basket-ball with a little work sandwiched in between. Is it not so? And now——"
"I don't mind the work," here Bea's head popped out a third time to contemplate this interesting classmate, "but——"
"Beatrice," called Lila at her other ear, "Berta says to hurry or we'll miss the best of the fun. It's to be a sheet-and-pillow-case party to-morrow, and a lot of the girls are coming in to learn how to do the draping. Berta has an idea. Come along quick!"
Robbie Belle Sanders stared after them wistfully. "Those girls live near me," she said, "they have fun all the time."
The junior's keen glance spied in the open countenance something that kept her lingering a moment longer. "This is a democratic place," she said in a more sympathetic tone, "every girl finds her own level sooner or later. The basis is not money or social rank of the families at home. It is not brains or clothes or stuff like that. It is simply that the same kind of girls drift together. They're congenial. It seems to be a law. A general law, you understand. Of course," she hesitated for an instant before being spurred on by her sense of scrupulous honesty, "there are exceptions. Once in a while a girl fails to find her special niche. Maybe she rooms off the campus and is not thrown in contact with her own kind. She may be abnormally shy—that hinders her from making friends. Or perhaps she does something that queers herself first thing."
"Queers herself?" echoed Robbie Belle, "how does a person queer herself?"
"Oh, I don't know." She paused to reflect. "She does outlandish things. And still it isn't what she does so much as what she is. Her acts express her character. If her character is queer, she behaves queerly, and the others fight shy of her. After all, I dare say she does find her own level, and there is nobody else there. So she goes along solitary through the four years."
Robbie Belle looked frightened. "I wish I knew what things are queer," she said.
"Oh, being different from the other girls, for instance, awfully different, so different that everybody notices it. Not just original, you know, but actually queer. Watch the girls, particularly those who always go around alone, and you'll learn. Good-night, Miss Sanders. I must congratulate you again on the honor of being appointed freshman warden. Good-night."
Robbie Belle walked slowly down the corridor to her room. "I wonder if I am queer," she thought. "I am almost always alone." She halted before a door that displayed a small square of white paper pinned in the middle of its upper half. Robbie Belle, her hand on the knob, regarded the sign hopelessly. "If you have a roommate who never takes down her ENGAGED, and she doesn't like company and she won't go anywhere with you herself, maybe you can't help being queer."
Robbie Belle entered softly. It was a large room and seemed quite bare because of the absence of curtains, rugs, and cushions. The unsociable roommate was sitting beside the centre table, her elbows propped on its shiny surface that was innocent of any cover and ignorant of the duster. A green shade over her eyes connected a blur of nondescript hair with a rather long nose beneath which a pair of pale lips in the glow of the drop-light was rapidly gabbling over some lines in Greek scansion.
Without looking up, she waved one hand forbiddingly; and Robbie Belle obediently shut her mouth over the few words that were ready to be uttered in greeting. She stood waiting in her tracks, so to speak, until the final hexameter had wailed out its drawling length, and Miss Cutter pushed back the green shade.
"Well," she demanded, "what was the important business before the meeting? I could not spare valuable time for self-government foolishness to-night."
"They appointed corridor wardens," answered Robbie Belle.
"Oh, indeed! It is certainly time, I must say. In theory it is all very well to make the rules a matter of honor, but when you happen to live in a nest of girls who behave as if they were six years old, I insist that something more forcible than chapel admonitions is required. Who is the warden for this neighborhood?"
"I am," said Robbie Belle.
"You are!" Miss Cutter pushed the green shade farther up on her high forehead. "Well, I must say!" She surveyed her roommate with new interest. "How exceedingly extraordinary!"
Robbie shifted her weight to the other foot. "I didn't want to be," she said.
"No, of course not, and you nothing but a child yourself. It must be your height and that grave way you have of staring. With that baby-face, couldn't they see that your dignity is all on the outside?"
Robbie said nothing, but if Miss Cutter had not been quite so near-sighted she might have spied deep in the violet eyes a glint of black remotely resembling anger.
"Think of appealing to a sixteen-year-old infant—really you are literally in-fans, which is to say, one without the power of speech! Fancy me applying to you to compel quiet in the halls! Imagine that boisterous crowd trailing after Miss Abbott and Miss Leigh et al.—Hist!" She lifted her head like a warhorse sniffing battle near. "There they are now."
Robbie Belle lifted her head too and listened, although indeed the noise would have penetrated to the most inattentive ears. A multitude of feet were marching lock-step past the door to a chorus of giggling, stifled squeals and groans, while at intervals a voice choking with emotion rose in shrill accents: "There was an old woman all skin and bones, o-o-oh!" When it faltered and collapsed on the o-o-oh, the other voices joined in and dragged out the syllable to lugubrious and harrowing length. Then some one giggled hysterically and another squealed. The soloist took up the verse: "She went to the church to pray, o-o-oh!" The chorus wailed and moaned and croaked and whimpered and groaned in concert. Miss Cutter regarded Robbie Belle sternly.
Robbie Belle's shoulders rose and fell over a deep breath. She stepped across to the door and closed the transom softly just as the next weird line hissed out above the tumult and then sank into its smothering welter and moan of vowels. Robbie spoke more loudly.
"One of them said that they were going to dress up in sheets and pillow-cases to-night. They are practicing for the Hallowe'en party. It's only fun."
Berta's voice—it was Berta who did the solo—here rose in a quavering shriek that halted not for keys in their holes or transoms in their sockets: "The worms crawled in and the worms crawled out, o-o-o-oh!"
Miss Cutter rose to her indignant feet. "Roberta Sanders, as you are the corridor warden for this neighborhood, I appeal to you. I make formal complaint——"
"They've gone." Robbie Belle smiled in relief and sat down rather quickly. The lock-step had receded into the muffled distance and the ear-splitting wail wafted back in tones that grew steadily fainter.
Miss Cutter took off her glasses, rubbed them bright, put them on again, and contemplated Robbie Belle.
"I do believe that you would rather I suffered than that they became offended with you. You are afraid to rebuke them."
Robbie's eyes fell and the guilty color rose slowly through the delicate skin of throat and brow. But Miss Cutter did not see it. She had pulled down the green shade and propping her elbows in their former position had returned to her scansion. She had wasted too much time already.
Conscience-smitten Robbie Belle slid silently through the door and stood at loss for a minute in the deserted corridor. It was Friday night. Nobody studied on Friday night except girls who were queer or who roomed with superior special students like Miss Cutter. On her first day at college Miss Cutter had remarked that there might be a vacant seat of congenial minds for Robbie at her table. Somehow the grave young freshman who was hoping for fun failed to find them satisfying. She had not won a real friend yet, and here it was the end of October.
Robbie Belle was not conceited enough to feel sorry for herself, or else she might have perceived a certain pathos in that listless journey of a lonely child from her worse than solitary room to the deadly quiet of the library. One of the hilarious ghosts who were weaving spells under the evergreens happened to glance in through a great softly shining window and recognized the drooping head above a long deserted table between the shelves of books.
"There's our noble warden," whispered Bea, "studying on Friday night! Looks like a dig as well as a prig, n'est-ce-pas?"
Berta's eager dark face grew sober under the swathing folds of her pillow-case. "Maybe it isn't her fault," she said.
But Robbie Belle unaware of this precious drop of sympathy plodded through an essay on Intellect, wrote out a laborious analysis, and at the stroke of the nine-thirty gong crept reluctantly back to her room. The next morning she translated her Latin, committed a geometrical demonstration to a faithful memory, consumed a silent luncheon amid a dizzying cross-fire of psychological arguments, walked around the garden, through the pines and over the orchard hill for a scrupulously full hour of exercise, read her physiology notes, and composed one page of her weekly theme before dinner time. After dinner she stood in a corner of Parlor J and watched the dancing. Then she went to chapel with Miss Cutter, returned alone in haste to dress in the concealing sheet and pillow case. It was rather difficult to manage the drapery without aid, especially in the back and at the sides. The strange junior who had chosen Robbie's name from the class list and undertaken to escort her to the party found awaiting her a rumpled young ghost with raiment that sagged and bagged quite distressingly in unexpected places. But the eyes that shone from between the crooked bands of white were joyous with excitement. In this disguise she was sure that no one would recognize her; and so of course they would not know that she was queer, and perhaps she would have fun at last.
And at first it really seemed as if she would. Imagine a big gymnasium with jack-o'-lanterns on the rafters and a blazing wood-fire in the wide fireplace, and five hundred figures in white circling and mingling among the shadows, and at least a thousand sticks of candy, and three big dish-pans full of peanuts, and gallons and gallons of red lemonade. When her escort proposed that they should go up-stairs to look in upon the seniors and sophomores who were having a country dance, Robbie Belle moistened her lips and said, "If you please, don't wait for me. I enjoy it so much here." Then at the junior's formal, "Oh, certainly, Miss Sanders!" she remembered that often people did not understand her unless she used a bothersome number of words. So she added hastily, "I mean that you must go with your own friends and leave me here, because I am watching some girls I know, and I want to speak to them. Please don't trouble any more about me, thank you."
"I do know them," she assured herself as her escort disappeared, "and I do want to speak to them even if they don't know me. I think"—she hesitated and turned quite pale at the prospect of such daring, "I think I shall go and play with them. They will suppose I am one of them. Nobody will know."
At this point the file of impudent ghosts, headed by Berta, who looked unusually tall and still angular under her flowing sheet, paraded past Robbie Belle's corner, their elbows flapping like wings. With a gasp for courage she took one step forward and found herself prancing along at the end of the line.
It was such fun! Robbie Belle had shot up to an annoying stature so comparatively early in life that her romping days seemed to have broken short off in the middle. She had never had enough of tag and hide-and-seek and coasting. She hated long skirts. Indeed that was one reason why she longed to join the enviable circle of freshmen around Berta: they wore golf skirts all day long, except when hockey called for the gymnasium costume or bicycling demanded its appropriate array. The reason why she liked Miss Abbott best of course was because her name was Roberta, too.
On this Hallowe'en, in joyous faith in her disguise, she forgot her height and breadth and the dignity imposed thereby. And anyhow Berta Abbott was just as tall, if not of such stately proportions. So Robbie Belle with exulting zest in the frolic raced up-stairs and down with the mischievous band of freshmen. They skipped saucily around members of the faculty, chased appreciative juniors, frightened the smallest forms into scuttling flight, and gave their great performance of "There was an old woman all skin and bones," in the middle of the upper hall, where the seniors were entertaining the sophomores.
It was fun to howl. It was so long since Robbie Belle had grown up that she had almost forgotten the joy of using her lungs to their full capacity. With her spirits dancing in the afterglow of such vocal exercise, she marched after the others down to the hall below. There in the vestibule Berta halted her followers for final instructions.
"Now, girls, fall into line according to height. We are going to astonish——Why!" She fixed two amazed dark eyes upon the tallest, "who are you?"
Robbie Belle heard; she felt her heart shriveling within her; her shoulders seemed to shrink together; her head drooped. Then turning away slowly she moved toward the gymnasium apartment, a loose corner of her robe trailing at her abashed heels. But she did not escape swiftly enough to avoid catching the sound of hisses.
"Ha! an interloper!"
"Hist! ye false intruder!"
"Seize him! To the shambles!"
"To the guillotine! Ho, brothers! pursue!"
That made Robbie Belle flee so fast that she was able to take refuge behind Prexie himself while the vengeful furies withdrew to a respectful distance. That night when she was shaking her pillow back into its case Robbie noticed some damp spots amid its creases. A few minutes later she laid her head down on it and proceeded to create some more. There was only one comfort in the throng of scorching reflections: this was that it had not been Berta's voice that had called her an intruder. Perhaps Berta did not think she had done something so awfully wicked after all.
This faint hope infused more dreadful bitterness into the incident that happened in mathematics C on Monday. Anybody would have believed that Berta was offended past forgiveness. She sat next to Robbie. She was not very well prepared that morning, possibly in consequence of Saturday's excitement. The instructor was more than usually curt and crisp with an unsmiling sternness that struck terror to palpitating freshman hearts. In the middle of the hour Berta became aware that a problem was traveling rapidly down the row toward her; and she had not been paying attention. She had not even noticed the statement of it, for it had started at an apparently safe distance from her seat. Turning with a swift motion of the lips she asked Robbie Belle to tell her. And Robbie Belle—how she longed to tell it! It had almost leaped from her lips while conscience reasoned wildly against it as deceit. It would not be honest. And yet—and yet—the girls would think she was queer. They would say she was mean and priggish, for she might have told Berta as easily as not.
There! the third girl from Berta was trying to explain her own ignorance and failing brilliantly. Now the second was stammering through a transparent bluff. Berta had settled back, coolly resigned to fate. How she must suffer, after having stooped to ask for aid! Poor Robbie Belle! Poor, lonely, disappointed Robbie Belle! For strange to say she flunked too and the question journeyed on triumphantly to the mathematical prodigy at the end of the row.
In the corridor outside Berta exerted her nimble self to overtake Miss Sanders, who was sidling away in a strikingly unprincesslike manner, her eyes shifting guiltily.
"So you didn't know the answer either? Wasn't that the biggest joke on me! And really, Miss Sanders, I beg your pardon for asking. It popped out before I could gather my wits. I am scared to death in that class, though of course that is no excuse for sponging. I'm glad you didn't know it enough to tell me after all."
Robbie Belle lifted the lashes from her flushed cheeks. "I—I did know it," she said with a gulp.
"Oh!" said Berta, and stared, "how—how peculiar!"
Robbie Belle held back the tears till she had reached her room, seized her hat and snatched her thickest veil. Then she fled to the loneliest walk among the pines. Her veil was a rarity that rendered her an object of curiosity to everybody she passed on the way. But she hurried on, somewhat comforted by the conviction that no one could mark her reddened eyelids. In truth she had good need of comfort, for Berta Abbott herself had said that she was peculiar. And peculiar meant queer!
That evening Robbie sat down to study for the Latin test announced for the next day. Miss Cutter was studying, too, harder than ever. The green shade was pulled so fiercely forward that a fringe of hair stood up in a crown where the elastic had rumpled it. Her grammar, lexicon and text-book occupied most of the table, but Robbie did not complain. She could manage very well by laying her books, one on the open face of another, in her lap. For once she was grateful that an ENGAGED sign shielded them from interruptions, for Latin was her shakiest subject, especially the rules of indirect discourse. The instructor had warned the class that this weak spot was to be the point of attack. If Robbie Belle should not succeed in drumming the rules into her head before the ideas in it began to spin around and around in their usual dizzy fashion when she waxed sleepy, she might just as well stay away from the recitation room. Or better perhaps, for in absence there was a possibility of both doubt and hope: hope on Robbie Belle's part that she might have been able to answer the questions if she had been there, on the teacher's part doubt concerning the exact extent of the pupil's knowledge.
At the end of the corridor just outside their door a narrow stairway led to the north tower rooms on the floor above. Beatrice Leigh and Lila Allan and a number of their liveliest friends lived up there on the fifth, with Berta Abbott at the foot of the stairs near Robbie's place of abode.
Just as Robbie's usually serene brow was puckering its hardest over the sequence of tenses, a door banged open in the tower and the stairs creaked under swift clatter of feet—a dozen at the very least.
Miss Cutter scowled beneath the green shade; Robbie Belle could tell that from the way the fringe of upright hair vibrated.
"Savages!" she muttered, "they'll tear the building to pieces. No wonder the newspapers report that the college girl's favorite mode of locomotion is sliding down the banisters."
"No," said Robbie Belle, "not that. They take hold of the railing and jump several steps at a time. I've seen them. Miss Leigh says she does it for exercise."
"And this also is exercise!" Miss Cutter clutched her ears as a tornado swept past their threshold.
Robbie bent to listen anxiously. "They're going to the ice-cooler," she said, "pretty soon they will go back again."
"Yes," said Miss Cutter as she rose and moved toward the door, "they will doubtless go back, and doubtless also they shall go in a different manner."
Then she went out and remonstrated briefly but to the point. Whereupon the culprits apologized with noble profusion and tiptoed their way to the stairs. This would have been an admirable proof of repentance if their heels had not persisted in coming down on the bare boards in very loud clicks at very short intervals. And every click was greeted by a reproving chorus of "Sh-sh-sh!"
The instant they reached the hall above, pandemonium broke loose. To judge from the sounds, they were playing blindman's buff with scampering of heavy shoes, scraping of chairs, banging against walls, flopping on mattresses. Even reluctant Robbie Belle looked upward in fear that the ceiling might fall. When a deputation of wild eyed sophomores from an adjacent study arrived to protest against a continuation of the outrage, the shrinking corridor-warden had no loophole for escape from her duty. Outwardly calm, inwardly quivering, she mounted the stairs to expostulate on behalf of the Students' Association for Self-Government.
When the peace officer reached the foot of the flight, the noise sank abruptly into a silent scurrying—on unadulterated tiptoes this time. When she appeared at the top, she beheld the tower hall deserted, every door shut and a suspiciously profound stillness reigning in the dimly lighted Paradise of fun. Ah! she drew a breath of relief from away down in her boots. Surely now she had performed her duty. Nobody could expect her to find fault after the disturbance had ceased. Now the girls below would be at liberty to study in peace.
Barely had she completed her hurried descent before the strange silence above was shattered suddenly by the simultaneous banging of seven doors. Seven full-lunged voices burst forth into a howling song, while twice as many feet thumped and tapped and pranced and pounded in the mazes of an extemporaneous jig.
Robbie Belle halted instantly, with a quick lift of her head. Her nostrils quivered. Her violet eyes snapped black. Her hands clenched. Turning swiftly she mounted the stairs once more. But this time she was angry. The uproar was an insult to the authority of the Students' Association. She forgot for the minute all about shy Robbie Belle.
And the mischievous freshmen above—the flippant fun-loving irresponsible six-year-old freshmen—they waited ready to meet the warden with an impudent burst of revelry, and thus to dash her official dignity from its exasperating estate. When they saw Robbie Belle's face they simply stared. They listened in silence to the few rapid words that stung and burned and smarted. They watched her depart, her head still held at its angle of wrathful justice. Then they looked at one another.
They could not see how, when once safely in the haven of her room, she broke down utterly and lay trembling and sobbing in Miss Cutter's astonished arms. Now at last she had surely committed an unpardonable offense against the only girls for whom she cared in the whole collegeful—especially Berta. Now Berta would be certain she was queer.
Meanwhile in the tower, Berta drew a long breath and glanced around at her dismayed and sobered companions.
"The more I see of that girl," she said, "the better I like her. And we have been awfully silly—that's a fact. The next time I see her I shall tell her so too. Now suppose we go and do a little studying our own selves."
Somehow or other before Thanksgiving Day, Robbie Belle Sanders had ceased to be disappointed in college. With Berta for a dearest friend and Miss Cutter withdrawn to a more congenial neighborhood, she was finding it even more fun than she had expected.
A QUESTION OF ECONOMY
"I LOVE music myself," said Robbie Belle, lifting serene eyes from her porridge, "but to-day is Thanksgiving Day."
"Oh!" sighed Berta, as she clasped her hands—those thin nervous hands with the long fingers that Robbie Belle admired all the more for their contrast with her own dimpled ones, "think of hearing Caruso and Sembrich together in grand opera! I could walk all the way on my knees."
"What!" cried Robbie Belle in wide-eyed astonishment, her spoon half way to her mouth, "walk seventy miles! And miss the Dinner?"
The graduate fellow at the head of their table looked quite sad as she nodded her pretty head, though to be sure her napkin was hiding her lips.
"Why!" gasped Robbie Belle, freshman, "but Dinner is to begin at three and last till almost six. And we are going to have salted almonds and nesselrode pudding and raw oysters and chocolate peppermints and turkey and sherbet and macaroons and nuts and celery and Brussels sprouts and everything. We are painting the place-cards this morning and one is for you. It is a shame for you to sacrifice it just to hear grand opera, Miss Bonner. Are you really intending to take the nine o'clock train?"
Again the fellow nodded. Robbie Belle's wondering gaze rested a moment on Berta's gypsy face alight now with an intensity of longing. Deliberately depositing her spoon on one side of her saucer and her buttered bit of roll on the other she devoted her entire attention to this marvel.
"I cannot understand," she said clearly, "it is only singing. And to-day is Thanksgiving Day. It comes once a year."
Miss Bonner brushed her napkin across her mouth rather hurriedly and excused herself from the table. Robbie Belle watched her retreating down the long vista of the dining-room.
"Would you honestly choose to go with her if you could, Berta?" she asked, "grand opera is only something to see and hear and then it is all over."
"Oh, Robbie Belle!" groaned Berta, "how about the Dinner? That is only something to eat, and then it is all over too."
"Why don't you go if you want to?" inquired Robbie Belle as she reflectively picked up her roll again. "We can invite somebody else to take your place at the table. Bea and Lila are going to the hothouse for smilax and chrysanthemums."
"Why don't I go?" Berta leaned back and drew a long and melancholy sigh from the bottom of her boots. "Girls," she turned to the others who were still lingering over their breakfast, "she asks why I don't go to hear grand opera. And it costs two dollars railroad fare even on a commutation ticket, and seats are three dollars up, and I have precisely thirty-seven cents to last me till Christmas."
"Oh," commented Robbie Belle repentantly, "I didn't think. I'd love to pay for all of you, only I haven't any money either."
Berta clutched at her heart and bent double in a bow of gratitude unspeakable. Robbie Belle continued to stare at her thoughtfully. "If you truly want to, Berta, we might save up and go to the opera some other day. I'm willing."
"Willing! Dear child! Willing! Behold how she immolates herself upon the altar of friendship! She is willing to go to grand opera and sit listening to sweet sounds from dawn to dark——"
"Oh, Berta!" interrupting in alarm, "not from dawn to dark really? How about——"
"Luncheon?" the other caught up the sentence tragically. "Ah, no, but calm thyself, dear one. Be serene—as usual. There is an intermission for luncheon. We could go to a restaurant. It would be a restaurant with a vinegar cruet in the centre of the table and plates of thick bread at each end and lovely little oyster crackers for the soup. Perhaps if you had two dollars extra you might order terrapin."
"And pickles," put in Bea generously, "with striped ice-cream."
"And angel food with chocolate frosting an inch thick," contributed Lila.
"It's a long time till spring," said Robbie Belle regretfully, "but very likely we will need all that while to save it up."
As it turned out, they did need all that while to save it up. For beauty-loving Berta with her eternally slim purse and hopelessly meagre account-book, the plan at first seemed only a vision of the moment. Nobody can save out of nothing, can she? Robbie Belle, however, had a stubborn fashion of clinging to an idea when once it became fixed. Her ideas, furthermore, were apt to be clean-cut and definite. This is how she reasoned it out:
If a girl receives five dollars a month from home to pay for books and postage and incidentals, she is entitled to whatever she saves from the allowance. Every time this girl refrains from writing a letter, she has really saved two cents or the value of the stamp, to say nothing of the paper. Whenever she walks down town instead of riding, she has a right to the nickel to add to the fund in the back of her top bureau drawer. If she buys a ten-cent fountain-pen instead of a dollar one, she virtually earns ninety cents. If she rents a grammar for twenty-five cents instead of paying one dollar and a half for a new book, she is a thrifty person who deserves the difference. Every time she declines—mournfully—to drop in at the restaurant for dinner with a crowd of friends, or refuses to join in a waffle-supper, Dutch treat, she is so much nearer being a melancholy and noble capitalist.
"Yes, that's all right for you," assented Berta airily when told of this working theory, "but supposing you don't have the money to save in the first place? I fail to receive five dollars a month from home or even one dollar invariably; and I always walk to town and never enter the restaurant except to wait while you save ten cents by buying half a pound of caramels when you want to buy a whole pound."
"They're forty cents a pound, Berta," objected scrupulous Robbie Belle. "I really saved twenty cents yesterday, you see."
"Ah, of course, how distressingly inaccurate of me. And I also—I saved five dollars and fourteen cents by using my wash-stand for a writing-table instead of buying that bargain desk for four dollars and ninety-eight cents. The extra fifteen was saved on the inkwell I did not buy either. I say, Robbie Belle Sanders, let's save the entire sum by denying ourselves that set of Browning we saw last week."
Robbie Belle looked grieved. "You always make fun of everything. You act as if you didn't care."
Berta turned away for a minute, and stood gazing from the window of her little tower room. The window was small and high, but the view was wide and wonderful toward the purple hills in the west. At length she said something under her breath. Robbie Belle heard it and understood. It was only, "I'm afraid."
Robbie Belle knew that Berta was afraid of caring too much. She had listened once in twilight confidence under the pines to the story of how Berta had been all ready to start for college three years before, when a sudden family misfortune changed her plans and condemned her to immediate teaching. In the bitterness of her disappointment she had vowed never to set her heart on any plan again.
Walking over to Berta's side Robbie Belle took the listless hand in both her comforting ones.
"Even if we shouldn't manage it this year, you know, we could try again next year. We might earn something extra during the summer."
"Next year!" echoed Berta under her breath. "I can't count on next year—I dare not. You do not understand, for your scholarship is certain through the course, while mine depends on what Prexie thinks I am worth. I am under the eye of the faculty. Don't talk about next year. I am pretending that this is the last time I shall be here in October, then in November, then in December. I look at everything—the lake, the trees, the girls, the teachers, the dear, dear library, and say, 'Good-bye! Good-bye, my college year.' They may not help me to come back, you know. If I really try not to expect it, I will not be disappointed in any case. Of course, I am not worth four hundred dollars to them. I am afraid to hope for it."
"Why, you are the brightest student here. Bea says so and you know it!" exclaimed Robbie Belle indignantly; "there isn't any question about your being granted another scholarship when you apply for it next spring. They weigh everything—intellect, personality, character, conduct. Never you fear. If they give only one scholarship in the whole college, it shall be to you. You are superstitious: you fancy that if you do your best to expect the worst, the best will happen, because it is always the unexpected that happens. Only of course, that isn't true at all."
Berta was smiling mistily around into the fair face. "Dear old Robbie Belle! Will Shakespeare was right—'there's flattery in friendship'—it makes me rejoice. The trouble, you see, sweetheart, lies in my character. I misdoubt me that Prexie will spurn my plea if he hears how often we have a meeting of the fudge club at a tax of two cents per head. Let's save up that two cents for the Opera fund."
Robbie Belle drew a deep sigh. "All right," she agreed with a doleful glance toward the particular blue plate in which she was accustomed to pour her share of the delicacy. "Anyway the doctor calls fudge an 'abomination.' Bea will scold because she hates scrimping. But then she doesn't care so much as we do for music unless it is convenient."
Berta's contributions were the result of more active exertions than the other's passive self-denial. She sat up one night till two o'clock to dress a doll. Every fall a few hundred dolls were distributed to be dressed by the girls for the Christmas tree at the Settlement House in the city. Some of the students took dolls and paid other girls to make the clothes. Berta earned a dollar by helping Bea with the three which that impulsive young woman had rashly undertaken. In February she composed valentines and sold them to over-busy maidens who felt unequal to rhyming in the reaction after the midyear examinations. In March she painted Easter eggs and in April she arranged pots of growing ferns and flowers from the woods. By May the fund was complete and the tickets were bought.
As the longed-for event drew nearer, Berta made a string of paper dolls and joyfully tore off one for each passing day.
At last the morning dawned. Robbie Belle was dreaming that she had fallen asleep in fifth hour Latin. It seemed as if the instructor called her name and then came walking down from the platform, thump, thump, thump, in her broad-soled shoes. It was unladylike to thump so heavily, thought Robbie Belle in the midst of her confused dismay over having lost the place in the text as well as forgotten the translation. The thumping sharpened to a rat-tat-tat upon the bedroom door.
"Robbie Belle, Robbie Belle, you lazybones! The night watchman has knocked twice already. Get up, get up this instant! We're going to hear Grand Opera to-day! O-o-ooh!"
Robbie Belle lifted her head to listen. "Berta Abbott, you've got a chill. I hear you shivering. Hurry into your clothes this minute. I'll bring you the quinine."
Quinine! Berta shivering from excitement laughed softly to herself. Dear old Robbie Belle! Quinine on this wonderful day! Listen! That was the twittering of swallows under the eaves. A squirrel peered in at her window, his bright eyes twinkling. It was too bad that he did not enjoy music. But perhaps he did after all. Hark! that was a robin. And listen! There sounded the full-throated whistle of a brown thrush. The world was ringing with music—beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! And she was going to hear Grand Opera to-day! That had been her most precious dream next to coming to college. To come to college and to hear Grand Opera too!
"My cup runneth over! My cup runneth over," she chanted softly to herself, while from Robbie Belle's room rose a faint noise of deliberate dressing, subdued splashing, slow steps, a rustling that was almost methodical in its rhythm.
"Berta," she announced, appearing with hat set straight and firm over her smooth dark hair, her coat over one arm, her umbrella neatly strapped, "I think I shall carry my Horace, for it is a two-hours' ride, and to-day is Saturday and after Sunday comes Monday."
Berta clapped her hands over her ears, "Go away, go away to your breakfast, miserable creature! Horace! that worldly wise old Roman! With the river before your eyes, the beautiful river in May!"
"The next ode begins, 'O Fons Bandusiae!'—a fountain, you understand," protested Robbie Belle in injured tones, "he loved the country. I wanted to read it aloud to you and get in my practice on scansion that way. I am learning to do it quite well. Listen! 'Splendidior vitro-o-o,'" she declaimed, dragging out the syllables to lugubrious length.
"Dear Robbie Belle," murmured Berta pleasantly, "if you breathe one line of that stuff on this journey I shall throw you into the river myself—cheerfully." She nodded vigorous approval of her own sentiments, and her contrary hair seized the opportunity to tumble down again in resentment of impatient fingers. "Oh, Robbie Belle, come and twist this up for me, won't you? We shall be late for the train. I don't believe we care for breakfast anyhow."
"Not care for breakfast!" Robbie Belle shut her mouth determinedly. She walked over to the wardrobe, pinned Berta's hat securely on the fly-away hair, caught up her jacket, tucked the tickets into her own pocket, and sternly marched her scatter-brained friend out of the room and down the corridor.
"It's gone to her head," she muttered sadly as if communing with herself, "the idea of music has gone to her head. I must address her soothingly. Yes, yes, we're going—we're going soon, don't worry. But we're a-going clothed and in our right mind—mine at least, and fed."
On tiptoe they flitted down to the big empty dining-room. A special breakfast was being served to the dozen or more students who intended to take the early train to the city. The unaccustomed stillness in the vast apartment usually vibrating with clatter of dishes and chatter of tongues seemed dreamlike to Berta in her exalted mood. Robbie Belle found it necessary to exert her firmest authority in order to get Berta to eat even a roll and swallow a cup of chocolate.
Two of the seniors who were going shopping lamented that they had neglected to apply for opera tickets until the house had been sold out. Berta gazed at them pityingly. To have the money and to be in the city, and yet not to be able to go! Why hadn't they thought of it in time? She had anticipated it years in advance. This world was full of queer people—all sorts of people who did not care for music, and even some who did not care for books. Wasn't it the strangest thing—not to care!
When somebody consulting her watch announced that the special electric car was to leave the Lodge Gates for the station in seven minutes, Berta dropped spoon and napkin in eager haste to depart. Out into the corridor and around the balusters to the messenger room where they were required to register their names and destination. At the foot of the broad staircase hung the bulletin board in the pale flicker of a lowered gas-jet. The morning light was brightening through the windows beyond. Berta halted mechanically to scan the oblong of dark red in search of possible new notices. Something may have been posted since chapel last night.
Ah, yes, there was a fresh square of white tucked under the tapes that marked the felt into convenient diamonds. Berta read it at a glance.
"All students requiring financial assistance for the coming year are requested to make written application to the President before May 10th. It is understood that those receiving such aid will exercise all reasonable economy in avoiding unnecessary expenditure."
Berta did not move, though her mobile face seemed to harden in a curiously stony expression. She read the notice again. Robbie Belle came breezily from the messenger room.
"Anything new, Berta? You look queer." She followed the direction of the fascinated eyes. She read it slowly and drew a deep breath.
"So we can't go after all," she said.
Berta seemed to wake up suddenly from a trance. "Robbie Belle!"
"I can't help it," doggedly though the smooth forehead had clouded in a quick frown of pain at the cry, "it would not be honest. I didn't know before."
"It's our own money," protested Berta defiantly.
"But our scholarships are the same as borrowed."
"The tickets are bought and paid for."
Robbie Belle caught a glimpse of figures emerging from the dining-room. "There come those two seniors who forgot to get seats in advance. Isn't it lucky! Now we can sell them ours."
"Give me my ticket," demanded Berta's voice sullenly, "you never cared."
"But it is not honest," repeated Robbie Belle stubbornly. "I never thought of it in that light before. It is not honest to spend five dollars and more for a luxury while we are living on borrowed money."
The seniors rustled past. To Berta their laughter sounded far away. "Oh, girls, we'll have to hurry! Hear that bell jangle."
"The conductor does it on purpose to see us run. We have three minutes yet. Those two freshmen by the bulletin-board are going."
"It is not honest," said Robbie Belle.
Fragments of gay chatter floated back to them. "Caruso and Sembrich in Lucia di Lammermoor! Fancy! It is the most wonderful combination of extraordinary talent—genius. I shall certainly go if I have to stand up every minute of the three hours."
"It is simply wicked to miss such an opportunity."
"Important part of our education, isn't it? I only wish my thesis were on the 'Development of the Drama.' I should employ the laboratory method most assuredly."
"The critics say that such a chance as this does not occur more than once in a century."
"It is not honest," said Robbie Belle, back in the shadowy corridor before the bulletin-board.
"Will you give me my ticket?"
Robbie Belle flinched before the passionate low tones, and the roseleaf color in her cheeks went quite white. She handed Berta both tickets. "You may do what you like with mine," she said and turned slowly away.
Berta fled in the wake of the hurrying seniors. Her head buzzed with frantic arguments. It was her own money—she had earned it. Nobody had a right to dictate what she should do with it. Robbie Belle never could see more than one side of a question. To forbid unnecessary expenditure just because she accepted a loan to carry her through college! Who was to say whether it was unnecessary or not? The Opera was part of her musical education. She would repay the scholarship with interest at the earliest possible date after she began to earn a salary. What meddling insolence! The girls who held scholarships were the brightest and finest in college—some of them. And to treat them as if they were extravagant, silly little spendthrifts! It was honest. Hadn't she denied herself everything all the year—clubs and dinners and drives and flowers and ribbons and gloves and new books and fine note-paper and that cast of the Winged Victory which she had wanted and wanted and wanted? Not that she assumed any credit for such self-denial—it simply had to be, that was all. But now, this was different. She owed it to herself not to miss such a wonderful occasion. A chance in a century—that was what the senior said.
Ting-aling, ting-aling! jangled the bell madly. The conductor paused, his hand on the strap. A breathless girl sprang upon the platform, darted into the car, tossed a packet upon a convenient lap.
"There are two seats for the Opera. We can't go." And she had leaped from the moving steps and vanished through the great iron gates of the Lodge.
Back in the dormitory before the bulletin-board Miss Bonner, the graduate fellow, was staring at the new placard. She gave a slight start of astonishment at a glimpse of Berta hastening past her. Then because she had heard the story from Robbie Belle two minutes earlier, she pretended to be absorbed in the notices, for she suspected that any comment would start the tears that Berta was holding back. However, she was smiling to herself after the girl had vanished up the stairs. When the gong struck for breakfast, she halted at the faculty table to whisper a few words to the professor in her special department. The professor answered, "How glad I am!"
"And you really believe that it would have prejudiced the scholarship committee against Miss Abbott, if she had persisted in this extravagance? She has worked so hard to earn it."
"I understand," the professor was sympathetic but unswerving from her convictions; "it seems somewhat cruel when one considers how passionately fond of music the child is. Still you must remember that this scholarship fund is the result of endless self-denial. I have known several alumnae, to say the least, who have sacrificed greater privileges than visits to the Opera for the sake of contributing an extra mite. Would it be just for one who benefits from the economy of others to spend in self-indulgence?"
Meanwhile Berta, unconscious of the fact that her whole college career and the future to be moulded by it had depended upon her decision to do right in this apparently insignificant respect, had trudged up to a certain lonely room. Robbie Belle lifted a wet face from a consoling pillow.
"Berta!" It was like a soft little shout of triumph. "I knew——"
Berta swallowed a lump in her throat and managed to smile a whimsical smile from behind dewy lashes.
"Maybe we'll have clam chowder for luncheon," she said, "and then won't those two seniors be sorry!"
HER FRESHMAN VALENTINES
WHEN Bea straightened her head from its anxious tilt over the desk, she drew the tip of her tongue from its perilous position between two rows of white teeth, and heaved a mighty sigh of relief.
Then she blinked admiringly upon the white pile of envelopes lying in the glow of the drop-light. "There! That makes fifteen valentines all for her. She will be sure to receive more than any other senior, and that will teach Berta Abbott a thing or two. The idea of her insisting that her senior is more popular than my senior!"
With a smile that was rather more sleepy than dreamy, the industrious young freshman picked up the precious missives.
"O Lila,—my magnanimous roommate,—are you asleep? Do you want to listen to my last valentines? I intend to run down and put them in the senior caldron presently. Is this sentimental? When I read it to Berta, she laughed at it.
"At thy birth were gathered voices of the sea, Murmur of the breezes in the forest tree, Songs of birds and laughter—"
At this point an open umbrella, which hid the pillow on the farther narrow bed, gave a convulsive shiver, and a fretful voice complained:
"Will you turn off that gas and stop your nonsense? Here it is midnight, if it's an hour, and I haven't slept a wink, with that light blazing. I know I shall fail in the written test to-morrow, Valentine's day or not."
Bea stared pensively at the Topsy-like corona above the flushed face. "I don't believe she ever puts her hair up in curlers now, do you? She is superior to such vanities, and anyway, it is naturally curly, you know, and that probably makes a difference. I wonder if she even stoops to making verses. Do you suppose she sends valentines to other girls? Of course, she doesn't care a snap whether she receives more than any, and is declared the most popular senior. H'm-m-m!" drifting into reverie afresh. "I dare say I could compose a poem on that idea. For instance:
"I know a senior all sedate—"
The umbrella bounced tempestuously across the floor, and was followed by a pillow driven hard and straight at a tousled head that ducked just in time.
"U-huh!" ferociously. "Well,
"I know a freshman, sure as fate! Who shall no longer sit up late, Because her long-suffering roommate—"
Here the gas flared suddenly into darkness, and slippered feet scurried away from the desk. The door opened and shut quickly; and Bea, her valentines clutched safely against her dressing gown, was speeding through the dark corridors toward the senior parlor. There a kettle, overflowing with bits of white, swung from a tripod before the shadowy folds of the parlor portieres.
Ah! Bea, bending toward the caldron with arm extended, stiffened without moving. She had heard something. Yes, there it was again—a muffled footfall on the stairs near by. Hark! Down the black shaft from the cave above came stealing a second slender figure in a flowing robe of some pale woolly stuff. In her hands also was clasped a packet of envelopes.
"Hello, Berta!" Bea said.
"Oh, good-morning, Miss Leigh!" responded Berta, advancing with a tread the stateliness of which was somewhat impaired by a loosely flapping sole. "Did you rise early in order to prepare for the Latin test?"
Bea brushed aside the query with the contempt it deserved. "Are all those for your senior? I don't think it's fair for you to copy verses out of any old book, while every one of mine is original; and yet yours count exactly as much. Well, anyway, I wouldn't send my senior anything that was ordinary and unworthy of her acceptance. How many have you?"
This ignoble curiosity was likewise ignored by Miss Berta, who proceeded with dignified slowness to drop her valentines one by one into the caldron. Bea, with lingering care, deposited her contribution on the very top. One slid over the edge, and in rescuing it she disturbed a fold of the portiere. A glimpse within set her eyes to sparkling.
"Berta, there's an open fire in the senior parlor, and it's still red!"
"Ho," whispered Berta, in reply to the unspoken challenge, "I'm not afraid! Let's," and two flowing, woolly robes glided into the warm room, with its heart of glowing coals. One bold intruder nestled in the biggest arm-chair, the other fumbled for the tongs.
"Aren't we wicked! Robbie wouldn't do it." Berta cuddled deeper among the comforting cushions. "But—oh!—doesn't it feel good in here!"
Bea poked a coal until it split into a faint blue blaze. "We're worse than wicked. We're cheeky,—that's what,—coming into this room without being invited. Suppose some senior should discover us!" She paused, smitten by the terror of the new thought. "Just suppose my senior should find me here! She has a horror of anything underhanded or sly. I should die of shame!" It was a genuine groan, and Berta was too startled to laugh.
"I guess it isn't very nice of us," she acknowledged meekly.
"I'm going this instant." Bea's hand was on the portiere when a rustling in the kettle caught her attention. Through a rift between the folds she spied lace ruffles about a delicate hand that was dropping envelopes down upon the others. Over the tripod a face appeared for one moment in the dim light, and then was gone. Light steps retreated swiftly, and a door closed not far away on the senior corridor. Bea had recognized her senior.
When the two midnight visitors stole timorously forth a moment later, Bea's eyes traveled wistfully toward the big envelope lying squarely on top of all the valentines.
Berta regarded her keenly. "Why don't you march up and read the name, if you want to so much?" was her blunt question.
"She must be pretty fond of somebody," whispered Bea, "if she stayed up till now just to write valentines for her. I wish——"
"Do you think it is sneaking to look?" persisted Berta. "If she objected to having it seen, she might have turned it address down."
"It is address down," murmured Bea, sadly, "and I know it would be dishonorable to try to see it. She herself would call any act like that contemptible."
At this crisis Berta sneezed—sneezed hard and long and with suspicious vehemence. And when Bea cast one lingering farewell glance toward the caldron, she perceived that the topmost missives were sliding over the edge in the breeze raised by that gusty sneeze. The big square envelope tumbled clumsily down upon its back and lay staring, quite close to the flickering gas. Bea's wilful eyes rested on it one illuminating instant, and then leaped away, while her cheeks whitened suddenly. The name on the valentine was that of the senior herself.
Poor little Bea! After the first dazed moment she began to select and gather up the fifteen valentines which she had deposited five minutes before.
"Why, Beatrice Leigh!" gasped Berta. "You haven't any right to take them back after you have mailed them!"
"Do you imagine for one moment that I shall give valentines to a girl who sends them to herself? And the senior who receives the most is declared the most popular in the class!"
"But—but," stammered Berta, "perhaps she thought—perhaps she didn't think——"
"And I was afraid a girl who could do a thing like that might blame us for entering the senior parlor uninvited!"
Bea's hands fell listlessly at her sides as she walked away. "I don't care," she said. And Berta, who was wise in some unexpected ways, wondered why people always said they did not care just when they cared the most.
Next day various anonymous verses were delivered at the door where Lila Allan wrestled with the rules for indirect discourse, while her roommate, chin in hand, stared gloomily out at the snow-darkened sky. Valentines were silly, anyway, and it was a shame for any one to waste time and energy in hunting foolish rhymes for eyes and hair and smiles and hearts. How could a person be sure about anybody, if a girl with a face like a white flower could send valentines to herself with the address side down?
All day long the senior caldron bubbled notes faithfully till the very last minute. After chapel the class fluttered into their little parlor, with its fire blazing merrily and its shaded lamps glowing. Somebody, disguised in a long gray beard and flowing gray robe, stalked in amid laughter and clapping, and began to distribute the contents of the kettle.
Berta, hanging at a perilous angle over the stairway just outside, felt some one halt silently beside her, and glanced up into Bea's eyes.
"Hello!" she said, in an excited whisper. "Can you see all right, Bea? I think she has called my senior's name about twenty times already. Look how the valentines are heaped in her lap! Where's your senior?"
"That person with the gray beard," began Bea, calmly, only to be interrupted by, "Why, so it is! What fun! Where does she put the envelopes addressed to herself? Oh, yes, I see. Why——" Berta caught Bea's skirts in a firm grasp. "See here, young lady, you'll go over the banisters head first if you don't undouble yourself pretty soon. You'll——"
"That's the very valentine—that big, square envelope in her hand this instant! She sent it to herself——"
Bea saw Saint Valentine read aloud the name, and then stop short, staring at the address in a puzzled way. She turned the envelope over to examine its back, and study the waxen seal. Suddenly she bent her head in the delighted laughter that Bea once had thought so charming. She laughed till the long gray beard threatened to shake itself free.
"Isn't that the greatest joke! I was scribbling verses last night till I was too sleepy to see straight. I didn't mean to send this to myself. How perfectly ridiculous!" and she tossed the innocent missive into the fire.
Outside on the shadowy stairway Berta gave a little squeal of pain. "Ouch! You're pinching me black and blue! Why, Bea, Bea Leigh, whatever in the world——"