GRACE HARLOWE'S PROBLEM
By JESSIE GRAHAM FLOWER, A.M.
Author of The High School Girls Series, The College Girls Series, etc.
HENRY ALTEMUS COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY HOWARD E. ALTEMUS.
I. THEIR GREATEST, DEAREST DAY 7 II. THE LAST FROLIC 22 III. PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE 29 IV. MILESTONES 39 V. THE LOCKED DOOR 48 VI. A CLUB MEETING AND A MYSTERY 61 VII. HER OWN WAY 74 VIII. ALL IN THE DAY'S WORK 81 IX. WHAT EVELYN HEARD ON THE CAMPUS 93 X. LAYING THE CORNERSTONE OF A HOUSE OF TROUBLE 102 XI. THANKSGIVING WITH THE NESBITS 110 XII. MISSING—A FRIEND 123 XIII. A DISTURBING CONFIDENCE 133 XIV. THE RETURN OF THE CHRISTMAS CHILDREN 141 XV. THE NEW YEAR'S WEDDING 153 XVI. THE LAST WORD 163 XVII. THE SUMMONS 170 XVIII. THE BLOTTED ESCUTCHEON 182 XIX. THE SWORD OF SUSPENSE 194 XX. THE AWAKENING 204 XXI. KATHLEEN WEST MAKES A PROMISE 213 XXII. FIGHTING LOYALHEART'S BATTLE 222 XXIII. GRACE SOLVES HER PROBLEM 230 XXIV. THE BOND ETERNAL 249
GRACE HARLOWE'S PROBLEM
THEIR GREATEST, DEAREST DAY
"And at this time next week we'll all be back at work," sighed Arline Thayer. "Not that I love work less, but the Sempers more," she paraphrased half apologetically. "It's been so perfectly splendid to gather home, and Elfreda was a darling to plan and carry out such a——"
"Noble enterprise," drawled Emma Dean. "Behold in me a living witness to the truth of it. Before this time, when, oh, when, has this particular scion of the house of Dean had a chance to play in the nice clean sand and bathe in the nice green ocean? It is green, isn't it, Grace? Elfreda says it's blue, and those terrible, tiresome, troublesome twins say it's gray, but I say——"
A shower of small pebbles, cast with commendable accuracy, rained down on Emma. Raising herself on her elbows from her recumbent position in the sand, she looked reproachful surprise at the Emerson twins who, crouched in the sand and holding a fresh supply of pebbles in readiness, awaited her next remark.
"There," she declared calmly, "that simply proves the truth of my remark about terrible, tiresome, troublesome twins."
Two slim blue figures dropped their pebbles, descended upon the protesting Emma, and dragged her across the sand toward the water.
"Are we tiresome?" demanded Sara sternly, as she and Sue, still clutching Emma, paused for breath.
"Are we troublesome?" from Julia.
"Not a bit of it," Emma blandly assured them. "I said it only for the sake of alliteration. You are the most interesting persons I've ever met. I am so sorry I said you weren't, and I'm so nice and comfortable now. I hadn't thought of doing any further water stunts to-day." She struggled to a sitting posture and beamed with owlish significance upon her captors.
"All right, we'll excuse you this time, but, hereafter, keep away from alliteration," warned Sara.
"Until next time," chuckled Emma, scrambling to her feet. Graciously offering an arm to each twin, the trio strolled calmly back to the gay little party of girls on the sands.
It was a clear, sunshiny morning in early September and nine young women had taken advantage of the ocean's placid, dimpled mood for an early morning dip.
For two weeks the Semper Fidelis Club, or, rather, nine of that most delightful organization of Grace Harlowe's early college days, had been holding a reunion at the Briggs' cottage, which was situated on the New Jersey coast, not far from Wildwood, a well-known summer resort. It had all begun with Elfreda's undeniable yearning to see her friends. Being a young person of energy, she immediately wrote, and sent forth on their mission, funny invitations that were a virtual command to the Sempers to gather at the Briggs' cottage for a two weeks' reunion, and only three of the club had been unable to accept.
To those who have known Grace Harlowe from the beginning of her high-school life she has now, without doubt, become a personal friend. "Grace Harlowe's Plebe Year at High School," "Grace Harlowe's Sophomore Year at High School," "Grace Harlowe's Junior Year at High School," "Grace Harlowe's Senior Year at High School" recorded her sayings and doings as well as those of her three friends, Nora O'Malley, Jessica Bright and Anne Pierson during their student days at Oakdale High School.
When the girl chums parted in the autumn following their high-school graduation, Nora and Jessica went together to an eastern conservatory of music, while Grace and Anne decided for Overton College and added to their number no less person than Miriam Nesbit, a schoolmate and friend. On their first day at Overton circumstance, or perhaps fate, had brought J. Elfreda Briggs, a somewhat officious freshman, to the trio, and from a hardly agreeable stranger J. Elfreda became their devoted friend. During "Grace Harlowe's First Year At Overton College," "Grace Harlowe's Second Year at Overton College," "Grace Harlowe's Third Year at Overton College," and "Grace Harlowe's Fourth Year at Overton College," the four girls passed through many new experiences, not always entirely pleasant, but which served only as a spur to their ambition to gain true college spirit, and were graduated from Overton at the end of their four years' course, more than ever the loyal children of Overton, their Alma Mater.
The building of a specially endowed home for self-supporting girls who were trying to gain a college education, presented to Overton College, by Mrs. Gray, in honor of Grace Harlowe, Anne Pierson and Miriam Nesbit, and named Harlowe House, decided Grace as to what her future work would be. In "Grace Harlowe's Return To Overton Campus" appears the story of her first year at Harlowe House.
And now the dear, too brief holiday was drawing to a close. To-morrow would see the house party scattered to the four winds. This was the last frolic they would have in the water.
"Oh, dear," lamented Arline, her blue eyes mournful with regret, "why is it that perfectly lovely times go by like a flash, while horrid, disagreeable ones last forever?"
"'Tis the way of life, my child. 'It is not always May,'" quoted Emma sentimentally. "I might as well add, right here and now, that I'm glad of it. May is a dubious and disappointing month, dears. It always pours barrels on the first. It's a shame, too, when one stops to consider all the poems that have been composed about that weepy, fickle first day of May.
"Oh, radiant May day, This is our play day. Youth is in its hey day; Hail we this gay day; Park clouds away day.
"And then down comes the rain and spoils it all," finished the versifier, lapsing into prose.
Emma's improvisation was greeted with laughter.
"It sounds just about as sensible as a whole lot of those old English verses," declared Elfreda, who was not fond of poetry.
"It was a deadly insult to English verse," defended Anne Pierson with twinkling eyes. "You can't expect me to let it pass unnoticed."
"Having been fed as a babe on Shakespeare," agreed Emma, "I will admit that it gives you some room for criticism, but as a dutiful teacher of English I feel it entirely within my province to break forth occasionally into such English ditties as happen to come to my mind, regardless of Shakespeare."
"Oh, do say another," begged the Emerson twins. They especially delighted in Emma's poetical outbursts.
"Nothing comes to my mind," averred Emma solemnly. "Wait until the spirit moves me."
"I wish something would come to your minds about how we are to spend the rest of the day," put in Elfreda, with her usual briskness. "It isn't ten o'clock yet, and we've had our breakfast and our swim. Let's get together and decide now. Remember this is our greatest, dearest day. We specially reserved it. So we ought to make the most of it."
"I'm so glad we packed most of our things last night," commented Arline, with satisfaction.
"Girls," Grace was the first to make a suggestion, "it's such a delightful day, wouldn't you like to go picnicking at the edge of those woods we passed the other day when we were driving? Don't you remember how pretty the country was? There was a brook and long green hills sloping down to it."
"Grace Harlowe!" exclaimed Elfreda, her eyes very round. "You must be a mind reader, for that's precisely what I've been thinking about all morning. I'm so glad you proposed it. What do you say, girls? How about a picnic?"
There was a ringing assent on the part of the others.
"I hardly thought you would care much about going down to Wildwood for a dance," continued Elfreda. "Somehow when we go to hops we are sure to separate and not see much of each other until we're going home. What's the use in having a reunion if the reunionists don't reunite. I guess I'm selfish, but I can't help it."
"No, you're not, J. Elfreda," laughed Miriam, laying her hand on her friend's shoulder. "That's the way I feel, too. We can go to plenty of hops after we have each gone our separate way, but we can't have one another. Besides, what is anything in the way of amusement compared to a Semper reunion?"
"Now you're talking," commended Emma, with an encouraging flourish of her hand. She had been busily scooping up the white sand as she listened to her friends' conversation. Now she took a fresh handful and let it fall gently into the open space between the back of Sara Emerson's neck and her bathing suit. Sara, leaning interestedly forward, was an opportunity not to be disregarded.
"O-o-o-o," wailed the wriggling twin.
"Why, Sara, whatever is the matter?" inquired Emma with such exaggerated solicitude that the victim laughed in spite of herself. "Some ill-natured persons threw pebbles at me a while ago, but I remained calm. That is, until I was dragged across the sand in a brutal manner, and had to beg for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Even then I was a credit to Overton and the Sempers. I neither writhed nor howled."
"Well, we're even now," declared Sara. "I'll foreswear pebbles if you'll abolish the sand habit."
"I have always liked to look at Emma from a distance," said Julia Emerson, hastily sliding to the extreme edge of the group.
"Listen, ye babblers," called Elfreda, "to the voice of the oracle. Let's leave old Father Ocean to himself and get into our everyday clothes. If we are going on a picnic, we'd better start. We can be on our way in an hour from now, if we hurry. To-night after dinner we'll all take a last melancholy stroll down here to find out what the wild waves are saying."
"Wild waves," jeered Emma Dean. "Did you ever see the ocean smile more sweetly, the deceitful old thing. When one stops to think of the ships and people it gobbles up every year one feels like cutting its acquaintance."
"It is the greatest of all mysteries," said Arline Thayer, her eyes fixed dreamily on the limitless expanse of water.
"And I, in my Sphinx costume, am next," reminded Emma modestly.
Emma's placid manner of classing together the ocean and a fancy costume she had worn at a Semper Fidelis bazaar was received with the delight that always attended her astonishing sallies.
"Come on, children," Grace rose from the sand, looking slim, almost immature, in her dark blue bathing suit. With her fair skin, which neither tanned nor sunburned, and her radiant gray eyes, she fully carried out that look of extreme youth which her friends were wont frequently to comment on. In obedience to her call the girls scrambled to their feet and strolled toward the Briggs' cottage, which was within a very short distance of the beach.
On their way they came face to face with a trio of girls who had approached from the opposite direction. One of them, a particularly pretty girl, with auburn curls and a sweet, laughing face, cried out in surprise, "Why, J. Elfreda Briggs, where did you come from?"
"Madge Morton!" exclaimed Elfreda, holding out her hand delightedly. "I didn't know you were in this part of the country. Mr. Curtis told me you had found your father and gone on a trip around the world, but that was ages ago. And if here isn't Phyllis Alden and Lillian Selden. Will wonders never cease? But where is Eleanor?"
"She and Mrs. Curtis went out sailing with Tom," answered Phyllis Alden, an attractive girl with honest, dark eyes.
"Oh, excuse me, girls." Elfreda turned to her party and a general introducing followed.
"Where are you staying, Madge?" asked Elfreda when the two groups of girls had finished exchanging bows and smiles.
"Mrs. Curtis has taken a cottage at Wildwood for the rest of the summer. She only arrived there last week, and Phyllis, Lillian, Eleanor and I met in New York and came on here yesterday."
"You don't say so. Ma will be delighted to see her. You know they've been friends for ages. We hadn't heard from her for some time, though. Sorry you didn't get here sooner. You could have become better acquainted with my friends," deplored Elfreda. "They are all going away to-morrow."
"I'm sorry, too," smiled the pretty girl. "I'm sure we'd love to know them better." She made a gracious little gesture toward the Sempers, whose eyes were fixed upon her in open admiration.
"Never mind, you are sure to meet some of us in New York this winter, if you are going to be there," promised Elfreda.
"Yes, Father is going to take a house in New York. He is anxious to look up his brother officers in the Navy who are stationed there. We are through traveling for a time."
"The Briggs' family are going to stay in the neighborhood of the sad sea waves until the first of October, so I'll see you often. Ma will run over to see Mrs. Curtis the minute she knows about her being here. Tell me where the cottage is and I'll try to remember the address. I wish I had a pencil, but they don't usually hang around with bathing suits and salt water."
After a few minutes' pleasant conversation the three girls said good-bye and walked on.
"What charming girls," remarked Arline Thayer.
"Did you ever see a sweeter face than Madge Morton's?" asked Elfreda.
"She is beautiful," agreed Grace; "not only that, but she has such a vivid personality. One loves her on sight."
"She is from the South, isn't she?" inquired Miriam. "She has a decided southern accent."
"Yes, she was born and brought up in Virginia. Her father was a naval officer and was court-martialed when she was a baby for something he didn't do," related Elfreda. "He left home in disgrace and her mother died soon afterward. He never came back to claim her, so her aunt and uncle brought her up. Every one believed her father was dead, and so did she until she grew up; then a perfectly hateful girl, whose father was a naval officer, told her the story of her father's disgrace while she was visiting Mrs. Curtis at Old Point Comfort. You see, Madge and her friends had a little houseboat that they fixed over from an old canal boat. They used to spend their vacations on it, and one of the teachers from the boarding school which Madge attended used to chaperon them. They called their boat the Merry Maid, and Madge, the 'Little Captain.' They had all sorts of adventures, and Madge always said that she knew her father wasn't dead and that some day she'd find him. The reason I know so much about her is because Ma has known Mrs. Curtis for years. Tom and I used to play together when we were youngsters. Tom is her son."
"Did Miss Morton ever find her father?" asked Ruth Denton eagerly. "I know just how she must have felt about him."
"Yes, she found him and proved his innocence. He lived for years under another name and supported himself by translating foreign books into English. He had a dear friend, an old sea captain, who lived with him in a funny little house at Cape May. This friend had lots of money, so when Madge found her father he bought a yacht and took them for a trip around the world."
"It sounds like 'Grimms' Fairy Tales,' doesn't it," smiled Miriam.
"It's gospel truth," assured Elfreda.
"But standing stock still in the middle of the beach to listen to the adventures of Madge Morton will never help us on our way to the picnic," slyly reminded Emma Dean.
"I should say it wouldn't," agreed Elfreda. "I beg your pardon. Lead on, my dear Emma."
The little procession moved on again. Elfreda and Miriam brought up the rear. The comradeship between them was most sincere.
"How I wish we could all see one another more frequently," sighed Miriam. "Wouldn't you like to live your college life over again, Elfreda?"
"Every hour of it, even the unpleasant ones," returned Elfreda fervently. "I'm just as sure as I'm sure of anything, Miriam, that we'll never again spend so many happy, carefree days together as we spent at Overton. Since I've been studying law I've learned a whole lot about human nature that I never knew before. I've learned that it's a rare thing to be perfectly happy after one begins to look life in the face. Sorrow may not touch one directly, but one is constantly coming upon the trials and sorrows of others. There's only one great antidote for all ills, and that's work."
Miriam made a little gesture of despair. "And I have no work," was her rueful utterance. "So far, I've done nothing but travel about a lot, and study music a little. Long ago I planned to go to Leipsic to study, after I was graduated from Overton, but you see, Elfreda, Mother likes me to be with her. I thought seriously of going in for interior decorating, but when I saw how much Mother seemed to count on having me at home with her I gave it up. While I was studying music in New York, with Professor Lehmann, she was with me. I shall study again with him this fall. We intend to close our home and spend the winter in New York. David is going into business there. We shall take a house, I think."
"You don't mean it! Why didn't you tell me before?" Elfreda's eyes were wide with surprise. "And to think you've been carrying a jolly secret like that around without telling me, your lawfully established roommate."
"Don't be cross, J. Elfreda, dear. I didn't know it myself until this morning. The letter that I was so long reading after breakfast this morning was from Mother."
"Hurry along, you laggers," screamed Arline Thayer from a distance. In the earnestness of their conversation the two girls had dropped far behind the others.
"Coming, Daffydowndilly," called Elfreda promptly. Then to Miriam, "We'll see each other a lot this winter then, won't we?"
"I should rather think so," was Miriam's fervent response.
But Elfreda smiled to herself and wondered what Anne, and incidentally, Everett Southard would say when they heard the news.
THE LAST FROLIC
The Sempers could scarcely have chosen a more perfect day for their last frolic. The sky wore its most vivid blue dress, ornamented by little fluffy white clouds, and a jolly vagrant breeze played lightly about the picnickers, whispering in their ears the lively assurance that wind and sky and sun were all on their good behavior for that day at least. The party were to make the trip to "Picnic Hollow," as Arline had named their destination, in Elfreda's and Arline's automobiles. During the past year the latter had become greatly interested in automobiles, and drove her own high-powered car with the sureness of an expert.
"What is the pleasure of this organisation?" called Emma. It was an hour later, and nine young women stood grouped beside one of the automobiles. The other was stationed a short distance ahead. "Four beauteous damsels can ride with Chauffeur Thayer, the other five will have to trust themselves to the tender, but uncertain, mercy of J. Elfreda."
"If that's your opinion of me you are welcome to ride in Arline's car," declared Elfreda.
"Oh, my, no," retorted Emma blandly. "I couldn't think of it. I feel that my inspiring presence is due to ride on the front seat with you, J. Elfreda. To aid and sustain you, as it were."
"Yes, sustain me by making me laugh and running us all into the ditch. I know just how sustaining you can be. Never mind. I'll forgive your slighting remarks about me, and give you the vacant place on the front seat. Now, good people," she put on the business-like expression of an auctioneer, "who bids for the back seat of the Briggs' vehicle?"
"Every one is welcome to it except the Emerson twins," put in Emma. "I dislike having them sit behind me. I prefer to sit behind them, but as I can't sit on the front seat and the back seat at the same time, it would really be better to put the twins in the Thayer chariot."
"We are going to ride with J. Elfreda," was Sara Emerson's defiant ultimatum.
"I'll sit between you and preserve the peace," volunteered Miriam.
"And me at the same time," added Emma hopefully. "Twins, do your worst. Sit where you choose. Miriam will protect me." Emma tottered toward Miriam, looking abjectly grateful and supremely ludicrous.
"That leaves Grace, Anne and Ruth to me," declared Arline. "Now let's hurry, girls. The sooner we reach Picnic Hollow the longer we'll have to stay."
The ride to Picnic Hollow was not a long one, but the picnickers were highly alive to every moment of it.
"We'll have to turn in here and take the road to the left," called Elfreda over her shoulder. They had reached a point where a narrower road crossed the highway and wound around the hills, sloping gradually at the lowest point, into the very heart of the little valley, which looked particularly cool and inviting.
"All right," caroled Arline. "Lead the way and we'll follow."
Slowly the two cars, propelled by two extremely careful chauffeurs, wound their way down the country road which, according to Elfreda, was just wide enough and no wider.
"Bumpity bump, even to the bottom of the hollow, and no bones broken," announced Emma Dean, with a cheerful wave of her hand, as she hopped out of the car, and proceeded to assist the Emerson twins to alight with a great show of ceremony.
"What a perfectly darling spot!" was Arline's joyous exclamation. "Just see that cunning brook! It's so pretty where it ripples past that old tree. It doesn't look deep, either. I'm going in wading. See if I don't."
"What shall we do first, girls?" Grace, who had been walking ahead with Arline, a luncheon hamper swinging between them, suddenly turned and faced the others, as, laden with rugs and cushions, they strolled along behind her.
"Let's just play around for awhile," proposed Miriam. "There's a field of daisies and golden rod if any one wants to go blossom gathering. Ruth spoke of taking some pictures, too. Then we can play in the brook, and go in wading if we like, only I don't like."
Arline and the Emerson twins elected to go in wading. Miriam and Anne drifted off to explore the brookside, while Ruth posed Grace, Emma and Elfreda for snapshots until they rebelled and begged for mercy. Later half the company stayed near their impromptu camp under the big elm tree that overhung the brook while the other half went on an exploring expedition, and when they returned the first half sallied forth.
"We shan't stay away long," warned Arline Thayer. "It's after one o'clock now, and I'm hungry as a hunter."
"Still we don't intend to let mere hunger conflict with our desire for exploration," was Emma Dean's firm reminder. "Given a chance, we may find something wonderful. We may dig the prehistoric mastodon from some snug corner where he burrowed several thousand years ago. We may——"
"I never knew that mastodons 'burrowed,'" scoffed Sara Emerson. "That's a new truth in natural history brought to light by Professor Dean."
"Which shall be proven when we return triumphantly with a few armfuls of bones," flung back Emma as she hurried to catch up with Grace, Arline, Ruth and Anne, who had already started.
"What would life be without Emma Dean?" eulogized Sue Emerson after Emma's vanishing back. "Sara and I are always quoting her at home. It seems so strange that until the Sempers organized we never knew her very well. It was through Grace we learned to know Emma."
"The longer I know Grace Harlowe the prouder I am to be her friend," said Elfreda slowly.
"That is the way we all think about Grace," was Sue Emerson's quick return. "You and Miriam are especially lucky in having her for a chum."
The four young women talked on until a long, clear trill announced the return of the other half of the exploring party. "Where, oh, where, are the mastodon's bones?" called out Sara Emerson jeeringly, as soon as Emma Dean came within hailing distance and empty-handed.
"Buried out of sight and as hard as stones," came Emma's rhymed rejoinder.
"How do you know how hard they are if they're buried out of sight!" scoffed Sara as Emma came up beside her.
"Mere supposition, my child, mere supposition."
The strollers had now reached the impromptu camp and were smiling over the exchange of words on the part of Emma and Sara.
"It was a delightful walk," declared Grace. "I'd like to spend two or three days in these woods."
"Stay over another week and do it," tempted Elfreda.
"I can't." Grace shook her head regretfully. "I must spend one week at home before I leave for Overton, and I simply must be at Overton, and in Harlowe House, at least a week before it opens. There are so many things to be done. Thank goodness, I'll have Emma to help me this year. Last fall I felt as lonely as a shipwrecked mariner when I landed on the station platform at Overton. Then I heard Emma Dean's voice behind me. I truly believe that was the pleasantest surprise of my life."
"There, twins! Now you hear what others think of me," exclaimed Emma in triumph. "Perhaps, hereafter, you'll be more appreciative of my many lovely qualities."
"We never said you were the worst person in the world," conceded Julia.
"Neither did you ever refer to me as the 'pleasantest surprise' of your life," reminded Emma.
"You're a constant surprise, Emma, and always a funny one," was Sara's magnanimous tribute.
"Twins, you are forgiven. You may sit beside me, if you're good, while we eat luncheon. I can be magnanimous, too."
The big luncheon hampers were brought out by Elfreda and Miriam. A tablecloth was laid on the grass, and the luncheon was spread forth in all its glory. There were several kinds of toothsome sandwiches, salads, olives and pickles, fruit and plenty of sweets for dessert. There was coffee in two large thermos bottles, and there was also imported ginger ale. The hungry girls lost no time in seating themselves about this al fresco luncheon, making the quiet hollow ring with the merry talk and laughter of their last delightful frolic together.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
After the picnickers had finished luncheon they still sat about the remains of the feast, talking busily of what they hoped to accomplish during the coming year.
Elfreda was full of plans as to what she intended to do when she had finished her course in the law school and passed the bar. "When I'm a full-fledged lawyer——" she began.
"You mean a lawyeress," corrected Emma. "Don't contradict me. Let me explain. True the word's not in the dictionary. I just coined it. I'm going to teach it and its uses in my classes this fall. I shall begin by referring to my friend, Miss J. Elfreda Briggs, the distinguished lawyeress. That will excite the curiosity of my classes. Then instead of satisfying that curiosity as to Lawyeress Briggs' personal and private history I shall gently lead them to a serious contemplation of the word itself. Once in use, I'll have it put in a revised edition of the dictionary. It's high time there were a few new words introduced into the English language. I can make up beautiful ones and not half try. It's so easy."
"And the faculty trusted her to teach English," murmured Miriam.
There was a chorus of giggles at this observation, in which even Emma joined.
"Make up some new words now," challenged Julia Emerson.
"Not when I'm on a picnic," refused Emma firmly. "'Work while you work and play while you play.' I came out to play."
"Our play days end to-night," smiled Grace. "At least mine do."
"Mine, too," echoed Arline. "Really, girls, you haven't any idea of how busy settlement work keeps one. I spend several hours each day at the rooms which Father let me have fitted up for a Girls' Club, and I visit the very poor people, and almost every evening I have a class or a meeting. One evening I go to a little chapel on the East Side to tell stories to children, and I teach classes two other nights. There's always something extra coming up, too. Father isn't exactly pleased over it. He thinks I work too hard. Now that Ruth is going to spend the winter with me I'll make her help. She is the laziest person. She hasn't accomplished a single thing since she found her father."
"He wouldn't let me," defended Ruth. "It has been hard labor to persuade him to allow me to stay in New York this winter. Besides I believe that my business of life, for the present, at least, is to try to make up for some of the years we spent apart."
"Good for you, Ruth," applauded Miriam. "You and I are of the same mind. Only I'm enlisted in the cause of a mother instead of a father. But all this leads up to what I intended to tell you girls before we separated. We are going to New York City for the winter. David is going into business there."
"To New York!" came simultaneously from Arline and Grace. There were murmurs of surprise from the other girls. J. Elfreda Briggs alone smiled knowingly.
"What are we to do in Oakdale without you, at Christmas time, Miriam?" asked Grace mournfully. "The Eight Originals Plus Two can't celebrate unless you are with them. Somehow every year we've all managed to gather home at Christmas. Now if you go to New York to live next winter perhaps David won't be able to leave his business, and your mother will need you and——"
"And do I live to hear Grace Harlowe borrowing trouble?" broke in Emma Dean. "Our intrepid, dauntless, invincible Grace!"
"I'm afraid you do," admitted Grace. "I couldn't help mourning a little. It was all so sudden. Anne, aren't you astonished?"
"Anne looks as though she'd known it a long while," observed Elfreda shrewdly.
"I knew David was going into business in New York," confessed Anne, her face flushing, "but I didn't know the rest."
"Neither did I, until this morning," smiled Miriam.
"It seems as though we are the only persons in this august body that haven't any plans," declared Julia Emerson wistfully. "Here are Grace, Anne and Emma, regular salaried individuals. Arline is a busy little worker. Miriam and Ruth are at least useful members of society, and Elfreda is an aspiring professional. Sara and I are just the Emerson twins, with no lofty aims in view, or deeds of glory to perform."
"You and Sara are not quite useless," comforted Emma. "Just think what a continual source of inspiration you are to me. Some of my finest observations on life have been prompted by my acquaintance with you."
"I'm glad we are of some account in the world," grinned Sara. "I'd really quite forgotten about you, Emma. Thank you so much for reminding me."
"Oh, not at all," Emma beamed patronizingly upon her. "No matter how much others may malign you, I am still your friend."
"Emma Dean, you ridiculous creature, why won't you take us seriously?" laughed Julia, but her voice still held an undercurrent of wistfulness. "Does the fact that we are twins have this hilarious effect upon you?"
"I wonder if that's the reason," murmured Emma. Then dropping her usual bantering tone, she fixed earnest eyes on the black-eyed twins. "Seriously, Julia and Sara, I know just the way you feel about having no particular life work picked out. When I went home after I was graduated from Overton I hadn't the least idea of where I'd fit in in life. Then I found that Father needed my help, and I've been head over ears in work ever since. One never knows what may happen, or how quickly one's work may find one. It may not be what one would like it to be, but it will undoubtedly be the best thing in life for one, and one is likely to see it coming around the corner at almost any minute."
"That's very, very true." It was Grace who spoke. "Don't you remember how I worried about finding my work, and it walked directly up to me and introduced itself on Commencement day?"
"I never dreamed that the stage would put me through college and be my work afterward," broke in Anne. "When first I went to Oakdale I supposed I had left it behind forever. But it must have been my destiny after all."
"I guess it's just about as well in the long run not to worry about what your work is going to be until it knocks at your door," observed Elfreda. "Children are always planning and talking about what they're going to do and be when they grow up; then they always do something different. What do you suppose I used to say I was going to be when I grew up?"
"Some perfectly absurd thing," anticipated Miriam. Eight pairs of amused eyes fixed themselves expectantly on Elfreda.
"Well," Elfreda chuckled reminiscently, "my aim and ambition was to be a cook. Not because I was so deeply in love with cooking, but because I liked to eat. No wonder I was fat. I used to haunt the kitchen on baking days and shriek with an outraged stomach afterward. The shrieking occurred most frequently in the middle of the night. Then Ma would come to my rescue, and I'd be forbidden to sample the baking again. So to console myself in my banishment I'd resolve that when I grew up I'd be a cook and live in a kitchen all the time. I reasoned that if I was a cook I'd know how to make everything in the world to eat and could have what I pleased. Besides no one would dare tell me I couldn't have this or that. This was all very consoling during the times I had to keep out of the kitchen. Generally in about a week's time Ma would relent, and, as our cook was fond of me, I'd be reinstated in my beloved realm of eats. But it was during these periods of exile that my ambition always rose to fever heat. Then our old cook got married, and I didn't like our new one. She didn't appreciate my companionship on baking days. Our old cook had always encouraged me in my ambition. She used to tell me long tales about the places where she had worked and the cooking feats she had performed. The new cook said I was a nuisance, and complained to Ma. So my ambition died for lack of encouragement, but my appetite didn't. I became an outlaw instead and made raids on the baking. So that particular cook and I were always at war. About that time Ma began giving me a regular allowance, so I haunted the baker and candy shops instead of the kitchen, and the cook idea declined. In fact all I know about cooking now, I learned at Wayne Hall, in the interest of my friends," she finished.
Elfreda's reminiscence awoke a train of sleeping memories in the minds of the others, and for the next hour the quiet woodland echoed with their mirth over the curious, quaint and ridiculous aims and fancies of their childhood. The talk gradually drifted back to serious things and went on so earnestly that it was well after four o'clock before the party began to make reluctant preparations to return to the cottage.
"It has been a perfect day and a perfect picnic," declared Grace as she smiled lovingly at her friends. "We'll never forget Elfreda's house party."
"I'm going to have you with me at this time every year if it is possible," planned Elfreda. "So when September comes next year just mark off the last two weeks on the calendar as set aside for the Briggs' reunion and arrange your affairs accordingly. Is it a go?"
"Hurrah for the Briggs' reunion," cheered Arline.
The cheers were given and the picnickers started up the hill to where their automobiles were stationed. Grace and Elfreda brought up the rear with the luncheon hamper.
"That's dear in you to ask us here every year, Elfreda," said Grace. "It's a splendid way for us always to keep in touch with one another. You are forever doing nice things for others."
"Others," retorted Elfreda, gruffly. "I'm the most selfish person that ever lived. I'm not planning half so much to make you girls happy as I am to be happy myself. Every time I think that I might have gone to some other college and never have known you and Miriam and Anne, it nearly gives me nervous prostration. By the way, Grace, I have an idea Miriam is going to find her work pretty suddenly. I could see at commencement that Mr. Southard was in love with her. She didn't know it then. She knows it now though, and she likes him."
"You certainly can see what is hidden from the eyes of the rest of us. How do you know she knows it?"
"Oh, she was talking to me the other day about Anne, and she mentioned Mr. Southard's name in a kind of self-conscious way, not in the least like her usual self. I could almost swear she blushed, but I couldn't quite see that," grinned Elfreda.
"I'm surprised," laughed Grace; then she added slowly, "I've known for a long time that Mr. Southard was in love with Miriam. Anne discovered it at commencement, too. I hope Miriam does love him. Somehow they seem so perfectly suited to each other. I never could quite fancy she and Arnold Evans as being in love."
"It looks as though you'd soon be the only unengaged member of the Originals," remarked Elfreda innocently.
Grace's face clouded. Elfreda had touched upon a sore subject. Just before leaving Oakdale on her visit to Elfreda she had seen Tom. He had not renewed his old plea, but Grace knew that he was still waiting and hoping for the words that would make him happy.
"Elfreda," her voice trembled a little, "you know, I think, that Tom wishes me to marry him. I'm sorry, but I can't. I just can't. I suppose I'll be the odd member of the feminine half of the Originals, but I can't help it. My work still means more to me than life with Tom, and I'm never going to give it up. So there."
Elfreda nodded. Her nod expressed more than words, but secretly she had a curious presentiment that Grace would one day wake up to the fact that she had make a mistake. Still there was no use in telling her so. It might make her still more stubborn in her resolve. Elfreda greatly admired Tom, and, with her usually quick perception, had estimated him at his true worth. "He's worthy of her, and she's worthy of him," was her mental summing up, "and it strikes me that 'never' is a pretty long time. Whether she can shut love out of her life forever, just for the sake of her work, is a problem that nobody but Grace Harlowe can solve."
"Sh-h-h! No giggles. If you don't creep along as still as mice she'll hear you," warned a sibilant whisper.
Five young women, headed by Emma Dean, smoothed the laughter from their faces and stole, cat-like, up the green lawn to the wide veranda at the rear of Harlowe House. One by one they noiselessly mounted the steps. Emma, finger on her lips, cast a comical glance at the maid, who tittered faintly; then the stealthy procession crept down the hall in the direction of Grace Harlowe's little office. There was an instant's silent rallying of forces of which the young woman at the desk, who sat writing busily, was totally unconscious, then, of a sudden, she heard a ringing call of "Three cheers for Loyalheart!" and sprang to her feet only to be completely hemmed in by friendly arms.
"You wicked girls! I mean, you dear things," she laughed. "How nice of you to descend upon me in a body. I must kiss every one of you. Patience and Kathleen, when did you set foot in Overton? I've been watching and waiting for you. Mary Reynolds, this is a surprise. I didn't expect you until next week, and Evelyn, too, looking lovelier than ever. As for Emma, she's a continual surprise and pleasure." Grace embraced one after another of the five girls.
"I'm so glad I thought of this nice surprise," beamed Emma, craning her neck, and pluming herself vaingloriously. "I have another beautiful thought, too, seething in my fertile brain. Let's go down to Vinton's and celebrate."
"I knew some one was sure to propose that," laughed Patience. "I intended to be that some one, but Emma forestalled me."
"I'm as busy as can be, but I can't resist the call to my old haunts," laughed Grace. "Besides, it's such a perfect day. Leave your bags in the living room, girls. I feel highly honored to know that you and Kathleen came straight to me, Patience."
"The old case of the needle and the magnet," explained Patience with a careless wave of her hand.
"Oh, Miss Harlowe I'm so glad to see you," was Mary Reynolds' fervent tribute.
"So am I," declared Evelyn Ward, with an emphatic nod of her golden head. "I've had a perfectly wonderful summer, Miss Harlowe. I loved my part. It hasn't been very hot in New York City, either, and I spent my Sundays and some of my week days with the Southards at their Long Island summer home. I have thought of you many times. I hope you'll forgive me for not writing you oftener. Kathleen and I came down on the same train." She poured forth all this information almost in a breath.
"Of course I'll forgive you," returned Grace. "I'm a very lax correspondent, too. I'm so glad you've been well, and that you liked your part."
"You should have seen her in it, Grace," put in Kathleen. "She made an adorable Constance Devon, and her gowns were beautiful. The girl who understudied her, and who will play the part on the road, isn't half so stunning. Patience saw her, too."
"She was a credit to herself and Overton," verified Patience.
"I thank you, most grave and reverend seniors." Evelyn, her eyes shining with the pleasure of well-earned praise, made a low bow to Patience and Kathleen.
"'Most grave and reverend seniors,'" repeated Grace, slipping in between her two friends, her hand on an arm of each.
Kathleen's sharp black eyes grew tender with the love she bore Grace. "Yes," came her soft answer, "Patience and I are seniors at last. We've reached Senior Lane, and I hope to leave some milestones as we pass through it. Dear as the others have been, I'd like to rise to greater heights this year. I don't know just what I'd like to do," she flushed and laughed at her own enthusiasm, "but I'd like to do something worth while."
"So would I," murmured Evelyn Ward.
"I want to be friends with every one, and not be conditioned," was Mary Reynolds' modest petition.
"I don't know just what sort of milestones I'd like to leave. Only decorative ones, of course. I wish to keep my lane free from weeds and ugly, jagged rocks." This from Patience.
"You might begin at once and leave a milestone at Vinton's, for being a willing, little reveler," suggested Emma with meaning.
"Come on, girls," rallied Kathleen. "We must show Emma just how willing we are. Allow me, my dear Miss Dean," she offered her arm to Emma, and they paraded down the hall, out the door and down the steps with great ceremony. Mary, Grace, Patience and Evelyn followed. Patience walked with Evelyn, while Grace and Mary brought up the rear.
"Oh, Miss Harlowe," began Mary, with intense earnestness, "you haven't any idea of how much Kathleen—she likes me to call her Kathleen—has done for me this summer. I knew last spring that I must earn my living through the summer, in some way, but I never dreamed that it would be in such a nice way."
"I am anxious to hear all about it," returned Grace. "When you wrote me that Kathleen had secured work for you on her paper I was so pleased."
"Yes, I was the assistant on the woman's page," related Mary. "Of course my work wasn't so very important. It was mostly clipping things from other papers, but I used to write the paragraph under the fashion drawings, and sometimes I went out to the big department stores to look for interesting new fads and fashions for women. Three times I wrote short articles, so you see I actually appeared in print. Kathleen made me take half of her room, and so my board wasn't very expensive. My salary was fifteen dollars a week. I have enough new clothes to last me all winter, and I've saved eighty-five dollars. That will help pay my tuition this year, and Kathleen is sure she can sell some children's stories I've written. Wouldn't it be glorious, Miss Harlowe, if some day I'd become a writer?" Mary's eyes shone with the distant prospect of future honors.
"It looks to me as though you were on the right road," encouraged Grace. "The only thing to do is to keep on writing. The more you write the easier it will become—that is, if you are really gifted. Kathleen has great faith in you. You must show her that it is well founded."
"How inspiring you are, Miss Harlowe." Mary looked her gratitude at Grace's hopeful words; then she added in a slightly lower tone: "I'm so glad everything went so beautifully for Evelyn. I saw her twice in 'The Reckoning.' She looked beautiful, and her acting was so clever. She—she told me of her own accord about"—Mary hesitated—"things. It would have hurt me dreadfully if Evelyn had not come back to Overton. I love her dearly."
Grace nodded sympathetically. She understood the remarkable effect of Evelyn's beauty upon Mary. Still, she reflected, it had not been potent enough to lure Mary from standing by her colors at the crucial moment. Grace realized that this poor orphan girl, whose only home was Harlowe House, possessed a steadfast, upright nature that must in time win her not only scores of loyal friends, but the respect of all who knew her, as well.
A sudden trill from Kathleen caused them to quicken their steps. The others were standing in front of Vinton's, waiting for them. Once inside the pretty tea room that had been the scene of so many of their revels, with one accord they made for the alcove table.
"Shades of Arline Thayer," laughed Emma. "I am haunted by her. I can see her sitting in that chair, her little hands folded on the table, saying, 'What are we going to eat, girls?' She loved this alcove and every stick and stone of Vinton's. She never cared so much for Martell's."
By this time they had seated themselves at the round table and begun to order their luncheon. Vinton's was productive of reminiscences, and they were soon deep in the discussion of past events, grave and gay, that had dotted their college life. Evelyn and Mary were for the most part listeners, but Grace, Patience, Emma and Kathleen fairly bubbled over with by-gone college history.
"I love to hear about the things that happened to Miss Harlowe and Miss Dean when they were students," confided Mary to Evelyn under cover of a general laugh over one of Emma Dean's ridiculous reminiscences.
"So do I," nodded Mary, then she added in a still lower tone, "Have you noticed the girl at the table near the door, Evelyn. She came in about ten minutes ago, and she's watched this table every second since she came."
"Yes, I noticed her. She's pretty, isn't she? That's a stunning suit she is wearing. Her hat is miles above reproach, too." Evelyn could not repress her admiration for beautiful clothes.
At that moment Kathleen spoke to her and she turned to answer the latter's question. When next her eyes turned toward the pretty girl it was just as they were leaving the tea shop. Evelyn was the last member of the sextette to pass the table. She glanced at the girl only to note that she was searching a small leather bag frantically, a look of indescribable alarm in her eyes. "It's gone," she said, half aloud.
Something prompted Evelyn to halt. "Good afternoon," she said. "I heard—that is—can I help you?"
A shade of annoyance darkened the stranger's face. It was replaced by an expression of fright. "I've lost my money," she said in a dazed voice. "It was all I had. I can't pay for my luncheon. I don't know what to do." Her voice rose to an anxious note.
"Give me your check," said Evelyn quietly. "I'll pay the cashier. You can pay me later."
"Oh, thank you," breathed the girl. "You don't know how I hated the idea of going to the cashier and telling her I had no money. I'm so worried about my purse. I had over a hundred dollars in it. I haven't seen it since I left the train. Just before we reached Overton I went into the lavatory to fix my hair. I laid my bag down. There was another woman there at the mirror. She must have slipped her fingers into my bag and taken my purse, for when I picked up the bag it was open. I snapped it shut and paid no attention to it then. I didn't think of it until I reached for my purse to count out the money for my luncheon."
"What a shame!" exclaimed Evelyn, sympathetically. "I know just how worried you must feel. Just wait a second." She picked up the check, which was for a small amount, went over to the desk, and paid the bill. Then she hurried back to her companion. "Everything is all right now," she declared, "but if you have no money you had better come with me. I will introduce you to Miss Harlowe. My name is Evelyn Ward."
"Miss Harlowe, of Harlowe House?" interrupted the girl.
"Yes, do you know her?"
"I don't know her yet, but I'm going to live at Harlowe House. So I expect to know her. My name is Jean Brent. Perhaps you've heard of me. A friend of mine helped me to get the chance to live at Harlowe House."
"Have I heard of you?" laughed Evelyn. "I should say I had. Isn't it funny how things happen? Why, you are to be my roommate."
THE LOCKED DOOR
When Evelyn and Jean Brent reached the street it was to find the other young women grouped together in conversation, and not at all alarmed at Evelyn's non-appearance.
"We weren't worried," Emma Dean assured her. "We've all been known to lag and loiter."
"I lagged and loitered to some purpose," defended Evelyn. "Miss Harlowe, this is Miss Brent, my roommate." She introduced the stranger to the others.
Grace's hand was extended in surprised welcome. "We have been looking for you since Monday," she said. "You are the girl who sat at the end table at Vinton's. If I had known you were Miss Brent I would have asked you to join us. I am so glad Miss Ward broke the ice. How did it happen?"
"I had lost my purse," returned the girl, rather shyly, in spite of her air of self-possession. Then reassured by Grace's charming manner, she told her story.
"You must come with us to Harlowe House at once. It is such a pity that you met with misfortune." Grace's gray eyes were full of sympathy. "Have you much luggage?"
"Four trunks," was the rueful answer. "You see I have so many clothes that—" She stopped abruptly, a deep flush dying her fair skin, "I had no place—I did not like to leave them, so I had to bring them with me," she finished, rather lamely.
Grace did not ask further questions. She noted that the girl was ill at ease. "I received Miss Lipton's letter regarding you a week ago," she hastened to say. "I wrote her, as you know, that we could place you. She answered saying we might expect you at almost any time. After you have had a chance to rest and make yourself comfortable I will tell you of Harlowe House and the girls who live there."
One after the other the girls spoke friendly, encouraging words to the unfortunate freshman. Kathleen and Patience possessed themselves of her heavy bag, carrying it between them. Grace walked with the newcomer, pointing out the various interesting features of the little college town, in an attempt to put the stranger entirely at her ease after her disquieting experience. So far she had had slight opportunity to observe this latest freshman arrival. She had a vague idea that Jean Brent was an unusually attractive girl, but the side view she obtained of her, as they walked along, was far from satisfactory. The newcomer said little, and only once during the short walk to Harlowe House did she turn a pair of very blue eyes directly upon Grace.
It fell to Evelyn Ward to show her to her room, as she was to be Evelyn's roommate. The girl had exclaimed a little, after the manner of girls, at the attractiveness of Harlowe House, but in spite of her brief flare of enthusiasm over the house and grounds, the tasteful living room and the daintiness of the room she and Evelyn occupied, she encased herself in a curious, impenetrable shell of mystery that Evelyn's natural curiosity could find no excuse to penetrate. She listened gravely and attentively to all that Evelyn told her of Harlowe House and its lucky household, but she volunteered no information concerning herself except a reluctant, "I came from the West," in answer to her roommate's question as to where she lived.
The more Evelyn observed her the more attractive she appeared. She was of medium height, and, although plump, could not be called stout. Her face was rather round, with no suggestion of fatness, while her features were small and regular. Her eyes were not large, but their intense blueness made them a significant feature of her face. Her hair was light brown and had a burnished look in the sun. It grew thickly upon her well-shaped head, and she wore it in a graceful knot at the back of her head. When she smiled, which had been but once since Evelyn first encountered her, she displayed unusually white, even teeth. It dawned upon Evelyn as she watched her unpacking her bag that Jean Brent had not only her share of good looks but a curious power of attraction as well that would carry her far toward college popularity if she chose to exert it. She wondered if she and Jean would get along well together. Although the new Evelyn had made great progress in ruling her own spirit she was well aware of her failings. She was quite sure, in her own mind, that never again would the love of beautiful clothes tempt her to dishonesty, but of herself, in other respects, she was not so positive. Still she had resolved to live up to the traditions of Overton College, to emulate the splendid example Grace Harlowe had already set.
She glanced speculatively at her roommate, but the latter's calm, impassive expression told her nothing. Suddenly, as though impelled by Evelyn's gaze, the other girl glanced up and met Evelyn's eyes squarely. "Well, what do you think of me?" she inquired. "I think you are the prettiest girl I ever saw."
Evelyn flushed at both the question and the compliment. Jean Brent was nothing if not frank. "I know I'm going to like you. I was just wondering if we would fit into each other's lives."
"I have a frightful temper," admitted Jean Brent somberly. "Sometimes I'm glad of it. If I hadn't—" She paused.
Evelyn waited for her to continue, but she gave a quick sigh, and, springing to her feet, walked to the window. From there she could look out at the campus, still green and velvety. For at least five minutes she stood staring out. Then, with the air of one who casts aside a disagreeable memory, she turned from the window, saying: "I'm going to forget everything except the fact that I'm actually an Overton girl."
"Were you anxious to come to Overton?" asked Evelyn.
"No. I came here because of the advantages Harlowe House offers. I heard of it through a friend. I wanted to go to Smith, but—oh, well, here I am at Overton. Let's talk about you. I know you are interesting. You look just like the picture of a girl I saw in a magazine I was reading on the train. She is an actress. I didn't stop to read her name, but I loved her picture. I think I brought the magazine along. Oh, yes, there it is." She reached for the magazine, which lay on the table, and turned the leaves energetically. "Here is the picture," she declared. Evelyn found herself gazing at her own likeness. She began to laugh.
"What's the matter?" demanded Jean. Her color rose in instant resentment of Evelyn's laughter.
Evelyn pointed to the printed name under the picture. "I am Evelyn Ward, you know."
"But not the actress?" Jean's blue eyes were wide with amazement.
Evelyn nodded laughingly. "That's my way of earning my tuition money and my clothes," she explained. "I was never on the stage until last summer." She went on to tell the astonished Jean of her meeting with the Southards and her final stage debut.
"How interesting!" exclaimed Jean. "I suppose all the Harlowe House girls earn their college fees. I wonder how I can earn mine. I had quite a sum toward them when I left—" again came the abrupt stop. "Oh, dear," she sighed the next moment, "I wish I'd been more careful of my money. I had no business to lay my bag down. What's the use of regretting? I'll have to think of some way to raise that money. If I can't find it any other way I can sell my clothes. I have perfectly beautiful things. Four trunks full. Lots more than I can wear. It is lucky for me that—" She checked herself guiltily.
"That what?" asked Evelyn. She was beginning to feel a vague impatience at the strange way in which Jean Brent chopped off her sentences. And how recklessly she talked about selling her clothes.
"That I have you for a roommate," smiled the mysterious freshman. "I wonder how much the expressman will charge to bring my trunks from the station. Then, too, I wonder where I can put them. I wouldn't think of spoiling the looks of our room with them."
"You can put one of them over in that corner," planned Evelyn, "and we could get one into the closet. It's large and quite light. The other two Miss Harlowe will allow you to leave in the trunk room."
"I suppose it will cost a small fortune to have them delivered," demurred Jean. "I can't have the sale, either, until I know some of the girls who would be interested in my wares. I'll have to telegraph my friend to send me some money. Will you go with me to the telegraph office. I don't know the way. I'll ask Miss Harlowe to pay the expressman. Then I'll pay her when my money comes. Frenzied finance, isn't it? But if you knew—" Again that maddening break.
"I'll pay the expressman," volunteered Evelyn. "If I were you I'd talk things over with Miss Harlowe. She knows that you lost your purse. Very likely she has already thought of something you can do. I don't think she would like to have you sell your clothes."
"I don't see why she should object," declared Jean, with quick impatience. "However, I'll do my hair over again, and wash my face and hands, then I'll go down stairs and have a talk with her. She said she'd be in her office."
"Run down and talk with her now, then we'll go to the telegraph office," said Evelyn.
Twenty minutes later Jean entered the little office where Grace sat engaged in the work she had been doing when interrupted by her friends earlier in the afternoon. Like Evelyn, she was keenly alive to her latest charge's good looks. "How attractive she is," was her thought as she invited Jean to take the chair opposite hers.
"I suppose you would like to know something of our household, Miss Brent," began Grace. "We are not only a household, but we are members of a social club as well. You are the thirty-fourth girl. Last year Miss Thirty-four never materialized, so Miss Ward roomed alone. There isn't so so much to tell you regarding the rules and regulations of Harlowe House. The club takes care of most of them with its constitution and by-laws." Opening a drawer of her desk, Grace took out a paper-covered booklet and handed it to the freshman. "This will give you nearly all the necessary information," she said. "If I were in your place I would go to the registrar's office reasonably early to-morrow morning. You can then learn whether you will be obliged to take the entrance examinations. Having been graduated from a preparatory school you may be exempt. When did Miss Lipton's school close?"
"Last June," returned Jean briefly.
"But you have seen her since then, have you not? Her letter gave me the impression that you had been with her recently. Do you live in Grafton, or were you visiting Miss Lipton?"
The fair face opposite her own was suddenly flooded with red. "I—I—was—on—a visit recently to Miss Lipton," she answered, with reluctance. She did not volunteer the name of her home town.
For the first time Grace became aware of the curious reticence that had vaguely annoyed Evelyn. "Where do you live, Miss Brent!" she asked with the sudden directness so characteristic of her.
For a moment the girl did not reply, then her color receded, leaving her face very white. "My home is in Chicago," she said slowly. "My father and mother are dead. I have always lived with"—she hesitated—"friends. Miss Lipton was a friend of my mother's. Surely her word will not be questioned by the faculty." She glanced at Grace with a half challenging air.
Something in her tone brought the color to Grace's cheeks. Why could not this girl be perfectly frank in her replies? Now that Evelyn Ward had turned out so beautifully, Grace had been looking forward to a year of open comradeship with her girls, yet here she was face to face with what promised to be one of those baffling natures that required especially tactful handling to bring out the best that lay within it.
"I have no doubt that Miss Sheldon will place the utmost dependence in Miss Lipton's word," returned Grace gravely.
"If she doesn't, I—oh, well, to-morrow will tell the tale. I wish you would tell me more of Harlowe House. It is a wonderful place. I wanted to go to Smith, but I believe this will be nicer after all. Only I—shall—have to earn my college fees. Miss Ward said perhaps you would help me think of a way to earn money. I have nothing in the world except clothes, clothes, clothes. After I've been here for awhile I'd like to have a sale of them. I have loads of lovely things. If I could only sell enough of them to pay my fees."
"But you will need your clothing for your own use, will you not?" Jean Brent was momently growing more inexplicable.
Jean shook her head energetically. "I don't care for clothes," she said eagerly. "I could live in a coat suit and plenty of blouses all year. I do care for college, though. If I hadn't cared, I would never—" She suddenly checked herself. "Do you think the girls would buy my things?" she asked in the next instant. "They are nearly all new and fresh."
"I am sure they would be interested," was Grace's honest reply, "but I cannot allow you to hold a sale of your wardrobe. I think such a proceeding would be unwise. Why——"
"Please don't ask me why, Miss Harlowe, for I can't tell you." Jean had risen to her feet, two pleading eyes fixed on Grace. "I can only say that if I had not lost my money everything would be different. There are strong reasons why I can't explain to you about my being without money, yet having so many clothes, but I assure you that I have done nothing wrong or dishonorable. If you are not satisfied with my explanation and wish to send me away, of course I can only go, but if you are willing to trust me and let me stay I'll try to do my best for you and Harlowe House. I'm sorry you disapprove of my having a sale of my things."
Grace looked long at the earnest young face. Mystifying as were her statements, Jean Brent had the appearance of honesty. Taking one of the girl's hands in both her own, she said, "I don't in the least understand you, Miss Brent, but I will respect your secret."
"Thank you so much for your kindness to me, Miss Harlowe." With an almost distant nod the prospective freshman rose and left the office with almost rude abruptness.
"What a strange girl," mused Grace.
Her musing was interrupted by the breezy entrance of Emma Dean. "Hello, Gracious," she hailed. "Why so pensive?"
"I'm not pensive. I'm puzzled, and a little worried," returned Grace. "Our latest arrival is a most complex study."
"I suspected it," was Emma's cheerful rejoinder. "One of the 'There was the Door to which I found no Key' variety, so to speak."
"I'm going to tell you all about it," decided Grace, "for I need your advice." She related her interview with Jean Brent.
"Miss Lipton, the head of the Lipton Preparatory School, at Grafton, writes beautifully of Miss Brent," went on Grace. "I know the faculty would consider her word sufficient to enroll this girl, but I feel that I ought to be doubly careful to keep my household irreproachable. I don't like mysteries when it comes to admitting a new girl to the fold. Still, Miss Brent impresses me as being honest and sincere. Besides, I've promised to help her."
"Don't worry, Gracious," advised Emma, "you may be harboring a princess unawares. The Riddle may turn out to be the Shahess of Persia, or the Grand Vizieress of Bagdad or some other royal person. She may be the moving feature of a real Graustark plot."
"Stop being ridiculous, Emma, and tell me what I ought to do." Grace's smooth forehead puckered in a frown which her laughing lips denied.
Emma was instantly serious. "We do not know just how much college may mean to her," was her quick response. "If she chooses to shroud herself in mystery, I believe it is because of something which concerns herself alone."
There was a brief silence, then Grace said: "You are right. To be an Overton girl may mean more to Jean Brent than we can possibly know. I'm going to take her on faith. Perhaps she'll find college the key that will unlock the door to perfect understanding."
A CLUB MEETING AND A MYSTERY
"There!" exclaimed Louise Sampson as she succeeded in firmly establishing at the top of the bulletin board a large white card, bearing the significant legend, "Regular Meeting of the Harlowe House Club. 8.00 P.M. Living Room. Full Attendance, Please."
A small, fair-haired girl came down the stairs and joined Louise at the bulletin-board. She read the notice aloud. "Oh, dear, I've an engagement with a girl at Wayne Hall to-night. I don't care to miss the meeting, and I don't like to break my engagement," she mourned.
"I wish you would break it just this once, Hilda," said Louise seriously. "I am anxious that every member of the club shall attend the meeting to-night. I have something of importance to say to the girls."
Hilda Moore opened her blue eyes very wide. "What are you going to say, Louise? Tell me, please. You see I made this engagement over a week ago. If you'd just tell me now what it's all about, I wouldn't really need to come to the club meeting. I could——"
"Keep your engagement," finished Louise, her eyes twinkling. "Really, Hilda Moore, if you knew a tidal wave, or a cyclone or any other calamity was due to demolish Overton I believe you'd go on making engagements in the face of it."
Hilda giggled good-naturedly. She was a pretty, sunshiny girl of a pure blonde type, and had been extremely popular during her freshman year at Overton, not only with her fellow companions at Harlowe House, but as a member of the freshman class as well. In spite of her round baby face, and a carefree, little-girl manner that went with it, she was a capable business woman and earned her college fees as stenographer to the dean. The daughter of parents who were not able to send her to college, she had not only prepared for college during her high-school days, but had taken the business course included in the curriculum of the high school which she attended, and had thus fitted herself to earn her way in the Land of College.
Hilda's unfailing good nature was appreciated to the extent of making her a welcome guest at the informal gatherings which were forever being held in the various students' rooms after recitations were over for the day. The consequence was that, as her studies and clerical duties left her limited time for amusements, her precious recreation moments were invariably promised to her friends many days in advance. In fact Hilda Moore's "engagements" had grown to be a standing joke among them.
"Promise me on your bright new sophomore honor that you'll offer your polite regrets to the other half of that important engagement of yours and attend my meeting," appealed Louise.
"Well," Hilda looked concerned, "I could see the girl this afternoon and change the date." She smiled engagingly at Louise.
"Of course you will," Louise agreed, answering the smile. "You see I know you, Hilda Moore."
"But I wouldn't do it for any one else except Miss Harlowe or Miss Dean," was Hilda's positive assertion. "Mercy, look at the time! I'll have to run for it if I expect to reach the office before Miss Wilder. Good-bye."
Hilda was gone like a flash, leaving Louise to stare contemplatively at the notice. As the president for the year of the Harlowe House Club she felt deeply her responsibility. She had been unanimously elected at the club's first meeting, greatly to her surprise.
Louise Sampson was perhaps better fitted to be president of the Harlowe House Club than any other member of that interesting household. Emma and Grace had agreed upon the point when, before the election, the former's name had been mentioned as a probable candidate. This thought sprang again to Grace's mind as she came from her office and saw Louise still standing before the bulletin board, apparently deep in thought. She turned at the sound of Grace's step.
"Oh, Miss Harlowe!" she exclaimed. "I do hope our meeting to-night will be a success. Surely some one will have a real live idea for the club to act upon."
"Thirty-four heads are better than one," smiled Grace. "There is inspiration in numbers."
"We did wonderfully well with the caramels last year, and this year I believe they will be more popular than ever. We made twice as many as usual last Saturday, and sold them all. We were obliged to disappoint quite a number of girls, too. Our little bank account is growing slowly but surely. Still there are certainly other things we can do to earn money, collectively and individually. Really I mustn't get started on the subject. It is time I went to my chemistry recitation. You'll be at the meeting to-night, won't you, Miss Harlowe? We couldn't get along without you."
A faint flush rose to Grace's cheeks at Louise's parting remark. How wonderful it was to feel that one was really useful. Yes; the thirty-four girls under her care really needed her. They needed her far more than did Tom Gray. Grace frowned a trifle impatiently. She had not intended to allow herself to think of Tom, yet there was something in the expression of Louise Sampson's gray eyes that reminded her of him. Resolving to put him completely out of her mind, Grace went into the kitchen to consult with the cook concerning the day's marketing. The postman's ring, however, caused her to hurry back to her office where the maid was just depositing her morning mail on the slide of her desk.
Her letters were from Anne, Elfreda and her mother, and they filled her with unalloyed pleasure. Her mother's unselfish words, "I hope my little girl is finding all the happiness life has to offer in her work," thrilled her. How different was her mother's attitude from that of Tom Gray. Surely no one could miss her as her mother missed her, yet she had given her up without a murmur, while Tom had protested bitterly against her beloved work and prophesied that some day she would realize that work didn't mean everything in life.
All that day the inspiring effect of her mother's letter remained with Grace. Her already deep interest in her house and her charges received new impetus, and when evening came, she felt, as she entered the big living room where the thirty-four girls were assembled, that she would willingly do anything that lay within her power to forward the prosperity and success of Harlowe House.
After the usual preliminaries, Louise Sampson addressed the meeting in her bright direct fashion. "Ever since we came back to Harlowe House this year I've felt that we ought to do something to increase our treasury money. If the club had enough money of its own, then the Harlowe House girls wouldn't need to borrow of Semper Fidelis. That would leave the Semper Fidelis fund free for other girls who don't live here and who need financial help. Of course we couldn't do very much at first, but if we could get up some kind of play or entertainment that the whole college would be anxious to come to see, as they once did a bazaar that the Semper Fidelis Club gave, the money we would realize from it would be a fine start for us. Now I'm going to leave the subject open to informal discussion. Won't some one of you please express an opinion?"
"Don't you believe that some of the students might say we were selfish to try to make money for our own house instead of for the college? Semper Fidelis was organized for the benefit of the whole college, but this is different," remarked Cecil Ferris.
A blank silence followed Cecil's objection. What she had just said was, in a measure, true.
Louise Sampson looked appealingly at Grace. She had been so sure that her plan of conducting some special entertainment on a large scale would meet with approval. Cecil's view of the matter had never occurred to her.
"I am afraid that Miss Ferris is right," Grace said slowly. "Much as I should like to see the Harlowe House Club in a position to take care of its members' wants I am afraid we might be criticized as selfish if we undertook to give a bazaar."
"Why couldn't we give one entertainment a month?" asked Mary Reynolds eagerly. "I am sure President Morton would let us have Greek Hall. We could give different kinds of entertainments. One month we could give a Shakespearean play and the next a Greek tragedy; then we could act a scenario, or have a musical revue or whatever we liked. We could make posters to advertise each one and state frankly on them that the proceeds were to go to the Harlowe House Club Reserve Fund. We wouldn't ask any one for anything. We wouldn't even ask them to come. We'd just have the tickets on sale as they do at a theatre. If the girls liked the first show, they'd come to the next one. We'd ask some of the popular girls of the college who do stunts to take part, and feature them. I think we'd have a standing-room-only audience every time."
Mary paused for breath after this long speech. The club, to a member, had eyed her with growing interest as she talked.
"I think that's a splendid plan," agreed Evelyn Ward. "I'm willing to do all I can toward it. I've had only a little stage experience, but I'd love to help coach the actors for their parts."
For the next half hour the plan for increasing the club's treasury was eagerly discussed. A play committee, consisting of Mary Reynolds, Evelyn Ward, Nettie Weyburn and Ethel Hilton, a tall, dark-haired girl, noted for making brilliant recitations, was chosen.
"Has any one else a suggestion?" asked Louise Sampson, when the first excitement regarding the new project had in a measure subsided.
"Why couldn't we have a Service Bureau?" asked Nettie Weyburn. "I mean we could post notices that any one who wishes a certain kind of work done, such as mending, sewing or tutoring, could apply to our bureau. Every one knows that the students of Harlowe House are self-supporting. We wouldn't be here if we weren't. Some of us have a very hard time earning our college fees. Some of us have been obliged to borrow money, and comparatively few of us ever have pocket money. If the girls who don't have to do things for themselves found that we could always be depended upon for services I imagine we would have all the work we could do."
"Hurrah for Nettie!" exclaimed Cecil Ferris. "I think that's a fine idea."
"So do I," echoed several voices.
"But we'd have to put some one in charge of the bureau, and no one of us could afford to spend much time looking after it," reminded Louise.
"Oh, we could take turns," was Nettie's prompt reply. "Then, too, we could have certain hours for business, say from four o'clock until six on every week day, except Saturday and from two o'clock until five on Saturday afternoons."
"But where would we receive the girls who came to see about having work done?" asked Alice Andrews, a business-like little person who roomed with Louise Sampson.
"I will see that the Service Bureau has a desk installed in one corner of the living room," offered Grace, who had, up to this point, listened to the various girls' remarks, a proud light in her eyes. She loved the sturdy self-reliance of the members of her household. "And there will also be times when I can do duty on the Bureau, too," she added.
"No, Miss Harlowe, you mustn't think of it," said Louise Sampson. "You do altogether too much for us now."
"I am here to take care of my household," smiled Grace. "Besides, it will be a pleasure to help a club of girls who are so willing to help themselves."
"Miss Harlowe is really and truly interested in the girls here, isn't she?" Jean Brent commented to Evelyn Ward in an undertone. Having passed her examinations Jean was now a full-fledged freshman.
"Yes, indeed," returned Evelyn, with emphasis. "She has done a great deal for me. More than I can ever hope to repay."
"What—" began Jean. Then she suddenly stopped and bent forward in a listening attitude. The electric bell on the front door had just shrilled forth the announcement of a visitor. A moment and the maid had entered the room with, "A lady to see you, Miss Harlowe. I didn't catch her name. It sounded like Brant."
Jean Brent grew very white. Turning to Evelyn she said unsteadily, "I don't feel well. I think I will go up stairs." Without waiting for Evelyn to reply, she rose and almost ran out of the living room ahead of Grace. As she stepped into the hall she darted one lightning glance toward the visitor, then she stumbled up the stairs, shaking with relief. She had never before seen Grace's caller.
"How do you feel?" was Evelyn's first question as she entered their room fully two hours later. "You missed a spread. We had sandwiches and cake and hot chocolate."
"I can't help it," muttered Jean uncivilly. Then she said apologetically, "I'm much better, thank you. Please forgive me for being so rude."
While in the next room Grace was saying to Emma, who, owing to an engagement, had not attended the meeting, "Really, Emma, the name 'Riddle' certainly applies to Miss Brent. She came to the meeting with the others, and when it was only half over she bolted from the living room and upstairs as though she were pursued by savages. I wouldn't have noticed her, perhaps, but I had been called to the door. Mrs. Brant came to see me about my sewing. Miss Brent hurried out of the living room ahead of me. I saw her give Mrs. Brant the strangest look, then up the stairs she ran as fast as she could go."
"Grace," Emma looked at her friend in a startled way. "You don't suppose Miss Brent has run away from home do you? The names Brant and Brent sound alike. She may have thought that some member of her family had followed her here."
It was Grace's turn to look startled. "I don't know," she said doubtfully. "I hope not. I should not like to harbor a runaway unless I knew the circumstances warranted it, as was the case with Mary Reynolds. I didn't think of Miss Brent's secret as being of that nature. Surely Miss Lipton would not countenance a runaway. Still I don't wish to try to force this girl's confidence. I prefer to let matters stand as they are, for the present, at least. I've promised to respect her secret, whatever it may be, and I am going to do so."
Emma shook her head disapprovingly.
"I don't like mysteries, Grace. When we talked Jean Brent over a few days ago I told you that I didn't think it mattered if she choose to wrap herself in mystery. But I've changed my mind. I believe you owe it to yourself to insist on a complete explanation from her. Suppose later on you discovered that you had been deceived in her, that she was unworthy. Then, again, she might put you in a disagreeable position with President Morton or Miss Wilder. You remember the humiliation you endured at Evelyn's hands. I, who know you so well, understand that your motive in trusting Miss Brent unquestioningly is above reproach. But others might not understand. If she proved untrustworthy, you would be censured far more than she." Emma's tones vibrated with earnestness.
Grace sat silent. She realized the truth of her friend's words. Emma rarely spoke seriously. When she did so, it counted. Still, she had given her promise to this strange young girl, and she would keep her word. After all Jean Brent's secret might be of no more importance than that of the average school girl.
HER OWN WAY
The Service Bureau lost no time in preparing and posting notices on the college bulletin board, and on those of the various campus houses, to the effect that they were prepared to take care of any requests for general services that might be made, and the immediate response with which their venture met was gratifying in the extreme. Certain of the club members found their spare time fully occupied in tutoring freshmen, while those who were skilled needlewomen were kept busy mending, making silk blouses, kimonos and even simple styles of gowns. Grace had thoughtfully placed a second sewing machine in the sewing room, and it never stood idle. There were requests for all sorts of services such as hair dressing, manicuring and countless small labors which affluent students were glad to turn over to their needy classmates.
Grace and Louise Sampson spent many hours of time and thought upon the new venture. It required tact and judgment to select the various girls for the various labors. First there was the customer to please. Second the fact that each member of the club was anxious to be given the opportunity to earn a little extra money. It was wonderful, too, the amount of hitherto undiscovered ability which came to light at the call for service, and it was not long before Nettie Weyburn had acquired considerable reputation as a manicurist, while Ethel Hilton gained lasting laurels as a hair dresser and Mary Reynolds proved herself a competent tutor. Hilda Moore became a fad among certain girls who loathed letter writing and willingly paid her for taking their dictation and typing their home letters, while Cecil Ferris stood alone as an expert mender of silk stockings. Louise Sampson made silk blouses. Several members specialized on kimonos. Two girls were kept constantly busy on hand-painted post cards, posters and cunning little luncheon favors. There were also occasional requests for a maid or companion for some special affair. In fact the high standard of excellence which the Service Bureau aimed for, and obtained, caused its popularity to increase rapidly.
There was but one member of this earnest and busy household to whom the Bureau meant nothing. That member was Jean Brent. So far she had discovered absolutely nothing she could do to earn money. She had not the patience to tutor, she loathed the bare idea of performing personal services for others, and she could not sew a stitch. Nevertheless the fact that she needed money perpetually stared her in the face. True she had written to Miss Lipton for a loan, and the money had been promptly sent her. She had repaid Grace and Evelyn the small sums they had advanced her, but the remainder of the money had dwindled away so rapidly she could hardly have given an account of the way in which it had been spent.
Now her thoughts turned to her trunks of unused finery. What possible objection could Miss Harlowe have to her selling what was rightfully hers? If she wished to dispose of certain of her own possessions it was surely no one's affair save her own. Althea Parker, who was Evelyn's friend, and the leader of a clique of the richest girls at Overton, had been given an opportunity to see the contents of one of the trunks and had gone into ecstacies over the dainty hats and frocks Jean had displayed for her benefit. "For goodness' sake where did you get such lovely things?" had been Althea's curious question. "They must have cost a lot of money."
"Do you think the girls in your set would be interested in them?" Jean had asked, ignoring the other girl's question. "I—I should like to sell them to any one who wants them. I must have some money. I need it at once."
"Sell them?" Althea's eye-brows had been elevated in surprise. "How funny." Then her natural selfishness coming strongly to the surface, she had said hastily. "I'd love to have that green chiffon evening gown. It's never been worn, has it?" She decided it was not her business if Miss Brent chose to sell her clothes. Jean had gravely assured her that everything in the trunk was perfectly new and fresh, and Althea had, then and there, bargained for almost a hundred dollars' worth of finery, and promised to interest the girls of her set in Jean's possessions.
It was not until after Althea had gone that Jean remembered Grace's objection to her proposed sale. She decided that she could not have the sale after all. She would sell Althea the things she wished and tell her the circumstances. But when she laid the matter before Althea the latter had said lightly, "Oh, don't let a little thing like that worry you. It's none of Miss Harlowe's business. Besides, I've told my friends, and they are dying to see your things. Evelyn told me to-day that Miss Harlowe was going to New York City on Friday night. You can have the girls come up here on Saturday afternoon. I'll invite Evelyn to luncheon and keep her away until after six o'clock. She wouldn't like it if she knew. She's a regular goody-goody this year. What you must do is to get the things out of the other trunks. Then the girls can see them. I'll come to-morrow for these things I've selected; so have them wrapped up for me. If we manage it quietly no one need be the wiser, for the girls won't breathe a word of it to a soul."
Actuated by her need of money, Jean swallowed her scruples and obeyed Althea's commands implicitly. Under the pretext of rearranging her wardrobe, she spent her spare time in the trunk room going over her effects and picking out those articles most likely to appeal to her customers, and by Saturday everything was in readiness for the sale. Evelyn, unsuspecting and jubilant over her luncheon engagement with Althea, who had so far this term held herself rather aloof from her, hurried off to keep her appointment, leaving Jean a clear field.
Locking the door, this strange girl began laying out her wares. There were exquisite evening gowns, with satin slippers and silk stockings to match, and there were afternoon and morning frocks, walking suits, separate coats, hats, gloves, fans, scarfs, everything in fact to delight the heart of a girl. Jean handled them all mechanically, and without interest. It was only when she heard the murmur of girls' voices outside her door that a deep flush mounted even to her smooth forehead. She drew a deep breath and braced herself as for an ordeal, then answered the peremptory knock on the door.
There were little delighted cries from the ten girls who came to the sale as they examined Jean's beautiful wardrobe. Being of medium height, her gowns fitted most of her customers, who exulted over the fact of their absolute freshness. They were indeed bargains, and, as each girl had come prepared to buy to the limit of her ample allowance, the money fairly poured into Jean's hands.
For the rest of the afternoon a great trying-on of gowns ensued, and in their eager appreciation of the pretty things before them they chattered like a flock of magpies, arousing not a little curiosity among a number of the Harlowe House girls who in passing through the hall heard the murmur of voices and subdued laughter. It was after six o'clock when the last girl, bearing a huge bundle and a suit case, had departed. Jean sat down amidst the wreck of her possessions and sighed wearily. She sprang up the next moment, however, and began feverishly to bundle the various garments lying about on the bed and chairs into the open trunk. She had sold many of her possessions. Those that were left would all go into the one trunk. She must hurry them in before Evelyn returned. She was likely to come in at almost any moment. Jean had saved a beautiful frock of yellow crepe for Evelyn. She intended to give it to her for a Christmas present. There were shoes, stockings and scarf to match, along with a wonderful white evening coat, trimmed with wide bands of white fur and lined with palest pink brocade. In the short time she had known Evelyn she had become greatly attached to her, and although unlike in disposition, they had, so far, managed to get along together as roommates.
Jean knew, however, that Evelyn, who was devoted heart and soul to Grace Harlowe, could not fail to disapprove of her high-handed disregard of Grace's authority. She, therefore, determined to remove all traces of the sale and trust to luck and the honor of the girls who had taken part in it. If, later, Evelyn should recognize any of the various articles as Jean's, it would do no particular harm. She would, no doubt, be shocked, but still past lapses of good conduct never disturbed one as did those of the present. Feeling that, in her case, at least, the end justified the means, Jean bundled the last tell-tale effect into the trunk and banged down the lid, resolving to meet Evelyn as though nothing had happened, and let the future take care of itself.
ALL IN THE DAY'S WORK
With the approach of the Thanksgiving holidays a great pleasure and a great sorrow came to Grace. The "pleasure" was the joyful news that Mr. and Mrs. Harlowe had accepted an invitation to spend Thanksgiving in New York City with the Nesbits. This news meant that, for the first time since her entrance into college as a freshman, Grace would have the supreme satisfaction of being with her adored parents on Thanksgiving Day. Anne, Miriam and Elfreda would be with her, too, which made the anticipation of her four days' vacation doubly dear.
Then almost identical with this great joy had come the great sorrow. Miss Wilder was going away. For the past year she had not been well, and now she had been ordered West for her health. During Grace's first year at Harlowe House the regard which Miss Wilder had always felt for her as a student had gradually deepened until the two were on terms of intimacy. Grace felt the same freedom in going to the dean with her difficulties as she had with Miss Thompson, her loved principal of high-school days.
It seemed to her as though this staunch friend, with her kindly tolerance, and her amazing knowledge of girl nature, could never be replaced. No matter how worthy of respect and admiration her successor might be, she could never quite equal Miss Wilder. The possibility of Overton without her had never occurred to Grace. True she had noted on several occasions that Miss Wilder looked very pale and tired. She was considerably thinner, too, than when Grace had entered college as a freshman, yet she had always given out the impression of tireless energy. Grace had never heard her complain of ill health, yet here she was, threatened with a nervous breakdown. The only remedy, a complete rest. As soon as her successor had been appointed she would start for an extended western trip in search of health, which only time, the open air and rest could restore. At the older woman's request Grace spent as much time as possible in her company. They had long talks over the subject that lay closest to the young house mother's heart, the welfare of her flock, and Grace derived untold benefit from the dean's counsel.
It now lacked only a little time until Overton College would lose one of its staunchest friends. Divided between the anticipation of meeting and the pain of parting, Grace hardly knew her own state of mind. It was with a very sober face that she hung the telephone on its receiver one gray November morning, and slipping into her wraps, set out for Overton Hall in obedience to Miss Wilder's telephoned request. The new dean, Miss Wharton, had arrived, and Miss Wilder was anxious that Grace should meet her. Miss Wharton had expressed herself as interested in Miss Wilder's account of Harlowe House and its unique system of management. She had also expressed her desire to meet Grace, and Miss Wilder, hopeful that this interest might prove helpful to Grace, had readily acceded to her wish.
Grace set forth for Overton Hall in good spirits, but whether it was the effect of the raw November morning or that the shadow of parting hung heavily over her, she suddenly felt her exhilaration vanish. A strange sense of gloomy foreboding bore down upon her. She found herself strangely reluctant to meet Miss Wharton. She had a strong desire to about-face and return to Harlowe House. "What is the matter with you, Grace Harlowe?" she said half aloud. With an impatient squaring of her shoulders she marched along determined to be cheerful and make the best of what she could not change.
As she entered Miss Wilder's office her quick glance took in the short, rather stout figure seated beside Miss Wilder. This, then, was Miss Wharton. What Grace saw in that quick glance was a round, red, satisfied face lit by two cold pale blue eyes, and surmounted by lifeless brown hair, plentifully streaked with gray. There was neither grace nor majesty in her short, dumpy figure, and Grace's first impression of her was decidedly unpleasant. An impression which she never had reason to change.
Miss Wilder rose to meet Grace with outstretched hand. "My dear, I am glad to see you this morning."
"And I to see you," responded Grace, her gray eyes full of affectionate regard. "How are you feeling to-day, Miss Wilder?"
"Very well, indeed, for me," smiled the dean. "Almost well enough to give up my western rest, but not quite. My heart is in my work here. It is hard to leave it even for a little while. But I am leaving it in good hands. I wish you to meet Miss Wharton, Grace."