Betty Gordon at Boarding School
The Treasure of Indian Chasm
BY ALICE B. EMERSON
I NEW PLANS
II NORMA'S LETTER
III SURPRISING BOB
IV MORE GOOD-BYES
V A REGULAR CROSS-PATCH
VI FINE FEATHERS
VII FUN AT FAIRFIELDS
VIII TOO MUCH PARTY
IX ADJUSTER TOMMY
X SHADYSIDE SCHOOL
XI FIRST IMPRESSIONS
XII THE LOST TREASURE
XIII THE MYSTERIOUS FOUR
XIV A SATURDAY RACE
XV NORMA MAKES REPAIRS
XVI THE NUTTING PARTY
XVII CAUGHT IN THE STORM
XVIII LIBBIE'S SECRET
XIX BOB'S SOLUTION
XX THE SECOND DEGREE
XXII ANOTHER MYSTERY
XXIII JUST DESERTS
XXIV BETTY GOES COASTING
XXV THE TREASURE
BETTY GORDON AT BOARDING SCHOOL
"Me make you velly nice apple tart. Miss Betty." The Chinese cook flourished his rolling pin with one hand and swung his apron viciously with the other as he held open the screen door and swept out some imaginary flies.
Lee Chang, cook for the bunk house in the oil fields, could do several things at one time, as he had frequently proved.
The girl, who was watching a wiry little bay horse contentedly crop grass that grew in straggling whisps about the fence posts, looked up and showed an even row of white teeth as she smiled.
"I don't think we're going to stay for dinner to-day," she said half regretfully. "I know your apple tarts, Lee Chang—they are delicious."
The fat Chinaman closed the screen door and went on with his pastry making. From time to time, as he passed from the table to the oven, he glanced out. Betty Gordon still stood watching the horse.
"That Bob no come?" inquired Lee Chang, poking his head out of the door again. Fast developing into a good American, his natural trait of curiosity gave him the advantage of acquiring information blandly and with ease.
Betty shaded her eyes with her hand. The Oklahoma sun was pitiless. Far up the road that ran straight away from the bunk house a faint cloud of dust was rising.
"He's coming now," said the girl confidently.
Lee Chang grunted and returned to his work, satisfied that whatever Betty was waiting for would soon be at hand.
"Bake tart 'fore that boy goes away," the Chinaman muttered to himself, waddling hastily to the oven, opening it, and closing the door again with a satisfied sniff.
The cloud of dust whirled more madly, rose higher. Out from the center of it finally emerged a raw-boned white horse that galloped with amazing awkwardness and incredible speed. Astride him sat a slim, tanned youth with eyes as blue as Betty Gordon's were dark.
"Got something for you!" he called, waving his arm in the motion of lasso-throwing. "Catch if you can!"
"Oh, don't!" cried Betty eagerly. "What is it, Bob? Be careful or you'll break it."
Bob Henderson reined in his mount and slipped to the ground. The white horse contentedly went to munching dry blades of dusty grass.
"Bob, I do believe you've been silly," said Betty, trying to speak severely and failing completely because her dimple would deepen distractingly. "You know I told you not to do it."
"How do you know what I've done?" demanded Bob, placing a square package in the girl's hands. "Don't scold till you know what you're scolding about."
Betty, busy with the cord and paper, paused.
"Oh, Bob!" she beamed, her vivid face glowing with a new thought. "What do you think? I had a letter yesterday from Bobby Littell, and she's going to boarding school. And, Bob, so am I! Uncle Dick says so. And, Bob—"
"Yes?" smiled Bob, thinking how the girl's face changed as she talked. "Go on, Betty."
"Well, Louise is going, too, and they think Libbie will come down from Vermont. Dear old Libbie—I wonder if she is as incurably romantic as ever!"
Betty's fingers had worked mechanically while she spoke, and now she had her parcel undone.
"Why, Bob Henderson!" she gasped, as she drew out a handsome white box tied with pale blue ribbons and encased in waxed paper.
"I hope they're not stale," said Bob diffidently.
Betty slit the waxed paper and took off the box lid, revealing a perfectly packed box of expensive chocolates.
"They're beautiful," she declared. "But I never dreamed you would send East for 'em simply because I happened to say I was hungry for good candy. Um—um—taste one quick, Bob."
Bob took a caramel and pronounced it not "half bad."
"Uncle Dick's gone somewhere with Dave Thorne," announced Betty, biting into another candy. "He didn't know when he would get back, and I'm supposed to ride to the Watterby farm for lunch. It must be after eleven now."
"Miss Betty!" Lee Chang's voice was persuasive. "Miss Betty, that apple tart he all baked done now."
"Apple tart?" shouted Bob. "Show me, Lee Chang! I'd rather have a corner of your pie than all the candy in New York."
"Him for Miss Betty," said the Chinaman gravely.
"But you don't care if I give Bob some, do you?" returned Betty coaxingly. "See, Lee Chang, Bob gave me these. You take some, and we'll eat the tart on our way home."
Lee Chang's wish was fulfilled when he placed the flaky tart in Betty's hands, and he took a candy or two (which he privately considered rather poor stuff) and watched the girl no longer. From now on till dinner time Lee Chang's whole attention would be concentrated on the preparation of an excellent dinner for the men who worked that section of the oil fields.
"I don't believe I can ride and eat this, after all," decided Betty. "Let's sit down on the grass and finish it; Clover hasn't finished her lunch, either."
The little bay horse and the tall, shambling white were amiably straying up and down the narrow borders of the road, never getting very far away.
"You haven't said a single word about my going to boarding school, Bob," Betty said, dropping down comfortably on the dusty grass and breaking the tart across into two nearly even pieces. "There—take your pie. Don't you think I'll have fun with the Littell girls?"
"You'll have a lark, but I'm not so sure about the teachers," declared Bob enthusiastically, an odd little smile quivering on his lips. "With you and Bobby Littell about, I doubt if the school knows a dull moment."
"Bobby is so funny," dimpled Betty. "She writes that if Libbie comes, her aunt expects Bobby to look after her. Wait a minute and I'll read you that part—" Betty took a letter from the pocket of her blouse. "Listen—
"Aunt Elizabeth has written mother that she hopes I will keep an eye on Libbie. Now Betty, can you honestly see me trailing around after that girl who sees a romance in every bush and book and who cries when any one plays violin music? I'll look after her all right—she'll have to study French instead of poetry if I'm to be her friend and guide."
* * * * *
"But, of course, Bobby does really love Libbie very dearly," said Betty, folding up the letter and returning it to her pocket. "She wouldn't hurt her for worlds."
"You'll be a much better guardian for Libbie, if she needs one," pronounced Bob, with unexpected shrewdness. "Bobby hasn't much tact, and she makes Libbie mad. You could probably control her better with less words."
"Well, I never!" gasped Betty, gazing at Bob with new respect. "I never knew you thought anything about it."
"Didn't until just now," responded Bob cheerfully. "So Uncle Dick is willing to let you go, is he? When do you start?"
"You don't mind, do you, Bob?" countered Betty, puzzled. "You sound so kind of—of funny."
"Don't mean to," said Bob laconically.
Having finished his tart, he lay back and rested his head in his hands in true masculine contentment.
"I like that blue thing you've got on," he commented lazily. "Did I ever see it before?"
"Certainly not," Betty informed him. "I've been waiting for you to notice it. It's wash silk, Bob, and your Aunt Faith said I could have it if I could do anything with it. She's had it in a trunk for years and years."
"I don't see how you and Aunt Faith could wear the same clothes, she's so much taller than you are," said Bob, obviously trying to put two and two together in his mind. "But it looks fine on you, Betty."
Betty smiled at him compassionately.
"Oh, Bob, you're so funny!" she sighed. "I made this blouse all myself—that is," she corrected, "Mrs. Watterby helped me cut it out and she sewed the sleeves in after I had basted them in wrong twice, but I did everything else. There wasn't a scrap of goods left over, either. I put it on to-day because I wanted you to see me in it."
She was worth seeing, Bob acknowledged to himself. The over-blouse of blue and white checked silk, slashed at the throat for the crisp black tie, and the gray corduroy riding skirt and smart tan shoes were at once suitable and becoming.
"I'll have to have some new clothes for school," declared Betty, who had a healthy interest in this topic. "We can't wear very fussy things, though—Bobby sent me the catalogue. Sailor suits for every day, and a cloth frock for best. And not more than one party dress."
"I asked her when she started," Bob confided to the blank eye of the white horse now turned dully toward him. "But if she answered me, I didn't hear."
"I'm going a week from this Friday," announced Betty hastily. "That will give me a week in Washington, and Mrs. Littell has asked me to stay with them. I must write to Mrs. Bender to-night and tell her the news; she has been so anxious for me to go to school again."
"Oh, gee, Betty, that reminds me—" Bob sat up with a jerk and began a hasty search of his pockets. "When you spoke of Mrs. Bender that reminded me of Laurel Grove, and Laurel Grove reminded me of Glenside, and that, of course, made me think of the Guerins—Here 'tis!" and the boy triumphantly fished out a small letter from an inside pocket of his coat and tossed it into Betty's lap.
"It's from Norma Guerin!" Betty's expressive voice betrayed her delight "Why, I haven't heard from her in perfect ages. I wonder what she has to say."
"Open it and see," advised the practical Bob. "I meant to give you the letter right away, and first the tart and then the blouse thing-a-bub drove it out of my mind. I'll lead the horses and you can read as we walk. Want me to take the plate back to Lee Chang?"
He dashed back to the bunk house, returned the tin, and rejoined Betty, who was slowly slitting the envelope of her letter with a hairpin. She had tucked her candy box under her arm, and Bob took the bridles of the two horses.
"Mercy, what was that?" Betty glanced up startled, as a wild yell sounded over on their right.
There was a chorus of shouts, the same wild yell repeated, and then, sudden and without warning, came a dense and heavy rain of blackest oil.
"Oh, Bob, Bob!" There was genuine anguish in Betty's wail of appeal. "My new blouse—look at it!"
But Bob had no time to look at anything. Action was to be his course.
"It's a premature blast!" he shouted. "Come on, we've got to get out!"
This was not Betty Gordon's first experience with an oil well set off prematurely, and while she was naturally excited, she was not at all afraid.
"Get on Clover!" shouted Bob. "I do wish you'd ever wear a hat—"
Betty laughed a little as she scrambled into her saddle. Bob, mounting his own horse, wore no hat, but it was a pet grievance of his that Betty persistently scorned headgear whether riding or walking.
"Gallop!" cried Bob. "Shut your eyes if you want to—Clover will follow Reuben."
The white horse set off, his awkward lunge carrying him over the ground swiftly, and the little bay Clover cantered obediently after him. Oil continued to rain down as they headed toward the north.
Betty closed her eyes, clutching her letter and candy box tightly in both hands and letting the reins lie idle on her horse's neck. Clover, galloping now, could be trusted to follow the leading horse.
"Getting better now!" Bob shouted back, turning in his saddle to see that Betty was safe.
Betty's dark eyes opened and she shook back her hair, making a little face at the taste of oil in her mouth. She slipped Norma Guerin's letter into her pocket, glancing down at her blouse as she did so.
"I'm a perfect sight!" she called to Bob dolorously. "I don't believe I can ever get the oil spots out of this silk."
"Sue the company!" Bob cried, with a grin. "Don't let Clover go to sleep till we're nearer home, Betty."
The girl urged the little bay forward with a whispered word of encouragement, and gradually, very gradually, they began to draw out of the rain of oil.
Betty Gordon was not an Oklahoma girl, though she rode with the effortless ease of a Westerner. She was an orphan, of New England stock, and had come from the East to the oil fields to join her one living relative, a beloved uncle whose interest in oil holdings made an incessant traveler of him.
This Richard Gordon, "Uncle Dick" to Bob Henderson as well as to Betty, had found himself unexpectedly made guardian of his little niece at a time when it was impassible for him to establish a home for her. His time and skill pledged to the oil company he represented, Mr. Gordon had solved the problem of what to do with Betty by sending her to spend the summer with an old childhood friend of his, a Mrs. Peabody who had married a farmer, reputed well-to-do. Betty's experiences, pleasant and otherwise, as a member of the Peabody household, have been told in the first book of this series entitled "Betty Gordon at Bramble Farm; or The Mystery of a Nobody."
She made some true friends during the months she spent with the Peabodys, and perhaps the closest, and certainly the most loyal, was Bob Henderson. A year older than Betty, the fourteen year old Bob, whose life at Bramble Farm had been harsh and unlovely and preceded by nothing brighter than a drab existence at the county poor farm, became the champion of the dark-eyed girl who had smiled at him and suggested that because they were both orphans they had a common bond of friendship.
How Bob Henderson got track of his mother's people and what steps were necessary before he could discover a definite clue, have been related in the second volume of the series, entitled, "Betty Gordon in Washington; or Strange Adventures in a Great City."
In this book Bob and Betty came together again in the Capitol City, and Betty acquired a second "Uncle Dick" in the person of Richard Littell, the father of three lively daughters who innocently kidnapped Betty, only to have the entire family become her firm friends. While in Washington Bob and Betty each received good news that sent them trustfully to Oklahoma, there to meet Uncle Dick Gordon, and later, Bob's own aunts.
The story of the "Saunders' place" and of the unscrupulous sharpers who tried to cheat the old ladies who were the sisters of Bob's dead mother, has been told in the third book about Betty Gordon. This book, "Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil; or The Farm that Was Worth a Fortune," relates the varied experiences of Bob and Betty in the oil section of Oklahoma and the long train of events that culminated in the sale of the Saunders farm for ninety thousand dollars. Uncle Dick had been made guardian of Bob, at his own and the aunts' request, so Bob was now a ward with Betty.
The possession of money, though it meant the difference between poverty and debt and great comfort, had, to date, made very little change in the mode of living of Miss Faith and Miss Charity Saunders, or of their nephew.
This morning he had been delayed by some extra work on the farm, for the oil company did not take possession till the first of the month, now a week away, and Betty had ridden to the oil fields ahead of him. She divided her time between the Saunders' place and the Watterby farm, where she and Bob had stayed when they first came to Flame City.
"Whew!" gasped Bob as they finally emerged from the black curtain of oil. "Of all the messy stuff! Betty, you look as though an oil lamp had exploded in your face."
"Now I'll have to wash my hair again," mourned Betty. "You'd better come to Grandma Watterby's and get tidied up, Bob. It's nearer than your aunts', taking this road; and they always have the stove tank full of hot water."
Bob took this advice, and the sympathetic Watterby family came to the oil-spotted pair's assistance with copious supplies of hot water, soap and towels and liberal handfuls of borax, for the water was very hard. Fortunately, Betty had a clean blouse and skirt at hand (most of her wardrobe was in the guest room at the Saunders farm), and Bob borrowed a clean shirt from Will Watterby, in which the boy, being much smaller than the man, looked a little absurd.
"I'm clean, anyway, and that makes me feel good, so why should I care how I look?" was Bob's defense when his appearance was commented on.
"I'm so hungry," announced Betty, coming out of her room, once more trim and neat, and sniffing the delicious odor of hot waffles. "I wonder if I could pin my hair up in a towel and dry it after lunch?"
"Of course you may," said Mrs. Will Watterby warmly. "Did you fix a place for Betty, Grandma?"
"What a silly question, Emma," reproved old Grandma Watterby severely. "Here, Betty, you sit next to me, and Bob can have Will's place. He's gone over to Flame City with a bolt he wants the blacksmith to tinker up."
Ki, the Indian who helped with the farm work, smiled at Betty but said nothing more than the single "Howdy," which was his stock form of salutation. Mrs. Watterby's waffles were quite as good as they smelled, and she apparently had mixed an inexhaustible quantity of batter. Every one ate rapidly and in comparative silence, a habit to which Bob and Betty were by now quite accustomed. When Mr. Gordon was present he insisted on a little conversation, but his presence was lacking to-day.
"You go right out in the sun and dry your hair, Betty," said Mrs. Watterby, when the meal was over. "No, I don't need any help with the dishes. Grandma and me, we're going over to town in the car this afternoon and I don't care whether I do the dishes till I come back or not."
This, for Mrs. Watterby, was a great step forward. Before the purchase of the automobile, bought with a legacy inherited by Grandma Watterby, dishes and housework had been the sum total of Mrs. Will Watterby's existence. Now that she could drive the car and get away from her kitchen sink at will, she seemed another woman.
Betty voiced something of this to Bob as she unfastened the towel and let her heavy dark hair fall over her shoulders. She was sitting on the back porch where the afternoon sun shone unobstructed.
"Yes, I guess automobiles are a good thing," admitted Bob absently. "I want Aunt Faith to get one. A runabout would be handy for them—one like Doctor Guerin's. Remember, Betty?"
"My goodness, I haven't read Norma's letter!" said Betty hastily. "I left it in my other blouse. Wait a minute, and I'll get it."
She dashed into the house and was back again in a moment, the letter Bob had handed her just before the shower of oil, in her hand.
Bob, in his favorite attitude of lying on his back and staring at the sky, was startled by an exclamation before Betty had finished the first page of the closely written missive.
"What's the matter?" he demanded, sitting up. "Anybody sick?"
"Oh, Bob, such fun!" Betty's eyes danced with pleasure. "What do you think! Norma and Alice Guerin are going to Shadyside!"
"Well, I'm willing to jump with joy, but could you tell me what Shadyside is, and where?" said Bob humbly. "Why do the Guerin girls want to go there?"
"I forgot you didn't know," apologized Betty. "Shadyside is the boarding school, Bob. That's the name of the station, too. It's five hours' ride from Washington. Let's see, there's Bobby and Louise Littell and Libbie, and now Norma and Alice—five girls I know already! I guess I won't be homesick or lonely."
But as she said it she glanced uncertainly at Bob.
That young man snickered, turned it into a cough, and that failing, essayed to whistle.
"Bob, you act too funny for anything!" This time Betty's glance was not one of approval. "What does ail you?"
"Nothing, nothing at all, Betsey," Bob assured her. "I'm my usual charming self. Are Norma and Alice going to Washington first?"
"No. I wish they were," answered Betty, taking up the letter again. "Bob, I'm afraid they're having a hard time with money matters. You know Dr. Guerin is so easy-going he never collects one-third of the bills he sends out, and any one can get his services free if they tell him a hard luck story. Norma writes that she and Alice have always wanted to go to Shadyside because their mother graduated from there when it was only a day school. Mrs. Guerin's people lived around there somewhere. And last year, you know, Norma went to an awfully ordinary school—good enough, I suppose, but not very thorough. She couldn't prepare for college there."
"Well, couldn't we fix it some way for them?" asked Bob interestedly. "I'd do anything in the world for Doctor Guerin. Didn't he row me that time he found us out in the fields at two o'clock in the morning? You think up some way to make him accept some money, Betty."
Doctor Hal Guerin and his wife and daughters had been good friends to Bob and Betty in the Bramble Farm days. The doctor, with a large country practice that brought him more affection and esteem than ready cash, had managed to look after the boy and girl more or less effectively, and Norma, his daughter, had supplied Bob with orders from her school friends for little carved pendants that he made with no better tools than an old knife. This money had been the first Bob had ever earned and had given him his first taste of independence.
"I don't think you could make Doctor Guerin take money, even as a loan," said Betty slowly, in answer to Bob's proposal. "Norma wouldn't like it if she thought her letter had suggested such a thing. What makes it hard for them, I think, is that Mrs. Guerin expected to have quite a fortune some day. Her mother was really wealthy, and she was an only child. I don't know where the money went, but I do know the Guerins never had any of it."
Bob jumped to his feet as she finished the sentence.
"Here's Uncle Dick!" he cried. "Did you see the new well come in, sir?"
Betty shook back her hair and rose to kiss the gray-haired gentleman who put an arm affectionately about her.
"I heard about that blast," he said, and smiled good-humoredly. "Lee Chang was much worried when I went in to dinner. His one consolation was that you had eaten the tart before the oil began to fall."
"We were all right, only of course it rather daubed us up," said Bob. "Betty had to wash her hair."
"My hair's nothing," declared Betty scornfully. "But my brand-new blouse that I worked on for two days—you ought to see it, Uncle Dick! Grandma Watterby thinks maybe she can get the oil out, but she says the color may come out, too."
Mr. Gordon sat down on the step and took off his hat.
"You've a clear claim for damages, Betty," he assured his niece gravely. "To save time, I'm willing to make good; what does a new blouse cost?"
"This wasn't exactly new," explained Betty fairly. "Aunt Faith had the material in her trunk for years. But it was the first thing I ever made, and I was so proud of it."
"Well, we'll see that you have something to take its place," promised her uncle, drawing her down beside him. "I have some news for you, Betsey. When you go East next week, I'm going, too. That is, as far as Chicago. From there I take a little run up into Canada."
"But you said you'd spend Christmas with us!" argued Betty.
"Oh, Christmas is months off," returned Mr. Gordon comfortably. "I expect to be back in the States long before the holidays. And Bob's aunts have finally made up their minds where they want to spend the winter. Aunt Faith has commissioned me to buy two tickets for southern California."
"But there's Bob!" Betty gazed anxiously at her uncle. "What's Bob going to do without any one at all, Uncle Dick?"
Mr. Gordon looked at Bob, and an unwilling grin turned the corners of the boy's mouth.
"That's the way he's been acting all day," scolded Betty. "What ails him? I think it's silly to sit there and smile when there's nothing to smile about."
"I suspect Bob doesn't take kindly to secrets," returned her uncle. "Suppose you 'fess up, Bob, and when the atmosphere is clear we can have a little talk."
"All right," said Bob, with manifest relief. "I kept quiet only because I wanted to be sure I was going, sir. Betty, Mr. Littell wrote me about a military academy in the East and put me in, touch with several boys who attend it. Uncle Dick thinks it is just the school for me, and I'm going. Timothy Derby is one of the boys. He's a son of the man I worked for in Washington."
"How splendid!" With characteristic enthusiasm Betty forgot her momentary displeasure at Bob's method of keeping a secret. "When are you going, Bob? Where is the school?"
"That's the best part," said Bob boyishly. "It's the Salsette Military Academy, Betty, and it's right across the lake from the Shadyside school. All five of the boys Mr. Littell told me of are friends of the Littell girls, so you see it is going to be great fun all around."
"I never knew of anything so nice!" declared Betty. "Never! So you knew when I told you about Shadyside that you were going to be so near!"
"Have to keep an eye on you," he said with mock seriousness, at which Betty made a little face.
"You haven't much time to get ready," Mr. Gordon warned them. "The aunts will leave Wednesday and our train pulls out at ten twenty-six on Friday morning. Of course you will do your shopping in Washington and be guided by the advice of Mr. and Mrs. Littell. I wish I could go to Washington with you, but that is impossible now. You must write me faithfully, both of you, though I suppose we'll have to expect the same delay between letters that we've experienced before. Most of my time will be spent on a farm thirty miles from a railroad. If you get into any difficulties, go to the Littells, and for little troubles, help each other."
Mr. Gordon went on to say that while Bob and Betty were independent to a greater degree than most boys and girls of their age, the same force of circumstances that made this possible also gave them a heavier responsibility. He explained that each was to have an allowance and asked that each keep a cash account to be submitted to him on his return from Canada, not, he said, to serve as a check upon extravagant or foolish expenditures, but that he might be better able to advise them and to point out avoidable mistakes.
After supper that night he drew the boy aside for further discussion.
"I'm really leaving Betty in your charge," he said, and Bob stood fully two inches taller. "Not that I think she will get into any serious trouble, but there's no telling what a bevy of high-spirited girls will think up. And you know what Betty is when once started, she can not be stopped. I rely on you to keep her confidence and hold her back if she seems inclined to act rashly. The Littells are splendid people, but they will be five hours' distance away, while you will be across the lake. I put my trust in you, Bob."
Bob silently resolved to be worthy. Betty had been his first friend, and to her he gave all the pent-up loyalty and starved affection of a lonely boy nature. When Mr. Gordon came into his life, and especially when he was made his legal guardian, Bob experienced the novel sensation of having some one interested in his future. Though the various older men he had met were more than willing to help him, Mr. Gordon was the only one to succeed in winning over Bob's almost fanatical pride and the lad who admired, respected, and loved him, would have done anything in the world for him.
The next few days were extremely busy ones for Bob, the aunts, and Betty. Miss Hope and Miss Charity were so excited at the prospect of a journey that they completely lost their faculty for planning, and most of the work fell on Bob and Betty. Luckily there was little packing to be done, for the few bits of old furniture were to be sold for what they would bring, and the keepsakes that neither Miss Hope nor her sister could bring themselves to part with were stored in several old trunks to be housed in the Watterby attic.
"Betty, child," her uncle's voice broke in upon Betty's orderly packing one afternoon, "I know you're going to be disappointed, but we mustn't cry over what can't be helped. I've had a wire and must leave for Chicago Wednesday morning. You and Bob will have to make the Washington trip alone."
"I knew it was too good to be true," mourned Betty, a tear dropping on the yellowed silk shawl she was neatly folding. "Oh, dear, Uncle Dick, I did want you to go with us part of the way!"
"Better luck next time," replied Mr. Gordon. "There's no use grumbling over what you can't change."
This was his philosophy, and he followed it consistently. Bob and Betty, though keenly disappointed they were not to have his companionship, tried to accept the situation as cheerfully as he did.
The packing was hastened, and soon the old farmhouse was stripped and dismantled, the trunks stored in the Watterby attic, the furniture carried off to the homes of those who bought it, and the key delivered to Dave Thorne, the section foreman, who would deliver it to the superintendent.
The hospitable Watterbys had insisted that the travelers should all stay with them until the time for their several departures, and Bob and Betty had a last glorious ride on Clover and the ungainly white horse while the aunts rested and put the final touches to their preparations for their journey.
The next morning all was bustle and hurry, for the aunts were to start on their trip and Mr. Gordon must be off to Chicago. Miss Hope insisted on being taken to the station an hour before their train was due, and when a puff of steam up the track announced the actual approach of the train the two old ladies trembled with nervousness and excitement. Mr. Gordon guided them up the steps of the car, after a tearful farewell to Bob and Betty, and saw that they were settled in the right sections. He spoke to the conductor on the way out, and tipped the porter and maid liberally to look after the travelers' comfort.
"They'll feel better presently," he remarked, rejoining Bob and Betty on the platform. "I know the boarding house they've chosen is fine in every way and they're going to have a delightful winter."
The train started slowly, and the black silk gloves of the aunts waved dolorously from the window. They were embarked on their adventure.
"Don't look so solemn, Betty," teased her uncle. "If I'm not mistaken that's the smoke from my train. I don't want any one to weep over my departure."
"I could, but I won't," Betty assured him bravely. "You won't get sick or anything, will you, Uncle Dick? And you'll write to me every week?"
"Like a clock," he promised her. "There goes the agent with my bags—this is the local, all right. Good-bye, Bob. Remember what I've asked of you."
Mr. Gordon wrung Bob's hand and smiled down into the blue eyes lifted so fervently to his.
"You're my boy, too," he said clearly. "Don't forget, lad, if you need me."
Then he swept Betty into his arms.
"Be a good girl, Sweetheart," he murmured, kissing her.
They watched him climb up the steps of the snorting, smoky local, saw his bags tossed into the baggage car, and then, with a shrill grinding of wheels, the training resumed its way. As long as they could see, the tall figure in the gray suit stood on the platform and waved a white handkerchief to them.
"Oh, Bob, don't let me cry," begged Betty, in a sudden panic. "Everybody's watching us. Let's go somewhere, quick."
"All right, we will," promised Bob. "We'll take the car to Doctor Morrison. Hop in, Betsey, and dry your eyes. You're going traveling yourself day after to-morrow."
"I wasn't really crying," explained Betty as she settled herself in the shabby car that had belonged to her uncle; he had sold it to the town physician. "But doesn't it give you a lonesome feeling to be the one that's left? I hate to say good-bye, anyway."
Bob's experience with motors was rather limited, and what slight knowledge he possessed had been gained in a few lessons taken while riding with Mr. Gordon. However, the boy was sure that he could drive the car the brief distance to the doctor's house, and Betty shared his confidence. From the Morrison house it was only a short walk to the Watterby farm, where they were to stay until they left for the East.
Betty forgot to cry as Bob started the car so suddenly that it shot forward like a live thing. He jammed on the brake and brought it to a standstill so abruptly that Betty came very near to pitching through the windshield.
"Couldn't you do it—er—more gently?" she hinted delicately.
"Hold fast and I'll try," grinned Bob. "As a chauffeur I'd be a good iceman."
The second time he managed better, and the battered little car moved off with less disturbing results.
In a very few minutes they had reached Doctor Morrison's garage.
The doctor urged Bob and Betty strongly to stay to supper with him and promised beaten biscuit and honey, but although they knew the skill of his old Southern cook very well, they had promised Grandma Watterby to be there for supper and such a promise could not be disregarded.
"Well, anyway," said Betty soothingly, as they walked on toward the Watterby farm, "when we ride Clover and Reuben up to the fields we won't have to worry about how to make them go."
"No, that's so," agreed Bob. "But, Betty, I hate to think of giving up Reuben. He isn't much to look at, but he has been a mighty good horse."
"I'd feel worse," declared Betty, "if we had to sell them to strangers. We wouldn't know how they would be treated then. Now we are sure they will be cared for and petted and they won't miss us."
Reuben and Clover, Mr. Gordon had said, were to be disposed of as Betty and Bob chose. The horses were theirs to give away or sell as they preferred. Bob had instantly decided to give his mount to Dave Thorne, the section foreman, who had shown him many kindnesses and who was delighted to get a trained saddle horse. Horses were very scarce in that section of the country, and Mr. Gordon had gone to considerable trouble to get these.
Betty had elected to give Clover to the new superintendent's daughter, the girl who was to move with her parents into the old Saunders farmhouse. Betty had never seen her, but knew she was about fourteen or fifteen and eager to learn to ride.
The day before they were to start for Washington, Bob and Betty rode the horses up to the oil fields and gave them into the charge of Dave Thorne. The superintendent was already on the ground but his family and furniture were not due for a week.
Clover and Reuben bore the parting better than their young mistress and master, and Betty was glad when all the good-byes had been said and they stepped into the Watterby car which Mrs. Watterby had driven up for them. The fields were about eight miles from her house.
"You'll be happier when once you're on the train, Betty," said good Mrs. Watterby, glancing swiftly at Betty's clouded face, "This going around saying good-bye to people and things is enough to break anybody up. Now to-morrow me and mother won't weep a tear over you—you'll see. We're glad you're going to school to have a good time with all those young folks. Now what's that Chinaman want?"
Lee Chang came running from the bunk house, waving something tied in white paper.
"Apple tart, Miss Betty!" he called imploringly. "Velly nice apple tart—maybe the cook at that school no make good tarts."
Betty took the package and thanked him warmly and they drove on.
"People are so good to me," choked the girl. "I never knew I had so many friends."
"Well, that's nothing to cry over," advised Bob philosophically. "You ought to be glad. Do I get a crumb of the tart, Betsey?"
He spoke with a purpose and was rewarded by seeing Betty's own sunny smile come out.
"You always do," she told him. "But wait till we get home. I want Ki to have a piece, too."
Ki, it developed, when they reached the Watterby farm, had been busy with farewell plans of his own.
"For you," he announced gravely to Bob, handing him an immense hunting knife as he stepped out of the car.
"For you," he informed Betty with equal gravity, presenting her a little silver nugget.
They both thanked him repeatedly, and he stalked off, carrying his piece of the apple tart and apparently assured of their sincerity.
"Though what he expects me to do with a hunting knife is more than I can guess," laughed Bob.
A REGULAR CROSS-PATCH
"Be sure you send me a postal from Washington. I never knew anybody from there before," said Grandma Watterby earnestly.
"And don't get off the train unless you know how long it's going to stop," advised Will Watterby.
"Do you think you ate enough breakfast?" his wife asked anxiously.
Bob and Betty were waiting for the Eastern Limited, and the Watterby family, who had brought them to the station, were waiting, too. The Limited stopped only on signal, and this was no every day occurrence.
"We'll be all right," said Bob earnestly. "You can look for a postal from Chicago first, Grandma."
Then came the usual hurried good-byes, the kisses and handshakes and the repeated promises to "write soon." Then Bob and Betty found themselves in the sleeper, waving frantically to the little group on the platform as the Limited slowly got under way.
"And that's the last of Flame City—for some time at least," observed Bob.
Betty, who had made excellent use of lessons learned in her few previous long journeys, took off her hat and gloves and placed them in a paper bag which Bob put in the rack for her.
"I did want a new hat so much," she sighed, looking rather enviously at the woman across the aisle who wore a smart Fall hat that was unmistakably new. "But Flame City depends on mail order hats and I thought it safer to wait till I could see what people are really wearing."
"You look all right," said Bob loyally. "What's that around that woman's neck—fur? Why I'm so hot I can hardly breathe."
"It's mink," Betty informed him with superiority. "Isn't it beautiful? I wanted a set, but Uncle Dick said mink was too old for me. He did say, though, that I can have a neckpiece made from that fox skin Ki gave me."
"Don't see why you want to tie yourself up like an Eskimo," grumbled Bob. "Well, we seem to be headed toward the door marked 'Education,' don't we, Betsey?"
They exchanged a smile of understanding.
Bob was passionately eager for what he called "regular schooling," that is the steady discipline of fixed lessons, the companionship of boys of his own age, and the give and take of the average large, busy school. Normal life of any kind was out of the question in the poorhouse where he had spent the first ten years of his life, and after that he had not seen the inside of a schoolroom. He had read whatever books he could pick up while at Bramble Farm, and in the knowledge of current events was remarkably well-posted, thanks to his steady assimilation of newspapers and magazines since leaving the Peabody roof. But he feared, and with some foundation, that he might be found deplorably lacking in the most rudimentary branches.
Betty, of course, had gone to school regularly until her mother's death. In the year that had elapsed she had thought little of lessons, and though she did not realize it, she had lost to a great extent the power of application. Systematic study of any kind might easily prove a hardship for the active Betty. Still she was eager to study again, perhaps prepare for college. More than anything else she craved girl friends.
"Let's go in for lunch at the first call," suggested Betty presently. "I didn't eat much breakfast, and I don't believe you did either."
"I swallowed a cup of boiling coffee," admitted Bob, "but that's all I remember. So I'm ready when you are."
Seated at a table well toward the center of the car, Betty's attention was attracted to a girl who sat facing her. She was not a pretty girl. She looked discontented and peevish, and the manner in which she addressed the waiter indicated that she felt under no obligation to disguise her feelings.
"Take that back," she ordered, pointing a beautifully manicured hand at a dish just placed before her. "If you can't bring me a poached egg that isn't raw, don't bother at all. And I hope you don't intend to call this cream?"
Bob glanced swiftly over at the table. The girl consciously tucked back a lock of stringy hair, displaying the flash of several diamonds.
"Sweet disposition, hasn't she?" muttered Bob under his breath. "I'd like to see her board just one week with Mr. Peabody."
"Don't—she'll hear you," protested Betty. "I wonder if she is all alone? What lovely clothes she has! And did you see her rings?"
"Well, she'll need 'em, if she's going to snap at everybody," said Bob severely. "Diamonds help out a cross tongue when a poor waiter is thinking of his tip."
The girl was still finding fault with her food when Betty and Bob rose to leave the car, and when they passed her table she stared at them with languid insolence, half closing her narrow hazel eyes.
"Wow, she's bored completely," snickered Bob, when they were out of earshot. "I don't believe she's a day older than you are, Betty, and she is dressed up like a little Christmas tree."
"I think her clothes are wonderful," said Betty. "I wish I had a lace vestee and some long white gloves. Don't you think they're pretty, Bob?"
"No, I think they're silly," retorted Bob. "You wouldn't catch Bobby Littell going traveling in a party dress and wearing all the family jewels. Huh, here comes the conductor—wonder what he wants."
The conductor, it developed, was shifting passengers from the car behind the one in which Bob and Betty had seats. It was to be dropped at the next junction and the few passengers remaining were to be accommodated in this coach.
"You're all right, don't have to make any change," said the official kindly, after examining their tickets. "I'll tell the porter you go through to Chicago."
The car had been fairly well crowded before, and the extra influx taxed every available seat. Betty took out her crocheting and Bob decided that he would go in search of a shoe-shine.
"I'll come back and get you and we'll go out on the observation platform," he said contentedly.
"Chain six, double crochet—into the ring—" Betty murmured her directions half aloud.
"Right here, Ma'am?" The porter's voice aroused her.
There in the aisle stood the girl she had noticed in the diner, and with her was a harassed looking porter carrying three heavy bags.
"Perhaps you would just as lief take the aisle seat?" said the girl, surveying Betty as a princess might gaze upon an annoying little page. "I travel better when I can have plenty of fresh air."
"You might have thought I was a bug," Betty confided later to Bob.
The diamonds flashed as the girl loosened the fur collar at her throat.
"Please move over," she commanded calmly.
Betty was bewildered, but her innate courtesy died hard.
"You—you've made a mistake," she faltered. "This seat is taken."
"The conductor said to take any vacant seat," said the newcomer. "You can't hold seats in a public conveyance—my father says so. Put the bags in here, porter. Be careful of that enamel leather."
To Betty's dismay, she settled herself, flounces and furs and bags, in the narrow space that belonged to Bob, and by an adroit pressure of her elbow made it impossible for Betty to resume her crocheting.
"I think you done made a mistake, lady," ventured the porter. "This seat belongs to a young man what has a ticket to Chicago."
"Well, I'm going to Chicago," answered the girl composedly. "Do you expect me to stand up the rest of the way? The agent had no business to sell me a reservation in a car that only went as far as the Junction."
The porter withdrew, shaking his head, and in a few minutes Bob came back to his seat. Betty, watching the girl, saw her glance sidewise at him from her narrow eyes, though she pretended to be absorbed in a magazine.
"I beg your pardon," said Bob politely.
There was no response.
"Pardon me, but you've made a mistake," began Bob again. "You are in the wrong seat."
The magazine came down with a crash and the girl's face, distorted with rage, appeared in its place.
"Well, if I am, what are you going to do about it?" she shrilled rudely.
Betty Gordon had always, foolishly perhaps, associated courtesy and good-breeding with beautiful clothes. This strange girl, who could speak so on such slight provocation (none at all, to be exact) wore a handsome suit, and if her jewelry was too conspicuous it had the merit of being genuine. Betty herself had a lively temper, but she was altogether free from snappishness and when she "blew up" the cause was sure to be unmistakable and significant.
Bob jumped when the girl fired her question at him. There had been nothing in his limited experience with girls to prepare him for such an outburst. Betty half expected him to acquiesce and leave the stranger in possession of his seat, but to her surprise he simply turned on his heel and walked away. Not, however, before Betty had seen something bordering on contempt in his eyes.
"I'd hate to have Bob look at me like that," she thought. "It wasn't as if he didn't like her, or was mad at her—what is it I am trying to say? Bob looked as if—as if—Oh, bother, I know what I mean, but I can't say it."
The little spitfire in the seat beside her wriggled uneasily as if she, too, were not as comfortable as she would pretend. Bob's silent reception of her discourtesy had infuriated her, and she knew better than Betty where she stood in the boy's estimation. She had instantly forfeited his respect and probably his admiration forever.
In a few minutes Bob was back, and with him the conductor.
"Young lady, you're in the wrong seat," that official announced in a tone that admitted of no trifling. "You were in eighteen in the other car and I had to move you to twenty-three in here. Just follow me, please."
He reached in and took one of the suitcases, and Bob matter-of-factly took the other two. The girl opened her mouth, glanced at the conductor, and thought better of whatever she was going to say. Meekly she followed him to another section on the other side of the car and found herself compelled to share a seat with a severe-looking gray-haired woman, evidently a sufferer from hay fever, as she sneezed incessantly.
Bob dropped down in his old place and shot a quizzical look at Betty.
"Flame City may be tough," he observed, "and I'd be the last one to claim that it possessed one grain of culture; but at that, I can't remember having a pitched battle with a girl during my care-free existence there."
"She's used to having her own way," said Betty, with a laudable ambition to be charitable, an intention which she inadvertently destroyed by adding vigorously: "She'd get that knocked out of her if she lived West a little while."
"Guess the East can be trusted to smooth her down," commented Bob grimly. "Unless she's planning to live in seclusion, she won't get far in peace or happiness unless she behaves a bit more like a human being."
The girl was more or less in evidence during the rest of the trip and incurred the cordial enmity of every woman in the car by the coolness with which she appropriated the dressing room in the morning and curled her hair and made an elaborate toilet in perfect indifference to the other feminine travelers who were shut out till she had the last hairpin adjusted to her satisfaction.
She was met at the Chicago terminal by a party of gay friends who whisked her off in a palatial car, and Bob and Betty who, acting on Mr. Gordon's advice, spent their two-hour wait between trains driving along the Lake Shore Drive, forgot her completely.
But first Betty fell victim to the charms of a hat displayed in a smart little millinery shop, and had an argument with Bob in which she came off victor.
"Oh, Bob, what a darling hat!" she had exclaimed, drawing him over to the window as they turned down the first street from the station. "I must have it; I want to look nice when I meet the girls in Washington."
"You look nice now," declared Bob sturdily. "But if you want to buy it, go ahead," he encouraged her. "Ask 'em how much it is, though," he added, with a sudden recollection of the fabulous prices said to be charged for a yard of ribbon and a bit of lace.
The hat in question was a soft brown beaver that rolled slightly away from the face and boasted as trimming a single scarlet quill. It was undeniably becoming, and Bob gave it his unqualified approval.
"And you will want a veil?" insinuated the clever young French saleswoman. "See—it is charming!"
She threw over the hat a cobwebby pattern of brown silk net embroidered heavily with chenille dots and deftly draped it back from Betty's glowing face.
"You don't want a veil!" said Bob bluntly.
Now the mirror told Betty that the veil looked very well indeed, and made her, she was sure of it, prettier. Betty was a good traveler and the journey had not tired her. The excitement and pleasure of choosing a new hat had brought a flush to her cheeks, and the shining brown eyes that gazed back at her from the glass assured her that a veil was something greatly to be desired.
"You don't want it," repeated Bob. "You're only thirteen and you'll look silly. Do you want to dress like that girl on the train?"
If Bob had stopped to think he would have realized that his remarks were not exactly tactful. Especially the reference to Betty's age, just when she fancied that she looked very grown up indeed. She was fond of braiding her heavy thick hair and wrapping it around her head so that there were no hair-ribbons to betray her. In Betty's experience the border line between a young lady and a little girl was determined by the absence or presence of hair-ribbons.
"How much is it?" she asked the saleswoman.
"Oh, but six dollars," answered that young person with a wave of one jeweled hand as though six dollars were a mere nothing.
"I'll take it," said Betty decisively. "And I'll wear it and the hat, too, please; you can wrap up my old one."
Bob was silent until the transaction had been completed and they were out of the shop.
"You wait here and I'll see about getting a car to take us along the Drive," he said then.
"You're—you're not mad at me, are you Bob?" faltered Betty, putting an appealing hand on his arm. "I haven't had any fun with clothes all summer long."
"No, I'm not mad. But I think you're an awful chump," replied Bob with his characteristic frankness.
Before the drive was over, Betty was inclined to agree with him.
The car was an open one, and while the day was warm and sunny, there was a lively breeze blowing straight off the lake. The veil persisted in blowing first into Betty's eyes, then into Bob's, and interfered to an amazing degree with their enjoyment of the scenery. Finally, as they rounded a curve and caught the full breath of the breeze, the veil blew away entirely.
"Let it go," said Betty resignedly. "It's cost me six dollars to learn I don't want to wear a veil."
Bob privately decided he liked her much better without the flimsy net affair, but he wisely determined not to air his opinion. There was no use, he told himself, in "rubbing it in."
They had lunch in a cozy little tea-room and went back to the train like seasoned travelers. Bob was an ideal companion for such journeys, for he never lost his head and never missed connections, while nervous haste was unknown to him.
"Won't I be glad to see the Littells!" exclaimed Betty, watching the porter make up their berths.
"So shall I," agreed Bob. "Did you ever know such hospitable people, asking a whole raft of us to spend the week at Fairfields? How many did Bobby write would be there?"
"Let's see," said Betty, checking off on her fingers. "There'll be Bobby and Louise, of course; and Esther who is too young to go away to school, but who will want to do everything we do; Libbie Littell and another Vermont girl we don't know—Frances Martin; you and I; and the five boys Mr. Littell wrote you about—the Tucker twins, Timothy Derby, Sydney Cooke and Winifred Marion Brown. Twelve of us! Won't it be fun! I do wish the Guerin girls could be there, but we'll see them at the school."
"I'd like to see that Winifred Marion chap," declared Bob. "A boy with a girl's name has his troubles cut out for him, I should say."
"Lots of 'em have girls' names—in history," contributed Betty absently. "What time do we get into Washington, Bob?"
"Around five, probably six p.m., for we're likely to be a bit late," replied Bob. "Let's go to bed now, Betty, and get an early start in the morning."
The day spent on the train was uneventful, and, contrary to Bob's expectations, they were on time at every station. Betty's heart beat faster as the hands of her little wrist watch pointed to 5:45 and the passengers began to gather up their wraps. The porter came through and brushed them thoroughly and Betty adjusted her new hat carefully.
The long train slid into the Union Station. With what different emotions both Bob and Betty had seen the beautiful, brilliantly lighted building on the occasion of their first trip to Washington! Then each had been without a friend in the great city, and now they were to be welcomed by a host.
Betty's cheeks flushed rose-red, but her lovely eyes filled with a sudden rush of tears.
"I'm so happy!" she whispered to the bewildered Bob.
"Want my handkerchief?" he asked anxiously, at which Betty tried not to laugh.
FUN AT FAIRFIELDS
The long platform was crowded. Betty followed Bob, who carried their bags. She tried to peer ahead, but the moving forms blocked her view. Just after they passed through the gate, some one caught her.
"Betty, you lamb! I never was so glad to see any one in my life!" cried a gay voice, and Bobby Littell hugged her close in one of her rare caresses.
Bob Henderson held out his hand as soon as Bobby released Betty. He liked this straightforward, brusque girl who so evidently adored Betty.
"Why, Bob, you've grown a foot!" was Bobby Littell's greeting to him.
Bob modestly disclaimed any such record, and then Louise and Esther, who had swooped upon Betty, turned to shake hands with him.
"The rest of the crowd is out in the car," said Bobby carelessly.
Outside the station, in the open plaza, a handsome closed car awaited them. The gray-haired chauffeur, cap in hand, stood back as a procession of boys and girls advanced upon Bob and Betty and their escort.
"Oh, Betty, dear!" Short, plump Libbie Littell, who had relinquished her claim to the name of "Betty" in Betty Gordon's favor some time ago, hurled herself upon her friend. "To think we're going to the same school!"
"Well, Frances is going, too," said Bobby practically. "She might like to be introduced, you know. Betty, this is Frances Martin, a Vermont girl who is out after all the Latin prizes."
Frances smiled a slow, sweet smile, and, behind thick glasses, her dark near-sighted eyes said that she was very glad to know Betty Gordon.
"Now the boys!" announced the irrepressible Bobby, apparently taking Bob's introduction to Frances for granted. "The boys will please line up and I'll indicate them."
The five lads obediently came forward and ranged themselves in a row.
"From left to right," chanted Bobby, "we have the Tucker twins, Tommy and Teddy, W. M. Brown, who asks his friends to use his initials and punches those who refuse, Timothy Derby who reads poetry and Sydney Cooke who ought to—" and Bobby completed her speech with a wicked grin, for she had managed to hit several weaknesses.
"As an introducer," she announced calmly to Carter, the personification of propriety's horror, "I think I do rather well."
They stowed themselves into the limousine somehow, the girls settled more or less comfortably on the seats, the boys squeezed in between, hanging on the running board, and spilling over into Carter's domain.
Bob liked the five boys at once, and they seemed to accept him as one of them. If he had had a little fear that he would feel diffident and unboyish among lads of his own age, it vanished at the first contact.
"Betty, you sweet child, how we have missed you!" cried Mrs. Littell, standing on the lowest step under the porte-cochere as the car swept up the drive of Fairfields, as the Littell's home was called.
Behind her waited Mr. Littell, fully recovered from the injury to his foot which had made him an invalid during Betty's previous visit.
From Carter, who had beamingly greeted her at the station, to the pretty parlor maid who smiled as Betty entered her room to find her turning down the bed covers, there was not a servant who did not remember Betty and seem glad to see her.
"It is so good to have you two here again," Mr. Littell had said.
"I never knew such people," Betty repeated to herself twenty times that evening. "How lovely they are to Bob and me!"
Mrs. Littell, who was happiest when entertaining young people, had put the six boys on the third floor in three connecting rooms. The girls were on the second floor, and Esther, the youngest, who had strenuously fought to be allowed to go to Shadyside with her two sisters, was almost beside herself with the effort to be in all the rooms at once and hear what every one was saying.
"I'm so glad your uncle let you come," said Bobby, as they waited for Betty to change into a light house frock for dinner. "I don't know much about this school, except that mother went to school with the principal."
That was a characteristic Bobby Littell remark, and the other girls laughed.
"I had a letter from a girl who lives in Glenside," confided Betty, re-braiding her hair. "She and her sister are going—Norma and Alice Guerin. I know you'll like them. Norma wrote her mother went to Shadyside when it was a day school."
"Yes, I believe it was, years and years ago," returned Louise Littell. "The aristocratic families who lived on large estates used to send their daughters to Mrs. Warde. Her daughter, Mrs. Eustice, is the principal now."
Betty wondered if Norma Guerin's mother had belonged to one of the families who owned large estates, but they went down to dinner presently and she forgot the Guerins for the time being.
That was a busy week for the school boys and girls.
The beautiful house and grounds of Fairfields were at their disposal, and the gallant host and gentle hostess gave themselves up to the whims and wishes of the houseful of young people.
"Racket while you may, for school-room discipline is coming," laughed Mr. Littell, when he went upstairs unexpectedly early one night and caught the abashed Tucker twins sliding down the banisters.
Both Bob and Betty had wired Mr. Gordon of their safe arrival in Washington, and Bob had also telegraphed his aunts. While they were at Fairfields a letter reached them from Miss Hope and Miss Charity, describing in glowing terms the boarding house in which they were living and the California climate which, the writers declared, made them feel "twenty years younger." So Bob was assured that the elderly ladies were neither homesick nor unhappy and that added appreciably to his peace of mind.
He and Betty found time, too, to slip away from their gay companions and go to the old second-hand bookshop where Lockwood Hale browsed among his dusty volumes. He had set Bob upon the trail that led him West and brought him finally to his surviving kin, and the boy felt warm gratitude to the absent-minded old man.
Mr. and Mrs. Littell rigidly insisted that the last night before the young folks started for Shadyside must be reserved for final packing and early retirement so that the gay band might begin their journey auspiciously. The Tuesday evening before the Thursday they were to leave for school, the host and hostess gave a dance for their young people.
"I'm glad to have at least one chance to wear this dress," observed Bobby, smoothing down the folds of her rose-colored frock with satisfaction. "The only thing I don't like about Shadyside, so far, is that restriction about party clothes."
"I imagine it is a wise rule in many ways," said Betty sagely, thinking particularly of the Guerin girls, who would probably be hard-pressed to get even the one evening frock allowed. "You know how some girls are, Bobby; they'd come with a dozen crepe de chine and georgette dresses and about three clean blouses for school-room wear."
"Like Ruth Gladys Royal," giggled Bobby. "I remember her at Miss Graham's last year. Goodness, the clothes that girl would wear! The rest of us didn't even try to compete. And, by the way, girls, Ruth Gladys is going to Shadyside. Her aunt telephoned mother last night while we were at the movies."
"That's the girl we went to call on that day we saw Mr. Peabody tackle Bob in the hotel," Louise explained in an aside to Betty. "I wonder why every one seems bent and determined to go to Shadyside this year."
"Because it is a fine school with a half-century reputation," Bobby, who had studied the catalogue, informed her sister primly.
"I'm not going," objected Esther. "I think it's mean."
"Mother and dad need one girl at home, dearest," her mother reminded her, as she came in looking very handsome and kindly in a black spangled net gown. "All ready, girls? Then suppose we go down."
It was a simple and informal dance, as befitted the ages of the guests, but Mr. and Mrs. Littell knew to perfection the secret of making each one enjoy himself. There were a handful of outside friends invited, and Betty, to whom a party was a never-failing source of delight, felt, as she confided to Bob, as though she were "walking on air."
"You look awfully nice in that white stuff," he said frankly, and Betty liked the comment on her pretty ruffled white frock which she had dubiously decided a moment before was too plain.
Betty was what country folk call a "natural-born dancer," and she quickly learned the new steps she had had no opportunity to practice since going West. All the girls and most of the boys were excellent dancers, too, and Bob was not allowed to beg off. Frances Martin, the last girl one would have named, had taught a dancing class in her home town with great success and she volunteered to lead Bob. To his surprise, the boy found he liked the music and movement and before the evening was over he was in a fair way to become a good dancer.
The party broke up promptly at eleven o'clock, and a few minutes later the whir of the last motor bearing home the departing guests died away. There was a natural lingering to "talk things over," but by twelve the house was silent and dark.
Betty had just fairly dozed off when some one woke her by shaking her gently.
"Betty! Betty, please wake up!" whispered a frightened little voice.
TOO MUCH PARTY
Betty shared a room with Bobby. The single beds were separated by a table on which an electric drop light and the water pitcher and glasses were placed.
Betty's first impulse was to snap on the light, but as she put out her hand, Esther grasped her wrist.
"It's only me," she whispered, her teeth chattering with fright. "Don't wake Bobby up."
"Are you cold?" asked Betty, sitting up anxiously. "Perhaps you were too warm dancing. Do you want to get into bed with me?"
It was a warm night for October, and Betty was at a loss to understand Esther's shivering.
"I can't find Libbie!" Esther cried. "Oh, Betty, I never thought she would do it, never."
Betty reached for her dressing gown and slippers.
"Don't cry, or you'll wake up Bobby," she advised the sobbing Esther. "Come on, I'll go back with you. Don't make a noise."
The girls occupied three connecting rooms, and Esther and Libbie had slept in the end of the suite. To reach it now, the two girls had to go through the room where Louise and Frances lay slumbering peacefully. Betty breathed a sigh of relief when they gained Esther's room and she closed the door carefully and turned on the light.
Esther's bed, madly tumbled, and Libbie's, evidently occupied that night, but now empty, were revealed.
Esther dropped down on the floor, wrapping her kimono about her, and regarded Betty trustfully. She was sure her friend would straighten things out.
"Where is Libbie?" demanded Betty. "What is she doing?"
"I don't know," admitted Esther unhappily. "But I tell you what I think—I think she's eloped!"
Esther was only eleven, and as she sat on the floor and stared at Betty from great wet blue eyes, she seemed very young indeed.
"Eloped!" gasped Betty. "Why, I never heard of such a thing!"
"She's always talking about it," the younger girl wailed, beginning to cry again. "She says it's the most romantic way to be married, and she means to throw her hope chest out of the window first and slide down a rope made of bedsheets."
"Well, I think it's very silly to talk like that," scolded Betty. "And, what's more, Esther, however much Libbie may talk of eloping, she hasn't done it this time. All her clothes are here, and her shoes and her hat. Here's her purse on the dresser, too."
"I never thought of looking to see if her clothes were here," confessed Esther. "But then, where is she, Betty?"
"That's what I mean to find out," announced Betty, with more confidence than she felt. "Come on, Esther. And don't trip on your kimono or walk into anything."
They tiptoed out into the wide hall and had reached the head of the beautiful carved staircase when they saw a dim form coming toward them.
Esther nearly shrieked aloud, but Betty put a hand over her mouth in time.
"Who—who, who-o-o are you?" stammered Betty, her heart beating so fast it was painful.
"Betty!" Bob stifled a gasp. "For the love of Mike! what are you doing at this time of night?"
"Esther's here—we're hunting for Libbie," whispered Betty. "She isn't in her room."
"So that's it!" For some reason unknown to the girls Bob seemed to be vastly relieved. "I was just going after Mr. Littell," he added.
"But Libbie is lost! Maybe she is sick," urged Betty.
"She's all right," declared Bob confidently. "You see, I couldn't go to sleep, and after I'd been in bed about an hour I got up and sat by the window. I was staring down into the garden, and all of a sudden I saw something white begin to move and creep about. I watched it a few moments and I got the idea it was a burglar or a sneak thief, it kept so close to the house. I came down to call Mr. Littell and bumped into you."
"Do you suppose it is Libbie?" chattered Esther. "Why would she go into the garden in the middle of the night?"
"Walking in her sleep," explained Bob. "I've heard it is dangerous to waken a sleep-walker suddenly. Perhaps you'd better call Mrs. Littell, Betty, and I'll sit here on the window seat and see that she doesn't walk out into the road."
The two girls hurried off and tapped lightly on Mrs. Littell's door. That lady hurriedly admitted them, her motherly mind instantly picturing something wrong.
"It's Libbie," said Betty softly. "Bob saw her from his window in the garden and he thinks she's walking in her sleep. We don't want to frighten her. What can we do?"
"I'll be right out," said Mrs. Littell reassuringly. "Libbie's mother used to walk in her sleep, too. I think I can get the child into bed without waking her at all."
In a few moments she came out, a heavy corduroy robe and slippers protecting her against the night air.
"Esther, lamb, you stay here in the hall with Bob," she directed her youngest daughter. "You won't be afraid with Bob, will you, dear? I don't want too many to go down or we may startle Libbie."
Betty crept downstairs after Mrs. Littell, the soft, thick rugs making their progress absolutely noiseless. Not a step in the well-built staircase creaked.
They found the chain and bolt drawn from the heavy front door. Libbie had evidently let herself out with no difficulty. From the wide hall window Bob and Esther watched breathlessly.
"Just go up to her quietly and take one of her hands," Mrs. Littell whispered to Betty. "I'll take the other, and, if I'm not mistaken, we can lead her into the house."
Libbie stood motionless beside a rosebush as they approached her. Her eyes were wide open, and her dark hair floated over her shoulders. In her white nightdress, the moonlight full upon her, she looked very pretty and yet so weird that Betty could not repress a shiver.
Mrs. Littell did not speak, but took one of the limp hands in hers, and Betty took the other. Libbie made no resistance, and allowed them to draw her toward the house. They crossed the threshold, led her upstairs, past the quivering Esther and Bob huddled on the windowseat, and into the bedroom she had so unceremoniously left.
Then Mrs. Littell lifted her in strong arms, put her gently down on the bed, and Libbie rolled up like a little kitten, tucked one hand under her cheek and continued to sleep.
"Now go to bed, children, do," commanded Mrs. Littell. "Bob, I'm so thankful you saw that child—she might have wandered off or caught a severe cold. As it is, I don't believe she has been out very long. What's the matter, Esther?"
"Can I come and sleep with you?" pleaded Esther. "I'm afraid to sleep with Libbie. She might do it again."
"I don't think so—not to-night," said her mother, smiling. "However, chicken, come and sleep with me if you'll rest better."
Betty awoke and went in later that night to see if Libbie had vanished again, but found her sleeping normally. In the morning the girl was much surprised to find she had been wandering in the garden and betrayed considerable interest in the details. Betty decided that it would be better to omit Esther's belief that she had eloped, and Libbie was allowed to remain in blissful ignorance of the action her youthful cousin attributed to her.
The last day sped by all too soon, and what the Tucker twins persisted in pessimistically designating the "fateful Thursday" was upon them.
"I don't know why you sigh so frequently," dimpled Betty, who sat next to Tommy Tucker at the breakfast table. "I'm very anxious to go to school. Don't you really like to go back?"
"It's like this," said Tommy, the "dark Tucker twin," solemnly. "From four to ten p.m. (except on drill nights) I like it well enough, and from ten, lights out, till six, reveille, I'm fairly contented. But from nine to four, when we're cooped up in classrooms, I simply detest school!"
Teddy, the "light Tucker twin," nodded in confirmation.
"I suppose we have to be educated," he admitted, with the air of one making a generous concession to public opinion, "but I don't see why they find it necessary to prolong the agony. Any one who can read and write can make a living."
"Perhaps your father hopes you'll do a bit more than that," suggested Mr. Littell slyly.
This effectually silenced the twins, for their wealthy father was a splendid scientist who had made several explorations that had contributed materially to the knowledge of the scientific world, and he had lost the sight of one eye in a laboratory experiment undertaken to advance the cause for which he labored.
The Littell car carried the twelve to the station soon after breakfast, and though Shadyside and Salsette, unlike many of the large northern schools, ran no "special," the few passengers who were not school bound found themselves decidedly in the minority on the "9:36 local" that morning.
"Remember, Betty, you and Bob are to spend the holidays with us," said Mrs. Littell, as she kissed her good-bye. "If your uncle comes down from Canada, he must come, too."
"All aboard!" shouted the conductor, who foresaw a lively trip. "No'm, you can't go through the gate—nobody can."
The crowd of fathers and mothers and younger brothers and sisters pressed close to the iron grating as the train got under way. On the back platform the Tucker twins raised their voices in a school yell that would have horrified the dignified heads of the Academy had they been there to hear it.
"I'm Salsette born!" trilled Tommy Tucker soulfully.
"And Salsette bred!" chimed in his brother
"And when I die—" caroled Tommy.
"I'll be Salsette dead!" they finished together.
Then, highly satisfied with this intelligible ditty, they burst into the car where the others were waiting for them.
The boys had appropriated the seats at the forward end of the car, and unfortunately their selection included a seat in which an elderly, or so she seemed to them, woman sat. She fidgeted incessantly, folding and unfolding her long traveling coat, opening and closing a fitted lunch basket, and arranging and re-arranging several small unwieldy parcels and heavy books that slid persistently to the floor with the jarring of the train. When the conductor came through for tickets, she discovered that she had mislaid hers and it was necessary to flutter the pages of every book before the missing bit of pasteboard finally dropped from between the leaves of the last one opened.
Bob, with instinctive courtesy, had offered to help her search, but she had rebuffed him sharply.
"I don't want any boy pawing over my belongings," she informed him tartly.
Bob flushed a little, it was impossible not to help it, but he said nothing. Meeting Betty's indignant eyes, he smiled good-humoredly.
"Sweet pickles!" ejaculated Tommy Tucker indignantly. "Here, you Timothy, hand me that suitcase at your feet—it belongs to the little dark girl."
Libbie, "the little dark girl," smiled dreamily as Timothy passed her suitcase to Tommy. She and Timothy Derby, ignoring the jeers of their friends, were deep in two white and gold volumes of poetry. Timothy, Libbie had discovered, had a leaning toward the romantic in fiction, though he preferred his served in rhyme.
The wicked Tommy had a motive in asking for Libbie's suitcase. It was much smaller and lighter than any of the others, and he swung it deftly into the rack over the vinegary lady's unsuspecting head. With a deftness, born it must be confessed of previous practice, he balanced the case on the rim so that the first lurch of the train catapulted the thing down squarely on the woman's hat, snapping a shiny, hard black quill in two.
"I must say!" she sputtered, rising angrily. "Who put that up there? If anything goes in that rack, it will be some of my things. I paid for this seat."
She set the suitcase out into the aisle with a decided bang, and lifted up the wicker lunch basket. To the glee of the watching young people, as she lifted it to the rack, two china cups, several teaspoons and a silver cream jug sifted down. The cups broke on the floor and the other articles rolled under the seats.
"Get 'em, quick!" cried the owner. "My two best cups broken, and I thought I had them packed so well! Pick up those teaspoons, some of you—they're solid silver!"
"If you don't mind boys pawing them—" began Teddy Tucker, but Betty intervened.
"Oh, don't!" she protested softly. "Don't be so mean. Pick them up, please do."
So down on their hands and knees went the six lads, and if, in their earnestness, they bumped into the elderly woman's hat box, and knocked down her books, that really should not be held against them.
"Now for mercy's sake, don't let me hear from you again," was her speech of thanks to them when the teaspoons had been recovered and restored to her.
She might have been severely left alone after this, if Sydney Cooke had not discovered a remarkable peculiarity she possessed. Sydney was a great lover of games, and he had brought his pocket checkerboard and men with him. He persuaded Winifred Marion Brown to play a game with him, and the rest of the party crowded around to watch.
"I'll trouble you to let me pass," said the owner of the teaspoons, when Sydney had just made his first play.
The group parted to let her through, closed in again, and opened again for her when she came back. No one paid any attention to this until she had made the request four times.
"What ails that woman?" demanded Sydney irritably.
Each time she had passed him she had brushed his elbow, scattering his checkers about. Ordinarily sweet-tempered, Sydney was beginning to weary of this performance.
"What do you think?" snickered Bobby Littell. "She takes a white tablet every five minutes. Honest! I've been watching her. She sits there with her watch in her hand, and exactly five minutes apart—I've timed her—she starts for the water cooler. She puts something on her tongue, swallows a glass of water, and comes back."
"Well, somebody carry her a gallon jug," muttered Sydney impatiently. "I can't get anywhere if she is going to parade up and down the aisle incessantly."
"Don't worry," said Tommy Tucker soothingly. "I'll adjust this little matter for you."
If Sydney had been less interested in his game, he might have felt slightly apprehensive. The Tucker twins were famous for their "adjustments."
Tommy went down the aisle and slipped into the seat directly back of the woman who did not approve of boys. She turned and regarded him hostilely, but he gazed out at the flying landscape. The moment she turned around, he ducked to the floor.
"What do you suppose he is doing?" whispered Bobby to Betty. "Tommy can think up tricks faster than any boy I ever knew."
Whatever Tommy was doing, he finished in a very few moments and sauntered back to the checker game, his eyes dancing.
Sydney and Winifred were absorbed in their game, and the others, with the exception of Bobby and Betty, had not noticed Tommy's brief absence.
"Oh, look!" Betty clutched Bobby's arm excitedly. "What has happened to her?"
The woman, who had sat with her watch in her hand, snapped it shut, prepared to make another journey to the water cooler. She half rose, an alarmed expression flitted over her face, and she sank into her seat again. Tommy's eyes were studiously on the checkerboard.
With one convulsive effort, the woman struggled to her feet, grasped the bell-cord and jerked it twice, then dropped into her seat and began to weep hysterically.
The brakes jarred down, and the train came to a sudden stop that sent many of the passengers m a mad scramble forward.
In a few moments the conductor flung open the car door angrily. Behind him two anxious young brakesmen peered curiously.
"Anybody in here jerk that bellcord?" demanded the conductor, scowling.
"Certainly. It was I," said the elderly woman loftily.
"Oh, you did, eh?" he bristled, apparently unworried by her opinion. "What did you do that for? Here you've stopped a whole train."
"I considered it necessary," was the icy reply. "Perhaps you will be good enough to call a doctor?"
"Are you ill?" the conductor's voice changed perceptibly. "I doubt if there is a doctor on the train, but I'll see."
"Tell him to hurry," said the woman commandingly. "I think I'm paralyzed."
"Paralyzed!" Tommy Tucker gave a loud snort and fell over backward into the arms of his twin.
The conductor shot a suspicious glance toward him. He had traveled on school trains before.
"You seem to be all right, Madam," he said to the stricken one courteously. "There's a doctor at the Junction, I'm sure. What makes you think you're paralyzed?"
"My good man," said the woman majestically, "when a person in good health and accustomed to normal activity suddenly loses the power to use her—er—feet, isn't that an indication of some physical trouble?"
Her unfortunate and un-American phrase, "my good man," had nettled the conductor, and besides his train was losing time.
"We'll miss connections at the Junction if we fool away much more time," he said testily. "I wonder—Why look here! No wonder you can't use your feet!"
To the elderly woman's horror he had swooped down and laid a not ungentle hand on her ankle in its neat and smart-looking shoe. Now he took out his knife, slashed twice, and held up the pieces of a stout length of twine.
"You were tied to the seat-base by the heels of your shoes," he informed the patient grimly. "One foot tied to the other, too. Well, Jim, take in your signals—guess we can mosey along."
"And who would have expected her to wear high-heeled boots!" exclaimed Bobby, with real amazement showing in voice and look.
The few passengers in the car, aside from the school contingent, were openly laughing. The victim of this practical joke turned a dull red and the glare she turned on the back of the luckless Tommy's head was proof enough that she knew exactly where to lay the blame.
However, she said nothing, nor did she make another trip down the aisle and as Tommy philosophically whispered, this was worth all he had dared and suffered. Sydney and Winifred finished their game before the Junction was reached and that brought a wild charge to get on the train that would carry them to Shadyside station.
To their relief, there was no sign of the elderly woman in the new car, and as they were all a bit tired from the journey and excitement the hour's ride to Shadyside from the Junction was comparatively quiet.
Betty looked eagerly from the window as the brakesman shouted, "Shadyside! Shadyside!"
"Isn't it a pretty station!" said Louise Littell.
Betty agreed with her.
The lawn was still green about the gray stone building and the tiles on the low-hanging roof were moss green, too. The long platform was roofed over and seemed swarming with girls and boys. Evidently a train had come in from the other direction a few minutes before the Junction train, for bags and suitcases and trunks were heaped up outside the baggage room door and the busses backed up to the edge of the gravel driveway were partially filled with passengers.
The blue and silver uniforms of the Salsette cadets were much in evidence, and Betty's first thought was of how nice Bob Henderson would look in uniform.
"There's our friend!" whispered Tommy Tucker, directing Betty's attention to the severe-looking elderly woman whom he had so bothered on the train. "Gee, do you suppose she goes to Shadyside? I thought it was a girls' School!"
"Oh, do be quiet!" scolded Bobby Littell "Tommy, you've got us in a peck of trouble—she's one of the teachers!"
"How do you know?" demanded Tommy. "Who told you?"
"Well, if you'd keep still a minute, you'd hear," said the exasperated Bobby.
Sure enough, a pleasant, fresh-faced woman, hardly more than a girl, was escorting the gray-haired woman to a waiting touring car.
"You're the last of the staff to come," she said clearly. Mrs. Eustice was beginning to worry about you. Will you tell her that I'm coming up in the bus with the girls?"
"All right, you win," admitted Tommy. "Why couldn't she say she was a teacher instead of acting so blamed exclusive? Anyway, she probably won't connect you girls with me—all boys look alike to her."
"She has a wonderful memory—like a camera," surmised Bobby gloomily. "You wait and see."
"Girls, are all of you for Shadyside?" The young woman had come up to them and now she smiled at the giggling, chattering group with engaging friendliness. "I thought you were. We take this auto-stage over here. Give your baggage checks to this porter. I'm Miss Anderson, the physical instructor."
"Salsette boys this way!" boomed a stentorian voice.
"Good-bye, Betty. See you soon," whispered Bob, giving Betty's hand a hurried squeeze. "We're only across the lake, you know."
"You chaps, move!" directed the voice snappily.
With one accord the group dissolved, the boys hastening to the stage marked "Salsette" and the girls following Miss Anderson.
There were two stages for the Academy and two for Shadyside, and a smaller bus which, they afterward learned, followed the route to the town, which was not on the railroad.
A pretty girl tumbled down the stage steps and nearly choked Betty with the fervency of her embrace.
It was Norma Guerin, and Alice was waiting, smiling. Betty was delighted to meet these old friends, and she introduced them to the Littell girls and Libbie and Frances in the happy, tangled fashion that such introductions usually are performed. Names and faces get straightened out more gradually.
The stage in which they found themselves, for the seven girls insisted on sitting near each other, was well-filled. They had started and were lurching along the rather uneven road when Betty found herself staring at a girl on the other side of the bus.
"Where have I seen her before?" she puzzled. "I wonder—does she look like some one I know? Oh, I remember! She's the girl we saw on the train—the one that took Bob's seat!"
Just then a girl sitting up near the driver's seat leaned forward.
"Ada!" she called. "Ada Nansen! Are you the girl they say brought five trunks and three hat boxes?"
"Well, they're little ones!" said the girl sitting opposite Betty. "I wanted to bring three wardrobe trunks, but mother thought Mrs. Eustice might make a fuss."
So the girl's name was Ada Nansen. Betty was sure she remembered their encounter on the train, if for no other reason than that Ada studiously refused to meet her eye. Betty was too inexperienced to know that a certain type of girl never takes a step toward making a new friend unless she has the worldly standing of that friend first clearly fixed in her mind.
"What gorgeous furs she has!" whispered Norma Guerin. "Do you know her, Betty?"
Betty shook her head. Strictly speaking, she did not know Ada. What she did know of her was not pleasant, and it was part of Betty's personal creed never to repeat anything unkind if nothing good was to come of it.
"I can tell Bob, 'cause he knows about her," she said to herself. "Won't he be surprised! I do hope she hasn't brought a huge wardrobe to school to make Norma and Alice feel bad."
Though both the Guerin girls wore the neatest blouses and suits, any girl could immediately have told you that their clothes were not new that season and that the little bag each carried had been oiled and polished at home.
That Ada Nansen's trunks were worrying Norma, too, her next remark showed.
"Alice and I have only one trunk between us," she confided to Betty. "Mother said Mrs. Eustice never allowed the girls to dress much. I made Alice's party frock and mine, too. They're plain white."
"So's mine," said Betty quickly. "Mrs. Littell wouldn't let her daughters have elaborate clothes, and the Littells have oceans of money. I don't believe Ada can wear her fine feathers now she has 'em."
Twenty minutes' ride brought them in sight of the school, and as the bus turned down the road that led to the lake, many exclamations of pleasure were heard.
A double row of weeping willows, now bare, of course, bordered the lake, and the sloping lawns of the school led down to these. The red brick buildings of the Salsette Academy could be glimpsed on the other shore. Shadyside consisted of a large brick and limestone building that the last term pupils in the busses obligingly explained was the "administration," where classes were taught. The gymnasium was also in this building. In addition were three gray stone buildings, connected with bridges, in which were the dormitories, the teachers' rooms, the dining room, the infirmary, and the kitchens. The administration building was also connected with the other buildings by a covered passageway which, they were to discover, was opened only in bad weather. Mrs. Eustice, the principal, had a theory that girls did not get out into the fresh air often enough.
The main building possessed a handsome doorway, and here the busses stopped and discharged their passengers.
"Ada, my dear love!" cried a girl from the bus behind the one in which Betty and her friends had ridden.
An over-dressed, stout girl advanced upon Ada Nansen and kissed her affectionately.
"Look quick! That's Ruth Gladys Royal!" whispered Bobby. "I hope they room together—they'll be a pair. Ada, my dear love!" she mimicked wickedly. "Libbie, let that be a warning to you—Ruth Gladys Royal is terribly romantic, too!"
Miss Anderson, smiling and unhurried, marshaled her charges into the large foyer and announced that they would be assigned to rooms before luncheon.
"Mrs. Eustice will speak to you in the assembly hall this afternoon," said Miss Anderson. "And you will meet her and the teachers for a little social hour."
Two busy young clerks were at work in the office adjoining the foyer, and for those who were already provided with a room-mate the task of securing a room was a matter of only a few moments.
Our girls, with the exception of Louise, had paired off when they had registered for the term. Bobby Littell and Betty Gordon were, of course, inseparable. Libbie and Frances, great friends in their home town, naturally gravitated together, though Betty would have chosen a less studious room-mate for the dreamy Libbie—she needed a girl who would know more accurately what she was doing. Norma and Alice Guerin were to share a room, and Louise felt forlornly out of things when Miss Anderson came up to her bringing a red-haired, freckle-faced girl with wide gray eyes and a boyish grin.
"Louise Littell—you are Louise, aren't you?" asked the teacher. "Well, here's a girl who's come to us from a Western army post. Her name is Constance Howard, and she doesn't know a single girl. Don't you think you two might be happy together?"
Constance smiled again, and Louise warmed perceptibly. Louise was the least friendly of the three Littell girls.
"I'll let you play my ukulele," offered Constance eagerly.
"Let me. She doesn't know a ukulele from a music box," said Bobby, with sisterly frankness. "Come on, girls, let's go up and see our rooms."
They tramped up the broad staircase and crossed one of the bridges to find themselves in a delightful, sunny building with corridors carpeted in softest green. The rooms apparently were all connecting, and the teacher who met them said the eight friends might have adjoining rooms as long as "they gave no trouble."
"I'm your corridor teacher, Miss Lacey," she explained.
"Let's be glad she isn't the one we saw on the train," whispered the irrepressible Bobby, as they all trooped into the first room.
It was soon settled that Betty and Bobby were to have the center room in a suite of three and Libbie and Frances should be on one side of them, and Louise and Constance Howard on the other. There was a perfectly appointed bathroom opening off the center room which the six were to share. Norma and Alice Guerin were given a room that adjoined that occupied by Libbie and Frances, but nominally, Miss Lacey explained, they would be considered as a unit in the next suite of three connecting rooms. Fortunately two very friendly, quiet girls drew the room immediately next to the Guerin girls.
"But, Betty, listen," whispered Norma Guerin, drawing Betty aside as a great bumping and banging announced the arrival of the trunks. "Who do you suppose has the room next to the Bennett sisters? Ada Nansen and Ruth Gladys Royal!"
"You are in hard luck!" commented Bobby, who had overheard, as she danced off to open the door to the grinning expressman.
"All the porters are busy!" the man explained.
"So I just told 'em Tim McCarthy wasn't one to stand by and let work go undone. Where would ye be wantin' these little bags put now?"
He had a trunk on his back that, as Bobby afterward remarked to Betty, "would have done for an elephant."
"Girls, whose trunk is this?" demanded Bobby.
"Not mine!" came like a well-drilled chorus.
"'Miss Ada Nansen,'" read Betty, examining the card. "Bobby, that's one of the five!"
They directed the perspiring expressman to the right door and, it is to be regretted, shamelessly peeped while he toiled up and down bringing the five trunks and three hat boxes. Then he began on the baggage consigned to Ruth Gladys Royal, and the watchers counted three trunks.
Betty looked at the Guerin girls and laughed.
"Eight trunks!" she gasped. "They can't get that number in one room. Not and have any room for the furniture. Norma, do go and see what you can see."
Norma sped away, and returned as speedily, her eyes blazing.
"What do you think?" she demanded furiously. "They've had some of 'em put in our room, three I counted, and two in the Bennett girls' room. They're as mad as hops!"
"The Bennett girls are my friends," declared Bobby Littell sententiously. "I only hope they're mad enough to hop right down to the office and explain the state of things."
But the luncheon gong sounded just then, and a laughing, colorful throng of femininity swept down the broad stairs to the dining room.
"How lovely!" said Betty involuntarily.
There were no long tables in the large, airy room. Instead, round tables that seated from six to eight, each daintily set and with a slender vase of flowers in the center of each. Betty and Bobby had the same thought at the same moment.
"If we could only sit together, all of us!" their eyes telegraphed.
"They're all taking the tables they want and standing by the chairs," whispered Betty. "Let's do that."
A table set for eight was close to the door. Betty, Bobby, Louise, Frances, Libbie, Constance, Norma and Alice gently surrounded this and stood quietly behind the chairs.
Some one, somewhere, gave a signal, and the roomful was seated as if by magic.
"I see—those four tables over by the window are for the teachers," whispered Betty. "I see Miss Anderson and Miss Lacey, and that white-haired woman must be the principal. Yes, and girls, there's that woman whom the boys tormented so on the train!"