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Title: Girls of Highland Hall - Further Adventures of the Dandelion Cottagers
Author: Rankin, Carolyn Watson
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Digital Library.)



Girls of Highland Hall
Carroll Watson Rankin



CONTENTS
    CHAPTER I—ON THE WAY
    CHAPTER II—PREPARATIONS
    CHAPTER III—LOST
    CHAPTER IV—FIRST IMPRESSIONS
    CHAPTER V—NEW ACQUAINTANCES
    CHAPTER VI—GETTING SETTLED
    CHAPTER VII—AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
    CHAPTER VIII—BRAVE VICTORIA
    CHAPTER IX—STRANGE DISAPPEARANCES
    CHAPTER X—MABEL FINDS A FAMILY
    CHAPTER XI—MABEL STAYS HOME
    CHAPTER XII—A GROWING GIRL
    CHAPTER XIII—MANY SMALL MYSTERIES
    CHAPTER XIV—UNPOPULAR MARJORY
    CHAPTER XV—A SURPRISING FESTIVAL
    CHAPTER XVI—MORE MYSTERIOUS HAPPENINGS
    CHAPTER XVII—HENRIETTA IS WORRIED
    CHAPTER XVIII—A STRING OF BLUE BEADS
    CHAPTER XIX—SALLIE’S STORY
    CHAPTER XX—A JOYFUL SURPRISE
    CHAPTER XXI—A GIRL LEAVES SCHOOL
    CHAPTER XXII—A MYSTERY CLEARED
    CHAPTER XXIII—PIG OR PORK?
    CHAPTER XXIV—STILL NO NEWS
    CHAPTER XXV—AN EXCITING FATHER
    CHAPTER XXVI—HENRIETTA IS MYSTERIOUS
    CHAPTER XXVII—SALLIE’S PRESENT



[Illustration: A twin baby carriage containing weary infants, propelled
by a perspiring young person, was coming in the gate]



CARROLL W. RANKIN

    The Adopting of Rosa Marie
    The Castaways of Pete’s Patch
    The Cinder Pond
    The Girls of Gardenville
    Dandelion Cottage
    Girls of Highland Hall



GIRLS OF HIGHLAND HALL

Further Adventures of the Dandelion Cottagers

BY CARROLL WATSON RANKIN

Author of “Dandelion Cottage,” “The Girls of
Gardenville,” “The Cinder Pond,” Etc.

New York
Henry Holt and Company
1921



Copyright, 1921
BY
HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY

First printing, August, 1921
Second printing, May, 1922
Third printing, September, 1925



TO
MRS. CELIA K. NORTHROP

To whom I am indebted for
much friendly encouragement.



THE PERSONS OF THE STORY

  Bettie Tucker          Once of Dandelion Cottage,
  Jean Mapes             now of Highland Hall.
  Marjory Vale
  Mabel Bennett

  Henrietta Bedford      Their Best Friend.

  Peter Black            Bettie’s Best Friend.

  The Rhodes Family      Of Highland Hall.

  Miss Woodruff          A Stern Teacher.

  Maude Wilder           Her Most Incorrigible Pupil.

  Miss Blossom           A Timely Flower.

  Madame Bolande         Who Bathed in Perfume.

  Gladys de Milligan     The Daughter of a Foolish Mother.

  Abbie                  A Sad Example to All Boarding School Orphans.

  Sallie Dickinson       A Boarding School Orphan.

  Elisabeth Wilson       The Lofty Seniors.
  Eleanor Pratt
  Beatrice Holmes

  Victoria Webster       A Brave Maiden.

  Isabelle Carew         Who Is Sentimental.

  Augusta Lemon          A Timid Girl.

  Cora Doyle             A Growing Girl.

  Various Teachers, Girls and Fathers—Especially Fathers.



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

    A twin baby carriage containing weary infants, propelled by
    a perspiring young person, was coming in the gate

    “My beads!” shrieked Hazel, pouncing on the necklace

    It looked very much as if all the mysteries were solved

    “For goodness’ sake keep still,” growled Mabel



GIRLS OF HIGHLAND HALL



CHAPTER I

ON THE WAY


The time was almost noon of a warm September day. The place was State
Street, Chicago. The persons were six, and four of them were seeing
Chicago for the first time. They walked two by two in a little
procession. There were other persons in State Street too, probably
somewhere between a thousand and a million; but we don’t need to worry a
great deal about those others, though of course if they hadn’t been
there there would have been more room for our friends.

This small procession was headed by a well-dressed, moderately stout,
smooth-shaven gentleman with touches of white in his black hair and a
kindly, benevolent expression in his dark eyes and about his fine mouth.
A handsome man and a good man, as any one could see.

His companion was a little girl of perhaps thirteen years of age. She,
too, had big dark eyes with long lashes; and a nicely shaped mouth. Her
complexion was just exactly right and her short hair curled crisply
about the unusually pleasing countenance. Her name was Bettie and it
seemed to be a very good fit.

The second couple followed close at the heels of the first, presenting a
curious contrast. One of them, whose name was Jean, was instantly
attractive because of the serene loveliness of her expression. One knew
at a glance that she was a person to be trusted. The girl beside her,
all of two years younger, was very much smaller; a little sprite of a
girl, with bright, gray eyes and quantities of fluffy golden hair. She,
also, was a pretty child. Her small features were shapely and she
looked, as indeed she was, an unusually bright child. She was quick and
graceful in her movements and nothing in the shop windows escaped the
eager, birdlike glance of little Marjory Vale.

The third couple was erratic in its movements. Sometimes it damaged the
heels of Jean and Marjory by crowding too close. Sometimes it lagged so
far behind—the windows were _most_ attractive—that it had to run to
catch up. One of this couple, Mabel Bennett, was not built for running.
Mabel was the youngest and the broadest of the sextette; but her
undeniable plumpness did not detract from her looks. One couldn’t help
liking her honest blue eyes, the wholesome red and white of her fine
complexion, her sturdy, childlike figure, her dependable legs and the
rich bronze of her abundant hair. It was braided this morning in a
thick, uneven braid; from which numerous tendrils that curled in large,
loose, rather becoming rings escaped untidily. One guessed that
inexperienced Mabel had been her own decidedly unskilful hairdresser
that morning. Mabel’s partner in the procession was a girl of about
fifteen, so unusual in appearance that strangers turned to look at her.
Dark as a gipsy, with glowing crimson cheeks, bright black eyes with
curling lashes, soft black hair that grew naturally in pleasing curls
neatly tied back with a broad black ribbon; a shapely, graceful figure
possessing to an unusual degree an atmosphere of style. The girls were
all well dressed, mostly in blue serge, but this fifth young person,
Henrietta Bedford, wore _her_ clothes with a different air. One realized
that the serge in her smartly cut frock was a degree finer than that in
Mabel’s rumpled middy or in Marjory’s very brief skirt. Also Henrietta’s
scarlet silken tie was broader, more brilliant and of a heavier texture
than those of the other girls. One could easily see that there were
wealth and generations of cultivation back of Henrietta—and adventures
ahead of her.

One of the adventures was about to begin, but the kindly man who led the
procession was far from suspecting it. It was Mabel who started this
one.

“If I see another window just bursting with candy I’ll _die_,” said
Mabel. “I never _saw_ such windows. I wish I hadn’t left my money in my
suitcase.”

“Mr. Black has mine,” said Henrietta. “All but a dime that happened to
be loose in my pocket. But I tell you what. We’ll dart into the next
candy place and spend that—we can easily catch up. Here, come on in
here.”

The clerk, not realizing that the two girls were in a hurry, finished
leisurely with another customer before attending to Henrietta who was
impatiently tapping the counter with her dime.

“What’s all the rush,” drawled the young man, carefully weighing the
pink and white buttercups that Henrietta had chosen. “Catching a train?”

“Yes,” snapped Henrietta. “Don’t bother to tie it up. Come on, Mabel, we
must run, now, to catch up. That horrid clerk was dreadfully slow.”

They ran. They caught up with and passed a large number of persons but
not with Jean, nor Marjory of the yellow hair, nor Bettie with the
bobbing curls nor Mr. Black, who had innocently imagined himself
perfectly capable of introducing Chicago to five small maidens from the
wilds of Northern Michigan.

He had now lost two of them. He had missed them almost immediately and
had turned back to look for them, expecting to find them with their
noses against some fascinating window. And now they were well ahead of
him, screened from his view by hundreds of busy shoppers and running
with might and main.



CHAPTER II

PREPARATIONS


And now, of course, you will want to know why a round half dozen of
Lakeville’s most precious inhabitants should be discovered parading the
streets of Chicago and incidentally losing themselves and each other by
the wayside.

It was this way. The Lakeville schoolhouse had burned down, nobody could
decide where to build a new one and the places used as temporary
substitutes were unsatisfactory to many of the parents. Moreover,
Mabel’s father, the village doctor, had long wanted to go to Germany in
order to study certain branches of surgery—this was before the war, of
course. His wife wanted to go with him but she didn’t wish to take
Mabel.

Miss Jane Higgins, otherwise Aunty Jane, had been intrusted with money
to be devoted to the education of her orphaned niece, little Marjory
Vale. Aunty Jane possessed a conscience that would not rest until that
money was spent for that particular purpose. Then there were
accomplishments that Mrs. Mapes desired for her daughter Jean and that
Mrs. Slater wanted for her granddaughter Henrietta that were not, at
that time, procurable in Lakeville. The solution to all these problems
was boarding school, since the girls were much too young for college.

Of course Bettie Tucker, their inseparable companion, wished to go too.
But her father, a clergyman with a large family and a small salary,
could see no way to afford what seemed to him an unnecessary outlay;
until Mr. Black, an elderly widower with a young heart and a warm
affection for all children and especially for Bettie, offered generously
to pay all expenses connected with Bettie’s education.

Of course the selecting of a proper school had proved a matter of much
importance and thought. The mothers and Aunty Jane had sent for and
received vast numbers of catalogues, each more fascinating than the
last. Aunty Jane was in favor of something near Boston. Mrs. Bennett
preferred Philadelphia, while Mrs. Mapes showed a partiality for Ohio.

“I think,” said Mrs. Tucker, “that we’d better be guided by Mrs. Slater.
She has traveled a great deal and I’m sure she must have a great many
friends whose daughters have been to boarding school. Let’s talk to Mrs.
Slater about it.”

“I agree with you,” said all the other parents and Aunty Jane.

Mrs. Slater had, indeed, a great many friends who had had boarding
school daughters. Also, she too had a tall stack of catalogues. Also she
had, in her own mind, already selected a school for Henrietta.

“In the first place,” said she, when her guests were seated in her
handsome house, “we don’t want our little girls too far away from us, so
I am in favor of something near Chicago. In the second place I am
greatly inclined toward the school founded by my old friend Doctor
Rhodes in Hiltonburg. A very fine old gentleman, my dears, with high
ideals and beautiful manners. Highland Hall is perhaps rather an old
fashioned school; but the catalogue states that there is a new gymnasium
and new, up-to-date dormitories. The most charming young woman of my
acquaintance attended that school—Ruth Belding, her name was. Dr.
Rhodes, I assure you, is a wonderful man, splendidly educated, highly
cultured and charming in every way. His teachers are chosen with the
greatest care and only really nice girls are admitted to his school.
There are more expensive schools and some cheaper ones—I had been
thinking of consulting you about this very matter.”

“It sounds all right to me,” said Mrs. Bennett.

“I _had_ thought of that Painesville place,” said Mrs. Mapes, “but
Hiltonburg is certainly nearer home—though any place is far enough from
Northern Michigan.”

“Of course there’s no place like Boston,” said Aunty Jane, who had been
born in the East, “but Marjory _could_ get home from this Hiltonburg
place for her Christmas vacation.”

“I haven’t any particular choice,” said Mrs. Tucker. “Anything that
meets with Mr. Black’s approval will be all right for Bettie.”

“Then,” said Mrs. Slater, “we’d better write at once to Doctor Rhodes.
He may not have room.”

Doctor Rhodes replied very promptly. There _was_ room and he would be
very glad indeed to enroll five new pupils from Lakeville. The mothers
and Aunty Jane were glad to have the matter settled. It did not occur to
any of them, least of all to Mrs. Slater, that charming Ruth Belding was
no longer a very young woman and that considerable time had elapsed
since she had been graduated from Hiltonburg.

The five girls had spent a wonderful summer camping in the woods with
Mr. Black and his good old sister, Mrs. Crane. On their return, all the
dressmakers in the village had been kept busy for a bewildering
fortnight outfitting the lively youngsters with suitable garments for
school. From a mountain of catalogues, the busy parents selected and
studied long lists of articles needed by prospective pupils at various
schools. Then they bought trunks and filled them. Jean, Mabel, Marjory
and Henrietta began to prattle of clothes.

“My silk stockings have come,” said Henrietta. “Two pairs for very best
and Grandmother has sent to New York for my hat.”

“I have my first silk petticoat,” said Jean. “Mother ordered it from
Chicago.”

“I have two new middy blouses from Detroit,” confided Mabel. “The
Chicago ones were not big enough.”

“Aunty Jane sent to Boston for my coat,” said Marjory. “It’s all lined
with satin.”

Bettie said never a word.

“Say, Bettie,” demanded Mabel, “how’s _your_ trunk coming?”

“It isn’t,” returned Bettie, soberly. “The baby has been sick and Mother
hasn’t been able to do a thing. I’ve darned two pairs of stockings and
taken the hem out of an old petticoat—and that’s all. I’m—I’m getting
worried.”

Suddenly Bettie’s lip quivered and Jean noticed it. Now, Jean was
thoughtful beyond her years and she knew that the Tuckers had very
little money to spend for clothes. When she reached home, still
wondering where Bettie’s wardrobe was to come from, she found her mother
entertaining Mr. Black’s stout middle-aged sister, Mrs. Crane.

“Well, Jeanie girl,” said Mrs. Crane, “I’ve been admiring your new silk
petticoat. I suppose you are all just about ready for school.”

“Bettie isn’t,” returned Jean, soberly. “I’ve been thinking about it all
the way home. Mrs. Tucker never _was_ very smart about Bettie’s clothes,
you know, and of course they haven’t any money. The things that come out
of missionary boxes never do seem to be just right. I don’t see where
Bettie’s outfit is coming from.”

“Bless my soul!” cried Mrs. Crane, “I’m just an old idiot. And so is
Peter. Here is this blessed old goose of a brother of mine sending
Bettie off to school for a year and neither of us thinking that she’d
need clothes. What ought she to have, Mrs. Mapes? You make out the list
and I’ll get the things. Why! I’d just _love_ to do it.”

Left to herself, it is to be feared that Mrs. Crane would have done
fearful things. Her mind ran to gay plaids with red predominating; and
at first she talked much of materials for pinafores—a species of garment
in vogue in her own remote youth; but with much sound advice from Mrs.
Mapes it was not long before Bettie’s wardrobe compared very well with
Jean’s.

Mrs. Crane, however, indulged in a few wild purchases that satisfied her
love for color and greatly amused Henrietta. There was a gay plaid dress
with brass buttons, a pair of bright blue stockings, some red mittens, a
wonderful knitted scarf of many hues, a purple workbag and at least four
strings of gaudy beads. Fortunately, there were plenty of garments
without these and Bettie declared that Mrs. Crane’s queer purchases made
the dark depths of her big trunk quite bright and cheerful.

“As for my trunk,” laughed happy Bettie, “it’s big enough to live in and
it’s all mine forever and ever.”



CHAPTER III

LOST


But it is high time we were returning to Chicago to look after the lost
Lakeville children.

“I think they might have waited for us,” panted Mabel, no longer able to
run. “They might have known we’d get lost.”

“It wasn’t their fault,” said Henrietta. “I should have asked them to
wait. But that’s just like me. I’m always doing things on the spur of
the moment and then wishing I hadn’t.”

“If we only knew where they were going to eat—”

“But we don’t. Mr. Black said that as long as our train was late getting
in and we had missed our connection with the Hiltonburg train that we’d
just check our baggage to the other station and walk about until time
for lunch. After that we’d go some place to look at something—I’ve
forgotten just what—and leave for Hiltonburg at three o’clock.”

“I wish I had my lunch right now,” wailed Mabel, dragging her hat into
place and stuffing loose locks under it. “I’m hungry and I’m thirsty and
my new shoes hurt my feet. It’s awfully noisy here and I don’t like
being lost. I don’t _like_ it—”

“Mabel,” warned Henrietta, “if you cry, I’ll run away and leave you here
and then you’ll be a lot more lost than you are now. I’m just as much
lost as you are, even if I _have_ been in Chicago before. We’ll go along
until we see a restaurant with ladies eating in it and _we’ll_ go in and
eat—”

“But we haven’t any money,” objected Mabel, dismally.

“If I remember rightly,” said Henrietta, after a moment’s deep thought,
“they don’t ask for your money until _after_ you’ve eaten. I think I
know of a way to fix it. Wait a minute until I tidy you up a little.
There are three dabs of soot on your face and your hair is all over the
place. Of course we want to look as if we _had_ money.”

“You always do,” said Mabel, “but I don’t.”

“Still,” consoled Henrietta, “you always look as if you’d had meals—as
many as four or five a day.”

“But,” questioned Mabel, “are you _sure_ it’s all right?”

“Of course. I told you I knew a way to fix it. Here’s a place right
here—not very big but the folks look all right. Stand up straight and
don’t look so scared. There, that’s better.”

They were inside. The waiter held up two fingers and escorted them to a
table. They sat down and Henrietta leisurely removed her gloves. Mabel’s
had been removed—and lost—for some hours.

“We might as well have a _good_ meal,” remarked Henrietta, studying the
_menu_. “Of course, if Mr. Black were paying for it I’d leave the choice
to him; but as long as he isn’t we’ll choose what we like. Let’s begin
with cream of celery soup. Then how would you like chicken _à la king_
and shrimp salad, creamed cauliflower, French fried potatoes—and ice
cream for dessert?”

“That’s all right for me,” agreed Mabel, visibly cheering up, “only I
like the looks of the green corn that man is eating over there; and the
waiter just went by with a big tray of fluffy things—”

“French pastry. We can have some of that, too.”

They enjoyed their meal. Being lost wasn’t half bad when the salad was
so delicious, the chicken so tender, the rolls so delightfully crisp,
the corn so sweet, the service so excellent. Besides her ice cream,
Mabel ate two varieties of French pastry and was sorry that Henrietta
didn’t urge her to try more when there were so many kinds. But Henrietta
was putting on her gloves.

Henrietta picked up the slip, carried it to the cashier’s desk and
remarked, calmly: “Charge it, please, to Mrs. Howard Slater.”

“But, my dear girl,” objected the cashier, “we don’t charge meals. This
is a cash place.”

“Oh, is it?” said Henrietta, flushing slightly. “I’m sorry for that. You
see, we _haven’t_ any cash. But if you will send the bill to my
grandmother, of course she will pay it.”

“It’s a pretty big bill,” remarked the young woman with suspicion. “I
think I’d better call the manager. Mr. Hobbs—Oh, Mr. Hobbs! Step here a
moment please.”

Mr. Hobbs “stepped here.” The young woman explained.

“Mrs. Slater of this city?” he asked.

“No,” returned Henrietta; “of Lakeville, Michigan.”

“How do I know she’ll pay this?”

“Oh, she will,” exclaimed both girls at once. “She always does.”

“Well, you look as if she did,” said the man, who had taken in all the
details of Henrietta’s well made costume. “If you’ll give me her address
and write a little note to go with the bill, I’ll let you go this time.
This—this isn’t a regular performance, is it?”

“Oh, no,” assured Henrietta. “We just happened to get separated from our
friends and they had all the money; but I knew it would be all right.”

“I hope it is,” said the manager, a little later, as he addressed an
envelope to Mrs. Slater. “Those children certainly ate a square meal.”

In the meantime, perplexed Mr. Black gathered what remained of his flock
as close to him as possible, looked anxiously up and down the street and
wondered what to do.

“If we stay right here,” said Jean, “they may catch up.”

“If we go back for a couple of blocks,” said Marjory, “we may find
them.”

“Perhaps,” suggested Bettie, “they passed us when we stopped to look at
those clocks.”

“It’s time we were having our lunch,” said Mr. Black. “Suppose we walk
back and forth the length of this block—we _must_ find those girls.”

“Couldn’t we ask that policeman if he had seen two girls, one fat and
one very dark?” asked Marjory.

They could and they did, but the policeman hadn’t. He looked indeed as
if he had never condescended to see anything below the level of his own
lofty chin.

“Now what,” asked worried Mr. Black, taking off his hat and mopping his
forehead, “would _you_ do, girls, if _you_ were lost?”

“I’d die,” said Marjory.

“I’d telegraph my father,” said Bettie.

“I’d remember that I was going to Hiltonburg on the three o’clock
train,” said Jean, “and I’d ask a policeman how to get to the station.”

“Good,” said Mr. Black. “Would either of those girls think of that?”

“Mabel wouldn’t,” replied Jean, “but Henrietta might. She has traveled a
lot you know. She’s been in London, New York, Paris, San Francisco,
Washington, Boston and even in Chicago—but not for very long. Still, she
knows a lot more about cities than _we_ do. She has stayed in
hotels—perhaps she’ll go to one.”

“But—had she any money? Had Mabel?”

“Mabel’s mother didn’t give her very much,” said Jean. “She always loses
it. What she had she packed in her suitcase.”

“And I have Henrietta’s,” mourned Mr. Black. “Poor girls! They are
frightened half to death and hungry too. They had an early breakfast,
poor things. I should have kept an eye on them every moment.”

“Just one eye wouldn’t have been enough for Henrietta,” remarked Bettie.
“She darts about like a humming bird. There’s one thing certain. They’re
not in this block.”

“We’ll walk back and forth for twenty minutes longer,” said Mr. Black.
“Then we’ll get something to eat. After that we’ll go to the station.”

Owing to very slow service, it was almost two o’clock before they
finished their meal. There was another delay when they tried to find a
taxicab. After that they were held up twice by congested traffic and the
anxious girls began to fear that they might be late for the three
o’clock train; but they were not.

Mr. Black was quite pale and haggard from anxiety when at last they
reached the station. He gave an audible sigh of relief when two girls
seated just inside the waiting room door, hopped up and grabbed his coat
tails to halt his rapid stride through the station.

“Oh, Mr. Black,” squealed Mabel. “We’re here. We walked all the way and
we asked a policeman on every corner to make sure we were getting to the
right place. I used to think I ought to run if I saw a policeman but I
guess they’re pretty useful if you’re good—only I wasn’t. It was all my
fault. I went into a store to buy candy.”

“It was mine, too,” said Henrietta. “I should have known better. I just
didn’t think—I never do. I’m awfully sorry.”

“Well, well,” returned Mr. Black, “I’m certainly glad you were capable
enough to get to the right station. Now take hold of hands, all of you,
and Bettie, you hold on to my coat like grim death. We must buy our
tickets, re-check our baggage and get aboard our train.”



CHAPTER IV

FIRST IMPRESSIONS


Even a very unobserving person would have been able to see at a glance
that Highland Hall had begun life as a private residence. Originally a
big square house built of cream colored brick and generously supplied
with large windows and many balconies, it was perched in solitary
grandeur at the top of a broad, grassy knoll; but when it became a
school red brick additions, four stories high, extended toward the north
and west. An enormous and very ugly veranda stretched along the entire
length of one of these additions. From it a broad flight of twelve wide
steps led to the ground.

Doctor Rhodes and his family lived in part of the old mansion. His
office was there on the ground floor in a room that had once been the
dining room. The original parlor, a huge oblong room with a very high
ceiling, and the dark and rather dingy library back of it were still
unchanged.

Most of the second, third and fourth floors of the large modern wings
contained bedrooms. The school rooms, music rooms and studio occupied
the ground floor. New pupils always complained that there were miles and
miles of dark hallways and corridors in which to get lost.

The kitchen, dining hall and laundry were in the basement.

There were no houses visible from three sides of the school building.
From the fourth side, however, one could see the dark roofs of other
ancient houses falling into decay, each with its huge yard, its
overgrown hedge, its unkempt shrubbery. Beyond that, nearly a mile
distant, the red town of Hiltonburg glistened in the sunshine.

Somewhere between five and six o’clock that September afternoon, the
station hack stopped on the curved driveway in front of Highland Hall.
Mr. Black and his five charges alighted. This spectacle afforded much
interest to some three dozen maidens clustered in pairs and groups on
the front steps and on the wide veranda. To the embarrassed newcomers
these girls seemed to be all eyes. Never had the children from Lakeville
encountered so many curious eyes. There _couldn’t_ have been more than
seventy-two but it seemed more like seventy-two thousand, Bettie said
afterwards.

Mr. Black addressed one of the nearest groups. “Can you direct me,” he
asked, “to Doctor Rhodes?”

“Yes, Sir,” said a little girl with smooth, brown hair, rising promptly
and leading the way inside. “He’s probably in the office, but if he
isn’t I’ll find him for you.”

“Ah,” said Doctor Rhodes, who _was_ in his office, rising from his
chair, “the five young ladies from Lakeville, I take it?”

“Yes,” returned Mr. Black.

“Most of our flock arrived day before yesterday,” said Doctor Rhodes,
shaking hands all around, “but you are still in very good season. And
what is better, you are just in time for dinner. If Miss—Ah, I don’t
remember your name—”

“Jane,” supplied the little girl.

“Ah, yes, Miss Jane. If you will inform Mrs. Rhodes she will show the
young ladies their rooms so they can—er—wash up a little if necessary.
You, Mr. Black, may come with me.”

Mrs. Rhodes appeared presently and the girls were introduced. They
didn’t like Mrs. Rhodes. She was a tall, very slender, very upright old
woman in an unnatural state of tidiness, with evenly-waved white hair
parted exactly in the middle, a wrinkled white skin and glittering black
eyes set in narrow slits. Her unsmiling mouth, too, was a narrow slit.
Her expression was severe. She was really rather a frosty and
blood-curdling old lady to look at but on this occasion she proved a
good guide, surprisingly nimble for her years. She led them to the
second floor, through a wide arch that led to a long corridor. There
were doors down each side of this and a window at the end. Here she
paused to consult a note book that she had taken from her pocket.

“Number twenty. Miss Vale, Miss Bedford in here. Miss Tucker, Miss Mapes
in twenty-two. Miss Bennett in twenty-four with Miss Isabelle Carew.”

“Oh!” gasped Mabel, “couldn’t I stay with the others?”

“No,” returned Mrs. Rhodes. “I have arranged for you to room with Miss
Carew of Kentucky. I’m quite sure you will like her.”

Half an hour later, the five girls were led to the dining room and
seated at one of several long tables. Mr. Black they perceived at a
distance—a tremendous distance it seemed—at Doctor Rhodes’s own table.

“There’s custard pie, tonight,” whispered the girl next to Henrietta.
Not a pretty girl, but her face was alive with mischief and Henrietta
liked her at once. “I saw pies and pies cooling in the basement window
when I crawled under the veranda to see what they kept in there. Grand
place to hide. What’s your name? Mine’s Maude Wilder and I live in
Chicago. My room’s in the West Dormitory too, so you’ll see a lot of
me.”

“I’m glad of that,” said Henrietta.

“The three girls over there with the fancy hair are Seniors. The other
big girls at that table are Juniors. They don’t mix very much with the
rest of us.”

“Won’t you have a biscuit?” asked a gentle voice at Bettie’s right. “I’m
Sarah Dickinson—Sallie for short.”

Bettie looked at Sallie. She saw a slender girl of about fifteen, with
dark blue, rather sad eyes, light brown hair and a pale skin. Her
shoulders drooped a little and there was something rather pathetic about
her smile. The blue collar of her middy blouse was very much faded. This
was very noticeable because, just at the beginning of the term as it
was, nearly all the garments in sight were brand new.

“Are you a new girl?” asked Bettie.

“I’m the _oldest_ girl,” returned Sallie. “I’ve been here, vacations and
all, for five years. I haven’t any home of my own.”

Later, Bettie learned more about Sallie. Her mother had died when Sallie
was about nine years old. For a time she had lived alone with her father
but he had decided that she would be better off in a girls’ school. An
old man, her grandfather, perhaps, had brought her to Highland Hall,
paying her tuition for one year in advance. Something had happened to
her father. When the school year was finished it was discovered that
Sallie had no home to go to, her relatives having somehow disappeared.
Anne Blodgett, a last year’s girl who told Bettie about it, was not very
sure of her facts. Anyway, the housekeeper had allowed her to stay
because the little girl seemed likely to prove useful—there were many
errands to do in a house like that.

She was still staying and still proving useful; but the kindly
housekeeper had departed and stern Mrs. Rhodes had apparently taken the
housekeeper’s place. Sallie was kept busier than ever. She sometimes
seemed a bit dazed and bewildered and just a little bit down-hearted;
but at first she had very little to say about herself.

Mr. Black departed very soon after dinner. The girls were permitted to
walk to the last corner of the school premises with him. There they
clung to him tearfully and begged him to make a great many business
trips to Chicago in order to visit them at Highland Hall.

“I know,” sobbed Bettie, “that we’re going to be homesick. I’m homesick
_now_. It’s so _different_. All those strange girls and that awful Mrs.
Rhodes.”

“And me with a strange roommate,” wailed Mabel, also in tears. “And I
don’t even know what she looks like.”

“You’ll be so busy studying that you won’t have time to miss Lakeville,”
assured Mr. Black. “Now run back like good girls so I can catch my
train. I’ll send you a great big box of candy from Chicago tomorrow and
new friends will flock about you like flies.”

Before many hours had passed, Mabel discovered that a strange roommate
was not so bad after all because Isabelle Carew of Kentucky had arrived
two days earlier and knew when to go to bed, when to get up, where to
find the class rooms and most important of all, the dining room. Mabel
thoroughly enjoyed imparting her new knowledge to her Lakeville friends.

Each day, they discovered, was divided into sections of forty minutes
each, and each section was filled to the brim. A bell rang every forty
minutes—Sallie had to ring it.

“And my goodness!” said weary Mabel, during visiting hour, when the five
friends were stretched at length across Henrietta’s narrow bed, “it’s
just awful to jump up and do something different every time that bell
rings.”

“Never mind,” soothed Henrietta, “we don’t have to do a single thing
from three in the afternoon until six, except on walking days. We don’t
have to go to gym from two to three unless we want to. We don’t have to
study evenings unless we like but except on dancing nights we have to
stay in our own rooms and keep quiet in case anybody _does_ want to
study.”

“Or rest,” groaned Mabel.

“There’s kind of a woodsy grove over that way—south, I guess,” said
Jean. “We can go as far as the road, Cora says. She’s that thin girl
with freckles—an old girl. Sometimes you can find nuts; and, in the
spring, there are lots of wild flowers.”

“Spring will never get here,” groaned Marjory.

“We aren’t allowed to go to town at all,” said Jean, “except sometimes
to lectures and concerts at the Theological Seminary, and there’s a
regular shopping day sometimes. Cora says it isn’t a bit like it was
here last year—a great many things have been changed. All the teachers,
for one thing. There’s a secret. Something happened, but she says that
Doctor Rhodes took all the old girls into his office as soon as they
came and made them promise not to tell the new girls—or anybody.”

“The teachers,” said Henrietta, “are a bunch of freaks and as near as I
can make out most of them are related to Doctor Rhodes. I had physical
geography from his poor old cousin, Emily Rhodes; and a music lesson
from his daughter, Julia Rhodes.”

“His daughter-in-law, Mrs. Henry Rhodes, teaches painting and
needlework,” said Jean. “She’s rather pleasant, _I_ think.”

“Anyway,” said Mabel, “that French teacher isn’t related. And I don’t
think Miss Woodruff is.”

Marjory sat up suddenly and giggled.

“What’s the joke?” demanded Henrietta.

“Mabel made friends with Miss Woodruff this morning in mathematics. She
is just about the tallest and stoutest person you ever did see. Mabel
asked her if she hadn’t been teaching a great many years. Miss Woodruff
said, ‘Why, no; how old do you think I am?’ Mabel looked her up and down
carefully and said: ‘About seventy-five.’”

“Oh, Mabel!”

“Well,” confessed Mabel, “I honestly didn’t see how anybody _could_ grow
to such a size in _less_ than seventy-five years. Why! She’s the very
biggest woman I _ever_ saw.”

“She’ll have it in for you,” laughed Henrietta.

“I like Sallie Dickinson,” said Bettie. “But I’m sort of sorry for her,
too. She has to give out all the mail because she’s the only person who
never gets any and she has to help in the kitchen sometimes, cleaning
silver and things like that. And ringing that horrid bell. It isn’t any
wonder her legs are so thin—always running up and down stairs and
through all those long halls.”

“I like Maude Wilder,” said Jean. “She’s full of fun and she throws
stones just like a boy.”

“I don’t care about Isabelle,” confessed Mabel. “She says she’s
_engaged_.”

“Engaged!” squealed Marjory. “How old is she?”

“About fifteen. She says southern girls are _always_ engaged. She talked
about nothing but boys last night and she says she’s afraid she’s
falling in love with the history teacher—Mr. James Carter.”

“I saw him,” said Henrietta. “I should think if _any_ man were perfectly
safe from being fallen in love with, he _was_. He’s an ugly,
near-sighted little brute with black whiskers and shabby shoes—another
relative of Doctor Rhodes, Maude says. I guess Isabelle is just
naturally sentimental like a silly maid Grandmother had once. She’ll
have a sweet time getting sympathy out of Mabel, won’t she?”

“She’s writing sort of a continued letter to her Clarence,” laughed
unsentimental Mabel. “He’s a silly looking thing, too. I saw his picture
in her locket. She wears it night and day.”

“I suppose,” teased Henrietta, “you’re going to write to Laddie
Lombard?”

“Of course I am, but that’s different. He’s just a regular boy—not a
_beau_.”

“It’s time we were dressing for dinner,” said Jean, prodding her lazy
companions. “We should have been outdoors all this time.”

“I’m worried about dinner,” confessed Mabel. “Sallie says that beginning
with tonight we have to ask for everything in French and I don’t know
enough French to ask for a stewed prune.”

“You don’t have to,” laughed Bettie, “we have those for breakfast.”

“It’s all right anyway,” said Marjory. “Cora says that the girls at our
table have a secret code—Maude invented it as soon as she heard about
the French. This is it. You punch your next door neighbor once for
bread, twice for butter, three times for pickles, four times for
potatoes. One pinch means sugar and two pinches for cream. We never get
any more meat anyway so there isn’t anything for that. Of course you
mustn’t get your pinches and punches mixed up. But isn’t that a grand
scheme for beginners in French?”

“Ye-es,” admitted Mabel, doubtfully, “but you see, I sit next to Miss
Woodruff. What if I forget and punch her?”



CHAPTER V

NEW ACQUAINTANCES


The French teacher, Madame Celeste Bolande, was easily the most
interesting of all the teachers. She afforded the girls a vast deal of
amusement as well as much annoyance. As a topic of conversation she was
inexhaustible. She was truly wonderful to look at but the snapshots that
the Miller girls took of her failed to do her justice.

“Doctor Rhodes must have ordered her by mail,” said Cora Doyle, after
her first French lesson with the new teacher. “Phew! I’m glad to get
outdoors. She was fairly drenched with perfume.”

“Yes,” agreed Debbie Clark. “Doctor Rhodes couldn’t have seen her first
or he never would have taken her. What’s that stuff about a pig in a
poke? Well, that’s how he got her. I’m sure _she_ isn’t a relative, even
by marriage.”

Madame Bolande was really amazing to look at and if the girls spoke of
her disrespectfully it was not surprising. No properly brought up little
girl _could_ have respected that astonishing lady. Nature had been kind
to her; she might have been entirely pleasing to the eye, but for
several reasons she was not. She had quantities of black hair,
apparently all her own, but it was always greasy and untidy as if it
were never washed or brushed or combed. It hung about her face in oily
loops that had a way of breaking loose at odd moments, at which times
Madame would pin them carelessly in place and go on with the lesson.

Sometimes she wore so-called laced shoes, sometimes buttoned ones.
However, most of the time they were neither laced nor buttoned. Whether
she wore black stockings with large holes in them or soiled white ones,
they were constantly coming down. It was a perpetual joy to the girls to
see her reach down, casually, to haul the slipping stocking back into
place. As Madame sat at a small table in the center of the class room,
with the girls on a long bench against the wall, this amusing operation,
though it took place beneath the table, was always plainly visible.

Buttons were missing from her tight-fitting black frock, showing many
hued undergarments not supposed to be seen. Bits of ragged petticoats
always dangled below the bottom of her skirt. Her neck, her ears and her
finger nails were visibly dirty.

Madame’s face, however, was quite a different matter. Her shapely
countenance, from ear to ear, from brow to chin, was carefully plastered
with powder, her cheeks and lips were rouged and a dab of blue decorated
each eyelid. But, with the exception of her rather handsome face, her
whole person was woefully neglected.

As a horrible example, Madame proved decidedly useful. No girl _could_
look upon that lady and fail to bathe. No girl _could_ note that lady’s
dangling petticoats of green or cerise silk or soiled white cotton with
torn lace and fail to fasten her own neat underskirt securely into
place. Even Mabel, it was noticed, began at once to take pains to braid
her own troublesome locks more tidily.

“It isn’t because she’s _poor_,” said Henrietta. “I’ve seen lots of poor
people right in France and most of them are just as neat as wax; and so
clever about making the most of what they have. And it isn’t because she
doesn’t have _time_ to mend her clothes or to bathe or wash her hair.
She has all her afternoons and evenings, except when she has papers to
correct—_that_ doesn’t take so very much of her time.”

“She’s just naturally that way,” said Anne Blodgett, sagely.

“She bathes in perfume,” explained Sallie.

“It’s the one thing she does bathe in,” breathed Anne.

“Well,” laughed Sallie, “she has enough to fill a _small_ bathtub. There
are ten bottles on her dresser and you know how horribly she smells of
the stuff. Isn’t she just awful! She never makes her bed or hangs up her
clothes and she smokes cigarettes—they’re all over the place. She
doesn’t even do that like a lady.”

“Oh, she _isn’t_ a lady,” said Henrietta. “Was she here last year?”

“No,” returned Sallie, “she’s as new as you are.”

Henrietta and the French teacher were enemies from the beginning.
Henrietta, having lived in France and having had an excellent French
governess for a number of years, could chatter in French like a little
magpie. Madame chattered too and Henrietta made a discovery. Madame’s
French was ungrammatical. Madame was distinctly uneducated and decidedly
lower class—no fit instructor for a girls’ school. Yet at first Madame
behaved circumspectly; although she told fascinating tales of life in
Paris, there was much that she did not tell. She barely hinted at
romantic incidents in her own life. Her husband had been a milliner.
They had come to the States where after two years death had descended
upon her so noble Alphonse, and it had become necessary for Madame to
teach “in some pig of a school” in order to earn money so that she might
in time return to her so beautiful France.

Madame Bolande knew that Henrietta was aware of all her shortcomings as
a teacher; for Henrietta frequently pointed out Madame’s sometimes
laughable errors. Naturally, the Frenchwoman both hated and feared “That
so bad Mees Henrietta,” and that young person was quite unable to
respect her teacher; so there were lively sessions in class when mocking
Henrietta goaded Madame so nearly to frenzy that Madame fairly shrieked
with rage. All this resulted in exceedingly bad marks for Henrietta, who
really deserved good ones for her French and very bad ones for her
conduct; but Madame did not discriminate. She gave her the very blackest
marks she could fish from the depths of her ink bottle.

Miss Woodruff, on the other hand, bathed frequently in real water, wore
her smooth hair in the neatest of knobs and was undoubtedly a well
educated woman; and, in some ways, an excellent teacher. She taught
English and mathematics, for instance, in a way to inspire respect for
her deep knowledge; but her manner of doing it was frequently
unpleasant. The girls frankly hated her at times because she heaped
ridicule upon them when they failed. She was often cold and cuttingly
sarcastic when a little sympathy would perhaps have accomplished more.

Day after day, Bettie, who was stupid anyway in mathematics, quailed
under the large lady’s biting sarcasm and grew more and more confused as
to numbers; until, as she put it afterwards, she didn’t know whether she
was shingling a ceiling or plastering a roof with nineteen quarts of ice
cream picked from twenty-seven apple trees, at three cents a yard.

Maude Wilder, who liked Bettie, and who had suffered considerably on her
own account, eyed Miss Woodruff balefully and plotted revenge.

The girls loved Maude. She wasn’t a pretty girl, but her pale brown eyes
with amber lights in them twinkled delightfully and the corners of her
mouth crinkled easily into whimsical smiles. Almost anything amused
Maude and she was quite apt to become amused at the wrong moment. Also
she was able to amuse other persons.

The pupils at Highland Hall were supposed to respond to roll call each
morning with a French phrase—a different one each day. Miss Woodruff
stood at her desk on the platform, listening intently; while all the
pupils sat demurely at _their_ desks, also listening.

Maude had one phrase—and _only_ one. She made it do the work of a great
many. With a twinkle in her eye, day after day, Maude folded her hands
demurely and responded blandly: “_Nous avons des raisins blancs et noirs
mais pas de cerises._” (We have white and black grapes but no cherries.)

“But, Maude,” Miss Woodruff would say, “that is very good but I shall
expect a different phrase tomorrow. You’ve used that one long enough.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Maude would reply, meekly.

But the next morning, to the unfailing delight of all the pupils, this
incorrigible young imp would respond seriously and even more blandly
with the same timeworn and utterly foolish phrase.

If Maude ever learned another word of French no one ever discovered it.
Indeed, Maude was so busy being funny that she had little time for
study.

It was Maude, too, who daily stole a pie from the pantry window sill
under the front porch. Maude having discovered a hole in the lattice
work near the steps, crawled in one day to investigate. She found
numerous pies cooling on the broad sill. She ate one hurriedly and it
made her ill. One pie, a large pie at that, was plainly too much for one
girl. After that she always took a companion under the porch with her
and generously divided the stolen pie. Sometimes the companion was
Henrietta; sometimes it was Marjory, once it was Bettie—but Bettie’s
conscience troubled her and she wouldn’t go again. Unhappily, the only
time that one could be sure of capturing a pie was during the morning
recess, a matter of only fifteen minutes. As the pies were always red
hot at that time it required courage to bolt them. The mince pies were
especially trying, for there is nothing much hotter than a hot raisin.

Maude never was discovered; but long afterwards the girls wondered if
she hadn’t made some secret arrangement with the cook. She was quite
capable of it for Maude was nothing if not resourceful. And the cook was
a good natured person.



CHAPTER VI

GETTING SETTLED


After the first busy and exciting weeks when everything was new and a
little terrifying, the girls settled down to regular work and, at times
to a rather dull life, so sometimes very small events loomed quite large
to their young eyes. Of course there were letters from home. And there
was no more thrilling moment in the day than that in which Sallie
Dickinson appeared on the school platform, at the close of the two
o’clock session, with the old brown mail bag under her arm.

Sallie’s blouses were old and faded and her skirt had seen better days
but little Jane Pool declared that the post-girl always looked just like
an angel when she stepped in through the doorway with that dingy bag.

And of course the girls wrote letters, large numbers of them, to the
persons on their writing lists. Some of them liked to write letters and
wrote very fat ones. Some of them, like Mabel for instance, hated to
write letters and wrote very thin ones. One rainy afternoon, the
freckled girl, Cora Doyle, regaled her friends with a distressing tale.

“Do you know,” said she, from her perch on Jean’s window sill, “I
believe Dr. Rhodes _reads_ our letters before he sends them. Mine are
always late getting to my folks and I’ve seen heaps of letters stacked
up in his office for days at a time. And one evening I went in to ask
for a piece of courtplaster for Ruth Dennis’s thumb and all those Rhodes
people were around a table doing something to a lot of mail.”

“Perhaps,” said Jean, who knew that Cora was apt to make mountains out
of molehills, “they were just looking to see if they were stamped or
properly addressed. You know they have to bring them back to us
sometimes for reasons like that.”

“I don’t know,” returned Cora. “Things are queer and different this
year. I’d like to, but I can’t tell you why.”

“_Do_ tell us,” begged Henrietta.

“No, I can’t. I promised not to.”

“There’s one thing,” said Jean, “that surprises me. Doctor Rhodes isn’t
a bit like a school teacher. And when he talks to us in the school room
as he sometimes does when he has anything to announce like new rules or
a lecture or a concert in the village, he often uses the wrong word or
mispronounces a word, as if—well, as if he weren’t used to making
speeches in very good English.”

“I think he gets rattled,” said little Jane Pool, sagely.

“Somehow,” said Marjory, “I don’t exactly like Doctor Rhodes. I don’t
exactly _believe_ in him.”

“I don’t quite like him, either,” declared Henrietta, who had washed her
wonderful mop of hair and was drying it with a large bathtowel. “I’m
surprised at my Grandmother for saying such nice things about him. When
there are visitors he seems so oily and so smooth; and it seems to me
that he is extra polite to those Miller girls—all the world uses their
father’s soap, you know—but when he asks Sallie to do errands he doesn’t
even say please. And Mrs. Rhodes is always gliding about like the ghost
of Hamlet’s Father. She looks as if she were listening with all her
features. But she never _says_ a thing to us, even when she catches us
slipping around through the corridors after lights are out.”

“I’m glad she doesn’t,” said Marjory. “She _looks_ all the things she
doesn’t say.”

“After all,” said Jean, sagely, “they might be a lot worse.”

The next day was Sunday and Sundays were quite different from all the
other days. In the morning the girls always marched two by two to church
a long mile away, where they sat in the front pews with their eyes fixed
upon the clergyman. This often proved a trying ordeal for that gentleman
because this particular church had no regular rector. Instead, each
Sunday, a student from the Theological Seminary just north of the
village offered up home made prayers and stammered forth his first
sermon before the long suffering members of that little church. Each
successive student, it seemed, was more bashful than the last; and if
any one of those blushing young preachers had ever learned to deliver a
sermon, he promptly forgot all he knew, when, for the first time, he
faced a congregation. There was one thing, however, that all these
stuttering young men _could_ do and that was to perspire copiously and
continuously. No matter how many impressive gestures the preacher might
have practised at home beforehand, he used only one while he occupied
that pulpit. With handkerchief clutched firmly in his shaking right
hand, he mopped and mopped and mopped his dripping brow.

While the girls couldn’t help being amused, they were always sorry for
the tortured youths.

“You wouldn’t think,” said Cora, after one of these painful ordeals,
“that they’d be afraid to face thirty or forty girls but they always
are. Just as soon as their eyes light on those ten pews full of Highland
Hall girls, their carefully prepared words take flight, and I guess
_they’d_ like to, too.”

“They seem to find it almost as hard to pass the plate,” laughed
Henrietta. “When they get to us their knees begin to wobble.”

“It’s because we stare at those poor creatures so unmercifully,” said
Jean. “Even a real minister would be embarrassed, I should think.”

“I’m sorry for them, too,” said Bettie, “but they _are_ funny. Of course
they have to learn to preach if they’re going to be ministers, but it
seems cruel to make them do it that way.”

“Just like dumping puppies into cold water to teach them to swim,” said
Marjory.

“It isn’t very much like our kind of church,” complained Bettie. “It’s
too entertaining. We’re Episcopalians and _our_ ministers don’t _have_
to learn how to make their own prayers—the folks that make them know
how.”

“Yes,” said Jean, “we’re all getting lonesome for our own kind of
services. That’s one thing we miss.”

“Well, then,” said Sallie Dickinson, “I have some good news for you. In
about four weeks more the new Episcopal Church will be ready for use and
you can go there. Miss Woodruff and Mrs. Henry Rhodes are Episcopalians,
so perhaps we’ll _all_ go. We used to go to the old church before it was
torn down.”

“I think,” said Henrietta, demurely, “we ought to come back to this
church once in a while just to keep those poor Theologs perspiring. Miss
Woodruff says perspiring is necessary to good health.”

The Sunday dinners were apt to be rather good; there was usually
chicken.

“But,” complained Mabel, after one of these chicken dinners, “I don’t
see why I have to get all the lizzers and gizzers.”

“What!” gasped Maude.

“Givers and lizzers; no, gizzers and lizards,” sputtered Mabel. “I
_always_ get them.”

“She means livers and gizzards,” explained Jean.

Sunday afternoons dragged. The girls could walk within bounds but that
was not particularly exciting. On week days they usually gathered nuts
in the grove—if one threw enough sticks it was possible to knock down a
hickory nut or two most any day; or explored an ancient garden in which
there were old apple trees. But in Sunday frocks and Sunday shoes it was
wiser to stick to the sidewalks, so the girls strolled about and
gossiped. It was truly surprising how much they found to talk about.

Sometimes on rainy Sunday afternoons, Henrietta gathered a flock of the
younger girls about her on the wide front staircase, a dim, spooky,
black walnutty place with a vast dark space overhead, and told thrilling
tales. That was one thing that Henrietta could do to perfection.

But Sunday evenings at Highland Hall were almost invariably harrowing.
The girls gathered about the piano in the big, chilly drawing room and
sang familiar hymns and wept.

Sallie Dickinson wept because she hadn’t any home. The rest of them wept
because they had. Still, Sunday after Sunday evening they sang the same
sorrowful hymns because it seemed the proper thing to do, and then
retired sniffling and snuffling to their narrow, single beds.

“They _like_ it,” declared Mrs. Henry Rhodes. “Boarding school girls
always do it, and they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t enjoy it.”

There was one Sunday evening, however, when the gloom was somewhat
lightened; and when giggles supplanted sobs. Stout Miss Woodruff, clad
in her smooth gray serge gown, with its white vest for Sunday use only,
usually sat in a large arm-chair at the end of the room, in order to
lend dignity to the meeting. But on this occasion she was absent and had
asked Abbie to take her place. Poor scatter-brained Abbie had forgotten
all about it so the chair was vacant. But not for long.

The chief ornament of the high mantel shelf was a large stuffed bird—a
penguin. When it became evident to the waiting girls that no one was
coming to occupy that vacant chair, Maude Wilder, always resourceful,
climbed upon a chair, seized the stately penguin and placed him in the
chair. With his dignity, his mildly disapproving eye and his smooth gray
and white plumage, his resemblance to stern Miss Woodruff—vest and
all—was so striking and so amusing that the astonished girls burst forth
with a chorus of giggles instead of words when Mrs. Henry Rhodes, at the
piano, played the opening notes of the first hymn.

Of course Mrs. Henry turned around to see what caused this most unusual
hilarity. When she saw the solemn penguin doing his birdlike best to be
human and succeeding so admirably in filling Miss Woodruff’s place, Mrs.
Henry not only giggled but laughed outright; and all the pupils,
including the lofty Seniors, joined in. For the rest of the evening,
even the saddest hymns failed to bring on a single case of homesickness.

“But,” warned Mrs. Henry, restoring the bird to his lofty perch when the
singing was finished, “we must never do this again. We’ve all been very
bad.”

“I love that lady,” said Maude, on the way upstairs. “If _she_ were my
teacher I’d be good all the time.”

“I hope,” giggled Sallie Dickinson, “I won’t forget and call Miss
Woodruff ‘Miss Penguin.’ I shall never be able to dust that bird again
without thinking of her.”



CHAPTER VII

AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE


One morning, late in October, there was great excitement at Highland
Hall. It was just at recess time and all the girls (except Maude Wilder
and Debbie Clark who were under the porch foraging for pie) were on the
veranda or the graveled walk. Two new pupils were arriving. They were
not together for they came in separate hacks. The first was a large girl
of fourteen who, followed by a small, meek father, marched fearlessly up
the steps and looked each girl straight in the eye until she reached
Sallie Dickinson, who stood in the doorway, smiling a welcome.

“I’m Victoria Webster of Iowa,” said she, “and I’ve come here to school.
Where’s Doctor What d’ye-callum? I’ve come here after an education and I
want it right away.”

And then Victoria deliberately turned and winked at the Miller girls; a
real wink, with one bold blue eye wide open, the other shut. Victoria,
the surprised girls perceived, was as fresh as a breeze from her own
prairie, and they were instantly prepared to enjoy her.

The other hack disgorged its contents. An overdressed woman in
ridiculous shoes stepped out; an overdressed girl in even more
ridiculous shoes followed her. The girl, fair-haired and exceedingly
fluffy was almost as violently perfumed as Madame Bolande herself.

Jean, Marjory, Bettie and Mabel glanced casually at this second young
person and suddenly gasped. They had received a jolt. Then they looked
inquiringly at one another and back again at the girl. They couldn’t
quite believe their eyes.

“What’s her name?” demanded Marjory, when Sallie, who had escorted the
last newcomers inside returned to the porch.

“Gladys de Milligan, of Milwaukee,” returned Sallie, holding her nose.
“Her father must be a perfume factory.”

The Lakeville girls looked at one another again.

“Gladys de Milligan,” breathed Marjory.

“Laura Milligan!” gasped Mabel. “Of all things, Laura Milligan!”

“Hush,” warned Jean, a finger on her lips. “Come down on the lawn. We’ll
have to talk this over by ourselves.”

“It’s Laura all right,” said Bettie. “Her hair’s a lot lighter than it
used to be and she’s taller and much more elegant; but it’s the same
turned up nose and the same twisty shoulders and the same small eyes,
too close together.”

“And the same horrid mother,” said Mabel. “What shall we do?”

“Let’s not do anything,” counseled wise Jean. “Let’s wait and see if she
recognizes us.”

“Perhaps anybody as grand as that,” offered Marjory, hopefully,
“wouldn’t _want_ to know plain blue serge folks like us. Of course we
wouldn’t exactly want the Highland Hall girls to think she was an old
friend of ours—”

“She _wasn’t_,” said Mabel, emphatically.

“Well,” argued Jean, “perhaps Laura has changed—certainly she has
changed her name. It wouldn’t be quite fair or kind for us to tell the
other girls the things we know about her. We can wait until we have her
by herself before we seem to recognize her. And maybe she has improved—”

“She needed to,” said Marjory, sagely. “Shan’t we even tell Henrietta?”

“I don’t believe we need to,” returned Jean. “Henrietta won’t like her
anyway. She’s too—well, too cheap. She isn’t Henrietta’s kind, you
know.”

“The Milligans must have made money,” said Marjory. “They hadn’t any
such clothes in Lakeville.”

“Lakeville would have dropped dead if they had,” giggled Bettie.

At first “Gladys” pretended not to recognize the little girls with whom
she had once played in Lakeville; but, needing some one to show her the
way to a class room, she waylaid Marjory in the hall and called her by
name.

“Now, listen,” warned Gladys, shifting her gum to the other side of her
mouth. “Don’t let anybody hear you calling me Laura. It isn’t my name
any more. I always hated that name and Milligan, too. Mother calls me
Gladys—Gladys Evelyn de Milligan.”

“What’s the ‘D’ for,” asked honest Marjory.

“That’s French,” explained Laura. “It’s d e, _de_.”

“But Milligan isn’t French.”

“It’s more elegant that way,” explained Laura, shifting her gum again.
“We’re society people now. It looks better in print when Mother’s ‘Among
those present.’ Now listen. Now that you know my name, see that you
remember it. And tell those other Lakeville girls they can do the same
thing.”

Although the Miller girls’ father supplied the world with soap, although
three continents ate the breakfast food that Hazel Benton’s uncle
manufactured, no one at Highland Hall paraded her wealth and her
so-called “Social standing” as vulgar little Gladys de Milligan paraded
hers. She was always painted and powdered and overdressed; she was
reckless with her spending money, snobbish and artificial to the very
final degree; yet, fortunately for gum-chewing Laura, there were girls
who seemed to like her.

Most of the girls, however, liked Victoria Webster much better. To be
sure Victoria had her faults, but they were pleasanter faults than
Laura’s. Every one of the youngsters admired and tried to imitate
Victoria’s marvelously perfect wink. Maude came the nearest to achieving
success; and little Lillian Thwaite failed the most dismally.

“Don’t try it on a cold day,” warned Victoria, “you might freeze that
way, Lillian, with your mouth half way up your cheek and your nose in a
knot.”

It was a joy to see Victoria and Maude play ball. They went at it
precisely like a pair of boys. And Victoria shared Maude’s affection for
pie.

Madame Bolande liked Gladys Evelyn de Milligan but sarcastic Miss
Woodruff did not. When she called upon that young person in class, she
frequently pretended that she had forgotten her name, so that one day,
to the great amusement of her classmates, Laura would be called Ambrosia
Nectarine and the next Miss Woodruff would address her as Verbena
Heliotrope, Gladiolus Violet or Lucretia Calliopsis or something else
equally ridiculous; but a new one for every occasion. This, of course,
wasn’t exactly kind or even quite courteous; but it is safe to say that
Gladys Evelyn began to regret having changed and embellished her plain
if not beautiful name. Perhaps, before Miss Woodruff had entirely
exhausted her supply of fancy names, poor Gladys Evelyn may have envied
little Jane Pool. No one ever forgot or pretended to forget Jane’s very
brief and very plain name, except Doctor Rhodes, who forgot everybody’s.

Jane was a small girl with a very bright, eager face, smooth brown hair
and a great deal of character. Just about everybody liked Jane.

“Are you related to those grand Chicago Pools?” asked Gladys Evelyn one
day, as she peeled a fresh stick of gum.

“Mercy, no,” returned Jane, who had listened for a weary half hour to
Laura’s tales about her own wonderful people. “There’s nothing grand
about _us_—we’re just plain Pools—little common Pools like mud puddles.
No limousines, no diamonds, no ancestors. Just three meals a day and a
bed at night. We’re just folks—the commonest kind.”

And Gladys, not noticing the twinkle in Jane’s bright black eye,
believed the little rascal, only to learn later that Jane’s father was
accounted one of the wealthiest men in the state of Wisconsin. But you
never would have known it from Jane.

“I wish,” complained Henrietta, one day, “we hadn’t been two days late
in getting to this school. All the girls engaged their walking partners
before we came. I like to walk with Victoria—she steps right off like a
man—but Gladys Evelyn de Milligan—phew! With all those heels and that
tight skirt she _can’t_ walk. But I’ll say one thing for Gladys. She
_can_ chew gum.”

“We didn’t mean to leave you out when we four paired off,” assured Jean.
“But Marjory asked me and Mabel asked Bettie—why, of course we can
switch off sometimes. The _old_ girls engaged their partners last year.”

These walks occurred three times a week. On Sundays, when the entire
school walked two by two to church. On Tuesday, when the girls were
taken, again in twos, to the village to shop; and on Fridays when they
went to the cemetery. The only reason they went to the cemetery was
because a walk of a mile and a half straight west ended there.

Sallie Dickinson usually walked with poor old Abbie Smith, the chaperon.
Abbie was a forlorn creature, neither old nor young. She had a long red
nose, a retreating chin, drooping shoulders and a rounded back.
Colorless, straggling hair and pale eyes. A spineless, unpleasant
person. Like Sallie Dickinson, she was an orphan. Like Sallie, poor old
Abbie had been left penniless at Highland Hall, but at an earlier date.
It was said that Abbie’s stepfather had deliberately abandoned her; and,
looking at Abbie, it seemed not unlikely. One would have supposed that
twenty years of school life would have _educated_ Abbie but they hadn’t.
Abbie was incapable of acquiring an education.

“When I look at Abbie,” confided Sallie, one day, as she laid an armful
of freshly laundered garments on Jean’s bed, “it makes me just sick. Am
_I_ going to be like that twenty years from now?”

“Of course you’re not,” consoled Jean, “You’re ever so bright in school
and you—why, Sallie! It’s all in your own hands. If you learn every
blessed thing you can, some day you’ll be smart enough to teach. And
then, probably, they’d be glad enough to have you teach right here. And
if they wouldn’t, you could go some place else. Don’t ever _think_ that
you have to stay here and be a stupid, downtrodden servant like poor old
Abbie.”

“Well, do you know,” said Sallie, visibly brightening, “I _did_ think
just exactly that. I wake up nights and worry about it. Oh, Jean! I do
wish you’d poke me up once in awhile, whenever you see me losing my
backbone or looking like Abbie—”

“You _don’t_ look like Abbie—you _couldn’t_. Abbie never was pretty or
bright and you _are_. Wait, I want to give you these history notes I dug
up—I know they kept you busy all study hour sorting the clean clothes so
of course you didn’t have time to look anything up. You’ll just _have_
to have splendid marks from now on.”

“You’re a darling!” cried Sallie, rubbing her cheek against Jean’s. “I
wish you’d reached Hiltonburg a whole lot sooner. I _needed_ you.”



CHAPTER VIII

BRAVE VICTORIA


Almost at once, there was one very curious and amusing result of Madame
Bolande’s friendship for “Gladys de Milligan.” Madame, who apparently
took no interest in her own hair, professed great admiration for that of
the new pupil and offered to teach her a new and even fancier way of
arranging it.

One night, to that end, Madame mixed an exceedingly sticky something in
a cup—quince seed and water, Laura explained afterwards—and applied it
to Laura’s pale yellow locks. After plastering them down in large wet
rings all over Laura’s foolish head, Madame fished the remnant of an old
green veil from her untidy bureau drawer and tied it firmly over the
slippery mass. Her intentions were perfectly good but the result was
surprising.

By morning, the quince seed was dry and it was possible to brush the
stuff, in a powdery shower of white particles, from the mass of loose
curls. But alas! A shocking thing had happened. The dye in the green
veil had proved anything but permanent. It had spent the night
_running_. Poor Gladys Evelyn appeared late for breakfast with red eyes
and bright green hair. It was at least a month before her tangled locks
lost their verdant hue.

“Never mind, Gladys,” soothed Grace Allen. “Mermaids have green hair and
you know how beautiful _they_ are.”

Oddly enough, this curious mishap made several new friends for Gladys
among the girls, whose ready sympathy was aroused for an unfortunate
maiden who had to go about with pale green hair. Augusta Lemon was one
of those tender hearted young persons, Lillian Thwaite another. About
this time, too, Grace Allen began to wander about, arm in arm, with
Gladys.

Cora Doyle, to whom the Lakeville girls were greatly indebted for much
of the past history of Highland Hall, proved a likeable girl, after one
learned not to believe all that she said. Cora just naturally
exaggerated. When she was cold she was absolutely frozen. When she was
warm, she was positively boiled. If she possessed one black and blue
spot she _knew_ she had ten thousand and if she were slightly indisposed
she was positive she was dying. In short, she called “Wolf, Wolf,” when
the wolf was conspicuously absent.

This trait of Cora’s was beginning to lead to embarrassing consequences.
Cora’s wild statements in school were always taken with a grain of salt.
Worse than that, her own people wouldn’t believe her. Even when she
outgrew her shoes and wrote home for larger ones, they were sure she
only meant more stylish ones; so poor Cora limped about in short shoes
and acquired a corn. And now she had a new trouble. Whether it was
basketball or the extra pie that she ate under the porch with Maude, no
one knew, but Cora began suddenly to grow very rapidly. Her sleeves and
her skirts were visibly retreating and she was showing more wrist and
more stocking than was considered becoming.

“My folks won’t _believe_ me,” wailed Cora, reading her letter from
home. “I’ve _told_ them that my knees show and my sleeves are up to my
elbows and they won’t _believe_ me.”

“But your skirts _aren’t_ up to your knees,” laughed Marjory.

“Anyway, they’re getting there and I have to stay up nights letting out
hems.”

“Never mind,” consoled Jean, “your folks will see for themselves, when
you go home for Christmas. Of course you may have to go in a paper bag—”

“That’s just the trouble. I _don’t_ go home for Christmas—I live too far
away. I’m going to visit Maude in Chicago—and it’s _her_ folks that will
see for themselves how many miles of legs and wrists I’m showing.”

“That’s what you get for stretching things,” laughed Henrietta. “Your
arms and legs have caught it.”

“_I_ didn’t get any letter at all,” grumbled Mabel. “Anybody gets more
than I do.”

“Cheer up,” said Jean. “Perhaps you’ll have two tomorrow. In the
meantime you can read mine—there’s quite a lot of Lakeville news in it.”

“Wait a minute, girls,” called Helen Miller, climbing up on the platform
beside Sallie. “Have any of you seen my amethyst pendant? I _thought_ I
left it in a little box on my dresser, but I _may_ have worn it out and
dropped it. Anyway, if you find one, it’s mine.”

Several of the girls looked at one another significantly.

Queer things were happening at Highland Hall. There were mysterious
disappearances; but whether they were due to carelessness or whether
they were due to theft, no one could say. The fact remained. Various
things of more or less value had vanished; and their owners were both
puzzled and distressed. Hazel Benton had somehow lost her wrist watch,
Ruth Dennis mourned a gold pencil that usually dangled from a ribbon
about her neck, Mabel’s sentimental roommate, Isabelle, could not find
the large gold locket containing Clarence’s picture—_that_ vanished,
Isabelle declared, while she was taking a bath, the _only_ time she
didn’t have it on.

Then, one morning, there was a scene in the dining room, where the girls
and the teachers were eating their breakfast rolls and the two neat
maids were passing the coffee. Madame Bolande, all excitement, and with
her black dress face-powdered from collar to hem and her hair even
wilder than usual, rushed into the dining room and declared volubly that
two ten dollar bills had disappeared from the stocking under her bed.

“And,” declared Madame, balefully, “eet ees zat Mees Henrietta zat have
taken zem. She ees the most baddest Mademoiselle zat I have een my
class.”

At this point, just when things were getting really interesting, Doctor
and Mrs. Rhodes rose hastily from their chairs, seized Madame by the
elbows and escorted her quite neatly from the public gaze. The girls
would have been glad to hear more.

Fortunately no one believed Madame’s accusation of Henrietta because all
the girls knew how little love was lost between that lively girl and the
untidy French woman. Madame always blamed Henrietta for anything that
happened. Occasionally she was right, because Henrietta was a young
bundle of mischief, with no respect whatsoever for Madame Bolande; but
the girls knew that Henrietta was no thief. And Henrietta, far from
appearing downcast at Madame’s outrageous words, giggled cheerfully and
considered it a joke.

And then something else happened that turned even Madame’s unjust
suspicion away from Henrietta. There was a burglar scare, a _real_
burglar scare, in Hiltonburg. It lasted three weeks, during which time
suddenly intimidated householders locked _all_ their doors instead of
just a few, bought catches for every one of their windows and caused
themselves agonies of discomfort by putting their valuables away in
supposedly burglar-proof spots overnight. Whether or not there really
was a burglar at the bottom of this alarm nobody was able to discover;
but the scare was certainly big enough and genuine enough while it
lasted to upset the entire community. It started in the heart of the
village, worked itself gradually along the State road, and, by the time
it was a week or ten days old, crept through the hedge that surrounded
Highland Hall and right into the house itself.

For days the girls talked of nothing else. Of course the different girls
were affected in different ways. The three Seniors moved into one room
and slept three in a bed, with their valuables under the mattress.
Little Lillian Thwaite couldn’t think of the burglar without turning
faint. Alice Bailey’s big black eyes grew so much bigger and blacker at
mention of him that the sight always sent Augusta Lemon, who was
particularly sympathetic, into spasms of fear. Bettie refused to walk
through the corridors alone, even by broad daylight.

Victoria Webster was of different fiber. “Victoria,” as everybody knows,
means “A Conqueror.” It certainly seemed as if this particular bearer of
the name had conquered fear. At any rate she was not afraid. Moreover,
she was not only courageous but she bragged about it until the other
girls were just a little tired of it.

“I’d like to see the burglar I’d be afraid of,” boasted Victoria. “See
here, Lillian, if you and Augusta and Bettie are afraid, I’ll move into
the West Dormitory and take care of you.”

“I wish to goodness you would,” declared Lillian. “Bettie’s all right,
but Augusta and I are all alone in number twenty-six.”

“Do move in today,” pleaded Augusta. “There’s a vacant bed—really,
that’s one reason why the room is so scary. It’s bad enough to have to
look under one’s own bed without having that extra one—we’ve been taking
turns. Let’s go and ask Miss Woodruff to let you come—she’s the matron
in our corridor, you know.”

“I was about to suggest that very thing,” replied Miss Woodruff,
regarding burglar-proof Victoria with a quizzical eye. “If this brave
Victoria can instill some of her surplus courage into this quaking
Lillian and this shuddering Augusta, by all means let her do it.”

“Victoria is really almost too courageous,” remarked Mrs. Henry Rhodes,
when the girls had left the school room. “She just bristles with
bravery. I’d like to frighten her just once. She’d have made a fine boy,
wouldn’t she, with those broad, sturdy shoulders!”

“She’d have made a blustering one. I suspect that if she _had_ been one,
every other boy that knew her would have been tempted to put her bravery
to the test. I don’t think that boys take as kindly to braggarts as
girls do.”

But even the girls, with the exception of timid Lillian and terrified
Augusta, began to grow tired of Victoria’s boasting; for, braced by the
admiring devotion of her roommates, Victoria could talk of nothing but
her own bravery.

“If a burglar came,” Victoria would brag, “I’d look him straight in the
eye and say: ‘See here, Mr. Burglar, I want to talk to you as man to
man. I take it you’re a man of sense. Your time is valuable. You’re
wasting it here. We’ve only thirty cents a week pocket money. If you
were mean enough to take it all you wouldn’t get much. Our jewels came
from the five and ten cent store; so just run along to a place where
they really _have_ money.’”

“Would you _really_?” demanded Augusta.

“Yes, I would. I’ve never seen the time yet when I’ve really been afraid
of anything.”

“They say,” quavered Lillian, “that they found footsteps—yes, Marjory, I
meant foot-prints—under the Browns’ dining room window last Friday—only
three houses from this one. Oh, I’m so scared I can’t eat my meals.”

“Don’t be alarmed,” said Victoria. “You have _me_.”

Victoria had bragged all day. She was still bragging when she climbed
into bed, with Lillian’s cot at her left, Augusta’s at her right.

An hour later, the west corridor was wrapped in silence; or it would
have been if nine girls had not assembled in Henrietta’s room to whisper
excitedly in one another’s ears. Inadvertently, they whispered too in
Miss Woodruff’s, as she stood listening just outside the door. Miss
Woodruff was not a prying person. She was merely assuring herself that
the noises that she couldn’t help hearing were made by girls, not
burglars.

“Good!” whispered the pleased teacher as she gathered the gist of this
animated buzzing. “It’s a thing I’d love to do myself. Victoria had it
coming to her. I shall aid and abet those merry plotters by staying very
sound asleep for the next hour.”

Whereupon Miss Woodruff very gently closed her own door and to all
appearances had finished her matronly duties for the night.

Ten minutes later, a small white scout slipped noiselessly down the dark
corridor toward the room in which Victoria was sleeping. Presently she
slipped back into Henrietta’s.

“All three are sound asleep,” reported Jane. “You could stick pins into
Victoria and she wouldn’t know it. Now’s the time for action. Don’t
waste a minute. She’ll never be sounder asleep than she is now.”

“Jane,” whispered Henrietta, “you and Marjory must get into those two
empty beds in the room directly across the hall from Victoria’s and
_stay_ in them long enough to get them warmed up, so we can move those
other two girls into them. We’ll wait fifteen minutes longer. But if
Lillian and Augusta _should_ wake up, we’ll just have to whisk them into
a closet and clap our hands over their mouths.”

For perhaps three quarters of an hour that night, Miss Woodruff heard
the light patter of bare feet on the corridor matting, the subdued
whisperings of girlish voices, the quickly hushed clattering of wood
against wood, of metal against crockery, the dragging of bulky objects
through narrow doorways. These sounds were punctuated by little gusts of
stifled laughter, followed each time by brief periods of absolute
silence.

“I do hope,” she whispered, “they’ll succeed. Victoria certainly needs
taking down. Dear me, how Marjory giggles! She was never designed for a
career of successful burglary.”

After a time the slight brushing of exploring hands and fluttering
garments against the corridor walls, told of the otherwise silent flight
of nine girlish forms down the long, dark hallway. Then Henrietta’s door
closed with a tiny click and for fully fifteen minutes afterwards sounds
of suppressed mirth sifted back to Miss Woodruff’s patient but approving
ears.

The house was silent when the great clock in the lower hall boomed
“One.” Victoria, who had been dreaming in an entirely unprecedented
manner, suddenly awoke, to experience a curious sense of physical
discomfort. Something was wrong. She groped for the bedclothes. They
were gone. She stretched out both hands and her groping fingers came in
contact with a firm, level, cold surface not unlike hardwood floor. She
moved her fingers—it _was_ floor. No other polished surface had those
regularly recurring cracks, Victoria, much alarmed, crept on hands and
knees, about the empty room. The window was open, the door closed. With
a little gasp of relief, she opened it.

“Thank goodness!” breathed tremulous Victoria, groping about in the
hallway, “I’m not locked in. But where in the world am I? Here’s another
door.”

It opened. Here, window shades were up and puzzled Victoria made out the
outlines of three beds. Her bare toes touched the big fur rug that she
knew belonged to Anne Blodgett, her opposite neighbor. The feel of a
familiar object in this world of uncertainties was a comforting
sensation.

“Anne!” gasped chattering Victoria, plunging bodily into Anne’s bed.
“I’m frightened to pieces! If that was my room that I’ve just come out
of there isn’t a thing left in it. My bed—even Lillian and Augusta have
been stolen. Burglars—or something—carried off every single thing but
me. I suppose I was too heavy. I found the window open.”

Anne giggled. There were giggles from the other beds. Victoria guessed
the truth. Then having much good sense back of her shortcomings she
giggled too.

“Well,” she laughed, “that was a great joke on me, all right. I might be
brave enough if I happened to be awake; but what’s the use of courage
when a burglar with any enterprise at all could carry me right off to
the next county without waking me up.”

“Did you _really_ think it was a sure enough burglar?” asked Anne.

“Yes, I did,” returned honest Victoria, snuggling closer to Anne’s warm
body, “and I was simply scared pink. When I found that window wide open
instead of just a few inches I was _sure_ somebody had climbed in and
carried off everything but _me_—and I wasn’t sure he _hadn’t_ taken me
as well. I could just _see_ a great big black burglar going up and down
a long ladder, with bundles on his back, and a partner down below to
help him with the heavy ones.”

“We didn’t mean to scare you as much as _that_,” said Anne, “but you
certainly are a fine sleeper. We pulled you around a lot.”

“My mother always said I could outsleep the sleepiest of the ‘Seven
Sleepers’ and I guess she was right. But I’m not the _only_ one, Where’s
Miss Woodruff all this time? I thought she _never_ slept.”

“Well, she did tonight,” said Anne, supposing she was telling the truth.
“And it’s lucky for us that she did.”

“But how did you ever move Lillian and Augusta without waking them?”

“We _didn’t_. Lillian jumped up the minute we touched her but Jane told
her what we were doing so she pitched right in and helped. But Augusta
woke right up in the middle of the corridor and began to bleat like the
lost sheep of Israel so Henrietta stuffed a stocking in her mouth—one of
your thick woolen ones—and jammed her into the clothes press. We had
quite a time explaining that we were _not_ the burglar. We handed her
Jane’s flashlight so she could _see_ it was us; but she turned it on
herself and that frightened her more than ever. She shivered and made
queer noises, so Maude had to sit beside her on a lot of shoes and hold
her hand for the longest time—and you know Maude hates to hold hands;
but Augusta’s all right now. Now move over, Vicky, and take another of
your famous naps. You’re welcome to half of my bed as long as you don’t
take your half out of the middle.”

The burglar scare subsided gradually and Victoria returned to her own
corridor to room with Gladys de Milligan.

“I wouldn’t have picked _her_ out,” sighed Victoria, “but Gladys
_wanted_ me—I’m sure I can’t see why.”

“_I_ should have thought,” said Marjory, “she’d like a more wide awake
roommate so she could _talk_ all night. Gladys does love to talk.”

“Not at night,” returned Victoria. “She lets me go to sleep at nine
o’clock sharp and that’s the last I hear of her until morning.”



CHAPTER IX

STRANGE DISAPPEARANCES


The very next day after that Maude Wilder’s weekly allowance of thirty
cents was missing from the purse that she had carelessly left on her
table and Ruth Dennis’s gold beads were nowhere to be found.

And now the opinion of the school was divided. The more excitable girls
were convinced that the burglar had actually gotten in, but there were
other girls who were quite as certain that some one inside the house was
the thief. But who?

The servants seemed trustworthy; Nora, the fat, good natured cook, Annie
and Mary, the two neat maids, the two middle aged laundresses who came
in from outside, several days a week; and Charles, the man servant who
might be seen each evening walking out with Annie and Mary beside him.
It was said that Charles divided his attentions so equally between the
two neat maids that if he _had_ been the thief, he would have been
obliged to steal everything in pairs in order to divide them with
absolute fairness between his two friends; so, of course, that let
Charles out. Besides, except when there were trunks to be carried up,
Charles never entered the upstairs rooms.

“Of course it isn’t old Abbie,” said Maude, who was under the front
porch with Henrietta, bolting hot apple pie. “She’s too much of a
rabbit. It’s true she hasn’t any money; but she wouldn’t have gumption
enough to steal pennies from a baby’s bank.”

“Do you think it might be Madame Bolande?” asked Henrietta. “She’s so
fearfully untruthful and so—so unwashed.”

“I wouldn’t put it past her,” said Maude. “Her room is stuffed with
clothes and things; and you know Helen Miller has lost her pleated
skirt.”

“Oh, _Cora_ took that last Sunday. She said she just wouldn’t go to
church in her short one. Besides, she had ripped the hem out and hadn’t
had time to put in a new one. The Miller girls had gone downstairs and
Cora was late, so she just rushed in, grabbed up Helen’s skirt and
scrambled into it. I’ll tell her to put it back—she’s just forgotten
it.”

At the same moment Gladys Evelyn de Milligan and Augusta were marching
up and down the long porch over Maude’s head and Gladys was saying:

“I used to know Marjory Vale in Michigan and I can tell you one thing.
She was a horrid little girl, always telling fibs and taking things that
didn’t belong to her—her aunt couldn’t keep a thing in her ice box. And
Mabel wasn’t anybody at all in Lakeville. And goodness knows how the
Tuckers got money enough to send Bettie to school. They’re as poor as
church mice and have ragged little boys running all over the place.”

“I wonder that you ever knew such people,” said Augusta, always a little
dazzled by Gladys’s magnificence.

“Oh, I didn’t,” denied Gladys, hastily. “I—well, we used to give our old
clothes to the Tuckers.”

This was not true, but as Augusta always believed anything she heard,
she now believed this and many more of Gladys’s unpleasant tales about
the little girls from Upper Michigan and passed them on to her own
particular friends; so, in the course of time, Jean, Mabel, Marjory,
Bettie; and even Henrietta, whom Gladys had _not_ known in Lakeville,
were puzzled and grieved by the odd, unfriendly ways of some of their
once cordial schoolmates.

Isabelle Carew, for instance, snubbed Mabel quite heartlessly at times.
Attractive little Grace Allen no longer spent her leisure moments with
her classmate Marjory; but chummed instead with Ruth Dennis. Alice
Bailey no longer wept on Jean’s shoulder during the Sunday night hymns
but transferred her tears to Hazel Benton’s convenient collar bone.

As for Augusta Lemon, convinced that the Lakeville girls were no fit
associates for any really _nice_ girl, she avoided them as much as
possible and became more and more friendly with gum-chewing Gladys. And,
as usual, Lillian Thwaite always followed as closely as possible in
Augusta’s footsteps.

Losing Augusta and Lillian was not exactly a calamity. Augusta was
rather an insipid maiden, with no sense of humor, and the bright little
girls from Lakeville had considered her something of a bore. And Lillian
was just a silly little person of no great consequence. Still, it was
disconcerting and not quite pleasant to be dropped so suddenly, as
Marjory said, “even by a sheep like Augusta or a goose like Lillian.”

Fortunately, Sallie Dickinson, Maude Wilder, Cora Doyle, Victoria
Webster and little Jane Pool, none of whom admired Gladys, were still
friendly; and there were others.

Just now, too, one of the Lakeville girls was having another trouble. As
you know, mail time for Sallie Dickinson was always rather a trying
time. If Charles returned from the post-office early enough, Sallie
opened the bag in the school room and read aloud the name on each
envelope as she passed it down to its owner. If Charles happened to be
late, Sallie delivered the letters at the girls’ doors.

In either case, there were no letters for Sallie, no little packages
from home—because she had no home—no little surprises like those that
brought delighted squeals from her more fortunate schoolmates. Many of
the more selfish older girls seemed to take Sallie’s letterless
condition very much for granted but the Lakeville girls were decidedly
sorry for her. At times, indeed, their tender hearts quite ached for
Sallie.

But now Sallie was not the only sufferer for lack of mail. For weeks and
weeks and weeks—eight of them to be exact—Mabel had had no letter from
her father and mother who were in Germany. There had been postals from
along the way and one announcing their arrival in Berlin and that was
all.

Mabel possessed a dangerous imagination. It was now hard at work. She
looked at poor old Abbie and at Sallie of the wistful eyes and
shuddered. Was she, too, in danger of becoming a boarding school orphan?
Would she have to wear faded old garments discarded and left behind by
departed schoolmates? Would _she_ grow to look just like Abbie—bent and
hopeless—with a retreating chin and scant, hay-colored hair and a
whining voice?

She asked these harrowing questions and many others of her sympathizing
friends.

“Don’t worry,” soothed Henrietta. “It’s a good four months since I’ve
heard a single word from _my_ father. If he isn’t lost on one of his
exploring expeditions in the heart of India or Africa or Asia, he’s been
arrested for digging up somebody’s old tomb. That’s why I live with my
grandmother, you know. Whenever Father hears of anything interesting to
dig, no matter where it is, he just rushes off to dig it. And of course
he couldn’t do that if he had me tied to his—his suspenders.”

“But you have your grandmother and so much money of your own that you
wouldn’t _need_ to be a school orphan like—like Abbie.”

“Mabel, before I’d let you be like Abbie—and you’d have to shrink an
awful lot to do it and change color besides—I’d adopt you myself. It’s a
promise. If anything _should_ happen to your people, I’ll adopt you, so
there! But don’t worry. Nothing _is_ going to happen.”

While these assurances were cheering, Mabel still looked disconsolately
at Abbie and at Sallie.



CHAPTER X

MABEL FINDS A FAMILY


Mabel, with a long afternoon before her and tempted by the pleasant day,
decided to take a walk in the grove. Perhaps she could find a hickory
nut. On the veranda she overtook little Lillian Thwaite, obviously
waiting for some one to walk with.

“Come on, Lill,” said Mabel. “Let’s go down to the grove.”

“Can’t,” returned Lillian, shrugging her small shoulders. “I’m going in
to practise my duet.”

“Then why did you put your things on?” demanded Mabel, suspiciously.

“Just for instance,” returned Lillian, pertly.

Mabel discovered Grace Allen poking among the leaves in the grove.

“Hello, Grace!” said she, hopefully. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing. I’m going back to the house in a minute.”

“Come along with me—it’s nice out.”

“Don’t care to,” returned Grace, snippishly.

Mabel found the deserted grove rather gloomy and uninteresting. Beyond
it the sunny prairie stretched for miles and miles with just one visible
break—a small house with a tumble-down fence far off toward the south.
It was out of bounds of course. Still, the girls _had_ wandered out on
the prairie and not one of the Rhodes family had said a word. It looked
like an entirely safe and harmless place. Mabel looked speculatively at
the faraway little house.

“I wonder if I couldn’t walk there and back before it gets dark. I’d
have something to tell the girls. It would be fun to peek over that
fence. Perhaps there are nuts under those trees by the gate. I wish
Marjory and Bettie were here, but they had letters to read and this is
Jean’s day at the gym. Maude’s too. Anyhow, I’m going a _little_ way.”

It proved a splendid day for walking. Mabel’s brown eyes brightened, a
fine color glowed in her cheeks and, for the moment, all her troubles
evaporated. She even forgot her danger of becoming a boarding school
orphan. Presently she looked back and was pleased to find herself quite
a distance from Highland Hall. The school looked quite imposing, on top
of its own little hill.

“I can get to that cottage quite easily,” said Mabel, trudging along
cheerfully. “Perhaps there are chickens and things in the yard—I hope
there isn’t a goat. Too bad the ground is all brown. There isn’t
anything left to pick.”

The trees, when Mabel reached them, were apple trees; but all the apples
were gone except a withered one. There _were_ chickens in the yard; and
a woman who was peering anxiously down the road that began at her
gateway and wandered off toward the southwest.

“Say,” said she, catching sight of Mabel. “Would you mind coming in and
staying with my children until Lizzie McCall gets here? She’s due any
minute and I’ve got to get over to the trolley—I’m late now. I have a
job cleaning cars over at the Centerville Station, this time every day,
and Lizzie always stays with the kids—they’d tear the house down if I
left them alone.”

“If you’re sure Lizzie is coming—”

“Oh, yes, she’s never missed yet. Just go in and see that they don’t
meddle with the fire. Lizzie’ll be right along.”

The woman hastened away. She looked what she was, an honest working
woman with many family cares. Mabel went inside. Four small children
stared at Mabel, as she entered. A boy of four, two small girls
evidently twins, aged three, and a toddling baby of perhaps a year and a
half. A delightful family to take care of for ten minutes but certainly
not the kind of family to leave for very long to its own devices; for
the twins were reaching for the sugar bowl and the boy had already
discovered the poker and was poking the fire.

“Let’s all watch out the window for Lizzie,” suggested Mabel. “Stand on
these two chairs.”

Watching for Lizzie proved more of an occupation than Mabel had counted
on. They watched and watched with all their eyes but no Lizzie appeared.
Ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes. No Lizzie.

“Does Lizzie _always_ come?” queried Mabel, now decidedly uneasy.

“Sure,” replied the small boy.

“Where is your father?”

“Haven’t any. Him all gone on choo choo cars. Far away.”

“Does your mother come home to supper?”

“No. Lizzie makes our supper. Lizzie puts Tommy to bed and Susy to bed
and Sairy to bed and Jackie to bed.”

“Well,” remarked Mabel, crossly, “I wish she’d come right now and _do_
it. I ought to be a mile from here this very minute. I shouldn’t have
come in. And now I don’t know _what_ to do. It isn’t right for you to be
left by yourselves and it isn’t right for me to stay. Now what does
_anybody_ do in a case like that? I must be back by six o’clock; but I’d
be wicked if I went away—and it’s awfully wrong of me not to go.”

“_Don’t_ go,” wheedled Tommy. “You is nicer than Lizzie.”

“Nicer ’an ’Izzie,” echoed Susy.

“Nicer ’an ’Izzie,” echoed Sairy.

Mabel peered anxiously down the road. The days were short and already it
was growing darker. For another half hour Mabel, pressing closer and
closer to the window, watched the road. By that time it was really dark.
There was a lamp with oil in it on the kitchen table; Mabel discovered
matches on the shelf and managed to light it.

“What do you have for supper?” asked Mabel. “I suppose I’ll have to feed
you.”

“Oatmeal,” said Tommy. “It’s in the kettle on the stove. And milk—in the
cupboard. And bread.”

“What do you have for breakfast?”

“Oatmeal and milk and bread.”

“Where do you get them?”

“My muvver cooks ’em.”

“Hum,” said Mabel, investigating the cupboard, “there’s just about
enough bread for two meals so I guess I’d better not eat very much if I
have to stay to supper; but I hope I don’t.”

But she did. Lizzie still remained mysteriously absent; and before long
the children began to beg for food. Mabel arranged their simple supper
under Tommy’s directions and the friendly infants appeared pleased with
their new nurse.

It was lonely in the solitary little house; but Mabel didn’t mind that
as long as the children were awake. But very soon after supper they
began to nod. Tommy, very sweet and drowsy himself, showed Mabel where
the other little people were to sleep. The baby was fretful; he had
eaten very little supper and now his heavy head felt hot against Mabel’s
cheek as she rocked him to quiet his complaining little cry. Presently
he was asleep, so she tucked him very tenderly into the old
clothes-basket that Tommy assured her was the baby’s bed. Then the
chubby, yawning twins were tucked into their crib, for which they were a
tight fit; and in two minutes, _they_ were asleep. After that, Tommy
removed all his clothes except his shirt and climbed into the double
bed.

“You can sleep by me,” invited Tommy, “until my muvver comes. Lizzie
does sometimes, after she washes the dishes.”

That at least was something for a worried and lonely young person to do.
Mabel washed the tin spoons and thick saucers and put them neatly away.
By this time it was exceedingly dark outside.

“Even if Lizzie were to come,” said Mabel, “I’d be afraid to go home
alone. Dear me, I suppose I’ll have to stay all night. By this time
everybody will know I’ve been out of bounds and goodness only knows what
Doctor Rhodes will say to me. But I’ll skip home as soon as it’s
daylight and ask that nice fat cook to let me in at the kitchen door.”

The bed was not particularly inviting but at last Mabel locked the outer
door and climbed in beside Tommy, who was fast asleep. She hoped that
the baby was all right; he seemed restless and made little moaning
noises and tossed uneasily in his basket. She was sure that she herself
wouldn’t be able to sleep for a moment in that strange place, so far
away from her own friends; but presently she was slumbering quite
peacefully. It was broad daylight when she awoke.

And still no Lizzie.

“Tommy,” demanded Mabel, sitting up in bed, “when does your mother get
home? Who cooks your breakfast every day?”

“My muvver does. Where is my muvver?”

“Well, that’s what I’d like to know. I suppose I _could_ take you all
over to the school—no, I couldn’t carry that heavy baby all that way
even if the twins could manage to walk so far. If it was just _you_,
Tommy, I know we could do it. And I _don’t_ like that baby’s looks.”

“He’s getting another toof,” said Tommy, wisely.

The baby was sick, there was no doubt about that. There was barely
enough food for breakfast, there was no doubt about that, either. To be
sure there were potatoes, turnips and cabbages in the cellar. Thanks to
her play-housekeeping in Dandelion Cottage, Mabel knew how to boil
potatoes but she also knew that potatoes were hardly a proper food for a
sick infant.

By noon the children were hungry so Mabel fed them potatoes and gave the
baby a drink of water; but the supply of wood was getting low and Mabel
could see no way of replenishing it.

“I suppose,” said she, bitterly, “that woman just wanted to get rid of
all these children; and here I am! Four of them on my hands and nothing
to eat. One of them sick and getting teeth! It’s just my luck. I’ll keep
away from strange houses after this. I don’t believe there ever _was_ a
Lizzie. But we must have a fire—perhaps there’s something in that shed
that will fit that stove.”

There wasn’t, but there _was_ a large and clumsy baby carriage.

Mabel examined it hopefully.

Two hours later, at least half of the inmates of Highland Hall, greatly
exercised over Mabel’s mysterious disappearance, beheld a strange sight.
A twin baby carriage, containing three infants and propelled by a plump,
sturdy and perspiring young person, was rolling up the broad walk toward
the school. A small boy trudged along behind.

“It’s Mabel!” gasped Jean.

“It’s Mabel!” shrieked Marjory.

“Mabel, Mabel, Mabel,” cried Bettie, Maude and Jane Pool. Mabel’s
friends rushed down to greet her. The girls who were not her friends and
who had been saying unkind things about her hung back; but they looked
and listened.

“We might have known,” said Bettie, “that she’d bring _something_ home
with her—she always does.”

“But this time,” laughed Jean, “she’s outdone herself.”

Doctor Rhodes, stern and disapproving, eyed Mabel, coldly. To say the
least it was unusual for a pupil to vanish for twenty-four hours and
then turn up unexpectedly with a family of four. It certainly needed
explaining.

Mabel, however, was too much out of breath to do any explaining. She
beamed at the girls—it _was_ pleasant to see them again after that long,
anxious absence—and then glanced at Doctor Rhodes.

Horrors! How was anybody to explain things to a man who glared like
that! Mabel stood still, her smile frozen on her plump, perspiring
countenance.

“Leave those children right where they are,” said Doctor Rhodes,
sternly, “and go into my office. I want to know what this conduct
means.”

“Ye—yes, Sir,” faltered Mabel, toiling up the steps. Marjory skipped
along beside her, to impart a bit of news.

“We missed you at supper time,” breathed Marjory, in an undertone; “but
Doctor Rhodes didn’t know until about an hour ago that you were lost. We
knew _you_ so we were sure you’d do some queer thing like this and would
get home all right if we just gave you a chance, so we kept still. If
you’d only come just a little sooner we could have kept the secret. Miss
Woodruff got after us and found out. I must skip, now—he’s coming.”

“Now,” demanded Doctor Rhodes, “where have you been?”

“I went for a walk,” said Mabel, dropping into the chair that was
reserved for culprits. “I—I’ve always had the habit of bringing things
home with me—cats, dogs and once an Indian baby. But—but this is the
worst I’ve done yet.”

Doctor Rhodes turned suddenly to look out the window. The disappearance
of a pupil from the school was a serious matter; but there was something
about Mabel’s rueful countenance, her dejected attitude and her
apologetic tone that was provocative of laughter.

“There was a woman,” pursued Mabel, earnestly, “and she _said_ there was
a Lizzie. I believed her at first but now I don’t. She asked me to stay
with her children until Lizzie came and Lizzie _didn’t_ come. I _had_ to
stay. It wasn’t safe to leave them with a fire in the stove. Today there
wasn’t any fresh milk for the baby and I couldn’t split the wood. But
there _was_ a twin baby carriage and it’s taken us more than two hours
to get here.”

“Where was that house? In the village?”

“Oh, no,” returned Mabel, wearily, waving her hand toward the south.
“Way over that way across the prairie.”

“What! that small house that we can just see from the upper veranda?
What were you doing away over there?”

“Just taking a walk—I thought I’d be back by six. I knew I was going
pretty far; but my feet just kept going.”

“And what do you propose doing with all those children?”

“I thought we’d feed them,” said Mabel, “and then find somebody that
knows them. There’s a vacant room across from mine. I’ll take care of
them for the night. The baby is getting a tooth.”

“A teething baby!”

“And twins!” added Mabel. “And a boy named Tommy. But I got them all
here alive and that was something.”

“Of course I shall have to punish you for going out of bounds. But the
rest of your—your behavior is so unusual that I don’t know just how to
meet it. I’ll have to think about it awhile. Now take those children to
the room you mentioned and I’ll have one of the maids send up some
supper—”

“Milk and oatmeal and bread,” pleaded Mabel, wearily.

An hour later, the mother of the forsaken children appeared at the
kitchen door. She had followed the wheels of the baby carriage all the
way to Highland Hall.

Charles was peeling potatoes, the two neat maids were helping him. At
sight of the woman in the doorway, Charles rose suddenly to his feet,
dropped his pan of potatoes and turned as if to flee. But the visitor
rushed across the room and threw her arms about his neck.

And then tall, lanky Charles, with a sheepish glance at the two
astonished maids, returned her kiss.

“He’s my husband,” said the woman. “I thought he’d gone to Detroit to
get work. And here he is, not three miles from home!”

Charles explained blushingly that he had temporarily deserted his wife
because he found it so pleasant to be considered a bachelor.

“The ladies,” said Charles, waving a hand toward the fat cook and the
two neat maids “make so much of a single man. And I _like_ being made
much of—any man does.”

“And where,” demanded Mrs. Charles, “are my children?”

The neat maid who had carried the milk upstairs was able to lead her to
her family; and Mabel learned that Lizzie had sent a note explaining
that she couldn’t come; but the messenger had failed to deliver the
note. Mrs. Charles had been later than usual in starting her cleaning
work on the train and the train had started, carrying her to Chicago.

“And I thought,” said she, “I might as well make the most of a free ride
while I was about it; so I went all the way, bought my provisions in
town and got the noon train back.”

Charles hitched the school horse to the school wagon. With his sharp
elbows sticking out and his sandy hair on end, he perched on the front
seat and drove his family home that evening. He remained in the employ
of Doctor Rhodes, but the two neat maids no longer “made much of him.”
As for the fat cook, she told him exactly what she thought of a man who
deserted a good wife and four fine children for the sake of flattering
attentions from other ladies. And crestfallen Charles promised to mend
his ways.



CHAPTER XI

MABEL STAYS HOME


The girls teased Mabel considerably for the next few days. One afternoon
she went to her room and was decidedly startled to find a dozen almost
human objects seated on the floor, their backs braced against the wall.
They were pillows stuffed into middy blouses. A large placard held forth
by two stuffed sleeves read: “We are orphans. Please stay with us until
Lizzie comes.”

A night or two afterwards she found her bed occupied by four more almost
human middy blouse orphans, and one morning a lovely picture of a very
stout young person pushing a wide baby carriage full of plump infants
appeared on the assembly room blackboard. Under it was printed “Missing:
One Lizzie.”

Mabel suspected that Henrietta and Maude Wilder were at the bottom of
these outrages; and her suspicions were probably correct. But there were
other offenders. Whenever little Jane Pool met her in the corridor she
would cock a wicked black eye at her and say: “Hello, Lizzie,” or “How’s
Lizzie today?”

Even one of the lofty seniors condescended to notice her long enough to
ask: “Found any more orphans to adopt yet?”

Even tender hearted Bettie could not refrain sometimes from saying:
“Anne, Sister Anne, do you see anybody coming?”

Mabel, who was feeling a bit doleful these days, took all this teasing
in good part. Indeed, she was glad to be amused. After days of suspense
her punishment for going out of bounds had been meted out to her; and
she felt that she was indeed being punished. On Wednesday evening there
was to be a concert at the Theological Seminary, with ice cream
afterwards. Now, the students might and did scramble their prayers and
make hash of their sermons; but they _could_ sing, so it was always a
joy to hear them. And “Ice cream afterwards” sounded wonderfully good to
Mabel. But for Mabel there was to be no music and no ice cream. She was
to stay at home with poor old Abbie. It was not until Wednesday
afternoon that Mabel learned that Maude also was to stay at home.

“Miss Woodruff did it,” explained Maude, her amber eyes twinkling
merrily. “Just after ‘Lights out’ last night I thought I’d like to drop
a cold wet washcloth down Dorothy Miller’s neck. It’s a long way over to
the North corridor, you know, and the hall doors all squeak; but I
thought I could get away with it. Well, what did I do but run slap bang
into Miss Woodruff!”

“Goodness!” gasped Mabel. “What _did_ you do?”

“Well,” continued Maude, “I never said a word. I just stared straight
ahead with my eyes wide open and pretended I was walking in my sleep,
with that silly washcloth dripping from my outstretched hand. And I had
her fooled. But just as I reached my own door I just absent-mindedly
turned around and stuck my tongue out at her—you know I always _do_
stick my tongue out at her when she isn’t looking—but this time I got
caught. Mean old thing! She switched the light on just in time to get
full benefit, so it was all up with little Maude.”

“What did she do then?”

“Oh, she said a lot of awfully cutting things. She’s a good teacher and
I _do_ respect her for that; but she doesn’t have to be so sarcastic
when folks—well, stick out their tongues. I think it’s a mean shame to
make me lose that concert and all that ice cream just for a little thing
like that. Cora says they sing _funny_ songs and there’s always cake
with the ice cream. I’m going to get even with Miss Woodruff, see if I
don’t. Well, cheer up, Mabel. I’ll see you later.”

Evening found the two girls with their noses pressed against their
bedroom windows watching the long procession of girls and teachers out
of sight down the moonlit road. As usual, the Seniors led and the
younger girls brought up the rear. Mabel looked at the place beside
Marjory that should have been hers and sighed. She thought of that ice
cream and a large tear rolled down her cheek.

Maude, wasting no tears, tiptoed to a room on the fourth floor. A key
clicked in a lock and in two minutes more, naughty Maude was bouncing
gleefully on Mabel’s bed.

“I’ve locked poor old Abbie in her bedroom,” announced Maude. “And now
look at this!”

Maude hurled a large scarlet bundle at Mabel’s head. Fortunately, it was
a soft bundle.

“Spread it out on the floor,” directed Maude. “It’s Miss Woodruff’s
nightgown. Somebody told her that red flannel was a sure cure for
rheumatism, so she _wears_ that thing. It’s perfectly enormous—it would
have to be or it wouldn’t fit. Now, let’s look in all the Lakeville
girls’ sewing baskets for large white buttons and white tape—they won’t
mind. We’ll just embellish that nightie with a few nice pictures and
tack it up on Miss Woodruff’s door—the girls will love it. We’ll sew
those buttons on tight, too.”

Against the brilliant background, the naughty pair outlined grinning
faces with the white tape, making eyes and other features with the large
white buttons. A blazing sun adorned each wide front and Maude
accomplished a daring caricature of Miss Woodruff herself in the very
center of the broad scarlet back. Ordinarily, both Maude and Mabel hated
to sew on buttons; but now they fell upon the task with glee.

“I’ve thought of something else,” announced Maude, when this task was
finished. “Miss Woodruff hates tobacco smoke. There are several packages
of horrible cigarettes in Madame Bolande’s room. You get the tin pail
that stands on the back porch. After awhile I’ll build a tiny fire in
that and burn a bunch of those cigarettes just inside Miss Woodruff’s
door.”

“Oh Maude—”

“We’ve been so bad now that we might as well keep on,” said Maude,
recklessly. “There’s one thing sure; the next time they punish us they
won’t leave us home—they won’t _dare_. We’ll have to keep Abbie locked
in until the very last minute so she won’t undo any of our work. Now
I’ll get a pitcher of water so we can keep the fire in our pail from
doing any harm; and anyway a little dampness will make that tobacco
smell worse.”

Maude and Mabel were in their beds and very sound asleep when the school
returned. Miss Woodruff went to the library to find a book before
ascending to her room; so most of the West Corridor girls had a fine
chance to see the strange and ludicrous object nailed to the poor lady’s
door. Such a shout of laughter went up that Mrs. Rhodes hurried to the
corridor and Doctor Rhodes, startled at the unusual sound, followed
after. Poor Miss Woodruff arrived a moment later to find even Doctor
Rhodes convulsed with mirth.

In one of his brief speeches to the school, Doctor Rhodes had once said
“Incapatiated” when he meant “Incapacitated.” Perhaps he was remembering
the superior manner in which Miss Woodruff had corrected him. At any
rate, he now seemed able to enjoy a joke on that rather severe lady.

Maude spent the next day in solitary confinement in the big lonely room
at the end of the North Corridor, far away from all her friends. She was
to stay there until she apologized. For some reason, Doctor Rhodes
failed to connect Mabel with the wicked doings of the previous night; it
is possible that Maude had shouldered all the blame; but when the second
day dawned, with Maude still obdurate, Mabel, without consulting any of
her friends, marched down to Doctor Rhodes’s office.

“Doctor Rhodes,” said she, “I think you ought to know—that is, I think I
ought to _tell_ you—that _I_ sewed just as many buttons on that red
nightgown as Maude did; and I ought to be punished just as much.”

“Did _you_ take Miss Woodruff’s silver cardcase?”

“Why, no!” returned Mabel, indignantly. “Of _course_ I didn’t.”

“Or Madame’s cigarettes?”

“No.”

“Or five dollars out of Madame’s everyday hat?”

“Oh, _no_. And Maude didn’t touch the money or the card case. I’m sure
of that.”

“What about the cigarettes?”

“She did take those and we both took the buttons and the tape; but
nothing else.”

“And you think you ought to be punished?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Perhaps you could suggest a suitable penalty?”

“You might put me in solitary confinement in that room with Maude.”

Doctor Rhodes laughed and Mabel wondered why.

“You’d better look up the meaning of the word ‘Solitary,’” said he. “I
fear there are other reasons why your plan wouldn’t work. You and Maude
are a pretty lively team. I think,”—with a shrewd glance at Mabel’s
plump figure—“that this is a better punishment for you. No dessert for
dinner for a whole week.”

“Yes, Sir,” said Mabel, looking as if a week seemed a pretty long time.

“And you must apologize to Miss Woodruff.”

“I don’t mind that,” said Mabel. “I’m always having to apologize to
somebody, so I’ve had lots of practice.”

“That’s an honest youngster,” said Doctor Rhodes to himself when the
door had closed behind Mabel. “I’m sure she didn’t take either that
cardcase or that money. And I don’t believe that naughty Wilder girl did
either. Mabel is just a cheerful blunderer and Maude is just frankly
willful. They’re both honest. But I’d give something to know who it is
that isn’t—with all this smoke there must be _some_ fire.”

After Maude had spent two long days in the North Corridor bedroom, Miss
Woodruff thinking it was time for repentance to set in, tapped at the
door. Maude, supposing it was Annie or Mary with her supper tray, hopped
into the large black walnut wardrobe that stood against the wall and
drew the door shut, meaning to spring forth at the right moment and say
“Boo!”—but not until the tray was safe on the table.

The room was dimly lighted. Miss Woodruff, thinking that the dark shadow
in the corner was Maude, stepped into the room and said, with dignity:
“Maude, I am ready to accept your apology.”

This, of course, was rather sudden. The culprit had no apology at her
tongue’s end. Still, she had _something_—irrepressible Maude was never
_entirely_ at a loss. She opened the wardrobe door, smiled sweetly at
Miss Woodruff and said:

“_Nous avons les raisins blancs et noirs mais pas de cerises._”

Apparently Miss Woodruff didn’t care whether there were cherries or not.
She went out and slammed the door.



CHAPTER XII

A GROWING GIRL


After her third day of solitary confinement, Maude promised to apologize
properly to Miss Woodruff the next morning, immediately after prayers.

“Miss Woodruff,” said Maude, standing very slim and straight at her own
desk in the Assembly room, “I apologize for the things I did to
your—your _clothes_ the other night. I’m sorry it was necessary to do
them.”

“That will do,” said Dr. Rhodes, raising his hand, hastily—for there was
no knowing how far irrepressible Maude might go, with all those other
girls ready to applaud. “I’m sure Miss Woodruff accepts your apology.”

“I do,” replied Miss Woodruff, coldly, “but I should also like to have
my silver cardcase returned at once. I have always kept it on the right
hand side of my dresser, exactly six inches from my pincushion.”

“_Sacré bleu! Quel précision!_” breathed untidy Madame Bolande.

“When I went to your closet to get that red—well, that red _garment_,”
replied Maude, “I noticed that the top of your dresser was perfectly
neat and tidy. But I _didn’t_ see any cardcase. It might have _been_
there but I didn’t notice it. I certainly didn’t take it.”

“Very well,” said Miss Woodruff. “You may now be seated. Classes
please.”

Mabel, the other culprit, was now behaving very well indeed. She was
learning her lessons, and, under the patient tuition of Miss Emily
Rhodes, was improving her naturally untidy penmanship. She was also
meekly, conscientiously and courageously going without dessert; and
never—it seemed to always hungry Mabel—had there been so very many
entrancing varieties of pie, so many choice puddings; and, of all weeks
of the year, that was the one that the fat cook chose for the
introduction of a brand new custardy affair that every one of the girls
declared “simply scrumptious.”

Usually, there was much swapping of food at meal time. Grace Allen
didn’t like butter but Ruth Dennis did; and was glad to give her tapioca
pudding to Grace in exchange for Grace’s daily butter. Augusta disliked
celery but adored pickles so she and Cora carried on an equally
gratifying exchange. Mabel always traded her lima beans for Alice
Bailey’s cocoanut pie—Alice hated cocoanut—and of course, during that
dessertless week Mabel was obliged to refuse not only her own pie but
Alice’s. But everybody liked the new custard.

“Taste mine,” tempted little Jane Pool. “It’s just licking good. Come
on, nobody’s looking.”

“No,” sighed Mabel, “it wouldn’t be honest. I _said_ I’d go without so
I’ll go all the way—one week can’t last forever.”

“Never mind, Mabel,” comforted Maude, “I’ll ask Nora to make this kind
_often_ next week and I’ll give you my share just once so you can catch
up. Besides, I owe you that much—I led you into this scrape, you know.”

Going without dessert, however, was a small trouble compared with
mysteriously losing two full grown parents. Mabel’s were still missing.
As she had no address except Berlin, she wasn’t at all sure that her own
letters were reaching _them_. She and each of the other Lakeville girls
had had several brief, boyish letters from their friend and
fellow-camper, Laddie Lombard, the shipwrecked boy they had rescued at
Pete’s Patch; but from her parents, not a word for so many weeks that it
made Mabel shiver to count them.

Her thoughts, nowadays, were gloomy ones. What if she had to stay at
Highland Hall until she was faded and forty like poor old Abbie. What if
her skirts kept getting shorter and shorter (or what was more likely,
narrower and narrower) like Cora’s. What if her middy blouses faded and
frayed like Sallie’s, with no prospects of new ones. And what if she
_never_ saw her dear parents again—that was the worst thought of all.
Her plump easy-going mother, her kind, pleasant father.

Yes, that was the worst thought of all. It weighed Mabel down. No matter
what else she might be doing at the moment, Mabel couldn’t quite escape
from the steadily increasing weight of that puzzling trouble.

“I’d give all four of my letters from Laddie,” said Mabel, wistfully,
“for just a postal card with one little word on it from my mother.”

“Well,” declared Gladys de Milligan, who also was watching the mail bag,
expectantly, “if I had a daughter as clumsy as you are I’d chuck her
into a boarding school and leave her there _forever_. I’d be _glad_ to
forget about her.”

“Anyhow,” declared Mabel, crossly, “you don’t need to chew gum in my
ear, even if you _would_ be that kind of a mother.”

The Lakeville girls tried to cheer troubled Mabel but she could see that
they, too, were becoming anxious. Indeed, Bettie had secretly written to
Mr. Black about it. Mr. Black, Bettie firmly believed, could fix
_anything_.

“My goodness!” said Cora, one evening, when the girls were waiting for
Henrietta to come and tell them ghost stories on the spooky front
stairs, “here are the Christmas holidays coming right along and I don’t
know what I’m ever going to _do_. I’ve written and written to my people
about the way I’m growing—told ’em I was seven feet tall if I was an
inch—and they won’t _believe_ me. They think I’m _exaggerating_! Here I
am, growing a mile a minute; but my clothes, alas! are standing still.
I’m going home with Maude, to visit her perfectly scrumptious family,
and I haven’t one single dud that’s big enough either lengthwise or
sidewise.”

“Didn’t the photographs work?” asked Helen Miller. For the Miller girls,
at Cora’s request, had taken a number of snapshots of the growing girl
to be sent to her doubting parents. Perhaps Cora had grown a little at
the very moment in which she was snapped. At any rate the pictures were
slightly hazy as to outline; yet, to the girls, they looked convincingly
like Cora.

“No,” returned Cora, mournfully. “They didn’t believe that it _was_ a
picture of me.”

“What are you going to try next?” asked little Jane Pool.

“Nothing. I’ve given up. I’ve half a mind to stay right here for the
holidays.”

“Nonsense!” said Maude. “You can wear _my_ clothes—I’ve several things
that are too big for me—that new navy blue taffeta, for instance.”

“I _couldn’t_ do that,” said Cora, blushing until her freckles
disappeared. “Your people would know they were yours. I’d feel ashamed.”

“Yes, that wouldn’t do,” agreed Jean.

“I know what to do,” said Henrietta, who had arrived and was perched on
the substantial newel post. “We’ll _all_ lend you things. You can take
that new white blouse of mine—it will have to shrink before _I_ can wear
it.”

“I’ll lend you my pleated skirt,” said Helen Miller, “you have it most
of the time, anyway.”

“I have a petticoat that would go with it,” said Dorothy.

“Please—please take my new umbrella,” pleaded little Jane Pool,
earnestly. “I want to lend you _something_ and that’s the only thing I
have that’s big enough.”

“You’re a bunch of darlings,” said Cora, hugging them all by turns, “and
I’ll be _glad_ to borrow your things.”

“Of course it’s too late to be of any use for vacation,” said Jean, “but
I have an idea. Why don’t you ask Doctor Rhodes to write to your people
and tell them the horrible truth about your inches. Have Mrs. Henry
Rhodes measure you. Figures, you know, never—well, exaggerate. They may
believe Doctor Rhodes.”

“Angel child!” cried Cora, “I’ll do just that. You’ve found the answer.”

Perhaps Jean had, for Doctor Rhodes, both amused and impressed by Cora’s
remarkable plight, _did_ write to her people and the response was a
large box that arrived soon after Cora returned from Maude’s.

“And my goodness!” said exaggerating Cora, “there are tucks a mile wide
and hems a mile deep and a whole acre of cloth in _everything_.”

Three days after the evening on the stairs, the girls were all in the
school room when Sallie, a little late, came in with the mail bag. There
was a pleasing plumpness about the bag that day; and, as usual, all the
girls crowded into the space just below the rostrum, so that Sallie, the
post girl, looked down upon a small sea of eager, upturned faces.

Sallie reached into the bag, as was her habit, and pulled out a letter.

“Miss Eleanor Pratt,” she read. One of the Seniors accepted it, calmly.

“Miss Anne Blodgett, Miss Isabelle Carew, Miss Ruth Dennis, Miss Debbie
Clark, Miss Hazel Benton, Miss Gladys de Milligan, Miss Bettie Tucker,
Miss Augusta Lemon, Miss Beatrice Holmes—” Another Senior strolled
leisurely forward and condescended to accept a letter. Really, those
older girls were annoying; they were so _blasé_ about their mail.

“Miss Mabel Bennett,” called Sallie, in her clear, strong voice.

Mabel seized her letter and waved it, gleefully. “It’s from _Mother_!”
she cried. “Hip, Hip, Hooray!” (There was nothing _blasé_ about Mabel.)

Sallie, beaming sympathetically, pulled another letter from the bag.

“Miss Mabel Bennett,” she announced.

“It’s from Mother,” Mabel shrieked again.

But when the third letter proved to be Mabel’s, too, Mabel was too
breathless with excitement to do more than gasp. When she had received
five letters and four postal cards and a package containing thick,
remarkably substantial German handkerchiefs, one for herself and one for
each of her Lakeville friends, it was almost a relief to hear Sallie
read a different name; for even the lofty Seniors were staring at her in
astonishment.

“It wasn’t my _people_ that were lost,” explained Mabel, after she had
read all this accumulation of mail. “For quite a long time Mother mailed
her letters in an old post-box that wasn’t used any more for that
purpose. She didn’t understand enough German when somebody told her that
wasn’t the right one. But Father found out about it; and, after a long
time, they succeeded in getting the German postmaster to open the old
box and send her letters. So I’m not an orphan after all. And this week
I’m going to buy something lovely with every penny of my thirty cents
for Sallie, because she is.”



CHAPTER XIII

MANY SMALL MYSTERIES


Shortly before Christmas, Jean’s father, Mr. Mapes, turned up just in
time to whisk the Lakeville youngsters aboard their train. The girls
were so glad to see a friend from home that they all but wept tears of
joy. Quiet Mr. Mapes was quite pleased and embarrassed at their
rapturous greeting—even Henrietta having surprised him with a kiss.

“We’d be glad to see even a beggar from _home_,” explained Mabel
earnestly and with her usual frankness—and wondered why Mr. Mapes
laughed.

Mabel was to visit among her friends for the holidays. All the other
Highland Hall girls except homeless Sallie, Virginia Mason (a quiet girl
from far away Oregon) and poor old Abbie, who wasn’t exactly a girl,
departed to their homes for a two weeks’ vacation.

It wouldn’t be possible to describe _all_ the Christmas gifts that the
happy Lakeville girls received; but some of the more unusual ones
deserve mention. From Germany, Mrs. Bennett sent to each of the five
girls a lovely little Dresden pin of exquisite enamel. Mrs. Lombard, the
grateful mother of Laddie, the rescued castaway, presented to each a
beautiful gold locket containing a pleasing picture of her attractive
boy. Mrs. Slater had selected an interesting book for each of
Henrietta’s chums; and from Mr. Black, each girl received a beautiful
leather writing case “with a place for stamps and everything,” as Bettie
said joyfully. Mrs. Crane gave each girl a five dollar gold piece. But
Henrietta’s father had sent nothing to his family. This was both
puzzling and alarming. He had never before failed to send wonderful
gifts at Christmas time.

Of course the Lakeville girls had dispatched parcels to Sallie and had
written to her; so for once the post-girl had been able to deliver much
pleasant mail to herself.

There was only one trouble with that vacation. It didn’t last long
enough.

“Dear me!” said Henrietta, when Mr. Black had returned them all safely
to Highland Hall, “those were the shortest two weeks that ever
happened.”

This second coming to Highland Hall, however, was quite different from
the first; and much pleasanter. The early arrivals greeted the late
comers warmly and there was much hugging and kissing in the corridors.
With one exception, all the girls and all the teachers had returned. The
exception was Madame Bolande.

“I’m pretty sure she was fired,” confided Sallie, inelegantly. “She was
in a furious temper when she packed her trunk the day after you left.
And I wish you could have seen her room afterwards. Dust and powder and
rouge all over the place—I had to help Abbie clean up. She wore her
stockings until the feet were gone and then threw them under the bed.”

“I knew she was too awful to last,” said Hazel Benton. “But I did think
they’d be obliged to keep her for a whole year. I’m so glad they
didn’t.”

At first there was no regular French teacher. Elisabeth Wilson, one of
the Seniors, attempted to carry on the classes; but found it difficult
to undo Madame’s faulty work. Then one of the Theological students was
engaged temporarily; but so many extra girls among the day pupils
decided suddenly to take French that the young Theologian fell ill from
overwork. Then Henrietta offered to tide the classes over until Doctor
Rhodes should hear from the agency that was to supply the new teacher.

The three Seniors were regarded by the rest of the pupils with
considerable awe, and it is time that you were hearing more about them.
In the first place they were quite old—sixteen or perhaps as much as
seventeen; but as Seniors sometimes do, they kept their ages a dark
secret. The other girls were permitted to spend only thirty cents a week
for candy and other eatables. Not so the Seniors. They could spend all
the money they liked, provided their parents supplied it, and they did.
They could even send to Chicago for large boxes of candy or cream puffs
or Angel’s food cake and eat these delectable things at any hour of the
day or night, without interference. In the matter of clothes they were
not restricted to middies. They could wear what they liked and they did,
Eleanor Pratt was exceedingly dressy. Elisabeth Wilson was a walking
fashion plate and Beatrice Holmes of Indiana, managed to out-dress them
both. Occasionally, one or another of these superior young persons would
condescend to pass her box of chocolates to some of the younger girls;
but, for the most part, the proud and lofty Seniors, as Sallie said,
flocked by themselves and were not always polite when some thoughtless
young person from the lower forms “butted in.”

Their rooms were in the older part of the house and were much grander
than those of the other pupils. It meant a great deal to be a Senior—you
always spelled it with a very large S—at Highland Hall.

But being a Senior did not exempt Miss Pratt, Miss Wilson or Miss
Holmes—never did any other pupil venture to address them as Eleanor,
Elisabeth or Beatrice—from losing certain, small belongings.

Two weeks after the holidays, Miss Wilson reported the loss of a small
crescent pin, set with diamonds. Miss Holmes had searched her room in
vain for a valuable bracelet and Miss Pratt had broken a ten dollar bill
in order to buy a quarter’s worth of stamps—and the change had vanished
from her purse. Yes, she _had_ been careless to leave it in the pocket
of her coat in the cloak room; but that was no reason why any one should
have taken it.

“Anyway,” said Sallie, “we know now that it isn’t Madame Bolande who is
doing it; and that’s something.”

“Of course,” ventured Henrietta, “it couldn’t be one of the Rhodes
family. I know there is some sort of a mystery about them. They all have
sort of a queer, shifty look about them; and they all shut right up like
clams when you ask questions. You can’t even pry into poor old Miss
Emily’s past without frightening her. This is an old school; but except
for Miss Julia I can’t believe that the Rhodes people have been here
very long. Now _have_ they, Sallie?”

“I can’t tell you a thing,” declared Sallie. “I promised not to and I
can’t. There _is_ a sort of secret. It isn’t anything _very_ bad. It’s
just something that Doctor Rhodes thinks might make a difference in the
attendance if it were known—Goodness! I’ve told you more now than I
meant to. Please don’t talk about it, Henrietta.”

“Of course I won’t,” promised Henrietta, “but I’m just as curious as I
can be and I’m going to pump poor old Abbie.”

But poor old Abbie showed unexpected strength of mind; she put her
fingers into her ears and refused to listen to Henrietta’s
blandishments.

“It ain’t for me,” said Abbie, “livin’ here like I be, to be givin’
things away to prying young persons like you and that Jane Pool child
that’s always pesterin’ me about my past. I know what I know but you
ain’t goin’ to. What you don’t know can’t hurt you.”

Every week, some time between three and five o’clock on Saturday
afternoon, every pupil, not excepting even the lofty Seniors, was
expected to visit the huge attic above the older portion of Highland
Hall. Here, arranged in a neat border all around the big room, were the
girls’ trunks. Only on Saturdays were the girls permitted to visit
them—it seemed, Bettie said, almost like getting back home to see them
again each week.

Near the windows were benches and numerous brushes and boxes of
blacking. It was here that the girls blacked their shoes, or whitened
them, according to their needs. Saturday, likewise, was the day for
that.

The third Saturday after Christmas, Mabel, always a little awkward, lost
her balance and fell backward into an open trunk. In her efforts to save
herself she clutched things as she crashed through the flimsy tray. She
came up with a ribbon belt in her hand. There was an odd buckle on the
belt. Mabel looked at it curiously. Bettie, polishing one of her best
black shoes glanced at it too. Then she looked at Mabel and lifted an
inquiring eyebrow. Then both girls stooped to look at the name on the
trunk. It was there in plain letters, “Gladys E. De Milligan.”

And then Gladys herself appeared suddenly at the top of the stairs with
a second armful of clothing to store in her trunk. She flew at surprised
Mabel like a small whirlwind and snatched the belt from her hand.

“What do you mean,” she stormed, “prying in my trunk! And taking my
things. I caught you doing it—I’ll tell all the girls.”

“I _didn’t_ pry in your trunk,” protested Mabel. “I just _fell_ in.
Goodness knows I didn’t _want_ to skin my shoulder on your old trunk;
and that belt is just what I got when I grabbed.”

“That’s the truth,” added Bettie.

Gladys locked her trunk ostentatiously, pocketed the key and marched
downstairs. Mabel looked at Bettie, Bettie looked at Mabel.

“The buckle on that belt looks a lot like the one that Helen Miller made
such a fuss about last fall,” said Mabel.

“I know it does.”

“Do you think we’d better say anything about it to the girls?”

“Let’s ask Jean.”

Now Jean was the kindest soul imaginable. Although she had known many
things to Gladys’s disadvantage, she had kept silence herself and had
influenced her little friends to keep silence likewise.

“Gladys may have found that buckle,” said Jean, “and of course it’s
possible that she and Helen had buckles just alike. I don’t _like_
Laura—I mean Gladys—but I don’t believe we’d better say anything against
her to the other girls.”

“She says things against us,” said Mabel. “She told Sallie that my
father was just a corn doctor and that all Bettie’s clothes came out of
missionary boxes and that Marjory’s Aunty Jane took in washing—and I
shan’t tell you what she said about _your_ folks but it was just awful.”

“Well, let’s not worry about it. The girls that we like best aren’t
going back on us for anything Gladys can tell them and we don’t have to
be mean just because _she_ is.”

“I suppose it is hard luck,” said Bettie, “to be born the kind of person
Laura is. I agree with Jean. Let’s forget her and think of pleasant
things.”

Laura was a clever girl in many ways. Naturally bright, she learned
easily. Naturally rather a forward child, not easily embarrassed, she
recited readily—in spite of her gum—and acquired good marks. She broke
very few rules. Even that rule that _every_ boarding school girl
breaks—the one about remaining in one’s own bed from the time the bell
rings for “Lights Out” until it rings again for rising, even that rule
was seemingly unbroken by Laura. At any rate, no one ever caught her
breaking it. She was rooming now with Victoria Webster in the North
Corridor, Victoria having returned thither after the burglar scare was
over.

Mrs. Henry Rhodes was matron of the North Corridor, where the Miller
girls, Ruth Dennis, Alice Bailey, Hazel Benton, quiet Virginia Mason and
some of the older girls roomed. Mrs. Henry, as the girls called her, was
easily the most attractive member of the Rhodes family. Quite a young
woman, she was both pretty and stylish in a quiet, very pleasing way.
Her abundant light brown hair was coiled neatly and becomingly about her
small head—she was slender—and not very tall—and Hazel Benton said that
she had an aristocratic nose. Most of the girls liked and admired her.

She was not particularly severe or exacting in her duties as matron—Miss
Cassandra Woodruff was made of much sterner stuff, as the West Corridor
girls knew to their sorrow. Mrs. Henry had once been a boarding school
girl herself, likewise a college girl, and her sympathies were with her
charges. It was suspected that she didn’t consider it a crime for
Dorothy Miller to slip across the hall into Ruth Dennis’s bed to giggle
over some joke, or for Hazel Benton to slide into Alice Bailey’s room
for a cough drop, or even for half a dozen of the girls to assemble in
Dora Burl’s room for a smuggled in, midnight spread of cream puffs; so
it is possible that Mrs. Henry didn’t listen, very hard when her charges
prowled about at night.

In addition to being a popular matron, she had proved an excellent
drawing teacher. Also her needlework classes were turning out good work.
She had been married only a short time when her husband died; and, as
Cora put it, looked more like a young lady than a widow.

“I wish,” groaned Maude, the day after Miss Woodruff had caught her
after “Lights Out” on her way to Cora’s room with a large box of cream
puffs under her arm, “that we could swap matrons with the North
Corridor. Mrs. Henry _knows_ that cream puffs have to be eaten fresh.”

“Yes,” agreed Cora, “it was certainly a crime about those cream puffs.
Four dozen of them at sixty cents, besides what we gave Charles for
smuggling them in. Eight of us chipped in with our whole week’s
allowance. And what did old Woodsy do but keep them in her warm room all
night, and then, after every last one of them had soured beyond hope,
she ordered them served for the whole school for lunch.”



CHAPTER XIV

UNPOPULAR MARJORY


Twice a week, from half past seven to nine, there was dancing in the
dining room. The tables were pushed back and the floor waxed. Sallie
Dickinson had to help with that, so, though she loved to dance, she was
usually too tired to do it. Miss Julia Rhodes and the three Seniors took
turns at the piano. Miss Julia played “The Blue Danube,” and other
sentimental waltzes left over from her own rather remote girlhood. The
Seniors were much more modern. They played Sousa’s rousing marches with
so much vigor that even Mabel, who had never really learned to dance,
felt simply compelled to get up and two-step. And when _two_ of the
Seniors, at separate pianos, pounded out “The Washington Post,” stout
Miss Woodruff, who had been brought up to believe that it was wicked to
dance, kept time so vigorously with her feet that (in spite of her
hectic nightwear) she always suffered next day from rheumatism in her
plump ankles.

Mabel’s sense of rhythm was good and, for a heavy child, she proved
surprisingly light on her feet. At the same time she was clumsy and was
continually bumping into other dancers or getting in their way and being
bumped. Jean and Bettie danced only moderately well. Inexperienced Jean
was a trifle stiff as to knees and elbows and Bettie was not stiff
enough. Marjory was like a bit of thistledown, here, there and
everywhere, so that Jane Pool and little Lillian Thwaite were the only
persons sufficiently nimble to keep step with her.

Henrietta danced very well indeed. She had had several terms of dancing
lessons and was, besides, naturally graceful. As a partner, Henrietta
was in great demand. In the early months of the school year, all five of
the Lakeville girls had been fairly popular, but now, since soon after
the Christmas holidays, something was wrong. Except for the girls from
her own town, no one but Sallie, Maude Wilder and Jane Pool asked
Marjory to dance. Little Lillian Thwaite had even gone so far as to
refuse Marjory’s invitations.

“I’m engaged for _all_ the dances,” fibbed Lillian, glibly.

Marjory might have believed her if she had not later heard Lillian
asking Gladys for the next two-step. For some reason Marjory was
becoming more and more unpopular and the little girl was quite troubled
about it. Any little girl _would_ have been.

Gladys danced almost as well as Henrietta did; but Henrietta was the
pleasanter dancer to look at. She carried herself prettily, her clothes
seemed always just exactly right and Henrietta herself, with her
sparkling eyes, her vivid coloring, her dark, becoming curls, was always
an attractive sight. Gladys was invariably overdressed for these
occasions. Her hair was over-done and her complexion entirely unnatural.
She arched her back in an artificial way, crooked her elbows at curious
angles and managed to stick her left little finger out in a most
peculiar and quite ridiculous manner. Added to this, she invariably
chewed gum quite as industriously as she danced.

“It wouldn’t be so bad,” commented Mrs. Henry Rhodes, viewing this
spectacle with amusement, “if Gladys chewed in time to the music; but
she doesn’t.”

Even the frozen countenance of the older Mrs. Rhodes thawed into
something like a smile when Gladys danced and chewed. Still, apparently
many of the girls liked to dance with Gladys; but those who did held
aloof from the four Lakeville girls and more particularly from Marjory
and Mabel.

“I know what I think,” said Marjory, confiding in Mabel one evening when
they were the only girls who had not been asked by some one else to
waltz. “Laura Milligan has been saying things about us again, and more
and more of the girls are believing what she says. It gets a little
worse every dancing night. It’s terrible to be _unpopular_.”

“I know it,” agreed Mabel. “The only friends we have in this school now
are the girls that won’t associate with Laura. Maude just hates her and
so does Sallie. Jane Pool does, too. And I don’t think Victoria Webster
likes her any too well, even if she _does_ room with her.”

“The Seniors make fun of her,” said Marjory; “I’ve seen them do it. Miss
Wilson imitates the way she chews gum and Miss Pratt sticks her little
finger out the way Laura does. If Augusta wasn’t just a silly goose
herself she’d never waste a minute on Laura. And the Miller girls and
Isabelle haven’t as many brains in their three heads as little Jane Pool
has in her one—I heard Miss Woodruff tell them that in school yesterday.
And Grace Allen hasn’t any mind of her own at all. She just thinks what
Laura _wants_ her to think, and then passes it on.”

“The friends we have are _nice_ girls,” returned Mabel. “Maude, Cora,
Sallie and the others. Just the same it makes me just mad to be snubbed
and cold shouldered and left out by _anybody_.”

“Me too,” said Marjory. “I know you can’t waltz, but let’s get up and do
it anyway. We don’t need to _look_ like wallflowers even if we are.”

There was another evidence of Marjory’s growing unpopularity. Once in
two weeks there was a general spell down in the Assembly room. Some of
the girls loved it, some of them hated it, according to their ability to
spell; but they all quivered with excitement while it was going on.

Two of the Seniors marched importantly to the far corners of the room
from which point, turn and turn about, they chose sides; and of course
it was considered an honor to be among the first called—and a disgrace
to be among the last.

Jean and Marjory spelled very well indeed and were usually among the
first to be chosen. Mabel spelled just about as badly as anybody could
and was always the last. She _expected_ to be. She had grown accustomed
to her place at the end of the line and felt as if it belonged to her.
Bettie, Grace Allen, Augusta Lemon and Cora were easily downed; but
sometimes survived the first word. Isabelle Carew could spell if she
kept her mind on it, but once Miss Woodruff had given her the word
“Claritude,” and she had gone to dreaming in the middle of it. She
spelled it “Clar_ence_.” Of course, after that, everybody knew that
Isabelle could not be considered a dependable speller.

But Marjory was. Her ears were keen and she liked to spell. It was a
difficult matter to spell her down. Sometimes _both_ Seniors, in their
eagerness to get her, called her name in the same breath and then
squabbled just like ordinary girls over which should have her. But now,
for some undiscoverable reason, Marjory was being left with Mabel until
the very last moment—until every other possible girl had been chosen.
And this dreadful thing had happened _twice_.

The first time this happened, Marjory was so disconcerted that she
almost forgot how to spell the very easy word that fell to her lot. The
second time she was glad to hide behind tall Isabelle, who stood beside
her; for there was a large lump in her throat, tears in her gray eyes
and a tell-tale pink flush dyeing her small fair face from brow to chin.

Truly it was a terrible thing to be an unpopular person. Marjory wished
she could sink through the floor, even if she landed, as she thought she
_might_, in the laundry tubs beneath.



CHAPTER XV

A SURPRISING FESTIVAL


It was a dark afternoon outside and in. Sallie and the Lakeville girls
were darning stockings in Henrietta’s room and the light was really too
poor for so gloomy an occupation. They were glad when Maude dropped in,
swept the stockings from the table and seated herself thereon. A few
moments later Cora and little Jane Pool strolled in, followed shortly by
Debbie Clark.

“Come on in, girls,” said Maude. “‘_Nous avons les raisins blancs et
noirs mais pas de cerises._’ In other words, there are no chairs but
help yourselves to the floor. You’re just in time. Here’s Mabel cross as
two sticks, Marjory terribly doleful for some unknown reason and
Henrietta sulking every day at mail time and for hours afterwards. Such
a grouchy bunch! What shall I do to cheer you up?”

“It is rather dark just now,” admitted Jean, “but you know we’re all
going to the ice cream festival in the basement of the Baptist church
tonight. That ought to cheer most anybody.”

“Except Augusta Lemon,” said Cora.

“Why?” asked Henrietta. “Because we have to go early and get away from
there before the Theologs arrive on the scene at eight thirty?”

“No, but she’s torn a great jagged hole in the front of her best dress
and spilled ink on her second best frock. Since she’s been going with
Gladys, she feels as if she _had_ to be dressy.”

“We ought to help her out,” said kind-hearted Jean.

“So we ought,” said Maude, a wicked light beginning to dance in her
golden brown eyes. “I have a beautiful idea. I think we ought to help
her out a whole lot.”

“How?” asked Marjory.

“Well, you know what a goose she is—how easy it is to make her do what
you want her to do—”

“Yes,” said Cora, “she hasn’t any backbone.”

“Not a particle,” agreed Sallie.

“Well, then, I’ll persuade her to let me dress her up for tonight. Let’s
borrow the very gayest things we can find. Let’s see how far we can go.
Let’s make her look perfectly awful.”

“Oh, no,” pleaded Jean.

“Now be good, Jean, and don’t spoil our fun,” begged Maude. “We just
want to cheer these gloomy children up. I know Augusta will be a
cheerful sight when we get her all dolled up.”

“I’ll do her hair,” laughed Cora. “I’ll _curl_ it.”

“You _couldn’t_,” declared Marjory. “It’s the straightest hair that ever
grew.”

“I’ll try, anyway. But where are the gay clothes coming from?”

“There’s that fearful sport skirt of Hazel Benton’s,” suggested Sallie.
“The one with the very wide green and white stripes. You might borrow
that, Maude.”

“And my bright pink sweater,” offered Debbie Clark.

“Dorothy Miller has a pair of awfully pink silk stockings,” said little
Jane Pool. “And Augusta herself has a pair of those silly high heeled
pumps like Gladys’s. Wouldn’t it be fun to put pink bows on them!”

“Ruth Dennis has some on her lamp shade,” offered Sallie. “And her
curtains are tied back with pink ribbons. They’d do for her hair.”

“Good,” laughed Maude. “Now there ought to be a blouse—who has the
gayest one?”

“Isabelle has,” said Mabel. “That robin’s egg blue one.”

“Good,” said Maude. “Now I’ll go and gather in all those duds and dump
them in here. And then Cora and I will call on Augusta. After we get her
talked over, you can help dress her, Henrietta. The rest of you giggle
too easily—you’d give the show away. But you can peek in one at a time
through the transom if you’re very careful.”

“I can provide a gorgeous string of bright red beads,” offered
Henrietta. “And I know where I can get a pair of earrings. She’ll be a
perfect scream.”

Augusta was not at all a pretty girl. She had a large, rather stupid
face (Henrietta said she looked like a sheep) a meager amount of very
stiff and very straight taffy colored hair, her complexion was pale and
pasty and her figure was bad; mostly because she was not careful to
stand nicely. She proved as easily led as Maude had predicted. She
accepted the girls’ offer of assistance with alacrity.

“You’d be lovely with curls,” persuaded Cora, wickedly. “I happen to
have a curling iron and an alcohol lamp in my pocket right now. I was
just carrying them around—well, just carrying them around, you know.
Matches too. Well now, we’ll just light up the little lamp—like that—and
we’ll try a little curl—like this. Sit still so I won’t burn your
ears—they stick out a good deal so I have to be careful. Here’s
Henrietta—she’ll tell us a lovely story while I curl. You’re going to be
so beautiful that nobody will know which is you and which is the ice
cream.”

“Here’s this adorable skirt,” said Maude, returning with a gay armful of
garments. “But you ought to have a bath.”

“I had one last night,” said Augusta.

“Then I’ll dress your feet,” said Henrietta, grabbing the pink silk
stockings and flopping down on the floor.

“But they’re _pink_,” objected Augusta,

“They are Dorothy Miller’s very newest ones,” persuaded Maude, not
disclosing the fact that a color-blind aunt had given them to Dorothy
for Christmas. “She got them because—because her aunt read in ‘The Well
Dressed Woman’ that pink silk stockings should always be worn to ice
cream festivals.”

“Did she really?” demanded round-eyed Augusta.

“Pink and green,” declared Maude, hastily holding up the starched skirt
to hide her own smiling countenance, “are complementary colors, Mrs.
Henry says. You wear them together. The pink brings out the green and
the green brings out the pink. And robin’s egg blue—that’s your soul
color, Augusta.”

“It doesn’t match the skirt,” objected Augusta.

“It matches your _eyes_,” said Maude. “Oh, Henrietta! Her feet are
beautiful! Yes, I _like_ the bows on her pumps.”

“Ouch!” gasped Augusta, “you _did_ burn my ear.”

“I’ll be more careful,” promised Cora, whose shoulders were shaking.
“Just two more lovely curls and I’ll be done—you never saw such adorable
curls. _Much_ nicer than Gladys’s.”

“Now the pink sweater,” said Henrietta.

Suddenly there was a crash outside the door, a sound of giggling and of
swift scurrying. It was Mabel’s turn at the transom; and the chair had
tipped over. Her friends hustled her across the hall along with the
chair and examined them both. There were bruises but nothing broken.

“What was that?” gasped Augusta. “Something hit my door.”

“Nothing there,” said Cora, peering into the hall. “The corridor’s
perfectly empty. It was probably Miss Woodruff rising from her nap.”

“Wouldn’t it be better,” suggested Maude, thoughtfully eying gorgeous
Augusta, “if she were to wear her everyday dress over these things when
she goes down to dinner!”

“Yes, indeed,” agreed Henrietta. “I’ll tell you what, Augusta. Let’s
keep this a lovely surprise for the girls tonight. Not the curls. We’ll
just slick those down a bit with a wide black ribbon. But we’ll pull
some black stockings over the pink ones and cover your skirt and blouse.
The first minute after dinner we’ll rush right up and peel you and put
on the pink bows and beads and things. _This_ is just sort of a dress
rehearsal.”

“The Highland Hall girls simply won’t know you when they see you at the
festival,” assured Maude, when Augusta had agreed to keep the secret
until her arrival at the church parlors. Poor Augusta was not accustomed
to so much attention from Maude, Henrietta and Cora, all of whom she had
admired from a distance, and it pleased her. And, in their hilarious
state over the success of their joke, the three naughty girls failed to
realize that in making a laughing stock of poor silly Augusta they were
not playing fair.

It is true that they suffered a few twinges during dinner time when
pleased Augusta beamed at them with a new friendliness and insisted on
dividing her dessert among them; but when the proper time came, they
peeled her remorselessly, bedecked her with the ridiculous pink bows and
smuggled her into the procession without giving the secret away.

The girls not in the secret _were_ surprised; but after all, it was the
plotters themselves who were the most completely astonished.

Augusta in all her pinkness—not to mention her blueness and
greenness—was a conspicuous object; she was visible from any place in
the big room. Now, the Theological students were not to arrive until
much later; but the younger boys from Hiltonburg were there in full
force. There was an expectant flutter among the Highland Hall girls. On
a similar occasion, introduced by some of the day pupils, these same
boys had treated several of them to ice cream. Perhaps they’d do it now.
Extra ice cream would be very welcome for they had all spent their
weekly pocket money and Doctor Rhodes felt that he was sufficiently
generous when he provided one helping apiece for his large flock.

But now, with one accord, all the boys at the festival, attracted by
Augusta’s brilliant attire and not yet of an age to be critical, were
seized with a yearning to treat gorgeous Augusta to ice cream. They
begged to be introduced. They begged to be allowed to offer Augusta ice
cream and yet more ice cream. And cake and yet more cake.

The wondering girls, staring at blushing Augusta, were amazed to see
that she was actually pretty, in spite of her outrageous clothes, for
her curled hair fell tenderly and becomingly about her glowing face, her
eyes were like stars and she fairly radiated happiness as she ate dish
after dish of ice cream. There seemed to be no limit to her capacity.

“And here _we_ are,” breathed Henrietta, “sitting in a long row like so
many sheep—”

“And only one dish apiece,” groaned Maude. “Next time I’ll pin all the
pink bows on _myself_.”



CHAPTER XVI

MORE MYSTERIOUS HAPPENINGS


Very soon after this surprising occasion, there was another social event
and another surprise for our young friends; but not a _pleasant_
surprise for anybody. A disgraceful thing happened. Miss Julia Rhodes’s
music pupils gave a public concert in the Assembly room. It was not the
concert that was disgraceful; though, owing to the embarrassment of most
of the performers, the music was bad enough; and Hazel and Cora felt
that they had completely wrecked the occasion when, in stooping to draw
out the bench on which they were to sit while playing their duet, they
unexpectedly bumped heads, much to the amusement of the audience and to
the detriment of their duet.

No, bad as it was, it wasn’t the concert but what happened while it was
going on, that publicly disgraced Highland Hall. A number of the village
people were invited to the concert and the day pupils, of whom there
were perhaps a score, had been asked to bring their parents and friends.

All these guests had hung their wraps in the lower hall, where
ordinarily the day pupils hung theirs. Several of the women had
carelessly left their purses in their pockets. When they attempted to
pay their carfare on the way home, not one of them had a single penny.
Some pilfering person had taken every scrap of cash from every purse,
and in some cases even the purses were missing.

The principal losers wrote indignant notes to Doctor Rhodes, who
naturally was anything but pleased.

Right after prayers the next morning, Doctor Rhodes called the school to
order. His face was sterner than usual and his voice was unusually
harsh. He told the girls what had occurred, and what a disgrace it was
to any school to have such very unpleasant things happen to its trusting
guests.

“Moreover,” said he, “many losses of jewelry and money by the pupils in
our own dormitories have been reported to me from time to time; and,
while it would have been possible, night before last, for a thief to
have slipped into that lower hall from outside, I have a feeling that
there is some one right in our own school who isn’t—well, to put it
plainly—quite as honest as she might be. I don’t like to say this or to
think it. I am sorry for the necessity.

“It has been suggested that the person taking these various things might
save herself trouble if she were to leave them on the table in the
library some time during the day. That room is never occupied during
school hours; so the repentant thief would be entirely safe from
observation. I am giving some one a very good chance to get out of an
unpleasant predicament. I hope she will take advantage of it and mend
her ways from this time forward.”

Of course after that, even a very stupid person could have guessed the
topic of conversation wherever little groups of girls gathered together.
Oh, how their tongues did wag! Oh, how they whispered and nodded their
heads! And oh, how many more young persons had lost things that they
hadn’t hitherto mentioned. Of course they wondered all day long what was
happening in the library. But the day passed and the library table was
still empty. Nothing had been returned.

Jean and Bettie were dressing for dinner the next night when Sallie, in
a most unusual state of excitement, burst into their room, and flung
herself upon Jean’s bed.

“I’m—I’m so mad I could scream,” sobbed Sallie, thumping the pillow with
her clenched fist and lashing the air with her feet. “I could kill all
that Rhodes family. I—I—I—”

But now Sallie’s words were drowned in sobs.

“Goodness, Sallie, don’t cry so,” said Jean. “You’re in an awful state.”

“Who _wouldn’t_ be in an awful state if—if—” More sobs.

“There, there,” comforted Jean, patting the heaving shoulders. “Get a
glass of water for her, Bettie. That’s right. Now take a little drink,
Sallie.”

“If—if it were anybody but you,” said Sallie, suddenly jerking herself
upright, “I’d throw that water straight in your face! I’m so _mad_!”

But Sallie clawed the wet hair from her own face, drank the water and
handed the glass to Bettie.

“There, now,” said she. “I guess I can talk. You know where I room up on
the top floor with Abbie? Well, _you_ know and everybody else knows that
Abbie has no money; and that I have just about as much as Abbie has
which is just none at all. We are the only people in this school who
have _no_ spending money. The other Doctor Rhodes used to give—”

“The _other_ Doctor Rhodes,” gasped Bettie.

“I didn’t mean to say that,” returned Sallie, quickly. “What I mean is
just this. I have no money and everybody knows it. Very well, then. I’m
the very person that would steal money. And jewelry. I—or poor old
Abbie.”

“But you wouldn’t,” soothed Jean.

“But—but some folks _think_ I would. Now, a real paying pupil would get
mad and go home if Mrs. Rhodes searched her bureau drawers, wouldn’t
she?”

“I should say so,” agreed Jean.

“Well, Mrs. Rhodes and Mrs. Henry Rhodes searched mine and Abbie’s.”

“But they didn’t _find_ anything,” comforted Bettie, “so you don’t need
to care.”

“But they _did_. There was a pocketbook under the pin cushion. Mrs.
Drayton’s calling cards were in it. She lost hers here the other night,
you know—and that wasn’t the worst. There was money in it—more than two
dollars.”

“Were you right in the room all the time?” queried horrified Bettie.

“No, I happened to go upstairs quietly and there they were looking in
all our bureau drawers and under our mattresses and even in the pockets
of our clothes. They had already found the purse.”

“Was Abbie there?”

“No, she was down in the kitchen. Doctor Rhodes sent for me and for
Abbie to go to the office. He asked us which of us took that pocketbook
and I could see that poor old Abbie was just as surprised as I was—you
know you can always see just what she thinks. And, oh! Abbie thought _I_
took it. She gave me _such_ a suspicious look.

“And then, Doctor Rhodes asked her if she had ever known of my stealing
anything before that. Oh, _think_ of him asking that! And Abbie—well,
you know Abbie is never very positive about anything. She said ‘I don’t
know. I don’t guess I ever did.’ But I could just see that she thought I
_had_ taken that miserable purse. She’s so simple minded that she
believes anything you tell her. She could see that those Rhodes people
were accusing me, so she believes, of course, they were right.”

“But _we_ don’t,” Jean and Bettie assured her.

“But other people will. I don’t know what to do. I’d run away if I had
any place to run to.”

“If you ran away,” said Jean, wisely, “they’d be _sure_ you had done it.
It’s braver to stay right here and go on just as usual. _We_ know you
didn’t do it—why, we _know_ you didn’t. And tomorrow when I have my
drawing lesson I’ll tell Mrs. Henry Rhodes that you told me all about it
and I’ll let her see that Bettie and I believe in you. And she’ll tell
Doctor and Mrs. Rhodes—I’ll ask her to. Mrs. Henry understands girls;
and she always helps us when we ask her to.”

“Don’t worry,” comforted Bettie. “It’ll come out all right—I know it
will. Things always do if you just wait long enough.”

“I wonder,” said Isabelle’s fretful voice in the hall, “what’s happened
to dinner—it’s ten minutes past the time.”

“My goodness!” cried Sallie, “I forgot all about that bell.”

“I wish,” said Jean, after Sallie had scurried away down the corridor,
“that Sallie wasn’t a boarding school orphan. She’s much too nice. I
like her ever so much.”

“Yes,” agreed Bettie, “she’s one of the sweetest girls in this school
even if she hasn’t any clothes or pocket money or anything. And I’d
believe in her even if they found a bushel of strange purses under her
pin cushion.”



CHAPTER XVII

HENRIETTA IS WORRIED


“I used to think I _liked_ to get letters,” said Henrietta, walking up
and down the long veranda, arm in arm with Hazel Benton and Jean, “but
now I don’t. My sweet old grandmother doesn’t say much but I can see
that she’s worried to death because she doesn’t hear from my father—she
always asks if _I’ve_ heard. We haven’t either of us had a word since
last June. Of course, often it is two or three months between letters
because he gets into such unget-at-able places; and when there, gets so
interested in what he is doing that he doesn’t realize how the time is
getting away, and quite often there are no postoffices that he can
possibly reach. But he does try to write often enough to keep us from
worrying. Then there are some people in England who look after his money
and other business matters for him. Well, grandmother says _they_
haven’t heard from him; and she thought perhaps I’d brought my last
letter from him with me—it had the name of a place that he _might_ have
gone to in it. But I left it in Lakeville—I think I can tell her just
where to look for it—in one of those lovely little boxes that he sent me
from India.”

“It must be lovely,” breathed Hazel, “to get presents from India.”

“It is—when I’m getting them. But now I don’t like any of Grandmother’s
letters. I just hate to open them. She’s trying not to frighten me and
at the same time she’s just scaring me to pieces. I didn’t think much
about it before I left home last fall, but when I didn’t get a single
thing from him at Christmas time (he _always_ sends me things for
Christmas) I was sure there was something wrong. And then, of course, I
began to think of all the things that _might_ happen to a man that looks
at a map and then plunges right into it, whether it’s wet or dry, the
way Daddy does. And goodness! It’s a wonder there’s a man left on this
earth. I can imagine such _awful_ things. I wake up in the night and
worry for hours.”

“What does your father do for a living?” asked Hazel.

“He doesn’t do anything for a _living_,” explained Henrietta, who for
some time had been wearing a worried expression that was new to her. “He
just does what he does because he’s perfectly crazy about digging up
things—like tombs and buried cities and old marble statues. He’d rather
find the nick that came out of a prehistoric platter than to own a brand
new set of dishes.”

“He must be quite handy with a shovel by this time,” said Hazel.

“Oh, he doesn’t do the digging _himself_,” explained Henrietta. “He
hires folks—natives mostly. They do the actual digging but he is always
right there to make sure that they work carefully. Otherwise they’d
smash valuable finds and that would be worse than not digging them up at
all. He knows a wonderful lot about pottery and old metals and marbles
and—just loads of things. He’s an archæologist.”

“No wonder you were able to spell the whole school down on that word,
yesterday,” said Hazel. “It must be wonderful to have a father like
that.”

“It would be,” returned Henrietta, soberly, “if he didn’t have to take
such dreadful risks.”

“He has been lost several times,” comforted Jean, “and he has always
turned up again all right.”

“Yes, but once he was sick and almost died of a horrible fever; and
another time some Arabs robbed him and kept him for three months in a
perfectly dreadful prison, and another time his guides got frightened
and deserted him and he had to buy himself back from the folks that
captured him.”

“No wonder you can tell us stories on the front stairs,” exclaimed
Hazel. “But isn’t there any way to search for him?”

“Well, there’s this about it. If Mr. Henshaw, in London, gets really
worried, he’ll send a relief expedition to hunt him up. They did it once
before.”

“Well,” said Hazel, “I hope they’ll find him. And that reminds
me—speaking of lost things and things that you dig up—my precious lapis
lazuli beads are gone. I wore them to church two Sundays ago; and I
_know_ I put them back in their case, in my bureau drawer. When I opened
it this morning, the case was empty. I reported it to Doctor Rhodes at
once and it’s on the bulletin board right now. Those beads don’t look
like so very much but they cost a young fortune. They’re _good_. You
see, I have a daughterless aunt who gives me lovely things—except when
she goes alone to pick them out as she did those pink stockings; she’s
color-blind, unfortunately. Never anything useful, you know, just
luxuries. Mother says Aunt Annabel hasn’t a sensible idea in her head.”

Jean laughed suddenly. Then she explained the cause of her mirth.

“I had a funny thought,” said she. “If Hazel’s aunt and Marjory’s Aunty
Jane were shaken up in a bag, it might make two average aunts, mightn’t
it, Henrietta? Marjory’s aunt doesn’t believe in luxuries—”

“Then,” interrupted Hazel, with an odd, searching look at Jean, “Marjory
doesn’t have very many?”

“None at all,” returned Jean. “She’s really an abused child. But I’m
sure her aunt thinks all the world of her.”

“Marjory was crazy about those blue beads of mine,” said Hazel. “I let
her wear them once in awhile before Christmas.”

“That’s so,” said Henrietta. “You and Marjory were quite chummy for
awhile, weren’t you? Why aren’t you chummy now, if a lady may ask?”

“I don’t know,” returned Hazel, evasively. “That is, I don’t care to
say. We just aren’t friends.”

“If it’s anything that Gladys de Milligan has said,” offered Henrietta,
“you don’t need to believe it. That girl has tried to say mean things to
me about every girl in this school. She’s a wretched little beast and I
detest her.”

“I don’t _like_ her,” said Hazel, “and I don’t listen to her when I can
help it, but some of the things she’s said have been _true_.”

“That’s the worst of Gladys,” said Jean. “She always manages to mix a
little truth in with her yarns; and that makes people believe them.”

“Mercy!” whispered Henrietta, a few minutes later. “How long have Gladys
and Grace been walking just behind us? How much do you suppose they
heard?”



CHAPTER XVIII

A STRING OF BLUE BEADS


That very night, during the dancing hour, Marjory Vale was one of a
group of girls clustered about Henrietta, who was demonstrating a new
dance, that later became exceedingly popular.

Marjory, in the middle of the floor, was plainly visible when she pulled
her handkerchief from her pocket. Something came with it—a long string
of dull blue beads. The metal clasp had been caught in the hemstitching
of the handkerchief but now came loose, allowing the heavy beads to land
noisily on the hardwood floor. Marjory gazed at them for a long moment.

“For goodness’ sakes!” gasped Marjory, genuinely surprised. “How did I
do that?”

“My beads!” shrieked Hazel, springing from her chair and pouncing on the
necklace. “Marjory Vale! _You_ took those beads out of my drawer.”

[Illustration: “My beads!” shrieked Hazel, pouncing on the necklace]

“I never did,” said astonished Marjory, turning crimson and looking the
very picture of guilt. “I noticed those beads on your neck the night of
the ice cream festival—I haven’t seen them from that moment to this. I
don’t know how they got in my pocket. Just before dinner time I rushed
up and got into this dress—I always dance in this one, you know, and had
laid it out on my bed before I went to walk. We were late getting back
and I had to hurry into my clothes. And this is the first time I’ve
taken my handkerchief out tonight.”

“I suppose it _is_ your handkerchief,” said Hazel, rather unpleasantly.

“Why, no,” said Marjory, “it isn’t. It has Dorothy Miller’s name on it.”

“Then you couldn’t have gotten it by accident,” said Hazel. “The North
Corridor washing comes up on a different day from yours.”

“I don’t _know_ how I got it,” said Marjory, two large tears rolling
down her cheeks. “But I—I think you’re just _mean_ to me, Hazel. And I
_liked_ you.”

“Come and sit down,” said Sallie, slipping an arm about Marjory. “I know
just how you feel.”

A curious thing had happened just after those heavy beads crashed to the
floor. The older Mrs. Rhodes, seated near the wall to watch the dancing,
turned her glittering black eyes toward Mrs. Henry Rhodes and the two
women exchanged a most peculiar look. Then, with one accord, they rose
and left the room.

Five minutes later, Mrs. Henry had taken a curious bundle from the very
back corner of Marjory’s bureau drawer. She placed it on the bed and the
two women proceeded to untie a large handkerchief, such as most of the
girls wore with their middies.

The bundle contained two of the purses lost on the night of the concert
but they were now empty, a ring that Mrs. Rhodes herself had lost, a
wrist watch belonging to one of the Seniors, a number of handkerchiefs
marked with other girls’ names, a silk sweater that belonged
unmistakably to Augusta and various other small but incriminating
objects. Nearly everything still bore its former owner’s name.

“So it’s Marjory Vale!” said Mrs. Rhodes.

“It looks that way,” said Mrs. Henry, “but—”

“Tell Doctor Rhodes to come right up here,” ordered the older woman.
“Then you tell the Vale girl that she’s wanted in her room.”

Marjory found the Rhodes family standing beside her bed and pointing
accusingly at the opened bundle.

“What have you to say to this?” demanded Doctor Rhodes.

“What _is_ it?” asked Marjory.

“Don’t try to brazen it out,” said Mrs. Rhodes, in her most terrible
manner. “You know very well what it is. We found this bundle in your
bureau drawer hidden under your clothes. Whose sweater is this?”

“It looks very much like Augusta’s,” returned Marjory.

“Whose watch is that?”

“I don’t know. It isn’t mine.”

“Is this your ring?”

“Not any of those things are mine. Those handkerchiefs seem to be Miss
Wilson’s. There’s a name on them.”

“Where is the money that was in these pocketbooks? Mrs. Bryan lost seven
dollars and Mrs. Brown lost five—their cards are still in their purses.”

“I’m sure I don’t know. I’ve had my thirty cents a week and that’s all.
If you really found those things in my drawer, somebody else must have
put them there. I didn’t.”

The Rhodes family didn’t know exactly what to think. Marjory was
sometimes thoughtlessly just a little bit impertinent, sometimes
inclined to giggle when the occasion demanded sobriety, sometimes
fidgety when quietness would have seemed more fitting; but Mrs. Henry
Rhodes who, of the three, knew her best, had never known her to attempt
to lie. If anything, indeed, she could recall times when Marjory had
seemed almost too truthful.

“I think,” said Mrs. Henry, with a kind hand on Marjory’s shoulder, “we
had better let this matter rest a little until something else comes up.
There is something very queer about it. That pocketbook in Sallie’s room
and now this. And everything so clearly marked.”

“But I don’t _want_ this matter to rest,” protested Marjory. “I want it
cleared up right away tonight. My goodness! This is just awful. I do
love those beads of Hazel’s; but I didn’t take them. And, oh dear! There
_are_ girls that are going to believe I did unless you clear things up
at once. I don’t _want_ folks to think things like that about me.”

“Of course we’ll do what we can,” assured Mrs. Henry, “but it may take a
little time. You must be patient for a little while, even if you have to
rest under a suspicion that you don’t deserve. Shall I take these things
away?”

“Please do.”

“And you know nothing at all about them?” asked the older Mrs. Rhodes.
“You’re not keeping them for Sallie Dickinson?”

“For Sallie? Oh, _no_. Sallie wouldn’t have taken them—I’m sure of
that.”

“What about your roommate?”

“Henrietta? Why! Henrietta wouldn’t either.”

“Don’t worry too much,” advised Mrs. Henry. “You’d better go to bed and
forget your troubles for tonight.”

When Henrietta went to her room almost an hour later, she found poor
little Marjory huddled in a small heap on her cot, weeping bitterly.
Between sobs she told Henrietta what had happened.

“Cheer up,” said Henrietta, kissing Marjory’s hot ear because that was
the only dry spot in sight. “We wanted to come sooner but we didn’t
dare; you know it’s against the rules to go to our rooms during a social
evening; but Jean is going to slip in after ‘Lights Out’ and cuddle you
a little. That’s a good deal for Jean to do, you know, when she always
behaves as well as she can. And it isn’t as bad as you think. I believe
in you—that’s one. The rest of the Lakeville girls believe in you—that’s
four more. You believe in yourself, that’s six. Sallie and little Jane
Pool adore you, Maude swears by you and there are others—”

“It’s the others that worry me,” sighed Marjory. “They’re going to be
just beastly to me, I know.”

Marjory was right. If several of the girls were not “Just beastly” they
were pretty close to it. One of Hazel’s beads had been broken and that
fact made Hazel more unforgiving than she might have been. Before long,
too, the story of the black bundle found in the little girl’s room
leaked out (no one knew just how), and many were the scornful glances
cast at poor Marjory. If she had been unpopular before, she was
considerably worse than unpopular now. She seemed to shrink visibly
under the scathing looks of her schoolmates. She even began, it was
noticed, to wear a guilty look that proved exasperating to Henrietta.

“Hold your head up,” Henrietta would say, vigorously shaking her little
friend. “You haven’t a thing to be ashamed of. For mercy’s sake, look
folks right in the eye as you used to. You’re not half as bad as you
_look_. You’re a _good_ child. Well, then, _look_ like a good child.”

“I can’t help wondering,” confessed poor Marjory, “if I took those
things in my sleep. Those blue beads—I just loved them.”

“And that horrible magenta sweater of Augusta’s—I suppose you loved that
too.”

“Well, of course, I’d _have_ to be asleep to take that. But _do_ you
think I _could_ have taken those things in my sleep?”

“Of course you didn’t, Marjory. You didn’t take them at all. It was some
kind of an accident. I’ve thought sometimes that poor old Abbie wasn’t
quite right. You know how absent minded she is. I don’t think she’d
steal anything; but she goes around in sort of a daze and her hands keep
plucking at things, as if her mind were in one room and her body in
another, like the time she set the dining room clock back and then
accused everybody else of doing it. She’s always doing things like that.
And you know she’s always had to do such a lot of picking up after years
and years of careless girls—well, perhaps she’s gotten the habit of
picking up things unconsciously and putting them in places where they
don’t belong.”

“Well, anyway,” pleaded Marjory, “do watch me. If you catch me taking
things in my sleep I hope you’ll be able to prove that I _am_ asleep.
And let’s all of us keep an eye on poor old Abbie daytimes. You _might_
be right about her.”

“A letter for Miss Henrietta Bedford,” said Sallie’s voice at the door.
“Charles was late again today. Hope it’s a nice one, Henrietta.”

Henrietta ripped her letter open hastily and read it.

“It _isn’t_ a nice one. It’s from my grandmother. That London man that
looks after Father’s affairs has started for China to hunt for him. Mr.
Henshaw thinks he went to Shanghai but isn’t sure. You see, girls, there
really _is_ cause for alarm. I’d like to go right over there and help
search for him; but of course I couldn’t. And it’s awfully hard to have
nothing to do but wait.”



CHAPTER XIX

SALLIE’S STORY


During the dark days when Marjory and Sallie were under a cloud of
suspicion; when Henrietta was worried and unhappy about her much loved
and missing father and when Maude was again in disgrace with Miss
Woodruff, it was natural that this little group of warm friends should
spend the leisure moments of the long afternoons together. And of course
Cora, Jane Pool, Jean, Mabel and Bettie, always loyal, no matter what
happened, stayed with them. But, in spite of the fact that these were
the unhappiest days that these particular girls had ever spent, they
were not without some brighter moments. And Maude Wilder, you may be
sure, managed to provide some of the brightest.

On one of these afternoons, Maude found it necessary to explain to
Sallie (who slept on the upper floor and had therefore missed the fun)
the cause of her present disgrace.

“Of course I ought not to have done it,” said Maude. “But you know they
took us to the movies Saturday afternoon to see ‘Treasure Island.’”

“Yes,” said Sallie. “I had to stay home to clean the silver—Annie had a
sore finger.”

“And you know how sad we all were over the hymns Sunday night?”

“We always are,” returned Sallie.

“Well, when we were all trailing sadly up the front stairs to bed,
afterwards, I had a lovely idea. I thought it would be fun to dress up
just like one of those lovely ‘Treasure Island’ pirates so I did
it—bloomers, sash, black eyebrows, whiskers, black hat with sweeping
plume and everything. I was a bold buccaneer all right, wasn’t I,
girls?”

“Yes,” assured Cora, “she looked the part, provided you didn’t examine
her too closely.”

“Of course, after I was all fixed up, I wanted other folks to enjoy the
fun too; so I started out in this corridor. I had a lovely time. I poked
my head in at one door after another and growled in a deep bass voice:

    “‘Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest—
    Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
    Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
    Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!’

“Of course Isabelle shrieked and Augusta screamed and Lillian yelped
like a puppy and Marjory squealed; and altogether this corridor was full
of lovely noises when I slipped out of it. I got across the square hall
all right and into the North Corridor. I had a lovely time there, too.
Victoria just laughed, but Gladys gasped like a fish and pretended to
faint and the Miller girls fell into each other’s arms and bleated. It
was just heavenly. And then suddenly it was all over. The bell rang for
‘Lights Out,’ and there was I at the far end of the North Corridor. All
that long way from my own room.”

“What _did_ you do?” asked Sallie.

“Well, you know a swarthy pirate doesn’t light up very well in the dark;
so, knowing that I was no longer a fearsome sight, I started to sneak
back to my own room. I _started_ all right, but just then Mrs. Henry’s
door opened and Miss Woodruff came out. I’d have been all right even
then, but as luck would have it, the hairbrush that I had thrust into my
manly belt dropped with a horrid clatter on the hardwood floor.

“But I was right near the vacant room at the end of the North Corridor.
The door was open and I slipped in. And slid under the bed. And, my
goodness! You could hear my heart beat all over the place; and you know
what ears our dear Miss Woodruff has.

“What did she do but come into that room and sit on the very bed I was
under and _listen_. It was awful. She sat and sat and sat and listened.
And I knew that Mrs. Henry was standing just outside her own door
listening too. I didn’t dare breathe, but my heart kept right on
thumping like a brass knocker on a front door. It was moonlight outside,
the shade was up part way and she was sitting on the side next the
window. Her skirt was pulled up a little way at the back so I could see
her thick ankles very plainly and a little of her fatted calf above
them.

“Girls, I just couldn’t help it. I _had_ to pinch her leg. I _had_ to do
it. I know it was crazy. I know it was the very last thing I _should_
have done; but my thumb and finger went right out and did it.

“She let out the grandest shriek you ever _did_ hear, and streaked out
of there as if a whole regiment of pirates were at her heels. Mrs. Henry
switched on all the lights and came on a run; and all the North Corridor
girls popped out of their rooms and Miss Woodruff came back. And there
was I, a crushed and humiliated pirate, crawling out on all fours; but
Miss Woodruff looked so funny that I just looked up at her and said as
sadly as I could: ‘_Nous avons les raisins blancs et noirs mais pas de
cerises._’ And of course all the North Corridor girls roared. I knew
they would.”

“What _did_ she do to you?” asked Sallie, when the girls’ shrieks of
mirth had finally subsided. They loved Maude’s tales of her own dreadful
doings quite as well as Maude loved to tell them.

“She said I was a bad influence to you younger girls—”

“You’re not,” said Henrietta. “Not one of us would attempt to follow in
your wild footsteps. We wouldn’t dare.”

“And she said that I ought not to give way to my wicked impulses—”

“They’re, not really wicked,” said Jean. “At least you never do anything
sneaky and you always tell the truth.”

“And,” finished Maude, “I’m perfectly incorrigible and I shall never
grow up to be a lady.”

“I think you will,” laughed Henrietta. “The _good_ die young, you know.”

“Didn’t she punish you?” asked Sallie.

“_Didn’t_ she?” returned Maude. “I have to learn and recite a whole
Chapter of American History. Prose, mind you. And she picked out the
very dullest chapter in the whole book.”

“I’ll say this for Miss Woodruff,” laughed Henrietta. “Sometimes she
shows remarkable ingenuity in her punishments. That one will keep Maude
out of mischief for some time.”

“I wanted dreadfully to go to that movie,” confessed Sallie. “I read
that book last vacation and I loved it. But Mrs. Rhodes keeps finding
more and more things for me to do Saturdays and I just can’t get through
in time to go any place.”

“Tell us about your own people,” pleaded Jean. “You know you always
promised to.”

“Yes,” begged Bettie, “begin way back at the very beginning and tell us
how it all happened. Perhaps our friend Mr. Black might tell us what to
do in a case like that—we write to him every week you know. He might
know how to find some of your lost people.”

“I’m sure it’s too late to do any good,” said Sallie, soberly. “But I’ll
tell you about it. To begin with, I was about nine years old when my
mother died. We were living then in a little bit of a town in Wisconsin.
We had always moved about a great deal. You see, my father was always
trying new things and new places—he used to say that he was a rolling
stone; and then my mother would say: ‘Never mind, John, you’ll roll to
the right spot some day.’

“Well, after my mother was gone, we went to Chicago and lived for a
little while in a big apartment house. The only person that we knew very
well was an old man that everybody called ‘Grandpa’ but he wasn’t really
my grandfather—or anybody’s that I know of. He had a couple of rooms
next to ours. I think he must have done some sort of writing for a
living—copying perhaps—but I’m not very sure about that part of it.
Anyway, he used to carry written papers away in an old black portfolio
and come home with it empty. And when he wasn’t doing that, he was bent
over his desk writing. He was very absent minded—always hunting for his
spectacles when they were on top of his head and often putting his
teakettle on to boil and letting it go dry. Father used to remind him to
put his coat on when he was going out.

“I suppose my father found me a good deal of a nuisance daytimes.
Perhaps he was more tied down than he liked to be and there were no
relatives to look after me. I know that my mother’s people were dead and
my father said once that _he_ had nobody in the world but me.

“Anyway, he decided to put me into a girls’ school. He picked one out,
bought me some clothes and a small trunk and told me that I must keep my
new things nice and clean, because, in just about a week, I was going on
the cars to a good school for little girls, where there would be lots of
good women to take care of me while he was away at work.”

Sallie’s face wore a strange but very sweet expression while she was
telling her story. The girls gazed at her sympathetically and listened
intently. There was not a sound in the room but Sallie’s gentle voice.

“The very next day,” Sallie continued, “my father was taken sick. I
don’t know what ailed him, but he was _very_ sick. He gave Grandpa some
money and asked him to take me to that school when the time came and
Grandpa promised to do it. Of course I didn’t want to go when Father was
so sick; but Grandpa said I must be good and not worry my father, so I
_had_ to go. Well, I suppose it hadn’t occurred to my father to write to
that school to reserve a place for me—I know now that that is the proper
thing to do; but lots of parents don’t seem to know about it. Several
have turned up _here_ with an unexpected girl on opening day; but this
is a very large school and perhaps not one of the most popular ones so
it doesn’t make so much difference—there are always vacant rooms.

“But when Grandpa presented me at that other school—and I couldn’t tell
you where it was if you offered me a million dollars—it was full and
they couldn’t take me—or at least they wouldn’t. They gave Grandpa quite
a long list of other schools and some catalogues and we went to two
other schools before we found one that would take me.”

“Was it this one?” breathed Bettie.

“Yes, this very one. But, by the time we reached this place, we had been
getting on and off trains all day. I was so sleepy that I tumbled off my
chair and I guess poor old Grandpa was just about walking in his sleep.
We’d had a _dreadful_ day. Somebody, I don’t know who, led me off and
put me to bed. That’s the last I’ve ever seen of either my father or
that poor old Grandpa.”

“But didn’t you write?” queried Jean.

“Yes, indeed. So did Doctor Rhodes—not _this_ Doctor—hum—well, this
Doctor’s cousin. But our letters came back from the Dead Letter Office.”

“What does a dead letter look like?” demanded Mabel, with sudden
curiosity.

“Just like any other kind,” returned Sallie, “except that they come in a
special envelope.”

“Then,” said Jean, “for anything you know to the contrary, your father
and this grandfather person may still be living in that apartment, in
Chicago?”

“No,” returned Sallie. “They’re not. You see my tuition was paid for the
full school year. It was getting along toward the summer vacation when
Doctor Rhodes began to write to my father. Afterwards he went to that
apartment in Chicago to ask about him; but they could tell him nothing
more about him. Then Doctor Rhodes went to a number of hospitals and
learned that a John Dickinson had been discharged, after a long, long
illness; and that he was still very far from strong when he left the
hospital to look for work.”

“The apartment people told Doctor Rhodes that poor old Grandpa had had a
breakdown and had been placed in an asylum. Doctor Rhodes visited that
place but the poor old man had forgotten all that he had ever known of
either me or my father; and quite soon after that he died.”

“Then,” said Henrietta, “your father may still be living.”

“Yes,” returned Sallie. “But, if he were, wouldn’t he hunt for me until
he found me? There’s this about it. I’m sure that he thought that he was
putting me in a place where I’d be safer and better cared for than I
could be with him.”

“Did he have very much money?” asked practical Henrietta.

“I don’t think he had a great deal. He used to say that he was a poor
man; and the houses we lived in were always rather small and poor. My
mother, I think, had belonged to nice people. As nearly as I can
remember, she spoke nicely and wouldn’t let me use slang; and I _think_
her father was a clergyman—I can remember an old photograph; but I’m not
very sure about that.

“And here I am now, just like poor old Abbie—a boarding school orphan,
with not a relative in the world.”

“No, you’re _not_ like Abbie,” declared Jean. “We won’t _let_ you be
like Abbie. You’re smart enough to crawl out of your hole; but Abbie
never was.”

“Now,” pleaded Henrietta, “tell us the secret about the Rhodes family.
We’re dying of curiosity about that.”

“No,” replied Sallie, firmly. “If I were paying my way with real money I
_might_ break my promise and tell. But I don’t know that I would,
either; it would take a lot of courage to break a promise to Doctor
Rhodes. But, of course, as long as I owe him for my bread and butter, I
just couldn’t do it.”

“Of course you couldn’t,” agreed Maude. “It wouldn’t be honorable.”

“That’s just the way I feel about it,” sighed Sallie. “And there isn’t
really anything very dreadful about that secret after all.”

“Except our curiosity,” said Henrietta, “that’s just _eating_ us.”

“Pile off this bed, girls,” said Cora, who had looked at her watch.
“It’s ten minutes to dinner time and Sallie has left all your hair
standing right on end.”

“Say, Sallie, ring the old bell fifty-nine seconds late,” pleaded Maude.
“I have to change my dress and the other one buttons behind.”

“I’ll button it all the way downstairs,” promised Cora.



CHAPTER XX

A JOYFUL SURPRISE


Marjory was still more or less in disgrace the day that Doctor Rhodes
announced that at last he had secured a new French teacher to take
Madame Bolande’s place.

“Her name is—Ah! I’ve forgotten it. No, Miss—er—Miss Flower. That’s it.
Miss Flower. She is not a French woman but comes very well recommended.
It has been difficult at this particular time to find exactly the right
person; but I think you will all be pleased.”

Doctor Rhodes was to prove a better prophet than he suspected. When the
time came, some of the girls were _more_ than pleased.

“Flower,” whispered irrepressible Maude, into a convenient ear. “She
must be a regular daisy.”

“Perhaps she’s a Texas sunflower,” returned Victoria.

That afternoon, of course, all the Highland Hall girls, bristling with
curiosity, congregated on the veranda to watch for the station hack.

“I’m mighty glad to give up my job,” said Henrietta, pausing near one of
the many groups. “Eighty minutes of hard labor a day are quite a strain.
That last Theolog was used up in less than a week and all my skirt bands
are getting loose—all that hard labor with French verbs. I hope Miss
Flower is an improvement on Madame Bolande.”

“Madame Bolande is the best French teacher _I’ve_ had,” said Gladys de
Milligan, rather pointedly. “I haven’t learned a thing since she left.”

“Of course, if you _like_ that kind,” retorted Henrietta. “Come on,
Hazel. Let’s stand on the railing and see if the old ’bus is on the way.
I don’t have to be dignified any more.”

Ten minutes later, a young woman descended from the timeworn hack. As
she paid the driver, she stood in a patch of sunlight. From the veranda
she was plainly visible and rather more than sixty eager young eyes,
with no intention of rudeness on their owners’ part, took in every
detail of the new teacher’s neat costume and dwelt pleasurably on her
very attractive countenance. But suddenly there was a most remarkable
commotion on that veranda. Five girls were scrambling down the steps,
regardless of seated schoolmates, and five joyful voices were shrieking:

“It’s Miss Blossom! It is! It is! It’s our Miss Blossom! Our own Miss
Blossom!”

“And _this_,” cried Mabel, triumphantly, “is the Flower we get!”

Much to the new teacher’s surprise and bewilderment, she was seized and
hugged and kissed and squeezed by five excited girls.

“Well, I declare,” said she, when she could get a good look at them. “I
_wondered_ if this school always welcomed new teachers this way. If it
isn’t Bettie, and Jean and Marjory and Henrietta and Mabel! Isn’t this
great. And I thought I was going to be all alone among strangers. This
is certainly too good to be true. Jean, you look just the same and good
enough to eat. Bettie, you’re taller and plumper too—you’re looking
fine. Marjory, you little mite; you aren’t as big as you were the last
time I saw you—are they abusing you at this place? Here’s Henrietta as
lovely as ever—but you’re pale, my dear. And Mabel—Why, Mabel, I do
believe you’re taller—and thinner. And _aren’t_ you good looking! But
you all look as sweet as peaches and cream to _me_.”

“If we’d all picked out the person that we wanted most to come to this
place,” declared Mabel earnestly, “that person would have been you.”

Every one liked Miss Blossom, the pleasant young woman who had spent a
summer in Lakeville and had played in Dandelion Cottage with Jean,
Bettie, Marjory and Mabel; and had later paid them a visit at Pete’s
Patch, where she had met pretty Henrietta.

Never was teacher more popular. Before long, almost every girl in the
school was completely in love with the charming young woman. And now,
some of the girls who had listened most credulously to Gladys’s
unpleasant tales about the Lakeville children, began, little by little,
to doubt these tales. Miss Blossom was so very attractive, so genuinely
good, so admirable in every way, that it couldn’t be possible that she
would _like_ those four Michigan girls if Laura’s tales were entirely
true. And there was Henrietta, too, evidently firm in her belief in
Marjory’s honesty. Surely if those two really particular persons
considered Marjory a nice child, perhaps she wasn’t as black as she
appeared to be painted.

The next dancing evening, Victoria Webster delighted Marjory by inviting
her to two-step and Debbie Clark asked her for a waltz.

One night, almost a week after the new teacher’s arrival, Jean and
Bettie were spending an evening in Miss Blossom’s own room. They had
slipped away from the West Corridor without telling the other Lakeville
girls where they were going. They appeared to have some weighty matter
on their minds and were evidently not quite at ease.

“We want to tell you something,” explained Jean, fidgeting a little in
her chair. “It’s a long story and some of it is quite horrid; but we
need your help.”

“We _wanted_ to come sooner,” added Bettie, “but we thought we ought not
to bother you until you were settled and a little bit used to the
school.”

“Very thoughtful of you,” assured Miss Blossom. “But now we have a long
evening before us and I’m ready to listen with all my ears.”

So Jean, with some help from Bettie, told about the various thefts of
money and other things, about Marjory and the blue beads, about Sallie
and the stolen purse under her pincushion and the handkerchief full of
purloined articles in Marjory’s drawer. About Laura and her mean little
way of saying unpleasant things about the Lakeville girls.

And then they told Miss Blossom what they had been careful to mention to
no one else. They recounted their past experience with Laura in
Lakeville; told how she had maliciously destroyed the wonderful vine
that grew in their garden; and how now she had stolen the priceless
treasures from their precious treasure boxes. How she had taken even the
precious handkerchiefs that Miss Blossom herself had embroidered for the
girls.

“Miss Blossom,” confessed Jean, who was obviously not enjoying her task,
“we haven’t known _what_ we ought to do. We thought, if Laura had
changed for the better, that it wouldn’t be right for us to tell that
she had changed her name and done things to her hair; and that when we
knew her in Lakeville, she was common and dishonest and all that. When
she came here she seemed improved in sort of a way; even if it wasn’t
exactly a way we liked. And of course we didn’t want to be unfair to her
in any way or to do anything that wasn’t kind. We _couldn’t_ like her;
but we _were_ perfectly decent to her. And even now, we may be mistaken.
We may be wronging her; but we can’t help thinking—Well, here is this
thing about Marjory and that other thing about Sallie—”

“Those pocketbooks,” said Bettie, “in their two rooms. Marjory and I are
almost sure that one person did that.”

“I think so too,” said Jean. “But I’ve thought and thought and thought;
but I just didn’t know what I ought to do about it—or if I really ought
to do anything. But there is poor Marjory getting thinner and thinner
and our poor sweet Sallie—we do love Sallie, every one of us—with no
people of her own to take her part. It does seem as if something ought
to be done.”

“Don’t worry about it any more,” said Miss Blossom, with a wonderfully
soothing hand on Jean’s troubled brow. “Something _is_ going to be done.
Our Marjory is going to hold her head up again and our Sallie is going
to be proved honest; but you don’t need to think about it for another
minute. You did perfectly right in coming to me and I’m glad you came.
But now you must run along to bed—there’s the nine o’clock bell. Good
night and pleasant dreams to both of you.”

Miss Blossom spent the next half hour with the Rhodes family. She told
them what she knew of the Lakeville girls and of Gladys de Milligan, who
had once lived in Lakeville as plain Laura Milligan.

“A silly girl with a foolish mother,” commented Doctor Rhodes. “Yet,
strangely enough, there is no pupil in this school who has higher marks
in her studies or for general deportment than this overdressed Milligan
girl.”

“And I’m sure,” said Mrs. Henry, with a twinkle in her blue eye, “that
Gladys would come first in any gum chewing contest.”



CHAPTER XXI

A GIRL LEAVES SCHOOL


The next morning, during school hours, Mrs. Rhodes and Mrs. Henry Rhodes
searched Laura’s room. There was nothing in it that did not belong to
either Laura or her roommate Victoria Webster. Under the cover on the
dresser top they found Laura’s trunk key and carried it to the attic
trunk room.

There was nothing unusual about the tray of Laura’s trunk except the
large hole that Mabel had made by tumbling into it. But when the tray
was lifted out and several layers of clothing were removed, it looked
very much as if all the mysteries were solved. A fat little roll of
banknotes, tied up neatly with a pink ribbon, a candy box full of silver
coins, several pairs of silk stockings marked with the names of the
three Seniors, every article of jewelry that had been reported missing,
as well as some others that the careless owners had not yet missed.

[Illustration: It looked very much as if all the mysteries were solved]

“My opera glasses!” exclaimed Mrs. Henry.

“My real lace collar!” cried Mrs. Rhodes. “I suppose this _is_ Gladys’s
trunk?”

“Oh, certainly. Can’t you smell the perfume? Nobody else uses this kind.
Besides, her name is on the outside.”

“Yes, that’s right. Now, I wonder what we’d better do about this.”

“We’ll have to talk it over with Father. I’m afraid there’s no doubt
this time.”

“I’m sure there isn’t,” returned Mrs. Rhodes. “It’s the de Milligan girl
without question. I don’t know why I didn’t suspect her sooner.”

“Well, _I_ didn’t,” said Mrs. Henry. “And she was right in my own
corridor. I’m awfully sorry about all this.”

“I’d have been sorrier,” returned the older woman, grimly, “if it had
been any other girl. I never did like this one.”

When Laura was called into Doctor Rhodes’s office and invited to explain
how all those things had found their way into her trunk, she appeared to
be very much surprised. She was _sure_ she didn’t know. She said she
supposed that Sallie Dickinson had put them there, or if not Sallie, one
of the maids; or possibly Marjory Vale. Marjory was ever a deceitful
child, much given to thievery. She herself had often warned the other
girls against Marjory.

Laura, standing with her back against the wall, seemed quite calm and
unconcerned, except that she shifted her chewing gum from side to side
with greater frequency than usual.

Doctor Rhodes had rather a terrible eye. Two of them in fact. He fixed
them both on Laura’s unperturbed countenance and gazed so very sternly
at her that presently Laura began to quail. She gulped suddenly and
swallowed her gum. And then she began to stammer excuses.

She liked pretty things. She couldn’t resist taking things when it was
so easy to do it. Her fingers _liked_ to take things. She didn’t always
want what she had taken. Sometimes she wished afterwards that she hadn’t
taken them. Her father was stingy and wouldn’t give her expensive
trinkets. Her mother _would_ but didn’t have the money. Her mother
_wanted_ her to have nice things.

When did she take the things? Oh, at night sometimes. Her roommate,
Victoria Webster, slept like a log and didn’t miss her if she left the
room. Or daytimes, by getting upstairs ahead of the other girls it was
easy enough to dash into a room, grab a bracelet or a pin left
carelessly about and hide it in her pocket. There were plenty of chances
like that, when girls were so heedless with their belongings. Really, it
was the girls’ own fault _much_ more than hers. Yes, she _had_ put those
beads in Marjory’s pocket while the dress was on Marjory’s bed, and she
had placed that purse in Sallie’s room. She _wanted_ people to think
they had taken them—it had seemed a clever thing to do—perhaps it wasn’t
as clever as she had thought. But if Doctor Rhodes would just forgive
her _this_ time, she wouldn’t touch another thing, _ever_.

“But what about Sallie?” questioned Doctor Rhodes, hoping to find a
little redeeming conscience in Laura. “And that other youngster,
Marjory? How are _they_ to be cleared?”

“I don’t care about _them_,” returned vulgar little Laura,
hard-heartedly. “They’re just nobody. Marjory’s folks don’t amount to
anything—just a queer old aunt in a small town—and everybody knows
Sallie is just nothing—no folks or money or anything else. Now listen
(Laura _always_ said ‘Now listen’): _My_ father has made money in the
automobile business. He’s richer—”

“Do you mean to say,” demanded Doctor Rhodes, “that you’d actually be
willing to let those honest little girls rest under a suspicion that
they don’t deserve just because they happen to be poorer than you are?
That you’d hide behind them—”

“I don’t care anything about _them_,” repeated Laura, stubbornly.
“They’re nothing to _me_.”

“However,” returned Doctor Rhodes, “in simple justice, they will have to
be cleared—and they are _going_ to be cleared. _I_ care, if you don’t,
what happens to those children. It’s my duty to protect my pupils—”

“Well, then,” interrupted Laura, hopefully, “why not protect me?
Folks’ll forget all about it after awhile and _nobody’ll_ be hurt so
very much. Aw, come on, now. Just forget it all.”

“I’m going to tell the truth,” declared Doctor Rhodes, who was finding
Laura quite the most detestable child he had so far encountered. “There
is no place in this school for a dishonest girl or for a girl with so
little kindness for her fellow pupils. There is such a thing as school
spirit—”

“Well, anyhow,” pleaded Laura, “just wait another two weeks. I’m not
coming back after Easter vacation; so you might as well wait until then
before you give me away, if you’re going to do it. My mother has a
friend that says he’ll give me a good job in the movies; and that’s what
I’d _like_ to do. You can give those things back to their owners after
I’m gone and say any old thing you like about me. It won’t hurt me any
then.”

“Wouldn’t you _rather_ have people remember you with liking and
respect?” asked Doctor Rhodes, thoroughly shocked by Laura’s hardened
conscience. “Have you no shame at all?”

Laura shrugged her shoulders, a trick she had perfected by watching
Madame Bolande. She tilted her chin and partly closed her eyes—to show
her complete indifference to what people might think of her. She was not
at all pretty when she did these things.

“I can see no reason for sparing you in any way,” said Doctor Rhodes,
coldly. “You may go to your room now and write for your mother to come
for you at once. If she isn’t here inside of three days I shall
telegraph for her. Within five minutes after your departure, I shall
state on the bulletin board that Miss Gladys de Milligan has been
expelled under circumstances that absolutely prove the innocence of
every other pupil in this school.”

All this was done. Untruthful Laura, making her farewells airily, told
her friends that she was merely going home a little ahead of time in
order to have a longer vacation for spring shopping and necessary
dressmaking. She’d see them all again right after Easter, and bring back
lovely presents for all of them. She borrowed Augusta’s best middy scarf
in order, she said, that her mother might select about a dozen like it
for her to give to the other girls. Augusta, of course, never saw either
cheap little Laura or the precious scarf again.

Laura was certainly not a nice child; but circumstances were against
her. She possessed a decidedly foolish, unladylike and not altogether
truthful mother so perhaps Laura’s lack of good qualities was not
entirely her own fault. With a really nice mother, she might have been a
really nice girl; but Mrs. Milligan’s daughter had very little chance.

During the last three days of Laura’s stay, it seemed to Jean that
things were not clearing up as rapidly as Miss Blossom had predicted.
She wondered if, after all, nothing had been done for Marjory. Poor
little Marjory, in spite of Jean’s encouraging words, in spite of Mrs.
Henry’s reassuring smiles and Miss Blossom’s hopeful glances, could see
no way out of her troubles. Hazel still drew her skirts aside when
Marjory passed and snippy little Lillian Thwaite still almost tipped
over backwards in her efforts to turn her very small nose up in
Marjory’s presence (for sticking-up purposes, it was really a very poor
nose). And to Jean’s surprise, there was Laura, apparently perfectly
unconcerned, going on just as she always had. Was nothing _ever_ going
to be done to clear Marjory and Sallie?

Notwithstanding many unusual kindnesses from her Lakeville friends—even
always-hungry Mabel begged her to eat part of her favorite
dessert—puzzled Marjory felt that the sky was dark above her and the
world a terrible place for little girls just her size. And then, quite
suddenly, Laura was whisked away by her mother, and Doctor Rhodes, chalk
in hand and frowning prodigiously, was approaching the fateful bulletin
board.

You can imagine how, five minutes after Laura’s going, the always
curious girls flocked to the bulletin board to see what Doctor Rhodes
had posted thereon. How eagerly they read the astonishing announcement
and how their tongues wagged afterwards. How glad Marjory and Sallie
were to have the mystery cleared away and how relieved the Lakeville
girls felt at having their precious Marjory emerge from the cloud that
had obscured her happiness for so long a time.

“Right after Gladys’s mother came this morning,” said Sallie, “there was
_something_ going on in the office. It sounded very much like a very
angry woman telling Doctor Rhodes just what she thought of him; but of
course I didn’t stay to listen—I _wanted_ to just awfully. But when I
went back afterwards with the message I was waiting to deliver, the lady
was gone and poor Doctor Rhodes was mopping perspiration from his
forehead, although the room was quite cold. I guessed he’d been having a
right trying interview with somebody. He looked perfectly wilted.”

Mabel giggled. “I guess he had one all right if it was Mrs. Milligan. We
used to hear her in Lakeville.”

But Jean watched the smoke of the train that was bearing tawdry little
Gladys Evelyn de Milligan toward Chicago, and out of this tale, and was
sorry.

“Poor foolish Laura,” she breathed, “I’m so sorry you had to be you. You
were smart enough to have made a perfectly lovely girl and I did have
hopes of you.”

“_I_ didn’t,” said Mabel, “and I’m glad I don’t have to be polite to her
any more. It’s hard enough to be polite when you really _want_ to be.
But when you’re all impolite inside—”

“We know what you mean, Mabel,” laughed Henrietta. “And now that I know
the horrible secret you’ve been keeping from me all this time I am
filled with admiration for all four of you. I remember now that you told
me long ago about a horrid child named Laura; but I never dreamed that
she and Gladys were the same person. And you, Mabel, with your ‘impolite
inside’ are a complete surprise. I didn’t think you could keep a
secret.”

“Jean _made_ us,” returned Mabel.

“Well,” assured Henrietta, “I think you were right to give Gladys a
chance. It was noble of you to do it even if it hasn’t turned out as
well as you expected. And isn’t it great to have Sallie and Marjory
cleared! And there’s Hazel apologizing this very minute for being so
nasty to Marjory about those blue beads.”

“She’s _lending_ them to Marjory,” gasped Jean. “She’s fastening them
about Marjory’s neck.”



CHAPTER XXII

A MYSTERY CLEARED


For the proverbial nine days, tongues wagged furiously at Highland Hall;
but seemingly to good purpose. The girls who had allowed doubts of
Sallie and Marjory to creep into their hearts now strove earnestly to
make up for their former unjust suspicions. Even the Seniors came down
from their lofty perches long enough to stuff both girls so full of
cream puffs and chocolate creams, dill pickles, ripe olives and angel’s
food cake that for three days after this never to be forgotten feast
they were unable to eat their regular meals.

“As for my legs,” laughed happy Marjory, after the next social evening,
“they’re just ready to drop off—I’ve had so many invitations to dance.”

“So have I,” said Sallie. “Isn’t it great!”

“And the way those two Seniors scrapped over Marjory at the spell down
today!” exclaimed Maude. “They both called at once and she was the very
first one called. The rest of us were green with envy.”

“We’ve all been more popular lately,” said Bettie. “I’m afraid Laura did
us more harm than we realized.”

“I think so, too,” said Jean. “I’ve felt all this week as if large black
clouds had rolled away and let a great big chunk of sunshine drop right
down into Highland Hall.”

“There’s one cloud left,” mourned Henrietta. “I don’t get a single scrap
of encouraging news about my father; and now, every time I look at poor
old Abbie, I say: ‘Just suppose anything happens to my grandmother and
the family money. Where will _I_ be? Right here washing windows like
Abbie and looking for seven years’ bad luck because I’ve smashed a
looking glass.’”

“Poor Abbie has enough foolish superstitions to keep her in bad luck for
ninety years,” laughed Jean. “You and Sallie seem to be haunted by the
same nightmare. I’ll promise you both this; on the day that you and
Sallie get to looking just like Abbie, I’ll start for Europe on foot.”

With Laura gone, Highland Hall seemed really a different place. Now,
except for occasional scraps among some of the older pupils, one
realized that there was a wonderful spirit of friendliness among the
girls. Even the once frosty Seniors had thawed to an unusual degree.

“They’ve gotten used to themselves,” explained Sallie, who had had
almost six years’ experience with Seniors of assorted kinds. “At first
they are always so set up over all their privileges that they just can’t
associate with ordinary girls; but after a few months of solitary
grandeur they are _glad_ to climb down off their perches and associate
with the rest of us. Now that they’re asking us to their spreads and
coming to ours they’re having much better times than they did earlier in
the year.”

“Of course,” said Maude, with one of her funny grimaces, “you can’t
‘spread’ so very much on thirty cents a week; but our popcorn party was
all right and when we all chipped in and bought a barrel of apples—that
was great. The Seniors’ heels looked just like anybody else’s when they
dove to the bottom of the barrel for the last ones. And our molasses
candy pull in the laundry—”

“Ugh!” groaned Mabel, “I was just like a web-footed duck—my hands, I
mean. Cora had to scrape me all over with a knife and she didn’t care
how much skin she got. It was even on my shoes—”

“What! Your skin?”

“No, the candy. Some folks can pull it when it’s hot and sticky but I
never can. It just gets all over the place.”

“Anyway,” said Marjory, wickedly, “the Seniors laughed until they cried,
seeing you try, so you contributed something to the entertainment.”

“Isn’t it lovely to have friends?” said Sallie, a little later, when she
was seated beside Marjory on the veranda steps.

“Yes,” returned Marjory, a little wistfully, “but I’m not sure that I’m
exactly pleased with some of my newest ones. Augusta and Grace Allen
told me yesterday that they never _did_ like Gladys. And Isabelle says
she’s ashamed to have Clarence know that she ever went with Gladys.
Isn’t that just awful—to go back on anybody like that! Of course I don’t
care much for Isabelle or Augusta, anyway; but I did think I might like
Grace. But now I’m not going to. I like friends that _stick_.”

“So do I,” agreed Sallie, heartily. “And I think we both have some of
the sticking kind.”

One spring morning just after morning prayers when all the pupils were
gathered in the Assembly room and Miss Woodruff was ready to call the
roll, Doctor Rhodes stood up and said: “One moment, please.”

There was a little creaking all over the room as the girls settled
themselves in listening attitudes. Doctor Rhodes was sure to be
interesting.

“I have a little confession to make,” said Doctor Rhodes. “Perhaps some
of the older girls will remember that I called them into my office
immediately on their arrival last fall, told them a piece of very sad
news and asked them to keep a secret for me.”

Some of the seats creaked again as several of the older girls nodded
their heads.

“I believe,” continued Doctor Rhodes, “that you have all faithfully kept
that secret, which is still a secret from the new girls. This is it. I
am not the Doctor Charles Rhodes, whose name is in our catalogue and
_has_ been in our catalogue for nearly thirty years. I am his cousin,
Doctor Julius Rhodes; a physician, not a Doctor of Laws—you have noticed
the letters LL.D. after my cousin’s name.

“Some of you will remember that Doctor Rhodes was ill last June at
Commencement time. He died in July. I was his nearest relative; and, in
time, when his affairs are finally settled, I shall inherit his estate.
The lawyers considered it unwise to announce Dr. Rhodes’s death at that
time, though of course there were the usual notices in the papers. But
no changes were made in the catalogue and no formal notices were sent to
the pupils; as it seemed almost certain that any such announcement would
cause the attendance for the following year to fall off, perhaps to the
lasting detriment of the school. The lawyers suggested that I take
charge of the school and keep it going, particularly as Doctor Charles
Rhodes had expressed a wish to that effect.

“I was handicapped in one way. The courts were not yet ready to hand
over to me the surplus fund of school money in the bank. I had very
little capital to put in and certainly no experience with boarding
schools for girls. I was not a teacher. Perhaps you have noticed that
your instructors, with two exceptions, are members of my own family.
They very kindly consented to help me through this first year; and I
think you will agree that they have proved fairly good teachers, even if
that hasn’t always been their regular profession. Miss Woodruff, of
course, and Miss Blossom are regular teachers. I thought I might venture
to afford two.

“I think you will agree that my most serious blunder was the engaging of
Madame Bolande—I assure you that I didn’t see her first. Except for that
one regrettable mistake, everything has gone so well and so
prosperously, that I have decided to tell the whole truth now (and take
the consequences if there are any) instead of waiting, as my lawyers
advised, until my cousin’s estate is fully settled. I shall feel happier
with everything quite open and above board. That’s all, except that I
feel much indebted to the young ladies who have so kindly kept my secret
to the present time.”

Of course, for a day or two after that, Highland Hall buzzed again with
excitement and the newer girls besieged the older ones with questions.

“Doctor Charles Rhodes,” explained Sallie, “was a perfectly lovely old
man. Everybody just adored him; he was so gentle and sweet. He hadn’t
any family of his own left; but he seemed, some way, as if he were
everybody’s grandfather. He was wonderfully good to me and to poor old
Abbie too. In his time we had our pocket money just as the other girls
did—out of his own pocket, I suppose. If Abbie had been bright to start
with she wouldn’t have been the forlorn creature that she is now. He
gave me every chance to learn; and I’m sure that Abbie had the same
chances but was too stupid to take them. Probably no one but a kind man
would have kept Abbie; she’s never been good for very much.

“But when this new Rhodes family came, it was all so different. At
first, I didn’t like Doctor Julius Rhodes at all—or any of his family.
But after awhile I began to see that things were not so terribly easy
for _them_. The housekeeping job proved awfully hard on poor Mrs. Rhodes
and she just sort of stiffened up under it in a queer way. I guess she’s
a good deal of a mummy anyway and this job makes her more so. She _is_
harder on Abbie and on me than the old housekeeper used to be; but at
that her looks are the worst part of her.”

“Well,” agreed Henrietta, “she can’t help her looks—that’s the way she
was made.”

“I like Dr. Julius Rhodes much better than I did at first,” continued
Sallie. “I hated him at first. Of course he doesn’t look one bit like
his cousin; that was one reason. In the next place, I hated having those
people flock down here in my dear old Doctor Rhodes’s own home; and in
the third place, it didn’t seem quite right to me to keep a thing like
that hidden—to let people go on supposing that it was still Doctor
Charles Rhodes when it wasn’t. But I overheard Dr. Rhodes and one of
those lawyers talking in the office one day and I gathered then that
Doctor Rhodes didn’t like keeping that secret himself—he _wanted_ to
tell, but the lawyer said it wasn’t good policy. And now, even if this
Doctor Rhodes isn’t a lovely, gentle, sweet old man like Doctor Charles,
I think he makes a very good head for this school. And when he is able
to handle the school funds, there will be more regular teachers and he
won’t have to work his family quite so hard.”

“At that,” said Maude, “the family isn’t so bad. Mrs. Henry is a dear,
everybody says that old Miss Emily is terribly thorough and Miss Julia
certainly makes the girls practise. And you all know, I’d _gladly_ swap
Miss Woodruff for any one of them—I still have seven pages of American
History to learn by heart and recite.”

“But tell me,” pleaded Henrietta, “did they really open the girls’
letters, as Cora thought they did, to see if they’d written home about
that secret.”

“Mercy, no!” replied Sallie. “They _have_ to look over the addresses on
those letters. They do it every day. Your folks wouldn’t get half of
your letters if they didn’t—the girls are always leaving off towns or
states or stamps. But only _one_ of them ever writes ‘Dear Clarence’ on
the outside of her envelope.”



CHAPTER XXIII

PIG OR PORK?


The spring did perfectly wonderful things to the land adjacent to
Highland Hall. It was really time that _something_ was happening to
improve that rather cheerless prospect. During the fall and winter
months, the landscape had been mostly brown and gray and black, often
more or less disfigured with patches of dingy snow; and a general misty
bleakness surrounded the big, rather ugly building. But, with the coming
of spring all this was changed. One could now see why the school
prospectus had stated that Highland Hall was “beautifully located.”

The building stood at the top of a broad knoll. The level portion of
this was covered by a well kept lawn—tall, lanky Charles, with his sandy
hair on end and his angular elbows greatly in evidence, might be seen
galloping over it with his lawn roller, getting certain bare spots ready
for seed. The sloping banks were grassed also but this grass grew at its
own sweet will; and then, quite suddenly it _wasn’t_ grass but long
stemmed violets. You could gather tremendous bunches of them and still
there were millions left—popular Miss Blossom was fairly besieged with
bouquets. Then, farther down the hillside were great patches of snowy
bloodroot and miniature groves of mandrake with their hidden, creamy,
heavily perfumed cups. There were wild crab-apple trees wreathed with
wonderful pink and white buds and blossoms. The edges of the unsightly
ditches along the road suddenly became brilliantly green and pink with
oxalis and there were sheltered nooks along the margin of the grove that
were blue with mertensia or purple with the spider lily. Even the dry
prairie was bursting forth with bloom; the lovely lavender of the bird’s
foot violet and later the showy blossoms of the shooting star. There
were gorgeous blue jays and orioles in the trees and meek gray doves in
the hedges.

All the girls except Henrietta seemed bubbling over with happiness these
days. Even Sallie, dreadfully shabby as to clothes and growing shabbier,
was more cheerful, because she loved the spring season at Highland Park;
and because she had never before possessed so many warm friends among
the pupils. But Henrietta was visibly drooping. Her eyes wore a
strained, anxious look and every day at mail time, her brilliant color
deserted her, leaving her pale and trembling and quite unlike her usual
vivacious self. At sight of a telegram arriving for Doctor Rhodes—and he
often received as many as four a week—Henrietta’s lips would turn
absolutely white. And several times, on the days when her grandmother’s
letters came with no news of her still missing father, the girls had
found her weeping. It was decidedly unlike Henrietta to weep.

But even Henrietta loved the wild flowers. Sallie knew where to find the
choicest blossoms and Doctor Rhodes, glad to have the girls spend their
leisure hours outdoors, even if it did increase their appetites
alarmingly, extended their bounds a good half mile toward the south so
the girls could roam at will.

One beautiful day, when school was dismissed earlier than usual, Mabel
asked permission to take her friends as far as the cottage that
contained Charles’s interesting family.

“I’m awfully fond of children,” explained Mabel. “I get lonesome for
them when I don’t have any. Several times I’ve given candy and little
presents to Charles to take home to those cunning babies; but I’m just
dying to see them again and some of the girls want to go, too.”

“I’ve no objection to your _seeing_ them,” said Doctor Rhodes, with a
friendly chuckle, “but you are strictly forbidden to accept any
invitations to stay with that family and you are not to bring any of
them home with you.”

“I won’t,” promised Mabel. “Thank you ever so much for letting us go.”

The long walk over the blossoming prairie was wonderful and the other
delighted youngsters thanked Mabel for planning the trip. The children
at the cottage proved interesting and sweet and the girls loved them.
Tommy remembered Mabel and said: “Please stay wiz us, you is nicer than
Lizzie,” which pleased Mabel very much indeed, though of course she
_didn’t_ stay. The shy twins soon became friendly and even the baby was
smiling and responsive. Mrs. Charles had been making cookies and
generously passed them around. Then Maude looked at her watch and said
that it was time to start back.

The girls decided to go home by the road that wound along over the
prairie and somewhat west of the more direct but pathless route they had
taken _to_ the cottage. It was longer but Sallie said that interesting
things grew along the edges. Even Sallie, however, was surprised at one
thing they discovered. Mabel, who was trudging sturdily along, a little
ahead of the others—and of course she had a right to lead the procession
since it was her party—suddenly stopped short.

“Mercy!” she gasped. “What’s that!”

“What’s _what_?” asked Sallie, crowding to the front. “Is it a new
flower? Oh! Why, that looks like a little pig!”

“But ’way out here!” cried Maude. “It couldn’t walk so far and there are
no farms along here.”

“But the farmers ’way south of here,” returned Sallie, “send them in to
the packing houses or down to the trains along this road. Probably this
one got spilled out of somebody’s wagon and the driver never missed
him.”

“No doubt,” said little Jane Pool, “the other piggies squealed so hard
that the poor man never heard the cries of distress from this one.”

“It’s so little and pink and clean,” said Bettie, admiringly.

“But so naked,” objected Marjory. “It really seems as if it ought to be
wearing baby clothes—little woolly ones. I’m glad it’s a warm day.”

“See,” said Mabel, “it’s sucking my finger—I think it likes me.”

“It’s hungry,” said Sallie. “It seems too bad to leave it here to
starve.”

“But _we_ don’t want any pig,” objected Henrietta. “I don’t think I
_like_ pigs.”

“I’m sure _I_ don’t,” said Maude. “Come on, girls, let’s climb up the
ladder to that windmill over there and walk all around it on that
ledge—I think it’s wide enough. We don’t want to be bothered with any
pigs.”

But the lonesome little pig had no intention of being left behind. It
trotted along at the girls’ heels and squealed piteously in its efforts
to keep up.

“Poor little thing,” said Bettie, “it’s just starving.”

“And tired,” said Mabel. “Every minute or two it loses its footing and
rolls right over. It thinks it belongs to us.”

“You’re afraid to pick it up and carry it,” teased Marjory.

“I’m not,” said Mabel. “I’m going to do it. The rest of you can climb
all the windmills you want to, but I’m going to be kind to this pig.”

Whereupon kind Mabel picked up the pig and carried it. At first,
however, the little animal squirmed and struggled so much that Mabel had
all she could do to keep from dropping him.

“But what are you going to do with him?” queried Bettie.

“Oh, I’ll just slip around to the kitchen door—if I ever get that
far—and ask Charles to take care of him.”

“Charles won’t be home,” said Sallie. “That’s the time of day he goes to
the station to get the bread.”

“Then I’ll take him up to my room,” said Mabel, whose pet was now quite
satisfied in her arms. “Perhaps you could bring up a cup of milk for
him.”

“Mabel never comes home empty handed,” laughed Marjory. “And she isn’t
particular what she brings, as long as it’s alive.”

“Won’t Isabelle be pleased?” laughed Maude.

“Lend him to me, Mabel. I’ll put him in Miss Woodruff’s bed.”

“No you won’t. I’m not going to have him abused.”

“Well, beware of Isabelle,” giggled Marjory.

Forewarned is forearmed. Mabel succeeded in slipping the pig into her
bedroom closet without disturbing Isabelle who was busy writing what she
was pleased to call “a poem.” She sent them, as she confided to Mabel,
to her friend Clarence. Of course, when Isabelle had a pencil in her
hand and that faraway look in her eye she was not likely to notice mere
pigs.

Sallie had contrived a nursing bottle for the infant. Mabel, seated on
the closet floor, succeeded in feeding her charge and presently made a
nest for him by dumping the stockings out of her round mending basket;
but to her surprise the pig, not being built that way, refused to curl.
His tail curled beautifully but the rest of him wouldn’t. In no way, in
fact, was he as accommodating an animal as a kitten or even a puppy.

“If he’d only just _cuddle_,” groaned Mabel, “he’d be so much more
comfortable to live with.”

It was somewhere about midnight when Isabelle became aware of the pig.
Mabel had been aware of him for a great many sleepless hours. Either he
had had too much to eat or not enough. Perhaps he was only lonesome. At
any rate he was quiet only when Mabel held him close to her own warm
body and kept one or more of her fingers in his mouth. She had spent
part of the night on the floor among the shoes; but the floor was hard
and Mabel was sleepy; so finally she had crept into her own bed and
taken the infant pig with her.

But nothing she could do seemed to please him. His squeals became louder
and louder and more and more frequent. At last one of his very best
squeals escaped from under the bedclothes.

“My goodness!” gasped Isabelle, suddenly sitting up in bed. “What’s
that! Was that you, Mabel?”

“No,” returned Mabel, truthfully. “I didn’t speak.”

“It wasn’t a ‘speak’—it was more like a squeak.”

Piggy chose that moment to let out a smothered “Wee Wee!” in spite of
Mabel’s restraining hand.

“Mabel, it _is_ you. Are you sick?”

“I—I’m not sleeping very well,” offered Mabel, trying not to giggle.
“I’m quite restless.”

“I thought I heard you eating things in the closet while I was writing.
Perhaps you’ve made yourself sick.”

By this time Mabel was about helpless with laughter—it was so amusing to
be taken for a pig. But just then her charge took a mean advantage of
her. He squirmed suddenly, rolled out of bed and landed with a thump and
an astonished grunt on the floor.

“My Uncle!” gasped Isabelle, leaping out of bed and switching on the
light. “Are you killed!”

“For goodness’ sake keep still,” growled Mabel. “It isn’t me—it’s my
pig!”

[Illustration: “For goodness’ sake keep still,” growled Mabel]

The pink pig scuttling here and there across the floor was too much for
Isabelle. She plunged into bed again and sat there with horrified eyes
on the pig. Suddenly, as he dashed in her direction, she squealed and
the pig squealed and they both squealed—a regular duet.

Miss Woodruff in her red flannel nightdress was the first to arrive at
the party.

“What!” she demanded, pausing in the doorway, “does _this_ mean?”

Piggy chose this moment for a mad dash for freedom. In his flight
through the doorway he brushed the lady’s bare ankles. Miss Woodruff’s
wild shrieks were added to Isabelle’s.

Of course everybody in the West Corridor was awake by that time. Brave
Victoria Webster, now that Gladys was gone, was again rooming with
Augusta and Lillian Thwaite. Pausing for nothing, Victoria rushed
through the dark halls toward the portion of the house occupied by
Doctor Rhodes. Her lusty cries of “Fire! Fire!” brought all the Rhodes
family in bathrobes of assorted colors, to the West Corridor.

By the time they arrived, Lillian and Augusta had added their shrieks to
Isabelle’s.

“Stop this noise,” commanded Doctor Rhodes, shaking Augusta. “What are
you screaming for?”

“I don’t know,” chattered Augusta.

“What are _you_ screaming for, Lillian?”

“Ow! Ow! I—I don’t know.”

“Miss Woodruff—”

“Why!” gasped Miss Woodruff, suddenly remembering her scarlet attire and
bolting for her own room, “I don’t know.”

“Well, Isabelle, what are _you_ screaming for? You seem to be the last.”

“I—I saw a pig!” shuddered Isabelle.

“Nonsense!” returned Doctor Rhodes. “You _couldn’t_ have seen a pig.
You’ve been having a nightmare—you ate too much roast pork for dinner.”

“No, no,” insisted Isabelle, “it _was_ a pig.”

“There’s no such animal as a night pig,” returned Doctor Rhodes, with
dignity. “Now get back to your beds, all of you, and don’t let me hear
another sound from any of you tonight, about pigs or anything else.”

Mabel, tired as she was, stayed awake for an hour wondering what had
become of the poor little pig. Although she listened with all her ears,
not even the faintest squeal could she hear. Finally she dropped asleep.

“Mabel,” said puzzled Isabelle, the next morning, “I really _thought_ I
saw a pig last night. Did _you_ see one?”

“I thought I _heard_ one,” returned Mabel, who was busy in the closet,
stuffing a milky bottle into her pocket. “But of course no pig could
climb all those stairs.”

“That’s so, too,” said Isabelle. “It _may_ have been that pork—I forgot
to eat my apple sauce.”

“I’m sure it was pork,” agreed Mabel, wickedly and truthfully.

At breakfast time Mabel found a note under her plate.

    “Dear Mabel: Found at 7 A. M. one pig rooting under the dining
    room table for crumbs. Charles is building a pen for him in the
    back yard and all is well—thought you’d like to know.

                                                            Sallie.”

At recess time, Mabel led Isabelle to the new pig pen. Maude and little
Jane Pool were looking over the edge.

“Jane and I thought somebody ought to give him a name so _we_ did,” said
Maude, with a wicked glance at Isabelle. “Don’t you think ‘Clarence’
would be a sweet name—for a pig?”

Then, with a gleeful shout, the naughty pair sped away to eat pie under
the porch. And Sallie appeared with a message for Mabel.

“Doctor Rhodes wishes to see Miss Bennett in his office,” announced
Sallie.

“I’m told,” said Doctor Rhodes, when Mabel stood demurely before him,
“that Highland Hall has mysteriously acquired a pig. It occurs to me
that you may be able to shed some light on the subject.”

“Yes,” said Mabel, “you’ve guessed right. I brought that pig home.
Somebody had to—he was _so_ lonesome.”

“But didn’t I tell you—”

“You didn’t say _pigs_. You said any of Charles’s family.”

“Hum—so I did. And you kept that animal in your room?”

“I tried to.”

“Then Isabelle really saw a pig?”

“She wasn’t sure at breakfast time,” giggled Mabel.

“You haven’t any _more_ pets concealed on the premises, I suppose! An
extra pig or two or a young hippopotamus or anything like that?”

“No,” giggled Mabel, “and I don’t _want_ any more for a long time. A pig
is a fearful responsibility.”

“You’ve been punished enough, I see. Well, don’t let it happen again.”

“I won’t,” promised Mabel, cheered by a certain twitching line in Doctor
Rhodes’s cheek. “I’ve had enough pets to last a long time—besides one
roommate is just about all Isabelle can stand.”



CHAPTER XXIV

STILL NO NEWS


It was raining that Thursday morning and nobody was pleased. The
recitation rooms were dark and gloomy on rainy days and all plans for a
pleasant afternoon outdoors were spoiled. Naturally the girls hated the
idea of being confined to the veranda when prairie, grove and meadow
were so much more inviting. The morning had seemed long and poky,
lessons had proved uncommonly monotonous, there was nothing at all
interesting for lunch and study hour had dragged; but at last, here was
Sallie with the mail bag. Everybody but Henrietta brightened
perceptibly. Henrietta looked as if she were trying—without very much
success—to brace herself for a trying ordeal.

Mabel, however, looked cheerfully expectant. Nowadays there was always
at least one letter a week for Mabel from Germany, and when it came
Mabel always felt quite distinguished; she was the _only_ girl who
received letters from a foreign land. She felt especially elated
whenever Miss Wilson, the very stiffest of the Seniors, begged for the
stamps to send to her brother who was making a collection. On this
particular day, there were letters for most of the Lakeville girls and
for Mabel too; but all four of them were casting anxious glances in
Henrietta’s direction. They had acquired the habit. Their hearts were
wrung by her obvious suffering and by the courage with which she endured
it. This long suspense was really getting to be hard on _all_ of them.

“Miss Henrietta Bedford,” called Sallie.

Henrietta, pale and trembling, forced herself to step to the platform,
received her letter, carried it to the window and nervously tore it
open. Jean had followed her quietly and stood waiting to comfort her in
case of need. After a moment or two, Henrietta pointed silently to the
opening words and Jean read: “Still no news of your dear father.”

Presently Jean and Henrietta left the room and the sympathetic eyes of
the other girls followed them to the doorway.

“That’s worse than losing a relative by sudden death,” said Eleanor
Pratt, soberly.

“Yes,” agreed Elisabeth Wilson. “This suspense must be perfectly
harrowing—in fact, I can _see_ it is. Poor kid! I’m so sorry for her I
don’t know what to do.”

“There isn’t anything one _can_ do,” said Beatrice Holmes. “I’ve watched
her every day at mail time and it’s just pitiful to see how she hates to
open her letters.”

The mail distributed, some of the girls went to their respective rooms
to remove from their persons the ink stains, chalk dust and other
visible signs of a busy session in school. Others flocked to the veranda
to stroll back and forth like caged lions grumbling in captivity.

“This is a beastly rain,” said little Jane Pool. “The ground is just
soaked.”

“‘It isn’t raining rain, today,’” quoted Grace Allen, “‘it’s raining—’”

“Water,” said unpoetical Mabel.

“Violets,” concluded Grace.

“Water,” insisted Mabel.

“Violets,” said Grace.

“Both wrong,” said Debbie Clark. “It’s roses. We’ve _had_ violets.”

“I don’t see any of those, either,” said Mabel, crossly. “It’s just
plain water. I can’t even go to look at my pig.”

“You ought to sit beside him with an umbrella,” teased Debbie. “He may
be getting drowned.”

“He’s all right,” assured always-comforting Sallie. “Charles moved him
into the barn—he knew it was going to rain. Hello, Maude, why so
pensive? What mischief are you cooking up now?”

“That’s just the trouble,” complained Maude. “Nothing _will_ cook. I’ve
been trying hard to think of something awfully wicked to do to cheer
poor Henrietta up. The trouble is, when I really _want_ to be bad I
can’t do it. _My_ badness always breaks out of its own accord when I
least expect it; just when I’m really _trying_ to be good. When it’s
really necessary for me to be wicked, as it is right now, I surprise
everybody—and especially dear Miss Woodruff—by being too good to be
true. A regular angel child!”

“Still,” offered Hazel, “you managed to start something yesterday. I
thought I’d _die_ when I looked out the window and saw all you girls
turning somersaults on the lawn.”

“What was that?” asked Isabelle. “I must have missed something.”

“You missed a lot,” assured Maude. “Charles left a large heap of stuff
he had clipped from the hedges and the grass he had raked up after
galloping around all the morning with his lawn mower, in a lovely big
pile right in front of the office windows. Well, the minute I saw it
yesterday afternoon, I forgot that I was a boarding school ‘Young
lady’—I was back in my childhood—I was a girl again.”

“What did you do?” demanded Isabelle.

“You mean, how _many_ did I do.”

“You didn’t _really_ turn somersaults!”

“I _did_, and I loved it. And that was too much for Victoria. She did
some, too—just lovely ones. So did Cora and Jane and Bettie—nearly all
the West Corridor girls. All they needed was little Maude to start
them.”

“You’d have thought they weren’t more than six years old,” said Hazel.

“What _did_ Miss Woodruff say?”

“She _was_ going to stop them,” returned Hazel, “but Doctor Rhodes and
Mrs. Henry and Miss Blossom came out on the porch and clapped their
hands and Doctor Rhodes said he’d give a prize for the girl that could
do the best handspring. He offered a quarter, and who do you think got
it!”

“Victoria Webster, of course.”

“Dead wrong. It was Eleanor Pratt.”

“What! Not _Miss Pratt_!”

“Yes. Fancy a Senior doing a handspring! She rushed right down and did a
perfectly lovely one and Doctor Rhodes presented her with the quarter.
The other two would have tried it next; but just then Charles came with
the wagon to pick the stuff up and he was none too pleased at finding it
all over the place so we helped him load the wagon. Next time he cuts
the grass he’s going to make us a perfectly grand pile. He said he’d
bring us up some of that long stuff from the meadow and we can have a
regular party. It beats gym all hollow.”

“I’m going in,” said Isabelle, “it’s too wet out here.”

“So am I,” said Hazel.

“And I have to dust the drawing room,” said Sallie. “All those pictures
of former graduating classes; all those proud Seniors in their white
frocks. It’s particularly harrowing just now because I haven’t a decent
rag to wear myself.”

Presently the porch was deserted and the bored girls went to their own
rooms.

One of Sallie’s many duties at Highland Hall was to answer the doorbell
at such times as the two neat maids were busy in the kitchen. Sallie had
just dusted the class of 1897 and was beginning on the frame of class
1898, when the doorbell rang. It had taken her almost an hour to get
that far because she had found a new interest in the pictures. She was
examining the frocks and wishing that _she_ might have tucks like these
or ruffles like those or sleeves like some other one.

Ten minutes later, Sallie, very demure in the white apron that Mrs.
Rhodes compelled her to wear when she opened the big front door to
chance visitors, rapped at the door of room number twenty. Marjory
opened it.

“A gentleman in the library to see Miss Henrietta Bedford,” announced
Sallie, sedately. But Sallie’s eyes were dancing and she was a little
breathless as if she had been running—as indeed she had—all the long way
from the front door.

“A gentleman!” exclaimed Henrietta. “I don’t _know_ any gentleman. Do
you mean Doctor Rhodes?”

“I do not,” returned Sallie. “But don’t be frightened—there isn’t
anything about this to frighten you.”

“Some one from Lakeville? Not Mr. Black?”

“No. You must come down and see for yourself. I was told to bring you.”

“I believe you and Maude have been up to some trick. You’re just fooling
me. There _couldn’t_ be a gentleman in the library to see me.”

“But there _is_,” declared Sallie. “You’ll just hate yourself if you
don’t hurry. Do start. I want to see you moving before I deliver this
Special Delivery letter to Isabelle—two cent stamps aren’t swift enough
for Clarence.”

Henrietta laid her hairbrush down deliberately and started leisurely
toward the door.

“Come on, Marjory,” said she, “I ought to have a chaperon if there
really is a gentleman, but I’m pretty sure it’s Maude—she loves to dress
up and play jokes on us. She might as well have two victims.”

“Do you suppose,” queried Marjory, in an awe-stricken whisper, when the
pair had reached the top of the last long flight of stairs, “that it’s
that silly Theolog that wrote you a note after he saw you at the
concert? There really _is_ a hat on the hat rack.”

“That’s what I’m wondering,” admitted Henrietta. “The silly goose makes
eyes at me every Sunday. But surely he wouldn’t have the nerve to _call_
here. If that’s who it is, I shall walk right back upstairs. I _know_
it’s _some_ joke. Sallie’s eyes were just dancing. Just at first I was
frightened but I could see by Sallie’s face that it wasn’t anything
dreadful.”

“You go ahead,” said Marjory. “If it really is _your_ visitor—”



CHAPTER XXV

AN EXCITING FATHER


A tall man, who was very good looking indeed, stood beside the library
table. A man of perhaps forty, with a fair skin, bronzed by much
exposure to the sun, abundant light hair that grew in a pleasing way and
fine blue eyes. He was gazing expectantly toward the door.

Henrietta, after one look at the visitor, was across the room with her
arms about his neck.

“Daddy! Why, _Dad_!”

Marjory, wisely concluding that no chaperon was needed, slipped unheeded
from the room and fled away through twisting hallways and long corridors
to the West wing where she found that Sallie had already spread the
news.

“Henrietta’s father,” breathed Bettie, “isn’t that great! And only two
hours ago Henrietta was weeping on her bed because her grandmother’s
letter was so discouraging.”

“Does he look like Henrietta?” asked Jean. “You know we’ve never seen
him.”

“Not a bit,” said Marjory, “he’s fair—a regular blond. And oh, so good
looking. She’s like the pictures of her dark mother, you know.”

“He looks just like an earl or a duke or something like that,” said
Sallie. “When the Seniors see him they’re going to be glad that they
were polite to Henrietta. He’s the best looking father that ever came to
this school and I ought to know, because I’ve been making a study of
fathers for a long, long time. Of course, most _any_ kind of a father
looks mighty good to _me_. I don’t envy Henrietta her good clothes, her
pretty looks or her pretty ways; but I _would_ like to wake up suddenly
and find myself down in that library shaking hands with a _father_.”

In the meantime, Henrietta, who had been almost speechless at first, was
making up for lost time. There were traces of tears on her cheeks but
her eyes were joyful.

“So you went right straight to Lakeville from San Francisco and as soon
as Grandmother told you where I was you came right here?”

“And I didn’t bring you a single thing. My luggage is still in Shanghai,
I suppose. I believe I picked up some odds and ends in Canton. I was
there for a very short time and foolishly neglected to cable Henshaw.
When they rescued me from that coral reef, absolutely the only thing I
owned was half a pair of trousers. I had to borrow clothes from the
captain of the ship before I could land in San Francisco and I had to
telegraph to London for money with which to travel east. Your
Grandmother tells me that Henshaw has sent out a relief
expedition—perhaps he’ll rescue my luggage. It seems to me I bought a
mandarin’s coat and some beads—”

“I wouldn’t have cared if you hadn’t bought me a single thing. It was
just you I wanted, Daddy. Don’t _ever_ get lost again. It’s too hard on
the family.”

“Do you know, it hadn’t occurred to me that you were grown up enough to
worry; but, since you are, I suppose I’ll have to mend my ways. I _have_
been careless a great deal of the time. I haven’t always written when I
_could_; and of course, sometimes, I couldn’t. Now, couldn’t we go
outside, some place? It seems dark and stuffy in here to a man who has
lived on a coral reef for months.”

“Why,” cried Henrietta, “I do believe it’s clearing up.”

Henrietta was right. The rain had ceased, the sun was making up for lost
time and in more ways than one it was now a pleasant day. On the veranda
the happy little girl introduced her father to such of her special
friends as were there and sent little Jane Pool flying after all the
others. The entire West Corridor rushed down and out, as Maude said
afterwards. Mr. Bedford bowed and smiled in a charming way and murmured:
“Delighted, I’m suah.” He was not a talkative man, for which the girls
were sorry because his speech was so delightfully English that the
thoroughly American children were greatly impressed. They loved to hear
him say “Cawn’t” and “Just fawncy,” and “Chuesday”—for Tuesday. And they
were overjoyed when he asked Henrietta if she hadn’t better put on her
“goloshes” before she walked on the wet grass.

Henrietta took her father for a walk to the village. It is to be
suspected that she led him straight to the best candy store in the
village because she returned later with an enormous box of chocolates.
The girls were even gladder to see that her cheeks were glowing with
some of their former bright color. Her father was placed in the company
seat at Doctor Rhodes’s own table at dinner time that night; Henrietta
sat demurely beside him; but occasionally she turned her head long
enough to make an impish face at the girls at her own table.

“She’d rather be here,” said Jean, sagely.

“I wish she were,” said Maude. “I love to hear her father talk.”

It was bedtime before the West Corridor girls had a chance to hear all
about it. They had flocked into Henrietta’s room and most of them
undressed in there while listening to what she had to say.

“I’m going to do something wonderful,” said Henrietta. “First, I’m to
spend tomorrow in Chicago with Father, and then he’s going right to
England. Grandmother is going to meet us in Chicago, and what do you
think! You couldn’t guess in a thousand years. We are both going right
over to England with him so we can have a good long visit on the way.
We’re going to stay just long enough for Grandmother to count her
relatives over there—Father says it won’t be more than three weeks
altogether—and then we’re coming back. I’m going to bring something to
every one of you. I may even get to Paris for just about a minute—Father
says he has to go there to tell something to the French Government about
something he dug up somewhere.”

“How lovely!” cried Jean.

“How splendid,” cried Bettie.

“How grand!” cried Marjory.

“How perfectly sweet,” cried Cora.

“How darling,” cried little Jane Pool.

“But, Henrietta,” demanded Mabel. “You haven’t told us where your father
has been all this time. Why didn’t he write?”

“Why, so I haven’t,” said Henrietta, “And this is my last chance—I’m
going early in the morning, with just a few duds in a suitcase. Well,
here’s the story, all I could dig out of him. I’ll sit on the dresser so
you can all hear. It’s really quite a tale.

“Well, first he went to Shanghai because he’d heard of a temple that was
different from most temples; but it was way up the Yengtze river—in
China, you know—so he rushed right up there to look for it. It was on
the estate of an old Chinaman who didn’t want any Englishmen or other
foreigners poking round his old temple even outside—and it was said to
be certain death to go _inside_. But father _did_ manage to get inside
and was copying some of the inscriptions as well as he could—it was too
dark to use his camera and he didn’t dare make a flashlight—when
something hit him on the head. He doesn’t know _yet_ what it was.

“The next thing he knew, he was in kind of a dungeon, all stone and
metal bars, under some building—that temple, perhaps, or possibly under
a warehouse near the river. He says he doesn’t know why they didn’t kill
him at once; but for some reason they didn’t. Just kept him there and
gave him very little food once a day for weeks and weeks and weeks—he
does not know exactly how long.

“Then, one night, when he had just about given up all hope of _ever_
getting out of that place, four big, ugly-looking Chinamen came and tied
a bag over his head and bound his hands and feet and loaded him into a
boat and poled it down a river for hours and hours. They chattered a lot
in Chinese but Father couldn’t understand them—his interpreter wasn’t
with him when he went into the temple, and he doesn’t know _what_ became
of _him_. After a long, long time, Father heard sounds like men
clambering aboard a vessel; but he thinks that the small boat he was in
was towed for a long time behind some larger boat. He slept for part of
the time, he says, and of course with that bag tied over his head he
couldn’t see anything or even hear a great deal.

“The next thing he was really sure of was that his hands were free. By
the time he got the bag off his head, there was an old Chinese
junk—that’s a kind of a ship—way off in the distance, sailing away from
him. He was alone in the boat but in one end of it he found a jar of
water and some food. Also a long pole and a paddle. Of course he
couldn’t reach bottom with the pole because he was out of the river by
that time and quite far out at sea—in the Yellow Sea or possibly the
Eastern Sea. You know how they run together along there; and he showed
me what he thought _might_ be the place, on the atlas in the library.

“Well, Father thought other boats might come along that way so he stayed
right there for about six hours; but none did; so then he fastened the
long pole up like a mast and ripped open that bag that had been over his
head and used it for a sail. He found some bits of rope and string and
some old fishing tackle stuffed into the bow of the boat and used them
to tie his sail to the pole.

“He sailed wherever the wind took him and after awhile he was picked up
by another Chinese junk. He thinks that the men aboard this one were
smugglers or pirates or something. He tried to get them to take him to
Shanghai or Hong Kong or some other Chinese port; but he was so ragged
and dirty that probably they didn’t believe he’d be able to pay them
what he promised—even if they understood him—and all he could get out of
what _they_ said was something about ‘Philippines.’

“But they never got to the Philippine Islands, if that’s where they were
bound for. There was a typhoon—a sudden, terrible storm—and they were
wrecked. My father and one very strong young Chinese sailor were thrown
by the waves inside a coral reef that stuck up like kind of a fence, in
a big half-circle. It made sort of a front yard to a small coral island
and the water was smoother inside so they managed to swim ashore. But
they were quite battered up at first and just crawled ashore on their
hands and knees and fell asleep on the first dry spot.

“Their island was only a little one, just about big enough for two
persons to live on. Fortunately there was a small spring of fresh water
but it ran very slowly so that it took a long time to catch enough for a
satisfying drink; and the young Chinaman was smart about catching fish
and snaring sea birds and finding turtles’ eggs. There were lots of
shell fish, too; and a box of rice washed ashore about the time they did
and they saved some of that, so of course they didn’t starve.

“But they had to stay there for months and months and months; until
another ship got blown out of her course and was almost wrecked on that
coral fence outside their little island. As soon as that storm calmed
down, the ship sent a boat ashore to explore the island. There were
English sailors aboard her but the ship was going to Calcutta. Father
says she was a rotten old tub but he and the Chinaman were glad to be
rescued by _anything_. He _wanted_ to go to England and he didn’t want
to go to Calcutta; but after a day or two he had a good chance to be
transferred to a much faster and safer ship bound for San Francisco so
he took it. The Captain had to give him some clothes—he lost just about
all he had left when he was swimming to the island. He sent a wireless
to my grandmother from the American ship but for some reason she didn’t
get it. And he didn’t telegraph her from San Francisco because he
supposed she _had_ received the wireless.”

“Tell us all the _awful_ part of it,” pleaded Mabel. “Cannibals and
tigers and things like that.”

“That’s one trouble with Father’s adventures,” complained Henrietta. “He
doesn’t _tell_ the ghastly details. He just gives the main facts. He
must have been almost dead in that dungeon, he must have hated that
nasty bag over his head, and he must have been almost drowned swimming
ashore and almost scared to death in that typhoon; but he doesn’t _say_
so. He did mention a shark in the lagoon—the Chinaman killed that with
his knife. Of course I’ll be able to dig more out of him when there’s
more time; but he won’t tell me the _worst_ things; he never does.”

“_I_ think,” said Jean, “you managed to get considerable.”

“Yes,” agreed Maude, “you certainly own an exciting father.”

“I’m so glad I still _own_ him,” breathed Henrietta.

And then the girls slipped away to their own beds to dream of Chinese
temples, junks, dark dungeons, yellow pirates, sunny reefs and sunburned
fathers. And of course they were all glad to have their Henrietta again
happy and free from care; for they had all suffered with her.



CHAPTER XXVI

HENRIETTA IS MYSTERIOUS


The girls began to miss Henrietta almost as soon as she was gone. For a
small person, she left a tremendous vacancy. She was so lovely, so
bright, so friendly with everybody and so very good to look at that it
seemed, as Sallie put it, as if the sun had suddenly deserted the whole
state of Illinois. Henrietta wrote to her friends, of course, but that
wasn’t quite like having her actually on the premises.

One day, however, when Sallie was distributing the mail, the post girl
experienced a joyful moment. She pulled a letter from the bag and read
aloud the name on the envelope: “Miss Sallie Dickinson.”

“Why,” gasped Sallie, pink with surprise and delight. “That’s for
me—from Henrietta.”

Henrietta had expected to return within three weeks. But did she? Not a
bit of it. She and her delightful grandmother, Mrs. Slater, were having
too good a time visiting their relatives in England to be willing to
return at once to America. They were shopping in London.

“And oh, such shops as there are in London!” wrote Henrietta. “And oh,
such funny English as I hear! My cousins took me to something they
called a ‘Cinema’—and what do you think it was? Just a movie. When I
come back I’ll talk some _real_ English for you so you can see what it’s
like.”

“I guess,” laughed Jean, “Henrietta is more American now than she is
English.”

“I wish she’d come back,” said Bettie. “The days seem twice as long with
her so far away.”

It was undeniably dull without Henrietta; but Maude managed on one
occasion at least to cheer the other girls considerably. She had been
unnaturally good for several weeks; but now the spirit of impishness
that sometimes controlled her had been bottled up too long for safety
and was just about ready to break loose.

A full length mirror stood at the end of the West Corridor, across one
of the corners. It swung on pivots, from an upright frame. It was
possible to unscrew those pivots and remove the framed mirror from this
outer frame. Indeed, Sallie had once mentioned casually that this feat
might easily be accomplished by two girls, whereupon curious Maude had
examined the screws with much interest and had satisfied herself that
Sallie’s statement was true.

At certain times of the day, Miss Woodruff, who was as regular as a
clock in all her habits, strolled to that mirror to make certain that
her skirts hung properly; for no one was more particular as to her
appearance than was stout Miss Woodruff. She invariably wore gray, for
school use. She possessed three serge gowns, made precisely alike, from
the same piece of goods. She spoke of these garments as her “uniform.”
When not in use, these gowns hung in her bedroom closet.

But one dreadful day, when excellent Miss Woodruff looked in the glass
at the usual time, she started back in horror. There was her reflection,
dark gray frock, unmistakable hair-do and all, yet what in the world was
the matter with it? The face was different, the figure was shorter and
fatter and its outline was curiously lumpy in places.

There were stifled giggles from the nearby doorways as the puzzled lady
leaned forward to look closer—at Maude. For of course it _was_ Maude,
attired in one of Miss Woodruff’s gray gowns, with pillows stuffed
inside; and her hair, skilfully arranged by Cora, closely resembled Miss
Woodruff’s. The naughty but ingenious girl standing just back of the
vacant frame, was faithfully imitating every movement made by Miss
Woodruff, every expression that flitted across her astonished face.

“_Nous avons_,” began Maude, stepping through the frame, with her hands
crossed meekly on her dark gray breast, “_les raisins blancs et noirs_—”

But at this point, to the uproarious delight of the entire West
Corridor, Miss Woodruff seized her reflection by the shoulders and shook
it until pillows began to drop from beneath the gray gown.

“Maude Wilder,” gasped the breathless lady, finally, “you may keep right
on learning American History—two pages a day until Commencement.”

Ten minutes later, when Miss Woodruff took her daily walk on the long
veranda she was surprised to meet herself halfway, as it were.

“Don’t be cross,” laughed Maude, slipping her hand under Miss Woodruff’s
substantial elbow. “I just came down to apologize. I know I’m bad but if
I didn’t keep this place cheered up, think how dull we’d be. We’d all
get in a rut. And you know I _do_ respect you, tremendously, even if I
do seem a little disrespectful towards your clothes at times. And I do
like you a lot, even if I can’t help teasing you. Come on and be a
sport. Let’s show the girls what lovely twins we make.”

“But—”

“Come along, do,” pleaded Maude’s sweetly persuasive voice. “You _know_
you aren’t really cross about this. Let’s be friends.”

“You’re incorrigible,” sighed Miss Woodruff, falling into step with her
wheedling tormentor. “I don’t know what ever will become of you, but, in
spite of my better judgment, I can’t _help_ liking you. And just to show
you that I can do it, I _will_ be a sport just for once.”

“Hurrah for the Woodruff twins!” cried Maude, enthusiastically. But
Maude’s enthusiasm was doomed to wane. Sturdy Miss Woodruff, with a
wicked gleam in her eye, kept her absurd twin walking back and forth on
the veranda for a good two hours. The day was warm and the pillows tied
firmly about Maude’s waist added nothing to her comfort; the girls on
the railing were obviously enjoying her predicament; but unmerciful Miss
Woodruff proved tireless. Maude was tired of being a twin long before
her teacher was; but revived somewhat when that surprising lady said, at
last:

“Now, I _will_ be a sport. I’m going to excuse you from learning that
history. I think we’re just about even without it.”

“I didn’t think she had it in her,” commented Maude, reclining at length
on the pillows she had gladly removed from her person. “There’s more to
that lady than I supposed there was.”

There was much talk these days of Commencement. The three Seniors were
to be graduated and, by some mysterious process, the five Juniors were
to become Seniors. No wonder the Miller girls, quiet Virginia Mason,
Sarah Porter and studious Mary Sherwood of the North Corridor had led a
life apart from the younger girls. Of course, with a solemn thing like
that hanging over them, and only a year away, they _couldn’t_ associate
with a flock of careless infants in the lower grades.

There were to be Commencement clothes—white dresses, white shoes, white
stockings for everybody, young or old. There was to be a class
photograph of the Seniors, framed like all the rest, and hung in the big
drawing room for future classes to admire. There were to be Exercises.
Miss Julia’s pupils were to play solos and duets; and everybody was to
sing the songs that they were now practising daily and there were to be
Essays. One of the Seniors, Miss Pratt, was known to be laboring over a
strange thing called a Valedictory, Miss Wilson was struggling with the
Class Prophecy and Miss Holmes was having a harrowing time with the
Class Poem. Mabel hoped that none of these mysterious things would ever
fall to _her_ lot. Cream puffs and unlimited chocolate creams, it
appeared, were not the only things that happened to a Senior.

And now, everybody was discussing clothes. Should they wear silk
stockings or cotton ones? White pumps or Oxfords? Should their dresses
be tucked or ruffled, full or scant? Should their sleeves be long or
short or half way between? The Seniors were keeping _their_ clothes a
dark mystery; but all the other girls were willing to tell all they
knew.

Jean, Bettie, Mabel and Marjory were to buy their dresses, shoes and
stockings in Chicago. Mrs. Henry Rhodes and Miss Blossom were to take
them to town for a whole joyous Monday.

They loved every inch of the way to the city, where Mrs. Henry piled
them all into a ’bus at the station, took them to a big store on State
Street, and whisked them aloft in an elevator. She and Miss Blossom
spent a long morning trying fluffy white frocks on their lively charges.

There were large numbers of just-exactly-right frocks for Marjory and
Bettie. They were easy to fit. Jean was tall and rather slender and it
was some time before the interested clerk could find just the right
pretty gown for Jean. As for plump Mabel—— Well, the sleeves were tight,
the waists wouldn’t button and the skirts were too scant.

“You see,” explained the patient clerk, “she isn’t a ready-made child.
She hasn’t got her shape yet. But you’ll be all right, dearie (she
called everybody ‘dearie,’ Mabel noticed), when you’re older. Your
shoulders are fine and you’re right good looking; but they don’t put
cloth enough in Misses’ garments these days for a real plump child.
We’ll have to make you a dress to order. You can pick out the style you
like and our own Miss Williamson will measure you and in three days
you’ll have your dress. You’ll look just as nice as anybody and your
dress will be just exactly right.”

“Yes,” agreed Mrs. Henry and Miss Blossom, “that’s the thing to do.”

Then they all got into the elevator and went up still higher and the
Lakeville girls tried not to look surprised at finding a dining room so
near the sky. After they had had lunch and purchased shoes and stockings
it was time for their returning train.

Sallie listened to the thrilling news of the new dresses and the lovely
new shoes rather soberly and with a lengthening countenance; but none of
the girls noticed that she was not rejoicing with them until thoughtless
Marjory suddenly asked:

“What are _you_ going to wear, Sallie?”

“I have an old white dress,” returned Sallie, flushing painfully. “It
was new three years ago but I’ve worn it hard every summer, so it isn’t
new any more. All the tucks have been let out and the hem has been faced
and it’s still too short. Besides there’s a bad rust stain on it and
it’s too tight across the chest I don’t know _what_ to do. I’ve been
thinking I’d better put on a cap and apron and just pretend to be one of
the regular maids. You see, ever so many parents and other guests will
be coming so I’ll have to answer the doorbell and run upstairs to
announce guests and help in the dining room, anyway.”

“But you have to help with the singing,” said Bettie. “You have the best
voice of all the girls. What are you going to do about that?”

“Perhaps I can stand behind a tree,” offered Sallie. “Or I might burrow
down in the tall grass and not be noticed. Of course I’d sing better if
my clothes were all right; but I’ll just try not to think about them.”

The next day, some of the girls sat on a bench in the shady grove and
talked this weighty matter over.

“It’s a shame,” said Jean. “Sallie’s such a _dear_ girl—one of the very
sweetest girls in this school, _I_ think, and she has a lovely voice.
She ought to be able to stand right in the front row and be seen as well
as heard.”

“It isn’t right,” said Bettie, “for all the rest of us to be all dressed
up and having a good time when Sallie can’t—just because she’s a
boarding school orphan.”

“Sometimes I’ve offered to lend her things,” said Jean, “but she doesn’t
like it. I think it hurts her pride or something.”

“I thought we might write home for money,” said Marjory, “and get her a
dress _that_ way; but I’m sure Aunty Jane wouldn’t give me a cent for
it. She might, after a long, long time—if I’d begun to tease for it last
September, for instance, she’d begin about now to loosen up a little.”

“And my folks are too far away,” mourned Mabel, “so _they’re_ no good.”

“And mine,” said Jean, “have to spend more on me now than they can
afford.”

“And of course,” added Bettie, “the best _my_ folks could do would be
something out of a missionary box—something made of outing flannel most
likely. Those boxes do run just awfully to outing flannel. Of course
there’s Mr. Black—but I wouldn’t like to ask him.”

“No,” agreed Jean, “it wouldn’t be right. Of course, if we’d started
soon enough and saved all our weekly spending money—”

“Oh, why didn’t we?” cried Bettie. “I do wish we had.”

“If we four had saved _half_ our money,” said Marjory, who had been
making figures with a stick in the sand, “we could have bought her a
more expensive dress than any _we_ are going to have. And shoes, too.”

“Just think of that!” said Jean. “Next year I’m going to save a few
cents every week—it’s mighty useful to have money when something like
this comes up.”

“Of course,” said Marjory, who had been making more sums in the sand,
“thirty cents isn’t much when you put a nickel in the plate every Sunday
and chip in every now and then for spreads. Anyway, it’s all gone and
poor Sallie hasn’t a dress.”

At mail time the next day, the schoolroom resounded with excited and
delighted squeals. Sallie had had another letter from Henrietta. It was
mailed in New York; and Henrietta was coming back.

“Grandmother is going to visit an old friend in Chicago,” wrote
Henrietta, “and I’m coming back to study like mad to catch up with my
classes. Tell the girls to have all their note books ready for me and I
can _do_ it. And Sallie, dear, I’m bringing you a present. I have
something for all my best friends but if anybody can guess what I’m
bringing you I’ll give her _two_ presents.”

Jean looked at Bettie. Bettie nudged Marjory and Mabel managed—but not
without difficulty—to wink at Jean.

“It’s a dress,” whispered Marjory. “I’m _sure_ it’s a dress.”

“That’s just what I think,” agreed Jean.

Just two weeks before the close of school, Henrietta returned. She
arrived during school hours and slipped quietly into her seat in the
Assembly room; but she was so fidgety and there was such a fluttering
among the other girls, who declared afterwards that she looked good
enough to eat, that Miss Woodruff said: “Henrietta, I’ll excuse you for
today. There’s only an hour left anyway.”

“Thank you,” said Henrietta. “I’m dying to unpack my new steamer
trunk—Charles brought it right up along with me.”

The girls found Henrietta’s gifts in their rooms when they went upstairs
at two o’clock. She had tried to find lovely, unusual things for them
and had succeeded. A little gem of a picture in a silver frame for Jean,
some lovely blue beads almost like Hazel’s for Marjory, an adorable
turquois ring for Bettie and an exquisite enameled locket for Mabel.
There was something for every girl in the West Corridor and a nice
little graduating present for each of the three Seniors. There were some
lovely white silk stockings “right straight from Paris” for Sallie.

“The rest of Sallie’s present is coming later,” said Henrietta, “I
didn’t have room in my trunk for it. And on second thought, I’m not
going to encourage any guessing. I _might_ give the secret away and that
wouldn’t do. I’m not going to tell what it is, but I’ll say this much.
_Don’t worry about your clothes, Sallie._”

“Did you get it in London?” demanded Mabel.

“Yes,” laughed Henrietta, “and that’s the last word I’m going to tell
you about it.”

“I sort of hoped,” sighed Marjory, “it might have been _Paris_, like the
stockings.”

But Henrietta only laughed harder than ever.



CHAPTER XXVII

SALLIE’S PRESENT


Three days later, Henrietta, her eyes bright with excitement, rushed to
the dining room and fell upon Mary, one of the neat maids.

“Lend me your cap and apron, quick!” demanded Henrietta, helping herself
to the needed articles. “Don’t say a word. There’s a hack coming up from
the station and I want to answer the doorbell—Doctor Rhodes said I
could. Sallie’s in her room—I locked her in. I’m just getting even with
her for something. I’ll bring your things back in just a few minutes and
tell you the rest.”

Henrietta did answer the doorbell. The visitor was ushered to the
library. Then away sped Henrietta up three flights of steps and through
a tiresome number of corridors until at last she reached Sallie’s room
on the top floor. She unlocked the door noiselessly, rapped on the panel
and then announced, in a very good imitation of Sallie’s own voice:

“A gentleman in the library to see Miss Sallie Dickinson.”

“But there _couldn’t_ be,” said Sallie. “I don’t _know_ any gentleman.”

“But you _do_—or if you don’t, go down and get acquainted. Come on—you
look all right.”

“It—it isn’t one of those Theologs—”

“Come on,” laughed Henrietta, “I’ll race you to the first floor.”

“It’s against the rules—”

“There’s nothing in the by-laws against sliding down the banisters.
These nice black walnut ones were just made for that purpose. Down you
go.”

“If I must, I must,” said resigned Sallie, meekly lying flat on the
broad banister. “I know you’re playing some trick on me.”

“I _thought_ you knew how to slide,” laughed Henrietta, following suit.

“Yes,” confessed Sallie, tackling the last banister, “I’ve helped polish
them all—it’s a wonderful saving of legs.”

“Go on in,” urged Henrietta, at the library door. “Nobody’s going to eat
you.”

Sallie saw a man standing by the table. A man who smiled pleasantly. She
looked at him. Suddenly her heart began to thump wildly.

“Is it—Is it—”

“Yes, it _is_,” cried Henrietta. “Your father.”

Sallie’s face was turning from white to pink and momentarily growing
brighter, but still she seemed unable to move. Henrietta gave her a
gentle shove toward her father’s outstretched arms.

“I found him in London,” said Henrietta. “He’ll tell you all about it.
Good-by, I’ll see you later.”

It happened to be a warm day, so the girls had left their rooms and were
wandering in the grove, under the sheltering hickory trees where earlier
in the season, Charles had placed a number of benches. At sight of
Henrietta waving her arms wildly, the girls moved toward her.

“Help yourselves to the benches,” said Henrietta, seating herself on the
ground. “I have a tale to tell. How would you like to be just awfully
surprised?”

“I guess we could stand it,” drawled Miss Wilson, who, as usual, had a
large box of chocolates under her arm. “Have some candy?”

“You wouldn’t try to stop my mouth with candy,” reproached Henrietta,
“if you knew what you are bottling up thereby. Something’s
happened—something wonderful. Something perfectly _grand_.”

“Tell us,” pleaded Jean, who could see that Henrietta was fairly
bubbling over with news, “Come on, girls. Here’s a story.”

“Well,” began Henrietta, “once there was a man who was always moving
around from one town to another looking for work. When he _had_ work he
wasn’t always satisfied with it. Sometimes he gave up a fairly good job
and just went some place else because he happened to feel like it.”

“One of those rolling stones,” suggested Maude.

“Yes, a regular rolling stone. Well, after awhile he rolled out West. He
tried ranching at first; but he didn’t care much about that. But there
was a sort of cowboy chap that he _did_ like—a young Englishman—and they
decided to be partners. They tried mining for awhile but that didn’t pan
out so they went down to Texas. They worked for an old man down there
who was sick. They did something really worth while for _him_—something
about saving a lot of cattle for him—and he was so grateful that he died
and left his ranch to them.”

“Oh, Henrietta!” teased Hazel, “that _was_ gratitude.”

“Well, I mean that _when_ he died, he left his ranch to those two men.
But the ranch wasn’t very much good—there was something wrong with the
soil and nothing would grow—not even grass. But now pick up your ears,
girls. One day, in one of the fields where the soil was _particularly_
bad, the older man stepped into something soft and some queer greasy
stuff oozed up out of the hole. It was _oil_. Experts came and tested
it. They really had oil.

“Well, even when they had sold all their cattle they hadn’t money enough
to develop their oil mine—”

“Oil _well_,” corrected Miss Wilson. “My father has them—but go on.”

“Yes, oil well. So the cowboy suggested going home to England where he
had a lot of wealthy relatives and friends, to borrow the money. He
wanted, for one thing, to let his own relatives reap some of the benefit
if there _was_ any. Well, that cowboy was—and is—sort of a distant
cousin of my father’s; and my father was one of the men he wanted
especially to see.

“Now, here’s the exciting part. His partner, the rolling stone, was with
him when he went to my father’s rooms in London. And _I_ was there. And
when the cowboy introduced the other man to Father, I sat right up and
looked at him—he looked like somebody I _knew_.

“Then Father introduced them both to me—he’s always careful about things
like that, you know. And then I spoke right up and said:

“‘Mr. Dickinson, is your first name John? And did you ever have a little
girl named Sallie?’ My goodness! You should have seen that little man’s
face! All lit up with joy.”

“But,” cried Jean, “you don’t mean _our_ Sallie! You don’t mean that
that was Sallie’s _father_!”

“I _do_,” assured Henrietta. “Of course it seemed awfully nervy to speak
right out like that to a strange man, right before my proper father and
Cousin George. I never could have done it, if I hadn’t known myself how
horrible it was to be a school orphan. After that, I told him all about
Sallie. And _he_ said that after he got out of the hospital he had
hunted for her just as long as he had had any money; but the poor old
man who had left Sallie at the wrong school couldn’t remember anything
at all about it. Without money, and so weak that he could hardly crawl,
Mr. Dickinson couldn’t do very much toward hunting Sallie up—and there
were so _many_ girls’ schools in this part of the country. And after he
had drifted out West, he was always too poor to come back. This is the
first bit of luck he’s had. But it’s a _big_ bit. The oil well is all
right—he had to stop in New York to attend to some part of the
business—telegrams to and from Texas and things like that. That’s why he
didn’t come when I did. Sallie’s father and the cowboy, too, will be
very rich men. Of course he was going to begin to search for Sallie just
as soon as things were settled; but I saved him a lot of time and
trouble. But, oh! _Such_ a time as I’ve had keeping this tremendous
secret.”

“Where’s Sallie’s father now,” demanded Mabel.

“In the library with Sallie.”

“I’m glad about the money,” said Jean, earnestly, “but Henrietta, is—is
he going to be a _nice_ father for our Sallie?”

“Yes, he is,” returned Henrietta. “I watched him all the way over on the
boat and there isn’t a single thing the matter with him.”

“That’s great,” breathed Mabel. “But what is he like?”

“Well, he has pleasant eyes and a _good_ face and nice, gentle
manners—and he doesn’t eat with his knife. Just after I found him I
began to tremble for fear he _mightn’t_ be the kind of father we’d want
for our Sallie; but he _is_—just exactly. Perhaps he isn’t one of those
terribly strong characters like Daniel Webster or Oliver Cromwell or
John Knox—but who’d _want_ a father like that! But I’m sure he’ll be a
comfortable person to live with and Cousin George—the cowboy, you
know—likes him; and Father says George is mighty particular about his
friends. And of course he’ll pay up everything Sallie owes this school
and give her everything she needs.”

At dinner time that night, Sallie’s father sat in the place of honor at
Doctor Rhodes’s table. And Sallie, such a radiant Sallie, with her head
high and her eyes bright, sat beside him, listening hungrily to his
words.

And when Sallie’s clear young voice was lifted in song at the
Commencement Day exercises, it didn’t come from behind a tree. Lovely
Sallie didn’t _need_ to hide behind a tree or to burrow down in the long
grass; for her Commencement Day gown was quite as new and beautiful as
anybody’s and certainly no other girl wore a happier expression.

“But it’s her father she’s the gladdest about,” explained Mabel. “She
just _loves_ him.”

“I’m glad of that,” said Bettie, who was sitting on her suitcase on the
baggage strewn veranda. “It wouldn’t be much fun to go to Texas with a
father you _didn’t_ love. And isn’t it great! He’s going to let her
visit Henrietta in Lakeville in August and go back to school with her
afterwards so we aren’t going to lose every bit of our Sallie after
all.”

“And,” said Jean, “Mabel is going to spend a week with me and then her
own people will be home. And there’s Charles coming now to take us all
to the station. Good-by, old Highland Hall. You’re going to be a big,
lonesome place without us.”

“A year is a funny thing,” commented Bettie, with her last backward
glance at the tall building. “While it’s happening, it seems to be a
million miles long; and then, the very next minute, it’s all gone.”

“By this time tomorrow,” breathed Marjory, “we’ll be home; and all the
days will have wings. But Mabel, what in the world _are_ you doing?”

“I’m—kuk—crying,” gulped Mabel.

“You funny old baby,” laughed Henrietta. “You’re too tender hearted.”

“It isn’t that at all,” sobbed Mabel, “but something just terrible has
happened. I forgot to label them and I kuk—kuk—can’t remember which lock
of hair is Maude’s and which is Cora’s—and I just loved them both.”

“Well,” soothed Marjory, “both girls are far from bald—you can easily
write for more hair.”

“Cheer up,” comforted Jean, “I _did_ label mine and I can identify
_anybody’s_ hair. And—and we _all_ hate to part with those girls; but we
must look respectable when we get to the station; and when Mr. Black
meets us in Chicago—”

“We’ll be mighty glad to see him,” said Mabel, smiling bravely through
her tears, “and this time I’ll try not to get lost.”

“Climb out, everybody,” said Charles, stopping his car. “Here’s the
station, right in the same old place. And there’s your train, right on
time. And I hope I don’t see another girl or another trunk for the next
four months. So long and good luck.”

THE END





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