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 | HTML | 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: Billie Bradley and the School Mystery - or, The Girl From Oklahoma
Author: Wheeler, Janet D.
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 "Billie Bradley and the School Mystery - or, The Girl From Oklahoma" ***

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



[Illustration: BILLIE WAS HELPLESS. ALTHOUGH SHE FLUNG AN ARM ABOUT
EDINA. “Billie Bradley and the School Mystery.” (See page 168)]



  BILLIE BRADLEY AND THE SCHOOL MYSTERY
  OR
  The Girl from Oklahoma

  BY
  JANET D. WHEELER

  AUTHOR OF “BILLIE BRADLEY AND HER INHERITANCE,” “BILLIE
  BRADLEY AT SUN DIAL LODGE,” ETC.

  _ILLUSTRATED_


  NEW YORK
  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
  PUBLISHERS



BILLIE BRADLEY SERIES

  _By_ JANET D. WHEELER
  _12mo. Cloth. Illustrated._

  BILLIE BRADLEY AND HER INHERITANCE

  BILLIE BRADLEY AT THREE TOWERS HALL

  BILLIE BRADLEY ON LIGHTHOUSE ISLAND

  BILLIE BRADLEY AND HER CLASSMATES

  BILLIE BRADLEY AT TWIN LAKES

  BILLIE BRADLEY AT TREASURE COVE

  BILLIE BRADLEY AT SUN DIAL LODGE

  BILLIE BRADLEY AND THE SCHOOL MYSTERY

   CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
  PUBLISHERS      NEW YORK


  COPYRIGHT, 1930, BY
  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY

  BILLIE BRADLEY AND THE SCHOOL MYSTERY
  Printed in the U. S. A.



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                              PAGE

        I. AT LAKE MOLATA                 1

       II. A DESPERATE FIX               10

      III. EDINA TO THE RESCUE           17

       IV. BATTLE                        24

        V. A PUBLIC REBUKE               31

       VI. BILLIE IS LOYAL               39

      VII. A TALE OF RICHES              49

     VIII. BILLIE AGAINST HER WORLD      55

       IX. THE EXPERIMENT                62

        X. A TRIP TO TOWN                69

       XI. EDINA GETS HER HAIR CUT       77

      XII. A PERFECT DAY                 88

     XIII. EDINA SCORES                  94

      XIV. AN OLD ENEMY                 101

       XV. AN UNEXPECTED DUCKING        111

      XVI. FIGHTING FOR LIFE            120

     XVII. THE MYSTERIOUS LETTER        129

    XVIII. THE GIFT CLUB                134

      XIX. A DREADFUL DISCOVERY         141

       XX. THE ACCUSATION               150

      XXI. EVIDENCE PILES UP            158

     XXII. A RIOT                       164

    XXIII. DAN LARKIN REMEMBERS         175

     XXIV. A SMASHING SET               183

      XXV. CAUGHT--CONCLUSION           192



BILLIE BRADLEY AND THE SCHOOL MYSTERY

CHAPTER I

AT LAKE MOLATA


“My, but it’s good to get back!”

The statement came from Billie Bradley. She gazed upon the ivy-covered
towers of the boarding school with genuine affection.

Three Towers Hall was an impressive building, set amidst gracious,
well-tended lawns on the borders of one of the prettiest and most
picturesque lakes in that part of the country. From its gates students
flocked in gay anticipation of vacation and good times at the end of
the spring term, to return, more soberly, but with a refreshed and
brightened outlook, to take up their studies at the beginning of the
fall semester.

Such a time had come again to Billie Bradley and her two close chums,
Violet Farrington and Laura Jordon. After a particularly interesting
and adventure-filled summer, they had returned to their beloved seat
of learning, eager for work and with renewed and heightened ideals.

Now they stood on the borders of the lake, looking toward Three Towers
Hall through a lane of trees that made flickering shadows on the lawn.
Idly, they speculated on the future.

“I’d feel better,” observed Vi, “if I hadn’t that condition in math to
make up. It worries me.”

“It would,” agreed Laura. “I mean, it would have worried me so much
that if it had been my condition, I’d have made it up during the summer
instead of waiting until fall, when goodness knows the work is hard
enough, anyway.”

“It’s easy enough for you to criticize,” said Vi, a shade resentfully.
“You take all your studies at a run, while all I can do is to hobble.”

“Of course, not everyone can have a brain like mine,” murmured Laura,
with a mischievous grin.

“Besides, what time have I had this summer for study?” Vi persisted.
“Between treasure hunts and mysteries and such things, I’ve had my
hands full.”

“You should have found time,” returned Laura, pursing her mouth primly
in mischievous imitation of Miss Phelps, their new mathematics teacher.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Vi shrugged her shoulders petulantly.

“Well, if you are going to be so disagreeable--” She left the sentence
unfinished and turned toward the Hall.

Billie awoke from the reverie that had been occupying her secret
thoughts; awoke in time to seize a fold of Vi’s abbreviated skirt and
hold it firmly between thumb and forefinger.

“Laura’s insulting me,” said Vi, with a wavering smile. “I’ll not stay.”

“Don’t be foolish,” laughed Billie. “Laura insults everybody. It’s just
her way. But she never means anything by it.”

“I’m going up to the house to study math,” persisted Vi.

“No you’re not,” said Billie. “You are going for a walk with Laura and
me back of the lake and pick goldenrod. Miss Walters likes it in her
office and it would be nice in the dorm. Come along.”

“But I must study math!” wailed Vi, beginning to weaken. “Honestly,
Billie, you don’t know how it worries me. It has me scared stiff.”

“Well, we’ll go and pick goldenrod first and then I’ll help you with
your math. How will that do?”

“Excellently, thanks,” said Vi, with a sigh of relief. When Billie
helped with “math,” or anything else, she really helped, explaining
each step and making everything as clear as day. Vi had wished, many a
time, that she had Billie’s head for “math.”

The three girls took the footpath to the right of the lake, the path
that climbed steadily until it came out on a high ridge of ground
overlooking both Three Towers Hall and Boxton Military Academy, the
boys’ school directly across the lake from the Hall.

Billie Bradley and her chums knew that on this ridge grew goldenrod,
flaming, golden patches of it. The sight of it always fascinated them.
As Billie once had said, it seemed as though the sun had touched the
earth and become entangled in the weeds.

“It was some time before it could untangle itself and get back in the
heavens where it belonged,” Billie had concluded her whimsical fancy.
“The result was--goldenrod!”

Now, as they made their way toward this higher ground, the girls
continued to discuss the events of the past few days, the renewal of
acquaintanceship with old school friends, the excitement and interest
of meeting and “looking over” the newcomers to Three Towers Hall.

“The new girls seem a rather commonplace lot,” observed Laura. She
paused by the wayside to pick a lace flower and stuck it jauntily over
one ear revealed by a very short bob. “Just the usual smattering; some
shy, some bold, all somewhat excited by finding themselves at boarding
school.”

“Can you blame them? ’Member how we felt when we first came?” chuckled
Vi.

“Sort of exalted and plumb scared to death,” interpreted Billie. “Those
were the days of big fun, though.”

“And the big fights,” giggled Laura. “Remember how Amanda Peabody and
that shadow of hers, Eliza Dilks, used to ride us to death?”

“Where do you get that stuff--used to?” demanded Vi slangily. “Why,
I’ll tell you something. Just this morning Amanda tried to pick a
quarrel with me.”

“Over what?” Billie was interested. Amanda Peabody was one of the
most unpleasant girls at Three Towers Hall. She had money and had
developed a sort of dashing good looks. Because of this some of the
students--that smattering of toadies found among the girls of every
boarding school--had rallied round her, forming a small, exclusive
clique. Among the most conspicuous and faithful of Amanda’s following
was a girl named Eliza Dilks, otherwise known as “The Shadow.”

“What did you and Amanda quarrel about?” Billie asked again.

“I didn’t quarrel about anything,” returned Vi virtuously. “It was
Amanda who did the quarreling, and it was all about some silly little
thing like a pencil that she accused me of taking from her desk in the
study hall. Of course it was all nonsense. Why should I want her pencil
when I have that beautiful silver one Uncle Dan gave me for Christmas?”

“What did you tell her?” Laura wanted to know.

“What would I tell her? I merely went by with my nose in the air and
refused to answer her. She looked mad enough to bite nails,” with a
reminiscent giggle.

Laura sighed.

“I suppose that girl will be a thorn in our side----”

“Flesh,” corrected Billie with a giggle.

“I said ‘side’ and I meant it,” retorted Laura firmly. “Anyway, I
suppose neither you nor Vi will deny that Amanda Peabody and Eliza
Dilks are a thorny pair.”

“Two thorns, without the roses,” remarked Billie.

Vi began to chant in a soft, singsong:

  “Oh, Amanda and her Shadow,
     Amanda and her crony,
   Went out to take the air one day,
     Aridin’ on a pony.

   They thought they were the bees’ headlight,
     They thought they looked so tony.
   But everyone they met called out,
     ‘Go home! Your style is phony!’”

Billie and Laura applauded dutifully and Billie demanded to know how
long Vi had been keeping this unsuspected talent a secret from her
chums.

“You look romantic enough, Vi, goodness knows, but we never suspected
you of being a poetess.”

“Then don’t now,” urged Vi. “I wouldn’t be guilty of such ‘poetry.’
It’s Connie’s.”

“She should be shot at daybreak,” remarked Laura. “I’ll see to it
myself.”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s a pretty good ‘pome,’” chuckled Billie. “I’ve a
notion to put it to music and adopt it as the new school song. Where is
Connie, anyway? I thought she was coming with us for a hike?”

“She had to rewrite that composition on hitchhikers. Miss Johnson,”--a
teacher of English at Three Towers Hall--“said it was too flippant.”
Laura finished with a chuckle, for Connie had read that composition to
Billie and her chums the evening before, sitting cross-legged, like
a young Chinese idol, on Billie’s bed. It had been flippant--like
Connie--and full of fun. The girls had laughed uproariously.

“Miss Johnson is dried up and old, a hopeless spinster,” was Vi’s
merciless indictment of the English teacher. “She can’t be expected to
recognize honest fun when she sees it.”

“Shouldn’t be surprised but what Connie’s second theme would be more
flippant than her first,” giggled Laura. “Then what will poor Miss
Johnson do?”

“In that case, I certainly feel sorry for Connie,” laughed Billie.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe Miss Johnson would fall over in a fit and
never come fully out of it. Then we’d all be freed from her. Me, I
wish she would,” declared Vi a bit vindictively.

The girls came out on the high promontory overlooking the lake, and
halted in mute appreciation of the lovely view spread out before them.
They had seen it many times before, but the fresh sight of it never
failed to thrill them.

Boxton Military Academy stood high and proud on the crest of a hill,
its parades and drill grounds marked out in patches of green velvet.
From where they stood the girls could hear the beating of a drum and
the fanfare of spirited music.

“No wonder the boys love it there,” murmured Laura. “We should have a
band at Three Towers. Might liven things up a bit.”

“That would be lovely,” laughed Vi. “I speak to play the big drum
and you can take the bass horn, Laura. Billie, what’s your choice? I
suggest the trombone.”

Billie chuckled.

“I’ll speak to Miss Walters about it as soon as we get back,” she
promised. “Meanwhile, get busy, lazybones, and garner some of this
goldenrod.”

The yellow flame of the gorgeous weed covered the top of the promontory
so that the girls were confronted by an embarrassment of riches. In a
few moments their arms were filled with the golden blossoms.

“Aren’t they the loveliest things you ever saw, girls?” cried Billie.

“Yes, they are. I adore this bright yellow, whether it’s in flowers or
dresses or hangings. It always makes me feel more cheerful.”

“I wonder how anyone can have a favorite flower. It always seems
to me that the flower I’m looking at at the moment is my favorite.
Just now, of course, it’s goldenrod. To-morrow it may be roses, for
instance.”

“Come on, let’s start back,” said Vi.

Laura and Vi had turned to go back when a sharp cry from Billie
startled them. When they looked in the direction whence the cry had
come, Billie Bradley was nowhere to be seen!



CHAPTER II

A DESPERATE FIX


Laura and Vi dashed through the field of goldenrod to the spot where
they had last seen Billie Bradley. They called to her and received a
faint answer from somewhere far below.

“She’s gone over the cliff!” gasped Vi.

“There are rocks down there, too,” muttered Laura. She parted the
bushes and peered below. “Billie, Billie! Where are you?”

A voice responded gallantly, battling with fear:

“I’m down here. My dress is caught on something. I daren’t move,
for fear it will tear. If you could reach me a stick or a rope, or
something----”

“Sounds easy!” Laura sprang to her feet and looked wildly about her.
“But where are we going to find the stick or the rope long enough to
reach--Vi, what have you got?”

Vi had dashed through the field of goldenrod to a wooded patch in the
background. Now she returned, bearing a long, forked stick.

“Looks like an uprooted tree,” gasped Laura hysterically.

“So it is, I guess. If it’s only long enough to reach Billie!”

The two girls flung themselves face downward on the edge of the cliff.
They were almost afraid to part the bushes and look below for fear
Billie had already disappeared.

She was still there, clinging desperately to the rocky, moss-covered
face of the cliff. One hand clutched a runner of tough vine, the other
clawed helplessly at loose dirt. Her feet could find no hold whatever,
but dangled, impotent and useless, over the glazed surface of a huge,
flat rock.

The thing that had saved her from being dashed upon the pointed rocks
at the foot of the cliff was the clump of dwarfed bushes growing
between the rocks in which her stout linen dress had caught and held.
The dress still held. But if it gave way, or if the clump of bushes
should come loose from the rocks, what would happen to Billie Bradley?

This agonized thought found an echo in the hearts of Laura Jordon and
Vi Farrington as they lay there on the edge of the cliff, staring
downward.

Laura impatiently caught the long stick from Vi’s trembling hand.

“I’m stronger than you are. Let me try!”

At the spot where the two girls lay, Billie was almost directly beneath
them. If the stick proved long enough, it would be an easy matter for
her to grasp it with her one free hand. If it proved long enough----

Laura lowered the stick over the side of the cliff, hoping, praying,
that it would reach Billie’s groping hand.

There! It was extended to the utmost and still came a good two feet
short of the imperiled girl.

“Vi, hold my feet!” commanded Laura. “Hold me so I can’t go over
myself. I’m going to try once more.”

With Vi clinging to her feet, Laura wriggled further over the edge of
the cliff. Having progressed as far as she could and being herself in
imminent danger of losing her balance and plunging head downward upon
those sharp-pointed rocks, Laura clung there, stretching her muscles
until they ached, striving to bring the stick within the grasp of
Billie’s groping fingers.

The stick would not reach. Billie still hung there, at the mercy of the
stout material in her dress, which might give way at any moment. What
were they to do?

While the girls are striving desperately to find an answer to this
question, a moment will be taken to introduce Billie Bradley and her
chums to those who have not already made their acquaintance.

The three girls had been chums since those good old days when Billie
Bradley had inherited the queer old house at Cherry Corners, as related
in the first volume of this series, entitled, “Billie Bradley and Her
Inheritance.” In the attic of the queer old house Billie and her chums
had discovered a small fortune in rare old postage stamps and coins.

This lucky discovery later proved the open sesame to Three Towers Hall,
the boarding school toward which Billie had long turned yearning, but
none-too-hopeful, eyes.

Life at Three Towers had exceeded even Billie’s happy expectations.
To be sure, there had been a few heartaches, a few defeats, but these
were more than offset by the many victories, the many friends that
Billie won for herself in her new environment. Laura Jordon and Violet
Farrington, long friends and admirers of Billie Bradley, found their
friendship cemented into a firm bond by the mutually shared experiences
at Three Towers Hall.

Later, Billie and her chums spent an exciting and decidedly worthwhile
summer at Lighthouse Island as the guests of Connie Danvers, whose
father owned a summer bungalow there.

Back at Three Towers Hall again, the girls found themselves in the
midst of a mystery, the solution of which brought undreamed-of
happiness to a widow and her three children.

There had been other vacations which the chums had shared, prominent
among them being that interesting and exciting summer spent at Twin
Lakes. Another, more recent adventure was that which befell them at
Treasure Cove where the three girls and their friends unearthed an old
sea chest filled with rare silks, carved ivory, coins, and precious
gems.

In the volume directly preceding this, entitled, “Billie Bradley at
Sun Dial Lodge,” Billie and her chums met with a series of alarming
but fascinating adventures which finally led to the solution of an
astonishing mystery.

Billie, who had been christened Beatrice but was seldom called by the
more formal name, was a dark-haired, dark-eyed, energetic young person,
whose overflowing vitality constantly demanded action. She was the
undoubted leader of her small group and it was a tribute to Billie’s
personality that her friends not only deferred to her, but liked doing
it.

Billie’s family was small, but suited her exactly. Martin Bradley,
her father, was a real estate and insurance broker, at which he was
moderately successful. Mrs. Bradley was a charming woman, loved by her
friends and adored by her family. There was a son, Billie’s brother,
Chetwood, commonly known as Chet. Between this brother and sister was
a genuine regard and a similarity of tastes, a foundation for the best
kind of comradeship.

Perhaps Billie’s very best chum was Laura Jordon. Laura was fair-haired
and blue-eyed and somewhat spoiled by being able to do as she liked
about almost everything. Teddy Jordon was fair-haired and blue-eyed
like his sister, a fine lad who was popular with boys and girls alike.
Raymond Jordon, the father of the likable pair, owned a controlling
interest in the big jewelry factory at North Bend, thus providing his
offspring with a bit more spending money than was strictly good for
them.

Violet Farrington, another very good chum of Billie’s, was an only
child but a very happy one, blessed with a pair of doting parents who
made up to her whatever lack the girl might otherwise have felt in her
brotherless and sisterless state.

Beside Chet Bradley and Teddy Jordon, there was a third lad often found
in the company of Billie and her chums. His name was Ferd Stowing. Ferd
was a likable, easy-going young fellow with a commendable knack for
making other people comfortable.

These three boys attended Boxton Military Academy, the school for boys
on Lake Molata, directly across from Three Towers Hall. When at home
the sextette of young people lived at North Bend, a thriving town
of some twenty thousand inhabitants. Forty miles of railroad travel
transported one from the heart of North Bend to the heart of New York
City. It was a pleasant place to live, as the boys and girls agreed.

During their activities in and about North Bend and at Three Towers
Hall, the girls had encountered many adventures, some thrilling, some
sad, but all more or less spiced with danger. None, however, had found
them in such desperate fix as the one in which they were now involved.

Billie hung over that precipitous drop to the rocks at the base of the
cliff with only the stout cloth of her dress between her and almost
certain death.

It was impossible to get her from above. The ground sloped abruptly and
it was covered by flat rocks and moss so that it would be impossible to
gain a foothold.

Laura sprang to her feet and looked about her desperately.

“If we could only reach her from below, Vi! There’s just a chance we
might be able to climb up to her----”

“There is a path to the lake,” said Vi, her teeth chattering with
excitement. “But it’s all around Robin Hood’s barn. We haven’t time----”

A faint cry reached them, tinged with desperation.

“Girls, do hurry! I can’t cling here much longer! The cloth is
beginning to--tear!”



CHAPTER III

EDINA TO THE RESCUE


At Billie Bradley’s desperate cry, Laura flung herself at the edge of
the cliff.

“I’m coming, Billie!” she shouted. “I’ll get to you some way, if I
break my own neck.”

Vi caught her and dragged her back.

“Wait!” she cried. “Someone is down there near the lake!”

Laura looked where Vi pointed and saw a small figure at the foot of
the cliff. It looked terribly far off, standing there on the massed
rocks bordering the lake. Moreover, judging from the clothes she
wore, the stranger was only a girl like themselves. Laura and Vi felt
that it would take a man’s strength to rescue Billie from her fearful
predicament.

The girl made a megaphone of her hands and shouted up to Billie.

“Hold fast a minute! I’ll get up to you!”

Laura and Vi watched, fascinated, as the girl began to ascend the steep
face of the cliff hand over hand like a monkey. She made amazingly
swift progress; but each moment the onlooking girls expected, feared,
that she would lose her grip, go hurtling over backward to a horrible
fate on the sharp-pointed, massed rocks at the foot of the cliff.

Meanwhile, Billie Bradley was striving to keep up heart and courage as
she pressed her body close against the rock of the cliff face, clinging
to the stout vine with nerveless fingers, striving to find a foothold
for her dangling feet.

Each time she moved, a wave of fear swept over her as the stout linen
cloth of her frock threatened to give way. She dared not even try to
help herself, for fear that one support would fail her!

Then the dress began to give beneath her weight, as she hung there,
dangling over eternity. She heard the sibilant hiss of splitting cloth
and braced herself for whatever fate might be in store for her.

It was then that she became aware that someone was approaching from
below. At first she thought that it was either Laura or Vi and wondered
how it was possible for them to have made their way around to the foot
of the cliff in such a short time.

However, in another moment or two, the girl came within her range of
vision and she saw that the newcomer was neither Laura nor Vi, but a
person who was a stranger to her.

Another rip of tearing cloth sent a shudder through Billie. The
stranger made amazingly swift progress up that dangerous ascent, but
Billie knew she must come very quickly if she was going to be in time.
Another few moments, and the rescuer would have arrived--too late!

Another ripping and tearing sound, and Billie’s weight sagged. She
clung desperately, with numbing fingers, to that clump of stout vine.
She knew by the feel of it in her hand that it was breaking loose. In
another minute or two the roots would be dislodged.

“Oh, hurry!” she called to the strange, gallant girl, who continued her
steady upward progress. “I’ve only a few moments left----”

“Hold fast! Never give up the ship! I’ll git up to that there shelf if
it takes a leg!”

The stranger was gasping from her exertions but her voice was round and
hearty, full of a vitality that Billie found tremendously reassuring.

The strange girl rapidly closed the distance between herself and
Billie. She climbed to a narrow ledge of rock that had been invisible
to Billie from where she hung and, across the space of three or four
feet, the eyes of the two girls met and clung.

Then Billie turned her eyes away. What could the strange girl do, now
that she was so near? She was in almost as precarious a position as
Billie herself, and certainly she had nothing at hand with which to
help except her own unaided hands and strength.

Suddenly Billie gasped and groped frantically at the cliff face. The
clump of vine had come loose in her hands, the sound of rending cloth
told her that the stout threads of her dress had parted at last! With
wild panic at her heart, she felt herself falling!

Something slapped the cliff face close to her clawing hand. A voice
said sharply:

“Grab that! Quick!”

Instinctively, Billie grabbed, clung.

The authoritative voice cried again:

“Now then! Help yourself if you can. This ledge makes purty good
footin’, though slippery. Hang on now. I’ll pull you up!”

Billie clung to the leather belt flung her by the strange girl. In
the interstices of the rock she managed to gain a toehold, and by a
prodigious effort and with the help of the strange girl she managed to
draw herself up to the ledge. There she clung, while an overpowering
dizziness assailed her. She swayed weakly, feeling faint and dizzy,
half expecting to plunge over the narrow ledge, but past caring very
much whether she did or not.

A sharp, angry voice broke through her failing consciousness.

“Not going to faint on me, are you? After me taking all the trouble to
save your life? Say! You make me good and tired!”

No shock of icy water could have reacted upon Billie Bradley with
better effect. She made a desperate effort to collect her failing
senses. She opened her eyes and stared vaguely at the hard young face
thrust so close to her own. She was dimly aware that an equally hard,
strong young arm had been thrust behind her shoulders, pressing her
close to the face of the cliff.

“Well, are you a quitter or ain’t you?” the rude voice demanded. “I
can’t get you down there all by myself. Chances are, if you faint,
we’ll both go crashing down onto them pointed rocks. And they won’t
make a soft bed, I promise you! Well, how about it? Are you going to
faint--or ain’t you?”

By a supreme effort Billie regained control of her slipping senses. She
stared coldly at the round, hard face of the young stranger.

“I’m not a quitter,” she said. “And I assure you, I have no intention
of fainting.” After a moment she added, as though as an afterthought:
“Thank you for saving my life!”

The strange girl grinned.

“Don’t mention it! Only I ain’t saved it yet. Reckon both of us have
got to look sharp if we want to get out of this jam alive. It ain’t no
easy going down this hill, let me tell you! Now then! Ready?”

Bitterly ashamed of her recent weakness, Billie assented. She would
have died rather than admit, even to herself, that her head was still
whirling and that she was forced to clench her teeth to keep them from
chattering.

That descent to the jagged rocks at the base of the cliff was one long
nightmare. If it had not been for the help and encouragement of the
strange girl, interspersed with occasional merciless taunts from the
same source, Billie knew she could never have made it.

As it was, she slipped and half fell, half slid the last fifteen or
twenty feet, finally landing amid a shower of pebbles and dirt in a
crevasse between two jagged rocks.

“Mercy!” she gasped.

“It is a mercy that you landed betwixt instead of on ’em.”

Billie looked up from her undignified position to find the strange girl
grinning down at her. She frowned and tried to rise, but found herself
wedged in so tightly that she could scarcely move.

“Like a sardine in a packed can,” remarked the strange girl unkindly.

Billie wanted to feel offended, but she could not. The comparison was
too apt. She met the quizzical, smiling glance of the strange girl and
suddenly laughed.

“You are a very frank person. But I do feel rather like a sardine. If
you will give me a hand, I think I can manage, if I try hard enough, to
get out of this ridiculous place.”

The pulling and tugging that ensued was a painful process for Billie.
She discovered that there was scarcely a portion of her body that
failed to boast either bruise or scratch.

“I’m pretty well disabled,” she admitted. “No tennis and no rowing for
me for a few days to come at least.”

“’Twouldn’t be best to try, I guess,” remarked the girl.

Ruefully, Billie bent to examine her torn skirt. As she straightened
up, a sharp exclamation escaped her.

“Hold on there! Where are you going?”



CHAPTER IV

BATTLE


Even as Billie Bradley spoke, the strange girl disappeared into the
woods.

“Please don’t go! Please! You mustn’t until I’ve had a chance to thank
you!”

At the urgent request, or command, the girl reappeared, but with
obvious reluctance. She stood awkwardly, rubbing one foot over the
other.

“Don’t want any thanks,” she muttered. “Didn’t do nothing, nohow. I
guess--I guess--I’d better go now.”

Billie was nonplused by the strange behavior of this young person who
had just saved her life. The manner of the girl had altered completely.
From being dictatorial, “bossy,” and almost offensively sure of
herself, she had become a shy and awkward country girl. Her eyes
avoided Billie’s direct look, whether from shyness or sullenness, it
was impossible to tell.

Billie, painfully conscious of all her cuts and bruises, went up to the
girl and held out her hand.

“Whether you like it or not, I’m going to thank you. My life doesn’t
mean a lot to you probably,” with a whimsical smile, “but it does to me
and I am very properly grateful for it. How you can climb!” she added
with genuine admiration. “If I could scale the side of a cliff like
that, I wouldn’t care whether I could solve a problem in algebra or
not.”

The girl flashed Billie a glance. There was both sullenness and shyness
in it; which was odd, considering the dictatorial tone she had used to
Billie a few moments earlier.

“Don’t be so nice to me,” she said, in a hard voice, “until you know
who I am!”

Billie was given no opportunity to comment on this peculiar observation
for at the moment Vi and Laura dashed in from the woods, rushed to
Billie and flung their arms about her. They had come by the woods path
“around Robin Hood’s barn” and had reached her as soon as possible.

“Oh-h, look out! Don’t hug so tightly, darlings. I’m--to put it
mildly--sensitive. Yes, I’m alive--as you see. No there are no
bones broken--I think. But I’ll have to soak in arnica to-night.
Bruises--hundreds of ’em. But I’m not complaining. I know how lucky I
am just to be alive!”

Animated by the same thought, Laura and Vi left off hugging Billie and
turned to the strange girl.

“We don’t know how to thank you,” Vi began.

“If you knew how much I hate thanks you wouldn’t go to the bother,”
responded the stranger ungraciously. “I don’t do such things for
thanks. Well--good-by!” She turned abruptly and would have plunged into
the woods had not Billie called her.

“I don’t know why you have taken such a sudden dislike to me--to us,”
she said. “I am sorry if I have done or said anything to offend you.
After saving my life, I don’t like you to go away angry.”

“I’m not mad,” muttered the girl. “And I don’t dislike you. I think
you’re grand!”

Was ever such a contradictory, amazing creature? Billie stared at her
in helpless bewilderment.

“Well, then!”

The girl suddenly flung up her head. Her round face was stern and her
mouth was combative, but there were tears in her eyes!

“You won’t be so nice to me when you know who I am, I tell you,” she
blurted. “You’ll be like all the rest of the sneerin’, titterin’ lot of
’em. I hate them, I hate every last one of them!”

This outburst amazed the three girls and roused their curiosity. What
did the strange creature mean?

“It’s true I don’t know your name or where you come from,” said Billie.
“But I am sure I shall like you just as much and be just as grateful to
you for having saved my life, whoever you are.”

“Well, then, my name is Edina Tooker,” the girl threw out the
information like a challenge. “And I’m livin’, just at present, at
Three Towers Hall!”

The girls merely stared at her, doubting if they had heard aright. The
self-styled Edina Tooker laughed harshly.

“You see! A crazy lookin’ jay like me couldn’t be goin’ to your select
boarding school, could she? That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it? Oh,
you don’t need to answer me! I can see it in your faces!”

There was a world of bitterness behind the girl’s harsh tone.

“She has been hurt,” thought Billie. “Pretty badly hurt and her pride
is up in arms.”

Before she could speak Laura said impulsively:

“Why, you can’t be a student at Three Towers Hall. I’ve never even seen
you there!”

“I only come a few days ago,” the girl explained. “And after the first
day I--I kep’ close to my own room.”

That explained it, thought Billie. She had heard of the new girl
from the wild open spaces who dressed like a freak, talked worse,
and kept to her dormitory as though it were a burrow from which she
seldom emerged except to attend classes. Characteristically, these
uncomplimentary rumors had come to her through Amanda Peabody. Billie
had intended vaguely to look up the new girl to see if she could be
of any help. Instead, the new girl had looked her up--and in a most
dramatic fashion!

“I know who you are,” Billie said, friendly eyes on the sullen face of
Edina Tooker. “I’m glad you introduced yourself. I was going to look
you up, anyway.”

The sullen expression on Edina Tooker’s face did not lift. She regarded
Billie suspiciously.

“What for?” she demanded. “So you could see what a freak I am and laugh
at me behind my back?”

This accusation was almost too much for even Billie’s good nature. A
sharp retort rose to her lips--but got no further. She realized in time
how much this strange girl must have suffered to make her so bitter and
resentful. She was showing tooth and claw because that was her only
method of defense. Like some wild creature of the woods, she was backed
up against a wall, unable to distinguish friend from foe, fighting
valiantly and indiscriminately, fearing nothing but surrender.

Billie, holding a firm check upon her temper, replied gently:

“My main--in fact, my only idea in deciding to look you up was to see
if I could help you.”

“Why should you think I needed help?” retorted Edina Tooker harshly. “I
suppose you’d been hearin’ things about me--what a freak I am and all.”

“No one ever said you were a freak,” Billie pursued patiently. “But you
were a new girl from a distant city and I thought you might be glad to
have someone sort of--well, show you the ropes.”

The corners of Edina’s straight young mouth turned downward in a sneer.

“Sounds good, the way you tell it. But you can’t fool me. You’re all
alike up to that school, with your highfallutin’ manners and uppity
ways. You’d come to see me, yes, so that you could laugh at me and talk
about me afterward. ‘Native,’ ‘barbarian,’ that’s a couple o’ the names
I’ve heard your swell friends call me. Mebbe you could add some to the
string.”

“If Billie can’t, I will!” cried Laura, with sudden fury. “You’re
nothing but a heathen and an ungrateful wretch! You don’t know who
Billie Bradley is, maybe, but I’ll teach you!”

“Hush, Laura, please! Come away!”

Laura would not be silenced. She brushed the interruption aside
impatiently and rushed on, her words pouring forth in a torrent:

“Billie Bradley is the most popular girl at Three Towers Hall. She does
almost everything better than anybody else and yet the girls love her
just the same. Maybe you’ve got sense enough to know what that means.
She’s a perfect peach and any girl she takes up may count herself in
luck. You just think of that when you are all alone and try to realize
what you’ve lost. Come on Billie, let’s get away from here!”

Laura turned away with one last, inimical look at Edina Tooker. Vi
joined her, but Billie still lingered behind.

“I’m sorry you feel this way,” she said to the girl who had saved her
life. “I owe you a debt and I’d like to be friends.” Billie paused but
as Edina remained silent with sullenly averted face, Billie went on to
join Laura and Vi.

She did not know that the strange girl looked after her with eyes
suddenly blurred by tears.



CHAPTER V

A PUBLIC REBUKE


Laura Jordon’s resentment against Edina Tooker and her attitude toward
Billie did not abate at once. For the greater part of the return walk
to Three Towers Hall she sputtered and fumed, mentioning dire forms of
punishment that should be meted out to the girl from the West if she,
Laura, could have her way.

“Never saw such an ungrateful wretch in my life. Talk about throwing
pearls before swine! She never even knew what it meant to be taken up
by Billie Bradley.”

“I doubt if she knows now.” Billie paused and said “ouch” as a
stretched ligament protested sharply.

“Well, she will before she has been at Three Towers much longer,”
prophesied Vi. “Personally, I can’t bear the girl and I hope she gets
everything that’s coming to her.”

Billie frowned, partly with pain at her cuts and bruises, partly in
disapproval of Vi’s uncompromising attitude.

“I’m sure I can’t feel that way about her. The girl saved my life and
I owe her something for that.”

“So do we,” said Laura promptly. “But did you notice how she flung my
thanks back in my face?”

“Appears to be a habit with her,” remarked Vi flippantly.

“It looks to me as though the girl had been hurt past bearing by the
persecution and ridicule of some of the girls at the Hall. She has
pride and spirit and is ready to strike out at everybody.”

“It seems to me I detect Amanda Peabody’s fine hand in this,” observed
Laura. “Amanda would enjoy nothing better than a cat-and-mouse game
with a girl like Edina Tooker.”

“She seems to be poor----”

“I’ve heard differently,” said Billie. “One of the girls told me her
father was getting rich fast--struck oil on an Oklahoma ranch, or
something of the sort.”

“Well, she may be rich; but, if she looks it, I’m an Indian,” returned
Laura skeptically. “Never saw a girl dressed like that who was anything
but poverty-stricken.”

“She probably hasn’t the slightest idea how to dress,” observed Billie.
“I can imagine Edina Tooker in riding breeches or middy and skirt doing
a movie on some rocky mountain trail. In that sort of setting she would
be very much a part of the picture. But transplant her to a fashionable
girls’ school and she--well, she just doesn’t fit.”

“A round peg in a very square hole,” observed Vi.

“Exactly. I feel sorry for the poor girl. She’s in for a hard time.”

Toward the end of the tramp back to Three Towers, Billie found herself
becoming very weary. She paused often to rest and was finally forced to
accept the help of her chums. An arm about the shoulders of each of the
girls, she hobbled on, acutely conscious of all her cuts and bruises
and the strained and aching ligaments in her arms and legs.

They were on the last steep slope that ended at the boathouse in front
of the Hall when they heard the deep-toned gong that announced supper
in the dining hall.

Billie cried out in alarm and tried to hobble on more swiftly.

“I’ll make you girls late and Debsy has charge of the dining hall this
week.” “Debsy” was the nickname for Miss Debbs, teacher of elocution.
“You know what that means!”

“One whole afternoon of imprisonment in the dorm and a discredit mark
besides,” Vi interpreted. “Debsy sure is death on tardiness.”

“You girls go ahead and leave me,” Billie begged. “You can make it even
now if you run. I’ll get along all right.”

“Never!” said Laura dramatically. “I am with you to the death!”

“Don’t be silly!” cried Billie. “Please go on, girls. It won’t do me a
bit of good for you all to get into trouble.”

“We will never leave you until death--or Debsy--do us part,” chuckled
Vi. “You’d better save your breath, Billie. You will need it for this
last wild dash up the hill.”

By the time they reached the Hall Billie was painfully out of breath
and aching in every muscle.

“You go on--in,” she gasped. “I’ve got to--wash up a little--and change
my dress. I’m a sight.”

“We’ll help you,” decided Laura.

Despite Billie’s protests, her two chums rushed her up the stairs to
the dormitory. There Vi ran water into a bowl while Laura invaded the
closet to get down a fresh frock.

“There! Stick your head in that, Billie. You do have a look of battle
and sudden death about you. And your hair could stand a comb. So! Much,
much better. Now you bear a slight resemblance to the Billie Bradley I
have known and loved so faithfully.”

Over Billie’s freshened head Laura slipped a cool, peach-colored frock;
then ran to the lavatory to wash her own hands. This service Vi also
performed for herself. In less time than they had thought possible, the
chums were ready to face the eagle eye of the dreaded Miss Debbs.

They made their way decorously to the dining hall, entered as
unobtrusively as possible, and slipped quietly to their seats.

In spite of all their precautions, their entrance was observed by
practically everybody in the room. Friends of the chums, who were in
the majority, pretended not to see them. Their few enemies, led by
Amanda Peabody and her shadow, Eliza Dilks, stared openly and tittered.

Billie did not raise her eyes from her plate as Connie Danvers, seated
beside her, passed the cold meat and salad.

“Fill up your plate, quick,” whispered Connie. “Maybe Debsy didn’t
notice you.”

“Such a chance!” returned Billie, scarcely moving her lips. “I can feel
her eagle eye on me now!”

Through the steady murmur of voices and the clatter of plates and
cutlery broke the deep, husky voice of the redoubtable Miss Debbs.

“Beatrice Bradley! Stand, if you please!”

Billie shot a sidelong glance at Connie Danvers.

“I’m in for it now!” she whispered, and got to her feet.

“Yes, Miss Debbs,” she said politely.

“You are aware that there is a strict rule against
tardiness--especially at meals--are you not?” Miss Debbs could ask the
simplest question in an highly histrionic manner, as though the weight
of worlds depended on the answer.

Now Billie answered meekly:

“Yes, Miss Debbs.”

“Yet you deliberately enter this hall at five minutes past the hour?”

Billie raised her eyes to meet the boring glance of the elocution
teacher.

“Not deliberately, Miss Debbs. We--I had an accident.”

Miss Debbs brushed the excuse aside with a dramatic sweep of the hand.

“Nevertheless, you admit that you were late?”

Billie could scarcely hope to deny it in the face of all the evidence
against her. Nevertheless, she repeated, meekly:

“Yes, Miss Debbs.”

“You will report to me promptly at ten o’clock to-morrow morning.”

With another queenly gesture Miss Debbs pantomimed permission for
Billie to be seated, of which tacit permission Billie immediately
availed herself.

Connie Danvers whispered viciously:

“It isn’t fair! Laura and Vi were just as late as you.”

“Debsy doesn’t like me,” whispered Billie, and her eyes twinkled.
“She never has since the day I refused to use my hands when I recited
‘Lochinvar.’ I never could fling my hands about as she does. I’d feel a
perfect fool.”

“She’ll give you a discredit, sure,” worried Connie. “And you can’t
afford too many, Billie, or you’ll be barred from tennis and rowing.”

The words merely echoed the worry in Billie’s heart. To be barred from
her beloved athletics was tragedy too dire to be considered. She knew,
too, that a discredit beside her name so early in the term was enough
to start her off “on the wrong foot.”

While she was considering the advisability of taking the matter to Miss
Walters, the wise and well-loved head of Three Towers Hall, she glanced
up and met the gloating eyes of Amanda Peabody.

“You think you’re smart,” the look seemed to say. “Yet here you are in
bad at the very beginning of the term.”

Amanda bent over and whispered something to Eliza Dilks. The two girls
tittered and glanced sneeringly at Billie. Their enjoyment of her
predicament was obvious, yet Billie continued to eat roast beef and the
very excellent salad without appearing disconcerted in the least. It
was this ability of hers to disguise her feelings that often infuriated
Amanda and her toadying shadow to the point of open and indiscreet
betrayal of their enmity toward Billie and her chums.

One such occasion was this one. Amanda bent across the table toward
Billie and said in a voice that was audible to every one:

“Dare you to tell where you went this afternoon!”

The gabble of voices settled into a momentary hush as the other girls
regarded these ancient antagonists.

Billie looked up and met the sneering gaze of Amanda Peabody with a
smile.

“I’ve not the slightest objection,” she answered calmly. “We went to
gather goldenrod.”

“Goldenrod!” ejaculated Amanda, with a titter. “That’s a good one!”

“You might ask her where it is,” and Eliza Dilks nudged her crony with
an oversharp elbow.

“Where what is?” asked Billie.

“The goldenrod. How much did you bring back with you?”

Before Billie could reply there came a disturbance at the door.
Innumerable pairs of bright, curious eyes were turned upon the
fantastic figure in the doorway.

Billie recognized the newcomer. It was Edina Tooker.



CHAPTER VI

BILLIE IS LOYAL


Edina Tooker faced the battery of curious, amused glances like a
thoroughbred. Even when a ripple of laughter ruffled the serene
atmosphere of the room, she did not flinch nor cower. If anything,
her back was held more stiffly erect, her head was flung back with a
defiant gesture. Billie was reminded of an unbroken colt who feels the
flick of the whip for the first time and is hurt and enraged by the
pain even while he fails to understand the reason for his punishment.

Billie was seized by an almost irresistible desire to go and range
herself at this girl’s side, to beat down the ridicule that surged
toward the defenseless stranger in a merciless tide.

Edina Tooker wore a heavily pleated serge skirt, far too wide and
too long to meet the demands of the prevailing fashion. Over this,
accentuating her naturally bulky proportions, was a stiffly starched
white shirtwaist, adorned by a flowing red tie.

Her hair was naturally very thick and of that peculiar black which
seems to hide a bluish tinge in its depths; but it was drawn back
ruthlessly from her broad brow and round red face, drawn back so
harshly that it pulled her heavy straight brows upward, giving an odd,
almost diabolical, expression to her face.

She wore “sensible” stockings that were very thick and durable and that
served admirably to disguise the natural shapeliness of her limbs. On
her feet were not shoes, but heavy boots that laced half-way up to her
knees!

Even Billie, sensible as she was to this strange girl’s suffering,
resentful as she was of her friends’ amusement, knew Edina Tooker to
be a figure of fun as she stood there in that assemblage of carefully
cared for, tastefully yet simply dressed young people.

“Why doesn’t she sit down?” thought Billie, in exasperation. “Why does
she stand there and take the limelight? It’s idiotic!”

The ripple of amusement continuing, Miss Debbs looked up from
absorption in her meal and met the defiant gaze of Edina Tooker. Miss
Debbs’ face grew red.

“Another tardy one!” she exclaimed. “What do you mean, Edina Tooker, by
reporting here at this late hour?”

The girl’s face grew sullen. She scraped one clumsy boot over the other.

“I couldn’t help it, Miss Debbs,” she said, in a voice scarcely
audible. “I just come back.”

“Came,” corrected Miss Debbs in her deep, husky voice. “Try to speak
grammatical English, at least! May I ask,” she added sarcastically,
“where you have been and why you have just come back?”

The ripple of amusement rose again, surging toward the girl in the
outlandish garb. Edina’s face was scarlet, her lip trembled in spite of
a gallant effort at self-control.

“I--I went for a walk,” she said.

“Ah!” declaimed Miss Debbs in her best elocutionary style. “You went
for a walk! May I ask where you went for a walk at this time of the
evening, neglecting to return to Three Towers Hall until ten minutes
past the supper hour?”

Edina shifted from one foot to the other. Her scarlet face was pitiful
to see. She tried to speak, but was apparently unable to bring forth a
sound.

Billie Bradley could bear it no longer. She got to her feet and faced
the teacher.

“If you please, Miss Debbs, I can tell you where Edina Tooker has been
and why she was late for the supper hour!”

Here was drama! There was the sound of a concerted gasp as all eyes
swerved to Billie. Edina Tooker put up a trembling hand to her shining
black hair and also gazed at Billie.

Miss Debbs looked outraged, but interested.

“What do you mean, Beatrice Bradley? Explain!” she commanded.

Without hesitation, Billie told in a low, clear voice of the trip up
to Goldenrod Point, as it was called by the students of Three Towers,
of her fall over the cliff, a fall which had almost had disastrous
consequences, of Edina Tooker’s brave and efficient help in a moment of
extreme peril, and of her own eventual return to safety.

She ended boldly, carried away by her own eloquence:

“I think, instead of a discredit mark, Edina Tooker deserves a medal
for heroism. I know if I had _my_ way she should have it!”

Billie made a gesture toward the door and paused, feeling rather
foolish. Edina Tooker had disappeared!

Many pairs of eyes followed Billie’s glance toward the door and a
babble of excited voices arose.

“Where has she gone?”

“What did she have to do that for?”

“Just when we were all getting ready to give her three cheers----”

“_And_ a tiger!”

Through the commotion broke the voice of Miss Debbs.

“Silence, please! You will resume your seats and your supper. You will
act, if you please, as though nothing had happened. While I am in
charge this confusion must cease. Silence!”

When order had been partially restored, Miss Debbs turned her attention
to Billie.

“I am obliged to you for your defense of this extraordinary girl. One
wonders whether, if you had not spoken up for her, she would have said
a word in her own behalf.”

“I doubt it, Miss Debbs,” said Billie earnestly. “She’s the sort who
hates thanks and I think I embarrassed her by speaking out.”

“Unfortunately,” resumed Miss Debbs, proceeding with her discourse
as though Billie, by answering her query, had been guilty of an
impertinence, “this girl has committed another indiscretion by leaving
this room before she was given permission to do so. She appears
lamentably ignorant of the rules by which Three Towers Hall is
governed.”

“I’ll go and call her back, Miss Debbs.” Billie rose eagerly in her
place. “I don’t think she can have got very far.”

“Beatrice Bradley, you will stay where you are!” returned Miss Debbs
severely. “You will not leave this room until I give you permission to
do so.”

Billie sank back in her seat with a sigh of resignation. Miss Debbs was
being dramatic, and when she was in that mood there was no arguing with
her. Billie did not try, but finished her meal with what appetite she
could.

There was floating island for dessert and home-made chocolate cake,
an ideal combination and a prime favorite with Billie. But she could
not enjoy it for thinking of Edina wandering off somewhere by herself,
Edina, heartsore and lonely and desperately rebellious.

The meal at an end, there was a general exodus of girls into the halls
and spacious grounds of Three Towers Hall. There they were permitted to
wander until nine o’clock when the melodious gong called them indoors
to the dormitories and “lights out.”

As usual, Billie Bradley found herself the center of a little court.
About her gathered most of the worth-while girls of Three Towers Hall,
students who had accomplished something in scholarship, in athletics,
or both.

To-night she found herself more than ordinarily popular, because
of the interest attached to her adventure of the afternoon and her
contact with the girl who was already becoming a source of mystery and
interested speculation to the students of Three Towers.

“You sure did champion that queer Edina Tooker, Billie,” drawled Rose
Belser. Rose was tall and dark and unusually good-looking. Once an
enemy of Billie, Rose was now one of her warmest, most loyal friends.
“I’ve never known you to be so eloquent.”

“Even Debsy was impressed,” giggled Connie Danvers. “I think it was
rather a shock to her, Billie, to discover that you had so much
dramatic talent.”

“I was in earnest, and, you know, sincerity works wonders,” laughed
Billie. “Besides,” more soberly, “I feel sorry for the girl. She
doesn’t fit here and she knows it.”

“One wonders why she came,” murmured Rachael Carew. Rachael, more
commonly known as “Ray” Carew, was the only daughter of the wealthy
Carews of Boston. While a thorough “good fellow” with those she
considered her equals, Ray could be a bit of a snob with those whose
social position was not secure. “One wonders still more,” added
Rachael, “how Miss Walters happened to admit a girl of that type to
Three Towers Hall.”

For some reason which she could not quite fathom herself, indignation
blazed up in Billie at Rachael’s patronizing tone.

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘that type of girl’, Ray. She seems to
me a thoroughly good sort----”

“A diamond in the rough?” drawled Ray.

“Perhaps,” flashed Billie. “But I like her and she saved my life. I’d
be worse than ungrateful if I consented to listen to unkind remarks
about her.”

Before the girls realized her intention or could make a move to stop
her, Billie had pushed through the little group and started toward the
broad, lighted portal of the Hall.

“The little spitfire!” murmured Rachael Carew. “Who would expect her to
fly out at me like that? Anyone would think that queer jay of a girl
was her twin sister, to hear her talk.”

“You should know Billie well enough not to run down anyone who has done
her a favor,” Laura remarked. “Loyalty is Billie’s dominating trait,
you know.”

“Of course it is,” said Rose Belser. “That’s why we all love her----”

“All except Amanda Peabody and Eliza Dilks,” remarked Connie Danvers
and began to sing softly under her breath:

  “Oh, Amanda and her Shadow,
     Amanda and her crony,
   Went out to take the air one day,
     Aridin’ on a pony.”

A chorus of voices joined Connie in the second stanza of the verse:

  “They thought they were the bees’ headlight,
     They thought they looked so tony,
   But every one they met called out,
     ‘Go home, your style is phony!’”

At the moment Amanda and Eliza and several of the younger girls passed
close to the group and shot them a suspicious glance, which provoked a
gale of mirth from the author of the “poem” and her friends.

“Let’s sing it again, louder this time,” proposed the irrepressible
Connie, but Vi put a check on the hilarity.

“We have had plenty of trouble with those two girls and will probably
have more in the future,” she said. “There’s no use going out of our
way to look for it.”

Meanwhile Billie had gone in search of Edina Tooker.

She was not in the first year dormitory. There were several girls
gathered there, reading or studying, but they unanimously denied any
knowledge as to Edina’s whereabouts.

“She is probably mooning down by the lake somewhere,” said one of them.
“She likes to get away by herself.”

Before continuing her search, Billie went down the back stairs to the
roomy kitchen where the gastronomic needs of several scores of healthy
girls were catered to each day.

There was a new cook, a huge black woman with skin like polished ebony
and an expansive smile that showed two rows of glistening white teeth.
The negress rejoiced in the name of Clarice and she was already one of
Billie’s devoted slaves.

“I need some sandwiches, Clarice, and a big piece of that delicious
cake. I don’t know,” with calculated flattery, “when I have ever
tasted such scrumptious cake. I ate so much at supper, it’s only a
wonder I’m not sick.”

“Well, then, Miss Billie, Ah sho hopes as you don’t git no tummyache
to-night. An’ Ah’m telling you they ain’t much o’ that cake left, but
you’s welcome to what I got, yes’m.”

“You certainly are good to us, Clarice, as well as being a scrumptious
cook,” said the girl gratefully.

Five minutes later Billie crept out of a side door and made her way by
a circuitous route down toward the lake. She carried a basket over her
arm.



CHAPTER VII

A TALE OF RICHES


It was some time later that Billie Bradley was directed to the person
she sought by the sound of heart-broken sobbing.

Silently, she made her way through the underbrush until she descried a
figure in rumpled shirtwaist and pleated skirt, lying face downward on
the thick grass.

“Please don’t cry,” said Billie. “And don’t run away. I’ve brought you
some supper.”

At the sound of Billie Bradley’s voice, Edina Tooker jumped to her feet
and looked wildly about her. She dashed a hand across her eyes and then
turned, as though about to dart off into the woods.

“Wait a minute!” cried Billie. “I’ve brought you some sandwiches and
two luscious pieces of cake. If pressed,” she added lightly, “I might
consent to eat some with you.”

As the girl paused and looked toward her, trying to pierce the
darkness, Billie knew she had struck the right note. A friendly,
offhand manner would win Edina Tooker more quickly than sympathy.

“Clarice has packed the basket to the top, bless her old black heart.
We’ll find a nice flat rock and regale ourselves to our hearts’
content.”

Billie found the rock without more delay and seated herself upon it,
the basket between her knees.

After a moment of indecision Edina followed and flung herself full
length on the ground beside Billie.

“Why did you come after me?” she queried listlessly. “You might better
have left me alone.”

The statement was not made ungraciously nor sullenly; it was merely as
though the girl were unutterably weary and could not imagine anyone
taking a legitimate interest in her or her affairs.

Billie said nothing, but handed out sandwiches and cake, which the girl
accepted ravenously.

“I’m hungry,” she said simply. “I haven’t had a bite to eat since noon.”

“You should have come in to supper,” said Billie, nibbling at a piece
of the matchless cake. “Debsy might have given you a bad mark for being
late, but she couldn’t have kept you from eating your supper.”

“I didn’t want any then. I couldn’t go in and face those jeering,
snickering girls.” Edina Tooker clenched her hands and spoke with a
sudden, desperate vehemence. “They think I’m a big joke and I--I hate
them. I could kill them all!”

Billie waited patiently for the storm to pass. Then she said gently:

“Have a piece of cake, Edina. You’ve no idea how good it is.”

“I don’t want any cake,” said Edina sullenly. She sat up, very stiff
and straight, her hands locked about her humped knees. “I don’t want
anything. To-morrow I’m going back home.”

Billie was startled.

“You are leaving Three Towers?”

Edina nodded unhappily.

“Three Towers has no use for me. I ain’t ever been so unhappy in my
life as I’ve been since I come--came--here. I never dreamed it would be
like this.”

“What did you think it would be like?” asked Billie gently.

“I don’t know--exactly. But I thought people would be kind and I’d have
a chance to git some book learnin’ like I never had in my life. And I
always wanted it, ever since I was old enough to ride my own cow pony.
And now I--I gotta go home.”

There was a choke in the quiet, sullen voice. Billie guessed what it
would mean for Edina to return to the “cow country,” carrying wounds
that would never heal.

She said quietly:

“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you, Edina. I wouldn’t run away.”

It was dark down there by the lake, but Billie could sense the quick
motion of the girl’s head as it turned toward her.

“You oughtn’t to say that to me.” After a while she added in a hopeless
tone:

“Mebbe it would be runnin’ away like you say, mebbe it would be
quittin’. Jest the same,” her voice rose passionately, “I’d ruther
be horsewhipped than stand another week like the one I’ve just gone
through!”

Billie waited a moment, then reached out and touched Edina’s clenched
fist where it rested on her voluminous skirt.

“Suppose you tell me something about yourself,” she suggested. “I think
I can help you. I want to. I owe you something, you know, for saving my
life.”

Edina hesitated for a moment; then began in a low, monotonous voice to
tell the drab story of her life.

“Seems like we’ve always been poor, Paw and Maw and me,” began Edina.
“Ever since I was a little shaver, I can’t remember anything but
poverty. Paw was what you’d call a prospector.”

“Gold?” asked Billie.

“No, oil. He had some property and he was always sure there was oil on
it. Seems to me I can never remember the time he wasn’t drillin’ holes
somewheres tryin’ to strike a gusher.

“Maw and me we got fed up with it, what with bein’ holed up in the
same little neck of the woods all the time and never goin’ nowheres nor
havin’ nothing. There were days we went hungry----”

The droning voice broke off suddenly and Billie had a startlingly clear
vision of that tragic little family, dying of monotony, starving a good
deal of the time, with nothing but a vision to sustain them.

“The worst of it was,” the quiet voice continued, “that I never got
much schoolin’ and I always wanted it. I thought it would be heaven if
the time ever come--came--when I could go to a real school like other
girls and learn the sort of things that were put in books----

“It just goes to show,” said Edina, after another pause, “that things
ain’t never the way you’d expect they’d be. When Paw struck oil----”

“He did?” ejaculated Billie.

“I thought me and Maw must be the happiest pair on earth. When Paw said
I could come East and go to school here, I thought I’d die, I was that
crazy with joy. And now here I am--and--and you see how it is. I can’t
hardly go back and face Maw, seems like.”

Billie was thinking swiftly.

“If your father has struck oil on his property, he must be making a
good deal of money, Edina.”

“Guess so.” The girl shrugged indifferently. “Paw said if the gusher
kept on gushin’ we’d probably be millionaires before we got through.
But what good’s it goin’ to do me,” hopelessly, “if I ain’t even goin’
to git an education out of it? I’m--goin’ back home--to-morrow.”

Billie came to a swift decision.

“You are going to do no such thing, Edina Tooker! You are going to stay
right here at Three Towers Hall, and before long the girls will be
begging your pardon for ever having dared to laugh at you!”



CHAPTER VIII

BILLIE AGAINST HER WORLD


There was a moment of silence broken only by the night sounds of the
woods and the gentle lapping of the lake against the shore.

Then Edina Tooker drew a long, tremulous breath.

“It--sounds like--a fairy tale,” she said huskily. “Seems like I’d have
to change a lot to have that happen.”

“So you will,” said Billie Bradley eagerly. She was beginning to
warm to her plan as it took form in her mind. “Not in yourself, you
understand, but in, well, in externals--like clothes, for instance.”

There! It was out! Even in the darkness Billie could guess at the hot
flush that mantled the face of the girl from the West. As the silence
continued and Edina sat with clenched hands, staring out toward the
lake, Billie began to fear she had gone too far--that Edina’s fierce
pride would resent the insinuation in her friendly suggestion.

In a moment, however, Edina’s quiet voice put her fears to rest.

“Everything about me’s wrong. Don’t you think I know that? All I need
is eyes in my head to tell me I don’t stack up against these girls here
with their purty clothes and their airs and graces. We’re a hundred--a
thousand miles apart.”

“Would you like to be like them, Edina--look like them, I mean?”

For the first time the girl showed animation.

“Oh, would I just!” she breathed. “Would I _just_! But I don’t know
how. I wouldn’t know where to start.”

“Well, _I_ would,” said Billie. “I’ll guarantee to make you over into
a perfect picture of the modern schoolgirl, Edina Tooker, as soon
as--well, as soon as we can get a day off to do some shopping.”

“Would you help me?” asked Edina, in a stifled tone. “_Would_ you?”

“You’d be surprised,” Billie retorted gaily. “I hope you have some sort
of indelible identification mark on you, Edina Tooker. Otherwise, when
I get through with you, you won’t know yourself!”

There was no doubt but that the girl from Oklahoma, Billie’s “rough
diamond,” was dazzled by the prospect.

“It don’t seem hardly possible, but if you could fix me up like you
say, I’d be grateful to you all the rest of my life.”

“There’s only one condition,” said Billie severely; “and that is that
you will agree to do exactly as I tell you, that you will let me have
my own way about everything. It’s the only way I can get results.”

“Done!” cried Edina, and reached out a big rough hand that almost
crushed Billie’s little one in its grip. “You’re sure a good sport and
I’m sorry for the way I--I talked to you before.”

“That’s all right.” Billie began to gather up the remnants of the
basket lunch. “We’d best be getting back to the Hall or they will be
sending out a posse in search of us. Besides, I promised Vi I’d help
her with her math.”

As the two girls approached the Hall, Edina walking close to Billie,
her eyes downcast and sullen, they found that the school grounds were
almost deserted.

The groups of girls had broken up and scattered indoors, most of them
for study, some few of them for reading or other diversions, some
merely to enjoy that half hour or so of school gossip they all found so
enjoyable.

Billie found that a few of her friends still lingered in the grounds.
Laura and Vi with Connie Danvers and Ray Carew were discussing the
tennis tournament which was to be an exciting feature of the fall term.

These girls turned interested and speculative eyes toward Billie and
her companion.

Edina would have avoided Billie’s friends. She murmured something under
her breath about having to get back to her dormitory; but Billie seized
her hand and drew her on toward the group of amused and interested
girls.

“You promised you’d do as I say,” she reminded her companion. “And
the first thing you’ve got to learn is never to run away from any
situation. You’ve got to square your chin and look it straight in the
eye.”

Billie marched straight up to her friends, Edina’s big, rough hand
clenched tightly in her own.

“Girls,” she said, in her forthright fashion, “Edina Tooker and I have
decided to be friends. We are going to be the best of pals from now on.
And I am depending upon all my friends to be nice to her.”

There was a brief, uncomfortable silence. The girls did not like Edina
Tooker. Nevertheless, they knew that if Billie took her up, sooner or
later they would all be forced to accept her. Not too graciously, they
bowed to the inevitable.

“Anything you say goes with me, Billie,” Laura observed.

“Me, too,” said Vi.

“Welcome to the fold, Edina,” drawled Ray Carew.

“We welcome you as one of ourselves,” added Connie, the sarcasm behind
her words not too well disguised.

“I knew you would,” said Billie sweetly, wanting, privately, to slap
them all. To her new protégé she said: “It’s only Tuesday, Edina. We
will have to wait until Saturday, I guess, to get a day off and carry
out our plans. Remember, we are going to make them all sit up and take
notice. Until then, don’t forget our bargain.”

“I won’t,” returned Edina. She released her hand from Billie’s and
without so much as a good-by to the other girls made her way through
the beautiful grounds toward the first-year dormitories. In that
beautiful setting, she looked grotesque enough, as much out of place as
the proverbial bull in the china shop.

“Well, I see you’ve gone and done it, Billie,” sighed Vi. “I was afraid
you would. But it’s no use. You can’t tame that girl.”

“Like making friends with a lion cub,” observed Laura. “You never can
tell when it will turn and rend you with its fangs. That sounds a bit
far-fetched, but I guess you catch my meaning.”

Billie shook her head.

“You’re dead wrong, all of you. Edina isn’t a bit like that. She is
headstrong and untamed, I’ll admit; but at heart she’s very much like
the rest of us, wanting what we want and desperately anxious for an
education.”

Ray Carew’s mocking laugh floated on the darkness.

“I hadn’t an idea you were so credulous, Billie. The girl is nothing
but a savage. If you try to help that sort of person you will only get
your trouble for your pains. I’m warning you.”

It was being slowly borne in upon Billie Bradley that she was alone
in her championship of the strange, lonely girl from Oklahoma. Her
friends, the girls upon whom she depended for understanding and
support in what she had come to regard as an interesting and even
exciting experiment, were subtly, but none the less decidedly, ranging
themselves against her.

She turned to Connie Danvers.

“Do you feel that way about it, too, Connie?” she asked.

“I’m willing to be nice to anybody, if you say so, Billie. But I can’t
help thinking you are making a mistake, taking up this freak girl from
Oklahoma. It seems to me you are letting yourself in for a heap of
trouble.”

“You feel that way about it, too, Vi?”

“’Fraid I do, Billie. Though I’ll try to be nice to her, if you say so.”

“And you, Laura?”

“You will never be able to make anything of that sort of girl, Billie.
She has nothing in common with the rest of us. If you try to take her
up, you will be only wasting your time. I feel sure of it.”

Billie was silent for a moment. She was troubled and hurt, but the
defection of her friends in no wise altered her determination to help
the strange, wild, half-tamed girl from Oklahoma.

“Very well,” she said quietly. “I am glad to know how you all stand,
anyway. From now on, it will be my business to prove you wrong!”

As Billie limped up the gravel path alone, there was a curious weight
upon her spirit. The disapproval of her friends was a new experience to
her. Even Vi and Laura had deserted.

“I’ll show them I can make something of Edina Tooker!” she told
herself. “I’ll make them admit it! I’ve got to now, to justify myself.”



CHAPTER IX

THE EXPERIMENT


Billie Bradley awoke next morning with the same curious weight upon her
spirit. Her mental depression was augmented by bodily discomfort that
had grown no less overnight.

Every muscle in her body was strained and there were big, black bruises
on her arms and legs, some of them as big as the palm of her hand.

“You _will_ go picking goldenrod!” gibed Laura with sympathetic
interest, watching Billie’s painful effort to dress herself. “Next time
you feel in the humor to visit Goldenrod Point----”

“I’ll run the other way,” said Billie, with a grimace. “Bother! I
wanted to get out on the courts for practice to-day.”

“From the look of those arms and legs, it will be many a day before you
can swing a wicked racket, Billie,” observed Vi. “Here, I’ll help you
with that stocking. Give me a chance to show what an excellent lady’s
maid I’d make.”

Between them, they managed to get Billie dressed in time for breakfast.
It was not until the bell rang and there was a general exodus into the
corridors from the dormitory that Laura broached the subject that was
uppermost in the minds of them all.

“How about this lion cub from Arizona----”

“Oklahoma,” Billie corrected, a trifle frigidly.

“Well, Oklahoma, then. You aren’t really going to wish her on the
crowd, are you, Billie? If you insist, the girls will take her up for
your sake, but there will be trouble. I feel it in my bones.”

“I have no intention of wishing her on anyone,” retorted Billie coldly.
“The girl saved my life and I am going to help her to be happy here at
Three Towers Hall, if such a thing is possible. You girls may do as you
like.”

Vi put an arm about Billie’s shoulders.

“Don’t be sore, Billie. If I can’t share your enthusiasm for this wild
girl from the West, I am quite willing to admit that you are probably
right and I’m wrong. Anyway, perhaps it’s worth giving it a whirl.”

With such tepid support, Billie was forced to be content.

On the way to the breakfast hall they passed Amanda Peabody and Eliza
Dilks. The latter called to Billie and reminded her jeeringly not to
forget that she had a date with Debsy at ten o’clock that morning.

Billie flushed and pressed her lips tight together to prevent a sharp
retort.

“Some people never get enough,” she said in a low voice to Laura and Vi
as they entered the dining hall. “So far we have beaten Amanda and her
Shadow at every game they have ever tried to play with us, and still
they come around looking for more trouble.”

Across the length of the hall, Billie’s eyes sought and found Edina
Tooker. A look flashed between the two girls that was observed by more
than one curious pair of eyes in that room.

Billie’s look seemed to say:

“Hold on! Have courage. I am going to fulfill my promise.”

While Edina, still a figure of fun in her outrageous clothes, seemed to
respond:

“I’m depending on you. Don’t fail me. You’re my only hope.”

That was the beginning of a period of acute discomfort for Billie
Bradley.

It began with Miss Debbs’ decision to give Billie two demerits, instead
of one. Billie could never quite understand the reason, except that
Miss Debbs was thorough in everything she undertook, including her
methods of discipline.

Billie knew that the punishment was too severe, totally out of
proportion to her fault. For a time she even considered taking her
grievance to Miss Walters, the white-haired, gracious head of Three
Towers Hall, adored by the girls and universally respected for her fine
sense of justice.

Billie finally decided against this, however, accepting the unjust
punishment with mental reservations and the determination to earn no
more demerits during the remainder of the fall term.

To add to Billie’s discomfort, Edina took to following her about like
a humble and adoring shadow. Unpleasant Edina could be, and often
was--snappish and curt, even downright rude--but never so to Billie.
Her outspoken devotion was embarrassing; yet, in her secret heart,
Billie could not but be gratified by it.

Edina was known among the girls as “Billie’s little lamb,” or “Billie’s
lion cub.”

If Billie was sensitive to the only partially disguised amusement that
followed them wherever they went, Edina was even more so.

She noticed, even before Billie did, that subtle drawing off of the
other girls, even from their adored Billie. Edina spoke of this one
day, in her clumsy, blundering way.

“You’re gettin’ yourself in a heap of trouble, tryin’ to be nice to
me. I seem to make trouble for every one I--like. I’d best go back to
Oklahoma to Paw and Maw and leave you in peace.”

“Nonsense!” said Billie, eying her protégé sharply. “You aren’t getting
cold feet at this late date, are you?”

Edina shook her head.

“No, I’m willin’ to stick. The girls ain’t been so mean since you’ve
been nice to me. I’m gettin’ some book learnin’, too,” the round face
shone suddenly with eagerness. “I don’t do so bad in my classes.”

“You are doing splendidly,” Billie encouraged her. “I was speaking
to Miss Arbuckle about you yesterday, and she said that if all her
students were as eager to learn as you, her task would be much easier.
She was as pleased as punch with you, Edina.”

The girl’s face beamed with a sudden radiant happiness.

“That sort of makes up for all the rest,” she said eagerly.

Edina in this mood was very attractive to Billie. She eyed her with
sympathetic interest for a moment, then said curiously:

“You’ve something on your mind, Edina. Out with it!”

“I was thinkin’ about you,” returned the girl hesitantly, stammering
and flushing as she spoke. “The girls you go around with don’t like me.
Oh, it don’t take a microscope to see that,” with sudden bitterness,
as Billie made a negative gesture. “And because you’re nice to me
they--they are sort of drawing off from you, too.”

Billie was startled. In a vague way she had noticed some such thing
herself. Was her friendship for Edina Tooker imperiling her popularity?

When she did not speak, Edina continued:

“You’ve been the most popular girl up here. It didn’t take a
microscope for me to see that neither--either. There’s no use your
sp’ilin’--spoilin’--all that for me. I’d best go back to Oklahoma, like
I said.”

Billie roused herself. She laughed and her mouth compressed itself into
a rather fierce straight line. This was Billie Bradley’s “fighting
face.”

“I think you are wrong, Edina. I’m pretty sure you’re wrong. But if
there’s a chance in the world that you’re right--then I want to know
it. Don’t you see? I’d simply have to be sure!”

Edina was watching her with a half-fearful eagerness.

“Then you mean----”

“I mean we will go ahead with our plans just as we planned them!” said
Billie. She jumped to her feet with swift decision. “I have already
spoken to Miss Walters about a shopping tour to Fleetsburg.” Fleetsburg
was the next town to Molata, a fairly cosmopolitan place with several
large stores and a theater. “Some of the girls want to go to a matinée
and Miss Arbuckle is to chaperone them. We are to go in the school bus
and may have the whole day to spend as we like. We will buy clothes
and other pretties till we’re weary. You and I, Edina Tooker, are going
to have a very large time!”

Edina caught her breath. The wistful longing in her round, red face was
pitiful to Billie. She caught Billie’s hand and squeezed it hard.

“You’re awful good to me. Seems like I never thought anybody could be
so good.”

“No thanks, please!” cried Billie gaily. “Anyway, my work will bring
its own reward. When we return to Three Towers Hall to-morrow you are
going to be everybody’s ideal of what a perfect, modern schoolgirl
should be!”

Edina’s gratitude, her eager anticipation, warmed Billie’s heart. She
carried her mood of elation to bed with her and woke with it in the
morning.

“To-day is going to be one of the most interesting I have ever lived
through,” she thought. “The look on the girls’ faces when they see my
new edition of Edina will be worth all the trouble. Only,” her face
clouded, “I wish Laura and Vi could share the fun with me.”



CHAPTER X

A TRIP TO TOWN


For the first time during all the years of their mutual association
and friendship, there was a rift between Billie Bradley and her chums.
Edina Tooker was the cause of it, as Edina herself very well knew.

Laura and Vi did not like Edina. They saw her as raw, uncouth,
ill-tempered. Edina, who was always one to return either friendship or
enmity with interest, did not go out of her way to alter their opinion
of her. She disliked Laura and Vi openly, and this they took as a
personal affront.

The fact that their adored Billie, despite all that had been said and
done to discourage her, still clung to her original intention in regard
to this girl, they also took as a personal affront.

“It seems that she might consider our feelings in the matter!” Laura
had exclaimed on one occasion when she felt that her patience had been
taxed to the limit. “Can’t she see that our fun is being spoiled by
having that Edina Tooker dragged into everything we do? Why, Billie
had her out on the tennis courts yesterday, coaching her, actually
coaching her!”

Vi nodded and giggled reminiscently.

“I was watching,” she confessed. “Edina has a service that would smash
everything in sight if she ever should get it going properly.”

“Yes, and she’s death on tennis balls. She wrecked two yesterday and
lost a third. It was a scream. Connie and Rose Belser and Nellie Bane
were on the sidelines, laughing themselves sick. And all this time,”
she added resentfully, “I was dying to have a set with Billie myself.”

“Not much fun for us,” agreed Vi, with a thoughtful shake of the head.
“You know Billie promised to help me with my math--I _am_ worried about
that, Laura, and with good reason--but these days she has no time for
anything but Edina. Old friends don’t count.”

“I heard her offer to help you yesterday afternoon,” Laura remarked.

“Yes, while that horror was with her,” flared Vi. “Do you think I could
concentrate on three unknown quantities with Edina Tooker looking over
my shoulder?”

It was Laura’s turn to chuckle.

“I could imagine easier things,” she admitted.

There was a moment of silence, while Billie’s two closest chums
reviewed their grievances. Laura asked suddenly:

“What about this mysterious trip to Fleetsburg to-morrow? Billie’s
taking Edina, isn’t she?”

“So I understand.”

“Do you know what’s on the carpet?”

“Haven’t the slightest idea. Two or three times I’ve hinted to Billie,
hoping she might have a change of heart and confide in me, but she’s
been as mum as a clam.”

“There you are! Having secrets with this western coyote that she can’t
or won’t confide to her dearest friends. If that’s loyalty, then I
don’t know it!”

Laura took an excited turn or two about the room, then came to stand
before Vi, her hands in the pockets of her sport coat, her chin thrust
forward aggressively.

“I tell you, Vi, if it was anybody but Billie I wouldn’t stand for it
for a minute! I’m just about fed up with this lion cub! I wish she’d go
back to her mountain cave where she belongs!”

This was Laura’s angle of it, and Vi’s. Billie’s was quite different.

Angered by the open hostility of her friends toward Edina, hurt by what
she considered a misunderstanding of her own motives in regard to the
girl, Billie had repressed a natural desire to confide in Laura and Vi
concerning her plans for Edina. While they felt that Billie had failed
them, Billie was equally sure that they had failed her. So began the
gradual rift in their long and loyal friendship.

Several times during the process of dressing on the morning of the
shopping expedition in Fleetsburg, it was on the tip of Billie’s
tongue to confide, belatedly, in Laura and Vi. But the two girls,
nursing their resentment, were cool and distant, assuming an attitude
discouraging to confidences.

“Very well!” thought Billie. “If that’s the way you feel about it, I’ll
tell you nothing!”

She went down to breakfast with her nose in the air and a hurt in her
heart. She had counted upon Laura and Vi, and they were failing her.

At nine o’clock the school bus drew up to the door, and those of the
girls who were lucky enough to have secured permission for a day’s
holiday in Fleetsburg came thronging out, all clad in their prettiest,
faces turned with bright eagerness toward this break in the school
routine.

The girls were like a flock of butterflies in their gay clothes and
smart trappings; all save Edina Tooker who, in her mannish tweed coat,
heavy boots, and queer hat looked like something out of a curiosity
shop.

The worst of it was that Edina realized to the full the gulf that
separated her from these smart, happy, “just-right” girls. Every amused
glance in her direction was a keen shaft of pain in her heart. She
clung to Billie as though the girl were her one protection against
intolerable suffering.

Billie, herself a little dream of “just-rightness” in a coat of some
soft, greenish-gray material, gray slippers, sheer stockings, a small
gray cloche with a green buckle snuggled over one ear, felt her heart
burn with indignation at what she considered the callous cruelty of her
fellow students.

“Never you mind,” she whispered to Edina, whose face was grim and more
than ordinarily plain. “We’ll show them! Coming back will be different.
Oh, very, very different!”

Under her breath, Edina said fiercely:

“They’re horrid! I hate them! I’ll always hate them!”

Billie sighed. At that moment she realized, more clearly than ever
before, how difficult a problem she had undertaken. The self-appointed
guardian of an Edina Tooker could expect no easy time of it!

As the bus started off, Billie looked among the crowd that had gathered
on the school steps to see them off. Laura and Vi were not there. They
had not even come out to see her off!

However, she caught sight of Amanda Peabody and Eliza Dilks, standing
close together, giggling, and pointing toward Edina Tooker.

Billie turned away. Her color was heightened, her lips set.

“I won’t let anyone spoil this day’s fun for me! I won’t!” she cried,
and was angry past all bearing because there were tears of exasperation
in her eyes.

However, the morning was fine; Billie was young and about to perform a
fascinating experiment. The school bus had barely lumbered through the
gates of Three Towers and started out along the lake road before Billie
had forgotten her vexation in eager anticipation of what the next few
hours might bring forth.

The girls were all in high spirits, bandying jokes back and forth and
laughing at their own witticisms until it seemed a wonder the bus did
not rock with their mirth.

Billie took her fair share of the merrymaking, answering quips in her
inimitable way until Miss Arbuckle herself began to smile and the
driver of the bus looked back over his shoulder from time to time with
a wide-mouthed grin.

During all the fun, Edina sat grim and unsmiling. The merry sallies
were never addressed to her. Had they been she would not have been able
to retort in kind. She was as aloof as a snow-capped mountain. Perhaps
only Billie Bradley guessed that under her aloof exterior Edina was as
much a girl as any of them and that she suffered intensely because of
her inability to join in their fun.

The bus passed through Molata at a merry pace and rattled on toward
Fleetsburg.

Billie turned to Edina, her face radiant.

“We’ll be there soon. And then such an orgy of shopping as we’ll have!
I hope,” she hesitated and regarded the other girl laughingly, “I do
hope you have brought plenty of money with you!”

Edina looked anxious.

“I’ve brought five hundred dollars. Will that be enough?”

Billie was staggered.

“Five hundred! Why, Edina, what did you think we were going to do--buy
the town?”

“Well--how was I to know? Everything these girls wear looks as if it
would run into a heap o’ money.”

“So it does. Nevertheless, five hundred dollars should give us a pretty
good running start! Here we are, Edina! Come along!”

There was a riotous exodus from the bus, and in the general confusion
Billie nearly lost sight of Edina. She found her finally on the edge of
the crowd, clinging to her pocketbook and looking scared.

“Come along,” said Billie. “I’ve already fixed things with Miss
Arbuckle. We’re to meet the girls at the Busy Bee at twelve o’clock
sharp. Until then, our time’s our own.”

When they reached the center of town, Billie paused and looked
about her thoughtfully. Then her eyes came back from their tour of
investigation and rested musingly on her protégé.

“It must have been fate that made us stop before this barber shop,”
she dimpled. “Come inside, Edina. You are going to have your hair cut!”

Edina protested. She shied like a skittish pony at the barrier. But
Billie had her way.

“Either you do as I say or you don’t,” cried Billie sternly. “Do you
want to go back to Three Towers Hall _as you are_?”

“No!” said Edina.

Like a prisoner marching to execution, she entered the barber shop.



CHAPTER XI

EDINA GETS HER HAIR CUT


Edina Tooker’s hair, released from the hard knot into which she had
bound it at the back of her head, proved to be luxuriant and soft to
the touch. The barber, a dark-skinned, effusive little fellow, was
charmed with the color and texture.

“It is a long day since I have seen such a head of hair. And now it
must be cut off, shorn like the wool of a sheep. Eh, well, it is the
fashion. These ladies,” with a twinkling glance at Billie, “must be in
the fashion or die, is it not?”

The barber took up a pair of gleaming shears. Edina’s eyes met Billie’s
in an agonized look of appeal.

Billie smiled reassuringly, but remained adamant.

“She is the boyish type, don’t you think?” she said, cajoling the
barber. “It seems to me her hair would look nice short, quite short,
and maybe tucked behind the ear on the left side.”

“Leave it to me,” returned the little dark man with a flourish of the
shears. “I will make her ravissant. So she will not know herself. Now
then! Attend!”

At the first rip of the shears through her heavy tresses, Edina shrank
deep into her seat and shut her eyes tight. She did not open them again
until the barber announced in a pleased tone that all was finished.

“Will you please to look at yourself in the mirror, Miss?”

Edina looked, batted her eyes and looked again.

“It ain’t so bad,” was her final pronouncement. “But it ain’t me!”

Billie thought the haircut a triumph of art. It was cut short in the
back, fitting Edina’s admirably shaped head like a soft black cap. In
the front it was longer, but not too long, falling back from the girl’s
broad forehead like the sweep of a raven’s wing.

Billie reached forward and tucked a lock of ebony hair behind a shapely
ear.

“You have nice ears and you should show them. Ears are an asset these
days, if they are not positively deformed. Pay the man now, Edina, and
let’s go on about our business.”

The barber bowed them out with Latin gallantry--they being the only
customers in his shop at the time--and Billie led her protégé to one of
Fleetsburg’s best department stores.

There they entered into an orgy of buying.

Edina, bewildered, silent, left it to Billie to do all the work, merely
signifying by a nod of the head when appealed to that everything was
proceeding to her satisfaction.

“Something for yourself, Miss?” the saleswoman asked Billie, with a
hopeful smile. “I have some sweet little new fall models that will
exactly suit your type.”

Billie smiled and shook her head.

“I’m not doing a scrap of buying for myself to-day. Everything must be
for the young lady,” indicating the tongue-tied Edina. “And we want
everything, from undies to hats.”

The saleswoman glanced dubiously at the dowdy figure of the girl from
Oklahoma.

“Everything must be simple, but smart,” Billie continued. “A complete
ensemble first of all, if you please--dress, coat, hat. We will pick
out the shoes and stockings later.”

The saleswoman’s deference returned. Here was a young person who knew
what she wanted, even though her companion did look like some one’s
poverty-stricken cousin.

“This way, please!” said she.

The next moment Edina found herself in a tiny cubicle just large
enough to admit her and Billie, a chair or two, a tiny table and the
saleswoman.

The saleswoman, en route, had picked up two frocks and a coat of soft,
rich-looking material.

“Take off your things, Edina,” directed Billie, beginning to enjoy
herself thoroughly. “This coat is adorable. I’d love it myself. What
are you waiting for?” as Edina continued to regard her in a dazed way
and made no motion to remove her dowdy cloak.

“You don’t mean I’ve got to--to undress here--before a stranger?”
stammered Edina and flushed crimson at the saleswoman’s momentary and
involuntary giggle.

Billie ached to echo the giggle but she only said gravely:

“Only to your slip, Edina. And we’re all girls together. What
difference can it make?”

As at the moment before they entered the barber shop, Billie had the
impression that Edina was about to balk. She favored her protégé with a
severe look and waggled a finger beneath Edina’s decided nose.

“You do as I say, young lady, or back we go to Three Towers with only a
haircut to show for our pains.”

Edina hesitated, glanced appealingly at a ruthless Billie--and
capitulated.

Off came the heavy coat. After considerable unhooking and unbuttoning,
off came the heavy dress as well. Beneath the dress, Edina wore, not a
slip, but a starched, old-fashioned petticoat!

Billie could not surpass an exclamation of dismay.

“Edina, you don’t mean to say you wear _those_ things!”

Instantly she regretted her tactless speech. Edina’s crimsoned face
grew redder. She bit her lip and turned away and Billie caught the
gleam of tears in her eyes.

“Maw fixed ’em for me. She thought they was grand. I’m sorry if you
think they are somethin’ to--laugh at.”

Instantly Billie’s contrite arm was about the girl’s shoulders.

“Dear Edina, I wasn’t laughing, truly, and I’m dreadfully sorry for
being so rude. It’s only that a slinky, soft silk slip sets off your
dresses so much better than a petticoat. Dresses are slinky these days
too, you know. Still, if you prefer the petticoat----”

“I don’t!” Edina had fought a battle with herself and was willing to
acknowledge defeat. “Maw would want me to have what was right. She
wasn’t sure herself about the petticoats. You go ahead and tell me what
to get. I’ll do as you say about everything.”

“Good girl! Then the first thing for you to do is take off that
petticoat.”

After a short, inward struggle, Edina obeyed and stood before the
amused saleswoman and an interested Billie in a chemise and a pair of
ruffled knickers. Billie was glad to see that, relieved of the greater
part of her starched and bulky wearing apparel, Edina was slim. The
saleswoman, too, was astonished.

“I brought you size eighteen and I guess you don’t take any more than a
sixteen,” said she. “Well, we can try these on anyway, and see how you
like the style.”

Over Edina’s dark, sleek head, the saleswoman slipped a one-piece
sports frock, beige in color and elaborately simple in design.

It was too big for the girl, but one glance was sufficient to assure
both Billie and the saleswoman that color and design were just right.

“I’ll get her size in that,” said the saleswoman to Billie, and
disappeared.

Edina turned this way and that before the long mirror. She glanced
appealingly at Billie.

“It looks grand--but it ain’t me. Seems like I got to live with a
stranger before I git used to myself.”

“A mighty nice stranger, though. In that get-up, you’re stunning,
Edina--no other word to describe you.”

Edina’s pleasure in the praise was almost pathetic.

“You really think I look nice?”

“Stunning was the word I used,” cried Billie gaily. “And wait till you
see the rest of the things we are going to get for you, Edina Tooker.
Why, you don’t know the half of it!”

Before Edina could think of a reply to this cheerful prophecy, the
saleslady returned. Over her arm were half a dozen frocks, size
sixteen, two adorable coats and a shower of soft satin, lace-trimmed
underwear.

Edina gave a little gasp and, like any other normal girl with a love
for “pretties,” seized a handful of the shimmering things and buried
her face in them. When she looked up again, Billie knew that she had
won her victory. The subtle magic, the touch of those lovely things,
had accomplished more than all her arguments and pleading. From the
moment, Edina was all girl, reveling in girlish things.

“I never knew just underclothes could be so purty,” she murmured,
reluctantly relinquishing the armful of loveliness. “I’d ruther have
them than all the coats and dresses.”

Billie laughed delightedly.

“I know how you feel. But, unfortunately, the dresses are a necessity.
Now,” with a little wriggle of sheer delight, “let’s get on with the
fitting.”

The magic of those silken underthings had done their subtle work. Edina
warmed to the spirit of the occasion. As Billie watched her try on
dress after dress it seemed to her that Edina’s very look softened; her
nose became less dominant, her square chin less aggressive. In her eyes
was a bemused, dreaming, feminine look that Billie had never seen in
them before.

Billie thought of a phrase Amanda Peabody was fond of using. Edina had
become “clothes-conscious.”

After an hour of sheer enjoyment, Edina threw an appealing glance
toward Billie.

“They’re all so purty,” she breathed, “I don’t hardly know which to
take.”

Billie chuckled.

“That’s easy! Why not take them all?”

The saleswoman threw Billie a startled glance, that at once gave place
to eager hopefulness. Edina’s glance was also startled--and hopeful.

“Dare I?” she breathed. “I never had so many clothes in all my life
before!”

“That’s why you need them now,” said Billie cheerfully. “It gives a
girl no end of confidence to have a complete wardrobe. And I’d add a
party dress, or two, if I were you. We have school hops in the gym, you
know, and once in a while the boys at Boxton give a dance. Yes, you
will need at least two party frocks.”

Edina had surrendered completely to Billie’s guidance. She did not
protest when the saleswoman--voluble now, and almost oppressively
anxious to please--disappeared and a moment or two later reappeared
with a mass of color and fluff over her arm.

Billie gave the frocks one glance and waved them aside.

“Something plainer,” she said to the saleswoman, disregarding Edina’s
protests. “Something that depends entirely on color and line for its
effect. We can’t have Edina here swamped with fluffy ruffles and bead
embroidery. It isn’t her type.”

“But I liked them,” Edina protested, when the saleswoman had retreated
uncomplainingly with her burden of fluff. “They were purty--almost as
purty----”

“Pretty,” corrected Billie.

“Pretty,” Edina accepted the correction docilely, “as the undies.”

“Pretty--but not for you,” said Billie decidedly. “Trust me, Edina. I
am going to make you a personage at Three Towers Hall.”

Billie’s enthusiasm was difficult to resist. Edina did not try to
resist it. She permitted herself to be swept along by the new and
entirely blissful experience of being able to buy all the lovely things
she wanted at one time. The long-starved, demanding girlhood in Edina
was finding expression.

The saleswoman returned with an entirely different collection of
evening frocks which the critical Billie was good enough to approve.

“The coral one would look gorgeous on you Edina and the yellow taffeta.
Try them.”

Edina obeyed and was captivated. She insisted that she would take both
the frocks of Billie’s choice but remained adamant in her intention to
try on nothing more.

“If I try ’em on, I’ll buy them,” she said, showing a grain of the good
horse sense she had undoubtedly inherited from “Paw.” “I’ve got more
now than I could wear out in a lifetime of trying--unless I was twins.”

Billie gave in with a sigh and a giggle.

“We’ve got to get hats and shoes and stockings, anyway,” she mused.
“Suppose we’ve got to stop somewhere.”

The saleswoman, feeling that this was her lucky day, offered a bright
suggestion.

“I can have hats sent up here to match the frocks----”

“One hat!” corrected Edina, putting down her foot. “I can’t wear more’n
one at a time, and that’s all I want.”

Billie conceded this point, having won so much.

“You might send up a few small shapes in beige or brown to match the
coat,” she said to the saleswoman. “Then I guess,” with a hurried
glance at her wrist watch, “that will be all!”

From the hats that found their way promptly from the millinery
department to the tiny cubicle wherein Billie sat in judgment they
selected one small, helmet-like chapeau that fitted Edina’s head snugly
and showed only one tantalizing lock of raven-black hair.

“Looks like I was scalped,” was Edina’s comment. “But if you say it’s
all right, that goes with me. Now,” with a nervous glance about her at
the extravagant numbers of her purchases, “what would you say I’d best
wear back to Three Towers Hall?”

“The beige frock, the one you tried on first,” said Billie, without
the slightest hesitation. “Then that adorable brown coat with the fox
collar and cuffs and the beige hat. Downstairs we’ll get you shoes and
hose and gloves to complete the outfit. Good gracious!” Billie glanced
at her wrist watch again and jumped to her feet with a look of alarm.
“It’s past the time I promised to meet Miss Arbuckle and the girls. You
stay here, Edina, and climb into that outfit. I’ll be back in less than
two shakes!”



CHAPTER XII

A PERFECT DAY


Billie Bradley found Miss Arbuckle and the girls impatiently awaiting
her at the Busy Bee.

“We’re starving!” they cried reproachfully. “What has been keeping you?”

“And where’s the lion cub?” another wanted to know.

Billie smiled mysteriously.

“Just wait till you see her! You’d be surprised!”

Whereupon, Billie proceeded to “fix things” with Miss Arbuckle. This
was not difficult, Miss Arbuckle being a friend of Billie’s with
consequent implicit belief in the girl’s good sense and judgment.

“We haven’t finished our shopping--not nearly,” Billie explained,
having drawn the teacher aside so that the curious and watchful girls
could not hear what was said. “If you don’t mind, Miss Arbuckle, I’d
like to take Edina to lunch--just the two of us. After that we will
shop some more and maybe take in a movie, if there’s time.”

“We--ell,” the teacher hesitated, “if you will give me your word to be
on hand to take the school bus back----”

“Oh, I will,” promised Billie. “Thanks so much, Miss Arbuckle. It would
simply spoil everything to--to spring Edina on them now.”

A look of mutual understanding passed between teacher and pupil. Miss
Arbuckle smiled.

“I suppose it would,” she agreed. “Run along to your good work, Billie.
I’m entirely in sympathy with it and I wish you luck.”

“Miss Arbuckle, you’re a perfect dear!” cried Billie gratefully.

She squeezed the teacher’s hand, flashed one triumphant look at the
group of curious, half-envious girls, and darted out into the street.

In the fitting room at the department store, Billie found a transformed
Edina impatiently awaiting her. Billie paused in the doorway and stared
at the wholly unfamiliar apparition.

“Turn yourself about, Edina,” she breathed. “Slowly--that’s right. My
dear, you are a triumph! I’m proud of you--and me! Come along now and
we’ll get something to eat. I’m starving. Besides, I’ve got to show you
off!”

Edina Tooker would never be beautiful. Nor could she even be spoken
of as a pretty girl. But Billie realized as she looked at this new,
tastefully dressed Edina that the girl possessed a native dignity and
poise that was more compelling than mere prettiness. Her own prophecy
was being fulfilled. The girl had become a personage.

Perhaps Edina read something of this in Billie’s prolonged scrutiny.

“I’m just tryin’ to live up to my clothes,” she said, with a wistful
smile. “They’re the first things I ever owned in all my life that
seemed to--to belong to me. I know I look different and, somehow, I
begin to feel different.”

“You will feel differenter and differenter as time goes on,” Billie
prophesied gaily. “You’re a knockout, Edina. I can’t wait for the girls
to see you.”

Into the eyes of Edina came a provocative gleam that was as new as her
new clothes.

“Neither can I!” she confessed. “Mebbe they won’t laugh at me now.”

“They will be simply green with envy,” prophesied Billie. “I am,
myself. Just think of having all those perfectly gorgeous new frocks
all at once!”

Edina chuckled.

“I can’t get over the notion I should be twins,” she chuckled.

The gratified saleswoman parted from them with regret and many urgent
invitations to visit her again.

“If I did that often,” chuckled Edina, “Paw would be bankrupt. As it
is, I’ll have to write him for more money. He’ll like it, though,”
she added in that gentler tone she always used when speaking of her
parents. “Paw always wanted to do things for Maw and me. He wants us
to have the best, Paw does.”

Laden with bundles, the two girls went below to the store tea room
where they ordered creamed chicken on toast and apple tart.

Billie noticed that Edina ate carefully, picking up a knife or fork or
spoon only when she was sure she had chosen the right one.

“Raw and crude enough,” thought Billie. “But intelligent and eager to
learn. Her new clothes will give her confidence. Meantime, I am having
the time of my life!”

Their appetites satisfied, the girls returned with a will to their
shopping.

Shoes were bought, several pairs of them, and stockings to match. Then
Billie led her protégé to the toilet goods counter where they bought
creams and unguents.

“Anybody’d think I was going to be one of them movie queens,” Edina
protested. “What do you suppose I’m going to do with that stuff?”

“Wear it on your face at night,” Billie retorted imperturbably.

“Not all at once!” cried Edina horrified.

Billie glanced at her to make sure she meant it, then went off into
gales of giggles that made passing shoppers gaze at her curiously.

“A little at a time, you silly! Edina, you’ll be the death of me yet!”

“Well, I don’t like the idea of it, nohow--anyhow,” the girl persisted
doggedly. “I ain’t never--ever--had anything but good spring water on
my face up to now and I’m not yearning to go greasing myself up like an
Indian at this late date.”

“You’ll get used to it,” prophesied Billie cheerfully. “You can get
used to anything. Besides, now that you have all those beautiful
dresses, you must grow a complexion to match.”

“How you talk! A complexion ain’t--isn’t--like shoes and
stockings--that it’s got to match up with your clothes.”

“It’s even more important,” said Billie firmly. “Don’t argue. Come
along!”

Laden with boxes and bundles, they found their way to a movie picture
palace in the vicinity.

The scenario of the picture happened to be laid in the West--one of
those blood-and-thunder films replete with villains, dashing ponies,
lariats, and heroic cowboys. During the entire entertainment, Edina
kept up a running fire of comment and criticism that provided Billie
with more entertainment than the film, much to the annoyance of a
dignified and portly old gentleman who had the seat in front of them.

At the end of the picture Billie glanced at her wrist watch and tugged
at the sleeves of Edina’s new coat.

“We have to go. If we miss the school bus we will get about sixteen
demerits apiece and I’ll be barred from boating and tennis for the rest
of the fall term, and that I could never stand! We’ll have to bolt for
it.”

Edina was seized by sudden panic.

“I don’t want to go,” she said, in a strained, tight voice. “I feel
such a fool, all togged out like this! I--I’d ruther stay here in the
dark!”



CHAPTER XIII

EDINA SCORES


For a moment, Billie Bradley lost patience with her protégé.

“Don’t be silly!” she cried sharply. “Here I spend a whole day trying
to make you presentable and you tell me you’d rather stay here in the
dark. Do hurry, Edina. I tell you, we’ve only just time to make the
bus.”

Edina got up--and a dozen packages scattered over the floor! She
stooped to pick them up and bumped her head into the head of the old
gentleman in front who turned to glare at her wrathfully.

With an exclamation of annoyance, Billie helped gather up the scattered
purchases of the afternoon and after an interminable delay the girls
got to the street.

“We’ve got to run,” gasped Billie. “If we miss that bus, it’s all up
with us. I promised Miss Arbuckle----” The sentence went unfinished,
for at the next street corner they came in sight of the bus. Miss
Arbuckle and the girls stood beside it, talking animatedly. Billie
guessed from their gestures that she and Edina were the topic of
conversation.

Billie had been almost running. Now she slowed her pace and glanced
imperatively at Edina.

“Pull your hat down and put the collar of your coat up a little,” she
ordered. “That’s right! You look swell! Act as if you knew it.”

That was all very well for Billie Bradley, thought poor Edina; but
Billie could scarcely be expected to know how it felt to be dressed up
like a tailor’s dummy and set in a window to be stared at!

Unconsciously Edina’s face assumed the old, grim expression of
defiance. She was the “lion cub” dressed up.

With her accustomed tact and kind-heartedness, Miss Arbuckle assumed
charge of the situation. With the gesture of a motherly hen scattering
her chicks, she shooed the staring, curious girls into the bus, so
that when Billie and her companion reached it, there was no one on the
sidewalk.

Billie was in fine spirits again.

“Follow me,” she called to Edina. “And be sure to pick up the packages
I drop! It will be a mercy if we get back to Three Towers with half the
things we’ve bought.”

As Billie and Edina entered the bus, all eyes were turned upon Billie’s
companion.

The moment of amazed silence that greeted the apparition of this new
Edina Tooker was a genuine tribute to Billie’s accomplishment.

“Hello, everybody!” Billie called gaily. “Edina and I have been
shopping and we’ve bought the most marvelous things--dozens of pretty
frocks and other things. Wait till you see!”

So Billie carried the battle into the enemy’s territory. By this bold
stroke she practically forced the girls to take sides either for or
against her new friend and protégé. By it Billie said, though not in so
many words:

“You must either accept Edina or reject her--and by rejecting her, you
will reject me also.”

If Billie had not possessed quite so strong a hold upon the affection
and esteem of her schoolmates, it is quite possible that this bold bid
in Edina’s interest would have gone for nothing.

However, the girls loved Billie, and this new Edina Tooker in the
marvelous clothes was certainly far more attractive than the old Edina.
Then, too, there was the talk of new frocks--dozens of them, Billie had
said.

The atmosphere became more friendly. One could almost feel it thaw.

Jessie Brewer, a diminutive blonde with round face and infantile blue
eyes, turned the scale in Edina’s favor.

“You look stunning,” said Jessie, generously going all the way now that
she had decided on surrender. “That coat is perfectly sweet. If I’m
good, will you let me have a lend of it sometime?”

The request, with its tacit acknowledgment of equality, took Edina’s
breath away.

“Sure,” she stammered. “Any--any time you like!”

Amazingly, miraculously, Edina found herself the center of interest for
the first time since her advent at Three Towers Hall--for the first
time in all her hard, drab young life.

The ice once broken, the girls were eager to hear about her purchases.
At first Edina was unwilling to talk and Billie answered for her; but
gradually the girl’s reticence broke beneath the friendly battery of
questions. She found herself answering in a perfectly natural way--not
only that, but embellishing the events of the day with a dry humor that
captivated her audience.

Some of her packages were opened by the more curious among the girls
and passed from hand to hand for comment and inspection.

“Better watch these girls, Edina,” laughed Billie. “They are apt to
descend upon your purchases like a swarm of hungry locusts----”

“I may be hungry, but I’m no locust,” said a dark-haired girl, who was
sniffing curiously at a jar of cold cream with an exotic label and a
delicious fragrance. “Anyway, I’m sure Edina won’t mind if I just take
a dab of this stuff.”

“Take the whole thing, if you want it,” Edina offered largely; but
Billie gave a little squeal of protest.

“No use giving away everything you own, even if your father has struck
oil on that property of his and is making money hand over fist. Take
that jar of cream away, Edina, before Jessie eats it. She thinks it’s
for dessert.”

So Billie skillfully implanted the notion that Edina was already very
rich and growing richer fast. Among those who had snubbed the girl from
the West, this would have a disciplinary effect, she thought, and those
who were disposed to friendliness toward the new Edina would not be
greatly affected by it, anyway.

She could see that the girls were impressed. Edina herself appeared
somewhat startled by this frank statement of her fortunes.

“You shouldn’t ’a’ done that,” she whispered to Billie in the flurry of
getting packages together for the exodus at Three Towers Hall. “I ain’t
exactly superstitious, but seems like I don’t like to talk too much
about Paw’s money.”

Billie was sincerely surprised.

“It was true, wasn’t it, what you told me about his oil well?”

“True as rain. But Paw’s luck’s been so uncertain that I can’t hardly
believe he has really struck it rich at last. Seems like if I talk
too much about it, all his good fortune might bust up into thin air
like them--those--soap bubbles you make with a pipe. I’m just being
superstitious,” she added, with an apologetic grin. “You ain’t got
no--any--call to listen to me.”

As the bus turned into the long graveled drive leading to Three Towers
Hall and the girls began to scramble headlong from it, Edina caught
Billie’s hand gratefully in a rough paw.

“It’s been the best day I ever spent,” she muttered. “Thanks--a lot.”

Billie smiled and returned the pressure of Edina’s hand.

“I think we’ve broken the ice. From now on, it’s up to you.”

Billie went on across the school grounds in a thoughtful mood.

The day had been an unqualified success. She had done just exactly what
she wanted to do. Yet she felt depressed, deserted and forlorn.

“I’m the world’s prize idiot,” she scolded herself. “I’m tired and I
probably need my dinner.”

However, in her heart, she knew exactly what was wrong with her. She
was unhappy because neither Laura nor Vi had come out to greet the
school bus.

Were they still angry with her? Was the friendship she had thought so
strong and fine, that had been a source of happiness to her ever since
her childhood, to break up in this manner?

“All over a stranger, too,” she thought wearily. “Edina has scarcely
any claim on my affections. I’m grateful to her for saving my life that
awful day at the lake. I’m grateful to her and sorry for her, that’s
all. But Laura and Vi----” She let the thought trail off.

In the hall she pulled off her tight hat and was conscious of immediate
relief. How her head did ache!

She went up quietly to her room, exchanging greetings with the girls
she met on the way. She opened the door softly and stopped as though
transfixed.

On her bed lay Vi Farrington, face downward. She was sobbing as though
her heart would break!



CHAPTER XIV

AN OLD ENEMY


In a moment, Billie Bradley forgot her own weariness and the fact that
her head ached worse than ever. She ran to the bed and flung herself to
her knees beside the sobbing girl.

“Vi! Vi Farrington! What is it, dear?”

Vi gave a sharp exclamation and sat up, trying to dry her eyes on her
pocket handkerchief.

“Oh, it’s you! I didn’t mean any one to catch me at this baby trick,
Billie, truly I never did. But I’m so wretched.”

“What about?”

Vi eyed her fiercely and accepted the clean handkerchief that Billie
thrust into her hands.

“You, for one thing. You have been perfectly horrid, Billie Bradley,
with that wild girl of yours and never having even half an eye for the
rest of us----”

“Vi, you silly! I never----”

“Yes, you have! Don’t you suppose I know? And then it’s that wretched
math. I--I’ve gone and done it again.”

Vi threatened to dissolve in tears and Billie shook her rudely.

“Done what again? Don’t you dare cry----”

“Failed, of course. What did you suppose? Miss Walters called me into
the office to-day and she said, oh, B-Billie--I--I can’t tell you!”

“You’ve got to tell me,” returned Billie. “Go on, dear. What did Miss
Walters say?”

“Well, she told me if I didn’t do better in my math she would have
to write a note home to Dad. Can you imagine Dad getting a note like
that, Billie--or Mother? It would just about k-kill them! And I’m so
perfectly d-dumb at figures!”

Billie got up and began to walk about the room. She took off her coat
and smoothed back her hair while Vi watched her with tear-dimmed eyes.

“B-Billie, aren’t you going to do something?”

“Nothing else, but!” returned Billie cheerfully. “I’m merely clearing
the decks for action. Suppose you get out your books and papers and
things and we’ll try to find out what’s wrong. I reckon we’ll get to
the root of this matter in a jiffy.”

“Oh, B-Billie! When you talk like that I know that everything is going
to be all right. If you will only help----”

Billie glanced up briefly into Vi’s tear-stained face.

“You knew I’d help, didn’t you, Vi?”

Vi’s glance wavered, fell.

“I know I’ve been a fool, Billie. But I did think you were sort of
side-tracking Laura and me for that wild and woolly Edina Tooker.”

Billie shook her head reproachfully.

“You didn’t really think that, Vi. Not in your heart. Now, let’s get
down to business.”

It was so that Laura found them, some time later, heads close together,
working out a problem in algebra.

“Say, you two, don’t you know it’s almost time for the supper bell to
ring?”

“Don’t bother us!” muttered Vi. “We’ve almost got it. There! There,
that’s the right answer, isn’t it, Billie? Did I get it?”

“You did!” Billie’s smile was congratulatory. “And in record time, too.
We’re coming on, Vi!”

She glanced up to find Laura’s eyes fixed upon her curiously.

“Billie Bradley, what have you done to Edina? I met her in the hall
downstairs. She isn’t the same person at all.”

Billie smiled enigmatically.

“Clothes do make a difference!” she observed.

That was the beginning of the old status between the three chums. It
was the beginning of many things, especially for Edina.

Billie’s friendship, her new clothes, and the general belief that her
father was rapidly becoming a fabulously rich man, all these things
conspired to lift Edina from obscurity to an enviable position among
her schoolmates. She was sincerely liked by some, tolerated by many,
and toadied to by a few who thought that she might some day become a
powerful and colorful influence in the school life of Three Towers Hall.

In other words, as Billie had predicted, Edina was rapidly becoming a
personage.

To be sure, there were some who still disliked and distrusted the girl
from Oklahoma, decrying her rough language and crude ways. Among this
small minority were Rose Belser and Ray Carew, who stood, figuratively
speaking, upon the fringe of the crowd, skeptically looking on at this
transformation of Edina Tooker.

“No good will come of it, Billie,” Rose said, more than once. “You may
tame the lion cub; but underneath, it remains a lion cub just the same.
Some day it will begin to scratch and claw. Then--look out!”

About this time an incident occurred that afforded Billie a good deal
of amusement and Edina no little satisfaction.

The girls spent much of their recreation time on Lake Molata during the
pleasant fall weather, boating and, weather permitting, swimming from
the end of the dock.

Billie attempted to initiate Edina into these water sports, much to the
not-too-well disguised amusement of her fellow students. Edina disliked
the water. She could not swim and she was not keen about rowing--that
is, she was not keen about it until she found that Billie was.

This is how it came about.

One day while Billie and Edina were rowing in desultory fashion some
distance from the dock, they were overhauled by Ray Carew and Rose
Belser in a boat, the twin of theirs.

“Give you a race,” called Rose, as she had called many times before
when Laura or Vi had been in the boat with Billie. However, Edina
was neither Laura nor Vi, a fact of which Rose Belser was well and
mischievously aware. Edina rowed with a stroke all her own and
possessed a positive genius for entangling her oar with that of her
stroke mate.

Still Billie could not refuse the challenge.

“All right, race you to the island!” she returned.

“But, Billie!” cried Edina, aghast, “you oughtn’t to’ve said that. I
can’t row!”

“Stop talking!” Billie commanded, her jaw set. “Stop talking and row!”

Such rowing! Edina’s oar did everything but stroke the water. It sat
upon the top of it, it splashed spray into the boat, it entangled
itself with Billie’s. By the time Ray and Rose had reached the island,
Billie’s boat had succeeded in turning its nose about and was headed
the other way!

That incident was a lesson to Billie. She told Edina firmly:

“You’ve got to learn to row. That’s all there is to it. The sooner we
begin the better.”

“All right,” returned Edina resignedly. “Anything you say.”

This was the beginning of much secret practice for Edina in a secluded
cove, screened by much bright-colored foliage from both Three Towers
and Boxton Academy.

Came a day when Billie admitted satisfaction in her pupil.

“The next time Rose--or any one else--challenges us to a race, we’ll
give it to her.”

Their chance came two days later when Rose and Ray Carew again drew up
alongside them and Ray asked laughingly if they cared to have revenge
for the other day.

“Like nothing better,” said Billie coolly. “What shall the mark be?”

“The big rock that juts out from the Point--if you can get that far,”
proposed Ray.

“We’ll try it,” Billie said calmly.

As the boat moved off to get into position for the start, Ray was heard
to murmur:

“Some folks are just plain gluttons for punishment!”

Billie and Edina exchanged smiling glances and Billie leaned over to
whisper:

“Remember what I’ve told you. Take it easy at the start and save your
breath. Ready?”

“Ready!” returned Edina.

Billie gave the word to go, and they were off, swinging easily over the
glassy water. For some distance they maintained the same pace, bow to
bow. Then, by degrees, Rose’s boat drew ahead.

“Steady!” cautioned Billie, as Edina’s hand tightened nervously on the
oar. “Watch my stroke and time yours with it That’s it! Easy now!”

The other craft was two boat-lengths ahead. Ray shouted a derisive
challenge.

“Now!” said Billie. “Keep time with me, Edina. Faster--a little faster.
Now then! Let’s show the speed of that good right arm!”

The oars struck the water in perfect unison, poised, struck, poised
again, swifter, swifter, increasing that rhythmic stroke.

“Now!” cried Billie. “Put your back into it, Edina!”

With a magnificent final burst of speed, the boat swept through the
water, reaching the point well ahead of its rival.

Billie waved exultantly.

“Well,” she jeered happily, “you wanted to give us revenge, didn’t you?
And we are nothing if not obliging!”

Rose and Ray were generous in defeat.

“Whatever you have done to Edina, it’s plenty,” Rose admitted. “We
other oarsmen will have to speed up if we intend to stay in the same
class with her!”

“At least,” said Billie, with a mischievous glance at her pupil, “we
don’t go about in circles any more!”

Despite this signal victory on the lake, Billie was far from satisfied
with herself. Rowing was one thing--tennis was quite another. On the
courts her old-time skill appeared to have deserted her. She had lost a
good deal of her old speed and power. She was slower, and her opponents
found it easier to catch her napping.

Even Vi beat her one day, which worried the loyal Vi greatly.

“What’s wrong, Billie? You are absolutely off your form. Aren’t you
well?”

“Quite,” replied Billie, and added with a worried frown: “It’s my knee,
Vi. Don’t tell anybody, but ever since that awful day when I fell over
the cliff, my knee has been acting queerly. Gives out under me when
I least expect it. To-day, on the courts, I almost fell. Perhaps you
noticed.”

“I’ll say I did. It was so unlike you that I thought maybe you were
putting it on--just to give me a chance to win, you know.”

Billie’s brief smile flashed out.

“I’m not quite that generous. Hello--what’s this?”

Billie looked up to see that Amanda Peabody had planted herself
straight in the patch.

Billie said coolly:

“Did you want to speak to me, Amanda?”

Amanda’s smile was malicious.

“Not particularly. I just wanted to congratulate you on the fine
showing you made against Vi on the courts. From your performance in
that last set, I should say that every day, in every way, you are
getting better and better.”

“It wasn’t Billie’s fault,” Vi blurted out indignantly. “There’s
something the matter with----”

“Vi!” cried Billie sharply. “I asked you to keep quiet about that.”

Amanda’s malicious grin widened until it seemed to stretch from ear to
ear.

“You don’t need to be so quiet about it. Everybody at Three Towers
knows that there is something the matter with Billie Bradley’s tennis.
It isn’t any secret if that’s what you mean.”

Vi started to speak again, but Billie squeezed her arm sharply and drew
her past the outrageous girl.

“I challenge you,” Amanda called after them, her voice shrill with
triumph. “I challenge you right now to a set, Billie Bradley.”

As Billie continued onward to the Hall without even a backward glance,
Amanda’s mocking laughter followed her.

“You’re afraid, Billie Bradley. You’re afraid!”

Once inside the door, Billie turned to Vi. Her hands were clenched so
hard that the nails bit into the palms.

“Some day,” she promised vengefully, “I’m going to give that girl such
a beating on the courts that she’ll cry for mercy. You mark my words,
Vi Farrington!”

“She’ll get something worse than a beating on the courts, if you leave
it to me, the horrid, spiteful old thing!” declared Vi furiously.



CHAPTER XV

AN UNEXPECTED DUCKING


The trouble with Billie Bradley’s knee did not improve during the days
that followed. Although, assisted by her chums and Edina Tooker, she
rubbed it faithfully with arnica each night, she still showed far from
her old form on the tennis courts.

She was forced to suffer the constant taunts of Amanda Peabody and
Eliza Dilks. Instead of making reply, she closed her lips tight and
said nothing.

“Why not tell them your knee is in bad shape?” cried Laura on one
occasion when Amanda’s caustic comments had aggravated her almost past
bearing. “You let her stand there and say all sorts of things and never
come back with a word in your own defense. I must say I’m disappointed
in you, Billie.”

Billie shook her head stubbornly.

“I’ll not excuse my failures,” she said.

“Well, then, let me excuse them--or Vi or Edina here. We’ll undertake
it with the greatest of pleasure.”

Billie remained adamant.

“It would be just as bad to have you making excuses for me. No, sir,
if I have to take a beating, I’ll take it right!”

Although her chums understood Billie’s attitude and, in their own way,
sympathized with it, no attempt was made to underestimate the dire
effect of Billie’s temporary indisposition upon their hope of victory
in the fall tennis tournament, now close at hand.

“It isn’t only Billie who may be defeated. It’s our whole crowd that’ll
go down in the crash--at least, our pride will crash,” sighed Vi to
Laura one day.

“I know. But there’s no use arguing with Billie when she’s in this
mood,” was the response.

On the courts, Billie and Amanda Peabody had long been rivals. Amanda
was a spectacular player with speed and power, but apt to prove
erratic, especially when the play went against her.

Billie was steady, careful, sure, coolest in an emergency.

It was pretty to watch the two on the courts; it was always
interesting; it was even apt to prove dramatic.

To Billie, tennis was a well loved sport. On the courts all personal
enmity was forgotten, all private grudges temporarily wiped out.

Not so, however, with Amanda. This girl, while having developed
excellent tennis form, was a bad sport both on and off the courts. She,
unlike Billie, carried her private grudges with her and was only at
top form when winning.

This year, however, it began to look as though Amanda Peabody would
win. With Billie so far from top form, there was no one at Three Towers
capable of giving Amanda “a good run for her money.”

Billie regarded her chums with troubled eyes.

“If only one of you could train in my place----”

“Don’t look at me!” cried Vi, in alarm. “You know I am a perfect dub on
the courts.”

“You are getting better all the time.”

“It would take me from now to eternity to get good enough to beat
Amanda. Don’t pick on me, Billie. You know very well I’m out.”

Billie looked at Laura, who giggled and raised her hand as though to
ward off a blow.

“I’m good--I admit it--on the courts, as elsewhere. But not nearly good
enough. Take Edina here,” she added, with a mischievous glance at the
“lion cub.” “She looks like your one best bet.”

Edina grinned.

“Me! I can bust the insides out of a ball when I hit it, but my racket
and the balls, they seem to be just born enemies. They never git close
enough together to be friends.”

Laura chuckled.

“I’ve watched you miss more balls this week, Edina Tooker, than I
thought there were in the world!”

Billie sighed and rubbed her knee reflectively.

“Well, it seems to be up to me. And I’m a total loss. I guess Amanda
will walk away with all the honors this season.”

“It’s more than I can bear!” Vi stood for a moment in deep thought.
Then said eagerly: “You know, Billie, I’ve a hunch about that knee.
You’ve been working it too hard. I’ll bet if you had absolute rest for
a week, never went near the courts, it would be a heap more profitable
than all this violent exercise you’ve been putting yourself to.”

“But I need the practice,” Billie protested. “My form is terrible.”

“Your form is just as good or bad as your knee. Get that into shape,
and I’m willing to bet your form will take care of itself.”

“Sounds like sense to me,” Laura abetted her. “Why not try it, Billie?
I tell you what! Ted has been at me for a long time to get up a picnic
on the lake. To-morrow’s Saturday. How about it, everybody? Any
objections?”

“Not a one, that I can think of,” returned Billie, with a smile. “This
is excellent picnic weather and we want to make the most of it.”

“Before the lake gets frozen over with ice,” chuckled Laura. “All
right. I’ll tell Ted it’s a go.”

Edina shied like an unbroken colt at the mention of boys.

“We git along together like rattlesnakes and coyotes. I don’t like
them and they don’t like me no--any--better. You’d better leave me out
of this here picnic. I’ll spoil it all for you.”

“Nothing doing!” said Billie decidedly. “You no go, I no go either. The
boys don’t bite and I’m sure you don’t, ’Dina.” With a severity, belied
by the twinkle in her eye, she added: “You’ve got to learn to get along
with the boys, you know. It’s an important part of your education.”

A few minutes over the telephone were sufficient to arrange with the
boys for the following day’s fun. A few moments more in the kitchen
provided for the hearty appetites of a healthy group of boys and girls.
Clarice promised to put up a hamper of good things that would make “yo’
eyes pop clean out o’ yo’ haids.”

“Now all we have to do,” said Laura contentedly, “is to go to bed and
pray for a clear day to-morrow.”

Surely, the following day might have been an answer to any one’s prayer
for fine weather. It was one of those lovely early fall days when the
sun warms the blood and the tang of crisp air sets it dancing.

“Oh, I do love this time of the year!” Billie’s face glowed above the
woolly white sweater she was wearing for warmth’s sake. “It makes me
feel equal to meeting and beating Amanda Peabody, even with one knee
out of joint!”

“The way you look to-day, you could meet and beat any one with both
knees out of joint,” declared Laura loyally.

It had been decided the day before that the boys would row across from
Boxton and pick up the girls at the Three Towers’ dock.

Their part of the bargain was so promptly kept that the girls had
barely reached the boathouse when they descried the fleet of rowboats
coming toward them across the lake.

“There come Teddy and Chet----”

“And Ferd Stowing. But who’s the fourth?”

“Paul Martinson, probably,” said Billie. “Chet said he might come
along.”

Billie cast a sidelong look at Edina, and was quite satisfied with what
she saw.

The girl from Oklahoma wore a white sport coat--recently added to her
steadily growing wardrobe. The sport coat topped a white, fuzzy skirt
and a silk jumper adorned with a flaming, scarlet tie. On Edina’s feet
were white sport shoes of an approved style. Her legs were encased in
immaculate, unwrinkled white silk stockings.

The improvement in Edina was more than “clothes deep,” however, a fact
of which Billie was very well aware. The girl had acquired a new poise,
a dignity which was very attractive. Moreover, her disposition had
improved signally. She was not nearly so ready to claw and scratch as
she had been a short time since. The “lion cub” was surely becoming
civilized.

“You look stunning, Edina,” Billie said. “The boys will love you.”

Edina turned on her a look of panic.

“I’m plumb scared to death,” she confessed. “I’d like to go hide in a
hole!”

The boats scraped against the dock and with whoops as of Comanche
Indians, the boys leaped to the dock to capture the girls and the lunch
baskets.

Chet Bradley came first. He was burned a deep brown by the sun and was
as full of animal spirits as a gamboling puppy. He dashed up to the
girls, gave Vi a paternal pat on the shoulder, pulled Laura’s ear and
Billie’s hair and--stopped short at his first sight of Edina Tooker.

“Hello!” he stammered. “I don’t think I have had the pleasure----”

“Oh, Chet, this is Edina. She’s very much the rage with us, and you’ll
like her, too. I’m counting on you boys to give her a good time.”

“Righto!” replied Chet, grinning cordially. “We’re fast friends
already, aren’t we, Edina? Come along, fellows,” beckoning to the other
sun-tanned lads. “Step up and be presented. If you like it as well as I
do, we’ll all have a very swell time!”

Edina was blushing furiously. Billie wished she were not, because it
was unbecoming to her. However, the other boys seemed to like her and
they were soon chatting and laughing together in a chummy and highly
satisfactory manner.

The lunch baskets and the assortment of bright-colored cushions
contributed by the girls to lend comfort to the trip were quickly put
in place, and the girls invited to follow.

As Edina hesitated, lagging behind the others, Paul Martinson linked
his arm through hers and led her toward his boat.

“You come with me,” said the young cadet, with a masterful air.

Behind Paul’s back, Billie winked mischievously at Edina.

“Without even fishing, you’ve made a good catch,” she whispered
mischievously. “Hang on to it!”

Whether this pleasantry confused Edina, or whether the girl, hating and
fearing the water, slipped as she was about to enter the boat, no one
ever knew. At any rate, she lost her footing in some way, pushed the
rowboat outward as she fell, and plunged headlong into the deep water
at the end of the pier!

“She can’t swim a stroke!” cried Billie, and without an instant’s
hesitation followed the girl into the chilly water.

Billie dived for Edina but could not locate her.

“She has been caught under the dock!” Billie came up for a breath of
air and dived again. This time she, too, came up under the dock. She
bumped up against something that was only a fuzzy white blur in the
water and cried in her heart: “Thank goodness!”

A long nail had caught in the wool stuff of Edina’s skirt and held it
fast.

Billie’s lungs seemed to be bursting, but she worked at the cloth so
frantically that the nail came out of the rotted wood.

As she felt herself begin to sink again, Edina twisted in the water
and wrapped both arms about Billie’s neck with the desperation of a
drowning animal!



CHAPTER XVI

FIGHTING FOR LIFE


Locked in Edina Tooker’s unbreakable embrace, Billie Bradley gave
herself up for lost.

Edina was stronger than she, and now her strength was the desperate
strength of mortal fear.

Billie writhed and twisted, striving to wrench herself free; but in
her heart she knew her efforts were vain. Edina’s grip was the grip of
madness. She was dragging them both down to death.

Billie wondered why her lungs did not break with the fearful pressure
on them. After a long moment of agony she almost wished they would
break--to have done with the torment.

Suddenly something swam close to her. There was a sharp jolt and,
through glazing eyes, Billie saw Edina’s head snap backward. The hard
grip about her neck relaxed, the weight that had been holding Billie to
the bottom of the lake slumped away.

Billie felt suddenly as light as air. With all the strength that
remained to her, she fought her way to the surface of the water.

Like a benediction, air swept into her tortured lungs. She lay upon her
back and let herself float, gasping.

Edina was safe, she knew. It was Paul Martinson who had dealt the
merciful blow on the point of Edina’s chin, saving her life and
Billie’s. Paul would take care of Edina. Paul liked Edina----

Billie felt hands tugging at her, pulling her up on something that was
hard and rough. The pier!

“Were you going to lie there forever and catch your death of cold?”

It was Vi’s voice scolding, and Billie thought no voice had ever
sounded so pleasant in her ears.

She was being pulled to her feet now, supported by loving arms, a ring
of anxious faces about her. They were all scolding her, but she did not
care. It was nice to have someone care whether she was alive or not.

“Edina?”

“Edina’s all right. Paul has her. Now we are going to smuggle you both
up to the hall and into dry clothes before you die of pneumonia, or
something equally uncomfortable. Come along!”

While Paul Martinson ruefully wrung out his sodden clothes, refusing
meanwhile to listen to a word of thanks, Billie and the half-dead Edina
were hustled to the Hall for a change of raiment.

They approached the house by a circuitous route, carefully avoiding the
groups of girls loitering in the school grounds. Entering by Clarice’s
immaculate kitchen and leaving a telltale stream of water across it,
they hurried up the back stairs and by great good fortune managed to
gain the dormitory unobserved.

“Now get out of those dripping clothes and be quick about it,” ordered
Laura, then added with a heartless giggle: “Two such drowned puppies I
never did see.”

“You needn’t laugh,” retorted Billie, stripping off her wet stockings.
“For a second or two, there we were as near being truly drowned as I
ever care to be. How about it, Edina?”

The girl turned a stricken face to Billie.

“It was all my fault!” she said, in a low voice. “You tried to save my
life and I paid you back by doin’ my best to drown us both! Seems I’ll
never get over bein’ ashamed o’ myself.”

It was a full ten minutes before the combined efforts of the girls
reassured Edina to the extent of persuading her to exchange her
dripping outfit for a dry one.

“Tell me what you want to wear and I’ll sneak down the back stairs and
get it,” offered Laura. “In your present low mood,” she added, with a
chuckle, “I’d be afraid to leave you alone. You might hang yourself to
the nearest convenient chandelier.”

“I might, at that,” returned Edina, with a reluctant smile. “I don’t
know why you girls are so nice to me. I sure don’t deserve it.”

“People so seldom get their deserts in this life,” chuckled Laura.
She tossed an impish smile in the direction of Edina’s long face and
disappeared.

She reappeared a few minutes later with an armful of clothes and an
exciting account of the adventures encountered in their acquisition.

“I just missed Miss Johnson and bumped head-first into Debsy. ‘Must you
dash about in this frantic manner?’ inquired Debsy in a hurt voice. If
I’d stepped on her toe she couldn’t have sounded more injured! Here,
Edina, these are all I could find. Hope they’ll do.”

“Guess they’ll have to.” Edina regarded Laura’s offering without
enthusiasm. “But I won’t look near as nice as I did before. I spent an
hour gettin’ ready for that duckin’ out on the pier.”

The girls giggled hilariously.

“Love’s labor lost,” said Vi, wiping her eyes. “Edina, you are putting
a lot of joy into my life!”

So they made a joke of what easily might have been a tragedy. When
they rejoined the boys on the dock, Edina had lost much of her former
self-consciousness and was ready to laugh with the rest over what she
termed her “clodhopper clumsiness.”

“Where’s Paul?” asked Billie.

“Gone to change his clothes,” replied Teddy. “He hasn’t yet learned
the art of falling into the lake without getting wet.”

“Said he’d join us at the island,” added Ferd Stowing.

They made a great to-do about launching Edina safely. Ted and Chet and
Ferd held one of the rowboats close to the pier while Laura and Vi,
doubled with laughter, assisted their new friend into the craft. Edina
looked red and sheepish, but she joined in the good-natured merriment
at her expense. Edina was learning!

“Stand back, Billie,” cried Laura. “If this girl tries another
high-diving act, it’s our turn to dash to the rescue. Look out there!
Ah, now she’s all right! Come on, everybody. Let’s go!”

The little fleet was launched safely at last--Vi and Laura both in
Chet’s boat, since Paul Martinson was missing.

They had gone only a few hundred yards from the dock when they saw
Paul himself rowing toward them from the direction of Boxton Military
Academy.

“Didn’t take him long!” shouted Billie, from her comfortable place in
Teddy’s boat.

“Ain’t boys wonderful!” Laura shouted back.

Having arrived at the island, which was well out in the lake and
removed by a considerable expanse of water from both Boxton Academy and
Three Towers Hall, the boys and girls disembarked and began the real
business of the day.

“Take care of those lunch baskets,” shrieked Billie, as the boat in
which they were rocked perilously. “Ferd Stowing, you nearly dumped
them in the lake!”

“Well, I can’t take care of both the lunch and Edina,” asserted Ferd,
grinning. “Lend me a hand, someone!”

At the thoughtless words of the lad who would not willingly hurt a fly,
Billie saw Edina color painfully.

“All this fun at Edina’s expense has gone far enough,” she thought
indignantly. “It’s got to stop! I could slap Ferd Stowing!”

“Why the frown, l’il Billie?”

Billie looked up to find Paul Martinson at her elbow, smiling
quizzically down at her.

“You look mad enough to bite a nail in six pieces,” continued the lad.
“Just what appears to be wrong?”

An inspired thought chased the frown from Billie’s face. She smiled at
the tall, good-looking young cadet.

“Paul, will you do me a favor?”

“Dozens of ’em!”

“Then be nice to Edina Tooker, will you? Awfully nice?”

Paul looked quizzically in the direction of the girl to whom he must
be nice--awfully nice. Then his glance returned to Billie.

“That shouldn’t be hard,” he said. “I think she’s a ripping girl,
really. Regular stunner.”

“Oh, do you?” Billie’s lovely face glowed with delight. “Oh, Paul, I’m
so glad! That takes such a terrible weight off my mind!”

Paul’s eyes rested questioningly on the pretty face for an instant,
then he said in an odd tone:

“Billie Bradley, you are quite the nicest girl I have ever known!” With
the words, he walked over to Edina and proceeded to monopolize her
completely and thoroughly for the rest of that day.

Teddy Jordon came up to Billie as she stared after Paul Martinson’s
straight young back.

“What were you and Paul whispering about?” Teddy demanded jealously.
“If he has anything to say to you, can’t he say it out loud?”

Billie glanced at him fleetingly and laughed.

“Don’t be a silly, Ted. Paul just promised me to be nice to Edina. And
he has started right in to keep his promise, bless his heart! Come and
help me get the lunch fixed.”

The boys had brought frankfurters, a huge bag of rolls, butter, and a
dozen ears of corn. Also they had brought the utensils to cook them in.

“Why did we bother with chicken sandwiches and cake?” Laura wanted to
know. “If we should sit down and eat steadily for three solid days,
there would still be some frankfurters left. Are you boys quite mad?”

“My good child, that remark just goes to show how greatly you misjudge
our capacities,” said Chet, busy over the fire. “I’m ready to bet right
now that there won’t be a sandwich or a frankfurter left--cracky, that
fire’s hot!”

“It’s apt to be, especially when you put your hands in it,” observed Vi
unfeelingly. “Hi, Billie, what you got?”

“Letters,” returned Billie, waving them. “I put them in my pocket
before I left and promptly forgot all about them. Here, Edina, is one
for you. Catch!”

Edina caught the letter just as it flew past her, in the nick of time
to save it from landing in the midst of Chet’s fire.

“Good catch,” applauded Paul, standing close to her. “Open your letter,
if you like. I’ll excuse you. I’ll even turn my back.”

Since Paul kept his word, it so happened that Billie was the only one
facing Edina when the girl opened her letter. So also it was Billie who
rushed forward, alarmed at the girl’s sudden waxy pallor.

“Why, Edina dear! what is it? Have you had bad news?”

Edina stretched out a hand as though to push Billie away. Her color
returned in a hot wave. She spoke in a thick tone, wavering and
unsteady.

“There ain’t nothin’--anything--wrong. Please don’t notice me. I’ll--be
all right--in a minute.”

So it was Billie, staunch friend that she was, who turned the attention
of the young folks into other channels, who kept up a running fire
of nonsense, under cover of which Edina was once more able to resume
command of herself.

The fact that the girl slipped the letter into her pocket without
reading to the end of it did not pass unnoticed by Billie, nor the fact
that Edina was distrait and silent for the rest of the long afternoon.

“That letter was a terrible shock to her,” thought Billie. “I’d give
almost anything I own to know what was in it.”



CHAPTER XVII

THE MYSTERIOUS LETTER


It was a lovely picnic. The girls could not remember when they had
enjoyed anything so much.

The boys put themselves out to be entertaining, the weather was
excellent. No one had ever tasted such nectar as those “hot dogs”
cooked in the open, corn boiled in a big, blackened pot over the
campfire and fairly dripping butter. Clarice’s chicken mayonnaise
sandwiches were not neglected, nor the cake with its filling of thick
almond cream. Never was such a feast. The young folks ate to repletion,
and then ate some more.

Only Edina Tooker seemed to have lost her appetite.

After the luncheon they sat around for an hour or two, too absolutely
comfortable and lazy to move.

“Like anacondas, sunning themselves,” observed Vi lazily.

Laura, half-asleep, opened one eye to stare at her reproachfully.

“How complimentary you are! I refuse to be compared to any snake--even
an impressive one like the anaconda. Now, if anybody has anything more
to say, please don’t say it. I’m going to sleep!”

After a while they roused themselves sufficiently to make a tour of the
island. Finding a little pool among the bushes, they made themselves
crude fishing tackle of tree branches, a ball of cord conveniently
produced by Chet from a roomy pocket, and a few fishhooks left by
someone in one of the boats.

During an hour or two of fishing, Edina succeeded in hooking one poor
little fish which was so tiny and, Vi declared, looked at her so
pathetically she had not the heart to keep it. At any rate, she removed
it with gentle fingers from the hook and flung it back into the cool
depths of the little pool.

“A fine fisherman you’d make!” scoffed Ferd. “Here you hook the best
catch of the afternoon and you aren’t sport enough to recognize good
fortune!”

Edina shook her head, answering his badinage seriously.

“It was too little to be any use, anyway. And I never could kill
anything just for the fun of killing it.”

Here was a new light on Edina’s true character. How cruelly the girls
at the Hall had misjudged her, thought Billie. At heart Edina was
kindly and gentle, sympathetic and loyal. How gently she had removed
the poor little tortured fish from the hook! And yet the girls still
called her the “lion cub!”

“She’s a darling,” thought Billie warmly. “And I’m glad I’ve stood by
her. I’d do it all over again if I had to!”

After a while the young folks resumed their stroll and wound up finally
at the site of the campfire.

Here they discovered that their appetites had miraculously revived.
Whereupon they fell upon what remained of the provisions and gobbled
them up.

“What a swarm of locusts we are!” chuckled Laura, regarding the ruins
of their feast. “I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to eat again.”

“Until to-morrow morning,” observed Billie drily.

The premature shadows of autumn were falling over the lake when they
reluctantly decided that it was time to go back.

Like all good woodsmen, they cleaned up the scene of their picnic until
everything was as neat and orderly as they had found it.

“I hate to go,” said Vi, looking back longingly. “It’s probably the
last picnic we’ll have this year.”

“Probably,” agreed Billie. “It’s always a little sad, saying good-by to
summer. And this year, what with the treasure hunt and Sun Dial Lodge,
we have had such marvelous fun.”

Later, as the little fleet moved slowly across the water in the
direction of Three Towers Hall, the young folks sang, joining their
voices in the sweet old melodies of Juanita, Suwanee River, and ending
with the solemn and beautiful Now the Day Is Over.

When they landed on the dock the shadows had descended in a gentle mist
over everything, touching familiar objects with a mysterious magic,
wrapping the young folks about in a pleasant isolation.

In the shadows close to her, Billie heard some one sob. She turned
about, surprised, to find it was Edina who had made that choking,
desperate sound.

“Why, Edina! What is it, dear? Edina, tell Billie!”

“I love it all so!” said Edina, in a curious, harsh voice. “It’s been
such a wonderful day. I never knew what it was to be so happy!”

“But, Edina, that’s nothing to cry about!”

“That--that’s all you know! You shouldn’t ’a’ been so nice to me--you
shouldn’t, you shouldn’t! If I have to go away from here now--it
will--just clean--break my heart!”

Edina whirled quickly and vanished in the mist and the shadows, leaving
Billie to wonder if she had not dreamed the curious interview.

“What’s the matter with her?” Vi stood at Billie’s elbow. “She’s upset
about something, isn’t she? Could it be anything Paul Martinson said or
did, do you suppose?”

Billie shook her head.

“Paul has been a lamb. I overheard him invite her to the hop at Boxton
on the third.”

“What then?”

“I don’t know.” Billie spoke wearily. Her knee was beginning to hurt
again--and the tennis tournament was only a little over two weeks away!
“Unless there was bad news in the letter I gave her to-day,” she added.
“I thought there was at the time. Now I am practically sure of it.”



CHAPTER XVIII

THE GIFT CLUB


Upon the matter of the mysterious letter and its contents, Edina Tooker
maintained a stubborn silence. Even Billie Bradley, with all her
cajolery, could not win a single word of explanation.

“There wasn’t nothing--anything--in it you’d be interested to hear,”
she persisted. “And there on the dock I acted pretty silly. I’d take
it a great favor if you’d forget about it, Billie, and not ask me
no--any--more questions.”

What could Billie do after that but acquiesce? However, though the
topic of the letter disappeared from her conversations with Edina, she
was not at all satisfied with the girl’s explanation, or rather, lack
of explanation.

That the contents of the mysterious letter had come as a severe shock
to Edina, Billie had not the slightest doubt. Proof of it had been in
her face during that one unguarded moment beside the campfire; further
proof, if any were needed, had been forthcoming during that other
unguarded moment on the dock when the girl from the West had opened
her heart to Billie.

That talk of leaving Three Towers Hall. What did it mean? Was there any
actual possibility of Edina being forced to such a thing? Was something
wrong with those oil wells out in Oklahoma? Edina had gone so far as to
admit that the letter was from home. Had the visionary Paw of Edina’s
childhood overreached himself again?

Billie wondered, but, in the face of Edina’s resolute silence, could
find no answer.

Meanwhile, the girl from the West became increasingly silent and
thoughtful. She rarely spoke unless first spoken to, and almost never
smiled.

“She acts like a person with a dreadful secret,” observed Vi upon one
occasion when Edina had been more than usually uncommunicative.

“A worm is gnawing at the heart of the rosy apple,” Laura agreed.
“Maybe she is trying to keep the family skeleton in its closet. Most
families have them.”

Vi giggled.

“It’s hard to think of skeletons in relation to Edina Tooker!” she said.

The two girls were in the study hall preparing their lessons for the
next day. Vi struggled with her always-difficult “math” while Laura
marshaled ideas for a composition on “The Relation of Science to World
Progress.”

Into this studious atmosphere Billie dashed like a breath of cool fresh
air. With her were Rose Belser and Connie Danvers.

“Miss Gay is going to leave to be married,” Billie announced without
preamble. “A number of the girls are keen to form a gift club and raise
some money for a really nice parting gift.”

“You’ve got to be chairman of the club, Billie,” said Connie. “Now,
don’t object. You are already elected--unanimously. Isn’t she, Rose?”

“Of course. If you don’t accept the chairmanship, Billie, there won’t
be any club.”

Billie laughingly protested.

“Talk about being railroaded into a position----”

“Oh, hush up! You are already elected.”

“There’s the question of the treasurer,” Connie went on. “Which, when
you come to think of it, is even more important than the chairmanship.”

“We will have to pick on someone with an honest countenance,” chuckled
Laura, adding, with a wicked air of innocence: “At first, casual
glance, I can’t think of a single person for the place.”

In revenge, Vi tweaked her ear and Connie pulled her hair.

Rose observed drawlingly:

“Certainly no one would ever pick you for the place, dear child!”

“Stop squabbling and listen to me,” cried Billie. “How would Edina do?”

There was a moment of dead silence while the other girls in the room
stared at Billie as though they were not quite sure they had heard
correctly.

Before any one could speak, Billie backed her proposition with argument.

“Don’t you see, the girl is new here and she isn’t quite sure of her
position among us, yet. Giving her a post like that would be like a
vote of confidence.”

“I’ll say it would,” retorted Rose Belser drily. “It would go further
than that. It would _be_ a vote of confidence. Speaking for myself, I
don’t know as I’m quite ready for that yet, Billie.”

“I’d stake my life that she is as honest and as worthy to be trusted as
you or I,” said Billie hotly. She paused and regarded the silent girls
with sudden suspicion. “You don’t mean to say you think she isn’t to be
trusted, do you?”

“Not so fast, Billie,” Rose spoke soothingly. “Certainly this girl that
you seem so keen about has never done anything to make us distrust her.
It’s only that she is new and it seems to me that an important post
like this should go to one of the older girls--someone we know we can
trust.”

Billie wavered. There was justice in what Rose said. Still, the picture
of Edina rose to haunt her, Edina pale and silent, Edina making a
desperate effort to hide some secret unhappiness or fear. An offer of
this sort now--it would be a vote of confidence--might be just the
thing she needed to bolster up her self-confidence and help her forget
whatever it was that was worrying her.

Very badly Billie coveted that post for Edina. What was the use, she
thought rebelliously, of being one of the most influential girls at
Three Towers Hall, if she could not have her way once in a while?

She turned pleadingly to the girls.

“If I am to be chairman of the committee, I want Edina to be treasurer.
I have a very private and special reason for wanting it. Really, I
have. Can’t you girls do this much for me?”

When they did not reply at once, Billie shrugged and turned away.

“Very well!” she said coldly. “If that’s the way you feel about it, I
guess you will have to find another chairman!”

Connie groaned.

“Bring her back, somebody! Billie, you nit-wit, come back here!
Rose--girls--if we have to take Edina to get Billie; we’ll have to take
Edina, that’s all.”

“You win, Billie,” Rose surrendered. “I suppose if you proposed Amanda
Peabody for the post, we’d give in just the same,” she added ruefully.

“You won’t regret it,” said Billie earnestly. “I’d stake my life on
Edina’s honesty.”

Later that afternoon a formal meeting was held in the gymnasium. All
the students were invited, the purpose of the Gift Club explained to
them, and their support solicited.

The business of selecting officers for the club was quickly disposed of.

Billie was accepted almost unanimously as chairman, Connie Danvers was
elected to the secretaryship on almost as great a wave of popularity.

“Not that I want the place at all,” Connie confided to Vi. “It’s the
most thankless of all jobs--and the driest. I don’t know what I have
ever done to have it wished on me!” Nevertheless, in her heart Connie
was as pleased as any other normal girl would be at this proof of
popularity.

When Edina’s name was proposed for treasurer and promptly seconded
there was a little murmur of surprise. Girls regarded their neighbors
thoughtfully and began to whisper among themselves. Edina appeared the
most surprised of them all. She was starting to her feet as though to
protest when Billie tugged at her and whispered sharply:

“Sit down, you great goose! I want the post for you!”

Edina won from her opponent, the pretty doll-faced Jessie Brewer, by a
small majority.

“Congratulations, treasurer,” whispered Billie triumphantly. “I’m so
glad, Edina. I knew they’d take you!”

When Billie rose to take the chair from Rose Belser, who had so far
conducted the meeting, she was greeted by a prolonged handclapping and
cries of, “Speech! Speech! We want a speech!”

When the noise died down a voice in the crowd was heard to say quite
distinctly:

“It’s all a fake! Edina Tooker was railroaded into the job because
Billie Bradley wanted her. Well, they’ll wait a long time before they
get any of my money!”



CHAPTER XIX

A DREADFUL DISCOVERY


For a moment there was dead silence in the room. Then Edina Tooker
jumped to her feet and faced the shocked, attentive girls. Her hands
were clenched at her sides. Her face was fiery with anger.

“Who said that?” she demanded.

When there was no answer except a snicker somewhere in the crowd, she
added furiously:

“You don’t need to answer. I know your voice. I’d know it anywhere,
Amanda Peabody! If you are trying to call me a crook, come on up before
all these girls and do it! Come on! I dare you!”

When there was still no answer, Edina relaxed; over her face spread a
look of contempt.

“You don’t dare!” she said. “And I’ll tell you why. You’re a bully and
a coward and the meanest girl in this here--in this school.”

She paused for a moment while Amanda got up and marched to the door.
Before passing through it, Amanda turned to fire one parting shot.

“You can call names, if you like. I don’t care. They never hurt
anyone. But I mean just what I said. I wouldn’t trust you with a cent!”

When the door had slammed behind the unpleasant girl, Edina spoke to
the group of students who had just raised her to a place of honor among
them. Her speech was simple, direct, and to the point.

“If there’s any more among you who feel like Amanda Peabody does about
me, I’d be pleased to have you say so.”

There was a dead silence that in many ways was more disconcerting than
Amanda’s accusation. It was Billie who came to the rescue of the new
treasurer.

“You girls have elected Edina Tooker of your own free will. After what
Amanda Peabody has said, I think it is only fair to give her a vote of
confidence. Now altogether--three rousing cheers!”

The cheers were given with fair enthusiasm, thanks to the effect of
Billie’s personality upon her fellow students. However, Amanda’s
accusation had raised a doubt in the minds of many of them, a doubt
that Edina was quick to feel and that Billie thought best to ignore.

The remainder of the business was quickly concluded. Miss Geraldine
Gay, a pretty young teacher in the lower grades, was very popular among
all the students of Three Towers Hall. The fact that she was about to
be married to a handsome young man named Bryant Cummings lent an added
glamour to the personality of the young teacher. The girls wished to
give her a wedding present that would serve as a testimonial to Miss
Gay of their affection for her and their good wishes for her future
happiness.

“Now,” said Billie when the selection of the officers had been
concluded and the routine organization finished, “we will waive
formality and pass the hat. Everybody ready?”

The girls were generous with contributions from their pocket money.
When the contribution was counted the new officers of the Gift Club
were amazed and delighted to find that the total amount was sixty-five
dollars.

Ray Carew rose to make a suggestion.

“Madam Chairman, several of the girls have whispered to me that they
won’t be able to contribute until certain--er--packets arrive from
home----”

There was a general giggle at this and Billie rapped for order.

“I think we quite understand the--er--financial embarrassment of some
of our fellow members,” she said, with a smile. “We have already
decided to keep the fund open for several days. At the end of that time
we will take a general vote as to what is to be done with the money.”

Amid a clamor of voices the meeting broke up and the girls filed out,
apparently well-satisfied with their part in the proceedings.

Billie, Connie, Laura, and Vi were left behind with Edina Tooker in the
big emptied gymnasium. Billie thrust the sixty-five dollars in bills
and change toward Edina.

“Here, treasurer, you will have to take care of this in the future.”

Edina regarded the money doubtfully. Under considerable urging she
scooped it up and deposited it in her new pocketbook.

“I never did like the job of lookin’ out for other folks’ cash,” she
protested. “Suppose I should lose it?”

“That’s your job from now on,” said Connie Danvers, with a shrewd but
not unkindly glance. “I’d suggest you sleep with it under your pillow.”

This advice was followed undeviatingly by Edina during the uneasy days
that followed. Nightly, the new-made treasurer was haunted by dreams
wherein bold robbers with masks and enormous forty-fives dashed out of
dark alleys or around street corners, demanding her money or her life.

The fund grew astonishingly, and, with it, Edina’s responsibility. On
the fourth day after the election of officers it had reached the--to
Edina--terrifying sum of two hundred and sixty dollars.

It was then that the new treasurer made up her mind to go in search of
Billie.

She found the latter on the tennis courts, playing against Amanda
Peabody. Edina frowned her disapproval. Billie had promised to rest
that knee for the big contest, now only a few days off. This was the
way she kept her promise, prancing all over the court with that hateful
Amanda Peabody!

As though in answer to Edina’s thoughts, someone beside her said:

“Isn’t it awful! She just let that horrible girl pester her into
playing. Now she will cripple herself, most likely, for the big match.”

“How’s the score?” demanded Edina.

“Even, two all, with this game thirty love in Billie’s favor. It’s been
a lovely game to watch, but Billie is nearly all in. See how she limps!”

“It’s an outrage!” cried Edina. “Why doesn’t someone stop her?”

“Try to do it!” said the girl at her side, who had turned out to be
Nellie Bane.

“All right,” said Edina, her lips compressed. “I’ll not only try. I’ll
_do_ it! Watch me!”

As she started off toward the court, Nellie tried to hold her back; but
Edina was not to be held. She paused on the edge of the court.

“Billie,” bawled Edina in a tone not to be ignored. “Come here, please!
I’ve got to see you right away!”

Startled, Billie faltered, fouled a perfectly good ball into the net
and turned impatiently.

“Thirty-fifteen!” called Amanda.

“Billie, I’ve got to see you right away!” Edina’s tone was urgent,
imperative. It was as though her very life depended upon Billie’s
acquiescence. “You can finish the set some other time.”

Billie shouldered her racket and waved to Amanda.

“I don’t know what’s wanted, but it seems to be important.”

“I get the set then by default,” called Amanda.

Billie nodded.

“Meet you again--soon,” she promised.

Nellie Bane, who had been watching the by-play with great interest,
heaved a sigh when she saw Billie and Edina leave the courts and walk
off in the direction of the Hall.

“That girl, Edina Tooker, knows what she wants when she wants it,”
mused Nellie. “My, won’t Billie be mad when she finds it’s all a hoax!”

Billie was mad. She regarded Edina with such frigid curiosity that it
is a miracle that girl did not turn into an icicle at once.

“You mean to say you dragged me off the courts when I was winning--when
I was _winning_--just for a whim or because it amuses you to get me in
bad with that horrid Amanda Peabody?”

“No, Billie,” pleaded poor Edina. She was feeling the full weight of
Billie’s wrath for the first time and it made her miserable. “It wasn’t
for fun. I could see you were limping and I knew--well, I knew you
shouldn’t be playin’ with Amanda Peabody just now and----”

“It seems to me I should be the best judge of that,” said Billie
frigidly.

“Maybe so. But there’s good judges and bad judges and just then you
wasn’t bein’ so all-fired good. I’m sorry if you’re mad at me--and that
will probably make you madder--but, like George Washington, I can’t
tell a lie!”

“You’ve put me in a false position,” stormed Billie. “Amanda will say
I was afraid to finish the set, and there won’t be any one to disagree
with her, since I won’t tell her the truth.”

“You can _show_ her the truth next week,” said Edina gently. “That is,
if you rest that knee and get yourself into shape----”

“The knee is better,” declared Billie. “It only hurt a little to-day.”

“But it might have hurt a lot if you’d kept on going,” Edina pointed
out. After a minute she added: “Anyway I did have something important
to speak to you about, Billie.”

“What is it?” asked Billie listlessly.

“About the gift fund. It’s grown so big it scares me. With that five
dollars Jessica Holt put in yesterday it’s touched the two hundred and
sixty mark.”

Billie opened her eyes wide.

“That much? I’d no idea!”

“I’m scared to death I’ll lose it or something will happen to it,”
Edina went on hurriedly. “What I really wanted to ask you when I
set out to look for you and found you on the courts was whether you
wouldn’t come into Molata with me. I could deposit the money in the
bank there in the name of the Gift Club. After that,” with a rueful
grin, “mebbe I’d be able to sleep some nights!”

Billie glanced at the watch on her wrist.

“We have time now if we hurry. I think it’s a good idea, Edina. Two
hundred and sixty dollars! That’s a lot of money!”

“We could buy Miss Gay a limousine with that,” chuckled Edina,
delighted to find that Billie was recovering her good humor.

The girls went in to get their wraps. Billie stopped in Miss Walters’
office to explain where she and Edina were bound and to promise to be
home well before dark, then went to the dormitory for Edina.

On the steps of the Hall they almost collided with Amanda Peabody and
Eliza Dilks. Amanda swung her racket and regarded Billie with malicious
triumph.

“You had a very important engagement, didn’t you, Billie Bradley?” she
taunted.

“Not nearly so important as the engagement I have with you next week,”
retorted Billie, coolly, referring to the tournament. “And that
engagement I promise to keep!”

When they had passed beyond earshot of Amanda’s mocking laughter,
Billie glanced at Edina.

“You see?” she said. “You have put me in a very false position, Edina
Tooker. While I have forgiven you, Amanda will take good care I don’t
forget!”

A rural trolley line ran from the suburban districts into the town of
Molata. It being an ideal fall day Billie and Edina found the trip both
pleasant and soothing. By the time they had reached the one bank the
township boasted, Billie had completely recovered her good humor.

“Hand over your money and your troubles are at an end,” she directed
Edina. “No more dreams of highwaymen and thugs. Edina! Why do you look
like that?”

The girl had opened her pocketbook and was staring stupidly at the
contents.

“The money!” she gasped. “The money’s gone!”



CHAPTER XX

THE ACCUSATION


“The money’s gone!” repeated Edina Tooker.

Billie Bradley would not believe it.

“You must be crazy, Edina--or you haven’t half looked!”

She seized the hand bag from the girl’s nerveless grasp and began to
ransack it with eager fingers.

“It’s no use,” said Edina in a dazed voice. “I wrapped the money up in
a paper and put it there last night. To-day it’s gone!”

Aware that they were attracting the attention of others in the bank,
Billie pulled Edina over to a seat against the wall.

“Here,” she said. “We’ll pull this thing inside out. We have to find
the money, Edina.”

The girl nodded dumbly. Tears overflowed from her eyes and ran down her
face. Absent-mindedly she wiped them away with the corner of a new silk
pocket handkerchief.

Billie dumped the contents of Edina’s hand bag into her lap, scrambling
them with eager fingers.

There was a vanity case--a newly acquired luxury, to the buying of
which Edina had been egged on by Billie herself. There was a tiny
blue-enameled pocket comb, a small purse containing a few pieces of
silver, a shopping list, and a roll of bills amounting to ten dollars.

“That’s all mine,” said Edina dully. “The gift money is gone.”

“If you say that once more, I’ll scream,” cried Billie. “Stop crying,
Edina, do. You have got to pull yourself together if we are going to
work this thing out. Let me think! You say you wrapped the money in a
paper late yesterday afternoon?”

Edina nodded, twisting the silk handkerchief nervously between her
fingers.

“You say that was the last time you saw it?”

Again Edina nodded.

“What did you do with it last night?”

“I put it in my trunk and locked it. It has a queer lock with a key
that looks like a humped-backed old man. No ordinary key could open
that lock!” She looked pleadingly at Billie.

“What did you do with the key?”

“Slept with it on a string around my neck. I sleep light, too. Nobody
could possibly ’a’ got that key off my neck without me knowin’ it.”

Billie nodded and was thoughtful for some time.

“How about to-day?”

“All day long my pocketbook has been in the locked trunk and the key
was around my neck,” said Edina doggedly. “No one could ’a’ touched it
without first knockin’ me dead, Billie.”

“Well, then--I don’t see----” The amateur sleuth paused, temporarily
at a loss. “It couldn’t have been somebody in the street car, coming
out, Edina? A pickpocket, you know. I’ve heard they are very quick with
their hands.”

“There ain’t none of ’em quick enough to have got this pocketbook away
from me,” Edina retorted grimly. “Anyway, I was holdin’ my hand over
the top of it all the way--just for fear someone would get a hold of
it.”

Billie jumped to her feet. Her eyes were bright and her cheeks were
almost feverishly flushed.

“Then if you are quite sure of this, the money must be up at Three
Towers. You have dropped the money out of your pocketbook--perhaps when
you picked it up.”

Edina started to say that she could not possibly have done any such
thing; but Billie was beyond listening to her.

“Come along,” she cried, with feverish impatience. “We’ve got to get
back right away--before any one finds that packet and makes off with
it!”

Billie’s impatience infected Edina. The two girls rushed for the street
car, caught it by the barest margin, and sat twiddling their fingers in
desperate suspense during the seemingly interminable ride back to Three
Towers Hall.

Released by the trolley, they rushed to Edina’s dormitory. As luck
would have it, the long room was empty and they at once began a
feverish search of everything in it, beginning with Edina’s trunk and
winding up by peering under mattresses and into pillow slips.

“Nothing!” panted Billie. She sat down on the edge of Edina’s bed to
rest “Edina! Edina! Where has that money gone?”

“I’d just about give ten years of my life to know,” returned Edina.

She sat down on the bed beside Billie. Her hands felt cold but her head
was throbbing feverishly.

“Billie,” she said dully, “it’s the end of everything for me here.”

“Nonsense!” said Billie, and took one of the cold hands and held it
tight.

“It is,” said Edina. “They’ll say I took that money, Billie. What’s
worse, they’ll _think_ I took it.”

“I won’t,” said Billie.

“I know you won’t. I think you’re the only one here who really knows
me. It’s been a long hard fight with the rest. Now they will think I
took the money and it will be the end of everything for me. I--I was
beginning to be so happy here.”

Before Billie could say a word of comfort or reassurance the door
opened and several of the younger girls flocked in. Their talk and
laughter died at sight of Billie and Edina.

“Well!” said a dark-haired, dark-eyed, pert little thing. “You two look
as if you’d been talking secrets. What’s up?”

Before Billie could stop her or could even be sure what she was going
to do, Edina got to her feet and faced the curious girls.

Her eyes were red with crying, her fingers clasped and unclasped
nervously, but her voice was steady as she said:

“I suppose you might as well know now as any time. That money the girls
trusted me with, the money to buy the present for Miss Gay, I--I’ve
lost it. Or it has been stolen!”

The news spread like wildfire.

Billie dragged Edina to her dormitory, hoping to protect the girl, only
to find her own friends lying in wait for her.

There was a crowd already gathered there, a crowd that increased in
numbers rapidly. At sight of it, Edina shrank within herself and would
have fled cravenly had it not been for Billie’s grip upon her hand.

“No use running away,” Billie whispered fiercely. “It’s far better to
stay and face the music.”

Ray Carew pushed her way to Billie’s side. She eyed Edina coldly.

“I’ve heard so many rumors that I don’t know what to believe and what
not to,” she said. “What is all this about the Gift Club money being
lost, Billie?”

“I’m afraid it’s true,” said Billie gravely. “Only in my opinion it has
been stolen--not lost.”

Briefly but graphically, she gave an account of her and Edina’s trip
to the bank in Molata, of their surprise and consternation when Edina
discovered the loss of the money.

Laura, who had taken a firm stand at Billie’s side, turned to Edina.

“Didn’t you look inside your pocketbook before you started downtown?”
she asked.

Edina crimsoned.

“No,” she admitted. “I was so sure the money was there I--I--didn’t
bother to look.”

“A fine treasurer!” came shrilly from the fringe of the crowd.

“I should ’a’ looked,” confessed Edina miserably. “I’ll never forgive
myself for--for not lookin’.”

Billie’s grip tightened reassuringly upon her fingers.

“Hold fast,” she whispered.

“Let’s get this straight,” said Ray Carew. “Your story is that you took
your purse from your locked trunk about two o’clock this afternoon. You
don’t know that the money was there then, because you didn’t bother to
look,” there was the faintest sarcasm in Ray’s drawling tones.

“I’m sure the money was there then,” Edina persisted doggedly. “Nobody
could get into my trunk without breaking the lock--and the lock wasn’t
broken.”

“Well, let’s say that the money was in your purse when you took it from
the trunk,” Ray conceded. “You took the purse in your hand then. Was
there anyone in the room with you?”

“No one except Billie,” said Edina.

“Well, now, think hard. This may be quite important. Did you hold the
pocketbook in your hand every moment from the time you took it from the
trunk to the moment you opened it in the Molata bank?”

Edina pondered the question, brows knitted.

“I--I think so.”

“Thinking won’t do,” said Ray inexorably. “Don’t you know?”

Edina thought again and finally shook her head in miserable
bewilderment.

“I can’t be absolutely sure--I don’t seem to remember very well. I’m
practically sure I didn’t lay down that there pocketbook for a minute,
but----”

“Yes you did, Edina!” Billie cried triumphantly.

“Where--when----” stuttered Edina.

“You put it down on the table for a minute while you went to the
bathroom at the last moment to wash your hands. Don’t you remember?”

“I can’t seem to think,” replied Edina hesitatingly. “If I only could
be sure----”

Ray Carew turned a serious face to Billie.

“Are you sure of that, Billie?”

Someone in the group snickered and a voice not hard to identify as
Amanda Peabody’s said meaningly:

“If Billie Bradley was in the room alone with that money, what was to
prevent her making off with it herself?”



CHAPTER XXI

EVIDENCE PILES UP


For a moment there was such dead silence in the room that one could
easily have heard a pin drop.

Then Billie said in a clear, hard voice:

“Are you suggesting that I stole the Gift Club money, Amanda Peabody?”

“Because if you are,” cried Laura fiercely, “I’ll settle with you now,
you miserable sneak, once and for all!”

“Girls! Girls!” pleaded Ray Carew. “Don’t let’s fight among ourselves.
What Amanda just said is too silly to notice. I think you had better
apologize, Amanda. You won’t be very popular until you do.”

A murmur of assent rose from the girls, a murmur so fierce and
insistent, that Amanda was temporarily cowed.

“Oh, all right,” she muttered surlily. “Maybe I didn’t mean that Billie
Bradley did it. But the thing looks very queer to me, just the same.”

The thing looked very queer to everybody. As the dreary days dragged
by things looked queerer and queerer. The mystery grew blacker and
blacker and the general interest and indignation aroused over the
mysterious disappearance of that two hundred and sixty dollars amounted
to a school revolution.

Many at first stood for Edina, partly for Billie’s sake, partly because
they could not bring themselves to believe that the girl from the
West would deliberately misappropriate funds entrusted to her by her
comrades.

However, little by little bits of evidence piled up against the
treasurer of the Gift Club.

Nellie Bane came back to the Hall one day from a trip into town with
information that blanched Billie’s face and for a moment shook even her
staunch belief in Edina.

“I barged into this shop to buy a pair of shoes,” so went Nellie’s
breathless story, “and when the salesman reached into his till for
change, he pulled out a five dollar gold piece.” She paused and
regarded the intent ring of faces for a long, impressive moment. “It
was the very same gold piece that I handed over to Edina Tooker as my
contribution to the Gift Club fund!”

A deep sigh burst from the group. Billie sat back and passed her hand
over her forehead.

“But I don’t see--That is, how did you know----”

“That it was _my_ gold piece?” Nellie finished eagerly. “Well, here’s
how I knew! I said some idiotic things to the shoe clerk about how
pretty gold money is--because, you see, I was suddenly anxious, very
anxious, to know where that particular gold piece had come from.

“The clerk seemed willing enough to talk, and he said it had been paid
to him just two days before by a stunning-looking girl who said she
came from Three Towers Hall. You can imagine how I felt then!”

“Did you ask the clerk to describe this girl?” asked Billie faintly.

“Of course. And, girls, the description fitted Edina Tooker like a
glove. It just couldn’t have been any one else! Edina spent my five
dollar gold piece for a pair of shoes!”

Billie got to her feet.

“I don’t believe it, Nellie,” she said quietly. “No matter how
strong the evidence is against Edina Tooker, I never will--I never
_can_--believe that she is a thief!”

She hesitated, started off, and then came back to them again.

“Let’s put the thing reasonably. What possible motive would Edina
Tooker have for stealing our poor little Gift Club fund? She doesn’t
need it. Her father is a rich man.”

“So she says!”

Billie shrugged.

“It’s the truth, just the same. You can look it up if you like!”

How little did Billie guess that in giving that permission or in making
that suggestion she was lighting the fuse to a stick of dynamite!

One of the girls who had listened with interest to Nellie Bane’s story
went directly to her room and began to write a letter.

It was some days later that the same girl, bursting with news and
importance, dashed into the midst of an “agitation meeting” that was
being held in the school gymnasium.

Billie had been addressing the meeting, urging moderation in their
treatment of Edina, trying to sound hopeful in her prophecy that the
money would “turn up yet.”

Into this atmosphere, already surcharged with conflicting emotions,
dashed the girl who had written the letter on the memorable day of
Nellie Bane’s story. Her name was Nancy Cutter and she carried another
letter which she waved about her head as though it had been a flag and
this the occasion of a celebration.

Billie’s heart sank as she recognized, or thought she recognized,
fresh trouble for Edina. She gave a hasty look around to make sure
that the girl from Oklahoma was not present. With relief, she realized
that Edina had decided not to brave the meeting. It was just as well.
Billie herself had urged her to stay away.

“What is it, Nancy?” asked Billie quietly.

The excited girl shoved the letter into her hand.

“It’s something about Edina Tooker. I thought you might like to read
it, Billie!”

Billie shook her head.

“If it’s anything against Edina, I don’t want to read it, Nancy.”

A chorus of voices rose in protest.

“Read it, Nancy!”

“Tell us what’s in the letter!”

“Read it aloud!”

Happy to be in the limelight, Nancy faced the crowd, waving the letter
over her head again as though it had been a flag.

“It’s from my aunt and uncle in Oklahoma. I wrote them to find out what
I could about Paw Tooker and his million dollar oil well.”

There was a titter among the crowd. Billie clenched her hands.

“Meddler!” she cried, under her breath.

Nancy Cutter read slowly and distinctly from the letter.

  “‘I was surprised by your inquiries in regard to Peter Tooker,
  my dear Nancy. Tooker is quite a character in these parts, a
  visionary, a dreamer, a seeker after the impossible. I was still
  more surprised to hear that he had a daughter at Three Towers
  Hall. It was the first mention I have ever heard of a daughter.’

“Now listen to this!” Nancy adjusted her attentive audience. “The best
is still to come!

  “‘I believe there was some excitement for a while about a report
  of the discovery of oil on the old fellow’s property. There was
  immense activity there for a time. But it is over now. Just
  yesterday I met a man who said Tooker’s wells had gone dry.’

“There!” cried Nancy triumphantly. “I told you all that talk about
Edina being rich was a fake.”

Billie was on her feet, fighting desperately for her friend.

“I don’t believe it. That letter is all a mis----”

She stopped suddenly, her eyes on someone who had just entered the
gymnasium.

“No,” a voice said, clearly and distinctly. “Everything that Nancy
Cutter read is true!”



CHAPTER XXII

A RIOT


The girls, chattering like a group of magpies and flinging curious,
unfriendly glances toward Edina, had gone. Billie was alone with her in
the big, silent, echoing gymnasium.

Edina sat on a bench, her hands clasped before her, a wooden, miserable
figure.

Billie paced restlessly up and down, up and down----suddenly she paused
in front of Edina.

“Why didn’t you tell me, if you knew? You should have told me, Edina.
It wasn’t fair to leave me in the dark.”

Edina nodded.

“I know that. I meant to tell you as soon as I heard from home that
Paw’s wells had gone dry. But, somehow, after tellin’ such wonderful
tales about him, seems like I couldn’t bear to take them back. The
truth,” with a bitter grimace, “wasn’t half so pretty!”

“When did you get the bad news from home?” Billie queried. She paused
before Edina and regarded her intently, while proceeding to answer her
own question. “It was the day we had the picnic over on the island,
wasn’t it? The day you read the letter I handed you and you turned so
white I thought you were going to faint?”

Edina nodded miserably.

“Yes, I knew then that Paw’s luck had gone back on him like it always
had before. But I didn’t say anything. I guess--I was holdin’ on to the
hope that it wasn’t so; that mebbe if I waited and said nothin’ for a
few days I’d wake up and find that that news was only a bad dream.”

Billie paused in her restless pacing. She appeared to have come to a
decision.

“Everything appears to be just as bad for us as it possibly can be,
Edina. But since you know and I know that you didn’t steal that money
there’s just one thing to be done.”

Edina asked without interest:

“What?”

Billie stiffened her back and a purposeful glint came into her eye.

“Find the real thief!”

Billie wasted no time putting her decision to work. She had never
fancied herself particularly as a detective, yet now she set herself to
the task with a will.

In regard to the stolen money, her thoughts returned again and again
to that few minutes when Edina had abandoned her hand bag and its
precious contents to wash her hands before going downtown to place the
money in the bank.

Billie herself, busy with her own thoughts and still smarting over the
fact that she had been tricked into leaving the tennis court without
finishing that set with Amanda, had stood with her back to the room,
looking from the window.

Billie was willing to admit that someone might have entered the room
during that interval, opened Edina’s bag, seized the precious roll of
money, and disappeared without being seen by either her or Edina.

If this reasoning were taken from the realm of sheer surmise, if it had
in it some elements of fact, then who could it be who had entered that
room during the few moments when Billie’s back was turned?

“That certainly is my problem,” thought Billie. “A hard one to solve,
I’ll admit; harder than any I’ve ever helped Vi with! But I’ll find the
answer. I must!”

Of course, there was always the possibility that one of the students in
the school might be the thief, but as Billie reviewed the list of her
acquaintances, this possibility became increasingly far-fetched.

Amanda Peabody might have done it for spite, in the hope of
discrediting both Edina and Billie. However, Billie knew the unpleasant
girl too well to entertain any serious belief of her guilt. Amanda was
a coward and while she delighted in small meannesses, would hesitate,
Billie felt sure, before an act involving such serious consequences.

“Why, we could put her in jail for stealing two hundred and sixty
dollars,” thought Billie. She shuddered with dread at the realization
that this same punishment might be meted out to Edina, provided the
real thief were not caught!

“The real thief must be caught,” she told herself, for perhaps the
hundredth time, and went on with her cogitations.

The elimination of the students and the teachers narrowed the list of
suspects to the servants at the Hall.

Clarice, the cook? Perhaps--though Billie was loath to suspect
anyone who made such excellent chocolate cake. There were three
maids and a scrubwoman who attended to the general cleaning of the
dormitories and the study halls. Anyone of them might----

Billie swung her feet to the floor and stood up. For some time there
had been the sound of voices beneath the window. The voices had
steadily increased in volume until now they broke with rude force into
her meditations.

“Sounds like a riot,” thought Billie.

A voice, raised above the rest, cried shrilly:

“Arrest her! That’s the thing to do! Maybe then she’ll tell what she
did with our money!”

Other voices joined in the cry.

“Arrest her! Arrest her! She’s nothing but a thief!”

Billie lingered to hear no more, but, turning, fled from the dormitory.
When she emerged into the grounds she found a large group of students
gathered there. In the midst of them, badgered, desperate, stood Edina
Tooker!

Billie set her lips grimly and thrust her way through the crowd.

The girls gave way reluctantly and pressed more closely about her as
Billie took up her position beside the tormented girl.

“Get away, Billie!” one of them cried. “This isn’t your business any
more!”

Billie faced them furiously.

“I’ll show you that it’s my business!”

Her voice was drowned in a chorus of angry cries.

“We want Edina!”

“Billie can’t stop us any more. Get out of the way, Billie!”

“We’ll have her arrested! Then maybe she’ll give us our money back!”

Billie was helpless. Although she flung an arm about Edina and tried by
main force to push the girls away, they only surged the closer.

Hands reached out. They touched Edina, caught her! She was being
dragged away!

Billie felt that she was in a nightmare where every sense was impotent.
She spoke, but could not make her voice heard. She used her strength,
and was powerless. They were dragging Edina away!

Suddenly a voice spoke sharply, authoritatively, from the school steps.
Instantly the crowd about Billie and Edina gave back. The girls lapsed
into sullen silence.

“I am amazed! I am shocked!” said Miss Sara Walters in cool, clipped
tones. “Never before has it been my doubtful privilege to witness such
a demonstration from these school steps. I trust that it will never be
necessary for me to witness such a disgraceful exhibition again. Go to
your dormitories and remain there until the supper bell rings!”

The crowd dispersed rapidly and faded away. Miss Walters disappeared
within doors. Billie and Edina were left alone.

“You see!” said Edina drearily. “They are all against me, Billie. I
don’t believe there is a girl at Three Towers--except you--who doesn’t
think I’m a thief.”

“It was dreadful--disgraceful!” Billie was trembling with reaction from
her fury. “It seems impossible to believe girls could be so wicked, so
cruel!”

Edina shook her head.

“They think I’ve lied to them. They think I’ve cheated them. They want
their money, and you can’t rightly blame them. I guess I’d best be
gettin’ back to Paw and Maw.”

“No!” cried Billie. “You will stay here and fight it out!”

Many times in the days that followed Billie Bradley was to doubt the
wisdom of this decision. Edina was acutely miserable; she was subject
to constant snubs, slights, insults, at the hands of her fellow
students. She became pitifully pale and thin and kept to her room
whenever possible.

Billie herself was scarcely less miserable. Her fellow students made it
quite clear that she was alone in her championship of Edina. The fact
that she persisted in her stubborn course irritated them and made her
something of a pariah, too.

Meanwhile Billie kept close watch upon the comings and goings of the
servants at the Hall, hoping for some clue that would lead her to the
real thief and thus exonerate Edina.

Billie found it necessary to replenish her wardrobe by a day’s shopping
in town. Having asked for and received the necessary permission from
Miss Walters, she set off early on Saturday morning, determined to
dispose of her shopping as soon as possible and return in time to help
Vi with her always-difficult mathematics.

Having arrived in town, she went at once to a small drygoods store
where she bought a dozen handkerchiefs and one or two inexpensive
articles of underwear.

When she tendered the storekeeper a ten dollar bill he returned her a
five dollar bill and some odd pieces of silver.

Billie was about to stuff the change into her pocketbook when something
about the five dollar bill arrested her attention.

She looked at it more closely and a stifled exclamation escaped her.

“Anything wrong, Miss?” asked the storekeeper anxiously.

“No, no,” Billie answered hastily. “There’s nothing wrong. Only--would
you mind very much telling me where you got this five dollar bill?”

The storekeeper took the bill, turned it over, screwed up his features
in a grimace evidently meant to intimate deep thought and scratched his
head doubtfully.

Billie held her breath and watched him. Everything--simply
everything--depended upon this man’s memory!

“Well, you know, Miss, it’s not so easy to remember who gave you a
certain bill when you’re busy waiting on customers and making change
all day long,” he drawled. “Now, there’s been quite a lot of customers
in here to-day, and how could I know who gave me that particular five
dollar bill?”

“Oh, certainly,” Billie breathed, “you _must_ remember who gave you
that bill!”

The dull face of the storekeeper brightened.

“That’s right! Come to think of it, I do remember. That cracked
peddler, Dan Larkin, give it to me. I recollect because I noticed that
big black blot on it at the time.”

Billie’s heart pounded so loudly she was afraid the storekeeper must
hear it. She controlled her excitement sufficiently to ask in a quiet
voice:

“Who, if you please, is Dan Larkin?”

“I just told you,” said the man peering at her over his spectacles.
“Dan Larkin’s a queer old chap who keeps a store on wheels. He goes
about, stopping at various places and selling things on the way.”

“A traveling store,” echoed Billie, fighting against disappointment.
“Then he isn’t here any more?”

“Reckon he is,” said the storekeeper carelessly. He had evidently lost
interest in the subject. “Dan give me that bill only this morning.
He’ll probably stick around town all the rest of to-day, anyway.”

Billie’s hopes soared again.

“I’d consider it a great favor,” she said, with her very best smile,
“if you could tell me where I am likely to find this--this Dan Larkin.”

“He generally parks his van right outside the town limits near the
Derry farm. Folks generally know when he’s there and go to buy of him.”

Billie thanked the storekeeper for this precious information and fairly
ran out to the street.

The bent old fellow peered after her and thoughtfully scratched his
head.

“Girls are queer creatures,” he philosophized. “Now, what in the world
does she want to go seeing Dan Larkin for? The way she rushed out into
the street, you’d think her life depended on it. It does beat all.”

Billie had heard of the Derry farm. It was situated on the outskirts of
town. It had long been deserted and the rambling old homestead was said
by some to be haunted.

Billie might have walked, but, such was her impatience, she hailed the
nearest street car. No time was to be lost! She opened her purse to
make sure the five dollar bill with the dark irregular blot across its
face was still there.

“The clue!” she murmured, a strange gleam in her eye. “If it only turns
out to be the right one!”

Billie left the street car on the edge of town and walked down a
country lane. At the end of it was a queer contraption on wheels, a
covered motor truck with windows cut in it and a door at the back. This
was, undoubtedly, Dan Larkin’s traveling store.

Billie hurried forward. Before the rude, ladder-like steps of the
“store” she hesitated, but voices from within reassured her.

Dan Larkin was dealing with a customer. He was wrapping up a large
parcel when Billie Bradley entered.

The customer lingered, exchanging reminiscences with the grizzled
old fellow behind the counter. She went at last, however, and Billie
fumbled in her purse for the stained five dollar bill.

She thrust this across the counter toward Dan Larkin.

“Please!” she cried eagerly, “can you tell me where you got that bill?”



CHAPTER XXIII

DAN LARKIN REMEMBERS


Dan Larkin was a character. He stood behind the little counter of his
traveling store, sleeves rolled up to display sinewy forearms, small,
good-humored eyes twinkling out from masses of puffy flesh, and a derby
hat set rakishly on the back of his grizzled head.

He looked from the bill in Billie’s hand to Billie’s face and shook his
head waggishly.

“You oughtn’t to startle an old feller like that,” he said. “I ain’t
sure where I got that bill, young lady--let’s see, it’s a five dollar
one, ain’t it? But one thing’s certain--I come by it honest!”

“I don’t doubt it,” replied Billie, smiling engagingly. “Anyone would
know you were honest, just to look at you.”

“Would they now!” exclaimed the old man delightedly. “That’s the best
news I’ve heard in a powerful long time. I _am_ honest you know--as the
day!”

“I’m sure of it,” Billie repeated. “Mr. Larkin,” pushing the bill
toward him again, “won’t you please look at this again closely and
tell me if you don’t notice anything strange about it?”

“Hm!” said the old man, giving her an extraordinarily shrewd glance
from his little, good-humored eyes. “Important, is it?”

“Oh, very, very important!” said Billie.

She waited in an agony of impatience, of mingled hope and fear, while
the old man removed one pair of spectacles and replaced them by
another. Taking the bill in his hand he peered intently at it.

“A five dollar bill, eh--_with_ a blot on it,” he ruminated. “Now,
what’s to be made of that?”

For a long moment he appeared lost in thought, then, with a gesture of
regret, pushed the bill across the counter toward Billie.

“Sorry I don’t seem to recollect----” Then, as Billie’s fingers reached
for the bill: “Whoa there! Hold your horses! Sure, I know who give
me that five dollars with the spot onto it.” The blue eyes twinkled
and danced at Billie from between mounds of flesh. “’Twas Mrs. Maria
Tatgood. That’s who ’twas!”

The interior of that quaint place reeled before Billie. She clung to
the counter and heard her voice say faintly, joyfully:

“Has--has Mrs. Maria Tatgood been buying much of you lately?”

“Ho! That’s a queer question! But I’ll answer it honestly. That’s my
way. Now you come to speak of it, Mrs. Tatgood has been buying quite a
lot of me lately.”

“More than she used to?” Billie persisted.

“Quite a good deal more.” The small eyes beamed and danced at her.
“Yes, I should say she’s buying quite a good deal more than usual these
days. Which is gratifying to an old chap who has to make his living
trundling a store about on wheels. Ain’t it, now?”

Billie agreed that it was and, reminded of her own deep obligation to
Dan Larkin, she emulated the good example of Mrs. Tatgood and bought
several things of him, all of which she could have done very well
without.

Scarcely able to believe in her good fortune, Billie returned as
quickly as possible to Three Towers Hall. All during the ride in the
street car she debated the question as to whether it would be wise to
confide her extraordinary news to Laura and Vi.

“Not just yet,” was her decision. “Monday and Tuesday are the days of
the tennis tournament. I’ll wait till after that. Meantime,” imitating
Mr. Dan Larkin, “I’ll keep my eyes open. Oh, won’t I just!”

The next day Billie went about radiating so much joyfulness that her
chums were curious. Some of them even went so far as to be suspicious.

“Billie Bradley looks like the cat who has just swallowed the canary,”
said Jessie Brewer. “I wonder,” musingly, “if she _could_ have had a
hand in the disappearance of that Gift Club money!”

“Don’t be a goose!” said her companion shortly. “Billie Bradley would
never steal anything!”

However, the seed of doubt had been planted, and it grew!

Toward the end of the long pleasant Sunday, Billie’s mood of optimism
began to wane somewhat. After all, argued the still, small voice of her
pessimism, even though she had turned up a red-hot clue, what right
had she to believe that she would be able to follow it through to a
successful conclusion? It was not a very convincing clue, she told
herself, and she was not very experienced in running down clues or
trails of any kind.

If only to-morrow were not the beginning of the tennis tournament! If
only--if only----

That night Laura and Vi worked over Billie’s knee, rubbing, massaging,
as earnest in their ministrations as any professional trainer.

“I think it will do now,” said Billie, at last. “Thanks so much, girls.”

“But how does the knee feel?” Laura insisted.

“All right, most of the time. Then once in a while when I least expect
it, it grows a peculiar kink. I can’t quite explain it, but suddenly
all the strength goes out of it and I feel as though I’d either have to
sit down or take a nose dive. Never mind!” smiling at their serious
faces, “let’s hope it will last through to-morrow. That’s all I ask of
it!”

“That’s all you ask of it, yes,” grumbled Vi. “But that’s an awful lot
to ask of a weak knee, Billie. I’m worried about it. If you’d only
kept off of it this past week or two, it might be all right now. As it
is--why, don’t you know that this tournament is important?”

“Don’t I know that this tournament is important! Of course I know!
Don’t be silly, Vi.” Then, seeing that Vi looked a little hurt, she
went on: “Oh, I’m sorry, honey. But don’t worry. It’ll turn out all
right.”

Next day dawned gloomily, with more than a hint of rain in the sky.
However, by ten o’clock the sun had come out to stay, the air was crisp
and cool--ideal tennis weather.

Almost the entire student body of Three Towers flocked out upon the
grounds. Lessons were suspended for the two days of the tournament. The
teachers often came to watch a spirited match. It was not unusual for
Miss Walters herself to occupy a camp chair close to the courts during
the finals.

Billie crashed through the elimination sets, crushing her opponents
without mercy.

“There she goes!” cried Vi, gnawing the ends of her fingers in her
excitement. “6--0, 6--2, 6--0. Rose is down, and she waves a wicked
racket, too. Oh, boy, there’s nobody can stand before Billie to-day!”

“Amanda Peabody is doing just as well. I never saw such pretty work in
my life. She seems to be top form.”

Vi turned toward the quiet voice and saw Ray Carew standing beside her.
She regarded the girl steadily for a long moment.

“Sounds to me as if you were rooting for Amanda, Ray. Are you?”

Rachael had the grace to flush. She avoided Vi’s direct glance.

“No,” she said, and in a moment walked over to join a friend.

When Vi turned again to watch Billie’s smashing service, her clever
backhand, her choppy, certain net-work, the enthusiasm she had felt
before was definitely overshadowed.

“Billie is just throwing away everything she has gained here by
sticking to that wretched Edina Tooker. I can’t think what she sees in
the girl. I never liked her, anyway--not from the very first!”

When Billie limped from the courts after a day of smashing victories,
having reached the finals with a defeat of only one game, her first
words were of praise for her adversaries.

“They were all good fighters and game losers,” she cried, her eyes
shining. “Oh, what a day--what a marvelous day! Where’s Laura?”

“Here! I just stopped to lace my shoe.”

“You’ve reached the finals, too, haven’t you? Marvelous! We’ll double
against Amanda and Eliza to-morrow.”

“But, Billie, how is your knee?”

“Gracious! I haven’t had time to think of it. Now you mention it,” with
an experimental wriggle of the injured member, “it does hurt a little.
Nothing to speak of, though. Oh, what a day!”

Next day, the great day of the finals, dawned bright and clear,
though with a hint of rain which no one took note of on the western
horizon. By ten o’clock the ring about the courts was packed solid with
spectators.

Billie, warming up her service with Laura, vainly searched the ring of
faces for Edina Tooker.

“Hiding up in the dormitory, eating her heart out, poor kid,” thought
Billie, and dubbed her ball into the net.

“Hey, Billie!” Laura shouted. “Stop your daydreaming and send me the
ball. I can’t pose for the Statue of Liberty all day. My arm waxeth
weary.”

For revenge Billie patted a ball neatly over her head. Laura swung
wildly for it and missed, while a ripple of merriment swept the
audience.

“All right for you,” called Laura, good-naturedly. “I’ll get even with
you yet!”

Soon after that the real business of the day commenced.

Billie in the singles, Billie and Laura in the doubles, swiftly
eliminated all their adversaries except Amanda Peabody and Eliza Dilks.

Then these two girls went down to a decided but in no sense ignominious
defeat before the combined powers of Billie and Laura.

When Billie at last faced Amanda Peabody for the last and deciding
match of the tournament, an audible sigh broke from the spectators.

“Now,” said Rose Belser, “we are about to see something!”

“It will be a battle of the century,” predicted Connie Danvers.

On the courts Billie waved good-naturedly to Amanda.

“Your serve,” she called. “Ready?”



CHAPTER XXIV

A SMASHING SET


Amanda Peabody had won first serve and her choice of courts. Billie
Bradley was handicapped not only by her knee--which was beginning to
pain rather severely--but by the fact that the sun was in her eyes.

As Amanda slowly raised her racket for the serve, there was a pleased
look on her face. She, too, had noticed Billie’s limp and her loss in
speed.

“Ready!” she called.

The ball floated over the net lazily. It looked like an easy one, but
Billie knew that serve of old. The ball had a tantalizing habit of
stopping far short of that part of the court where you expected it.

Billie was ready and returned the ball neatly just over the net. Amanda
raced for it, caught it with a clever, backhand stroke, and dropped it
over the net. Billie swung at it viciously and sent it sailing over
Amanda’s head for her first point.

“That was good, wasn’t it?” called Billie.

Amanda nodded sullenly.

“Fifteen love!” sang Billie, and set herself for the serve.

From that moment the match settled into one of the grimmest contests
ever witnessed on the tennis courts of Three Towers Hall.

Each point was contested fiercely. Amanda and Billie were all over the
courts at once; they swung at the ball as though it were a personal
enemy; they caressed it deftly into incredible shots that left the
spectators mute and tingling with admiration.

“I don’t much care who wins,” cried Connie Danvers, dancing wildly on
the sidelines. “I don’t care! I don’t care! This is an exhibition worth
waiting a hundred years to see. Go it, Billie! Oh boy, what a back
hand! Ah--Amanda’s got it.”

“Forty-thirty,” cried Amanda, with a triumphant grin.

The score in games stood five-four in favor of Amanda. Now she needed
only one point to win game and set.

It was Amanda’s serve. Cunningly, she changed her tactics at this
critical moment, hoping to catch Billie off guard. Instead of her usual
lazy, tricky serve, she sent a smashing ball over the net, carrying it
far into the back court.

Billie raced for it, forgetting her injured knee, caught the ball by
little less than a miracle of skill, returned it, just missing the top
of the net.

Amanda slipped it over neatly and Billie had to run for it again.

On the sidelines Vi wailed:

“She’ll never last it, Laura! Her poor knee! How does she do it?”

“But she does it!” shrieked Laura, her eyes on fire. “Vi, look at that
return! She’s got Amanda on the run now! Go it, Billie--go it!”

Billie, knowing that she must save her knee, played close to the net.
Never so cool as in an emergency, she juggled the ball, sent Amanda
dashing all over the courts like a puppet at the end of a string.

It was such a masterly display as the girls had seldom seen. They were
on their feet, shouting, groaning, stamping with their feet.

Billie, cool, steady, saw her opportunity. Amanda, red and perspiring,
danced around in the back court, expecting a smashing return.

Billie ran backward, caught the ball neatly on the tip of her racket,
landed it teasingly, gently, just inside the net.

Amanda made a gallant dash for it, swung for it, and swooped up a
handful of sod on her racket.

“Forty-all,” said Billie and added generously: “Well tried, Amanda.”

That was practically the end of the match, so far as Amanda was
concerned. At best, a temperamental, erratic player, she was hopeless
when mastered by fury. Now she forgot all the skill and artistry of
her game, sent smashing shots to Billie that the latter returned with
ease.

Billie won that game, making it five-all, and took the next two on
points.

Amanda flung down her racket and followed it from the courts without
pausing to shake hands with her successful rival.

Those from the sidelines thronged about Billie, showering her with
compliments, dwelling on those few moments at the net when she had
showed her complete mastery of the game.

“I never saw such marvelous form!”

“But, Billie, what makes you limp so?”

“Billie may limp, but her game doesn’t!”

The praise was sweet to Billie. She drank it in eagerly, knowing that,
for that moment at least, all grudges were forgotten and she was once
more first in the hearts of her fellow students.

Espying Edina Tooker on the fringe of the crowd, Billie broke away from
the adulation of her schoolmates and went straight to the girl. That
glimpse of Edina had served to remind Billie that she was at last free
to resume her investigations in the girl’s behalf, to continue the
attempt to fasten the guilt for the theft of the Gift Club fund upon
the real thief and so absolve Edina.

From the courts, her friends watched Billie greet the ostracized girl
and a queer silence settled over them. They were remembering their
grievance against Billie Bradley. It was as though a damp cloud settled
on their spirits, obliterating their enthusiasm.

“I must say,” sniffed someone in the group, “I think Billie might be
less open in her friendship with that horrid girl. I can’t think how
she can still cling to her!”

Edina met Billie with outstretched hands.

“You were wonderful!” she cried. “I had to come out. I knew I oughtn’t
to, but I had to see you beat Amanda Peabody. If I could play tennis
like that!”

“Maybe you will some day,” replied Billie.

Edina caught her up quickly.

“Some day! I’m not going to be here that long, Billie. I’ve got to get
away from here--and get away quick.”

“That’s what I want to talk to you about. Come away with me, Edina. I
have something to tell you that I think will interest you greatly.”

“May we come, too?” The voice was Laura Jordon’s who, with Vi, had come
up so quietly they had not been observed.

“Of course!” cried Billie eagerly. “I wasn’t sure you’d care to hear
what I have to say. But I think you will like it--_when_ you hear it.
Come along!”

The four girls walked for some distance into the woods along the
lakeshore. Then, making sure they were not observed, Billie recounted
for the benefit of her interested audience the story of her adventurous
day in town and the identification of the smudged five dollar bill by
Dan Larkin.

“You see,” she explained, “that five dollar bill with the ink blot
on it was part of my contribution to the Gift Club fund. I remember
noticing it at the time and thinking that it was a pity to have to give
in such a soiled-looking bill. When I recognized it that day in town I
decided to trace it back in the hope of finding a clue to the person
who stole the rest of the Gift Club money.”

“Did you?” breathed Vi.

“Did I? Listen! I found that an old peddler by the name of Dan Larkin
had given the bill to my storekeeper and when I followed up that lead,
who do you suppose I found had given the bill to Dan Larkin? A Mrs.
Tatgood!”

“Tatgood!” repeated Laura. “Why, that’s the name of one of the
dormitory maids, isn’t it?”

“Maria Tatgood has charge of Edina’s dormitory,” Billie pointed out.
“The Mrs. Tatgood mentioned by Dan Larkin must be some relative, her
mother perhaps.”

“But, Billie, if you think this Mrs. Tatgood is the thief, shouldn’t we
notify the police?”

“I thought of that the first thing,” Billie confessed. “But, after
all, we have only suspicions to go on so far. What the police want is
proof.”

“Then why not get busy and produce the proof?” cried Laura.

“Exactly! We may have to call in the boys to help. In fact, I think it
would be a good idea to ask their help. We may need it.”

Vi, who had been eying Billie thoughtfully, blurted out:

“You have some definite plan in mind, Billie. I can tell by the look of
you. Come clean now. What is it?”

“Well, I’ll tell you.”

Whereupon Billie outlined her plan. It was that she and Laura and
Vi, Edina too, if she liked, would enter into a plot to search Maria
Tatgood’s room.

“Vi and I will look through the maid’s things--she is almost certain
to have some of the money hidden about the house--while you and Edina,
Laura, keep watch to see that we are not interrupted.”

“Now is a good time,” Vi suggested. “Nearly everybody is still on the
courts discussing the tournament. Whatever we do will be likely to pass
unnoticed.”

“All right. Come ahead!” replied Billie.

The four girls returned to the Hall, entered cautiously by the rear
way, and went directly to the servants’ quarters, where they found
Maria Tatgood’s room without difficulty.

Billie tried the door and found it unlocked. Feeling like the most
desperate of conspirators, she opened the door and slipped inside,
motioning to Vi to follow her.

“We’ll have to be quick,” she whispered. “Maria may come back at any
time.”

The room contained a bed, a dresser, a washstand, two chairs and a
trunk.

“You take the dresser,” Billie directed. “I’ll attend to the trunk.”

The trunk was opened, but on lifting the lid, Billie found it almost
empty. A brief search served to assure her that nothing was there.

Vi had a little luck with the dresser. She unearthed fifteen dollars in
bills, but at sight of them Billie shook her head in disappointment.

“No good, if we don’t find more than that,” she said.

At the moment there came a soft, insistent scratching at the door, the
agreed-upon signal that trouble was brewing.

Billie slammed down the trunk lid. Vi shoved things into the dresser
drawer. Outside the room they found Laura and Edina in an agony of
impatience.

“Some one is coming! Hurry!”

They whisked about a turn in the corridor just in time to avoid the
person whose room they had ransacked. Careful to keep themselves
hidden, they watched Maria Tatgood go into her room and shut the door.

When Billie’s companions would have slipped away, anxious to get back
to the dormitory, she detained them.

“Let’s watch for awhile,” she proposed. “We may see something of
interest. You never can tell.”

Billie afterwards said that her suggestion was prompted by a “hunch.”
Be that as it may, the fact remains that Maria Tatgood emerged from her
room almost immediately, wearing hat and coat as though ready for an
outing. She turned down the corridor toward the servants’ entrance to
the Hall.

“Come along!” said Billie impulsively. “Let’s follow her!”



CHAPTER XXV

CAUGHT--CONCLUSION


Billie Bradley and her three companions were without wraps, though they
were too excited to think of that. Also, they had had no time to inform
the boys at Boxton Military Academy as to their purpose and enlist
their help. They were too excited to think of that, either.

They followed Maria Tatgood, always at a discreet distance, through the
school gates and along the dusty road.

“Where do you suppose she’s going?” Laura whispered.

“Home!” said Billie “I’ve a notion we are going to make a real
discovery this time!”

Maria Tatgood lived in an old house, set well back from the road and
surrounded by tall trees. There had been no attempt to cut the grass
that grew in reedy abundance to the very steps of the porch. The house
itself was in a state of considerable disrepair. A little carpentry
work and a coat or two of paint would have made it a much more
habitable place.

All these things impressed themselves more or less vividly on the minds
of the girls as they watched Maria Tatgood ascend the worn steps of the
porch and disappear into the house.

The day had turned dismal and chill. The sun had disappeared under the
clouds that by this time had risen from a streak low on the western
horizon and covered the zenith. A light, misty rain was falling. There
among the trees it was gloomy and dark.

Evidently, the occupants of the house were also in semi-darkness, for,
as the girls watched, they saw a light flash up in a room at the rear.
From this same room presently came the sound of angry voices.

Billie tugged Vi’s sleeve.

“Come along! Tell Laura and Edina. The folks inside have forgotten to
pull the shade down at that window. Thanks to them, we can both see and
hear.”

Silently, keeping to the shelter of the trees, the girls crept toward
that lighted window. The angry voices were becoming intelligible. The
girls could hear phrases, scraps of sentences.

“You’ve spent it! You had no business----”

“I had no business, didn’t I? I like that! Ain’t I your mother?”

Billie put finger to lips in a gesture of caution and crept closer to
the window. Laura pinched Vi’s arm. Edina’s face looked very white in
the dusk.

“Just the same,” came the younger voice sullenly, “you ain’t keepin’ to
your end of the bargain. We was to split, wasn’t we?”

“Split, is it?” The voice of the older woman rose waspishly. “I should
have the big half, anyways. Ain’t I your mother?”

“It was me took all the risks. It was that way in the old days, too,
wasn’t it? It was me opened the pocketbooks of the rich women in the
stores while you took the money I got out of ’em! Well, it ain’t goin’
to be so no more. We split, or I quit!”

A sullen silence fell upon the room and its occupants. Outside the
girls held their breath to listen. After a moment the more youthful
voice continued:

“How much you got left of the money?”

“Two hundred dollars. That’s all exceptin’ a few cents in silver--a
half a dollar, maybe.”

“You’ve already spent sixty dollars? Well, if that ain’t a rum go!”

Suddenly Edina clutched Billie’s arm.

“Quick! Hide!” she cried. “Somebody’s comin’!”

The watchers had barely time to gain the shelter of the trees when a
thick-set figure loomed up through the gloom. A man brushed past them,
a man with hunched shoulders and a week’s growth of stubble on his face.

This person stumped around to the rear of the house, a door opened and
closed, and soon the two voices within the room were joined by a third.

“Hello, you cats at it ag’in, scratchin’ and clawin’? Where’s my
dinner? That’s what I’d like to know. When are you goin’ to git me some
grub?”

Billie turned to her companions. They could see her eyes shining in the
dull light.

“We’ve heard enough!’” she whispered. “Let’s be getting back.”

They fairly ran down the road to Three Towers Hall. They were scarcely
aware that they were cold and dishevelled and pretty well soaked by
the misty drizzle. In their minds two facts loomed paramount. They
had positively identified Maria Tatgood as the thief, and two hundred
dollars of the Gift Club fund still remained in the custody of the
unsavory Tatgood family. If they hurried, they still might save that
two hundred dollars.

Up the steps of the school they rushed and into the hall, to be met by
a group of horrified girls.

“Where have you been?”

“To the wars, if looks count for anything!”

“You big sillies! You are soaked through!”

Connie Danvers pushed through the crowd and plucked Billie anxiously by
the sleeve.

“Listen! Eliza Dilks saw you girls leave by the front gate a little
while ago. She reported to Amanda. Of course Amanda promptly reported
to Miss Walters. She’s up there in Miss Walters’ office now. I’m
afraid you are in for it, Billie!”

“Where are you going?” she added, as Billie broke from her and made for
the stairs.

From the first step Billie looked down upon the group of curious,
upturned faces.

“I am going to see Miss Walters on an important mission,” she said,
with a challenging laugh. “You may come, too, if you like!”

Many of the girls availed themselves of this permission and trooped
after her. There was a mysterious air about Billie Bradley and her
companions that roused their curiosity and warned them to expect
developments of an extraordinary character.

The group was joined on the way by new recruits, so by the time Billie
and her friends reached the door of Miss Walters’ office about half the
student body was trailing at her heels.

“You all wait here,” said Billie to her escort. “I’ll leave the door
open just a crack so that you can hear what happens.”

Billie tapped on the door of the office. After a brief pause, Miss
Walters’ pleasant voice called, “Come in!”

As Billie pushed open the door she gestured to Vi and Laura and Edina
to follow her.

“I can see Amanda in there,” she whispered. “I don’t intend to take my
medicine alone!”

Miss Walters looked up as the girls entered. The troubled frown on her
face deepened.

“Amanda has just been telling me about you,” she said, tapping her
desk with a pencil. “Did you four students leave these grounds without
permission?”

“Yes, Miss Walters,” said Billie meekly, and added unnecessarily: “We
have just got back.”

“So it seems!” Miss Walters’ frown deepened. She continued the
ra-ta-ta-tat with the pencil on the edge of her desk. Amanda’s
triumphant smirk grew until it seemed to spread over all of her face.

“You have some explanation?” said Miss Walters, at last.

This was the opportunity for which Billie had waited. Making sure that
the door of the office was open so that the girls outside could hear
everything she said, she addressed the white-haired, gracious head of
Three Towers Hall.

“Miss Walters, I have an explanation. When you hear it I think you will
forgive us for leaving the grounds without asking permission.”

Miss Walters inclined her head, half-smiling at Billie’s earnestness.

“Let me hear the explanation,” she said.

Billie drew a long breath and plunged into her story. She began with
the founding of the Gift Club and Edina’s elevation to the post of
treasurer. She went on through the strange disappearance of the Gift
Club fund, dwelling upon Edina Tooker’s distress upon finding herself
suspected of the theft.

When she came to the account of her day in town, including the
identification of the blotted five dollar bill, Miss Walters’ interest
visibly increased. There was an audible sigh from the girls grouped
close about the office door. Amanda’s triumphant grin grew slightly
less triumphant.

“So you see, the evidence all pointed to the dormitory maid, Maria
Tatgood,” Billie pleaded.

Miss Walters nodded.

“Yes,” she said, “I see. Please go on.”

“Well, when we saw Maria leave the Hall to-night we felt that
there, perhaps, was the chance to establish real evidence--police
evidence--against her. We should have asked your permission, Miss
Walters, to leave the school grounds, but we really hadn’t time.”

Billie was still pleading her case. Miss Walters nodded as though she
understood--as, indeed, she did.

“Go on!”

As Billie proceeded she was vividly aware of the keen interest that
greeted her account of the happenings leading up to the positive
identification of Maria Tatgood as the thief.

At the startling revelation Amanda’s jaw dropped open. Billie,
happening to glance at her, choked back a laugh, which brought on such
a dire attack of coughing and strangling that Miss Walters inquired
with a smile on her own lips whether she would not feel better for a
glass of water.

“No, th-thanks,” stuttered Billie. “I--I’m all right now.”

“About this Maria Tatgood,” said Miss Walters, her face suddenly stern.
“If your story is to be trusted--and I have never yet found occasion
to question any statement of yours--then this Maria Tatgood and her
infamous family must be brought to the attention of the police, and at
once. I will attend to it.”

Miss Walters was silent for a moment, tracing thoughtful figures on a
scrap of paper. When she looked up the troubled frown had completely
vanished from her face.

“You left the school grounds without permission, which is against the
rules and so merits rebuke.”

“Yes, Miss Walters,” murmured Billie, her eyes demurely lowered.

“However,” continued the principal in her pleasant, flowing voice,
“your conduct was prompted by such exemplary motives that I am
tempted to waive punishment for this time. In fact,” Miss Walters
flung out her hand toward Billie in a gracious, impulsive gesture,
“I must congratulate you, my dear girl, on the persistent loyalty
and friendliness you have shown toward Edina Tooker, this sorely
misunderstood girl. You are a friend such as I would choose for
myself.”

This praise flooded Billie with an emotion that robbed her of words.
She could only look her love and gratitude.

Miss Walters said softly:

“Edina! Edina Tooker, come here, my dear.”

Edina approached uncertainly and stood before the gracious,
white-haired lady who held her own fate and the fate of all the
students of Three Towers Hall in the hollow of her hand.

Miss Walters searched among the papers on her desk and drew forth a
letter.

“This communication came to me to-day, Edina. It is from your father
and it contains news that I am sure you will be glad to hear.”

Edina looked big and awkward and pitiful as she stood there, nervously
twisting her fingers together.

“Your father has struck oil again on his property--a genuine gusher
this time. I imagine you will be very, very rich, Edina.”

Miss Walters smiled, as though at some secret thought of her own.
Reaching into the letter she drew forth a long yellow slip.

“Your father asked me to give you this check--to help him celebrate, he
said.”

Edina took the slip of paper without pausing to read the illiterate
scrawl across its face. Her eyes were on Miss Walters’ face.

“You been so awful good to me,” she muttered.

“You are worth being good to, Edina,” said Miss Walters, smiling.
“Billie and I have always believed that--haven’t we, Billie?”

Miss Walters held out a hand and Edina slipped her clumsy red one into
it. At the touch, all the iron in Edina’s nature suddenly melted before
a turbulent flood of emotion.

She flung herself to her knees beside Miss Walters, and buried her face
in her lap, harsh sobs tore at her aching throat.

Miss Walters stroked the dark hair and glanced with gentle meaning at
the other girls.

“You may go now,” she said. “I’ll send Edina down to you. She will feel
better presently.”

As the girls passed from the office to be met by a group of deeply
moved and silenced students in the outer hall, Amanda Peabody was heard
to mutter vindictively:

“Billie Bradley has all the pull in this place! She can get away with
anything!”

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the night of the big dance at Boxton Military Academy. Billie
was there and Laura and Vi and, yes--oh, of course--Edina Tooker.

Billie was a dream--Teddy told her so--in a rose-colored chiffon
evening dress. Scarcely less lovely were Laura in a dainty lavender
chiffon dress and Vi in a clinging crêpe that brought out her pretty
figure to perfection.

Edina in her gold-colored taffeta with gold slippers on her feet, her
hair a shining, blue-black cap for her shapely head, was quite the
rage with the young cadets at Boxton. She could not dance very well,
but she was learning. In truth, there appeared to be no dearth of
dancing instructors, prominent among these being the good-looking Paul
Martinson.

Billie and her chums discussed these--and other things--during a
temporary lull in the festivities. Teddy and Chet and Ferd Stowing had
gone to fetch ice-cream and some of those “ducky little almond-flavored
cakes.”

“Well,” said Laura as she patted a soft bow of her chiffon frock into
place, “I can only remark what I believe a gentleman called Shakespeare
has already remarked before me, ‘All’s well that ends well!’”

“Which sentiment we echo heartily,” agreed Billie. “I crave your
indulgence for a moment while I sum up our reasons for gratitude.
First of all, Maria Tatgood and her mother are safe in jail where they
will steal no more Gift Club funds. The two hundred dollars has been
recovered----”

“It was generous of Edina to make up the missing sixty dollars from the
check her father sent her,” interpolated Vi.

“Well, Edina has plenty of money now, you know. She’ll never miss that
sixty dollars. Paw Tooker will probably be a millionaire before his new
gusher stops gushing, and what’s Paw’s seems to belong equally to his
beloved Edina. But to continue with the list of our blessings. With the
two hundred and sixty dollars, we have been able to buy Miss Geraldine
Gay a most gorgeous wedding present----”

“She was delighted with it, wasn’t she?”

“Why wouldn’t she be? There is no finer grandfather’s clock around
here.”

“When is she to be married?”

“Not before the Thanksgiving holidays. The new teacher comes then.”

“That’s not so far away. We’re not too awfully forehanded with our
gift.”

“To continue with the list of our blessings,” reiterated Billie
dreamily: “Our friend and fellow student, Violet Farrington, has
recovered from her backslidings in math to the extent of working off an
onerous condition----”

“And it _is_ a blessing, believe me!” said Vi fervently. “With that
condition off my shoulders, I feel as though I could begin to look
about and enjoy myself.”

“Here come the boys with our ice-cream.”

“I hope they have brought dozens of cakes!”

“Before they get here,” said Laura hurriedly, “there is just one little
point I’d like cleared up.”

“Any little thing we can do,” murmured Billie.

“It’s about that five dollar gold piece that Edina spent in the shoe
shop to buy a pair of shoes. If that was Nellie Bane’s five dollar gold
piece----”

“It wasn’t. It was Edina’s. She had kept it as a lucky piece but, being
short of funds, was forced to use it to buy shoes. Any more questions?”

“How about Nellie’s gold piece, then?”

“It was part of the sixty dollars spent by Maria Tatgood’s mother; she
admitted as much when pressed. Now, no more questions, please. Let joy
be unconfined!”

“It is a lovely party, isn’t it?” breathed Vi.

With her eyes on Edina Tooker’s happy face, Billie Bradley answered:

“Yes, it is. The very nicest, ever!”


THE END



BILLIE BRADLEY SERIES

  BY JANET D. WHEELER

  _12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors_
  _Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid_

  [Illustration: Billie Bradley at Twin Lakes]

  1. BILLIE BRADLEY AND HER INHERITANCE
     _or The Queer Homestead at Cherry Corners_

     Billie Bradley fell heir to an old homestead that was unoccupied
     and located far away in a lonely section of the country. How
     Billie went there, accompanied by some of her chums, and what
     queer things happened, go to make up a story no girl will want to
     miss.

  2. BILLIE BRADLEY AT THREE-TOWERS HALL
     _or Leading a Needed Rebellion_

     Three-Towers Hall was a boarding school for girls. For a short
     time after Billie arrived there all went well. But then the
     head of the school had to go on a long journey and she left the
     girls in charge of two teachers, sisters, who believed in severe
     discipline and in very, very plain food and little of it--and
     then there was a row!

  3. BILLIE BRADLEY ON LIGHTHOUSE ISLAND
     _or The Mystery of the Wreck_

     One of Billie’s friends owned a summer bungalow on Lighthouse
     Island, near the coast. The school girls made up a party and
     visited the Island. There was a storm and a wreck, and three
     little children were washed ashore.

  4. BILLIE BRADLEY AND HER CLASSMATES
     _or The Secret of the Locked Tower_

     Billie and her chums come to the rescue of several little
     children who had broken through the ice. There is the mystery
     of a lost invention, and also the dreaded mystery of the locked
     school tower.

  5. BILLIE BRADLEY AT TWIN LAKES
     _or Jolly Schoolgirls Afloat and Ashore_

     A tale of outdoor adventure in which Billie and her chums have a
     great variety of adventures. They visit an artists’ colony and
     there fall in with a strange girl living with an old boatman who
     abuses her constantly.

  6. BILLIE BRADLEY AT TREASURE COVE
     _or The Old Sailor’s Secret_

     A lively story of school girl doings. How Billie heard of the
     treasure and how she and her chums went in quest of the same is
     told in a peculiarly absorbing manner.

  _Send For Our Free Illustrated Catalogue._
  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers    New York



THE GIRL SCOUT SERIES

  By LILIAN GARIS

  _12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors._
  _Price per volume, 50 cents. Postage 10 cents additional._

  [Illustration: The Girl Scout Pioneers]

  _The highest ideals of girlhood as advocated by the foremost
  organisations of America form the background for these stories
  and while unobtrusive there is a message in every volume._

  1. THE GIRL SCOUT PIONEERS
     _or Winning the First B. C._

     A story of the True Tred Troop in a Pennsylvania town. Two
     runaway girls, who want to see the city, are reclaimed through
     troop influence. The story is correct in scout detail.

  2. THE GIRL SCOUTS AT BELLAIRE
     _or Maid Mary’s Awakening_

     The story of a timid little maid who is afraid to take part in
     other girls’ activities, while working nobly alone for high
     ideals. How she was discovered by the Bellaire Troop and came
     into her own as “Maid Mary” makes a fascinating story.

  3. THE GIRL SCOUTS AT SEA CREST
     _or the Wig Wag Rescue_

     Luna Land, a little island by the sea, is wrapt in a mysterious
     seclusion, and Kitty Scuttle, a grotesque figure, succeeds in
     keeping all others at bay until the Girl Scouts come.

  4. THE GIRL SCOUTS AT CAMP COMALONG
     _or Peg of Tamarack Hills_

     The girls of Bobolink Troop spend their summer on the shores of
     Lake Hocomo. Their discovery of Peg, the mysterious rider, and
     the clearing up of her remarkable adventures afford a vigorous
     plot.

  5. THE GIRL SCOUTS AT ROCKY LEDGE
     _or Nora’s Real Vacation_

     Nora Blair is the pampered daughter of a frivolous mother. Her
     dislike for the rugged life of Girl Scouts is eventually changed
     to appreciation, when the rescue of little Lucia, a woodland
     waif, becomes a problem for the girls to solve.

  _Send for Our Free Illustrated Catalogue._
  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers    New York



THE LINGER-NOT SERIES

  By AGNES MILLER

  _12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors._

  _Price per volume, 50 cents. Postage 10 cents additional._

  _This new series of girls’ books is in a new style of story writing.
  The interest is in knowing the girls and seeing them solve the
  problems that develop their character. Incidentally, a great deal
  of historical information is imparted._

  [Illustration: _The_ LINGER-NOTS and the MYSTERY HOUSE]

  1. THE LINGER-NOTS AND THE MYSTERY HOUSE
     _or The Story of Nine Adventurous Girls_

     How the Linger-Not girls met and formed their club seems
     commonplace, but this writer makes it fascinating, and how they
     made their club serve a great purpose continues the interest to
     the end, and introduces a new type of girlhood.

  2. THE LINGER-NOTS AND THE VALLEY FEUD
     _or the Great West Point Chain_

     The Linger-Not girls had no thought of becoming mixed up with feuds
     or mysteries, but their habit of being useful soon entangled
     them in some surprising adventures that turned out happily for
     all, and made the valley better because of their visit.

  3. THE LINGER-NOTS AND THEIR GOLDEN QUEST
     _or The Log of the Ocean Monarch_

     For a club of girls to become involved in a mystery leading back
     into the times of the California gold-rush, seems unnatural
     until the reader sees how it happened, and how the girls
     helped one of their friends to come into her rightful name and
     inheritance, forms a fine story.

  4. THE LINGER-NOTS AND THE WHISPERING CHARM
     _or The Secret from Old Alaska_

     Whether engrossed in thrilling adventures in the Far North or
     occupied with quiet home duties, the Linger-Not girls could work
     unitedly to solve a colorful mystery in a way that interpreted
     American freedom to a sad young stranger, and brought happiness
     to her and to themselves.

  _Send for Our Free Illustrated Catalogue._
  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers    New York



THE RUTH FIELDING SERIES

  By ALICE B. EMERSON

  _12mo. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors._
  _Price 50 cents per volume._
  _Postage 10 cents additional._

  Ruth Fielding was an orphan and came to live with her miserly uncle.
  Her adventures and travels make stories that will hold the interest
  of every reader.

  [Illustration: Ruth Fielding in Alaska]

  Ruth Fielding is a character that will live in juvenile fiction.

   1. RUTH FIELDING OF THE RED MILL
   2. RUTH FIELDING AT BRIARWOOD HALL
   3. RUTH FIELDING AT SNOW CAMP
   4. RUTH FIELDING AT LIGHTHOUSE POINT
   5. RUTH FIELDING AT SILVER RANCH
   6. RUTH FIELDING ON CLIFF ISLAND
   7. RUTH FIELDING AT SUNRISE FARM
   8. RUTH FIELDING AND THE GYPSIES
   9. RUTH FIELDING IN MOVING PICTURES
  10. RUTH FIELDING DOWN IN DIXIE
  11. RUTH FIELDING AT COLLEGE
  12. RUTH FIELDING IN THE SADDLE
  13. RUTH FIELDING IN THE RED CROSS
  14. RUTH FIELDING AT THE WAR FRONT
  15. RUTH FIELDING HOMEWARD BOUND
  16. RUTH FIELDING DOWN EAST
  17. RUTH FIELDING IN THE GREAT NORTHWEST
  18. RUTH FIELDING ON THE ST. LAWRENCE
  19. RUTH FIELDING TREASURE HUNTING
  20. RUTH FIELDING IN THE FAR NORTH
  21. RUTH FIELDING AT GOLDEN PASS
  22. RUTH FIELDING IN ALASKA
  23. RUTH FIELDING AND HER GREAT SCENARIO
  24. RUTH FIELDING AT CAMERON HALL
  25. RUTH FIELDING CLEARING HER NAME

CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers    New York



THE RUBY AND RUTHY SERIES

  BY MINNIE E. PAULL

  _12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid._

  _Four bright and entertaining stories told in Mrs. Paull’s
  happiest manner are among the best stories ever written for young
  girls, and cannot fail to interest any between the ages of eight
  and fifteen years._

  [Illustration: Ruby at School]

  RUBY AND RUTHY

  Ruby and Ruthie were not old enough to go to school, but they
  certainly were lively enough to have many exciting adventures,
  that taught many useful lessons needed to be learned by little
  girls.

  RUBY’S UPS AND DOWNS

  There were troubles enough for a dozen grown-ups, but Ruby got
  ahead of them all, and, in spite of them, became a favorite in
  the lively times at school.

  RUBY AT SCHOOL

  Ruby had many surprises when she went to the impossible place she
  heard called a boarding school, but every experience helped to
  make her a stronger-minded girl.

  RUBY’S VACATION

  This volume shows how a little girl improves by having varieties
  of experience both happy and unhappy, provided she thinks, and is
  able to use her good sense. Ruby lives and learns.

  _Send For Our Free Illustrated Catalogue._

  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers    New York



THE BETTY GORDON SERIES

  BY ALICE B. EMERSON

  _12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors_.
  _Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid_.

  [Illustration: BETTY GORDON at BRAMBLE FARM]

   1. BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM
      _or The Mystery of a Nobody_

      At twelve Betty is left an orphan.

   2. BETTY GORDON IN WASHINGTON
      _or Strange Adventures in a Great City_

      Betty goes to the National Capitol to find her uncle and has
      several unusual adventures.

   3. BETTY GORDON IN THE LAND OF OIL
      _or The Farm That Was Worth a Fortune_

      From Washington the scene is shifted to the great oil fields of
      our country. A splendid picture of the oil field operations of
      today.

   4. BETTY GORDON AT BOARDING SCHOOL
      _or The Treasure of Indian Chasm_

      Seeking treasures of Indian Chasm makes interesting reading.

   5. BETTY GORDON AT MOUNTAIN CAMP
      _or The Mystery of Ida Bellethorne_

      At Mountain Camp Betty found herself in the midst of a mystery.

   6. BETTY GORDON AT OCEAN PARK
      _or School Chums on the Boardwalk_

      A glorious outing that Betty and her chums never forgot.

   7. BETTY GORDON AND HER SCHOOL CHUMS
      _or Bringing the Rebels to Terms_

      Rebellious students, disliked teachers and mysterious robberies.

   8. BETTY GORDON AT RAINBOW RANCH
      _or Cowboy Joe’s Secret_

      Betty and her chums have a grand time in the saddle.

   9. BETTY GORDON IN MEXICAN WILDS
      _or The Secret of the Mountains_

      Betty receives a fake telegram and finds both Bob and herself held
      for ransom in a mountain cave.

  10. BETTY GORDON AND THE LOST PEARLS
      _or A Mystery of The Seaside_

      Betty and her chums go to the ocean shore for a vacation and Betty
      becomes involved in the disappearance of a string of pearls.

  11. BETTY GORDON ON THE CAMPUS
      _or The Secret of the Trunk Room_

      An up-to-date college story with a strange mystery that is bound
      to fascinate any girl reader.

  _Send For Our Free Illustrated Catalogue._
  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers    New York



THE CURLYTOPS SERIES

  By HOWARD R. GARIS

  _12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors_.
  _Price per volume, 50 cents. Postage 10 cents additional._

  [Illustration: THE CURLY TOPS AT CHERRY FARM]

   1. THE CURLYTOPS AT CHERRY FARM
      _or Vacation Days in the Country_

      A tale of happy vacation days on a farm.

   2. THE CURLYTOPS ON STAR ISLAND
      _or Camping Out with Grandpa_

      The Curlytops camp on Star Island.

   3. THE CURLYTOPS SNOWED IN
      _or Grand Fun with Skates and Sleds_

      The Curlytops on lakes and hills.

   4. THE CURLYTOPS AT UNCLE FRANK’S RANCH
      _or Little Folks on Ponyback_

      Out West on their uncle’s ranch they have a wonderful time.

   5. THE CURLYTOPS AT SILVER LAKE
      _or On the Water with Uncle Ben_

      The Curlytops camp out on the shores of a beautiful lake.

   6. THE CURLYTOPS AND THEIR PETS
      _or Uncle Toby’s Strange Collection_

      An old uncle leaves them to care for his collection of pets.

   7. THE CURLYTOPS AND THEIR PLAYMATES
      _or Jolly Times Through the Holidays_

      They have great times with their uncle’s collection of animals.

   8. THE CURLYTOPS IN THE WOODS
      _or Fun at the Lumber Camp_

      Exciting times in the forest for Curlytops.

   9. THE CURLYTOPS AT SUNSET BEACH
      _or What Was Found in the Sand_

      The Curlytops have a fine time at the seashore.

  10. THE CURLYTOPS TOURING AROUND
      _or The Missing Photograph Albums_

      The Curlytops get in some moving pictures.

  11. THE CURLYTOPS IN A SUMMER CAMP
      _or Animal Joe’s Menagerie_

      There is great excitement as some mischievous monkeys break out
      of Animal Joe’s Menagerie.

  12. THE CURLYTOPS GROWING UP
      _or Winter Sports and Summer Pleasures_

      Little Trouble is a host in himself and his larger brother and
      sister are never still a minute, but go from one little
      adventure to another in a way to charm all youthful readers.

  _Send for Our Free Illustrated Catalogue._
  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers    New York



THE BARTON BOOKS FOR GIRLS

  By MAY HOLLIS BARTON

  _12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. With colored jacket._
  _Price 50 cents per volume._
  _Postage 10 cents additional._

  _May Hollis Barton is a new writer for girls who is bound to win
  instant popularity. Her style is somewhat of a reminder of that of
  Louisa M. Alcott, but thoroughly up-to-date in plot and action. Clean
  tales that all the girls will enjoy reading._

  [Illustration: Two Girls and a Mystery]

   1. THE GIRL FROM THE COUNTRY
      _or Laura Mayford’s City Experiences_

   2. THREE GIRL CHUMS AT LAUREL HALL
      _or The Mystery of the School by the Lake_

   3. NELL GRAYSON’S RANCHING DAYS
      _or A City Girl in the Great West_

   4. FOUR LITTLE WOMEN OF ROXBY
      _or The Queer Old Lady Who Lost Her Way_

   5. PLAIN JANE AND PRETTY BETTY
      _or The Girl Who Won Out_

   6. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
      _or The Old Bachelor’s Ward_

   7. HAZEL HOOD’S STRANGE DISCOVERY
      _or The Old Scientist’s Treasure Box_

   8. TWO GIRLS AND A MYSTERY
      _or The Old House in the Glen_

   9. THE GIRLS OF LIGHTHOUSE ISLAND
      _or The Strange Sea Chest_

  10. KATE MARTIN’S PROBLEM
      _or Facing the Wide World_

  _Send for Our Free Illustrated Catalogue._
  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers    New York



Transcriber’s Note:

Punctuation has been standardised. Variations in spelling and
hyphenation have been retained as they appear in the original
publication. Changes have been made as follows:

  Frontispiece caption
    FLUNG AN ARM ABOUT EDNA _changed to_
    FLUNG AN ARM ABOUT EDINA

  Page 9
    it may be roses, for instace _changed to_
    it may be roses, for instance

  Page 16
    her dress betweeen her and almost _changed to_
    her dress between her and almost

  Page 32
    anything but poverty-striken _changed to_
    anything but poverty-stricken

  Page 80
    begining to enjoy herself _changed to_
    beginning to enjoy herself

  Page 84
    when the saleswoman--voluable now _changed to_
    when the saleswoman--voluble now

  Page 89
    “I suppose it would,” she agreeed _changed to_
    “I suppose it would,” she agreed

  Page 104
    not-to-well disguised amusement _changed to_
    not-too-well disguised amusement

  Page 122
    they hurried up the backstairs _changed to_
    they hurried up the back stairs

  Page 167
    dormintories and the study halls _changed to_
    dormitories and the study halls

  Page 168
    “Get away, Billie!” One of them cried _changed to_
    “Get away, Billie!” one of them cried





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Billie Bradley and the School Mystery - or, The Girl From Oklahoma" ***

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