Grace Harlowe's Junior Year at High School
Fast Friends in the Sororities
By JESSIE GRAHAM FLOWER, A.M.
Author of Grace Harlowe's Plebe Year at High School, Grace Harlowe's Sophomore Year at High School, Grace Harlowe's Senior Year at High School, etc.
PHILADELPHIA HENRY ALTEMUS COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY HOWARD E. ALTEMUS
I. A NEW ARRIVAL 7
II. CONFIDENCES 20
III. AN AUTUMN WALKING EXPEDITION 30
IV. GRACE MAKES A DISCOVERY 42
V. THE PHI SIGMA TAU 53
VI. A VISIT TO ELEANOR 68
VII. THE CLAIM OF THE "ARTISTIC TEMPERAMENT" 78
VIII. ELEANOR THROWS DOWN THE GAUNTLET 85
IX. THE RESCUE PARTY 96
X. JULIA PERFORMS A SACRED DUTY 106
XI. WORRIES AND PLANS 121
XII. A RECKLESS CHAUFFEUR 129
XIII. A THANKSGIVING FROLIC 137
XIV. ELEANOR FINDS A WAY 145
XV. A WOULD-BE "LARK" 150
XVI. THE JUNIORS FOREVER 163
XVII. THE LAST STRAW 173
XVIII. THE PLAY'S THE THING 182
XIX. THE TRY OUT 191
XX. THE ANONYMOUS LETTER 199
XXI. BREAKERS AHEAD 208
XXII. AS YOU LIKE IT 215
XXIII. THE JUNIOR PICNIC 235
XXIV. CONCLUSION 252
Grace Harlowe's Junior Year at High School
A NEW ARRIVAL
"Next to home, there is really nothing quite so satisfying as our dear old High School!" exclaimed Grace Harlowe, as she entered the locker-room and beamed on her three friends who stood near by.
"It does seem good to be back, even though we have had such a perfectly glorious summer," said Jessica Bright. "We are a notch higher, too. We're actually juniors. This locker-room is now our property, although I don't like it as well as the one we had last year."
"We'll get accustomed to it, and it will seem like home inside of two weeks," said Anne Pierson philosophically. "Everything is bound to change in this world, you know. 'We must put ourselves in harmony with the things among which our lot is cast.'"
"Well, Marcus Aurelius, we'll try to accept your teaching," laughed Grace, who immediately recognized the quotation as coming from a tiny "Marcus Aurelius Year Book" that Anne kept in her desk and frequently perused.
"I wonder what school will bring us this year?" mused Nora O'Malley, as she retied her bow for the fifth time before the mirror and critically surveyed the final effect. "We had a stormy enough time last year, goodness knows. Really, girls, it is hard to believe that Miriam Nesbit and Julia Crosby were at one time the banes of our existence. They come next to you three girls with me, now."
"I think that we all feel the same about them," replied Grace. "Miriam is a perfect dear now, and is just as enthusiastic over class matters as we are."
"It looks as though everything were going to be plain sailing this year," said Jessica. "There isn't a disturbing element in the class that I know of. Still, one can never tell."
"Oh, here come Eva Allen and Marian Barber," called Grace delightedly, and rushed over to the newcomers with outstretched hands.
By this time girls began to arrive rapidly, and soon the locker-room hummed with the sound of fresh, young voices. Coats of tan were compared and newly acquired freckles deplored, as the girls stood about in groups, talking of the delights of the summer vacation just ended.
To the readers of "GRACE HARLOWE'S PLEBE YEAR AT HIGH SCHOOL," and "GRACE HARLOWE'S SOPHOMORE YEAR AT HIGH SCHOOL," the girl chums have become familiar figures. It will be remembered how Grace Harlowe and her friends, Nora O'Malley and Jessica Bright, during their freshman year, became the firm friends of Anne Pierson, the brilliant young girl who won the freshman prize offered each year to the freshmen by Mrs. Gray. The reader will recall the repeated efforts of Miriam Nesbit, aided by Miss Leece, the algebra teacher, to disgrace Anne in the eyes of the faculty, and the way each attempt was frustrated by Grace Harlowe and her friends. Mrs. Gray's house party, the winter picnic in Upton Wood, and Anne Pierson's struggles to escape her unworthy father all contributed toward making the story stand out in the reader's mind.
In "GRACE HARLOWE'S SOPHOMORE YEAR," the girl chums were found leading their class in athletics. Here, Miriam Nesbit, still unsubdued, endeavored once more to humiliate Anne Pierson, and to oust Grace from her position as captain of the basketball team, being aided in her plan by Julia Crosby, captain of the junior team, against whom the sophomores had engaged to play a series of three games. Grace's brave rescue of Julia Crosby during a skating party and the latter's subsequent repentance restored good feeling between the two classes, and the book ended with the final conversion of Miriam after her long and stubbornly nursed enmity.
David Nesbit's trial flight in his aeroplane, Grace's encounter with the escaped lunatic, who imagined himself to be Napoleon Bonaparte, were among the features which made the book absorbing from start to finish.
The clang of the first bell broke in upon the chattering groups, and obedient to its summons, the girls moved slowly out of the locker-room and down the corridor, talking in subdued tones as they strolled toward the study hall.
Miss Thompson stood at her desk, serene and smiling, as the girls filed in.
"How well Miss Thompson looks," whispered Grace to Anne as they neared their seats. "Let's go up and see her when this session is over. It's sure to be short this morning."
It was customary on the opening of school for the members of the various classes to take their seats of the previous year. Then the sections were rearranged, the seniors taking the seats left by the graduates, and the other classes moving up accordingly. The first day of school amounted to really nothing further than being assigned to one's seat and getting used to the idea of school again. Miss Thompson usually addressed the girls on the duty of High School students, and the girls went forth full of new resolutions that last for at least a week.
Grace looked curiously about her. She wondered if there were to be many new girls that year. The present freshmen, direct from the Grammar Schools, sat on the front seats looking a trifle awed at the idea of being academic pupils, and feeling very strange and uncomfortable under the scrutiny of so many pairs of eyes.
Her glance wandered toward the new sophomore class, as though in search of some one, her eyes brightening as she caught sight of the brown-eyed girl who had won the freshman prize the previous June. The latter looked as helpless and friendless as when Grace first saw her step up on the platform to receive her money. "I shall certainly find out more about that child," she decided. "What is her name? I heard it at commencement, but I have forgotten it."
Taking a leaf from a little note-book that she always carried, Grace wrote: "Do you see the freshman-prize girl over among the sophomores? What is her name? I can't remember." Then, folding the paper, she tossed it to Anne, who nodded; then wrote, "Mabel Allison," and handed it to the girl sitting opposite her, who obligingly passed it over to Grace.
With a nod of thanks to Anne, Grace glanced at the paper and then at the owner of the name, who sat with her hands meekly folded on her desk, listening to Miss Thompson as though her life depended upon hearing every word that the principal uttered.
"I want all my girls to try particularly this year to reach a higher standard than ever before," Miss Thompson concluded, "not only in your studies, but in your attitude toward one another. Be straightforward and honorable in all your dealings, girls; so that when the day comes for you to receive your diplomas and bid Oakdale High School farewell, you can do so with the proud consciousness that you have been to your schoolmates just what you would have wished them to be to you. I know of no better preparation for a happy life than constant observation of the golden rule.
"And now I hope I shall have no occasion to deliver another lecture during the school year," said the principal, smiling. "There can be no formation of classes to-day, as the bulletins of the various subjects have just been posted, and will undoubtedly undergo some changes. It would be advisable, however, to arrange as speedily as possible about the subjects you intend to take, as we wish to begin recitations by Friday at the latest, and I dare say the changes made in the schedule will be slight."
Then the work of assigning each class to its particular section of the study hall began. The seniors moved with evident pride into the places reserved for the first class, while the freshmen looked visibly relieved at having any place at all to call their own. Immediately after this the classes were dismissed, and a general rush was made to the end of the great room, where the bulletins were posted.
Grace, Nora, Anne and Jessica wished to recite in the same classes as far as could be arranged, and a lively confab ensued as to what would be best to take. They all decided on solid geometry and English reading, as they could be together for these classes, but the rest was not so easy, for Nora, who loathed history, was obliged to take ancient history to complete her history group, the other girls having wisely completed theirs the previous year. Jessica wanted to take physical geography, Anne rhetoric, and Grace boldly announced a hankering for zooelogy.
"How horrible," shuddered Jessica. "How can you bear to think of cutting up live cats and dogs and angleworms and things."
"Oh, you silly," laughed Grace. "You're thinking of vivisection. I wouldn't cut up anything alive for all the world. The girls did dissect crabs and lobsters, and even rabbits, last year, but they were dead long before they ever reached the zooelogy class."
"Oh," said Jessica, somewhat reassured, "I'm glad to hear that, at any rate."
"That makes three subjects," said Nora. "Now we want one more. Are any of you going to be over ambitious and take five?"
"Not I," responded Grace and Jessica in chorus.
"I shall," said Anne quietly. "I'm going to learn just as much as I can while I have the chance."
"Well," said Jessica, "you're different. Five studies aren't any harder for you than four for us."
"Thank the lady prettily for her high opinion of your ability, Anne," said Grace, laughing. "She really seems to be sincere."
"She's too sincere for comfort," murmured Anne, who hated compliments.
"We haven't settled on that fourth subject yet," interposed Nora.
"Why don't you all take French, it is such a beautiful language," said a soft voice behind them. "I'm sure you'd like it."
The four girls turned simultaneously at the sound of the strange, soft voice, to face a girl whose beauty was almost startling. She was a trifle taller than Grace and beautifully straight and slender. Her hair was jet black and lay on her forehead in little silky rings, while she had the bluest eyes the girls had ever seen. Her features were small and regular, and her skin as creamy as the petal of a magnolia. She stood regarding the astonished girls with a fascinating little smile that was irresistible.
"Please excuse me for breaking in upon you, but I saw you from afar, and you looked awfully good to me." Her clear enunciation made the slang phrase sound like the purest English. "I have just been with your principal in her office. She told me to come here and look over the list of subjects. Do you think me unpardonably rude?" She looked appealingly at the four chums.
"Why, of course not," said Grace promptly, recovering in a measure from her first surprise. "I suppose you are going to enter our school, are you not? Let me introduce you to my friends." She named her three chums in turn, who bowed cordially to the attractive stranger.
"My name is Grace Harlowe. Will you tell me yours?"
"My name is Eleanor Savell," replied the new-comer, "and I have just come to Oakdale with my aunt. We have leased a quaint old house in the suburbs called 'Heartsease.' My aunt fell quite in love with it, so perhaps we shall stay awhile. We travel most of the time, and I get very tired of it," she concluded with a little pout.
"'Heartsease'?" cried the girls in chorus. "Do you live at 'Heartsease'?"
"Yes," said the stranger curiously. "Is there anything peculiar about it?"
"Oh, no," Grace hastened to reply. "The reason we are interested is because we know the owner of the property, Mrs. Gray, very well."
"Oh, do you know her?" replied Eleanor lightly. "Isn't she a dainty, little, old creature? She looks like a Dresden shepherdess grown old. For an elderly woman, she really is interesting."
"We call her our fairy godmother," said Anne, "and love her so dearly that we never think of her as being old." There had been something about the careless words that jarred upon Anne.
"Oh, I am sure she is all that is delightful," responded Miss Savell, quickly divining that Anne was not pleased at her remark. "I hope to know her better."
"You are lucky to get 'Heartsease,'" said Grace. "Mrs. Gray has refused over and over again to rent it. It belonged to her favorite brother, who willed it to her when he died. She has always kept it in repair. Even the furniture has not been changed. I have been there with her, and I love every bit of it. I am glad to know that it has a tenant at last."
"Mrs. Gray knew my aunt years ago. They have kept up a correspondence for ever so long. It was due to her that we came here," said Eleanor.
"Is your aunt Miss Margaret Nevin?" asked Anne quietly.
"Why, how did you know her name?" cried Eleanor, apparently mystified. "'This is getting curiouser and curiouser.'"
The four girls laughed merrily.
"Anne is Mrs. Gray's private secretary," explained Jessica. "She tends to all her correspondence. I suppose you have written more than one letter to Miss Savell's aunt, haven't you, Anne!"
"Yes, indeed," replied Anne. "Her name is very familiar to me."
"What class are you girls in?" said Eleanor, abruptly changing the subject. "Or aren't you all in the same class?"
"We are all juniors," laughed Nora, "and proud of it. Our green and callow days are over, and we have entered into the realm of the upper classes."
"Then I shall enter the junior class, too, for I choose to hob-nob with you girls. Don't say you don't want me, for I have made up my mind; and it is like the laws of the Medes and Persians, unchangeable."
"We shall be glad to welcome a new classmate, of course," responded Grace. "I hope you will soon be one of us. Did Miss Thompson say that you would have to take examinations?"
"She did, she did," answered Eleanor ruefully. "Still I'm not much afraid. I've studied with a tutor, so I'm pretty well up in mathematics and English. I can speak French, German, Italian and Spanish almost as well as English. You know I've lived most of my life abroad. I'll manage to pass somehow."
"I should think you would," exclaimed Anne admiringly. "I hope you pass, I'm sure. Perhaps you'll be too far advanced for our class."
"Never fear, my dear," said Eleanor. "My heart is with the juniors, and leave it to me not to land in any other class. But, really, I've bothered you long enough. I must go back to your principal and announce myself ready to meet my fate. I hope to know you better when examinations have ceased to be a burden and the weary are at rest. That is, if I survive."
With a gay little nod, and a dazzling smile that revealed almost perfect teeth, she walked quickly down the long room and out the door, leaving the girl chums staring after her.
"What an extraordinary girl!" said Jessica. "She acts as though she'd known us all her life, and we never set eyes on her until she marched in and calmly interrupted us ten minutes ago."
"It doesn't seem to make much difference whether or not we like her. She has decided she likes us, and that settles it," said Grace, smiling. "What do you think of her, Anne? You are a pretty good judge of character."
"I don't know yet," replied Anne slowly. "She seems charming. She must be awfully clever, too, to know so many languages, but——"
"But what?" queried Nora.
"Oh, I don't know just what I want to say, only let's proceed slowly with her, then we'll never have anything to regret."
"Come on, girls," said Jessica impatiently. "Let's hurry. You know we promised to meet the boys as soon as school was over."
The girl chums walked out of the study hall, each with her mind so full of the new girl, who had so suddenly appeared in their midst, that the proposed call upon Miss Thompson was entirely forgotten.
"I am the bearer of an invitation," announced Anne Pierson as the four girls collected in one corner of the locker-room during the brief recess allowed each morning.
"Mrs. Gray wishes to see us all at four o'clock this afternoon. We are to dine with her and spend the evening, and the boys are invited for the evening, too. So we will have just time enough after school to go home and dress."
"You had better meet at my house, then," said Grace, "for it's on the way to Mrs. Gray's. Good-bye. Be sure and be there at a quarter of four at the latest."
Promptly at the appointed time the girls hurried up the Harlowe walk. They were met at the door by Grace, who had been standing at the window for the last ten minutes with hat and gloves on, impatiently waiting their arrival.
As they neared Mrs. Gray's beautiful home, Anne said in a low tone to Grace, who was walking with her, "I suppose Mrs. Gray has a double motive in asking us up here to-day. I believe she wants to talk to us about Eleanor Savell. Miss Nevin called on Mrs. Gray yesterday and they were in the parlor together for a long time. After Miss Nevin had gone, Mrs. Gray told me that Miss Nevin was anxious that Eleanor should associate with girls of her own age. That is the reason she brought her to Oakdale."
"Hurry up, you two," called Nora, who had reached the steps. "How you do lag to-day."
"You will hear more of this later," whispered Anne.
Mrs. Gray stood in the wide hall with hands outstretched in welcome. She kissed each girl affectionately, but her eyes lingered upon Anne, who was plainly her favorite. The old lady had become so accustomed to the sympathetic presence of the quiet, young girl that it seemed, at times, as though her own daughter had come back to her once more.
"Come right into the library and make yourself comfy," cried Mrs. Gray cheerily. "I spend most of my time there. The view from the windows is so beautiful, and as one grows old, one resorts more and more to book friendships."
"What shall we do with you, Mrs. Gray, if you keep on insisting that you are old?" said Grace. "You're not a day older at heart than any of the rest of us. Here, sit down in this nice, easy chair, while we take turns telling you just how young you are."
"It is due to my adopted children that I am not a cross, crotchety, complaining old woman," said Mrs. Gray, allowing Grace to seat her in the big leather-covered arm chair.
"Now, what does your Majesty crave of her loyal subjects?" inquired Grace, bowing low before the little, old lady.
"Very well, if I am queen, then I must be obeyed. Draw up your chairs and sit in a circle. I want to tell you a little story. That is partly my reason for inviting you here this afternoon, although you know you are welcome whenever you choose to come."
"Is it a fairy story, dear Mrs. Gray, and does it begin with 'Once upon a time'?" queried Jessica.
"It is a story of real life, my child, but I'll begin it like a fairy tale if you wish it."
"Oh, please begin at once," said Grace, who, at eighteen, was as fond of a story as she had been at six.
"Well, 'once upon a time,' there were two sisters. They were really only half sisters, and the one was almost twenty years older than the other. The mother of the elder sister had died when she was about fifteen years of age, and two years later the father had married a beautiful young Irish girl of very good family, who loved him dearly in spite of the difference in their ages.
"After they had been married a little over two years, a little girl came to them, and the older sister loved the tiny baby as dearly as she loved her beautiful, young step-mother."
"Why, that sounds very much like Grimm's fairy tales!" exclaimed Nora. "Only the book people are all kings and queens, but this is even better because the heroine is actually Irish."
There was a general laugh over Nora's remark in which Mrs. Gray joined.
"It's a case of Ireland forever, isn't it Nora?" said Grace teasingly.
"'Fine and dandy are the Irish,'" said Nora with a grin, quoting from a popular song she had heard in a recent musical comedy. "But stop teasing me, and let Mrs. Gray go on with her story."
"When the baby sister, whose name was Edith, was about three years old, the beautiful young mother died and left the husband inconsolable. A year later he was killed in a railroad accident, and the elder sister, named Margaret, was left with only little Edith to comfort her. The father had been a rich man, so they had no anxiety about money, and lived on year after year in their beautiful old home, with everything heart could wish.
"As Edith grew older, she developed a decided talent for music, and when she was fifteen Margaret decided to take her abroad and allow her to enter one of the great conservatories of Europe. They went to Leipsic, and Edith, who had high hopes of one day becoming a concert pianiste, continued her studies under the best instructors that money could procure. Things ran along smoothly until Edith met a young Italian named Guido Savelli, who was studying the violin at the same conservatory. His brilliant playing had already created a sensation wherever he appeared, and he gave promise of being a virtuoso.
"He fell violently in love with Edith, who had her mother's beautiful blue eyes and the combination of white skin and black hair that go to make an Irish beauty. She returned his love, and after a brief engagement they were married, much against the wishes of Margaret, who thought them both too young and impressionable to know their own minds."
"And did they live happy ever after?" asked Grace eagerly.
"That is the sad part of my story," said Mrs. Gray, sighing. "They were anything but happy. They both had too much of the artistic temperament to live peaceably. Besides, Guido Savelli was thoroughly selfish at heart. Next to himself, his music was the only thing in the world that he really cared for. When they had been married for about a year and a half he played before the king, and soon became the man of the hour. He neglected his beautiful young wife, who, in spite of their frequent quarrels, loved him with a pure and disinterested affection.
"Finally he went on a concert tour through the principal European cities, and she never saw him again. She wrote him repeatedly, but he never answered her letters, and she was too proud to follow him. She had one child, a baby girl, named Eleanor, who was the sole comfort of the heartbroken mother."
At this juncture Anne and Grace exchanged significant glances.
"When Eleanor was about a year old, the mother wrote Guido Savelli once more, begging him to come to her, if only for the sake of his child, but either he never received the letter or else paid no attention to it, for she received no reply. She relapsed into a dull, apathetic state, from which the repeated efforts of her sister failed to arouse her. The following winter she contracted pneumonia and died, leaving her sister the sole guardian of Eleanor."
"How long ago did all this happen, dear Mrs. Gray?" queried Nora eagerly, "and is little Eleanor living?"
"It was sixteen years ago, my dear," replied Mrs. Gray, "and the reason that I have told you this long tale is because the baby girl is almost a woman now, and——"
"The girl is Eleanor Savell and we met her the other day," broke in Grace excitedly, forgetting for an instant that she had interrupted Mrs. Gray. "She is going to live at 'Heartsease' and—— oh, Mrs. Gray, please pardon me for interrupting you, I was so excited that I didn't realize my own rudeness."
"Granted, my dear," smiled the old lady. "But how did you happen to meet Eleanor? They arrived only a few days ago."
Grace rapidly narrated their meeting and conversation with Eleanor, while Mrs. Gray listened without comment. When Grace repeated Eleanor's remark about having made up her mind, the old lady looked a little troubled. Then her face cleared and she said softly:
"My dear Christmas children, I am very anxious that for her own sake you should become well acquainted with Eleanor. Her aunt was here yesterday, and we had a long talk regarding her. Eleanor is an uncommon girl in many respects. She has remarkable beauty and talent, but she is frightfully self-willed. Her aunt has spoiled her, and realizes too late the damage she has done by having allowed her to grow up on the continent. They have lived in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, with an occasional visit to America, and Eleanor has always done just as she pleased. For years her aunt has obeyed her slightest whim, but as she grows older she grows more like her father, and her aunt wants her to have some steadying influence that will put a curb on her unconventional tendencies.
"When she wrote me of Eleanor, I wrote her about my girls, and offered her 'Heartsease.' She was delighted with the whole thing and lost no time in getting here. So now you understand why I have told you all this. I want you to promise me that you will do what you can for this motherless girl."
"But we felt sure we should like her when we saw her the other day," said Nora. "She seemed so sweet and winning."
"So she is. She has her father's winning personality, and a good deal of his selfishness, too," replied Mrs. Gray. "You won't find her at all disagreeable. But she is reckless, self-willed, defiant of public opinion and exceedingly impulsive. I look to you girls to keep her out of mischief."
"Well, we'll try, but I never did pride myself on being a first-class reformer," said Grace, laughing.
"Where is her father now?" asked Anne. "Is it possible that he is the great Savelli who toured America two years ago?"
"He is the man," said Mrs. Gray. "He is a wonderful musician. I heard him in New York City. I shall never forget the way he played one of Liszt's 'Hungarian Rhapsodies.' I must caution you, girls, never to mention Eleanor's father to her. She has been kept in absolute ignorance of him. When she is twenty-one her aunt will tell her about him. If she knew he was the great Savelli, she would rush off and join him to-morrow, she is so impulsive. She has the music madness of both father and mother. Her aunt tells me she is a remarkable performer on both violin and piano."
"But why shouldn't she go to her father if he is a great musician?" said Jessica. "And why is she called Savell, if her name is Savelli?"
"Because, my dear, her father has never evinced the slightest desire to look up his own child. Even if he had, he is too irresponsible and too temperamental to assume the care of a girl like Eleanor," Mrs. Gray answered. "No, Eleanor is better off with her aunt. As to her name, her aunt hates everything Italian, so she dropped the 'I' and made the name Savell."
"My," said Nora with a sigh. "She is almost as remarkable as a fairy princess, after all."
"Oh, I don't know," replied Grace quickly. "Her life, of course, has been eventful, but I believe if we are to do her any good we shall just have to act as though she were an everyday girl like the rest of us. If we begin to bow down to her, we shall be obliged to keep it up. Besides, I have an idea that I am as fond of having my own way as she is."
"Dinner is served," announced John, the butler.
The four girls arose and followed Mrs. Gray to the dining room. During the dinner Eleanor was not again mentioned, although she occupied more or less of the four girls' thoughts.
Later on, David, Hippy and Reddy appeared and a merry frolic ensued. It was after ten o'clock before the little party of young folks prepared to take their departure.
"Remember, I rely upon you," whispered Mrs. Gray to Grace as she kissed her good night. Grace nodded sympathetically, but went home with an uneasy feeling that playing the guardian angel to Eleanor would be anything but a light task.
AN AUTUMN WALKING EXPEDITION
"It is simply too lovely to go home to-day," exclaimed Grace Harlowe to her three chums as they strolled down High School Street one sunny afternoon in early October. "I move that we drop our books at my house and go for a walk."
"I'm willing to drop my books anywhere and never see them again," grumbled Nora O'Malley, who was not fond of study.
"I ought to go straight home," demurred Anne Pierson, "but I'll put pleasure before duty and stay with the crowd."
"What about you, Jessica?" asked Grace.
"You couldn't drive me home," replied Jessica promptly.
"Very well," laughed Grace, "as we are all of the same mind, let's shed these books and be off."
After a brief stop at Grace's home, the four girls started out, keenly alive to the beauty of the day. The leaves on the trees were beginning to lose their green and put on their dresses of red and gold. Though the sun shone brightly, the air was cool and bracing, and filled one with that vigor and joy of living which makes autumn the most delightful season of the year.
Once outside the gate, the chums unconsciously headed in the same direction.
"I believe we all have the same place in mind," laughed Grace. "I was thinking about a walk to the old Omnibus House."
"'Great minds run in the same channel,'" quoted Jessica.
"I haven't been out there since the spread last year," said Anne.
"I have," said Grace, with a slight shudder. "I am not likely to forget it, either."
"Well we are not apt to meet any more Napoleon Bonapartes out there," said Nora, referring to Grace's encounter with an escaped lunatic, fully narrated in "GRACE HARLOWE'S SOPHOMORE YEAR AT HIGH SCHOOL."
They were nearing their destination when Anne suddenly exclaimed: "Look, girls. Some one is over at the old house. I just saw a man go around the corner!"
The girls looked quickly in the direction of the house. Just then a figure appeared, stared at the approaching girls and began waving his hat wildly, at the same time doing a sort of war dance.
"It's another lunatic," screamed Jessica. "Run, girls, run!"
"Run nothing," exclaimed Nora. "Don't you know Reddy Brooks when you see him? Just wait until I get near enough to tell him that you mistook him for a lunatic. Hurrah! David and Hippy are with him."
"Well, well, well!" exclaimed Hippy as the girls approached. "Here is Mrs. Harlowe's little girl and some of her juvenile friends. I'm very glad to see so many Oakdale children out to-day."
"How dare you take possession of the very spot we had our eye on?" asked Grace, as she shook hands with David.
"I came over to try my bird before I have it sent home for the winter," replied David. "I was just locking up."
"And the exhibition is all over," cried Grace in a disappointed tone. "I'm so sorry. You see, I still have a hankering for aeroplanes."
"There wasn't any exhibition, after all," said David. "It wouldn't fly worth a cent to-day. I shall have to give it a complete overhauling when I get it back to my workshop. What are you girls doing out this way?"
"Oh, we just came out to walk, because it was too nice to stay indoors," said Anne. "And now we are particularly glad we came."
"Not half as glad as I am," replied David, looking at her with a smile.
"Speaking of walking," remarked Hippy, "I have decided to go in for a little on my own account. Object, to become a light weight. Is there any one who will encourage me in this laudable resolution, and beguile me while I go 'galumphing' over the ground?"
"Oh, I know something that would be perfectly fine!" exclaimed Nora, hopping about in excitement.
"Watch her," cried Hippy. "She is about to have a conniption. She always has them when an idea hits her. I've known her for years and——"
"Make him stop," appealed Nora to David and Reddy, "or I won't tell any of you a single thing."
"I'll desist, merely to please the Irish lady, not because I'm afraid of you two long, slim persons," said Hippy, cleverly dodging both David and Reddy.
"Suppose we go on a walking expedition," said Nora. "We can start early some Saturday morning, with enough lunch to last us all day, and walk to the other side of Upton Wood and back. My sister would be glad to go with us, so that will settle the matter of having an older person along. We can have the whole day in the woods, and the walk will do us all good. We won't have many more chances, either, for winter will be upon us before we know it. It's a shame to waste such perfect days as these."
"What a perfectly lovely stunt!" exclaimed Grace. "We'll write to Tom Gray, and see if he can't come, too. The walking expedition wouldn't be complete without him."
"I'll write to him to-night," said David. "I certainly should like to see the good old chap."
"Will there be plenty to eat?" asked Hippy. "I always feel hungry after such strenuous exercise as walking. I am not very strong, you know."
"Hear him," jeered Reddy. "One minute he vows to walk until he reaches the skeleton stage, and the next he threatens to kick over all his vows by overeating."
"I didn't say anything about overeating," retorted Hippy. "I merely stated that there are times when I feel the pangs of hunger."
"Stop squabbling," said Jessica, "and let's lay some plans."
"Where shall we lay them?" innocently asked Hippy.
"Nowhere, if you're not good," said Nora eyeing him severely.
Then an animated discussion began, and the following Saturday was agreed upon, the weather permitting, as the best time to go.
Saturday turned out fair, and by nine o'clock the entire party were monopolizing the Harlowe's veranda.
"Well, are we all ready?" said Tom Gray, as he glanced at his watch. "Everybody scramble. One, two, three, walk."
Eight highly excited boys and girls accompanied by Miss Edith O'Malley, hustled down the steps, waving good-bye to Mrs. Harlowe as she stood on the veranda and watched them out of sight.
The lunch had been divided into four packages and each boy strapped a package to his shoulder. Grace wore a little knapsack fitted to her back with two cross straps. "There's nothing in it but some walnut fudge that I made last night, but I couldn't resist wearing it. It belonged to my grandfather," she confided to the girls when they had exclaimed over it.
"My, but it's great to be here," said Tom Gray to Grace as they entered Upton Wood. "I'm so glad I could come."
"So are we," she replied. "A lark in the woods wouldn't be half the fun with our forester missing."
"Back to nature for me, every time," he exclaimed, taking a deep breath and looking about him, his face aglow with forest worship.
"I love the woods, too," said Grace, "almost enough to wish I were a gypsy."
On down the shady wood road they traveled, sometimes stopping to watch a squirrel or a chipmunk or to knock down a few burrs from the chestnut trees they occasionally found along the way. Once they stopped and played hide and seek for half an hour. By one o'clock they were ravenously hungry. Hippy clamored incessantly for food.
"Let us feed him at once, and have peace," exclaimed Nora. "I'm hungry, too. It seems an age since breakfast."
A halt was made and the contents of two of the lunch packages were arranged on a little tablecloth at the foot of a great oak. The hungry young folks gathered around it and in a short time nothing remained of the lunch excepting the packages reserved for supper.
"I move we all take a half hour's rest and then go on," said David. "We still have a mile to go before we are through the wood. We'll feel more like walking after we've rested a little."
"Let us all sit in a row with our backs against this fallen tree and tell a story," said Grace. "Hippy, you are on the end, so you can begin it, then after you have gone a little way, Nora must take up the narrative, and so on down the line until the story is finished."
"Fine," said Hippy. "Here goes:"
"Once upon a time, in the heart of a deep forest, there lived a most beautiful prince. He had all that heart could wish; still he was not happy, for, alas, he was too fat."
At this statement there was a shout of laughter from his listeners, at which Hippy, pretending anger, glared ferociously and vowed that he would not continue. Nora thereupon took up the narrative and convulsed her hearers with the remedies tried by the fat prince to reduce his weight. Then the story was passed on to Anne. With each narrator it grew funnier, until the party screamed with laughter over the misfortunes of the ill-starred prince.
Hippy ended the tale by marrying the hero to a princess who was a golf fiend and who forced the poor prince to be her caddy.
"From the day of his marriage he chased golf balls," concluded Hippy, "and the habit became so firmly fixed with him that he even rose and chased them in his sleep. He lost flesh at an alarming rate, and three months after his wedding day they laid him to rest in the quiet churchyard, with the touching epitaph over him, 'Things are not what they seem.'"
Hippy buried his face in his handkerchief and sobbed audibly until David and Reddy pounced upon him and he was obliged to forego his lamentations and defend himself.
"It's time to move," said Tom Gray, consulting his watch. "I don't believe we'd better go on through the wood. We'll have to about face if we expect to get home before dark."
So the start back was made, but their progress was slow. A dozen things beguiled them from the path. Tom's trained eye spied a wasp's nest hanging from a limb. It was as large as a Japanese lantern and a beautiful silver-gray color. Anne stopped to pick some ground berries she found nestling under the leaves. Then they all started in wild pursuit of a rabbit, and in consequence had difficulty in finding the road again. Finally they all grew so hungry they sat down and disposed of the remaining food.
"How dark it is growing," exclaimed Jessica, as they again took the road. "It must be very late."
"It's after four o'clock," replied David, "and there's a storm coming, too. I think we had better hurry. I don't fancy being caught in the woods in bad weather. Hustle, everybody."
As they hurried along the path a blast of wind blew full in their faces. The whole forest seemed suddenly astir. There were strange sounds from every direction. The branches creaked and the dry leaves fell rattling to the ground by hundreds. Another gust of wind filled their eyes and nostrils with fine dust.
"Don't be frightened," called Tom. "Follow me."
He led the way with Reddy, but the storm was upon them before they had gone ten steps. The wind almost blew them off their feet and black darkness settled down over the woods. They could just see the outlines of the trees as they staggered on, a blinding rain drenching them to the skin.
Tom divided the party into two sections, four in one and five in the other. They were to hold each other's hands tightly and keep together. Frequent flashes of lightning revealed the woods in a tremendous state of agitation and it seemed better to be moving than to stand still and watch the terrifying spectacle.
On they stumbled, but suddenly came to grief, for the four in front fell headlong over a tree that had been blown across the path, and the other five hearing their cries of warning too late, followed after.
By the time they had picked themselves up the storm had grown so furious that they could only press miserably together and wait for it to pass.
Suddenly Tom amazed them all by putting his hands to his mouth and blowing a strange kind of hollow whistle that sounded like the note of a trumpet.
He repeated the whistle again and again. "You may not believe it," he said between calls, "but the hunter who taught me this, told me never to use it unless I was in dire need. Then help of some sort would surely come. It is called the Elf's Horn."
"Did you ever try it before," asked Reddy curiously.
"No," he answered, "I never did. I suppose it's only superstition, but I love hunter's lore. Perhaps it may work. Who knows?"
"Hello-o-o!" cried a voice seemingly close by. "Hello-o-o!"
"Where are you?" called Tom.
"This way," answered the voice, and a light flashed a little distance off, revealing to them a man waving a lantern with one hand and beckoning with the other. One and all dashed toward the light, feeling that shelter was at hand.
"It must be a hunter," panted Tom, "and he has heard the Elf's Horn."
It was a hunter, and none other than old Jean. Their blind wandering had taken them straight to the hunter's cabin.
"It is Mademoiselle Grace and her friends," cried the old man with delight. "When the sky grow so dark, I take my lantern and go out to my trap I have set this morning. Then I hear a strange whistle, many times, and I think some one get lost and I cry 'hello,' and you answer and I find mademoiselle and her friends."
"That was the Elf's Horn, Jean," replied Tom, "and you heard because you are a hunter."
"I know not what monsieur mean by Elf Horn, but I hear whistle, anyhow, and come," remarked the old man, smiling.
The others laughed.
"It's a shame to spoil it," replied David, "but I am afraid your Elf's Horn and Jean's helloing were just a coincidence."
"Coincidence or not," replied Tom good-naturedly, "my faith in the fairy horn is now unshakable. I shall use it again if I ever need to."
Before a blazing fire kindled by Jean in the big fireplace, the whole party dried themselves. The old hunter listened to the story of their mad scramble through the woods with many expressions of sympathy.
It was eight o'clock when the storm had abated sufficiently to allow them to sally forth, and in a short time they were in Oakdale.
Fifteen minutes later they were telling Mr. and Mrs. Harlowe just how it all happened.
GRACE MAKES A DISCOVERY
The Monday after the walking expedition, Grace Harlowe set out for school full of an idea that had been revolving in her busy brain for weeks. The time had come for herself and for her three chums to bind themselves together as a sorority. As charter members, they would initiate four other girls, as soon as proper rites could be thought of. It should be a Greek letter society. Grace thought "Phi Sigma Tau" would sound well. Aside from the social part, their chief object would be to keep a watchful eye open for girls in school who needed assistance of any sort.
Mrs. Gray's anxiety over Eleanor Savell had set the bee in Grace's bonnet buzzing, and now her plans were practically perfected. All that remained to be done was to tell her three friends, and consult them as to what other four girls would be eligible to membership.
Her proposition was hailed with acclamation by Anne, Nora and Jessica. Miriam Nesbit, Marian Barber, Eva Allen and Eleanor Savell were chosen as candidates and promptly notified to report at Jessica's home the next Thursday evening for initiation. They at once accepted the invitation and solemnly promised to be there.
"'Where are you going, my pretty maid?'" said David Nesbit, stopping directly in front of Grace Harlowe as she hurried toward the Bright home the following Thursday evening.
Grace laughed merrily, dropped a little curtsy and recited, "I'm going to an initiation, sir, she said."
"'And may I go with you, my pretty maid?'" replied David, bowing low.
"No boys allowed there, sir, she said."
"That settles it," sighed David. "I suppose a sorority is about to come to the surface. Am I right, and will you take me along?"
"Yes, we are going to initiate members into our new sorority, but you can't come, so you might as well be resigned to fate," retorted Grace. "We didn't receive invitations to your fraternity initiations."
"Be kind to Anne, won't you. Tell her she has my sympathy," said David solemnly.
"Anne is a charter member, if you please," laughed Grace. "She is spared the ordeals of initiation. But Miriam will not escape so easily. She is one of the candidates."
"Ah, ha!" exclaimed David. "That's what she was so mysterious over. I tried to find out where she was going, but she wouldn't tell me. By the way, where does the affair take place?" he added, trying to look innocent.
"Don't you wish you knew?" teased Grace. "However, you shan't find out from me. I know too well what would happen if you boys traced us to our lair. But I must go or I shall be late. Good night, David. Please be good and don't follow me. Promise me you won't."
"I never make rash promises," answered David, smiling. "Be merciful to the candidates." Lifting his cap, the young man hurried off and turned the corner without looking back.
"I wonder what I had better do," Grace mused. "I know perfectly well that David Nesbit won't go away. He will wait until he thinks I am far enough up the street and then he'll follow me. As soon as he finds out where I am going he'll rush back and hunt up Hippy Wingate and Reddy Brooks. Goodness knows what the three of them will plan."
She decided to turn down a side street, go back one block and into the public library. She could easily leave the library by the side entrance and cut across Putnam Square. That would mislead David, although no doubt he would find them before the evening was over.
Grace lost no time in putting her plan into action. As she hurried into the library she looked back, but saw no sign of David. When she reached Putnam Square she almost ran along the broad asphalt walk. It was fifteen minutes past seven by the city hall clock, and she did not wish to be late. The girls had agreed to be there by half past seven. She was almost across the square when her ear caught the sound of a low sob. Grace glanced quickly about. The square was practically deserted, but under one of the great trees, curled up on a bench, was a girl. Without an instant's hesitation Grace made for the bench. She touched the girl on the shoulder and said, "You seem to be in distress. Can I do anything to help you?"
Then Grace gave a little surprised exclamation. The face turned toward her was that of Mabel Allison, the freshman prize girl. The glare from the neighboring light revealed her tear-swollen eyes and quivering lips. She gave Grace one long, agonized look, then dropped her head on her arm and sobbed harder than ever.
"Why, Miss Allison, don't cry so," soothed Grace. "Tell me what your trouble is. Perhaps I can be of some service to you. I've wanted to know you ever since you won the freshman prize last June, and so has Anne Pierson. She won the prize the year before, you know."
The girl nodded, but she could not sufficiently control herself to speak.
Grace stood silently waiting until the other should find her voice. A moment more and Mabel Allison began to speak in a plaintive little voice that went straight to Grace's heart:
"You are Grace Harlowe. I believe every girl in Oakdale High School knows you. I have heard so much about you, but I never dreamed that you'd ever speak to me."
"Nonsense," replied Grace, laughing. "I'm just a girl like yourself. There isn't anything remarkable about me. I'm very glad to know you, Miss Allison, but I am sorry to find you so unhappy. Can't you tell me about it?" she coaxed, sitting down on the bench and slipping one arm around the shabby little figure.
Mabel's lip quivered again. Then she turned impulsively toward Grace and said: "Yes; I will tell you, although no one can help me. I suppose you don't know where I live or anything about me, do you?"
"No," replied Grace, shaking her head, "but I'd be glad to have you tell me."
"Well," continued Mabel, "I'm an orphan, and I live with Miss Brant. She——"
"Not that horrible, miserly Miss Brant who lives in that ugly yellow house on Elm Street?" interrupted Grace in a horrified tone.
"Yes, she is the one I mean," continued Mabel. "She took me from an orphan asylum two years ago. I hated her the first time I ever saw her, but the matron said I was old enough to work, that I'd have a good home with her and that I should be paid for my work. She promised to send me to school, and I was wild to get a good education, so I went with her. But she is perfectly awful, and I wish I were dead."
Her voice ended almost in a wail.
"I don't blame you," said Grace sympathetically. "She has the reputation of being one of the most hateful women in Oakdale. I am surprised that she even allows you to go to school."
"That's just the trouble," the girl replied, her voice husky. "She's going to take me out of school. I shall be sixteen next month, and exempt from the school law. So she is going to make me stop school and go to work in the silk mill. I worked there all through vacation last summer, and she took every cent of my wages. She took my freshman prize money, too."
"What a burning shame!" exclaimed Grace indignantly. "Haven't you any relatives at all, Miss Allison, or any one else with whom you could stay?"
Mabel shook her head.
"I don't know anything about myself," she said. "I was picked up on the street in New York City when I was three years old, and as no one claimed me, I was put in an orphanage. There was one woman at the orphanage who was always good to me. She remembered the day they brought me, and she said that I was beautifully dressed. She always believed that I had been stolen. She said that I could tell my name, 'Mabel Isabel Allison,' and that I would be three years old in November, but that I couldn't tell where I lived. Whenever they asked me I cried and said I didn't know. She wanted to save my clothes for me, thinking that by them I might some day find my parents, but the matron took them away from her, all but three little gold baby pins marked 'M.I.A.' She hid them away from the matron. When she heard I was to go with Miss Brant, she kissed me, and gave them to me. She was the only person that ever cared for me."
The tears stood in Grace's eyes.
"You poor, little thing!" she cried. "I care for you, and I'm going to see if I can do something for you. You shan't stop school if I can help it. I can't stay with you any longer, just now, because I am going to Miss Bright's and I am late. It is eight o'clock, you see."
The girl gave a little cry of fright.
"Oh, I didn't think it was so late. I know Miss Brant will be very angry. She will probably beat me. I am still carrying the marks from the last whipping she gave me. She sent me out on an errand, but I felt as though I must be alone, if only for a few minutes. That's why I stopped in the square."
"Beat you!" exclaimed Grace. "How dare she touch you? Why, I never had a whipping in my life! I won't keep you another minute, but wait for me outside the campus when school is out to-morrow. I wish to talk further with you."
"I'll come," promised Mabel, her face lighting up. Then she suddenly threw both arms around Grace's neck and said, "I do love you, and I feel that some one cares about me at last." Then, like a flash, she darted across the square and was soon lost to Grace's view.
"Well, of all things!" Grace remarked softly to herself. "I think it's high time we organized a sorority for the purpose of aiding girls in distress."
"You're a prompt person. Did you really decide to come?" were the cries that greeted her from the porch as she opened the Bright's gate.
"Save your caustic comments," said Grace as she handed Jessica her hat. "I have a tale to tell."
"Out with it!" was the cry, and the girls surrounded Grace, who began with her meeting with David, and ended with the story of Mabel Allison.
"You haven't heard anything of those boys yet, have you?" she asked when she had finished.
"Not yet," said Nora, "but never fear, the night is yet young."
"Where is Eleanor Savell?" asked Grace, noticing for the first time that Eleanor was not present. "You promised to go for her, didn't you, Anne?"
"I did go," replied Anne, "but she wouldn't come. She said she'd come sometime when she felt like it. She was playing on the violin when the maid let me in, and how she can play! She wanted me to stay there with her and didn't seem to understand why I couldn't break my engagement with you girls. She said that she always kept her engagements unless the spirit moved her to do something else."
"Is Eleanor Savell the girl who comes into the study hall every morning after opening exercises have begun?" asked Marian Barber.
"Yes," Grace answered. "I forgot for a moment that you and Eva and Miriam hadn't met her. She is really very charming, although her ideas about punctuality and school rules are somewhat hazy as yet. She lives at 'Heartsease,' Mrs. Gray's property. I am disappointed because she will not be here to-night. She seemed delighted when I asked her to join our society."
"As long as we know she isn't coming, don't you think we should begin the initiation?" asked Nora. "It is after eight o'clock and we can't stay out too late, you know."
"Very well," said Grace. "Blindfold the candidates."
The three girls meekly submitted to the blindfolding, and the chums were about to lead them to the initiation chamber, when the ringing of the door bell caused them to start.
"It's David and the boys," said Jessica. "Shall I tell them that they can't come in?"
"Of course," responded Nora. "You and Grace go to the door, while Anne and I stay here with our victims. Be careful they don't play you a trick."
The two girls cautiously approached the door, opening it very slowly, and saw—not the three boys—but Eleanor. She smiled serenely and said: "Good evening. I decided, after all, that I would come."
"Come right in," said Jessica cordially. "I am so glad you changed your mind and came. The initiation is about to begin. Have you ever belonged to a secret society?"
"Never," replied Eleanor. "But now that I'm here, I am willing to try it."
"Come this way."
"Girls," said Grace, addressing the three blindfolded girls, "this is Eleanor Savell. You can't see her yet, but you may all shake hands with her. She is to be your companion in misery."
Eleanor laughed, shook hands with the others and graciously allowed Nora to tie a handkerchief over her eyes.
"All ready! March!" called Grace, and the eight girls solemnly proceeded to the initiation chamber.
THE PHI SIGMA TAU
At the door a halt was called.
"Prepare to jump," commanded Grace in a deep voice. "One, two, three! Jump down! Be careful!"
The four candidates gave four uncertain jumps and experienced the disagreeable sensation usually felt in attempting to jump downward when on level ground. This was one of the oldest and mildest forms of initiation, but Nora had insisted upon it, and giggled violently as the four girls prepared for a long leap. Even Grace, who was conducting the ceremony with the utmost seriousness, laughed a little at the picture they made.
"They'll do anything you tell them," whispered Nora. Which was perfectly true. To show fear or reluctance in obeying the demands made upon one, was to prove one's self unworthy of membership in the Phi Sigma Tau.
"Let the music begin," said Grace.
There was a faint snicker as Anne, Nora and Jessica raised three combs, wrapped in tissue paper, to their lips and began the "Merry Widow" waltz, with weird effect.
"You must waltz around the room fifteen times without stopping," continued Grace, "and then sit down in the four opposite corners of the room, on the cushions provided for you."
The girl chums retreated to the doorway of the room, that had previously been cleared of almost all the furniture, to watch the movements of their victims as they endeavored to circle the room the required number of times. They lost their count, bumped each other at every turn, and at last staggered dizzily toward what they thought were the corners of the room. Miriam Nesbit made straight for the door in which the chums stood, and Grace was obliged to take her by the shoulders and gently steer her in the opposite direction. Eleanor, after groping along one side of the room for a corner, was the first to find one, and sank with a sigh of relief upon the pile of cushions. The other girls had not been so successful. They all endeavored to sit in the same corner at once, and Grace was obliged to go to the rescue, and lead two of them to opposite sides of the initiation chamber.
"In order to become successful members of this society, it is necessary for you to sing. You may all sing the first verse and the chorus of any song you know, only be sure that you don't choose the same song, and don't stop until you have finished," directed Grace. "Begin after I have counted three. I will wait for a minute while you choose your song. The orchestra will accompany you."
There was considerable subdued laughter from the orchestra, who had been instructed to play "The Star Spangled Banner," oblivious of whatever the candidates might sing.
"One, two, three!" counted Grace, and the concert began.
Eva Allen chose "John Brown's Body." Miriam Nesbit, "Old Kentucky Home." Marian Barber, "Schooldays," while Eleanor contributed "The Marseillaise" in French. The orchestra dutifully burst forth with "The Star Spangled Banner," and the effect was indescribable.
The orchestra broke down before they reached their chorus, and the accompaniment ended in a shriek of suppressed mirth, but the candidates went stolidly on without a smile and finished almost together.
"Very well done," commended Grace. "I see you will be valuable additions to the society."
The girls were then put through a series of ridiculous tests that the four chums had devised. They were made to dip their hands in water charged with electricity, caress a mechanical rubber snake that wriggled realistically, drink a cup of boneset tea apiece, and were directed finally to bare their arms for the branding of the letters of the society.
The branding was done with a piece of ice, pressed hard against their bare arms, and the shock made the victims gasp for a second and wonder if they really were being burned.
"You will now hold up your right hands and repeat after me," said Grace, "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute my duties as a member of the Phi Sigma Tau, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend its laws."
This done, the girls received the grip of the society, the handkerchiefs were removed from their eyes and they were pronounced full-fledged members.
"That oath has a rather familiar sound," remarked Miriam Nesbit, trying to recollect where she had heard it before.
"I know," she said at last. "It's the oath of office taken by the President of the United States at inauguration, only you changed it to suit this sorority."
"You've guessed it exactly," replied Grace. "I chose it because it sounded so much more expressive than to say, 'May my bones be crushed and my heart cut out if ever I am unfaithful to my vows.'"
There was a general laugh at this, the girls agreeing that Grace's choice was infinitely less blood-thirsty.
"Now that you have so bravely endured the trials of initiation, you shall receive your reward," declared Jessica. "Follow me."
She led the way to the dining room, where a bountiful lunch awaited them, to which, after the manner of hungry school girls, they did full justice.
"By the way," said Grace, after they had returned to the sitting room and were comfortably settled, "you never said one word about my freshman prize girl. I thought you would be awfully interested in her. For the benefit of the new members, I will say that this society was organized with a definite object, that of helping others. We are to look after girls who have no one to make things pleasant or happy for them. Why, do you know that there are quite a number of girls attending High School who come from other places, and who have to spend the holidays at their boarding houses without any fun at all? Look at this poor, little Allison girl. She works for her board in the winter, and in the mill in the summer, and now that miserable Miss Brant is going to take her out of school, and she is getting along so well, too."
"Isn't it a pity," said Anne, "that people like her can't understand that if a girl were allowed to finish her education, she could earn so much more in the long run than she could by working year after year in a mill?"
"We might go to Miss Brant and explain that to her," said Nora. "Perhaps she would listen to us."
"I don't believe so," replied Grace. "Besides, she might be very angry and take her spite out on poor Mabel. If we could only get Mabel away from her. But if she has legally adopted her we couldn't do anything. Besides, where would she go if we did get her away?"
"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Jessica thoughtfully. "I'll ask papa about it. Lawyers always know everything about such things. Maybe he could find out if Miss Brant has any real claim upon her."
"That's a good idea," said Miriam Nesbit. "If we can get her away from that hateful old wretch, the sorority could adopt her. She could stay with each one of us for a month. That would be eight months, and at the end of that time she would have finished her sophomore year. Then she could get something pleasant to do through the summer vacation. That would give her some money for clothes for next year. Perhaps by that time we could find some nice people for her to stay with, or if we liked her well enough, we could go on having her with us. I'll ask my mother to-morrow, and you girls might do the same."
"Miriam Nesbit, what a perfectly lovely plan!" exclaimed Grace Harlowe with rapture. "I feel sure mother would let me have her."
"She can come here any time," said Jessica. "Papa allows me to do as I like."
"'First catch your bird,'" said Nora wisely. "Don't plan too much, until you find out whether you can snatch her from the dragon's claws."
"I feel sure we shall win," replied Grace confidently. "What do you girls think of it?" she asked, turning to Eva, Marian and Eleanor, who had so far expressed no opinion.
"Count us in," said Eva and Marian in a breath.
"And you, Eleanor?" asked Grace.
"She can live at our house forever, if she doesn't disturb me," replied Eleanor lazily. "My aunt won't care, either. When we lived in Spain she used to help every beggar we came across, and Spain is a land of beggars. She never can resist an appeal for charity."
There was a sudden silence. Then Grace said gently, although she felt irritated at Eleanor's careless speech: "I don't think Mabel Allison could really be called a beggar; and if we adopt her, we ought never to let her think that we consider her a dependent. Of course we know very little about her yet, but I think she will prove worthy. I am to see her to-morrow, and perhaps it would be better to talk a little more with her before we tell Jessica's father about it."
Eleanor looked at Grace with an amused smile.
"How serious you girls are," she said. "Is it school that makes you so? If it is, I don't think I shall stay long. I like to drift along and do only what my inclination prompts me to do. I hate responsibility of any sort."
"Perhaps you will feel differently about school after a while," said Anne quietly. "This is my third year in Oakdale High School, and I never had any good times until I came here. As for responsibility, it is a good thing to learn to be responsible for one's self, if for no one else."
"Well, perhaps you are right, but I am sure that if you had never lived long enough in one country to become acclimated, you wouldn't feel very responsible, either," said Eleanor in such rueful tones that the girls laughed, although they secretly disapproved of Eleanor's inconsequential attitude.
"Did you think the examinations hard?" asked Jessica of Eleanor.
"Oh, no," replied Eleanor lightly. "I had an English governess who was with us for five years. She drilled me thoroughly in English and mathematics. I loathed them both, but studied them merely to show her that I could master them. Miss Thompson said my work was good, and that if I were ambitious she would put me in the senior class, but I held out for the juniors and finally got my own way. If you are going to take such a serious view of this gay world, however, perhaps I'll wish I had joined the seniors, after all. No, I don't mean that. I'm awfully glad to know you, and feel honored at being a member of your sorority. Only I don't expect to ever be a very useful one. My aunt has spoiled me, and I frankly admit it. So, you see, there is no hope for me." She spread out both hands in a deprecating manner and shrugged her shoulders exactly as a French woman might have done.
"I am sure we like you, just as you are," said Eva Allen warmly. She had been rather impressed with Eleanor.
"Do you see the time?" said Nora, suddenly pointing to the old-fashioned clock in the corner. "Half past ten! I must go this minute. Sister will be worried."
She immediately made for her hat and coat, the others following suit, with the exception of Eleanor, who was to wait until the coachman came for her.
Once the girls were outside the gate, Marian Barber broke out with: "What a queer girl that Eleanor Savell is. She is beautiful and fascinating, but I don't know whether I like her or not."
"You must like her," said Grace. "You know the members of this society must stand by each other."
"But why did you ask her to join, Grace?" persisted Marian. "She is different from the rest of us. I don't believe we shall get along with her very well."
"I'll tell you girls a secret," replied Grace. "Anne and Nora already know it. Mrs. Gray wants us to be nice to Eleanor for a number of reasons, and, of course, we wish to please her. Anne, Jessica, Nora and I were talking about it the other day, and while we were laying plans for this sorority, we decided to ask Eleanor to join. We thought we could learn to know her better, and she would eventually become a good comrade."
"It sounds ridiculous to talk about helping a clever girl like Eleanor, but from her conversation to-night you can see that she needs some wholesome advice occasionally," said Nora bluntly. "Mrs. Gray seems to think we can be of some use in that direction, so we are trying to carry out her theory."
"I think I understand the situation," said Miriam Nesbit, "and will do all I can to be nice to her, if she doesn't attempt to patronize me. I couldn't stand that. I know I used to do it. I suppose that's why it seems so unendurable to me now."
"David Nesbit didn't disturb us, after all," remarked Eva Allen. "It's a wonder those boys didn't put tick-tacks on the windows or do something like that."
The girls had come to the turn of the street, and were about to pass the only really lonely spot during their walk. It was an old colonial residence, the surrounding grounds extending for a block. It had been untenanted for some time, as the owners were in Europe, although both house and grounds were looked after by a care-taker. On the other side of the street was a field where the small fry of Oakdale usually held their ball games.
"I always hate passing this old house," said Marian Barber. "It is so terribly still back there among those pines. I don't——"
She stopped short, an expression of terror overspreading her good-natured face, as she mutely pointed toward the old house. Three ghostly figures swathed in white stole out from the shadow of the pines and glided down the wide, graveled drive toward the gate. Their appearance was terrifying. Their faces were white as their robes, and blue flames played about their eyes. They carried out in every particular the description of the regulation churchyard ghost.
For an instant the six girls stood still, regarding those strange apparitions with fascinated terror. Then Eva Allen and Marian Barber shrieked in unison and fled down the street as fast as their legs would carry them. Grace, Nora, Anne and Miriam stood their ground and awaited the oncoming spectres, who halted when they saw that the girls did not intend to run.
"High School boys, on a lark," whispered Grace to her friends. "Let's charge them in a body."
With a bound she reached the drive, closely followed by the other girls. The ghostly three evidently considering discretion the better part of valor, left the drive and took to their heels across the lawn. But Grace, who was well in the lead, caught the last fleeing ghost by its robe and held on for dear life. There was a sound of rending cloth as the apparition bounded forward, then it caught its spectre toe on a tuft of long grass and fell forward with a decidedly human thud.
The girls surrounded it in an instant. Before it had time to rise, Grace snatched off a white mask smeared around the eye-holes with phosphorus, which explained the flamelike effect, and disclosed the sheepish face of James Gardiner, one of the sophomore class.
"Oh, let a fellow up, will you?" he said, with a sickly grin.
"You bad boy!" exclaimed Grace. "What do you mean by dressing up like this? Don't you know you might frighten some timid person terribly?"
"Initiation," said the youth, with a grin, rising on his elbow and looking as though he would like to make a sudden break for liberty. "Part of the sacred obligations of the 'Knights and Squires' frat. Three fellows of us were initiated to-night. This was the last stunt."
"Well, I suppose under those circumstances we shall have to forgive you. Did you appear to any one else?" asked Grace.
"Only to that old crank Miss Brant. She was scared out of her wits," replied James, laughing. "Two of your crowd got out in a hurry, too, didn't they?"
"I suppose I shall have to confess that they did," replied Grace. "If I were you, James, I'd take off that costume and hurry away. Miss Brant is liable to inform the police, and they might not look at initiation stunts as we do."
"That's right," said James, looking a trifle alarmed. "Wonder where the fellows went. I'd better put them on. We never thought of that. If you girls will excuse me, I'll hunt them up."
"Certainly," said the girls. "Good night, James."
"Good night," replied the youth. "You girls are all right. Can't scare you." With a nod to them he started across the grass on the run, his ghostly garments trailing behind him.
"I'm glad that wasn't David," said Anne as James disappeared. "I was afraid when first I saw them that they might be our boys. I didn't feel frightened at all, after what Grace had said about meeting David."
"Eva and Marian didn't show any great amount of courage," said Nora, laughing. "I wonder if they ran all the way home."
"There they are ahead of us," said Anne.
True enough, the two girls stood on the corner waiting for the others to come up.
"Why don't you hurry on home?" called Nora. "'The goblins will git you, ef you don't watch out.'"
"Don't tease," said Marian Barber, looking rather foolish. "We are awfully sorry we ran away, but when I saw those awful white figures coming toward us, I just had to run and so did Eva. Who on earth were they, and where did they go?"
In a few words Grace told her what had happened.
"That horrid James Gardiner. I'll never speak to him again," cried Eva Allen. "I hope he didn't recognize us. He'll tell every one in school about it."
"I don't think he did," replied Grace. "Oh, look, girls! Here comes Officer Donavan! I was right when I said that Miss Brant would notify the police."
"I hope she got a good scare," remarked Nora wickedly. "As for the ghosts, they are very likely at home by this time."
A VISIT TO ELEANOR
The next day, when Grace, in company with her chums, left the school building, they beheld the shabby little figure of Mabel Allison waiting for them just outside the campus. She looked shy and embarrassed when she saw the four girls bearing down upon her, and seemed half inclined to run away. Grace greeted her cordially and introduced her to her chums, whose simple and unaffected manners soon put her at her ease.
"I am so glad you waited," said Grace cordially. "I have told my three friends about you, as I knew they would be as much interested in you as I am. We have made a plan and if we can carry it out, you will be able to go to school until you graduate."
"You are very good to take so much trouble for me," said Mabel, the tears springing to her eyes; "but I'm afraid it won't do any good."
"Don't be down-hearted," said Nora sympathetically. "You don't know Grace Harlowe. She always does whatever she sets out to do."
"She's a regular fairy godmother," said Anne softly. "I know from experience."
"Such flattery is overwhelming," murmured Grace. "I regret that I'm too busy to bow my thanks. But to get down to the business of the hour—tell me, Mabel, dear—did this Miss Brant legally adopt you when she took you from the orphanage, or are you bound to her in any way?"
"I don't know," said the girl, her eyes growing big with wonder. "I never thought about it. I don't believe, however, that she has any legal claim upon me."
"Is there any way in which you can find out?" asked Anne.
"Why, yes," replied Mabel. "I could write the woman at the orphanage who was good to me. She is still there, and several times she has written to me, but Miss Brant read her letters first and then tore them up. Her name is Mary Stevens, and she would surely know!"
"Then write to her at once," said Grace, "and tell her to send her letter in an outside envelope addressed to me. Your whole future depends upon her answer."
Grace thereupon related to her their conversation of the previous night.
"As soon as you find out about Miss Brant's claim, we shall take the matter to Jessica's father, who is a lawyer. He will help us," Grace concluded. "Then when you are free, we shall have something else to tell you. Just be patient for a few days, and don't be afraid. Everything will come right."
"How can I ever thank you all?" said Mabel, taking one of Grace's hands between hers and looking at her with a world of gratitude in her eyes. "I will write to-night. I must go now or I shall be home late. Forgive me for hurrying away, but I daren't stay," she added piteously. "You know that I should like to. Good-bye, and thank you again."
"Good-bye," called Grace. "I'll let you know as soon as I hear from Mary Stevens."
"What a sweet little girl she is," said Jessica. "I should like to keep her with me all the time."
"She is a nice child," said Grace, "and she deserves something better than her present fate."
"To change the subject," said Nora, "has any one seen Eleanor to-day? She was not in English or geometry, although she may have come in late."
"I don't believe she was in school at all," said Anne. "Maybe the initiation was too much for her."
"Oh, I don't know. She didn't seem to mind it," remarked Jessica. "She will hear from Miss Thompson if she makes a practice of staying out of school. Attendance is one of the chief requisites in Miss Thompson's eyes."
"I suppose we ought to call on Eleanor before long," mused Grace. "She has invited us, and it's our duty to call on her first. Anne has already been there. Suppose we go over now; that is, unless you girls have something else to do."
It was decided at once that they could go, and soon the four chums were walking briskly down the street in the direction of "Heartsease." It was an Indian summer day and the girls congratulated themselves on having taken advantage of it. As school had closed at half past two, it was not yet four o'clock. They would have plenty of time for their call without hurrying themselves. So they strolled along, laughing and chatting in the care-free manner that belongs alone to the school girl.
As they neared the house one and all exclaimed at the beauty of the grounds. The lawn looked like a great stretch of green velvet, while the trees were gorgeous in their autumn glory of crimson and gold, with here and there a patch of russet by way of contrast. Over at one side were clumps of pink and white anemones; while all around the house and in the garden beds that dotted the lawn many-colored chrysanthemums stood up in brave array.
"What a delightful place 'Heartsease' is," cried Grace as she paused just inside the gate to feast her eyes upon its beauty. "Sometimes I think that autumn is the finest season of the year, and then again I like spring better."
"What difference does the season make, so long as we have a good time?" said Nora blithely. "I haven't any preference. They're all good."
"Eleanor will be surprised to see us," remarked Grace, as she rang the bell.
"Let's hope she will appreciate the honor of having four such distinguished persons descend upon her at one time," said Anne.
"Is Miss Savell in?" asked Grace to the trim maid who answered her ring.
"Yes, miss," replied the maid. "Come in. Who shall I say is here?"
"Say to Miss Savell that Grace Harlowe and her friends would like to see her."
The maid soon reappeared and led the girls down the wide, old-fashioned hall, and, somewhat to their surprise, ushered them into the dining room, where they beheld Eleanor, arrayed in a dainty white house gown, dining alone.
She arose as they entered and came forward with both hands outstretched. "How are the Phi Sigma Taus to-day?" she asked. "It was awfully nice of you to come and see me."
"We thought you might be ill," said Nora. "We missed you at school to-day."
"Oh, no," replied Eleanor serenely. "I am perfectly well. I really didn't feel like going to school to-day, so I stayed in bed until eleven o'clock. I am just having lunch now. Won't you join me? I am keeping house by myself this afternoon. My aunt is dining with Mrs. Gray."
"Thank you," said Grace, speaking for the girls. "We all have supper at half past six and must save our appetites for that."
"We usually dine about eight o'clock," said Eleanor. "We acquired the habit of dining late from living on the continent. But, come, now. I have finished my lunch. I want you to see where I live, almost entirely, when in the house."
The girls followed her up the broad staircase and down the hall. Every inch of the ground was familiar to Grace. She had been there so often with Mrs. Gray. "Oh, you have the suite at the back," she exclaimed. "I love those two rooms."
"You will find them somewhat changed," remarked Eleanor as she opened the door and ushered the girls into the most quietly luxurious apartment they had ever seen. Even Miriam Nesbit's room could not compare with it.
"What a beautiful room!" exclaimed Grace, looking about her with delight. "I don't wonder you like to spend your time in it. I see you have your own piano."
"Yes," replied Eleanor. "My aunt sent to New York for it. The one downstairs in the drawing room is all right, but I like to have this one handy, so that I can play whenever the spirit moves me. This is my bedroom," she continued, pushing aside the silken curtains that separated the two rooms. The girls exclaimed over the Circassian walnut furniture and could not decide as to which room was the prettier.
"Eleanor," said Grace solemnly, "you ought to be a very happy girl. You have everything a heart can wish. Think of poor little Mabel Allison."
"Oh, don't let's think about disagreeable things," said Eleanor lightly. "Sit down and be comfy and I'll play for you. What shall I play?"
"Do you know the 'Peer Gynt' suite?" asked Grace. "I love 'Anitra's Dance.'"
Without answering, Eleanor immediately began the "Peer Gynt" music and played the entire suite with remarkable expression.
"How well you play!" exclaimed Jessica with eager admiration in her voice, as Eleanor turned around on the stool after she had finished. "I should love to hear you play on the violin. Anne heard you the other night, and told us about it."
"I love the violin better than the piano, but it sounds better with a piano accompaniment. Don't you girls play?"
"Jessica does," chorused her friends.
"Oh, I never could play, after hearing Eleanor," said Jessica blushing.
"Come on," said Eleanor, taking her by the arm and dragging her over to the piano. "You can accompany me. What do you play?"
"Do you know Raff's 'Cavatina'?" asked Jessica a trifle shyly.
"By heart," answered Eleanor. "I love it. Wait and I'll get the music for you."
After a moment's search she produced the music, picked up her violin, and, after tightening a string, announced herself ready.
The girls listened, spellbound. It seemed as though Eleanor's very soul had entered into the violin. They could not believe that this was the capricious Eleanor of half an hour before.
"Whatever she may do in future," thought Grace, as she listened to the last plaintive notes of the "Cavatina," "I'll forgive her for her music's sake. One has to make allowances for people like her. It is the claim of the artistic temperament."
"Please play once more," begged Nora. "Then we must go. It's almost six o'clock."
Eleanor chose Nevin's "Venetian Love Song," and Jessica again accompanied her.
"You play with considerable expression," said Eleanor, as Jessica rose from the piano stool.
"How could I help it?" replied Jessica, smiling. "You inspired me."
Eleanor accompanied the four girls down the walk to the gate and repeatedly invited them to come again.
"It's your turn to come and see us now," said Grace. "Do you think you will go to school to-morrow, Eleanor? Miss Thompson dislikes having the girls stay out."
"I can't help what Miss Thompson dislikes," returned Eleanor, laughing. "What I dislike is of more importance to me. I dare say I shall go to-morrow, providing I get up in time."
"What an irresponsible girl Eleanor is," remarked Anne, as they walked along. "I am afraid we can't do much for her. She doesn't seem much interested in school and I don't think she is particularly impressed with our sorority."
"Anne," said Jessica, "you have seen Miss Nevin, her aunt. Tell us how she looks."
"She is tall," replied Anne, "and has beautiful dark eyes. Her hair is very white, but her face looks young, only she has the saddest expression I ever saw on any one's face."
"I should think she would look sad after seventeen years of Eleanor's whims," remarked Nora bluntly. "It would wear me out to be with her continually, she is so changeable."
"Mrs. Gray told me," remarked Anne, "that Miss Nevin's life had been one long sacrifice to the pleasure of others. First her father, then her step-sister and now Eleanor. She was engaged to be married to a young English officer, and he died of fever while stationed in India. So, there is reason for her sad expression."
"I once read, somewhere," said Jessica sentimentally, "that ''Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.'"
"Humph!" said Nora. "If I am ever foolish enough to fall in love, I certainly don't want to lose the object of my devotion."
"You can't very well," said Grace slyly, "for from all present indications I should say that he is too fat to get lost."
And Nora was obliged to explain elaborately to the laughing girls, all the way home, that the object of her future devotion would not be a fat man.
THE CLAIM OF THE "ARTISTIC TEMPERAMENT"
When Eleanor returned to school the following morning, she found that what Miss Thompson "disliked" was, after all, of considerable importance. Directly after opening exercises the principal sent for her and asked the reason for her absence of the day before. On finding that Eleanor had no plausible excuse, but had absented herself merely because she felt like it, Miss Thompson thereupon delivered a sharp little lecture on unnecessary absence, informing Eleanor that it was the rule of the school to present a written excuse for absence, and that a verbal excuse would not be accepted.
"I will overlook it this time, Miss Savell," Miss Thompson said, "because you are not as yet thoroughly acquainted with the rules of this school, but do not let it occur again. And I must also insist upon punctuality in future. You have been late a number of times."
With these words the principal turned to her desk and resumed the writing she had been engaged in when Eleanor entered.
For a second, Eleanor stood regarding Miss Thompson with angry eyes. No one had ever before dared to speak sharply to her. She was about to tell the principal that she was not used to being addressed in that tone, but the words would not come. Something in the elder woman's quiet, resolute face as she sat writing checked the wilful girl, and though she felt deeply incensed at the reprimand, she managed to control herself and walked out of the office with her head held high, vowing to herself that Miss Thompson should pay for what Eleanor termed "her insolence."
All morning she sulked through her classes, and before closing time had managed to incur the displeasure of every teacher to whom she recited.
"What ails her to-day?" whispered Nora to Jessica.
It was geometry hour, and Miss Ames, the geometry teacher, had just reproved Eleanor for inattention.
Nora shook her head. She dared not answer, as Miss Ames was very strict, and she knew that to be caught whispering meant two originals to work out, and Nora hated originals.
When the bell rang at the close of the hour, Eleanor walked haughtily by Miss Ames, giving her a contemptuous look as she passed that made the teacher tighten her lips and look severe. Grace, who was directly behind her, saw both the look and the expression on the teacher's face. She felt worried for Eleanor's sake, because she saw trouble ahead for her unless she changed her tactics. If Eleanor could only understand that she must respect the authority of her various teachers during recitation hours and cheerfully comply with their requests, then all might be well. Since Miss Leece had left the High School at the close of Grace's freshman year, she could not conscientiously say that she disliked any of her teachers. They had been both kind and just, and if Eleanor defied them openly, then she would have to take the consequences. To be sure, Eleanor might refuse to go to school, but Grace had an idea that, lenient as Miss Nevin was with her niece, she would not allow Eleanor to go that far. Grace decided that she would have a talk with Eleanor after school. It would do no harm and it might possibly do some good.
She hurried down to the locker-room that afternoon in order to catch Eleanor as she left school. She had just reached there when Eleanor walked in, looking extremely sulky. She jerked her hat and coat from her locker, hastily donned them, and, without looking at Grace, left the room.
"She looks awfully cross," thought Grace. "Well, here goes," and she hurried after Eleanor, overtaking her at the entrance to the school grounds.
"What's the matter, Eleanor?" she asked. "Didn't you care to wait for me?"
Eleanor looked at her with lowering brows. "I hate school," she said vehemently. "I hate the teachers, and I hate Miss Thompson most of all. Every one of those teachers are common, low-bred and impertinent. As for your Miss Thompson, she is a self-satisfied prig."
"You must not say such things of Miss Thompson, Eleanor," said Grace firmly. "She doesn't deserve them. She is one of the finest women I have ever known, and she takes a warm interest in every girl in school. What has she done that you should speak of her as you do?"
"She called me into her office this morning and made a whole lot of fuss because I didn't have a written excuse for yesterday's absence," said Eleanor angrily. "When I told her that I stayed at home because I felt inclined to do so, she almost had a spasm, and gave me another lecture then and there, ending up by saying that it must not occur again. I should like to know how she knew I was absent yesterday."
"Miss Thompson always knows when a girl is absent," replied Grace. "The special teachers report to her every day. It is the rule of this school for a girl to present her excuse at the office as soon as she returns; then her name is taken off the absent list. If she is absent the second day, then a messenger is sent to her home to find out the cause. I suppose that when Miss Thompson looked over the list, she remembered seeing you at opening exercises, so of course sent for you."
"She is a crabbed old maid," said Eleanor contemptuously, "and I despise her. I'll find some way to get even with her, and all the rest of those teachers, too."
"You will never get along in school, Eleanor," answered Grace gently, "if you take that stand. The only way to be happy is to——"
"Please don't preach to me," said Eleanor haughtily. "It is of no use. I am not a child and I understand my own business thoroughly. When I saw you girls the first day of school, I thought that you were full of life and spirit, but really you are all goody-goodies, who allow those teachers to lead you around by the nose. I had intended to ask Aunt Margaret to take me out of this ridiculous school, for some of the people in it make me tired, but I have changed my mind. I shall stay for pure spite and show that stiff-necked principal of yours that I am a law unto myself, and won't stand her interference."
"Stop a moment, Eleanor. I am going no farther with you," said Grace, flushing, "but I should just like to say before I leave you that you are taking the wrong view of things, and you'll find it out sooner or later. I am sorry that you have such a poor opinion of myself and my friends, for we cherish nothing but the friendliest feelings toward you."
With this, Grace walked away, feeling more hurt over Eleanor's rudeness than she cared to show.
As she turned out of High School Street she heard a familiar call, and, glancing up the street, saw her three chums waiting for her on the corner.
"We saw you just as you tackled Eleanor," said Nora, "so we kept away, for we thought after to-day's performances she wouldn't be in a very good humor."
"What was the matter with her to-day?" asked Jessica curiously. "She behaved like a bad child in English this morning, followed it up in geometry; and Anne says that in rhetoric class Miss Chester lost all patience with her and gave her a severe lecturing."
"I might as well tell you at once that Eleanor's opinion of us is far from flattering," said Grace, half laughing, although there was a hurt look on her face. "She says we are all goody-goodies and that we make her tired. She also requested me to mind my own business."
"She said that to you? Just wait until the next time I see her," blustered Nora, "I'll tell her what I think of her."
"On the contrary, we must treat her better, if anything, than before," said Anne quietly. "Don't you remember we promised Mrs. Gray that we would try to help her?"
"Yes, I remember all that; but I can't bear to have any one say horrid things to Grace," grumbled Nora.
"What a queer girl she is," said Jessica. "Yesterday she treated us as though we were her dearest friends, while to-day she scorns us utterly. It's a case of 'blow hot, blow cold.'"
"That is because she has the artistic temperament," replied Anne, smiling.
"You may say what you like about the artistic temperament," said Nora, "but in my opinion it's nothing more nor less than just plain temper."
ELEANOR THROWS DOWN THE GAUNTLET
"The Phi Sigma Tau is to have a special meeting to-night at Jessica's," called Grace Harlowe to Nora O'Malley as the latter entered the locker-room at the close of school one day about two weeks after the initiation at Jessica's.
"Does Jessica know it?" inquired Nora.
"Not yet," replied Grace, "but she will as soon as she comes in. I rushed down here the minute the last bell rang, because I wanted to be here when the girls come in. You are the first, however."
"Why are we to hold a meeting?" asked Nora, her curiosity aroused.
"Wait and see," replied Grace, smiling. "Of what use is it to hold a meeting, if I tell you all the business beforehand?"
"All right," said Nora, "you keep your secrets and I'll keep mine."
"What have you heard that's new?" asked Grace.
"Wait and see," replied Nora, with a grin of delight. "I am saving my news for the meeting."
By this time the remaining members of the Phi Sigma Tau, with the exception of Eleanor Savell, had come into the locker-room, and had been promptly hailed by Grace. Marian Barber, Miriam Nesbit and Eva Allen after agreeing to be at Jessica's, at eight o'clock, had gone their separate ways.
"Every one excepting Eleanor has been told," said Grace. "I really don't know how to approach her. She has been so distant of late."
"Don't wait to ask her," said Nora decidedly. "She won't attend the meeting."
"How do you know?" asked Jessica.
"I'll tell you to-night," answered Nora mysteriously, "but I know positively that she won't come, because she is going to have company at 'Heartsease.' Now I've told you more than I intended to, and I shall not say another word until to-night."
"Come on then," said Grace, "we won't wait any longer. Jessica, will you ask your father if he will be at liberty for a few minutes this evening?"
"Certainly," replied Jessica.
"Oh, I know now whom it's all about," cried Nora gleefully. "Mary Stevens."
"You have guessed it," said Grace, "but, like yourself, I decline to talk until to-night."
Before eight o'clock the seven girls had taken possession of the Bright's big, comfortable sitting room and were impatiently waiting for Grace to tell her news.
"Before I tell you what is on my mind," said Grace, "we ought to have a president, vice president and secretary for this worthy organization. I move therefore that we choose Miriam Nesbit for president of this sorority. Those in favor say 'aye.' We'll dispense with seconding the motion."
There was an instant's pause, then a chorus of "ayes" burst forth.
The only "no" was from Miriam.
"We appreciate the fact that you are too polite to vote for yourself, Miriam," said Grace, "but your 'no' doesn't amount to a row of pins. You're elected, so come over here and occupy the chair of state. Long live the president of the Phi Sigma Tau."
Miriam, flushed with pleasure, then took the seat that Grace had vacated. She had not expected this honor and was deeply touched by it. Her summer with her girl chums at Lake George had made her an entirely different girl from the Miriam of old. Admiration for Grace and her friends had taken the place of the old animosity. Although the chums had not taken her into their inner circle, still they made much of her, and she came nearer to being one of them than any other girl in the junior class.
"I am sure I thank you all," began Miriam, "and now we must have a vice president and a secretary."
Grace and Anne were elected with enthusiasm to the respective offices, then Miriam requested Grace to tell the other members what was on her mind.
After addressing the chair, Grace began: "I know you will all be glad to hear that Mabel has received a letter from Mary Stevens. It was addressed to me on the outside envelope and Mabel has given me permission to open and read it to you. She is willing for us to do whatever we think best. I won't attempt to read all the letter, only that part that interests us.
"Here it is: 'I am so sorry about the way in which you are treated, but glad to know that you have found friends at last. Miss Brant has no claim on you whatever. She took you from the orphanage with the understanding that if you did not suit her she was to be allowed to send you back. The matron asked her why she did not adopt you, or at least appoint herself your guardian, and she said that under no circumstances would she do so; that she wanted a good maid of all work, not a daughter. I enclose a statement from the matron to this effect. I would have advised you before this to leave her, but you are too young to drift about the world alone. I hope that when I next hear from you, you will be in happier surroundings. I have always believed that your parents were people of means and that you were lost or stolen when a baby. Perhaps if they are still living you will find them some day.'"