BY ELIZABETH M. DUFFIELD
AUTHOR OF "LUCILE ON THE HEIGHTS," "LUCILE, BRINGER OF JOY," "LUCILE, THE TORCH BEARER"
WHITMAN PUBLISHING CO. RACINE, WISCONSIN
Copyright, 1916 By SULLY & KLEINTEICH
All Rights Reserved
Printed and Published By Western Printing & Lithographing Company Racine, Wisconsin
Printed in U. S. A.
CHAPTER PAGE I. "GREETINGS, FELLOW-TRAVELERS" 7 II. ECHOES OF THE CAMP-FIRE 12 III. A LATTER-DAY MIRACLE 19 IV. COUNTING THE HOURS 25 V. AS THOUGH ON WINGS 31 VI. "OH, FIRE, LONG YEARS AGO——" 35 VII. THE MAGIC CITY 42 VIII. ENTER JACK 50 IX. HURRAH, FOR EUROPE! 59 X. WHIRLED THROUGH THE NIGHT 65 XI. "ALL ASHORE WHO ARE GOING ASHORE!" 72 XII. MONSIEUR CHARLOIX 79 XIII. ROMANCE 86 XIV. A VAIN QUEST 93 XV. "LAND, HO!" 102 XVI. THE RED-LETTER DAY 111 XVII. THE GLORY OF THE PAST 119 XVIII. GREAT EXPECTATIONS 125 XIX. THE BREATH OF THE WAR GOD 132 XX. CROSSING THE CHANNEL 141 XXI. THE OLD CHATEAU 146 XXII. THE HEART OF THE MYSTERY 152 XXIII. LUCILE TRIUMPHS 161 XXIV. "TWO'S COMPANY" 167 XXV. THE THUNDERBOLT 175 XXVI. THROUGH SHROUDING MISTS 183 XXVII. HOME 186
[Transcriber's Note: Table of Contents was not present in the original publication.]
The great news was out! Two girls regarded their companion in open-mouthed astonishment.
"Europe!" cried Jessie. "Lucy, will you please say that all over again and say it slowly," she begged leaning forward tensely.
Lucile's eyes danced as she repeated slowly and with great emphasis, "I said just this—Dad is going to Europe and he intends to take me with him."
The girls were incredulous.
"But, wh-when are you going?" stammered Evelyn, dazedly.
"In three weeks at the outside, maybe sooner," Lucile answered, then added, with feigned reproach, "you don't, either of you, seem a bit glad."
"Oh, we are, we are," they protested, and Evelyn added, "It just took our breath away, that's all."
"Lucile, it's the finest thing that ever happened to you," said Jessie, impulsively throwing her arms about her friend.
The latter returned the embrace with equal fervor, but her eyes were retrospective as she answered, "Oh, it's wonderful, of course, and I haven't even begun to get used to it yet, but I don't think it's any greater than——"
"Oh, I know what you mean," Evelyn broke in. "You mean Mayaro River and Aloea and ranks and things like that——"
"Exactly," laughed Lucile, her face flushing with the memory, "and honors and guardians and races and——"
"Oh, stop her, someone, quick," begged Jessie gayly. "If you don't she'll keep it up all day," then more gravely, "It was wonderful and none of us will ever forget it—but, Lucy, do, oh, do tell us more about Europe before I die of curiosity!"
"Oh, yes, please go on," urged Evelyn; "we want to hear all about how it happened, and just when you're going to start and how long you expect to stay and——"
"Slow up a little," begged Lucile, in dismay. "I'll tell you everything in time, but I must have time!"
"Come out, time, you're wanted," cried Evelyn, pushing aside the bushes as though in search of the runaway.
"I suppose you think you're funny," sniffed Jessie, disdainfully. "But I feel obliged to tell you as a friend——"
"Cease!" commanded Lucile, sternly. "If you don't stop at once and listen respectfully and attentively to what I have to say, I'll——"
"Well, what will you do," Evelyn challenged, with an heroic air of braving the worst. "Tell us, now—what will you do?"
Lucile paused to consider for a moment, then announced, gravely, "There is only one punishment great enough for such a crime——"
"And that——" they breathed.
"That," repeated Lucile, sternly, "would be to remove the light of my presence——"
"Oh if that's all you needn't mind about us," said Jessie, evidently relieved.
"Go on, Lucy," urged Evelyn, virtuously. "I won't interrupt again."
"Better get started before she repents," advised Jessie.
"Sound advice," Lucile agreed, ironically, though her eyes snapped with fun. "I don't see why two people can't get along without throwing hatchets at each other's heads all the time. But never mind that," she added, hastily, seeing signs of more "hatchets."
"All I have to say is, it isn't my fault," murmured Jessie.
"The only way to treat the lower classes is to ignore them absolutely," Evelyn retorted, turning her back on Jessie. "Now, Lucy, what were you saying?"
"I was trying to say something about my trip——" she began.
"Oh, yes, how long are you going to stay?"
"Oh, you lucky, lucky girl," cried Jessie. "You do certainly have the most wonderful luck. Not but what you deserve every bit of it and more," she added, warmly.
"There's just one thing in the world on which we both agree," laughed Evelyn, "and that's it!"
They looked with fond and justified pride upon the laughing recipient of their praise. From anybody's point of view, Lucile was good to look upon. Mischief sparkled in her eyes and bubbled over from lips always curved in a merry smile. "Just to look at Lucile is enough to chase away the blues," Jessie had once declared in a loving eulogy on her friend. "But when you need sympathy, there is no one quicker to give it than Lucy." From her mass of wind-blown curls to the tips of her neat little tennis shoes she was the spirit incarnate of the sport-loving, fun-seeking summer girl.
Then there was their summer at camp the year before, when Lucile had led them undauntedly and as a matter of course through experiences and dangers that would have dazed the other girls.
And then had come the crowning glory, the climax of their wonderful summer—the race! They felt again the straining of that moment when, with half a length to make up and scant twenty yards from the goal, she had led them in the glorious, madcap dash to victory! From that day on she had reigned supreme in the girls' warm hearts, and there was not one of them but felt "that nothing was too good for her."
"Let's be thankful for small blessings," laughed Lucile, referring to Evelyn's last remark. "By the way, girls, have you heard about Margaret?"
"No; what is it?" They were all eager interest at once.
"Why, Judge Stillman called a consultation yesterday and the doctors pronounced Margaret absolutely cured!"
"Hurrah!" cried Jessie, springing up from the rock she had been using as a seat. "We knew she was better, but—oh, say, isn't it great?"
"Rather; but that isn't all," said Lucile. "The Judge insists that we have done it all—and the camp-fire, too, of course."
"Oh, nonsense," Evelyn exclaimed. "It was the woods and the air and the water that did it. That was all she needed."
"Humph, speak for yourself," Jessie interposed. "I admit she could have done without you very well; I could myself, but——"
"Do I hear a gentle murmur as of buzz-saws buzzing?" quoth Evelyn, dreamy eyes fixed on space. "Methinks it grows more rasping of late——"
"For goodness sake, girls, stop it," begged Lucile, despairingly. "If you are going to be like this all summer, how on earth can I take you with me? I don't want to live in a hive of hornets."
"Take us with you?" they cried, bewildered. "What do you mean?" and Jessie added, tragically, "Tell me quickly or I die!"
"Oh, I just thought I might." It was Lucile's turn to regard the heavens fixedly.
"Lucile, I'd like to shake you. You can be the most exasperating thing at times!" cried Jessie excitedly, and Evelyn, with an inelegance that was none the less forceful, "If you have anything up your sleeve, let's have it!"
Lucile's gaze came down to earth abruptly.
"You seem to be in a great hurry," she protested. "You haven't given me time yet, you know."
"Oh, we'll hunt him up for you some other time," Evelyn wheedled, and Jessie added, sagely, "We're only losing him this way, you know;" then added, in desperation, "If you don't explain right away, you'll have a corpse on your hands, Lucy."
"Why, there's nothing to explain; you are just going, that's all," said Lucile, as if the matter were definitely settled.
"Lucy, are you fooling? If you are, I'll never, never forgive you." It was Evelyn who spoke, her whole body quivering with excitement.
"No, she's in earnest; can't you see? She means, she means——" and Jessie paused before the fateful word.
It was more than Lucile could stand. She jumped up, danced a few joyous and absurd little steps, then turning, made the girls a low bow.
"Greetings, fellow-travelers," she said.
ECHOES OF THE CAMP-FIRE
"But whatever put it into your head to take us along?" Jessie asked, after the first wild excitement had abated a trifle.
"Well, you see, it was this way," began Lucile, with the air of one imparting a grave secret. "When Dad came home last night, the first thing he did was to begin asking me a lot of foolish questions—or, at least, they seemed so to me. He started something like this: 'If you had your choice, what would you want most in the world——'"
"If he had asked me that, I wouldn't be through yet," Jessie broke in.
"Never mind her, Lucy," said Evelyn. "Go on, please."
"I felt very much that way myself, Jessie," and Lucile nodded understandingly at the ruffled Jessie. "Well," she went on, "I began naming over several things, and when I'd finished Dad looked so sad I thought I must have done something terrible, but when I asked him what was the matter he simply shook his head despairingly and sighed, 'Not there, not there.'"
The girls laughed merrily.
"Oh, I can just see him," chuckled Evelyn.
"Well, what then?" Jessie urged.
"Oh, I didn't know what to do," Lucile continued. "The more I asked him to explain, the more disconsolate he looked. When I couldn't stand it any longer I left the room, saying if he didn't want to tell me, he needn't. Then, when I got outside the door I could hear him chuckling to himself."
"Just like him," again interposed Jessie.
"Well, all the time I knew something was coming. At dinner it came when Dad calmly announced that he was going to Europe on business and that if his family wished—imagine that, wished—he might let us go along."
"Oh, my—wished!" murmured Evelyn.
"You should have seen Phil," Lucile went on with her story. "I never saw anyone so dumbfounded. He stopped with a piece of fish halfway to his mouth and gaped at Dad as if he were some curiosity. I must have looked funny, too, for suddenly Dad began to laugh, and he laughed and he laughed till we thought he'd die."
"'You couldn't look more dumbfounded if I had ordered your execution,' he gasped when he could get his breath. 'Of course, I can always make arrangements for you to stay behind.'"
"Oh," breathed the girls in unison, "what did you say?"
"Say? You had better ask what didn't we say. We talked and talked and talked as fast as our tongues would go till after midnight, and we wouldn't have stopped then if mother hadn't shooed us off to bed. Oh, I don't think I was ever so happy in all my life!"
"But where do we come in?" insisted Jessie.
"Right here. You see, I had been so excited and everything, I hadn't realized what it would mean to leave you girls for the whole summer. I guess Dad saw there was something the matter, for, when I started upstairs, he drew me back and asked me to tell him what was wrong. When I told him I wished you girls were going, too, he surprised me by saying, 'Why not?' For a moment I thought he was joking—he's always doing that, you know—but when I saw he was in sober earnest I could have danced for joy."
"Don't blame you. I'd not only have felt like it; I'd have done it, too," said Evelyn.
"Yes, and scandalized the neighbors," Jessie sniffed.
"I fail to see how the neighbors would have known anything about it," retorted Evelyn, with dignity, "since they can't see through the walls."
"Oh, they don't have to see," said Jessie, witheringly. "Anybody within a mile of you can hear you dance."
"See here, Jessie Sanderson, that's not fair," Lucile broke in. "Evelyn's one of the best little dancers I know, and I won't have her maligned."
"Have her what? I wish you'd speak United States, Lucy," said Jessie, plaintively.
"Don't talk and you won't show your ignorance." It was Evelyn's turn to be scornful.
"Well, what does it mean?" Jessie returned. "You tell us."
"Some other time," said Evelyn, calmly. "You will have to excuse me now. I am so excited now that I really can't bring my mind down to trivial matters."
"I knew it," Jessie was declaiming tragically, when a clear whistle sounded from the foot of the hill and Lucile exclaimed:
"There's Phil; I wonder what he wants now."
The three girls made a pretty picture as they stood there gazing eagerly down the slope, Lucile with her vivid gypsy coloring and fair-haired, blue-eyed Jessie, exactly her opposite, yet, withal, her dearest and most loyal friend; and last, but not least, Evelyn, short and round and polly, with a happy disposition that won her friends wherever she went.
Although it is generally conceded that "three make a crowd," the rule was certainly wide of the mark in this case. The girls were bound by a tie even stronger than friendship, and that tie was the law of the camp-fire. The latter had taught them many brave lessons in the game of life, lessons in self-denial, in sympathy and loyalty, and they were ever anxious to prove that they had learned their lessons well.
Though, once in a while, besetting sins would crop out and Lucile would cry, despairingly, "Oh, why did I do it; I knew I shouldn't," and Jessie would stop, when plunging nobly through a box of candies, to cry penitently, "Oh, I've eaten too many," and Evelyn would often be tempted to read too long and neglect her work, still, on the whole, they were infinitely helped by the wholesome teaching and precepts of the campfire.
"Oh, he's got a letter," cried Lucile, as Phil took a flying leap into their midst.
"Say," said Phil, eyeing them pityingly, "don't you fellows know it's time to eat?"
"It's never dinner-time yet," said Jessie in dismay.
"Yes it is, too," Evelyn contradicted. "Just look where the sun is."
"Where is it?" cried Phil, and then, as his gaze wandered to the sky, he added, with an air of relief, "Oh, it's still there; how you frightened me!"
"Goose!" his sister commented, and then, looking at the envelope he still held in his hand, she added, "Who's the letter from? Be sensible and tell us about it."
"Oh, that?" said Phil. "That's a letter from Jim. Seems to be getting along first rate."
"What does he say?" asked Jessie, all interest.
Phil eyed her speculatively. "I tell you what I'll do," he said. "I'll tell you about it on the way home."
The girls laughed and Lucile explained, "You see, he's never happy far from home and dinner."
"You seemed to get away with a mighty generous supply of oysters yourself the other night," Phil grumbled good-naturedly.
"Well, if I did, I was only obeying the camp-fire law, 'Be healthy,'" Lucile defended warmly.
The girls laughed and Jessie murmured something about, "That's right; keep 'em under."
"What's that?" Phil demanded, but Jessie evaded with another question:
"When are you going to tell us about Jim?"
"Here we are, half the way home, and you haven't even begun," Evelyn added.
"Well, he seems more than satisfied with his engineering, and most of his letter is taken up with praises of Mr. Wescott and his wife and how good they are to him. He says the luck he's had almost makes him believe in fate."
"Well, there certainly did seem to be a fate in the way young Mr. Wescott just happened up to camp in the nick of time to find our guardian and fall in love with her, worse luck," and Lucile vindictively kicked a stone from the path as though it were the meddling Mr. Wescott himself. "And then to think he should like Jim, a poor little country boy, well enough to take him along with him to the city, where he could make something of himself."
"Well, all I have to say is that there's no one I'd rather see get along than Jim. I liked him the first minute I saw him, and he sure does improve on acquaintance—the longer you know him, the more you like him. He deserves everything he gets," and Phil's face glowed with boyish enthusiasm.
"That's the way we all felt," said Lucile with equal earnestness, while Evelyn could not repress a chuckle at the memory of their first meeting with Jim. "Has he anything else to say?"
"Only one thing," answered Phil, mysteriously.
"What is it?" the girls demanded in chorus.
"Hurry up, please, Phil," Jessie pleaded.
"Certainly, anything for you," Phil returned gallantly. "Why, he just states that Mr. and Mrs. Wescott——"
"Miss Howland!" cried Evelyn.
"Miss Howland that was," corrected Phil; "Mrs. Wescott that is."
"What difference does it make?" cried Lucile, impatiently. "What about her—is she sick?"
At the suggestion the girls grew pale.
"Not quite as bad as that," teased Phil, enjoying the sensation his news was making and bent on prolonging it to the last extreme.
"Not quite? Oh, Phil, what do you mean?" cried Jessie, imploringly.
Anxiety and alarm showed so plainly on the girls' white faces that Phil suddenly relented.
"Don't get scared," he continued, elegantly. "Your guardian isn't sick. If she were, I guess she wouldn't be making plans for visiting Burleigh."
"Is that the truth?" Lucile demanded, seizing her brother's arm. "Don't play any more tricks, Phil," she pleaded. "It means an awful lot to us, you know, if Miss—Mrs. Wescott is coming."
"Oh, that's on the level all right," Phil answered with evident sincerity. "She just made up her mind a little while ago and Jim thinks she will probably write to you girls about it."
"Oh, just think, we are really going to see her again after six months," Jessie exclaimed, joyfully.
"And we'll give her a reception she will never forget," Lucile decided.
"All right; I'm with you," Phil shouted, and was off to join a crowd of the fellows on the other side of the street.
"Don't forget we eat soon," Lucile called after him.
"Such a chance," he flung back. "Bet I'll be there before you will."
"He thinks we're going to talk for another couple of hours," Jessie interpreted.
"No, we'd better do our talking to-morrow. Tell you what we'll do—I have—an idea," cried Lucile.
"Bright child, tell us about it," said Evelyn.
"Suppose we call a special camp-fire meeting to-morrow morning to talk over plans for Miss Howland's—I mean Mrs. Wescott's reception."
"Fine—but who will let them know?"
"Come over to-night, both of you, and we can 'phone them from here."
"All right, we'll do that, Lucy," agreed Evelyn. "We'll see you about eight o'clock, then."
"Better run, Lucy," warned Jessie, with a backward glance over her shoulder. "Phil will beat you in if you don't hurry—he's coming full tilt."
"All right, I'll see you to-night," said Lucile, as she made a dash for the house.
She stopped for a moment on the doorstep to flash them a merry glance and cry triumphantly, "I won!"
"But not by much," claimed Phil, taking the steps two at a time.
As they turned away, Jessie sent one parting shot over her shoulder:
"A miss is as good as a mile," she gibed.
A LATTER-DAY MIRACLE
Saturday dawned gloriously. The warm rain that had fallen over night had dissolved the last frail bond of winter and had set the spring world free. Trees and bushes and shrubs were frosted with clinging, glistening diamonds that shimmered and gleamed in the sun, while the moist, warm earth sent up a pungent sweetness found only in the early spring.
"Smell it, just smell it!" said Jessie, sniffling rapturously, as she and Evelyn started on their way to Lucile's.
"Isn't it great?" Evelyn agreed. "That rain was just what we needed."
"It reminds me of last spring——"
"What?" said Jessie, puzzled.
"Why, that this spring should remind you of last."
"Don't get flippant, young lady," said Jessie, severely, "or I shall be obliged to give you a ducking," the river being very convenient just there, as the girls had to walk alongside its shores for some distance before turning into Lucile's avenue.
"Please don't; I had enough of a ducking last year in camp when I fell off the rock. Don't you remember?" said Evelyn, with a rueful smile.
"I should say I do, rather," laughed Jessie. "No one who was there and saw you could ever possibly forget it."
"Oh, I know I always make an impression," said Evelyn, wilfully misunderstanding.
For once Jessie could find no suitable retort. "You hate yourself, don't you?" was all she could say.
"Not so you could notice it," said Evelyn, enjoying her victory. "It seems to me that you were saying something when I——"
"When you so rudely interrupted," said Jessie, sweetly. "I'm not so sure that I will tell you now. It was nothing of any importance."
"Oh, I knew that," said Evelyn quickly—it was certainly her lucky day.
"You win!" cried Jessie, good-naturedly, throwing up her hands in mock despair.
Evelyn laughed merrily. "I'll have to look out after this," she said. "There'll be back-fire, I'm afraid. But, seriously, Jessie, what were you going to say?"
"Oh, only that this wonderful weather reminds me of this time last year when we were just making our plans for camp."
"Yes and even then we hadn't begun to realize how great it was going to be."
"I never knew what real fun was till we got way off there in the woods with the river before us and the woods all about us. And the very best thing of all was that we had only ourselves to depend on for everything."
"And we seemed to get along pretty well, too, considering," said Evelyn.
"Of course we did," Jessie agreed, and then added with a laugh, "I think we would be a valuable aid to suffrage. Tell everybody we managed to get along without any man's help."
"Oh, but we didn't," Evelyn objected. "How about Mr. Wescott?"
"It seems to me we could have gotten along very well without any of his help," retorted Jessie, vindictively.
"Perhaps we could, but—our guardian would tell a different story," said Evelyn, meaningly.
As she spoke the door of Lucile's house opened violently and Lucile herself came flying to meet them. She was dressed all in white and she seemed to the girls the very spirit of spring.
"Oh, girls, I'm so glad you came early," she cried, joyfully. "I was hoping you would, so we could talk things over by ourselves before the others came." She threw an arm about each of the girls and ran them up on the porch.
"We are the first, then?" said Jessie, perching on the railing.
"I told Jessie you would think we had come to breakfast," remarked Evelyn, flinging her hat carelessly into a chair.
"That's the way to do it," said Lucile, sarcastically. "It would serve you right if somebody should sit on it."
"Put it on, Lucy, and let's see how you look in it," Jessie suggested.
Lucile laughingly obliged, and the girls gave an involuntary gasp of delight.
"Oh, you darling," cried Evelyn, hugging Lucile so ecstatically that in her enthusiasm she almost lost her balance and nearly fell to the ground beneath. Lucile clutched her and brought her back to safety.
"A chair is the safest place for you," said her rescuer, laughingly.
"Take off the hat and everything will be all right," said Jessie. "That was what nearly caused your undoing."
"Oh, very well," Lucile agreed. "For such a little thing why quarrel?" and disappeared within the house.
"Remember," said Evelyn, warningly, "remember, that hat is mine, and if you dare to put a slur upon it I'll——"
"Lucy, Lucy," cried Jessie in a frightened voice, "come quick; she is threatening me!"
"All right; wait a minute," came the voice from inside.
"But I can't wait a minute," wailed Jessie; "she may have killed me by that time."
"Well, what——" began Jessie, and Evelyn, glancing at her astonished face, broke into a shout of laughter.
"Oh, Lucy, come and see what you've done," she gasped. "Oh, Jessie, I never saw you look so funny, and that's saying a good deal."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it," said Jessie, icily, though there was a twinkle in her eye. "Not having a mirror, I'm afraid I can't join in the joke."
"No, you are the joke," countered Evelyn.
Jessie's natural sweet temper was fast becoming ruffled by this rapid fire and she had opened her mouth for a sharp retort when Lucile came running out.
"What's the matter?" she cried, gaily, and then, at sight of Jessie's face, she stopped.
"Overdose of hammers," she diagnosed, then wisely changed the subject.
"If we don't hurry up, the girls will be here before we have a chance to say anything at all about Mrs. Wescott."
She perched herself upon the railing beside Jessie and soon they had forgotten all momentary animosity in an animated discussion.
Five minutes later Lucile exclaimed, "Here come Marj., Ruth and Margaret now. I wonder where the rest of them are."
"Welcome to our city," said Jessie. "We have great news for you strangers."
"So we imagined." It was Marjorie Hanlan, a tall, dark, good-looking girl, who answered.
"I couldn't sleep, wondering what you wanted," chimed in Margaret, the little girl who had been lame, but now was just like other girls.
"And we have all been so happy about you, Margaret, since Lucy told us the specialist said you were cured," broke in Evelyn.
"Isn't it great?" said Marjorie. "Margaret was telling us about it on the way up. It seems almost miraculous."
Margaret flushed happily. "Oh, the doctors say there is nothing miraculous about it. They say all I wanted was the exercise and healthy outdoor life. But I know who really did it," she added, putting her arm about Lucile. "It was you girls—yes it was," she insisted, as they started to protest. "You were the first I can remember—except father, of course—who treated me like a human being and not a curiosity. And, oh I'm so grateful and happy," she ended.
Lucile patted the brown head on her shoulder.
"You give us altogether too much credit, Margaret, dear," she said, unsteadily. "It was Miss Howland that thought of it in the first place, and after we knew you we just couldn't help loving you for yourself and wanting to help."
"That's right," cried the girls, heartily.
Margaret glanced around at the sober faces of her friends and, although her eyes were still wet, there was a little hint of raillery in her voice:
"Well, I did think you girls had something to do with it, but since you say you didn't, we'll have to call it a miracle, after all."
The girls laughed a trifle shakily and Evelyn added, "But there's our guardian, you know."
"Oh, yes," said Margaret, and her voice was very tender. "Of course, there's our guardian. I don't know what we'd ever do without her."
"Well, we've had to get along without her for almost six months," Ruth broke in, a trifle pettishly.
"Yes; I wonder if we'll ever see her again," said Marjorie. "We were getting along so splendidly when that Mr. Wescott——"
"Oh, don't be too hard on him," cautioned Lucile. "If we loved her so much, we couldn't blame him for doing the same thing."
"I know, but if he'd only waited two or three years," mourned Marjorie. "He came a good deal too soon, and now I don't suppose we'll ever see her again."
The three conspirators exchanged significant glances and Lucile cried, merrily, "Perhaps you'll change your tune in a little while," and just as the girls were about to demand the meaning of this strange remark, she added, "Here come the rest of them now," and flew down to welcome them.
"What on earth——" began Marjorie, and then stopped as the remaining girls of the camp-fire Aloea, six in all, for they had added two to their number since the spring before, ran up on the porch, all talking at once and making such a noise that her voice was drowned.
It was quite some time before order was restored and Marjorie could again demand an explanation.
"Now that we are all here, Lucy," she said, "suppose you tell us what you meant by that speech of yours."
"What speech?" said Lucile, for she had forgotten it in the excitement of welcoming the new arrivals. "I'll explain anything, but I have to know what it is first."
"Naturally," Marjorie agreed. "Perhaps you will remember that just before the girls came you spoke of our changing our tune, or something to that effect, in regard to Miss Howland."
"Mrs. Wescott, I suppose you mean?" Lucile inquired, blandly, "It seems to me I did say something like that. What would you like to know?"
"What you meant by it," shouted Marjorie, and Margaret added, "Go ahead, give it to us, Lucy. I have an idea that's what you called us here for."
"Smart child," approved Jessie, with an approving pat and nod of the head. "You're coming right along."
Margaret thrilled with a pleasure that was almost pain. "She never would have dared say that to me before," she cried to herself, exultantly. "She would have been too afraid of hurting me. Now I know I'm just like all the rest!"
COUNTING THE HOURS
"You're right, Margaret," Lucile was saying. "I did call you all together just to speak of our guardian."
The girls leaned forward eagerly. "What about her?" they demanded.
"Oh, Lucy, don't keep us waiting," begged Marjorie. "Is she coming to Burleigh?"
"Not so fast," cried Lucile. "Give me half a chance. I haven't heard from our guardian personally, but Phil got a letter from Jim the other day and he said——" Lucile paused dramatically.
"Yes, yes; go on," they demanded, excitedly.
"And she said that Mr. and Mrs. Wescott were going to visit Burleigh very soon."
"Soon," cried Margaret. "That sounds good. Always before it's been something that was going to happen in the dim future."
"Did she say any special time, Lucy?" Ruth broke in, impatiently.
"No, there was nothing definite about it," said Lucile, "but I expect to hear from her almost any minute now."
"There comes the postman—perhaps he will bring you a letter," suggested Evelyn.
"Oh, what's the use of raising our hopes?" admonished Jessie. "There's just about one chance in a thousand that the letter will come when we want it."
"All we can do is wait," said Lucile, philosophically. "In the meantime, suppose we all suggest something that we can do to welcome her—make her feel how truly glad we are to see her. Somebody suggest something."
"For goodness' sake, Lucy," Marjorie exclaimed, "you might better have left me out of this. I'm no good at all when it comes to using any imagination."
"You have probably as much as any of us, and you can't get out of helping that way," said Lucile, decidedly.
"From things she has said, I should give her credit for a good deal of imagination," quoth Jessie, slyly.
"Oh, I'll get even for all those awful things you have said to me and about me, Jessie Sanderson," Marjorie threatened, good-naturedly. "I'd do it now, only I'm too busy trying to think up a plan."
"Good girl; keep it up," commended Lucile, and then, as she caught a murmured "That's just an excuse" from Jessie's direction, she cried, with a scarcely suppressed laugh, "Perhaps you would be doing a little more good in the world, Jessie, if you would follow her example."
"Bravo!" cried Evelyn. "That's one for you, Jessie," and promptly received a withering glance from that young lady, which said as plainly as words, "You just wait; there'll be a day of reckoning, and then——"
"Here comes the postman," cried Margaret. "Shall I take the mail, Lucy?"
"Please," she answered, and a moment later Margaret handed her half a dozen envelopes, while the girls looked on in eager silence.
"Is it there?" cried one of the girls, at last.
"Not yet," said Lucile, but as she turned over the last letter, she uttered a cry of amazement and delight that sent all the girls crowding about her.
"That is her handwriting," exclaimed Evelyn, and then there ensued such a babble of wonder and delight and excited speculation as to its contents that Lucile was finally obliged to shout, "If you will only sit down, girls. I'll see what's inside, and please stop making such an unearthly noise—we'll have the reserves out to quell the riot before we know it."
The girls laughed and distributed themselves about the porch, as many as could possibly get there crowding the rail on either side of Lucile, while they all listened with bated breath to what their guardian had to say.
"To Lucile and all my dear camp-fire girls," read Lucile. "I planned to come to Burleigh long ago, as you all know, and was bitterly disappointed when I was forced at the last minute to change my plans."
"So were we," said Evelyn, and was greeted by a chorus of impatient "sh-sh" as Lucile went on:
"But this time I am as sure as I can ever be of anything that my plans won't fall through. I expect to be in Burleigh by the twenty-fifth."
"Oh, think of it! That's day after to-morrow!" Margaret exclaimed, rapturously.
"That's what it is," Jessie agreed.
"Go on, Lucy; what more has she to say?" demanded another of the girls, and Lucile went on with her reading.
The rest of the letter contained descriptions of her travels and all she had seen, ending up with: "When I see my girls, I will tell you all I have been writing now, and a great deal more, and will expect to hear more fully than they have been able to write me all that has happened to them during the last six months. I am counting the hours till I see you all again. Good-by till then, dear girls. Your own loving guardian."
"That's all," Lucile finished. "Now we know when she's coming."
"Isn't she dear, and didn't the whole thing sound just like her?" cried Jessie.
"Exactly," agreed Evelyn, and then added, "If she is counting the hours till she sees us, I wonder what we'll be doing."
"We'll be making the hours count," said Lucile.
"Good for you, Lucy; that's what I call efficiency," cried Marjorie. "Make time work for us."
"Yes, but how are we going to do it?" said Ruth, distrustfully.
"I'll tell you," Lucile answered. "I thought that we ought to give our guardian a surprise when she comes. She hasn't been here for so long, and we ought to make it something she will remember."
"You've thought of something, Lucy; I can tell that," cried Jessie. "Suppose you let us know about it."
"Go ahead, Lucy—we'll let you think for all the rest of us," Marjorie suggested. "You can do it better, anyway."
"How very kind of you!" mocked Lucile. "I appreciate your generosity immensely."
"Go on; tell us your idea, Lucy," urged Margaret. "Never mind her."
"Well, it was only this, and if any one has anything better to offer, I'm only too glad to hear about it. I thought that you girls could all dress up in your ceremonial costumes. In the meantime, I'll have a fire made in the living-room fireplace and then I'll go to meet her."
"And leave us home?" Evelyn interrupted.
"Exactly," said Lucile, firmly. "As I said before, I'll go to meet her and bring her here. Then I'll take her upstairs to get her things off and tell her you girls will be here right away."
"And we're to be hidden in some other room, I suppose," Marjorie ventured.
"Uh-huh. Then I'll get her down into the living-room and make her comfortable in front of the fire——"
"Let us hope it's a cool day," Margaret interjected.
"We'll hope so," agreed Lucile. "We will have plenty of cool days yet, anyway, before spring sets in in earnest, and maybe the day after to-morrow will be one of them. I'll get her to sit there, even if it is warm."
"What then, Lucile?" asked one of the girls. "I have a feeling that the most interesting part is yet to come."
"It is," said Lucile. "You see, I'll be talking to her so hard that she won't notice what's going on around her much—that is, if you are careful. Then you come in, one by one, on your tip-toes and sit in a semicircle behind her."
"Oh, that will be a lark," cried Evelyn. "And are we to wait till she finds us out?"
"That's what I was going to tell you," said Lucile. "When you all get settled, I'll put my hand up to my hair like this, and then you begin to sing, very softly, 'Oh, fire——'"
"That will be splendid, Lucy; it will seem almost like old times," cried Margaret. "How did you manage to think it all out so beautifully?"
"Oh, it was simple enough," said Lucile. "The only thing is, do you all like it?"
Lucile was very well satisfied with the reception of her plan a moment later. The girls were enthusiastic and overwhelmed her with questions until she was obliged for the second time that morning, to say, "One at a time, please."
When, finally, all the arrangements were complete and satisfactory, one of the girls discovered it was after noon.
"Girls," exclaimed Evelyn, dismayed, "we've used up the whole morning just talking."
"Why, what time is it?" asked Margaret, feeling for her watch.
"It's twelve fifteen," announced Evelyn, impressively.
"Time I was going home," Marjorie declared, jumping up. "Where's my hat?"
"It's inside with Evelyn's," Lucile answered. "If I hadn't taken care of them there would have been nothing left resembling a hat. I'll get them," she added, and ran into the house.
In a moment she returned with a hat in each hand.
"What did you want to wear them for, anyway?" she said, as they started off. "You didn't really need them, and just think of all the work you made me."
"Oh, they just wanted to show them off," laughed Gertrude Church.
"Humph, we know why they pretend to criticize us, don't we Marjorie?" queried Evelyn, with a knowing wink.
"Sure; they're jealous," was the laconic reply, at which all the girls laughed scornfully.
"We'd have to have something better than that to be jealous of," scoffed one.
"Then we'll see you Monday, Lucy," called Jessie, as they started off down the street. "Maybe before," she added.
"I can stand it," laughed Lucile. "Come early Monday, anyway, all of you, and don't forget what I told you."
"We won't," they called; "don't worry!" And, indeed, she had no need for anxiety, for the thought that filled the girls' minds to the exclusion of everything else was:
"Our guardian is coming Monday—oh, why is it so far away?"
AS THOUGH ON WINGS
The eventful day had come at last over a wait that seemed an eternity to the impatient girls. The long school-day was endless and, in spite of all good resolutions, they could not keep their thoughts from wandering to the alluring picture they had conjured up. A picture wherein figured an open-grate fire, Miss Howland—for so they had thought of her even after her marriage—their own dear guardian, turning suddenly to see her camp-fire girls in their old familiar costume waiting to welcome her. How would she look? What would she say? These were the thoughts that persisted in haunting them through the long school-day and refused to be shaken off.
At last it was three o'clock and the girls gathered on the campus, books in hand, eagerly anxious to be off.
"Are we all here?" said Jessie, looking about.
"All but Grace; she'll be here any minute, I guess."
The prophecy proved correct, and soon the whole of camp-fire Aloea, except the one who was to play the most important part, was swinging at a great rate down the road to their meeting-place. Lucile had been excused a few minutes earlier on the plea that she was to meet her guardian. The few minutes' grace would give her time to see that the fire was lighted and attend to the hundred and one minor details that would set things running smoothly.
Rain had been threatening all day, but now the welcome sun burst through the clouds so suddenly that the girls were surprised.
"Say, that came in a hurry, didn't it?" remarked Marjorie. "Oh, I'm so glad."
"Who isn't?" Jessie rejoined. "The rain would have made everything so gloomy, just when we wanted it brightest."
"It seems as if the sun knew Miss Howland was coming and just couldn't help shining," said Margaret, with a face so like the sun itself in its radiant brightness that Marjorie, who was near her, threw her arm about the slight form, saying, lovingly, "Even if the sun hadn't come out, Margaret, I don't think we'd have missed it much with you around."
"Don't you remember what Miss Howland always used to say about there being a great deal more credit in being happy and sunny on a gloomy day than a bright one?" put in Eleanor.
"Yes; but, though I've tried very hard to look cheerful when the rain has spoiled all my chances for a good time, I'm very much afraid I don't often succeed," said Evelyn, with a rueful smile.
"I can't imagine you in the doleful dumps for very long, Evelyn," said Ruth. "I've never seen you anything but happy yet."
"Oh, you don't have to live with her, Ruth," said Jessie. "If you did, and I'm glad for your sake you don't, you would soon change your opinion."
"I'd like to know what you know about it, anyway," Evelyn retorted, gaily. "You've never lived with me—that I know of, at any rate."
"To change the subject," Marjorie broke in, "there's Lucile waving to us to hurry. I guess she has something to tell us before she goes to the station."
They broke into a run and in another minute had surrounded Lucile.
"I'm glad you came just as you did," she was saying. "It seemed as if you would never get here, and I was afraid I would have to go without seeing you."
"We hurried just as fast as we could, Lucy, as you see," said Jessie, panting from the quick run.
"Of course you did, but it seemed an age to me. Listen, girls," she went on, "everything's all ready. Your dresses are laid out on the bed in my room, and you'd better get them on as soon as you possibly can."
"You're going to the station now, Lucy, aren't you?" asked one of the girls.
"Yes, right away. I suppose we'll be back again in about half an hour. Good-by; I'm off!" and she ran down the steps, only to turn at the bottom to add, "Don't forget any of the directions, girls, and don't make the least noise when you come into the room, or it will spoil everything. Good-by; I'm off now for good."
"We'll do everything just right," Jessie promised.
"Good luck!" they called after her as she hurried along.
"She almost seems to be walking on air, doesn't she?" one of them remarked, as she turned for a last wave.
"No wonder," said Evelyn, gloomily. "She's going to our guardian."
"Lucy said they would be back in half an hour," sighed Marjorie. "How can we wait that long?"
"Nobody knows," Jessie answered, cheerily; "but as long as we have to get ready, we might as well begin now. Come on; let's see who'll be dressed first girls——" which precipitated a general stampede for the door.
As Lucile hurried along toward the station it really seemed as though her feet had wings. The thought of meeting her guardian again, of talking to her in the old familiar way of the old familiar things—all this made her say to herself over and over again, "Oh, I don't believe anybody was ever so happy before." She could see in her mind's eye that old bright, cheery smile of her guardian flash out as she said, as she had said so many times before, "Well, how are my girls to-day?"
To-ot! The shrill wail of the locomotive whistle broke rudely through her revery and brought her to a sudden realization that if she didn't bestir herself, Mrs. Wescott would be at the station with no one to meet her.
"Oh," cried Lucile to herself, "and I thought I was hurrying just as fast as I could. Well, I'm in for a race with the train, it seems. I wonder what the girls would say," she chuckled as she ran. "This is almost as good as a canoe race."
Either the train had been farther off than she thought when Lucile heard the whistle or she had run faster than she had ever run in her life; the result was the same—Lucile won!
Just as she breathlessly reached the station, the great locomotive came thundering around the last curve.
"OH, FIRE, LONG YEARS AGO——"
Lucile's heart beat fast as the train came to a standstill and a crowd of people began to pour out.
"Where is she, where is she?" she cried, scanning one after another, speaking to those she knew, while, at the same time, looking past them with such an intent gaze that more than one turned to look back at her and remark with the shake of a head, "There's something up."
Lucile was just about in despair when, at the far end of the platform, she descried her.
With a cry she ran forward and, throwing her arms about her guardian's neck with a little hysterical sob, she exclaimed, "Oh, I thought you weren't coming."
For a moment she was held close while the voice she loved said, gently, "You don't suppose I could stay away when I had made up my mind to come, do you?"
"Oh, no; I knew in my heart you would be here," drawing herself away and looking at her guardian with such happiness written on her face that Mrs. Wescott's bright eyes were dimmed as she said, "It's good to have a welcome like this!!"
"Oh, it isn't anything to what you're going to get," Lucile wanted to say, but she only answered, ruefully, "I'm afraid all Burleigh will be talking about how boisterous Lucile Payton is becoming. Can't you hear?" she added, gaily: "'I declare, that child's terribly rude; she almost knocked me down!'"
"A very good imitation of Miss Peabody, Lucile," laughed Mrs. Wescott. "I wonder how many times I've heard her talk just that way."
Miss Peabody was one of the old maids that authors love to picture—straight, prim, opinionated, with a sharp tongue that wrought discord wherever it went. She dealt in other people's shortcomings, and if Burleigh had not known her too well to give her false tales credence, she might have worked some serious mischief. As it was, everyone took her gossip with a grain of salt, remarking, with a smile and a shrug after she had gone away, "Of course, that may be true, but remember, Angela Peabody said it!"
When Lucile chose, she could mimic anyone from the young Italian at "Correlli's" to pompous Mrs. Belmont Nevill, who owned millions that she didn't know how to use. So now she had brought Miss Peabody before her guardian so vividly that the latter added, in surprise, "That must be a recent accomplishment, Lucy. You never did that at camp."
"At camp I never remembered anybody at Burleigh except Mother and Dad and Phil," said Lucile. "It seemed like a different world."
"A rather nice kind of world it was, too, wasn't it?" said her guardian, with a reminiscent smile.
"Nice?" cried Lucile. "It was glorious! I only wish we could do it all over again. It does seem as if one good thing comes crowding right on the heels of another ever since we decided to form a camp-fire."
"It has meant happiness for all of us," said Mrs. Wescott, with a far-away look that Lucile knew how to interpret.
"I know," she said. "Here we are," she added, a moment later. "Oh, it's good to have you here at last."
For answer, her guardian put her arm about Lucile and ran lightly up the steps, saying, joyfully, "And it's good to be here, Lucy, dear; but where are the girls?"
"Oh, they're coming," Lucile answered, vaguely. "Come on upstairs and get your things off," she added, guiding her guest past the living-room adroitly.
When Lucile ushered her into the great, airy, upstairs sitting-room, she dropped into an easy chair with a sigh of content.
"Oh, Lucy, it is good to be here," she added. Then, for the first time, Lucile had a chance to get "a really good look at her," as she expressed it.
The wind had loosened her guardian's dark hair and it clung in little ringlets about her face. Her eyes, those deep, comprehending, gray eyes, sparkled with delight as she took in the familiar objects about her. The merry dimples that had always fascinated the girls, and others besides, were ever in evidence as she talked and laughed happily.
"I suppose," she went on, as Lucile took her hat and coat. "I suppose you girls had just about made up your minds I was never coming to Burleigh; six months is such a long time; but it seemed as if I could never get started."
"Well, you're here now," said Lucile, gaily, "and that makes the six months seem like nothing at all."
"How are your mother and father and Phil and everybody?" asked Mrs. Wescott, with a comprehensive sweep of her hand. "I want to know all about everybody."
"Oh, they're all right," Lucile assured her, and then added, as an afterthought, "except, of course, Jim Keller's dog, Bull."
"What's happened to Bull?" inquired young Mrs. Wescott, with smiling interest.
Indeed, everyone in Burleigh knew and feared Bull. His ferocity was famous through the countryside, or at least, had been until he had met his downfall a few days before.
"Come downstairs and I'll tell you about it. It is still a little chilly upstairs."
"All right," agreed Mrs. Wescott. "Wait a minute; I must get my handkerchief first."
A moment longer and they were in the spacious living-room, with its big library table and leather-covered chairs, and, best of all, glowing fire in the grate.
Mrs. Wescott looked toward the latter in pleased surprise. "Isn't it snug here?" she said, slipping into one of the chairs before the fire. "A fire always giving the room a cheerful, homey look."
"Oh, I love it!!" said Lucile, impulsively. "Ever since we came back from camp I've been wanting to make a great big camp-fire. This seems such a poor imitation."
"I imagine it's just enough to make you camp-sick," laughed her guardian. "But tell me about Bull. I'm interested."
"Oh, it's been the talk of Burleigh for days," said the girl. "If you will just turn your chair around so you will get a full view of the fire, I'll tell you about it."
Her guest did as she was bid and settled back comfortably to enjoy the story.
"Well," began Lucile, "the other day Bull and his master were walking down Main Street. You know, Jim Keller absolutely refuses to keep Bull tied up and the only wonder is he—the dog, I mean—hasn't been poisoned long ago, he has so many enemies. Well, Bull broke loose from Jim some way and when he tried to find him he had disappeared. Jim went raving around like a wild man, declaring that, 'if the dog wasn't found soon, he'd sure get into some mischief.'"
"He showed rare perception."
"That's what we all thought—at least, you would have judged so by the way everybody called their children in, and any one that had a pet cat or dog went almost crazy till it was out of harm's way. Oh, there was excitement in Burleigh that day!"
"I can imagine," interjected Mrs. Wescott, in huge enjoyment of the picture. "Did Jim find him?"
"Not for over an hour. He ran over half the town, looking everywhere for his Bull. At last a small boy came running and told him the dog was over yonder and he was gettin' a 'turrible lickin'.'"
"Licking?" exclaimed Mrs. Wescott, sitting up straight in her surprise. "Bull?"
"That was the funny part of it," Lucile went on. "Of course, Jim wouldn't believe it was his Bull the boy was talking about, but he went with him just the same.
"When he turned the corner he came upon a spectacle that dazed him. He stood with his eyes and mouth wide open, gazing at Bull—it was his Bull, but oh, disgraced forever! There he was on his back in the dust, with a great collie making flying leaps over him. Each time he jumped those terrible nails ripped a piece of flesh from poor Bull——"
"But I never thought a collie had half a chance against a bull dog," Mrs. Wescott interrupted, incredulously. "And such a dog as Bull, at that!"
"Well, you see, the collie's owner explained all that afterward. He said that Bull couldn't get at his dog's throat because of his unusually long, thick hair—and, as a rule, that's Bull's first move, you know."
"Catch him by the throat and hang on—yes, I know," her guardian supplemented. "Then what did Jim do?"
"He wanted to go to the rescue. I believe he would have tried to pull the collie off with his own hands, but a man held him off, crying, 'Haven't you any sense, man, to try to separate dogs when they're fighting?'
"'Fighting?' roared Jim. 'It isn't a fight—it's slaughter. If he's your mutt, call him off. Don't ye see he's killin' 'im?'
"'He is punishing him pretty badly, I'll admit,' said the stranger, so calmly that Jim nearly exploded.
"'If you don't call that dog o' yourn off,' he yelled, purple with rage, 'by all that's holy, I will, and 'twill be with a shot-gun.'
"The man saw he meant it, so he whistled softly."
"And all this time Bull was being punished?" said Mrs. Wescott.
"Yes; he was simply down and out. He didn't seem to have the power to move a muscle. When his master whistled, the big collie stood still, cocked one ear, and then trotted over, as if what he had done to poor Bull were just in the day's work.
"'You brute!' Jim raged. 'I don't know which is worse, you or your dog!'
"The man only patted his dog, and said, 'You've done a good day's work, old man.'
"This last shot was lost on Jim, for he was already bending over Bull, patting his poor old mangled head and calling him all the endearing names he could think of. Finally, seeing that Bull was either too weak or too ashamed to get up and could only wag his stub of a tail, he picked him up very tenderly and started for home.
"That was anything but a triumphal journey. An army returning after overwhelming defeat could not have attracted more attention than those two old warriors. Heads popped out of every door and window, and before he was halfway home he had a train of small boys following him. I declare, when I saw the old man, he was almost crying. When I went up to him and patted the dog's head, he said, brokenly, 'He's all I've got, and now they've even gone and done him up!'"
"Poor old Jim," said Mrs. Wescott. "Everyone hated Bull, but you can't help feeling sorry for him and his master when they're down and out."
"Oh, it was really pitiful," said Lucile, "and it made me so desperate to see all those thoughtless cruel boys following him, hooting at him, and laughing at him and calling poor old battered Bull all sorts of names. So I turned around and looked at them. I saw that little Bob Fletcher was one of the crowd.
"'Bob,' I said, 'suppose your Rover had been hurt—would you like to be laughed at?'
"'I'd like to see anybody that'd try,' said he, manfully.
"'Then why do you turn round and make fun of Bull when he's in trouble? It seems to me you're acting mighty like cowards!'
"The words had a magical effect. I don't suppose it had struck the boys in that light before, but it was more than their manhood could stand to be called cowards.
"'We ain't cowards,' said one, belligerently, 'and I'll fight anybody that says we are,' after which they all looked sheepish and started off in twos and threes, calling to each other that they'd better hurry and finish that game in the field—it would be getting dark soon!"
"You always did have a way with the young folks, Lucy," smiled her guardian; "but that was a real act of kindness. What did old Jim do?"
"Oh, he gave me a sort of wintry smile and said, 'Thank'ee little gal. I couldn't lick the lot of 'em myself, 'count of Bull here!' Then he stumbled on, muttering to the dog.
"Poor old Bull," Lucile concluded. "His glory had departed forever and ever——"
"Oh, Fire, long years ago——" the words came from ten girls' hearts, low, sweet, and vibrant with feeling.
Their guardian sat as if turned to stone.
THE MAGIC CITY
The last sweet note hesitated, sighed, and softly merged in the crackling of the fire, and still their guardian did not move.
For a long moment she sat upright and still, her hands clutching the arms of her chair, her gaze fixed steadily on the tiny, darting flames. Perhaps she saw there even more than the girls sensed, for when she turned to them, her eyes were bright with unshed tears.
"Girls, dear girls," she cried, unsteadily, "what a welcome you have given me! And I had begun to think you had forgotten all about your guardian," and as she spoke she held out her arms so that the girls came rushing.
Then such a hugging and kissing and asking of foolish questions and answering of them in like, but delightful manner, until Mrs. Wescott was forced to say, laughingly and in the same old tone they had heard so often in camp:
"Girls, don't you think it would be better to hear one at a time?"
The girls laughed gaily and settled themselves so near their guardian that "they couldn't possibly miss a word," as Jessie explained afterward when describing the scene to her mother.
"Oh, it's a sight for sore eyes to see all my camp-fire girls again," said Mrs. Wescott, as her eyes traveled happily over the little group about her.
Some threw themselves on the floor at her feet, while others were curled up on the huge divan, and Marjorie and Jessie perched on the arms of her chair. But all the bright faces were turned toward her with such happy and expectant interest that a lump seemed to rise in her throat, and she had much ado to speak at all.
"It is wonderful to have you here after all this time," cried Jessie, snuggling close to her guardian as she spoke. "I feel as if any minute you're likely to fade away just as the ghosts and visions do in the moving pictures."
There was a general laugh, and then Evelyn broke in, gallantly.
"I protest," she said, stoutly. "I deny that our guardian is a ghost."
"No; but she is a vision," said a voice behind them, and Lucile slipped noiselessly into the circle.
"Goodness, Lucile, anybody would think you were the redskin you look like," commented Dorothy, a trifle sharply, for she had started in a most undignified manner.
"See, you frightened the child, Lucile," said Marjorie, aggravatingly. "You should be more careful with one so young."
"What do you call yourself?" retorted Dorothy, and Lucile saw it was high time she took a hand in the argument.
"Don't tease, Marj," she admonished. "And don't get mad about nothing, Dotty—I mean Dot," she corrected quickly, as Dorothy eyed her menacingly.
"I don't wonder she draws the line at Dotty," laughed Jessie. "I haven't called you that for two weeks, Dot; I've kept track."
"When you haven't called me that for two years," said Dorothy, graciously, "I'll begin to think you're improving."
"That's right, Dot," cried one of the girls, with a merry laugh. "Never refuse a helping hand to the wicked!"
"Encourage them once in a while and some time, soon or late, you will be rewarded," chanted Marjorie in a solemn tone that brought a laugh from every one.
"Lucy was right, just the same," said Margaret, with apparent irrelevance, and the girls turned inquiring eyes on the speaker as she sat, chin in hand, gazing into the fire.
Somehow the girls' faces always sobered when they looked at Margaret, and when they spoke to her their voices softened to an undernote of tenderness never used among themselves. She had won her way steadily to every girl's heart. They had marveled at her invariable sweetness of temper; they had laughed at her quaint, naive sayings, and, most of all, they had loved her for the warm, grateful heart that found room and to spare for them all.
So now Evelyn, merry, irresponsible Evelyn, said, with a gentleness that caused Mrs. Wescott to look at her in surprise:
"What do you mean, Margaret? Pictures in the fire again?"
"No; I was just thinking of what Lucy said when she first came in, before Dorothy jumped all over her," said Margaret, with a twinkle in her eye that had only found its way there of late.
"Jumped all over her? What kind of language do you call that, Margaret Pratt Stillman?" reproved Marjorie, with her best grandmother air. "If you are not careful, the habit of using slang will grow upon you."
"Oh, do keep still, Marj, for half a minute, can't you?" cried Jessie. "I suppose you can't," she added, "but you might try, anyway. A great many impossible things come with time."
"Speak with yourself, Johnette," retorted Marjorie.
"Why the Johnette?" inquired Lucile, with interest.
"Feminine for John, of course," Marjorie explained, patiently.
Jessie broke in upon the laugh that followed. "But we haven't come to the point yet," she complained. "Speak up, Margaret, before some other rude person interrupts."
"That's right," said Lucile, ignoring the irony in her tone. "Now is your chance, Peggy."
"Why, you said that our guardian was a vision," said Margaret, dreamily. "I quite agree with you."
"Come, come, I can't allow this," cried the vision, gaily, as the girls turned adoring eyes upon her. "I've been thinking sundry little thoughts on my own account since I've seen my girls again."
"Oh, doesn't it seem great to be back?" cried Dorothy. "I know I should be terribly homesick if I stayed away six weeks, let alone six months."
"Indeed it did. Just the same, New York is fascinating, with its great buildings, its busy, absorbed throng of people, each intent on getting ahead of the next one. There is something about it all that draws one irresistibly. The very air seems charged with electricity, and just to walk down Broadway gave me more real excitement and enjoyment than the most thrilling play could have done." Helen Wescott's face flushed and her eyes sparkled as she talked.
"Go on," cried Evelyn breathlessly. "Do tell us all about it. Oh, I can't even imagine it!"
"I don't believe I could tell you everything if I should talk for a month," she went on. "But I do remember a conversation Jack and I had soon after our arrival. We were walking up Fifth Avenue one exceptionally busy day—I don't know why I should say that, for every day over there seems busier than the last—when Jack asked why I was so quiet. 'Because everything else is making so much noise,' I answered. Which, indeed, was almost reason enough. But when he insisted, I said what had been in my thoughts for the past two days:
"'I've been wondering, as I looked at all these people rushing along as if their lives depended on their getting to a certain place on a certain second—these people with set faces and eyes that seem to see a long way off—I've just been wondering what they all find to do.'
"'My dear,' said Jack, and he laughed in a way I could not understand, 'It's easy to see you have lived a long way from little old New York, and I'm mighty glad you have. I'd rather you would face all these people for the first time with me along.'
"'But you haven't answered my question,' I insisted, for I was still filled with wonder at the great throng surging past us, whose purpose never seemed to change or falter.
"'You asked what they were all doing,' said Jack. 'Well, for the most part, they are busily and congenially engaged in doing to the best advantage the next poor victim that comes to their net.'
"Somehow, that little remark put a different aspect on everything and Fifth Avenue didn't hold quite the same charm for me that it had. Just the same," she added, brightly, "I like New York mighty well. The only thing I didn't like about it was that it didn't hold my girls, and I did miss you all so much!"
"Oh, I don't see how you would ever find time to miss anybody with all those wonderful new sights and sounds around you all the time," said Evelyn, naively.
Marjorie sniffed. "Of course, we know you wouldn't," she said.
"I wouldn't," said Evelyn, unabashed. "I'd be too awfully excited all the time."
"Oh, Evelyn, Evelyn!" said Lucile, laughing. "Won't you ever learn to cover up your faults?"
"I'll have to get some first," she retorted, impishly; and the girls, who were in a mood when everything strikes them funny, began to laugh. The more they laughed, the more they tried to stop, the more impossible it became, until the whole house rang with merriment. Lucile was the first to recover herself.
"That's quite enough for some time to come, Evelyn," she cried, choking back her laughter. "We all know you are wonderful, but please remember that no human being is perfect."
Gradually they quieted down, with only an occasional explosion, and Lucile returned to her guardian again.
"I suppose you have gone to all the theaters and restaurants and things in the city," she asked. "Are they just as wonderful as people make them out to be?"
"More," said Mrs. Wescott, emphatically, dimpling happily at her memories. Indeed, she was very young and very enthusiastic, and the girls, looking at her, thought they had never seen her so entrancingly lovely.
"It is almost impossible to describe," she went on. "At first you have only a confused impression that the world is on fire with electric lights. To ride through the crowded theater district at night, with the great electric signs blinking at you from all sides—with the honking of the motor horns making a very Babel—with the crowds on the sidewalk, still hurrying, but for such a different reason—men and women in evening dress, all bound for one or other of the gay restaurants or theaters close by. And then the theater itself! To walk from the street to the gaily lighted lobby, its walls paneled from floor to ceiling with great mirrors that reflect lovely women and distinguished men. Then in the theater where the rich carpet deadens every footfall and you feel rather than hear the murmur of many voices speaking softly—the subtle rustle of a crowded place—the lights—the music—oh, girls, it was wonderful, wonderful! I can't describe it!"
"Oh, but you have described it—beautifully!" cried Lucile. "I feel as if I had been there!"
"Oh, just to go there once!" breathed Jessie, rapturously. "If I could only see those things once, I think I'd be willing to die!"
The girls raised laughing protests, and Lucile cried, "For goodness' sake, don't speak of dying yet awhile, Jessie. I'm going to see lots before my end comes. Oh, if we could only go back with you, Miss How—I mean Mrs. Wescott," she stammered, blushing furiously at her mistake.
The lovely guardian of the fire looked down upon Lucile, a quizzical smile curling the corners of her mouth.
"I don't wonder you make that mistake once in a while," she said. "It took me a long while to get used to it."
"I should think it would seem strange just at first," ventured Margaret, amazed at her own temerity and looking up at her guardian shyly. "I mean not being Miss Howland any longer."
The girls laughed and Margaret flushed confusedly.
"You shouldn't say such things, Margaret; it ill befits your age," said Jessie patronizingly.
There followed another burst of laughter, out of which Margaret's voice rose defiantly. "I don't care," she cried. "It seemed mighty funny to me to call our guardian Mrs. Wescott, and if it seemed strange to me, what must it have seemed to her? I was almost afraid——" her voice trailed off into silence, and Mrs. Wescott prompted, gently, "Afraid of what, dear?"
"Oh, just afraid that you might be—different."
It was the vague, half-formed fear that all the girls had felt, yet none had dared express, and the silence that followed was pregnant with meaning.
"Different, Margaret?" their guardian's voice was low and tremulous. "Never! Happier, oh, so very much happier, girls; but never changed in my love for you except as it grows stronger. Do I seem different?" she asked, turning swimming eyes upon them.
"Oh, no—except that you are twice as dear," cried Lucile, and the cry found an echo in each girl's heart.
"I'm so happy I'm afraid I'm going to have hysterics or something," cried Jessie, dabbing her eyes with a square inch or so of handkerchief. "I want to laugh and cry, and you can't do both at once."
The girls laughed shakily and Mrs. Wescott said, with a gay little laugh, "Here, this will never do. Now that that question is settled forever and ever, I want to hear what you girls have been doing all this time, and what you expect to do this summer. Come, who's first?"
"Lucile," cried Dorothy. "You just ask her what she intends to do this summer. All our plans are tame beside hers."
The girls had completely forgotten the wonderful topic that had seemed all absorbing before this guardian's arrival, but now it took on an added importance, and the girls waited eagerly for Lucile's disclosure.
"What great plans have you been making now, Lucile?" said Mrs. Wescott, with that ever-ready interest that had won the girls completely. "I can see there is something great in the wind. Tell me about it."
"I'd never have thought of it if Dorothy hadn't reminded me," said Lucile, amazed that it should have slipped her mind for two minutes, let alone two hours. "Why, it's only that Mother and Dad are going to Europe this summer and they have decided to take Phil and me along with them; and then Dad said I might ask Jessie and Evelyn to go with us if they'd like to, and so they are coming—to make trouble," she added, slyly.
"Oh, no doubt of that last," said Mrs. Wescott, laughing, and then added, with enthusiasm, "It certainly is splendid for you to have the chance. I know your pet hobby has always been to visit Switzerland, Lucy, and now you will, provided you get that far. Do you suppose you will?"
"I really don't know," said Lucile. "I've been too stunned by the mere fact of going to Europe to think of asking for details. If I have anything to say about it, we'll go to Switzerland, if we don't go anywhere else."
"Just hear her talk of Switzerland, as if it were just around the corner," marveled Ruth. "It has always seemed to me like some myth or fable."
"And you feel as it you ought to speak of it in whispers," agreed Marjorie. "That's the way I feel about it."
"Oh, I almost forgot about tea," Lucile interrupted, springing to her feet and making a dash for the door. "It's getting late, and everybody must be starved. Come on, Jessie, and help me, for goodness' sake!"
"Coming," said Jessie, stopping at the door to make a low bow and declaim, "Ladies and gentlemen, we crave your indulgence——"
"You'd better come out here, or I'll use force," cried Lucile's voice from somewhere in the rear, and the orator fled precipitately.
It was the last day Lucile and Evelyn and Jessie would spend in Burleigh for some time. Since early morning they had been so busy they had scarcely found time to breathe, and it was not till five o'clock in the afternoon that Lucile slammed down the cover of her last trunk with a triumphant, "There, that's done! Now, I wonder if I've thought of everything."
Tired and happy, she flung herself upon the bed, a little meditative frown puckering her forehead, and began a mental checking up of all the hundred and one things she would need.
"I guess I have all the dresses I'll want," she ruminated. "Shoes and combs and brushes and ribbons and handkerchiefs—oh, I wonder if I put in my little flowered scarf; I mustn't forget that——"
Then began a frantic searching through bureau drawers, during which the scarf failed to come to light. Finally she gave it up in despair and turned upon the two trunks so fierce a look that the only wonder is they didn't fade then and there and vanish into thin air.
"You disgusting old things!" she cried, hotly. "I suppose you think it's fun to go all through you again and take out all your horrid old trays and everything, just to make sure I put that scarf in. I suppose I'll find it way down at the bottom, too."
She was on her knees before the smaller of the two trunks and had taken out a good deal of the contents, still grumbling good-naturedly, when her mother came in.
"What are you talking to yourself about, Lucile? I could hear you way down the hall; and what are you doing? I thought you had your trunks nearly packed." Mrs. Payton's voice was irritably impatient.
Lucile sat back on her heels with a joyful, "I've got it, I've got it—and I didn't have to unpack the whole trunk, either!"
"Got what?" cried Mrs. Payton, sharply. "I asked you a question."
Lucile sobered instantly. "My scarf," she answered. "I had the trunk all packed, and then I thought of it. I guess I have everything else, though."
"Let us hope so. As soon as you put the things back, you had better get ready for to-night. It's pretty late."
"All right; I guess I will have to hurry," Lucile agreed, and finished the repacking in silence.
Five minutes later she flew to the 'phone and called up Jessie.
"Hello!" she cried. "That you, Jessie? I've just finished packing, and I've got to get dressed in a hurry. How about you?"
"I'm not quite through yet," came the answer. "But I will be pretty soon. Mother came to my rescue a few minutes ago, and together we're making things fly."
"That's good; be sure and get there in time. I haven't any idea who will be there, but I guess there'll be quite a crowd. You know, I'm all shaky from excitement," she confessed.
"So am I," said Jessie. "My hand trembles so I can hardly hold the receiver."
"I guess it runs in the family," said Lucile, laughing. "Well, you'd better get back to your packing—and do hurry, Jess!"
"Don't worry! I never knew the meaning of the word till this afternoon. Good-by—oh, wait a minute! What dress are you going to wear?"
"My new white one, I guess," said Lucile. "I've been undecided all afternoon whether to wear that or the pale green, but Mother thinks the white is prettier."
"Oh, for goodness' sake, wear the white one, Lucy. I want to wear my blue dress, and I was afraid we might clash."
"Oh, all right; anything for friendship's sake," laughed Lucile. "Good-by, Jess—hustle!"
"I'm glad that's settled, anyway," Lucile murmured, as she hung up the receiver. "Now I will have to rush," and away she flew to her room, hair rumpled and eyes shining, to prepare for the dance.
The great affair had been originated by their guardian a few days before in honor of the prospective voyagers, and the girls hardly knew what they had looked forward to more, their trip to Europe or the dance.
"Oh, you look like the wild man of Borneo," cried Lucile as she caught a glimpse in her mirror of tumbled curls and sadly rumpled dress. "It's good you don't have to go to the dance looking that way. They'd put you out, sure as fate. Well, here goes; let's see how long it will take the wild man to take the form of Lucile Floyd Payton."
Half an hour later Lucile lifted the dainty mass of lace and chiffon from her bed with a sigh of satisfaction. "When you're on, then we'll be all ready. Guess I'll have to get Jane to do it up, though. I don't know just how it goes yet."
Jane did the work satisfactorily; so well, in fact, that when she gave the girl a little finishing pat and announced admiringly that "You surely will be queen of the ball to-night, Miss Lucy," that young lady gave an involuntary gasp of delight.
"Oh, it's pretty, it's pretty!" she cried.
"Indade, an' it's not the only thing that has a claim to beauty," said Jane, with an admiring glance at her young mistress. "Now, you'd better come down an' get a bite to ate, Miss Lucy, before iverything gets cold. Ye needn't be worryin' 'bout yer looks the night," she prophesied.
"Thanks, Jane," cried Lucile, gaily. "I got ready in pretty good time, after all, didn't I? Oh, there's the dinner gong and I am not a bit hungry!"
"Excitement's no good on an empty stomach," said Jane sagely. "Take my advice an' ate yer fill—ye'll be all the better for it."
"I'll do my best," she promised, and ran lightly down the stairs and into the dining-room, where the family were already assembled.
"How do you like it?" she cried, dropping them a low curtsey and smiling like a little witch. "It's the first time I've had it on, Mother and Dad and Phil—how do you like it? Isn't it becoming?" and she executed several little toe-dances which brought her so near Phil that he hugged her impulsively.
"It's a peach, and so are you, Lucy. I didn't know you could look like that," said he, eyeing her approvingly.
"It's a beauty," said her father, but his eyes were more for the rosy cheeks and dancing eyes of his little girl than they were for the beloved new dress.
Once, while Lucy and Phil were in the midst of an animated discussion about some baseball game or other that they had seen recently, Mr. Payton managed a sly wink in his wife's direction that said more plainly than any words, "Aren't you proud of them? And they are all ours!"
At quarter past eight the first of Mrs. Wescott's young guests began to arrive. They came in relays of three and four, all very excited and happy and eager for a good time.
Promptly at eight thirty Lucile and Phil, with Jessie and a cousin of hers, Jack Turnbull by name, started up the drive to Mrs. Wescott's beautiful home.
"Doesn't it look lovely with the lights all over the place?" said Jessie.
"Yes; especially because it has looked so forsaken for the last six months," Lucile answered. A few moments later they reached the door and were ushered into the brilliantly lighted hall.
"Lucy, stay near me, will you?" Jessie urged in a nervous whisper. "I don't know half these people."
"Cheer up; we're all in the same fix," whispered Phil over her shoulder. "We four can stick together, anyway."
"You have the right idea," said Jack Turnbull, with perhaps a trifle more emphasis than was necessary, and with a glance toward Lucile, who had gone forward to meet her hostess.
"Oh, he always has the right idea," Jessie chaffed, with a merry glance at Phil, and then she followed Lucile to her guardian's side.
She greeted her guardian and then looked reproachfully at Lucile.
"Here, just the minute after I ask you not to go away, you desert me," she said.
"Well, I didn't go very far," Lucile consoled.
Mrs. Wescott laughed. "Go up in my room and get your things off, girls," she directed. "You'll find Margaret and Evelyn up there. Come down as soon as you can," she added, as they started upstairs. "I want to introduce you all around."
"All right, we'll hurry," said Lucile, and then squeezed her friend's hand. "Oh, Jessie, what a lark!" she whispered. "We're in for a good time to-night."
"You have the right idea, as Jack says," answered Jessie. "Did you see him look at you, Lucy?"
"Hush! they're right behind us," cautioned Lucile. "Hello, girls," she cried, as she entered the room. "I don't see how you managed to get here before us."
"Oh, that's easy," laughed Evelyn. "How lovely you look! Oh, I love your dresses—both of them! Are they new?"
"Of course they are, or we would have seen them before," said Margaret.
"Well, we're not the only ones, anyway," said Lucile. "I know yours are new. They're awfully pretty."
"We're all satisfied then," said Jessie, briskly. "Lucy, will you please put this pin in where it will do the most good. I never can keep this lock of hair in place."
"You poor infant!" said Lucile. "Come here and let me fix you."
Then some strange girls came in and, after a few admonitory pats of stubborn bows and ruffles, the girls started downstairs. They made a pretty picture as they descended the wide staircase together, and as they reached the last step their guardian disengaged herself from a laughing group of young folks and came forward to meet them with an approving smile.
"You didn't stay up there as long as I expected," she laughed. "Now come in and meet everybody."
The introductions were soon over, much to everybody's relief, and the girls were surprised to find how many of the boys and girls they knew.
"Why, I know most all of them," Lucile confided to Jack in a lull. "Those I don't know to speak to, I've seen over and over again on the street."
"That's not strange," said Jack. "There's a great big crowd and it's growing every minute. Here are some new arrivals!"
"Oh, it's Marjorie and Dot, with the boys," she cried, jumping up. "Will you excuse me a minute? I'll be right back," and she threw him a glance so full of sparkling mischief that his heart leaped suddenly and unaccountably, and Phil had to speak to him twice before he could make himself heard.
In half an hour the dancing began. The floor of the two great rooms that had been thrown open for the use of the guests had been polished till they shone, and at the far end of the room a platform had been erected, upon which sat the musicians, partly screened by magnificent palms. The rooms were decorated from end to end with flowers and the air was heavy with their perfume.
At an appointed signal the orchestra struck up a one-step and at that irresistible summons the boys began a mad rush to secure partners.
"Oh, I didn't know it would be like this," murmured Jessie.
"Isn't it wonderful?" cried Lucile, and the next instant a voice at her elbow pleaded, "Give me this dance, will you, Lucy?" and she looked up into Jack's smiling face.
An answering smile flashed out. "Will I?" she cried, and led the way, Phil and Jessie following.
Another instant and she was being whirled away on Jack's arm, and Jack, who had won renown for his dancing among his New York associates, thought he had never danced with anyone so lovely and so exquisitely graceful as this friend of Jessie's.
"You dance wonderfully," was Jack's comment. "Anybody could tell you love it."
"Oh, I do," said Lucile, fervently. "There's nothing like it."
"Nor you," said Jack, and he believed it.
The girls never forgot that night. A new world seemed to open before them—a world they never knew existed. A world filled with bright lights and music, where every one danced and laughed and was thrillingly and unbelievably joyful.
And Lucile, who had never dreamed of anything like this, suddenly found herself the very center of attraction. The crowd was always thickest about her and Jessie and Evelyn, and she was so deluged with requests for the next dance that her order was filled in no time and Jack had all he could do to squeeze in two numbers at the very end.
Some of the boys, to be perfectly frank, quite a few, were awkward and stepped on the toes of her dainty little white pumps until they were very nearly black, but she was so happy as to be absolutely oblivious of such trifles, while the awkward youths fell entirely under the spell of her sparkling, fun-filled eyes and the merry, bubbling laugh that seemed to overflow from sheer joy.
Once Jessie managed to whisper to her, "Miss—Mrs. Wescott didn't say she was going to have such a wonderful affair as this. Were you in the secret, Lucy?"
"No; there wasn't any secret. Our guardian just did it as a splendid surprise, the dear," said Lucile, and her eyes traveled to where her guardian and her husband were standing with a group of older people who had come later in the evening to enjoy the fun and to help the young Wescotts do the chaperoning.
"She is all right," agreed Jessie. "And doesn't Jack Wescott look splendid? I believe he's handsomer now than he was in the country."
"He is fine looking," Lucile admitted, grudgingly. "Just the same, I'll never quite forgive him."
Jack took Lucile into dinner. It required skillful manoeuvering on his part and he never could tell afterward how it happened, but the fact remains that he finally succeeded in extricating her from the mob and started with her toward the dining-room.
"Where's Jessie? I promised to wait for her," said Lucile, half turning round. "She's lost in the crowd, I guess."
"Probably," said Jack, perfectly satisfied with this solution. "You needn't worry about her. Phil will see that she finds her way to the dining-room all right."
"I shouldn't wonder," laughed Lucile, and so the matter was settled, to their satisfaction at least.
After dinner the last few dances passed rapidly—far too quickly for the happy young folks. As the last notes of "Home, Sweet Home" died away, Jack turned to his radiant little partner.
"It seems to me they cut that dance mighty short," said he. "I wish they would give us an encore."
"Yes, aren't they stingy?" Lucile agreed, as the frantic applause brought no response from the bored musicians, who were already putting away their music. "It must be pretty hard for them," she added, as Jack started to pilot her toward the door. "They have to do all the work while we have the fun."
"Yes, but they have the fun of getting paid for it," Jack suggested, practically.
Lucile laughed. "I never thought of it in that light before," she said, and then added, with a sigh, "Well, I suppose it's all over now."
"Sorry?" whispered Jack.
"Of course; aren't you?" she countered, with a quick upward glance, that fell before his steady gaze.
Jack answered softly, as several of the girls and boys approached "More sorry than I can make you understand—now."
Lucile thrilled with a new, strange emotion that she could not analyze; she only knew it was absurdly hard to look at Jack, and that she was immensely relieved when Evelyn greeted her with a merry, "Don't you wish it were beginning all over again, Lucy? I don't feel a bit like going home."
"That seems to be the general cry," broke in Marjorie. "And to think that you girls are going away to-morrow!" she added. "You'll be tired out after to-night."
"Oh, we're not going till late in the afternoon, so we can sleep all we want to in the morning. All the packing is done," said Jessie, reassuringly.
"But who speaks of sleep?" broke in Lucile, gaily. "I never felt so far from it in all my life."
"No, but you'll feel mighty near it about two o'clock to-morrow afternoon, if I'm any judge," Phil prophesied, grimly.
"Well, everybody knows you're not," said Lucile, running lightly up the stairs and stopping to make a laughing face at her brother over the banister. "Come on, girls," she cried. "Everybody's going and we haven't even started yet."
The girls followed her, laughing merrily, and Phil grinned at the fellows. "You can't get the best of Lucy," he said.
An hour later Lucile put out the light and crept into bed with a sigh. "Such a wonderful time," she breathed, "and he is good looking. Jack——" Then she smiled whimsically into the dark. "It must run in the name," she said.
HURRAH, FOR EUROPE!
Lucile opened one sleepy eye upon the busily ticking little clock on the table. As she looked, her gaze became fixed and she sat up in bed with a startled exclamation.
"Eleven o'clock!" she cried. "Oh, it can't be!" she added, with sudden inspiration, which was clouded with disappointment the next minute as the steady ticking continued.
"How silly!" she said, laughing at herself. "Since it's still going, it's certain that it hasn't stopped." With which profound remark she slipped out of bed and into her dressing gown.
"Oh, how could I waste so much time on sleep," she marveled, "when to-day means—Europe? Oh, I can never wait to get dressed!"
She did wait, however, and when she had donned her dress and tucked her unruly curls into place, she looked as fresh and sweet as a flower. She finished her toilet in breathless haste, and as she flung open the door of her room she nearly ran into Phil, who was tearing down the hall toward her.
"Hello, Sis; it's about time you were up," was his greeting. "Mother said to call you if you weren't. Do you know what time it is?" he queried, regarding her severely.
"Yes, I know what time it is, Grandad," she mimicked, and, catching him about the neck, she began to do a series of steps not standardized in the Vernon Castle repertoire. "Come on, old sobersides," she laughed; "dance for your life. I'll be the orchestra."
Phil was nothing if not a "sport," so he grasped his sister around the waist and away they went down the hall at a great rate, Lucile singing like mad, until the sounds of merriment reached Mr. Payton in the library and out he came, paper in hand, to have his share of the fun.
He was greeted by a peal of laughter, and Lucile cried, "Stop stepping on my toes, Phil, for goodness' sakes! See, it goes like this."
"What's all the rumpus about?" thundered Mr. Payton, in his hearty voice, and Lucile poked her bright face over the banister to smile impishly and threw him a kiss.
"Dancing, Dad; don't you want to try?" she challenged.
"Sure," was the unexpected reply, "only leave a little of the stairs, please," as they came down two steps at a time and landed right side up with care.
Then Mr. Payton was hugged and kissed and called a "dear" and dragged into the library, where the rugs were rolled up and full preparations made for the first dancing lesson. They were in full swing, with the Victrola going and Lucile counting "One-two-three, one-two-three," when Mrs. Payton came in.
She looked her disapproval of the disorderly room, but when her glance rested on her husband, who proved surprisingly light on his feet for so heavy a man, her eyes filled with interest and she sat down to watch.
When the record stopped, Lucile turned shining eyes on her mother. "Wasn't that fine, Mother?" while Phil burst out with, "Bravo, Dad! I had no idea you could do it."