Grace Harlowe's Golden Summer
By JESSIE GRAHAM FLOWER, A. M.
Author of The Grace Harlowe High School Girls Series, The Grace Harlowe College Girls Series, etc.
PHILADELPHIA HENRY ALTEMUS COMPANY Copyright, 1917
I. A Song of Golden Summer
II. The House Behind the World
III. For Auld Lang Syne
IV. "To Thine Own Self Be True"
V. Flying in the Face of Superstition
VI. The Shadow
VII. The Veiled Prophetess of Destiny
VIII. Unveiling the Prophetess
IX. The Meaning of Semper Fidelis
X. The Shadow Deepens
XI. Postponing Happiness
XII. The Better Part
XIII. An Innocent Meddler
XIV. The Beginning of the End
XV. Merely a Looker-On
XVI. J. Elfreda's Master Stroke
XVIII. A Gleam of Hope
XIX. The Letter
XX. The Last Chance
XXI. The Call of the Elf's Horn
XXII. Out of the Valley
XXIII. The Strange Story
XXIV. The Noon of Golden Summer
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Grace's Embroidery Dropped From Her Hands.
Devoted Love Shone in Her Clear Gray Eyes.
"Here You Are, Weary Wanderer," She Said Gayly.
"When You Have Found Tom, Give Him This Letter."
Grace Harlowe's Golden Summer
A SONG OF GOLDEN SUMMER
"Now, David, you know that I know that you don't know what I know. Therefore, if I know that you don't know what I know you don't know, it's very plain to be seen that either you or I know very little. Now, which of us is a know-nothing? Don't be afraid to confess. Remember, we are your friends." Hippy Wingate beamed benevolently upon his victim, bland expectation written on his plump face.
"No real friend of mine would ever take such cowardly advantage of the English language," was David Nesbit's scathing retort. "I'll leave it to Grace if I'm not right."
"There, Grace. At last you have an opportunity to strike for the right. I believe in striking a valiant blow for the right——"
"So do I," cut in Reddy Brooks decisively. "There is no time like the present. There couldn't be a better place. Away out here in this sequestered spot no one will hear your frenzied yells for help." Reddy rose determinedly from the steps of the old Omnibus House and made a nimble spring toward the loquacious prattler.
"Never touched me," was wafted defiantly back, as Hippy Wingate skilfully eluded Reddy's avenging hand and disappeared around the protecting corner of the one-time hostelry. The old Omnibus House had ever been his refuge when put to flight by his long-suffering companions.
"You might have known it," shrugged Nora Wingate with an indifference which marked long association with the verbose refugee. "In about three minutes you'll hear a frantic voice calling on me for protection. Don't say a word, any of you, but just listen."
A sudden silence, broken only by a soft chuckle from the abused David, descended on the seven young people occupying the worn stone steps.
"No-ra!" From the rear of the old house a plaintive voice sent up this anguished plea for succor.
"What did I tell you?" Nora's elaborate air of indifference vanished in a dimpling smile that was reflected on the faces of the group. No one said a word; neither did Nora rise to the noble duty of rescuer.
"All alone, all alone! By the wayside she has left me, And no other's love I'll be; For to-night I am deserted; Nora has forgotten me!"
intoned a mournful voice, flagrantly off the key.
"For to-night you are a nuisance, you mean," was Reddy Brooks' shouted correction. "I'll rescue you."
"Oh, my!" came Hippy's horrified accents, as Reddy Brooks leaped to his feet and dived toward the sheltering shadow that concealed the self-made outcast.
"Isn't it a lovely evening, David? Have you noticed it?" A fat, beaming face was cautiously thrust forth round a corner opposite to that from which the call for help had so recently emanated. A plump body still more cautiously followed the face. It was evident that Hippy considered David the lesser of two evils. "May I sit by you, Anne? I have always had a great deal of faith in you." Hippy became ingratiating. "I'm sorry I can't say as much for certain other persons whose names I courteously refrain from bringing into the discussion." Without waiting for the requested permission, Hippy crowded himself onto the small space which Anne, seated at one end of the top step, obligingly made for him, and calmly awaited the return of his pursuer.
"Oh, what's the use!" jibed the disgruntled avenger, when, strolling back to the steps, he beheld the nimble object of his pursuit waiting for him with a wide grin.
"Thus one is always brought to recognize the futility of revenge," murmured Hippy with sad gentleness. "Let us agree to forget the bitter past, Reddy, and turn our faces toward the glorious future. I might also add that it doesn't pay to take up another's grievances. After all I didn't actually accuse David of being a know-nothing. I merely asked him about it. However, I take it all back. David may know a great deal more than appears on the surface."
"I decline to rise to the bait," laughed David. "I came out here to enjoy myself; not to squabble. It's our last evening together until we all gather home again to see Grace and Tom take the highway of matrimony. Let's make the most of it."
Those who have faithfully followed Grace Harlowe through the eventful phases of her high school and college life are equally well acquainted with the other seven members of the Eight Originals. In "Grace Harlowe's Plebe Year at High School," "Grace Harlowe's Sophomore Year at High School," "Grace Harlowe's Junior Year at High School," and "Grace Harlowe's Senior Year at High School," were recorded the countless interesting sayings and doings of these eight highly congenial friends. Later, when Grace had been graduated from Oakdale High School to continue her education at Overton College, accompanied by her friends, Anne Pierson and Miriam Nesbit, the devoted little band had remained unswerving in their allegiance to one another.
Once she had become a freshman at Overton College, Grace's equable disposition and love of fair play had attracted equally loyal allegiance to her standard. In "Grace Harlowe's First Year at Overton College," "Grace Harlowe's Second Year at Overton College," "Grace Harlowe's Third Year at Overton College," "Grace Harlowe's Fourth Year At Overton College," "Grace Harlowe's Return To Overton Campus" and "Grace Harlowe's Problem," will be found a minute record of the principal happenings which made her college years memorable.
Absorbed in what she had firmly believed to be her destined work, Grace had long and obstinately shut love from her life, only to find at last that even her beloved work could not forever crowd it out. Seeing clearly, after months of doubt, she had cheerfully resigned her position as manager of Harlowe House to prepare for the more important position in life which early September was to bring her.
"It doesn't seem possible that we've had the blessed chance to be together for two whole weeks." Grace's eyes had grown dreamy. "I can't really believe that I've been back in Oakdale that long. It seems not more than two evenings ago that we held a reunion at our Fairy Godmother's and—" She paused, a little flush rising to her cheeks.
"And you and Tom told us the good news," supplemented Nora mischievously.
"I hadn't intended to say that, but never mind," laughed Grace. "It ceased to be a secret on that night. While I am on the subject I might as well add that until yesterday we couldn't make up our minds regarding our wedding day. But it's all settled now. Every one of you must be sure to be with us on the evening of September tenth."
"'Must' is the word," broke in Tom Gray, his eyes resting fondly on the slender, radiant-faced girl beside him. "We can't start on the great adventure without the blessing of this happy band."
"Rest assured, Thomas, we'll be there," averred Hippy. "Having comported myself with dignity at my own and several other weddings, I shall hail yours with the greatest of joy."
"Which means that I shall be obliged to keep a watchful eye on you every moment," translated Nora, her blue eyes twinkling.
"I'll help you, Nora," volunteered Reddy. "I haven't yet forgiven your wayward husband for the unkind remarks he made about my hair on my wedding day."
"I don't remember them," retorted Hippy, unabashed. "I've made so many remarks at so many different times about those same flaming, crimson locks that it would take a long while to sort out the dates. But there's nothing like trying. Let me see. The first occasion on which I chanced to note——"
"Now see what you've done." David Nesbit fixed the unfortunate Reddy with a severe eye.
"I see," was Reddy's grim comment. Picking up the idle mandolin that he had hastily deposited on Jessica's lap when he made his vengeful dash upon Hippy, he strummed it lightly. "Why lug a mandolin along if no one intends to sing?" he asked pointedly, ignoring Hippy's disrespectful reminiscences.
"Oh, very well." Promptly foregoing the will to gather data concerning Reddy's too-oft maligned Titian locks, Hippy began a lively warbling which had nothing in common with the tinkling melody of the mandolin. As a result the patient instrument immediately ceased its complaining tinkle. Hippy, however, lilted on, undisturbed, for a matter of five seconds, when a chorus of threatening protests warned him to cease.
"Do be good," admonished Nora, laughing in spite of herself. "Either sing prettily or don't try to sing at all."
"Madam, it is not necessary for me to try to sing. Song and I are one. Let me give you an illustration. Name a ditty best suited to my voice and I will prove myself."
"I can't recall one," discouraged Nora.
"Silent singing would suit you best," grumbled Reddy. "You could make your lips do the deed without damaging any one else's ear drums."
"I'll try it," amiably agreed the noisy soloist. "Just watch me." He proceeded to indulge in a series of labial contortions that a dumb man would have envied, and which had a most hilarious effect upon those whom he had lately persecuted with raucous sound. Rudely requested to desist from even this newly discovered pastime, he subsided with a frantic signalling to the effect that he had actually been stricken dumb.
"It's too good to be true," exclaimed the relieved Reddy, laying fresh hold on the mandolin. "While we have peace, sing for us, Nora. We ought to make the most of this unexpected opportunity."
"Give us that song you used to sing about Golden Summer," begged Jessica. "Don't you remember, that was one of the first pieces Reddy learned to play on the mandolin? I haven't heard it in ages. I'd love to hear Nora sing it again."
"Yes, sing it, Nora." Grace added her plea. "I don't believe I've ever heard it. It will be very appropriate to the occasion."
"Wait a minute until I think how it goes." Reddy began a reflective strumming, bringing back, bit by bit, a plaintive little air that carried a subdued heart throb. "I've got it," he nodded. "Go ahead, Nora."
Her hands loosely clasped, Nora's clear, high voice, which Grace always declared "had tears in it," took up the song of Jessica's fancy to the subdued accompaniment of the mandolin.
"Golden Summer's in the land! Hark! Her call soars high and sweet. Hedge-rows flow'r at her command; Roses spring beneath her feet. Skies grow azure; life beats strong; Nature listens to adore; Thrilling at the siren's song, Yields her wond'rous treasured store. Precious fabrics of her loom Clothe her darling of the year; Wealth of sunshine; breath of bloom; Cloudless days, so fair, so dear.
"Golden Summer's voice is stilled— Autumn chants a requiem low. Gone the days with rapture filled. Life's a-throbbing, sad and slow. Skies grow hazy; sunshine wanes, Vivid green fast turns to brown; Here and there along the lanes, Flames the sumac's lonely crown. Sings the voice of Mem'ry now, 'Cleave to Love—lest it depart; Bind remembrance on thy brow, Cherish Summer in thy heart.'"
"I don't like that song at all." As the last haunting cadence died away, the dumb man came into energetic speech.
"Why not, Hippy? I think it is beautiful." Grace turned surprised eyes on the stout protestant.
"It gives me the creeps," he declared shortly and with unmistakable earnestness. "The first verse is all very nice. Summer is a golden time, etc. But why remind us that fall is coming?" He had now resumed his old, bantering tone. "I prefer to have summer three hundred and sixty-five days in the year. I don't like murky skies, worn-out grass, skeleton hedge-rows, muddy lanes, lonesome sumacs and cold winds. As for winter, lead me away from it. I absolutely refuse to carry summer about in so useful an organ as my heart, when it's ten below zero and the water pipes are all frozen up."
"That is because you have no sentiment," challenged Reddy. Whereupon the divine power of song was at once swallowed up in a fresh burst of argument as futile as it was laughable. It was ended by tactful Anne, who was always supremely useful when called upon to arbitrate such important matters. The relative merits of "Golden Summer" having been successfully decided and laid to rest, Nora again lifted up her voice in a selection infinitely more to her liege lord's liking. Then followed an old-fashioned song in which every one took part, filling the quiet moonlit night with sweetest harmony.
"It's half-past ten, children," reminded David, as striking a match he consulted his watch. "Anne, Jessica, Reddy, and I are due to catch early trains to-morrow morning. Anne and I mustn't miss ours. We promised Miriam we'd surely be with her to-morrow night."
"Anne, don't forget to tell Miriam not to dare do any shopping until Mother and I arrive in New York," reminded Grace. "She promised to wait for me, so that we could do our shopping together. I've written her about it, but I wish you'd emphasize the fact for me."
"I will," promised Anne. "I know she will wait for you, though. She told me she intended to."
With knowledge of the coming parting so near, the little company grew a trifle less merry as they strolled home across the familiar fields in the moonlight. Though Hippy had been the only one to confess it, the plaintive melody of Nora's song of Golden Summer haunted them. With summer at high tide in each heart, it was, as Hippy had remarked, not quite pleasant to be reminded even tunefully that life holds the inevitable autumn.
"I really believe Hippy meant what he said about that song," Tom remarked meditatively to Grace.
"Were you thinking of that, too?" A faint, almost melancholy smile flickered about Grace's lips as she asked the question. "It seemed to me he was in earnest."
"I almost wish Nora hadn't sung it," returned Tom with unexpected bluntness. "I went through such a long, dreary winter before my Golden Summer came. Now I wish it to stay with me forever. I'd like our lives from this moment on always to be one long, continued Golden Summer like the last two weeks. I can't bear to think that it might ever be otherwise."
"'Perfect love casteth out fear,'" quoted Grace softly. "It's the only true safeguard against the ills of life. After all, there's a note of triumph in the ending of that song. With love to light us on our way, it can't help but be always Golden Summer in our hearts."
THE HOUSE BEHIND THE WORLD
"How many letters for me, Bridget?" trilled Grace Harlowe as she raced across the lawn to the front steps with the reckless enthusiasm of a small boy. A glimpse of the postman's retreating back had brought her scurrying from the garden to collect her own.
"Sure and it's a deal of mail ye be always gettin', Miss Grace," commented Bridget proudly, as she handed the eager-faced questioner a small stack of letters that brought a sparkle of pleasant anticipation to Grace's gray eyes.
"More than I deserve, I am sorry to say. I'm by no means a perfect correspondent. Thank you, Bridget." With a bright little nod, Grace skipped joyfully up the steps and made harbor in the big porch swing. "I'll read them as they come," she decided, "then each one will be a fresh surprise. Hello! Here's Miriam first of all. That means Anne delivered my message." Hastily tearing open the envelope, Grace drew forth a single sheet of thick white paper and read:
"How I wish I could suddenly drop in on you this morning for a long talk. There is so much I should like to tell you which I haven't time to write. Anne, the faithful, delivered your message. Don't worry about my not waiting for you. I won't buy even a paper of pins without your august sanction and approval. I am anxiously looking forward to seeing you. So are Kathleen, Anne, Arline and Mabel Ashe.
"Elfreda is with me. She is a never-failing joy, and to quote her pet phrase, 'I can see' that there will be a vast amount of celebrating done when you arrive. Please forgive me for not writing much this time. I am expecting Everett and his sister at any moment. We are going to motor down to their home on Long Island for the day. I have decided to put in the time usefully until they have arrived. Hence this fragmentary epistle. Kindly note my laudable promptness as a correspondent and fall in line. With much love,
"I'll reply this very morning," nobly resolved Grace. "Oh!" She gave a gleeful chuckle as she recognized a dear, familiar script. "It's from Emma, good old friend." The chuckle continued as she perused the flowery salutation:
"MOST GRACIOUS AND ESTIMABLE GRACE:
"Having made a triumphal return to the humble habitation of the Deans, of whom I am which, I now derive a most excruciating pleasure in taking up my sadly neglected pen to inform you that I am well and hope you are the same. By this time you are no doubt mourning me as hopelessly lost in the wilds of darkest Deanery. Such is not the case. Though I have wandered disconsolately about my childhood haunts and camped out despondently under the fruitful pear-tree in our back yard, which, so far as I can remember, has never boasted of a single solitary pear, I am by no means lost. In fact, I am really beginning to feel quite at home. But how I miss you! Living in a 'Graceless' world is a cross even to a person of my excellent and amiable qualities.
"There's a grain of comfort in store, thank goodness. Before many weeks the Sempers will congregate together somewhere for a glorious reunion. Elfreda has written me that you are soon to be in New York City. I suppose the momentous question of 'Where shall we reunite?' will be decided then."
Grace read on through page after page of the long letter, written in Emma's most humorous vein. Finishing it at last, she gathered the closely written sheets together with a happy little sigh. Good-natured, fun-loving Emma Dean occupied a foremost place in her affections. Grace wondered sometimes if the bond between them did not stretch as tightly even as that between herself and Anne. Emma had been and always would be the perfect comrade.
"You're next, Mabel," she murmured as she scanned the third envelope on the scarcely depleted pile. "I suppose you are going to tell me that——"
The loud purr of an automobile stopping before the house left Mabel's message still unread. Depositing her wealth of correspondence on the seat of the swing, Grace tripped down the steps and on down the walk.
"Good morning, dear Fairy Godmother," she greeted hospitably. "Good morning, Tom. Something nice is going to happen. I can read it in your faces."
"That depends on whatever your conception of 'nice' may be," returned Tom mysteriously. Slipping from the driver's seat, he caught her outstretched hand in both his own, his gray eyes alive with the light of a joyful anticipation which Grace had been quick to catch.
"Good morning, my dear," called Mrs. Gray from the car. "Run in the house and get your hat. We are bound on a most mysterious mission. You are the third person needed to carry it out."
"I'll be with you in a moment." Turning, Grace hastened up the walk to the house, wondering mightily what lay in store for her. "Mrs. Gray and Tom are waiting outside for me in the automobile, Mother," she announced, appearing suddenly on the shady back porch, where her mother sat quietly hemstitching a table cloth for Grace's Hope Chest. "Come out and see them."
Smiling to herself, Mrs. Harlowe laid aside her labor of love and followed her daughter's impetuous lead. Catching up her broad-brimmed Panama hat from the hall rack, Grace placed it on her head without stopping to consult the hall mirror. Linking her arm in her mother's, she towed her gently along toward the automobile to meet the unexpected arrivals.
"Won't you come with us, Mrs. Harlowe?" invited Mrs. Gray. The two women exchanged not only greetings but significant smiles as well.
"Thank you; not this morning. I prefer to leave Grace to you and Tom." Again her eyes met those of the older woman with the same enigmatic smile.
"There is mystery in the very air," declared Grace gayly. "I can tell by the way you two are exchanging eye-signals. Whatever the great secret is, Mother knows it. Now don't you?" she challenged, her affectionate gaze resting on Mrs. Harlowe.
"I'll answer that question when you come back," parried her mother.
"I'll hold you to your word," came the retort. Dropping a soft kiss on her mother's pink cheek, Grace accepted Tom's hand and stepped into the tonneau of the waiting automobile.
"Whither away, good prince?" she called mischievously to Tom as the machine glided down the street.
"That's a secret, curious princess. Wait and you will see," flung back Tom teasingly.
"Of course I'm curious," calmly admitted Grace, as she settled back in her seat. "Who wouldn't be? I wouldn't have let you tell me, though, if you had tried. I am quite ready to wait and see what happens."
Nevertheless, as they spun along the smooth road in the summer sunshine, Grace cast more than one speculative glance about her, trying to glean some faint hint of their destination. Although conversation went on briskly between herself and her Fairy Godmother, her keen eyes lost no detail that might possibly furnish her with a clue.
"We'll have to leave the car here and walk a little way," announced Tom, when half an hour later, after traveling the highway that skirted Upton Wood, he slowed down in a shady spot on the other side of the short stretch of forest.
"Very well," came Mrs. Gray's placid voice from the tonneau. "I shall not leave the car, Tom. You may do the honors."
"Come on, Grace." Leaving the driver's seat, Tom opened the door of the tonneau and stretched forth an inviting hand.
"I know where we are going," she cried triumphantly, as she accepted the proffered assistance. "We are going to take a look at Upton Heights. How nice! I haven't seen the quaint old place since I came home from college. You know I've always loved it and wished I owned it. It's such a wonderful forest retreat. When I was a little girl, I used to love to play that the world ended there. I always called it the House Behind the World."
Further mysterious and affectionate eye-signals were flashed between Mrs. Gray and Tom as Grace made this fervent speech. "Come and look at it again," said Tom briefly. There was a touch of exultation in his even tones.
Hand in hand, like two children, the youthful pair swung gayly along the narrow path that led from the highway to picturesque Upton Heights. Nearing it, they became suddenly silent in the face of its undeniable claim to beauty. Dazzlingly white against the magnificent trees which surrounded it, it stood in the middle of a grassy plateau that rolled gently down to the woodland path in long sloping green terraces.
"How beautiful it looks!" Grace gazed almost reverently at the rambling old house with its wide, high-pillared verandas. It was like some gracious, stately person whose very watchword was hospitality, she thought. Built more than a century before, by a long-since departed Upton, it had not been used as a residence by his descendants. Due to a clause of command in the original owner's will, it had ever afterward been sedulously kept in repair. To her beauty-loving soul, it now seemed to have taken on a new lease of life. The house itself rejoiced in a fresh white luster and the grounds showed recent care.
"It was nice in you to bring me here, Tom," she again said. "You knew I loved this old place, didn't you?"
"Yes. Suppose we go closer to it," suggested Tom, drawing her gently forward.
Her hand still in his, Grace allowed him to conduct her to the flight of white stone steps set in the terrace. They led upward to the wide flagstone walk which in turn stretched levelly up to meet the spacious veranda.
"Shut your eyes," directed Tom, when they had mounted the steps to the veranda floor. His terse direction contained a touch of repressed excitement which informed Grace that the surprise was at hand. But what it might be she had not the remotest suspicion.
Obediently her long lashes swept her cheeks in compliance with love's command.
Dropping her hand, Tom approached the massive front door. There was a curious clicking sound, like the turn of a key in a lock, then Tom was back at her side. His hand again caught one of her own. Again he drew her forward. There was a slight tremor in his voice as he said:
"Open your eyes, Princess, and enter your castle."
Her veiling eye-lids lifting, Grace found herself on the threshold of Upton Heights, peering wonderingly into the dim reception hall with its huge fireplace, beam ceiling and curving Colonial staircase.
"It's a splendid surprise, Tom!" she exclaimed warmly. "I've always wished to see the inside of this wonderful place. How in the world did you ever manage to get the key to it?"
Tom smiled very tenderly into the eager face so near his own. "You've missed the biggest part of the surprise, Grace," he answered. "Don't you understand yet why we came out here? Do you think I would invite a royal princess to enter her castle if it weren't really her very own?"
"You don't mean—you can't mean—Oh, Tom!" Grace drew a quick, ecstatic breath that was half sob. A vagrant breeze set the leaves of the sentinel trees to sighing their approval as they looked down on the little tableau of human happiness.
"It is your very own House Behind the World, dear," Tom assured her. "Our future home. It is the gift of our Fairy Godmother to both of us. She purchased it of Robert Upton the day after we came from Overton. She had spoken of it to Mr. Upton long ago and was only waiting for the good news of our engagement. She knew how much you had always cared about it."
"We must go straight down to the automobile and make her come back with us," was Grace's happy cry. "I am so anxious to explore our marvelous new possession. But we must have our Fairy Godmother with us. I can't really believe yet that anything so glorious has happened to ordinary me. It's more than a surprise. It's a positive miracle. My own beautiful House Behind the World! But I know an even better name for it. It's not one I thought of myself. That glory belongs to Kathleen West. You know, Tom, she once wrote an allegorical play. We produced it when I was in my senior year at Overton. I played the part of Loyalheart who leaves Haven Home to go into the Land of College. When first it began to dawn upon me that you meant this wonder to be my very own, it came to me like a flash that it was more than the House Behind the World. Don't you see, Tom? It's really and truly, Haven Home!"
FOR AULD LANG SYNE
"And so, having ended her pilgrimage through the Land of College, Loyalheart is going back to Haven Home," said Kathleen West softly.
"You're a very lucky Loyalheart," was J. Elfreda Briggs' brisk comment. "Not every one who goes adventuring into strange lands finds the home of her chee-ildhood an interesting place to settle down in. Now take Fairview, for instance. I wouldn't go trotting back there on a cut-rate excursion, let alone making a pilgrimage to the sacred, I mean scared, spot. That's the way it looks, you know; as though it had once tried to grow and then been frightened out of it. I never was so glad in all my life as when Pa said we'd kiss that town good-bye. I could see that I'd never make my everlasting fortune there as a lawyer."
"You mean lawyeress, according to the Dean vocabulary," reminded Arline Thayer with a giggle.
"What is life without Emma Dean?" smiled Anne Nesbit. "I wish she were here to-night."
"I wrote her, asking her to pay me a visit while you girls were here," stated Arline, "but she wrote back voluminous and ridiculous thanks and said the reunion was about as much as she could manage."
"That reminds me," broke in Elfreda, in business-like tones, "where are we going to hold the reunion this year and at what time? Not much of July is left us. August will scud by like a flash and then—Well, Grace can tell you why September won't be a strictly popular time for a reunion. Sara and Julia Emerson want us to have it at their camp in the Adirondacks. That's rather a long distance for Emma to come. You know she lives farther away than the rest of us. Why can't you come down to Wildwood again? I am nothing if not hospitable."
"But it's my turn, now, J. Elfreda," protested Arline. "Why can't you come here?"
"What's the use in taking turns?" propounded Elfreda sturdily. "I am an extremely selfish person who never bothers about such little things as mere 'taking turns.' Now that four of you girls have your faces set toward wedding rings, it's high time something was done to console me. There! Resist that argument if you can. Am I a credit to my profession, or am I not?"
"You are," chorused five laughing voices.
Several days had elapsed since Grace Harlowe had accompanied Tom Gray and his aunt on the mysterious mission that had brought her Haven Home. Following that memorable morning, the delightful events of which had offered such signal proof of the adoration of her dear ones, Grace had moved about as one lost in a maze of quiet happiness. Every now and then her mind would halt suddenly in the perusal of the blessings that were hers to wonder almost wistfully if it were not all too beautiful, too dear, to last.
Sometimes she marveled that, after so long and persistently keeping love out of her busy life, she should have at length come into its purest realization. Once the very thought of it had irked and distressed her. Now she experienced a sense of deep surprise that she had been so blind. Her Golden Summer had indeed descended upon her in all its radiant glory. She rejoiced in the long peaceful mornings spent with her mother on the vine-clad veranda, or in the clematis-wreathed summer house at the end of the garden. They were busy mornings, too, filled with the joy of preparing the countless dainty odds and ends, so necessary to her trousseau. Their hands never idle, they talked long and earnestly of the things which lay nearest their hearts, and a strange peace, which Grace's naturally restless temperament had never before known, enveloped her like a mantle.
Though anxious to meet her friends again in New York City, Grace had sighed with genuine regret at leaving this new-found peace and departing from Oakdale on the most momentous shopping tour she had ever before set out to make. She and her mother had gone directly to the home of the Nesbits, where a most cordial welcome awaited them. Two days had passed since their arrival. It was now the evening of the second day and the five girls whose fortunes had been so firmly linked together at Overton College, by a series of happenings grave and gay, were paying a brief, overnight visit to Arline Thayer at her home in East Orange.
"Thank you." Elfreda bowed at the unanimous response. "As an esteemed representative of the law and a forlorn bachelor girl, I really think my plea deserves some small consideration. I might also add that I could see you were all anxious to come to Wildwood. I appreciate your delicate opposition." Elfreda grinned boyishly. "Now that we've decided where, we'd better decide when the reunion is to be."
"We didn't decide where, did we?" tantalized Miriam. "We only decided that you were a distinguished lawyeress."
"Having once admired me, can you refuse my humble request?" retorted Elfreda, with a sentimental rolling of her round blue eyes.
"Let's put her out of her misery," proposed Miriam. "Wildwood for me, Elfreda, provided the rest are pleased. How about you, Arline? As an almost-wed are you willing to sacrifice your reunion claim to Elfreda?"
"Of course." Arline made genial response. A peculiar look shot into her pretty eyes, however, as she nervously began to turn the jeweled pledge of engagement that decked her ring finger. She seemed about to break into further speech, then set her red lips with decision and remained silent.
Seated beside her on a willow settee, which they had occupied together since repairing to the veranda after dinner, Grace alone noticed Arline's sharply drawn brows and the sudden ominous tightening of her baby mouth. She wondered vaguely what it might mean. Surely Arline was not angry because Elfreda had begged for the privilege of holding the reunion at Wildwood. She was of too sunny a disposition to become thus disturbed by such trifles. She had always been far more ready to give than take. Grace now recalled that even in the midst of Arline's joy at seeing her, there had been a hauntingly wistful look in the dainty little girl's blue eyes.
Under cover of Kathleen West's lively account of a big story which she had run to earth after a week's assiduous pursuit, Grace's kindly hand found Arline's.
"What is the matter, Daffydowndilly?" she asked just above a whisper. "You don't appear to be quite your usual cheerful self."
"You noticed, then?" counter-questioned Arline in an equally guarded tone. "I'm glad you did. Still, I was going to tell you, anyway. Wait until later. I have arranged for you to room with me to-night. Then I'll tell you all. But not now. No one else must know."
With a soft pressure that betokened loyal sympathy, Grace released Arline's little hand and turned her attention to Kathleen, who was holding her small audience spellbound by a recital of the very audacity of her deeds as a star reporter.
"Won't you miss all that when winter comes and you cease to be Kathleen West?" questioned Anne, a trifle anxiously. She too had had to decide between publicity and love. "You've lived in a whirl of exciting happenings so long that settling down for good will seem rather tame."
"I shall love it." Kathleen's sharp black eyes glowed with intensity. "Trailing news is all right for a few years, but I'd hate to go on with it forever. There are so many things I'd like to do that I've never had the time to dream of doing. I'm going to keep on writing, just the same as ever. Neither Gerald nor I care to begin making a home just yet. We shall board and write in the evenings together. You see he is the literary editor of Crawford's Magazine now. That means that we can spend our evenings together. We are going to collaborate on a play and, oh, we have planned to do lots of things. I imagine we shall carry out some of our plans in time. We have already collaborated on several magazine stories and worked them out beautifully. You see, neither of us is jealous of the other's work. If we were, then I'd prefer to stay Kathleen West."
"You are fortunate," remarked Arline almost bitterly. Again a shadow crossed her face which Grace alone noted.
"I decline to share my successes with any mere man," asserted Elfreda grandly. "Not that I have been what you might call entirely slighted. Wait until I tell you the sad story of my one love affair."
"This is vastly interesting," mused Miriam.
"Tell us about it this minute." Arline brightened visibly. Elfreda's promised tale of tragedy was sure to turn out comedy.
"Let me see," began Elfreda with a fine air of reminiscence. "We met last year in a corridor of the law school, I was making a wild rush down and he was making an equally wild rush up. Result, we collided. Just like that," Elfreda brought her hands smartly together to illustrate the force of that momentous collision. "I wasn't overcome with joy at this slam-bang introduction. I had seen him often from afar and never admired him. He was at least three inches shorter than yours truly, had a snub nose and freckles. All of which was not romantic.
"That was the beginning; but not the ending. The next time I met him, he claimed beaming acquaintance. After that he pursued me madly. He was always bobbing up in the most unexpected places. It gave me a feeling of being haunted. At first I bore it like a martyr. I hated to hurt his feelings. After a while it began to get on my nerves. About that time he began to make sentimental remarks. I carefully explained that I did not believe in love. That only made matters worse. He rolled his eyes and vowed that he would convince me. Then he began sending me letters and love lyrics. The lyrics were so original they were positively weird.
"But in my darkest hour of oppression I stumbled upon a remedy. I happened to remember a girl who was an art student. I also remembered that she was terribly sentimental. So I dragged my pursuer along with me to a water-color exhibition that I knew she expected to attend. They met. I perpetrated the introduction. It turned out even better than I had dared to hope. The funny part of it was that both of them were afraid I'd be angry. The deeper they fell in love, the harder they tried to keep it from me. After a while Charles, that was my perfidious idol's name, came to me with a long face and confessed. I suppose his conscience troubled him. He told me that he had made a terrible mistake in thinking himself in love with me. I humbly agreed with him that he had. He assured me that he now knew that he could never have been happy with me. Before he got through explaining, it struck me as being so funny that I laughed in his face. Now he doesn't speak to me. Neither does the girl. She evidently believes that she snatched away my last chance."
The cheerful smile Elfreda turned on her amused listeners as she ended her recital was hardly an indication of deep sorrow for her double loss.
"That reminds me of Emma Dean's one romance," smiled Grace. "I shan't tell you about it. Wait until we have the reunion and I'll ask her to dig up her sentimental past for your benefit."
"I hope I can arrange my vacation so that I can attend the reunion, too," sighed Kathleen. "As Patience Eliot and I have been invited to be the Sempers' guests of honor, naturally I don't care to miss it."
"Can you get away from the paper at any time during August?" asked Anne thoughtfully.
"Yes; but only for a week," Kathleen spoke regretfully.
"Then let us decide upon the time now," proposed Miriam. "I am sorry to be a kill-joy, but one week will have to be my limit this year. I wish I could spare two, but it's impossible."
"I intended to speak of that," nodded Elfreda. "I'd love to have you girls with me longer but I know that most of you are cramped for time. So I'll be magnanimous and say, 'thank you for small favors.'"
The subject of the reunion thus renewed, it was decided to hold it during the second week in August, and the six friends began an avid planning for it. From that the conversation drifted back to Overton College, always a fruitful topic for discussion. It was truly a heart-to-heart talk. Because of the perfect fellowship that existed among them, they could look back and speak frankly not only of their lighter hours, but also of the graver moments when the struggle to reach their aims had seemed well-nigh impossible.
Half-past eleven o'clock found them still lingering on the veranda, the incessant murmur of their busy voices proclaiming their mutual satisfaction in being together once more. When at last a voluble procession wended its way upstairs to bed, the usual amount of visiting between rooms was carried on with the old-time fervor of college days.
"It's exactly like old times," declared Elfreda to Miriam. "Here we are, you and I, rooming together again just as we did at Overton. Sometimes when I stop to think that those days are gone for good and all, it gives me the blues. I can't realize that you, Miriam Nesbit, and Grace Harlowe, too, are actually grown-up and getting ready to be married. Why it seems only yesterday since I was the verdant freshman who invited herself to room with you and kept you in hot water for a whole year because she didn't know enough to behave like a human being."
"What about the Elfreda Briggs who proved herself the most loyal friend and roommate one could ever hope to have?" demanded Miriam, laying a friendly hand on Elfreda's shoulder.
"Oh, I had to get in line," returned Elfreda with a flashing affectionate glance that belied her brusque words. "I could see that the way I had started out wouldn't take me far. You and Grace made me over."
"Yet, if it hadn't been for Grace I would have stayed a hateful, conceited snob all my days," returned Miriam soberly. "There isn't one of us who doesn't owe her a debt of gratitude that we can never hope to repay. If happiness is the certain reward of good works, then Grace Harlowe ought never to know an unhappy moment."
Miriam spoke with a certainty born of her deep regard for Grace. To her it seemed that naught save the brightest of futures could come to her friend. Yet happiness is at best a fragile, evanescent thing.
"TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE"
"Well, Daffydowndilly, what is on your mind?" began Grace when the last gay good-night had sounded and Arline had closed the door of her dainty blue and white room.
"Let's get comfy first. I can talk a great deal better." Arline began a listless unfastening of her fluffy lingerie frock, her eyes fixed moodily on Grace.
"All right." Grace had already divested herself of her gown of soft white China silk and was now seated before the dressing table energetically brushing her wealth of golden brown hair.
Nothing more was said until, with a little fluttering sigh, Arline had curled up like a kitten at Grace's feet, her golden head resting against her friend's knee. Smiling tenderly down on her, Grace could not help noting how utterly like a tired child she looked in her baby-blue negligee. "Now is the time for all good Sempers and true to come to the aid of their comrades," she encouraged with a smile.
"Grace," Arline lifted solemn blue eyes, "have you ever for one minute been sorry that you gave up your work for—for—the sake of—love?"
"No." Grace shook a decided head. Inwardly she wondered a little at the question. "It took me a long time to come to a decision, though," she added frankly.
"Would you mind telling me about it?" Arline flushed as she made the request. "Please don't think me prying, but—" She hesitated. "Well, I have a strong reason for asking. It would help me, I think, if you cared to give me your confidence."
For a moment Grace made no response. Aside from her most intimate Oakdale friends and Emma Dean she had never divulged to any one else the story of that last year of struggle against love which had ended in her unconditional surrender to it. To her it was as something bitter-sweet, to be locked in her memory for all time. Yet the wistfulness of Arline's appeal touched her deeply.
"I am willing to tell you about it," she said slowly. "You know, of course, that Tom Gray and I had known each other almost from childhood. We grew up together as good comrades. We were always together during vacations with our six other friends. His aunt, Mrs. Gray, whom you know, was fond of having us with her. It never entered my head that Tom cared for me in more than a friendly way, until I came home from Overton at the end of my junior year. When I began to understand that he really loved me, I didn't like it at all. As I grew older I liked the idea still less. I wanted to work; not marry Tom. He asked me to marry him the next winter, but I said 'no,' After that I kept on saying 'no,' and last winter we threshed the matter out soon after Anne's wedding.
"I felt very well pleased with myself for a while. Then things went wrong at Overton and Tom joined a naturalist on an expedition to South America. Right then it came to me that I had suddenly met with a dreadful loss. I tried to make myself believe that I didn't care. While I was at home during the Easter vacation I woke up. But it was too late. I went back to Overton, but I wasn't happy. He had often told me that there would come a time when not even my work could crowd out love. I knew that the time had come. I had had some trouble with Miss Wharton, the dean, and expecting to be asked to resign my position at Harlowe House. I resigned of my own accord. It was Kathleen West who straightened out that tangle for me. She sent for Miss Wilder, who happened to be coming home just at that time. My resignation wasn't accepted, and I would perhaps have gone on for another year at Overton, but—" Grace paused, her fine face grew tender. "Tom came back," she continued, a faint tremor in her even tones, "and so I gladly gave up my work for love. That's the whole story. I never expected to tell it to any one. Somehow it has always been sacred to me. I couldn't bear to talk of it, even to Mother."
"It's a wonderful story. When I asked you about giving up work for love, I never dreamed that you had gone through with any such struggle. I feel as though I've intruded on very private property. But just knowing about it has comforted me." Arline raised her head from Grace's knee with sudden energy. "It's this way, Grace. I have almost decided to break my engagement."
"Why, Arline Thayer!" Amazement was written on Grace's features. "I am sorry to hear that. Until to-night I had thought of you as being absolutely happy."
"I'm not. I'm dreadfully unhappy." Arline drew a quick, almost sobbing breath. "You've never met Stanley Forde, my fiance, so you don't know how handsome he is and how nice he can be—if he chooses. But he's turning out a—a—well, a kind of tyrant. He doesn't like me to do settlement work. I've always thought he wasn't very highly pleased over it, but he never said a word until the other night. Even then he didn't say much. But, as Elfreda says, 'I can see' that if I marry him he's going to say more about it afterward. Then we'll quarrel and that would be dreadful. I could never endure it. You know how I hate quarrels. At college I never had anything to say to or do with the girls who were trouble-makers. What am I to do, Grace? Break my engagement while there is still time or—or—" Arline subsided with a little sob.
"Poor Daffydowndilly." Bending, Grace wound her arms about the dainty, child-like figure. "It's a hard problem—hard because I suppose you must care a great deal for him."
"I think I must love him, or I wouldn't wish to marry him," came the muffled reply. "Still I won't give up my work. Those poor settlement children need me. He can't understand that. He knows nothing of what it means to be terribly poor. He doesn't like the idea of my coming into such close contact with them. It doesn't hurt me and it helps them," ended Arline piteously.
"One who knows you well should understand that you are doing worthy work," returned Grace gravely. "Still if I were you I would not act too hastily. It seems to me that you ought to come to a frank understanding of the matter with your fiance at once."
"And if he refuses to allow me—" broke in Arline quickly.
"Then you must decide within yourself whether he is worth the sacrifice," Grace answered with deep positiveness. Privately she did not consider that a young man, who took it upon himself to interfere with an enterprise which benefited many and harmed none, was quite worthy of her generous little comrade. "It's like this, Arline. You must be true to yourself, no matter what it may cost you. Even your fiance's love won't make up for having failed some one else in order to keep it. What does your father think of it?"
"Oh, he doesn't know," came the quick response. "He is very fond of Stanley. He is pleased with our engagement. Still he has always been interested in my work. But I'd rather fight it out alone. If I were some day to go to him and say, 'I have broken my engagement,' he would be dreadfully disappointed, but not angry. That's just the trouble. I've always done exactly as I pleased. It's hard now to think of doing what some one else dictates. Sometimes I feel that I love Stanley a great deal; then again I feel differently about it. I'm really in a terrible muddle. I wish I were just Daffydowndilly back at good old Overton again."
"I wouldn't stay in a muddle then," advised practical Grace. "I'd settle matters once and for all, and whichever way I might decide, I'd make myself believe that it was for the best. But first of all I'd be very sure that love was love." She had reached the wise conclusion that true love and Arline were as yet strangers.
"I can't say anything to Stanley just now. He's in Oregon and won't be back until the last of August. I don't care to write him. I must wait until I see him. But I shall think over all you've said and try very hard to be true to myself." Arline rose and standing beside Grace slid a loving arm about her neck. "I knew you could help me," she said. "I feel ever so much better. Now I mustn't keep you any longer. Thank you, Loyalheart. You've been very sweet to poor, muddled Daffydowndilly."
"You are a dear child and deserve the best that life can give you." Grace returned the gentle embrace with a tenderness that bespoke unutterable regard. It hurt her to know that gay, light-hearted Arline Thayer who had always appeared to slip through life so smoothly, should have run against an ugly snag.
Long after they had said good-night, Grace lay looking out at the calm moonlight and pondering over the great changes that less than a year had brought her. Her own happiness so complete, she longed for the whole world to be happy with her. Her ever-ready sympathy went out to all those in it whose difficult love-problems tended toward renunciation. She wished whole-heartedly that she might waken to the sunlight of a day when she could say joyfully and with supreme truth: "All's right with the world."
FLYING IN THE FACE OF SUPERSTITION
"Oh, mother, isn't it nice to be home again?" Grace Harlowe dropped into her favorite chair and surveyed the familiar living-room with the same glad appreciation she would have bestowed upon a long-lost friend. "I've loved being with the girls; but, after all, home is best. I'm fortunate in that I am going to live so near to you. If Tom goes back to the Forestry Department this winter, I'm afraid I shall leave Haven Home more than once to take care of itself and come trotting back to you. It will be dreadfully lonely there with Tom away. Not that it isn't the most beautiful place in the world, but then, you are you, and I can't do without you."
"I have been obliged to give you up the greater part of the last six years. I suppose I ought to feel resigned to it by this time." Mrs. Harlowe's smile hinted at wistfulness. "I am glad to be home again, too. I hope we haven't forgotten to buy every single thing you need. I imagine your wedding gown will come to-day. Let me see. It was to have been finished the day we left New York. We've been home two days. Yes, I think we may expect it to-day, or not later than to-morrow. There's the doorbell ringing now. Perhaps it's the expressman."
Springing to her feet, Grace hurried to the door. "Here's your expressman," she laughed, as she reappeared, her arm linked in that of Nora Wingate.
"Good morning, Nora," greeted Mrs. Harlowe. Rising, she advanced to Nora, kissing her with evident affection. "We were wondering what had become of you. We haven't seen you since we came home."
"Hippy and I went away for the week end. We returned only this morning. I was anxious to see you both, also Grace's wedding finery, so I came over bright and early."
"We brought it all back with us, except my wedding gown, Nora. I'm expecting that at almost any moment. I'm anxious to try on the whole outfit. Then I'll know how I'm going to look as a bride."
"Oh, you mustn't do that!" exclaimed Nora in horrified tones. "It's dreadfully unlucky. Didn't you know it?"
"I am not superstitious," laughed Grace. "I fail to see why trying on one's wedding gown beforehand should bring bad luck. I am surely going to do it when it comes, just to prove the fallacy of the superstition."
"I wish you wouldn't." Nora's dark brows met in a troubled frown. "Perhaps it is foolish in me to feel like that about it. But I do. I suppose it's because I'm Irish. The daughters of Erin have always been a superstitious lot. Don't ever tell Hippy that I admitted even that much. He would tease me for a week about it."
"It shall remain a dark secret," gayly assured Grace. "As it is, I may continue to consider myself as lucky till the gown puts in an appearance. After that, look out for trouble. You'd better stay to luncheon to-day, Nora, so as to be here when the great trying-on moment dawns."
"Thank you. I will." Nora's lately-clouded face brightened. "I'll leave Hippy to lunch in solitary state. I'll telephone him to that effect. It will teach him to appreciate his blessings." Nora dimpled roguishly as she tripped to the hall to acquaint Hippy with the fell prospect in store for him. She returned to the living-room with the mirthful information: "He says he resigns himself to his fate, but that he will prepare for my triumphal home-coming this evening. That means he will do something ridiculous. The last time I left him to his own folly, he decorated the dining-room with all sorts of absurd signs—'What is home without the Irish?' 'In memory of my late lamented guardian,' and 'Not gone for good, but merely gadding.'" Nora giggled as she recounted these pleasant tokens of welcome.
"You and Hippy will never grow up," Mrs. Harlowe declared indulgently. "You play at keeping house like two children."
"I think it's lovely," nodded Grace. "When I start on my pilgrimage I'm not going to think that I shall ever grow into a staid, stately married person. I'm going to keep the spirit of youth alive until I'm old and gray-headed. Did I dream it, Nora, or did I see you lay your work bag on the hall settee? I hope it's a reality. These are busy times, you know. I'm a hard-working individual. So is Mother. If I see someone else blissfully idle it has a bad effect upon me."
"Don't worry, I brought my work. I am still in the throes of that lunch cloth I'm embroidering for Miriam. I've a lot to do to it yet before it's finished, so I can't afford to be idle, either."
Repairing to the summer house, the three women fell to work with commendable energy on their self-imposed tasks. It was a glorious midsummer morning and the picturesque pagoda at the foot of the garden proved an ideal retreat. Despite her sturdy declaration that she could not afford to be idle, more than once Grace's embroidery dropped from her hands as her gray eyes dreamily drank in the beauty of the riotously-blooming garden of old-fashioned flowers, the close-clipped, tree-decked lawn and the thousand and one details that made her childhood's home seem daily dearer now that she was so soon to leave it.
"Wake up, Grace," playfully admonished her mother, her eyes chancing to rest on her daughter's rapt face. "If my ears do not deceive me, I think I heard the doorbell. Perhaps it is the expressman."
"I hope it is." Hastily dropping her embroidery to the rustic bench on which she was seated, Grace rose and set off in a hurry toward the not-far-distant house. It was several minutes before she returned, her radiant face registered the news that the long-looked-for express package had materialized.
"At last!" was her jubilant cry when half way across the lawn. "No more work for me until after luncheon. Come up to the house, both of you. The grand try-on is about to begin. We'll just have time for it before luncheon. Kindly go to the living-room and obtain front seats for the performance." Having delivered this merry injunction, Grace turned and went back to the house.
Laying aside their work in obedience to the prospective bride's command, Mrs. Harlowe and Nora proceeded in leisurely fashion to the house, there to await Grace's pleasure.
"Go on into the living-room, Nora," said Mrs. Harlowe as they stepped into the hall. "I must see Bridget about luncheon. I'll return directly."
Left to herself, Nora went over to the piano. Her fingers wandering lightly over the keys, almost unconsciously she dropped into the plaintive prelude of Tosti's "Good-bye." Why that particularly pathetic farewell to summer and love should have occurred to her at such a time she did not know. Whether it had been superinduced by her rooted superstition against Grace's determination to try on her wedding gown beforehand, or whether her emotional temperament had sensed the stirring of far-off things, Nora could not explain.
Very softly she sang the mournful words of the first verse. She was about to go on with the second when, Mrs. Harlowe appearing in the living-room, Nora swung about on the piano stool.
"Finish your song, Nora," begged Mrs. Harlowe. "I am very fond of the 'Good-bye.' It is distinctly melancholy, but beautiful. To me, all Tosti's songs are wonderful. The 'Venetian Song' and the 'Serenata' are both exquisite. It seems a pity that the more modern composers have given us so little that is really worth while."
"I know it. Still we have Chaminade and Nevin and De Bussy. Some of De Bussy's tone poems are marvels. I love 'La Lettre' and 'La Muette.'"
"I don't think I have ever heard either of them," returned Mrs. Harlowe. "I know very little of the modern music of the French school."
"I'll sing 'La Lettre' for you." Nora faced the piano to render the exquisite inspiration of the noted French composer. "Before I sing it," she added, turning her head toward Mrs. Harlowe, "I had better try to tell you something about it. It is about a letter somebody writes to a loved one, late in the night when everything is absolutely silent in the house. Roughly translated it begins, 'I write to you, and the lamp listens.' Both the words and the music make one feel as though the bond between the two persons was so strong that they could almost communicate one with the other by thought. That is really the idea De Bussy has tried to convey in his music and one can't help but understand it. He brings it out strongly in the last part of the song where the writer of the letter says: 'Half dreaming, I wonder: Is it I who write to thee, or thou to me?' Then it ends with a distant clock striking the hour. Listen and you'll hear it."
Listener and singer both intent on the song, neither heard the bride-to-be descending the stairs. Not wishing to interrupt them, Grace paused behind the portieres that draped the wide doorway into the living-room until Nora should finish. With her, "La Lettre" had always been a favorite song. Long afterward, when the shadow of the unexpected hung darkly over her, she recalled that significant moment of waiting.
"It is undeniably perfect," was Mrs. Harlowe's appreciative comment when the last note, representing the striking of the distant clock, had died away. "I had no idea——"
"Oh, Grace!" Nora's glance had suddenly strayed to the slender, white-robed figure that was making a sedate advance into the living-room. Whirling mischievously she played a few bars of "Mendelsohn's Wedding March," then sprang from the piano stool and ran forward with outstretched hands. "You are truly magnificent!" she breathed impulsively.
Mrs. Harlowe had also risen. Was this radiant young woman in lustrous white satin, whose changeful face looked out so sweetly from the softly flowing bridal veil, the same little Grace Harlowe who had not so very long ago romped her tom-boyish way through childhood? A mist rose to her eyes, soft with brooding mother love, as she walked forward and took Grace gently in her arms.
For an instant the three women remained wrapped in a kind of triangular embrace. Then Mrs. Harlowe released her daughter with a fond, "Walk across the room, Grace, so that we can get the full effect of your grandeur."
"It's a darling gown," praised Nora. "I like it ever so much better than Jessica's, Anne's or mine. I can't blame you for wanting to dress up in it beforehand. I take back all my croaking. Here's hoping good luck will roost permanently on your doorstep."
"It ought to," was Grace's fervent response, "with everyone so perfectly sweet to me and with all the trouble that Mother is taking to give me pleasure. I feel as though——"
The reverberating peal of the door bell cut Grace's words short. "Don't answer it until I am out of sight!" she exclaimed, scurrying nimbly toward the hall. A flash of white on the stairs and she was gone.
"Good morning, Mother mine. Is Grace here?" Tom Gray's impetuous inquiry betokened strong excitement.
"Good morning, Tom. Come in. Grace has just vanished up the stairs. I'll let her tell you why she left us in such a hurry." Mrs. Harlowe smilingly ushered Tom into the living-room. "Nora, you can play hostess. I will go and tell Grace that Tom is here."
"Thank you." Tom cast a grateful look after Mrs. Harlowe's retreating back. Following Nora into the living-room he seated himself nervously on the davenport, his eyes fixed on the doorway.
Nora eyed him in sober speculation. She would have liked to inquire into the nature of his excitement. Courtesy forbidding her to do so, she indulged only in commonplaces to which Tom replied almost absently. It was evident that something remarkable must have happened to thus upset Tom's equanimity. The sound of Grace's light feet on the stairs was a matter of relief to her. Excusing herself to the impatient lover, she left the room, wondering if, after all, there could be a remote possibility that her prediction of ill luck was about to be fulfilled.
"But why must you go, Tom?" Grace's tones rang with nervous dread. "Can't some one else adjust matters satisfactorily?"
"No." Tom's reply was freighted with gloom. "I understand those men up there and can get along better with them than a new superintendent could. It wouldn't be worth while hiring one. Mr. Mackenzie isn't dangerously ill. He'll be about again in two or three weeks. But it needs some one who understands Aunt Rose's affairs to look after them properly, even for that short period of time. If it weren't almost tragic, it would be funny. Here I am bound heart and soul to the work of preserving forests. Now duty calls me to handle a crowd of men whose business it is to cut down forests. It isn't very pleasant to contemplate. To me trees are almost as much alive as human beings. Worse still, I hate to leave you, Grace. It's not so very long until the tenth of September, either, and we've so many plans to carry out yet at Haven Home."
"I know it." Grace's admission contained resignation. With duty thus obstinately confronting Tom, she felt that she had no right to discourage the performance of it. "I don't wish you to go," she faltered, "but I can't help knowing that you are right. You owe it to your aunt. She comes first. She's been both father and mother to you, and I'm glad you are the one to help her now."
"Aunt Rose doesn't want me to go," returned Tom quickly. "She's afraid something dreadful may happen to me. I don't anticipate any such thing. I'm too good a woodsman to feel concerned about myself. After that strenuous expedition to South America, this will be child's play. It's leaving you that I don't like."
Grace did not reply for a moment. Secretly she, too, was echoing Mrs. Gray's fears. With the day of their marriage so near, she could not bear even to dwell on the dire possibility of any occurrence which might wreck her Golden Summer. Bravely thrusting aside such a contingency she said with grave sweetness: "I should be a pretty poor sort of comrade if I were to fly in the face of your duty. It's hard, of course, Tom, but I can say truthfully that I wish you to go. I shall try not to be sad over it, or worry. After all, it's only for two or three weeks. One week of that time I shall be at Elfreda's attending the Semper's reunion. As for Haven Home, you attended to the really important things to be done there while I was in New York City. Most of the furniture is there now. Ever so many of the smaller things yet to be done, I can do or have done. My trousseau is attended to, so I'll have time to make daily pilgrimages to our forest retreat."
"I've thought of all that, too. I knew you'd wish to finish the work at Haven Home. The touring car or my roadster are always at your service to take you there. You know you love to drive the roadster. It's already as much yours as mine. You can always take one of your girl friends with you. It's bully in you to be so brave about it. It helps me more than I can say." Tom caught Grace's hands in a loving, steadfast clasp.
For an hour or more they sat side by side on the davenport, each sturdily trying to conceal the blow which the unlooked-for swing in Mrs. Gray's business affairs had dealt them. Tom's chief cause for sorrow was in the fact that he must leave the girl he adored, even for so brief an interval of time. Grace's sadness, which she sternly concealed from him, lay far deeper. Though Tom was scarcely concerned for his own welfare, she was filled with a thousand vague alarms as to the disasters which might perhaps overtake him. Not so long since, in speaking of the vast lumber region in a northern state where his aunt possessed important holdings, he had told her of the troubles that frequently ensued by reason of lawless timber thieves. Then, too, the camp for which he was bound was large and comprised a rough element of men. From Tom himself she had learned that the Scotch superintendent, Alec Mackenzie, was obliged to rule them with an iron hand. During his enforced absence from them, discipline was sure to grow lax. She wondered whether even resolute Tom Gray could ably contend with the difficult situation.
Yet she kept all this to herself. It was her place to encourage, not discourage. If unbounded faith in Tom could help work the wonder of carrying him safely through his mission and home again to her, then she would bestow that faith ungrudgingly. Hers was too fine and steadfast a nature to quail at the first obstacle that rose to impede her highway of happiness. "Loyalheart" she had been christened and "Loyalheart" she would remain to the end of her days.
"When must you go, Tom?" she questioned at last. Both had thus far been sedulously side-stepping direct reference to their moment of parting.
"I ought to go this afternoon." Tom's voice registered his hearty regret as he made this response. "I can wait until to-morrow if you say so, Grace. I'd rather you'd decide it. Of course, you know I'd prefer to put over going until to-morrow. It's only——"
"I understand," came faintly from Grace. "You'd better go to-day. Tom. It will be even harder for both of us to wait another day before saying good-bye. Besides," she added, making a valiant effort to be cheerful, "the sooner you go, the sooner you will return. You may find that you won't have to stay there as long as you imagine."
"You're a true comrade, Loyalheart." Since the day when Grace had named their future residence Haven Home, at the same time telling Tom of the college play in which she had taken part, he had fallen into the habit of calling her Loyalheart. "That Miss West had the right idea about you," had been his tender criticism. "There isn't another name in the whole world that could possibly suit you so well."
"I hope always to be a good comrade," returned Grace, a faint color stealing into her lately-paling cheeks. "It's a pretty hard contract always to live up to, though. While everything is lovely, it's not hard. When things go wrong, it is. It reminds me of a poem I once read that began, 'It's easy enough to be pleasant when life flows by like a song.' I can't remember any more of it, except that it conveyed the thought that the only persons who are really worth while are the ones who can keep on being pleasant even when everything in their lives goes wrong. So we ought to try to smile over this little hardship and look at it as being just one of the vicissitudes that life is bound to bring us."
"But I don't like to see hardship and vicissitudes creeping into our Golden Summer," protested Tom, not quite satisfied to adjust himself to Grace's more optimistic view of the situation. "I'm selfish about it, I'm afraid. When, after a long dark winter, a man is suddenly turned loose in the sunshine, he is naturally anxious to stay there. Just because I'm saying that, I don't mean that I would dream of failing Aunt Rose. I'd go even if it meant we'd have to put off our marriage a few weeks longer."
"And I would wish you to go," agreed Grace earnestly. "I am glad you said that. If, when you get to the camp, you find that you will have to stay quite a while, we can put off our wedding until the last of September. Only a few of our closest friends know that we have set the date for the tenth of September, so we needn't feel in the least embarrassed if we find it necessary to change it."
"Oh, I'll be back before the last of August," was Tom's confident prediction. "That will give us plenty of time to make all our arrangements. And now I must go, Grace. I have a good deal to do before train time. I'll leave Oakdale on that 4.30 express. I'll drive over here for you in the roadster. I'd like just you to see me off on my journey. Aunt Rose will understand when I tell her. Then if you will, you can drive the roadster back to our garage."
"I will," acquiesced Grace briefly. A swift rush of unbidden emotion brought her very near to tears. Accompanying Tom to the door, she watched him wistfully down the walk. She was forcibly reminded of a day, belonging to the past, when she had seen him go down that same walk, and, as she then believed, out of her life. On that dark rainy afternoon of the long ago she had felt only pity as she gazed after his retreating form. She had gone into the house and cried bitterly, out of sheer sorrow of the hurt which she had inflicted upon her childhood's friend. Now all was changed. Devoted love shone through the windows of the clear gray eyes that followed Tom Gray's tall, broad-shouldered figure, as he swung through the gate and down the street. And, as she stood there in the doorway, the triumphant knowledge that she loved and was loved in return swept away her inclination to tears. Even the shadow of separation could not dim the glory of the summer that lived in her heart.
THE VEILED PROPHETESS OF DESTINY
"But is Emma really coming, Elfreda?" questioned Sara Emerson anxiously. "She wrote us that she would surely be here."
Seven eager faces reflected the anxiety in Sara's tones as she made this inquiry. The first day of the Semper Fidelis week of reunion was well on its way toward sunset. Of the original members, six had descended upon the Briggs' spacious cottage to keep Elfreda company. With them had come Kathleen West and Patience Eliot, the guests of honor. Five members were still among the missing. Marian Cummings, Gertrude Wells, Elsie Wilton and Ruth Denton had been unable to grace the occasion with their presence. Ruth's inability to attend lay in the fact that she was with her father in Nevada. This had been a great cross to her chum, Arline Thayer. The others had also mourned the distance that separated her from them. But even the absence of these four paled almost into insignificance beside the disappointing knowledge that the fifth missing member, jovial Emma Dean, had not yet appeared.
"She will be here," announced Elfreda positively. "I know she will. Don't worry about it. She will no doubt come to the surface when you least expect it. She wouldn't miss the reunion for a good deal."
"But she'll miss having dinner on the lawn this evening and seeing that wonderful gypsy fortune teller you have hunted up for the occasion," was Julia Emerson's regretful cry. "Where did you find her, Elfreda? Can she really tell fortunes?"
"She can," Elfreda asserted with solemn positiveness. "Wait and see. Where I found her is a secret for to-night. Perhaps if you are good, I'll tell you all about her to-morrow."
"But to-morrow never comes," reminded Patience Eliot. "You'd better tell us now."
"Can't do it." Elfreda beamed mysteriously on the Emerson twins. "Curb your curiosity, twins. Wait patiently and the future shall unfold itself to you as an open book. I wouldn't make a bad fortune teller myself," she added humorously. "That's the way they usually talk."
"I am so disappointed at not seeing Emma here, too," sighed Grace Harlowe. "It seems ages since we said good-bye to each other at Overton. You don't suppose anything has happened to her, do you, Elfreda?"
"Of course not. Take my word for it, she'll be here before we are a day older. There, that finishes the decorations." Elfreda triumphantly fastened into place the last of a quantity of Chinese lanterns that she and her friends had been stringing about the grounds, viewing the work with a sigh of satisfaction. "These won't give much light, but they'll look pretty. The electric light will have to do the real illuminating act. The table looks sweet, doesn't it?"
Several voices sent up laudatory affirmations. Though the Sempers had arrived only that morning they had entered heart and soul soul into Elfreda's plan for a dinner on the lawn that evening, with the added treat of communing with a real fortune-teller afterward. In order to give the mysterious sooth-sayer a proper setting, a veritable grotto had been arranged for her inside a small summer house at one end of the lawn, on which the light would shine only faintly, thereby according her the eerie environment so necessary to one whose business it is to foretell the future.
Luncheon over, the Sempers had wandered in and out of one another's rooms, exchanging confidences and reminiscences, while a wholesale unpacking of their effects went on. Later Elfreda had marshalled them to the lawn, where their tongues continued to wag busily as they strung the many-colored lanterns on every available bush, or between such trees as could be easily put into use.
"We'd better be thinking about getting dressed for the evening," reminded Miriam Nesbit, consulting her wrist watch. "It is after six o'clock."
"I hope it gets dark early," commented Elfreda, with a reflective squint at the sky. "It will be more fun to have dinner then. Still I don't care to let the august Sempers starve while we are waiting for night to come."
"Oh, have dinner late," chorused several voices. "It will be ever so much more fun."
"I think so, too," nodded Grace. "We'll be good and hungry then and enjoy it even better for the waiting."
"You hear the counsel of honorable Semper Harlowe," stated Elfreda automatically. "Those in favor please respond in the usual manner by saying 'aye.' Contrary 'no.' I am delighted to find you of one mind," she added, with a beaming smile, as no dissenting voice arose. "You shall be amply rewarded for such noble self-sacrifice."
"Elfreda has something special on her mind," remarked Miriam Nesbit to Anne, as they strolled toward the house to don evening gowns. "She's planning some sort of ridiculous surprise. I can see it in her eye. I wonder—" Miriam stopped short and laughed.
"What?" asked Anne quickly. "I hadn't noticed anything specially mysterious in her manner. She always did love to be mystifying."
"I won't say what I think is going to happen. If it happens, though, I'll tell you if I guessed right." Miriam continued to smile to herself. Encountering Elfreda on the veranda, her black eyes flashed the stout girl a mischievous message which the latter immediately caught.
"I can see that you know a few things," challenged Elfreda, drawing her aside. "On your honor as my benefactor and roommate, keep them to yourself," she charged, just above a whisper.
"I am a safe receptacle for dark secrets," Miriam laughingly assured her in equally guarded fashion.
"I'm afraid I made a serious mistake in rooming with you so long. You know altogether too much about me," retorted Elfreda waggishly. "I might have known you'd guess. Never mind. Some others won't."
Owing to the fact that the sun had obligingly finished his daily pilgrimage behind a flock of gray clouds that banked themselves in the west, a fairly early twilight descended. A timid new moon, that was scheduled in the almanac to rise early, also covered itself with glory by not appearing at all, thereby signally helping along Elfreda's cause. When at eight o'clock the nine representatives of Semper Fidelis seated themselves at the tastefully decorated festal board, which occupied a position of central importance on the grassy lawn, they had no reason to complain of too much natural light. Through the dense summer darkness that had now closed in about them, softly-glowing lanterns winked their many-colored eyes. The main illumination, however, was due to two good-sized electric lights, each suspended from its own particular post at opposite sides of the grounds. These Elfreda had thoughtfully swathed in thin flowered silk, which modifying their glare, gave them the same Oriental effect as that of the lanterns.
The nine young women made a pretty picture as they gathered about the table, the delicate hues of their evening frocks lending additional beauty to the scene. From out each young face shone the joy of reunion. Whatever the future might ordain for them in the way of trials, for one week at least they had laid strong hold on happiness.
Having nobly postponed dinner for purely artistic reasons, they were now decidedly hungry. They, therefore, devoted themselves whole-heartedly to the substantial meal, comprising several delectable courses which were deftly served to them by two maids who had long been fixtures in the Briggs' household, and whose smiling faces indicated their pleasure in ministering to Elfreda's guests. It was a signally merry repast, eaten to an accompaniment of gay badinage and rippling laughter. Their college days now but a memory, it partook of the nature of a rollicking spread, rather than of that of a formal dinner party, and they reveled in thus being able to call forth once more a fleeting repetition of their former jollifications.
"You are a truly hospitable lawyeress, J. Elfreda," lauded Kathleen West, as, dessert removed, they lingered at the table over their coffee, served in quaint Japanese cups that were the pride of J. Elfreda's heart. "I can see that you haven't lost the will to garner things Japanese. These cups are exquisite."
"I am inordinately proud of them," returned Elfreda, looking gratified. "Laura Atkins' father presented me with a real Japanese tea-set that he bought especially for me the last time he was in Japan. They are old enough to have a history, too. I couldn't resist parading them to-night in honor of the Sempers."
"Tell us about them, Elfreda," begged Patience Eliot. "I love to hear——"
Patience never finished stating what she loved to hear. A sharp little exclamation of "Look!" from Arline Thayer set all eyes gazing in the direction of her indexing finger. Out of the darkness and into the swaying gleam of the lanterns a black-robed figure, bent double with the weight of years, hobbled its weird way toward the diners. From a voluminous sable sleeve, a long thin hand projected itself, the wiry fingers clutching a tall staff. The shifting glow of the lanterns played fantastically upon the apparition's veiled head as, step by step, it drew slowly nearer. An audible sigh of amazement, mingled with dread of the unknown, swept the little company. Added to the unexpected materialization of the seeress was the surprise of her costume. Fancy had pictured her to them as the usual gypsy, garbed in a rainbow of lively colors. This sinister vision, the cast of whose features a long black veil entirely concealed, seemed to be a creation of the very darkness itself. If pure uncanniness indicated occult power, then this veiled prophetess of destiny must surely be an adept in her art.
UNVEILING THE PROPHETESS
"'Tis the Veiled Prophetess of Destiny," declaimed Elfreda with dramatic intensity. "Excuse me, girls. I must conduct her to her grotto. If she is not received with respectful ceremony, she is likely to hobble off to other fields and leave us in the lurch. After all the pains I've taken to insure her presence, I should hate to disappoint you at the last minute."
"Where on earth did J. Elfreda manage to find her?" questioned Julia Emerson. Distinct awe pervaded her tones.
Their gaze fixed upon the distinguished seeress, whom Elfreda was solicitously piloting across the lawn to the grotto, no one answered Julia's question. In fact, only one of their number was prepared to reply to the query. Having taken the vow of silence, Miriam Nesbit's tranquilly-composed features offered no sign of the significant knowledge that lay behind them.
"Who will be the first to consult Amarna, the Seeress of the Seven Veils?" intoned the now-returning Elfreda in solemn, sing-song accents. Very practically she added: "I just now took the trouble to find out her name."
"Can she tell the past?" quizzed Sara Emerson skeptically.
"She can. To Amarna the past is a freshly written page. From her occult vision nothing lies hidden. Let me lead you to her." Elfreda crooked an inviting arm.
With a joyful giggle Sara rose. Accepting the proffered guidance to the seat of the all-wise Amarna, she proceeded to hustle her amiable conductor over the grass toward the grotto at a most indecorous rate of speed, born of her ardent determination to test the mettle of the Seeress of the Seven Veils.
"Go ahead." Releasing Sara's arm, Elfreda gave her a gentle shove toward the grotto and retired into a discreet patch of darkness to chuckle unobserved.
"Stand where you are. I am Amarna," piped a thin, reedy voice. Sara obediently came to a halt in the opening to the grotto and faced a black-draped dais on which the illustrious prophetess reposed. In the chastened yellow glow, cast by an enormous lantern hung directly over where she now paused, Sara was plainly visible to the uncanny figure on its perch. On the contrary, as Amarna sat well in the shadow, her face still hidden behind her veil, she greatly resembled a huge black blot. "You are not the only child in your father's house," continued the high voice. "You have a sister who is your very counterpart. Both saw the light on the same day, March the seventh."
The seeress went on with a detailed narration of various past events in Sara's life which caused her eyes to grow round with wonder. The subsequent prediction of a most remarkable future, in which fate had apparently decreed that she should never marry but end her days as a successful conductor of an art needle-work emporium, sent her scurrying back to her friends divided between wonder of the mysterious being's power to depict the past and disgust at the prospect of such a hum-drum future.
"Do let me interview her next," pleaded Julia Emerson. "But first I shall run up to my room and get my scarf. If Amarna can swathe her distinguished features, so can I. Then she won't know I'm a twin. I must say she seems better at reading the past than predicting the future. I don't see how she could tell a single thing about you, Sara, when you just stood still there. Fortune-tellers generally ask to look at one's palm." Having delivered herself of this wise opinion, Julia flitted off to the house to secure the disguising scarf.
"I defy you to pick me out as a twin," was her merry challenge, when returning to the group on the lawn she wound her long chiffon scarf twice about her head. "Thank goodness, Sarah and I never dress alike. You'll have to lead me, J. Elfreda Briggs. I can see, of course; but rather dimly."
Elfreda again performed the kindly office of conductor, leaving Julia in precisely the same spot where Sara had lately stood.
"The eyes of Amarna cannot be deceived," calmly reproved the black shape on the dais. "They see behind the flimsy veil and deep into your thoughts. Your face is as the face of her who so lately sought me. The bond of sisterhood stretches between you. That which is invisible to the naked eye is visible to me. The road of the past winds clear and white before me. Now I perceive that you——"
The result of Amarna's mystic meanderings down the road of the past were never revealed. Tardily gifted with a most remarkable power of second sight, Julia suddenly swooped down upon the weird Seeress of the Seven Veils, emitting a gleeful shout. "You villain!" she chuckled, as she caught the unfortunate sooth-sayer by the shoulders and administered a playful shaking. Still firmly clutching her victim, she raised her voice in a clear call of, "Girls, come here this instant!"
Having heard Julia's first wild shout, an investigating committee of curious girls was already bearing down upon the grotto.
"Here's your Seeress!" laughed Julia. With a triumphant sweep of the arm, she pulled aside the swathing black veil, to disclose the mirthful features of Emma Dean, minus her glasses.
"Emma Dean!" went up the lusty cry from at least six surprised Sempers. Elfreda and Miriam, however, had guessed the import of Julia's shrill summons before running to the scene with the others.
"You ridiculous fraud!" exclaimed Sara Emerson, hugging Emma with bearish enthusiasm. "No wonder you knew so much about my past and so little of my future. And I never even suspected you."
"I'm next," declared Grace as she wrapped fond arms about the recently age-bent figure which had miraculously recovered youth within a space of three minutes. Emma was lovingly embraced by each girl in turn amid much voluble greeting and accompanying laughter.
"The way of the seeress is hard," she commented humorously as she finished the removal of her veil, which the astute Julia had begun. "No more gloomy, ghostly grottos for Emily Elizabeth. Let the past and the future take care care of itself. Hurrah for the glorious present! I hope you giddy, gorgeous creatures can appreciate my noble, self-sacrificing spirit. While you have been engaged in wearing your costliest raiment and eating up a delectable dinner, I've been obliged to lurk like a criminal in J. Elfreda's room, attired in somber, sable weeds."
"But when did you arrive, Emma?" asked Arline. "Of course we know now that you and Elfreda perpetrated this dark but delightful plot. How you managed to slip into the cottage without any of us seeing you is a greater mystery than the Seeress of the Seven Veils could ever hope to be."
"Oh, it was all planned beforehand," explained Emma cheerfully. "While you loyal Sempers were out on the lawn this afternoon, stringing lanterns, I was shut up in a third-story room peering owlishly down at you through the shutters. I arrived here this morning, about an hour before the rest of you. Kind and hospitable hostess that she seems to be, I grieve to relate that I had hardly paid my respects to Mrs. Briggs when J. Elfreda shut me up in that same third-story chamber with my breakfast and left me to pine while she went gayly gallivanting down to the train to meet you. When I have a little time I shall write a book and entitle it, 'Locked Up for the Day; or All in the Name of Friendship.'"
Emma beamed languishingly upon her listeners in order better to impress them with her unfaltering loyalty to their interests. "In order to clear my jailer of any unjust aspersions which unkind persons may cast upon her, I might also add that she brought me some luncheon. As for my dinner, I had finished it before you began yours. So you see, she at least kept me in a well-nourished condition."
"Now we can be perfectly happy!" exulted Grace. "You are the last touch needed to complete the reunion."
"I am always a blessing," returned Emma modestly. "To-night I happened to be one in disguise. But I yearn to cast aside my sable robes of prophesy and emerge from my room in gala garments. Lead me to my trunk, J. Elfreda. The night is yet young and I'm anxious to make the most of it."
"I never once thought of Emma Dean in connection with Elfreda's fortune-teller," confessed Kathleen West ruefully. "I am afraid I'm losing my nose for news."
"Neither did I," admitted Anne. "But you guessed it, didn't you, Miriam?" Recalling the latter's inspiration of that afternoon, Anne turned to her sister-in-law.
"Yes. It flashed across me all of a sudden. You know Elfreda said Emma might descend upon us when we least expected her. That's what set me to thinking."
"I ought to have guessed," mourned Sara Emerson. "All the glory of the discovery goes to my twin sister. How did you find her out, Julia?"
"It was what she said. You know how funny Emma is. When we were at Overton she was forever saying 'Now I perceive.' The minute I heard it to-night I began to perceive, too."
When presently Emma joined her friends on the lawn, all traces of the fabled Seeress of the Seven Veils had vanished. In a simple white evening frock, eye-glasses firmly astride her nose, she was her usual jolly self. Although Grace Harlowe was undoubtedly the best-loved member of Semper Fidelis, Emma held an individual place in their hearts. Wherever she walked, fun and laughter followed at her heels. Grace was their inspiration to noble deeds; Emma their spirit of good cheer. One and all they gathered about her and marshalled her to the veranda where a hilarious hour ensued, followed by a concerted invasion on the living-room, where they proceeded to entertain Mr. and Mrs. Briggs, who had tactfully declined to intrude upon the dinner party, with an evening of the old, familiar stunts with which they had so often lightened their student days at Overton College.