NAN SHERWOOD AT PALM BEACH
STRANGE ADVENTURES AMONG THE ORANGE GROVES
ANNIE ROE CARR
Author of "Nan Sherwood at Pine Camp," "Nan Sherwood's Winter Holidays," "Nan Sherwood at Rose Ranch," etc.
NEW YORK GEORGE SULLY & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
BOOKS FOR GIRLS
BY ANNIE ROE CARR
THE NAN SHERWOOD SERIES
NAN SHERWOOD AT PINE CAMP Or The Old Lumberman's Secret NAN SHERWOOD AT LAKEVIEW HALL Or The Mystery of the Haunted Boathouse NAN SHERWOOD'S WINTER HOLIDAYS Or Rescuing the Runaways NAN SHERWOOD AT ROSE RANCH Or The Old Mexican's Treasure NAN SHERWOOD AT PALM BEACH Or Strange Adventures Among the Orange Groves
GEORGE SULLY & COMPANY NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT 1921, BY GEORGE SULLY & COMPANY
Nan Sherwood at Palm Beach
Printed in the U. S. A.
I. THE CRASH ON THE HILL 1 II. NEARLY A TRAGEDY 13 III. THE OLD LADY 20 IV. SOLVING A PROBLEM 27 V. CALLED TO ACCOUNT 34 VI. A GLORIOUS PROSPECT 41 VII. IN THE DORMITORY 47 VIII. ON THE ROAD 55 IX. THE JOY OF GIVING 62 X. A MIDNIGHT FEAST 69 XI. A DANGEROUS PLOT 76 XII. ALMOST A DISASTER 85 XIII. THE WILY STRANGER 94 XIV. GREAT EXPECTATIONS 104 XV. WE'RE OFF! 114 XVI. FUN AND NONSENSE 123 XVII. THE MYSTERIOUS MEN 131 XVIII. A STARTLING REVELATION 138 XIX. AN ATTEMPTED THEFT 147 XX. THOSE MEN AGAIN 156 XXI. THE BEGINNING OF ROMANCE 165 XXII. PALM BEACH AT LAST 173 XXIII. A TROPICAL PARADISE 181 XXIV. NAN IS FRIGHTENED 188 XXV. MOONLIGHT 198 XXVI. WORTH A FORTUNE 208 XXVII. WALTER TO THE RESCUE 217 XXVIII. CAUGHT 228 XXIX. "WHEN THE SPIRIT MOVES" 237
The music carried them far away on the golden wings of melody (Page 190) Frontispiece
The three girls bent eagerly over Mrs. Bragley as she opened one paper after another 66 Nan's eyes were following the figures of two men strolling down the deck 140 He pushed Nan from him with such force that she stumbled and fell 216
NAN SHERWOOD AT PALM BEACH
THE CRASH ON THE HILL
"Smooth as glass!" ejaculated Nan Sherwood, as she came in sight of Pendragon Hill and noted the gleaming stretch of snow and ice that ran down to the very edge of Lake Huron.
"And you're the girl that said coasting time would never, never come," laughed her chum, Bess Harley, who was walking beside her with her hand on a rope attached to a bobsled that four girls were drawing.
"Never is a long word," admitted Nan. "I didn't quite mean that; but the weather's been so mild up to now that I was getting desperate."
"Nan registering desperation," put in Laura Polk, she of the red hair and irrepressible spirits.
Laura struck an attitude of mock desperation, but the effect was marred when her foot slipped and she went down with a thump.
Her laughing mates helped her to her feet and brushed the snow off her dress.
"The wicked stand on slippery places," quoted Grace Mason mischievously.
"Yes," Laura came back, as quick as a flash, "I see that they do, but I can't."
The shout of laughter that followed atoned somewhat for her loss of dignity—although she had not lost much, for Laura and dignity were hardly on speaking terms.
Laughing and chattering, all trying to talk at once and all succeeding, the bevy of light-hearted girls reached the top of the hill.
Before them stretched Lake Huron, extending farther than their eyes could see. For a long distance out from shore the lake seemed frozen solid. A small island rose above the ice about half a mile distant, and this was the limit fixed upon for the coasters. The cove between the foot of the hill and the island had a glassy coating of ice that had been swept and scraped and served for skating as well as coasting.
"I wonder if it's perfectly safe," remarked Grace Mason, a little timidly. "You know this is the first time the cove's been frozen this winter, and we haven't tried it yet."
"Bless your little heart, you'll be as safe as if you were on a battlefield," was the dubious comfort that Laura held out.
"Much safer than that," interposed Professor Krenner, the teacher of mathematics and architectural drawing at the Lakeview Hall school that the girls were attending. "You can be sure that neither Dr. Prescott nor I would take any chances on that score. A heavy logging team went over it yesterday, and the ice didn't even creak, let alone crack. And every day that passes of this kind of weather makes it thicker and stronger."
"My, but that's a comfort," remarked Laura. "I'd hate to have this young life of mine cut off just when it's so full of promise."
"How Laura hates herself," put in Bess Harley.
"You're perfectly safe, Laura," Nan assured her. "Only the good die young, you know."
The professor's kindly eyes twinkled as he looked from one to the other of the rosy-cheeked, sparkling-eyed girls, bubbling over with fun and vitality. He had just come up from the queer little cabin in which he lived at the edge of the lake. It was part of his work to supervise the coasting and, as far as possible, keep it free from accident.
About his sole diversion was playing on a key bugle, and the long-drawn-out notes of the instrument, sometimes lively and sometimes in a minor strain, were familiar sounds to the girls, and often an occasion of jesting.
Professor Krenner held the bugle in his hand now, and after glancing at his watch, he raised the instrument to his lips and blew a clear call that had the effect of hastening the steps of some of the groups that were coming toward the hill from the Hall, the roof of which could be seen over the tops of the trees.
Outdoor sports were made much of at Lakeview Hall, not only in the catalogue designed for the perusal of parents, but in actual fact. "A sound mind in a sound body" was Dr. Beulah Prescott's aim for her pupils, and exercise was as obligatory as lessons. None was excused without an adequate reason, and the group upon the hill grew in numbers until it seemed as though all the members of the school were present except the smaller girls, who had a slide of their own.
"All here except the queen," remarked Laura, as she looked around her.
"The queen?" repeated Bess Harley, staring at her.
"Queen Linda of Chicago," explained Laura, with a wicked twinkle in her eye.
"For goodness' sake, don't ever let Linda Riggs hear you say anything like that, Laura Polk," admonished Bess. "She's so conceited that she wouldn't know it was sarcasm. She'd think it was a tribute drawn from an unwilling admirer."
"I know," laughed Laura. "It doesn't take much to set her up. If she had water on the brain, she'd think she was the whole ocean."
"Here she comes now," remarked Nan, after the laughter caused by Laura's sally had subsided.
A tall girl, wearing expensive furs and having a supercilious air, came along with two or three companions. It was noticeable that she left to them the work of drawing the bobsled, while she sauntered along, ostentatiously adjusting her furs as though she sought to call attention to their quality.
"Hurry up, Linda," called out Laura. "I believe you'd be late at your own funeral."
"I never get anywhere early," snapped Linda. "It isn't good form. When I go to the theater I always get in late. I always have the best seat that money can buy reserved for me, so what's the use of hurrying? Of course it's different when one has to go early and scramble for a seat."
"That may be your habit in Chicago, but it isn't in favor here, Miss Riggs," said Professor Krenner dryly. "But now that all seem to be here, we'll start the races. You understand that all sleds are to keep three minutes apart so as to avoid accident. The course is straight out on the lake, and the best two out of three trials win the race. Miss Sherwood, since you are nearest the starting line, suppose you get your sled in position to lead off. Not so fast, Miss Riggs," he went on, as Linda tried to shove her sled to the crest of the hill. "I said Miss Sherwood was to go first."
"I don't see why I should have to wait," pouted Linda, as she reluctantly drew back her sled before the decided look in the professor's eye. "Hateful old thing," she remarked in a low voice to her special friend and intimate, Cora Courtney. "He favors Sherwood because she attends his poky old lectures on architectural drawing and pretends she likes them."
"I shouldn't be surprised if that were just it," replied Cora, who made a habit of agreeing with the rich friend whose friendship often proved profitable to Cora. She had no money herself but clung closely to those who had.
"Who was it," asked Rhoda Hammond in an amused whisper of Nan, "who wrote an essay once on the 'gentle art of making enemies'?"
"I'm not sure," laughed Nan in reply, "but I think it was Whistler. Why do you ask?"
"Because," replied Rhoda in the same low voice, "I think he must have had Linda or somebody just like her in mind, for she has the art down to perfection."
There would have been little dissent from Rhoda's verdict, for Linda had few real friends among the girls of Lakeview Hall. She was purse-proud and vulgar, and, though her money gave her a certain prestige among the shallow and unthinking, she lacked the qualities of mind and heart to endear herself to any one.
By this time the girls who were going with Nan had taken their places on the sled. It was a new one that Nan had received as a present from her father, and it had not yet been tested. Nan had named it the Silver Arrow, and she had high hopes that its speed would justify the name.
Nan sat at the head, with the steering wheel in her hands. The wind had brought the roses to her cheeks, and her clear eyes shone like stars. Behind her in order sat Bess Harley, Rhoda Hammond, Grace Mason and Laura Polk, each girl holding tightly to the belt of the girl in front.
"All ready?" asked the professor.
"All ready, Professor," was Nan's reply, as her hands tightened on the wheel.
Professor Krenner lifted the bugle to his lips and gave a clear, sonorous blast that served at the same time as a signal for starting and as a warning to any one who might be crossing the path at the foot of the hill.
Then he tipped the sled over the ridge of the hill and it started on its journey.
For a mere fraction of a second it seemed to poise itself for flight. Then it moved, slowly at first, but gathering speed with every second, until it seemed to be flying like an arrow from the bow.
There were delighted and at the same time somewhat fearful squeals from the girls, as the wind whistled past their ears while the sled flew on at a speed that quickly reached a mile a minute. They held on to each other for dear life, but Nan had no eyes or thought for anything except that shining ribbon of path.
She made the turn at the foot of the hill, the sled yielding to her slightest touch, and she only breathed freely when it shot out on the lake and there were no further obstacles to circumvent or fear.
On, on it went like a thing of life, as though it would never tire, and Nan's heart beat fast as she realized that she was going to make a better mark than she had ever done before.
But gradually the weight on the level surface began to tell, and the bobsled slowed up as though it were as reluctant as its passengers to find itself at its journey's end.
There was a chorus of joyous exclamations from the girls, as they rose to their feet and noted how far out they were on the lake.
"What a perfectly lovely sled!" exclaimed Rhoda Hammond. "I never had such a ride as that in my life."
"You darling!" said Nan impulsively, as she patted the wheel of her treasure.
"The other girls will have to go some to come anywhere near that mark," bubbled Bess.
"Linda will be green with jealousy," laughed Laura. "She thinks that that Gay Girl of hers is the fastest thing that ever wore runners."
"She'll take it as a personal affront if she doesn't win," giggled Grace. "I wish she'd come along while we're here. I'd like to see just how far we've beaten her."
"We haven't beaten her yet," observed Nan, "and perhaps it's just as well not to be too sure. But now let's get our skates on and pull the sled back. There are to be three trials, you know."
They took their skates from their shoulders and adjusted them with nimble fingers. It was the work of only a few moments. Then they rose, patted down their dresses and struck out for the shore, drawing the sled behind them.
They had to keep a wary lookout for the other sleds. One came rushing along with its laughing crew, but they could see at a glance that it was not making the speed that their own had reached. Just as they reached the edge of the lake, another sled flew past, and amid the bevy of girls on it they discerned Linda Riggs.
"There goes the Gay Girl," remarked Rhoda Hammond.
"And she's going like the wind, too," chimed in Bess a little anxiously. "Let's wait here a moment, girls. I want to see how far out she goes."
"I do hope she won't beat our mark," said Grace, as she snuggled her fur more closely about her neck.
They watched with straining eyes as Linda's sled gradually slowed up, and a sigh of relief came from all when they saw that it stopped about a hundred feet this side of the spot that they had reached.
"She didn't beat us!" cried Bess exultantly.
"Too close to be comfortable, though," murmured Nan, as her eyes measured the distance.
"Well, a miss is as good as a mile," declared Rhoda.
"We're all right so far, as the man said as he was passing the second floor after falling seventeen stories," put in Laura.
"Let's get every ounce out of the Silver Arrow on the next try," adjured Grace, as, after having taken off their skates, they were trudging up the hill.
By the time they reached the top, most of the other sleds had been sent off and they had not long to wait. They settled themselves firmly in their seats.
"Let's clinch it now," laughed Nan, as she took the wheel. "Just put on your wishing caps and wish as hard as you can, and the Silver Arrow will do the rest."
"I'm wishing so hard that it hurts," gurgled Bess.
"If wishing will do it, we've won already," chimed in Laura. "We're all ready, Professor."
A clear call from the bugle, a helping hand over the ridge, and the Silver Arrow was off again.
It may have been due to the more slippery condition of the hill caused by the sleds that had already passed over it, but there was no doubt in the minds of the girls that the bobsled was going even more swiftly than it had at first. They were almost frightened at the speed it developed, and yet they were delighted, for they had set their minds on beating their earlier mark.
Halfway down the hill they passed Linda and her group, who had drawn up at one side to let them pass. Even at that breakneck rate of speed they could see the sneer on Linda's lips as she recognized the sled and its crew.
But they were nearing the curve now and Nan's eyes were fastened on the path ahead while she tightly gripped the wheel.
"Hold fast, girls!" she warned, as they neared the bend in the road and the sled swerved at her touch.
The next instant they rounded the curve, and a cry of horror burst from their lips.
Directly in their path was an elderly woman who had just started across the road.
She looked up as she heard them scream. Terror and bewilderment came into her face. She started back, then forward. Then, utterly paralyzed with fright, she stood helpless in the path of the bobsled that was rushing toward her with the speed of an express train.
The girls shouted at her, but her brain, numbed by fear, refused to act.
"Oh, she'll be killed!" wailed Grace.
"Oh, Nan, can't you do something?" cried Bess frantically.
Nan's brain was working like lightning. She was white to the lips, but never for an instant did she lose her presence of mind.
At the left of the road was an almost solid row of trees. It was certain death to turn that way. At the right there was an opening that led into a little glade. She determined to steer into that.
She swerved the sled in that direction. She could have made it if the woman had remained where she was. But just then she backed a step to the right. The sled struck her and hurled her aside, and she went down with a scream.
NEARLY A TRAGEDY
The collision changed the direction of the bobsled, and by the merest fraction it escaped striking a tree. Nan, however, despite her mental anguish, kept her head and dexterously guided it into the glade, where it found soft snow and gradually came to a stop.
Then the frightened girls rose and rushed as fast as they could toward the victim of the accident, who was lying still in a heap of snow at the side of the road.
Nan dropped on the snow beside her and took her head in her arms, while Rhoda put her hand on the woman's heart.
"Oh," sobbed Grace, "we've killed her!"
"No, we haven't," replied Rhoda. "I can feel that her heart is beating. She's fainted, either from pain or fright or both, poor thing. We must help her."
"Here, Bess," directed Nan, "you hold her head while I see if any bones are broken. And you other girls take turns in chafing her hands. If she lives near here we'll take her home and send for a doctor. If not, we'll take her up to the Hall."
The others followed Nan's directions and worked with frantic energy. And while the girls are trying to revive the unconscious stranger, it may be well for the sake of those who have not yet read the earlier volumes of this series to tell who Nan Sherwood is, and what experiences and adventures she and her friends have had up to the time at which the present story opens.
Mr. Sherwood was a foreman in the Atwater Mills in Tillbury, and "Papa Sherwood" and "Momsey" and Nan were a devoted and happy family in their pretty little cottage on Amity Street. Then the mills shut down for an indefinite length of time. The Sherwoods, with others even less well able to face the future, were staring poverty and the loss of their pretty home in the face, when suddenly, in the case of the Sherwoods, fortune took a hand and sent relief in the shape of a legacy from a distant relative of Mrs. Sherwood's.
To settle the business in connection with this legacy, Mr. and Mrs. Sherwood were called to Scotland. To the grief of all three, it was necessary that Nan should be left behind, but it was arranged that she should stay with her Uncle Henry, her father's brother, in a lumber camp in the Michigan Peninsula. What exciting adventures Nan had there and what she accomplished for good, can be found in the first volume of this series, entitled: "Nan Sherwood at Pine Camp; or, The Old Lumberman's Secret."
Nan's best girl friend in Tillbury was Bess Harley. Bess was looking forward to going to school at Lakeview Hall, and, never having known any lack of money, could not understand why Nan would not say that she, too, would go. When the loss of Mr. Sherwood's position made even Bess see that it would be out of the question for Nan to go, she was inconsolable, for she was devoted to her friend, and rather dependent on her.
Nan Sherwood herself wanted to go to Lakeview Hall more than she had told either Bess or her parents, and when the legacy from Scotland made this possible the two girls were delighted and went wild with joy.
What they did at the Hall, the plucky spirit Nan showed on more than one occasion, and the friends they made are told of in the volume entitled: "Nan Sherwood at Lakeview Hall; or, The Mystery of the Haunted Boathouse."
Among the girls Nan and Bess met at Lakeview Hall was Grace Mason of Chicago. In "Nan Sherwood's Winter Holidays; or, Rescuing the Runaways" is described the visit that Nan and Bess made to the Mason home during the midwinter holidays. It is a record of parties and girlish fun, but in the midst of this Nan succeeded in helping two foolish girls who had run far away from home.
On the opening of Lakeview Hall after those winter holidays a new girl came to the school. She was from the far West, and she did not at first understand or enter into the fun of the other girls. For a while she was without friends there, but gradually Nan Sherwood's sympathy and tact worked a change and Rhoda Hammond became one with the other girls.
She was not only grateful to Nan, but she became very fond of her. By this time Mr. Sherwood was well established in a business of his own, so when Rhoda asked Nan and Bess and Grace Mason and her brother Walter to go with her to her home in the West on a ranch, Nan, as well as the others, was able to accept. What exciting adventures the young people had at Rose Ranch, how staunchly they faced peril on one or two occasions, and what novel pleasures came to them, are all told of in "Nan Sherwood at Rose Ranch; or, The Old Mexican's Treasure."
And now let us go back to Nan and her chums and the poor woman who had brought the bobsled race to such an inglorious termination.
The ministrations of the excited girls to the poor woman soon produced an effect. The woman stirred uneasily, groaned, and at length opened her eyes, to the infinite relief of the girls, who had feared they had been participants in a tragedy.
Nan's deft fingers had in the meantime established the fact that no bones were broken, and she now spoke gently to the woman, whose eyes wandered from one face to another in a dazed fashion.
"I hope you are not badly hurt," Nan said kindly. "Do you feel much pain?"
"What am I doing here?" the woman asked. "What has happened?"
"Our sled struck you and knocked you down," answered Nan. "We did our best to steer out of the way, but we couldn't. I hope you are not much hurt."
A spasm of fear came into the face, which they could see was that of a woman about sixty years old.
"Oh, yes, I remember now," she said weakly. "I thought surely I was going to be killed. It all happened so sudden like."
She struggled into a sitting position, and the girls supported her head and shoulders.
"Tell us where you live," said Nan, "and we will take you home and send for a doctor. Or perhaps we had better take you right up to the school on top of the hill and take care of you there."
"Oh, I wouldn't want to give you young ladies so much trouble," answered the woman.
"Trouble, indeed!" protested Nan. "It's you that have had all the trouble, and there's nothing we can do for you that will make up for it."
"Do tell us where you live," urged Bess. "You ought to be in bed just as soon as you can. You'll catch your death out here in the snow."
"I live down on the Milltown road," the woman replied, "but I think I can get there without bothering you. Just help me up and you'll find that I'm able to walk all right."
She strove to rise to her feet as she spoke, the girls supporting her on each side, but her feet gave way under her and she would have fallen had they not sustained her.
"I'm afraid my ankle is broken," she murmured, as they eased her to a sitting position on the sled that thoughtful Rhoda had run and brought up to where the group were gathered.
"No," said Nan, "it isn't broken, I think; but it is very badly sprained. Now, girls, wrap her up well and then take hold of the ropes and we'll get her home just as soon as we possibly can. You live on the Milltown road, you say?" she went on, turning to the sufferer. "About how far is your home from here?"
"About a mile or a little more," was the answer. "It's just beyond the blacksmith's shop after you cross the bridge."
"I know where it is," interposed Grace. "I've often passed the place while out riding with Walter."
"You can show us the way then," said Nan, setting the example to the others by taking hold of the rope. "Come along, girls, and we'll get there as soon as we can. Bess, hadn't you better go up the hill and tell the professor all about this, and then hurry and catch up with us?"
Bess did as her chum suggested, and the other girls started off at a brisk pace, drawing the sled with its burden after them.
THE OLD LADY
The road was rather a difficult one, and several small hills had to be surmounted. The girls took turns in having one of them walk beside the sled with her hand steadying their passenger, who at times protested feebly against all the trouble she was making. She volunteered the information that her name was Sarah Bragley, that she was a widow, and that she had no kith or kin in the world as far as she knew. These facts redoubled the pity of the girls, and they mentally resolved that as long as they were at Lakeview Hall they would do all they could to make life more bearable for the frail and forlorn woman who had been brought into their lives in a way so unexpected and so nearly tragic.
In a little while Bess rejoined them, panting a little from the exertions she had made to catch up to them.
"It's all right," she announced. "I told Professor Krenner, and he told us to do all that we could, no matter how long it took, and said that he would explain the whole thing to Dr. Prescott. And Linda Riggs was there, and what do you think she said? But I'll tell you about that some other time," she said, as she saw a spasm of pain come over the injured woman's face. "Here, let me get hold of that rope and we'll get on faster."
She took hold with a will, and the bobsled moved along rapidly until a little bridge that spanned the road over a small stream came into view. The stream now was a solid mass of ice.
"There's the bridge!" ejaculated Grace. "We can't be very far from the house now."
"And there's the blacksmith shop and a little house right beyond it," added Nan. "Is that your house?" she asked Mrs. Bragley, beside whom she was walking.
"That's it, dearie," was the answer. "It ain't much of a place," she added apologetically.
"It's a cunning little darling of a place," protested Rhoda, not quite truthfully, but so warm-heartedly that the recording angel probably did not lay it up against her.
"It's very nice," added Nan.
In a few minutes more they were before the tiny house, which seemed to consist of several rooms on one floor and a single room above. Everything about it suggested straitened means, and yet the girls noticed that the small windows were clean and hung with fresh dimity curtains, and that there were little flower boxes on the sills inside.
They drew the sled through the gate and up the path to the door.
"Have you the key?" Nan asked, as she took off her gloves.
"It isn't locked," Mrs. Bragley replied, with a faint smile. "There's nothing in there that would tempt anybody to steal. Just open the door and go right in."
Nan did as she was told. She found herself in what evidently served as a living-room and dining-room and kitchen combined. In a little room opening off to the right, she caught a glimpse of a bed. There was a wood stove with the embers of a fire in it, and the room was still fairly warm. Everything was as scrupulously neat as her first impression from without had led her to expect. But the scanty and worn furniture showed a desperate struggle with poverty that touched the girl's heart.
Under Nan's directions, the girls lifted Mrs. Bragley from the sled and gently deposited her in the one rocking chair that the apartment contained, first, however, placing a cushion in it to make it more comfortable.
"Now, girls," said Nan, "let's all get busy. In the first place, we want to get this fire going. Where do you keep your wood?" she asked, turning to the invalid.
"There's plenty of it in the little woodshed at the back," was the answer. "The neighbors always cut enough for me to last me through the winter. But it's a shame that you should have to go for it," she called after Nan, who had already started for the woodshed.
Her protests were unheeded, and in a moment Nan was back, accompanied by Bess, who had gone with her, their arms full of wood which they laid beside the stove.
In a few minutes a cheerful fire was roaring in the stove. Then, following the directions of Mrs. Bragley, they found some tea and brewed it, and set out a little lunch which they pressed the woman to eat. The food and tea refreshed and revived her, and, as her shyness wore off, she talked with them freely.
Nan found some arnica with which she bathed the injured ankle, and then they helped their patient to undress and get into bed. And having done this, and seen that she was as comfortable as it was possible to make her, the girls withdrew into a corner to hold, as Nan expressed it, a "committee meeting to discuss ways and means."
"Now, girls, just what are we going to do?" demanded Nan, as her friends gathered round her with anxious looks on their faces.
"Take care of this poor woman until she is able to be on her feet again," responded Bess promptly. "We can't do less."
"Of course, that goes without saying," agreed Nan. "We're the cause of her present trouble, and it's up to us to get her out of it. The only question is as to the best way to do it."
"Go ahead and tell us, Nan," urged Grace. "You've got the best head of any of us when it comes to an emergency like this."
"The first thing," suggested Nan, "is to get a doctor."
"I'm so glad it isn't an undertaker we have to call for," put in Grace, with a shudder.
"And the next," continued Nan, "is to find a nurse. The poor thing is utterly helpless just now with that hurt ankle. She can't even keep up the fire, and the weather's so cold she'd freeze to death if the fire went out."
"If we only had a telephone," murmured Rhoda, as her eye wandered over the place, though she knew beforehand that such an instrument would not be found in that poor cottage.
"Well, we haven't," replied Nan. "So I'll tell you what we'll do. Bess and I will stay here and try to make our patient as comfortable as we can. The rest of you girls had better go right up to the Hall and tell Dr. Prescott all about it. She'll have a doctor here in less than no time, and she or Mrs. Cupp will know of some nurse they can get in the town. We'll stay here anyway until they come. But the afternoon's going fast, and you want to hurry as much as you can. It will probably be dark anyhow when the doctor and the nurse get here, and, as we don't know the road very well, we don't want to be too late in getting back to the Hall."
"You needn't worry about that," said Grace, as she put on her wraps. "I'll 'phone to Walter as soon as I get to the Hall and he'll come over and take you home."
"In that case I'd better go along with you now," put in Bess, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. "I'm afraid it will be a case where two is company and three's a crowd."
"Don't talk such nonsense," said Nan, though a slight flush had risen to her cheeks at her chum's raillery. "But, girls, before you go there's one other thing; and that is, the matter of money. I don't suppose," she went on, lowering her voice lest the invalid should hear, "that the poor woman has anything of any account. How much money have you girls with you?"
What the warm-hearted girls had with them at the moment was very little, but what it was they all handed over, and the total amounted to several dollars.
"Of course we'll all club together and see that she has all she needs to get through this trouble," declared Laura, and there was a unanimous chorus of assent.
"And now, shoo!" commanded Nan, as she opened the door to hasten their exit. "And see how quickly you can get the nurse and the doctor here. Don't bother about the sled. We'll bring that along when we come, or send over after it to-morrow."
The three girls promised to hurry, and made off. Nan and Bess watched them until they had passed out of sight beyond the bridge, and then turned to look after their patient.
SOLVING A PROBLEM
The girls tiptoed into the little room at the right and saw that Mrs. Bragley was not asleep. As they approached the bed she greeted them with a faint smile.
"It's too bad that you should have all this trouble," she said. "Here I've gone and spoiled all your afternoon's fun just because I was too slow and stupid to get out of your way."
"It wasn't your fault at all," declared Bess warmly. "I know I'd have been scared stiff if I'd seen that sled bearing down upon me. The thing we're grateful for is that you weren't killed."
"How are you feeling now?" asked Nan gently, as she adjusted the bedclothes.
"Rather poorly," was the answer. "My ankle's hurting me a good deal. And then I have a sort of all-gone feeling. But I suppose that's on account of the shock. But I'll be all right by to-morrow," the woman hurried to say bravely.
"We've sent for a doctor and a nurse," Nan explained. "They'll be here in a little while."
A worried look came into the woman's pale and drawn face.
"A doctor? A nurse?" she repeated. "That's good of you, my dears, but I can get along all right without them. And besides, besides——"
She hesitated, and Nan, who guessed what she was thinking of, hastened to reassure her.
"Don't worry about anything," she urged. "There won't be any expense. It's our fault that you are hurt, and the very least we can do is to see that it doesn't cost you anything to get well. You just leave it to us, please."
Tears came into the poor woman's eyes.
"How good you are!" she said brokenly. "There was a time when I had money enough to get along comfortably, but that was before my husband died. He thought that he was leaving me enough to take care of me for the rest of my life. But somehow or other I guess I've been cheated out of it or lost it somehow. It's all mixed up in my mind, and I don't exactly know the rights of it. I never did have any head for business, anyhow."
"There, there," said Nan soothingly, as she feared that her patient was getting excited. "You can tell us all about it some other time. Let me fix your pillows now and you try to get some sleep before the doctor comes."
She brought a cooling drink, and then she and Bess withdrew into the other room and conversed in low tones until, just before dark, the doctor made his appearance.
He was a big, cheery man, who radiated confidence as he bustled into the room after tying his horse to the fence outside.
"Oh, Dr. Willis, I'm so glad you've come!" exclaimed Nan, as the doctor came in and drew off his gloves.
"Just a bit of luck that I was able to get here so soon," the doctor responded. "I was just going out on another call when a girl rang me up from the school and told me of the accident. She was so excited that she stuttered, but I managed to make out what she was driving at and hurried over at once. Where is the patient?"
They took him into the room, and he made a quick but thorough examination.
"No bones broken," he announced, and the girls drew a sigh of relief. "But there's a bad sprain and she won't be able to get around for a couple of weeks."
He bandaged the injured ankle and prepared some medicine, which he left with careful directions to the girls.
"I'll drop in again to-morrow," he said. "Sorry that I can't take you girls back and drop you at the Hall, but she oughtn't to be left alone. I can take one of you, though," and he looked inquiringly from one to the other.
"You had better go, Bess," said Nan promptly.
"What! and leave you alone?" cried Bess. "Indeed not."
"But we can't both go."
"I am not going to leave you, Nan. We'll both stay."
"Well, it won't be for so very long anyway," remarked Nan. She turned to the physician. "It is very good of you to ask us."
"It sure is," added Bess, quickly. And then she added, with a cloud on her face, "You are sure Mrs. Bragley is going to get over it?"
"Oh, yes, she'll get over it. But it will take time," answered the doctor; and a few minutes later the medical man took his departure.
"He certainly is a nice man," said Nan, as she and her chum watched him go.
"A man one is bound to have confidence in," added Bess.
He had not been gone five minutes when there was a sound of sleighbells, and a cutter, drawn by a spirited horse, dashed up to the gate. The girls peered through the windows, but in the dark, which had now fully settled down, could not identify the newcomer. A moment later there as a knock at the door, and, on opening it, Walter Mason came in with a rush, accompanied more sedately by an elderly woman with a kindly, capable face.
"Why, Walter!" exclaimed Nan, and a close observer might have noted her heightened color. "How splendid it was of you to get here so quickly."
Bess had it on the tip of her tongue to say that she could guess why he had hurried, but she wisely forebore.
Walter Mason was a frank, fine-looking young man, with whom the girls had become acquainted through his sister Grace. Nan and he had been thrown much together, especially during the visit that Nan had made to Grace at the Mason home in Chicago, and a mutual liking had developed that had grown stronger with time. The girls had often teased Nan about Walter, but she had parried their thrusts good-naturedly, and stoutly maintained that Walter was simply a nice boy and good company. But she was undeniably glad to see him, though she tried to explain to herself that it was the prospect of soon getting back to the Hall that pleased her.
After the first greeting, Walter introduced his companion as a Mrs. Ellis, who had agreed to come along to nurse the patient until she had fully recovered.
Mrs. Ellis, in a quiet, capable way, took charge at once, and the girls felt the load of responsibility that they had carried all the afternoon lighten promptly.
"Oh, I'd nearly forgotten!" Walter exclaimed suddenly, and ran out to the sleigh, whence he returned in a moment loaded down with food and jellies and supplies of various kinds.
"We stopped on our way through the village," he explained, as he placed the packages on the table, "and Mrs. Ellis picked out the things that we ought to bring along. Here they are. And now if you girls will get your things on, I'll hustle you over to the Hall. You must be awfully hungry."
They had not thought of that, but now that he spoke of it they realized that he was right. They went in and spoke cheerily to Mrs. Bragley, promising to be over the next day to see how she was getting along, and then, followed by her tears and blessings, they put on their wraps and furs and with a cordial farewell to the nurse they hurried off, not, however, until Walter had brought in and stacked up enough firewood to last for several days.
The cold, crisp air was like a tonic, and their spirits rose as the horse drew the cutter after him over the snowy road at a rate of speed that promised to bring them to the Hall all too soon.
"That was a close call you girls had this afternoon," Walter remarked, as they left the little house behind them.
"It surely was," agreed Bess, with a little shiver that was not due to the cold. "It was lucky for us that Nan kept her head. The rest of us were screaming, but Nan didn't make a sound. If she'd steered an inch to the right or to the left from what she did, we'd have gone into a tree, and that would have been the end of us."
"She's a thoroughbred," declared Walter briefly. "That's just the way she acted the day your boat upset. Nan certainly has nerve."
"There are the lights of the Hall," interrupted Nan, glad of an excuse to divert attention from herself. "How beautiful they look on a night like this."
"They'd look a good deal more beautiful to me if they were further off," grumbled Walter, as he reluctantly turned into the drive that led to Lakeview Hall.
CALLED TO ACCOUNT
The cutter drew up with a flourish and a jingle of bells at the main door of Lakeview Hall, and Walter Mason helped the girls out.
"So good of you to bring us over," said Nan, as Walter's hand held hers for perhaps a second more than was absolutely necessary.
"Tickled to death to have the chance," replied the youth. "And say, Nan, count me in on that subscription for Mrs. Bragley."
"Thanks just as much," was Nan's response, as she and Bess ran up the steps, "but I imagine you've done more than your share already. Who paid for all those good things you brought over in your sleigh? Answer me that."
"Give you three guesses," laughed Walter. "And now, good night, girls. Tell me when you're going over again and I'll be here with the cutter."
Another moment and he was off with a farewell wave of the hand, and Nan and Bess entered the Hall, where they speedily found themselves the center of a chattering bevy of girls, all trying to talk at once.
"Tell us all about it, Nan," pleaded Rhoda Hammond. "Did the doctor get there?"
"Was Mrs. Bragley badly hurt?" asked Laura.
"Not seriously," answered Nan. "The doctor and the nurse both came, and everything is going on all right. She'll be able to walk again in a couple of weeks, they think."
"Don't tell them another word, Nan Sherwood, until we have had something to eat," laughed Bess. "I'm just dying from hunger, and I suppose we're late now for supper."
Linda Riggs, who had been standing apart with a sneer on her lips, turned to Cora Courtney and said in a voice that was not so low but all could hear:
"So that's why she stayed to nurse the old woman; so she could get a ride home with Walter Mason. She's foxy, all right."
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Linda Riggs!" Bess Harley cried hotly. But Nan laid her hand soothingly on her arm.
"Never mind her, Bess," she counseled with a level glance at Linda. "What else can you expect? Let's go in to supper."
"Linda is peeved because the Gay Girl was beaten this afternoon," laughed Laura Polk. "You know she thought she had a mortgage on the race."
"Was she beaten?" asked Bess, with eager interest. "I declare, my mind's been so full of the accident that I'd almost forgotten that we had a race."
"Yes," replied Laura gleefully. "She was beaten by more than a hundred feet."
"And she had three chances where we had only one," put in Rhoda. "We might have beaten our own mark if we had had our full number of trips."
"There's not much of the sport about Linda," commented Grace. "Any one who beats her makes her an enemy. She takes it as a personal insult if any one dares to get ahead of her."
"She can't be any more of an enemy to us than she always has been," concluded Bess. "But come along, Nan, and let's eat. My appetite's keener than ever, now that I know we won."
"Was there ever anything the matter with your appetite, Bess?" questioned Nan with a smile.
"Sometimes—not often. But, oh, Nan! neither of us would have had much appetite if we had seriously injured that poor woman."
"You are right there. Every time I think of the narrow escape we had I have to shiver."
"Yes, and supposing the sled had gone into a tree, or one of those sharp rocks! Oh, it would have been dreadful!"
"We can count ourselves very lucky."
"And to think we won the race after all! That's the best news I've heard in a long time."
"Oh, no, Bess. The best news is our escape, and Mrs. Bragley's, from serious injury. The race doesn't count alongside of that."
"Well, maybe you are right. Nevertheless, I am awfully glad we won."
The rest of the girls had already had their supper, but there was plenty left, and Nan and Bess did full justice to it. They had scarcely finished when, a message came to Nan that Dr. Prescott, the head of the school, wished to see her.
"I always feel nervous when I hear that Doctor Beulah wants to see me," remarked Laura, the madcap of the school. "But perhaps Nan has a better conscience than I usually have. Run along now, Nan, and take your medicine, and then come back and tell us all about it."
Nan went at once to the principal's room, and was graciously received by the serene, handsome woman who directed the activities of Lakeview Hall.
Dr. Beulah Prescott was a woman of culture and marked executive ability. For many years she had been the head of the school, and had won for it an enviable position among institutions of its kind. She had a large and valuable clientele, which was constantly expanding.
She was an extremely good-looking woman, and exquisitely groomed and dressed, although with an utter absence of ostentation. She knew the value of appearance, especially before the critical eyes of her schoolgirls, and never allowed herself to be seen at a disadvantage. Her rule was mild, but just and firm, and all the girls knew that she was not to be trifled with. Behind her back they often referred to her as Doctor Beulah, but none permitted herself any familiarity in her presence. Her poise was perfect. No one had ever seen her angry or flustered. When she did not inspire ardent affection, she always commanded the genuine respect of her pupils.
She greeted Nan pleasantly as the latter entered, and asked her to be seated.
"I hear you came near having a serious accident this afternoon, Nan," she said, "and I have sent for you to have you tell me all about it."
Nan told in detail the events of the afternoon, and the doctor listened with keen interest, interrupting once in a while to make some incident perfectly clear.
"It was a very narrow escape," she commented, when Nan had finished. "I am thankful beyond words that none of the girls was hurt or killed, as they so easily might have been. And I want to congratulate you on the way you played your part. I notice you left that out of your story, but others have already told me how cool and clear-headed you were through it all. I'm glad that you happened to be steering."
Nan flushed at the words of praise, and murmured rather uncomfortably that she had done only what any other of the girls would have done in her place.
"I differ with you there," replied Dr. Prescott, with a smile. "But we won't discuss that. What must be done is to make the coasting safer in the future. After this, I will have some one stationed at that crossing to warn passers-by. As for that poor woman, I will see that all the expenses of her illness are paid and that she is compensated besides for the fright and pain she has undergone."
"Pardon me, Dr. Prescott," said Nan with some diffidence, "but the girls feel that they ought to do most of the helping. They have already contributed a little, and they are planning to do more."
"A very commendable feeling," agreed the head of the school graciously. "But at least you will let me help. I know Mrs. Bragley. She is a very worthy woman."
"She seems to be," remarked Nan. "Her little house is poor, but everything about it is neat and clean. I gathered from some things she said that she used to be in fairly comfortable circumstances."
"That is true," was the response. "Her husband was a hard-working man and had saved up some money. But he was inclined to invest his savings in rather risky enterprises, and I imagine he was swindled out of most of it. It seems to me that I have heard something of that kind, though I don't recall it clearly."
"I would like to go over to the cottage as often as I can in the next few days to see what I can do to help, if you have no objections," remarked Nan.
"None whatever," rejoined Dr. Prescott. "In fact, I shall be very glad to have you do so, provided, of course, that you don't let it interfere with your school work. You can go now, Nan. You must be tired after the strain and excitement of this afternoon, and I would suggest that you go to bed early."
Nan bade the principal good-night and hurried up to her room, where she found a group of her special friends all on the qui vive to learn of her interview.
A GLORIOUS PROSPECT
"Hail, the conquering heroine comes!" cried Rhoda Hammond, as Nan entered the room.
"I see she didn't eat you up," remarked Bess with a smile.
"I suppose you are disappointed," laughed Nan, as she threw herself into a chair. "It would have been delightfully exciting if she had, wouldn't it? But talking of eating, let me have some of those chocolates, you stingy thing."
The last remark was addressed to Laura, who languidly took up the box of confections and handed it over to Nan.
"Where's Grace?" asked Nan, as she helped herself and cast her eyes over the group.
The question was answered by Grace herself, who at that moment burst into the room, waving a letter excitedly in her hand.
"Oh, girls, what do you think?" she exclaimed breathlessly.
"We never think," drawled Laura. "At least, my teachers tell me that I never do."
"Has some distant relative died and left you a fortune?" hazarded Bess.
"Better than that," cried Grace jubilantly.
"Can anything be better than that?" queried Laura.
"Tell us, Grace," adjured Nan. "Don't keep us on the anxious seat."
"I'm going to Palm Beach!" exclaimed Grace joyously. "Do you hear, girls? I'm going to Palm Beach for the winter holidays!"
The girls sprang up at the news and crowded around Grace.
"Palm Beach!" gasped Rhoda almost breathlessly.
"Why, Gracie Mason!" exclaimed Nan, "you must be talking in your sleep."
"You don't really and truly mean Palm Beach, Florida?" cried Laura, nearly choking on the big chocolate that slipped down her throat at the astounding news.
"I really mean Palm Beach, Florida," reiterated Grace, thoroughly enjoying the sensation she had created.
"Oh, you lucky, lucky girl!" breathed Bess, who until now had seemed too stunned by the news to utter a word.
"Lucky. Well, I should say," chimed in Laura. "Some people are born lucky, and Grace Mason is the luckiest of them all."
"How I wish I could go with you!" mourned Rhoda enviously.
"You can just guess we all wish that," acquiesced Nan. "You surely were born with a golden spoon in your mouth, Grace."
"It has been the dream of my life to go to Palm Beach," put in Rhoda.
"Now, Grace, just sit down here and tell us all about it," commanded Nan. "Every syllable. Do you hear?"
She piloted Grace to the biggest chair in the room and seated herself on one arm of it, while the others clustered around as closely as possible.
"Well," began Grace, "mother and dad have been thinking about it for some time, but they wouldn't tell us about it until the last minute because they wanted to surprise us. Just as soon as I got the news, I flew right over here to tell you girls about it."
"It's too splendid!" exclaimed Laura. "Where are you going to stay while you are there? Or perhaps it's too early to have settled that yet."
"At the Royal Poinciana," replied Grace happily. "Oh, my!"
"The Royal Poinciana!" exclaimed all the girls in one breath.
"Why, Grace," marveled Rhoda. "That's the very swellest hotel even in Palm Beach."
"Well, what of that?" smiled Grace. "Can't we go to the swellest hotel if we want to?—and if dad's cash holds out?"
"No reason in the world, if you're lucky enough to be able to," was Rhoda's envious reply. "It costs a small fortune to live there even for a short time, as I suppose you know."
"I suppose," chaffed Laura, "that you'll be so stuck up when you get back that you won't speak to your old friends."
"No danger of that," laughed Grace, as she looked lovingly about at the eager faces of her friends.
"How long are you going to stay?" queried Nan.
"I don't know yet," answered Grace slowly. "The holidays last for only two weeks, you know, and mother and dad are so anxious that I shouldn't lose anything of my school course that they'll probably send me back at the end of the two weeks, though they may stay a little longer. I only wish the holidays were four weeks long instead of two."
"How are you ever coming back after two weeks of that sort of life?" asked Laura. "If I were only lucky enough once to get there I'd never want to come back."
"Just think of what fun you can have there," remarked Bess Harley. "I suppose you'll play tennis. What joy to be able to play tennis and get your nose sunburned in the middle of winter. Think of you playing tennis in Palm Beach sunshine while we are shivering around fires."
"And golf?" suggested Nan.
"Not that," laughed Grace. "I don't know a mashie from a cleek."
"Of course there'll be boating," suggested Bess.
"And bathing," added Laura with emphasis. "Oh, Grace, I'm just dying of envy! Think of bathing in January with the water as warm as it is here in August!"
"Take care you don't get drowned, Gracie," warned Nan, in mock seriousness. "And look out for sharks. I hear that they're seen occasionally at Palm Beach."
"For goodness' sake, Nan!" cried Laura reprovingly, "don't even suggest anything unpleasant in connection with that celestial spot. There's nothing to be found there but pure, unalloyed bliss."
"Only think of the dances at the hotel!" said Bess, with shining eyes.
"And the fellows," put in Laura mischievously. "Oh, Grace, Grace, what opportunities for sitting out dances on those wonderful balconies!"
"And the long strolls in the moonlight," added Nan, giving Grace a nudge with her elbow.
"Or sitting on the beach with some eligible young millionaire, listening to the waves beating on the sand," teased Rhoda.
"Oh, it's all too wonderful!" exclaimed Laura, suddenly starting up and pulling Grace out of the chair.
Forgetting the lateness of the hour, she started in a mad whirl about the room.
"Hush!" cautioned Nan, as a firm footfall was heard in the corridor.
In a twinkling two motionless forms lay in Nan's bed. Rhoda had switched off the light, and the high backs of chairs and sofa hid crouching figures, while the almost too regular breathing of the supposed sleepers was the only sound to be heard when the door opened and the severe and angular form of Mrs. Cupp stood outlined in the dim light from the corridor.
IN THE DORMITORY
After a survey of several minutes of the dark and seemingly innocent room, the guardian of school discipline seemed satisfied, closed the door, and her footsteps died away at the end of the hall.
If she could have heard the bursts of smothered laughter as the lights were turned on and Laura and Bess, almost exhausted by their efforts to keep up that steady breathing, tumbled from the bed and the others rose from their hiding places and shook and stretched themselves to get the cramps out of their limbs!
"That was a close call," gurgled Nan, breathless with suppressed laughter, while Grace asked chokingly:
"How did you ever do that sleeping act so perfectly and keep it up so long?"
"Just genius," answered Laura complacently. "I got so in the spirit of it that I came near snoring."
"Is that so?" scoffed Rhoda. "Strange that we never noticed it before."
"Live and learn," replied Laura, nonchalantly. "The explanation is simple. Just lack of perception. 'Ye have eyes and ye see not.'"
"For pity's sake, keep still, you two," said Bess. "We have too many things to talk about to listen to repartee, even to such brilliant specimens."
"Snubbed!" groaned Laura, as she lifted the last bonbon from the box.
"Here, greedy," said Rhoda. "I saw that candy first."
"Well, I ate it first," grinned Laura tantalizingly.
"Will you girls keep still?" cried Bess despairingly. "I want to find out what Grace is going to wear."
"Yes, sweetheart," said Rhoda meekly, as she flopped down into the nearest seat at hand. "That is really a most interesting and all-important question, and we will come to that anon. But first I want to remark that I feel as though we had been nearly caught at a regular spread."
"Spread! Where have I heard that word before?" exclaimed Laura dramatically. "Isn't it time we had a regular one? I tell you what, girls, let's celebrate by having a real honest-to-goodness spread. There's a reason."
"As if you ever needed a reason for having a spread!" laughed Bess. "But I second the motion."
"I'm expecting a box from home any minute," said Rhoda, "and I'll donate it to the cause."
"I'll furnish the fruit," Grace offered.
"Dandy!" exclaimed Laura. "Put me down for cocoa and milk and sugar. Will you supply the sandwiches, Nan?"
"I'm willing to furnish the sandwiches," agreed Nan, a little doubtfully. "But do you think we'd better have it just now?"
"Oh, come on, Nan," urged Laura. "Be a sport. Isn't Grace worth a chance?"
And Nan, unwilling to spoil the others' sport, assented, though with some inward misgiving.
"Can't we go to town to-morrow after recitations, and get the things?" Bess proposed.
"O. K.," acquiesced Laura contentedly. "And now to return to the vital question. What, Grace darling, are you going to wear at Palm Beach?"
"I'd like to get new gowns and things," Grace replied; "but it's hard to get summer clothes in winter. Of course, I've got last summer's things."
"I'd feel that I was pretty well fitted out already if I had your last summer's things," observed Laura.
"I should say as much!" agreed Rhoda. "The idea of Grace Mason needing a new summer outfit. What's the objection to that lovely crepe de chine that made me green with envy when you wore it last summer?"
"Or that voile with the heliotrope flowers?" supplemented Nan. "Or the white net with the embroidered flounces?"
"Or that blue taffeta that you looked so stunning in at the garden party?" said Rhoda.
"Or the old rose georgette with the touch of black velvet, to say nothing of half a dozen others?" added Bess.
"Since you are resurrecting the old gowns so vigorously," laughed Grace, "I begin to think I may get through without so many new things after all, especially as the old gowns will be new to the people I shall meet at Palm Beach. Of course mother will have a dressmaker, and she'll alter and freshen up and make a few new things. But she can't do such a very great deal in the little time from now to the holidays. If it was any other place than Palm Beach, I wouldn't even think about dress. But it's such a very swell place, you know, girls, and I don't want to feel out of place while I'm there. Of course you know how I feel."
"Sure we do," Laura assured her. "But I'll guarantee that with what you have and what you'll be able to add, you'll feel very much in it, even at Palm Beach."
"And now, ladies," said Rhoda, "that the all-important subject of dress is disposed of, I move that Nan pass around for our refreshment those fine Florida oranges I see on the table there."
Nan laughingly complied, and Bess suddenly exclaimed as she peeled the rind from her orange:
"This reminds me, Grace. How will it seem to be walking through lovely orange groves with the beautiful golden fruit showing between the leaves?"
"And," Nan supplemented, "to be able to pick and eat the oranges with the warmth of the sun upon them! I have heard that the flavor is very different from what we are accustomed to."
"And imagine," Rhoda added longingly, "not only being able to feast on the delicious oranges but to have the fragrance of the wonderful blossoms all around you as you walk through the groves."
"Oh, girls, girls!" cried Grace, "you make me impatient to be there at this very minute. There's one thing," she added quizzically, "if no other orange blossoms ever come my way, I'll at least have had those."
"No need for you to worry about that," returned Laura, "with that young Palm Beach millionaire—or is it billionaire?—waiting to greet you and some day crown that fair brow of thine with fragrant orange blooms. Methinks I can already smell their fragrance and hear the strains of the justly celebrated wedding march of Mendelssohn."
"What vivid imaginations some people have," returned Grace calmly.
"Oh, dear," sighed Nan musingly, "doesn't it seem a shame that everybody can't have wonderful things? If only a very small part of the surplus wealth could be divided among those who are struggling just to live, what a different world this would be. It doesn't seem right that so many people should have everything and others have little else than work and worry. Those people at Palm Beach have wealth, luxury, everything to make life splendid, while others have so little. Things certainly are uneven in this world. Take Mrs. Bragley, for instance."
"I tell you what we'll do, girls," said Grace impulsively. "We'll make a spread for Mrs. Bragley as well as for ourselves."
"Fine!" ejaculated Rhoda. "We'll fill a basket with canned meat and some potatoes and——"
"No, no," interrupted Grace impulsively, "not those things. Let's give her a real spread with something out of the ordinary."
"Jellies," proposed Bess.
"Glass jars of imported strawberries and cherries," suggested Laura.
"A great bunch of those wonderful California grapes," contributed Grace.
"And some Florida oranges," added Nan.
"Great!" commented Grace. "When shall we do it?"
"Let's see," mused Nan. "We have our Latin class at two. We'll be through by three. Let's make it three-thirty o'clock to-morrow."
"I'm afraid you'll have to go without me," said Grace. "I promised mother I'd answer her letter right away, so I'll have to get that off to-morrow."
"I can't go either," said Laura. "I have those French exercises to make up before to-morrow night. I'd like to go, but I suppose I can't with that to do."
"Then, Bess," said Nan, "you and Rhoda and I will be a committee of three to wait on Mrs. Bragley to-morrow."
"Girls, isn't it warm in here?" questioned Laura.
"Warm? With the heating plant broken down?" queried Nan.
"It feels warm and I'm going to open a window," went on Laura, and, suiting the action to the word, she shoved up a window that was handy.
"Br-r-r!" came from several of the others.
"My, but that's cold!"
"We'll all get sick!"
"I know a way to fix Laura!" cried Rhoda, and, as she spoke, the girl from Rose Ranch leaned out of the window and reached upward.
"What are you going to do?" asked Bess.
"Get an icicle for her," answered Rhoda, and a moment later brought to view an icicle she had broken away from a projection above the window. The icicle was all of a foot and a half long and an inch or more in thickness.
"No, you don't!" cried Laura, leaping away as Rhoda came after her with the bit of ice. "Don't you dare to put that thing down my neck!"
"It will cool you off, Laura," said Rhoda; but just then she slipped and went down, shattering the icicle into fragments.
"No more noise," whispered Bess, closing the window.
At that moment, Nan's clock, sounding the first stroke of midnight, startled the girls.
"The hour indeed waxeth late," whispered Laura, and vanished.
One by one the others noiselessly followed. There was the almost inaudible sound of softly closing doors, and quiet reigned over Lakeview Hall.
In Nan's room for the second time that night there was the sound of measured breathing, but this time it was genuine.
ON THE ROAD
"Ugh!" shivered Nan the next morning when she came into the room after her bath. "This isn't Palm Beach, is it, Bess? More like the North Pole, eh?"
"Palm Beach," echoed Bess disgustedly, as she reluctantly slipped out of her warm bed and reached for her bathrobe. "It reminds me of it—it's so different. When that horrid old rising gong sounded, I was dreaming that I was there standing on the beach ready for a swim. I can feel that warm sand about my feet now," and she gave her cold little feet a vicious shove into her far from warm bedroom slippers.
"I don't believe Grace has slept much," smiled Nan.
"I know she hasn't," returned Bess, as she hurriedly dressed. "I'm sure I wouldn't have slept a wink if I had been in her place. I believe I'd just die if I were."
"Then," returned Nan cheerfully, fastening the last snapper in her belt, "I'm exceedingly glad you're not in Grace's place, for I prefer to see you alive a little longer."
They found Grace and Rhoda already in the lower hall, and knew by their flushed faces that last night's news was still the fascinating topic of conversation. All joined in, and were soon so absorbed that Laura's voice made them start.
"Beginning where you left off last night?" she was asking. "I don't believe Grace went to bed at all, but just sat up and anticipated all night long."
"Not quite so bad as that," laughed Grace. "I went to bed, but I confess that I was too excited to sleep very much."
"It's perfectly safe to say that all of us dreamed of Palm Beach, anyway," Bess conjectured.
"I did," replied Laura, chuckling at the remembrance. "I dreamed I was standing on one of those great broad piazzas. The moon was shining so brightly that the palm trees stood out clearly, and the gleam of the spray could be plainly seen as the breakers came rolling up on the beach. The air was warm and delightful, and I was thinking how happy I was to be there and of you unlucky girls shivering here at Lakeview Hall, when a gong clanged, some one shouted 'fire,' and smoke came pouring out of the hotel windows. I was so frightened I woke up and found that old rising gong getting in its work. I tell you, girls, I was mad enough to bite somebody."
"Serves you right for leaving us here to freeze when you could so easily have taken us with you," joked Nan.
Several times while the girls were chatting, Linda Riggs and Cora Courtney had passed very close to them in an effort to hear what they were so excitedly talking about. But the girls had purposely lowered their voices till, when the two passed, they were talking in whispers. It was a great satisfaction to get Linda so keyed up with curiosity.
"Some people are afraid to speak aloud," Linda remarked to Cora, during one of their walks past the group, "because they don't dare let people know what they're talking about."
"They seem to think it's smart to be mysterious," sniffed Cora.
But when they reached the end of the corridor, Linda stopped and said:
"What do you suppose they are talking about anyway? I bet they are hatching up something. I'd give my eyes to find out what it is, especially if Nan Sherwood is in it."
"You love her, don't you?" Cora asked sarcastically.
"As I love poison ivy," Linda snapped vindictively. "I never could bear her."
"She was ordered to Doctor Beulah's room yesterday," said Cora. "I bet she got a calling down for nearly killing that woman."
"That's something I never did," sneered Linda; "nearly kill any one. Of course, I'm glad no serious harm came to the woman. I don't want to see her hurt. But what fun it would have been, to see Nan Sherwood up in court for manslaughter."
Just at that moment Bess Harley, who had gone up to her room for a handkerchief, came down the stairs and heard the spiteful remark. Shocked and indignant, she said angrily:
"Of course, Linda Riggs, I know what makes you say those horrid things about Nan. It's because she beat you in the race yesterday. And that wasn't the last time, either. She'll always beat you, because she's worth a dozen of you."
Bess had unconsciously raised her voice, and Nan, hearing the angry words, came quickly, and, laying her hand soothingly on her chum's arm, said:
"Don't mind, dear, come along," and drew her gently away.
They passed into the breakfast room, while Linda, who had found no answer ready, looked after them vindictively.
She turned to Cora, and, giving her foot a vicious stamp, said:
"Never mind, I'll see that Nan Sherwood gets all that's coming to her."
"What do you mean?" asked Cora, her curiosity aroused.
"I haven't thought it all out," snapped Linda, "but I have an idea, a big idea. I'll tell you what it is later."
Lessons rather dragged that morning. The girls were impatient to get together and talk. A thousand things they had heard and read of the glories of Palm Beach came between them and the printed page, and questions that burned to be asked would persist in pushing their lessons from their minds. Everybody was relieved by the ripple of laughter that went round the class when Laura, a question of capital cities coming up, slipped and said that the capital of Florida was the Royal Poinciana.
Her teacher stared.
"I beg your pardon, Laura?" she said frigidly.
"I—I—meant Palm Beach," she stammered. "Er—er—I should say, I meant Tallahassee."
The girls who were in the secret of Grace's forthcoming trip giggled and looked meaningly at each other, and the recitation went on. But the slowest quarter hours will pass at last, and on this day they merged into hours and finally brought three o'clock and freedom.
"That's over at last! Did you ever live through such a long day?" asked Nan, as she put away her books and took her coat from the form. "Now for Mrs. Bragley."
"But first," said Bess, snatching up a small bonbon dish from the table, "we've got to have funds, and 'the collection will now be taken.' My, but you girls are generous!" she exclaimed exultantly, after she had counted up the donations. "Mrs. Bragley is going to have some spread!"
The committee of three went around by way of the town in order to purchase materials for the surprise spread for the woman they had run down. When the basket was filled they fairly reveled in the attractiveness of its contents. Boxes of crisp delicate crackers, tumblers of jelly, jars of imported strawberries and cherries, a bunch of California grapes that Rhoda said she was sure would weigh three pounds, and some unusually fine Florida oranges. Piling the basket on the sled that they had brought with them, they started gaily off, dragging it behind them.
After they had covered half the distance a voice hailed them, and Walter came dashing up behind them in his cutter. Reining in the spirited horse he was driving, he cried:
"Jump in, girls. It's a dandy day for a spin."
But they laughingly refused.
"Too many of us for that cutter," said Rhoda. "We'd make an awful load."
"And we don't want any men around anyway, to-day," laughed Bess.
Walter heard, but he saw only Nan's glowing face. What he thought about that face was plainly to be read in his eyes.
"Isn't there anything that I can do for you?" he asked. "Don't you want me to run the basket up to the cottage for you?"
"No, thanks," replied Nan. "We're getting along finely. It's awfully good of you, just the same."
Walter chirped to his horse, still with his eyes on Nan's smiling face, and, lifting his hat, drove on.
THE JOY OF GIVING
After Walter left it did not take the girls with their sled long to reach Sarah Bragley's modest little cottage.
Mrs. Ellis opened the door at their knock.
"How is Mrs. Bragley to-day?" Nan asked, as they went in.
"As well as can be expected," replied the nurse. "She had a little fever last night, but not enough to be at all anxious about."
"Has the doctor been here to-day?" queried Rhoda.
"Yes," was the reply, "about an hour ago."
"What did he say?"
"He says she is doing very well," Mrs. Ellis answered. "The only thing that gives him any concern is her lack of appetite. If he can coax that, he thinks she will soon be well."
"Perhaps these things will tempt her," remarked Nan, as she emptied the contents of the basket upon the table.
"How splendid!" exclaimed the nurse. "They are just the things she needs. I'll go and tell her that you are here, and you can take them in to her."
Left alone, the girls glanced around them. A warm fire blazed in the stove. Everything in the room was spotless.
"Doesn't it look nice?" observed Bess.
"Couldn't be any neater or more comfortable," judged Nan with satisfaction. "I'm so glad we could get Mrs. Ellis."
"She's a jewel, and no mistake," affirmed Rhoda.
At Mrs. Ellis' invitation, the three girls trooped into Mrs. Bragley's room. They were delighted to find her propped up in bed and looking very cheerful and comfortable.
"I'm glad to see you, young ladies," was her greeting to them. And she looked with pleasure into the bright faces as the girls clustered about the bed.
"You are feeling pretty good to-day, Mrs. Ellis tells us," said Nan brightly.
"Oh, very much better," was the reply. "I ought to when I have so many kind friends."
Just then the nurse came in, bringing the delicacies that the girls had purchased.
"See what these friends have brought you," she said, as she lifted the things one by one from the basket and placed them on a table by the side of the bed.
Mrs. Bragley's eyes grew wet with sudden tears.
"You are too good to me, young ladies! What kind hearts there are in the world!"
The oranges especially seemed to please her, and Mrs. Ellis prepared one for her.
"How good that orange tastes," she remarked. "I've always been very fond of them. At one time I thought I'd be owning a whole grove of them. But that was just a dream."
"What do you mean?" Rhoda asked, with interest.
"Well, dearie," answered the woman, evidently pleased with Rhoda's interest, "some years ago my husband thought he saw his way to make a little fortune for us. He heard of a company in Florida that was developing orange lands, and it looked so good to him that he bought a share in it. He thought he was going to make money enough out of it to make us safe for life. But nothing ever came of it."
"Where was this land?" asked Nan.
"Let me see," mused Mrs. Bragley, wrinkling her brow with the effort to remember. "It was somewhere in Florida, but I can't remember the name. It was—it was—I can't just think. Not that it matters much, anyhow, but I hate to forget things that way. Sun—sun—Sunny Slopes. That's what the name was."
"What a pretty name!" cried Bess.
"Yes. But that's about all that was pretty about it," replied Mrs. Bragley, with a weak smile. "My husband invested almost all his savings in it because he thought it was going to make him rich."
"When was that?" asked Nan, who was growing deeply interested.
"Only a short time before his death," came the answer sadly.
"But haven't you heard anything about it since?" queried Bess wonderingly. "You may really be rich, for all you know."
Mrs. Bragley smiled wanly.
"Not much chance of that, I fear," she replied. "I have written again and again, but have never received any answer to my letters. I'm afraid it was all a swindle."
"You must have papers of some kind," observed Nan.
"Yes," the woman assented. "They're in that bottom drawer there, if you'll trouble to get them for me."
Nan opened the drawer indicated and took from it a packet of papers. The documents bore marks of frequent folding and unfolding.
"May I look at them?" Nan asked, as she brought them to the bedside.
"Surely," was the ready answer. "And if one of you will just hand me my specs, I'll look over them with you and tell you all about them."
The three girls bent eagerly over Mrs. Bragley as she opened one paper after the other, prospectuses, several of them, highly colored illustrated leaflets and descriptive circulars. Then came a certificate for forty shares in the Sunny Slopes Development Company. The only individual name on any of the papers seemed to be that of Jacob Pacomb, who, it appeared, was the manager and the developer of the tract.
"It's extremely strange that no answer ever came to any of your letters," remarked Rhoda, as she scanned the documents. "Did any of the letters ever come back?"
"Not one," was the reply.
"Perhaps the man did not receive them," conjectured Nan.
"In that case," Mrs. Bragley replied, "the letters would have been returned to me, as I put my name and address on the outside."
"This man, Pacomb," suggested Bess, "may have died and all of the letters may have been destroyed."
"That wouldn't be very likely," objected Nan. "Some one would probably have settled up the business or taken it over and kept on with it. In either case, the letters would almost surely have been answered."
"I have thought of all that," the woman replied; "and that is why I think it must have been all a fraud. If I had been able to spare the money I would have taken a trip to Florida and looked into the matter myself, but I never felt that I could afford it."
"It is too bad you couldn't have gone," said Rhoda thoughtfully; "for if there was fraud you would then at least have found it out and could have had somebody punished. It looks to me that, knowing you were a widow and without means to look into things, they have deliberately held back any money that might have been coming to you and cheated you out of your rights."
The girls had been so interested in the papers and the story that went with them that they had thought of nothing else. Now Nan, suddenly glancing up, noticed that the old face looked white and tired. She rose at once.
"I'm afraid we've stayed too long," she said penitently. "We ought to have remembered that Mrs. Bragley isn't strong."
She replaced the papers in the drawer, smoothed the bed covers, and gave the injured woman a comforting pat on the shoulders.
"I hope you will be well again very soon," she said, "and then perhaps some way will be found to look into this matter."
"Anyway, we're going to try to do something about it," promised Rhoda as they took their leave.
The girls found when they got outside that it had begun to snow.
"Looks to me as if we were in for another storm," was Rhoda's comment, as they trudged along.
"Who cares?" cried Bess, catching up a handful of the snow and making a snowball.
"You can't hit anything," scoffed Nan. "Try it."
"All right, here goes for the blacksmith shop," answered Bess gaily, for they were almost directly in front of the little smithy.
"Gracious! Going to try to hit the whole building?" queried the girl from Rose Ranch.
"A blind man could do that," added Nan.
"I'm going to hit the door—the very middle of the door," answered Bess.
"Oh, Bess! if the man is inside, what will he think?" said Nan.
"I don't care what he thinks," was the quick reply. "Here goes!"
Away flew the snowball, and it must be admitted that Bess's aim was decidedly good, for the snowball sailed directly for the center of the door of the smithy.
But as the girl launched the snowball the door of the blacksmith shop opened and a man came forth.
Spat! the snowball landed directly in the man's face!
A MIDNIGHT FEAST
"My gracious, Bess, see what you have done!" cried Nan.
"You certainly hit the bull's eye that time," was Rhoda's comment.
"Oh!" was the only word Bess could utter, and she stood there in the roadway, her arm still poised high in the air as when she had thrown the snowball.
"Hi, you! Wot yer mean by heavin' snowballs at me?" screamed the man, as he wiped the snow from his face. "You let me alone! I ain't done no harm, I ain't."
He waved his hands wildly in the air. The girls now noticed that he was in tatters and had a very red nose, doubtless made redder than ever by the snowball.
"Come, move on now," said a voice from the smithy, and a tall man wearing a leather apron appeared. "I told you before I'd not have you hanging around here. Git!"
"I ain't gonner be snowballed!" cried the tramp, for such he was. "Tain't fair. I'm an honest man, I am. You lemme alone."
"I'll do worse than snowball you if you don't clear out, and that mighty quick," cried the blacksmith. "I know what you came in this place for—you came to steal horseshoes and then sell 'em over to Beavertown."
"I didn't—I came in to git warm," sniveled the tramp. But then, as the blacksmith reached for a whip, he fairly ran down the snowy road and out of sight.
"Wasn't I lucky?" said Bess, when the girls had explained matters to the blacksmith and moved on once more in the direction of the hall. "Only a tramp, and it might have been the blacksmith himself!"
"Well, we admit your aim was good," answered Nan drily.
As they made their way back to the school the girls talked over the matter of Mrs. Bragley's property. They came across Grace in the hall, and, bearing her off to Nan's room, told her the story of Sunny Slopes.
"Why!" exclaimed Grace, as a thought suddenly struck her, "I'll have dad look that up while we're down at Palm Beach. You know he's a lawyer. Maybe Sunny Slopes isn't far from where we'll be staying. I'll get him to see what he can do."
"That will be perfectly darling!" exclaimed Nan enthusiastically, and the others heartily agreed with her.
The next day, while returning from town where they had been stocking up for the feast they had promised themselves, they again met Walter Mason.
"Hello, girls," he called, as he came up to them.
"Hello, Palm Beach," returned Laura.
"So you've heard about it, have you?" Walter responded, with a laugh.
"Have we?" replied Nan. "We haven't heard or talked or thought of anything else since Grace told us."
"Of course you're going along?" said Bess questioningly.
"Of course," Walter answered. "But, to tell the truth, I'm not a bit eager to go. I'd rather stay right here."
They chatted a few minutes longer, and then Walter left them and the girls resumed their walk toward the school.
"Why do you suppose Walter would rather stay here than go to Palm Beach?" Laura asked innocently of no one in particular.
"That isn't hard to guess," replied Bess, with a mischievous glance at Nan. "What do you think about it, Nan?"
"I haven't any opinion," answered Nan demurely. "What I do know, though, is that we'll have to hurry if we get back to the school before dark."
That night had been set for the "spread," and the girls went early to their rooms to get their lessons for the next day out of the way. A most unusual and unnatural silence reigned in Nan's room for nearly two hours. It was broken by a book snapping shut as Bess sprang to her feet, exclaiming with satisfaction:
"There, that's done! And it's the last, thank fortune."
"Same here," answered Nan happily, as she gathered books and paper together and tossed them into a far corner of the room.
"Why, Nan!" exclaimed Bess in surprise, glancing at the clock, "where do you suppose the girls are? They were to be on hand at ten o'clock, and it's now five minutes after."
"Lessons," replied Nan laconically. "They'll be here any second now."
As she spoke the door opened softly, and Laura slipped in with a bundle of things in her arms. Placing them on the table, she went back and softly closed the door.
"Do you know, girls," she said in a low tone, "I met Linda Riggs as I was coming through the hall, and her eyes were two big bundles of curiosity when she saw the things in my arms. I shouldn't be surprised——"
Suddenly, without waiting to finish the sentence, she went back to the door, opened it quickly and stepped out into the hall to see Linda, looking red and confused, walking hurriedly away.
Laura called after her.
"Was there anything you wanted, Linda?" she inquired sweetly.
"No, thank you," came the pert rejoinder. "Not now. Later, perhaps."
"Of all the mean, sneaking——" she began, but Nan laughingly interrupted.
"There, there, Laura, what's the use? Don't give her a second thought."
"She isn't worth it, that's a fact," Laura contented herself with saying, and the next minute the entrance of the other girls laden with parcels put anything else out of her mind.
Rhoda's box, much to the girl's uneasiness, had been delayed, but had come that night just before dinner. Now she deposited it unopened on a chair.
"I thought it would be fun to open it here and see what blessings it had in store for us," she explained, as she proceeded to open and unpack it.
"Blessings!" echoed Nan. "Well, I should say they were," she added, as, one after another, a big layer cake, a small fruit cake, some cakes prettily iced, bottles of choice olives, salted almonds and peanuts, jars of jelly and marmalade, fruit, and a big package of fresh assorted bonbons were drawn from the box.
"Oh, for pity's sake, girls, let's hurry and get at them," cried Laura. "My mouth's fairly watering for them."
As she spoke, she drew Nan's spirit lamp from its shelf and soon had the water for cocoa boiling in a small saucepan.
"Why in the world," said Grace as she set the plates and cups and saucers on the table, "did we go and buy all these things? If we'd only known what that box was going to hold we wouldn't have needed half of them."
"No matter, the sandwiches and ice cream will come in well," said Laura. "That is," she added, "if there's anything of the ice cream left. I put it outside the minute we got it here, but it's had a long time to wait."
"It won't have to wait much longer," exulted Bess, as the girls gathered around the table and the feast began.
"Hey! don't let Grace cut that fruit cake yet," said Nan, her mouth full of cream cheese sandwich. "There won't be a raisin left for the rest of us."
"If you eat many more sandwiches," laughed Grace, "you won't have room left for even a raisin." And she calmly proceeded not only to cut the cake, but to help herself to a very generous slice.
"Um-um—this is good," she said. "Fruit cake is my special weakness."
"Yes, and it's our duty to help you conquer that weakness," remarked Laura virtuously, as she drew the fruit cake over to her side of the table.
"Now where did I put that sugar bowl?" asked Bess, as she finished pouring her third cup of cocoa.
"Here it is," replied Rhoda, as she accommodatingly handed over a small glass bowl from which Bess helped herself to a generous double spoonful. One swallow of her cocoa, and she began to sputter and gasp, and finally made a frantic grab for a tumbler of water.
"What on earth is the matter with the child?" asked Laura.
"Salt," Bess managed to articulate. "You gave me the salt, Rhoda, instead of the sugar. Oh, what a dose!"
The girls wanted to shout with laughter, but caution made them smother it as much as possible. And just at this juncture, the door opened part way without even one little warning squeak, and a severe voice said:
"Young ladies, report to me at my office at noon to-morrow."
A DANGEROUS PLOT
The girls, their laughter quenched, gazed at each other for a few seconds with stupefaction. Then Nan sprang to the door, opened it, and caught sight of a silently scurrying figure that could not by any means be confounded with Mrs. Cupp's angular form or slow, measured movements.
The other girls, astonished, gazed at Nan open-mouthed as she re-entered the room with flushed and indignant face and uttered the one enlightening word:
"It sure was!"
"Of all the nerve!" began Laura slowly.
"Of all the meanness, I should say," amended Rhoda indignantly, as she turned the key in the door.
Then the funny side struck them, and they sat doubled up with suppressed laughter.
With increased hilarity the feast went on. The ice cream was brought in and found to be in a very creditable state of preservation, and the layer cake and small iced cakes were very soon being gobbled up.
To illustrate that "variety is the spice of life," so she said, Laura had just followed some ice cream with a sour pickle, when a footstep neared the door and a stern voice commanded them to open it.
"Linda," whispered Grace to Bess, who was nearest her, while Laura said in a perfectly audible though subdued voice:
"You can just go about your business, you essence of meanness."
"You needn't think you can work that trick on us twice," added Grace.
"Don't judge our intellects by your own," scoffed Rhoda. "You must think we were born yesterday."
The girls laughed at the sally, and silence ensued for a moment.
"I guess that has disposed of Linda for the rest of the night," exulted Laura, and she applied herself again to the now rapidly melting ice cream.
"Let's finish this cream while the eating's good," laughed Nan, when her spoon was arrested on its way to her mouth by a voice outside the door.
"Nan Sherwood, I command you to open this door."
In overwhelming consternation the girls rose to their feet, and Nan unlocked and opened the door.
Quivering with anger and outraged dignity, Mrs. Cupp swept the room with flashing eyes.
"You will go to your rooms, young ladies, and you will all report at Dr. Prescott's room to-morrow morning at ten o'clock," she decreed, and, turning, moved majestically down the corridor, leaving black consternation behind her.
"Now, we are in for it!" gasped Rhoda, as the sound of footsteps died away.
Too overwhelmed to say another word, the others slipped away to their rooms.
The next morning, with many inward quakings, they entered the principal's room. Dr. Prescott's voice was severe as she said to the five caught-in-the-act delinquents:
"You are ready to admit, I presume, that you have broken one of the rules of the school. That I can understand. But that you should have been guilty of disrespect to one of the officers of the school is quite another and more serious thing. Have you any explanation to offer?"
After a moment's silence, Nan acted as spokesman.
"We did not intend to be disrespectful to Mrs. Cupp," she declared, and then went on and told the whole story.
"That puts things in a better light," said Dr. Prescott, when Nan had finished. "But to make you more careful in future and to remind you that the rules of Lakeview Hall are made to be observed, not ignored, I will forbid you all to go outside the grounds for three full days. You can go now to your recitations."
The girls bowed and withdrew, and for the rest of the morning they were unusually quiet. At noon they gathered in Laura's room, dropped into the nearest chairs at hand, and looked at each other lugubriously.
"Three days without poking our noses outside the gates!" mourned Bess. "How are we ever going to stand it?"
"I don't care much for that," commented Rhoda. "But I hate to give that Linda Riggs anything to gloat over."
"And she will," declared Grace. "She'll make the very most of it, you can be sure."
"Oh, well, let her then," said Laura, recovering something of her usual spirits. "Say, girls, did you see the expression on Cupp's face when we opened the door?"
They burst into a merry laugh at the remembrance, and the laugh lessened the tension and did them good.
"Oh!" gasped Laura, as she wiped the tears from her eyes, "I shall remember that look when I'm an old woman."
"I suspect Cupp will remember the occasion, too, for many days to come," prophesied Nan.
"I wish there had been a glass opposite the door, so that she could have seen her face," remarked Bess, going off into another gale of laughter.
"Come on," said Rhoda, when they had settled down. "Let's go for a walk on the campus and get some fresh air. Thank goodness, we can do that, anyway."
"Oh, dear," sighed Nan, as they went downstairs. "No coasting, no skating for three days. What a fate!"
"No matter," comforted Grace. "The feast was worth it. The memory lingers."
"It does," agreed Laura. "I can taste that layer cake yet. But come, girls, I challenge you to a race around the campus. One, two, three—go!"
"Wait until I make certain my shoe is tight," cried Grace.
"And wait until I get my cap fastened on," added Nan.
"No primping now!" exclaimed Laura. "Everybody ready?"
"What's the prize?" questioned Bess. "I can't run well unless I know it's worth it."
"You get the hole out of a doughnut," said Nan. "All sugared over, too."
"And a glass of frozen ice-water," added Grace.
"This is all the way around the campus," went on Laura. "No cutting corners, remember. You must follow the trees and the hedge. One cent fine if you don't. All ready? One—two—three, go!"
With wild shouts and much laughter the race around the campus was on.
Nan won "by a nose," as Laura rather slangily put it, and the girls, glowing and breathless, looked like anything else than confessed law-breakers doing penance.
The sight of their happy faces was too much for Linda, who, with Cora, was passing them, drawing the Gay Girl and carrying their skates over their shoulders.
"Some people try mighty hard to show that they're having a good time," she remarked to her companion.
"Blessings brighten as they take their flight, as the girl said when she couldn't leave the campus," grinned Cora maliciously.
"Well," countered Nan, "at least we're not doing penance for sneaking in the dark and listening at doors."
The flush on Linda's face showed that the shot had reached the mark.
"You think you know a lot, don't you?" she mocked, as she and Cora went on.
"How I detest that Nan Sherwood," hissed Linda. "I'll get square with her some day, and that day isn't so far off either. I know just how I'm going to fix her."
"Why do you keep on being so mysterious?" asked Cora impatiently. "You're always hinting and getting my curiosity aroused and then stopping short. Go on and tell me now."
But Linda refused, saying that she wanted to be sure first that her plans would go through all right.
"When I do spring things," she said, "I'll square up all accounts."
Cora sulked, but had to submit.
Several days later, as Nan and Bess were studying in their room, Bess wrote the final word in a French translation with a sigh of relief.
"Didn't you say once, Nan," she queried, "that you had somewhere a book of model French conversations?"
"Yes," answered Nan, looking up from her work. "Do you want it?"
"I'd like it ever so much," Bess answered. "I think it would help me with these wretched idioms that puzzle me so. Could you get it for me?"
"Surely, Bess," assented Nan, with obliging readiness. "It's down in my trunk. I'll go right down to the basement to-morrow after we finish our English recitation at twelve o'clock and get it for you."
"That's a darling, Nan," returned Bess gratefully. "I know it will help me heaps."
During this conversation their door had been standing open, and Linda Riggs, who was passing (she made occasion often to pass Nan's door), heard every word. An exultant look came into her face, and she hurried off to find Cora. She told her eagerly that at last she knew just how and when she was going to get even with that much-hated Nan Sherwood.
"What are you going to do?" asked Cora, excited and yet a little fearful of any scheme that Linda might hatch.
"I'm going to give her the scare of her life," replied Linda. "The idea came to me the other day when I was in the trunk room in the basement. The steam started to blow off with such a whistle close to my ears that it made me almost jump out of my skin. I feel sure that if the steam can only be held down for a little while and then go off with a rush it will be ten times louder. If that could be made to happen just as Sherwood was going past, it would scare her out of a year's growth. She'd think her last hour had come. The trouble has been that I never knew just when she'd be there. But I know now. I just heard her say. She's in for the biggest fright of her life. How does it strike you?"