Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Peggy Raymond's Way - Or, Blossom Time at Friendly Terrace
Author: Smith, Harriet Lummis
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Peggy Raymond's Way - Or, Blossom Time at Friendly Terrace" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



PEGGY RAYMOND'S WAY

_Or_

BLOSSOM TIME AT FRIENDLY TERRACE



_The Friendly Terrace Series_

BY

HARRIET LUMMIS SMITH

[Illustration]

    _The Girls of Friendly Terrace_    $1.65
    _Peggy Raymond's Vacation_          1.65
    _Peggy Raymond's School Days_       1.65
    _The Friendly Terrace Quartette_    1.65
    _Peggy Raymond's Way_               1.75

[Illustration]

    THE PAGE COMPANY
    53 Beacon Street, Boston, Mass.

[Illustration: PEGGY RAYMOND]



_The Friendly Terrace Series_

PEGGY RAYMOND'S WAY

    Or, Blossom Time at Friendly Terrace

    BY
    HARRIET LUMMIS SMITH
    Author of "The Girls of Friendly Terrace,"
    "Peggy Raymond's Vacation," "Peggy
    Raymond's School Days," "The
    Friendly Terrace Quartette,"
    etc.

    ILLUSTRATED BY
    FRANK T. MERRILL

[Illustration]

    BOSTON [Illustration] THE PAGE
    COMPANY [Illustration] MDCCCCXXII



    _Copyright, 1922_,
    BY THE PAGE COMPANY

    _All rights reserved_

    Made in U. S. A.

    First Impression, August, 1922

    PRINTED BY C. H. SIMONDS COMPANY
    BOSTON, MASS., U. S. A.



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                                        PAGE
        I WHAT'S IN A NAME?                           1
       II A TELEPHONE PARTY                          22
      III A TRIUMPH OF ART                           39
       IV AN AFTERNOON CALL                          59
        V THE RUMMAGE SALE                           69
       VI PRISCILLA HAS A SECRET                     85
      VII THE FRIENDLY TERRACE ORPHANAGE             98
     VIII THE LONGEST WEEK ON RECORD                113
       IX THE MOST WONDERFUL THING IN THE WORLD     129
        X MISTRESS AND MAID                         143
       XI QUITE INFORMAL                            156
      XII GOOD-BY                                   169
     XIII PEGGY GIVES A DINNER PARTY                186
      XIV AT THE FOOT-BALL GAME                     201
       XV THE CURE                                  215
      XVI DELIVERANCE                               230
     XVII PEGGY COMES TO A DECISION                 241
    XVIII A PARTIAL ECLIPSE                         252
      XIX THE END OF SCHOOL LIFE                    268
       XX A SURPRISE                                284
      XXI A MISSING BRIDE                           296
     XXII A JULY WEDDING                            313



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                  PAGE
  PEGGY RAYMOND                                          _Frontispiece_
  "'COME RIGHT IN,' SAID AMY WITH A MISLEADING AIR OF CORDIALITY"    9
  "'A HUNDRED DOLLARS AIN'T ANY TOO MUCH TO PAY FOR HAVING YOUR
        LIFE SAVED'"                                               127
  "SHE RAISED HER EYES AND MET HIS"                                184
  "PEGGY LOOKED AT HIM WITHOUT REPLYING"                           247



Peggy Raymond's Way



CHAPTER I

WHAT'S IN A NAME?


IT was the first day of the spring vacation, and Amy Lassell had
spent it sewing. To be frank, it had not measured up to her idea
of a holiday. Self-indulgence was Amy's besetting weakness. Her
dearest friend, Peggy Raymond, was never happy unless she was busy at
something, but Amy loved the luxury of idleness.

Yet although indolence appealed so strongly to Amy's temperament, to
do her justice she was generally able to turn a deaf ear to its call.
The first summer after America's entry into the war she had enlisted in
the Land Army along with Peggy and Priscilla, and then in the fall had
taken up her work at the local Red Cross headquarters, serving in an
unpaid position as conscientiously as if she had received a salary and
was depending on it for her bread and butter.

After a strenuous year with the Red Cross, Amy had entered college with
Ruth Wylie. Neither girl had expected to enter till after the close of
the war, and Amy was continually harping upon the respect which the
young and unsophisticated Freshmen were bound to feel for classmates of
such advanced years. But Nelson Hallowell's discharge from the service
had altered the aspect of affairs. Ruth had pledged herself to keep
Nelson's position for him till he should return, and Amy had promised
to wait for Ruth. The wound which had kept Nelson in the hospital less
than a month had nevertheless incapacitated him from military service.
Heavy-hearted, he had returned to his job at the book store, while Ruth
and Amy had immediately made their plans for entering college just two
years behind Peggy and Priscilla.

After her months of hard study, the first day of the spring vacation
found Amy at the sewing machine, which in itself was sufficient proof
that, whatever her natural bias in the direction of indolence, her
will was more than a match for that tendency. As a matter of fact she
was the only one of the Friendly Terrace quartette to spend the day
in unremitting industry. Peggy and Ruth had gone off with Graham for
the day. Priscilla was entertaining an out-of-town guest. But Amy,
resolution manifest in every line of her plump little figure, was
sewing for dear life.

Though the armistice had been signed months before, there still
remained foes to fight, as the girls had promptly discovered. The
reaction from economy and hard work had come in the shape of an orgy
of extravagance and frivolity. The high war prices were continually
going higher, as dealers realized that people would get what they
wanted regardless of price. The four Friendly Terrace girls, after
an afternoon of shopping which had ended in the purchase of a box of
hair-pins and two spools of thread, had returned home to hold a council
of war.

"The only way to bring prices down is to stop buying things," declared
Peggy, with all the authority of a college Junior. "I don't know as
I have anything to make over, but if I have, nothing new for me this
spring."

Amy sighed. "I'd just been luxuriating in the thought of a lot of new
dresses," she said mournfully. "Don't you know how after you've been
dieting, all at once you're hungry for creamed chicken and pineapple
fritters, and chocolate with whipped cream, and strawberry sundaes, all
rolled into one. And that's just the way I feel about clothes. But I
suppose it will end in my making over my blue taffeta."

"I've two or three summer dresses that will do very well if I make the
skirts scanty," said Ruth. "They're too full for this season."

They talked on seriously, planning their little economies as if they
expected unaided to bring down the high cost of living. They were
not the sort of girls who follow the crowd unthinkingly, nor had any
of them contracted the fatal habit of asking, "What can one do?" The
program they outlined would have resulted in a general lowering of
prices in a month's time if every one had agreed to it. And it did not
occur to them that public indifference excused them from doing their
little part toward combating a serious evil.

That was how it happened that Amy Lassell had spent the spring day
sewing. The blue taffeta had been ripped and pressed in anticipation
of the vacation leisure, and as soon as the breakfast dishes were out
of the way Amy had commandeered the dining-room table as a cutting
table. With the help of a paper pattern she had remodeled the taffeta
according to the latest dictates of fashion. Caution suggested that
it would be advisable to wait for assistance in the fitting, but
having basted the breadths together and surveyed her reflection in the
mirror, Amy had been so favorably impressed that she had gone to work
energetically stitching up seams.

Like many people whose natural tendency is in the direction of
indolence, Amy was capable of relentless industry, almost as though she
were afraid that if once she halted she might not get her courage to
the point of starting again. She swallowed a hasty luncheon and rushed
back to her sewing. Her eyes grew tired, her back ached. She became
nervous and hot and impatient, so that breaking a thread or dropping a
thimble seemed almost a calamity. And yet she did not stop.

It was after five when she laid her work reluctantly aside. Amy's
responsibilities for the day were not limited to the blue taffeta. As
in many another household, the domestic service problem had become
acute in the Lassell establishment during the last few years. Incapable
servants demanding preposterous wages, had been replaced by others
equally incompetent, and there had been interims when it had been
difficult to secure so much as a laundress. Amy and her mother had
learned a good many short cuts to achievement, and had accepted the
frequent necessity of doing their own work with a philosophy of which
they would have been incapable in pre-war times. On this first day of
vacation Amy was without a servant, and without a mother, as well;
for Mrs. Lassell had left home that morning not to return till nearly
bed-time.

At five o'clock the realization that she must prepare her father's
supper forced itself on Amy's attention. It was not a formidable
responsibility, for at breakfast that morning Mr. Lassell had informed
her that he was to take a customer out to lunch and would be satisfied
with very little for the evening meal. Amy meant to take him at his
word. There was cold meat, quite enough for two, she thought; and
some potatoes to fry, and her father did not care much for dessert.
Accordingly, Amy had waited till five o'clock before she laid down her
sewing, and then she realized for the first time how very tired she
was. A glimpse of herself in the mirror emphasized her certainty that
it was high time to stop. Amy's fair hair was disheveled, her plump
cheeks brilliantly pink. There were dark lines under her eyes, eloquent
of weariness. Amy regarded herself with extreme disfavor.

"Looks as if I'd taken up rouge in my old age. And I positively must
do my hair over. I can't ask even poor patient daddy to look at such
a frowsy head all through supper. O, well, he won't mind, if I am a
little late."

Encouraging herself with this reflection, Amy bathed her burning
cheeks, combed her hair hastily, and slipped into a little gingham
gown which, if somewhat faded and passée, had at least the merit of
being fresh and clean. It buttoned in the back, and by virtue of much
twisting and stretching Amy finally succeeded in securing the middle
button which for a time had defied her efforts. And just as she did so,
the door-bell rang.

[Illustration: "'COME RIGHT IN,' SAID AMY WITH A MISLEADING AIR OF
CORDIALITY"]

Amy went placidly downstairs. She had no apprehensions about the
door-bell. She took it for granted that it was somebody to collect for
the newspaper, or an old-clothes man, or else a friend so intimate
that she could ask her into the kitchen while she made her supper
preparations. As she reached the door she realized her mistake. Of
the two young people waiting admission she had met the sister several
times. The brother she knew merely by sight, for the family had moved
into the neighborhood only recently.

For a moment Amy's mood was one of unqualified dismay. She wanted to
turn and run. With lightning-like rapidity she compared her faded
gingham with the stylish frock setting off the girlish, graceful figure
of Hildegarde Carey. And Hildegarde's brother, Robert, if looking a
trifle bored, was immaculately attired. Amy recollected that in her
absorption with the blue taffeta she had neglected to dust the living
room that morning.

Amy opened the door with a smile that poorly concealed her anguish of
spirit. Her flickering hope that Hildegarde had made a mistake in the
number was dissipated by the composure of Hildegarde's greeting. The
two young people entered, as Amy realized, without waiting to be asked,
and in the hall Hildegarde performed the ceremony of introduction.

"Come right in," said Amy with a misleading air of cordiality. She
wondered if she had better apologize for the undusted living room, but
decided against it. Perhaps they would overlook it, though Robert Carey
impressed her as one who would notice the least little thing out of
the way. Amy decided that the young fellow's handsome face was almost
spoiled by its discontented expression.

Another shock came when she said to Hildegarde, "Let me take your
coat." She expected Hildegarde to reply that the coat was light and
that she did not mind it for the few minutes she had to stay; but on
the contrary she not only removed her coat, but slipped off her gloves,
unpinned her hat, and added it to the collection Amy carried into the
hall with a growing sense of stupefaction. "Any one would think," she
told herself, "that she was an old friend come to spend the day."

Perhaps Amy's perplexity partly explained the fact that the next half
hour dragged. Amy was not her usual entertaining self. She thought
of the dust showing gray against the shining mahogany of the piano.
She thought of her faded gingham. She heard herself talking stupidly,
unnaturally, and chiefly about the weather. Robert Carey looked more
bored than ever.

At half past six her father came in. He glanced at the group in the
living room as he entered, and Amy hastily summoned him. Her guests
must realize that when the man of the house came home it was time to
leave. Amy introduced her father, pulled out an arm chair invitingly,
and Mr. Lassell seated himself. It was from him that his daughter had
inherited her sense of humor, and on this occasion he made himself
much more entertaining than Amy had done. The conversation became
almost animated.

The clock in the hall struck seven, tolling out the notes sonorously.
Every one seemed to be listening to it, and Amy flushed. It was almost
as if the clock had said, "Time to go home! Time to go home!" And then
to her horror her father turned toward her inquiringly. "Hadn't you
better put on the supper, my dear?" he asked. "Your friends will be
getting hungry."

For an agonized half minute Amy vainly tried to think of something she
could say to soften the blow. She was magnanimous enough to acquit
her father of all blame. Seeing them sitting there at that hour,
especially as Hildegarde had taken off her hat, he had innocently
assumed that they had been invited to dinner. And of course his blunder
was equivalent to saying that they had stayed longer than was proper or
desirable.

Then Amy's head whirled again. Her guests did not spring to their feet
as she had expected them to do, protesting that they had not dreamed
it was so late. Instead they sat quite still, only murmuring a polite
disclaimer of being hungry. With the force of a blow the realization
came over Amy that they had accepted her father's tacit invitation.
They were going to stay to supper.

Amy rose, murmuring something unintelligible, and got out of the
room quickly. O, if Peggy were only home, Peggy who had such a
faculty for evolving something savory and appetizing from the least
promising materials. Amy's cooking until recently had been confined
to chafing-dish delicacies and candy. It was too late, she realized,
to add to her scanty stores. She must feed four people with what had
seemed barely enough for two, and must do it quickly.

Mechanically she lighted the oven of the gas stove. She remembered
there was a can of tomato soup in the house, and the cold meat, sliced
very thin, might possibly pass muster. She herself would refuse meat.
Luckily there was a generous plateful of potatoes. Creamed and with a
little cheese grated over them, they would be appetizing--and filling.
She could make baking powder biscuit,--Amy excelled in baking powder
biscuit--and there was honey to eat with them. For dessert she would
fall back on preserved peaches and some left-over fruit cake. It was a
queer, hit-or-miss meal, not a company repast in any sense of the word,
but the best she could do under the circumstances.

It was while the biscuits were browning in the oven, and Amy was
hastily setting the table for four, that her native common-sense
re-asserted itself. "After all," her thoughts ran, "if people take pot
luck, they can't expect to find things just as they would be if they
were especially invited. They've seemed real friendly and if they like
me well enough to stay to a pick-up supper, the first time they've ever
set foot in my home, I ought to meet them half way. I can't give them
much to eat, but I don't need to be quite as stupid as I've been for
the last hour."

And so it came about that when the guests were summoned to the dining
room, they encountered a very different hostess from the one who had
entertained them previously, a hostess who twinkled and sparkled and
kept them laughing. It seemed to Amy that, when she had removed the
soup plates and brought in the sliced meat and creamed potatoes, she
had seen an expression of astonishment flicker across Hildegarde's
face, but she resolutely put the thought aside and continued to make
herself agreeable. The baking-powder biscuits had risen nobly to the
occasion. Amy thought them the best she had ever made. And she saw with
relief that the bored expression had disappeared from Robert Carey's
face, and that he really seemed to be enjoying himself.

Then suddenly into the midst of all this gaiety, Hildegarde dropped a
bomb in the shape of a question. "What happened to detain Isabel?"

"Isabel?"

"Yes, Isabel Vincent, you know."

"I'm afraid," Amy hesitated, "that I don't know any one of that name."

Apparently the meal had come to a full stop. "Why," Hildegarde cried,
"the Isabel Vincent who attended the Pelham school when I was there."

She was so insistent that Amy unconsciously became apologetic. "I'm
sorry but I can't say I remember such a girl. Did she ever say she had
met me?"

"Why," Hildegarde almost screamed, "didn't you ask us here to-night to
meet her?"

"To meet Isabel Vincent! Why, I never heard of her."

"There's some mistake," exclaimed Robert. He had just helped himself to
a fifth baking-powder biscuit, but he laid it down unbuttered. "You've
made some mistake," he informed his sister.

Hildegarde ignored him and addressed herself to Amy. "Didn't you
telephone me this morning?"

"I--why, to tell the truth, no I didn't."

"Then it was a disgusting practical joke. Some one called me up about
eleven o'clock and said she was Amy Lassell, and that Isabel Vincent
was to stop here twenty-four hours on her way to New York from her home
in Chicago. And then she invited Bob and me to dinner to meet Isabel.
There wasn't anything in her manner to give me an idea it was a hoax."

But Amy had found the clew. "O, did Isabel come from Chicago?" she
cried. "Then I know. It was Avery Zall who telephoned you."

"But I don't know her."

"She went away to boarding school--yes, it was the Pelham school, I'm
sure. And I know she has a friend from Chicago visiting her. Probably
the Vincent girl spoke of knowing you, and Avery called you up. O,
dear!" groaned Amy with a sudden change of countenance.

"What's the matter?" demanded Bob Carey, still ignoring his biscuit.

"I've cheated you out of a regular feast. The Zalls have a wonderful
cook. You'd have had broiled chicken and fresh mushrooms and I don't
know what beside, and I've given you cold meat and--"

"You've given us the best biscuits I ever ate," said Bob, and buttered
his fifth, but his sister had turned pale.

"I don't believe any one ever did such a dreadful thing before. Here we
descended on you without warning and simply forced you to invite us to
stay--"

"Happy escape, I think," said Bob. "If there's anything I hate, it's
these social stunts Hildegarde's crazy about."

"The only dreadful part," said Amy, reassuring the distressed
Hildegarde, "is that you've exchanged a perfectly gorgeous dinner for a
pick-up supper."

"But what must Miss--Miss Zall think of me?"

"She must know there's some mistake. Probably they're not waiting
dinner any longer, for it's after eight o'clock."

"O," groaned Hildegarde, "I never was so mortified. What am I going to
do?"

"It seems to me you'd better finish your supper, such as it is,"
suggested Amy. "And then you can call up Avery Zall and explain your
mistake. She'll see that the names sound alike over the phone. And
after that there'll be plenty of time to see your friends."

"Seems to me," suggested Bob, "that as long as we've started the
evening here, we might as well put it through."

His eyes met Amy's with a twinkle that was like a spark to tinder. Amy
struggled for a moment, then gave way to peals of laughter.

"O," she gasped, when at length she could find her voice, "What must
you have thought of me, inviting you to dinner and then coming down in
this old, faded gingham."

"And what must you have thought of _me_," Hildegarde cried, "coming at
such an hour and calmly taking off my hat."

"The dust was thick over everything," giggled Amy. "I've been sewing
every minute all day long, and I warned father to expect a light meal."

"I should have known I had made a mistake," Hildegarde lamented, "when
you never said a word about Isabel. I don't know how I could have been
so ridiculously stupid."

But for all her dismay, she laughed. Indeed if laughter aids digestion,
there was little danger that Amy's biscuits would disagree with any
one, even Robert, who had dispatched such an extravagant number.

While Amy cleared the table and brought in the dessert, Hildegarde went
to the phone and explained matters to a young woman whose preliminary
stiffness melted as Hildegarde reviewed the situation. And then
Hildegarde hurried back to inform her brother that they must go over
as soon as he had finished. "She was as sweet as she could be, but she
said they had waited dinner an hour."

"So it's up to you to 'gobble and git,'" quoted Amy, dishing out the
preserves with a lavish hand.

"I'm not going to be hurried over that fruit cake," declared Bob. "It
carries me back to the merry Christmas time."

"It ought to, for it's a Christmas cake, but it's been kept in a tin
box with an apple and I hope it isn't dry. It was all I had in the cake
line." Amy paused to laugh again. "I really must stop," she exclaimed,
wiping her moist eyes. "They say that laughing at meal-time makes one
fat, and I don't dare risk another pound."

"Can't have too much of a good thing," declared Bob Carey with a
significant glance at the flushed face. Strictly speaking, Amy was
perhaps the least pretty of the four Friendly Terrace girls; but good
humor has a charm, and a face radiant with fun can hold its own
against discontented beauty any day. There was such frank admiration in
the look the young man bent upon her, that Amy's cheeks grew hot with
an unwonted self-consciousness.

The brother and sister left with evident reluctance. "Now we've had
dinner with you," said Hildegarde, "you must dine with us very soon."

"Oh, this doesn't deserve to be counted," Amy laughed. "I'll ask you
again some day and show you what I can do if I really try."

"No, don't," pleaded Bob. "Have us again when you're going to have
biscuit. It's so much jollier to be informal than to work the society
racket." And then Hildegarde carried him off, protesting that, if they
didn't hurry, Avery Zall would not believe a word of her excuse.

Amy found her father clearing the table. She put on her long apron and
joined him, chattering excitedly as she worked.

"No full garbage can to-night, Daddy. Every dish is scraped clean. I
suppose I ought to feel crushed over setting such a meal before people
I hardly knew, but somehow I don't."

Her father smiling, responsive to her high spirits, shook his head.

"It isn't much to set good food before folks, Amy. Any waiter in a
restaurant can do that. Give people the best of yourself and you don't
need to worry about your bill of fare."



CHAPTER II

A TELEPHONE PARTY


HOWEVER much the rest of the year may drag, the spring vacation always
ignores the speed limit. What with dress-making and shopping, and going
over one's bureau drawers and closets in anticipation of the spring
cleaning, and trying to do the things one has been postponing till this
week of leisure, and taking advantage of all the pleasures that start
up like mushrooms, twenty-four hours in a day are all too few. When
Priscilla dropped in on Peggy to suggest going out into the country
for wild flowers, the Monday afternoon that closed the holiday season,
Peggy hesitated.

"I'd love it. I don't feel that spring is really here until I have
picked a few violets and spring beauties. But I was thinking of going
to see Mary Donaldson."

"Why, is anything the matter?" Priscilla asked.

Peggy stared, "Matter! You know that since that attack of inflammatory
rheumatism she hasn't walked--"

"But I meant anything new."

"O, there's nothing _new_, not as far as I know. I haven't been in to
see Mary since--O, dear, I'm afraid it's been an age."

"I only meant," explained Priscilla reasonably, "that if Mary's no
worse off than she has been for the last year and a half, there's no
especial point in taking to-day to go to see her. You could go any
afternoon."

"I could," owned Peggy with a significant inflection.

"And it's such a perfect day to go after wild flowers."

Peggy looked from the window. The blue sky seemed to smile an
invitation. Priscilla's argument all at once appeared unanswerable.

"Yes, isn't it lovely!" Peggy drew a long breath. "Too lovely to stay
indoors. I'll go to see Mary some stormy afternoon when she needs
cheering up."

And now that her decision was made, the thought of Mary Donaldson
passed completely from Peggy's mind. She had never been particularly
intimate with this class-mate, and had it not been for Mary's illness
it is unlikely that the two girls would have seen much of each other
after high school days. But the winter of Peggy's Freshman year, an
attack of rheumatism had left Mary seriously crippled. Though now
she was able to be dressed and to hobble from her bed to a chair by
the window, getting downstairs was too difficult a process to be
considered, except on very especial occasions. With all the yearnings
for life and joy that characterize the normal girl, Mary was condemned
to vibrate between her bed and chair.

It was not strange that with all her sympathy Peggy had found it
difficult to see much of her invalid friend. The demands made by the
war upon the scanty leisure of a college student left her little time
she could call her own. She had worked making surgical dressings under
the Red Cross, and had given much time to collecting and mending worn
garments for the destitute children of Belgium and France. She had
subscribed for a bond in each of the Government loans, and to pay
for these with her own earnings had required hard work and careful
financing. On the whole, though Peggy was sorry not to have seen more
of Mary Donaldson, her conscience acquitted her of neglect.

The season was advanced and the girls had no difficulty in filling
their baskets with the early arrivals among the wild flowers, and
as their baskets filled, they feasted their eyes on the myriad
indeterminate shades of a spring landscape, and drank in the
exhilarating odors of damp earth, warmed by the April sun. When Peggy's
wrist-watch warned them it was time to start for home, they went
reluctantly, with an unreasonable feeling that in returning to town
they were leaving the spring behind them.

At their transfer point a sign in a drug store window caught Amy's eye.
"Ice cream soda with fresh fruit," she read impressively. "I wondered
what it was I wanted. I've lost a pound and a half since vacation
began, so I dare to risk one."

"I haven't been buying sodas, because I needed the money for something
else," said Peggy. "But this is the last day of vacation and I believe
I'll celebrate."

They filed in and gave their orders. Peggy had just taken the first sip
of a ravishing concoction, whose formula would have given a dyspeptic
heart-failure, when at the opposite counter she spied a stout,
middle-aged woman who was regarding her with savage intentness. Her
features were familiar, in spite of a look of hostility Peggy was not
accustomed to see on the faces that looked in her direction.

For some minutes Peggy was frankly puzzled. Not till she was finishing
her soda did she remember where she had seen that heavy, lowering face
before. But with the recollection, she slipped from her stool and
crossed to the opposite side of the room.

"I've been trying to think where I've seen you before, but now I
remember. You're the Miss Potts who takes care of Mary Donaldson,
aren't you?"

Rather ungraciously Miss Potts admitted her identity. She was not
a trained nurse, for in Mary's case skilled hands were no longer
necessary. Miss Potts was big and strong and kind of heart, though
at the moment her expression was far from suggesting the latter
characteristic. A little puzzled by the woman's manner, Peggy
continued, "I've been wanting to see Mary for ever so long. How is she?"

"Well, she ain't doing very well, and no wonder. Old folks get kind of
used to the way things are in this world, and it doesn't surprise 'em
none to be forgotten. But it's sort of hard on the young."

Peggy flushed hotly. She realized that Miss Potts' disagreeable manner
was a deliberate expression of resentment. "I'm sorry that I haven't
been able to see more of Mary this last year," she said with gentle
dignity, "but I've been very busy, and it's such a long way over here."

"I s'pose it's a long way to your telephone, too."

"Telephone!" Peggy repeated. She looked at Miss Potts so blankly that
Mary's caretaker had no alternative but to explain.

"Her pa had it put in for a surprise. It's right beside her bed, and
the little thing it stands on moves 'round, so she can talk without
any trouble. He thought it would be a comfort to her, for she could
chat with all her friends, and sort of keep up with things."

"Why, yes," said Peggy, feeling uncomfortable. "I should think she'd
get lots of fun out of it." She was remembering that Mary had called
her up--it was weeks or months, or was it fully a year before--to
tell her about the new telephone. There had been an eagerness in
Mary's voice that she remembered vividly. Peggy had agreed that it was
"splendid," without realizing just what this link with the outside
world would mean to a girl shut out from so much.

Miss Potts indulged in an unmusical laugh. "Oh, yes," she said. "She
gets lots of fun. Every now and then she gets a call. There's so many
new girls on the telephone exchanges nowadays, that they're bound to
give her number every little while. And then she tells 'em it's the
wrong number and rings off."

Peggy's face was a study. "Do you mean that she--that no one--"

The aggressiveness suddenly disappeared from Miss Potts' manner. Her
eyes filled with tears.

"It's the heart-breakingest thing I ever want to see," she cried. "She
was so hopeful at first. As soon as that telephone was put in, she
called up everybody she knew, to tell 'em about it. And then she'd lie
there smiling, watching that phone, as if it was something out of a
fairy book and was going to bring her all kinds of happiness."

Peggy's imagination was a vivid one. As Miss Potts spoke, she could
almost see Mary's smiling, expectant face. A pang of sympathy stabbed
her tender heart.

"The very first time that telephone rang it was somebody that wanted
the butcher; and the second time, a girl, who was coming over to spend
the afternoon with her, rang up to say her aunt was in town and she
was going to the matinée instead. I don't think Mary ever felt the
same about her phone after that start-out. When it rang, she looked
kind of scared, as if she was afraid she was going to hear something
disappointing."

"But surely," Peggy exclaimed, "she must have lots of calls from her
friends. I--why, I know I haven't called very often, but that was
because I was always hoping to get time to go over to see her." There
was such genuine distress in her voice that Miss Potts was visibly
melted.

"It's a busy world," she said, "for young folks and old folks, too, and
I guess on the whole it's lucky it is so easy for us to forget. But all
the same," she ended, with a shake of her head, "it's pretty hard on
the ones who get forgotten."

The clerk brought out the prescription for which Miss Potts had been
waiting, and Peggy rejoined her friends. For a moment she considered
sending her flowers to Mary, but a fear that to Miss Potts this might
seem an effort to evade a more exacting expression of sympathy led
her to relinquish her purpose. Her crest-fallen manner revealed that
something was wrong, and as they left the drug store her friends
resentfully demanded an explanation.

"Peggy, what was that woman saying to you?" Priscilla was bristling
like a mother hen who sees one of her brood attacked.

In a few words Peggy explained. Her three listeners exchanged
conscience-stricken glances.

"It seems rather mean that you should be the one to be scolded," said
Amy, "when you have gone to see Mary oftener than all the three of us
together."

"That isn't saying much," Peggy stated gloomily. "I haven't been near
her for months."

"But you haven't had time," cried Ruth, slipping her hand through her
friend's arm.

"No, I think I really haven't," Peggy said frankly. "But I certainly
have had time to go to the telephone." Then suddenly her face
brightened. "I know what we'll do, girls; we'll give her a telephone
party."

"A telephone party," Amy repeated. "What do you mean by that?" The
car for which they were waiting came along before Peggy could answer,
and she finished her explanation hanging to a strap, while her three
companions, similarly supported and swaying violently with each jerk of
the car, listened absorbedly.

"College opens to-morrow, and the first day is never so very busy, so
we'll call Mary up every hour. My hour will be between nine and ten.
Priscilla, you take the hour between ten and eleven; and Amy, you can
have the next one. I think we'd better omit the hour between twelve and
one, for she'll probably be eating luncheon then. Ruth, you may call
between one and two."

"But you said every hour, Peggy. Don't you think it would be rather
over-doing it to call twice in one day?"

"I'm going to get hold of some of the other girls who were in Mary's
class in high school, Elinor Hewitt, and Anna Joyce, and Blanche
Eastabrook--"

"She's in New York."

"Well, Marian O'Neil isn't. And I'll see Aimee Dubois at college and
tell her about it. Mary's telephone is going to work overtime to make
up for its long idleness."

"What I don't understand," said Priscilla, "is if Mary was so lonely,
why didn't she call us up?"

"I can understand that easy enough," replied Peggy. "She called us up
to tell us she had a phone, and after that, it was our move."

"And I suppose," suggested Amy, "that there isn't a great deal to talk
about, when you don't get out of an upstairs room from one month to
another."

"I suppose not," Priscilla acknowledged. Everything considered, it
was a rather crest-fallen quartette of girls who returned from their
afternoon's outing.

It was just half past nine next day when Mary Donaldson's telephone
rang. "I'm not too early, am I?" said a cheery voice.

Mary, who had taken up the receiver with the air of uncertainty to
which Miss Potts had referred, uttered a joyful exclamation. "Why, it's
Peggy Raymond!"

"Yes, it's Peggy. I wanted to tell you about something perfectly
killing that happened to Amy the other day." Peggy had made up her mind
to ignore the months of silence. Explanations would not help matters,
for nothing could explain away the fact that in the whirl and rush of
their over-full lives they had, for the time being, quite forgotten
Mary.

The story of Amy's impromptu dinner party proved as entertaining as
Peggy had anticipated. Mary Donaldson laughed as she had not laughed
for months. And in the next room Miss Potts, listening, made strange
grimaces that seemed only distantly related to smiles. When the story
was finished, Mary had some questions to ask. "Who are the Careys?
There used to be a Carey girl in school--"

"I'm pretty sure they aren't related to her. They come from some place
in New York and they've lived in our neighborhood less than a year. And
do you know, Mary, we think Amy must have made quite an impression on
the brother--Bob. He's called on her twice since, and he's asked her to
go to the Glee Club concert."

"He has!" Romance dies hard in the heart of a girl. Poor Mary, shut
away from contact with young life, was thrilled by the suggestion of an
incipient love-story. "Is he nice looking?" she asked eagerly.

"Well, I've not met him yet, but I've noticed him passing several
times, and I thought he was quite handsome. And Hildegarde is an
awfully stylish girl, though I'd hardly call her pretty."

In ten minutes Peggy announced that she must go to a history lecture
and rang off. She was smiling as she went to class, and wishing she
could be an unseen listener to the conversations scheduled to take
place in Mary's room every hour in the day.

As Peggy had promised, the bell of Mary's telephone worked over-time.
The Friendly Terrace girls were supplemented by former school-mates
in sufficient numbers to keep up the excitement till half past eight
that evening. Most of the girls, whose memories Peggy had undertaken
to jolt, were conscience-stricken when they realized how they had
neglected Mary. And they readily fell in with Peggy's suggestion.

"Even if we can't get over there very often," urged Peggy, "we can
use the telephone. Five minutes talk every few days will make Mary
feel that she's in touch with us still. It doesn't seem to me I could
bear feeling forgotten." Peggy did not realize that, even with Mary's
disability, she would have made herself the center of some circle; and
in her failure to understand that Mary's rather colorless personality
was in part responsible for what had happened, Peggy was the more
severe upon herself for what now seemed to her inexplicable and
inexcusable neglect.

Thanks to the sudden activity of Peggy's conscience, Mary Donaldson
heard more outside news in one day than she had heard in the three
months previous. And as the trouble with most young people is want of
thought, rather than want of heart, few of the girls were satisfied
with chatting five or ten minutes over the telephone. They promised
to come to see her soon. They offered to lend her books or mail her
magazines. One girl suggested that she would bring over some of her
victrola records for Mary to hear, and another informed her that as
soon as the lilies of the valley were out she should have a cluster.
All at once Mary Donaldson's friends were remembering her in earnest.

When Marian O'Neil rang off at twenty minutes of nine, Mary hesitated
a moment and then called Peggy Raymond. And Peggy who was giving her
studies that half-hearted attention customary on the first day after
vacation, whether the student is in the primary grade or a college
Junior, came running downstairs when Dick shouted her name.

"Hello--Hello--Why, Mary!" The pleasure in her tone was unmistakable,
and the shut-in, two miles away, thrilled responsively.

"Peggy, I just wanted to tell you before I went to sleep that I've had
such a lovely day."

"Have you, dear? I'm glad. What happened?"

The question took the guileless Mary aback. "I thought perhaps you
knew something about it. My telephone has been ringing all day. It was
queer if it was only a coincidence, for some girls called me up that I
haven't heard from for years."

"Must have been what they call a brain wave," suggested Peggy,
audaciously.

"Well, anyway, it was nice. I've heard so many things and talked with
so many people that I feel as if I'd been to a party."

"If that's all, Mary, I'll prophesy there'll be just as nice days
coming as this."

"Oh, do you think so, Peggy! Well, it's my bed time now, so I won't
talk any longer. Good-night."

"Good-night!" And as Peggy hung up the receiver, she reflected that she
had never done justice to the possibilities of the telephone.



CHAPTER III

A TRIUMPH OF ART


IT was one of those warm, summer-like days of early June, when lessons
and college classes are forgotten in the enjoyment of thoughts of the
summer vacation to come. Such a few days left, and the four girls would
be free for all the reading and the tennis and the sewing and the
tramping which the press of examination preparation had forced aside.
And they would all be together again this summer, which gave promise of
many Quartette larks. The day was so perfect that all four had, as if
of one mind, discarded their lessons for the remainder of the day, and
had drifted over to Amy's.

"Do you know what I've been thinking about all week?" demanded Amy of
the trio occupying her front porch. She did not wait for any of them to
hazard a guess, but gave the answer herself, "Strawberries."

A soft little murmur went the rounds. "We had strawberries for dinner
last night," said Peggy, "the best I've tasted this year."

"And we had strawberry short-cake." Priscilla smacked her lips
reminiscently.

"And I had some strawberry ice cream at Birds'," put in Ruth. "It was
so warm along about nine o'clock, you know, and Nelson and I went down.
My, but it was good!"

Amy listened unmoved. "What I've been thinking about," she explained,
"is strawberries in the patch, sticking their heads out from under the
leaves, as if they were begging to be picked, warm from the sun, and
sweet, and just spilling over with juice."

The girls sat attentive. Something in Amy's manner indicated that there
was a background of reality for this flight of fancy.

"I've got a sort of relation living about ten miles out of town," Amy
continued. "Aunt Phoebe Cummings, only that isn't her name. Five years
ago she married a man named Frost."

"How interesting to get a new uncle at your age," interjected Ruth.

"I don't regard him as much of an addition to the family,"
retorted Amy drily. "When I talk about him, I call him, 'Uncle
Philander-Behind-His-Back.' But to his face, he's Mr. Frost. You see,
Aunt Phoebe isn't exactly an aunt. I believe she's a second cousin of
my grandfather's first wife, but she's nicer than lots of real aunts."

"I do think you have the nicest relations, Amy Lassell," interposed
Peggy. "Now Aunt Abigail, at Doolittle cottage, was a perfect dear."

Priscilla showed signs of impatience. "What has all this to do with
strawberries?"

"Well, I'm coming to that. My Uncle Philander-Behind-His-Back owns a
little farm, and they've got strawberries to burn. And almost every
year Aunt Phoebe says she wishes I'd come out when the strawberries are
ripe and bring some of my friends."

"Amy Lassell!" exclaimed Priscilla reproachfully. "Do you mean that
Mrs. Philander has been begging you to do this for the last five years,
and that this is the first we've heard of it?"

"Well, as a rule she mentions it along about August, or October, and
I forget it by June. But she came in town to shop the other day and
took dinner with us, and when she left, she broached the subject again.
She said the strawberries would be at their best by the middle of next
week and she'd love to meet you all. What do you think of a trip to the
country along about Wednesday?"

There were certain subjects regarding which, in spite of their devoted
friendship, the Friendly Terrace quartette could develop considerable
diversity of opinion. But on this occasion, their unanimity would have
gratified the hospitable instincts of Amy's Aunt Phoebe. Strawberries
boxed and displayed in show windows, or even transformed into such
delicacies as short cake and ice cream, seemed prosaic all at once.
What they wanted was to be turned loose in a strawberry patch, to stain
their fingers plucking the strawberries from the vines. Before leaving
the porch the girls watched Amy pen a note to her relative, accepting
her oft-repeated invitation in behalf of herself and friends, and
suggesting the following Wednesday as a desirable time for their visit.

A rather cloudy Tuesday awakened anxious apprehensions in the minds of
the four girls, apprehensions dissipated, however, by the cloudless
dawn of Wednesday. The height of the strawberry season is the most
charming time of the year. The four ate an early luncheon at Peggy's
home, and then took the trolley for the outskirts of the city. Once
outside the city, the trolley car bowled along at an exhilarating pace,
and in spite of the prospects ahead, the girls were almost sorry when
the ten-miles were up, and the breezy ride was ended.

Aunt Phoebe was a little old lady whose black skirt was quaintly full
and showed signs of wear, partially concealed by a white ruffled apron
of unusual size. She greeted them as affectionately as if they had
all been nieces by adoption, and conducted them indoors to take off
their hats. The living room through which they passed was large and
pleasantly and immaculately neat, the unpainted floor having been
scrubbed to a milky whiteness.

The tapping of the girls' heels on the boards emphasized their
bareness. "Got your rugs up for the summer, I see," remarked Amy
casually. The comment was natural enough under the circumstances, but
unluckily it opened the door of the closet which contained the Frosts'
family skeleton. Aunt Phoebe reddened as if Amy's innocent remark had
been a slap in the face. "My sitting room carpet's worn out," she said.
"It was worn out when I came here. I patched it and I pieced it and I
made it last a good three years after anybody else would have put it in
the rags, and now he says there's no sense buying a new one."

"Mr. Frost, you mean?"

"Yes. He's got awful queer notions, Philander has. He talks about bare
floors being healthy. Good gracious! It gives me a chill to think of
this room in November without a carpet on the floor. I've done without
lots of things in my life, but I never was too poor to have my floors
carpeted."

Amy was sorry she had broached the subject, for now that Aunt Phoebe
was started, she seemed to find it difficult to stop talking about her
grievance. Like many people who do not ask a great deal of life, she
was the more insistent regarding the few things she counted essential.
The bare floor, echoing noisily under the tread of her guests, stirred
her indignation and almost spoiled her childlike satisfaction in
entertaining Amy and her friends.

But worse was coming. It appeared that Aunt Phoebe had a heaped glass
dish of berries to be served in the conventional fashion with sugar
and cream, but she suggested that first the girls might enjoy helping
themselves from the patch. As this was really what they had come for,
they acquiesced heartily, and Aunt Phoebe led the way. Her kindly old
face lost its pensiveness as she watched the laughing girls picking the
berries from the vines, their lips and fingers reddening as the feast
proceeded. Then without any warning, a deep voice spoke out of the
shrubbery, and only too much to the point. "The commission men," said
the voice, "are paying twelve cents a box for them strawberries."

Four berry-pickers straightened themselves and looked at one another
aghast. Aunt Phoebe rushed furiously to their defense. "Philander
Frost, this is my niece, Amy Lassell, and she's brought out some young
friends to eat strawberries, because I asked her to." Her faded blue
eyes emitted electric sparks as she defied him.

"Pleased to meet you, I'm sure," said Mr. Frost, still with an air of
profound melancholy. "I don't grudge a few strawberries any more than
the next man, but with them bringing twelve cents a box--"

"Philander!" The little wrinkled wife was fairly beside herself
with mortification. Her withered skin, suffused by a burning blush,
rivalled the vivid coloring of youth. "Philander, I don't care if the
strawberries are a dollar a quart--"

"Oh, well," said Mr. Frost patiently. "I just thought I'd mention it."
He turned away while four girls stood motionless in the strawberry
patch, as if there had been a Medusa-like quality in his gaze, turning
them all to stone.

"Go right on, dearies," commanded Aunt Phoebe, raising her voice
defiantly, so that it should reach the ears of her departing lord and
master. "Eat all you want to." But though as a matter of principle,
the girls attempted to obey, the sweetness had gone from the luscious
fruit. They ate half-heartedly, ashamed to meet one another's eyes,
calculating, in spite of themselves, how much Mr. Frost was out of
pocket because of their visit.

Aunt Phoebe was plainly disappointed when they declared that they had
had enough. She tried to encourage them to think better of it, and
when they still insisted, led the way to the house. "I don't think
much of strawberries without trimmings, myself," she declared over her
shoulder. "When you taste them with sugar and cream, I guess you'll
find your appetites coming back."

The porch at the side of the house was shaded and inviting. Aunt Phoebe
insisted on their seating themselves, while she waited on them. Against
the snowy covering of the small, round table, the big dish of choice
berries made a fine showing. Then Aunt Phoebe brought out a pitcher of
rich yellow cream, and the spirits of the crest-fallen group began to
revive. The appearance of a heaping plate-full of cookies was hailed
with appreciative smiles.

"Plenty more cookies in the jar," said Aunt Phoebe, helping them with
lavish hand. "And plenty more berries. Eat all you can."

They had almost reached the point of forgetting Mr. Frost and his
discomforting comments, when he again made his appearance. Peggy lost
the thread of the story she was telling and stopped short, but as no
one was listening, that made no difference.

Mr. Frost seated himself and sighed heavily. "Some folks is afraid to
eat too many strawberries," he said. "They're likely to cause a rash."

The girls, not knowing what to say, went on eating mechanically. Aunt
Phoebe, however, straightened herself over her saucer. "I don't mind a
rash," she announced, "not in such a good cause."

"It ain't that I care for the expense," Mr. Frost said feelingly,
"though of course, with the cost of living so high, sensible folks
ought to do without everything that ain't necessary. Now Phoebe's got
an idea that she wants a new carpet for the sitting room--"

"I've got an idea that I'm going to have one, too," said Aunt Phoebe,
breathing hard.

"I tell her that bare floors is all the rage," said Mr. Frost, looking
from one to another of the girls, as if he hoped to find an ally in
one of them. "Carpets are hiding-places for all sorts of germs. The
swellest folks there is have bare floors nowadays, I tell her."

"I guess their bare floors don't look much like mine," exploded Aunt
Phoebe, "just common pine boards, not even painted."

"I wouldn't mind letting you paint 'em," said Mr. Frost. "Of course
paint is very expensive these days, but if it would make you feel any
better--"

"What I want," Aunt Phoebe was beginning wrathfully, when Amy
interrupted. She addressed herself to Mr. Frost, and her manner was
propitiatory. "A painted floor isn't so bad," she said. "Lots of folks
have painted floors."

"A body's feet would freeze in winter," exclaimed Aunt Phoebe, plainly
bewildered at Amy's taking sides against her.

"You want to wear good thick shoes and stockings," replied Mr. Frost,
eyeing Amy approvingly. His manner indicated that as far as she was
concerned, he did not grudge the strawberries.

"I was going to say," continued Amy, returning his friendly gaze with
interest, "that I wouldn't mind coming out and painting the floors for
you some day."

The other Friendly Terrace girls looked at one another in surprise.
They could not understand Amy. Apparently she was trying to curry
favor with Mr. Frost by taking sides with him against Aunt Phoebe,
yet none of them considered this the real explanation. Whatever
her intention, it was plain that Amy had made a conquest of Uncle
Philander-Behind-His-Back. For the rest of their stay, he addressed
most his remarks to her, and though his conversation dealt largely
with the high cost of living and the necessity for thrift, their
inexplicable friend seemed highly edified.

When they took their departure, Mr. Frost again brought up the subject
of the floor. "If you should happen to feel like painting it some
day--"

"Oh, I'm coming," said Amy smiling up at him. "I'll get the other girls
to help me, and we'll make short work of it."

"I think I've got pretty near enough paint left from painting the
barn--"

Aunt Phoebe's accession of color suggested an attack of apoplexy, for
the barn was the color of a ripe pumpkin. Amy hastily interposed, "Oh,
I'll bring the paint."

"Will you now? Well, I call that the right spirit. I like to see young
folks appreciative," declared Mr. Frost. "Strawberries are bringing a
good price this year, but I'm sure you're welcome to every one you et."

On the way to the car Amy walked beside Aunt Phoebe, holding fast
to her arm and chattering like a magpie. And as she kissed the old
lady good-by, she pulled her close and whispered in her ear. It
was impossible to know what she said, but Aunt Phoebe's lugubrious
countenance showed an immediate improvement. She stared at Amy with an
expression of incredulity which presently became a bewildered smile.

The uncertainty of the other Friendly Terrace girls, as to whether or
not Amy had intended her promise to be taken literally, was dissipated
about a week later when she called on them to accompany her and assist
in the painting of Aunt Phoebe's sitting-room floor. Thoughtlessly Amy
had selected a date when Peggy had an imperative engagement. Peggy
urged her to choose another day, but Amy found insuperable objections
to a change.

"But I don't like this," said Peggy. "I ate as many strawberries
as anybody, and if you're painting the floor to pay your uncle
Philander-Behind-His-Back, I want to do my share." And to this,
Amy replied imperturbably that she need not worry, for Uncle
Philander-Behind-His-Back would be paid in full, without her assistance.

"It really is a pity Peggy couldn't come." The trio was fairly on its
way. "She knows more about such work than any of us."

"I'm afraid Peggy wouldn't be much of a help to-day," replied Amy.

"Peggy not a help? Why not?" Priscilla's manner indicated that if any
criticism of Peggy were implied, she would not stand for it.

"Peggy's conscience is such a Johnny-on-the-spot," Amy explained. "It
never seems to take a vacation the way ours do, and I'm afraid it would
be dreadfully in the way to-day."

"Why, what do you mean?" demanded Priscilla and Ruth together.

Amy opened the little grip she carried, produced a small-sized can of
paint and handed it to Priscilla. A similar one was bestowed on the
perplexed Ruth, and then Amy leaned back and looked from one to the
other triumphantly.

"What do you want me to do with it?" frowned Priscilla. Then with a
violent start, "Why, Amy Lassell!"

"Well?"

"This paint is moss green."

"And this," cried Ruth excitedly, "is yellow."

"And in here," explained Amy, patting her bag tenderly, "are all the
colors of the rainbow in half pint cans. Did you ever see an exhibition
of cubist pictures?"

"Yes, once," replied Priscilla mechanically, while Ruth too amazed for
words, stared dumbly at her friend.

"Well, that is the way Aunt Phoebe's floor is going to look when we are
through with it."

"Why, Amy," gasped Ruth, suddenly finding her voice. "You can't do
anything like that. He wouldn't let you."

"He won't be there. I've arranged for Aunt Phoebe to take him off for
the day. The key to the house has been left hanging on the back porch."

"Does she know?"

"She doesn't, for I thought it was best for her to be able to say she
didn't know a thing about it. But she suspects that something's in the
wind."

Priscilla hesitated. "I suppose your idea is--"

"My idea is to make such a looking floor that he will be only too glad
to buy a carpet to cover it."

The three girls looked at one another, and then Ruth gave a little
nervous giggle. After a minute Priscilla joined in. And then all three
leaned back in the seats in a paroxysm of silent laughter, while their
fellow passengers regarded them enviously.

"Well, I don't know but you're right about Peggy," admitted Priscilla,
at length, wiping her eyes. "I'm pretty sure she would not have
approved."

"I think it serves him just right," declared Ruth. "I detest stingy
people."

"It does serve him right," said Amy. "He has plenty of money, but he
hates to part with any of it. Poor Aunt Phoebe has a little money of
her own, and before she married him she got no end of fun out of doing
things for other people. And now the dear old soul can't even treat her
friends to strawberries without being humiliated. Anyway," concluded
Amy with decision, "I'm bound she shall have a carpet for her living
room next winter."

They found the farm house on the hill silent and deserted, the back
door locked, and the key hanging in such plain view that it seemed an
invitation to enter. Indoors they found the living room made ready
against their coming. All the furniture had been moved into adjoining
rooms and the floor had been given an extra and quite unnecessary
scrubbing.

The girls hastily arrayed themselves for the work. Priscilla and Amy
had brought along the outfits they had worn as farmerettes, while
Ruth donned a worn-out bathing suit. Then Amy pried off the covers
of her array of cans, and presented each of her friends with a small
paintbrush. The fun began.

Amy's suggestion that a striking design should be painted in the middle
of the room, and at each of the four corners, was enthusiastically
accepted, and Priscilla at once undertook the execution of a Chinese
dragon in the corner of the room which was most in evidence to one
standing in the doorway. Amy taking possession of the can of yellow
paint, set herself to reproduce a sunrise in the center of the room,
the yellow rays radiating from the central golden orb in the most
realistic manner. Ruth, her imagination stimulated by the discovery of
a can of black paint, promptly set about balancing Priscilla's dragon
by a black cat in the opposite corner, its back arched like a bow, and
its tail standing upright like an ebony plume.

They splashed about, admiring one another's work enthusiastically and
complacently accepting compliments for their own. And when the various
masterpieces had been executed to the satisfaction of the artists,
they fell to work filling in the remaining spaces with gaily colored
rhomboids, red, yellow, green, black, and purple. Nothing more gorgeous
than Aunt Phoebe's painted floor could possibly be imagined. Even the
highly colored chromos on the wall paled before it. In some respects
it suggested an old-fashioned crazy-quilt, though when the dragon and
the black cat were taken into account, it was more like a bad case of
nightmare. After the girls had finished, they withdrew to the next
room and, gazing upon it, tried to imagine the sensations of Uncle
Philander-Behind-His-Back when its kaleidoscopic magnificence should
break upon his astonished gaze.

Suddenly they were panic-stricken for fear the occupants of the farm
house should return before they had taken their departure. They dressed
in such haste that they failed to get the full benefit of the bottle of
turpentine Amy had brought along for cleansing purposes, and they went
back to town with green and purple smudges on their fingers. As soon
as they had reached home, they descended on Peggy to tell her of the
manner in which they had fulfilled Amy's promise, and Peggy listened
with amazement tinged with admiration.

"I'm rather glad you didn't tell me, for I'm afraid I should have
thrown cold water, and I can't help thinking it's exactly what Uncle
Philander-Behind-His-Back deserves. And if it really drives him into
buying a new carpet, I shall feel satisfied that you've done the right
thing."

The four girls had agreed to play tennis Saturday of that week, but
early Saturday morning Amy called Peggy up to ask to be excused.
"Aunt Phoebe is coming in town for some shopping," she explained, and
interrupted herself by an ecstatic giggle. "And she wants me to go with
her. She wants me to help her select a carpet for the sitting room."



CHAPTER IV

AN AFTERNOON CALL


PRISCILLA sat at her little dressing table, studying her reflection in
the mirror with an absorbed intentness which would have impressed nine
observers out of ten as a naïve exhibition of vanity. This verdict,
however, would have been most unfair. Though many people considered
Priscilla a really handsome girl, she had always been inclined to be
unduly modest regarding her personal appearance. Her present scrutiny
was solely for the purpose of discovering the blemish which she was
sure must be apparent to all beholders.

For a girl of her age, Priscilla had thought very little about the
opposite sex. Her devotion to Peggy had been a sufficient outlet for
her sentiment, while her contempt for those girls who could think and
talk of nothing but the "boys" had, perhaps, led her to go needlessly
far in the opposite direction. The youths who had fluttered mothlike
about the tall, graceful girl had met such a baffling indifference that
they had transferred their attentions to some more responsive luminary,
while Priscilla went on her way unruffled.

But this year things were different. The four Friendly Terrace chums
were no longer sufficient to themselves. Peggy was engaged. Since
Nelson Hallowell's return from the service, he had been a very frequent
caller at Ruth's home. And on one or two occasions when Priscilla had
run over to Amy's in the evening, she had found one of the porch chairs
occupied by Robert Carey. Priscilla began to have a feeling of being
left out, new in her experience and most unpleasant. She wondered what
there was about her to differentiate her from other girls. She studied
her reflection, dreading yet half expecting to see some flaw which
would inevitably repel the beholder.

On this particular afternoon as Priscilla faced herself in the glass
and tried to discover the defects that kept admirers at a distance,
affairs had reached a crisis. The University Field Day had long been a
thrilling occasion to many of the young people of the city, not merely
because of their interest in the various events, but because it was
customary for each of the young fellows who attended to ask some girl
to accompany him. Priscilla had taken it for granted that Peggy would
go with Graham, and was not surprised to learn that Nelson had been
promised the pleasure of Ruth's company on the important occasion. But
when she had suggested to Amy that they should go together, and Amy
after a moment's hesitation had replied, "Why, the fact is, Priscilla,
Bob Carey has asked me to go with him," Priscilla was conscious of a
distinct shock. Her subsequent dejection had nothing to do with the
prospect of missing Field Day. But when she asked herself if she were
really the least attractive girl in the world, she could see no escape
from an affirmative answer.

It was while she sat there, heavy-hearted and vaguely resentful, that
the maid brought up a card, one of those small, inobtrusive slips of
cardboard which proclaim the modesty of the socially inclined male.
Priscilla took it, impressed in spite of herself. Though she was old
enough to have become accustomed to such little conventions, the life
of a college girl is so necessarily informal that few people who came
to see Priscilla announced their presence in this fashion. And this was
the first time a young man had sent up his card to Priscilla.

"Mr. Horace Endicott Hitchcock," read Priscilla, and if the truth be
told, she was conscious of an undefined disappointment. She had known
Horace Hitchcock for a dozen years, ever since a smug little boy in
a velvet suit, he had attended the children's parties which were her
earliest social dissipations. As he was about three years older than
Priscilla she had admired him extremely in those days when the velvet
suit was much in evidence. But her attitude had altered long before she
had considered herself too old to play dolls.

Horace's boyhood had been a trying period. He had never had a boy
friend, the lads of his own age agreeing with contemptuous unanimity
that he was a "sissy." Perhaps for the same reason, the girls had found
him as little appealing. But as he neared his majority, Horace had
blossomed into a belated popularity. He was somewhat effeminate as far
as his appearance went. He talked very rapidly, and used more gestures
than is customary with young Americans. Horace dressed in excellent
taste, and was somewhat of an authority on shirts and ties and matters
equally important. Although he was supposed to be an insurance
solicitor, he was never too occupied to attend any social affair at
any hour of the day, and this gave him an advantage over the young men
who were on duty till five o'clock or later. Priscilla had seen very
little of him since she had entered college, and now as she looked at
his card she only wondered if he had come to ask her to play for some
entertainment.

Priscilla gave a last dissatisfied glance at her reflection in the
glass, captured a stray lock with a hairpin, and went downstairs.
Sensible girl as she was, she found herself impressed by Horace's
greeting. He bowed very low over her hand, like the hero of a picture
play, and drew up a chair for her with great elegance of manner. To a
girl suffering from lack of proper self-esteem, his air of deference
was peculiarly soothing. Yet even then, it never occurred to Priscilla
that this was a social call. She listened to Horace's voluble talk,
made such replies as seemed necessary, noted approvingly the perfect
fit of his light suit, and the fact that his tie matched his silk
socks, and waited patiently for him to come to the point.

Something like twenty minutes had passed when Priscilla reached a
realizing sense of the situation. All at once, while Horace was
describing minutely the country house where he had spent the previous
week-end, Priscilla gave a little start and colored high. It had just
dawned upon her that Horace had not come upon any utilitarian errand,
that he was there for the sole purpose of seeing her. It took her a
little time to adjust herself to the novel idea, and if Horace had
asked her a point-blank question during the interval, she would not
have known whether to answer yes or no, for she had not the least idea
what he was talking about.

Then Priscilla waked up. She exerted herself to be charming. She
talked almost as fluently as Horace himself. She laughed delightedly
at his little jests; though, if the truth be told, Horace's humor
was decidedly anemic. She listened raptly to his stories of his
achievements, and was ready with the expected admiring smile when the
time arrived. A curious sense of unreality possessed her. She felt as
if she were taking part in an exciting game.

"Miss Priscilla," said Horace suddenly, "are you at all interested in
Field Day?"

"It's not so bad when one knows the men," Priscilla replied, and the
answer showed the effect of Horace's influence in a little over half
an hour. For Priscilla adored Field Day. When she watched the various
events her heart pounded as if she herself were taking part in the
hundred yard dash. At the close of an exciting race, she had often
found herself on her feet, shrieking spasmodically, and waving her
handkerchief, and feeling the smart of tears in her strained eyes. But
instinctively Priscilla knew that Horace would not consider Field Day a
legitimate cause for excitement, and so she answered as she did.

"Sometimes I find it a deuce of a bore," Horace said. "The crowd and
the noise, don't you know. But if you are willing to accompany me next
Friday, Miss Priscilla, I'm sure this Field Day will prove a delightful
exception."

"Oh, thank you," Priscilla said carelessly. "I should enjoy going very
much." Her nonchalant acceptance of the invitation gave no idea of her
tumultuous excitement. She was no longer the odd one of the quartette
of chums. She was no longer left out. Her misgivings regarding herself
were instantaneously set at rest, for she knew that, had she been as
unattractive as she had feared, Horace Hitchcock would never have
invited her to accompany him on such an occasion. Her pulses throbbed,
and there was a humming in her ears as she chattered on without any
clear idea of what she was saying.

Priscilla's feeling of elation had nothing to do with Horace's
personality. Had he been any other young man, equally well dressed and
well mannered, she would have felt exactly the same. Yet under the
circumstances she experienced a not unreasonable sense of gratitude.
She shut her eyes to the little affectations of manner which
ordinarily she would have found amusing. She refused to acknowledge
to herself that Horace was bragging. She had never liked him, and
the Horace who had invited her to the Field Day exercises was in all
essentials the Horace of the velvet suit; yet now, if she had heard him
criticized, she would have rushed impetuously to his defense. In short,
Priscilla was started on a course which many an older and wiser woman
has followed to disaster.

Priscilla was in no hurry to mention the fact that she expected to be a
spectator of the Field Day events. The very intensity of her previous
qualms made her the more inclined to treat the present situation
nonchalantly. On Thursday evening, however, she remarked casually to
Peggy that she hoped their seats would not be too far separated. Peggy
looked up in pleased surprise.

"Are you going, Priscilla? I'm awful glad. Who's taking you?"

"Horace Hitchcock."

"Horace Hitchcock!" Peggy repeated the name in such accents of
astonishment that Priscilla flushed. "Why not?" she asked rather
coldly.

"I didn't know you saw anything of him."

"I've known him as long as I've known you--almost as long as I've known
anybody."

"Why, of course, Priscilla. I remember when we used to see him at
parties in a Fauntleroy suit. But I've lost track of him for an age
and I thought you had, too, that's all." There was an underlying
astonishment in Peggy's apology. She could not understand Priscilla's
seeming readiness to take offense. And when Priscilla began to talk of
something quite different, Peggy realized with fresh amazement that
the peculiarities of Horace Hitchcock were, for the present, a tabooed
topic between them.



CHAPTER V

THE RUMMAGE SALE


SUMMER vacation! Although the Field Day exercises, and the few
Commencement festivities to which undergraduates are invited, were only
four days past, classes and lessons seemed to the Quartet never to have
existed; or if so, only in a dream. And it would be the same way when
college began again in the fall. Summer, of a few days before, would be
a dim memory of the past.

Though they had not heard from their examinations, they all felt
reasonably confident of having passed successfully. At any rate, they
had put the thought of them resolutely out of mind, following Peggy's,
"one thing at a time, and when it's done, it doesn't do any good
worrying about it." Those four days had been devoted to concentrated
doing nothing.

"'DULCE FAR NIENTE' is such a pretty phrase it makes a virtue of
loafing," said Priscilla.

And to this, for the time being, the other three agreed.

It was indirectly through Horace Hitchcock that the Friendly Terrace
girls became interested in the Rummage Sale. For at the Field Day
exercises Horace and Priscilla had happened to occupy seats in the
Grand Stand next to Mrs. Sidney Vanderpool, and Horace, who seemed a
prime favorite with that influential lady, had introduced Priscilla.
Mrs. Vanderpool was in charge of a rummage sale to be held for the
benefit of a local charity, and recognizing Priscilla's efficiency at a
glance, she had promptly enlisted her under her banner. Since whatever
concerned one of the Friendly Terrace quartette concerned all, Mrs.
Vanderpool in securing Priscilla's coöperation had gained four new
assistants.

It was Peggy, strange to say, whose enthusiasm it was hardest to
kindle. "Somehow I never thought much of rummage sales," she owned.
"Perhaps it is because _rummage_ always reminds me of _rubbish_."

"But that's not fair, Peggy," Priscilla remonstrated. "Every family
has a lot of things packed away that would be a blessing to people a
little poorer."

Peggy reflected. "I can't think of anything we could spare that would
be much of a blessing to any one."

"You haven't looked your things over with that thought in mind. Take
Mrs. Vanderpool, for instance. Why, she'd discard a piece of furniture
we would be proud to put in the parlor. A chair or sofa we'd think
too shabby to have around would seem magnificent to your friends, the
Bonds."

"I suppose there's something in that," owned Peggy.

"Of course there is. Thanks to the rummage sales, people get rid of a
lot of stuff that's no further good to them; and other people get a
great many things that they can use, and pay almost nothing for them."

"If they pay so little, why does Mrs. Vanderpool expect to make such a
lot of money!" demanded Peggy.

"Look at the five-and-ten cent stores. Little profits count up, if you
make sales enough. And in a rummage sale the expenses are so small
that almost everything is profit."

Peggy began to think that her prejudice had been unreasonable, and she
hunted the house over to find something worth contributing. But her
search was far from satisfactory to herself. Mrs. Raymond was not one
of the house-keepers who make a practice of hoarding useless articles.
If a piece of furniture broke down, she had it mended if it were worth
repairing; if not, she either gave it to some poor family who could
make use of it, or else had it carted away by the rubbish collector.
When Peggy's exhaustive search ended, she had succeeded in collecting
for the sale only a few pieces of crockery and a carpet-sweeper which
had outlived its halcyon days, though still capable of picking threads
off the carpet.

The sale was to be held in a large vacant store in the down-town
district, and was to last three days. All contributors had been asked
to send their offerings several days in advance, and the Friendly
Terrace girls, with a score of others, were on hand to assist in
classifying the articles as they arrived, and were arranging them
so as to make the best possible showing. As Peggy worked with the
others, she was conscious of a return of her former misgivings.
Undoubtedly among the contributions arriving by the wagon load there
were many articles which would be useful to some one, but Peggy
wondered who would be able to make use of the cracked pitchers and
leaky kitchen utensils which were coming in such quantities. She looked
disapprovingly at the loads of worn-out finery, displayed on the
clothing table. In her opinion people who would buy second-hand evening
dresses ought not to afford any. Of the flimsy evening frocks, most of
them cut excessively low, some were spotted and soiled, while others
were torn and generally bedraggled. Peggy made up her mind that under
no circumstances would she be a saleswoman at that table.

The array of bric-a-brac aroused similar qualms. Looking the collection
over, Peggy wondered at the things people had once regarded as
ornamental. And even though they now realized their error, and were
glad to rid themselves of these offenses against good taste, it seemed
to Peggy rather hard that they should encourage the unenlightened to
purchase such monstrosities under the mistaken notion that they were
beautifying their homes. She was glad to turn to the book table where,
if nowhere else, really worth-while bargains were offered. There were
piles of the best magazines, many of them with the leaves uncut.
There were odd volumes of classic writers, the most of which seemed
in excellent condition. Peggy set herself to make the book table as
inviting as possible, in hopes that the sales would be gratifying.

But while her original misgivings had returned in full force, Peggy
said nothing about them. As far as she could see, they were unshared
by any person present. The three girls who were her most intimate
friends were working away enthusiastically, their bright faces
unclouded by a doubt. Peggy had been a little startled by the discovery
that Amy had deliberately left her out of the plot for painting Aunt
Phoebe's sitting-room floor. It led her to wonder if perhaps she was
over-particular.

"No one else seems to see anything out of the way," Peggy reflected.
"It seems as if it must be all right, if I'm the only one who thinks
it isn't. Oh, dear, I hope I'm not getting so critical and fussy
that I imagine that things are wrong when they're not." Again her
thoughts turned to Aunt Phoebe's painted floor. If Amy had asked her
coöperation, she would have refused, and would have done her best
to dissuade Amy from her reckless scheme. But the results had been
all that could be desired. Aunt Phoebe had her new carpet, and was
radiantly happy, while Uncle Philander-Behind-His-Back had undoubtedly
been taught a lesson he sorely needed. Strange to say, he did not seem
to hold any grudge against Amy for taking sides against him. Amy, who
had been out to admire the new carpet, reported that he had received
her without any display of animosity, and unprotestingly had allowed
Aunt Phoebe to serve her with ice cream. "It must be that I'm getting
too particular," thought Peggy. "This time I won't say a word."

She broke her resolution, however, when the committee, who had been
delegated to mark the prices of each article, set to work. Peggy had
comforted herself by recalling Priscilla's assurance that everything
would be sold at prices almost too small to mention. Instead, it seemed
to the astonished Peggy that a good price was set on articles which
from her standpoint were quite valueless. "O, don't you think that
is too much?" She could not help exclaiming as one of the committee
attached a price card to a three legged chair, which kept an upright
position only by balancing itself against a rickety table.

The lady smiled upon her. "We'll have the prices rather high the first
day," she replied. "Of course we want to make all we can. Then we'll
reduce them for the second day, and on the third we'll take anything we
can get."

Peggy did not return the smile. She was perplexed and troubled. She was
beginning to realize that though these women were working for charity,
they knew very little about the practical problems of the poor. She
looked at the three-legged chair and wondered what she would do if she
saw some reckless mother of a family preparing to squander real money
on anything so worthless.

Although Peggy had expressed a wish to be stationed at the book table,
Mrs. Vanderpool had insisted on placing her among the household
furnishings. "You've got such a winning way, my dear," she said, "and
you would be wasted on the books. Nobody buys books at a rummage sale
except the people who would buy them anyway. I'm expecting great things
from that persuasive tongue of yours." Peggy blushed guiltily, even
while she smiled. She was glad Mrs. Vanderpool had such a complimentary
idea of her persuasive powers and hoped she would not disappoint her.

From the hour of its opening, the rummage sale was crowded. Peggy's
heart went out to the women who came pouring in as soon as the doors
were opened to the public. Many of them had a distinctly foreign look.
They came hatless, holding their money tightly, and looking about them
with sharp, dark eyes in search of the bargains they coveted. In the
evening the shop girls and factory workers were out in full force,
and Peggy noticed uneasily how inevitably they gravitated toward the
cast-off finery which had aroused her disapproval. She turned her back
that she might not be a witness to the thriving business she suspected
that department of doing.

But resolving to allow events to take their course without a protest,
Peggy had failed to reckon with her inborn inability to shirk
responsibility. The formula which acts as a sedative to so many
consciences, "It's none of my business," had never proved effective in
her case. And though she stuck to her resolution on the first day, the
developments of the second proved too much for her. It was late on that
afternoon when she noticed a flutter at one of the adjacent counters,
and discovered to her astonishment, that the occasion of the excitement
was an acquaintance of her own, no other than the husband of Elvira
Bond.

Peggy had always felt a certain responsibility for Elvira, due to the
fact that she had known the good-natured, slatternly girl ever since
she could remember. Mrs. Bond had done the Raymonds' washing, off and
on for many years, less because of her excellence as a laundress, than
because she needed the work. Then Elvira had grown up, and taken her
mother's place at the wash-tubs. The year of America's entry into the
war she had unexpectedly married a young man considerably above her in
the social scale, who had immediately been called to the colors.

Elvira's romance had been her awakening. To Peggy's attentive ear
she had confided her dawning aspirations. "Joe likes things neat
and clean," she explained, a little wistfulness in her voice. "Not
cluttered up the way Ma keeps 'em. And I'd hate to make him ashamed of
me."

"Of course you would," Peggy had cried. "And there's not a bit of need,
Elvira. Why, of course you can keep your house as nice as anybody's.
All you've got to do is to make up your mind that you will."

In the absence of the young husband Peggy had a watchful eye on
Elvira. She had done her best to keep alive the girl's newly awakened
ambitions, in spite of the discouraging home atmosphere. And after
Joe's return she had frequently gone to see Elvira in the little home
the young couple had purchased, and were paying for on the installment
plan. In view of the girl's bringing up, it is hardly surprising that
she had her relapses; but on the whole, Peggy was proud of her. Elvira
worked hard, was developing a commendable thrift, and was extremely
proud of her little home and of her baby.

It was at one of the bric-a-brac tables that Peggy discovered Elvira's
husband, and he seemed, as far as she could judge from his manner and
the manner of the women who were calling his attention to one thing
after another, on the point of investing largely in the heterogeneous
collection. But he happened to look over his shoulder in Peggy's
direction, recognized her instantly, and came toward her, his face
irradiated by a broad smile.

"Afternoon, Miss Peggy," he exclaimed. "I'm looking around. I'm
thinking of buying a few little things to take home to the wife." He
slapped his pocket. "It's pay-day, Miss Peggy, and the best ain't none
too good for Elvira and the kid, I'll swear it ain't."

Peggy looked at him silently. It was the era of prohibition, yet
an unmistakable odor radiated from Joe's person and confirmed the
suspicion aroused by his unnatural manner. Peggy's heart sank.

All unconscious of her dismay, Joe was examining her stock. "What's
that, Miss Peggy?" He indicated by a gesture the object which had
aroused his interest.

"That is a churn, Joe."

"Fine! Fine! I've been wanting a churn ever since I got married. What's
the damage?"

"But you can't want a churn, Joe; you don't keep a cow."

"No telling, Miss Peggy, I might buy a cow 'most any day." But his
vacillating attention went to a battered table and he gave it a
seemingly close examination. "I'll take it, Miss Peggy," he declared
with a wave of his hand, "Just the thing for our front room."

"Why, Joe, Elvira has a table for the front room already."

"Can't have too much of a good thing, you know," grinned Joe. "Say I
like the looks of that." Peggy's eyes followed his extended finger
and she frowned. "Why, Joe, that's a coffee urn, and it wouldn't be
suitable for a small family. Besides, it leaks."

"I'm bound to take home something, Miss Peggy," snickered Joe. "Nothing
small about me. My pockets are pretty well lined, and you'll find me a
good customer."

"Joe," said Peggy desperately, "Listen to me. You don't want any of
this stuff in your pretty little home. It's not good enough."

"I guess I know what I want."

"No, Joe. You must excuse me, but to-day you don't know what you want.
If you were quite yourself you'd never think of taking Elvira home a
rickety table or a churn."

"You mean to tell me that I'm drunk." Joe's manner had lost its
suavity. His eyes flashed as he regarded her.

"No, Joe, you're not drunk, but you've been drinking and you're not
yourself. And I know by to-morrow you'll feel awfully sorry if you have
carried a lot of rubbish into your dear little home."

For a moment Joe wavered between amiability and anger. His masculine
pride was touched by the implication that he did not know his own mind,
and alcohol had quickened his propensity to take offense. But on the
other hand, there was something disarming in the way Peggy spoke of
his wife and his home, and her smile was appealing. Mrs. Vanderpool had
counted on her winning way and it was as effective as she had hoped,
though Peggy did not apply it exactly as she had expected of her.

After a moment's hesitation, Joe capitulated. "I guess you're right,
Miss Peggy. When a fellow's had a few drinks, most anything looks like
a bargain. Guess this is a lot of junk."

"There's nothing here that you and Elvira want, I'm sure of that, Joe."

"Good-by, Miss Peggy."

"Good-by, Joe. Tell Elvira I'll be over to see her very soon."

Peggy drew a breath of relief when she saw Joe leave the building.
But her congratulatory mood was not to last. For not long after Joe's
departure, she became aware of Mrs. Vanderpool at her elbow.

"Well, you had a profitable customer at last," smiled the lady. "Wanted
to buy you out, didn't he?"

The possibility of evasion did not occur to Peggy. She lifted her frank
eyes. "He talked about buying a lot of useless things," she answered,
"but of course I wouldn't let him. You see, he'd been drinking and he
didn't really know what he wanted. And besides, I know his wife."

The blank expression with which Mrs. Vanderpool regarded her made
plain the impossibility of their ever coming to an understanding.
Peggy started to go on, and then lapsed into silence, realizing the
uselessness of further explanations. Mrs. Vanderpool having relieved
her mind by a long stare, turned majestically away, and Peggy heard her
a little later, talking animatedly of some one who, it appeared, was
totally lacking in the business instinct. Peggy thought she could come
very near guessing the identity of the person referred to. But as she
went on pointing out to possible purchasers the flaws in her wares, she
made up her mind that the chance of being over-particular in matters of
right and wrong was very trifling compared with the danger of not being
particular enough.



CHAPTER VI

PRISCILLA HAS A SECRET


PEGGY was worried about Priscilla. For the first time in their years
of intimacy she could not understand her friend; and worst of all, it
seemed out of the question to discuss the situation and come to an
understanding.

"Do you think she can like him?" Peggy asked the other Friendly Terrace
girls despairingly. "Because he's always seemed to me almost a joke. I
don't know how I could bear to have Priscilla fall in love with a man I
wanted to laugh at."

Though both girls would have been glad to reassure her, an ominous
silence followed her outbreak. "There's no accounting for tastes," said
Ruth at length, a suggestion of superiority in her tone.

"Priscilla ought to have a good talking to," exclaimed Amy. "She's got
plenty of sense, and to think of her letting Horace Hitchcock hang
around! I'd like to tell her--"

"You mustn't, Amy," Peggy interrupted. "It would never do to let her
know how you feel about it. That's one of the things that make me so
anxious--she's so awfully touchy on the subject of Horace. She won't
have him criticized."

Peggy had valiantly done her best to cultivate a liking for Horace
Hitchcock. Since the fatal Field Day when he had acted as Priscilla's
escort, his attentions had been unremitting. He had called several
times a week. He had brought Priscilla flowers and boxes of candy, to
say nothing of books of poems, from which he had read aloud to her by
the hour. Peggy, assuming that since Priscilla was seeing so much of
Horace, he must be quite a different person from what she supposed, had
invited him to her home along with the others of her little circle,
only to find it would not do. Horace and the others would not mix any
more than oil and water.

"For Heaven's sake, don't ask that Hitchcock here again," Graham
implored Peggy, after an evening that had been a failure, socially
considered. "He puts on airs as if he were the Prince of Wales--no,
that's not fair to the prince. But Hitchcock is a snob and a sissy and
he makes me tired."

"But if Priscilla likes him, Graham--"

"She can't," Graham had argued, not unreasonably. "She must see through
him just as the rest of us do; and even while she's so pleasant to him,
she must be laughing in her sleeve."

But reasonable as Graham's stand had seemed, Priscilla was in no
mood to laugh at Horace Hitchcock. Indeed, she was deliberately
shutting her eyes to his weaknesses, and holding before herself such
an idealized likeness of the real Horace that no one but herself
would have recognized it. Horace's attentions flattered her vanity.
Every call helped to reassure her anxiety in the matter of her own
attractiveness. Moreover, Priscilla was a little dazzled by Horace's
seeming familiarity with the people whose names were chronicled in the
society columns of the daily paper. She had seen for herself that Mrs.
Sidney Vanderpool regarded him with favor, and Horace had been at
some pains to let her know that other ladies, some of them young and
beautiful, held him in equally high esteem. That he should leave girls,
who could not go to New York for a week without the fact brought to the
public attention in the daily papers, in order that he might spend his
evenings with her, gave Priscilla an intoxicating sense of power.

But foolish as this all was, worse was to come, and all because Amy
disregarded Peggy's prudent counsel. Peggy had discovered an undue
sensitiveness in Priscilla, where Horace was concerned, and had been
sensible enough to perceive that any criticism of her ardent admirer,
instead of prejudicing Priscilla against him, was likely to have the
opposite effect. It hardly need be said that Amy did not flout Peggy's
advice, but in the course of a conversation with Priscilla she lost her
temper and subsequently her head.

It began with a most amiable intention on Amy's part. "Is Horace coming
up to-night?" she asked Priscilla, as the two strolled along the
Terrace in the hazy hush of a summer afternoon.

"I--I shouldn't be surprised to see him," owned Priscilla, with a
becoming blush.

"Bob telephoned me this morning that he'd be up. If Horace comes, bring
him over and I'll try to get Peggy and Ruth--"

"Shall you ask Nelson Hallowell?" Priscilla inquired, a reservation in
her tone which Amy did not understand.

"I'll tell Ruth to bring him if he comes, and he's pretty sure to be on
hand," laughed Amy. "He's making up for the chances he missed when he
was in the service."

"Then I'm afraid we can't come," said Priscilla. "Horace thinks Bob
Carey is fine, and he rather likes Graham, but he draws the line at
Nelson."

Amy stopped short, her plump face crimson. "Please tell me what you
mean by his drawing the line?"

"Well, Amy, I've no doubt that Nelson is a very fine fellow, as far as
morals go, but his social position, you know--"

"What about it?" As the two girls were standing side by side, it was
quite unnecessary for Amy to speak so loudly. Her defiant tone seemed
to challenge the entire block.

"Hush, Amy. I'm not deaf. Of course Nelson comes from quite an ordinary
family, and he's only a clerk, and Horace really doesn't care to meet
him socially."

Amy burst into an angry laugh. "Horace Hitchcock said that. What a
joke!"

"I don't quite understand you, Amy." Priscilla spoke with extreme
frigidity.

"Why, there's enough in Nelson Hallowell's little finger to make
several Horaces. To think of that dandified little manikin's turning up
his nose at a fellow like Nelson."

"Amy Lassell, how dare you?"

"Oh, fudge, Priscilla, you know perfectly well what Horace Hitchcock
is, and you needn't pretend to admire him, for I know better."

"I won't listen to you any longer," cried Priscilla furiously,
"slandering my friends." She turned abruptly and crossed the street.
The two girls continued on their homeward way with the width of the
Terrace between them, each looking steadily ahead, ignoring the other's
presence.

Before Amy reached home she was sorry. She saw she had been wrong
as well as right. Her whole-hearted championship of Nelson had not
necessitated sneering at Horace. Amy realized that Priscilla had good
reason to be angry, and resolved on a whole-hearted apology next day.

It was a pity she had not followed up her feeling of penitence by
immediate action, for when Horace came that evening he found Priscilla
in an unwonted mood. She had dramatized the whole affair to herself.
Everyone was unjust to Horace. Even Peggy allowed her childish
prejudices to influence her unwarrantedly. But she herself was Horace's
friend and she would be loyal to that friendship, cost what it might.

A few minutes after his arrival Horace suggested a walk in the
neighboring park, which had been so little "improved" that walking
through it was almost like strolling along country lanes. Though the
night was warm, most of the populace preferred the movies, and Horace
and Priscilla had the park practically to themselves. The night wind
sighed languorously through the trees. The air was full of ineffable
fragrances.

"Oh, Priscilla," exclaimed Horace suddenly, and caught her hand. It
seemed to Priscilla that her heart stood still. There was a note in
Horace's voice she had never heard before. She was sure that something
wonderful was happening. And the irritating part was that she could not
do justice to it, for she kept thinking of something else. She should,
she was sure, be entirely absorbed in what Horace was going to say; and
right at that moment, she wondered if Ruth and Nelson were sitting on
Amy's porch.

"Oh, Priscilla," Horace was murmuring, "Do you not feel as I do, that
we have met and loved before? You were mine, Priscilla, when the
pyramids were building. You were mine in Babylon. Tell me that you have
not forgotten. Tell me that you love me."

It was only about half an hour from that impassioned speech before
they were walking home decorously along the lighted streets, but
Priscilla had a feeling as if she had been away for months and months.
An unbelievable thing had happened. She was engaged. It was understood
that the engagement was not to be mentioned at present, not even to
Priscilla's father and mother. Horace had said something to the effect
that to let outsiders into their secret would bruise the petals of
the flower of love, and she had agreed to the postponement of that
catastrophe, without asking herself why the flower of love should be so
fragile. But the fact remained that she was the second of the quartette
to become engaged, and she took a rather foolish satisfaction in the
realization. She made up her mind that her former qualms as to her
own unattractiveness were without foundation, for otherwise a social
favorite like Horace would never have asked her to marry him.

Priscilla's father and mother were on the porch when the young people
reached home, and, as it was much too warm to stay indoors, the evening
which had contained so thrilling an episode ended rather tamely. Mr.
Combs and Horace exchanged ideas on local politics, and Mrs. Combs and
Horace expressed themselves on the subject of the weather. Priscilla
had nothing to say on either interesting topic. She was trying to
realize that some day, instead of saying "Mr. Combs" and "Mrs. Combs,"
Horace would be addressing her parents as "father" and "mother." This
seemed so extraordinary that she was almost inclined to believe that
she had dreamed the whole thing, though the significantly tender
pressure of Horace's fingers, as he said good-night, assured her to the
contrary.

Priscilla slept very poorly that night. Her dreams were troubled. And
each time she woke, which was on the average of once an hour, she
had a dreadful sense of impending disaster. On each occasion it took
her several minutes to convince herself that nothing was wrong, that
instead she was a very fortunate and happy girl, singled out of the
world of girls by a most unusual young man. And thus reassured, she
would drop off to sleep, to start again with troubled dreams, and to go
again through the whole program.

Owing to her restless night, Priscilla overslept and had to dress in
a hurry to avoid being late to breakfast. By expedition she reached
the dining room just after her mother had seated herself. Her father
followed a half minute later, and leaning over her mother's chair
kissed her cheek. "Know what day it is?"

"Of course, silly," laughed Mrs. Combs. "But I'm astonished to hear
that you do."

Smiling broadly, Mr. Combs went around the table and took his seat. "We
should have planned a celebration," he remarked.

"What, and advertise our advanced age!" exclaimed his wife in mock
consternation.

"That's so," owned Mr. Combs with a chuckle. "I remember when a silver
wedding seemed to me significant of extreme age. What do you think,
daughter, of having parents old enough to have been married twenty-five
years?"

Then Priscilla knew what was the matter with her. She thought of
sitting opposite Horace Hitchcock twice a day, year in and year out,
for a quarter of a century, and her heart turned sick within her.
All at once she knew how his affections of manner would grate on one
who watched them for twenty-five years. He had a way of raising his
eye-brows and pursing his mouth which, she was convinced, would drive
her frantic in course of time. And then her relentless common-sense,
awake at last, went on to assure her that the Horace Hitchcock who had
made love to her in the park the previous evening was in all essentials
the smug, vain little boy nobody liked. She watched her father and
mother exchanging smiles and knew that such good comradeship between
Horace and herself was unthinkable. She doubted if there would be a
smile left in her after twenty-five years of his society.

"You look tired this morning, Priscilla," said Mr. Combs. "And I can't
say I wonder. That admirer of yours makes me rather--"

"He's a very pleasant boy, I'm sure," interrupted Mrs. Combs hastily,
"though I wish his manners were just a little simpler. But he always
looks so neat that it's refreshing to the eye. And by the way, dear,
I think you had better see your tailor and get samples for your fall
suit. You've got to the point where you must have something."

Priscilla did not notice her mother's dextrous changing of the subject.
She was too absorbed in looking ahead twenty-five weary years. Of
course, in view of her discovery, the only sensible thing to do was
to get in touch with Horace, and tell him that the lady with whom he
had been on such friendly terms in Babylon was an entirely different
person. But that sane and simple way of escape never occurred to
Priscilla. She had given her word. She must stand by it, no matter what
it cost.

Amy came over about eleven o'clock, looking very penitent. "Priscilla,"
she said, "I don't blame you a bit for getting angry yesterday. I'm
ashamed of what I said. Of course," added Amy, her natural candor
getting the better of her, "Horace Hitchcock doesn't appeal to me, but
that doesn't excuse me for calling him a manikin, and you have a right
to choose your friends to please yourself."

Priscilla's acceptance of this apology took Amy by surprise. She
dropped her head on her visitor's shoulder--as Priscilla was tall and
Amy was short, this was a feat requiring considerable dexterity--and
burst into tears.



CHAPTER VII

THE FRIENDLY TERRACE ORPHANAGE


PRISCILLA'S engagement, instead of interrupting her intimacy with her
chums on Friendly Terrace, seemed to intensify it. Up to the night
that she had walked with Horace in the park, and he had claimed her on
the score of an affection dating back to Babylon, Priscilla had rather
enjoyed informing Peggy and others that she would be unable to join in
their plans for the evening, as she was expecting a caller. But now all
this was changed. Instead, when Horace called up to suggest coming out,
he was very likely to hear that his sweetheart of Babylonian days had
an imperative engagement with Peggy, or Ruth, or Amy, or more probably
with all three.

It was after an evening spent at a moving picture house that Peggy made
a suggestion destined to have more momentous results than she dreamed.
They had gone early to avoid the crowd which a popular film is likely
to draw even in the warmest weather, and at nine o'clock they were
occupying chairs on Peggy's porch, and discussing the heat. "How about
ice cream?" inquired Amy, fanning herself with a magazine some one had
left in the hammock.

Before any one could answer, Peggy had interposed with her astonishing
suggestion. "Girls, I move we adopt a French orphan."

Amy forgot her interest in ice cream. "A French orphan," she gasped,
"What for?"

"Well, there are plenty of reasons from the orphan's standpoint,
and several from ours, it seems to me. Do you know we're getting
extravagant."

"Oh, Peggy," Ruth reproached her. "Why, as far as clothes go, I never
got along with so few in my life."

"I didn't say we were extravagant in clothes. But do you know, we're
getting to spend lots of money for little, no-account things. How many
nights this week have we been to a movie?"

The question was a rhetorical one, as Peggy knew the answer as well as
any one. But nevertheless Amy replied, "We've been three times, but one
night the boys took us."

"It costs just as much, no matter who pays. There are four of us; and
at twenty-five cents apiece, that makes a dollar an evening. Three
dollars a week for movies, just for us four."

"Goodness," exclaimed Amy in as astonished a tone as if this very
simple arithmetical calculation had been beyond her. "That does seem a
lot."

"And that's not all," continued Peggy. "We've had ice cream, or ice
cream soda, or something of the sort, at least three times this week,
and these days you can't go near a soda fountain for less than fifteen
cents, and you're more likely to pay twenty or twenty-five. If we call
our bill two dollars, that's putting it pretty low. Five dollars,
altogether."

"That _is_ too much, Peggy," Priscilla agreed. "Unless you stop to
count up, you wouldn't believe how much you can spend and all the time
think you've been economical. But why the French orphan?"

"Well, it's awfully hard work saving by main strength, and it's easy
enough if you have something to save for. If I happen to feel hungry
for ice cream--"

Amy groaned. "Don't!" she said in a hollow voice. "If we're not going
to have any, for pity's sake don't talk about it."

Peggy heartlessly ignored her friend's protest. "If I'm hungry for ice
cream, it doesn't do me much good to tell myself that I had a dish
night before last. I'll just think, 'Oh, well, what's twenty-five
cents!' But if I'm saving up for something, it's a different matter. We
found that out when we were paying for our Liberty Bonds."

"Won't it cost a great deal to adopt an orphan?" asked Ruth doubtfully.

"Why, we won't have to pay all its expenses. But there are lots of
French children left without fathers and mothers, who have some
relative who can give them a home if they have a little extra to help
them out. I think forty dollars will do it."

"Forty dollars a year?" Amy exclaimed in amazement.

"I'm pretty sure that's it. Mrs. Alexander was talking to me about it
just the other day, and I'm certain she said forty dollars."

"Then let's adopt an orphan right away," cried Amy. "And we'll have
money enough left for sodas."

"Why, of course I didn't mean we should give up all our good times,"
Peggy exclaimed. "Only it seemed to me we were getting a little too
extravagant. Then if you all agree, I think I'll go and telephone Mrs.
Alexander that we'll take an orphan. She's worried because people
aren't as interested as they ought to be."

It was while Peggy was at the telephone that a small girl appeared,
carrying a large bundle. "I've brought home Mrs. Raymond's dress," she
said shyly, looking from one to another of the occupants of the porch.

"Mrs. Raymond isn't home, but Miss Peggy is. She's telephoning now, but
she'll be out in a minute," said Priscilla.

"You'd better sit down and rest while you wait for her," suggested Ruth
kindly, pushing forward a porch rocking-chair. The small girl accepted
the invitation and looked smaller than ever in the capacious depths of
the big chair.

Peggy came out beaming. "Mrs. Alexander is perfectly delighted, girls.
She says--Why, hello, Myrtle!"

"Hello, Miss Peggy," returned the girl with the bundle. "I brought home
your mother's dress. Aunt Georgie couldn't get it finished any earlier."

"Mother gave you up for to-night, Myrtle. She left at eight o'clock,
but I think I know where she put the money."

Peggy's conjecture proved correct. She brought out the amount of the
dressmaker's bill, and having counted it before Myrtle's eyes, she
folded the bills carefully and stuffed them into Myrtle's diminutive
pocket book. "Shall you be glad when school opens, Myrtle?" she asked
pleasantly.

"I'm not going to school any more, Miss Peggy."

"What! You're going to leave school?"

"Aunt Georgie can't afford to keep me any longer. Everything is so
high," sighed the child, with a worldly-wise air that would have seemed
funny had it not been so apparent that she knew what she was talking
about.

"But you can't be nearly fourteen, Myrtle," protested Peggy. "And you
were doing so well in school."

"I'm twelve in September, but Aunt Georgie can get permit for me to
work, if she can't afford to keep me in school."

"Would you rather work than go to school?" asked Amy, rather tactlessly.

The eyes of the little girl filled. She sniffed bravely as she fumbled
for her handkerchief.

"I like school better," she explained, a catch in her voice. "But I
don't like to be a burden."

There was a brief silence on the porch as the little figure went down
the walk, and then Priscilla murmured pityingly, "Poor child!"

"It's a shame," exclaimed Peggy warmly. "She's a bright little thing.
She's not twelve till September, and she's ready for the high school
already. If she could go to school four years more she'd probably be
able to earn a good living, but she'll never do very well if she stops
school now, for she's not strong enough for heavy work."

"It almost seems a pity," Ruth suggested, "that we've just adopted a
French orphan. It seems there are orphans right at home who need help
just as much."

Peggy sighed. "I'm not sorry about the French orphan. I suppose we
can't imagine the need over there. But I do wish we could do something
for Myrtle."

"Peggy Raymond," warned Amy. "Don't let your philanthropy run away with
you, and get the idea that we're an orphan asylum. One orphan is all we
can manage."

"Yes, of course," Peggy agreed hastily. "Only I was wondering--poor
little Myrtle!"

"Can't her aunt afford to give her an education?" Priscilla asked, "Or
is she stingy?"

"Oh, I suppose it's pretty hard for Miss Burns to get along with
everything so expensive. She's not a high-priced dress-maker, and
besides she's mortally slow; one of the puttering sort, you know. At
the same time," added Peggy, "I mean to see her and have a talk with
her about Myrtle."

Peggy was as good as her word. As postponement was never one of her
weaknesses, she saw Miss Burns the following day, and the faded little
spinster shed tears as she discussed Myrtle's future.

"Of course I know she ought to go on through high school," she sobbed.
"She's been at the head of her class right up through the grades, and
if she could finish high school, she wouldn't need to ask any odds of
anybody. But I've laid awake night after night thinking, and I can't
see my way to do it."

"If you had a little help, Miss Burns, I suppose you could manage,
couldn't you? What is the very least you could get along on and let
Myrtle stay in school?"

"Why she can't earn a great deal of course," said Miss Burns, wiping
her eyes. "She's not old enough for a sales-woman, and she's not
strong enough for any hard work, and she don't know anything about
stenography."

"And what is the very least you think you could take in place of having
Myrtle go to work?"

Miss Burns was one of the people who have a constitutional aversion
to answering a direct question, but Peggy's persistence left her no
loop-hole of escape. Cornered at last, she expressed the opinion that
she could do with a hundred dollars. For some reason not quite clear in
her own mind, Peggy had hoped it might be less, and her face showed her
disappointment. "You think that is the very least you could get along
on, Miss Burns."

"I'm afraid it is, Miss Peggy. Maybe I should have said a hundred and
fifty. Look at the price of coal."

"Oh, I know," Peggy agreed. "Well, perhaps something will come up so
Myrtle won't have to leave school. I'm sure I hope so."

Peggy repeated the substance of her conversation with Miss Burns to her
three chums that afternoon as they were on the way out to Amy's Aunt
Phoebe's. For in their efforts to circumvent the high cost of living,
the Friendly Terrace girls had begun making weekly or even semi-weekly
visits to the country. The season had been a favorable one for all
garden produce, but Mr. Frost was finding it difficult to get anything
like the help he needed. The girls went out into the garden, picked and
pulled what they wanted, paid a price which, compared with the charges
in the retail markets, seemed extremely reasonable, and came home
with loaded market baskets and a tinge of sunburn in their cheeks. The
weekly saving paid their car-fare many times over, and the fact that
they all were together lent a festive air to the enterprise.

Peggy's three friends listened silently to their story of her visit to
Miss Burns. Peggy's generosity was always leading her to attempt things
far too big for her. The girls had stood by her loyally in the matter
of the French orphan, but there they drew the line. A second orphan was
too much.

"I'm sorry," Amy said, with an air of dismissing the subject. "But I
don't see that we can do anything for her."

"You don't think, do you," Peggy hesitated, "that we could give a
little entertainment--"

"Oh, Peggy, people are bored to death with benefits and drives, and
to try to raise money for a little girl nobody knows about would be
hopeless, especially when she's no worse off than thousands of others."

"I suppose that's so," Peggy replied, and reluctantly dropped the
subject. Under her submission was a persistent hope that something
might happen to aid her in the matter she had so much at heart. But
the last thing she or any one else would have thought was that such
assistance would come from Uncle Philander-Behind-His-Back.

Mr. Frost had been having an unusually hard time with help and was in
an exceptionally bad humor. He was one of the men who, when out of
sorts, invariable relieve their minds by criticism of the opposite sex.
He had heard the girls chattering as they picked the lima beans, and
doubtless that furnished the text for his ill-natured sermon.

"Women's tongues do beat all," he declared, as the girls came to the
house to pay their reckoning. "It's small wonder they don't count much
when it comes to work. They get themselves all wore out talking."

"I think we do some other things beside talking," declared Peggy,
dimpling in a disarming fashion.

"And I can't see that we say any sillier things than men do," added Amy.

"O, men can talk or be quiet, just as they please, but a woman's got
to talk or die. You couldn't pay her enough to get her to hold her
tongue."

"You could pay me enough," said Peggy with spirit.

"Me, too," Amy cried.

Uncle Philander-Behind-His-Back sneered contemptuously. "Why, I'd give
you four a hundred dollars to hold your tongues for a week."

"Girls," cried Peggy turning to her friends, "I move we take him up on
that."

Had Uncle Philander-Behind-His-Back been less disagreeable, less
contemptuous, the girls might have hesitated, for a week of silence is
an ordeal to the least voluble. But Mr. Frost's sneers, combined with
Peggy's enthusiasm, swept them off their feet.

"Yes, we'll take you up," Amy cried, and Priscilla and Ruth nodded
approval.

Uncle Philander was a little taken aback, and showed it. "You
understand when I said hold your tongues, I meant it. If there's an
_aye_, _yes_, or _no_ out of any of the four of you, it's all off."

"Of course," agreed the four girls in chorus.

Mr. Frost was plainly growing nervous. "Of course I haven't any way to
keep tab on you."

"Philander," cried his wife, bristling with indignation, "If you think
Amy or any of her friends would lie for the sake of money--"

"No, I didn't mean that," he half apologized. "I put all four of you on
your honor. Not a word out of you, not so much as an _ouch_."

"But we can write notes and explain to our families, of course," cried
Peggy.

"Of course," cried Amy, as Mr. Frost hesitated. "And talk on our
fingers. All you said was _tongues_."

"You can write all the notes you want to," conceded Uncle Philander
generously. Now that he had time to think of it, he was convinced that
the conditions he had imposed could not possibly be complied with. Who
had ever heard of four lively girls maintaining an unbroken silence for
a week? His hundred dollars was safe.

After some discussion it was decided that the week should begin the
following morning, to give the girls ample chance to explain their
singular undertaking to their friends. And then the four started off
with their heavy baskets, chattering excitedly, as if in the hopes
of saying in the few hours remaining before bed time, all they would
ordinarily have said in the next seven days.



CHAPTER VIII

THE LONGEST WEEK ON RECORD


IT was a Thursday when the four Friendly Terrace girls entered on their
remarkable contract with Uncle Philander-Behind-His-Back, and Friday
began the longest week recorded in the experiences of any of the four.
According to the calendar, it contained only the usual seven days.
According to the clock, each of these days consisted of the customary
twenty-four hours. But the four chums knew better. It was at least a
month long. They had spent Thursday evening explaining the situation
to their friends and relatives and saying good-by as if for a week's
absence. It was not to be expected that their news would meet the same
reception in all quarters. Fathers and mothers, while not exactly
approving, were on the whole rather amused, and inclined to take
the attitude that girls will be girls. Among their friends outside,
their announcement was received with a surprise that was sometimes
suggestive of enjoyment, and again of indignation.

Peggy found Graham particularly obdurate. "Not to speak to me for a
week? Well, I like that!"

"I can write you letters, dear."

"Letters!" Graham's repetition of the word was anything but flattering
to Peggy's epistolary efforts. "Of course," he went on in a milder
tone, "I love your letters when I'm away from you. But to read letters
instead of talking to you is like--like eating dried apple pie in
October."

"It's only a week," said Peggy, but she sighed. And her sigh would have
been much more vehement had she dreamed how long that week would prove.

Priscilla writing a little note to Horace Hitchcock did not sigh over
the prospect that she could exchange no words with him for seven days.
Indeed she was conscious of a profound relief. Recently Horace had
taken up the philosophical style in conversation, and Priscilla, as she
listened, frequently found herself unable to understand a word he was
saying. At first she assumed that this was due to her not having given
him sufficiently close attention, and she had chided herself for her
wandering thoughts. But things were no better when she listened her
hardest. Priscilla knew that she was not a fool. She had finished her
junior year in college, and her class standing in all philosophical
subjects had been excellent. If she could not understand what Horace
was talking about, she felt reasonably sure that the explanation
was not in her own intellectual lack but because Horace was talking
nonsense. The polysyllables he used so glibly and the epigrammatic
phrases which to the unthinking might have seemed indicative of
erudition and originality, when Priscilla came to analyze them seemed
to have no more relation to one another than glittering beads strung
on a wire. Priscilla was driven to the conclusion that Horace had
been reading literature considerably over his head, and that he was
reproducing for her benefit a sort of _pot-pourri_ of recollections,
blended without much regard to their original connection.

But this was not the only reason why Priscilla had a sense of relief
in writing to ask Horace not to call for a week. As the days went
on, the thought of her silver wedding had been increasingly painful.
Horace's affectations, to which for a time she had deliberately closed
her eyes, were continually more glaringly in evidence. Once, when
they were alone, Priscilla had tremulously hinted that perhaps they
had been mistaken in supposing themselves fitted for each other, and
Horace's reception of the suggestion had terrified her unutterably.
He had addressed himself to the stars and asked if it were true that
there was neither faith nor constancy in womankind. Then he had looked
at Priscilla, with an expression of agony, and said, "I thought it
was you who was to heal my tortured heart, and now you have failed
me." But when he began to put his hand to his forehead and mutter that
life was only a series of disappointments and that the sooner it was
over the better, Priscilla, white to the lips, had assured him that he
had misunderstood her. Her efforts to restore his serenity were not
altogether successful and she did not feel at ease about him until,
a day or two later, she saw his name among the guests at a dinner
dance, at Mrs. Sidney Vanderpool's country house. But the interview had
confirmed her certainty that there was no escaping the snare into which
she had walked with eyes wide open. And for that reason a week free
from Horace's society was more than welcome.

The silent week starting Friday morning had seemed rather a joke to
begin with. At four breakfast tables, four girls who contributed not
a syllable to the conversation, contributed largely, nevertheless, to
the family gaiety. But by noon the humorous phase of the situation had
passed, at least for the four chiefly concerned. All of them went about
with an expression of Spartan-like resolve, blended with not a little
anxiety. For when people have been chattering animatedly every day for
fifteen or twenty years, it is very easy for an exclamation to escape
their lips in spite of resolutions to the contrary.

Peggy probably had the hardest time of any one. For her brother, Dick,
although fond of calling attention to a fuzzy excrescence which he
denominated his mustache, was as fond of mischief as he had ever been.
And while undoubtedly he would have been sorry to have Peggy break her
vow of silence, and lose the hundred dollars which meant another year
in school for little Myrtle Burns, he nevertheless subjected his sister
to any number of nerve-racking tests. A crash as of a falling body in
an upstairs room, a cry of anguish from the cellar, a loud knocking on
the ceiling of her room apparently by ghostly fingers, were among the
devices Dick used for the testing of his sister. On each occasion Peggy
started convulsively, but somehow or other choked back the cry that
rose to her lips, "Oh, what is it? What is the matter?"

Though Dick was the only one of the Raymond family who made
deliberate attempts to betray his sister into unguarded speech, Mrs.
Raymond, innocent as were her intentions, was almost as much of a
stumbling-block. "Now what do you think, Peggy," she would begin,
"had we better try Turners again or--" And then catching sight of
the Joan-of-Arc expression on Peggy's face, she would break off her
question in the middle, and cry, "Oh, dear, I entirely forgot! I shall
certainly be glad when this ridiculous week is over."

There was one advantage in a week of silence. The girls were allowed
to write letters, and they took full advantage of that permission.
They wrote to aunts and uncles and cousins and all sorts of neglected
relatives. They wrote to old friends, who had moved to other cities.
They wrote to the girls they had come to know in their work as
farmerettes. They wrote--all four of them--to Lucy Haines, a country
girl they had helped one summer vacation, now a successful teacher. If
all weeks had been like this one, the postman who collected the mail
from the Friendly Terrace letter-box would have needed an assistant.
Peggy also wrote to Graham every day, and she tried to make her letters
as sprightly and entertaining as possible, so that he should not miss
their daily talks so much. But under the circumstances there was not
a great deal to tell, and if it had not been for Dick's machinations,
which Peggy repeated in much detail, she feared that her missives would
have proved dull reading.

Every afternoon the four girls met at the home of one or the other
of the quartette, bringing sewing or fancy work. They usually sat
indoors, for if a neighbor conversationally inclined had happened to
come along while they were occupying the porch the situation might
have been embarrassing. Amy made a valiant effort to revive a finger
alphabet they had used in school to carry on extended conversations
across a school room. But though it had not taken long for the girls to
refresh their memories of the letters, they found it much harder work
to converse after the fashion of the deaf and dumb than it had seemed
when they were younger, and for the most part conversation languished.
They sat and sewed, each vaguely cheered by the proximity of her fellow
sufferers, though all the time conscious that this was an abnormally
long week.

But long as the days were, each came to an end in time. Amy had fallen
in the way of apprising Aunt Phoebe by post-card that another day had
been passed in silence. "Tell Mr. Frost he might as well make out his
check now," she wrote at the conclusion of the third day. "We haven't
spoken yet, and now we've learned the secret, there isn't the least
danger that any one will speak before the week is up."

As the days went by, the vigilance of the girls increased instead of
relaxing. Each realized that a single inadvertent exclamation from the
lips of one would render vain the effort and sacrifice of all. This
realization got rather on their nerves, and Ruth particularly, showed
it.

"It's the most absurd thing I ever heard of," declared Mr. Wylie at
breakfast one morning, as Ruth came downstairs heavy-eyed. "You girls
call yourselves college women, don't you? This affair is worthy of a
bunch of high-school Freshmen."

"I think Ruth wants me to remind you," said Mrs. Wylie, as her daughter
looked at her appealingly, "that they mean to use the hundred dollars
in sending a little girl to school."

"But no man in his senses is going to pay good money for anything like
this. Who is he, anyway?"

"A sort of Uncle of Amy's, didn't you say, Ruth?"

As Amy's relationship to Uncle Philander-Behind-His-Back was too
complicated to explain without the assistance of language, Ruth
contented herself with nodding.

"Probably he was only joking. A hundred dollars is a hundred dollars,
especially these days. You oughtn't to have taken him seriously, Ruth."

"I think Peggy is really responsible," remarked Mrs. Wylie, with a
rather mischievous smile, for Mr. Wylie's admiration for his son's
fiancée was as outspoken as Graham's own.

"Is that so, Ruth?"

Ruth nodded.

"Then all I can say," declared Mr. Wylie, pushing back his chair from
the table, "is that in this matter my future daughter-in-law showed
less than her usual good horse-sense."

"I'm beginning to understand something that always puzzled me,"
Peggy wrote Graham, that same evening. "You know in mathematics they
talk about an _asymptote_, something that something else is always
approaching, but never reaches. That always seemed so foolish to
me, to approach a thing continually and never get there. But now I
understand. Thursday is an asymptote."

But though Thursday loitered on the way, it arrived at last, and four
girls woke to the realization that it was supremely important--the day
that either made void or confirmed the success of the previous six.
They spent the morning characteristically. Ruth, who had felt under
the weather for a day or two, decided to stay in bed, this being a
safe refuge. Priscilla took a basket of mending and retired to her
room. Peggy spent her time at her writing desk and tried to collect
some fugitive ideas into a theme for her college English work in the
fall. Amy devoted herself to making a cake with a very thick chocolate
frosting.

It happened that this morning Amy had received a postcard from Aunt
Phoebe, the first reply to her daily bulletins. "Glad to hear you are
getting on so well," wrote the old lady. "P---- quite nervous." After
the cake was finished and the frosting hardening, Amy resolved to take
Aunt Phoebe's card over to Peggy. While they could not talk it over,
they could exchange smiles, and probably a few ideas as well, through
the medium of a lead pencil. The luckless Amy picked up the post card
and started off in high spirits.

It happened that one of the houses on the Terrace had been built with
a slate roof, which at the present time was undergoing repairs. Amy,
swinging lightly along the familiar way, gained rapidly on an old man
ahead who walked very deliberately, apparently examining the numbers of
the houses. Amy noticed that, although the sky was clear, he carried a
massive cotton umbrella.

The old gentleman was just opposite the house which was being repaired,
when one of the workmen pulled out a broken slate and without even
looking behind him, flung it to the street below. Amy saw the workman
before the slate left his hand, and some intuition warned her of
danger. "Look out!" she cried shrilly, "Look out!"

The old man ahead dodged back. He was none too quick, for the piece
of slate, flying through the air with the sharp edge down, dropped
where he had stood an instant before. The old man took off his
hat and ran his fingers through his hair. Amy saw it was Uncle
Philander-Behind-His-Back.

The discovery, interesting in itself, meant nothing to Amy at the
moment. She uttered a heart-broken wail. She had spoken before the week
was up. By her impulsive exclamation she had forfeited the hundred
dollars. Though she knew acknowledgment must be made to her partners
in the undertaking, since as she had broken the spell the others were
automatically released from the obligation of silence, to face any of
them at that moment seemed impossible. Without a word to Mr. Frost, Amy
wheeled about and started for home, the tears running down her cheeks.

Breathing hard, Uncle Philander-Behind-His-Back trotted after her. What
he meant to say does not matter, since the discovery that Amy was in
tears resulted in the inquiry, "What are you crying for, hey?"

"I lost it," Amy sobbed. "I spoke."

Her companion seemed to be deliberating. "I s'pose you mean the hundred
dollars."

"Of course I mean the hundred dollars. But I don't see how I could have
helped it. I couldn't walk on deliberately and see a sharp piece of
slate drop on a man's head."

[Illustration: "'A HUNDRED DOLLARS AIN'T ANY TOO MUCH TO PAY FOR HAVING
YOUR LIFE SAVED'"]

"I came in to-day thinking I'd have a talk with that friend of yours,"
said Mr. Frost, "seeing she seemed to be the head one in this thing.
I was going to tell her that now I'd thought it over, my conscience
wasn't quite easy about this agreement of ourn. I'm afraid it is too
much like placing a bet."

Amy's jaw dropped as she looked at him. Her tears dried instantly, the
moisture evaporated by the fires of her wrath. But either because her
usually ready tongue was out of practise after six days of idleness,
or because the realization of the perfidy of the old man produced a
momentary paralysis of her vocal chords, not a word escaped her parted
lips.

"Yes, it didn't look right to me," Mr. Frost continued. "It was the
same as betting that you four girls couldn't keep from talking for a
week. My conscience wouldn't let me be a party to anything of that
sort. But--"

The pause after the "but" was prolonged. Amy searched her vocabulary
for words that would do justice to the occasion, but Uncle
Philander-Behind-His-Back was continuing before she knew what she
wanted to say.

"Having your life saved is a different thing. That slate had an edge on
it like a meat ax, and coming through the air the way it was, it would
have cleft my head open like it had been an egg shell. My widow could
have got damages all right, but that wouldn't have helped me out."

They had reached Amy's door by now. "Got pen and ink handy?" asked Mr.
Frost, with a marked change of manner.

"Yes," said Amy tonelessly, and opened the door for him. She led the
way to the writing desk, and pointed out the articles he required.
Mr. Philander Frost, seating himself, wrote out a check for a hundred
dollars, payable to Amy Lassell or order.

"There," he said as he reached for the blotter. "Can't nobody no matter
how sensitive their consciences are, find any fault with that. A
hundred dollars ain't any too much to pay for having your life saved."

And then the ink had a narrow escape from being overturned, for Amy
flung her arms around the old gentleman's neck and hugged him. "Uncle
Philander!" she screamed, "You're a prince."

And that is how little Myrtle Burns was assured of her year in high
school, and Uncle Philander-Behind-His-Back was adopted, unreservedly,
by four unusually attractive nieces.



CHAPTER IX

THE MOST WONDERFUL THING IN THE WORLD


NELSON HALLOWELL had something on his mind. Ruth had discovered it
early in the evening. They had all gone over to Peggy's, and there
had been the usual amount of talk and laughter, but Nelson had hardly
spoken. Every time she looked in his direction, Ruth found his eyes
upon her, and something in his manner said as plainly as words could
have told it, that he was only waiting to get her alone to impart some
confidence of more than ordinary importance. Ruth was not in the least
inclined to be self-conscious, but for some reason his unwavering
regard made her nervous. She was glad when the clock struck ten and she
could take her leave.

Though Graham had lingered for a little talk with Peggy, and Nelson
and Ruth had the sidewalk to themselves, the young man seemed in no
hurry to relieve his mind. Instead he walked at Ruth's side apparently
absorbed in thought. Ruth, waiting, half amused and half vexed by his
air of preoccupation, pinched her lips tightly shut as she resolved not
to be the first to break the silence.

At the door of her home Nelson suddenly roused himself. "May I come in
for a little while, Ruth?"

"Of course, Nelson. It's Friday. No classes to-morrow."

"There's something I want to talk to you about," he said, and followed
her indoors with an air of summoning his resolution. As Ruth turned on
the lights in the living room, he drew a letter from his pocket and
handed it to her. "I'd like to have you read that."

Ruth seated herself by the drop light, and drew out the enclosure. It
was folded so that her eye fell at once on the signature. "Why," she
exclaimed, "that's the nice soldier you got acquainted with in the
hospital."

"Yes. The fellow from Oklahoma, you know."

Ruth unfolded the letter and began to read. Immediately her expression
underwent a noticeable change. One would have said that the letter
annoyed her, though when at length she lifted her eyes and met Nelson's
expectant look, she was laughing. "Did you ever hear of anything so
absurd!" she exclaimed.

Nelson cleared his throat. "If you look at it in one way, it's quite an
unusual chance. You see he's willing to take me without any capital--"

"I don't know what he ever saw in you to make him think you'd make
a ranchman," Ruth exclaimed. "I can't imagine you as a cowboy. I
suppose," she added excusingly, "that he's always been used to an
out-door life and it seems rather dreadful to him for any one to be
shut up in a book-store."

"It is rather dreadful."

Ruth gave a little start. For a moment she was under an impression
that she had not heard Nelson aright, or else that he was joking.
And yet his voice had no suggestion of humor. It was hoarse and
curiously intense, and as she looked at him, she saw that his face was
unnaturally flushed.

"Why, Nelson," she cried, "What are you talking about? You can't mean
that you don't like your work."

Nelson looked at her appealingly. Without realizing it, Ruth had spoken
in a rather peremptory fashion, and at once his sensitive face showed
his fear of having offended her.

"I used to think I liked it, Ruth."

"Used to! Why, Nelson--"

"But now it's like being in a strait jacket. I don't see how any fellow
who was in the service can ever get back to standing behind a counter
and be satisfied."

Again Ruth noticed the curious intensity of his manner. She looked at
the letter lying upon the table with a feeling of irritation she did
not stop to analyze.

"Nelson, you don't mean you want to take that offer? You wouldn't
really like to go to Oklahoma, would you? Why it's the jumping-off
place."

He sat looking at the floor. "I wanted to know what you thought," he
murmured.

"I'd hate to say all I thought. Why, Nelson, I don't believe it's ever
occurred to you what it would mean to your mother." Ruth herself had
not thought of Mrs. Hallowell until that instant, and she made up for
her tardiness by speaking very earnestly. "It would simply kill her to
have you off at the ends of the earth."

"Mother's pretty game, you know." Nelson smiled as if recalling
something that had pleased him particularly. "She says she wouldn't
mind a bit living in Oklahoma."

Ruth swallowed hard. Something in his reminiscent smile added to her
vexation.

"I should think you would know better than to take her seriously. She'd
die of homesickness. But of course, if you've really set your heart on
going thousands of miles away from all your friends, I wouldn't want to
put anything in your way."

"Ruth, you know I don't mean that." He looked rather bewildered at her
injustice. "I haven't answered the letter. I just wanted to know what
you thought about it."

"Well, I think the whole thing is absurd. I suppose you are a little
restless after your army life, but you'll get over that."

"I suppose I will," Nelson acknowledged. He was so humble about it
that Ruth promptly forgave him for having given favorable consideration
to the offer of his friend in Oklahoma, and was her usual pleasant self
during the remainder of his stay.

As far as Nelson was concerned, the matter was dropped, but unluckily
for Ruth's peace of mind Peggy was yet to be heard from. The next day
was Saturday and Peggy dropped in soon after breakfast.

"Ruth, what was the matter with Nelson last evening? I never knew
anybody to be so quiet. I was afraid that perhaps something was said
that hurt his feelings. He's such a sensitive fellow."

"No indeed, Peggy. It wasn't anything particular." Ruth hesitated,
uncertain whether to let it go at that, or to explain the situation
in full. Her life-long habit of confiding in Peggy proved more than
a match for her undefined hesitation, and she went on to tell of the
letter from Oklahoma with its preposterous offer. She finished with a
little contemptuous laugh, but Peggy's face was grave.

"Did he want to go, Ruth?"

"Why, he--well, it seems, Peggy, that since he got out of the service
he's been sort of restless. He got so used to outdoor life that he
doesn't enjoy indoor work. But I tell him he'll get over that."

"I suppose," said the downright Peggy, looking straight at her friend,
"that you feel that you wouldn't want to live in Oklahoma."

Ruth jumped. Then as the blood rushed tingling to the roots of her
hair, she turned on Peggy a look of intense indignation.

"Peggy Raymond, what on earth are you talking about?"

Peggy sat without replying and Ruth continued vehemently, "Of course
I like Nelson Hallowell; like him very much. I consider him one of my
very best friends. But that's all. The very idea of your talking as
if--"

"I suppose," said Peggy, as Ruth came to a halt, "you'd miss him if he
went out West."

Ruth brightened. "Yes, that's just it. I'd miss him terribly. I really
think he's one of the nicest boys I ever knew, and for all he's so
quiet, we have dandy times together. But as for anything else--"

"Don't you think," suggested Peggy, as Ruth halted again, "that it
seems a little bit unfair to interfere with Nelson's future, just
because you like to have him dropping in every day or two and because
it's convenient to have an escort whenever you want to go somewhere?"

Ruth found herself incapable of replying. She sat staring at Peggy with
a resentment that she could not have concealed if she had tried. And
Peggy, quite unmoved by her friend's indignation, continued judicially,
"If you were going to marry Nelson, you would have a perfect right to
help decide where he should be located. But it's considerable of a
responsibility to persuade him to turn down an offer like that, just
because you're afraid you're going to miss him if he goes away."

Ruth found her voice. "Nelson Hallowell can do exactly as he pleases.
He asked my advice and I gave it, but he doesn't have to take it unless
he wants to."

"That's not fair, Ruth. However you feel about it, you know perfectly
well that Nelson wants to please you more than anything in the world.
And besides, when a friend asks you your advice, you're supposed to
think of what is best for him and not of what you want yourself."

"Really, Peggy," said Ruth rather witheringly, "as long as Nelson is
satisfied with my advice, I can't see that any one else need take it to
heart."

Peggy colored. It was a fact that, relying on long intimacy and
close friendship, she had said more to Ruth than she would have been
justified in saying to another girl. "Excuse me, Ruth," she answered
quickly. "I'm afraid I was rather interfering."

The effect of this apology was peculiar. Ruth burst into tears. "Oh,
don't, Peggy," she sobbed. "Don't act as if it wasn't any business of
yours what I did."

"I'm afraid," owned Peggy, "that I'm too much inclined to think
everything you do is my business."

"No, you're not. We're just the same as sisters. And it would kill me
if you washed your hands of me."

Peggy burst into a reassuring laugh. "Small danger of that, dearie.
I'm likely to remain Meddlesome Peggy to the end of the chapter, as far
as you're concerned. And I don't know what you're crying for, Ruth."

Ruth was not quite sure herself, but she continued to sob. "Do you
think I ought to encourage Nelson to go, Peggy?"

"I don't say that. But it seems to me you ought not to discourage him,
unless you have a good reason. And though I don't know much about such
things, it sounded to be like a wonderful offer. What does Nelson
think?"

"I--I guess he thought so, too, but I didn't give him a chance to
say much." Ruth dropped her head upon Peggy's shoulder and sobbed.
"Oklahoma is such a dreadful way off."

"I know it is," Peggy patted her shoulder tenderly. "I'd nearly cry my
eyes out if anybody I loved went there to live."

"Nelson is so good, Peggy. He wanted to go, but he gave it up just as
soon as he saw I didn't like the idea. And I know he hates that old
book store."

Peggy continued to smile rather wistfully and to pat the heaving
shoulders while Ruth prattled on. "I'm awfully selfish, I know. It's
just as you said. I never gave a thought to what was best for him."

"I never said that, Ruth, I'm sure."

"Well, it's so, anyway. I wonder if he's answered that letter yet. I'm
going to call up and see."

Ruth had no need to look in the telephone book to find the number of
Flynn's book store. As the hour was early, Nelson himself answered the
call. His politely interrogative tone changed markedly as in response
to his, "Hello," Ruth said, "It's I, Nelson."

"Ruth! Why, good morning!"

"Have you answered that letter from Oklahoma?"

"No, I haven't, Ruth. But never mind that letter. We won't talk about
it any more."

"I just wanted to ask you not to answer it till we'd talked it over
again, Nelson."

He hesitated a moment. "I don't see the use of that. I wanted to see
how you really felt about it, and now I've found out."

"Well, don't answer it right away. That's all. Are you coming up
to-night, Nelson?"

"Sure."

Ruth smiled faintly at the emphatic syllable. "Good-by," she said, then
sighed as she hung up the receiver. "Well, it's all right," she told
the waiting Peggy. "I haven't done any mischief that I can't undo."

But when Nelson came that evening he proved unexpectedly obdurate. He
showed an extreme reluctance to re-open the subject of the Oklahoma
proposition, and roused Ruth's indignation by hinting that the matter
did not concern Peggy Raymond, and he could not see any reason for her
"butting in." And when sternly called to order for this bit of heresy,
he still showed himself unwilling to talk of Oklahoma.

"What's the use?" he burst out suddenly. "I know how you feel about
it. I--I--It's awfully hard explaining, Ruth, when I haven't any right
to--to say how I feel--but the long and short of it is I wouldn't go to
any place where you wouldn't live."

He stopped, his face scarlet as he realized all his statement implied.
Nelson was keenly conscious of his own disadvantages. Graham would
soon be in a position to support a family, but the salary Mr. Flynn
paid his competent clerk made a wife seem an impossible luxury. Nelson
regarded Ruth as the bright particular star of the Friendly Terrace
quartette. He considered her prettier than Peggy, wittier than Amy, and
more talented than Priscilla. For him to aspire to be the first in her
heart was the height of presumption, in Nelson's opinion, and yet he
had just said to her in effect that he would not go to any place where
she would not go with him. Despairingly he realized how poorly his
presumptuous speech had expressed his attitude of worshipful humility.

Then he became aware that Ruth was looking at him from the other side
of the table, and that her manner lacked the indignation appropriate
to the occasion. She held her head very high, and her eyes were like
stars. Nelson suddenly experienced a difficulty in breathing. His heart
was beating more rapidly than it had ever beaten under fire. He heard
himself asking a question, the audacity of which astounded him.

"You wouldn't think of it, would you, Ruth, going out to that rough
cattle country, a girl like you?"

He did not realize the desperation in his voice as he put the
question, but its appeal went straight to Ruth's heart. She answered
unhesitatingly. "The place wouldn't matter, Nelson. Everything would
depend on the one--the one I went with."

It was not an opportune time for Graham to walk into the room. And it
argued him obtuse, that instead of realizing he was in the way, he
seated himself in the easy chair, and proceeded to discuss a variety of
subjects. Once or twice Nelson's answers suggested that his mind was
wandering, and small wonder. For when the most wonderful thing in the
world has just happened, it is hard on any young fellow to be held up
and forced to give his views on universal training.



CHAPTER X

MISTRESS AND MAID


A CAREWORN, anxious expression had come to be so much at home on
Priscilla's countenance, that it did not surprise Peggy to look from
her window one Saturday morning and see Priscilla approaching, her face
so lined by worry as to suggest that the heaviest responsibilities
rested on her shoulders. As she was quite unconscious of Peggy's
observation, she did not make her usual effort to smile and appear
natural.

"I wish I knew what ailed that girl," thought Peggy, studying
Priscilla's changed countenance with a heart-sick concern. "She looks
years older than she did six months ago, and I can't make out whether
she's sick or just unhappy. And the worst of it is that one can't get a
thing out of her."

But in this particular instance Peggy was to have no reason to complain
of Priscilla's reticence. As Priscilla raised her heavy eyes and
saw her friend's face at the window, her own face brightened and she
quickened her steps. Peggy hurried to the door, and flung it open with
an unreasonable hope that this interview would end the mystery which
had baffled her for so long. But the perplexity Priscilla had come to
confide was too recent to explain her worried air through the months
past. She was hardly in the house before she burst out, "Peggy, I'm in
an awful pickle."

"What's the matter? Can I help!"

"I wondered if you would lend me Sally."

"Sally?" repeated Peggy in accents of astonishment. For the
maid-of-all-work in the Raymond household was a possession of which
few people were envious. Whether Sally was really weak minded was a
question on which a difference of opinion was possible, but there was
no possible doubt of her talent for doing the wrong thing at the right
time or else, vice versa, the right thing at the wrong time. Her one
redeeming feature was her amiability, but as this frequently took a
conversational turn, it was not without its drawbacks. That any of
her friends could want to borrow Sally, or that any household but
their own would put up with the blundering, good-natured apology for a
domestic servant, had never entered Peggy's head.

"Sally," she repeated, still in a tone of mystification. "Of course you
can have her if you want her, but whatever it is, she'll do it wrong."

"I suppose she could open the door for a caller, couldn't she?"

"Why, she can open a door, as a rule, but just now she's got a
tooth-ache, and her head is tied up in a red flannel, so unless the
callers are people of strong nerves, they may be startled."

"O dear!" Priscilla's acceptance of this bit of information was so
suggestive of tragedy that Peggy was more puzzled than ever. "Who is
the caller?" she demanded. "And why in the world do you want Sally?"

"Well, it's quite a story, Peggy. You know Mother's away this week and
Martha's having her vacation, and Father and I are taking our meals at
the Lindsays. And last evening Horace Hitchcock called, and it seems
that an aunt of his is in town."

"Oh!" said Peggy. She always made desperate efforts to act just as
usual when Horace's name was mentioned, but under such circumstances
she invariably felt as if a thick curtain had dropped between her
friend and herself. "Horace Hitchcock's aunt," she repeated, trying
valiantly to speak naturally. "Is she his mother's sister or his
father's?"

"Neither one. She's his father's aunt, and of course she is quite old
and very rich, and it seems she's coming out to call on me."

"To call on you," Peggy exclaimed. "How interesting!"

But that adjective registered an exception to Peggy's usual frankness.
Had she spoken her real feelings she would have said, "How dreadful!"
For a call from the young man's great-aunt seemed to imply that the
young man's intentions were serious, and recognized by the family.
Horace and Priscilla! Peggy stifled a groan.

"And you see the fix I'm in," Priscilla was explaining disconsolately.
"Of course she's used to butlers and everything, and here I've got to
go to open the door myself."

Peggy listened wonderingly. For even if Horace Hitchcock had been an
entirely different young man, the necessity for opening the door to
his great-aunt would not have impressed her as a tragedy. Priscilla's
intuition told her what was passing through the other girl's mind, and
she spoke a little fretfully.

"Of course it's silly to mind, Peggy, but I _do_ mind, just the same.
Mrs. Duncan has a houseful of servants, and she thinks of women who
answer their own door-bell as we think of women who take in washing."
Priscilla's feeling of resentment at Peggy was enhanced by her own
wonder at herself. The glamor which had surrounded Horace in the first
renewal of their childish acquaintance had quite disappeared, and yet
she could not bear the thought that Horace's great-aunt might look down
upon her.

"Sally wouldn't be the least bit of good," Peggy declared, "even if it
wasn't for the red flannel. Just when I want Sally to be on her good
behavior, she does some perfectly unheard-of thing. When do you expect
Mrs. Duncan?"

"Oh, sometime this forenoon. Horace thought about eleven. And that's
another thing that puzzles me," exclaimed Priscilla unhappily. "Ought I
to dress up, do you think, as long as I'm expecting a call?"

"I'd wear my blue serge, if I were you. Blue serge is always safe and,
besides, you look awfully well in that dress. And you need not worry
about the maid. I'm it."

"Why, Peggy, what do you mean?"

"Don't insult me by asking for Sally, and then pretending that I won't
do. I've got a black dress and a cute little ruffled apron, and I'm
just aching to try my hand at one of those fetching caps the maids wear
in the movies."

"But, Peggy, suppose Horace should come with his aunt!"

"You don't expect him, do you?"

"No. I'm sure he didn't plan to come last evening. But he might change
his mind."

"We'll keep on the look-out. If we see a lady arriving with a young man
in tow, I'll roll my cap and apron into a bundle and put them under my
arm. Then I'll be your friend, Peggy Raymond, making a morning call.
But if the lady is alone, I'm Margaret, the maid."

Priscilla was hardly arrayed in her blue serge when Peggy arrived, and
the two girls inspected each other admiringly. The Plainness of the
blue serge set off the long lines of Priscilla's slender, graceful
figure, while the little frilled, nonsensical cap gave a charm to
Peggy's mischievous face. "You look like a queen," Peggy declared.

"And you're darling in that cap. I'm afraid she'll suspect something
the minute she sees you."

Mistress and maid were sitting comfortably side by side in the
dining-room when the door-bell rang. Peggy started to her feet, but
Priscilla clutched her arm. "Don't go far, will you, Peggy."

"I don't want to appear to be eavesdropping, ma'am."

"Nonsense: you can pretend to be dusting something out here. I don't
want you to go away." Priscilla was experiencing a panic at the thought
of being left to the tender mercies of Horace Hitchcock's great-aunt.
She needed the close proximity of Peggy to give her confidence.

Horace had not accompanied Mrs. Duncan. She stood upon the steps, a
little withered woman, rather elaborately dressed, and she inspected
Peggy through her lorgnette. "Is Miss Combs in?" she inquired, after
finishing her leisurely scrutiny.

"I think so, Madame. Please walk in." Peggy ushered the caller into
the front room and brought a tray for her card. Her cheeks had flushed
under Mrs. Duncan's inspection. The small, beady eyes in the wrinkled
face had a curiously piercing quality, and she wondered uneasily
whether this remarkable old woman could possibly have recognized that
she was only masquerading.

She carried the card upstairs to Priscilla who had retreated to her
room, the prey of nerves, and brought back word that Miss Combs would
be down in a few minutes. Then she retired to the adjoining room and
began on her dusting. She was not sorry Priscilla had insisted that she
be near, for she was extremely curious to hear what the visitor was
going to say.

Priscilla followed Peggy in something like half a minute, and greeted
her caller sweetly, though with some constraint. Mrs. Duncan looked
her over approvingly. "You're not as pretty as I expected," was her
disconcerting beginning.

In the next room Peggy gasped. Priscilla drew herself up and blushed
crimson.

"What I meant to say," explained the terrible old woman, "is that
you're not as pretty as I expected, but much handsomer. I took it for
granted Horace would admire some namby-pamby with a doll's face. I
suppose you know you're a very striking type, don't you?"

"I can't say I've thought much about it," prevaricated Priscilla.

"And you're going to college," continued Mrs. Duncan. "What's your idea
in that? I suppose you know that if you marry Horace, you ought not to
know too much."

"Really, Mrs. Duncan--"

But Priscilla's caller was off at a tangent. "You've got a nice-looking
maid? Have you any brothers?"

"No," replied Priscilla mechanically. "I'm an only child."

"When you're married, Miss Combs, take an old woman's advice and never
have an attractive maid about the house. My married life of twenty
years was reasonably successful," explained Mrs. Duncan complacently,
"and I lay it all to my habit of selecting maids who were either
cross-eyed or else pock-marked."

Priscilla felt that she hated her, but as she struggled to conceal her
inhospitable emotion, her visitor inquired blandly, "What do you and
Horace talk about?"

"About--Oh, about all sorts of things." Priscilla wondered if ever in
her life she had appeared as inane and stupid as on this momentous
occasion.

"I can't understand him, you know," explained Mrs. Duncan, rubbing her
nose. "Sometimes I think it's because I'm a fool, and sometimes I think
it's because he's a fool. I dare say you've felt the same uncertainty.
But we'd better talk of something else, so you won't look to conscious
when he arrives."

"Arrives?" repeated Priscilla blankly.

"Yes, he's to lunch with me down town. He suggested that I would enjoy
taking him to--what's the name of the place? Oh, well, he'll know.
Perhaps you'll join us."

Priscilla declined fervently. Without saying it in so many words, she
gave the impression that she had a most imperative engagement for
the afternoon. As she voiced her stammering refusal, she felt like
a criminal on the verge of exposure. For when the bell rang Peggy
would answer it, and Horace would at once recognize that Priscilla's
attractive maid was no other than Priscilla's bosom friend.

But Peggy, dusting industriously in the adjoining room, had overheard
the news that had carried consternation to Priscilla's soul, and acted
upon the hint with characteristic promptness. A moment later she
appeared in the doorway, waiting unobtrusively till Priscilla looked in
her direction. And then she said respectfully, "Miss Priscilla."

Priscilla struggled to play her part. "Yes--Margaret?"

"I haven't done the marketing yet. If you can spare me for a little
while, I'll attend to it."

"Certainly, Margaret," replied Priscilla with boundless relief.

As Peggy disappeared, Mrs. Duncan leaned forward and tapped Priscilla's
knee. "I tell you she's too good to be true," she insisted. "She's too
pretty, too well-mannered. There's something wrong somewhere. Don't
trust her." And Priscilla had to conquer the impression that it was
her friend Peggy who was being slandered, before she could assume the
nonchalant manner suited to the statement that they had always found
Margaret a most trustworthy girl.

Horace arrived some fifteen minutes after Peggy's departure, and his
apologies to his great-aunt were more profuse than his slight tardiness
called for. Indeed, as Priscilla watched his manner toward the
domineering old lady, she was unpleasantly reminded that Mrs. Duncan
was a rich widow, and that Horace might cherish the hope of inheriting
at least a portion of her wealth. Priscilla had all the contempt of
a normal American girl for a fortune-hunter, and her lover had never
appeared to less advantage in her eyes than in his obvious efforts to
please his eccentric relative. In her revolt from Horace's methods she
went a little too far in the other direction, and her manner as she
parted from her guest was frigid rather than friendly. Mrs. Duncan's
call was the first indication that Horace's people were aware of his
intentions, and Priscilla had a not unreasonable feeling of resentment
at being inspected to see if she would do. Although the door had been
opened for Mrs. Duncan by a correctly appointed maid, Priscilla was
miserably conscious that the call had not been a success, and that her
unfavorable impression of Horace's great-aunt was probably returned by
that terrible old person with something to spare.



CHAPTER XI

QUITE INFORMAL


AMY'S memorable dinner party, which had resulted in making Bob
Carey such a frequent caller, was responsible for another agreeable
friendship. Bob's sister Hildegarde, if she did not fully share
her brother's sentiments where Amy was concerned, acknowledged,
nevertheless, to a thorough liking for the girl who had played the part
of hostess under such trying circumstances. She saw considerable of Amy
and, through her, had made the acquaintance of Amy's especial chums on
Friendly Terrace. The girls all liked Hildegarde, and Hildegarde liked
them, though she was continually accusing them of being old-fashioned
in their ideas. Hildegarde had rather more spending money than was good
for her, and her social ambitions were the bane of Bob's existence. Bob
hated formality. He never put on his dress suit except under protest,
and his popularity among his sister's friends, with the resulting
invitations to all sorts of affairs, awakened his profound resentment.
The simple good times of Amy's set where every one came at eight
o'clock and went home at ten, exactly suited him.

There was perhaps a spice of malice back of an invitation Amy received
one morning. The previous evening Bob had accompanied his sister to
the home of one of her friends. He had gone reluctantly, only yielding
when Hildegarde had agreed to start for home promptly at ten. There had
been other callers, however, and bridge had been suggested, so that it
was quarter of one when the brother and sister reached home. Bob was
frankly sulky. "I hate to go down to the office in the morning feeling
like a fool because I haven't had sleep enough," he declared.

"Bob Carey, any one would suppose you were an old grandfather to hear
you talk. I don't know another fellow your age who thinks he has to go
to bed with the chickens."

"And knowing the hours some of your friends keep," returned
Bob irritatingly, "I'm not surprised at their seeming lack of
intelligence. They're practically walking in their sleep."

"Please leave my friends alone. You wouldn't be particularly pleased if
I began sneering at Amy."

"Sneering at Amy!" Bob's tone was scornful as he repeated his sister's
words. "If you did, it would be only to get even with me."

"I don't suppose she's absolute perfection."

"I don't know."

"Oh, Bob, don't be so absurd." But though Hildegarde ended with a
laugh, she was still resentful. She knew that Bob had planned to call
on Amy that evening and shrewdly judged that, since she had thwarted
his intention, he would go the following night. Accordingly she
called Amy on the phone bright and early, and invited her to attend a
down-town picture show; not an ordinary movie, but a special attraction
with the seats selling at regular theater prices. Amy exclaimed
delightedly, and then caught herself up.

"I forgot that Peggy and Priscilla were coming over to-night. But I'm
sure they'll let me off. I'll call them up and then call you. I'm
crazy to see that picture, but I didn't expect to for a year or two
till it got down to the twenty-five cent houses."

"We'll ask Peggy and Priscilla to go, too," said Hildegarde.

"Gorgeous," replied Amy, "and it's so near the end of vacation we can
make it a final spree"; and Hildegarde, smiling a little, proceeded to
call the two Sweet P's as she mentally designated them. Both girls were
unqualifiedly delighted to accept, for one of the advantages of not
possessing too much money is that the zest for simple pleasures remains
keen. Hildegarde had friends who were blasé over a trip to Europe, and
she always felt a little wonder, not without a tinge of patronage it
must be admitted, over the thoroughness with which Amy and her friends
could enjoy things.

When Hildegarde announced casually at the dinner table that she would
have to be excused before the desert, as she and Amy were to see the
"Star of Destiny" that evening, her brother shot her a comprehending
glance. "I'd have bought a ticket for you, Bob," Hildegarde explained
teasingly, "Only I felt sure you meant to go to bed at nine, and make
up the sleep you lost last evening."

"You're always thoughtful, Hildegarde," said Bob with an irony so
apparent that his mother stared. And Hildegarde hurrying through
her dinner, felt cheerful certainty that as far as her brother was
concerned, she had evened the score.

The "Star of Destiny" proved quite as thrilling as any of the audience
could have wished, and the accompanying comedy a trifle less inane than
the average picture comedy. At ten o'clock the girls left the theater,
while the crowd that had been standing in line scrambled to take the
seats they had vacated. As they reached the sidewalk, Hildegarde
slipped her hand through the arm of Priscilla, who happened to be
nearest, "I'm on the point of starvation," she declared gaily. "I had
to hurry through my dinner so, I feel as though I hadn't had a thing.
Now we'll go over to the Green Parrot and get something to eat."

The guests hesitated. "Is--do you think it is all right for girls to go
there alone in the evening?" asked Peggy doubtfully.

"Why of course. The name's rather lurid, but it's a perfectly nice
place. Let's take this cross-street and then we'll save half a block."

On the way to the popular restaurant, Hildegarde did most of the
talking. None of her guests felt exactly comfortable over accepting the
invitation; and yet to decline it, when Hildegarde declared herself
half starved, seemed decidedly ungracious. None of the Friendly
Terrace girls had been brought up to think a chaperone a necessary
accompaniment to all youthful pleasures, but venturing into a down-town
restaurant at ten o'clock in the evening, without either chaperone
or escort, was rather too up-to-date to please any of them. Peggy
pictured Graham's face when she told him of the climax of the evening's
pleasures, and smiled rather ruefully.

Once inside, it must be admitted, the spirits of all three revived. The
big room was so lighted that it was more dazzling than the noon day. A
space had been cleared for dancing, and several couples were revolving
in time to a catchy popular air. The majority of the tables were
occupied, but the head-waiter, who evidently recognized Hildegarde,
led the way to a small round table at the side, and seated them with a
flourish. No one had seemed to notice them, and Peggy hoped that their
inconspicuous location would prevent any unwelcome attention.

"After all," she thought sensibly, "it's a perfectly respectable
place, and perhaps it's not considered queer for girls to come alone."
Unconsciously her fear of arousing unfavorable comment rendered her
unusually subdued, and the other girls took their cue from her,
speaking in their lowest voices, smiling discreetly, and otherwise
conducting themselves with as much decorum as if there had been a
chaperone apiece.

After some discussion they decided on welsh rarebit, and Hildegarde
also ordered coffee and rolls. The rarebit came in due time, an
island of toast in a seething lava-lake of rarebit. The girls sniffed
appreciatively and exchanged smiles. "To think I didn't know I was
hungry," Amy exclaimed.

"I wish I could make my rarebits smooth like this," sighed Peggy. "It
looks so wonderful that I hate to eat it."

Their faces cheerful, but their manners still decorously subdued, the
four girls attacked the dainty which has so undesirable a reputation in
the matter of dreams. Though Hildegarde was the only one of the four
who had not done justice to her dinner, all were young enough to feel
hungry at the sight of the tempting dish. The islands of toast vanished
as if submerged by a tidal wave. The miniature lava lakes gradually
disappeared, and the big plate of rolls was so diminished by successive
onslaughts that the few remaining had a lonely look.

Priscilla was buttering the end of her roll when, in involuntary
emphasis of something she was saying, she pressed it more energetically
than she realized. As if determined to escape the fate of its comrades,
the fragment flew from her fingers. It cleared the space between that
table and the next as if it had been winged, and then made sure of
escape by dropping in the coffee cup of a young man in eye glasses, who
was composedly eating fried oysters.

The young man looked up, startled as a splash of coffee on his cheek
challenged his attention. He looked about in all directions and at
length his inquiring gaze came to the table where sat the agonized
Priscilla. Here, alas! it halted. For as she had seen the bewildering
gyrations of the fragment of Priscilla's roll, Amy had burst into
an astonished giggle and had continued to giggle without cessation.
Hildegarde, too, had lost interest in the remnant of her meal, and sat
leaning her head on her hand, speechless with laughter. As for Peggy
and Priscilla, they were looking at each other in silent stupefaction,
their flaming cheeks seemingly proclaiming their guilt. It was no
wonder the young man in eye-glasses looked no farther. He had found the
ones responsible.

For an agonizing moment Priscilla sat uncertain what to do. Then
summoning her common sense to her aid, she turned to the sole occupant
of the next table. "I am very sorry," she said with that dignity that
was Priscilla's own. "A piece of roll slipped from my fingers when I
was buttering it, and flew across to your table. It--it is in your
coffee cup."

The young man looked into his cup and perceived the floating fragment.
When again he lifted his eyes to Priscilla's he was smiling. "I thought
some acquaintance had thrown something at me to attract my attention,"
he explained.

"No," said Priscilla. "It was an unfortunate accident. I beg your
pardon." And then she turned to her own coffee, and seemingly gave it
her attention, though so intense was her excitement that she might as
well have been drinking warm water as the coffee for which the Green
Parrot was famous.

Peggy was proud of the dignity with which Priscilla had met a difficult
situation, but poor Priscilla was not to find it easy to preserve that
dignity. Amy was still giggling, her face wearing an expression of
suffering, due to the exhausting effect of continuous laughter. Across
the table Hildegarde pressed her handkerchief to her eyes and moaned
softly. And all at once it seemed to Priscilla that she must shriek
with laughter or die.

A moment later Peggy uttered an ejaculation of consternation, for the
tears were running down Priscilla's cheeks. She sat perfectly erect,
her eyes upon the table, and her only sign of emotion those tell-tale
tears. Peggy was really alarmed.

"Priscilla, you mustn't take it so to heart. It wasn't anything. Don't
cry."

"But I must do something," responded Priscilla in a strangled voice.
"Oh, can't we get away?"

Her laughing companions sobered at the discovery that Priscilla was in
tears. Hildegarde called the waiter and demanded her check. But before
they could get away, the young man in eye-glasses had risen and crossed
to their table.

"I hope you're not worrying about that roll," he said, looking down
dismayed at Priscilla's tear-wet cheeks. "It's not worth thinking of
twice, you know."

Seeing that Priscilla was incapable of replying, Peggy came to her
friend's assistance. "Of course it was only an accident," she said,
"But it made her a little nervous."

"So I see. I'm terribly sorry. If I could be of any service--" The
young man's face was troubled, his manner earnest. Peggy appreciated
the sincerity of his feeling, even while she longed to take him by the
ear and lead him to the door. For heads were turning in their direction
from all over the room. They were the observed of all observers.

"Oh, thank you," said Peggy hastily, "she will feel all right as soon
as she gets outside. This room is so warm," she added rather inanely.
To her enormous relief the waiter appeared with Hildegarde's change.
Hildegarde tipped him extravagantly, rammed her remaining bills into
her purse, and all four girls started for the door. The young man with
the eye-glasses remained standing, staring after them, and Peggy's
cheeks crimsoned as she realized the attention they were attracting.

She was quite sure she had a case of hysterics on her hands when, once
outside, Priscilla began to laugh. It started in a little smothered
giggle which soon had developed into peals of laughter. Peggy was
terrified. "Priscilla," she cried, "for Heaven's sake--"

But Amy who had begun laughing sympathetically, as soon as Priscilla
started off, checked herself to remonstrate.

"Let her alone, Peggy. All that ails her is she wanted to laugh and
couldn't, and I don't know anything that hurts worse. Isn't that it,
Priscilla?"

Priscilla could not answer in words, but she nodded vehemently and
laughed and wiped her wet eyes and laughed on till she sobbed. And then
all at once she stopped short, drew a long breath, and exclaimed, "I
feel better."

They made their way to the street cars, discussing the late
unpleasantness with much animation and making use of many lurid
adjectives. It was Hildegarde who exclaimed, "Don't you wish you knew
who he was?" She referred, of course, to the young man in eye-glasses.

Priscilla stiffened. "Mercy, no! I hope he was a stranger in town,
stopping over a train, and that I'll never lay eyes on him again."

But that wish, though it came from the depths of Priscilla's heart, was
not destined to come true.



CHAPTER XII

GOOD-BY


COLLEGE had opened; but they had slipped into it so quietly that there
hardly seemed to be a break. For Peggy and Priscilla, perhaps, there
was a bit of a pang at the realization that this was the last year of
what would probably be one of the sweetest periods in their lives to
look back on; and they privately vowed to make it rich in experience
and the beauty of living. Ruth and Amy, like Southey's brother who said
that "no young man believes that he will ever die," felt that college
life would never, could never, end. So a week after the beginning of
classes found the four girls trying conscientiously to live in the
present, and stifling vague, tantalizing memories of the past three
months.

A number of letters passed between Nelson Hallowell and his friend in
Oklahoma before the great step was decided on. And it must be confessed
that in the meantime Ruth's college work suffered. Nelson came almost
every evening to pour into her attentive ears the story of his hopes
and ambitions, and Ruth listened with the happy confidence that her
approval meant more to him than to any one in the world.

Ruth and Nelson were living in an enchanted world, where perfect
understanding took the place of speech. Nelson did not feel himself at
liberty to say to her the thing that was constantly in his thoughts.
The salary Mr. Flynn had paid him had not enabled him to save any
money, and his venture in Oklahoma, promising as he believed it, was,
after all, only a venture, with a possibility of failure. Nelson knew
that he himself was bound fast and irrevocably, but he wanted to leave
Ruth free as air. Yet he talked to her with the assurance that she knew
all he was in honor bound not to say, and her look, as she listened,
confirmed that certainty.

Those weeks during which the matter was being settled were a happy
time for both of them. Youth has a way of making the most of a present
joy, regardless of what the future has in store, and while this seems
very short-sighted to some older people, who can always look ahead
far enough to be miserable, the young will probably continue to
enjoy to-day's sunshine--regardless of the weather prognosticator,
who assures them of a storm in the middle of the week with a drop
in temperature. Nelson and Ruth saw as much of each other as they
could, and looked no further than a happiness born of a confidence and
understanding.

But the thing was settled at last, and the generous offer of Nelson's
soldier friend definitely accepted. Nelson gave Mr. Flynn notice, and
that irritable gentleman promptly lost his temper, and accused his
reliable clerk of folly and ingratitude. Later he realized his mistake,
and offered to raise his salary. But Nelson was as little moved by Mr.
Flynn's smiles as he had been by his frowns, and Mr. Flynn promptly
relapsed into his former irascibility.

"The war spoiled a lot of you young fellows. You're sick of hard work.
Loafing is the only thing that appeals to you."

"I never heard," laughed Nelson, "that life on a cattle ranch was
considered a soft snap."

"Well, if it isn't, you'll soon give it up," said Mr. Flynn
disagreeably. "An easy berth is what you're looking for, and it's my
opinion that you'll look some time before you find it."

The next two weeks fairly flew. Nelson was getting his necessary
outfit, and every afternoon, on the way home, he stopped to exhibit to
Ruth his latest purchases. And now the time had come when it was hard
for Ruth to smile and show the proper interest. Sometimes when she
remembered that the decision had been left to her, and that she had
brought this on herself, her heart almost failed her. It would have
been so much easier to have gone on in the old way. The thought of the
thousands of miles that would soon stretch between Nelson and herself
gave her a weak feeling in the knees. They had a great deal to say in
those days about letters but each realized, only two well, that the
best letter ever penned is a poor substitute for the exchange of speech
and of smiles.

The day of Nelson's departure Ruth went through the customary routine
with a curious sense of unreality. She had suggested Nelson's coming
to dinner, but he had declined, and she would never know what that
refusal cost him.

"I'd love to, Ruth. You don't know how I'd love to. But I think I
should take my last meal with mother."

"Yes, Nelson, I think so, too."

"She says she won't go down to the station to see me off," Nelson went
on. "She's been keen about my going from the start, but now that it's
come to the point, it's harder than she thought."

Ruth reflected that she could sympathize with Mrs. Hallowell perfectly.

"The train goes at ten," Nelson continued with a sprightly air that
would not have deceived the most gullible, "so I'll have plenty of time
to bore you stiff before you see the last of me."

Ruth forced the smile his jest demanded. "You know we're all going to
the station with you," she said. "Even Bob Carey's coming."

"I hope that Hitchcock won't show up," exclaimed Nelson apprehensively.

Ruth laughed. "No, I don't think Horace expects to honor us. Isn't it
the queerest thing," she added, "what Priscilla can see in him?"

"I should say so. Priscilla's one of the finest girls you'd meet in
a day's journey, and Hitchcock is a nut. I shouldn't think she could
stand it to have him around. Though I suppose," concluded Nelson with
customary modesty, "that Priscilla thinks just the same about you and
me."

"Priscilla! She wouldn't dare." Ruth's indignation was so intense that
Nelson shouted with laughter, but it warmed his heart, nevertheless.

In that last quick-moving Saturday, Ruth saw Nelson for a few moments
in the morning, and again about three in the afternoon. His stay was
short and rather unsatisfactory for he had some last errands to attend
to, and his mind was so full of them that his thoughts wandered from
what he was saying, and he left his sentences unfinished in the most
irritating fashion.

After he had answered a question of Ruth's in a way which showed he had
hardly heard what she had said, he looked up quickly at her half-vexed
exclamation, laughed, and jumped to his feet.

"It's no use, Ruth," he said. "I'm one of the fellows who's good
for only one thing at a time. I'll attend to these thousand-and-one
things that have been left over, and I'll see you about eight o 'clock
to-night. That will give us time for a nice little visit."

Up till that time the hours had fairly flown. Now they dragged. Ruth
watched the clock and waited for the tiresome, leisurely hour hand to
point to eight. The clan was to gather at a little after nine, and she
was thankful when Graham departed for Peggy's shortly after finishing
dinner. Peggy would keep him till the last minute. Peggy would
understand. Ruth had taken great pains in dusting the living-room that
morning, and she looked around it thinking that it made a picture of
cosy comfort Nelson might be glad to carry with him.

It was eight o'clock at last. Ruth straightened a book on the table,
brushed a speck of dust from her gown, and sat down facing the door.
There were quick steps on the side walk, and she never doubted that
they would come on up the walk, and then up the steps, and she meant to
have the door open before he had time to ring. But the footsteps went
on and the minute hand of the clock was also moving.

At quarter past eight Ruth was nervous. She got up and down, adjusted
the window shades, changed the arrangement of the chairs, fussed with
the flowers on the mantel, looked at herself in the mirror, and did
something to her hair. At half past eight she sat very still, frowning
slightly and biting her lip. At quarter of nine her cheeks had reddened
and she tapped the carpet with the toe of her shoe. And at nine o'clock
her heart gave a jump and she forgot how near she had come to being
angry. For the footsteps for which she had waited were coming up the
walk.

"Hello!" It was Priscilla's voice. "Don't tell me I'm the first one."

"The others will be here in a minute," Ruth replied in an even voice.
"Come right in and take off your coat, Priscilla, for this room's
awfully warm."

Priscilla complied with her friend's suggestion, and glanced at her
admiringly. She thought she had never seen Ruth look so pretty. "You've
got a lovely color to-night," she exclaimed.

"It's just because it's so hot here. I always get flushed when I'm
warm."

Priscilla was looking around the room as if in search of something.
"Why, where's Nelson?"

"He'll be here right away. You know there are always so many things
to be attended to in the last few minutes." But though Ruth gave this
explanation with a matter-of-fact cheerfulness that deceived even
Priscilla who knew her so well, she was seething inwardly. So this was
all he cared. He had sacrificed their quiet hour together. Now there
would be a crush and a crowd and everybody talking at once, and no
chance to say any of the things she had saved up for their last evening.

Not that she cared. Ruth flung up her head and laughed gaily at
something Priscilla was telling. Her hands were cold and her mouth
felt very dry, and her heart was pounding furiously. Nelson could come
when he was ready, and so that he didn't miss the train, it made no
difference to her.

Amy and Bob were next to arrive. Then came Peggy and Graham. "Nelson's
late, isn't he?" said Peggy with an uneasy glance at the clock. "He
hasn't any time to spare."

"I'll put on my things so we'll all be ready to start when he gets
here," Ruth returned casually. She had put on a little blue frock, of
which Nelson was especially fond, for the last evening, and she was
glad to conceal it by a long coat. Her hand trembled as she pinned her
hat in place. She hoped Nelson Hallowell wasn't conceited enough to
suppose she cared whether he came at one hour or another.

It was twenty minutes past nine when Nelson arrived, and he looked
rather white and shaken. As he had left for camp two years before, his
mother had stood smiling in the doorway to watch him go. When it was
whispered that they were going across, and he had told her she was not
likely to see him again till the war was over, she had kissed him with
lips that did not tremble. But then she had been lifted above herself
by the exalted spirits of the times. Now she had no sense of patriotic
service to sustain her. She realized that she was no longer a young
woman, that life was uncertain, and that her boy was going very far
away. Over their last meal together she had broken down, and wept as
Nelson had never seen his mother weep in all his life.

It is not to Nelson's discredit that he had forgotten Ruth. Or if that
is saying too much, his thought of her was vague and shadowy. Nelson's
father had died when he was a little boy, and through the years that
he was growing to manhood, his mother and he had been everything to
each other. The sight of her grief was torturing. He had put his arms
about her, and comforted her as best he could. He had offered to give
up the whole thing, and had started to go out to telegraph his friend
in Oklahoma that he was not coming. That, more than anything else,
had helped her to regain her self-control. As mothers have been doing
from time immemorial she wiped her wet eyes and tried to smile, that
he might go on his great adventure without a shadow on his heart.
Throughout that distressing, solemn, sacred time, it had never
occurred to Nelson to look at the clock. The thought of Ruth had hardly
crossed his mind. Even on his way to her homo, he was still thinking of
the mother he had left.

It was Graham who, hearing Nelson's step outside, rushed to admit him.
Nelson entered, blinking a little in the bright light of the room,
and speaking first to one and then another. Ruth in the corner by the
fireplace was talking to Bob Carey, and was so interested that she only
glanced in Nelson's direction, to toss him a smiling nod, and then
resume her conversation with Bob. Nelson gave a little start as if
some one had pinched him in the middle of a dream and he had suddenly
awakened.

"Well, old man," remarked Graham cheerfully, "you haven't left yourself
much leeway. It's just about time to start."

"I--yes, I suppose it is." Nelson looked in Ruth's direction and then
looked quickly away. As for Ruth, she was so absorbed by what Bob Carey
was saying, that her brother had to repeat his remark for her benefit.
"Come, Ruth. Better get a move on. We haven't any time to waste."

"Oh, is it really time to start?" Ruth asked carelessly. "I hadn't
noticed." And with that fib on her conscience, she rose and joined the
others.

Fond as Peggy was of Ruth, that evening she could have shaken her in
her exasperation. For on the walk to the street-car, Ruth clung to her
arm and chattered unceasingly. As Graham stuck doggedly to Peggy's
other side and Bob was with Amy, Nelson and Priscilla found themselves
walking together. But since Nelson was too dazed for speech, and
Priscilla was wondering what Horace would say to this juxtaposition,
they walked in an almost unbroken silence.

It was no better on the street car. Peggy maneuvered shamelessly to
put Nelson and Ruth into the one vacant seat, but Ruth slipped past
and took her seat beside a fat woman, who left so little space that
Ruth was in imminent danger of falling into the aisle, whenever the
car turned the corner. In Peggy's opinion such a catastrophe would
have been no more than she deserved. Peggy had to take the place she
had designed for Ruth, and did her best to be agreeable, but Nelson's
wandering replies showed the futility of her efforts.

A slight delay on the way brought them to the station less than ten
minutes before train time. Nelson's tickets were bought, of course,
and his reservations made. They stood in a group in the station
waiting-room and said the aimless things people generally say five
minutes before train-time. All but Ruth, that is. When Nelson looked at
her he found her attention absorbed by an Italian family, whose bundles
and babies occupied the nearest row of seats.

It was Graham who again took on himself the ungracious duty of calling
Nelson's attention to the flight of time. "I guess you'd better go
aboard, Nelson. You don't want to stand right here in the station, and
miss the train."

Nelson started violently. "Oh, no," he replied, "certainly not." He
turned to Bob Carey and shook hands with him, murmuring a mechanical
good-by. Amy stood at Bob's side and Nelson held out his hand to her.

Amy had shared Peggy's feeling of vexation with Ruth, and like Peggy
had resented her sense of impotence. Neither one of them would have
hesitated to take Ruth roundly to task for her conduct, but it was
impossible to scold her in Nelson's presence, and after he had started
on his long journey westward it would be too late. But as Amy looked
into the young fellow's down-cast face, a brilliant inspiration came to
her aid. She grasped his hand, pulled herself up on tiptoes, and kissed
the astonished youth squarely on the lips. "Good-by, Nelson, and good
luck."

Peggy, the next in line, saw her friend's ruse, and seconded her
admirably. It was impossible to tell whether Nelson blushed at the
second kiss, for the flaming color due to Amy's salute still dyed him
crimson. Priscilla pushed aside the obtrusive thought of Horace, and
backed up the others. And then Nelson came to Ruth.

For a moment Ruth had been in a quandary. After their warm friendship,
to part with Nelson with a formal handshake when the other girls had
kissed him, would be to proclaim publicly that she was angry, and
Ruth did not wish to seem angry, but only indifferent. And yet if she
kissed Nelson good-by, she had a suspicion that the barrier her pride
had built between them would melt like mist in the sun. She raised her
eyes and met his, those honest eyes in which she read bewilderment and
grief and appeal and something greater than all. And then, all at once,
her resentment seemed incomprehensibly petty. Whatever the reason that
Nelson had come late, it was not because he did not care. And so their
first kiss was exchanged in the garish light of a railway waiting-room,
with the calls of the trainmen blending with the unmelodious crying of
babies, with travelers coming and going, and a little circle of friends
standing by and taking everything in. But there are some experiences it
is impossible to spoil.

[Illustration: "SHE RAISED HER EYES AND MET HIS"]

"All aboard," cried Graham, and carried Nelson away. Ruth slipped her
arms through Peggy's, and turned toward the door, swallowing hard at
something that refused to be swallowed.

"If ever a girl deserved a scolding!" said Peggy in the tenderest
tones imaginable. "But I'm not going to do it now, because at the last
minute you redeemed yourself--thanks to Amy."



CHAPTER XIII

PEGGY GIVES A DINNER PARTY


RUTH moped after Nelson's departure. Just how much her depression was
due to missing him, and how much was the result of self-reproach, she
could not have told. Each time she realized his absence she remembered
with a pang the hurt wonder of his face that night in the station. It
did not help matters that Nelson seemed to consider himself entirely to
blame for what had happened, and had written her from the train a most
humble apology for failing to be at her home at eight o'clock as he had
promised. In fact, his assumption that she could not possibly be in the
wrong only made Ruth the more conscious of her pettiness.

It was largely on Ruth's account that Peggy resolved on her dinner
party. For after scolding Ruth soundly, and giving her to understand
that she was very much ashamed of her, Peggy had set herself resolutely
to cheer her despondent friend. On the Friday following Nelson's
departure something went wrong with the heating plant at college, and
the classes were dismissed at ten o'clock. At once Peggy determined to
celebrate.

"Father and mother have gone away for the week end, and Dick's going
home with his chum after school, and I shan't see him till bed-time.
Come to dinner all of you. We'll have an old-fashioned good time."

The recipients of this invitation accepted promptly. They were in the
rather hilarious mood which for some reason characterizes the most
ambitious student when school is dismissed for the day, college seniors
as well as kindergarten tots. "Only you must let us come over and help
you," stipulated Ruth.

"Yes, come on, and then if anything doesn't turn out well, I can
blame some of you. I wonder--do you know, I've half a mind to invite
Hildegarde Carey."

The others approved, especially Priscilla who had a great admiration
for Bob's attractive sister.

"She took us out that evening, you know," Peggy continued. "She's
always been awfully sweet to me and I've never done anything for her.
The only thing--well, I feel a little bit afraid of her."

"I'll testify that she can eat a very simple meal and seem to enjoy
it." And Amy chuckled as she always did when she recalled the first
time Hildegarde had sat at her table.

Peggy laughed understandingly. "I think I'll ask her. I've always
thought it was a sort of snobbishness to be ashamed to give your best
to people who have more than you do. Though I'm not sure that a party
of girls will appeal to her."

Apparently she had misjudged Hildegarde. For the latter's tone, when
she responded to Peggy's invitation given over the phone a few minutes
later, was unmistakably enthusiastic.

"A dinner party and just girls! How cute! I'd adore to come, Peggy,
but would it put you out if I brought my friend Virginia Dunbar? She's
a New York girl who's making me a little visit and she's perfectly
fascinating."

"Why, bring her of course. I shall love to meet her." Peggy's
hospitality rendered her response sufficiently fervent, but as she hung
up the receiver, her face wore a thoughtful expression. The little
dinner party, which had seemed pure fun when her three chums were her
prospective guests, had become a responsibility, as soon as Hildegarde
was added to the number. And with a New York girl coming, it seemed
distinctly formidable.

It had not previously occurred to Peggy that the house was not in
suitable order for the reception of guests, but now as she looked about
the dining-room its shortcomings were painfully evident. She donned a
long apron and a sweeping cap, and set resolutely to work. When the
dining room was swept and garnished, the living room across the hall
suffered comparison, and Peggy gave that equally careful attention.
And as by this time she was on her mettle, she went to work cleaning
the silver. The twelve o'clock whistles surprised her in this exacting
task, and she swallowed a peanut-butter sandwich by way of luncheon,
promising herself to make up for this abstemiousness at dinner, Peggy
was not one of the temperamental cooks who cannot enjoy their own
cooking.

At half past one she hurried forth with her market basket to make the
necessary purchases. She left by the back door and took the key with
her. A little after two she was back again, the loaded basket on her
arm. Peggy set her burden down, rubbed her aching muscles, and felt in
her coat pocket for the key. Then she felt in the other pocket. Then
she continued to search one pocket and then the other, with increasing
evidences of consternation. But it was of no use. The key was gone.

"I must have had it in my hand and laid it down on the counter
somewhere," thought Peggy. "Was ever anything so exasperating." She
left the basket outside the locked door, and hurriedly retraced her
steps. The butcher, whom she had visited first, shook his head in
answer to her question. No, he had not seen a stray door-key. It was
the same at the grocer's, the same at the bakery where she had bought
Parker-house rolls. Peggy walked home over the route she had traversed,
her eyes glued to the side-walk, but she did not find the key.

Ruth was waiting for her by the front steps. "I thought I'd come over
and help you. I hope you haven't finished everything."

"I haven't even started," replied Peggy in a hollow voice, and
explained the situation. Ruth was a girl of resources and at once she
had a bright idea.

"Peggy, our front door key looks a good bit like yours. Perhaps it will
open the door. I'll run over and get it."

"Then, fly," pleaded Peggy, "It's simply awful to be locked out of your
house when you have a million things to do."

Ruth sped on her errand at a pace which satisfied even the impatient
Peggy, and returned with a key which really did look like the latch key
with whose appearance Peggy was most familiar. Hopefully she inserted
it in the appropriate key-hole. Patiently she turned it this way and
that. The latch key was like a great many people, encouraging one's
expectations by almost doing what it was asked to do, but never quite
succeeding. In the end Peggy mournfully relinquished all hope of
entering the house by its aid.

"I can't waste any more time on that key. It won't work, and I've got
to get in."

"How about the windows," suggested Ruth.

"The windows on the first floor are all locked, for I made sure of that
before I started out."

"If we could borrow a ladder--"

"I don't know anybody who owns a ladder. No, there's just one chance as
far as I can see. I've always wondered if I could get in through the
coal shute and now I'm going to see."

"But, Peggy, it's so dirty."

"I know, but it's got to be done."

"You might get stuck," exclaimed Ruth, turning pale. "Wait a little,
Peggy. Perhaps something will happen."

"Unless an air ship comes along and takes me to a second story window,
I can't think of anything that could happen that would be of any help
to me."

The narrow, inclined passage through which the coal was chuted from
the side walk to the cellar bin, looked small enough and black enough
to justify Ruth's forebodings. But Peggy's impatience had reached the
point where anything seemed better than inaction. She lowered herself
into the chute, and when she released her hold of the edge, her descent
was so rapid that Ruth shrieked. But after a moment of suspense she
heard an encouraging rattle of coal, and then steps slowly ascending
the cellar steps. A little later the front door was shaken violently
without opening, however, and Peggy's face presently appeared at one
of the living-room windows. Regardless of the fact that her friend was
attempting to tell her something, Ruth screamed with laughter, for
Peggy's face was so begrimed as to suggest that her habitual occupation
was that of a chimney-sweep. Ruth's laughter was short-lived, however,
for raising her voice, Peggy made herself heard, and with an accent of
authority by no means characteristic.

"Stop laughing, Ruth, and help me. In fooling with your key I've done
something to that wretched lock, and now I can't open the door even
from the inside."

"The front door?"

"I can't open either door," cried Peggy. "I can't open _any_ door. The
only way to get into the house is by the window, and Hildegarde Carey
is coming to dinner and a girl from New York."

"What do you want me to do, Peggy?" Ruth was so carried away by her
friend's excitement that for the moment she was unable to see anything
humorous in the situation.

"Bring me my market basket, first. It's on the back steps. And then
find a locksmith and bring him here. Don't be satisfied with having him
say he'll come. Bring him with you."

Ruth hurried to the back of the house, secured the heavy basket, and
returned with it to the living room window. And then she astonished
Peggy by setting the basket down and beginning to laugh hysterically.

"What on earth--"

"Oh, Peggy, please excuse me. I really didn't mean to laugh, but
honestly you're the funniest sight I've ever seen. You're striped just
like a zebra."

Curiosity led Peggy to consult the mirror over the mantel. But instead
of laughing as Ruth had done, she uttered a tragic groan.

"It's going to take a terrible time to clean that off, if it ever does
come off. Oh, Ruth, hurry! When I think of all that will have to be
done before six o'clock, my head just whirls."

Ruth took a hasty departure and Peggy, having carried the basket to
the kitchen, rushed upstairs to remove all traces of her recent novel
entry. As this necessitated an entire change of clothing and the use
of a prodigious amount of soap and hot water, her toilet consumed more
time than she could well spare. But at length, clean and extremely
pink, and attired in a little frock not too good for getting dinner
and yet good enough to pass muster at the table, she rushed downstairs
and attacked her vegetables. And still no sign of Ruth, bringing the
locksmith.

About five o'clock Priscilla arrived ready to lend a hand. Peggy
answered her ring at the window, instead of at the door, and after a
brief conversation, the tall Priscilla made an unconventional entry.
Amy arriving twenty minutes later was admitted by the same entrance.
The girls made themselves useful and speculated on what was detaining
Ruth.

"I don't mind letting you girls in through the window," groaned Peggy.
"But it's different with Hildegarde. And that New York girl. Oh,
heavens!"

At five o'clock they were all too nervous to know what they were doing.
Peggy set skillets on the stove with nothing in them, and snatched them
off again, just in time to avert disaster. She salted vegetables and
then forgot and salted them all over again. Priscilla was trying to set
the table, and making a poor job of it, as is generally the case when
one is doing one thing and thinking of another. Amy, after going to the
front window on the average of once in every two minutes to see if Ruth
were coming, felt that she could bear inaction no longer.

"Peggy, where's the latch key to your front door?"

"Hanging on a hook over by the umbrellas. But you can't do anything
with it. I've tried."

"What a key has done a key can undo," replied Amy, sententiously; and
possessing herself of the magic piece of steel, she climbed out of the
window and set to work. For fifteen or twenty minutes she continued
to fumble at the lock without results, and she was on the point of
deciding that she might be putting in the time to better advantage,
when something clicked encouragingly. Amy turned the knob, and squealed
with delight; for the door opened.

Before she could proclaim her success, Priscilla had made a discovery.
Lying across a chair in the kitchen was a garment of some indeterminate
shade between blue and black. "What's this?" asked Priscilla, pausing
to examine it.

"It's my old blue coat. But since I came down the coal chute, I don't
know as I can ever wear it again. It isn't worth sending to the
cleaner's, and I'm afraid it's beyond my skill."

"I'll hang it in the laundry," said Priscilla, and lifted the smutty
garment daintily by the tips of her fingers. The coat swung against the
round of the chair with a distinct clink, and Peggy looked up quickly.
"What was that?"

"A button, wasn't it?"

"The buttons are cloth. And that was such a queer sound--like metal."

Priscilla had a brilliant idea. Disregarding the fact that the coal
dust with which the garment was covered came off on her hands, she
began eagerly feeling along the lower edge. And just as Amy heard the
click that meant victory, Priscilla uttered an ecstatic cry.

"The key, Peggy! I've found your key!"

"What? Where? Oh, Priscilla, not really?"

"There must have been a hole in your pocket," declared Priscilla. "The
key slipped down between the outside and the lining. You can feel for
yourself. There's a key all right, and it's not likely it's a different
one."

"Take a knife and rip up the lining at the bottom," ordered Peggy
recklessly. "Yes, of course it's the key. I wonder if I'd rather have
that New York girl come in by the back door or the front window."

That query had hardly left her lips, when Amy rushed in. "I've done it,
Peggy, I've done it."

"You don't mean you've got the door open?"

"Yes, I have. I was just ready to give up and then I tried again and
something clicked and the deed was done."

"And Priscilla's found the back-door key. Now Ruth will come with the
locksmith."

They heard footsteps even as she spoke, and then Ruth's voice
explaining to the locksmith that the only way to get into the house was
by the window. Peggy went to meet them, assuming a very dignified air
that she might not look sheepish.

"We succeeded in opening the doors that were troubling us, but there's
a key broken off in a lock upstairs. Since you're here, you might as
well attend to that. Will you take him upstairs Ruth? It's the door of
the den." And then Peggy beat a retreat to the kitchen, leaving Ruth to
propitiate the locksmith, who had left his shop reluctantly, yielding
to her impassioned representations of the urgency of the case.

Dinner was more than half an hour late, and failed to justify Peggy's
reputation as a cook, for some dishes were over-salted and others
entirely lacking that essential ingredient, while the pudding was so
overdone that it was necessary to remove the top layer, and conceal
deficiencies by a quite superfluous meringue. But since Peggy had
planned her dinner party with the purpose of distracting Ruth's
thoughts, she had every reason to consider it an unqualified success.



CHAPTER XIV

AT THE FOOT-BALL GAME


THE foot-ball season was on. It had opened auspiciously when the
university had crushingly defeated the visitors, and the attendance
upon the second game showed that the public anticipated a similar
victory. Priscilla, sitting demurely beside Horace Hitchcock, was
a-tingle with excitement. Not for the world would she have allowed
Horace to guess how momentous the occasion seemed.

The tiers of seats gave a dazzling effect of color. Pennants and flags
and the bright-colored hats of the girls made Priscilla think of
terraces covered with flowers. Every one was talking, almost drowning
out the noisy efforts of the 'varsity band. It seemed to Priscilla an
unfitting time to quote Schopenhauer, but the Schopenhauer pose was
Horace's latest, and it recognized neither time nor seasons.

Priscilla leaned impulsively across Horace to wave to Amy, whose
good-humored face had suddenly differentiated itself from the mass of
surrounding faces. Horace interrupted in the midst of a peculiarly
pessimistic utterance, looked frankly vexed, and Priscilla apologized.
"Excuse me, I just happened to see Amy."

"It is not a surprise to me, Priscilla, to find you uninterested. It is
the fate of some souls to be solitary. Once I had hoped--but it doesn't
matter."

Priscilla's mood was a little perverse. "Perhaps the reason you're
solitary is that you choose such unpleasant paths. If you'd only walk
where it was nice and sunny, you'd have plenty of company."

"Plenty of company! Heavens!" Horace shuddered. "That suggests the
crowd. It is bad enough for the body to be jostled, but at least the
spirit can command unhampered space. I had dreamed once that you might
follow me to the heights where the atmosphere is too rare for the
multitude, but--Why do we cling to life, when each hour that passes
shatters another illusion?"

"I'm sorry I'm such a disappointment, Horace," Priscilla bit her lip.
She was young and eager. She wanted passionately to be happy. She
longed to respond to the charm of the hour, to enjoy it ardently, and
instead she was obliged to listen to quotations from Schopenhauer, and
think of Horace's lost illusions. The thought crossed her mind that
since she could not make Horace happy even for an afternoon, and since
he was certainly not making her so, it promised ill for the future. If
only Horace could be brought to see that they had made a mistake. A
little flutter of hope stirred in Priscilla's heart.

Horace was speaking in a tone of extreme bitterness. "Blessed is the
man who expects nothing from life, for he shall not be disappointed."

"Horace," began Priscilla firmly. "Don't you think that we--I mean
wouldn't it be better--"

A number of people were coming into the vacant places on her left.
A young man seated himself beside Priscilla, and involuntarily she
turned. Then she gave an impulsive start and her ready color flamed
up. The young man, who wore glasses, also started and after an almost
imperceptible hesitation lifted his hat. Simultaneously Priscilla bowed
in the most unresponsive fashion possible, and looked away.

Horace stared suspiciously at her flushed cheeks. Horace had never
heard the story of the supper at the Green Parrot, and the fragment of
roll that had sought to drown itself in the stranger's coffee-cup. If
Priscilla had ever taken him into her confidence, he might have guessed
the explanation of her present embarrassment. As it was, he leaned
close and said in her ear, "Who is that fellow?"

"Sh! I'll tell you afterward."

Poor Priscilla! The game to which she had looked forward had become an
impossible nightmare. Horace's philosophical pursuits had not freed him
from that ready jealousy which is the characteristic of small natures.
He sat glowering across Priscilla's shoulder at the young man seated on
her left. As it was impossible to misunderstand Horace's expression,
the young man, after his first recognition of Priscilla's presence,
obligingly ignored her.

The finishing of the first half was an enormous relief to Priscilla.
The majority of the seats in the grand-stand were immediately vacated.
The flower bed had become kaleidoscopic, with the bits of color
continually rearranging themselves, as laughing girls and glowing
youths moved about, excitedly discussing the points of the game they
had witnessed. But though Priscilla was so ardent a fan, she knew
little of the game and cared less.

The young man at her left had been one of the first to rise. As he
moved away, Priscilla turned to Horace, and without giving herself time
to be frightened by his forbidding expression, she told him the story
of her first and only visit to the Green Parrot.

After she had finished, Horace seemed to be waiting for more. "Do you
mean that is all?" he demanded at length.

"All? Of course it's all."

"Then why did you blush that way?"

The red went out of Priscilla's cheeks. Even the color due to the
frostiness of the outdoor air was replaced by an angry pallor. "Do you
mean," she said in a level voice, "that you don't believe me?"

"A fellow crowds in and sits down beside you, a fellow I've never seen.
You recognize each other and then you turn crimson. You refuse to give
me any explanation till enough time has elapsed for fabricating a
story, plausible from your point of view--"

"Horace!"

"And you then tell me a yarn that is no explanation whatever. What if a
piece of roll did fly out of your hand and fall into somebody's coffee
cup! What is there in that to turn you all colors of the rainbow?
You're stringing me, that's all." The Horace who quoted Schopenhauer,
and talked like the hero of a society novel, had magically disappeared,
and in his place was a slangy young man, very much like other young men
in a bad temper.

"Horace," said Priscilla, her lips trembling, "I've been afraid for
a long time that we'd made a mistake. I can't seem to please you, no
matter how hard I try, and probably it won't surprise you to know that
I've been perfectly miserable for the last six months. And it seems to
me the best thing we can do--"

The people were beginning to come back to their seats. A couple just
in front of Horace and Priscilla turned to scream something to a row
of young people back of them. Priscilla tightened her grip on her self
control and looked straight ahead. It was not the time nor place for
breaking an engagement. She must wait till she could get away from this
noisy, laughing crowd. Oh, if only the dreadful afternoon were over.

The university triumphed again, as its friends had anticipated. There
was the usual tumultuous cheering, the usual frantic demonstrations.
Priscilla gave Horace the benefit of a frigid profile. Her sense
of indignity kept her sternly silent. He had accused her of lying,
and that meant all was over between them. Underneath her hurt and
humiliation was a sense of relief she refused to acknowledge even to
herself. Fortunately the young man in eye-glasses did not return to
take the vacant place at Priscilla's left, and the situation was not
further complicated by his embarrassing presence.

She stood up as the crowd rose, thankful for the prospect of escape.
Horace put his hand lightly on her arm. "Wouldn't you like something
hot to drink?" he asked. "Chocolate or coffee?" His tone was caressing.

"I don't want anything except to get home."

"Then we'll go home, little girl. I only thought you might be chilled
sitting here in the cold so long."

He spoke with placid tenderness, as if their quarrel belonged to the
Babylonian era of their acquaintance. Priscilla cast a frightened
glance at him. She felt like a fly, partially disentangling itself from
the spider's web, only to find itself again mysteriously ensnared.
"Don't, Horace," she exclaimed impulsively.

"Don't what, Priscilla?"

"Don't talk as if nothing had happened. If you believe that I'm a
liar--"

"My dear girl, don't be absurd. We'd better not talk till you're
calmer."

"I'm as calm as I'm likely to be when I'm talking of this, Horace. If
you think it a little thing to doubt my word, I don't agree with you."

He took her arm and bent down till his face was very close to hers.
"Can't you make allowances, Priscilla, for a man crazed with love and
jealousy?"

"You haven't any right--" Her voice broke in a sob. She fought
desperately against the tears that placed her, she vaguely realized,
at such a serious disadvantage, but they were too much for her. They
splashed down on her white cheeks, and the couples crowding past
glanced at her curiously.

"Forgive me, Priscilla. I accept your explanation. I ask your
forgiveness. I am at your feet."

She was lost and she knew it, but she struggled nevertheless. "We've
made a mistake. We're not happy, either of us. It's better to stop now
than later."

"Priscilla--are you in love with him?"

Horace's tone had changed magically. It was no longer tenderly
matter-of-fact, but tragic, desperate. She stared at him aghast. "In
love--why, what, do you mean?"

"With that man who sat beside you to-day, the man who did not dare come
back and face me."

"Horace,--why, Horace, you must be crazy. I told you I had never seen
him but once before, and I told you what happened then."

Her disclaimer did not afford him any especial relief. He was muttering
to himself. She caught the words, "As well now as later," and fear
gripped her heart. He did not directly address her till they had left
the field behind, and were no longer surrounded by the laughing,
buoyant throng.

"I have foreseen this, Priscilla. I have known that happiness was not
for me. But I have tried to shut my eyes to the truth, to hope for the
impossible. Now you have thrown me away like a ripped glove--"

"Horace, I didn't." Even at this tragic moment the thought crossed
Priscilla's mind that instead of throwing away a ripped glove as
worthless, she would sit down conscientiously to mend it. She brushed
aside the reflection as unworthy the occasion and hurried on, "It isn't
that. But if we can't be happy now, if we're always irritating and
hurting each other--"

"You don't need to say more, Priscilla. You are weary of me. I had
dreamed I had found a soul capable of constancy--but no matter. This
is good-by, Priscilla. I cannot live without you. When you take away
your love from me, you take away all that makes life endurable. All I
ask now is forgetfulness, and only death can promise me that--Good-by,
Priscilla."

Poor Priscilla! She should have known better. Long before she had
discovered Horace's weakness for posing. It was no secret to her that
he experienced the keenest satisfaction in contemplating the ravages
wrought in his nature by successive disillusionments. Yet though she
understood, at this crisis her good sense failed her. In spite of
herself, she interpreted Horace's speech by her own sincerity, and a
chill terror took possession of her. He would kill himself and she
would be to blame. Although the law would not recognize her crime, at
the bar of her own conscience she would be adjudged guilty of murder.

"Horace," she wailed, "you did not understand me. I want to make
you happy, that's all. If you think we haven't made a mistake, I'm
satisfied."

It took a long time to reassure Horace. It was so hard to explain
matters satisfactorily that it almost seemed as if he were stupid or
else wilfully perverse. Much of the time he stared blankly ahead, so
lost in gloomy reflections that she had to speak his name twice, before
she could attract his attention. His lips moved, too, but without a
sound, as if he were saying things too dreadful to be heard. Altogether
Priscilla suffered intolerably before she could bring the unhappy young
man to reconsider his desperate purpose.

At last she was partially successful. He became calm enough to listen
to her repeated assurances that all she thought of was his happiness
and, though his mood was still sober when they parted, he had given a
half-hearted and reluctant promise that he would surrender, for the
present at least, all thought of doing away with the life he valued so
lightly.

Priscilla was not sure how she got through the rest of the day. Her
mother noticed her abstraction and speculated hopefully as to whether
she had quarreled with Horace. While Priscilla's parents had never been
let into the secret of the engagement, they could not be unaware of
the significance of Horace's attentions. Like most American fathers
and mothers, they believed a girl should be allowed to choose her own
friends, unless there was some decided reason to oppose her choice.
Although neither of them liked Horace, the reasons for their prejudice
were too vague and too personal to constitute a ground for opposing
the intimacy. Moreover, both of Priscilla's parents were of the
opinion that if she saw enough of the young man she would tire of the
mannerisms they found so objectionable.

It was not till Priscilla was safe in bed that she dared relieve her
over-burdened heart by tears. And as she lay sobbing with the coverlet
over her head, she solemnly relinquished all hope of happiness in this
world.

"It was my vanity that got me into this," lamented Priscilla. "I didn't
like to feel I was less attractive than the other girls and so I fairly
snatched at Horace. Now I've got to stand by my promise if it kills me,
but Oh, how am I going to bear it!"

So Priscilla cried herself to sleep. And there was an added poignancy
in her grief as she remembered that the Combs family was notably
long-lived, boasting some distant ancestors who had rounded out a full
century of existence.



CHAPTER XV

THE CURE


THEY were out for a walk one Saturday evening, Peggy and Amy, with
Graham and Bob in attendance, when in front of a little movie theater,
Peggy stopped short. A young couple stood at the ticket booth, the girl
giggling vacuously as the very slender youth fumbled in his pockets for
the price of admission. Peggy's abrupt halt was not due to the charm of
the flaring poster, representing a fat woman with a broom in pursuit of
a thin man attired in a bath-robe. Her attention was absorbed by the
young couple, who were planning to enjoy the show. For while she had
never seen the girl before, the slender youth was her younger brother,
Dick.

As the two disappeared behind the swinging doors, Peggy turned to her
companions. "Think you could stand it?" She indicated the poster by
a gesture, and Bob Carey, who did not have the pleasure of Dick's
acquaintance, looked surprised, while Graham's face wore an expression
of doubt.

"I've seen just as bad, Peggy, and still survive," Graham said. "But I
hardly think--"

"Of course we can stand it, if you'd like to go in, Peggy," interrupted
Amy. And Bob, though evidently puzzled by Peggy's taste moved quickly
forward to purchase the tickets, thus getting ahead of Graham who was
still inclined to remonstrate. Graham understood that Peggy was not
especially pleased to discover Dick in company with a girl she knew
nothing about, especially since her manner had made anything but a
favorable impression in the few seconds she had been under observation.
But Dick, while considerably short of his majority, was old enough to
resent interference in his affairs, and Graham could not see that Peggy
would gain anything by trying to play detective.

The film which constituted the evening's entertainment was
exceptionally poor. The comedy was of the atrocious, slap-stick sort
that moves the judicious almost to tears while the feature play, a
melodrama only saved from being a tragedy by an inconsistently happy
ending, was frequently so overdone as to be extremely funny. Peggy paid
comparatively little attention to the drama as it unrolled before her
eyes. First of all she set herself to locate Dick and his companion,
and then to evolve a plan of action suited to the requirements of the
case.

Graham spoke confidentially in her ear. "Don't worry, Peggy. Every boy
has his silly times. I did myself." Graham's manner suggested that he
was speaking from the vantage-point of discreet middle age.

"Yes, I know." Peggy did not mean her answer just as it sounded. She
was simply thinking of something else. Graham stared at the inane
chase, unfolding on the screen, where a procession of people ran into
everything imaginable from a peanut vendor's cart to an express train,
and presently tried again. "You want to be careful, Peggy. He's just at
the age to resent your trying to manage him."

"Yes, I know," whispered Peggy again. She was fully as alive as Graham
to the necessity of tact. But she was aware, too, that all boys do not
pass through the silly stage as unscathed as Graham had done. All the
loyal sister in her was alert.

They sat through the depressing comedy and the amusing tragedy, and
then suddenly Peggy rose. She had seen Dick on ahead getting to his
feet. In the darkness of the picture house there was no danger he would
recognize her. Indeed it was unlikely that he would have seen her even
if the lights had been turned on, so engrossed was he by the plump
little person whose head barely reached his shoulder.

Peggy and her party were outside first. All unaware of the ambush,
Dick came blundering on. He was talking fast and the girl was giggling
approval. Peggy saw that she was all she had feared. Her round cheeks
were rouged so as to give an excellent imitation of a pair of Baldwin
apples. Between the crimson circles her nose gleamed ludicrously
white, suggesting a very recent use of her powder puff. Her bobbed
hair, together with her diminutive frame, gave her a childish air,
contradicted by the shrewdness of her eyes. Peggy guessed that Dick's
friend was considerably his senior, probably not far from her own age.

Dick was laughing rather boisterously at one of his own witticisms,
when Peggy touched his arm. "Hello, Dick!" Her tone was nonchalant,
but Dick started, straightened himself and flushed angrily. All his
masculine pride was up in arms at the thought of coercion. But Peggy's
matter-of-fact air partly allayed his suspicions.

"We sat about six rows back of you," she explained. "Dick, you haven't
met Mr. Carey, have you? My brother, Richard, Bob."

The two shook hands and Dick realized that reciprocity was in order.
Under the most favorable circumstances, performing the ceremony of
introduction was to Dick an agonizing ordeal, and the present situation
increased his inevitable embarrassment a hundred fold. He was the color
of a ripe tomato as he blurted out, "Miss Coffin, let me introduce you
to my sister--Miss Raymond--and Miss--Miss----" He had forgotten Amy's
name after having known it all his life, and Peggy came to the rescue,
and introduced the others.

Whatever Dick's feeling in regard to the meeting, it was clear that
Miss Coffin was not displeased. She fixed a hypnotic gaze on Bob Carey
as she exclaimed, "Fierce name, isn't it! But take it from me, I'm no
dead one, Coffin or no coffin."

Peggy's smile gave no hint of her inward anguish. "We're just going
home to have some oysters. Won't you and Dick come along, Miss Coffin?"

Graham had difficulty in choking down an impatient exclamation. What
was Peggy thinking of? It was bad enough for Dick to be associating
with a girl of this sort, but for Peggy to encourage him in his folly
by welcoming the girl to her home, the first time she had ever seen
her, impressively illustrated the feminine incapacity to act reasonably
in a crisis. While it was impossible to put his disapproval into words,
Graham's manner left little unexpressed.

Dick looked as if he agreed with Graham, but Peggy had not addressed
herself to him. And as for Miss Coffin, Peggy's invitation was
responsible for a marked increase in her sprightliness. "Eats!" she
cried dramatically, "Oh, boy! Lead me to it!"

They went down the street in the direction of Friendly Terrace, Miss
Coffin chattering animatedly at Dick's elbow, and speaking loudly
enough to be heard easily by the others. Indeed, there was ground for
supposing that she was willing to allow her vivacious conversation to
make an impression on more important listeners than Dick. Her youthful
escort, stalking awkwardly at her side, was almost as silent as Graham
who walked on ahead with Peggy. But the silence of her brother and her
lover, even though it implied criticism and displeasure, seemingly
failed to shadow Peggy's spirits. She turned her head every now and
then to address a remark to Dick's companion, and Miss Coffin showed
her appreciation of the friendly attitude by the request that she "cut
out the formal stuff." "You kids are the kind that can call me Mazie,"
she chirruped, apparently under the impression that she was addressing
some one at a considerable distance.

It was perhaps as well for the success of Peggy's plan that neither
her father nor her mother were at home. She ushered her guests into
the living room and insisted on their laying aside their wraps. Mazie
Coffin having removed her hat, went straight as a homing pigeon to the
mirror over the mantel, and made an unabashed and quite unnecessary use
of her powder puff.

"You're coming out to help me, aren't you, Amy?" Peggy inquired
casually. "I thought I'd fix little pigs-in-blankets, you know. They're
awfully good, but rather fussy."

"Why, of course I'll help," responded Amy, wondering if Mazie,
also, would be called on to render assistance. But apparently
Peggy's acquaintance with Mazie had not progressed to that point of
informality. "We'll try not to be any longer than we can help," she
smiled, "and we'll leave you to amuse one another till we're ready."

Out in the kitchen as they wrapped fat oysters in blankets of bacon,
pinning the latter in place with wooden tooth-picks, the two girls
exchanged significant glances. "What's the idea?" Amy asked, with the
frankness of long friendship.

"Well, I'm not sure that it will do any good. But I've got an
idea--Don't you know that the impression a thing makes on you depends a
lot on the background?"

"Hm! I don't quite understand what you mean."

"Well, if you see a girl on the stage with a skirt nine inches long, it
doesn't make the same impression on you that it would if you saw her in
your own home."

"No, it doesn't."

"Dick's been used to nice people all his life," Peggy went on, plainly
trying to encourage herself as well as to explain matters to Amy. "A
girl like this might attract his attention if he saw her behind the
counter of a cigar store--"

"Does she work in a cigar store?"

"I haven't the least idea. I only meant she wouldn't seem particularly
out of place in a tobacco shop. But here in our home--Oh, it seems as
though Dick must see how cheap and tawdry she is."

Amy skewered a particularly juicy oyster with a vicious thrust of the
tooth pick. "Hope so, anyway," she said, and felt an exasperated
desire to box Dick's ears.

But when Peggy had left the field to Mazie Coffin, she had builded
better than she knew, Mazie had accepted the responsibility of
entertaining the masculine portion of the company with extreme
complacency. Never for a moment had she doubted her ability to make a
favorable impression. As she gave her smiling attention to the trio,
her late escort occupied a very small fraction of her thoughts. Dick
was only a boy, a boy to whom shaving was still a novel art, and whose
voice cracked ludicrously in moments of excitement. But Graham and Bob
were young men, and good looking young men at that. Mazie hoped that
the girls would not hurry with the oysters.

As this young woman's methods were not characterized by subtlety, it
was not long before Dick realized that he was being disregarded. Mazie
had eyes only for his seniors. She had begun by saying, as the door
closed behind Peggy and Amy, "Gee, but they're trusting! How do they
know that I won't vamp you two guys!" And when Dick, resenting his
new rôle of unnoticed on-looker, had attempted to bear his part in
the conversation, Mazie had silenced him with a jocose, "What are you
butting in for, kid? Children must be seen and not heard, you know."

Dick Raymond was by no means a bad boy, and he was just as far from
being a stupid boy. Mazie's conversational advances, as she had weighed
out peanut brittle and caramels in quarter pound lots, had flattered
his vanity. Dick was not accustomed to being regarded as a young man,
and Mazie's manner of considering him worth-while game had naturally
convinced him that she was a girl of exceptional insight. But now as
she made eyes at Graham and smiled at Bob, the conviction seized Dick
that her previous attentions had been due to the fact that he was the
only one of his kind within reach. As was natural, the discovery made
him critical. He noticed the harshness of Mazie's voice, the vacuity
of her giggle. Her repetition of cheap slang began to jar on him, even
though he was himself a similar offender. He looked distrustfully at
the crimson cheeks, with the powdered nose gleaming whitely between.
"I'll be 'jiggered if it doesn't look exactly like a marshmallow," he
told himself.

The possibility that Dick's mood was critical did not trouble Mazie.
She had looked Peggy and Amy over with the complacent certainty of
her superior charms. Dick's sister wasn't a bad looker, Mazie owned
condescendingly, but she was slow, dead slow, and nowadays the fellows
liked plenty of pep. Mazie prided herself, not without reason, on
having an abundance of that essential quality. She was sorry when the
fragrance of frying bacon and coffee greeted her nostrils. Though
Graham was stiffly polite and Bob Carey plainly amused, she would have
been glad of a little more time.

The impromptu supper in the dining-room completed Dick's
disillusionment. Determined not to yield any advantage she had gained
Mazie continued to take the lead in the conversation. She gestured
freely and frequently with the hand which held her fork, even with an
oyster impaled on the tines. She drank her coffee noisily. Once, Dick
was sure, he saw Bob choke down a laugh, though he made a pretence of
coughing behind his napkin. And it was not, Dick was certain, because
he found her amusing, but because he thought her ridiculous. Dick
glared furiously at the averted shoulder of his erst-while charmer.
Mazie had elected to treat him like a little boy, but if she had
listened to him, thought Dick, he could have kept her from making a
fool of herself.

Mazie seemed willing to linger, even after Amy and Bob had taken their
departure. "Guess we might as well be starting," suggested Dick, his
thoughts upon the probable return of his father and mother, rather than
on his responsibility as host.

"Getting sleepy aren't you, little boy?" mocked Mazie. "Don't let me
keep you from your downy. I can get home somehow," and she glanced
significantly at Graham, whose good looks, for all his air of reserve,
had made a strong impression on her susceptible temperament.

When at length she left under the escort of a frankly sulky Dick,
she turned back to remind Graham that he could always find her in
Streeter's Sweet Shop between the hours of nine and five. And then she
took Dick's arm, and went out the door, smiling back coquettishly over
her shoulder.

Graham hardly waited for them to be out of hearing before he exploded.
The evening had been a great disappointment, and while Graham would
have resented any outside suggestion that Peggy came short of absolute
perfection, there were times when he felt himself quite capable of
pointing out her errors in judgment. Peggy's painstaking explanation
failed to enlighten him, and while Peggy thought Graham the most
wonderful of men, in this instance she found him disappointingly slow
of comprehension. They did not quarrel, but they kept on arguing the
question long after it was clear that neither would be able to take the
other's point of view. They were still arguing when Dick returned.

Dick was in that state of irritation when scolding somebody seems an
indispensable luxury. "See here, Peggy, just because you see me with a
girl, you don't have to start right in and invite her to the house."

"Why, Dick, I thought--"

"Sometimes a fellow asks a girl out just so he can size her up. And if
he finds that she's a blamed idiot, he don't want her mixed up with his
family. You mean all right, Peggy, but you don't understand life the
way Graham and I do. I don't want you to have anything more to do with
Mazie Coffin, Peggy. She's not the sort of girl for you to associate
with. You can ask Graham about it if you don't believe me."

And as Dick stalked off to bed, ill tempered and aggrieved and
abnormally dignified, even Graham was obliged to admit that it looked
like a cure.



CHAPTER XVI

DELIVERANCE


PRISCILLA had seen Horace only once since the football game, and then
for a short and unsatisfactory interview. Immediately after, Horace had
left town for one of those trips which so cleverly combined business
and pleasure, a combination of which Horace seemed to have the secret.
A long letter which might have been an excerpt from the Journal of
Another Disappointed Man gave her no address to which to write him, and
the best she could do was to promise herself to be very, very kind to
Horace on his return. She owed him that for the wrong she had done him.

The days went by without any further word from Horace, and Friday
rounded out a full week since she had last seen him. Priscilla and
Peggy walked home from class together with that sense of leisure Friday
afternoon brings to each student, no matter how much must be done
before Monday morning. They paused at Peggy's door and Peggy urged
hospitably, "Come on in."

"I think I'd better go home and see if mother's there, and if she wants
anything. We haven't seen our maid for three days."

"Well, we've _seen_ Sally, if that's any comfort," laughed Peggy. "But
she's been about as much good as if she'd been at the North Pole. A
woman she knows was knocked down by an automobile and taken to the
hospital, and all Sally has been good for since is to dramatize the
affair. First she's the automobile speeding recklessly on, and then
she's the poor victim. You never saw anything so realistic as the way
she drops on the kitchen floor."

Priscilla laughed, but disapprovingly. "I don't see how you folks put
up with her, Peggy. She'd drive me crazy."

"Well, there's no denying she's a trial at times, but Sally has her
good points. She's devoted to us all, for one thing, and that isn't
very common these days. And besides," added Peggy simply, "if we didn't
keep her I don't know how the poor thing would get along."

The two girls had been together all day but they lingered, loath to
separate. "Listen, Peggy," Priscilla exclaimed. "Come home with me.
Like enough mother will have an errand for me to do and then we can go
together. Don't you love outdoors when it's still and cold like this?"

"Yes, love it. I'll go and see if we need anything in the way of
groceries, and I'll join you in about a minute."

Peggy hurried up the walk and Priscilla went on her way. The evening
paper lay folded on the porch of her home and she picked it up and
tucked it under her arm before she slipped her key into the latch. She
found the kitchen empty and ran upstairs, calling her mother. But only
the echoes answered, and Priscilla realized that except for herself the
house was empty.

Priscilla seated herself to wait for Peggy, picking up the paper she
had thrown on the library table. Her eye ran mechanically over the
columns. She turned the sheets, her thoughts still busy with the day's
happenings, and with vague plans for the morrow. Then unexpectedly a
familiar face flashed out at her from the page, set above head-lines
that seemed fairly to shriek their news.

    YOUNG HITCHCOCK SURPRISES FRIENDS
    SOCIETY MAN MARRIES IN NEW YORK

Priscilla, sitting motionless, read the news over several times. Then
her eyes began moving down the column. Even when she saw Horace's name
written out in full, her sense of unreality persisted. The reporter
had treated the matter humorously, following the precedent which makes
love and marriage the most popular theme for jests. That the lady in
question had become Mrs. Hitchcock just three days after meeting her
future husband furnished a partial excuse for the levity.

"Mr. Hitchcock denies that there is anything hasty in his romantic
marriage," wrote the reporter. "When asked if he considered a three
days' acquaintance a sufficient prelude to matrimony, he smilingly
replied that he preferred three thousand years. In explanation of his
enigmatic remark, Mr. Hitchcock gave his views on reincarnation, while
in the background Mrs. Hitchcock blushed assent. Both are convinced
that, to quote Mr. Hitchcock, 'they were soul mates when the pyramids
were in building, lovers in Babylon--'"

Priscilla suddenly crumpled the paper in her hand. The familiar phrases
were like a dash of cold water, rousing her from her daze. "I'm free,"
she cried, "I'm free! I'm free!" and broke into violent weeping.

Peggy rang several times without attracting attention. When at length
she put her finger to the button and held it there, Priscilla woke
to the realization that there was some one at the door. She crept
downstairs, unconsciously holding fast to the paper that had announced
her release, and admitted a justly incensed Peggy.

"I'm afraid you need some of those artificial ear-drums,
Priscilla--Why, what's happened?" Peggy's attempted irony changed to
affectionate concern, as she saw Priscilla with her tear-streaked
cheeks and eyes inflamed and swollen. She threw her arms around her
friend, her imagination running the gamut of possible calamities. "Oh,
what is the matter?" she pleaded.

It seemed to Priscilla that a verbal explanation was beyond her.
Dumbly she held out the crumpled sheet. Peggy caught sight of Horace's
smug smile, snatched the paper from Priscilla's hand, and read the
incredible story at a glance. The blood rushed to her brain, dying even
her ears crimson. Rage shook her. For the instant, the gentle Peggy was
a silent fury.

Priscilla roused herself to the need of explanation. "Peggy!"

Peggy whirled upon her. "My dear, it is the most abominable thing I
ever heard of, but you couldn't have cared for him, Priscilla. Oh, tell
me you didn't."

"We--well, we were engaged."

"Engaged," choked Peggy. She took a backward step, looked at
Priscilla's disfigured face, and dug her nails deep into her palms.
"Oh, I wish I were a man," she breathed in a voice hardly recognizable.

Priscilla uttered a choked laugh. Combined with the fact that the tears
were still running down her face, this did not tend to allay Peggy's
apprehensions. But as the laugh seemed to unlock Priscilla's tongue,
her distressed friend was not long kept in suspense.

"I suppose I looked as if I were heart-broken," exclaimed Priscilla,
laughing and crying. "Yes, we were really engaged, Peggy, but you can't
imagine what a nightmare it has been."

"A nightmare," gasped Peggy. "Your engagement a nightmare!" She put her
hands to her head as if the unexpected information acquired in the last
few minutes had crowded it to the bursting point.

"Wait, Peggy! I've had a dreadful time, but it's been my own fault. I
blame myself for everything that has happened. If it hadn't been for my
silly vanity--"

"Vanity--" interrupted Peggy, and sniffed her scorn.

"Oh, you can sneer, Peggy Raymond, but I've been a silly little fool.
In the first place, I made myself miserable because nobody wanted me."

"Priscilla," Peggy interrupted again, "I believe you ought to go to
bed. You're talking as if you were delirious."

"I know perfectly well what I'm saying, Peggy. You were engaged to
Graham, and Nelson was in love with Ruth and Bob Carey was getting very
attentive to Amy, and I was the only one left out and I resented it."

"Do you mean," cried Peggy incredulously, "that you don't know that
you're so handsome that people are always turning to look after you
when you pass?"

Priscilla laughed. "I won't choke you off, Peggy. After that news--"
she nodded significantly toward the paper. "I fancy I can stand a
little flattery and not be injured. But anyway I was sour and sore when
Horace began to call. I knew exactly what Horace was, Peggy, but I shut
my eyes to it. I wouldn't criticize him even in my thoughts. I wouldn't
let you laugh at him--"

"Don't I know it!" Peggy drew a long breath. "That was one of the
things that made me anxious."

"Well, when he told me--that he cared for me, I just snatched at
him, Peggy. I was perfectly delighted that somebody thought I was
attractive. And I was such a silly little fool that I actually gloated
over being the second girl out of us four to get engaged. Peggy, I'm
terribly ashamed to tell you all this, but now's the time to finish up
the subject and be done with it."

"Priscilla darling, I can understand everything except your feeling
that way about yourself."

"Of course I wasn't happy," Priscilla went on. "I don't know whether
Horace was or not. He always talked in a dreadfully pessimistic
fashion, but I rather think--"

"Just a pose," interpolated Peggy witheringly. "Even when he was a
little boy, Horace was always playing a part."

"Once or twice I tried to tell him I thought we had made a mistake.
When I thought of going on and on through the years it didn't seem as
if I could bear it. And then he talked so dreadfully, Peggy, and I was
afraid he'd kill himself."

"No such luck," snorted Priscilla's audience. It was hard to believe
that it was really Peggy making such a speech and looking so fierce
and angry. Priscilla interrupted her story by a little hysterical laugh.

"The last time was only two weeks ago at the foot-ball game. He was so
disagreeable that I tried again to get out of it, and then he took it
so to heart that I gave up all hope of ever being free. When I read
that account today, and it came over me all at once that I needn't ever
see Horace Hitchcock again, it seemed as if I'd die of joy. I believe I
should have, too, if I hadn't begun to cry."

Peggy was still scornful. "The idea of your sacrificing yourself for
such a fellow as Horace."

"Only because I was to blame, Peggy. As long as my silly vanity had got
me into such a scrape, I thought nothing was too bad for me."

"Didn't it ever occur to you that two wrongs didn't make a right? If
you were wrong in getting engaged to Horace when you didn't love him,
marrying him without love would be a million times wickeder."

Priscilla took the reproof meekly. "Perhaps so. Anyway, I have learned
my lesson. The wrong man is so much worse than no man at all that now
I'm perfectly resigned to being an old maid."

Peggy sniffed derisively. "You talk about your silly vanity. You
certainly were silly enough, but when it comes to vanity, why,
Priscilla Combs, you're the most painfully modest girl I know. The
timid violet is a monster of arrogance compared to you. I adore Ruth
and Amy, as everybody knows, but when it comes to looks, they're simply
not in it alongside you. You're handsome, Priscilla, just as Horace's
dreadful old aunt said, and you're talented and you're charming, and
lots of men would fall in love with you in a minute if they thought
they had the ghost of a chance."

Priscilla clapped her hands over her ears and blushed till Peggy's
eloquence lost itself in laughter. "I'm not going to be punished by
having to marry Horace," she said, when at length she judged it safe
to lower her defenses. "But I shan't get off scott-free. Just think,
Peggy, how many people in this city will be sorry for me, because I've
been jilted by Horace Hitchcock."



CHAPTER XVII

PEGGY COMES TO A DECISION


IT was mid-afternoon on a crisp February day when Graham called Peggy
on the phone. In his preliminary "Hello" she detected an unwonted note
of excitement.

"Hello, Graham. Yes, it's Peggy."

"I want you to take dinner with me to-night."

"Take dinner? Why, I can't possibly, Graham. I've got quite a lot of
cramming to do for the mid-year examinations. And I haven't even looked
at my lessons for to-morrow."

"Hang your lessons."

Peggy pricked up her ears. "What did you say?" she queried
incredulously.

"I said, 'Hang your lessons,' and I'll add, 'Hang your examinations.'
I've got to see you and have a long talk."

One of the advantages of habitual faithfulness to duty is that the rare
relapse into irresponsibility comes as a delightful holiday. Peggy's
face suddenly crinkled into a charming smile. It was a pity Graham
could not see it.

"Oh, well," she said demurely, "if it's terribly important--"

"It is."

"Then I suppose I must let you have your way."

"I'll call for you at half past six and we'll dine at the McLaughlin."

"The McLaughlin! You haven't happened to come into a fortune since last
evening, have you!"

"Not exactly. It's a celebration."

"What for?"

"That's telling. See you at six-thirty, Peggy darling. Good-by." And
Graham rang off in a hurry, as if he feared her powers of persuasion,
and suspected that if he gave her half a chance she would have the
whole story out of him over the wire.

Peggy went back to her books with a smile which proved her thinking
of something very different from history or economics. She was well
aware that she would go to the class next day without her usual
careful preparation, but having made up her mind to accede to Graham's
request, she had no intention of spoiling her pleasure by thinking of
slighted tasks. And though she made a valiant effort at concentration
in the short time left her for study, her attempt was not particularly
successful. The dinner was a celebration, Graham had said. She racked
her brain to recall some anniversary that had momentarily escaped her
recollection, but without results.

Peggy was dressed by six o'clock, having spent an unprecedentedly long
time over her toilet. The McLaughlin, though not the largest hotel in
the city, was one of the most exclusive, and the costumes seen in the
dining-room were frequently of an elegance compared with which Peggy's
little evening frock was almost dowdy. But neither at the McLaughlin
nor elsewhere was one likely to see a face more charming than that
which looked back at Peggy from her mirror, so that her haunting fear
that Graham might be ashamed of her was entirely unfounded.

Mrs. Raymond left the dining table to see the young couple off. "Have
a good time, dears," she said, and was pleased but not surprised when
Graham followed Peggy's example, and stooping kissed her. She stood at
the window looking after them as they went down the street. What a dear
boy Graham was! In the far-off, nebulous future when Peggy began to
think of being married, she could trust her to Graham without a fear.
And then they would live near, where she could see Peggy every day.
Mrs. Raymond told herself she would not have anything different.

"Mother," called Mr. Raymond's voice from the dining-room, "your
dinner's getting cold."

Meanwhile Peggy, tilting her head on one side like an inquisitive
canary, was asking Graham, "What is it we are going to celebrate?"

"Washington's birthday and the Fourth of July, Christmas and New
Year's."

"Now, Graham, really I want to know."

"I'll tell you when the time comes. It's not the sort of thing to be
sprung on the street."

"Oh, how interesting!" But though Peggy stopped asking questions, her
curiosity grew prodigiously. Silent as Graham was as to the occasion
of this unwonted festivity, she realized that there was about him
an atmosphere of suppressed excitement. Sometimes, when his eyes
were on her, he seemed to be looking through her at something big in
the distance. Peggy was at the age when thrills and mysteries are
always welcome. She climbed aboard the street-car all a-tingle with
pleasurable excitement.

The dining-room at the McLaughlin impressed Peggy with its grandeur.
The hour was still early for fashionable diners, and less than half of
the tables were occupied. But the rows of waiters in black clothes and
gleaming shirt fronts, and the scrape of violins in the background,
gave Peggy an uneasy sense of being out of place. But Graham, convinced
that he was escorting the queen rose of the rose-bud garden of girls,
walked to his place as sure of himself as a young prince. And what he
saw in Peggy's eyes was not of a sort to lessen his self-confidence.

Peggy soon perceived that her customary little hints regarding economy
were to have no weight on this particular occasion. Graham began
with oysters and then appealed to Peggy as to her choice in soups.
And perceiving that he was determined to be extravagant, for all she
could say or do, Peggy gave herself up to enjoying the fruits of his
extravagance. This was clearly Graham's night. Peggy decided not to ask
again about his secret till he told her of his own accord.

[Illustration: "PEGGY LOOKED AT HIM WITHOUT REPLYING"]

As a matter of fact, Graham seemed in no hurry to take her into his
confidence. The meal went on through its leisurely courses, the tables
about them gradually filling, till the attentive waiter set their
dessert before them--French pastries with small cups of deliciously
fragrant coffee. Peggy tasted and sipped and smiled, and looked across
the table with such an air of radiant happiness that if Graham had kept
the smallest fragment of a heart in his possession, he would have been
forced to surrender it on the spot.

He laid down his fork and leaned toward her. "Peggy, I've got my
promotion."

"Oh, Graham!"

"They want me to go to South America for two years," Graham
continued, speaking with curious breathlessness. "They're not asking
me to stay permanently, you understand. But they want a man here who's
thoroughly familiar with conditions down there."

Peggy looked at him without replying, all the radiant happiness drained
from her face. South America! Her sensations were almost the same as
when he went to France, except that now she had no patriotic ardor
to sustain her. He was to be away two years, and yet his mood was
exultant, and he seemed to expect her congratulations.

Peggy rallied her courage and lifted her eyes with a wan little smile.
"When--when do they want you to go?" Her fork clattered against her
plate, and she laid it down. She conceived on the instant an intense
loathing for French pastry.

"In July."

"Oh!" Peggy winked hard. It would be a shame to spoil that beautiful
dinner by crying. And besides, it was a long time before Graham would
have to go, from February to July. Then a dreadful thought wrung her
heart. If six months was a long time, what of two years?

Graham's face seemed to waver as he leaned toward her across the little
round table. His voice sounded far-off and unfamiliar. "What do you
say, Peggy? Shall we go?"

"I--I--what are you talking about Graham?"

"You're always saying how you'd love to travel. Don't you see this is
your chance."

"Do you--do you mean--"

"Yes, of course I do. Won't you marry me, Peggy, and go along? I can't
leave you for two years. I can't. When I came back from the other side
I promised myself I'd never be separated from you again by anything
less than a world war. If I went by myself, Peggy, it would be going
into exile for two years. But with you along, it would be a two-years'
honeymoon. Think what it would be to see those new countries together."

"I suppose it would be a good thing for our Spanish," said Peggy, and
the inane remark set them both to laughing, which undoubtedly was
a good thing. When the paroxysm was over, Peggy wiped her eyes and
struggled to be reasonable. "But, Graham, I don't graduate till the
twelfth of June."

"And I don't sail till the sixth of July. Loads of time."

"But I always meant to earn my living for a few years after I
graduated, before--"

"I wouldn't have stood for that, Peggy, not if I was making enough to
take care of you, and I shall be."

Peggy was breathing fast. It was hard to realize that she and Graham
were sitting there in the McLaughlin dining-room, discussing the
question of whether or not they should be married in July. For except
on one memorable occasion, when Graham had been on the point of going
across and Peggy had been ready to marry him at a moment's notice, she
had felt about her marriage much as her mother did, as if it belonged
to the misty, distant, indeterminate future. And now the six months
she had assured herself was a long time had dwindled down almost to
nothing. July! It was incredibly, overwhelmingly near.

"We'll have to see what father and mother think." She tried to make her
voice matter-of-fact, but it had an unnatural tension. Graham on the
other side of the little table, nodded agreement.

"Of course we'll see what they think. But we know they can say only
one thing. It's such a reasonable solution that only one opinion is
possible. Don't you like your dessert, Peggy? Won't you have some
ice-cream?"

Peggy protested she liked her desert, and finished it without tasting a
morsel. Then they went home and proceeded to bomb the peaceful Raymond
household with Graham's astounding proposition. And while Mrs. Raymond
began by pronouncing it out of the question, before the evening ended
she was driven to admit the reasonableness of Graham's plan. It was
true that Peggy's marriage would follow rather closely on the heels
of her graduation, but thanks to common-sense hours of sleep, and an
abundance of outdoor exercise, she had come through her four years'
college course in radiant health. A separation of two years just now
would be hard for both, and especially for Graham. Indeed Graham
frankly declared that he would not go without Peggy, and yet to refuse
such a chance was to prejudice his future success.

When Peggy went to bed that night she knew the whole thing was settled.
To be sure, both her father and mother had warned her against a hasty
decision, insisting that she take plenty of time to think the matter
over. But Peggy knew what the final verdict would be, and she was sure
Graham also knew it, by the triumph in his eyes as he kissed her good
night.

Changes! She lay in her little white bed and thought of the new life
opening before her, strange countries, unfamiliar tongues, alien
customs, even the dear, friendly constellations replaced by unknown
stars. And the queerest part of all was that she herself would no
longer be Peggy Raymond, but a strange young woman, Margaret Wylie by
name. Peggy gave a little incredulous laugh. It was astonishing how the
world had turned upside down since morning.



CHAPTER XVIII

A PARTIAL ECLIPSE


THE wedding day was set for the second of July, and after that decision
had been reached, Peggy professed a complete loss of interest in the
subject. When Graham consulted her on details more or less important,
she gave him a reluctant attention.

"I tell you, Graham, I don't want to think about it. I never did enjoy
mixed flavors. I shall have years and years of being Mrs. Graham Wylie,
fifty or sixty probably, and there's only a few months left of my
college life."

"If you feel so keenly on the subject," teased Graham, "we'd better
postpone our wedding, and let you take a post-graduate course of ten
years or so."

"That won't be necessary. I know I shall love my wedding clothes, and
my wedding day, and being married to you, and everything. But if I let
myself think of that, I'll spoil this, don't you see? It would be like
eating ice-cream with soup."

"I suppose I shall be allowed to call occasionally."

"Don't be silly! Of course I should be wretched if I didn't see you
every day. But unless you have to settle something very important about
South America, don't ask my opinion. Up to the twelfth of June, I'm a
college senior, first, last and all the time."

Peggy was as good as her word. As far as her conversation revealed, she
never looked beyond Commencement Day. And if it was inevitable that her
thoughts should be more unruly than her tongue, her mental excursions
into the future were surprisingly few. Peggy had never been a girl to
discount to-day in favor of to-morrow, and this life-long habit aided
her in her determination to extract the full flavor from the present.

While Peggy had thoroughly enjoyed her college life, college
associations had naturally never meant to her what they mean to a
girl who leaves home to complete her education. Although she was
popular in her class, her closest friends were the girls who had been
her intimates long before her high-school days, even, and she enjoyed
her home so thoroughly that it never occurred to her to regret having
missed the associations of dormitory life. But now she gave herself
so unreservedly to her college interests that no on-looker would have
dreamed that any event of special importance had been scheduled for
early July.

As a matter of fact, Peggy could hardly have done justice to her varied
duties in connection with Commencement, had she brought to them a
divided attention. Her knack at rhyming had resulted in her election as
class poet, and the same gift, doubtless, had caused her to be chosen
one of the editorial staff of the Annual, gotten out each spring by the
senior class. Moreover she had a part, though a small one, in the class
play that was to be given out-of-doors and promised to be one of the
most interesting features of commencement week. Since even for seniors
there were lessons to be learned, and examinations to be passed, it
is no wonder that Peggy found herself quite occupied without giving
thought to the great changes on ahead.

While she struggled with her poem, which she was determined as all
class laureates, to make a masterpiece, and scribbled off jokes for the
Annual and practised for the play, and studied in her odd minutes, the
days had a most disconcerting fashion of shooting by without regard to
speed regulations. Every Saturday night awoke in Peggy's mind the same
incredulity. Another week was gone--only it couldn't be, for it was no
time at all since last Sunday morning. She had an unreasonable impulse
to clutch at the flying hours and hold them fast.

But the last spring of her college life was not to be altogether a
season of flowers. One afternoon at the close of recitations, Peggy
hunted up Ruth who had agreed to go with her for a call on Mary
Donaldson.

"Ruth, I'm sorry, but Priscilla and I are going to be busy until after
dinner time, probably. It's the Annual again."

"That old Annual takes so much time," scolded Ruth, objecting on
principle to anything that separated her from Peggy for these few
precious weeks. Poor Ruth was trying to imitate Peggy's example and not
look ahead, but there were times when the coming desolation settled
over her spirits like a chilling fog. With Peggy and Graham in South
America, and Nelson in Oklahoma, Ruth felt that existence would be flat
and flavorless.

"Yes, I know it takes time." Peggy resolutely ignored the undertone of
tragedy in Ruth's voice. "But somebody has to do it, and anyway, it's
fun."

It was due to her lingering to cheer the despondent Ruth that Peggy was
the last of the Annual staff to reach the class room, which for that
particular evening had been promoted to the dignity of an editorial
sanctum. Peggy made her entry on a somewhat hilarious scene. Everybody
was laughing, or so Peggy thought. Had she been more observant she
would have noticed that Priscilla's face wore no smile, but a look of
anxiety, bordering on distress.

"What's the joke?" inquired Peggy, as she took her seat. Though
the gathering was made up of college seniors and was therefore a
dignified, deliberative assembly, its proceedings were sometimes as
informal as if they had been merely a group of high-school girls.

By way of answer, a sheet of card-board that evidently had made the
rounds was put in her hand. Peggy looked at it curiously. At the top,
under the heading, "The Misfit," was a clever caricature representing a
small man attired in garments much too large for him. His broad-brimmed
hat came down over his ears, his overcoat trailed on the ground, while
the umbrella he carried was more than double his height. But the artist
had avoided giving the impression that he was a masquerading child by
bringing into prominence a somewhat scraggly mustache.

Peggy smiled appreciatively at the undoubted humor of the drawing and
gave her attention to the verses below. But though they showed quite
as much ability as the illustration, the effect of reading them was
to erase the smile from her lips, leaving her gravely attentive. The
laughter had quieted. She was aware that the girls were all watching
her, and though she did not raise her eyes, she knew instinctively
that Priscilla's face wore a look of apprehension.

The previous spring, one of the most popular men in the English
department had resigned to devote himself to literary work, and his
place had been nominally filled by a young man with good credentials
but no experience. He had proved a great disappointment, for whatever
his attainments, he lacked the ability to impart; while in contrast to
the enthusiasm which Professor Baer's lectures had aroused, his classes
seemed veritable refrigerating plants. Peggy knew that the seniors who
had taken his courses were complaining bitterly that they had been
"stung," and had congratulated herself that her own work in English had
been continued with another member of the faculty.

In the verses before her, all the resentment of the students toward an
incompetent teacher, following an able and popular one, was expressed
with diabolical cleverness. The fact that the present incumbent was
named Fox, and that he followed Professor Baer, had already been the
theme of innumerable jokes, and the author of the verses had used it
as the motive of her lines, so that there was no chance that even the
outsider would remain ignorant of the instructor satirized.

Peggy read the verses over more than once in order to gain time.
She was sorely tempted to say nothing. Peggy was under no illusions
regarding the path of the reformer. It was vastly easier, vastly
pleasanter, to let things go. It was not that she had any cowardly
shrinking from hard knocks, but now, almost at the close of her
college life, she was not in the mood to antagonize any one. She
loved everything about the college, its gray stone buildings draped
in ivy, its campus dotted with stately trees, the class-rooms and
the laboratories, the dignified president, the professors and the
girls--oh, most of all, the girls. She loved to believe in their
affection, their admiration. Never in her life had popularity meant as
much to her as now. And yet in spite of her distaste, she knew she had
no choice. She must disagree, antagonize, anger.

When she lifted her eyes, the room was very quiet, almost as if every
one knew what she was going to say. "Awfully clever, aren't they?"
Peggy spoke very deliberately. "What are they for?"

A dark-eyed girl across the room took it on herself to answer, and as
soon as her lips parted, Peggy knew her for the author.

"I'd intended it for the _Atlantic Monthly_," she smiled with frank
sarcasm. "But I think perhaps it's better suited to the Annual. What do
you say?"

"I'm afraid I don't think it's at all suited to the Annual."

There was a little chorus of protests. "You never were in his classes,
Peggy," cried some one from the rear seat. "If you'd endured what we
have at the hands of that man, you'd love every line."

A burst of approving laughter showed how completely the sympathies of
this group of girls were with the speaker. Half-whispered comments
were being exchanged. "The stupidest lectures!" "The greatest waste of
time!" Peggy was perfectly able to understand this point of view. She
struggled to make the girls see hers.

"Of course that's not right. If I had been in his class I'd have
been perfectly ready to go to President Eaton, and tell him how
unsatisfactory everything was. But to take this way of doing it--" she
looked down at the mocking lines and said with a visible effort, "Don't
you think it seems a little bit cowardly--and cruel, too?"

Priscilla came to her friend's assistance. "If the faculty knew about
those verses, I'm sure we'd never be allowed to put them in the Annual."

"How's the faculty to know?" demanded the criticized author, Ida Craig,
with much asperity.

"Don't you think," suggested Peggy with all the diplomacy she could
muster, "that since they leave it all to us, we're put on our honor to
see that nothing gets in that they could object to?"

Ida smiled disagreeably. "After all," she said, "you're not the
editor-in-chief, you know."

The rudeness gave Peggy the courage that she needed. "No, of course.
I haven't any more voice than any of the rest of you. But if the poem
goes in, I shall ask you to accept my resignation."

"In other words," exclaimed Ida, "If you can't have your own way,
you'll take your dolls and go home."

"No indeed," Peggy was trying to speak calmly, but her voice shook,
"But if my name appears among the editors of the Annual, it'll be taken
for granted that I approve of all that is in it. I'm not willing to
stand for anything like this."

"Nor I," said Priscilla. "I agree with Peggy."

Ida Craig leaned toward the girl nearest her. "Miss Combs is nothing if
not original," she said in an echoing stage-whisper audible to every
one in the room. But the editor-in-chief, dismayed at the prospect of
losing two of her most reliable aides, hastily interposed.

"Now we mustn't get personal, girls," she said. "You know how the
newspapers are always trying to make out that the members of women's
organizations do nothing but quarrel. I think college graduates
ought to disprove that sort of thing." She looked at Peggy rather
appealingly. "I suppose you're willing to abide by the will of the
majority," she said.

"If the majority vote to include 'The Misfit,'" returned Peggy, "Of
course that settles it." And then as the face of the editor-in-chief
brightened, she added, "But I shall have to resign, because the vote of
the majority can't decide a question of right and wrong for me."

"Oh," said the editor-in-chief rather blankly, and then she quickly
rallied. "We'll decide that question when we come to it," she said.
"Will the meeting please come to order."

The mooted question was not put to vote till the end of the hour.
"All in favor of including 'The Misfit' in the Annual," said the
editor-in-chief, after the motion had been duly made, "please signify
it by saying 'aye.'"

"Aye," chimed two defiant voices, that of the author and her dearest
friend in the class.

"Those opposed, 'No.'"

There was a murmur of 'noes,' indicating that Peggy had won her fight,
but she had none of the elation of the victor. She realized that
several had not voted, and that those who had espoused her side had
acted from motives of policy rather than conviction. Ida Craig was
plainly offended, and as for the rest, Peggy suspected that they failed
to make the fine distinction between standing up for one's principles
and being determined to have one's way.

Those closing weeks of college life were not all she had hoped. Peggy
fancied a reserve in the friendliness of her friends. She became
unnaturally sensitive, imagining slights where none existed. She was
troubled by the thought that Priscilla shared in her partial eclipse of
popularity, and inclined to regard her uncompromising conscience as a
decided inconvenience, if nothing worse.

But Peggy's stand was to have a tragic justification. Three weeks
before Commencement the Annual came from the binders, looking very
attractive in its cover of blue and white, the college colors. The
editorial force had been called together to make the necessary
arrangements for placing it on sale. Peggy and Priscilla had an early
class Wednesday morning, and as they entered the hall on their way
to the cloak-room, they encountered Phyllis Riordan, the Annual's
editor-in-chief. Phyllis' greeting was more than cordial, but Peggy
hardly noticed that, in her concern for the girl herself.

"Why, Phyllis," she cried. "What's the matter? You're as white as a
sheet."

Phyllis looked from one to the other. "You haven't heard about Mrs.
Fox?"

"What about her?" The question came simultaneously from two pairs of
lips.

"She died last night."

Peggy and Priscilla uttered a shocked exclamation. They were both but
slightly acquainted with the girlish wife of the unpopular professor of
English, but intimacy was not needed to point the tragedy of the news.
Her voice curiously tense, Phyllis continued.

"It seemed she had serious heart trouble, and the doctor thought she
ought to live in a milder climate. Professor Fox has resigned, and they
were to locate in southern California. And Oh, Peggy Raymond--"

She turned suddenly toward Peggy, and caught both of her hands. "Since
I heard the news last evening, I haven't been able to think of anything
else. Peggy, do you realize what it would have meant if we had let
that poem of Ida's go in? We'd have had to destroy the whole edition of
the Annual. We couldn't have done anything else."

Peggy changed color slightly, but did not speak.

"You've saved our lives," declared Phyllis, her eyes bright with tears.
"If it hadn't been for you, we'd have been in the worst box of any
class since the college was founded. And when I think how brave you
were, standing out against us all--"

"Why, Phyllis," Peggy interposed, "I wasn't brave at all. This--this
dreadful thing that has happened doesn't make me a bit more right than
I was in the beginning. And I knew it, too, and yet I wasn't satisfied.
I've been ready to wish I hadn't done it a hundred times. And when you
call me brave, you make me desperately ashamed, for nobody knows as
well as I do what a coward I've been."

"If you're cowardly, Peggy," cried Priscilla, up in arms at once, "I'm
sorry for the rest of us."

"Heavens, I should say so," agreed Phyllis. And then as the signal
bell sounded, the girls rushed for the cloak room. Blended with Peggy's
sorrow and her sense of humility, was a gratifying certainty that the
last three weeks of her college life would be all she had dreamed.



CHAPTER XIX

THE END OF SCHOOL LIFE


THE senior banquet was the most intimate and, in the opinion of many,
the most delightful festivity of Commencement. No guests were invited.
The only member of the faculty present was the honorary member of
the class, a charming woman, who taught Greek and talked slang--as
an antidote, she was wont to say. And because it was so strictly a
class affair, a great deal of fun was in order which would have been
impossible before ever so limited an audience.

"What I like about it is that it's frankly selfish," Peggy told
Priscilla. And then noticing Priscilla's expression of incredulity, "I
don't mean selfish in the mean sense, just the nice, comfortable, homey
sort. All the rest of Commencement we're thinking about other people,
the Board of Trustees, and the fathers and mothers, and the audience
and the public. It's a comfort that there's one thing where we don't
have to think of any one but ourselves, and we can be as silly as we
please."

The first class to graduate had established a precedent which every
succeeding class had strictly followed, that all engagements were
to be announced at the class banquet, Commencement week. If for any
reason it was preferred that such announcements should be regarded
as confidential, it was understood that the members of the class
would be put to torture rather than reveal a word. So strictly had a
few such items of news been guarded--in some instances for several
years--that the ability of a woman to keep a secret had apparently been
satisfactorily demonstrated by the graduates of Peggy's alma mater. As
a rule, however, the graduate who announced her engagement at the class
banquet was willing that all the world should know the joyful news.

The banquet was held in the college gymnasium, the long tables being
arranged in a hollow square. After the feasting was over, the waiters
were dismissed and the doors closed to ensure perfect secrecy,--after
which every girl engaged in the class was expected to take her stand
in the central enclosure, carrying with her a photograph of her fiancé,
the back of the said photograph being duly inscribed with her name and
his. And as if this were not enough, each was required to state in a
few well-chosen words the qualities which differentiated her particular
young man from all the rest of mankind. At the conclusion of this
unique ceremony, the photographs were passed about and duly inspected,
and then a vote was taken to determine the handsomest. The gentleman so
honored was presented with a stick-pin, which his betrothed took charge
of until such time as she chose to deliver it.

As the girls dispatched their deviled crabs and chicken salad and ice
cream, and other incongruous and indigestible dainties, the thoughts
of many turned expectantly toward the ceremony immediately following
the banquet. It was true that some of the engagements were no secret.
Graham Wylie, for instance, had been Peggy Raymond's devoted cavalier
ever since she graduated from high school. And there were girls in the
dormitories who heard so frequently and at such length from certain
men friends that they were assumed to be engaged whether they admitted
it or not. But on the other hand there were always surprises enough to
render the occasion exciting.

The ice cream was dispatched at last, along with the cakes and candies.
The little coffee cups were emptied. The waiters cleared the tables and
withdrew, closing the door according to instructions. And then from
here and there in the long rows of diners, one laughing girl after
another rose, and made her way into the vacant space enclosed by the
tables.

Priscilla's eye followed Peggy on her way, blushing, laughing, and
looking to Priscilla's fond eyes the embodiment of girlish loveliness.
And then some one called her name. "Why, Priscilla Combs!"

Priscilla turned. A classmate that she knew only slightly was leaning
across the table. "Why aren't you going with the others?" she cried.

"I?" Priscilla colored to the roots of her hair. "I'm not eligible."

"Oh, come!" retorted the other archly. "This isn't any time for
prevarication, you know. You're expected to tell the truth."

Some one caught the speaker by the arm, and as she turned, hissed a
terse statement in her ear. Only too well did Priscilla know the import
of that whisper. Inaudible as it was, its news might as well have been
shouted. The girl who had innocently assumed Priscilla's engagement
was now hearing that Horace Hitchcock, after paying Priscilla every
attention, had met some one he liked better in New York, and had
married her after three days' acquaintance.

Priscilla held her head high. She saw her _vis-à-vis_ change color and
lift startled eyes. When she found Priscilla regarding her, the girl
lost her head. "Oh, excuse me," she gasped.

"Why certainly," laughed Priscilla. "I'm like the man who was asked to
change a twenty-dollar bill. I appreciate the compliment." But for all
her cheerful air, the thing rankled. Would they never be done pitying
her because she had been jilted by Horace Hitchcock. It was impossible
to explain, but it really seemed to Priscilla that some of them might
suspect what a relief the termination of that unacknowledged engagement
had been.

There were now a dozen girls in the enclosure. The appearance of
some was greeted with loud cries, intended to convey reproach, or
incredulity. Excited comments ran around the tables. "Look, there's
Cynthia, after insisting that there wasn't a thing between them." "Why,
there's Anne Gordon." "Now who in the world--" And while the eager
inspection went on, the twelve girls in the middle stood rather close
together as if each found it a help in that trying moment to feel she
was not alone.

The talk and laughter quieted when the president rapped for order.
Eloise Hayden was the first to be called on to introduce her fiancé
to her attentive classmates. Eloise was one of the girls who affect
the modern pose of matter-of-factness. She was so afraid of undue
sentimentality that she went too far in the other direction, like one
who is so determined to be straight as to bend backward. As Eloise's
name was spoken, she stepped out from the group, and held up to view
the photograph she carried.

"Friends and classmates, I am introducing John Mackenzie Rowe. As you
see, he is no beauty, and he'll never wear the stick pin unless it's
given for a consolation prize. But on the other hand, he isn't bad
looking enough so he needs to wear a mask when he goes on the street."

The momentary silence as Eloise stopped for breath was filled by a
chorus of groans, Eloise's classmates disapproving her extreme lack of
sentiment. Quite unabashed by this demonstration, Eloise continued.

"John and I live in the country, as some of you know. The only thing
between his father's place and my father's place is a privet hedge, not
high enough to be a barrier. We've lived on the two sides of that hedge
since he was thirteen and I eleven. I suppose if any other boy had
lived there, I should now be engaged to him. And if any other girl had
lived where I do, he would have been engaged to her."

The signs of displeasure redoubled. Mingled with the groans were
hisses, and Eloise, who liked nothing better than to stir her friends
to protest against her nonchalant attitude, continued blithely:

"Our engagement is in every way a sensible one. Neither of us thinks
the other perfect, so we won't have the usual disillusionment and
disappointment after we are married. I'm sorry I shan't be able to
introduce John to you to-morrow, but he wrote me that if he came he
would have to put off a business trip, and I wrote him, 'Business
first.'"

The demonstrations of disapproval were now so marked that Eloise
considered this a good place to stop. She laid down the photograph for
the girls' inspection and stepped back, seemingly very well satisfied
with her performance.

Judith West, a plump pink and white girl, looking, thanks to her bobbed
hair and round face, not a day over fifteen, was next to be called on.
Judith blushed rosily as she held up the photograph of a handsome young
man in a lieutenant's uniform.

"This is Philip Carpenter," she announced in a faint, frightened voice.
"And all I can say is that he's as good as he looks."

"He looks good enough to eat," encouraged an admiring voice from a
side-table.

"He is," declared Judith. "At least--well, you know what I mean. He's
just as nice as he can be, and after I'd seen him once, nobody else in
the world had the least chance."

As this impressed the class as the proper attitude for an engaged girl,
the applause was hearty, and the blushing Judith interpreted it as
a _finish_ to her remarks, and retreated in charming confusion. But
the applause dropped into instantaneous silence as Anne Gordon arose.
Anne's appearance in the enclosure had surprised every one.

"I haven't much of a photograph to show you," said Anne holding up a
kodak picture in which three diminutive figures appeared seated under
an apple tree. "The one in the middle is Elmer Wharton. He looks very
tiny, but believe me, he's longer than our engagement."

Anne stopped to laugh, and the class laughed with her.

"I had a letter from Elmer yesterday," Anne continued, "a very
particular letter. I can't say it was a great surprise to me, though
you all seem so astonished. And in this letter Elmer told me a number
of things he meant to say to me as soon as I got home. But I thought of
to-night, and I couldn't see why I shouldn't be engaged the day before
Commencement as well as the day after. So I telegraphed him, _yes_."

Amid the shrieks of laughter due to this frank acknowledgment, Peggy
was called, and she held up her photograph with an engaging pride.

"I fancy there aren't many of you who need to be introduced to Graham
Wylie, for he's been very much in evidence ever since I entered
college. I don't know any way of doing justice to the subject, but when
I feel strongly about anything, I'm very likely to drop into poetry,
like Mr. Wegg."

Peggy, who had been brought up on Dickens as if she had been a girl of
the fifties, had forgotten how few of her contemporaries had ever heard
of Mr. Wegg. Warned of her slip by the blank faces that looked back at
her, she began to recite the lines she had written in sheer desperation
the previous evening, after she was supposed to be in bed.

    "It isn't because he's six feet two
      With shoulders to match his height,
    That I'm happy and proud to be facing you
      On this very eventful night.

    "It isn't because his face is fine,
      Clear-cut, like a cameo,
    That I value the right to call him mine
      More than any one here can know.

    "It isn't because he's so very wise;
      We both could improve right there.
    His faults are plain to the kindest eyes,
      And I know that I have my share.

    "He's not perfection--to hint at this
      Would waken his scornful mirth.
    And yet he has made me--just as he is--
      The happiest girl on earth.

    "I know he is built of the sterling stuff
      Of which manly men are made.
    And that glad certainty is enough
      To render me unafraid.

    "As we scatter to go our devious ways
      Like sparks from the anvil hurled,
    I want you to think of me all your days,
      As the proudest girl in the world."

The applause that greeted Peggy's effort was not due chiefly to the
quality of her verses, nor even to the charm of her undisguised
happiness. The Editorial Staff of the Annual had leaked out. It had
been whispered about that if it had not been for Peggy's protests, the
Annual would have contained a satirical attack on a stricken man, which
would have rendered its circulation impossible. The clapping died down,
and then broke out again, as if to emphasize the fact that it was a
personal tribute.

And so one after another, the girls in the enclosure introduced the
possessors of the names they themselves would some day bear, and having
finished, went laughing back to their seats. The photographs were
passed about for examination and the ballots distributed. The voting
was a somewhat protracted process due, doubtless, to the fact that so
much was at stake. But in course of time the ballots were collected and
the judges retired to count them, the girls filling in the interval
with college songs.

The announcement of the result of the balloting came as a great
surprise to Peggy. For the recipient of the stick pin was not Graham
but Philip Carpenter. Judith, blushing very prettily, made the speech
of acceptance in behalf of her fiancé, and took the pin.

"I wish to say to you all," said the class president, "that twenty-five
dollars is deposited with the treasurer for the purchase of a
wedding-present for the first of our number to marry. I can only say
it can't be spent too soon to suit me. It's time," she added severely,
"that somebody was disproving the slander that college women care only
for civic reform and settlement work and teaching school, and that home
and husbands don't matter to them at all."

Priscilla glanced discreetly in Peggy's direction, but Peggy was
looking at the table. Indeed her expression remained thoughtful till
the first toast was given, and she stood with the others to drink to
her alma mater in a draught of fruit punch.

It was not till they were on their way home that Priscilla discovered
the reason for Peggy's temporary abstraction. For while they were
talking of something entirely different, Peggy suddenly exclaimed, "Do
you suppose it was the uniform that dazzled them?"

"I don't quite understand you, Peggy."

"Why, that vote, you know. Of course Judith's lieutenant is a very good
looking fellow, but the idea of comparing him to Graham."

Priscilla looked at her friend askance and said nothing.

"I have a photograph of Graham in uniform," Peggy continued, "and now I
wish I'd brought that. But I hadn't any idea it would count so much."

"Peggy," began Priscilla faintly. "Will you promise not to be angry if
I tell you something?"

"Of course. Why should I be angry?"

"Well, then, I voted for Philip Carpenter."

Peggy looked at her in seemingly speechless amazement. "But why?" she
asked at last.

"Because--well, there could be only one reason for that, Peggy, because
I thought him the handsomest man in the collection. His nose is
wonderful."

"And so is Graham's. I never saw a more perfect nose."

"Philip's eyes are so big and beautiful."

"A little _too_ big, it seems to me. It gives him a rather girly look.
Now Graham's eyes are just large enough."

Priscilla burst into an irrepressible shriek of laughter. "I wonder
if it ever occurred to you, Peggy, that you might be a little bit
prejudiced."

It was plain that such an idea had never occurred to Peggy. She looked
blank for a moment and then joined in Priscilla's helpless laughter.
"I suppose," she owned when again she could find her voice, "that it's
just as well that tastes differ."

They parted at Priscilla's door, kissing each other good-night, a
somewhat unusual ceremony, far they were not girls who made a parade of
affection. Peggy, who had started toward her own home, suddenly turned
back as if she had forgotten something. Priscilla hurried down the
steps to meet her.

"Priscilla, do you realize that to-morrow is Commencement Day? What a
little time it seems since we entered as Freshman. Don't you remember
how scared we were, and how in awe of the Seniors? And now, Priscilla
our school life is over."

And much to Priscilla's astonishment, and even more to her own, Peggy
burst into tears.



CHAPTER XX

A SURPRISE


RATHER to the surprise of those who knew her best, Peggy had decided on
a church wedding. But when she came to give her reasons, the decision
seemed characteristic, after all.

"I think this is the dearest house in the world. When Graham and I come
back from South America, I hope we can find one just like it--and on
Friendly Terrace, too. But it's not what you'd call spacious. A dozen
extra people crowd it, and it makes you uncomfortable to have a wedding
and leave out so many."

"Our wedding seems likely to be a unique affair," grinned Graham. "From
the looks of Peggy's list, the guests will make up in variety what they
lack in exclusiveness. What do you think of her asking the Bonds?"

"Now, Graham, that's not fair. I haven't any idea of asking the Bond
family. I only said that Elvira had improved so much that I felt like
encouraging her by sending her an invitation."

"And the Dunns. She's got them down." For all matrimonial
responsibilities loomed so close, Graham's boyish fondness for teasing
remained one of his most prominent characteristics.

"Why, Graham Wylie! Not the Dunns at all. Just Jimmy! And he's doing so
well and looks as nice as any boy."

"And she says she's going to have her Sunday school class, one and all."

"Well, I should think so. I've taught those girls ever since they came
out of the infant room, and they're darlings. And it would break their
hearts if I were married and they weren't there to see."

Now that her college life was over, Peggy had thrown herself joyously
into her planning for the next thing. Ruth, as Graham's sister, was to
be the maid of honor, Priscilla and Amy bridesmaids. They decided on
their gowns after hours and hours of delicious deliberation. For a
July wedding, organdie was the thing--the sheerest pale pink organdie,
with pink roses to match on their wide hats. "You'll be dreams," Peggy
declared ecstatically. "Everybody'll say so."

"Nonsense!" scoffed Amy, "As if people at a wedding ever looked at
anybody but the bride!"

"I had a letter from Alice, yesterday," exclaimed Peggy, changing the
subject. "She thinks little Irma had better be the flower-girl instead
of Dorothy. She says Dorothy has been shooting up so fast lately,
that now she's lanky and self-conscious, and that Irma is plump and
adorable. I only hope dear little Dorothy won't feel left out. That
would spoil everything."

Robert Carey was to be Graham's best man, a decision which pleased
Peggy immensely. Most of the ushers were young men the girls knew
more or less, though Graham had included in the number a comparative
new-comer at the office, Kennedy by name, with whom he was on
especially friendly terms. "You ought to bring him out some evening,"
suggested Peggy, "and not wait till just before the wedding to
introduce him."

"No, that's right. I'll ask him to-morrow to set a time."

When Graham appeared shortly after dinner the following evening, Peggy
and Priscilla were addressing invitations. Graham seated himself lazily
in the arm chair and congratulated them on their industry. "Have you
addressed all that pile to-day?"

"Yes, sir. We've been working ever since I got back from the
dressmaker's, about four o'clock. Priscilla stayed to dinner so as not
to lose any time."

There was a brief silence. Two pairs of pens scratched busily while
Graham entertained himself by watching the anxious pucker of Peggy's
mouth as she wrote each new address. "By the way," he remarked, "He's
coming out to-night."

"Who is?"

"Kennedy."

The scratching of the pens came to an abrupt stop. "Priscilla," Peggy
cried in tones of horror, "Graham has asked that Mr. Kennedy to call
and he's coming this evening."

"You told me to ask him," Graham defended himself.

"Of course, I want him to come. But I don't want him to descend on me
without warning, and get the impression that you are going to marry a
frump."

"Why, I was just thinking how nice you looked--both of you," Graham
declared, kindly including Priscilla, who scorned to acknowledge the
compliment. She rose, returned her pen to the writing desk, and said
briefly, "I'm off."

"Put on your glad rags and come back, Priscilla," begged Peggy, who
also was making preparations for a retreat.

"Oh, I think not. Mr. Kennedy isn't coming to see me."

"It'll be ever so much nicer if he meets some of you before the last
minute. Ruth says she's got to put in this evening letter writing, and
Amy and Bob are going somewhere."

"Oh, very well. I'll be back after a little." Priscilla spoke
nonchalantly, but as a matter of fact, she was glad of Peggy's
insistence. Now that the time was growing so short, she grudged every
hour she was away from her friend. As she left by the door, Peggy ran
up the stairs, leaving Graham to the companionship of his own agreeable
anticipations.

Peggy was back in about twenty minutes, looking, in Graham's
estimation, very much the same, except that her dress was a lighter
blue than the other, and her hair, having been freshly combed, did not
show as much of the curl. He expressed his opinion and Peggy smiled
tolerantly.

"I wore that old thing because a drop of ink more or less wouldn't
matter. It's as old as the hills, and I made it when I didn't know as
much about dress-making as I do now. Of course I like to have you think
I look nice, no matter what I wear, but now you're going to be married,
you'd better learn more discrimination in regard to clothes. It would
be dreadful to have a new dress and you not able to see that it was any
prettier than the old one."

"Very well. Suppose you start on my education right away. Tell me the
fine points about the rig you've got on." But before Peggy could
begin, the bell rang, and Graham's education was left incomplete for
the time being.

Mr. Kennedy was a slender, pleasant-mannered young man, who looked
considerably older than Graham, partly perhaps, because he wore
eye-glasses. As Peggy greeted him, she was conscious of something
hauntingly familiar in his face. "I haven't met you before, have I?"
she asked.

"It hardly seems that I could have met you and not remember it," said
young Kennedy gallantly. "I'm very sure I've seen you before, however."

"And I believe I've seen you, but I don't know where."

"Hitchcock would say," remarked Graham, "that probably you had been
well acquainted in Nineveh or Babylon or some other ancient burg."

Mr. Kennedy smiled, and took the chair Graham had pulled forward for
him. "Who's Hitchcock?" he asked.

"Oh, a nut that Peggy used to have here till I told her she'd have to
choose between us."

"Graham, what a misleading thing to say."

"Well, it might give the wrong impression, I confess. Peggy didn't care
much about him herself, but one of her friends had a case on him."

"Sh!" warned Peggy, in an agony as she heard Priscilla's footsteps
outside. She filled the somewhat awkward pause by springing to her
feet, crying as she ran to the door, "You needn't ring; I hear you."

The results of the half hour Priscilla had given to vanity were
more evident, Graham thought, than in Peggy's case. Peggy could be
disheveled and still irresistible. Priscilla's rather stately beauty
was more exacting in its demands. In her dress of pale green voile,
which set off her clear pallor and the beauty of her smooth, dark hair,
she looked the incarnate spirit of spring. Even Graham stared.

Peggy, her arm slipped caressingly through Priscilla's, led her
forward. "Priscilla, this is Graham's friend, Mr. Kennedy. Miss Combs--"

Peggy stopped short. Priscilla had jumped. Mr. Kennedy's conventional
smile had changed to startled recognition. "Why, you know each other,"
Peggy cried.

"Only--why, surely, Peggy, you remember."

Peggy's vague, irritating certainty of something familiar in Mr.
Kennedy's face was suddenly transformed to recollection. "Oh, of
course. The Green Parrot."

"Oh, of course! The Green Parrot!" mocked Graham, who had risen on
Priscilla's entrance, and now stood looking from one to another of the
trio. "Makes it perfectly clear."

They took their seats, and Peggy explained, helped out by suggestions
from the others. As they recalled the absurd experience, the three
narrators went off into fits of laughter, but the audience maintained a
dignified calm.

"Take my word for it, John, it's an inscrutable sex. Now, I would have
sworn that this young woman hadn't a thought I didn't share, and look
what she's been keeping from me, lo! these many months. When we're
alone I shall expect you to give me a full account of what really
happened."

For some reason the discovery that Graham's friend, Kennedy, was the
young man whose coffee cup had been invaded by Priscilla's roll seemed
to put him at once on the footing of an old acquaintance. They had a
very jolly evening, and it was not till after ten that Priscilla said,
"Graham, I think you'd better take me home, now. I've got a busy day
before me."

"You have indeed, poor dear," Peggy cried. "I expect you to finish
addressing those invitations and do any number of errands. These are
trying times for my friends, Mr. Kennedy. They have hardly a minute in
the twenty-four hours that they can call their own."

The young man smiled at her in the abstracted fashion of one whose
thoughts are on something else. "Won't you let me be your escort?" he
asked Priscilla. "It would give me the greatest pleasure."

"Thanks, but it's only a step, and my going early won't break up
Graham's evening, for he'll come directly back." She softened her
refusal by giving him her hand and saying pleasantly, "I'm glad to have
met you properly at last, with a real introduction, you know."

"I shall look forward to the next time," said young Kennedy, with
rather more ardor than conventional courtesy required. "This is our
third meeting, I believe."

"Third?" exclaimed Peggy, pricking up her ears. "Why, when was the
second?"

"At one of the football games last fall," explained Priscilla. "I was
there with Horace Hitchcock, and Mr. Kennedy sat next me." And then
recalling the suspicious glances Horace had shot in the direction of
the guiltless Mr. Kennedy, Priscilla began to blush. The worst of
blushing is that it is much easier to start it than to call a halt.
There were innumerable things connected with the thought of Horace that
made Priscilla uncomfortable, and now she found herself blushing for
them all. The tide of color flooded her smooth forehead and dyed her
throat. Peggy's observant eyes detected an unmistakable shadow on Mr.
Kennedy's erst-while radiant face.

Later, when Graham and herself were alone, she scolded him a little.
"You oughtn't to have said that a friend of mine had a case on
Hitchcock. Now Mr. Kennedy knows you meant Priscilla."

"Well, is that such a tragedy?"

"Couldn't you mention to him some day that Horace did admire Priscilla,
but that now he's safely married to another. You could bring it in in a
casual way, you know."

Graham looked at her hard. "My dear Peggy," he said, "Just because
you yourself have been fortunate--unusually fortunate I might say--in
your love affairs, don't let that lead you into trying your hand at
matchmaking. Fooling with high explosives is child's play compared to
that, believe me."

But instead of seeming impressed by the warning, Peggy only answered
dreamily, "When he doesn't see Horace at the wedding, he'll probably
begin to suspect that it's ancient history. If only Priscilla could
learn to speak of him without blushing."



CHAPTER XXI

A MISSING BRIDE


IT was two days before Peggy's wedding, and in the front room
downstairs Peggy was looking around complacently on her wedding
presents. They were very much like the wedding presents of other
prospective brides. A few were admirably suited to the needs of a young
couple of moderate means, about to start house-keeping. Others would
have been useful in the establishments of wealthy people who expected
to do a great deal of entertaining. And there were still others whose
use was problematical, anywhere and under any circumstances.

Peggy's mood, however, was far from critical. Each gift as it came
had given her the keenest pleasure, and if it were impossible to find
anything admirable in the article itself, she could always say, "How
awfully kind of them to send it. Everybody's being perfectly dear to
me." She approached every newly arrived package with the same feeling
with which she had once taken up a bulging Christmas stocking.

The clock in the dining room, a pert little timepiece with a peremptory
voice, struck three. It was characteristic of this particular
clock always to strike the hour as if it were reminding somebody
of something. On this occasion it reminded Peggy that she had an
engagement with the dressmaker at half past three, and that she was to
call for Ruth, who had promised to accompany her. As it was impossible
to take along a crowd of girls to the dressmaker's rather cramped
quarters, Peggy avoided hard feeling by inviting a different girl each
day.

Peggy had hardly reached the top of the stairs when the bell rang,
and Sally came rushing from the kitchen to answer it. The prospect of
a wedding in the family had so excited Sally that she was even less
responsible for her conduct than usual. Almost the only thing she could
be trusted to do was to answer the door-bell, but as the bell rang very
often, she succeeded in making herself rather useful. On this occasion
a swarthy woman stood outside, and in a quick, parrot-like fashion
said something Sally did not understand.

"You want to see Miss Peggy?" Sally demanded. Such wits as she
possessed were not on duty, for ordinarily she would have recognized
the stranger's errand, and sent her about her business. As the woman
nodded, Sally at once admitted her, showing her into the room where the
wedding presents stood about in picturesque confusion.

"Miss Peggy," shrieked Sally, forgetting for the moment the lesson
impressed on her on innumerable occasions that she was not to save her
steps by calling up the stairs, "Somebody to see you."

It was a minute or two before Peggy came down, and Sally had retreated
to the kitchen in the meantime. Peggy who had naturally expected to see
an acquaintance, was rather startled to be confronted by a dark-skinned
woman with jet black eyes and an oily voice.

"Buy lace, lady? Very cheap: three inch wide up to nine inch. Very
cheap!"

Peggy replied politely that she did not care for any lace, reflecting
as she spoke that had the woman presented herself a few months
earlier, she might have thought it worth while to examine her stock.
Having had some experience in the persistence of her kind, she was
surprised when the dark woman took her refusal as final, and meekly let
herself out. Peggy stepped into the kitchen to warn Sally against her
late indiscretion, and came back through the hall, reflecting that she
must hurry, since the dressmaker did not like to be kept waiting. As
she passed the open door of the room the vender of lace had so lately
quitted, she stopped and stood transfixed.

One of her wedding presents was missing. She knew exactly the place
where it had stood on the center table, flanked on one side by a pair
of book-ends, and on the other by a cloisonné vase. The gap left by
its removal was as obvious to Peggy's startled eyes as the breach in a
smile, due to a missing tooth. Instantly she understood that there was
no mystery about its disappearance. She had seen it not ten minutes
before, and the only person who had entered the room since then was the
woman with lace to sell.

The discovery went to Peggy's head. The stealing of any of her other
possessions would not have affected her in just the same way. But these
were her wedding presents, invested with a certain sanctity because
of the goodwill they represented, and the occasion which led to their
bestowal. It never once occurred to Peggy that she could submit to such
an outrage.

She ran out of the house, looking up and down the street, and
immediately caught sight of the woman she wanted. Apparently she had
suspended business for the day, for she was walking, rapidly and making
no attempt to dispose of her wares in any of the houses she passed.
Peggy promptly started in pursuit. Her idea was to follow the woman,
keeping her in sight until she could encounter a policeman. Peggy
had no desire to deprive any human creature, however erring, of her
liberty. She hoped the officer of the law would force the surrender of
her ill-gotten gains without formally arresting her. But whatever the
consequences, she meant to recover her property.

According to the calendar it was the last day of June, but the
thermometer proclaimed it mid-July. The heated air quivered. The
streets seemed as silent as the thoroughfares of a deserted village.
A block from Peggy's home, the woman took the right-hand turning and
went down Rossiter Street. Peggy followed, walking rapidly in her
determination to gain on the quick-walking figure on ahead.

Three blocks on Rossiter Street, and then the woman turned north,
giving Peggy a clew to her plan. Friendly Terrace lay near the
outskirts of the city. A walk of a mile from Peggy's home brought one
into a section sparsely settled. It looked as though Peggy's quarry
were making for the open country.

Oh, for a policeman! Peggy rather unjustly resented the scarcity of
officers of the law, forgetting how seldom their services were required
in the law-abiding part of town. She discovered, too, that the woman
pursued was uncannily aware of her pursuer. Though apparently she
never looked back, she accommodated her pace to Peggy's, accelerating
her speed, as Peggy quickened hers, so that the distance between them
remained about the same in spite of Peggy's efforts to lessen it.

Owing to the lack of policemen, had any reliable looking man passed
her in a car, Peggy believed herself capable of stopping him and
commandeering his services. But apparently the heat had driven every
one indoors. Two or three delivery wagons passed with small boys
handling the reins. One machine glided by, but the driver was a woman.
After an hour's chase the two participants in the singular game of
"Follow my Leader," came out upon the turnpike, stretching away to
the north, white and dusty and hot in the brilliant sun. Here the
houses were scattered and stood back from the road. The likelihood of
encountering a policeman had become extremely faint. But Peggy set her
teeth and pressed forward.

Graham got off half an hour early this particular afternoon, and
reached Peggy's a little before five. Irma, dimpled and sweet, a
replica of Dorothy a few years earlier, rushed to meet him squealing
with delight, while Dorothy smiled a welcome, her lips pinched tightly
together. One of Dorothy's upper front teeth was missing and Dorothy
was painfully conscious of the lack every minute that she was awake.

Graham kissed his prospective nieces, greeted the older members of the
family cordially, if less effusively, and put the inevitable question,
"Where's Peggy?"

"Oh, at the dressmaker's of course," sighed Mrs. Raymond. "I hope she
won't keep the poor child very long. It's so dreadfully warm."

The telephone tinkled, and Dick went to answer it. He scowled as he
listened. "Who did you say it was? Oh, wait a minute!" He turned to his
mother. "I thought you said Peggy had gone to the dressmaker's."

"She has. She had a fitting at half past three."

"Well, this is the dressmaker, and she says Peggy hasn't come."

"Let me speak to her." Mrs. Raymond crossed to the phone, with an air
of expecting to clear up the puzzle immediately. And hardly had she
made herself known, when the door opened and Ruth appeared. "What's
become of Peggy? She was to call for me a little after three, and I've
had my hat on waiting for her nearly two hours."

What had become of Peggy? She had not kept her engagement with the
dressmaker, and Ruth knew nothing of her whereabouts. Mrs. Raymond
called up Priscilla and Amy, each of whom disavowed having seen Peggy
since noon. And then as there seemed nothing better to do, she went on
calling neighbors and friends and trades-people, growing more and more
puzzled, moment by moment. For no one had seen Peggy.

It finally occurred to Peggy's sister, Alice, to make inquiries in the
kitchen. Sally informed her that Miss Peggy had come into the kitchen
with her hat on, and had said something about the dressmaker. The new
girl, who had been engaged to help out for the few weeks before the
wedding, confirmed Sally's story, adding that it was a little after
three when Peggy left the house. Obviously Peggy had started out with
the intention of keeping her appointment, and obviously she had not
done so.

Dinner was ready at six o'clock, but no one was ready for dinner.
Peggy's failure to appear at meal-time added to the general
consternation. Peggy was by nature prompt and methodical, and she had
acted the rôle of cook too often not to realize how the best efforts of
that important functionary are frustrated by late arrivals. At quarter
past six Mr. Raymond went to the telephone and called up the hospitals
one after another. But the hot sleepy day had not been productive of
automobile accidents, and the only cases of sun-strokes reported were
elderly people, four men and one old woman.

Graham was very pale. A dreadful suspicion was taking shape in his
mind. Could it be that, as the second of July drew near, Peggy had
found herself unable to face the situation? Perhaps he had asked too
much of her when he had urged her accompanying him to South America.
He thought of the innumerable ties that bound her to her native land,
and yet he had assumed that she would be ready to leave everything and
every one she loved, and go with him to a land of strangers. Graham
was no more troubled by excessive humility than other popular young
men, but in the present emergency he seemed to himself to have put a
most preposterous estimate on the value of his own society. He had a
horrible conviction that, through his demanding too much, Peggy was
lost to him forever.

It hardly need be said that no one in the anxious company shared this
particular apprehension. At seven o'clock Peggy's father made up his
mind that it would be necessary to appeal to the police. But before he
could bring himself to act on this conviction, the gate clicked and
Irma, standing at the window, her nose flattened against the screen,
exploded in a series of joyful shrieks.

"Aunt Peggy! Aunt Peggy! Oh, it's Aunt Peggy!"

And Peggy it was, though it took a second glance to be sure. The
perspiration trickling over her dusty face had produced a curious
piebald effect, and she walked with a noticeable limp. They rushed to
the door, greeting her with mingled cries of joy and reproach. All but
Graham. He sat down in the darkest corner of the living room and put
his hands over his face. The intensity of his relief was almost too
much for him.

Peggy limped in, looking decidedly ashamed of herself.

"Have you waited dinner for me? I'm awfully sorry."

"Waited dinner," repeated Mrs. Raymond, and burst into tears. Peggy's
sister Alice caught her by the shoulders and gave her a sharp little
shake.

"Peggy Raymond, where have you been and what have you been doing? Don't
you understand that we've been frightened to death about you?"

Peggy dropped into the nearest chair and began on her story. She told
of the woman Sally had admitted to the house, the missing wedding
present, and the purpose with which she had started in pursuit. They
all listened breathlessly, Graham left his corner and stood back of the
others, unwilling to miss a word.

It was not till Peggy's recital brought her to the turnpike that she
lost a little of her fluency. At this point she hesitated and seemed
to appreciate the difficulty of making matters clear to her audience.
"Of course I should have given up then. But somehow I couldn't. I kept
hoping that somebody would appear, and it seemed such a shame when I'd
followed that thief so far, to give up and go back. I'd made up my mind
that as soon as an automobile came along, I'd ask for a lift. I felt if
I could only catch up with her I could frighten her into giving me what
belonged to me. But nobody passed me, and then when she got to the old
toll-gate--"

Mr. Raymond interrupted, "You don't mean you followed her to the toll
gate?"

"Yes, father. Or at least I was almost there. You know there's a
cross-road just beyond the gate, and a Ford car came up that cross-road
and turned north on the pike. And the woman stopped it--"

"Confederates, I'll bet," cried Dick.

"No, it looked as if she were just asking some stranger for a ride. And
as far as they knew she was only a tired woman carrying a bag and they
took her in. And then I saw it wasn't any use to go further."

"You surprise me." Mr. Raymond's voice was satirical. "I can't
understand why you didn't run after the machine."

Peggy accepted the sarcastic rejoinder meekly. "Then I turned around
and came home. But you see I had put on my new brown shoes because
Mrs. Morley wanted to fit my brown dress with the shoes I was going to
wear with it, and all at once they began to hurt me terribly. Instead
of hurrying I had to slow up, and sometimes I had to stop and wait. I
never had anything hurt so."

"If you'd walked three blocks east," exclaimed Graham, speaking for the
first time, "you could have got a car."

"I knew it, but I'd come off without my pocket book. I didn't have a
penny with me. That was the reason I didn't telephone."

Peggy looked about her with a crestfallen air. While she was far from
realizing the extent of the alarm her family had felt, and would not
have believed Graham had he told her of the apprehensions that had
tortured him through the terrible time of waiting, she understood that
they had all been worried and that she had inconvenienced every one by
making dinner late. "Don't wait for me any longer," she pleaded. "Have
the dinner put on, mother, and I'll be down as soon as I've washed up a
little."

Mrs. Raymond put her arm about her. "Yes, come upstairs, darling. You
must have something on those blisters right away. Alice, tell Sally to
put on plates for Ruth and Graham."

It was while they were eating lamb chops, which after an hour and a
half in the warming oven might as well have been anything else, that
some one thought to put the question Peggy had been dreading. "Do you
know what present she stole?"

Peggy took a hasty sip of her iced tea and looked appealingly at her
questioner. But her reluctant manner only aroused the curiosity of
every one.

"I'll bet it was the silver teapot," exclaimed Dick.

"It doesn't matter what's missing, as long as Peggy herself is here
safe and sound," declared Mrs. Raymond fervently.

"But what _did_ she take?" insisted Alice, eyeing her sister with
suspicion.

Again Peggy forfeited herself with iced tea, and her cheeks, flushed
by heat and weariness, took on a deeper hue. "It--it really wasn't
so valuable,--" stammered Peggy. "You know Elvira Bond gave me half
a dozen teaspoons that she got by saving soap wrappers or something.
They came in a neat little case, and I suppose the woman snatched the
nearest thing without looking. I didn't chase her because the spoons
were worth so much because--well, it was the principle of the thing."

There was a long moment of silence, and then a roar of laughter. They
laughed long and helplessly and wiped their eyes and started all over
again. As a rule Peggy could appreciate a joke, even if it was against
herself, but on this occasion a rather wry smile was the best she could
do. She was beginning to realize that she had been very silly.

"Well, Graham," remarked Mr. Raymond when he could make himself heard,
"In my opinion you're assuming quite a responsibility in planning to
take this young woman to South America."

Graham's eyes met Peggy's and something in his look arrested her
attention, a peculiar radiance as if he had just heard a wonderful
piece of news. But all he said was, "I'm ready to take the risk, sir."



CHAPTER XXII

A JULY WEDDING


PEGGY'S brother Dick had parodied an old rhyme to fit the occasion and
sang it with gusto, in season and out of season. It was Dick's voice,
caroling in a high falsetto, and breaking ludicrously on an average of
once a line, that woke Peggy on the most eventful morning of her life.

    "A wedding day in May
    Is worth a load of hay.
    A wedding set for June
    Is worth a silver spoon.
    A wedding in July
    Isn't worth a fly."

Peggy winked hard and sat up in bed, turning instantly toward the east
windows. "Oh," she cried joyously, "what a glorious day!" And so indeed
it was. Apparently the weather man had carefully selected whatever was
best in all the year, and combined his selections into one perfect day
in honor of Peggy's wedding. There had been a little rain the night
before, and the air was as sweet as if perfumed by June's roses. There
was a freshness that suggested early spring, and something in the
breeze as exhilarating as October. Peggy reflected complacently that
this was just her luck.

She wondered, as she dressed, what she was to do with herself between
the hours of eight and six. Her trunk was packed for going away, and
the other trunks were ready except for a few articles to be added at
the last minute. She had acknowledged every gift she had received. The
dressmaker was through with her, and the wedding dress was hanging
in Peggy's closet, with a sheet draped over it that no speck of dust
should mar its immaculate whiteness. Peggy decided that her wedding day
was to be characterized by elegant leisure.

Of course this expectation was not realized. To begin with, there were
more presents. They came by parcels post and by express. Deliverymen
handed them over as nonchalantly as if they had been ordinary
purchases. Others came by special messengers, who grinned knowingly
when Peggy signed for them. Breakfast was hardly over when it was
necessary to send for Graham, that he might assist in opening the
packages. But Graham was not as satisfactory in opening packages as a
number of other people, Priscilla and Amy, for instance. If Peggy cried
"Isn't that beautiful?" he always looked straight at her as he said
"yes," and then it was necessary to remind him that he was supposed to
be admiring a piece of silverware or glass. Peggy always said, "How
beautiful!" when a package was opened. And then if the article were
something she really wanted, she would add, "Isn't it lucky, Graham,
that some one thought of that? I don't see how we could have kept house
without it." And if it were something quite unsuitable she would cry,
"How kind everybody is. I never saw anything like it."

The present from Peggy's college class came the morning of the wedding
day, when it was practically certain that no one was to be married
in advance of Peggy. It was a very attractive silver vase, with the
class motto engraved about its base. Peggy's delight was marred by one
characteristic reflection. "I have so many things. It's almost a pity
this didn't go to some girl whose friends weren't so generous."

"Any one could have had it," Graham reminded her, "who was ready
to take the risk. This is in recognition of your courage, like the
Victoria Cross."

Of course the wedding presents were not going to South America, but
were to be stored against the young people's return. "Don't you hate
to go away and leave all these lovely things, Graham?" Peggy asked,
stroking the gleaming sides of a copper bowl as if it had been a
kitten. And then with her usual happy faculty for seeing the bright
side, she added, "But think of coming home and finding them waiting for
us! Why, it'll be like getting married all over again."

Wedding presents, however, were not to occupy Peggy's thoughts to the
exclusion of other matters. All sorts of affectionate messages kept
coming, special deliveries, telegrams, telephone calls. A girl like
Peggy, who for twenty-one years and over has been helping to make the
world a happier place, is likely to be surprised when she comes to
count up her friends. Elaine Marshall, who had moved from the city and
now lived with her married sister, came down for the day. "I couldn't
stand it, not to be at your wedding, Peggy," she declared. And Lucy
Haines walked in about noon, looking so radiant that Peggy at once
suspected an especial reason. There was a little pearl ring on the
third finger of Lucy's left hand that Peggy had never seen before. Lucy
blushed when she saw Peggy's contemplative gaze focused on it.

"Yes, Peggy, it's--it's Jerry," owned Lucy, looking so proud and happy
that she did not seem even distantly related to the disheartened girl
who had once thought it was no use trying. "He's grown into such a
splendid fellow. Everybody says I'm so lucky. And, Peggy, if it hadn't
been for the summer you spent at Doolittle Cottage, it's not likely
that either of us would ever have amounted to anything."

Mary Donaldson called up to say that she was coming to the wedding.
Her father and cousin had promised to carry her downstairs, and they
were going early so she could be in her place before any one else
arrived. "I don't believe you're a bit more excited than I am, Peggy,"
Mary laughed. And another surprise was when Uncle Philander and his
wife drove into town, with a bushel or two of flowers piled about them
in the buggy.

"They're not such awful stylish flowers," beamed Aunt Phoebe. "Of
course there's a few roses, but most of our bushes bloomed themselves
'most to death in June and haven't done much since. The rest are just
everyday posies, so to speak, but they'll make little bright spots
around the house, and anyway, you can't have too many flowers at a
wedding."

At four o'clock the bridesmaids went home to dress. The mother of the
flower girl pounced on her and carried her upstairs.

"Peggy, dear," said Mrs. Raymond warningly.

"Just a minute mother. I want to tell Graham something." Peggy led her
lover into a corner and whispered in his ear, "Don't you want to come
back and get a glimpse of me after I'm dressed."

"Well rather."

"Because you know, if you don't like me," dimpled Peggy, "it's not too
late to change your mind." She was inclined to be reproachful when
Graham caught her in his arms and kissed her before everybody, but
Graham insisted it was her own fault, and on reflection Peggy decided
he was right.

At six o'clock the little church was well filled. In spite of Graham's
teasing, Peggy's humble friends could hardly be distinguished from
their so-called betters. Hildegarde Carey, slender and elegant, sat in
the pew behind Elvira Bond, and noticed nothing peculiar except that
Elvira blew her nose oftener and with more emphasis than is customary
on such occasions. It was either that or weep, and Elvira chose the
least of the two evils. As for Jimmy Dunn, with his purple necktie and
a large scarfpin that resembled a diamond, he was fairly resplendent.

The march pealed out and the people rose. Up the aisle came the
bridesmaids walking very slowly. The little flower girl, all smiles,
seemed as unconscious as if weddings were an old story in her
experience. And then came Peggy on her father's arm, and Elvira Bond
was not the only one whose eyes brimmed over as she passed.

A great deal can happen in five minutes. The organ pealed out again,
and now Peggy was Mrs. Graham Wylie. She put her hand on her husband's
arm and smiled up into his face, Peggy's own sunny smile. She had
promised for better or for worse, but in her heart of hearts she was
confident that the future held only good for the two of them. And as
Graham was equally positive on that score, they went down the aisle
with illumined faces.

Only a few besides the two families came to the house from the church.
These, with the out-of-town guests like Elaine and Lucy, and the
wedding party, filled the cosy little house to overflowing. Mary
Donaldson sat in a corner, radiant; and since she could not cross the
room to kiss the bride, the bride crossed to kiss her.

It was after the chicken salad had been disposed of, and they were
passing the ice cream, that Peggy's attention focussed itself on her
new friend, Mr. Kennedy. He stood by himself for the moment and his
face was rather grave for a young man, a guest at a wedding. But as he
caught her eye, he smiled resolutely and came over to her.

"I'm sorry you're going away, Mrs. Wylie, just as I met you. It doesn't
seem fair."

"I'm sorry, too," said Peggy. "If we'd only known that night at
the Green Parrot that you were a friend of Graham's it would have
simplified matters so much."

Mr. Kennedy's face again lost its smile. He turned and looked the
company over. "Your friend Hitchcock isn't here to-night, is he?"

Peggy was delighted. She had been wishing for a chance to bring Horace
into the conversation, and here Mr. Kennedy had done it himself. When
again the young man looked at her, he was almost startled by the
radiant mischief of her face.

"Horace Hitchcock here? Oh, dear, no! I can't think of anybody I'd be
less likely to ask to my wedding."

"That's one point, evidently, on which you and Miss Combs are not in
agreement."

Peggy pondered. "Priscilla might ask him to her wedding. I don't know.
But it's certain he didn't ask _her_ to _his_."

Young Mr. Kennedy's start was unmistakable. "You don't mean he's
married?"

"Yes indeed. There was quite an account of it in the papers. But if you
didn't know his name, you wouldn't remember."

"No, I wouldn't remember," agreed Mr. Kennedy. All at once he was
beaming. "I shall be glad when the next two years are up, Mrs. Wylie,"
he cried boyishly. "I have a hunch that you and I are going to be great
friends."

A moment later he joined Priscilla, and from that time on followed her
about like her shadow, and the observant Peggy smiled approval. She was
not in the least discomfited by Graham's reference to high explosives.
The most dangerous things in the world, in her estimation, were
misunderstandings.

At ten o'clock the bride went upstairs to change to her little
going-away suit with the Eton Jacket, that made her look hardly older
than the Peggy Raymond who entered college. And then the good-bys
began. "We'll be back in a few days," said Peggy as she kissed each
one, but even that assurance failed to give comfort. For though Peggy
and Graham were coming back for twenty-four hours, they were to sail on
the sixth. Peggy's friends returned her smiles bravely, but there was
hardly one who did not struggle to keep back the tears.

They crowded out on the porch to see her go. Some one hurled an old
shoe as the taxi-cab glided away. Peggy leaned from the window to wave
her hand, and then the darkness swallowed her up.

Amy, Ruth, and Priscilla stood side by side. The tears were running
down Ruth's cheeks, and Priscilla's eyes were wet. Amy had forced
herself to smile during Peggy's protracted leave-taking and the smile
persisted, though it had become a grimace.

"Is this place called Friendly Terrace?" Amy demanded tragically, "Or
is it the--the Dismal Swamp."

"Or the desert of Sahara," suggested Priscilla, a quaver in her voice
showing that the suggestion was not altogether a joke.

"Girls!" for a moment Ruth struggled with a sob, but she conquered it
and went on resolutely, "I don't know who named Friendly Terrace, but
I do know it was Peggy who made the name fit. And we've got to keep it
up. We can't let it become like other little streets where nobody cares
for his neighbor. We've got to show what Peggy meant to us by--by--"

"By keeping the home fires burning," interpolated Amy, and Ruth nodded
as if the familiar phrase said all she had wished to say.

As the others crowded indoors, declaring after immemorial fashion that
there had never been a prettier wedding nor a lovelier bride, Peggy's
three friends stood side by side; Ruth's hand was fast in Amy's, and
Amy's arm was about Priscilla's waist. And while none of them spoke,
each of them in her heart was silently pledging herself to keep
Friendly Terrace what Peggy had made it.


THE END



MARK GRAY'S HERITAGE

A Romance

_By Eliot Harlow Robinson_

_Author of "Smiles: A Rose of the Cumberlands," "Smiling Pass," "The
Maid of Mirabelle," etc._

_Cloth, 12mo, illustrated, $1.90_

"_What is bred in the bone will never come out of the flesh._"


MR. ROBINSON'S distinguished success came with the acclaim accredited
to his novel, SMILES, "_The Best-Loved Book of the Year_," and its
sequel, SMILING PASS. With delicate humor and a sincere faith in the
beautiful side of human nature, Mr. Robinson has created for himself
a host of enthusiastic admirers. In his new book he chooses a theme,
suggested perhaps by the old proverb quoted above ("Pilpay's Fables").
His setting is a Quaker village, his theme the conflict between grave
Quaker ideals and the strength and hot blood of impulsive Mark Gray.

Here is a book that is worthy of the reception accorded SMILES by
all readers who appreciate a story of deep significance, simply yet
powerfully built upon fundamental passions, wrought with a philosophy
that always sees the best in troubled times.

The enthusiastic editor who passed on MARK GRAY'S HERITAGE calls
it--hardly too emphatically--"A mighty good story with plenty of
entertainment for those who like action (there is more of that in it
than in any other of Mr. Robinson's novels). The reading public will
unquestionably call it another 'courage book'--which they called the
SMILES books, you know. The language is both strong and smooth. The
story has a punch!"



POLLY THE PAGAN

Her Lost Love Letters

_By Isabel Anderson_

_With an appreciative Foreword by Basil King_

_Cloth decorative, 12mo, illustrated, $1.90_


ISABEL ANDERSON, who heretofore has confined her literary talents to
writing of presidents and diplomats and fascinating foreign lands,
contributes to our list her first novel, POLLY THE PAGAN, a story of
European life and "high society." The story is unfolded in the lively
letters of a gay and vivacious American girl traveling in Europe,
and tells of the men whom she meets in Paris, in London or Rome, her
flirtations (and they are many and varied!) and exciting experiences.
Among the letters written to her are slangy ones from an American
college boy and some in broken English from a fascinated Russian Prince
(or was he disillusioned, when after dining at a smart Parisian café
with the adorable Polly he was trapped by secret police?); but the
chief interest, so far as Polly's _affaires d'amour_ are concerned,
centers around the letters from a young American, in the diplomatic
service in Rome, who is in a position to give intimate descriptions of
smart life and Italian society.

       *       *       *       *       *

The character drawing is clever, and the suspense as to whom the
fascinating Polly will marry, if indeed the mysterious young lady will
marry anybody, is admirably sustained.



UNCLE MARY

A Novel for Young or Old

_By Isla May Mullins_

_Author of "The Blossom Shop" books, "Tweedie," etc._

_Cloth decorative, 12mo, illustrated, $1.75_

  SINCE the great success of POLLYANNA there have been many efforts to
  achieve the "_GLAD_ BOOK" style of fiction, but none so successful
          Trade      Mark
  as Mrs. Mullins' UNCLE MARY.

Here is a story, charming in its New England village setting, endearing
in its characters, engrossing in its plot, and diverting in its
style. The PAGE imprint has been given to many books about beautiful
characters in fiction,--Pollyanna, Anne Shirley, Rose Webb of "SMILES,"
and Lloyd Sherman of the "LITTLE COLONEL" books. To this galaxy we now
add "Uncle" Mary's protégé, Libbie Lee.

Mrs. Mullins is an author gifted with the ability to appeal to the
young in heart of whatever age. Her characters are visually portrayed.
Her situations have the interest of naturalness and suspense. The
reader of UNCLE MARY will become in spirit an inhabitant of Sunfield;
will understand the enjoyment of the sudden acquisition of wealth, a
limousine, and--an adopted child (!), by the sisters, "Uncle" Mary and
"Aunt" Alice; will watch with interest the thawing and rejuvenation of
"Uncle" Mary, the cure of Alice, and the solving of the mystery of the
wealth of sweet little Libbie Lee.



THE RED CAVALIER

Or, The Twin Turrets Mystery

_By Gladys Edson Locke_

_Cloth decorative, 12mo, illustrated, $1.90_


HERE is a mystery story that is different! The subtlety and strangeness
of India--poison and daggers, the impassive faces and fierce hearts
of Prince Bardai and his priestly adviser; a typical English week-end
house party in the mystery-haunted castle, Twin Turrets, in Yorkshire;
a vivid and contrasting background.

And the plot! Who is the mysterious Red Cavalier? Is he the ghost of
the ancestral portrait, that hangs in Sir Robert Grainger's strange
library? Is he flesh and blood, and responsible for the marauding
thefts in the neighborhood? Is he responsible for Prince Kassim's
murder? Or is it only coincidence that one of the guests at the masked
ball happened to wear the costume of the Red Cavalier?

Miss Locke has been able to weave a weird and absorbing tale of modern
detective romance, the strangeness of India in modern England.

There is Lady Berenice Coningsby, a bit _déclassé_; Ethelyn Roydon,
more so; Princess Lona Bardai, "Little Lotus-Blossom," sweet and
pathetic; Mrs. Dalrymple, the woman of mystery; Miss Vandelia Egerton,
the spinster owner of Twin Turrets. There is dashing Max Egerton and
the impeccable Lord Borrowdean; Captain Grenville Coningsby; Prince
Kassim Bardai, with the impenetrable eyes, and Chand Talsdad, his
venerable adviser. Which of them is the Red Cavalier?

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired while varied hyphenation has been
retained.

Page 11, "asumed" changed to "assumed" (assumed that they had)

Page 75, the ligature was removed from "Phoebe" to conform to the
numerous uses without it (turned to Aunt Phoebe's)

Page 115, "epigramatic" changed to "epigrammatic" (epigrammatic phrases
which)

Page 172, "your're" changed to "you're" (what you're looking for)

Page 180, "Rob" changed to "Bob" (absorbed by what Bob)

Page 184, "publicity" changed to "publicly" (publicly that she was)

Page 184, "incomprehensiblely" changed to "incomprehensibly"
(incomprehensibly petty)

Page 186, repeated word "the" removed from text. Original read (how
much . was the the result of)

Page 199, "upstair" changed to "upstairs" (upstairs Ruth? It's)

Page 205, "fiinished" changed to "finished" (After she had finished)

Page 207, "tumultous" changed to "tumultuous" (tumultuous cheering, the)

Page 210, "forseen" changed to "foreseen" (have foreseen this)

Page 238, repeated word "to" removed from text. Original read (four to
to get engaged)

Page 261, "rudness" changed to "rudeness" (The rudeness gave Peggy)

Page 262, "af" changed to "of" (losing two of her)

Page 271, "spare" changed to "space" (vacant space enclosed by)

Page 272, "attenion" changed to "attention" (Priscilla every attention)

Page 279, "emphazie" changed to "emphasize" (to emphasize the fact)

Page 301, "There" changed to "Three" (Three blocks on Rossiter)





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Peggy Raymond's Way - Or, Blossom Time at Friendly Terrace" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home