Grace Harlowe's Senior Year at High School
The Parting of the Ways
BY JESSIE GRAHAM FLOWER, A. M.
Author of Grace Harlowe's Plebe Year at High School, Grace Harlowe's Sophomore Year at High School, Grace Harlowe's Junior Year at High School, etc.
I. A Puzzling Resemblance
II. What the Day Brought Forth
III. What Happened in Room Forty-Seven
IV. Grace Turns in the Fire Alarm
V. Nora Becomes a Prize "Suggester"
VI. The Thanksgiving Bazaar
VII. A Thief in the Night
VIII. Marian Asserts Her Independence
IX. The Judge's House Party
X. Christmas with Judge
XI. Santa Claus Visits the Judge
XII. The mistletoe Bough
XIII. Tom and Grace Scent Trouble
XIV. Grace and Anne Plan a Study Campaign
XV. The Phi Sigma Taus Meet with a Loss
XVI. The Unexpected Happens
XVII. Anne Becomes Famous
XVIII. The Theatre Party
XIX. Grace Meets with a Rebuff
XX. Marian's Confession
XXI. What Happened at the Haunted House
XXII. Grace and Eleanor Make a Formal Call
XXIII. The Message of the Violin
XXIV. The Parting of the Ways
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"Who is that Girl?"
The Girls Circled Around the Judge
Hippy Sat With A Piece of Fudge in Either Hand
Grace Held Her Breath in Astonishment
Grace Harlowe's Senior Year at High School
A PUZZLING RESEMBLANCE
"Oakdale won't seem like the same place. What shall we do without you?" exclaimed Grace Harlowe mournfully.
It was a sunny afternoon in early October, and Grace Harlowe with her three chums, Anne Pierson, Nora O'Malley and Jessica Bright, stood grouped around three young men on the station platform at Oakdale. For Hippy Wingate, Reddy Brooks and David Nesbit were leaving that afternoon to begin a four years' course in an eastern college, and a number of relatives and friends had gathered to wish them godspeed.
Those who have read "Grace Harlowe's Plebe Year at High School" need no introduction to these three young men or to the girl chums. The doings of these merry girls made the record of their freshman year memorable indeed. The winning of the freshman prize by Anne Pierson, despite the determined opposition and plotting of Miriam Nesbit, also aspiring to that honor, Mrs. Gray's Christmas party, the winter picnic that ended in an adventure with wolves, and many other stirring events furnished plenty of excitement for the readers of that volume.
In "Grace Harlowe's Sophomore Year at High School" the interest of the story was centered around the series of basketball games played by the sophomore and junior classes for the High School championship. In this volume was narrated the efforts of Miriam Nesbit, aided by Julia Crosby, the disagreeable junior captain, to discredit Anne, and force Grace to resign the captaincy of her team. The rescue of Julia by Grace from drowning during a skating party served to bring about a reconciliation between the two girls and clear Anne's name of the suspicion resting upon it. The two classes, formerly at sword's points, became friendly, and buried the hatchet, although Miriam Nesbit, still bitterly jealous of Grace's popularity, planned a revenge upon Grace that nearly resulted in making her miss playing on her team during the deciding game. Grace's encounter with an escaped lunatic, David Nesbit's trial flight in his aeroplane, were incidents that also held the undivided attention of the reader.
In "Grace Harlowe's Junior Year at High School" the four chums appeared as members of the famous sorority, the "Phi Sigma Tau," organized by Grace for the purpose of helping needy High School girls.
In that volume Eleanor Savelli, the self-willed, temperamental daughter of an Italian violin virtuoso, furnished much of the interest of the book. The efforts of Grace and her chums to create in this girl a healthy, wholesome enjoyment for High School life, and her repudiation of their friendship, and subsequent attempts to revenge herself for fancied slights and insults, served to make the story absorbing.
The walking expedition through Upton Wood, the rescue of Mabel Allison, an orphan, by the Phi Sigma Tau, from the tender mercies of a cruel and ignorant woman with whom she lived, proved interesting reading.
The class play in which Eleanor plotted to oust Anne Pierson, the star, from the production and obtain the leading part for herself, the discovery of the plot at the eleventh hour by Grace, enabling her to balk Eleanor's scheme, were among the incidents that aroused anew the admiration of the reader for capable, wide-awake Grace Harlowe.
The seven young people on the platform looked unusually solemn, and a brief silence followed Grace's wistful question. Saying good-bye threatened to be a harder task than any of them had imagined it to be. Even Hippy, usually ready of speech, wore a look of concern decidedly out of place on his fat, good-humored face.
"Do say something funny, Hippy!" exclaimed Nora in desperation. "This silence is awful. In another minute we'll all be weeping. Can't you offer something cheerful?"
Hippy fixed a reflective eye upon Nora for an instant, then recited in a husky voice:
"Remember well, and bear in mind, That fat young men are hard to find."
There was a shout of laughter went up at this and things began to take a brighter turn.
"Now will you be good, Nora?" teased David.
"Humph!" sniffed Nora. "I knew his sadness was only skin deep."
"After all," said Anne Pierson, "why should we look at the gloomy side. You are all coming home for Thanksgiving and the time will slip by before we realize it. It's our duty to send you boys away in good spirits, instead of making you feel blue and melancholy."
"Anne always thinks about her duty," laughed Jessica, "but she's right, nevertheless. Let's all be as cheerful as possible."
"I hear the train coming," cried Grace, always on the alert. "Do write to us, won't you, boys! Please don't forget to send us some pictures of the college."
"Yes, don't let that new Eastman of yours go to waste, Reddy," said Nora.
"I will make Hippy pose the minute we strike the college campus," laughed Reddy, "and you shall have the first results, providing they are not too terrifying."
"I want pictures of the college, not the inmates," retorted Nora.
"Inmates!" cried Hippy. "One would think she was speaking of a lunatic asylum or a jail. I forgive you, Nora, but it was a cruel thrust. Here comes the train. Get busy, you fellows, and make your fond farewells to your families, who will no doubt be tickled pink to get rid of you for a while."
With that he made a rush to where his father and brother stood. David turned to his mother and sister Miriam, kissing them affectionately, while Reddy grasped his father's hand with silent affection in his eyes.
The last good-byes were reserved for the four chums, who felt lumps rise in their throats in spite of their recently avowed declaration to be cheerful.
Nora shoved a white box tied up with blue ribbon into Hippy's hand just as he was about to board the train.
"It's walnut fudge," she said. "But it isn't all for you. Be generous, and let David and Reddy have some, too."
"Good-bye. Good-bye. Don't forget us," chorused the chums as the train pulled out, while the young men waved farewell from the open windows.
"I hope I won't be called upon to say good-bye to any more of my friends for a blue moon!" exclaimed Grace. "I hate good-byes. When it comes my turn to go to college I believe I shall slip away quietly without saying a word to a soul except mother."
"You know you couldn't leave your little playmates in such a heartless manner," said Jessica. "We'd visit you in nightmares the whole of your freshman year if you even attempted such a thing."
"Oh, well, if you are going to use threats I expect I shall have to forego my vanishing act," said Grace, with a smile.
The four girls had walked the length of the platform and were about to turn in at the entrance leading to the street when Grace suddenly clutched Anne, pointing, and crying out, "Oh, look! look!"
Three pairs of eyes were turned instantly in the direction of her finger, just in time to see a dark blue touring car crash against a tree at the foot of the hilly street leading down to the station.
Its two occupants, the chauffeur and a woman who sat in the tonneau, were thrown out with considerable force and lay motionless at one side of the street.
In a twinkling the four girls had reached the woman's side. Grace knelt beside her, then sat down on the pavement, raising the stranger's head until it rested in her lap. The woman lay white and still, although on placing a hand to her heart Grace found that it was beating faintly. Calling for water, she dashed it in the woman's face, without any noticeable results.
By this time a crowd had collected and several men were busy with the chauffeur, who was conscious, but moaned as though in pain.
"Do go for a doctor, please," Grace cried to her chums. "I am afraid this woman is badly hurt."
"Here's Dr. Gale now," exclaimed Anne as the old doctor came hurrying across the street.
"Hello, what's the matter here?" he called. "It's a good thing I happened to be driving by."
"Oh, Dr. Gale, do look at this poor woman. She must have struck her head, for she lies as though she were dead."
Kneeling beside the stranger, the doctor busied himself with her, and after a little time the woman opened her eyes and gazed vaguely about, then again relapsed into unconsciousness.
"Whom does she resemble?" thought Grace. "Her face has a familiar look, though I am sure I have never before seen her."
"Stand back and give her air," ordered the doctor, and the circling crowd fell back a little.
"Grace, look out for her while I order the ambulance and see to this man."
The doctor bustled over to the injured chauffeur, and began his examination.
"Broken arm," he said briefly. "Send them both to the hospital."
The ambulance proved large enough to hold both victims of the accident and the attendant took them in charge, and signaled the driver, who headed for the city hospital, leaving the crowd to examine the big car.
"It's pretty badly damaged," said one man. "It must have hit that tree with a terrific crash. Skidded, I suppose."
"Come on, girls," said Anne. "There is no use in staying here any longer. We've had excitement enough for one day."
"I should say so," shuddered Jessica. "I hope that woman doesn't die. We must go to the hospital to-morrow and inquire for her."
"Of course," responded Anne. "What a sweet face she had, and her eyes were such a beautiful brown, but they haunted me. There is something so familiar about them."
"Why, that's just what I thought, too!" cried Grace. "Who is it she resembles?"
"Give it up," said Nora. "Although I noticed it, too."
Jessica alone made no remark. Her face wore a puzzled frown, as though she were searching her memory for something.
"Oh, well, what's the use of worrying over a resemblance," said Nora. "I wonder what days visitors are allowed at the hospital."
"By the way, Jessica," said Anne, "where is Mabel! She usually waits for you."
"Mabel is—" began Jessica. Then she stopped, her eyes filling with wonder, almost alarm. "Girls," she cried, her voice rising to an excited scream. "I know who that woman resembles! She looks like Mabel Allison."
WHAT THE DAY BROUGHT FORTH
For a second the three girls fairly gasped at Jessica's discovery. Grace was the first to speak.
"You have hit the nail on the head, Jessica. That's why her face seemed so familiar. The resemblance is striking."
The four girls glanced from one to another, the same thought in mind. Perhaps the mystery of Mabel Allison's parentage was to be solved at last.
Those who have read "Grace Harlowe's Junior Year at High School" will recall how the Phi Sigma Tau became interested in Mabel Allison, a young girl taken from an orphanage by Miss Brant, a woman devoid of either gentleness or sympathy, who treated her young charge with great cruelty.
It will be remembered that through the efforts of Grace and Jessica, aided by Jessica's father, Miss Brant was forced to give Mabel up, and she became a member of the Bright household, and the especial protegee of the Phi Sigma Tau.
Grace and her friends had always believed Mabel to be a child of good family. She had been picked up in the streets of New York when a baby, and taken to the police station, where she had been held for some time, but on remaining unclaimed, had been sent to an orphanage outside New York City, where she had spent her life until she had been brought to Oakdale by Miss Brant.
Although Mabel had been in the Bright household but a few months, Jessica, who was motherless, had become deeply attached to her, while Jessica's father was equally fond of the young girl.
She had spent her vacation with the Phi Sigma Tau, who were the guests of Judge Putnam, a prominent Oakdale citizen, and his sister at their camp in the Adirondacks. The judge had conceived a great affection for her, and on hearing her story had offered to adopt her.
This proved a cross to Jessica, who was torn between her desire to keep Mabel with her, and the feeling that the opportunity was too great for Mabel to refuse. Mabel had left the decision to Jessica, and the judge was still awaiting his answer.
"I might have known something would happen to take her away," almost wailed Jessica. "First, the judge, and now—"
"Don't be a goose, Jessica," said Nora stoutly, "and don't jump at the conclusion that this strange woman is a relative of Mabel's. There are lots of chance resemblances."
"Of course there are," consoled Grace. "When we go to the hospital to-morrow we'll find no doubt that our stranger is named 'Smith' or 'Brown' or anything except 'Allison.'"
"Don't worry, dear," said Anne, slipping her hand into Jessica's. "No one will take your one chicken from you."
"I don't know about that," responded Jessica gloomily. "I feel in my bones that something terrible is going to happen. I suppose you girls think me foolish about Mabel, but I've no mother or sister, and you know yourselves what a dear Mabel is."
"Forget it," advised Nora wisely. "We've had enough to harrow our young feelings to-day. Let's go and drown our sorrows in sundaes. I'll treat until my money gives out, and then the rest of you can take up the good work."
"Who will go to the hospital with me to-morrow!" asked Grace when they were seated around a table at Stillman's.
"Let me see. To-morrow is Sunday," said Jessica. "I'm afraid I can't go. Papa is going to take Mabel and me for a drive."
"I'll go with, you," volunteered Nora.
"And I," said Anne.
"Good girls," commended Grace. "Meet me here at three o'clock. I am fairly sure that visitors are allowed on Sunday, but if I am mistaken we can at least go to the office and inquire for our stranger."
The three girls met in front of Stillman's at exactly three o'clock the following afternoon, and set out for the hospital.
"Visitors are allowed on Sunday from three until five," remarked Grace as they strolled down Main Street. "I telephoned last night to the hospital. Our stranger is not seriously hurt. She is badly shaken up, and awfully nervous. If she feels more calm to-day we may be allowed to see her."
"What is her name?" asked Anne.
Grace looked blank, then exclaimed: "Why, girls, how stupid of me! I forgot to ask. I was so interested in hearing about her condition that I never thought of that."
"Well, our curiosity will soon be satisfied in that respect," said Nora, "for here we are at the hospital."
"We should like to see the woman who was thrown from the automobile yesterday afternoon," said Grace to the matron. "Is she able to receive visitors?"
"Oh, yes," replied the matron. "She is sitting in a wheeled chair on the second-story veranda. Miss Elton," she called to a nurse who had just entered, "take these young women up to the veranda, they wish to see the patient who has 47."
"What is her—" began Grace. But at that moment a nurse hurried in with a communication for the matron. Grace waited a moment, bent on repeating her question, but the nurse said rather impatiently, "This way, please," and the opportunity was lost.
The three girls began to feel a trifle diffident as they approached the stranger who was seated in a wheeled chair in a corner of the veranda.
"Visitors to see you, madam," said the nurse curtly, halting before the patient. "Be careful not to over-exert yourself," and was gone.
The woman in the chair turned quickly at the nurse's words, her eyes resting upon the three girls.
Grace felt a queer little shiver creep up and down her spine. The resemblance between the stranger and Mabel Allison was even more remarkable to-day.
"How do you do, my dears," said the woman with a sweet smile, extending her hand in turn to the three girls. "Under the circumstances I am sure you will pardon me for not rising."
Her voice was clear and well modulated.
"Please don't think of it," cried Grace. "We saw the accident yesterday. We were afraid you were seriously injured, and we couldn't resist coming to see you. I am Grace Harlowe, and these are my friends Nora O'Malley and Anne Pierson."
"I am very pleased to know you," responded the stranger. "It is so sweet to know that you thought of me."
"Miss Harlowe was the first to reach you, after your accident," said Anne, knowing that Grace herself would avoid mentioning it. "She held your head in her lap until the doctor came."
"Then I am deeply indebted to you," returned the patient, again taking Grace's hand in hers, "and I hope to know you better. I dearly love young girls."
She motioned them to a broad settee near her chair.
"There!" she exclaimed. "Now I can look at all of you at the same time. I am far more able to appreciate you to-day than I was at this time yesterday. It was all so dreadful," she shuddered slightly, then continued.
"I have never before been in an accident. I had been spending a week with some friends of mine who have a place a few miles from here called 'Hawk's Nest.' Perhaps you know of it?"
The three girls exchanged glances. "Hawk's Nest" was one of the finest estates in that part of the state, and the Gibsons who owned it had unlimited wealth.
"I was summoned to New York on business and had barely time to make my train. Mrs. Gibson's chauffeur had been running the car at a high rate of speed, and just as we reached the little incline above the station, the machine skidded, and we crashed into that tree. I felt a frightful jar that seemed to loosen every bone in my body, and remembered nothing further until I came back to earth again, here in the hospital."
"You opened your eyes, once, before the ambulance came," said Grace.
"Did I!" smiled the stranger. "I do not remember it. But, really, I am very rude! I have not told you my name."
"It's coming," thought Grace, unconsciously bracing herself. Nora and Anne had also straightened up, their eyes fastened on the speaker.
"My name is Allison," said the woman, wholly unaware of the bombshell she had exploded. "I am a widow and quite alone in the world. My husband died a number of years ago."
"I knew it, I knew it," muttered Grace.
"What did you say, my dear?" asked Mrs. Allison.
But Grace was silent. The woman was too nervous as yet to hear the news. Perhaps after all the name was a mere coincidence.
Anne, understanding Grace's silence, hurriedly took up the conversation.
"Are you familiar with this part of the country?" she asked.
"I have not been here for a number of years," replied Mrs. Allison, "although my friends, the Gibsons, have sent me repeated invitations. Mrs. Gibson and I went through Vassar together."
"We expect to go to college next year," said Grace. "We are seniors in Oakdale High School."
"The years a young girl spends in college are usually the happiest of her whole life," said Mrs. Allison, with a sigh. "Everything is rose colored. She forms high ideals that help to sweeten life for her long after her college career is over. The friendships she forms are usually worth while, too. Mrs. Gibson and I have kept track of one another even since graduation. We have shared our joys and sorrows, and in my darkest hours her loyal friendship and ready sympathy have been a heaven-sent blessing to me."
"We three girls are sworn friends," said Grace, "and we have another chum, too. She was very sorry that she could not come to-day. She will be glad to know that you are so much better. Her name is Jessica Bright. She was with us at the station yesterday."
"I should like to meet her," said Mrs. Allison, "and I thank her for her interest in me. I really feel as though I had known you three girls for a long time. I wish you would tell me more of yourselves and your school life."
"There isn't much to tell," laughed Grace. "The life of a school-girl is not crowded with many stirring events."
"You have no idea of how much has happened to Grace, Mrs. Allison, since we began High School," interposed Nora. "She never will talk about the splendid things she has done for other people. She is the president of her class, the captain of the senior basketball team, too, and the most popular girl in Oakdale High School."
"I refuse to plead guilty to the last statement!" exclaimed Grace. "Believe me, Mrs. Allison, there are a dozen girls in High School who are far more popular than I."
"There is only one Grace Harlowe," said Anne, with conviction.
"It is a case of two against one, Miss Grace," laughed Mrs. Allison. "I insist upon hearing about some of your good works."
"It's really time for us to go, girls," said Grace, laughing a little. She rose and held out her hand to the older woman.
"You are very cruel," smiled Mrs. Allison. "You arouse my curiosity and then refuse to satisfy it. But you cannot escape so easily. You must come to see me again before I leave here. I shall not try to return to the Gibsons before Wednesday. I expect Mr. Gibson here to-morrow and he will attend to my New York business for me. If I had accepted his offer in the first place, I might have spared myself this accident. However, I am glad, now. It has brought me charming friends. For I feel that we shall become friends," she added, stretching out both hands. "When will you come again?"
"On Tuesday afternoon after school," replied Grace promptly. "And we will bring Miss Bright, too, unless she and Mabel have some other engagement."
There was purpose in Grace's last remark. She wished to see if the name "Mabel" made any impression upon her listener, and therefore kept her eyes fixed upon Mrs. Allison.
As Grace carelessly mentioned the name she saw an expression of pain flit across Mrs. Allison's fine face.
"I shall be glad to see Miss Bright," she said quietly. "Is the 'Mabel' you speak of her sister?"
"No," replied Grace hastily, "she is a girl friend. May we bring her with us?"
"Do so by all means," rejoined Mrs. Allison. "She bears the name I love best in all the world." An expression of deep sadness crept into her face as she uttered these words, and she looked past her callers with unseeing eyes. "Good-bye, Mrs. Allison," said Grace, and the older woman roused herself with a start.
"Good-bye, my dears," she responded. "Be sure to come to me on Tuesday."
"We'll be here," chorused the three girls. "Take good care of yourself."
Not a word was spoken until they reached the street.
"Well!" exclaimed Grace. "What do you think of the whole thing?"
"I think there are several people due to get a shock," said Nora emphatically.
"I am sorry for Jessica," said Anne. "It will be very hard for her to give Mabel up."
"Then you think—" said Grace, looking at Anne.
"I am reasonably sure," replied Anne quietly, "from what I have heard and seen to-day that Mabel is no longer motherless."
WHAT HAPPENED IN ROOM FORTY-SEVEN
As the last period of study drew to an end on Tuesday afternoon, the hearts of the four girl chums beat a trifle faster than usual. What if after all their conjectures were to prove erroneous, and Mabel Allison was not the long-lost daughter of the woman in the hospital? All they had to go by was the remarkable resemblance between the two, and the slight emotion displayed by Mrs. Allison at the mention of Mabel's name.
When Grace had repeated the details of their call at the hospital to Jessica, the latter had turned very white, but had said bravely, "I expected it. We will go with you on Tuesday. Shall I prepare Mabel for it?"
"No," Grace had replied. "We may find ourselves mistaken, and think what a cruel disappointment it would be to Mabel. I don't mean by that Jessica, that Mabel is anxious to leave you, but you know perfectly well that the desire of Mabel's life is that she may some day find her parents."
In almost utter silence the four chums, accompanied by Mabel Allison, crossed the campus and turned into High School Street at the close of the afternoon session on Tuesday. Each girl seemed busy with her own thoughts.
"What has come over you girls?" inquired Mabel curiously. "When four of the liveliest girls in school become mum as the proverbial oyster, surely something is going to happen."
"'Coming events cast their shadows before'" said Anne half dreamily.
"Well, I wish they'd stop casting shadows over my little playmates then," laughed Mabel.
At this remark Grace made an effort to appear unconcerned.
"Are you going to play on the junior basketball team this year, Mabel?" she asked, by way of changing the subject.
"I don't know," replied Mabel. "I feel as though I ought to study every minute I am in High School, in order to be more thoroughly capable of earning my own living. I don't expect to be forever dependent upon my friends."
"Dependent, indeed," sniffed Jessica. "You know perfectly well, you bad child, that papa and I have been the gainers since you came to us, and now—" she stopped just in time.
"'And now,' what?" asked Mabel.
"Here we are at the hospital," broke in Nora without giving Jessica time to answer.
The little party waited what seemed to them an interminable length of time; although it was in reality not more than five minutes before the attendant returned with the news that they might see the patient in 47.
Grace had purposely voiced their request in so low a tone that Mabel had not heard her mention the patient's name, and she accompanied the four girls without the faintest idea of what their call might mean to her.
"Now for it," breathed Grace, as they paused at the door of 47.
"Come in," said a sweet voice, in answer to the attendant's knock, and the five girls were ushered into Mrs. Allison's presence.
"How are my young friends, to-day!" she cried gayly, rising from the easy chair in which she was sitting and coming forward with out-stretched hands.
"Very well, indeed," replied Grace, Anne and Nora in a breath as they shook hands.
"Mrs. Allison," said Grace hurriedly, "these are my friends, Miss Jessica Bright and Miss Mabel Allison."
The woman who was in the act of acknowledging the introduction to Jessica started violently when Grace pronounced Mabel's name, dropped Jessica's hand and began to tremble as she caught sight of Mabel, who stood behind Jessica, an expression of amazement in her brown eyes, that the patient's name should be the same as her own.
"Who—who—" gasped the woman, pointing at Mabel, then overcome sank into her chair, covering her face with her hands.
Grace sprang to her side in an instant, kneeling beside her chair.
"Mrs. Allison," she cried impulsively. "Forgive me. I should not have startled you so. I did not really know, although I felt sure that—"
But Mrs. Allison had uncovered her face and was looking eagerly at Mabel, who stood the picture of mystification.
"Who is that young girl who bears the name of my baby, and where did she come from?" asked the patient hoarsely.
"Speak to her," whispered Jessica, pushing Mabel forward.
"I am Mabel Isabel Allison—" began Mabel, but before she could proceed further the woman had risen, and clasping the girl in her arms, began smoothing her hair and kissing her, laughing and crying hysterically. "You are my baby girl that I lost long ago, my own little Mabel. I know it. I know it."
"Mrs. Allison," said Grace firmly, placing her arm around the sobbing woman, who seemed to have entirely lost control of her emotions, "try and be calm. There is so much to tell. Will you listen to me? And you must sit down, you were not strong enough for this. We should have waited."
Mrs. Allison partially released Mabel from her embrace, though she still held her hand, and allowed Grace to gently push her back toward her chair.
"I don't quite understand you, my dear," she said brokenly. "But I am sure that I have found my own dear little child."
"And I am sure of it, too," replied Grace. "In fact, we have suspected it since the day we first saw you at the station. We noticed the marked resemblance between you and Mabel, and when you told us your name was Allison we all felt that you might be Mabel's mother. Do you feel strong enough to hear our story and to tell us yours?"
"Tell me quickly," exclaimed Mrs. Allison eagerly, recovering in a measure from her violent agitation. "I must know the truth. It seems incredible that I should find my lost baby girl alive and in good hands. I am surely dreaming. It cannot be true. Yet she has the same sweet, serious expression in her brown eyes that she had in babyhood. Even her middle name, Isabel, that her father insisted upon giving her because it is mine!"
Anne, dreading another outbreak, gently interposed. "Try and be calm, Mrs. Allison, while we tell you about Mabel."
Then Anne began with the winning of the freshman prize by Mabel at the close of her freshman year, and the interest she had aroused in the girl chums, and followed with the story of her adoption by the Phi Sigma Tau.
Mrs. Allison listened in rapt attention until Anne had finished. "God is good," she murmured. "A higher power surely willed that Mabel should find true and worthy friends."
Then she began questioning Mabel about her life in the orphanage. Did Mabel have any recollection of the day she was brought there? Had Mary Stevens, the attendant, ever described the clothing that she had worn when found?
"I have the baby pins I wore with me. Jessica asked me to wear them to-day," replied Mabel, who looked like a person just awakened from a deep sleep. She had not yet reached a full comprehension of what it all meant.
"Let me see them," cried Mrs. Allison.
Mabel mechanically detached one of the little gold pins from her collar and handed it to Mrs. Allison, who examined it closely for a moment, then dropping it with a little cry, again clasped Mabel in her arms.
"They are the pins I had specially made and engraved for you," she said. "There is no longer any doubt. You are my lost child."
At these words a light of complete understanding seemed to dawn upon Mabel, and with a cry of rapture she wound her arms about her mother's neck.
It was a joyful, though rather a trying moment for the four chums, who were seized with a hysterical desire to laugh and cry in the same breath. Grace made a slight motion toward the door, which her friends were not slow to comprehend. It was her intention to slip quietly away and leave the mother and daughter alone with their new-found happiness.
Before she could put her plan into execution, however, Mrs. Allison divined her intention and turning quickly toward her, said, "Don't go, Grace. I feel as though you girls belonged to me, too. Besides, you have not heard my part of this story yet."
"Perhaps you are hardly strong enough to tell us after so much excitement," deprecated Grace.
"My dear, I feel as though I had just begun to live," answered Mrs. Allison. "The past has been one long dreary blank. If you only knew the years of agony I have passed through. When you hear my story you will understand why this reunion is little short of miraculous.
"My home is in Denver. Mabel was born there," continued Mrs. Allison. "Fourteen years ago this summer my husband and I decided to spend the summer in Europe, taking with us our baby daughter, Mabel, and her nurse.
"On the morning that we were to sail, circumstances arose that made it necessary for my husband and myself to be in New York until almost sailing time. He therefore sent the nurse, a French woman, who was thoroughly familiar with the city, on ahead to the vessel, with Mabel in her care. We had barely time to catch the boat and were met by the nurse, who said that she had left Mabel asleep in one of the state rooms engaged for us. It was not until we had put out to sea that we discovered that Mabel was missing, and a thorough search of the ship was at once made. The nurse persisted in her statement that Mabel went aboard with her. Every nook and cranny of the ship was overhauled, but my child could not be found, and the supposition was that she had in some way fallen overboard.
"I was distracted with grief, and nearly lost my reason, and when we reached the other side I passed into a long illness. It was many weeks before I returned to consciousness of my affairs, and the terrible realization that my baby was gone forever. I felt as though I could not face the future without her. I had scarcely recovered from the first shock attending my great loss, when my husband contracted typhoid fever and died after an illness of five weeks.
"We were in Florence, Italy, at the time and I prayed that I might die, too. It was during those dark hours that Mrs. Gibson proved her friendship for me. She sailed for Italy the instant she received the cablegram announcing my husband's death, and brought me back to America with her. I spent a year with her in her New York home, before returning to Denver. Since then I have never been east until this summer.
"Four months ago I received a letter from the nurse who had charge of Mabel on the day of her disappearance. It was a great surprise to me, as she had left us directly after we landed with the intention of returning to France. But the news the letter contained was a far greater surprise, for she stated that Mabel had never gone aboard the vessel.
"The nurse had had some personal business to attend to before going aboard, and in order to save time had taken Mabel with her. In some inexplicable manner Mabel had strayed from her side. She had made frantic search for the child and finally, not daring to go to us with the truth, had conceived the idea of making us believe that she had taken Mabel aboard the ship. She had bribed the purser, a Frenchman whom she knew, to corroborate her story, and had succeeded in her treacherous design.
"She wrote that she had longed over and over again to confess the truth, but had not dared to do so. She had heart trouble, she said, and her days were numbered. Therefore she felt that she must confess the truth before it became too late.
"You can imagine," said Mrs. Allison, "the effect this letter had upon me. For fourteen years I had mourned my child as dead. It seemed infinitely worse to hear that she had not died then, but was perhaps alive, and in what circumstances?
"The day I received the letter I took the train for the east, wiring the Gibsons to meet me, and aided by them engaged the best detective service upon the case. There was little or nothing to furnish us with a clue, for the nurse's lying statement had misled us; we were out at sea before we knew positively that Mabel had disappeared, and my long illness in Europe, followed by my husband's death kept me from instituting a thorough search of New York City.
"I was bound for New York in answer to a summons from the men engaged on the case, when this accident occurred. Mr. Gibson had offered to make the journey for me, but I felt that I alone must hear the first news—and to think that through that blessed accident I stumbled upon my little girl." She ceased speaking and with streaming eyes again clasped Mabel in a fond embrace.
The chums found their own eyes wet, during this recital, but of the four, Jessica appeared to be the most deeply moved. Mabel had meant more to her than to the others, and she found herself facing the severest trial that had so far entered her young life. She drew a deep breath, then went bravely over to Mrs. Allison, saying with quivering lips:
"It is very, very hard to give Mabel up. She is the child of our sorority, but she belongs most of all to me. She is the dearest girl imaginable, and neither hardship nor poverty have marred her. She is sweet, unselfish and wholesome, and always will be. I am glad, glad, glad that her dream has at last been realized, and I should be the most selfish girl in the world if I didn't rejoice at her good fortune."
She smiled through her tears at Mabel, who rushed over to her and exclaimed:
"Jessica, dearest, you know perfectly well how much I do and always shall love you, and Grace and Anne and Nora, too."
The four girls lingered a few moments, then said good-bye to Mrs. Allison and Mabel, who was to remain for the present with her mother. She kissed her friends tenderly, promising to see them the next day.
"I'll be in school to-morrow unless mother needs me here," she said with such a world of fond pride in her voice that the girls who had so willingly befriended her felt that their loss was a matter of small consequence when compared with the glorious fact that Mabel had come into her own.
GRACE TURNS IN THE FIRE ALARM
"I wonder what sort of excitement we shall have next?" remarked Grace Harlowe to her three friends one afternoon as they gathered in the senior locker-room, before leaving school.
Three weeks had elapsed since Mabel Allison and her mother had met in Room 47 of the hospital, and many events had transpired in that short space of time.
The girl chums had been entertained at "Hawk's Nest" by Mrs. Gibson, and were in consequence the most important persons in the Girls' High School. They had found Mrs. Gibson charming, and had been invited to repeat their visit at an early date. Mabel's story had circulated throughout Oakdale, and she and her friends were the topic of the hour.
The one cloud on their horizon had been the fact of the inevitable separation. They had begged and entreated Mrs. Allison to take up her residence in Oakdale for the balance of Mabel's junior year, but on account of home matters she had been unable to comply with their wishes. So Mabel had departed for Denver with her mother, while the chums had kissed her and cried over her and had extracted a laughing promise from Mrs. Allison to bring her to Oakdale during commencement week to witness the graduation of the Phi Sigma Tau.
"It seems as though we have done nothing but say good-bye to people ever since school began," said Anne Pierson with a little sigh.
"I know it," exclaimed Nora. "First our boys, then Mabel, and—"
"And now all we can do is to wonder who will fade away and disappear next," finished Grace. "Promise me that none of you will run away from Oakdale, or elope, or do anything that can be classed under the head of vanishing."
"Oh, I think we're all rooted to the spot for this year," said Jessica, "but what about next? Nora and I will be in a conservatory, Grace will be in college and Anne—where will you be, Anne?"
"Goodness knows," replied Anne. "I'd like to try for a scholarship, but how on earth would I support myself even if I were fortunate enough to win?"
"Don't worry about that," said Grace quickly. "That is for that all-wise body, the Phi Sigma Tau, to consider. We will be your ways and means committee, Anna."
"Oh, I couldn't think of weighing you girls down with my cares," replied Anne soberly. "I must work out my own salvation."
By this time they had turned out of High School Street and were moving in the direction of Grace's home, where the majority of their chats took place, when Nora suddenly exclaimed in a low tone:
"Look, girls, there is Eleanor Savelli!"
"Where? where?" demanded three eager voices, as their owners followed Nora's glance.
"Across the street," replied Nora. "Don't let her know that we are looking at her."
Sure enough, on the opposite side of the street, Eleanor Savelli was to be seen strolling along in company with Edna Wright and Daisy Culver, two seniors who had been her faithful followers since her advent in Oakdale.
"Excitement number one," remarked Nora. "The fair Eleanor comes and our peace of mind departs. I had cherished vain hopes that she wouldn't favor us with the light of her countenance this year, even though she did inform Grace of her laudable desire to stay with the seniors for pure spite."
"Never mind, Nora," said Jessica, "I don't believe she'll worry herself about us, even though she did make dire threats."
"Remember what I told you last year, girls," said Grace in a tone of admonition. "Be careful what you do and say whenever she is near. She despises the Phi Sigma Tau and would revenge herself upon us at the slightest opportunity. She comes of a race who swear vendettas."
"She better not swear any when I am around," retorted Nora with spirit, "or she will find that the Irish are equal to the occasion."
"Don't excite yourself needlessly, Nora," laughed Anne. "That splendid Hibernian energy of yours is worthy of a better cause."
"How provoking!" suddenly exclaimed Grace. "I've left my library book in the gym. and it's a week overdue now. I shall simply have to go back and get it. It's only three o'clock," she added, consulting her watch. "Who will go with me?"
"Of what use is it for all of us to go," complained Nora. "We'll wait right here for you and you can hurry faster by going alone."
"All right, lazy, unsocial creatures," said Grace good-humoredly. "I'm off. Be sure you wait."
She hurried in the direction of the High School and in an incredibly short time was running down the corridor of the wing that led to the gymnasium. Remembering that she had laid her book on the window sill, Grace lost no time in securing it, and taking it under her arm waited toward the door. Suddenly the faint smell of smoke was borne to her nostrils.
She sniffed the air, then murmured, "I wonder what's burning. The smell seems to come from over there. Perhaps I'd better look around. It won't take a second."
She slowly retraced her steps, looking carefully about her. There was no smoke to be seen. She turned to go, then impelled by some mysterious influence, her eye traveled to the door of the small room at the left of the gymnasium.
With a cry of consternation she sped across the floor, flung open the door and staggered back, choked by a perfect volume of smoke that issued from within. The interior of the room was in flames.
To think was to act. Unless help arrived speedily their beloved gymnasium would soon be a thing of the past. Grace tore through the corridor like a wild girl, and darted out the door and across the campus. There was a fire alarm on the street below the High School, and toward this she directed her steps.
Pausing an instant before the box, she looked about her for something with which to break the glass. Spying a small boy strolling toward her, a baseball bat in his hand, she pounced upon him, seized the bat before he knew what had happened and smashed the glass with one blow. Giving the ring inside a vigorous pull, Grace shoved the bat into the hands of the astonished youngster and made for the nearest telephone.
Hurrying into Stillman's, she discovered to her disgust that the telephone was in use, but a moment later she was at the door and again out on the street. Her quick ear had caught the clang of the bell on the fire engines, and the thing to do now was to go back to her chums with the news—and then off to the fire.
"The gymnasium is on fire!" she cried, as she neared the spot where they awaited her. "Hurry, all of you! Perhaps we may be of some help."
Her three friends needed no second invitation and throwing all dignity to the winds, raced down the street in the direction of the burning building. When they reached the High School smoke was issuing from the windows of the gymnasium, and from the roof and chimneys, and situated as it was like a connecting link between the two buildings, it was an easy matter for the flames to spread in either direction.
Even in the short time it had taken Grace to turn in the alarm, the fire had made tremendous headway, and great tongues of flame shot up toward the sky. The roof had caught and was burning rapidly, although the firemen played a constant stream upon it.
As the fire grew hotter, the other companies were called out, and soon the entire Oakdale Fire Department was at work.
Ropes had been stretched around the burning part of the building to keep venturesome citizens outside the fire belt. Grace stood as close as she dared, Nora, Anne and Jessica at her side.
"Oh, do, do save our gymnasium!" she shrieked, as several firemen hurried past her.
"Can't do it, miss," replied one of them. "It's a goner. If we save the school we'll do well, let alone the gymnasium."
Long and strenuously the firemen fought the hungry flames. The wind was in the wrong direction, and helped to fan the blaze. One of the gymnasium walls fell in with a terrific crash, almost carrying with it two firemen who had been playing a stream from the rung of a ladder that leaned against it. There was a cry of horror from the assembled crowd that changed to a sigh of relief when it was discovered that the two men had saved themselves by leaping.
"Oh, if only I were a man," breathed Grace, as she watched the firemen's efforts to gain control of the situation. "I wouldn't stay here a moment. I'd be in the thick of the fight."
"Hold her girls, or she'll dash straight over the ropes," said Nora.
"I'd like to," retorted Grace. "It's dreadful to stand here unable to help and see our dear old gym. go, and perhaps our school, too."
"Well, you turned in the alarm, and that's a whole lot," declared Jessica stoutly. "If you hadn't seen the blaze when you did things might be a good deal worse. As it is, I believe they are getting the fire under control."
"It does look that way," exclaimed Anne. "See, the flames are dying out over on that side. Oh, if it would only rain and help things along."
"I believe it will rain before night. The clouds look heavy and threatening," declared Nora, squinting at the sky.
"The weather prophet has come to town," smiled Anne.
For the next hour the girls stood eagerly watching the gallant work of the firemen. A dense crowd, composed largely of High School boys and girls, packed the campus, while people blocked the streets outside the gates. Intense excitement prevailed, and when it became evident that the main building was safe a mighty cheer went up from the crowd.
"Bless their hearts!" exclaimed Grace. "They are just as fond as we are of Oakdale High School. But, oh, girls, where are we going to play basketball!"
The girls looked at each other in dismay.
"What is life without basketball?" said Nora sadly.
"True enough," said Anne, "but even though the gym. is gone we still have our school. It would be simply terrible to have had it go in our senior year."
"No doubt the gym. will be rebuilt at once," remarked Jessica.
"I am not so sure of that," replied Grace. "My father belongs to the common council, and I heard him tell mother the other day that the High School had been refused an appropriation that they had asked for."
"Oh, well, then, we High School pupils will raise the money ourselves," said Nora lightly.
"That idea is worth looking into," said Grace eagerly. "We might help a great deal."
"Grace has the 'Busy Little Helper' stunt on the brain," jeered Jessica.
"Anything to keep matters moving," laughed Grace. "I'm an advocate of the strenuous life. But seriously, girls, how splendid it would be to feel that we had been instrumental in rebuilding the gymnasium."
"Fine," agreed Nora. "We used to sing a song in kindergarten when I was very young and foolish that started out, 'We are little builders,' although at that time I never expected to really become one."
"Nora," said Grace severely, "you have all Hippy's bad traits and some of your own thrown in."
It was nearing six o'clock before the four friends left the scene of the fire and started for home. Nora's prediction of rain proved true, for just as they made their way across the campus the rain began to come down in torrents, wetting them to the skin, but in no respect dampening their joy over the fact that this shower had come just in time to save their High School from further ravage by the flames.
NORA BECOMES A PRIZE "SUGGESTER"
"The thing to do is to decide just what we want, and then go ahead with it."
Grace Harlowe energetically addressed her remarks to the members of the Phi Sigma Tau, who had taken possession of the Harlowe's comfortable living room.
It was Saturday afternoon, and a special meeting had been called with the object of discussing the best way to get money for the rebuilding of the gymnasium, that the fire had completely destroyed, although the splendid efforts of the firemen had prevented the flames from extending to the main buildings, and the rain had completed their good work.
Grace had allowed no grass to grow under her feet, but had gone to the root of the matter the day following the fire, and found that the school could expect no assistance from the city or the state that year. She had thereupon racked her usually fertile brain for money-making schemes, but so far had settled on nothing, so she had called in her friends, and the Phi Sigma Tau had been in council for the past half hour without having advanced a single prolific idea.
"Think hard, girls," begged Grace. "We simply must do something that will make Oakdale sit up and take notice, and incidentally spend their money."
"We might give a play or a concert," suggested Eva Allen.
"Not original enough to draw the crowd," vetoed Nora O'Malley. "Besides, the sophomore class has already begun to make plans for a play. While the other three classes are making plans we ought to go ahead and astonish the natives. The early stunt catches the cash, you know," concluded Nora slangily.
"Well, what would you suggest as a cash-catching stunt?" asked Anne. "You are generally a prize suggester."
"We might have a bazaar," said Nora after a moment's thought, "with ever so many different booths. We could have a gypsy camp, and tell fortunes, and we could have some Spanish dancers, and, oh, lots of things. We could have it in Assembly Hall and have tents with all these shows going on."
"Oh, splendid!" cried Grace. "And we could get the High School mandolin club for an orchestra. If we hurried we could have it week after next, on Thanksgiving night."
"And we could have a Mystery Auction," interposed Marian Barber eagerly.
"What on earth is a 'Mystery Auction'?" inquired Nora and Jessica in a breath.
"Why we write notes to every one in Oakdale, asking for some kind of contribution, anything from a jar of pickles to hand-painted china. Then all these things are tied up in packages and auctioned off to the highest bidder. There is a whole lot of money in it, for people often try to outbid each other, and the fun of the thing is that no one knows what he or she is bidding on."
"Marian Barber," exclaimed Grace, "that's a positive inspiration! You clever, clever girl!"
"Oh, don't think for a minute that I originated the idea," said Marian hastily. "A cousin of mine wrote me about it last winter. They had a 'Mystery Auction' at a bazaar that was held in the town she lives."
"Well it's a brilliant idea at any rate, and I can see us fairly coining money. Now we must all work with a will and put the affair through in fine style," responded Grace warmly.
"Oh, girls, the boys will be at home in time for it!" exclaimed Jessica in rapture.
"Sure enough," said Nora, "and won't I make Hippy work. He'll lose pounds before his vacation is over. Grace, you must write and ask Tom Gray to come."
Now that the question of the bazaar was settled, the Phi Sigma Tau went to work with a will. The services of the majority of the seniors were enlisted and notes were written to every one in Oakdale who was likely to feel even a faint interest in the movement. Eva Allen's brother, who was an artist, made a number of attractive posters and these were tacked up in public places where they at once attracted attention.
The Oakdale National Guard loaned tents, and public-spirited merchants willingly loaned draperies, flags, banners, and in fact, almost anything they were asked for.
As for donations, they fairly poured in, and the girls watched the growing collection with mingled rapture and despair.
"We'll have to sit up every night this week in order to get all these things wrapped," sighed Grace, on the Monday afternoon before Thanksgiving, as she stood resting after a spirited rehearsal of the dance that she and Miriam Nesbit were to do, and which was to be one of the features of the gypsy camp.
"And the decorating is only about half done, too," she continued. "Thank goodness school closed to-day. We'll just have to live here until Thursday, and work, work, work."
"'Clear the way for progress on the fly,'" sang out a voice behind them, and the group of startled girls turned to face a stout young man who charged into their midst with a hop, skip and a jump.
"Hippy!" shrieked Nora in delight. "And David and Reddy, and yes—Tom, too!"
"'Oh, frabjous day, calloooh, callay,'" cried Hippy shaking hands all around. "It seems ages since I saw you girls. How well you all look, only you're not looking at me. These other good-for-nothing fellows are getting all the attention. Hello, Miriam," he called to Miriam Nesbit, who ran eagerly across the floor to meet the newcomers. "There's a prize package for you, too. It's outside the door shaking the snow off its coat."
Miriam flushed and laughed a little, then hurried over to greet Arnold Evans, who had just entered the hall.
"Oh, boys, you don't know how good it seems to have you all here again," said Grace, after the first greetings had been exchanged, as she beamed on the young men. "You're just in time to go to work, too. We've oodles of things to wrap for the 'Mystery Auction,' and Hippy you must be auctioneer. You can do it to perfection."
"Tell us all about this affair. I received rather indefinite accounts of it in the exceedingly brief letters that I have been favored with of late," said Tom Gray, fixing a reproachful eye upon Grace.
"Please forgive me, Tom," begged Grace, "but really I've been so busy of late that I just had to cut my letters short. Come on around the hall with me, and I'll tell you about all the stunts we've planned. Come on, everybody," she called, turning to the young people grouped about, "and remember, that I expect some original suggestions from you boys."
Around the hall they went, stopping before each tent, while the girls explained its purpose.
"What's this to be?" asked Tom, as he stopped at one corner of the hall that was closely curtained. "May I enter?"
"Mercy, no," gasped Grace, catching him by the arm as he was about to move aside one of the heavy curtains. "That's Eleanor Savelli's own particular corner. None of us know what is behind those curtains. You see, Eleanor hasn't spoken to any of us since last year. When we first talked about having this bazaar we decided to make it a senior class affair. We didn't care to go to Eleanor and ask her to help, because she hasn't been nice to any of the Phi Sigma Tau, but we asked Miss Tebbs and Miss Kane, two of the teachers who are helping with this, to ask Eleanor to do something. You know she plays so well, both on the violin and piano, then, too, the greater part of her life has been spent abroad, so she surely must have lots of good ideas.
"When first Miss Tebbs asked her she refused to have anything to do with it. Then she suddenly changed her mind and has been working like a beaver ever since. Miss Tebbs says her booth is beautiful."
"If I'm not mistaken here she comes now," said Tom suddenly. "I never saw her but once before, yet hers is a face not easily forgotten."
"Yes, it is she," replied Grace. "Let us walk on."
Eleanor Savelli, gowned in a tailored suit of blue and looking particularly beautiful, walked haughtily by and disappeared behind the heavy green curtain.
"She is certainly a stunning girl!" was Tom's low-voiced exclamation, "but, oh, what a look she gave you, Grace!"
"Did she?" replied Grace, with an amused smile. "That doesn't worry me. She has repeated that performance so often that I have grown used to it."
"Look out for her just the same," advised Tom.
"Where do we jollificate, to-night?" asked Hippy, as Grace and Tom joined them again.
"Right here," said Nora with decision. "No fudge, no hot chocolate, no cakes, nothing except work until this bazaar is over, then we'll have a spread that will give you indigestion for a week. Do you solemnly promise to be good and not tease for things to eat, but be a ready and willing little toiler?"
"I do," said Hippy, holding up his right hand. "Do you assure me that the spread you just mentioned is no myth?"
"I do," said Nora, "also that the indigestion, shall be equally realistic."
"Lead me to it," said Hippy. "I swear in this hour that—"
But Hippy never finished his speech, for Eleanor Savelli suddenly darted into the group with flashing eyes and set lips.
"How dared you meddle with my booth during my absence!" she cried, looking from one to the other of the astonished young people. "And what have you done with my things!"
There was a brief silence. Then Nora O'Malley spoke very coolly.
"Really, Miss Savelli, we haven't the remotest idea of what you are speaking."
"You know perfectly well of what I am speaking," retorted Eleanor. "I might have expected as much, however."
"I repeat," said Nora firmly, "that we do not know what you mean, and I am not used to having my word questioned. You will have to explain yourself if you expect to get a definite reply."
"Very well," replied Eleanor, with a toss of her head. "Last night I spent a great deal of time in arranging the booth over which I have been asked to preside. On coming here to-day I find that everything has been rearranged, completely spoiling the effect I had obtained. You and your friends are the only ones who have been here this afternoon. It looks like a clear case of spite on your part."
During Eleanor's angry outburst the boys looked decidedly uncomfortable, then by common consent moved away a little. This was a matter that the girls alone could settle.
Then Miriam Nesbit stepped forward with all the dignity that she could summon to her aid.
"Miss Savelli," she said quietly, "it is absolutely childish and ridiculous for you to make the assertions you have. No one of us has the slightest curiosity as to either you or your arrangements. This is not the first time that you have publicly accused us of meddling. Now I want you to understand once and for all that this must cease. You should not jump at conclusions and then vent your rage upon innocent bystanders.
"This much I will say as a matter of information, that we were not the only ones here this afternoon, as several of your particular friends spent some time in your booth, and I should advise that you call them to account and let us alone. Come on, girls," she said, turning to Grace and her friends, "we mustn't waste any more time."
With this Miriam turned her back squarely upon Eleanor, and without giving her time to reply, walked to the other end of the hall.
The girls were not slow in joining her, and in a moment Eleanor was left alone in the middle of the hall, with the unpleasant realization that for once she had overshot the mark.
THE THANKSGIVING BAZAAR
The bazaar was at its height. No one would have guessed that staid old Assembly Hall could lend itself to such levity.
At one end a band of gypsies had pitched their tents in true Romany fashion. There were dark-eyed gypsy maids in gaudy clothing, who gayly jingled their tambourines and wheedled good-natured sightseers into their main tent with extravagant stories of the wonderful Romany dancing girls whose unequaled dancing might be seen for the small sum of ten cents. While aged gypsies crouched here and there croaking mysteriously of their power to reveal the future, and promising health, wealth and happiness to those who crossed their out-stretched palms with silver.
In front of one of the tents several gypsy boys sat grouped in picturesque attitudes, industriously twanging guitars and mandolins. The whole encampment was lighted by flaring torches on the ends of long poles, and was the final touch needed to give the true gypsy effect.
The rest of the space in the hall had been given up to booths. There was, of course, a Japanese booth, while across from it several Mexican seniors and senoritas were doing an enterprising novelty and post-card business under the red, white and green flag of Mexico.
There was a cunning little English tea shop, where one could refresh one's self with tea, cakes and jam, not to mention the booth devoted to good old Ireland, presided over by Nora O'Malley who, dressed as an Irish colleen, sang the "Wearing of the Green" and "The Harp That Once Thro' Tara's Hall," with true Irish fervor, while she disposed of boxes of home-made candy tied with green ribbon that people bought for the pleasure of hearing her sing.
Next to the gypsy encampment, however, the feature of the evening was the booth entrusted to Eleanor Savelli. It was a veritable corner in Italy, and it may be said to Eleanor's credit that she had worked untiringly to carry out her idea. She had furnished the peasant costumes for herself and three of her friends, and knew exactly how they were to be worn, and had spared no expense in the matter of fruit and flowers which were to be sold at a good profit. There were little bags of home-made confetti that were sure to be popular and various other attractive features truly Italian that Eleanor had spent much time and trouble in procuring and arranging.
There had been a heated altercation, however, between Eleanor and Edna Wright on the day after Eleanor had astonished Grace and her friends by her fiery outburst, Edna having admitted that she had been responsible for the changes that had aroused Eleanor's ire.
A quarrel had ensued, in which Edna, having been worsted, had retired from the field in tears, refusing to have anything further to do with Eleanor or her booth. At this juncture Miss Tebbs had appeared on the scene, and peace was restored, although Edna was still taciturn and sulky, and displayed little interest in what went on around her.
From the moment the doors were opened the citizens of Oakdale looked inside, feeling particularly good-natured after their Thanksgiving dinners, and prepared to spend their money.
"It's perfectly wonderful what these children have managed to do on nothing whatever," Miss Thompson was saying, as she and Mrs. Nesbit, in the guise of sightseers, were strolling down the middle of the hall.
"It looks to me like a scene from an opera," replied Mrs. Nesbit.
"Yes, we are all very prosperous and clean comic opera gypsies, Mrs. Nesbit," said Hippy Wingate, who had come up just in time to hear Mrs. Nesbit's remark.
"Why, Hippy Wingate, I never should have recognized you. You look like the big smuggler in 'Carmen.' I have forgotten his name."
"I am a smuggler, Mrs. Nesbit," put in Hippy mysteriously. "But don't give me away. It's not lace goods I've brought over the border, nor bales of silk and such things. Isn't that what gypsies are supposed usually to smuggle?"
"I believe it is," answered Mrs. Nesbit. "At least they always appear in plays and pictures seated at the foot of a high, rocky cliff in some lonely spot, with bales and casks and strange looking bundles about. No one would be heartless enough to ask what was inside the bundles, but I have always had a strong suspicion that it was excelsior."
"What have you been smuggling, Hippy?" asked Miss Thompson. "I wonder you managed to get it past that line of watchful gipsy girls."
"I won't give it away," replied Hippy. "It's a surprise. You'll see, and I wager it will be the talk of the place before the evening is over."
"Is it animal, vegetable or mineral, Hippy?" demanded Mrs. Nesbit.
"Animal," replied Hippy. "Very much animal."
"Now, what in the world," the two women exclaimed, their curiosity piqued.
"Hippy, I wish you would come on and get to work," called Grace over her shoulder, as she hurried past, and Hippy darted after her, remembering that he had not done a thing that evening to assist the girls.
"How fine Grace Harlowe does look, Mrs. Nesbit," remarked Miss Thompson, "and how I shall miss her when she leaves the High School! The time goes too quickly to suit me, when all these nice girls leave us for college."
Miss Thompson still cherished a deep regard for Grace, although, since the circumstance of Grace's refusal to betray Eleanor, narrated in "Grace Harlowe's Junior Year at High School," the two had never returned to quite the same footing as formerly.
Grace was, indeed, the picture of a beautiful gipsy girl who in romance turns out not to be a gipsy at all, but a princess stolen in her youth. She wore a skirt of red trimmed in black and yellow, a full white blouse and a little black velvet bolero. Around her waist she had tied a gayly colored sash, while on her head was a gipsy headdress bordered with gold fringe.
"Hippy," commanded Grace, "will you please take this gong and announce that the auction is about to begin!"
"Certainly, certainly," answered Hippy. "Anything to oblige the ladies."
He mounted a chair and beat on the Japanese gong.
"This way, ladies and gentlemen. Come right this way! The 'Mystery Auction' will now commence. It is a sale of surprises. You never know what you are going to draw, but it's sure to be something nice. Everybody step this way, please. These interesting and mysterious packages are to be sold each to the highest bidder. But no man knoweth what he draweth. It is the way of life, ladies, but that's where the fun comes in, and it's sportsmanlike to take your chances, gentlemen."
By this time Hippy had drawn a crowd of curious people about the booth devoted to that purpose, in which were piled dozens of packages of various shapes and sizes, all done up in white tissue paper and tied with red ribbons.
Hippy picked up the first bundle.
"Is there anyone here who will make a bid on this interesting package?" he cried. "It may contain treasure. Who knows? It may contain fruits from the tropics, or the spices of Araby, or—"
"I'll bid ten cents," called a voice.
"Ten cents!" exclaimed Hippy in mock horror. "I ask you, dear friend, can our gymnasium be builded upon ten cents? Is there no one here who is thinking of our late, lamented gymnasium? Have we already forgotten that dear, departed hall of youthful pleasures, cut down in the flower of its youth so tragically?"
Hippy's voice rang out like an old-time orator's, and some one bid twenty-five cents. But the bidding ended there, and Farmer Benson got the package, which on being opened, was found to contain a beautiful little lacquer box. This was a lucky beginning. If the packages all held such treasures they were well worth bidding on. Then the fun grew fast and furious. Everybody began bidding, and a pound of sugar actually went for five dollars, to old Mr. McDonald, who had obstinately refused to give up to his opponent, Mr. Barber, in the bidding contest. Mr. Harlowe paid heavily for a cook book, while David Nesbit, for fifty cents, drew a splendid big fruit cake.
"It is so fortunate that that fruit cake fell into the hands of one of my friends," remarked Hippy, as David was about to walk off, his prize under his arm. "I adore fruit cake."
"That's no sign that you will ever get a chance at this one," replied David calmly.
"I shall, I know I shall," retorted Hippy, "You wouldn't betray my young confidence and dispel my fond hopes by eating it all yourself. You deserve an awful case of indigestion if you do."
"Children, children, stop squabbling," laughed Anne who, looking like a very demure little gypsy, had slipped up unnoticed. "Don't worry, Hippy, I'll see that you are remembered when the famous cake is cut."
"I feel relieved," said Hippy, giving her one of his Cheshire Cat grins. "I propose that you leave your treasure with this gypsy maid, David, for the time is flying and we have a great and glorious surprise to spring."
"See you later, Anne," said David, looking at his watch. Then taking Hippy by the arm the two young men hurried out of the hall, leaving Anne to wonder what the surprise might be.
Turning slowly she was making her way toward the gypsy camp when a voice called, "O Anne, wait a minute," and Marian Barber fluttered up accompanied by a tall, dark young man.
"Miss Pierson, allow me to present Mr. Hammond," she said.
The young man bowed rather too elaborately Anne thought, and a wave of dislike swept over her as she rather coldly acknowledged the introduction.
"Mr. Hammond has just come to Oakdale," Marian said eagerly. "He knows very few people as yet."
"Ah, yes," said Mr. Hammond, with a smile that was intended to be fascinating. "I am, indeed, a stranger. Miss Barber has kindly volunteered to introduce me to some of her charming friends, therefore I trust that in time they will be mine also."
Anne murmured some polite reply, and excusing herself walked away. "Horrid thing," she thought. "How cruel he looks when he smiles. I wonder where Marian met him. She seems to be delighted with him."
"Where have you been, Anne?" asked Grace, as Anne entered the tent where she and Miriam sat resting preparatory to beginning their dance, when enough people should gather outside to form a paying audience.
"Talking to Marian Barber and a young man who is trailing about with her."
"Did she introduce that man to you?" exclaimed Grace.
"Yes," replied Anne. "Did you meet him?"
"I did," was the answer. "Isn't he horrid?"
"That is precisely what I said," replied Anne. "There is something about his suave, silky manner that gives me the creeps."
"I hope Marian isn't seriously impressed with him," said Grace. "For there is something positively sinister about him."
Just then Hippy's voice was heard again above the crowd, and the three girls hurried to the opening in the tent.
A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
"Ladies and gentlemen," cried Hippy. "We have a noble animal for sale here. He is tame and gentle. A lady could ride him without fear. He sees equally well out of both eyes and is neither lame nor spavined. If you will just stand back a little we will let you see his paces."
The crowd drew back on either side of the lane between the rows of tents and booths and from somewhere in the back there was heard a great pawing and trampling, with cries of "Whoa, there! Whoa, there, Lightning!"
Then down the aisle there dashed the most absurd comic animal that had ever been seen in Oakdale. A dilapidated old horse, with crooked legs and sunken sides through which its ribs protruded. He had widely distended nostrils and his mouth drawn back over huge teeth. One ear lay flat, while the other stood up straight and wiggled, and his glazed eyes stared wildly. On his wobbly back sat David, dressed like a jockey and flourishing a whip.
"Gentlemen," went on Hippy, "you here behold an animal of splendid parts. He is pasture-fed and as gentle as a lamb, never kicks—"
The strange animal here kicked out one of his hind legs so wildly that David was obliged to hold on with both arms to keep from falling off.
"He has a happy, sunny nature, ladies. Is there any one present who would like to try his gait? Ten cents a ride."
The horse crossed his front legs and sat down on his haunches with an air of patient endurance. There were roars of laughter and no one enjoyed the fun more than Miss Thompson.
"I declare, Hippy, I should like to have a ride on the back of that animal!" she exclaimed, producing ten cents.
David leaped to the ground and gallantly assisted the principal to mount, while Hippy whispered something into the ear of the horse.
The animal trotted gently up to one end of the room and back, depositing Miss Thompson safely on her feet.
Miriam Nesbit then took a trial ride and no bucking bronco ever exhibited such traits of character as did that battered-looking quadruped. Miriam was obliged to jump down amid the cheers of the company. Many people rode that night, and rides went up to twenty-five and even fifty cents, until finally the poor, tired animal lay flat on the floor in an attitude of complete exhaustion. Then Hippy undid several hooks and eyes along the imaginary line which divided Lightning in half, and there came forth, very warm and fatigued, Tom Gray and Reddy Brooks.
On the whole the bazaar was proving an unqualified success. People entered into the spirit of the thing and spent their money without a murmur.
Eleanor's confetti proved a drawing card, and young people and old wandered about, bestowing handfuls of it upon their friends whenever a good opportunity presented itself.
Long before the fair was over Grace and Anne retired to one end of the gypsy encampment to begin counting the proceeds of their labors. The girls in charge of the various booths turned in their money almost as rapidly as they made it, and by the time the crowd had begun to thin the girls had arrived at a tolerably correct estimate of what the bazaar had netted them.
"Is it possible that I have counted correctly, Anne!" exclaimed Grace to her friend, who was helping to sort small silver into various piles.
"I don't know," said Anne, "it looks like a lot of money. How much does it all come to?"
"Roughly speaking, nearly five hundred dollars. Just think of that."
"Splendid!" cried Anne, clasping her hands joyfully. "But what shall we put it in?"
"I shall put it in this iron box of father's. You see, it has a combination lock and he loaned it to me to-night just for this purpose. As soon as the rest of the money is in I'll lock it and he will take charge of it. Will you go and find him?"
Anne departed and Grace began to deposit the money in the box, smiling to herself at the success of their undertaking.
The few remaining people who were now taking leave of each other had concentrated in one spot. There was a loud buzz of conversation and laughter, when suddenly, without a moment's warning, the electric lights went out. The gasoline torches had burned down by now and the place was in utter darkness.
Somewhere in the hall there was a cry, the sound of scuffling and then absolute silence.
Many of the men began to strike matches and peer into the darkness, and at last David groped his way over to a corner of the hall where he remembered he had seen the switch. As he felt for the electric button his hand encountered another hand, that grasped his with an iron grip, gave his wrist a vicious twist, pushed him violently away and was gone. David gave an involuntary cry of pain as he felt for the switch again. In another moment he had found it and the hall was again flooded with light. Instantly he looked about for the vicious person who had twisted his wrist, but he was alone in that part of the hall.
The excitements of that evening, however, were not yet at an end. People began running toward the last booth. There were cries and exclamations, and David, who had followed quickly after them, arrived there just in time to meet Mr. Harlowe carrying the limp figure of his daughter Grace in his arms. He deposited her on four chairs placed in a row, a bottle of smelling salts was put to her nose, while Hippy and Reddy ran for water.
Grace opened her eyes almost immediately and sat up.
"I'm not hurt," she said. "I was only stunned. Some one hit me on the head from behind, but my cap softened the blow. They were trying to get the box of money. Oh, is it gone?" she cried anxiously.
David and Tom examined the booth.
The money was gone.
MARIAN ASSERTS HER INDEPENDENCE
There was not the slightest clue to the thief who had stolen the iron box containing a little over five hundred dollars, for which the girls had worked so hard, but the loss was made good by Judge Putnam who, though on the bench at the state capital at the time the robbery occurred, had promptly sent Grace his check for the amount when Grace wrote him an account of it. For which generous act he became the idol of Oakdale High School.
"As for the thief," observed Mr. Harlowe, several mornings later at the breakfast table, after Grace had opened the letter and joyfully exhibited the check to her mother and father; "he'll have some trouble opening that box. It was the strongest box I have ever seen of the kind, made of iron reinforced with steel bands, with a combination lock that would baffle even your friend, Richards, Grace, who appeared to be a pretty sharp crook."
"How will the thief get at the money, then, father?" asked Grace.
"I can't imagine," answered Mr. Harlowe. "If he tries to blow up the box he runs the chance of blowing up all the money at the same time, and I don't believe there is an instrument made that would pry it open. He can't melt it and he can't knock a hole in it. Therefore, I don't just see what he can do, unless he finds some way to work the combination."
"It would be the irony of fate if the thief couldn't spend the money after all his trouble," observed Mrs. Harlowe.
"I hope he never, never can," cried Grace. "I hope he'll bruise all his knuckles and break all his finger nails trying to open the box, and still not make the slightest impression!"
"He certainly will if he tries to open the box with his finger nails and knuckles," replied her father, as he bestowed two kisses upon his wife and daughter, respectively, and departed to his business.
"Who is to be custodian of the fund, Grace? Are you to have charge of it?" asked Mrs. Harlowe.
"No, mother; Marian Barber was formally elected class treasurer last year. She likes to keep books and add up accounts and all those things. So I shall just turn the check over to her to put in the bank until we give our next entertainment. Then, when we have about a thousand dollars, we'll give it all to Miss Thompson as our contribution toward rebuilding the gymnasium. I hear that the juniors are going to give a dance, but I don't think they will make any large amount like this, because they will have to pay for music and refreshments."
Grace could not help feeling proud of the success of the bazaar now that the judge's check had arrived, although at first she had demurred about accepting it. However, as the judge absolutely refused to take it back, it was therefore duly presented to Marian Barber, who, with a feeling of extreme importance at handling so much money in her own name, deposited it in the Upton Bank, and was the recipient, for the first time in her life, of a small, neat-looking check book. Later she showed it with great glee to the Phi Sigma Tau, who were drinking hot chocolate in the Harlowe's sitting room, the day after school began.
"I feel just like a millionaire," she exclaimed, "even though the money isn't mine. I'd just like to write one check to see how my name would look signed at the bottom here."
"It does seem like a lot of money," observed Anne thoughtfully, "but I'm afraid the check book won't be of much use to you, Marian, as you will probably draw it all out in a lump when the time comes to hand it over to Miss Thompson."
"Oh, I don't know," answered Marian, "we may have to give a few checks for expenses and things, the next entertainment we get up, and then I'll have an opportunity."
The girls laughed good-naturedly at Marian's evident eagerness to draw a check.
"We'll certainly have to incur some kind of expense for the express purpose of allowing Marian to draw a check," said Nora. "By the way, Grace, which booth made the most money, outside the auction, of course?"
"Eleanor Savelli's," replied Grace promptly. "They made most of it on confetti, too, although they sold quantities of flowers. They turned in seventy-five dollars."
"Eleanor certainly did work," observed Anne. "One feels as though one could forgive her all her sins after the success she made of her booth. It is a shame that so much ability and cleverness is choked and crowded out by wilfulness and temper."
"Did you hear about the quarrel that she and Edna Wright had, after she attacked us?" asked Eva Allen.
"Yes," answered Grace. "I understand, too, that it has completely broken up their sorority. They carried their part of the bazaar through together and then Eleanor told Edna that she was practically done with her."
"You don't mean it! I hadn't heard that! Who told you so?" were the exclamations that followed this information.
"Daisy Culver told Ruth Deane, and Ruth told me," said Grace. "Ruth says that Edna feels dreadfully over it. She was really fond of Eleanor."
"Now I suppose that Miss Eleanor Vendetta de Savelli will be more impossible than ever," giggled Nora.
"Perhaps not," said Anne quietly. "I think it a very good thing that Edna and Eleanor have separated, for Eleanor Savelli is a far better girl at heart than Edna Wright. Eleanor is better off without her."
"I believe you are right, Anne," said Grace with conviction. "Although Eleanor's reformation is not for us. We've had experience."
"'Never too late to mend,'" quoted Jessica.
"True," retorted Nora, "but for my part I think the Phi Sigma Tau have done their share toward the mending process."
"Marian Barber!" exclaimed Grace. "Where in the world did you unearth that man you introduced us to, at the bazaar?"
"Yes, I should say so," echoed Nora. "I didn't like him one bit."
A flush overspread Marian Barber's plain face. She frowned, then said very stiffly:
"Really, girls, I can't see why any one should dislike Mr. Hammond. I think he is a remarkably nice young man. Father and mother like him, too. He has called to see me twice since the bazaar, and I am going to the theatre with him to-morrow night. I like him very much better than any of these silly Oakdale schoolboys," she added a trifle maliciously.
The girls listened, thunderstruck. Was this good-natured, easy going Marian Barber who had spoken? To their knowledge Marian had never before received attentions from even "silly schoolboys." She was well liked among girls, but had always fought shy of young men.
"Forgive me, Marian," cried Nora impulsively. "I didn't dream that you were interested in Mr. Hammond."
"I am not half as much interested in him as he is interested in me," retorted Marian, bridling. "He prefers me to any Oakdale girl he has met."
The girls exchanged astonished glances at Marian's complacent statement.
"Where did you first meet him, Marian?" asked Anne gently.
"At the bazaar," replied Marian promptly.
"Who introduced him to you?" asked Grace curiously.
Marian hesitated a moment, then burst forth defiantly. "I suppose you girls will think it perfectly dreadful when I tell you that he introduced himself. He came up and asked me to tell him about some of the features of the bazaar. I did, then he went away, and after a while he came back and talked to me a long time. He is in the real estate business, and is going to have an office here in Oakdale. He was very much interested in the things I said to him, and when I told him about our Phi Sigma Tau he asked to be introduced to you girls. I never supposed you'd take such a dislike to him. I think he is perfectly splendid," she added with emphasis.
"Well, I don't agree with you," said hot-headed Nora. "And I don't think you should have noticed him, beyond being merely civil, without an introduction. Do you, Grace?"