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Title: A Texas Blue Bonnet - Caroline Emilia Jacobs
Author: Jacobs, Caroline Emilia
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: BLUE BONNET.]



A TEXAS BLUE BONNET

BY CAROLINE EMILIA JACOBS (EMILIA ELLIOTT)

_Illustrated by_ JOHN GOSS

THE PAGE COMPANY BOSTON--PUBLISHERS



_Copyright, 1910_ BY THE PAGE COMPANY

_All rights reserved_

Made in U.S.A.

Twentieth Impression, November, 1925 Twenty-first
Impression, September, 1926 Twenty-second
Impression, October, 1927 Twenty-third
Impression, June, 1928 Twenty-fourth Impression,
March, 1930 Twenty-fifth Impression, August,
1933 Twenty-sixth Impression, December, 1935
Twenty-Seventh Impression, March, 1938

PRINTED BY THE COLONIAL PRESS INC. CLINTON,
MASS., U.S.A.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                           PAGE

      I. BLUE BONNET                                 1

     II. ELIZABETH                                  16

    III. TO MEET MISS ELIZABETH ASHE                34

     IV. SCHOOL                                     51

      V. AN INVITATION                              68

     VI. TEA-PARTY NUMBER TWO                       84

    VII. THE CLIMAX                                100

   VIII. MR. HUNT                                  122

     IX. VICTOR                                    140

      X. UNCLE CLIFF                               161

     XI. MY LADY BOUNTIFUL                         184

    XII. SEÑORITA                                  208

   XIII. CHRISTMAS BOXES AND OTHER MATTERS         227

    XIV. CHRISTMAS                                 248

     XV. A DARE                                    268

    XVI. LADIES’ DAY                               288

   XVII. A CLASS AFFAIR                            312

  XVIII. COVENTRY                                  333

    XIX. THE BOSTON RELATIVES                      351

     XX. CONCERNING THE SARGENT                    374

    XXI. THE END OF THE TERM                       395



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

                                                  PAGE

  BLUE BONNET                            _Frontispiece_

  “‘GRANDMOTHER,’ SHE CRIED, ‘I’VE GOT A DOG’”      32

  “‘I RECKON YOU THINK I’M A COWARD. MAYBE YOU
    WON’T WANT TO BE FRIENDS ANY MORE’”            106

  “‘ISN’T IT THE NICEST CHRISTMAS!’ BLUE BONNET
    CRIED, HER LAP FULL OF TREASURES”              254

  “‘LADIES’ DAY AT THE TRENT RINK’ PROVED A
    THOROUGH SUCCESS”                              295

  “‘BUT I THOUGHT,’ SHE SAID, ‘THAT IT WAS A
    _GIRL’S_ PRIVILEGE TO CHANGE HER MIND?’”       383



A Texas Blue Bonnet

CHAPTER I

BLUE BONNET


Blue Bonnet came up the steps of the long, low ranch house, and threw
herself listlessly back in one of the deep veranda chairs.

“Tired, Honey?” Mr. Ashe asked, laying down his paper.

“Yes, Uncle Cliff. I--hate walking!”

“Then why not ride?”

Blue Bonnet was smoothing the ears of Don, the big collie who had
followed her up on to the veranda, and now stood resting his fine head
on her knee. “I--didn’t want to,” she answered, slowly, without looking
up.

“See here, Honey,” said Mr. Ashe, leaning toward her, a note of inquiry
in his deep, pleasant voice; “come to think of it, you haven’t been
riding lately.”

“No, Uncle Cliff.” Blue Bonnet’s eyes were turned now out over the wide
stretch of prairie before the house.

“Any reason, Honey?”

The girl hesitated. “Yes, Uncle Cliff.”

“Don’t you want to tell me it, Blue Bonnet?”

“No,” Blue Bonnet answered, slowly, “I don’t want to tell it to you.
I--it’s because I’m--afraid.”

“_Afraid!_ Blue Bonnet! That’s an odd word for an Ashe to use!”

“I know, Uncle Cliff; I reckon I’m not an Ashe--clear through.” Blue
Bonnet rose hurriedly and ran down the steps. Around the house she
went, and in through the back way to her own room. There she brushed
the hot tears from her eyes with an impatient movement. “Oh, it is
true,” she said to herself, “and I can’t help it. Oh, if I could only
go away--I hate it here! Hate it! Hate it!”

Later, swinging in the hammock on the back veranda, she looked up
suddenly as her uncle came to sit on the railing beside her. Something
in his face and manner made her wonder.

“Blue Bonnet,” he said, abruptly, “we might as well have it out--right
here and now--it’ll be the best thing for us both.”

Blue Bonnet sat up, pushing back her soft, thick hair. “Have it out?”
she repeated.

“Blue Bonnet,” he answered, bending nearer, “suppose you tell me just
what it is you would like to do? It wouldn’t take much insight to see
that you aren’t very happy nowadays; and--well, I reckon your father
wouldn’t want things going on as they’ve been--lately.”

The girl’s face changed swiftly. “Oh, I have been horrid, Uncle Cliff!
But I--oh, I do so--hate it--here!”

“Hate it here! Hate the Blue Bonnet Ranch--the finest bit of country in
the whole state of Texas!”

“I--hate the whole state of Texas!”

“Blue Bonnet!”

“I do. I want to go East to live. I--my mother was an Easterner. I want
to live her life.”

“But, Honey, your mother chose to come West. Why, child,”--there was a
quick note of triumph in the man’s voice--“it was your mother who named
you Blue Bonnet.”

“I wish she hadn’t. It’s a--ridiculous sort of name--I would like to
have been called Elizabeth--it is my name, too.”

“Elizabeth?” Mr. Ashe repeated. “It doesn’t seem to suit you nearly as
well, Honey. All the same, if you like it. But Blue--Elizabeth, you
know that this is your ranch, and that your father wanted you brought
up to know all about it, so as to be able to manage things for yourself
a bit--at a pinch.”

“I shall sell--as soon as I come of age.”

Mr. Ashe rose. “I reckon we’d best not talk any more now.”

“Uncle Clifford.” Blue Bonnet looked up. “Uncle Clifford, please
don’t think it’s just--temper. I mean it, truly--I sha’n’t ever make
a Westerner. I’m sorry--on your account. Still, it’s true--I hate it
all--now,--everything the life out here stands for--and I want to go
East. I--I don’t see why I shouldn’t choose my own life--for myself.”

Her uncle looked down into the upturned, eager face. “You seem to have
gone over this pretty thoroughly in your own mind, Bl--Elizabeth.”

“I have, Uncle Cliff.”

“Well, you and I’ll talk things over another time; I’ve some business
to see to now. I suppose things’ll have to go on, even if you do intend
to sell--in six years.”

“I wish you’d try to see my side of it, Uncle Cliff.”

“I’m going to--after a while. Just now, I can’t get beyond the fact
that you hate the Blue Bonnet Ranch. I hope your father doesn’t know
it!” And Mr. Ashe turned away.

Below the house, leaning against the low fence enclosing the oblong
piece of ground called “the garden,” Mr. Ashe found Uncle Joe Terry,
ranch foreman, and his chief adviser in the difficult task of bringing
up his orphan niece.

Uncle Joe was smoking placidly, his eyes on the wild riot of color
which was one of the principal characteristics of Blue Bonnet’s
garden. “Tell you what,” he said, as Mr. Ashe came up, “this here place
needs weeding. Blue Bonnet ain’t been keeping an eye on Miguel lately.”

Blue Bonnet’s uncle stood a moment looking down at the neglected
garden. “Yes,” he said, “and it’s not only the garden, Joe, that’s been
left to itself lately.”

“She ain’t been out on Firefly this two weeks,” Uncle Joe commented.
“What’s wrong, Cliff?”

“She wants to go East.”

“So that’s it? Well, I reckon it’s natural--wants to run with the other
young folks, I suppose?”

“But--Joe, she says she hates--the ranch.”

Uncle Joe puffed at his pipe thoughtfully. “Hm--so she says that? She
always was an outspoken little piece, Cliff.”

“She says, too, that she means to sell.”

“My lady must be a bit excited. Well, it won’t be to-morrow, Cliff, and
a whole lot of things can happen in six years. You just give my lady
her head; she’s looking to be crossed, and she’s all braced up to pull
the other way. All you want to do is to go with her a bit.”

“It’s a pretty big proposition--sending her East,” Mr. Ashe said.
“Oh, she’ll pick up a lot of tomfool notions, most likely,” Uncle Joe
admitted, “and a whole heap of others that’ll come in mighty handy
one of these days. You just send her ’long back to those folks of her
mother’s and quit worrying.”

That night Mr. Ashe wrote a letter to Blue Bonnet’s grandmother. He
said nothing to Blue Bonnet herself about it, however. Possibly Mrs.
Clyde would not care to assume the charge of her granddaughter. In any
case, it would be well to have the matter settled before mentioning it.

Then one evening, not a fortnight later, Uncle Joe, coming home from
the little post-office town, twenty miles away, tossed him several
letters.

“Postmarked Woodford,” the older man said. “Looks like sentence was
about to be pronounced.”

Five minutes more and Mr. Ashe knew how hard he had been hoping against
hope these last two weeks.

“Well?” Uncle Joe asked; and the other looked up to find him still
sitting motionless in his saddle.

“They want her to come as soon as possible, so that she may be ready to
start school at the beginning of the fall term.”

“Pretty good school back there?”

“Said to be--it’s the one her mother went to.”

“I reckon they’re tickled to death to have her come?”

“They seem pleased.”

“Blue Bonnet’s out in the garden,” Uncle Joe suggested.

Blue Bonnet was gathering nasturtiums when her uncle called to her from
the gate at the upper end of the garden. He had two letters in his
hand, and, as she reached him, he held them out. “They came to-night,”
he explained. “They are in answer to one I wrote a short time ago.”

Blue Bonnet took them wonderingly, and, sitting on the ground, the
great bunch of gay-colored nasturtiums beside her, she opened one of
them. As it happened, it was the one from her Aunt Lucinda--a short
letter, perfectly kind and sincere, but very formal. On the whole, a
rather depressing letter, in spite of the answer it brought to her
great desire.

Blue Bonnet refolded it rather soberly. “I wish,” she said, studying
the firm, upright handwriting, “that I hadn’t read this one first.
Grandmother’s must be different.”

It certainly was. A letter overflowing with the joy the writer felt
over the prospect of Blue Bonnet’s coming. Through its magic the girl
was carried far away from the little garden, from all the old familiar
scenes. Dimly remembered stories her mother used to tell her of the big
white house standing amidst its tall trees came back to her, and the
vague hopes and dreams that had been filling her thoughts for weeks
past began to take definite form.

And she was going there--back to her mother’s old home. She was to have
the very room that had been her mother’s,--Grandmother had said so.
It seemed too good to be true. She was glad, now, she had kept this
letter to the last. And she would be going soon;--that thought, with
its accompanying one of hurry and preparation, brought her back to the
present.

Picking up the letters, she ran up to the house. On the back steps she
found Uncle Joe.

“Seems like you was in a hurry,” he said.

Blue Bonnet laughed, looking at him with shining eyes. “I’m going East!”

“To-night?” he questioned.

“No, not to-night; but very soon, I think.”

Uncle Joe seemed neither surprised, nor impressed. “Humph,” he grunted,
knocking the ashes from his pipe. “Well, I reckon it’s all right back
East--for them that like it.”

His reception of her news rather daunted Blue Bonnet, and she went at
a slower pace through the wide center hall to the front veranda, where
her uncle sat.

“Uncle Cliff,” she asked, giving him the letters, “you mean--I’m to go?”

Mr. Ashe shifted the letters from one hand to the other for a moment,
without speaking; then he said gravely, “Yes, you’re to go, Elizabeth.
When a girl hates the ranch, hates everything the life here stands
for, and is afraid to ride, I don’t see that there’s anything left to
do--but send her East.”

Blue Bonnet dropped down on the upper step, the quick color flooding
her face. To _go_ East was one thing--but to be _sent_! She sat very
still for a few moments, looking out over the broad, level prairie.

Her uncle was the first to speak.

“I suppose you’d best get started pretty soon; there’ll be some fixing
up to do after you get there.”

“Am I going alone?” Blue Bonnet asked.

“I don’t see how I can leave home at present,” her uncle answered.
“Perhaps I’ll hear of some one going East who’ll be willing to look
after you.”

“It’ll seem funny to go to school with other girls,” Blue Bonnet said.
“I wonder how I’ll like going to school.”

“I reckon you’ll be learning a good many lessons of various kinds,
Honey.” Mr. Ashe spoke a little wistfully. It was hard to realize that
Blue Bonnet was going away.

The girl looked up soberly; his words had somehow reminded her of Aunt
Lucinda’s letter. A sudden dread of the writer of it seized her. “Uncle
Cliff,” she asked, “what are they like--Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda?”

“Suppose you wait and find out for yourself, Honey.”

“I wish Aunt Lucinda hadn’t been so much older than Mamma. Uncle Cliff,
have you ever been in Woodford?”

“No, Honey; it’s a right pretty place, I reckon. You’ll have to write
and tell me all about it.”

“And you’ll answer, won’t you? You’ll write very often?”

“Of course, Honey; but I don’t know what I’ll find to tell you--you
won’t care about ranch talk.”

“But you’ll write? You’ve promised--and you’ve never broken a promise
to me,” Blue Bonnet said.

And that night, lying awake and thinking of the new life to come,
Blue Bonnet found the thought of those promised letters strangely
comforting. “It--it can’t seem so far then,” she told herself.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Hurry, Benita!” Blue Bonnet urged, “I hear Uncle Joe coming.”

The old woman gave a finishing touch to the waist she was laying in
place in the big trunk standing in the center of Blue Bonnet’s room.
“Si, Señorita,” she said, “all is ready.”

She lifted the tray in place and closed down the lid, passing a hand
admiringly over the surface of the trunk. “Señorita has the trunk of
the Señora, is it not?”

“Yes,” Blue Bonnet answered gravely.

“I remember, as it were but yesterday, the coming of the Señora,”
Benita said, “and the Señor calling ‘Benita! Oh, Benita! Here is your
new mistress!’ She was but the young thing--that little Señora--not
much older than you are now, Señorita mia, and with the face all bright
and the eyes so expressive--like yours.”

“Eighteen,” Blue Bonnet said, thoughtfully, “and I’m fifteen.”

“It was I who unpacked the trunk--this and others, for there were
many--and now I am packing it again for the going of the Señorita.”
Benita’s voice was trembling. “And the Señorita goes to the home of
her mother’s mother. Much would the Señora tell me of the home she had
left, in those first days.”

Blue Bonnet came to put an arm about the old woman, who, since her
mother’s death ten years before, had mothered and looked after her to
the best of her ability. “I wish you were going too, Benita,” she said.

“Si, Señorita mia, it is the journey too long for old Benita.”

“All the way from Texas to Massachusetts,” Blue Bonnet said. “I wonder
who’ll look after me and do everything for me there, Benita.”

“That thought troubles me much, also, Señorita.”

“Oh, I’ll get along somehow,” Blue Bonnet laughed. She turned as Uncle
Joe came down the hall, a coil of rope over his shoulder.

“Ready!” she called.

“This looks like business, for sure,” Uncle Joe said, slipping an end
of the rope under Blue Bonnet’s trunk.

She nodded rather soberly. She had worn a sober face a good deal of
the time during the days of preparation. “Uncle Joe,”--she looked up a
little wistfully into the kind, weather-beaten face,--“you--you’ll look
after Uncle Cliff, won’t you?”

“Sure I will, Blue Bonnet, same’s if he was an infant in arms.”

“And you’ll write to me, too, sometimes--and tell me all
about--everything?”

“I ain’t much on letter-writing,” Uncle Joe answered, “but I’ll make a
try at it now and then; and you’re going to be so busy doing the things
you’re wanting to do that you won’t have much time to be pestered with
the goings-on out here.”

“Please, Uncle Joe, you know that isn’t so.”

“Ain’t it? There now, that’s roped to stay. Seems kind of hard to
realize that come another twenty-four hours and the Blue Bonnet
Ranch’ll be without its best and prettiest Blue Bonnet. Eh, Benita?”

Benita shook her gray head sadly. “The sunshine goes with the going of
the Señorita,” she said.

“I reckon you’ll take to the doings back there all right, Blue Bonnet,”
Uncle Joe began. “There! I’m always forgetting--just as if your uncle
hadn’t explained how, seeing as everything was to be new, you wasn’t
to be Blue Bonnet any more, but Elizabeth. It’s a fine name, Elizabeth,
and it’s going to suit back East all right; but, if you was staying on
here, I’m thinking you’d have to go on being Blue Bonnet. I doubt if
the boys here on the ranch would stand for anything else--they’re sort
of kicking now over your going.”

“Yes,” Blue Bonnet said, “I’ve had to say such a lot of good-byes--I
don’t see _why_ they care so much.” And, after Uncle Joe had carried
out the trunk, and Benita had gone, she sat quite still on the foot
of her bed beside her half-packed hand-bag, trying to realize that in
another twenty-four hours she would be travelling further and further
from the Blue Bonnet Ranch.

She and her uncle were to leave early the next morning, taking the long
drive to the nearest railway station in the cool of the day. Mr. Ashe
was to go the first hundred miles with her, and from there on she would
be in charge of a friend of his who was going East.

And she had never been fifty miles on the railway in her life! Blue
Bonnet’s eyes brightened. She drew a quick breath of pleasure. To be
fifteen, and setting out to the land of one’s heart’s desire! All the
doubts, the regrets, the half-vague fears of the past ten days vanished.

Hearing her uncle’s step on the veranda, she went out to meet him. He
was looking down at the trunk; something of the same expression in his
eyes that had been in old Benita’s.

“Don’t you wish you were going, too?” the girl asked gaily.

“Yes, Honey.”

“Isn’t it a big trunk and doesn’t it look delightfully travellingified?”

“Delightfully what?”

Blue Bonnet laughed. Reaching up, she touched the little knot of dark
blue, pea-like blossoms in her uncle’s buttonhole. “You won’t forget me
while you have your blue bonnets,” she said.

“I reckon I won’t forget you, Honey.”

They went in to supper, Blue Bonnet talking and laughing excitedly;
but afterwards, when she and her uncle went out to the front veranda
as usual, her mood changed suddenly. It was so still, so peaceful, out
there--and yet, already, so strangely alien.

For a few moments she walked up and down restlessly, followed closely
by Don. Don scented the coming change; he thoroughly disapproved of
that roped trunk on the back veranda.

“Uncle Cliff--” Blue Bonnet came at last to sit on the arm of her
uncle’s chair, letting her head rest on his shoulder. Something had
got to be put into words, which she had been trying to say in various
other ways for a good many days past. “Uncle Cliff, I--truly--I am
sorry--that I spoke the way I did--that night.”

Mr. Ashe stroked the brown head gently. “That’s all right, Honey.
And remember, Honey, if things go wrong, if you’re disappointed,
or--anything like that, you’ve only to send word. This is your
home,--and will be--for six years. And, Honey, you won’t forget,--what
your father said,--that you were to try to live as he had taught you to
ride--straight and true.”



CHAPTER II

ELIZABETH


Blue Bonnet gathered up her belongings; ten minutes more and they would
be in, the porter had told her.

Mr. Garner, her uncle’s friend, had brought her as far as New York;
from there on she had travelled alone. Now that she was so near her
journey’s end she almost wished she were not.

Aunt Lucinda was to meet her in Boston. Blue Bonnet gave her hair a
smoothing touch or two and pulled on her gloves; then the porter came
to brush her off, smiling sympathetically over her evident nervousness,
and assuring her that Boston was “a right fine place.”

Very crowded, very confusing she thought it, during those first few
moments. Inside the car, people were beginning to gather up bundles and
wraps; outside, as the train drew into the great depot, pandemonium
seemed the order of the day. Blue Bonnet felt a sudden, overwhelming
desire to break away; to get somewhere--anywhere, where it was quiet.

And then she saw Aunt Lucinda coming towards her. She knew
instinctively that it was Aunt Lucinda the moment she caught sight of
the tall, well-dressed woman threading her way down the crowded aisle.

“This is Elizabeth?” she said, stopping before Blue Bonnet.

The girl answered nervously that she supposed so. “You see,” she added,
quickly, flushing over the ridiculousness of her reply, “I’m not used
to being called anything but Blue Bonnet.”

“Elizabeth, or Blue Bonnet, we are very glad you have come to us, my
dear,” Miss Clyde answered, kissing her; “it must have seemed a long
way.”

“Yes, Aunt Lucinda,” Blue Bonnet said. At that moment Texas seemed a
very, very long way off, indeed. She followed her aunt down the aisle
and out on to the busy platform, feeling curiously small and lonely.

During the short ride on the local train Blue Bonnet was very silent,
but Miss Clyde thought her interested in the view from the car window
and did not try to make conversation.

She was rather glad of the opportunity to study the slender,
bright-faced girl opposite.

“How near everything is to everything else, Aunt Lucinda,” Blue Bonnet
said at last.

Miss Clyde smiled. “We don’t run much to space here, Elizabeth. There,
that is our last stop before Woodford. You will be glad to have your
long journey really over.”

At Woodford the old family carriage was waiting. Denham, the coachman,
smiled welcomingly at Blue Bonnet. “’Deed and I’m glad to see Miss
Elizabeth’s girl,” he said.

Blue Bonnet smiled back in friendly fashion. “Did he know Mamma, Aunt
Lucinda?” she asked, wonderingly.

“Denham has been with us for more than twenty years, Elizabeth,” Miss
Clyde answered.

There were not many passengers for the sleepy little station. Blue
Bonnet felt herself the object of interest for the group of loungers
gathered about the platform.

To the girl the old tree-shaded village, with its air of quiet content,
its one wide principal street, with pleasant by-ways straggling off at
irregular intervals from it, was very attractive, and very interesting
as well, when contrasted with the little bare prairie town at home.
She quite enjoyed the slow, leisurely drive in the comfortable old
carry-all; she could not imagine any one dashing up that sober quiet
street. And when, at last, they turned into a broad, well-kept drive,
and she caught sight, across the smooth stretch of green lawn, of the
big white house, she drew a quick breath of content; it was all in such
perfect keeping.

Miss Clyde saw the look in Blue Bonnet’s eyes and an answering smile
showed in her own. “Your mother was very fond of the old place,
Elizabeth,” she said; “we are very glad to have her daughter come home
to it.”

On the steps Mrs. Clyde was waiting, and to her Blue Bonnet’s heart
went out instantly.

“Ah, but you are like your mother, my dear!” Mrs. Clyde cried, holding
the girl close. “It is very good of your uncle to spare you to us. I
could hardly believe the good news when it came. But you are tired,
dear; you shall go to your room at once.”

“I _am_ tired,” Blue Bonnet said; she wondered why it was she wanted to
cry. And why in this first moment of coming--coming home, Aunt Lucinda
had called it--her thoughts kept going back to the home she had left.

She went with her aunt up the broad oak stairway and along the wide
upper hall to a room at the lower end,--a big pleasant room,--the one
that had been her mother’s. It was, indeed, a charming room, with its
wide, cushioned window-seats, its deep, open fireplace, its pretty
light furniture and delicate draperies. The windows looked off into
orchard and garden, and, when Aunt Lucinda had gone downstairs again,
Blue Bonnet went to kneel before the one overlooking the latter.

In a moment she had forgotten how tired and dusty she was; forgotten
how far she had journeyed since the morning she said good-bye to Uncle
Joe and old Benita and Don; had forgotten everything but the garden
lying, half in shade, half in sunshine, below,--the big, rambling,
old-fashioned garden, of which the one at home was a faint reproduction.

Beyond the garden was a tall row of trees, growing so closely together
as to form a thick screen. Blue Bonnet wondered what was on the other
side of that row? Did her grandmother’s land end on this side? Could
there be neighbors so near?

She wondered a good deal about it as she freshened herself up for
supper. Her trunk had not come yet, but she had a fresh white waist in
her suit-case. Presently she came slowly along the hall and downstairs
to where Mrs. Clyde was sitting in the broad entrance hall.

“It is very good to see a young person coming down those stairs again,”
Mrs. Clyde said; “you come much more slowly than your mother used to,
dear.”

Blue Bonnet smiled. “It seems odd to be going up and coming down stairs
at all. At home it is all on one floor.” She went to stand by the open
front door. Across the lawn and the broad road beyond, she caught
glimpses of other big white houses, behind their sheltering trees.

“Oh,” she said, “if you only knew how delightful it seems to have real
neighbors, Grandmother. At home our nearest neighbors were twenty
miles away. I’ve been so hungry for people, and houses, and everything.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning Blue Bonnet made her first acquaintance among her new
neighbors. She had gone out to see for herself what lay beyond that
tall screen of trees. Nothing at all mysterious, she found; merely
another broad green lawn centering itself about an old creeper-covered
brick house. Following the path beside the trees, she came to a low
picket-fence, over which ran a stile. Blue Bonnet sat down on the upper
step to survey at leisure this next-door place; and then she saw that
from midway across the lawn some one was surveying her,--a boy of about
her own age.

“Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning,” Blue Bonnet answered. “Do you live here?”

“Yes.”

“It’s a very pretty place.”

The other turned to look back at the old house. “I suppose it is,” he
admitted, “though I’ve never thought much about it.” He came nearer,
whistling to a pair of fox-terrier puppies, who were worrying at
something at the further end of the lawn. “Do you like dogs?” he asked.

“I adore them,” Blue Bonnet answered.

“Bob and Ben are pretty decent little chaps,” the boy said, and he
brought the dogs up to be introduced.

“They’re dears,” Blue Bonnet declared warmly, patting the two upturned
heads.

The puppies shook hands politely, wagging their stumps of tails eagerly.

“We haven’t any dogs over here,” Blue Bonnet said regretfully. “I don’t
know how I’m going to get on without any.”

“We’ll go shares with mine.” The boy hesitated. “You’re--?”

“Bl--Elizabeth Ashe.”

“And I’m Alec Trent. You’re from Texas?”

“Yes,” Blue Bonnet answered.

“How jolly!” Alec threw himself down on the lawn beside the stile. “You
won’t mind my making myself comfortable while you tell me about Texas?”

And suddenly Blue Bonnet noticed how thin were the hands clasped under
his head, how big and bright the eyes in the delicate, sensitive face.

She leaned forward, stirred by a quick impulse of pity. “I’ll tell you
about the prairies.” She told him of the great open sea of prairie
land, stretching away in wild, unbroken reaches all about her Texas
home.

Alec whistled. “And you had to come away and leave it all! What a
shame!--but you’ve got it to go back to--I wish I had!”

“Don’t you like it here in Woodford?”

“It’s a poky old hole. You can’t throw a stone in any direction without
breaking a window--or a tradition.”

“Do you want to break--windows?”

“Sometimes.”

Blue Bonnet leaned forward, elbow on knee, chin in hand. “I wonder if
you’d call it breaking windows--my wanting to come East.”

“Did you _want_ to come?”

“Yes.”

“Well!” Alec exclaimed; and she felt for the moment his approval of her
lessen.

“Here I’ve been feeling sorry for you all the time,” he said; then he
smiled,--“I don’t know but that I’ll have to go on feeling so--because
you wanted to come.”

“I don’t mind,” Blue Bonnet said, “as long as you don’t show it too
plainly.”

“You’ve come to go to school?” the boy asked.

“Yes; is it a nice school?”

“It’s a good one.”

“Do you go to it?”

“Oh, all the Woodford boys and girls go to it, as their fathers and
mothers did before them.”

“I’ve never been to school.”

“Then you’ve got a lot of new experiences coming your way, and they
won’t all be pleasant ones. Going to school isn’t all joy, and neither
is it all the other thing. You’ll get acquainted with a lot of girls
that way.”

“I shall like that. I want to know--oh, everybody here!”

“I don’t,” Alec laughed. He got up. “Do you like horses? But of course
you do,--a Texas girl.”

“Yes, I love horses,” Blue Bonnet said slowly.

“Come and see my horse, then; Grandfather gave him to me last
birthday.” Alec led the way across the lawn to where a path branched
off to the stable.

It was a low brick building, matching the house in style. From their
comfortable stalls the sober old carriage horses gazed placidly out.

Blue Bonnet went to stroke them. “They’re just like Grandmother’s,” she
laughed.

“Oh, we’re a good deal alike here in Woodford,” Alec said, “we ‘first
families,’ that is. Of course our horses aren’t all the same color, any
more than our houses are; but they’ve all reached about the same state
of lazy well-being. But look here!” He turned to another stall.

Blue Bonnet gave a quick exclamation of pleasure and reached out a hand
to smooth the glossy head turned towards her. “Oh, he is a beauty!” she
cried. “What’s his name?”

“Victor,” Alec moved nearer, and the horse with a low whinny of
welcome sniffed expectantly at his pocket.

“I’ve your sugar, all right, old fellow,” the boy said, holding out a
couple of lumps.

“I reckon he goes well?” Blue Bonnet said.

“Like the wind.”

“You like that?” the girl asked.

“I certainly do. I’d let you try him some day, only I don’t know
whether he’d stand skirts--he’s got a pretty spirit of his own.”

Blue Bonnet edged away. “I--think I’d better be going now; I’m afraid
it’s late.”

“It’s been a short morning, hasn’t it?” Alec said. “They’re rather
long, sometimes.”

“You’ll come over soon?” Blue Bonnet asked, as they reached the stile
again.

“Indeed I will,” Alec promised.

“Good-bye,” Blue Bonnet called, as she ran across the lawn and through
the garden to the side door. In the hall she met Aunt Lucinda.

“My dear,” Miss Clyde said, something very like annoyance in her voice,
“where have you been all the morning?”

Blue Bonnet flushed. “Over to the next place most of the time, Aunt
Lucinda.”

“You have been with Alec Trent?”

“Yes, Aunt Lucinda.”

“You have not attended to your unpacking yet?”

“No, Aunt Lucinda.”

“Nor seen to your room?”

Blue Bonnet looked surprised. “No, Aunt Lucinda; did you expect me to?
I never did at home.”

“Then it is quite time that you began, Elizabeth. If you will come
upstairs with me you shall have your first lesson. I consider it most
necessary that a young girl should be taught to depend on herself as
much as possible.”

Blue Bonnet followed silently. Her room was just as she had left
it on going down to breakfast that morning. Now, with the noon
sunshine flooding it, and with Aunt Lucinda looking about with grave
disapproving eyes, it looked very untidy indeed.

Blue Bonnet sighed longingly for Benita, as she picked up the dress she
had worn the day before and carried it to the big empty closet. Then
she turned to the open trunk, out of which she had hurriedly pulled
various things needed in dressing, that morning.

But Miss Clyde laid a detaining hand on her shoulder. “We will dispose
of the things already out before unpacking further, Elizabeth.”

The end of the next hour found Blue Bonnet far from at peace with all
her particular world.

“As if it really mattered,” she said to herself, sitting forlornly in
a corner of one of the low window-seats, “which drawer you put things
in; or whether the quilt is on just so. And I haven’t been idling my
morning, I’ve been making a friend; and I don’t want to learn to keep
house;--anyway, Benita wouldn’t let me keep house if I could.”

She sat up at the sound of a light tap on her door; then the door
opened and her grandmother came in.

“I wanted to make sure you were really here, dear,” she said. “You
vanished so mysteriously right after breakfast that it was hard to
believe you had ever come.”

Blue Bonnet had come forward instantly. “I didn’t mean to stay so,”
she said; “I just ran out for a moment to see the garden--it was so
good to get out after being shut up in the cars for so long. Then I got
acquainted with the boy next door. He’s a very nice boy, Grandmother.”

“Alec _is_ a nice boy, dear; but, I am afraid, a rather lonely one.”

“Lonely! When there are so many people and houses all around?”

Mrs. Clyde smiled. “One can be lonely in the midst of a crowd, dear.”

She drew Blue Bonnet down on the lounge beside her. “I hope you like
your room, Elizabeth. I superintended the arranging of it myself.”

And Blue Bonnet, looking about the big, pleasant room, saw it with new
understanding. “I--I love it,” she said; “I’ll--try to keep it nice,
Grandmother.”

“You have had a pleasant morning, dear?”

Blue Bonnet hesitated. “It was nice--while I was out-of-doors.
Grandmother,”--she looked up questioningly,--“have I got to do things
every morning with Aunt Lucinda?”

“Do things, Elizabeth!”

“Why, going over my studies with her, and learning to do things about
the house; and then my practising, too?”

“What would you like to do with your mornings, Elizabeth?”

“Nothing in particular, just be out-of-doors.”

“Won’t the afternoons be long enough for that, dear?”

“I’ve never found the whole day really long enough for it, Grandmother.
I just love being out.”

“But, Elizabeth, school will be beginning before very long; and I think
we must try and tame you down a bit before then. As for your studies,
your aunt is anxious to learn what your standing is. Suppose, however,
we let lessons go for this week. How will that do?”

“Thursday, Friday, Saturday,” Blue Bonnet counted, “besides this
afternoon--I ought to get to know Woodford pretty well in that time,
Grandmother.”

“And when are _we_ going to get to know _you_, Elizabeth?”

“Why!” Blue Bonnet said, “I hadn’t thought of that; but there’ll be the
evenings.”

Mrs. Clyde smiled. “Remember, Elizabeth, that Woodford covers a fairly
wide area; you mustn’t roam too far afield alone.”

“Maybe Alec’ll go with me. I wish I had Don; he went everywhere at home
with me. He’s the dearest dog, Grandmother.”

“I rather think Don is happier where he is, dear; and now we must go
down to dinner.”

       *       *       *       *       *

That afternoon Blue Bonnet was in her own room, just finishing a letter
to her uncle, when Miss Clyde came to her door. “Elizabeth,” she
said, “Sarah Blake has come to call upon you. She is the minister’s
daughter, a most estimable young person. I sincerely hope you may
become friends.” She scanned Blue Bonnet critically. “You would do well
to change your gown and tidy your hair. Be as quick as possible; it is
never good taste to keep a guest waiting.”

Five minutes later, Blue Bonnet came slowly downstairs; pausing on the
landing long enough to declare under her breath that she was perfectly
sure she should hate Sarah Blake.

Sarah was waiting in the darkened front parlor. She was short and
fair; rather unimaginative and decidedly conscientious. She very much
disliked calling upon strangers, and for that reason had chosen the
earliest opportunity to come and see Blue Bonnet.

“How do you do?” she said, as Blue Bonnet appeared. “Mrs. Clyde asked
me to come and see you. I hope you will like Woodford.”

“So do I,” Blue Bonnet answered. “Would you mind coming outside?” she
added. “It’s much nicer.”

They went out to the shady front piazza where Blue Bonnet drew forward
a couple of wicker armchairs. “Now I can see what you look like,” she
announced frankly; “it was so dark in there.”

Sarah looked rather uncomfortable at this.

“Aunt Lucinda says she hopes we will be friends,” Blue Bonnet went on.
“What do you like to do?”

Sarah opened and closed her fan nervously. “I like--keeping house, and
going to school and--sewing--”

“Please stop!” Blue Bonnet implored. “I don’t mean those kinds of
things. Don’t you like doing anything--sensible?”

Sarah stared. “Sensible!”

“Well, what _I_ call sensible--tiresome things can’t be really
sensible, can they?”

It was a new philosophy for Sarah.

“Are all the girls here like that?” Blue Bonnet asked.

“I--suppose so. Kitty Clark isn’t _very_ domestic, I’m afraid.”

Blue Bonnet registered a mental vow to get acquainted with Kitty Clark
as soon as possible. “Wouldn’t you like to see the garden?” she asked.

Sarah assented; she felt dizzy and bewildered. “Mrs. Clyde has a very
pretty garden,” she said, politely, as they went down the steps and
along the trim box-bordered path.

“It’s all right!” Blue Bonnet agreed. She gathered flowers with a
generous hand. “And now, what shall we do next?” she asked, giving them
to Sarah.

“I must be going,” Sarah answered.

“But you’ve only just come!” Blue Bonnet protested.

“I think I have made a very long call,” Sarah said soberly; and indeed
it may have seemed long to Sarah.

Outside the gate, she stopped a moment. Texas girls were certainly
rather exhausting, and yet she thought she should like Elizabeth Ashe.
Perhaps, after she had been in Woodford a while, she would quiet down.

       *       *       *       *       *

Half an hour before supper Miss Clyde came round to the side piazza,
where her mother sat reading. “Mother,” she asked, “have you seen
Elizabeth?”

“Not since dinner time, Lucinda.”

“She does not appear to be anywhere about the place,” Miss Clyde said,
rather anxiously. “She is utterly irresponsible; Mr. Ashe should have
sent her East long ago.”

“I think she is coming now,” Mrs. Clyde said.

There was the sound of quick steps on the drive; a moment after,
Blue Bonnet, hatless, her white dress soiled and crumpled, appeared,
carrying a small dog in her arms.

“Grandmother,” she cried, “I’ve got a dog! I bought him from a boy up
the road,--he was treating him mighty mean.”

“What are you going to do with him, Elizabeth?” Miss Clyde asked.

“Why, keep him, Aunt Lucinda. He’s a pretty dilapidated-looking
specimen now, isn’t he? But wait until he’s had a bath and a few good
meals. I reckon if ever a dog needed a good home, he does.”

Blue Bonnet put the dog down and he made straight for Aunt Lucinda,
crouching at her feet beseechingly. He was truly the forlornest of
creatures, but with strangely pathetic, intelligent brown eyes.

A moment Miss Clyde wavered; then she moved away. “I think those ‘good
meals’ cannot begin too soon, Elizabeth,” she said. “But he must stay
down at the stable.”

[Illustration: “‘GRANDMOTHER,’ SHE CRIED. ‘I’VE GOT A DOG.’”]

“Not for always?” the girl cried.

“That will have to be decided later,” her grandmother told her; “take
him away now, dear.”

“I think I’ll call him Solomon, he looks so wise,” Blue Bonnet said.
Halfway down to the stable, she stooped to pat the dog’s rough head.
“Solomon,” she asked, “how did _you_ know that Aunt Lucinda held the
deciding vote?”



CHAPTER III

TO MEET MISS ELIZABETH ASHE


“‘Mrs. Clyde requests the pleasure of,’--yes, Aunt Lucinda,--Kitty
Clark,--she’s that redheaded girl, Aunt Lucinda?”

“Yes, Elizabeth.”

“Well, I’ve requested ‘the pleasure of Miss Kitty Clark’s company,’ all
right,” Blue Bonnet observed a moment later. She sighed wearily. “It
would have been a whole lot easier if we’d just stuck a notice up in
the post-office, Aunt Lucinda.”

“Elizabeth!”

Under their long lashes, Blue Bonnet’s eyes danced mischievously.
She was learning how to draw forth that particular note of shocked
astonishment; and to rather enjoy doing it.

“Who’s next, Aunt Lucinda?” she asked.

“That will be all.”

“Only six! Why I’ve seen a heap of girls at church, Aunt Lucinda!”

“A what, Elizabeth?”

“Ever ’n’ ever so many, Aunt Lucinda.”

“Certainly.”

“Won’t the others be disappointed?”

“Really, Elizabeth, I do not know.”

“But, Aunt Lucinda, aren’t there to be any boys? Isn’t Alec coming?”

“The invitations are all written, Elizabeth.”

“Don’t you like boys, Aunt Lucinda?”

“Suppose you direct the envelopes now, Elizabeth.”

Blue Bonnet bit her lips; she was not used to having her remarks set
aside in this fashion.

When the last envelope had been added to the little pile, lying on the
desk before her, she drew a deep breath of relief. “I think I’ll take
Solomon for a run,” she said.

“Have you done your practising yet, Elizabeth?” her aunt asked.

“No, Aunt Lucinda.”

“Then you would better go to it now; by the time you are through I
shall be at liberty to go over your Latin with you.”

“If you please, Aunt Lucinda, I’d so much rather go over the fields
with Solomon, instead.”

“Elizabeth!”

And Blue Bonnet, as she went across the hall to the dim back parlor,
felt that Aunt Lucinda thought she had meant to be impertinent. “When
it was just the straight truth,” the girl said. As she went to throw
open the blinds, the riot of color in the garden beyond caught and
held her. It would be easier practising with a great bunch of fragrant
nasturtiums beside her.

But the nasturtiums took a long time to gather, particularly as
Solomon, finding her there, kept making little rushes among the
flower-beds--which were strictly forbidden ground. Solomon was getting
more in evidence every day. Blue Bonnet had secret visions of the time
when he should even be tolerated in the house. “The stable, indeed!”
she said now. “You’re not going to stay that kind of a dog, are you,
sir?”

Solomon barked an emphatic negative.

“Doesn’t the air feel good, Solomon?” Blue Bonnet said. “But I reckon
I’ll have to be going back to the house. Take my advice, old fellow,
and never go in for music in summer-time; there’s too much practising
about it.”

“Elizabeth!” Aunt Lucinda called from the piazza.

And Blue Bonnet obeyed hurriedly.

“You should have closed the blinds again when you were through in the
parlor, Elizabeth,” Miss Clyde said.

Blue Bonnet came to a sudden halt at the foot of the piazza steps.
“But, Aunt Lucinda, I wasn’t through! I--I haven’t begun. It can’t be
an hour! I only went out for a moment to gather some flowers.”

“Bring your Latin grammar, Elizabeth; your practising must wait now
until after dinner.”

“But dinner isn’t till two o’clock, Aunt Lucinda! I won’t get through
until nearly four! I sha’n’t have any afternoon at all!”

“Whose fault is that, Elizabeth?”

Latin verbs did not progress very well that morning; both teacher and
pupil were glad when the hour was over.

Blue Bonnet went to spend the intervening twenty minutes before dinner
in the hammock on the front piazza. Uncle Giff’s easy rule had hardly
prepared the girl for the orderly, busy routine that life stood for in
this staid old house. Mrs. Clyde, coming out presently, saw the shadow
on Blue Bonnet’s face, and, bit by bit, drew the story of the morning
from her.

“I didn’t mean not to practise,” the girl said; “but I was so tired
writing those notes; some of them got blotted and had to be done over;
and I was wild to get out--and it wasn’t fair of--”

“Careful, Elizabeth!”

Blue Bonnet colored. They forgot that she was fifteen
and--and--mistress of the Blue Bonnet Ranch.

“Elizabeth,” her grandmother said, gravely, “suppose you try to look at
things from your aunt’s point of view. Remember, dear, she is trying to
do her best by a very heedless, motherless girl.”

All resentment vanished from Blue Bonnet’s blue eyes. Just before
dinner she appeared before Miss Clyde, Latin grammar in hand.

“I think I know that verb now, Aunt Lucinda,” she said. “Will there be
time to hear me say it?”

Miss Clyde took the book.

Blue Bonnet did know that verb; knew it in all its various moods and
tenses with the thoroughness her aunt delighted in. “That was very well
done, Elizabeth,” she said.

And Blue Bonnet found the quiet words of commendation well worth while.

Conversation during dinner, led by Mrs. Clyde, concerned itself
chiefly with the coming tea-party. Tea-parties were unknown things to
Blue Bonnet. It seemed to her that they were rather serious affairs.
Especially did it appear too bad to go to so much trouble for so few
guests; and she could not get over her feeling of sympathy for those
left out.

“These are the young girls from among whom your grandmother and I wish
you to choose your friends, Elizabeth,” her aunt told her.

“Then I’m not to like them all, Aunt Lucinda?”

“Certainly, if you find them all congenial.”

“I hope some of them are a little more lively than Sarah Blake,” Blue
Bonnet observed thoughtfully. “I don’t dislike Sarah, but I can’t say
as I’m very keen on her--yet.”

“It is not good taste to criticize your friends, Elizabeth.”

“I’m not sure she is going to be a friend, Aunt Lucinda.”

“Elizabeth!”

Whereupon, Blue Bonnet asked to be excused, and went to her practising.
“I’m getting a bit tired of being--‘Elizabethed,’” she said, screwing
up the piano-stool with quite unnecessary vigor.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thursday, the day set for the tea-party, was in Blue Bonnet’s
estimation a perfect day. Wednesday had been decidedly hot; but during
the night a sudden change had come, and to-day the air was clear
and fresh, with a touch of the coming fall in it. It sent the blood
thrilling through Blue Bonnet’s veins, and made her if anything more
careless and inconsequent than usual.

All the morning the outdoor world was calling to her, getting in return
more than one involuntary response. About noontime, Alec came whistling
up the back path, Bob and Ben at his heels. Blue Bonnet was on the
steps studying.

“Busy?” he asked.

“I’m through now, thank Fortune!”

“Then you can come?”

“Where?”

“Did you ever follow a brook?”

Blue Bonnet threw down her book and caught up her shade hat from a
nearby chair. “Let’s start right away!”

They went down the path to where a gate opened into a wide open meadow,
Blue Bonnet whistling to Solomon as they went.

At the foot of the meadow lay the brook; a sunny, quiet enough little
brook, until, further on, it suddenly entered the woods, where it
laughed and gurgled and tumbled headlong over rocks in the most
delightful way.

Halfway towards the woods, Alec halted. “Wait a bit, Elizabeth,” he
said, “and I’ll cut back to the house and get Norah to put us up some
lunch.”

“All right,” Blue Bonnet agreed, sitting down in the long meadow-grass
to wait. The three dogs had disappeared on an important chase, and she
was left all alone. From where she sat there was nothing to be seen but
open fields and blue sky; and these sent her thoughts homeward. She had
been two weeks in Woodford. Looking back now, they seemed to have been
rather long weeks. She had spent so much of them indoors, and there had
been so many things to be done, to be learned.

Lying on her back in the tall grass, Blue Bonnet tried to imagine
herself back on the prairie. She forgot that she hated the prairie. Oh,
but it was good to be out in the open air and sunshine, doing nothing,
wanting nothing, caring for nothing!

Alec’s halloa brought her back to the present. He came up at a quick
pace, a small covered basket in his hand. “Was I very long?” he asked.

“Long enough for me to get to Texas and back.”

“I’d like to have made the trip with you.”

Blue Bonnet had scrambled to her feet. “I think I shall come out here
every day for a whole hour and do nothing,” she said.

“I do nothing every day at home--for more than an hour,” Alec answered.
“It’s pretty slow work sometimes.”

They had reached the woods now, the brook a slender, noisy thread
beside them. On and on they followed it; now on this side, now on
that; talking, laughing, growing better acquainted every moment. Ahead
of them, the three dogs raced and barked and behaved in the absurd,
carefree way usual with puppies.

“Isn’t Solomon getting better-looking every day?” Blue Bonnet said.

“Is he? He must have been a beauty at the start,” Alec declared.

“Oh, he isn’t a thoroughbred--except as to his feelings; but he’s a
mighty nice dog. He’s devoted to Aunt Lucinda.”

“Does she return his devotion?”

“I honestly think she does like him a little; and she really is good to
him,” Blue Bonnet said, soberly.

“He’s having the time of his life now, all right,” Alec laughed. A
moment later he came to a sudden halt; he had been fighting against the
need for rest for the last half-hour. It was intolerable to be played
out in this way, with Blue Bonnet showing not the slightest sign of
fatigue.

“We might camp here,” he suggested. In spite of himself, he could not
keep the tiredness out of his voice.

Blue Bonnet looked up at him. “Yes,” she said quickly, “this will be
fine.”

They spread the napkin covering the basket over a flat stone and laid
out the lunch.

“My, but I’m hungry,” Blue Bonnet declared. “It’s fun, isn’t it, eating
out-of-doors?”

Alec nodded.

“I’m having a tea-party this afternoon,” Blue Bonnet said. “Just a lot
of girls, or you should have been invited.”

“I’m afraid I don’t like tea-parties,” Alec laughed.

“This is my first. I think it’s going to be lots of fun; only I’m
scared I sha’n’t do Aunt Lucinda credit.”

“There isn’t anything to do, except put on your best duds and act
‘proper.’”

Blue Bonnet took a second sandwich. “But acting ‘proper’ in Woodford
seems to mean such a lot.”

“What time does the shindig come off?”

“Half-past five. Sarah Blake’s coming, and Kitty Clark, Amanda Parker,
Debby Slade, and Ruth and Susy Doyle. I know Sarah and Debby; they’ve
called. There are a lot of girls in Woodford, aren’t they?”

“Loads. And I’ll bet my best hat that not a single one of them, if they
had a tea-party on, would be off tramping the woods like this,” Alec
said, passing the apple turnovers and cheese.

“But it isn’t until afternoon!” Blue Bonnet exclaimed. “Oh, Alec,
think how nearly summer is over! School’ll be beginning soon now.
It’s going to be odd, having a woman teacher; I’ve always studied
under tutors. I’ve had a lot of different ones. Aunt Lucinda says that
largely accounts for my ‘desultory habits.’ But I’ve read a good deal.
Uncle Cliff used to have a box of books sent out every little while. I
haven’t kept up my music very well--all of the tutors weren’t musical.
I can play by ear, though; but Aunt Lucinda says it would be better if
I didn’t.”

“What makes you quote Miss Clyde so much?” Alec asked.

Blue Bonnet laughed. “Because it seems somehow as if it were Aunt
Lucinda who was running this ranch.” She leaned back against a gnarled
old stump. “Sometimes I wish,” she said, “that there were two of me--so
that one of us could stay at home and be taught things, and behave
nicely, while the other went wandering about as she liked.”

“You might adopt Sarah for your _alter ego_,” Alec suggested.

“It’s very puzzling--how people get mixed up. Sarah would have
been such a suitable niece for Aunt Lucinda; though I really don’t
believe,” Blue Bonnet’s blue eyes twinkled, “that she would have suited
Grandmother as well as I do. Alec, it’s so--queer, being in a family
where there are just women.”

“I’ve never tried it; sometimes I’ve thought it seemed rather lonesome
being in a family where there weren’t any women.” Alec commenced to
gather up the dishes, tossing the scraps to the dogs.

Blue Bonnet’s eyes were thoughtful. “It’s strange how much we have in
common. Oh, Alec, I ought to be doing that!”

“It’s all done,” Alec answered.

“Sarah would’ve?”

“Yes, and washed the dishes in the brook, and tidied things up
generally.”

“But at home no one ever expected me to do anything like that,” Blue
Bonnet explained; “that’s the reason I’m always forgetting now.”

The talk drifted from Texas to Woodford and back again; broken by long
pauses, in which each was content to sit silent in the soft green
twilight of the woods, listening to the faint rustling of the trees
overhead, the murmuring of the brook, and the occasional call of a
bird.

It was a good while before Alec looked at his watch; then he sprang to
his feet. “Elizabeth, you’ve got exactly one hour and a half in which
to make a two hour and a half walk, and get into your company duds.”

Blue Bonnet stared up at him, too astonished to move. “Alec, it isn’t
_four o’clock_!”

“Three minutes after--now!”

“And they don’t even know where I am!” Blue Bonnet gasped.

“We’ll have to do some pretty tall sprinting,” Alec said.

It seemed to Blue Bonnet that after miles of hurried, heated scrambling
they were still fathoms deep in those interminable woods. She felt that
Alec was hurrying far beyond his strength; but he would not let her go
on without him. She had given up counting the numbers of times she had
stepped into the brook instead of over it, and the tears in her skirt.

Then at last, rounding a sharp curve, they saw the open meadow before
them. They were crossing it when Alec held up his hand. “Listen!” he
said.

Faint and clear through the summer stillness sounded the village clock,
striking half-past five.

Suddenly the humor of the situation struck Blue Bonnet. “My first
tea-party!” she gasped, between paroxysms of laughter.

“Come on,” Alec warned her. “There’s some one watching for you now
down at the gate; probably there are scouts out in every direction.”

The watcher was Delia, the second girl. “Oh, Miss Elizabeth,” she
cried, “we’ve been looking for you everywhere!”

At the back door, Miss Clyde met Blue Bonnet. “Elizabeth!” she
exclaimed, in tones of mingled relief and displeasure, “where have you
been?”

“Following a brook with Alec, Aunt Lucinda.”

“With your guests waiting in the parlor, and tea-time set for half-past
five! Go up to your room at once--I have laid out your things--we will
talk of this later.”

Blue Bonnet stumbled blindly upstairs; sitting on the floor to change
her shoes and stockings, she could hardly see the lacings for the tears
blinding her eyes.

Everything went wrong; strings went into knots; pins pricked her. Worst
of all, her heavy hair got into a hopeless tangle. She was struggling
with it desperately, trying to get out the bits of twigs and dried
moss, when someone, coming up behind her, took the brush from her
hands. “Let me try, Elizabeth,” Mrs. Clyde said.

Soon, as if by magic, the soft thick braid was ready for its white
ribbon. And all the time Mrs. Clyde had not spoken again, but the look
in her eyes was harder to meet than Aunt Lucinda’s displeasure had
been.

“Have I been very bad, Grandmother?” the girl asked, wistfully.

“I cannot say that you have been very considerate, Elizabeth.”

Blue Bonnet’s lips quivered. Mrs. Clyde gave a few finishing touches to
her white dress and hurried her downstairs.

And all this time, in the big front parlor, six highly-starched,
immaculate young people were trying to appear interested in the
decidedly perfunctory conversation Miss Clyde was endeavoring to keep
up; carrying on among themselves at the same time little whispered
exclamations of wonder and amusement.

Astonishment that anyone belonging to Miss Clyde could behave in such
a way was only rivalled by the delightful uncertainty as to what might
be to follow; and when presently Blue Bonnet, flushed, apologetic, but
extremely glad to see them all, made her appearance, they received her
warmly, if a little shyly.

In spite of its disastrous beginning, that tea-party was a great
success,--a success due principally to Blue Bonnet herself. There was
nothing stiff or formal about her; and her frank enjoyment of the
society of so many girls of her own age was infectious.

Tea in Woodford was usually followed by music; and those of the girls
who could play had come duly prepared. One by one, various old
standbys were rendered, and then it was Blue Bonnet’s turn.

There was a laugh in the girl’s eyes as she took her place at the
piano. A moment later, not a girl in the room but was beating time to
the gay little tune she was playing.

Never before had such rollicking, joyous strains sounded through the
sober old house. Mrs. Clyde, sitting by herself on the piazza, tapped
the arm of her chair with her fan softly.

“I got that from one of the cowboys,” Blue Bonnet turned to explain;
“you ought to hear him play it on his fiddle, and see the others
dancing, and the camp-fire glowing.”

Six pairs of eyes were fixed on Blue Bonnet. “Oh,” Kitty cried,
breathlessly, “how could you ever bear to come and leave it?--the
ranch, I mean.”

Blue Bonnet’s face sobered. “Because--”

“She had to come to go to school,” Debby Slade said.

“Yes,” Blue Bonnet answered, “I had to come.”

It was Sarah who made the first move to go, making it very prettily and
very properly.

Blue Bonnet promptly vetoed the suggestion; they would all go out on
the piazza and sing songs and tell stories in the moonlight.

But Sarah could be adamant when it was a case of duty; and Sarah’s
ideas on duty were far-reaching. She was the eldest, and she felt that
it was her place to set the example.

So, although some of her flock threatened to prove rebellious, she
presently led them upstairs to the best bedroom, to put on hats and
gloves.

Blue Bonnet, perched insecurely on the footboard of the big mahogany
bedstead, beamed upon them one and all, urging them to drop in whenever
they liked without waiting to be invited.

“I will, for one,” Kitty promised; and, while the rest filed solemnly
downstairs in line, Kitty pulled Blue Bonnet back, giving her a hearty
hug. “Oh, but I am glad you’ve come!” she said.

Woodford etiquette required that Blue Bonnet should go with her guests
to the front door--and no further. Blue Bonnet went gaily down to the
gate.

On her way back to the house, she suddenly remembered her escapade of
the afternoon, and what Aunt Lucinda had said. Perhaps Aunt Lucinda had
forgotten by now.

One glance at Miss Clyde’s face, on re-entering the parlor, dispelled
any such hope. Blue Bonnet took sudden heart of grace.

“Aunt Lucinda,” she said, going up to where her aunt stood waiting for
her, “it was a very nice party, and I’m very much obliged to you, and
I--I am sorry I was late, I--”

“You should not have gone at all, Elizabeth,” Miss Clyde said gravely.

The reproof which followed, if a little severe, was not unjust. Blue
Bonnet listened silently, but her face expressed both astonishment and
indignation. Never before had she been talked to in that fashion--and
after she had said she was sorry, too. Her one desire was to get away.

“Is that all, Aunt Lucinda?” she asked, the instant Miss Clyde stopped
speaking.

“That is all, Elizabeth, except,” Miss Clyde’s voice softened a little,
“that I very much regret having had to speak to you like this and that
I hope it need not occur again. You may go now. Good night, Elizabeth.”

“Good night, Aunt Lucinda,” Blue Bonnet answered steadily; but, once
on the other side of the parlor door, her breath caught in a quick
sob, and later, as she buried her wet face in her pillow, she told
herself miserably that she never, never could live up to Aunt Lucinda’s
requirements.



CHAPTER IV

SCHOOL


Blue Bonnet came down to breakfast the next morning considerably less
debonair than usual.

“And how do you like tea-parties, Elizabeth?” her grandmother asked.

“Very well, Grandmother. And I like the girls, all of them.”

Breakfast over, Blue Bonnet went upstairs to put her room in order.
It was a task for which habit was by no means bringing any liking,
and which had frequently to be done over. To-day, however, bureau
drawers were closed, rugs straightened, and the bedclothes put on most
carefully. Aunt Lucinda should find nothing to complain of that morning.

Miss Clyde, glancing in a little later, gave a nod of satisfaction; if
only Elizabeth would do her best every day. “Your room looks very nice,
Elizabeth,” she said, as Blue Bonnet came to do her Latin.

“Yes, Aunt Lucinda,” the girl said; “are you ready now?”

Altogether, Miss Clyde felt greatly encouraged that morning; but Blue
Bonnet’s grandmother, watching the sober face bent over her book,
sighed softly.

“Lucinda,” she asked, when Blue Bonnet had left the room, “what have
you been doing to Elizabeth?--she is not the same child this morning.”

“I spoke very plainly to her last night about her behavior yesterday
afternoon. I am glad to see that it has taken effect.”

“I imagine Elizabeth has not been used to plain speaking.”

“Probably not. She has been spoiled outrageously.”

“I do not think the spoiling has gone very deep. Gentleness and
patience will do much towards eradicating it, I believe. We must
remember how irregular the child’s upbringing has been for the past ten
years.”

“For that very reason--” Miss Clyde began, but stopped speaking as Blue
Bonnet came back.

“Elizabeth,” she said a few moments later, glancing to where the girl
stood idly by one of the sitting-room windows, “how would you like to
go into Boston with me this afternoon?”

Blue Bonnet turned eagerly. “May I, Aunt Lucinda? And could we go to
the Museum? Alec’s told me such a lot about the Museum.”

“Suppose you go over and ask Alec to go with us. But hurry right back;
we’ll get the twelve o’clock train and lunch in town.”

And Blue Bonnet did hurry, tearing headlong across the lawn to the
stile, Solomon barking at her heels.

Miss Clyde watched her for a moment. “Who could ever dream she was
fifteen!” she exclaimed.

“If only she might stay fifteen, Lucinda,” her mother answered;
“granting we can keep her that long--eighteen will so soon be here.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Blue Bonnet enjoyed her afternoon immensely; she had never dreamed Aunt
Lucinda could be so--well, lovely.

The three had lunch at a quiet little restaurant in one of the side
streets, before going to the Museum.

At the latter, Alec showed Blue Bonnet all his favorite pictures,
laughing over her comments, which were not always favorable; and the
two wandered about from room to room, while Miss Clyde rested.

“It’s all been perfectly lovely,” Blue Bonnet declared warmly, as the
train drew into Woodford station that evening.

“It has been jolly,” Alec agreed. “Thanks ever so much, Miss Clyde.”

“We must go again,” Miss Clyde answered.

“Grandmother,” Blue Bonnet said just before bedtime, looking up from
the piazza steps, where she had been sitting in silence for some
moments, “it’s very uncomfortable, not being friends with people.”

“Who aren’t you friends with, dear?”

“I wasn’t friends--altogether--with Aunt Lucinda this morning;
but--well, she certainly did behave beautifully this afternoon.”

The darkness hid the quick smile on Mrs. Clyde’s face.

       *       *       *       *       *

Saturday was a fairly uneventful day; but by Sunday morning, Blue
Bonnet was entirely herself again. It was a beautiful morning and she
was up and out early, coming in very late to breakfast, her arms full
of wild flowers and bracken, her dress torn, her hair blown and tangled.

“I just couldn’t bear to come in at all,” she explained, beamingly,
laying her treasures down on the breakfast table: “it’s too lovely in
the woods.”

“Go and put your flowers in water and make yourself presentable as
quickly as possible, Elizabeth,” her aunt said.

Some of the brightness vanished from Blue Bonnet’s face. She gathered
up her flowers in silence and left the room, returning in a few moments
to take her place at the table.

“It must have been delightful in the woods this morning,” Mrs. Clyde
said.

“It was, Grandmother! I’m going right back as soon as breakfast is
over,” Blue Bonnet announced.

“There will not be time before church, Elizabeth,” Miss Clyde told her.
“You will have to hurry, as it is.”

“But I’ve decided not to go to church this morning, Aunt Lucinda. I’ve
been two Sundays, you know. It was dreadfully tiresome--the sermon. Mr.
Blake does so remind me of Sarah.”

“Elizabeth!”

“He does, Aunt Lucinda. I like him out of church, all right. I wouldn’t
mind going to church, if they’d have it out-of-doors, the way we used
to sometimes on the ranch when the missionaries came. The singing does
sound so good out-of-doors.”

“There is not time to argue the matter, Elizabeth,” Miss Clyde said,
quietly. “Finish your breakfast; then go and get ready for church.”

Blue Bonnet’s cheeks were crimson. “But I said I was not going, Aunt
Lucinda.”

Miss Clyde rose. “I have told you what I wish you to do, Elizabeth; we
will not discuss the matter further.” She left the room to give her
directions to Delia.

And Blue Bonnet, not wishing, in her present mood, to be left alone
with her grandmother, pushed her chair back from the table and ran
hastily upstairs to her room.

She would _not_ go to church! If Aunt Lucinda had _asked_--Aunt Lucinda
must learn, once for all, that she was not a child to be ordered to do
things.

Blue Bonnet set about doing up her room, doing it with a thoroughness
not born, in this instance, from the best of motives. In any case,
there was not time for both; and it was Aunt Lucinda’s own teaching
that the duty nearest at hand must be done first.

“Has Elizabeth come down, Mother?” Miss Lucinda asked some time later,
coming out to the veranda where her mother sat waiting, ready for
church.

“Not yet,” Mrs. Clyde answered.

Miss Clyde turned to Delia, who happened to be crossing the hall.
“Please tell Miss Elizabeth that we are waiting for her.”

Delia was soon back. “Miss Elizabeth says she isn’t going to church
this morning, ma’am.”

Miss Clyde finished buttoning her gloves, and opened her parasol. “I am
ready, Mother,” she said.

Blue Bonnet heard them go. All at once, the big house seemed very empty
and still. Her room was in order, her morning lay before her; but
freedom had lost its charm, the woods no longer called to her.

Aunt Lucinda had had no right to spoil her day--her day that had begun
so beautifully--she told herself, staring out into the sunlit garden
with mutinous eyes. It was quite impossible to keep friends with Aunt
Lucinda; she should not try any more.

And then, quite unaccountably, there flashed across the girl’s mind
the memory of that last night at home. It almost seemed as if she
could hear her uncle saying, “And, Honey, you won’t forget what your
father said: that you were to try to live as he had taught you to ride,
straight and true.”

Straight and true!

She wasn’t living very straight this Sunday morning; and it hadn’t been
true--pretending to herself that there wasn’t time.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just before the sermon, during the singing of the hymn, Blue Bonnet
came hurriedly down the middle aisle to the Clyde pew, and slipped into
her place between her grandmother and aunt, standing a little nearer
Miss Clyde than usual, and offering to share her hymn-book, instead of
her grandmother’s.

Involuntarily, Miss Lucinda cast a swift, comprehensive glance over the
flushed white-clad figure. Then she drew a quick breath of reassurance:
evidently Delia had lent a helping hand.

Blue Bonnet heard little of the sermon, save the text, “‘I am the good
shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.’”

The words sent her eyes to the window opposite: “Sacred to the memory
of Elizabeth Clyde Ashe.”

The sunlight, shining through the rich, softly glowing colors, brought
into relief the figure of The Good Shepherd with the lamb in his arms.
And, suddenly, Blue Bonnet was a little child again, sitting in her
mother’s lap, in the early twilight of a summer Sunday, listening to
the parable of The Good Shepherd.

Grandmother, glancing down at the grave, serious face, wondered what
the girl’s thoughts were--and where? Hardly in Woodford, for it was
with a little start of recollection that Blue Bonnet came back to the
present, at the ending of the sermon.

But in the singing of the closing hymn her voice rang out sweet and
clear--

  “The King of love my Shepherd is,
     Whose goodness faileth never;
   I nothing lack if I am His,
     And He is mine forever.”

It was a very silent walk home; even Blue Bonnet had little to say. She
had declined Kitty’s invitation to walk with her; declined, also, to
explain to that curious young person why she had come so late to church.

More than once during that walk, Blue Bonnet glanced a little
doubtfully at her aunt; but the moment they reached home she followed
Miss Clyde to her room.

“Please, Aunt Lucinda,” she said, standing just inside the doorway,
“won’t you say what you’re going to right away? I’d like to have it
over.”

Miss Clyde smiled. “It won’t take long, Elizabeth. After this, your
grandmother and I would like to have you ready to go _with_ us on
Sunday morning.”

“I will--truly, Aunt Lucinda. But is that _all_?”

“I think there need be nothing more, dear.”

Blue Bonnet went downstairs very soberly. Decidedly one could be
friends with Aunt Lucinda.

Towards dusk that evening, it suddenly occurred to Miss Clyde that
Elizabeth had not been in evidence for some time. “I do hope,” she
said, “that we are not to have any more--encounters, to-day. Elizabeth
knows we expect her to stay at home on Sunday evening.”

“Elizabeth’s intentions are so much better than her memory,” Mrs. Clyde
answered.

A moment or two later, Blue Bonnet came around the corner of the house,
Solomon at her heels. “May he come up on the piazza for a few moments,
Aunt Lucinda?” she asked. “Seeing that it is Sunday?”

“Seeing that it is Sunday, I suppose he may,” Miss Clyde answered;
“only how is he to distinguish between Sunday and Monday?”

“I reckon I’ll have to go on doing it for him--for awhile. He’s
getting to be a very nice dog, Aunt Lucinda. Denham says he’s a good
part water-spaniel.”

Miss Clyde patted the head Solomon had laid confidingly on her knee.
“It’s a long while since we’ve had a dog about the place. Where have
you been, Elizabeth? I haven’t seen you since supper.”

“Not out of bounds, Aunt Lucinda; I’ve been down at the stable.”

“Down at the stable, Elizabeth!” Miss Clyde looked as though she
thought Blue Bonnet had not been strictly within bounds.

“Visiting Denham--he liked it so much, and so did I. The horses are
getting to know me, Aunt Lucinda; you see, I take them sugar and fresh
clover. I’ve been telling Denham about the ranch, and he’s been telling
me about--before Mamma went to Texas.”

“Denham has been asking me when we were going to get you a
saddle-horse, Elizabeth,” Grandmother said.

“He said something about it to me to-night, Grandmother. I told him
I--didn’t want one.”

Mrs. Clyde looked surprised, but relieved. She had expected Blue Bonnet
to ride; and if she rode in the haphazard fashion she did most things,
there would have been a good many anxious moments ahead for Lucinda and
herself.

“Solomon,” Blue Bonnet said, “I reckon you’d better be going back now.”

Solomon cocked a protesting ear; he was quite content to sit there on
the piazza steps and view the landscape. Solomon was a sociable dog
and, though fond of Denham, thoroughly enjoyed being in company. Most
of all, he enjoyed being wherever Blue Bonnet was.

“Solomon!” Blue Bonnet said warningly.

Solomon rolled over on his back, waving his feet in the air; from the
corner of one eye he watched to see what would happen next.

Leaning over, Blue Bonnet cuffed him lightly but firmly--which was
hardly what Solomon had been looking for.

“Solomon, I told you to go,” his mistress said; and Solomon went.

“He minds pretty well, don’t you think?” Blue Bonnet asked. “I don’t
believe he’s ever had to mind before he came here, and it comes a bit
hard; but he’s got a lot of sense, and when he once understands that
he--” Blue Bonnet stopped speaking rather abruptly, as her eyes met her
grandmother’s. Jumping up, she went indoors.

A moment later, from the parlor came the plaintive sound of an old
Spanish melody, that chimed in well with the softly gathering twilight.

“Elizabeth has her mother’s touch,” Mrs. Clyde said.

“Yes,” her daughter answered. Blue Bonnet’s mother had been very dear
to the graver, older sister. It had not been easy for her to put her
affection into words; but it had been none the less true and strong.
Sometimes Miss Clyde thought that the girl’s likeness to her mother
hurt almost as much as it comforted her.

“I wish we might have had the child earlier,” she said. “It would have
been easier for both sides.”

Mrs. Clyde was smiling. “She ‘minds pretty well. I don’t believe she’s
ever had to mind before she came here, and it comes a bit hard; but
she’s got a lot of sense, and when she once understands that she--’
Elizabeth has preached her own sermon, Lucinda; and I think we may
safely trust her to make the application.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Blue Bonnet looked up at the old red brick Academy, half in curiosity,
half in dismay. “It’s not very--cheerful-looking, is it, Aunt Lucinda?
Did you like going to school here?”

“Yes, Elizabeth, and I hope you will like it, too.”

“If I don’t I suppose I can stop going,” Blue Bonnet said thoughtfully;
and Miss Clyde let the remark pass.

Blue Bonnet followed her aunt upstairs, with heart beating faster than
usual. Here and there, through open doors, she caught glimpses of
different classrooms. Should she have to sit at one of those little
cramped-up desks?

Presently, Miss Clyde stopped before a glass door, on which was printed
in large black letters, “Principal’s Office.” A moment later, Blue
Bonnet was being presented to a tall, scholarly looking man who spoke
to her very pleasantly, hoping she would enjoy her school life in
Woodford.

“I understand from your aunt that you have never been to school, Miss
Elizabeth,” he added.

“But I’ve had tutors,” the girl answered. “The last one was fine--he
was there a good while; he only went away last June.”

Mr. Hunt turned to a little table standing by one of the windows. “Will
you sit down here, Miss Elizabeth? I should like to see how much those
tutors have taught you, so as to decide where to place you.”

Blue Bonnet stood her examination very well. She had a bright
intelligent mind; and her instruction, though not at all systematic
according to Miss Clyde’s ideas, had been fairly thorough. In some of
her studies, those she liked best, she was ahead of most girls of her
age, and the daily drill her aunt had given her the past three weeks
had proved most beneficial.

She came home that afternoon, jubilant. “I’m in Kitty’s class,
Grandmother,” she announced, delightedly. “All of us tea-party girls
are in the same class. The teacher’s name is Miss Rankin. I’m afraid
she looks rather determined.”

For the first few days Blue Bonnet enjoyed the novelty of school life
thoroughly. Her classmates found her delightfully amusing, more so than
her teacher did. She was so frankly astonished over all the little
rulings of the classroom. “What a lot of things there are to remember!”
she told Kitty.

By the middle of the second week, the unaccustomed drill and routine
had become monotonous.

Blue Bonnet came home from school one afternoon, flushed and impatient.
“It seems to me,” she said, standing by one of the sitting-room windows
and restlessly twisting the curtain cord back and forth, “that school’s
a fearfully over-rated place.”

“What has gone wrong, Elizabeth?” her grandmother asked.

“Nothing very much, Grandmother; but I do think that tutors are a long
sight--”

“Are what, Elizabeth?” Miss Clyde interposed.

“A great deal more accommodating than women teachers. I’m not sure that
I shall like going to school.”

“It might be wiser to give it a longer trial before deciding, dear,”
Mrs. Clyde suggested quietly.

“Anyhow, the ‘rankin’ officer’ isn’t--”

“Who, Elizabeth?”

“That’s what Kitty calls Miss Rankin, Aunt Lucinda. She isn’t very
considerate--Miss Rankin, I mean. You wouldn’t like it, if she made you
lose your recess, just because you changed your seat.”

“Why did you change your seat?”

“I do get so tired of sitting in one place; besides, the view from the
other one was a lot--a great deal--more interesting.”

“Elizabeth!” Miss Clyde exclaimed. “One would think you were five,
instead of fifteen! Where are your books? You did not bring them in
with you?”

Blue Bonnet turned quickly. “_Que asco!_ I forgot to bring them home!”

“Elizabeth!” her aunt said, “I have told you that I did not wish you to
use that expression!”

“It only means, Aunt Lucinda--”

“I do not care to hear its meaning. Perhaps, if you go back to school
at once, you may be able to get your books.”

“I’ll go see, Aunt Lucinda,” Blue Bonnet answered cheerfully.

Two hours later, she reappeared; but without her books. “I _am_ tired,”
she said, throwing herself back in an armchair; “I’ve been out to
Palmer’s--the Hill Farm, Aunt Lucinda--and carried the baby--she’s
about three years old--all the way. And I haven’t been for my books,”
she added hurriedly. “You see, I met little Bell Palmer and the baby
down here at the corner; they’d wandered all the way in from the farm,
and the baby had hurt her foot, and they were both crying. I started
right home with them. I thought maybe there’d be a team going that
road, but we never met one going in the right direction, and it’s a
pretty lonely road, you know. Mrs. Palmer was glad to see us. Her
husband was away, and she hadn’t any one to send.”

“Those Palmer children are always running away,” Miss Clyde said. “It
was very kind of you, Elizabeth, to take them home, but how about your
lessons for to-morrow?”

“I reckon it’ll mean being kept in, Aunt Lucinda; that’s what the
‘rankin’’--Miss Rankin seems to do to them when they fail too badly.
It’s very silly of her, I think; she just has to stay herself.”

“I should not like it to be that, Elizabeth; particularly under the
circumstances. For this time, you may go down to the parsonage after
supper, and study with Sarah. Delia shall call for you at nine o’clock.”

“That’ll do finely, Aunt Lucinda.”

So, after supper, Blue Bonnet presented herself at the parsonage.

“But how came you to leave your books at school, Elizabeth?” Sarah
asked.

“Forgot them,” Blue Bonnet answered, serenely. “One can’t remember
everything all the time.”

“But--” Sarah’s tone was suggestive.

“And sometimes one can’t remember anything any of the time,” Blue
Bonnet added.

They went into Mr. Blake’s study, where Sarah lighted the low
reading-lamp and drew two very straight-backed chairs up to the table.

“I wish you wouldn’t look so businesslike, Sarah,” Blue Bonnet said.
“You make me feel tired.”

“Elizabeth, don’t you ever take anything seriously?” Sarah asked
gravely.

“Not lessons, at all events,” Blue Bonnet laughed. “Come on, I’m ready.
Let’s do our problems first.”

“You’re so quick, Elizabeth,” Sarah said, when the last book had been
laid aside. “It’s nice studying together, isn’t it?”

“Did you like it, really?” Blue Bonnet asked. “I thought maybe you’d
think it a bother. Oh, Sarah, I’ve thought of the loveliest name for us
girls--the ‘We are Seven’s.’”



CHAPTER V

AN INVITATION


Uncle Joe came around to the front veranda, where Mr. Ashe sat looking
rather lonely. “Any news from Boston and vicinity in that there mail?”
he asked.

Mr. Ashe handed him Blue Bonnet’s latest letter.

“Hm, she don’t run much to length, does she?” Uncle Joe commented. “So
she’s going to school--and wishes schoolrooms were built without walls.
Aunt Lucinda’s very kind, but Grandmother’s a darling. My lady can get
a lot of meaning into a few words, can’t she, Cliff?”

But it was the postscript which gave Uncle Joe most delight.

“I suppose,” Blue Bonnet had written, “it’s on account of everything
being so different that I keep thinking of the ranch. Anyhow, I think
you might write me more about it, Uncle Cliff.”

“So, my lady!” Uncle Joe chuckled.

“She seems fairly contented,” Mr. Ashe said.

Uncle Joe grunted something unintelligible.

“At least, she doesn’t say anything about wanting to come back,” Mr.
Ashe went on.

“I’ve heard before that the whole point of a woman’s letter was pretty
apt to lay in the postscript,” Uncle Joe remarked; “and I reckon this
ain’t any exception to the rule. She’s a spunky little piece, Blue
Bonnet is. Of course, she ain’t going to _say_ she wants to come
back--leastways, not yet.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, the “spunky little piece” was curled up comfortably in a big
armchair at one side of the fireplace in the Trent library. Opposite
her sat Alec, flushed and hoarse from a cold, but otherwise quite
contented. Between the two, Bob, Ben, and Solomon sprawled in lazy
comfort.

Outside, the September wind drove a fierce rain against the windows,
making the warmth and brightness within doubly pleasant.

The Trent household, being, with the exception of Norah, a purely
masculine establishment, was in Blue Bonnet’s eyes a delightful
place. “It’s so nice and untidyish,” she said now, looking about the
pleasantly littered room.

“Thanks,” Alec laughed.

“There’s never any dust over at our place.” Blue Bonnet leaned forward
to poke one of the great glowing logs. “It’s perfectly lovely to have a
whole afternoon free; but I earned it this morning--I behaved like an
angel of light--and then as soon as dinner was over, before Grandmother
had gone upstairs, I asked if I might come here and do my duty towards
my neighbor this afternoon. I’m awfully glad Aunt Lucinda approves of
you, Alec.”

“So am I.”

“It really was very good of her to say yes, seeing what disgrace I got
into yesterday afternoon.”

Alec looked interested. “Go on,” he said.

Blue Bonnet’s eyes were dancing. “Well,” she began, “yesterday was ‘tea
day.’”

“Was what?”

“‘Tea day,’” Blue Bonnet repeated. “You see, every one of those six
girls was bound to ask me back in turn, and return; they’re all over
now but one. At first, it was fun--the going, you know; and then,” Blue
Bonnet leaned forward confidentially, “it got kind of monotonous. There
were just the same girls, and we did the same things. Then, yesterday
morning, Amanda’s invitation came for next Friday. Alec, after I got
started yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t for the life of me remember
whether it was Amanda’s turn this week and Debby’s next, or Debby’s
this time and Amanda’s next. Amanda’s house came first and I saw Sarah
going up the steps, so I turned in there. I’d reasoned it out by that
time that it was Amanda’s turn--Amanda’s the sort of girl to come
tagging along towards the end. Mrs. Parker came to the door. I thought
she seemed rather surprised; she didn’t look very partified. I said
I hoped I wasn’t too early. She asked me into the parlor, and that
didn’t look very partified either. Pretty soon Sarah came down with
Amanda, and they _both_ had their hats on! Alec, if I’d only had sense
enough to keep still!--but I just plumped down on the sofa and began to
laugh. All I could think of was that I was too early--a whole week too
early!”

Alec leaned back, shaking with laughter. “Elizabeth,” he declared,
“you’re better than a tonic!”

“The worst of it was,” Blue Bonnet said, “that I tried to explain. It
seemed awfully funny to me at the time; but when I told about it at
home, Aunt Lucinda couldn’t see anything funny in it. There was a laugh
in Grandmother’s eyes, though,--only she didn’t mean me to see it.”

Alec rose. “I think Norah’s gone upstairs now; suppose we go make some
of that pinochie you’ve been talking about?”

They found the kitchen empty. Alec went down cellar for the nuts, first
showing Blue Bonnet where the brown sugar, butter, and cream were kept.

“I haven’t made candy before since I came East,” Blue Bonnet said, as
the pleasant odor of the melting sugar and butter filled the kitchen.

“I daresay there’s a lot of things you used to do you haven’t been
doing,” Alec answered.

“And some I have been--that I used not to do on the ranch. Alec, do you
like school?”

“I don’t mind it.”

“Do you suppose anyone really likes it?”

“Sure.”

“Sarah says she does--Sarah always does seem to like doing disagreeable
things. Kitty says she has a perfect talent for making herself
uncomfortable.”

“Kitty’s talent lies more in the direction of making other people
uncomfortable,” Alec laughed.

“I like Kitty!”

“So do I.”

“It isn’t the lessons I mind,” Blue Bonnet said, stirring her candy
slowly; “but it’s horrid staying indoors so much. At home I used to
study out-of-doors in fine weather.”

By the time the candy was done, Norah had come down again, grumbling
good-naturedly over their invasion of her kitchen.

“You’ll stay to supper, Elizabeth?” Alec asked, as they took the candy
out to the shed to cool; and Blue Bonnet accepted the invitation as
frankly as she would have given it in like case.

“Grandfather’s in Boston,” Alec said. “I say, Norah’ll make us
flapjacks. And you’ll let us have them out here, won’t you,
Norah?--where we can have them right hot from the griddle.”

“In the kitchen, Master Alec?” Norah exclaimed.

“It’ll be lovely,” Blue Bonnet declared; “I’ve always wanted to eat in
a kitchen--like I’ve read about doing.”

Alec drew forward a small round table. “I used always to have my supper
at this,” he said, “before I got big enough to dine with Grandfather.”

Blue Bonnet was looking on with interested eyes; watching Norah stir
up the batter, and Alec, as he came and went from the dining-room,
bringing the dishes and old-fashioned silver syrup-pitcher.

“Oh, dear!” she cried suddenly. “There’s a knock--I _feel_ it in my
bones that it’s for me.”

“It’s Delia, Miss,” Norah said, opening the door; “she says as how Miss
Clyde thinks you must’ve forgotten how late it is.”

“Look here, Elizabeth,” Alec told her, “you tell Delia to tell your
aunt that you simply can’t come now--that the flapjacks are all ready.”
And Blue Bonnet obeyed literally.

Supper over, she and Alec went back to the library; where Alec piled
the logs high in the great fireplace, and drew the heavy crimson
curtains, shutting out the night. He was whistling as he did so, and
suddenly Blue Bonnet came toward him.

“Oh,” she cried, “do you know that?”

“Know what?”

“‘All the Blue Bonnets Are Over the Border’?”

By way of answer, Alec turned to the piano and struck a few chords;
then, in spite of his hoarseness, he sang with considerable
expression--

  “‘March! March! Ettrick and Teviotdale!
     Why, my lads, dinna ye march forward in order?
   March! March! Eskdale and Liddesdale!
     All the blue bonnets are over the border.’”

Blue Bonnet’s cheeks were glowing. “Now whistle it again,” she begged.

“Uncle Cliff used always to whistle it,” she explained, when Alec had
done so. “That’s how I could tell he was coming at night. I would go to
meet him as soon as I heard it.”

“But why did he always choose that tune?”

“Oh, I reckon he liked it. Alec, I wish you knew Uncle Cliff.”

“So do I. What is he like?”

“He’s big and strong and good, and he’s never cross with me.”

“Grandfather’s ‘big and strong and good, and he’s never cross with me.’
All the same, he’s terribly disappointed, and so am I.”

“Why?” Blue Bonnet asked.

“He wanted me to enter West Point. Grandfather’s a West Pointer.”

“And you can’t?”

“How could _I_ pass?”

“You mean you’re not--?”

“Strong enough? Yes.”

“So you’re a disappointment, too,” Blue Bonnet said slowly; “but you
can’t help it, and I--”

“What _are_ you talking about?”

“Never mind. There, I think that’s Delia again. I’ll have to go this
time.”

“I wish I could go over with you,” Alec said, as Blue Bonnet slipped
into her mackintosh, drawing the hood over her head. “It’s been awfully
jolly having you here. Wait, you’re going without your share of the
candy.”

“I’ve had a lovely time,” Blue Bonnet said. “It’s been so delightfully
different from all those other tea-parties.”

“At any rate, you didn’t get here ‘too early,’” Alec answered.

As she stopped in the entry at home to take off her cloak and rubbers,
Blue Bonnet hoped that Aunt Lucinda was not going to be difficult. It
had been such a pleasant afternoon.

But only Mrs. Clyde sat before the fire in the sitting-room; there was
nothing equivocal in her smile of greeting.

“Were the flapjacks good?” she asked.

“I should think they were.” Blue Bonnet came to sit on the hearth-rug
beside Grandmother; Aunt Lucinda disapproved of her sitting on the
floor, but Grandmother never seemed to mind.

“I suppose there was maple-syrup, too?” Mrs. Clyde said.

“Rivers of it. And we had them in the kitchen; and, Grandmother, it was
all perfectly delightful.”

Mrs. Clyde smiled comprehendingly. “Almost it makes one wish one were
fifteen again, and could have flapjacks and maple-syrup for supper--in
the kitchen.”

“Grandmother,” Blue Bonnet’s eyes were fixed on the softly glowing pine
logs, “is a person to blame--for being afraid--when she can’t help it?”

“Afraid--of what, dear?”

“Doing something.”

“Something that ought to be done, Elizabeth?”

“I don’t think it really--ought to be done, Grandmother.”

“Then it isn’t a question of mere right, or wrong, dear?”

“I don’t think so, Grandmother.”

“Is it physical fear?”

“I--think so.”

“Who is the person, Elizabeth?”

“Me, Grandmother,” Blue Bonnet answered, with more frankness than
grammar.

“You, Elizabeth!”

“Oh, dear! You’re just like Uncle Cliff! He said ‘afraid’ was an odd
word for an Ashe to use.”

“And for a Clyde, Elizabeth.”

“I know! I reckon I’m a disgrace to the family; but I can’t help it,
Grandmother.”

“Suppose you tell me what it is that you are afraid of, dear--and let
me see what I think about that.”

“I _can’t_ tell you, Grandmother.”

“Then how am I to help you?”

“You can’t--no one can.”

“Not even yourself?”

“Myself least of all, Grandmother.”

“Have you tried? And, dear, have you asked help?”

“No, Grandmother,” the girl answered slowly. “I--I don’t know why it
had to come to me--I used not to be afraid of--anything.”

Mrs. Clyde smoothed the girl’s hair back from her flushed, troubled
face. “If you would only tell me, dear.”

“I can’t,” Blue Bonnet rose; “I reckon I’ll go to bed now. Good-night,
Grandmother. Where’s Aunt Lucinda?”

“Lying down; she has a bad headache. Good-night, Elizabeth.”

Upstairs before her aunt’s door, Blue Bonnet hesitated a moment; then
she knocked softly.

“Come in,” Miss Clyde called.

“Grandmother told me you had a headache, Aunt Lucinda,” Blue Bonnet
said; “I hope it’s better.”

“It will be by to-morrow. You have had a pleasant afternoon, Elizabeth?”

“Lovely, Aunt Lucinda; I staid to supper, you know. Alec is a very
satisfactory sort of friend. Aunt Lucinda, don’t you think boys really
do make more comfortable chums than girls--in the long run?”

“In your case, my dear, I would much prefer to see you making a
companion of Sarah Blake. Alec is a very nice boy; but in his way, he
is quite as undisciplined as you are yourself.”

“I reckon that’s why we took to each other right off, Aunt Lucinda.”

“My dear, that is not a remarkably elegant way in which to express your
meaning.”

“Maybe not, Aunt Lucinda--but it expresses it all right.”

And Miss Clyde, not feeling equal for further discussion, let the
matter drop for the time being.

       *       *       *       *       *

Blue Bonnet ran hurriedly downstairs and out to where Kitty and Solomon
were waiting for her in the garden. It was the Saturday after her tea
with Alec, and the three were off for a long walk. Blue Bonnet had
quite forgotten in these days that she hated walking.

They went out on the old turnpike, which stretched ahead of them,
straight and level, for miles.

“Don’t you love Saturday afternoon, Kitty?” Blue Bonnet asked, throwing
a stick for Solomon to chase.

“Pretty well.”

“And hate Monday morning?” Blue Bonnet added.

“I don’t think I do.”

“Kitty, what’s that little house ’way over there?” Blue Bonnet pointed
to a low, weather-stained building far over to the left.

“That’s the Poor Farm,” Kitty answered.

“Why do you call it the ‘poor’ farm? I thought most of the land around
here was pretty good?”

Kitty collapsed on to a big stone by the side of the road to laugh,
and, as soon as she could, explain.

Blue Bonnet was much interested. “Let’s go there,” she suggested.

Kitty looked surprised. “Why should we? I don’t think I should like it.”

“Have you ever been?” Blue Bonnet asked.

“Certainly not.”

“Well, I’m going,” Blue Bonnet declared; “that’s the worst thing about
you Woodford girls, you never want to do anything that you never have
done.”

“We do too,” Kitty exclaimed; she got up and followed Blue Bonnet.

There were fences to climb and several wide fields to cross before they
reached the narrow lane leading down to the bare, lonely old house, in
which the town sheltered its few indigent poor.

An old man sitting at one end of the long piazza nodded a greeting to
them.

“Good afternoon,” Blue Bonnet said, stopping.

“You come from Woodford?” the old man queried.

“Yes,” Blue Bonnet said, “we’ve been taking a walk; it’s a beautiful
day for walking.”

“You be Doctor Clark’s daughter,” the man said, looking at Kitty; “I
mind seeing you ride by with your father. What’s your name?” he turned
to Blue Bonnet.

“Bl--Elizabeth Ashe.”

“She’s from Texas,” Kitty told him.

Into the old man’s faded eyes crept a look of wonder. “Texas! That do
be a long ways off! More’n a day’s journey, I guess?”

“More than that,” Blue Bonnet laughed.

“Come on, Elizabeth,” Kitty urged in an undertone.

But Blue Bonnet lingered a moment; understanding, as Kitty did not, the
little touch of interest their stopping had brought into the old man’s
lonely day.

“That was Mr. Peters,” Kitty said, when at length Blue Bonnet had
yielded to her repeated nudgings. “How could you stay so, Elizabeth?”

“I think he liked it. Kitty, mustn’t it be awful to be so old
and--outside of everything?”

“He was outside of the house,” Kitty laughed. “What do you mean by
everything?”

“I reckon you know all right,” Blue Bonnet answered.

Kitty glanced about her. “My, isn’t it the dreariest place!”

Blue Bonnet looked at the broad stretch of open fields, backed in the
distance by a low range of hills. For the moment the sun had gone
behind a cloud, and the fields lay gray and bleak in the sombre light.
To Blue Bonnet, the broad, level stretch had an attraction all its own.

“I like it,” she said.

“Well, I don’t,” Kitty declared. “Do hurry, Elizabeth, we’re a long way
from home.”

A little further up the lane, they met an old woman sitting on a
broken-down bar of fencing, her arms full of golden-rod. To Kitty’s
dismay, Blue Bonnet stopped again. “You like flowers, don’t you?” she
said.

Across her sheaf of yellow blossoms the old woman smiled up at her.
“Yes, deary, and these--they’re most as good as sunshine in a room.”

Whereupon Blue Bonnet, attracted by something in the old woman’s
manner, sat down beside her. “Do you live around here?” she asked.

The wrinkled face inside the big calico sunbonnet quivered. “Me? I live
back yonder,” the woman said, with a little nod in the direction of
the poorhouse. “Where do you live?” she added hastily.

“Oh, I’m staying in Woodford,” Blue Bonnet answered.

“No, you’re not,” Kitty murmured impatiently; “you’re staying anywhere
and everywhere _out_ of it--that you can.”

“I ain’t been in to Woodford for quite a spell now,” the old woman
said. “’Tain’t much use going to a place, where there ain’t anyone
there going to be glad to see you.”

“Where are your folks?” Blue Bonnet asked sympathetically.

“Dead and gone, deary; dead and gone. Old Mrs. Carew, she was the last
of ’em. She was second cousin to me--I’d been staying with her for
quite a spell. When she died, seems like I didn’t have anywheres else
to go.”

“Oh,” Kitty cried, “you’re Mrs. Prior!” She remembered the hot wave of
indignation that had swept through Woodford over Mrs. Carew’s neglect
to provide for her poor old relative.

“Yes, I’m Mrs. Prior,” the other answered. “It used to be a pretty
well-thought-of name ’bout here--Prior.”

“If you had friends in Woodford, would you go to see them?” Blue Bonnet
asked.

“Indeed I would, deary. It do get a bit lonesome, never going nowhere.
And--it ain’t ’s if I hadn’t been used to things different.”

“Will you come and see me?” Blue Bonnet asked impetuously.

Mrs. Prior gasped. So did Kitty, though not from the same reason. Kitty
was thinking of Miss Clyde.

“Elizabeth,” she said hurriedly, “we _must_ go.”

But Blue Bonnet waited to lay a hand on one of the old woman’s workworn
ones. “When will you come?” she asked.

“We--Wednesday’s the day, deary.”

“Then come next Wednesday--and to supper. Good-bye until then.”

“But, deary,” Mrs. Prior called after the two retreating figures, “you
ain’t told me where to come to. Nor what your name is.”

Blue Bonnet laughed. “I’m Elizabeth Ashe; I’m staying with my
grandmother, Mrs. Clyde. Do you know where the Clyde place is?”

Mrs. Prior drew herself up. The Clyde place! And she was invited there
to supper!

“Well,” Kitty exclaimed the moment they were out of earshot, “whatever
possessed you to go and do that, Elizabeth Ashe! A nice scrape you’ve
got yourself into! What do you suppose your aunt will say?”

Blue Bonnet stopped short. “I never once thought of Aunt Lucinda!”



CHAPTER VI

TEA-PARTY NUMBER TWO


It was characteristic of Blue Bonnet that she told of that invitation
the moment she entered the sitting-room, on her return.

Blue Bonnet was growing fond of the large, rather formal sitting-room.
Best of all, she liked it at this hour; with the twilight coming on,
and with only the firelight filling the room, softening everything.

“Aunt Lucinda,” she said now, coming to a halt just inside the doorway,
“I’ve invited company to supper for Wednesday. Mrs. Prior, from the
town farm. She said she hadn’t any friends nor anywhere to go, and I
felt so sorry for her that I asked her to come and see me.” Blue Bonnet
paused, out of breath.

From her side of the fireplace, Mrs. Clyde cast a swift glance of
amusement at her daughter.

“Go and take your things off, Elizabeth,” Miss Lucinda said; “then come
and explain.”

It was a rather subdued Blue Bonnet who reentered the room a moment or
two later, and drew a stool up close to Mrs. Clyde’s chair.

“Elizabeth,” her aunt said quietly, “first of all, I should like to
know what you were doing at the town farm?”

“We were out on the turn-pike, Aunt Lucinda, and I saw the house--and
we went over. Kitty didn’t want to go.”

“Kitty was quite right.”

“We didn’t go in, Aunt Lucinda. We met Mrs. Prior up the road. She is
a very nice old lady. She was so pleased when I asked her. It must be
very tiresome, having nowhere to go.”

“Mrs. Prior,” Mrs. Clyde said thoughtfully; “why, you remember her,
Lucinda? I always did think Hannah Carew treated her shamefully.” She
laid a hand lightly on Blue Bonnet’s head for a moment. “That was a
very kind impulse, Elizabeth. I think we must try to make this second
tea-party of yours a success.”

Blue Bonnet laid her head down on Grandmother’s knee with a little sigh
of relief.

“Yes,” Miss Clyde said gravely; “but hereafter, Elizabeth, I would like
to have you consult either your grandmother or myself before inviting
strangers to the house.”

“Yes, Aunt Lucinda,” Blue Bonnet answered; the next moment, with
recovered spirits, she was giving her grandmother an account of her
walk.

“Far too long a walk,” Miss Lucinda said presently; “it was almost dark
before you reached home, Elizabeth.”

“That’s because we stopped to talk,” Blue Bonnet explained; “Kitty
didn’t want to stop.”

Miss Clyde smiled slightly. “I begin to think I have been wronging
Kitty.”

“I don’t believe she’d have minded--only she thought it tiresome,” Blue
Bonnet remarked.

Tuesday afternoon Blue Bonnet came home from school in high spirits.
“Amanda Parker’s aunt--she lives on a farm, Aunt Lucinda--has invited
Amanda and all of us girls out to supper to-morrow,” she announced.
“She’s going to send the hay wagon in for us; we’re to start from
Amanda’s right after school. I can go, can’t I, Aunt Lucinda? Oh, I do
hope it will be pleasant.”

“You are invited for to-morrow, Elizabeth?” Miss Clyde asked.

“Yes, Aunt Lucinda.”

Miss Clyde waited a moment; then she said, “I think you must have
forgotten, Elizabeth, that you have a guest coming to supper to-morrow.”

“Oh!” Blue Bonnet exclaimed; without another word, she turned and went
to her practising.

Very stormy were the chords that sounded through the quiet house for
the next ten minutes, and the time kept deplorable; but for once, Miss
Clyde let these irregularities pass unnoticed.

Just before dusk Blue Bonnet ran down to tell Amanda that she could not
go. Her coming was received with shouts of acclamation by the group of
girls gathered on the Parker front porch.

Blue Bonnet went straight to her point. “I can’t go,” she said.

“You can’t go!” Kitty cried; “I do think Miss Clyde might--”

“It isn’t Aunt Lucinda. I--I’ve got company coming.”

“Bring her along,” Amanda said. “One more won’t count. Is she from
Texas?”

“No,” Blue Bonnet began, “she’s--”

“See that she wears her old clothes,” Ruth interrupted; “we’re going to
sit right down in the bottom of the wagon.”

“But--” Blue Bonnet commenced again.

“She won’t mind that, will she?” Debby asked anxiously.

“She--” Blue Bonnet was getting desperate.

“Be sure you both bring plenty of wraps,” Sarah interposed; “it’ll be
cold coming home.”

“Will you listen to me!” Blue Bonnet stamped a foot impatiently. “It’s
old--”

Instantly, Kitty had flown at her and was shaking her vigorously.
“Elizabeth Ashe, didn’t I try to keep you from going over there
Saturday afternoon? And you would go! And you would do it! And now--”
she turned to the rest indignantly. “It’s that old Mrs. Prior--over at
the Poor Farm. Elizabeth invited her to come to supper to-morrow!”

“Mrs. Prior!” Amanda was the first to speak.

“You see, I couldn’t very well bring her along,” Blue Bonnet said.

“No,” Amanda agreed.

“Did you really ask her to supper, Elizabeth?” Debby Slade asked
wonderingly.

“Indeed she did,” Kitty exclaimed. “I only hope, Elizabeth, you got the
scolding you deserved when you got home!”

“Well, I didn’t,” Blue Bonnet answered quickly.

“Oh, dear,” Amanda said regretfully, “I wish we could put it off,
Elizabeth; but Aunt Huldah’ll be expecting us--and there wouldn’t be
time to let her know.”

“There’s plenty of time to let Mrs. Prior know,” Kitty cried; “we’ll
put _her_ off. You and I’ll go out there to-morrow noon and tell her,
Elizabeth. If we hurry all we can, there’ll be time enough.”

But Blue Bonnet shook her head, “I wouldn’t do it--for fifty rides. You
saw how pleased she was, Kitty!”

“But she could come some other time,” Kitty persisted.

“She’s coming to-morrow,” Blue Bonnet declared; “I must go back
now--good-night, all of you.”

“I’m coming, too,” Sarah said; and they went up the street together.
At the parsonage gate, Sarah waited a moment before going in. “That was
very nice of you, Elizabeth,” she said a little hesitatingly. “No one
ever expected that Mrs. Prior would have to go to the poorhouse. She
felt it dreadfully.”

Blue Bonnet glanced slowly up and down the village street, with its air
of simple prosperity and homely comfort. Here and there, lights were
flashing out through the twilight, mothers were calling their children
home. “How could you all let her go?” she asked.

“Why, she had to!”

“But why?”

Sarah shook her head. “I don’t know, I’ve never thought much about
it--there wasn’t anywhere else for her to go, I suppose.”

“Why wasn’t there?”

Sarah shook her head again. “What queer questions you do ask,
Elizabeth!”

Blue Bonnet went on up the street to her own gate; there she met Alec.
“Bet you a big apple you’ve been down to Amanda’s,” he said.

“Yes--to tell her I can’t go.”

Alec whistled. “Wouldn’t Miss Clyde--”

“Why do you all light on Aunt Lucinda the first thing?” Blue Bonnet
interrupted. “I’ve got company coming--that’s all.”

“Who?”

“A friend.”

“Where from?”

Blue Bonnet’s eyes danced. “The Poor Farm,” she answered, then ran on
up the path without waiting to explain.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Well,” Kitty said to her the next morning the moment they met,
“what’ve you been doing now?”

“Coming upstairs,” Blue Bonnet replied. She tossed her books down on
her desk. “Do you know your Latin, Kitty?”

“I guess so.”

“I don’t; I was planning a beautiful home for old Mrs. Prior last night
instead of studying.”

“Bother Mrs. Prior!” Kitty felt that the afternoon’s outing was shorn
of half of its attraction. “Elizabeth,” she said, “I’d like to shake
you.”

“You did last night,” Blue Bonnet answered; “I’d advise you not to try
it again.”

“You are the provokingest girl!” Had it been Sarah who had elected to
devote her afternoon to Mrs. Prior, Kitty could have borne it bravely.

Blue Bonnet had pulled out her Latin grammar and was hurriedly going
over her lesson. Latin came the first thing after opening exercises;
and Miss Rankin believed in thoroughness quite as firmly as did Aunt
Lucinda; indeed, it seemed to Blue Bonnet that Miss Rankin and Aunt
Lucinda were kindred souls.

Recess that morning was rather a trial to Blue Bonnet. Talk of the
coming outing was the only topic in the “We are Seven” set. It was hard
to feel out of it all. Moreover, Kitty would not count the cause lost;
she coaxed and teased, scolded and reproached, until Blue Bonnet’s
patience gave way.

“You talk as if I didn’t want to go!” she protested.

“If you _did_, you _would_,” Kitty declared, “only you care more for a
tiresome old--”

“She isn’t tiresome, and she can’t help it if she is old. You’ll be
old yourself some day--there’s no danger of your dying young, Kitty.
And--and you all say it was a shame--her being sent to the poorhouse.
If it was a shame, why didn’t someone prevent it? Then I wouldn’t have
had to ask her to supper and lose my fun.”

Which form of reasoning was too much for Kitty. Before she could think
of a suitable retort, the bell had rung and Miss Rankin was requesting
Elizabeth Ashe and Kitty Clark to come to order.

Blue Bonnet was unusually prompt in getting home that noon; and equally
slow about returning. Being just a little late to school did not worry
Blue Bonnet in the least.

During the afternoon Kitty buried the hatchet, forwarding a note by
Ruth and Debby, in which she had written--“Never mind, I’ll get Amanda
to ask her aunt to ask us all again--and I’ll take good care that you
don’t go within a mile of the town farm for a week beforehand.”

To which Blue Bonnet promptly wrote her answer, showing less discretion
in her manner of doing it than Kitty had done.

“Elizabeth,” Miss Rankin asked, “what are you doing?”

“Writing a note, Miss Rankin,” the girl answered promptly.

“To whom?”

“That isn’t a fair question, Miss Rankin.”

Miss Rankin waived that point. “You may read it aloud, Elizabeth,” she
said.

There was an instant hush. Blue Bonnet could and did break the rules
in an easy-going, light-hearted way; but the little manœuverings and
concealments in which many of the girls were adepts had never seemed to
her worth while. And now she had been caught red-handed, writing a note!

“I am waiting, Elizabeth,” Miss Rankin said sharply.

Blue Bonnet’s color had risen. “All right,” she answered clearly.

There was another moment of waiting; then Miss Rankin said, “Elizabeth!”

“Yes, Miss Rankin?”

“I told you I was waiting!”

And again Blue Bonnet answered--“All right.”

“Elizabeth, bring that note to me at once.” Miss Rankin’s own color had
risen.

There was a sudden flash of laughter in the girl’s eyes; going to the
desk, she handed Miss Rankin the slip of paper, on which were written
those two words--“All right!”

For a moment Miss Rankin did not speak; then she said, “You may remain
after school, Elizabeth.”

Blue Bonnet sobered instantly; and presently, as she sat with her
geography open before her, she drew a breath of dismay. Aunt Lucinda
had said that probably Mrs. Prior would come early, and that she had
better come right home as soon as school was out, and now--

It didn’t take Blue Bonnet long to make up her mind; it was a clear
case of disobeying either Aunt Lucinda or Miss Rankin; on the whole,
she preferred the latter course.

And when Miss Rankin, who played the march for the pupils, came back to
her room after dismission, she found a little note on her desk and her
bird flown.

“Dear Miss Rankin,”--she read--“I simply can’t stay this afternoon; but
I will to-morrow, if you like. Elizabeth Ashe.”

Mrs. Prior was there when Elizabeth reached home. Miss Clyde was out;
but Mrs. Clyde had invited the guest upstairs to her own sitting-room,
where she was doing her best to entertain her; choosing carefully all
such topics as could by no roundabout road lead up to the poor old
woman’s present place of abode.

Blue Bonnet, coming to sit between the two with her embroidery, learned
a rare lesson in tact and gentle courtesy that afternoon. It was pretty
to see how, under Mrs. Clyde’s skilful touch, the little woman from the
town farm lost her fear and self-consciousness.

Presently she leaned forward, taking Blue Bonnet’s work from her. “You
must make the stitches so, deary,” she said.

Mrs. Clyde smiled, “Elizabeth looks upon needle work as a penance, I’m
afraid.”

“How beautifully you do it,” Blue Bonnet said admiringly. “I never
could learn to make them so even.”

Mrs. Prior flushed with pride; “I was always called a good
needle-woman. It’s naught but pleasure to me.”

Blue Bonnet looked down at her brown fingers, slender and pliable, but
which as yet had not taken kindly to the needle. “You can do some on
mine, if you like,” she suggested. “I should think you’d like a change
from your knitting.”

“You watch me, deary--maybe you’ll pick up some ideas that way,” Mrs.
Prior answered.

A moment later, Miss Lucinda came in, bringing a whiff of the fresh
outdoor air Blue Bonnet had been longing for all the afternoon. She
saw the girl’s flushed cheeks, the tired droop of her shoulders.
“Elizabeth,” she said, “I think Mrs. Prior would like a bunch of our
chrysanthemums; they are unusually fine this year.”

In the garden Blue Bonnet found Alec. He knew by now who Blue Bonnet’s
company was; Kitty had enlightened him that morning.

“How’s the guest of honor getting on?” he asked.

“Finely.” Blue Bonnet led the way to the sheltered corner of the garden
where the chrysanthemums grew. “Got your knife, Alec? I always do
forget to bring out the garden scissors.”

Under her direction, Alec cut a great cluster of the big white, yellow,
and tawny blossoms.

“Don’t you love them?” Blue Bonnet laid her face caressingly against
one of the round feathery balls. “Alec, do you know--Aunt Lucinda isn’t
half bad.”

“No, nor even a quarter,” Alec answered; “hasn’t she just invited me to
supper?”

They went in together. Delia was setting the table. She brought Blue
Bonnet one of the big blue canton jars to fill with chrysanthemums.

“But it isn’t supper-time yet, Delia?” Blue Bonnet asked.

“It will be soon, miss,” the other answered; “Miss Clyde ordered supper
early for to-night.”

“Then I reckon I’d best go tidy up a bit,” Blue Bonnet said to Alec; “I
won’t be long.”

She came down again to find him in the parlor playing old-time songs
for Mrs. Prior.

Mrs. Prior seemed to have grown several inches that afternoon. And
when, soon after supper, she announced she must be going, and Miss
Clyde ordered the carriage, her cup of joy was full.

To Blue Bonnet’s delight, her grandmother suggested that the two young
people go too for the drive.

“But come straight home again, Elizabeth,” Miss Clyde added. “Remember,
you have not studied your lessons yet.”

Which reminder brought a sudden disquieting remembrance of Miss Rankin
to Blue Bonnet’s mind. A remembrance which the brisk ride in the fresh
air and Mrs. Prior’s heartfelt thanks for her afternoon’s pleasure soon
quieted.

The next morning on her way to school, Blue Bonnet met Miss Rankin.
“Good morning,” she said hurriedly. “You--you got my note, Miss Rankin?”

“Good morning, Elizabeth. Yes, I got your note; I have not yet decided
what to do about it.”

“To do, Miss Rankin? But I told you I would stay to-day.”

“To-day is not yesterday, Elizabeth.”

“Isn’t it just as good?” Blue Bonnet asked so innocently that a gleam
of amusement showed in Miss Rankin’s eyes.

“Maybe,” Blue Bonnet suggested, “I’d better explain why it was I
couldn’t stay yesterday.”

Miss Rankin answered that she thought so too.

Thereupon, Blue Bonnet told her of that first tea-party in her honor,
of her coming home late for it, and of Miss Clyde’s displeasure. “And
so, when I was going to have company yesterday, I couldn’t be late
again--could I, Miss Rankin?” she asked.

And Miss Rankin, coming closer in this short walk to the real Blue
Bonnet than she had in all these weeks the girl had been under her
charge, felt herself weakening. “Nevertheless, Elizabeth,” she said, as
they reached the schoolhouse, “it must not happen again; and I think it
must be this afternoon--for the sake of the precedent.”

Blue Bonnet gave her a quick upward glance of mischief. “‘All right,’
Miss Rankin,” she answered.

On the stairs, she overtook Kitty. “Did you have a good time
yesterday?” she asked.

“Immense,” Kitty answered. “But it would have been a good
deal--immenser--if you hadn’t ratted, Elizabeth Ashe.”

“I didn’t--I had a previous engagement.”

“I hope you had a horribly stupid time.”

“I didn’t! Mrs. Prior was--”

“Now you look here, Elizabeth,” Kitty interrupted, “you needn’t go
talking to me about the joys of compensation!”

“I won’t talk to you at all if you don’t behave. Kitty, I’ve been
thinking--”

“Glad to hear it,” Kitty observed; “did it come hard, Elizabeth?”

“And I think,” Blue Bonnet went on, “that it would be ever so nice if
each of you girls would invite Mrs. Prior to supper in turn.”

“She might come ‘too early,’” Kitty said--“‘a whole week too early.’”

“Kitty! Honestly, don’t you think it would be nice?”

“Nice for whom?”

“For Mrs. Prior. Kitty, you’re just horrid this morning.”

Kitty balanced herself on the edge of her desk. “Sarah,” she called,
“just come listen to this!”

Sarah did listen,--Blue Bonnet enlarging upon her theme
enthusiastically,--weighing the matter before she spoke, in a fashion
that never failed to drive the impatient Kitty frantic.

“There! You’ve looked like you were getting ready to say, ‘ninthly, my
dear brothers’ quite long enough, Sarah,” she protested. “Isn’t it the
most unheard-of plan?”

“I think it is a very nice idea,” Sarah said calmly, “only I’m not sure
that it’s at all practical.”

“Practical!” Blue Bonnet cried. “Who wants a thing to be--practical!”

“We’ll talk it over this afternoon after school,” Sarah said.

“I can’t--I’ve got to stay,” Blue Bonnet wailed. “Oh, couldn’t you both
stay, too?--then we could talk it over.”

“Elizabeth, are you perfectly daft?” Kitty cried. “I’d like to see what
the ‘rankin’ officer’ would say to such a proceeding! What’ve you got
to stay to-day for? You stayed yesterday.”

“No, I didn’t,” Blue Bonnet answered; and went on to explain.

Sarah looked shocked; Kitty howled with glee--“Elizabeth Ashe, you’re
more fun than a circus! Only I’d advise you not to play that little
game again--else you’ll be having an interview with Mr. Hunt.”



CHAPTER VII

THE CLIMAX


Blue Bonnet’s suggestion regarding Mrs. Prior did not win favor with
her mates; one or two of them agreed with Sarah that it would be “nice,
but--” and after a few fierce protests she let the matter drop.

It was a glorious Autumn, with sharp, stinging nights and mornings,
and warm, hazy days. Blue Bonnet spent every available moment--not to
mention a good many of the other kind--out-of-doors. And every day,
the girl’s thoughts were more and more of the Blue Bonnet Ranch. All
unconsciously, the longing to be back on it, to be leading again the
old, careless, carefree life, crept into her letters,--bringing much
joy to Uncle Cliff, and making Uncle Joe shake his head delightedly.

Not that her days in Woodford were not, in the main, happy ones. She
had a knack of getting a good share of all the fun there was going. And
there was a good deal going, off and on.

“Elizabeth,” Kitty called after her one Friday afternoon, as they were
leaving school, “Amanda and I’ve been concocting such a scheme--we’re
all going nutting to-morrow afternoon up in the Parker woods--we seven
and some of the boys--I guess Alec’ll go.”

Blue Bonnet’s eyes shone. “It will be fun, won’t it?”

“I’m not through yet. We’re going to make it a riding party; all of us
ride except Sarah--of course you do. She says she doesn’t like it, but
it’s my private opinion that she’s afraid. Anyhow, she can drive--we’ll
need some place to put all the baskets.”

“Grandmother hasn’t any saddle-horses,” Blue Bonnet said. At her tone,
Kitty glanced round sharply.

“Get one at the livery,” she said. “What’s the matter, Elizabeth? You
look--”

“How do I look?” Blue Bonnet demanded.

“Queer. Shall we go round by the livery now, and see about your horse?”

“I don’t believe Aunt Lucinda would like me to. Kitty, I think I’ll
drive with Sarah.”

“You’re mighty fond of Sarah all of a sudden!”

“Well, I got fond of you all of a sudden.”

“Come on up to Amanda’s and talk things over,” Kitty proposed, as they
came to the corner of the street leading up to the Parkers’.

“I must go on home,” Blue Bonnet answered hurriedly.

“You’re getting dreadfully well-behaved all at once, Elizabeth,” Kitty
protested; “luckily, it won’t last long.”

“Good-bye,” Blue Bonnet answered. And because she felt herself a coward
and despised herself accordingly, she went on up the street at even a
brisker pace than usual with head held very high.

Near her own gate, Alec overtook her. “You have been making a speed
record,” he laughed; “what’s up?”

“Nothing.”

“Go tell that to your grandmother! Come on over,” he added as Blue
Bonnet halted, her hand on the gate. “It’s baking-day, and our west
piazza’s a jolly place this time of the afternoon.”

“I reckon I ought to go study,” Blue Bonnet said; but she went on with
Alec.

The Trent west piazza was broad and square; a big hammock hung at
either end; there were low, comfortable chairs and one or two tables,
littered with books and magazines.

Alec brought out a plate of Norah’s fresh cookies and a dish of apples.

Blue Bonnet leaned back in a big wicker rocker, looking out across the
leaf-strewn lawn in silence. Alec watched her wonderingly; something
had gone wrong.

“Miss Rankin been cutting up?” he asked.

Blue Bonnet shook her head. “At least, no more than usual. Alec, she
has a perfect passion for facts.”

“And your supply is not always equal to her demand?”

“Indeed it isn’t. Still, she hasn’t been very uncomfortable to-day.”

“Going to-morrow afternoon?”

“I--don’t know.”

“You don’t know! I thought you’d be pretty keen over it?”

“I’m not.”

Alec tossed her an apple. “That’s a good one; give me your reasons--in
exchange.”

“There’s only one; but it’s equally good. I’m not sure that I want to.”

Alec whistled.

“You’re going?” Blue Bonnet asked.

“I was; it’s a pretty ride--a bit rough at the last.”

Blue Bonnet turned, an expression in her eyes that Alec could not
understand. He was leaning a little forward, a flush on his thin, eager
face.

“I reckon you’re not afraid of--anything, Alec?” she asked.

Alec half laughed. “Yes, I am--of not being able to do all I want to.
It’s a beastly bore--not being up to things.”

“Yes,” Blue Bonnet said slowly, thinking that there were worse things
than that even. “Here comes General Trent,” she added. Blue Bonnet
liked the General, liked the old-fashioned courtesy of his manner
towards her.

“How are you to-day, Miss Elizabeth?” he asked now, taking the chair
Alec offered.

“Oh, I’m always well,” she answered, and regretted her words the moment
she had said them.

“And you are getting too fond of Woodford ever to leave it?”

“I’d like to go as far as Boston, now and then, General.”

“Oh, Boston belongs to Woodford.”

“She’ll be going back to Texas one of these days,” Alec said.

The General turned to him. “Brown tells me that Victor hasn’t been out
for a day or so, Alec; I thought you rode every day.”

“I mean to, Grandfather.”

The General studied the boy a little anxiously; he had never been able
to understand how a grandson of his could be so delicate. Then he
turned to Blue Bonnet again. “You must miss your rides, Miss Elizabeth?
Come to think of it, I haven’t seen you riding since you came. Can’t
you find a horse to suit you here in Woodford?”

“I haven’t tried, General.”

Alec, watching her, saw the girl’s quick color rise. It set him to
thinking; to remembering, as his grandfather had, that he had never
seen Blue Bonnet riding. Of course she _did_ ride--a Texas girl!

“That little mare of Darrel’s,” the General was saying, “she ought to
suit you, Miss Elizabeth. Shall I speak to Darrel about her for you?
She’d make a fine match for Victor--that would get _you_ out oftener,
Alec. Mustn’t get lazy, my boy.”

Blue Bonnet rose hastily. “I must go now. Thank you very much,
General--only, please don’t bother.”

“No bother at all--merely a pleasure, Miss Elizabeth,” the General
assured her.

“You’re in a tremendous hurry all at once,” Alec said, as he crossed
the lawn with her.

Blue Bonnet did not answer. At the top of the stile, she suddenly faced
down upon him with flaming cheeks. “Alec, he mustn’t do it--don’t let
him!”

“Let who--do what?”

“Your grandfather--I don’t want the horse! I won’t ride her.”

Alec stared up at her. “Why not?”

“Because--I’m afraid!”

“Afraid! you afraid?”

“Yes,” she said. “And that’s the reason I don’t want to go to-morrow. I
won’t ride.”

“But why--”

“I told you!”

“I mean--Elizabeth, I can’t understand. You have ridden?”

All the color left the girl’s face, her eyes grew wide with some
remembered horror. “Yes, I’ve ridden,” she said; “and I’ve seen--others
ride.” Suddenly she sat down, her hands over her face; but she was not
crying, as Alec at first supposed, only drawing deep shuddering breaths.

“Elizabeth,” he begged, “what is the matter?”

She looked up. “Nothing. You--you’ll tell the General--what I asked
you?”

“Yes.”

“I reckon you think I’m a coward. Maybe, you won’t want to be friends
any more?”

“Nonsense!”

“And--you won’t tell anyone?”

“You know I won’t.”

Blue Bonnet brushed back her hair. “I’ll have to go in now. Oh, dear!
I forgot Aunt Lucinda always likes me to report after school. Aunt
Lucinda has such a lot of notions.”

“Are you just home from school, Elizabeth?” Miss Clyde asked, when Blue
Bonnet appeared indoors.

“No, indeed, Aunt Lucinda, I’ve been over at Alec’s.”

Miss Clyde sighed; it was a very expressive sigh; it seemed to Blue
Bonnet that it followed her all the way upstairs. “As if I hadn’t
troubles enough of my own without being sighed over,” the girl
protested.

[Illustration: “‘I RECKON YOU THINK I’M A COWARD. MAYBE YOU WON’T WANT
TO BE FRIENDS ANY MORE.’”]

       *       *       *       *       *

Blue Bonnet was dusting the parlor the next morning, when Alec came
over. He was whistling “All the Blue Bonnets,” and in response she went
to one of the open windows.

“Do come in,” she cried; “I’m nearly through.”

“Can’t you come out?”

“I’m afraid not--to stay.” By way of compromise, she sat down on the
window sill, while Alec perched opposite on the piazza railing.

“Alec,” Blue Bonnet said emphatically, “I want you to bear me witness
that I hate dusting.”

Alec laughed.

“I think the person who invented claw-foot furniture and all
those detestable, twisted posts, and so on--ought to be publicly
anathematized,” Blue Bonnet declared. “I like nice, plain,
light-colored furniture--that don’t show the dust.”

“A pretty house you’d have!”

“I shouldn’t stay in it any more than I could help, anyway.”

“See here, Elizabeth, I haven’t time to discuss social economics--”

“What are they?”

“I’m going to drive you and Sarah in the dogcart this afternoon--that
horse of the Blakes isn’t precisely a Maud S.--and it would be too bad
if you two only got there in time to come home with the crowd.”

“I’m not sure I’m going.”

“I am. A picnic without you wouldn’t be a picnic. With you, it’s pretty
likely to be all sorts of a one.”

“Alec, I wish you wouldn’t.” Blue Bonnet’s face was very serious.

“You can’t always have your own way, Miss Ashe.”

“Your grandfather expects you to ride.”

“I’ll go for a turn this morning. Any more objections up your sleeve?
It’s a good bit of a pull up there, anyhow.”

“As if that was your real reason!” Blue Bonnet smiled across at him
very gratefully.

Alec swung himself down from the railing to the ground. “Half-past two,
then; by the way, you’re all to come back to our house to supper.”

There was nothing sober about Blue Bonnet’s smile this time. She went
back to her dusting with fairly good grace, doing it so much more
carefully than usual that when Miss Lucinda made her customary tour of
inspection, there was not a great deal to be gone over.

“Sometimes, Elizabeth,” her aunt said, “I have hopes of making a
housewife of you, in the end.”

“I wish you hadn’t, Aunt Lucinda,” Blue Bonnet answered soberly; “then
perhaps you’d give up trying.”

“Elizabeth!” Miss Clyde said reprovingly.

“I mean it, Aunt Lucinda--truly.”

“You may go to your mending now, Elizabeth.”

Mrs. Clyde had charge of the weekly mending hour; which, in some
measure reconciled Blue Bonnet to it.

“Grandmother,” she asked, bringing her work-basket into Mrs. Clyde’s
room, “did Mamma like to sew?”

“I am afraid not, dear. She had, as you have, her father’s love of
outdoor life.”

Blue Bonnet slipped her darning-egg into the toe of a stocking. “I wish
I had known Grandfather. I suppose,” she added, “that Mamma had to
learn?”

“Yes, dear; every gentlewoman should know how to use her needle.”

“Was it here she used to learn--in this room?”

“Yes, Elizabeth--sitting in that very chair.”

Blue Bonnet passed a hand gently over the worn arm of the little
old-fashioned sewing-chair. The talk between grandmother and
granddaughter, during sewing hour, was generally of Blue Bonnet’s
mother. Gradually the girl felt herself drawing nearer the mother she
remembered rather dimly, coming to know her through the life she had
led as a girl in this quiet old house.

“Grandmother,” the girl looked up suddenly, “am I really like Mamma?
Benita says so--but am I really?”

“Very, Elizabeth.”

“I am glad--I should like to be like Mamma--‘the little Señora,’ they
call her at home yet. Grandmother, I wish you could see the ranch!”

“I have seen it, many a time--through your mother’s eyes.”

“You mean, in her letters? Could she make you do that?”

“You shall see for yourself some day, dear.”

“When, Grandmother?”

“Some day.”

Blue Bonnet threaded her needle a little impatiently. “If you were
Uncle Cliff, Grandmother,--I’d have those letters right straight off.”

Mrs. Clyde smiled. “And if Uncle Cliff had been like me--?”

“I reckon I haven’t made Uncle Cliff see much in my letters--they’ve
been rather--scrappy. I so hate to write letters.”

“Isn’t that a little hard on Uncle Cliff, Elizabeth? Think how he must
look for those letters!”

“I reckon I’ll have to make them longer.” Blue Bonnet held up her
stocking for inspection.

“Very well done, Elizabeth. I shall make a needlewoman of you yet.”

Blue Bonnet looked dubious. “By the time you’ve made ‘a needlewoman’
of me, Grandmother, and Aunt Lucinda’s made ‘a housewife’ of me, I’m
afraid there won’t be any of the real me left.”

“No fear of that,” Mrs. Clyde answered. “You know, the owner of the
Blue Bonnet Ranch must be an all-round person.”

And somehow, Blue Bonnet quite forgot to mention that she intended to
sell as soon as she came of age.

       *       *       *       *       *

Blue Bonnet was ready and waiting, when Alec came for her that
afternoon. “Grandmother let me have my dinner earlier,” she told Alec;
“Grandmother is such an accommodating person.” She looked very trig and
jaunty in her brown skirt and reefer; her crimson tam-o’-shanter and
hair-bow giving her a touch of color.

“I’ll get in back, so as to sit with Sarah,” she said. “We’ll put the
baskets in front with you, Alec.”

Grandmother came out to see them off. “Mind you take good care of
Elizabeth, Alec,” she warned.

“I will, Mrs. Clyde,” he answered. And then they were off down the
drive and out into the broad village street, drawing up in fine style
before the parsonage.

It was a gay little company that presently set off; fourteen in all.

“But,” Kitty rode up close to the cart, “why aren’t you riding,
Elizabeth?”

Alec turned quickly. “I invited her to drive.”

“When?”

“That you’ll have to guess at; it was before starting, at any rate.”

“And after I had asked her to ride, I know that,” Kitty insisted.

“‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,’” Alec quoted.

“It was _after_, Kitty,” Blue Bonnet said.

“Then why--” Kitty began.

“You remember your old nickname, Kitty?” Alec broke in--“‘Little Miss
Why’?”

“You’re a very puzzling sort of girl, Elizabeth Ashe,” Kitty said. “I
know you’ve got some sort of a reason in the back of your mind.”

“Well, if I have, I’m going to keep it there,” Blue Bonnet answered.
Her cheeks were hot. For the next quarter of a mile, she sat very
still, looking back along the road they had come. The riders had gone
on ahead.

“Elizabeth,” Sarah said gravely, “it was awfully good of you--it
wouldn’t have been very pleasant driving all alone--and I don’t enjoy
riding. You see, I understand--if Kitty doesn’t.”

Blue Bonnet moved restlessly. “No, you don’t! It isn’t that, one bit.”

At that moment, Alec carefully steered the cart over a particularly
businesslike thank-you-marm, and Blue Bonnet’s words ended in a little
shriek of laughter.

And after all, they got to the nutting place first,--Kitty’s horse,
Black Pete, possessing more years than certainty of temper, having
taken it into his head to vary the monotony of the ride by long and
frequent rests by the roadside.

It was a merry afternoon, and a profitable one as well; for the baskets
went home well laden. Going back the party kept together, arriving at
Alec’s house in the early twilight, tired, happy, and, above all else,
hungry.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Grandmother,” Blue Bonnet said that evening, “did you ever want to do
something for somebody very, very much?”

“Frequently.”

“I wish I could do something for Alec.”

“Why, dear?”

“Oh, because--”

“I am not sure that you are not doing something for him, Elizabeth.
General Trent was saying only this afternoon how much brighter and
happier he had seemed lately.”

“Oh, I don’t mean that! I mean something very particular.”

“You can do something for me, Elizabeth,” Miss Clyde said. “I met Miss
Rankin this afternoon; and she gave me a most discouraging report of
your school work.”

“I don’t think I altogether like Miss Rankin,” Blue Bonnet observed.

“That is hardly to the point, Elizabeth.”

“But you can do better when you like a person, Aunt Lucinda.”

“Suppose you try the doing better first, and see if the liking does not
follow?”

“I do try,” Blue Bonnet said, “Miss Rankin is so very tiresome--I hate
details, and doing everything by rule.”

“My dear, you do not need to tell me how much you dislike all method,”
Miss Clyde answered.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next evening, when sitting alone with her grandmother in the
twilight, Blue Bonnet, of her own will, took up the subject again. “I
am falling behind, Grandmother,” she said; “I’ve had a lot of failures
lately. I do study every night, too; but I seem always to get all the
stupid questions that aren’t interesting enough for the answers to
stick in one’s mind.”

“There is only one remedy, Elizabeth. You do not want all these Eastern
girls to get ahead of you?”

“I don’t believe I care, Grandmother. What does it matter?”

“It matters this, Elizabeth; that this is the thing you are to do now;
and to do it to the best of your ability.”

“Perhaps I am, Grandmother.”

“You do not think that, Elizabeth.”

Blue Bonnet changed the subject. “And, please, when may I have Mamma’s
letters?”

“I think I shall say--when you have earned them, Elizabeth.”

The next morning, Blue Bonnet started in with the determination to earn
those letters before the week was out. Before the week was out, she had
slipped back into her old, careless ways.

The most delightful of companions out of school, in school her example
was hardly of the best. She took her failures as lightly as her
successes; and seemed more and more disposed to view Miss Rankin’s
rules and regulations with good-natured impatience, rather than with
respect.

Miss Rankin often wondered if anything would rouse the girl’s dormant
sense of personal responsibility; and, wondering, was more than once
tempted to put the question to the test; and then a sudden glance from
Blue Bonnet’s blue eyes would plead all unconsciously for another trial.

Still, Miss Rankin knew that, sooner or later, matters were bound to
come to a climax.

Others knew it too; chief among them Sarah. “Elizabeth,” she said
one afternoon, “don’t you think it would be nice if we could study
together?”

Blue Bonnet was in a perverse mood. “Why?” she asked.

“You know examinations will be coming after a while.”

“Will they--from where?”

“Elizabeth!”

They were in the cloak-room, and Blue Bonnet turned in unwonted
fierceness. “Sarah Blake, if you _dare ‘Elizabeth!’_ me in that way
again, I’ll--shake you!”

Sarah looked hurt, instead of angry, which only aggravated Blue Bonnet
the more.

“I thought--” Sarah began.

“I don’t want to be missionaryized by anybody!”

Sarah drew on her gloves in a silence so expressive as to be almost
audible.

“‘Birds in their little nests agree,’” Kitty sang from the doorway.

“Maybe they do,” Blue Bonnet retorted, “but Sarah and I don’t--just
now.”

“Come on,” Kitty said.

At the gate, Blue Bonnet turned to Sarah. “I--I’ll be down this
evening, if I can.”

“I’ll come too,” Kitty said.

“We’re going to study,” Sarah warned her.

“It’s a class in first aid to the injured,” Blue Bonnet laughed.

“See here, Elizabeth Ashe,” Kitty exclaimed, “you’ve been sailing
pretty near to the wind lately. I never knew before that Miss Rankin
was such a straight descendant of Job’s.”

       *       *       *       *       *

A week later, in spite of Sarah’s efforts and Kitty’s warnings, the
climax came.

It was a dull, bleak day, the last day of October, with a brisk wind
sending the falling leaves scurrying in all directions. Blue Bonnet
had had a letter from her uncle that morning; a long letter, that had
brought the life on the ranch very near. More than ever “the call of
the wild” was in her blood that day. She was late for school in the
morning; late again, in the afternoon; and the very slight attention
she brought to bear upon her work during the earlier part of the day
had, by afternoon, diminished almost to the vanishing point.

Her place was by the window, and to the girl, the school-yard walk,
with its bordering of tall, bare trees, led not out to the village
street, but on and out to the wide, illimitable prairie; and across
the prairie to a long, low house, standing like a little island in a
wide sea of grass. She could see Benita coming and going from house to
kitchen, and Don stretched lazily out on the back veranda.

“Elizabeth!”

Blue Bonnet turned, lifting a pair of dreamy, far-away eyes.

“Are you aware that this is the third time I have spoken to you?” Miss
Rankin asked.

“No, Miss Rankin--I beg your pardon.”

“You may take up the subject where Ruth left off.”

Blue Bonnet glanced uncertainly from Ruth to the open history in Miss
Rankin’s hands, and back again.

Ruth’s lips moved ever so slightly; but the movement gave not the
faintest clue. Blue Bonnet turned to Miss Rankin. “I am afraid I
haven’t any idea where Ruth left off.” There was no real regret in her
tone, merely polite apology.

Miss Rankin turned to one of the other girls. “You may answer, Hester.”

And Hester Manly did answer, with a promptness and fullness which
should have served as a rebuke to Blue Bonnet. But already the girl’s
eyes had gone back to the window. To her, the troubles and trials of
George the Second seemed of very little consequence, in comparison with
the homesick longings of the owner of the Blue Bonnet Ranch. She was
glad that history was the last recitation of the day.

Just before closing time Blue Bonnet, feeling vaguely that something
was wrong again, looked up. “Did you speak to me, Miss Rankin?” she
asked; and wondered at the sudden ripple of amusement that ran through
the room.

Miss Rankin’s lips were drawn until only the faintest line of red
showed. “Yes,” she said, “I was speaking to you, Elizabeth. You will
remain this afternoon to make up your history and English--your Latin
you may make up to-morrow afternoon.”

Blue Bonnet raised her eyes in swift protest. It would mean hours! And
she had been counting the minutes until she should be free!

But there was no relenting in Miss Rankin’s face. Blue Bonnet watched
the rest gathering up books and papers, and making ready to depart,
with heart growing more rebellious every moment.

Sarah’s look of pity, Kitty’s shrug of impatience, all the little
glances of sympathy, protest, or amusement, only helped to fan still
hotter the flame of rebellion in her heart.

It happened that she was the only pupil detained that afternoon; and,
as presently the long line of boys and girls filed out to the march
Miss Rankin was playing outside in the assembly-room, Blue Bonnet,
gathering up her own books, walked deliberately out of the side
entrance.

Straight for the big meadow back of her grandmother’s house she
made--the meadow that was a very little akin to the prairie. One line
to Uncle Cliff, and her way back was open; but stronger still than her
homesick longings was the pride that would not let her write that line.

She was sitting on the ground, a little huddled up heap of misery,
resisting even Solomon’s attempts at comfort and diversion, when Alec
came across the meadow.

He stopped short. “How long have you been here? Kitty said you had to
stay in.”

“I didn’t stay.”

“Did the Rankin relent?”

“I don’t know.”

“Elizabeth, what have you been doing?”

“I couldn’t stay--not to-day, Alec, I just couldn’t!”

Alec whistled. “I’m mighty afraid there’ll be something doing
to-morrow, Elizabeth.”

Blue Bonnet rose. “Of course, I intend to explain to Miss Rankin. Come,
Solomon, we must go in.”

At the meadow gate, she halted. “Coming in, Alec?”

“Can’t,” he answered; “I’ve a compo on hand.”

Blue Bonnet studied hard that evening. She meant to have good lessons
on the morrow; she would go to Miss Rankin the first thing in the
morning.

Unfortunately, she was a little late the next morning; her explanation
would have to wait. And then, the moment the opening exercises were
over, and the class-room doors closed, Miss Rankin turned to her.

“Elizabeth,” she asked, “didn’t you understand yesterday afternoon
that you were to remain after school?”

A shiver of something like apprehension ran through Blue Bonnet.
“Please, Miss Rankin--” she began.

“Did you, or did you not, understand, Elizabeth?”

Blue Bonnet hated the hushed stillness of the room. “Yes, Miss Rankin,”
she said, “I understood--but--”

“You may take your explanation to Mr. Hunt, Elizabeth.”



CHAPTER VIII

MR. HUNT


Mrs. Clyde, sitting at her sewing in her own room, started in surprise
as the front door was slammed violently, followed by a quick rush of
feet on the stairs.

That the commotion could only be caused by Elizabeth was probable, but
what was she doing home from school at this hour?

Going to Blue Bonnet’s room to inquire, she found her tossing the
things about in her upper drawer in a wild search for something.

“Elizabeth!” she exclaimed.

“I can’t find my purse, Grandmother.” Blue Bonnet did not turn around.

“Your purse?”

“I want to send a telegram to Uncle Cliff. I--I’m going home.”

Mrs. Clyde sat down on the lounge. “You are going home!”

“Yes, Grandmother.” Blue Bonnet had found her purse at last, and was
hurriedly counting its contents. “Uncle Cliff told me I had only to
send word and--and--” Dropping suddenly into a chair, Blue Bonnet hid
her face in her hands. The last barrier her pride had raised had
fallen, broken down by that scene of the morning. Her one thought now
was to go back. Back to the ranch, where there were no explanations to
be made; no Miss Rankins to be displeased with one; no principals to
be sent to. She hated it here in the East--hated the life and all it
stood--Blue Bonnet caught herself up, remembering the last time she had
used those same words.

“Elizabeth,” her grandmother asked, “what has happened?”

Blue Bonnet wiped her eyes impatiently. “Miss Rankin has behaved
horridly; and I--came home; I’m never going back!”--the words came
punctuated with sobs.

“And what had you done, Elizabeth, to occasion such behavior on the
part of Miss Rankin?”

“I--intended to explain. She--wouldn’t listen. She said I--must go
to--Mr. Hunt!” Blue Bonnet’s head went down again; the memory of that
moment’s humiliation was too much for her.

“She sent you to Mr. Hunt, Elizabeth?”

“Yes, Grandmother; but I didn’t go--I came home.”

“But, Elizabeth, what could you have done, requiring such extreme
measures? Come here and tell me about it.”

And Blue Bonnet obeyed.

Grandmother listened to the long, rather incoherent story in a silence
that Blue Bonnet did not feel to be entirely condemnatory. For
Grandmother had the blessed gift of seeing more than one side of a
question. Knowing the girl’s inherited love of freedom, remembering her
upbringing, she had not the heart to be too hard upon her. And yet, for
the girl’s own sake, she could not be too easy.

“And so,” Blue Bonnet ended wearily, “I want to go home. I’m so tired
of being ‘trained,’ Grandmother.”

“Tired of it, at fifteen, Elizabeth! When the training has only just
begun! But you shall go back--if you really wish to--though the going
must be done decently and in order; or you shall stay, and do that
which in your heart you know to be right. The decision shall rest with
yourself; but remember, Elizabeth, as you decide, so will your whole
life be the weaker or the stronger for it.”

“But, Grandmother--even if I could--it’s too late.”

“It is not too late, Elizabeth.”

“Grandmother, I can’t do it!” Blue Bonnet sobbed.

“It will be hard, dear; I do not deny it.”

The girl moved restlessly. “I want to go home.”

“I have said that you may go, Elizabeth. But you are not the girl I
think you, if you run away in that cowardly fashion. I am going to
leave you to decide the matter here and now.”

In her own room, Mrs. Clyde waited rather anxiously for the issue.
Whatever the decision, it was likely to be a speedy one. She was glad
that Lucinda had chosen this day on which to go to Boston. Lucinda’s
methods were a little too strenuous for a case of this kind.

Less than a quarter of an hour later, the front door slammed again.
From the window, Mrs. Clyde caught a glimpse of a hurrying figure, a
crimson tam-o’-shanter, even more awry than usual. She went back to
her sewing with hands that trembled a little. Was it Mr. Hunt, or the
telegraph office?

Just before the noon intermission, Mr. Hunt heard a low knock on his
door. “Come in,” he called, wheeling round in his chair as Blue Bonnet
entered.

“Good morning, Elizabeth,” he said. “Haven’t you been rather a long
time getting here?” He had seen Miss Rankin at recess.

Something in his tone, in the grave kindly eyes, gave Blue Bonnet
courage.

She came up to the desk. “I--I shouldn’t have come at all, if it hadn’t
been for Grandmother. She--she said it would be--cowardly--not to.”

“Ah!” Mr. Hunt said.

“I was going home--to the ranch.”

“Rather than face me?”

“It was--the having to come.”

“Suppose you tell me why you had to come?”

“Because I--didn’t stay in yesterday, when Miss Rankin told me to.”

“Why didn’t you, Elizabeth?”

And Blue Bonnet, looking at him with a pair of very frank blue eyes,
told him why,--very much as she had told her grandmother.

There was a short silence when she had finished; then Mr. Hunt said,
“Elizabeth, do you suppose you are the only one who gets tired, very
tired, of the confinement of school work--who longs for the open?
What if we were all--Miss Rankin, all the teachers, myself--to drop
everything, and go when the fancy seized us?”

“But I don’t,” Blue Bonnet answered; “I’ve never been before school
closed, though it’s been pretty hard not to, some days.”

“Yesterday was not the first time you went before you had the
right--even though school was over.”

“No,” Blue Bonnet admitted. “You--you know about the other time?”

“Yes.”

“But I made that up--and that first time--it didn’t seem very wrong.
You see I’ve never been to school before I came to Woodford; and tutors
aren’t very--strict. At least, mine weren’t.”

“How about the second time, Elizabeth? You must have known then.”

“I couldn’t stay,” Blue Bonnet answered. “I had to get out-of-doors. I
think fifteen is rather too late to begin to go to school, after all.”

Mr. Hunt smiled a little. “It is because you are so unused to school
routine, and school discipline that we have been very patient with you,
Elizabeth. But things cannot go on as they have been doing. Do you want
your class to go on without you? If they do, it will not be because you
have not the ability but the will to keep up with them.”

“I never thought of that,” Blue Bonnet said.

“I want you to think of it very seriously. And now, what do you suppose
I am going to do with you?”

Blue Bonnet caught her breath. Her ideas as to what a principal
might or might not be expected to do under the circumstances, were
indefinite--and a little disquieting. “I don’t know,” she said.

“I am going to put you on your honor not to disobey in this fashion
again; and to try to conform more carefully to all the rules of the
school,--which will include, most emphatically, being more punctual.
Your record, in that respect, Elizabeth, is decidedly very far from
what it should be.”

Blue Bonnet looked exceedingly sober. Being put on her honor meant
all to the girl that Mr. Hunt had known it would. “I’ll promise, Mr.
Hunt,” she said, after a moment or two.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Rankin had had more than one inattentive pupil that forenoon. As
the morning went by and Blue Bonnet did not reappear, excitement ran
high among the “We are Seven’s.”

“Mean old thing!” Kitty telegraphed to Debby, behind their teacher’s
back.

And Debby nodded agreement.

Just before afternoon school, Blue Bonnet came in and went straight to
Miss Rankin’s desk. There was a straining of eyes and ears, but nothing
was heard of the low conversation that followed. Then, for a moment,
Miss Rankin laid a hand on Blue Bonnet’s shoulder,--a most unwonted
demonstration.

A moment after, Blue Bonnet turned and came slowly down the aisle to
her place.

“Where have you been, Elizabeth Ashe?” Kitty demanded.

“In various places,” Blue Bonnet answered.

“I was just thinking about organizing a relief expedition!”

“For whom?” Blue Bonnet asked. Almost harder than the going to Mr. Hunt
had the coming back to class been for her. She had passed the noon hour
by herself in the grove back of the schoolhouse, doing some of the
hardest thinking she had ever done in her life.

The face she wore now was far too serious to suit Kitty’s ideas.

“Was he very--dreadful, Elizabeth?” she asked sympathetically.

“He was--not.”

“You know,” Kitty said thoughtfully, “Mr. Hunt can be rather--awful.”

“How do _you_ know?” Blue Bonnet questioned.

Kitty turned to the rest. “Beginning to sit up and take notice,” she
announced demurely.

Mr. Hunt met Miss Rankin in the corridor that afternoon and
stopped to speak with her. “Well,” he said, “your young Texan
appeared--eventually.”

“So I understand.”

“I don’t believe it will happen again. I have put her on her honor.”

“The best thing you could have done, I think.”

“Poor child!” Mr. Hunt said. “To use a simile peculiarly appropriate in
her case, she is not taking very kindly to bit and bridle. Ease up a
bit on her, when you can, Miss Rankin.”

“I intend to. Did you send her to me, Mr. Hunt?”

“To apologize? No. That was one of the things I left to her honor.”

“Quite safely, as it proved,” Miss Rankin answered. “She _is_ a dear
child. I think things will run more smoothly now.”

Blue Bonnet was rather late in getting home from school that afternoon,
but two of those lessons had been made up.

At the door, her grandmother met her. “Elizabeth!”

Blue Bonnet looked up. “I reckon it’s all right, Grandmother.”

“You have seen Mr. Hunt, Elizabeth?”

“Yes, Grandmother; he was mighty kind.”

“I am very glad, Elizabeth; but where were you this noon?”

“In the grove. I didn’t want any lunch. Oh, dear!” Blue Bonnet looked
up, struck by a sudden thought. “Were you worried, Grandmother?”

“I was a little anxious. You had left me in something of an
uncertainty, you remember.”

“I reckon you knew how it would come out, Grandmother. I wonder will I
ever learn to think of everything?”

“I think you are learning to think of a good many things, dear. Now you
must have some lunch, and then go for a brisk walk.”

“I was going to study.”

Mrs. Clyde kissed the pale face. “You will do all the better work after
you have had some fresh air. It has not been the lack of time but the
lack of attention that has made all the trouble, dear.”

As Blue Bonnet and Solomon came down the drive a little later, they met
Alec at the gate. “Halloa,” he said, “you’re not running at your usual
speed! Where are you headed for?”

“I’m only going for a walk.”

“I’m your man, then. We’ll go out on the turnpike.”

It was rather a silent walk at first. Once out on the turnpike, Blue
Bonnet’s spirits began to revive.

“Oh, but I am glad to-day is nearly over!” she said fervently.

“What’ve they been doing to you, anyway?” Alec exclaimed indignantly.
He was not in Blue Bonnet’s room at school, but Kitty had given him a
graphic account of the day’s happenings.

Blue Bonnet pulled off her tam-o’-shanter, letting the fresh wind blow
through her hair. “Nothing,” she answered; “they left all the doing to
me.”

As she spoke, a man on horseback passed them at a swift gallop.
Instantly the girl turned, looking after him with eager eyes. He was
riding as the men at home rode.

“That was Darrel,” Alec said, “and the mare.”

Blue Bonnet’s color deepened. “She is like--Firefly. Alec, if one might
have her three wishes--or, even one!”

“What would you choose?” Alec asked. He knew what his choice would
be--and he would be content with the one wish, too, if only it brought
him the strength he craved.

Blue Bonnet was standing quite still, looking off along the turnpike.
“Courage,” she answered; “first, last, and always!”

She came home still in subdued mood, coming to sit with grandmother in
the twilight, with a little involuntary sigh of relief that to-night
they two were alone together.

“So you are going to stay with us, Elizabeth,” Mrs. Clyde said, “and
try to make yourself ready to go back?”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

“Is the staying very hard, dear?”

“I am so homesick, Grandmother. Not all the time; but lately. I like
it here and being with you--and Aunt Lucinda; and knowing Alec and the
girls. But still I want to go back; and oh, I do want to be called Blue
Bonnet!”

“Why, Elizabeth, your uncle wrote that you preferred _not_ to be called
Blue Bonnet. Your aunt and I have been very careful to remember.”

“Indeed you _have_,” Blue Bonnet declared. “I would like to be called
it, though, Grandmother--I think I shouldn’t be so homesick, then. And
it’s--so hard--to live up to ‘Elizabeth.’”

“I would do a good deal more than that, dear, to make you content to
stay with us.”

“Grandmother, do you mean--you truly _like_ having me here?”

“How can you ask that, dear!”

“But, I’m such a lot of trouble.”

“Trouble that we would not willingly forego.”

Blue Bonnet nestled closer. “I almost wish you didn’t care so much. I
shall have to go some day. I--papa would not like me not to.”

“I know, dear; some day you must go back. Only you want to make
yourself ready--I do not think you are quite that yet.”

“No--I must get I suppose where I won’t let Benita and the rest spoil
me. It’s very pleasant, being spoiled, Grandmother. I never knew how
much Benita did for me, until I came here. She always did my hair--she
can braid hair beautifully. It hasn’t looked very beautiful lately. I
hate braiding hair.”

“It is rather flyaway hair,” Mrs. Clyde smoothed the girl’s head
lovingly, “but I don’t think it is quite as flyaway as it was at first.”

“I wish you were going back to the ranch with me,” Blue Bonnet said.
“Grandmother, don’t you ever get tired of having the houses so close?
Wouldn’t you like to push them back?”

“I don’t know that I would, dear.”

“I would,” Blue Bonnet said; then for a while she sat very still,
looking into the fire.

Mrs. Clyde was silent also; she was thinking of the other
Elizabeth--who had left her at eighteen.

“Grandmother,” Blue Bonnet said sadly, “it’s no use--I sha’n’t ever be
ready--really ready. Imagine living on a cattle ranch, and being afraid
to ride!”

“Dear--is that the fear you meant that night?”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

“I cannot understand. Your uncle used to write what a fearless little
horsewoman you were.”

“I know. Grandmother, I think I should like to tell you--I’ve never
told anyone--perhaps, then, I sha’n’t remember it so.”

“Tell me, dear.”

“It’s--I--I saw one of the men--he had been thrown--and dragged--it was
horrible! No one knew I saw him--that was last summer--I haven’t been
on a horse since.”

“You should have told your uncle at once, dear; keeping it to yourself
was the worst thing you could have done.”

“I couldn’t bear to speak of it--I thought I should forget. Then, one
afternoon, I went out to mount Firefly--and I--couldn’t. Uncle Cliff
used to wonder why I wasn’t riding; he asked me about it one night,
and I just up and told him I was afraid. That was the time he said
‘afraid’ was an odd word for an Ashe to use.”

“Have you honestly tried to conquer this fear, dear?”

“I haven’t tried to ride since that first time--after I had seen--that.
It wouldn’t be any use. I can’t ride, Grandmother. That’s why I
couldn’t bear to stay on the ranch.”

“Yet you want to go back?”

“Yes, I want to go back--even if I can’t ride. I reckon I’ll have to
drive.”

“You are not afraid to drive?”

“No; at least, I haven’t been here.”

Mrs. Clyde laughed. “I daresay our Woodford horses do seem a bit tame.
I wish, dear, I had some real comfort to give you. Perhaps, in time--”

“I’m more afraid now than I was at first,” Blue Bonnet answered. She
rose as Delia came in to light up. “I’m going to study mighty hard
to-night, Grandmother. You’re going to have the star pupil for a
granddaughter after this.”

When Blue Bonnet went up to bed that evening, she found a little bundle
of letters, smelling of lavender, lying on her dressing-table.

Her first thought was to sit down and read them then and there; but,
with a little resolute shake of the head, she made herself get quite
ready for bed first; then, wrapping a gaily striped Mexican blanket
about her, she curled herself up on the foot of her bed, the letters in
her lap.

And so vivid were they, so dear and familiar the scenes they portrayed,
that presently the girl had forgotten time and place, and was feeling
the prairie wind on her face; seeing the swaying of the tall grass;
hearing the sounds of the ranch life--rejoicing in the freedom of it
all.

In one of the letters, she found a few dried blue bonnets--the letter
in which her mother had written of her coming.--“And she is to be
called Blue Bonnet, our little prairie flower, with her eyes just the
color of the blue bonnets growing wild and thick in the prairie grass.
Some day, you shall see her, Mother.”

Blue Bonnet’s eyes were wet. And she had said she hated the ranch--had
asked not to be called Blue Bonnet! How the memory of those hasty,
thoughtless words hurt!

“Elizabeth!”

The girl started, and looked around.

Mrs. Clyde stood in the open doorway. “My dear, do you know how late it
is?”

“Late!”

“It is after half-past eleven.”

And the rule was that Blue Bonnet’s light must be out by ten. “And I
thought I had reformed!” Blue Bonnet said. “But, Grandmother, I did
make myself get all ready for bed first. Well, I reckon you’ll just
have to scold me.”

“It is too late even for that,” Mrs. Clyde answered, and hurried the
girl into bed. Bending in the dark to kiss her, she said softly,
“Good-night, little Blue Bonnet.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Blue Bonnet woke the next morning with the idea firmly fixed in her
mind that the only thing for her to do was to write to her uncle,
confessing frankly how honestly she regretted those hasty words of
hers, and how very far she was from hating the ranch and everything
connected with it.

The Blue Bonnet of yesterday morning would have sat down to the writing
of it at once; the Blue Bonnet of to-day dressed and went down to
breakfast with a promptness that won her a smile of approval from her
grandmother.

After breakfast, there was no time; she was determined not to be late
to school that day. But she did write at recess--much to Kitty’s
disgust.

“Goodness only knows where you were yesterday at recess, Elizabeth,”
she protested, “and to-day you’re--”

“In Texas,” Blue Bonnet finished for her.

“You’re not writing about going back?”

“I am.”

“Elizabeth! When?”

“Not to-day, Kitty. Now do go away--it’s a very important letter; it
must go out on the noon train.”

It was not a very coherent letter, and there was not time to make it a
long one,--but it brought great pleasure to Mr. Cliff. “Looks like we
needn’t put the Blue Bonnet Ranch on the market yet awhile, Joe,” he
said, after reading it.

Coming in from school that afternoon, Blue Bonnet met Aunt Lucinda in
the hall. “Are you just back?” she asked. “And did you have a pleasant
time?”

“I came home soon after dinner, Elizabeth. Yes, I had a very pleasant
time; but I am glad to be back.” Miss Clyde bent and kissed Blue
Bonnet,--not a mere formal kiss of greeting. It brought the quick color
to the girl’s face.

“I’m afraid you don’t know--there’s been a good deal happened since
yesterday morning, Aunt Lucinda,” she said hurriedly.

“I know all about it, my dear; your grandmother has been telling me. I
am much gratified with the outcome, Elizabeth.”

Blue Bonnet smiled up at her aunt. “And you’ll call me Blue Bonnet,
too?”

“My dear, I thought--”

“I know--but I was Blue Bonnet at home, you know,--until I was just all
round horrid that night--and oh, I do want to be called it now.”

Miss Clyde smiled. “As you like, dear; only I think I shall still
reserve Elizabeth--for occasions.”

“Oh dear!” Blue Bonnet answered, “I’m afraid it’ll be more ‘Elizabeth’
than ‘Blue Bonnet’ then, Aunt Lucinda.”

“We’ll hope not, dear.” And then Aunt Lucinda actually stooped and
kissed Blue Bonnet a second time.



CHAPTER IX

VICTOR


“Elizabeth,” Alec asked the next morning, as they were on their way to
school, “what was that Mrs. Clyde called you just now?”

“Blue Bonnet. My name is Elizabeth Blue Bonnet Ashe. Alec, I wish you’d
call me that, too, instead of Elizabeth.”

“I most certainly will. Are you named after the ranch?”

“Partly; partly after the flower. The Blue Bonnet is our State flower.”

“How jolly! But why on earth haven’t we been calling you that all
along?--Blue Bonnet seems much more suitable for you than Elizabeth.”

“Oh--because.”

“You’re awfully fond of that--‘because.’”

“It’s such a convenient word.”

“From your point of view. From mine--it’s rather inadequate. See here,
Blue Bonnet, is that why your uncle is so fond of whistling ‘All the
Blue Bonnets’?”

“Yes. Whistle it for me right now, please, Alec!”

“I guess not.--To think how I’ve been Elizabething you all this time!”

“I’ve never minded your way of saying it--nor Kitty’s; it didn’t sound
so very hard to live up to. But when Aunt Lucinda used to say it, in a
particular sort of tone she has, it was--depressing. You couldn’t say
Blue Bonnet that way, could you?”

“Doesn’t that remain to be seen?” Alec laughed.

The new, or rather the old, name spread like wildfire among Blue
Bonnet’s especial friends--Kitty, like Alec, declaring it far more
appropriate to its owner than the more formal Elizabeth.

“Oh, Blue Bonnet,” she asked one afternoon a few days later, “had your
friend Mrs. Prior to tea lately?”

“No.”

“Being such an intimate friend, of course you know she’s sick?”

“Kitty, don’t be horrid!--No, I didn’t know it.”

“Papa doesn’t think she’s going to get well. He says he’s never seen
anyone more anxious not to.”

“Kitty, how dreadful!”

“I don’t know,” Kitty answered, with unusual gravity; “she hasn’t much
to live for.”

Blue Bonnet’s eyes were very pitiful. “And I meant to do so much for
her!” She went home in quiet mood. It was like a day in early October,
rather than November. How could anyone, on such a day, not want to
live! She wished she might go out to the town farm; but Grandmother and
Aunt Lucinda were making calls, and she must wait until their return to
ask permission.

She took her books out to the hammock on the sunny back piazza, finding
it even harder than usual to fix her thoughts on her studies; they
would wander to the bare old house, out beyond the turnpike.

Alec, coming over, came upon her before she heard him. “Is it a brown
study?” he asked. “It looks a little like a blue one.”

“Alec, did you know that poor old Mrs. Prior was sick?”

Alec sat down on the steps. “She isn’t--now. I just met Dr. Clark.”

“Alec, I simply hate myself!”

“What in the world is up now, Blue Bonnet?”

“I meant to be such a friend to her--she said she hadn’t any friends.”

“I think you did your share--you gave her one good time; that’s a whole
lot more than any of the rest of us ever thought of doing. And she’s
got her friends now, Blue Bonnet,--so don’t you worry.”

Blue Bonnet sighed. “I reckon, Aunt Lucinda would have let me take her
some flowers, or something, now and then; but I just forgot all about
her--after the first. A pretty friend she must have thought me!”

“I daresay she did,” Alec answered. “It strikes me, young lady, you’d
better come up out of those depths and get to business.”

Blue Bonnet took up her history. “I’ve read it over three times, and I
don’t remember one word of it. It’s very stupid anyhow. Who wants to
know about a lot of battles that happened before one was born?”

“Miss Rankin will, for one,” Alec laughed. He got up, whistling to Bob
and Ben, who were having a game of tag on the lawn with Solomon. “I’m
off. Mind you quit worrying and tend to that history.”

“Grandmother,” Blue Bonnet asked that evening, “may I send some
flowers--for Mrs. Prior?”

“Certainly, dear;” and when Blue Bonnet had gone upstairs, Mrs. Clyde
turned to her daughter. “It is getting to be ‘may I?’ much more
frequently than ‘I’m going to,’ Lucinda.”

“Yes,” Aunt Lucinda agreed; “I really think Blue Bonnet has improved a
good deal lately.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda went in to Boston for the
night, and Blue Bonnet was allowed to invite Sarah to spend the
afternoon and night with her.

Blue Bonnet’s own choice would have been Kitty. Sarah accepted the
invitation with pleasure. “I’d like to come very much, Blue Bonnet,”
she said; “I’ll ask Mother at noon.”

“I’d’ve _loved_ it,” Kitty said; “you’d have a lot more fun, if
you’d’ve asked me, Blue Bonnet Ashe.”

“I might have had too much,” Blue Bonnet laughed. “I reckon Aunt
Lucinda must have thought so. I’ll try to have you next time, Kitty.”

“Second choice!” Kitty answered.

Blue Bonnet went in with Sarah that afternoon, while she got her
things. It was the afternoon of the church sewing society, held this
time at the parsonage. Blue Bonnet was much interested in the scene.
“Only some of the things aren’t very--pretty,” she told herself. If
ever she joined a sewing society,--which it was hard to imagine herself
doing--she should insist on making pretty things--they were so much
more really important than just necessary ones.

Sarah kept her waiting quite a while. The Blake family was a large one;
and Sarah, as the eldest child, was burdened with many cares. It was
almost unprecedented, her going away for the night. Quite a small army
of protesting children followed her and Blue Bonnet down to the gate.

The moment it had clicked behind them, Blue Bonnet turned to Sarah.
“What are they making all those things for?”

“They’re getting a box ready.”

“A box?”

“Dear me, Blue Bonnet, don’t you understand?” and Sarah explained.

“Where is it going?” Blue Bonnet asked.

“I think--why, Blue Bonnet, it’s going to Texas!”

“I wish I could go in it,” Blue Bonnet said wistfully.

“You’d take up too much room; and you wouldn’t get much fresh air on
the way.”

“Whom is it going to?”

“A Rev. Mr. Judson, I think; he’s a church missionary, and very poor.
They’ve a lot of children.”

“Why don’t they send prettier things?”

“Useful things are much better,” Sarah answered. “Blue Bonnet, let’s--”

“Things can be pretty and useful too,” Blue Bonnet interrupted.

“I guess they’ll be very glad to get it,” Sarah said. “Blue Bonnet,
let’s study this afternoon; then we can have the evening to enjoy
ourselves in.”

“All right,” the other agreed cheerfully. “But you’ve got to keep
strictly to the thing in hand, if you’re going to study with me, Sarah
Blake.”

Blue Bonnet’s preparations for studying were rather a surprise to
Sarah. They consisted of two great chairs drawn close to the broad west
window in the dining-room, a dish of apples, and another of cookies.
“One can’t work well when one’s hungry,” Blue Bonnet explained. “And
one can eat so well when one’s working.”

And, in spite of Sarah’s protests, she was made to occupy one of the
big chairs and take one of the big apples, before Blue Bonnet would
allow her to open a book.

After that, however, Blue Bonnet settled down to her books bravely.
Scarcely speaking, save for a little exclamation of perplexity or
impatience, now and then.

Blue Bonnet was trying very hard to remember her promise to Mr. Hunt
these days; in consequence, matters at school were running much more
smoothly. She did not know how often Miss Rankin, recognizing how
earnestly the girl was endeavoring to do her best, helped her over more
than one rough place. She did know that she was really getting to like
Miss Rankin and to want to please her.

“I suppose,” she said, laying the last book down with a long breath of
relief, “that she’s an acquired taste--like olives.”

“Who is?” Sarah asked; Sarah was not quite through.

“The ‘rankin’ officer.’”

“Miss Rankin like olives!” Sarah exclaimed, thoroughly puzzled. “Blue
Bonnet, what do you mean?”

“Doesn’t she like them?” Blue Bonnet asked, carefully selecting another
apple.

“I wish you wouldn’t tease, Blue Bonnet,” Sarah said; “I’m not ready to
talk yet.”

“Hurry, that’s a good child--I want to give Solomon a romp before dark.
Solomon plays hide and seek beautifully.”

Later, roasting chestnuts before the fire in the sitting-room, Blue
Bonnet’s thoughts went back to that missionary box. “Do you only put
clothes in it, Sarah?” she asked.

“Put clothes in what, Blue Bonnet? A moment ago you were talking of
examinations.”

“The box.”

“Mostly; sometimes there are other things--toys and books.”

“I wish I could give something for this one. I’d like to send something
to--Texas.”

Sarah turned eagerly. “I wish you could; this isn’t quite as satis--as
complete as we would like. There’s a girl out there about our age--and
they’re so poor, Blue Bonnet.”

Blue Bonnet was on her feet. “We’ll go right upstairs and ransack.”

“Blue Bonnet!” Sarah’s voice was full of shocked surprise.

“_Que asco!_ There, Sarah, you’ve made me say that. You didn’t suppose
I meant anybody’s things but my own? I’ve got heaps of ribbons and
pretty collars that I don’t need.”

Blue Bonnet led the way upstairs to her own room, turning on the light,
throwing open her bureau drawers with an impetuosity that quite took
Sarah’s breath away.

She soon had a little pile of ribbons, laces, and the odds and ends of
finery that girls love, in the center of her bed.

“Oh, Blue Bonnet,” Sarah asked, “can you really spare all these?”

“Of course; there’ll be just so much less to take care of, and I can
get more. But if I couldn’t, I shouldn’t mind. Sarah, do you suppose
she wears gloves?”

“Why, of course!”

“Then I’m going to send all mine but two pairs--I hate to wear gloves!
I’d send them all, only I suppose Aunt Lucinda would make me buy
more--for church.”

“Blue Bonnet!”

“Sarah Blake, if you’re going to sit there and Blue Bonnet me--in a way
that means ‘Elizabeth’--you can go downstairs until I get this bundle
made up. It’ll save a lot of trouble--packing this stuff off. You see,
Aunt Lucinda’s motto is--‘A box for everything and everything in its
box.’”

Sarah was smoothing out the soft bright ribbons almost affectionately;
new ribbons were a luxury at the parsonage. “How fond you are of red,
Blue Bonnet!”

“Yes,” the girl said, “Uncle Cliff liked me to wear it. I wonder,” she
looked up laughingly, “if that is one reason I like Kitty. Her hair
is--reddish!”

“It isn’t as red as it used to be,” Sarah said. “Blue Bonnet, she’ll be
so pleased with these--that girl out in Texas.”

Blue Bonnet looked at the little collection with dissatisfied eyes.
“Sarah,--I’m going to send--my red dress!”

“Blue Bonnet!”

“I am. Maybe it’ll fit. If it doesn’t, I reckon it can be altered, or
done something to.”

“Blue Bonnet--that’s an entirely new dress!”

“I know--I was going to wear it on Sunday for the first time. But
doesn’t that make it all the better? I shouldn’t like wearing other
people’s dresses.” Blue Bonnet went to her closet, coming back with
the dress over her arm, a simple shirtwaist suit in some soft woollen
goods. “Isn’t it the loveliest shade, Sarah? You can’t deny that this
is useful and pretty too. See, the lace is all in the neck. It’s quite
the prettiest of all my dresses.”

“But Blue Bonnet--”

Blue Bonnet moved impatiently. “You are the but-eriest set here in
Woodford! Out on the ranch I did what I wanted to, when I wanted
to,--that is, generally,--without all these everlasting buts. I just
hate the word ‘but.’”

“Still,” Sarah held her ground determinedly, “I don’t think you ought
to send that dress without asking your grandmother if you may.”

“It isn’t Grandmother’s dress! And if I did wait the box would be
gone.--Uncle Cliff wouldn’t care.”

“There’ll be more boxes.”

“And more dresses! And this dress is going in this box--straight to
Texas.”

“Well,” Sarah said uncertainly,--“oh, Blue Bonnet, let me fold it!”

“Wait a moment.” Blue Bonnet had gone over to her upper drawer; in its
depleted condition, it was comparatively easy to find her little purse.
“It isn’t as empty as it might be, nor as full as I wish it were,”
she laughed. Next she went to her desk, where she wrote on a scrap of
paper,---“From a Texas Blue Bonnet.” The paper was slipped into the
purse, the purse into the pocket of the dress. “I’m mighty glad now I
insisted on a pocket in all my dresses,” she said. “Now, I reckon,
Sarah, we’ll have to go to bed--I promised Aunt Lucinda to be in on
time.”

Sarah was standing on the hearthrug. “Blue Bonnet,” she said, “you make
me dizzy. You do the oddest, nicest things--just as if they weren’t
anything at all!”

Blue Bonnet laughed. “Sarah,” and Sarah was quick to recognize the
tone, “I should like to have you analyze that sentence.”

Sarah had begun to take off collar and hair-ribbon. “It must be nice,
having a room to yourself. This is quite the prettiest room I’ve ever
seen.”

“Grandmother arranged it for me--wasn’t it dear of her! I brought some
of the Mexican blankets and things with me. It’s a great deal prettier
than my room at home--I didn’t think much about such things there; I’m
going to after I go back. But, Sarah, I think it would be perfectly
lovely, sharing one’s room.”

“You have everything you want, don’t you?” Sarah said, a note of
something a little like envy in her voice. There were so many things
Sarah could not help wanting, and could not have.

Blue Bonnet was brushing her hair out; she looked up, her eyes dark
with sudden feeling. “I haven’t any--every other girl in our set--has a
father and mother.”

The next morning, Blue Bonnet’s contribution was left at the
parsonage,--Sarah promising that it should go in the box; also that it
should go unopened.

Blue Bonnet thought about it a good deal that morning; it gave her a
warm glow of satisfaction to feel that she had helped in the making of
that Texas box. After this, she meant to send something in every box,
though, no matter where its destination.

And when Miss Rankin asked her the principal products of Brazil, Blue
Bonnet, who was trying to imagine what that other Texas girl was like,
answered, “Missionary boxes.”

There was an irrepressible murmur of amusement. “Elizabeth!” Miss
Rankin exclaimed, “What are you thinking of?”

“Missionary boxes, Miss Rankin,” the girl answered.

Miss Rankin rapped sharply for order. “Elizabeth--”

“I was, truly,” Blue Bonnet said earnestly. “They were getting one
ready at the parsonage yesterday afternoon, and I got to thinking about
it, and how nice they were; but I’ll tell you the products of Brazil
now, if I may, Miss Rankin?”

“Very well,” the teacher answered; “after this try to keep those
wandering thoughts of yours on the subject in hand.”

“Yes, Miss Rankin,” Blue Bonnet answered.

“Blue Bonnet, how could you!” Sarah exclaimed, the moment the bell rang
for morning recess.

“Blue Bonnet, you duck!” Kitty added. “For once a geography lesson
was interesting,--only, I’d like to see one of the rest of us dare to
answer like that!”

“But it was so,” Blue Bonnet insisted. “Sarah, do you suppose it’s on
its way by now?”

“It’s going on the noon train,” Sarah answered.

Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda would not be back until early afternoon,
so Blue Bonnet had coaxed Katy, the cook, into putting up some lunch
for her to take to school. Kitty and Debby had brought theirs, and the
three had a delightful time together in one corner of the almost empty
classroom.

Going home from school that afternoon, with every step bringing her
nearer to her grandmother and her aunt, Blue Bonnet’s growing doubts
as to how the news of her contribution to the sewing society’s box
would be received grew very rapidly indeed. She went up the path to the
house at a much slower pace than usual, answering Solomon’s rush of
welcome rather soberly. If only Aunt Lucinda would be out--Grandmother
was so much more--reasonable. But no, there they both sat, each at her
accustomed window. Blue Bonnet began to think that missionary boxes
like a good many other things--had their objectionable side.

“And how did you and Sarah manage last night?” Miss Clyde asked, as
Blue Bonnet sat down on the end of the lounge nearest Grandmother.

Blue Bonnet’s greeting had been rather subdued. There was the suspicion
of a smile about the corners of Mrs. Clyde’s mouth--Sarah had been
chosen for the express purpose of keeping Blue Bonnet out of mischief;
but--unless all signs failed--

“We got on nicely,” Blue Bonnet answered slowly. “Grandmother, I gave
my red dress to the missionary box.”

“Elizabeth!” Miss Clyde exclaimed.

“It was going to Texas--and Sarah said they were so poor--and that
there was a girl about my age. I did want to send something worth
while--and I put my purse in the pocket.”

“What else did you send?” Miss Clyde asked, as Blue Bonnet ended.

“Only some ribbons, and gloves, and little things--I had such a lot.
I’ll go without a red dress all winter, if you like, Aunt Lucinda.”

“What end would that serve, Elizabeth?”

“I don’t know,” Blue Bonnet answered; “I thought maybe _you’d_ think I
ought to.”

Miss Clyde took several rather impatient stitches. It was Grandmother
who spoke next.

“Blue Bonnet,” she said, “I can understand how you came to do this;
but as long as you are under our care, it would be better for you to
consult either your aunt or myself before giving away any of your
clothes. You are too young to give indiscriminately, or on your own
responsibility. Some day, you will probably have it in your power to
give freely and generously; but, dear, you must learn how to use that
power to the best advantage.”

“Yes, Grandmother,” Blue Bonnet answered soberly. She wished Aunt
Lucinda wouldn’t sit there looking so--displeased; it was almost as bad
as being scolded. Blue Bonnet drew a long breath. Life in Woodford was
so complicated. If she’d given all her dresses away, when she was at
home, Uncle Cliff wouldn’t have been vexed.

Mrs. Clyde saw the wistful look in the girl’s eyes. “After all, dear,”
she said gently, “it was a kind impulse; and somewhere out in that
beloved Texas of yours is a girl whose winter will be much brighter
because of it. And now for your walk--not too long a one.”

“I’ll remember, Grandmother,” Blue Bonnet said.

“Mother,” Miss Clyde exclaimed, the moment Blue Bonnet had gone, “do
you mean to spoil the girl utterly?”

“I’m not afraid,” Mrs. Clyde answered; “hers is too sweet a nature. She
has all her mother’s impulsive generosity--which must be directed, not
repressed.”

When Blue Bonnet came back an hour later, she found Miss Clyde alone in
the sitting-room.

“Have you had a pleasant walk, Blue Bonnet?” her aunt asked.

The girl came forward eagerly. “Very, Aunt Lucinda; and please, the
girls want me to go for a long walk to-morrow afternoon--’way up to the
old ‘hunters’ cabin.’ May I?”

“Is that standing yet? I used to go up there when I was a girl.”

“May I go, Aunt Lucinda?”

“Why, yes, Blue Bonnet,” Aunt Lucinda answered.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was distinct interrogation in Sarah’s eyes when she and Blue
Bonnet met the next afternoon. Blue Bonnet ignored it completely; to
all intents and purposes, she had never heard of a missionary box.

Debby and Kitty made up the rest of the party, the other three having
been unable to come. It was a long walk--the latter half principally a
climb--before they reached the little disused cabin standing on a bit
of woodland clearing, far up on one of the hills back of Woodford.

It was a mild day, with a soft haze blurring the view from the high
point on which the cabin stood; but the four girls sitting on an old
log before the door were not greatly disappointed. They had come for
the mere pleasure of the coming; and now they rested, contentedly
enjoying the apples which Blue Bonnet had supplied--it being her week
to provide the refreshments, which were always a part of these Saturday
afternoon tramps.

“Apples are all very well,” Kitty remarked, taking a second one, “but--”

“I know you’d rather have candy,” Blue Bonnet said, her face reddening;
“but I hadn’t any money--I sha’n’t have any before the first of the
month. I’ll treat twice running then, to make up. Aunt Lucinda won’t
let me borrow; I--she said so this morning.”

“You’ve spent all your allowance for this month?” Kitty cried.

“I’ve--used it. There’s Alec.” Blue Bonnet pointed to the winding road
down below. Alec was coming towards them on Victor.

“He hasn’t seen us yet,” Debby said; “doesn’t he look tired?”

“It’s too long a ride for him--it’s a great deal longer by the road,”
Kitty declared. “Alec isn’t strong, but he won’t give in. Papa says his
will power is wonderful.”

Alec had seen them now. Presently he came round the curve, throwing
himself off his horse with an involuntary sigh of weariness. “What are
you all doing up here--and where are the rest of you?” he asked.

“Having a good time,” Blue Bonnet told him.

“Why didn’t you choose a warmer spot?” Alec was shivering.

Sarah jumped up. “Let’s go inside and make a fire--the chimney’s all
right.”

They gathered dried wood and underbrush, Alec produced matches, and
they soon had a bright fire roaring and leaping in the fireplace, that
took up nearly all of one side of the little cabin.

Sitting on the floor before it in a semi-circle, they told stories in
turn, beginning with Sarah.

Suddenly Alec, who had been strangely silent for some moments, keeled
quietly over in a little heap.

In a moment Sarah, kneeling beside him, had lowered him gently, until
his head rested on the cabin floor. “It’s only a faint,” she said, her
hand on his wrist; “he’s overtired, and his heart isn’t very strong.
But I think he ought to have a doctor. Where could we catch your
father, Kitty?”

“He was going out on the mill road--he’s due at Nesbit’s farm about
five.”

“It’s nearly five now,” Debby said, looking at her watch.

“I’ll go right over there,” Kitty offered; “I’ll be as quick as
possible, but it’s a rough road.”

“If only one of you could ride over--on Victor?” Sarah said anxiously.
“Oh, Blue Bonnet, you must ride--all Western girls do, don’t they? Ride
all sorts of horses?”

“Yes, I ride,” Blue Bonnet answered; would the others see how she was
trembling?

“Victor goes like the wind,” Debby said.

There was a moment’s silence. To Blue Bonnet, it seemed as if she had
been standing there in wretched indecision for hours. And yet she knew
it was only a moment before she heard herself saying quietly, “Of
course, I’ll go, Sarah.”

Kitty and Debby went out with her to where Victor stood tied; he
whinnied with pleasure at sight of them.

“You are sure you can ride him?” Debby asked. “He’s pretty wild.”

Blue Bonnet did not answer; she was stroking Victor’s head with fingers
that would tremble.

“Isn’t it good you’re not afraid?” Kitty said excitedly. “I’d be
frightened to death.”

“Afraid!” Blue Bonnet wondered if anyone had ever known what fear
was--as she knew it at that moment. “How shall I get to Nesbit’s?” she
asked.

And Kitty told her.

Then came Victor’s share in the discussion. Would he let her mount?

Decidedly, it appeared that he would not. Blue Bonnet breathed a little
easier. If he would not let her mount, she could not be to blame--not
even in her own eyes.

Then, in a moment, all the girl’s fighting blood was up,--and she knew
that she meant to win the struggle.

“Victor,” she whispered, her hand on the horse’s glossy neck, “Victor,
fight with me, not against me, and help me to be a victor, too.”

Perhaps the horse understood; perhaps there was something magical in
the touch of Blue Bonnet’s fingers, for suddenly he stood quite still.

The next moment Blue Bonnet was in the saddle and they were off.



CHAPTER X

UNCLE CLIFF


It was a rough ride, the narrow down-hill road turning abruptly more
than once; then came a short cut across country through seldom-used
lanes, with a field to cross before reaching the broad mill road.

At first, Victor was disposed to repent his sudden yielding; disposed
to display that repentance very actively. And then Victor realized
that the hand on the bridle rein was firm and steady--the hand of the
master; and that his rider, if only a girl, knew how to ride.

And all the way, above the hurry and excitement, above her anxiety for
Alec, one thought rang triumphantly through Blue Bonnet’s mind--she was
not afraid.

Dr. Clark, gathering up the reins, preparatory to leaving Nesbit’s, saw
the hurrying horse and waited. Ten chances to one, he was wanted.

“Well!” he exclaimed, as Blue Bonnet drew up beside the gig, “any of
you girls come a cropper?”

“It’s Alec, Dr. Clark!” Slipping out of the saddle, Blue Bonnet told
her errand. “I’ll go back with you,” she added. “Victor’s had pretty
hard service this afternoon; I’ll leave him here for some one to look
after him, and take him home by and by.”

“Well, Miss Elizabeth, you surely can ride!” the doctor said, as Blue
Bonnet climbed in beside him; and he marvelled over the sudden lighting
up of her blue eyes.

Kitty was watching anxiously for them, “Alec seems some better, papa,”
she said; “I am glad you’ve come.”

Alec was lying before the fire, his head resting on an impromptu pillow
made of the girls’ jackets. He smiled deprecatingly, at sight of the
doctor. “It’s too bad, sir, to have brought you ’way up here. I’d have
been all right presently.”

“Nice retired little spot you chose to do this in,” Dr. Clark said,
his hand on Alec’s pulse. “Suppose you’d been alone, young man? Kitty,
isn’t there a spring about here?” the doctor took out his medicine case.

“Where’s Blue Bonnet?” Alec asked.

“I’m here,” the girl answered. She was sitting back of him, at one
corner of the fireplace.

“Did Victor go--well?”

“Magnificently.”

Alec tried to raise himself. “Not just yet,” the doctor told him. He
stood a moment, looking down at the group. “Sarah, I’m going to leave
you and Elizabeth here with Alec; I’ll drive round by the General’s,
and have the carriage sent up--it’ll be easier than the gig. Debby and
Kitty can go back with me. I’ll stop at your place, Elizabeth, and at
the parsonage.”

Sarah followed the doctor to the gig. “Is Alec all right now?” she
asked.

“He’s a good deal better; just keep him quiet.”

Sarah went back to the cabin. Blue Bonnet had piled on fresh sticks and
dried moss, and the little place was warm and bright.

“It’s a real adventure, isn’t it?” she said, as they listened to Nannie
picking her careful way down the rough, hillside road.

“I bet you two are hungry,” Alec answered.

“Being a little hungry is part of the fun,” Blue Bonnet declared; “it’s
like being besieged, or cast on a desert island.”

“With the comforting certainty of being rescued,” Sarah added.

“I reckon Aunt Lucinda’s wondering what mischief I’m up to now,” Blue
Bonnet laughed; “I was to be in before dark without fail.”

“Where’s Victor?” Alec asked suddenly.

“I left him at Nesbit’s; Jim’s going to take him home after a while,”
Blue Bonnet answered. She leaned forward, reading the unspoken question
in Alec’s eyes. “_Everything’s_ all right,” she said earnestly.

“Wasn’t it good, Blue Bonnet, that Victor let you ride him, and that
you weren’t afraid?” Sarah said.

Blue Bonnet threw a handful of dried cones on the fire. “I think Victor
really enjoyed that ride--I know I did.”

The talk died down; Alec seemed drowsy, and the other two were anxious
not to disturb him. Once Sarah asked in a whisper, “Blue Bonnet, what
are you thinking about?”

Blue Bonnet’s eyes were on the fire, seeing pictures there in the
flickering lights that Sarah could only guess at. “Different things,”
she answered slowly.

“They must be pleasant thoughts.”

“They are. Sarah, did you ever have a wish--a very special wish--come
true?”

“I don’t know,” Sarah said thoughtfully; “I try not to wish for things
that can’t come true.”

“There’s the carriage, Sarah.” Blue Bonnet jumped up.

A moment or so later, they heard it draw up before the cabin; the next
instant, General Trent stood in the low doorway, shading his eyes from
the glare of the fire.

“Grandfather!” Alec exclaimed, “you shouldn’t have come, sir!”

“What in the world have you been up to, Alec?” the General asked.
Lifting the boy, he carried him out to the carriage, in spite of
Alec’s protestations that he was quite able to walk.

Norah had sent a plentiful supply of pillows and shawls, and Alec was
made warm and comfortable on the back seat, with Sarah beside him to
see that he kept his manifold wrappings on. “I’ll never, never do it
again,” he declared. “Sarah, I simply won’t have another pillow near
me.”

Blue Bonnet was in front with the General. Once down the stony, winding
road and out on the broad, level mill road, the latter turned to her,
laying a hand on her loosely clasped ones.

“You’ve put me under a big obligation to-day, Miss Elizabeth,” he said.
“Upon my word, I wish I’d been there to see that ride.”

“I’ve only been trying to pay my debts a little, General,” the girl
answered; “Alec’s been mighty good to me--lots of times. And besides,
I--oh, I am glad I went.”

“Which doesn’t in the least alter what I have just said, Miss
Elizabeth.”

Supper had been over for some time when Blue Bonnet reached home;
but Miss Lucinda had arranged a little round table for her by the
sitting-room fire, where she supped quite in state.

“And you rode Victor!” Aunt Lucinda said. Dr. Clark’s few hurried words
of explanation and praise had sent a thrill of pride through Miss
Clyde. “My dear, suppose he had thrown you!”

“But he didn’t, Aunt Lucinda; he behaved beautifully, after the first.
And he did go--it was riding!”

And when, presently, Miss Clyde had gone over to inquire about Alec,
Blue Bonnet came to sit in her favorite place, the hearth-rug, her
head on her grandmother’s knee. “Grandmother,” she said softly, “I’m
very--happy.”

Mrs. Clyde smoothed back the tumbled hair with a hand that trembled a
little. “And I, too, dear--though possibly from a different reason. I
am very glad I didn’t know about that ride at the time, Blue Bonnet.”

“Grandmother, there’s some use now trying to make myself fit to go
back--I’m not afraid any more. I don’t think I ever shall be--again. I
was,--when Sarah asked me to go,--horribly afraid. Then Victor wouldn’t
let me mount, and I forgot everything else but my determination to make
him. And then, oh, Grandmother, just when it was the hardest,--after we
were off, I mean, and Victor was acting--rather lively,--it suddenly
came over me that I wasn’t in the least afraid.”

“I am very glad, dear. Do you remember wanting to do something ‘very
particular’ for Alec?”

“But Grandmother, this wasn’t anything! Kitty would have gone if I
hadn’t.”

“Kitty would have had to walk, dear, and you were only just in time to
catch the doctor. In such cases, the sooner help comes the better.”

For a moment Blue Bonnet did not answer. When she did speak, it was
to ask, “Grandmother, can it be arranged? I should like to have a
saddle-horse now.”

“I think it can, dear.”

“General Trent said something about a mare belonging to Mr. Darrel.
I’ve seen her; she is a beauty--such a match for Victor.”

“Must it be a match for Victor?”

Blue Bonnet laughed. “I shouldn’t like it to be a match for Kitty’s
Black Pete.”

“Well, we’ll see about it the first of the week,” Mrs. Clyde promised;
“now, I think the best thing for you to do is to go to bed.”

“I’m not one bit sleepy,” Blue Bonnet answered,--“only sort of queer
and shivery.”

At which Mrs. Clyde hurried her off to bed at once, coming herself to
see that she was well tucked in, and to bring her a nice warm drink.

The next morning, it was a flushed and hoarse Blue Bonnet who looked up
as her grandmother came in to see how she was. Mrs. Clyde decided that
she must stay in bed until after breakfast, at least.

Breakfast in bed was a new experience for Blue Bonnet; and when Aunt
Lucinda brought up the tray, with its pretty, sprigged individual
breakfast service, that had been her mother’s, Blue Bonnet thought
being an invalid very delightful.

The more so, as after breakfast she was allowed to come down to the
sitting-room. She found Mrs. Clyde alone, Aunt Lucinda having gone to
church.

The weather had changed during the night; to-day it was gray and
lowering, with a promise of rain in the damp wind sweeping the
scattered leaves up drive and over lawn.

Blue Bonnet curled herself up in a big chair at one side of the glowing
fire, with a favorite book. In her deep-red dressing-gown, and pretty,
fur-trimmed red slippers, she made a vivid spot of color in the
somber room. And Mrs. Clyde, looking up from her own book more than
once, wondered how she was ever to bear the parting with this second
Elizabeth.

“I wonder how Alec is, Grandmother?” Blue Bonnet said, glancing up.
“Don’t you think I might go over for just a few minutes this afternoon?”

“I would rather that you didn’t go out to-day, dear; probably your aunt
will bring word when she comes home.”

And Miss Clyde did bring word that Alec was much better; but, like Blue
Bonnet, kept at home.

“Did you see Solomon, Aunt Lucinda?” Blue Bonnet asked.

“He was down at the gate watching when I came from church.”

“I suppose he wonders where I am,” Blue Bonnet said longingly; “I
haven’t said good morning to him, yet.”

Miss Lucinda went away to take off her hat and coat. She came back
soon, behind her a little wriggling brown dog, who was all over Blue
Bonnet in a moment, licking her hands and all of her face he could
reach.

“Solomon, you darling!” then Blue Bonnet looked at her aunt. “Aunt
Lucinda, did you tell him he might come?”

Miss Clyde smiled. “Well,” she said slowly, “Solomon has improved
a good deal lately; it seems as if he were entitled to a few extra
privileges. As for Solomon’s mistress, I am quite sure she is--after
yesterday afternoon.”

“Solomon, do you hear?” Blue Bonnet bent to pat Solomon, who by now
was sitting sedately on the hearth-rug, looking about the room with
approving eyes. “You’re promoted, Solomon, and it’s up to you, sir, not
to get demoted. It’s a terrible disgrace, Solomon, to be demoted.”

By the next day the rain had come; and Blue Bonnet, though much better,
was kept at home from school. At first, the prospect of a long, idle
day was delightful, the only drawback being that it must be passed
indoors; but before noontime came, Blue Bonnet was actually wishing
that she might go to school.

“Honestly, I’m all right, Grandmother,” she coaxed; “at home, I never
stay in on account of rain.”

“Not before to-morrow morning, dear,” Mrs. Clyde answered. “If you are
as much better then, you shall go.”

Blue Bonnet stirred impatiently. “I--I just hate having to stay home
from school!” she declared.

Miss Clyde looked up from her sewing. “Blue Bonnet, suppose you make
out a classified list of all the things you really do hate.”

Blue Bonnet colored. “I don’t believe it would be a very long one,” she
said, after a moment.

“Nor I,” her aunt answered.

“I wish I could get word to the girls, maybe some of them would come up
after school.”

“I think,” Mrs. Clyde said, “it is a case where mental telepathy will
prove quite adequate.”

She was right; the six other members of the “We are Seven’s” appeared
in a body, as soon after school as possible.

“Well, Blue Bonnet Ashe,” Kitty said, “why weren’t you at school?”

“I couldn’t come.”

“We missed you a lot,” Debby assured her.

“And the ‘rankin’ officer’ didn’t have to read the riot act nearly as
much as usual--not more than once, for a fact!” Kitty added.

“_Whom_ did she read it to that once?” Blue Bonnet asked.

“To Kitty,” Ruth answered, “Kitty got a precious raking-over.”

“It was very ungrateful in her,” Kitty declared; “I was only trying to
keep her from missing Blue Bonnet too much.”

They gathered about the fire in the back parlor, talking and laughing,
their voices sending pleasant echoes through the old house.

Presently Delia appeared with hot chocolate, and the little frosted
cakes, the recipe for which was a Clyde secret.

“Here be luxury!” Kitty cried. “Blue Bonnet, do you have these cakes
all the time?”

“Not for breakfast--as a rule.”

“Alec wasn’t at school, either,” Sarah said; “but he’s a great deal
better.”

“Oh, Blue Bonnet!” Amanda leaned forward eagerly; “wasn’t it awful
riding Victor?”

“See here, Blue Bonnet Ashe,” Kitty broke in excitedly; “I simply can’t
stand it another moment.”

“But you seem to be sitting down,” Blue Bonnet said.

“I’ve got to know why--when you could ride--and ride like that--you
wouldn’t.”

“It doesn’t strike me as such a very necessary piece of knowledge,”
Blue Bonnet answered.

“Now you’re hedging--I feel it in your voice!”

Blue Bonnet’s color rose. “I was.”

“Kitty,” Debby protested, “how can you!”

Kitty laughed mischievously. “Look here, Debby, you go play in your own
back yard, that’s a good girl.”

“And you haven’t told Blue Bonnet your idea,” Susy put in.

“Has she one?” Blue Bonnet asked politely.

“You go play with Debby, Susy,” Kitty advised. “Now, Blue Bonnet, I’m
waiting to hear your reason.”

“You’ll have to wait a good while, Kitty.”

“I sha’n’t tell you my idea--and it’s a beauty--until you tell me what
I want to know, Blue Bonnet Ashe.”

“Then you’ll never tell me it, little Miss Why.”

Across the low tea-table their eyes met; it was the gray, not the
blue ones, which wavered first. “Keep your old secret,” Kitty pouted.
“Sarah, you can tell the idea--I won’t.”

“Kitty thought,” Sarah began, anxious to steer the conversation into
smoother channels, “that it would be nice for us seven to form a riding
club.”

“How perfectly lovely!” Blue Bonnet went to sit beside Kitty on the
lounge.

“Then you do like to ride?” the latter asked.

“I adore it! But Sarah,” Blue Bonnet turned wonderingly, “I thought you
didn’t ride.”

“I used to a little; I think I shall take it up again.”

“Oh, Sarah’s only going into it from a sense of duty,” Kitty warned,
“and it’ll be our duty to see that she gets her money’s worth. Were you
expecting to be able to ride Victor, Sarah, before the season’s over?”

“Kitty, sometimes you are positively rude.”

“Pass the cakes to Kitty, Amanda, please,” Blue Bonnet asked.

“We thought,” Sarah went on, “that we’d try to ride together every
Saturday afternoon.”

“And it’s to be a real club,” Kitty broke in, “with dues--”

“There’ll be more doings than dues where you are, Kitty,” Susy
exclaimed.

“And we must have a clubroom,” Ruth added, “where we can meet when the
weather’s too bad for riding.”

“Or on the days when Blue Bonnet doesn’t want to ride, and won’t tell
why,” Kitty said.

“On stormy days we could bring our work, and one of us could read
aloud,” Sarah suggested; “travels, or something instructive.”

“You’ll be traveling, Sarah Blake, if you spring any more such ideas on
us!” Kitty protested. “Now, let’s form, here and now.”

Blue Bonnet was unanimously chosen president; Sarah, treasurer.
“That’ll be enough officers,” Kitty insisted. Membership was to be
limited to the “We are Seven’s,” but each member would be entitled to
invite one friend for the rides.

And then suddenly the new president gave a cry of dismay. “I can’t
join--not before next month. I haven’t any money!” she cried.

“But it’s only twenty-five cents!” Kitty said.

“I haven’t five cents!”

“I’ll lend you the money,” Susy said.

“I can’t borrow.”

“You needn’t pay up until next month,” Debby suggested.

“Well, we’ll find a way,” Susy promised, as they rose to go.

Blue Bonnet was standing by the sitting-room window, watching them down
the street, when Alec came up behind her. “How’s the invalid?” he asked.

She turned eagerly. “Isn’t that for you to say? You are better, Alec?”

“Better! I’m all right; though I nearly brought on another collapse
trying to assure Grandfather of the fact.”

They sat down before the fire, Blue Bonnet telling him of the new club.

“You’ve got your wish, haven’t you, Blue Bonnet?” the boy said.

“Yes,--thanks to you and Victor.”

“Thanks to nobody but yourself.” Alec rose. “I promised Grandfather
not to stay long; I had to come over--to thank you--I mean, to _try_
to.”

“Please don’t--it wasn’t anything.”

Not anything! Alec thought of the girl sitting with bowed head on the
stile--“Not anything!” he repeated gravely.

“And it brought me--everything.”

“Blue Bonnet, I’m mighty glad of that; all the same, I’ll never
forget.” At the door, he stopped.

  “Woodford shall many a day tell of the plucky way
  In which our Blue Bonnet rode over the border,”

he sang softly.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was Grandmother who found “the way.”

Blue Bonnet told her of the new club that evening during the twilight
talk which had become a regular institution. “I might write to Uncle
Cliff--he’d send me all the money I wanted; that wouldn’t be borrowing,
nor running ahead. I suppose, though, Aunt Lucinda wouldn’t like that?”

“Or you might come to me,” Mrs. Clyde suggested.

“But I thought--”

“Oh, I shall not lend you anything; neither shall I give you very
much,--seeing that your aunt is trying to teach you a much needed
lesson in forethought,--but I think, considering how and why your
allowance was used, dear, that I may be allowed to stretch a point this
time.” And then Grandmother went on to propose that the club should
make use of one of the rooms in the ell,--a big, sunny room, with
convenient access to the back stairway.

“Grandmother!” Blue Bonnet declared, “it’ll be perfectly lovely. You
are certainly the dearest grandmother that ever was!”

The new club went on its first ride the following Saturday afternoon.
The mounts were varied. Blue Bonnet, on Darrel’s mare, leading the
march, both figuratively and literally. Debby, Ruth, and Susy had
mustered fairly good horses; Kitty’s Black Pete had occasional moments
of brilliancy, and more than occasional ones of obstinacy; Amanda’s
sober gray mare was quite as active as Amanda wished; while Sarah
plodded along on what Kitty called the most ministerial of horses,
taking her ride as gravely as she did most things.

“Sarah!” Kitty demanded impatiently, “did your mother tell you not to
go out of sight of the house?”

Sarah’s light blue eyes expressed wonder. “Certainly not; how could I
be out riding if she had?”

“Oh, you are out riding!” Kitty said. “I thought you were standing
still!”

Blue Bonnet wheeled about. “As president of this club, I positively
forbid any more impertinence from our youngest member. You are the
youngest, you know, Kitty--you’re only fourteen. Come on, Sarah.”

“She says she is coming,” Kitty retorted. “She’s moving almost as fast
as a glacier.”

Blue Bonnet’s rides were by no means confined to the weekly ones with
the club. Darrel’s mare had been transferred to the Clyde stables;
and on most afternoons, a slender, bright-faced girl in dark blue
riding-habit was to be seen riding at a brisk pace in and out about
Woodford. Sometimes with one or more companions; often alone; but
always attended by a small brown dog, who appeared to think these
riding expeditions had been instituted for his special benefit.

They were coming home one afternoon--Blue Bonnet and Solomon--from a
swift canter, when Blue Bonnet caught sight of some one waiting on the
front piazza. The girl’s heart gave a sudden leap. With a quick dash
forward, she reached the steps as Mr. Ashe came down them.

“Honey!” the latter exclaimed.

“Uncle Cliff! When did you come?”

“Got here about an hour ago, Honey.” He held out his arms, and she
slipped lightly into them, to be held very closely for a moment before
he let her go.

“You’ve been here a whole hour--and I never knew!” Blue Bonnet said.

“Oh, well, I calculated on staying over night, Eliza--”

Instantly her hand was over his mouth. “You’re not to call me that! I’m
Blue Bonnet.”

Uncle Cliff laughed. “I reckon you are Blue Bonnet all right.”

They went indoors together; Blue Bonnet clinging to him as if she
could never let him go again. Half-way down the hall, Mr. Ashe stopped
abruptly, holding her off at arm’s length. “You’ve grown, Honey,--and,”
he could keep the words back no longer, “Honey, you came up the drive
just now like your father’s own girl. See here, Blue Bonnet, your
grandmother’s been telling me something that you should have told me
long ago; she’s been telling me the sequel of the story, too. Never you
say again you’re not an Ashe ‘clear through.’ My, but Uncle Joe’s going
to be proud to hear of it.”

“I wish he had come, too.”

“He sent you a bit of the ranch--in damp cotton.”

Blue Bonnet was half-way upstairs in a moment. She came down to supper,
with some of the blue bonnets at the throat of her white wool blouse,
and they were not bluer than the shining eyes above them.

The club received Mr. Ashe enthusiastically, though at heart a little
anxiously. Kitty had promptly voiced this anxiety in the first moment
of meeting him, the day after his arrival. “Have you come to take Blue
Bonnet back?” she demanded.

Mr. Ashe’s only answer was a little laugh that might have meant yes, or
no.

Kitty was not the only one to ask the question, though perhaps the only
one to put it so bluntly. Grandmother asked it with her eyes a good
many times during the days that followed.

“But he couldn’t take her back,” Ruth said, one afternoon; “she came to
go to school.”

“He’s her guardian--she has to do whatever he says,” Debby added.

Kitty shook her red head wisely. “You mean, he has to do whatever she
says, and if she wants to go--I tell you one thing, we’ll mob him if he
tries it.”

Mr. Ashe was to be the guest of honor at the club’s ride that day;
following the ride, the club were to be his guests at a dinner at the
hotel. A dinner at which the souvenirs were gold stick-pins in the form
of miniature riding whips--and which were adopted as the club emblem
then and there. Altogether, a delightful affair, with menu cards and
table decorations bearing witness to the fact that it was a dinner
given to a riding club.

“All the same,” Kitty faced Mr. Ashe squarely across the low horseshoe
mound of flowers, “you _can’t_ have Blue Bonnet!”

“Why not?” he asked.

“She belongs to us.”

“Oh, she does, does she?” Mr. Ashe said; his glance went from Kitty’s
saucy, piquant little face to Blue Bonnet’s happy one. Blue Bonnet was
getting to belong to a good many people nowadays it seemed.

“It has all been perfectly lovely,” Blue Bonnet told him, as they
rode home together in the frosty starlight; she brought her horse a
little nearer, laughing up into her uncle’s face, “and you behaved
beautifully.”

“Don’t I always?”

“Of course, but--I was a little bit afraid you might--Sarah’s horse is
so--even Amanda’s for that matter--and Black Pete sometimes--”

“My dear,” Mr. Ashe replied, gravely, “one of the earliest lessons
taught me in my childhood was respect--for my elders!”

Blue Bonnet was very happy those days. As for Uncle Cliff, he looked
on and wondered; it was the Blue Bonnet he had always known--and yet
a different one. A less heedless, inconsequent, Blue Bonnet; one more
thoughtful of the comfort of others.

He said something of this that evening to Mrs. Clyde. “I suppose it’s
being with women,” he said. “You’re making a little woman out of her--I
reckon it’s what her mother would have wished--only, don’t take all the
spirit out of her.”

“Not much danger of that,” Mrs. Clyde answered; “a little taming down
will do no harm.”

“It hasn’t so far. She seems to like it back here all right.”

“But _loves_ the ranch; we shall never make an Easterner of her, Mr.
Ashe.”

Some one came up the path whistling “All the Blue Bonnets”; and from
the veranda sounded Blue Bonnet’s answering call.

“Who’s been taking up my tune?” Mr. Ashe asked.

“That was Alec; he and Blue Bonnet are great chums.”

“He’s a nice boy,--a bit too delicate; we’ll have to have him out on
the ranch next summer.”

He told Blue Bonnet so later.

“Yes,” Blue Bonnet agreed; “and then he will get his wish too.”

The next day, Mr. Ashe spoke to Blue Bonnet about going home. It was
Sunday, and they had been for a long walk together; to the woods to
see the brook she had followed that never-to-be-forgotten day; through
the meadow, where she had sat homesick and forlorn, that afternoon of
her second running away from school. He had heard the stories of both
those runnings away; had heard, indeed, pretty much everything that had
happened during the past few months; and now, standing by the meadow
gate, he asked suddenly, “Well, Honey, how about going back with me?”

She looked up quickly. “Going back--with you--now, Uncle Cliff?”

“Yes, Blue Bonnet--when a girl loves the ranch, loves everything the
life there stands for, and isn’t afraid to ride, I don’t see that
there’s anything left to do but take her West.”

Before he had finished speaking, Blue Bonnet’s face was hidden against
his arm. “Oh, but I love you for saying that, Uncle Cliff! And I do
love it out there--and I’d love to go back--and yet--Grandmother thinks
I ought to wait and make myself ready; I’m not nearly ready, yet.”

“Aren’t you, Honey? You seem so to me. But what do _you_ think about
it, Blue Bonnet?”

She waited a moment,--and the old Blue Bonnet would not have waited.
“I’m afraid--I think so, too.”

“Maybe you’re right, Honey. We’ll try it a while longer--if you say.
Suppose I leave you here until Spring.”

“I could go home for the summer?” Blue Bonnet said.

“_Could!_--I reckon you’re going to get the first train out of here,
as soon as school closes. As for coming back next fall,--we’ll wait and
see.”

“And Solomon’s coming too,” Blue Bonnet said, stooping to pat the dog
lying patiently at her feet. Solomon was tired and hungry; he didn’t
understand why people waited to talk out-of-doors when their business
of walking was over.

“There’ll be room for Solomon,” Mr. Ashe said; “he isn’t a bad specimen
of a dog--minds pretty well.”

“Solomon’s improved a lot,” Blue Bonnet said. “Oh, but he will love the
ranch. I wonder what Don will say to him; and whether Solomon will be
as much of a surprise to the Texas dogs as I’ve been to the Woodford
girls.”

A little later, Mr. Ashe entered the sitting-room alone; Grandmother
and Aunt Lucinda looked up, the same unspoken question on the lips of
both.

Mr. Ashe came forward. “Well,” he said, a little sadly, “it appears
that I am to go back alone--this trip.”



CHAPTER XI

MY LADY BOUNTIFUL


But the return trip was not to be made yet; there was
Thanksgiving--only a matter of days now--to come first, not to mention
Christmas.

“A _real New England Thanksgiving_!” Blue Bonnet checked the words off
on her fingers. “I’ve never had one of that kind, have I? The Boston
relatives are coming! I’m rather scared of the Boston relatives; I’ve
an idea they’ll be rather like Aunt Lucinda--only more so.”

She and her uncle were walking up and down the veranda in the
twilight,--Mr. Ashe seemed to dislike going indoors quite as much as
Blue Bonnet did. Delia had lighted up, and as they passed and re-passed
the long windows they caught pleasant glimpses of mingled gas and
firelight, and through the wide doorway, leading from sitting to
dining-room, the table laid ready for supper.

Mr. Ashe, taking in half unconsciously all the quiet, homely touches,
glanced down at his companion a little anxiously. “I reckon you’ll be
having a lot of new experiences right along, Honey.”

Blue Bonnet felt the thought underlying the words, and the hand resting
lightly on his arm tightened its pressure. “Don’t you worry, Uncle
Cliff! Three hundred years--much less three--couldn’t make an Easterner
of me for keeps. And after Thanksgiving, Christmas’ll be here in no
time. You’d never have the heart to go back before Christmas?”

“Not back, Blue Bonnet, but away for a bit. There’s considerable
business waiting on me right now in New York.”

“I wonder how it’ll seem on Christmas morning not to have Benita come
tiptoeing ever so early into my room with the Christmas cake, baked
just for me? Uncle Cliff, wouldn’t it be nice to send them a box?”

“We’ll do it, Honey! It’ll take a pretty big box, won’t it?”

“If you knew how perfectly lovely it is to have you agreeing to things
first time round! I’d like to pass a law making it illegal to ‘but’
people.”

Mr. Ashe laughed. “I reckon I do spoil you a bit, Honey! See here,
suppose you come along to New York with me? We’ll manage to worry in a
good time or so, between business appointments.”

“And school?”

“Looks to me like you’d earned a holiday.”

“If you’re going to talk that way, I’ll have to go indoors. There’ll be
nearly two weeks’ holiday at Christmas. Only first come those horrid
exams! Uncle Cliff, if I don’t pass, will you disown me?”

“I’d be likely to, wouldn’t I? I reckon if the others get through you
will.”

The thought of those mid-year examinations was giving Blue Bonnet a
good deal of uneasiness; she had found out that most decidedly she
did not want her class to go on without her. And promotion would not
altogether depend upon the result of the examinations, either; the
regular class record counted for much--and she had done so poorly all
the fall!

She needed little reminding to get at her studies these evenings,
shutting herself up alone in the back parlor with a fortitude that Aunt
Lucinda found most encouraging, and Mr. Ashe inwardly deplored. Surely
all those long hours spent at the academy each day were enough. He felt
that Uncle Joe would never approve of Blue Bonnet’s being so tied down.

“You wouldn’t like to go back to a tutor, Honey?” he asked, the next
morning during the walk to school. “I reckon we could get our pick of
them back here.”

“I don’t believe I would--even if I could. School isn’t half bad--once
you’re used to it; there’s lots of fun going, though there are some
tiresome things mixed up in it. Aunt Lucinda says,” Blue Bonnet’s eyes
danced, “that I need the discipline of school life more than any girl
she has ever known. There, I’d nearly forgotten! Please lend me your
knife a moment, Uncle Cliff,--I’ve lost mine.”

“It appears to me,” Mr. Ashe commented, opening his knife for her,
“that that pencil ought to be placed on the retired list.”

“It isn’t as bad as the rest,” she held out her pencil box; “I do chew
them up, or down, so.”

“How about buying more?”

“I--” Blue Bonnet hesitated. Why had she called his attention to them?
“I’m--going to, the first of the month.”

“‘The first of the month,’” her uncle repeated. “Is _that_ one of the
school regulations?”

“Hardly!” Blue Bonnet laughed. “You see, I’m--allowanced nowadays. Aunt
Lucinda started in allowancing me--after the first week. She said I
must learn to distinguish between the use and abuse of money.”

Mr. Ashe pulled at his moustache. “And--”

“It hasn’t been such an easy lesson for me. Just now I’m being given a
practical illustration.”

“You don’t mean, Blue Bonnet--” Mr. Ashe’s hand went to his pocket.

Blue Bonnet drew back. “I can’t take anything, Uncle Cliff! It wouldn’t
be exactly--square, under the circumstances. There’s the bell!
Good-bye, and thank you just as much.”

Mr. Ashe waited until, with a final wave of the hand, she had
disappeared around the bend in the stairs; then he paid a visit to the
stationer’s on the corner.

There he made a record-breaking purchase of the plump little woman,
whom everybody in Woodford called “Aunt Polly,” and whose tiny shop was
as much one of the institutions of the place as the academy itself.

It left Aunt Polly feeling rather breathless and bewildered. Was that
the way they did things out in Texas?

In the meantime, quite unconscious of the excitement he had left
behind him, Mr. Ashe was strolling leisurely back to the Clyde place,
stopping here and there to pass the time of day with various small
Woodfordites--notably among them the “Palmer baby,” once more on its
travels.

Solomon was watching for him from the gate. It was a delightful morning
for a tramp, Solomon said,--as plainly as dog may.

But Mr. Ashe shook his head, and went on indoors to the sitting-room,
where Miss Lucinda sat sewing.

“Are you too busy for a little chat--what we might call a business
talk?” he asked, depositing his bundle on the table and taking his
stand on the hearth-rug, with his back to the fire.

Miss Lucinda assured him that she was quite at his service.

“I’ve been doing a little shopping,” Mr. Ashe nodded towards the
parcel. “I happened to find out--accidentally--that Blue Bonnet was
pretty well reduced in the matter of school supplies.”

Inwardly, Miss Lucinda sighed; she knew it, and she had hoped,--but
now--

“What’s Blue Bonnet getting for an allowance, Miss Clyde?” Mr. Ashe
asked.

“Three dollars a month.”

“I didn’t know until this morning that she had been put on an
allowance.”

“It was the only thing to do. Blue Bonnet has no idea whatever as to
the value of money.”

“I should judge she ought to have by now.”

“I am hoping she will have--a little. She gave her purse and its entire
contents away--to say nothing of a new winter gown--on a moment’s
impulse. Had there been thirty dollars in her purse instead of three,
it would probably have been just the same.”

“I reckon it would,” Mr. Ashe agreed so cheerfully that again Miss
Lucinda sighed inwardly.

“She would give her head, Blue Bonnet would, if it wasn’t fastened on,
and anyone asked her for it.”

“She certainly loses it with deplorable frequency,” Miss Lucinda
remarked.

Mr. Ashe chuckled, then said soberly--“Three dollars!”

He was thinking of the generous mail orders, which had been one of the
diversions of the long winter evenings; of the occasional visits to
the little country town.

Those had been gala days on the ranch for the little Mexicans,--those
days after the return from town. As for Benita, her ribbons were the
envy of all the other women on the ranch; while Uncle Joe’s stock of
silk neckerchiefs was famous.

Come to think of it, Blue Bonnet’s buying had mostly been for other
folks.

And they had tried to pin her down to three dollars a month!

Mr. Ashe looked across at Miss Lucinda. “You wouldn’t call three
dollars a remarkably big allowance, Miss Lucinda?”

“It is three times what several of her companions have,” Miss Clyde
answered; “and they are expected to keep themselves in gloves and
ribbons. Blue Bonnet is only required to provide for her school
supplies and small personal expenses.”

“But you see Blue Bonnet will have--”

Miss Lucinda glanced up quickly. “Should that make any difference--now?”

“I should have thought it might,” Mr. Ashe replied candidly.

There was a short silence, then Miss Lucinda said slowly, “I know,
Mr. Ashe, that I have no right to dictate, that you are Blue Bonnet’s
legal guardian,”--Miss Lucinda would not say rightful; she had her own
opinion on that point; “and yet--”

Mr. Ashe put up a protesting hand. “I think you have the right; I
daresay you are right and that I am wrong. I’ll try not to butt in
again. I reckon we’ve both got the same end in view, and that maybe
your road is the best.”

“It is not always the easiest--for either side, I will admit.”

“Only you’ll let me--for this time?” Mr. Ashe’s hand went to his pocket
again. “After all, I am a visiting uncle, and the position carries with
it certain time-honored privileges.”

So it was that when Blue Bonnet ran up to her room that noon, she found
a good-sized paper parcel on her dressing-table, and on top of the
parcel a little old-fashioned beaded purse, and in the purse a bright
five-dollar gold piece.

For a moment, Blue Bonnet stood looking down at the purse and its
contents with sober eyes; she had seen the little purse before, when
the private drawer of her aunt’s desk had chanced to be left open.

Blue Bonnet went in search of Miss Lucinda, finding her in the garden
with Denham.

“I came to thank you, Aunt Lucinda,” she held out the purse; “I sha’n’t
give this one away.”

“That is what I hoped. A very dear old friend made it for your mother,
when she was about your age.”

“It was mamma’s?” Blue Bonnet’s face flushed; then she asked--“You know
what is inside?”

“You must thank your uncle for that,” Miss Lucinda said; “I am not at
all sure that I approve,” but she smiled as she said it.

Mr. Ashe was on the veranda. “I got permission,” he laughed, as Blue
Bonnet held the purse up before him. “Honey, I’ve been cogitating
matters. I reckon your aunt’s right; the Blue Bonnet Ranch wouldn’t be
what it is to-day if your father hadn’t taught himself to look ahead a
bit. It isn’t an easy lesson for an Ashe to learn, I’ll grant you.”

“I reckon Aunt Lucinda is generally right,” Blue Bonnet admitted;
“that’s the worst of it sometimes.”

“Alec,” she questioned that afternoon, as he overtook her on her way
from school, “have you ever tried for this ‘Sargent prize’ they’re all
beginning to talk about now?”

“Won it--last year.”

“You’ve never told me about it?”

“N-no; I didn’t think you were much interested in such things.”

“Was it hard?”

“Not very. I didn’t go in with any expectation of winning. It’s only
a glorified compo; you can choose your own subject, but it must be
something connected more or less with local history.”

“Has Woodford a local history? The real history-book kind?”

“Shades of my ancestors! And yours! Has Woodford any local history!!”

“Bother. I hate writing compos anyway.”

“It’s a Woodford tradition--trying for it.”

“Who started such a tiresome business?”

“An old chap named John Sargent--years and years ago. He left a fund to
be used for that express purpose.”

“I hope he’s repented since; he’s had time to. Why didn’t he leave his
money for something sensible--a gym, for instance?”

“Perhaps in his time they went in more for high thinking than high
swinging. You can’t compete until you’ve reached a certain grade--the
one you’ll be in, after the coming exams.”

“If--”

“After that you can try each grade. There’s one for the girls and one
for the boys; conditions the same.”

“Are you going to try this time?”

“Grandfather will expect me to. Besides, when you are in Woodford, do
as--”

“You like,” Blue Bonnet cut in.

“I’m afraid that is hardly a Woodford sentiment.”

“As if I didn’t know that! Will you come for a ride? I suppose Uncle
Cliff’s gone in town.”

“It’ll have to be a short ride,” she said, as, a few moments later,
Victor and Darrel’s mare started off. “I wish Aunt Lucinda wasn’t so
fond of saying, just as one’s starting off, ‘Remember, Blue Bonnet, in
before dark!’ It does get dark so early now.”

“But if she didn’t say it--would you remember?” Alec laughed.

“I don’t see why a forgettory isn’t just as desirable as a memory,”
Blue Bonnet protested. “I’ve got such a good one.”

“Aunt Lucinda,” she asked at supper that evening, “did you ever try for
the ‘Sargent prize?’”

“Won it three years running,” Mrs. Clyde answered for her daughter.

“Oh, me!” Blue Bonnet buttered her biscuit thoughtfully. “Wasn’t that
mighty hard on the others, Grandmother?”

“I am afraid it was, dear.”

It seemed to Blue Bonnet that she could see the long line of
unsuccessful aspirants drawn up on one side, and on the other, Aunt
Lucinda--successful, triumphant. And, oh, dear, she felt sure that
they would expect her to try. It would be so stupid! All the “We are
Seven’s” fussing over a tiresome prize--everybody talking, dreaming,
thinking compos!

“If people will go in for such things there ought to be consolation
prizes, too. Aunt Lucinda, I’ve the loveliest plan--I mean to give the
‘We are Seven’s’ the time of their lives on Saturday.”

“To do what--Blue Bonnet!”

“The ‘rankin’ off--’ Miss Rankin says--when we’re writing our papers,
to first find out what we want to say--and then say it. Just snippy
little words--like treat, or good time--wouldn’t half express what I
mean, Aunt Lucinda. You see,” Blue Bonnet went on rather hurriedly,
“getting this five dollars was like what Uncle Joe calls finding money;
and it has only got to last me until the first of the month, so I can--”

“Elizabeth!” Miss Lucinda exclaimed; and at her tone, Mrs. Clyde
suddenly dropped her napkin--not on Blue Bonnet’s side of the
table--and was rather slow about picking it up.

“I’ve had to be so skimpy lately,” Blue Bonnet explained. “Grandmother,
why didn’t you tell me? It’ll feel good to be able to cut loose again!”

“In what direction were you thinking of ‘cutting loose,’ Blue Bonnet?”
Mrs. Clyde asked.

“I beg your pardon, Grandmother! I didn’t know how horrid that was,
until you said it! I--I thought, if we seven could go in town--Uncle
Cliff would take us. And that perhaps, we might go to a matinée. Just
think! Sarah’s never been to the theater! It’d do her a lot of good! Of
course I’d have to let Uncle Cliff pay our way in and out.”

“Shall we talk it over later, after study-time?” Grandmother said,
rising from the table.

Blue Bonnet lingered, she wished Aunt Lucinda wouldn’t look so--so
annoyed. “Is slang very dreadful, Aunt Lucinda?” she asked. “All the
girls use it.”

“Are you offering that as a reason, Elizabeth?”

“I reckon I was,” Blue Bonnet answered.

“It hardly seems a sufficient one to me.”

“But it’s like taking a short cut--one doesn’t always want to go
’round. Alec says that lots of to-day’s slang will be recognized
English by and by.”

“I certainly hope Alec may prove a false prophet in this case.”

Blue Bonnet went for her books; there were times when Aunt Lucinda was
exceedingly--difficult.

“Blue Bonnet,” her grandmother said, when just before bedtime Blue
Bonnet came for their promised talk, “don’t you want to share your good
fortune with someone who really needs it? None of you ‘We are Seven’s’
will lack for Thanksgiving cheer.”

“Oh, I would love that! I never once thought of doing that.
Grandmother, sometimes I can’t help being glad that some day I’ll
be--well, not exactly poor. It’s such fun giving things to people.”

“Better than fun, Blue Bonnet. And the best thing about it is that you
needn’t wait until you are grown-up, and ‘not exactly poor.’ Only,
dear, you must learn to give time and thought as well as money--

  “‘Not what we give, but what we share,--
  For the gift without the giver is bare.’”

Blue Bonnet looked into the fire with eyes half grave, half eager.
“Grandmother,” she said at last, “will you show me--how?”

“To the best of my ability, dear.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Blue Bonnet came down to breakfast the next morning full of the new
idea.

“Grandmother knows of such a poor family,” she told her uncle; “I’m to
send them their Thanksgiving turkey; we’re going together to buy it
after school.”

Mr. Ashe glanced towards Miss Lucinda; he hoped that she properly
appreciated what it was Blue Bonnet intended doing with her gold piece.

“I am afraid,” Mrs. Clyde remarked, “that Blue Bonnet, in her present
enthusiasm, is somewhat inclined to look upon the troubles of the
Patterson family in the light of a personal blessing.”

“You see,” Blue Bonnet was quite forgetting to eat her breakfast, “I’ve
never known any really poor people--the kind one reads about. I think
it must be sort of interesting--being poor.”

“For them?” her aunt asked.

“I should think it might be, Aunt Lucinda. It must be--a bit exciting,
not being quite positive whether you are going to have any dinner, or
not. And then, think what a lot of trouble they’re saved, not having a
crowd of things to take care of and keep in order!”

“Bureau drawers, to wit?” Mrs. Clyde laughed.

“What I should like,” Blue Bonnet remarked, “would be a bureau without
any drawers and a closet without any shelves.”

“My dear,” her aunt warned, “do you see what time it is getting to be?”
Blue Bonnet glanced at the clock, then settled down to the business of
breakfast. Aunt Lucinda had very definite ideas as to the proper length
of time to be given to a meal; whatever hurrying was done was not to be
done at the table.

“Would you mind walking pretty fast, Uncle Cliff?” Blue Bonnet asked,
as they started out together.

But in spite of this precaution, she got there just in time to catch
the first notes of the opening march, and to see the monitor for the
day closing the door. That meant that she must wait in the outer hall
until morning exercises were over.

Well, what couldn’t be cured must be endured; Blue Bonnet sat down on
the stairs to plan the afternoon’s expedition.

Grandmother had said that the Pattersons were certainly poor, even
if Patterson, Senior, was not particularly worthy. Blue Bonnet felt
that she should not so much mind being poor, but she would hate to be
described as “worthy.”

It was a little disappointing, however--though, of course, not for
him--that Mr. Patterson was neither sick, nor out of work; merely
burdened with a large family, and (Grandmother had been obliged to
admit) rather lazy.

She was glad there was a large family, and that she was to give them
their turkey; it was very stupid, having school the _day before_
Thanksgiving! She would have liked to be present at the packing of
those baskets, which were always sent out at Thanksgiving from the
Clyde place.

There, they were opening the doors at last! Blue Bonnet got up with a
little sigh; she did hope Miss Rankin would prove amenable. She was the
only one late in her room.

Fortunately, Miss Rankin accepted the offered explanation very kindly,
merely suggesting that another morning Blue Bonnet should allow herself
more time.

“A minute does make a whole lot of difference, doesn’t it?” Blue
Bonnet’s smile was most insinuating.

“When it is on the wrong side of nine o’clock,” Miss Rankin agreed,
and Blue Bonnet went to her seat, utterly refusing to notice Kitty’s
mocking uplift of the eyebrows.

On the whole, it was not a successful day. Blue Bonnet drew a long
breath of relief that afternoon, when the bell rang for dismission, and
she had not been requested to remain.

“I reckon that was a pretty close shave,” she rejoiced, as the “We are
Seven’s” crossed the yard together.

“It was!” Debby agreed.

“You’ve got the ‘rankin’ officer’ clean bewitched!” Ruth laughed.
“Hasn’t she, girls?”

“We’ll have to begin calling her ‘teacher’s pet’ soon,” Kitty declared.

“I’ll never come when I’m called, then,” Blue Bonnet retorted.

“What’s been the matter with you to-day?” Amanda questioned.

“Nothing--except that I’ve had more important things to think about
than--”

“But, Blue Bonnet,” Sarah interposed gravely, “I don’t think--”

“Why publish the fact broadcast, Sarah?” Kitty demanded.

Sarah surveyed the impertinent Kitty disapprovingly. “As I have said
before, Kitty, sometimes you are positively rude.”

“And Sarah always speaks the truth!” Blue Bonnet laughed.

“Children! Children!” Susy protested. “First thing you know, you’ll
have a quarrel on.”

“It takes two to make a quarrel,” Sarah said, with considerable dignity.

“But only one to start one,” Kitty added; “and I’d just as lieve be
that one as not. Think of it! No school until Monday morning! We ought
to celebrate!”

“We’re going to to-morrow,” Debby said; “and let’s have a good long
ride Friday and Saturday, too.”

“Wouldn’t it be wiser to get together one afternoon and study up?”
Sarah suggested. “I’m weak in my algebra.”

“You’re a great deal weaker in your ideas of how a holiday should be
spent!” Blue Bonnet exclaimed. “Oh, I forgot! Grandmother will be
waiting! Good-bye, everybody--and some of you take prompt measures with
Sarah if she starts any more such horrid schemes!”

Blue Bonnet found Mrs. Clyde waiting in the sitting-room, while Denham
drove slowly back and forth before the door.

“I’m so sorry!” Blue Bonnet apologized. “I’ll be ready in no time,
Grandmother.”

She settled herself back beside her grandmother presently with one of
her little sighs. “It’s been such a tiresome day!”

“And the trouble, Blue Bonnet?”

“Me--mostly,” the girl answered, with the frankness that was apt to
prove disarming.

“Isn’t that a pity, dear?”

“I reckon so. I surely have ‘relapsed’ a lot to-day; but it won’t
happen again--before next Monday. Grandmother, won’t all the best
turkeys be gone by now?”

“I asked Mr. Ford to save us a good one, Blue Bonnet.”

“You think of everything! I suppose Uncle Cliff went in town?”

“Only for an hour or two, he said,” Mrs. Clyde answered.

Blue Bonnet thoroughly enjoyed that afternoon’s experience. Mr. Ford
had saved them a fine turkey; but the turkey was not the only purchase
to be made.

Blue Bonnet produced the list she had made out during algebra lesson.
“I put down all the things I thought I should like if I were poor and
someone were to send me a Thanksgiving dinner,” she said.

Mrs. Clyde smiled as she studied the list. “Suppose,” she said, “that
in place of the fruit and candy, we substitute sugar and coffee--two
articles always most welcome.”

There was a quick gleam of laughter in Blue Bonnet’s eyes. “But I
thought they were mostly children,--and that you and Aunt Lucinda did
not approve of coffee for--young people?” It was a point on which Blue
Bonnet was still a little unreconciled; coffee--and very weak coffee
at that at Sunday morning breakfast only, was the rule at the Clyde
place, with reference to young folks. Blue Bonnet’s protests, that on
the ranch she could have had it three times a day if she had wished,
had not altered matters in the least.

Grandmother’s lips twitched ever so slightly at the corners now.
“Still there are the father and mother, Blue Bonnet. This is to be an
all-round basket, isn’t it?”

“But you’ll let the cranberries stand, Grandmother? It wouldn’t be at
all a proper Thanksgiving dinner without them!”

“Certainly. And for that very reason--all the more need of the sugar.”

It was dusk before they reached the little house on the outskirts of
the town; Mr. Ford had offered to send the basket, but Blue Bonnet had
looked so disappointed at the mere thought of this that Mrs. Clyde said
they would take it themselves.

It was a bare, forlorn little house, standing by itself at the top of
a low hill and looking more than usually dreary in the gray November
twilight, with the wind rattling the loosely hanging blinds, and
tossing the leafless branches of the bent and twisted old trees.

Two or three dogs came barking about the carriage as Denham drew up
before the open gate; their noise brought a woman to the kitchen door.

“Is it you, ma’am?” she said, coming quickly down the path, followed
by any number of small, untidy children.

“This is ‘Miss Elizabeth’s’ daughter, Jenny,” Mrs. Clyde said. Jenny
Patterson had been second girl at the Clyde’s before her marriage and a
favorite with her mistress, who had never lost sight of her. “She has
come to bring the children some Thanksgiving.”

“And I’m sure we’re most grateful to her for doin’ it.” Mrs. Patterson
looked up at Blue Bonnet a little curiously. “I’ve been wantin’ to see
‘Miss Elizabeth’s’ girl; I’ve heard tell a powerful lot about her.”

Blue Bonnet laughed. “I didn’t know I was so famous! I suppose the
children like turkey?”

“That they do, miss! Though it’d begun to look like they weren’t goin’
to have any this year. Patterson ain’t been takin’ much heart in
things lately. He’s kind--Patterson is, but I ain’t denyin’ he’s easy
discouraged.”

Denham had carried the basket indoors, not unattended; and his short
cough now, as he gathered up the reins again, said as plainly as words
that it was quite time he was getting his horses home.

“We must go now, Jenny,” Mrs. Clyde said. “Good night.”

“Good night, ma’am; thank you and the young lady most kindly,” Jenny
answered.

“I hope the children will like their basket,” Blue Bonnet said. “It
wouldn’t be the least interesting, being that kind of poor,” she
remarked a few moments later, as the horses trotted briskly off in the
direction of home and supper. “That would be the difficulty, I suppose;
one couldn’t choose one’s kind.” She was not very talkative during the
rest of the drive; she was trying to picture to herself the unpacking
of the basket--the children’s eager little faces.

“Grandmother,” she said, as they were nearing home, “I’m going to start
a ‘mercy box,’ like Sarah has; I’ll take that china bank--you know, the
little red and white house on the bracket in my room?--and I’ll put in
something every week. Then if I do get low in funds, myself, I’ll have
something on hand for--other things.”

“I think that would be an excellent idea, Blue Bonnet,” Mrs. Clyde
answered.

Then the carriage turned into the drive, and Solomon was leaping and
barking about it; the lights indoors were throwing long shadows out
across the lawn, and on the steps, Uncle Cliff was waiting to welcome
them.

“We’ve had a beautiful time, haven’t we, Grandmother?” Blue Bonnet
said. “It’s been every bit as nice as I thought it would be.”

“I am glad you have enjoyed it, dear,” Mrs. Clyde responded; “I am sure
I have.”

“My, but I am hungry!” Blue Bonnet slipped an arm through her uncle’s
as they went indoors. “Do you suppose Katie has waffles for supper?”

Katie had made waffles, and after supper Blue Bonnet, having done her
full duty by them, decided to pay a visit to the kitchen to tell her
how nice they had been, and to compare to-morrow’s turkey with the one
bought for the Pattersons.

Blue Bonnet and Katie were on excellent terms, and in Blue Bonnet’s
opinion the big, comfortable kitchen, with its old-fashioned oak
dresser and rows of shining tins, was one of the most delightful spots
in the whole house.

“It isn’t much like ours at home,” she said now. “I wonder what Lisa
would say to it.”

“And how would yours be like this, miss, with only a heathen sort of
body to look after it?” Katie remarked.

“But Lisa isn’t a heathen sort of body! She’s a nice, fat old dear! And
she can make tamales!”

“You come look at these, miss!” Katie led the way to the great pantry,
pointing proudly to one of the shelves, where stood five small pies in
a row--mince, pumpkin, apple, cranberry, custard.

“Oh, how cute!” Blue Bonnet cried delightedly. “Are they for me?”

“And who else would they be for? ’Tis some use, keeping holiday now,
with a young body in the house.”

“There’ll be two to-morrow; Alec’s coming to dinner. What made you
think of these, Katie, you darling?”

“’Twas me aunt--who was cook here afore me--always made the little pies
at Thanksgiving time, miss.”

“For my mother?” Blue Bonnet asked softly.

“For both the young ladies in their time, miss.”

Blue Bonnet looked down at the little pies again. Of course, Aunt
Lucinda had been young once; somehow, it was hard to realize her having
little pies made for her. Had she used to come down here to the pantry
the night before Thanksgiving to inspect them? Perhaps, with mamma--who
would have been ever so much smaller--standing on tiptoe to “see too.”

“Do you know, Solomon,” Blue Bonnet said, meeting him in the hall
on her way back to the sitting-room, and sitting down on the stairs
for a short chat, “things like that do--somehow--seem to alter one’s
viewpoint; now don’t they?”



CHAPTER XII

SEÑORITA


“So, sir,” Blue Bonnet pointed a warning forefinger at the upright
Solomon, “remember, this is the day when Aunt Lucinda expects
everyone--particularly, small brown dogs and nieces from Texas--to do
their duty! The Boston relatives are coming. I can’t exactly explain
all that stands for, Solomon; but I am quite sure it means that they
are to be taken seriously--very seriously; and I’m afraid, old fellow,
that taking folks seriously isn’t our long suit.”

Solomon looked distinctly bored; here was the eventful day, and though
the morning was well along, there was still no sign of dinner--outside
of the kitchen, that is; and Solomon had found, to his pained surprise,
that the attitude of the kitchen was, on this morning of all mornings,
decidedly discouraging to a small dog.

“Dinner’s to be at three,” Blue Bonnet went on; “you needn’t sit up any
longer, sir.”

Solomon availed himself of this permission gladly, pricking up his ears
at the mention of dinner; the subject began to get interesting.

“But the relatives come on the noon train--there are three of them,
Solomon; Cousin Tracy Winthrop, Cousin Honoria Winthrop, and Cousin
Augusta Winthrop! It sounds a bit alarming, doesn’t it? And oh,
Solomon!” Blue Bonnet scrambled to her feet. “I haven’t done a thing to
my room yet, and I’m to go to ride with Uncle Cliff directly.”

Solomon tiptoed upstairs behind her, rejoicing in the fact that it was
not a school day, and that there was a ride in prospect.

“Excepting Saturdays and Sundays, this is the first holiday I’ve had
since starting school,” Blue Bonnet told him. “Oh me, did you ever see
such a room!”

Sitting full in a spot of sunshine, Solomon listened and watched
operations, blinking at the rapidity with which his young mistress went
from one thing to another.

Miss Lucinda had not yet been able to make Blue Bonnet realize the
advisability of putting things as much as possible in order over night.
“I’d give a good bit to see Benita come walking in that door just about
now!” Blue Bonnet declared, giving the bedspread a smoothing touch.
“But it won’t be Benita, it’ll be Aunt Lucinda. And what do you think
she’ll say at finding you in possession, young man?”

Solomon’s manner implied that he willingly shifted all responsibility
on to her shoulders.

“I wonder what I’d’ve been like now--supposing I had been sent East
years ago--as Aunt Lucinda wanted?” Blue Bonnet said.

Before her companion had time to consider this, Miss Lucinda appeared.

“Solomon!” Blue Bonnet commanded, “your manners!”

Solomon advanced, holding up a paw politely.

Miss Lucinda took it, then she looked at Solomon’s mistress. “I draw
the line at my room, Blue Bonnet.”

“Thank you so much, Aunt Lucinda, for not drawing it--any closer. You
hear that, Solomon?”

“To hear is not always to obey, with Solomon,” Aunt Lucinda commented.
“Your uncle is waiting for you, Blue Bonnet.”

“I won’t be a jiffy now!” Blue Bonnet went to the closet for her habit.
“Fortunately, Uncle Cliff never seems to mind my keeping him waiting; I
reckon he’s used to it.”

“I should call that very unfortunate, my dear; not to say, wanting in
proper respect to Mr. Ashe.”

Blue Bonnet looked amazed. “I never thought of it in that way!”

“Uncle Cliff,” she asked, as they cantered briskly off down the drive,
Solomon pelting along behind, “_do_ you mind my keeping you waiting?”

“I’ve always supposed it was the way with women--young or old.”

“Then you do mind! Why didn’t you say so? Have you thought it ‘lacking
in proper respect,’ too?”

“Bless your heart, no, indeed! Is that what you’ve been looking so
sober over, Honey?”

But Blue Bonnet continued to look sober. “There’s such a lot to what
Grandmother calls ‘one’s duty to one’s neighbor.’ Do you reckon I’ll
ever be able to learn it all?”

“I don’t see how your mother’s daughter could very well help it, Honey.”

Blue Bonnet stroked the mare’s neck thoughtfully, looking out across
the bare fields, a wistful look in her eyes--“I wonder why mothers and
fathers have to--go away? One needs them so. I’m not forgetting,” she
turned to Mr. Ashe, “how I have you, and Grandmother, and Aunt Lucinda,
only--”

“I understand, Blue Bonnet.”

Blue Bonnet was looking out over the fields again; they looked gray and
deserted, and the wind blowing across them was bleak and raw. Along the
hills the clouds lay thick and lowering; Denham prophesied snow before
another twenty-four hours. The few sparrows hopping forlornly from
fence to fence had their feathers all ruffled the wrong way.

It was all very dreary, Blue Bonnet thought; and to-morrow Uncle Cliff
would be off to New York without her, and in just a little while longer
he would be going back to the ranch without her.

Blue Bonnet gave herself an impatient shake; her immediate duty to
her immediate neighbor hardly consisted in spoiling his ride for him.
“Don’t you want to give me a good old Texas run, Uncle Cliff?”

“And have folks think we’re being run away with, Honey?”

“There isn’t anyone around--I reckon they’re all home either getting
the turkey ready, or getting ready for the turkey. And if there was, it
wouldn’t matter.” Blue Bonnet gave the mare the word; the next instant
she was off, laughing back at him over her shoulder.

“She’s almost as good as Firefly, isn’t she?” she asked, as her uncle
caught up with her.

“She’s a pretty decent little horse, all right.”

“I wish she had a regular name. Darrel just calls her Pet,--and Lady.”

“Why don’t you name her?”

“I shall--now that Darrel’s going to let me have her right along. I’m
glad you’ve seen to that.”

“Yes, I’ve seen to that. Don’t you want another scamper, Honey?”

Blue Bonnet pointed with her whip at a square white stone by the side
of the road. “Do you see that?”

“The milestone?”

“Do you see how many miles it says we are from Woodford? And I promised
to be in by half-past one at the latest! Indeed I do want a run--but
it’ll have to be in the direction of home. It must be original sin,
and nothing less, that always sets me traveling whenever it’s most
necessary I should be at home.”

“Don’t you worry, we’ll get there in time,” Mr. Ashe promised; and they
did get back just as the tall clock in the hall was striking the half
hour.

From the sitting-room came the murmur of voices. “The Boston
relatives,” Blue Bonnet whispered, her finger on her lips, and beckoned
Solomon back, as he was trotting on in, on hospitable thoughts intent.

“We must make ourselves presentable first,” she told him.

On her bed, Blue Bonnet found her white serge laid out ready; she
hadn’t worn it yet. It was next to the red she had given away--the
prettiest of her new gowns.

“You see, sir,” she confided to Solomon, “this is an Occasion--with a
big O.”

But standing before the glass to unbraid her hair, Blue Bonnet had what
she considered a sudden inspiration.

The next moment, she was kneeling on her closet floor, diving eagerly
into the big box, where she kept certain of her most treasured
possessions. “Solomon Clyde Ashe!” she cried, excitedly, “I’ve such a
surprise in store for them!”

Fifteen minutes later when Delia knocked at her door, Blue Bonnet
resolutely declined to open it. “I’ll be down presently,” she said
through the keyhole.

“But Miss Clyde told me, miss--”

“I don’t need any help, thank you, Delia!” Blue Bonnet insisted.

“But your aunt said I was to--”

“I’m getting on beautifully! Please go away, Delia. And--Delia, please
don’t--say anything.”

Delia hesitated; there was mystery and, it was to be feared, mischief
in the very air. “It’s past two now, Miss Blue Bonnet! And Miss Clyde
said--she--she’ll be wanting you to look your best, I’m thinking.”

“I’ll look--you’ll see how I’ll look!”

Which was cold comfort in Delia’s opinion. She retired, in much
uneasiness of mind, to the kitchen, devoutly hoping Miss Lucinda would
not invade those premises.

“’Deed and she do be big enough to dress herself,” Katie comforted, not
referring, however, to Miss Lucinda.

“’Tis up to something she is!” Delia declared.

Katie gave the big turkey an affectionate glance before closing
the oven door. “Did you ever see such a beauty! And cooking like a
Christian! Leave off worrying, Delia; ’tis no harm she’s up to!”

The tall clock in the hall was striking half-past two when Blue Bonnet
came downstairs. Grandmother, wondering a little anxiously why she did
not come, caught the soft swish of skirts.

It seemed to Grandmother that she took an unusually long time to cross
the short space between the foot of the stairs and the sitting-room
door; then all at once, she gave a little gasp of astonishment.

Standing in the doorway, in quaint, old-fashioned, red satin gown,
with high-heeled satin slippers, and stockings to match, a black lace
mantilla thrown lightly over the hair, dressed high, with a great
carved Spanish comb, a red rose showing coquettishly above the left
ear, on her slender fingers two or three Mexican rings in old-time
setting, and around her throat a string of heavy gold beads, Blue
Bonnet bore as little resemblance to the white-clad figure Grandmother
had been expecting to see as she did to the laughing, bare-headed girl
who had come rushing up the drive little more than an hour before, her
hair flying in the wind.

For a moment no one in the room stirred or spoke, then Mr. Ashe cried
delightedly, “Why Honey!”

The “Boston relatives” looked from Grandmother to Aunt Lucinda, from
Aunt Lucinda to the demure-faced figure in the doorway. They had been
prepared for a mere schoolgirl--someone very like what her mother had
been at her age. It was difficult to imagine Elizabeth Clyde in such a
costume as that.

Grandmother made the introductions. Aunt Lucinda was still asking
herself why, oh, why she had not taken possession of that costume upon
Blue Bonnet’s first showing it to her?

Then the General and Alec came in, creating a diversion for which Blue
Bonnet, who was feeling rather breathless, for all her brave showing,
was truly grateful.

“My dear young lady,” General Trent turned to her, after paying his
respects to the rest--“or, I should say, _Señorita_?--this is a
surprise!”

“To all of us, General,” Mrs. Clyde said. “On the whole, I think I like
it.”

Blue Bonnet came to rest a hand on her grandmother’s shoulder. “Truly,
Grandmother?” she asked softly. “I--hoped you would.”

“Isn’t she stunning!” Alec exclaimed.

When Delia came to announce dinner a few moments later, she broke off
suddenly in the middle of her sentence--much to her own confusion--to
stare open-eyed at Blue Bonnet.

“If you could see her!” she said to Katie, escaping as soon as might
be to the kitchen. “Sitting there like a picture--and that innocent!
For all the world as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth! ‘And please
don’t say anything,’ says she to me--and well she might! I’d like to be
knowing what her aunt do be thinking of such goings-on this minute.”

“I’m after thinking,” Katie remarked wisely, “that the mistress herself
do be enjoying the bit of a lark with the best of them. Sure and it
isn’t the same house, since the darlin’ came.”

Meanwhile, Blue Bonnet found herself placed between the eldest of those
“Boston relatives” and Alec. She had never seen anyone before quite
like this elderly gentleman, whom it seemed almost disrespectful to
call “Cousin Tracy,” even though he had told her to.

He should have looked old, but he didn’t; she supposed he was what Aunt
Lucinda called “well preserved”; and she wondered, a dancing light in
her eyes, if perhaps he was not looking upon her as being something of
a “pickle.”

“Mayn’t I share the good thought, _Señorita_?” Mr. Winthrop asked.

Blue Bonnet looked confused. This was what came of letting one’s
thoughts run away with one before people.

“Do you know,” she said, hurriedly, “this is my first real New England
Thanksgiving.”

“Was that the reason you appeared in Spanish costume?”

“You asked that just the way Aunt Lucinda asks things sometimes! It
must be a Boston fashion.”

“Possibly. And how are you enjoying your ‘New England Thanksgiving’?”

Blue Bonnet looked thoughtfully up and down the long table, with
Grandmother at the head and Aunt Lucinda at the foot. The shades had
been drawn and the only light came from the wax candles in the tall
silver candelabra on table and mantel. They cast a soft, mellow light
about the room and over the perfectly appointed table, in the centre
of which stood the best Blue Canton bowl, filled with great, tawny
chrysanthemums.

“I like it,” she said slowly, finding it hard to express her feeling;
“it is so--homey and--familified. I like to think of how many
Thanksgiving dinners must have been held in this very room--I don’t
mean just the dinner part--anyone can have turkey and such things--but
the way in which it has been done--like to-day. And it is nice to be
part Clyde, isn’t it?”

“Very; though it is an honor I can lay no claim to.”

Blue Bonnet laughed; she liked Cousin Tracy, he treated her as if she
were quite grown-up. “But the Winthrops are--” she hesitated.

“We think they--are. But we have been accused of being over
proud--where family is concerned.”

Blue Bonnet waited to exchange a smile with Uncle Cliff, seated
opposite between Cousin Honoria and Cousin Augusta, and apparently
getting on very well with them both. “Grandmother was a Winthrop,” she
said, then,--“and it’s Aunt Lucinda’s middle name. Names count for a
good deal back here, don’t they?”

“Or what they stand for.”

“Ashe stands for a good deal out in Texas.”

“See here!” Alec protested in an undertone, “I didn’t think you were
the sort to go back on an old friend.”

“I thought you were talking to Aunt Lucinda,” Blue Bonnet answered.

“If not the rose--you know the rest!”

“Did you tell Aunt Lucinda that?”

“I’d be so apt to.”

“Alec, do you realize how long we have been sitting here? I’m getting
dreadfully tired, aren’t you? I wish grandmother would announce fifteen
minutes for recess, and insist--like the ‘rankin’ officer’ does--on our
all getting out into the fresh air.”

“For a game of tag? I can imagine your elderly relative seconding the
motion!”

“A little motion would do him and us all a lot of good. He’s really
awfully nice, Alec; and he hasn’t once asked me how I like Woodford.
I’m so tired of answering that question; I’ve even thought of getting
my answer printed on little slips of paper and handing one to every new
person I meet.”

“Oh, but there’s time yet! The turkey is just going off, having gone
off considerably--before going off. And experience teaches me that
there is more to follow.”

“I begin to understand why Thanksgiving is kept only _once_ a year.”

“Why, _Señorita_?” the General asked, overhearing the remark.

“It is so perfectly lovely to be called ‘_Señorita!_’” Blue Bonnet
assured him; “I haven’t been called that since Benita said good-bye to
me, until to-day.”

“But you haven’t answered General Trent’s question, Blue Bonnet,” Miss
Lucinda reminded her.

“I--was trying not to, Aunt Lucinda!” Blue Bonnet answered.

There was a laugh, then the General said, “I withdraw it, _Señorita_,”
and the talk drifted off to other things.

“Break number two,” Blue Bonnet confided to Alec.

“People shouldn’t ask questions,” he comforted her,--“unexpected
questions like that.”

“N--no,” Blue Bonnet agreed. “Sometimes I think it ought to be--‘elders
should be seen and not heard.’”

At last came desert, with the nuts and raisins; Mrs. Clyde, taking pity
on Blue Bonnet, suggested that the young people take theirs off to the
back parlor.

“Isn’t Grandmother the dearest!” Blue Bonnet said, as she and Alec
settled themselves in two big chairs before the fire.

“She’s all right!” Alec answered. “I’ve a piece of news for you, my
lady.”

Blue Bonnet caught the almonds he tossed her. “Good?”

“I’ve a cousin coming to stay with us; he’s been at school in New York
and--”

“I’m glad; he’s a he!”

“Could a ‘_he_’ be a _she_?”

“Because--there are such a lot of ‘she’s’ in Woodford!”

“The female population of Massachusetts is--”

“A good deal in evidence,” Blue Bonnet interpolated. “What’s your
cousin’s name?”

“Boyd Trent. His people are going abroad--he’s to stay here until
summer.”

“And go to school with you?”

“Yes.”

“How old is he?”

“Three or four months younger than ‘yours truly.’”

“Then he’ll come between you and me.”

“I hope not.”

“As far as age goes--I don’t see how you can help it.” It seemed to
Blue Bonnet, thinking it over afterwards, that Alec showed very little
enthusiasm over his cousin’s coming. At the time, however, she hardly
noticed it.

Going to the piano, she began playing snatches of old Spanish songs,
in which one caught the tinkling of the guitar,--the gay sound of the
castanets. But presently, she slipped gradually off into softer, more
plaintive music. Music, it seemed to Alec, that must have been written
by some exile, longing for the home he had left.

Blue Bonnet had quite forgotten him; when at last he spoke to her, and
she turned to answer, it was to find her audience considerably enlarged.

“You are not going to stop, _Señorita_?” the General asked. He was not
the only one to find both playing and player attractive.

Mrs. Clyde’s eyes were turned upon the slender, brilliantly clad,
little figure opposite with an expression in them that made Miss
Lucinda sigh softly to herself.

Between them all, they kept her there playing for them until Cousin
Honoria declared it was quite unfair--the poor child would be tired out.

“But when you come to stay with us in Boston,” Cousin Augusta added,
“we shall want you to play for us again. You will come for a week end
some-time--even if we are all old people? We will try not to have it
too dull for you. Tracy will show you his collections--he has several
very fine collections.”

“I’d love to,” Blue Bonnet answered; she came to sit between the two
little gentlewomen on the old-fashioned high-backed davenport. They
were not in the least formidable; she thought she should like them very
much.

Then she leaned forward with one of her eager movements; the talk had
suddenly turned on Texas; Mr. Ashe was telling of ranch life out there.

Closing her eyes, Blue Bonnet could almost fancy herself back in the
big ranch house living-room. How the wind would be howling about the
weather-stained house to-night. And how lonesome Uncle Joe Terry and
Benita must be without Uncle Cliff and her.

It occurred to Blue Bonnet that she had not given much thought to that
side of the question. She would write a good long letter to them both
to-morrow, telling them all about her day, and how she had worn her
Spanish dress, and how everyone liked Uncle Cliff so much.

It was later that Cousin Tracy asked--as the good nights were being
said--“By the way, _Señorita_, you have not told me how you like our
East?”

“Did you put him up to it?” Blue Bonnet demanded, cornering Alec.

“Not I,” the boy laughed.

“At least he didn’t say ‘Woodford.’ But why did he call it ‘our East’?”

“Ask him,” Alec advised.

“Solomon,” Blue Bonnet remarked, when Alec and the General had gone,
and she was paying her good night visit to the basket under the back
stairs where Solomon slept, “I hope you have enjoyed your Thanksgiving
as much as I have mine.”

Solomon, who had fared less wisely than too well, grunted sleepily;
Solomon felt that the only fault to be found with Thanksgiving was that
it did not come oftener.

Cousin Honoria and Cousin Augusta had gone upstairs; their brother was
taking a short turn on the veranda with Mr. Ashe. Blue Bonnet went into
the sitting-room, where Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda lingered, talking
over the events of the day.

“And how,” Grandmother asked, “have you enjoyed your ‘first real New
England Thanksgiving’?”

“Immensely!” Blue Bonnet answered.

“It is the first for me that has not been entirely ‘New England.’” Mrs.
Clyde’s glance rested on Blue Bonnet’s dress.

“But you said you liked it?”

Grandmother’s smile was reassuring.

Blue Bonnet turned to her aunt. “And--?” Aunt Lucinda had not expressed
her opinion as yet; Blue Bonnet hoped she had not been holding it in
reserve.

“I think we have all had a very pleasant day--though it has held its
surprises--for some of us,” Miss Lucinda said.

“I don’t know why I did it!” Blue Bonnet explained, “I just took the
notion, I suppose. I’m afraid Benita would think I had done my hair up
very badly--she’s always done it for me before. And I should have worn
the earrings--I have them, great gold ones, with pearl pendants--but
I’ve never had my ears pierced; papa didn’t like it. Benita used to tie
them for me, so one could hardly tell--but I hadn’t the patience--nor
the time.”

Miss Lucinda felt that the day had held its unknown blessings--they
had been spared the earrings. “I think the costume was quite complete
enough without the earrings,” she said.

“I won’t wear any of it again, if you’d rather not,” Blue Bonnet
offered, always ready to meet Aunt Lucinda halfway.

“Suppose we say, not without consulting your grandmother or me. And
now,--suppose we say good night--_Señorita_.”

“I believe in my heart,” Blue Bonnet told her reflection in the glass,
“that she really and truly liked it! I know the Boston relatives did.
Poor dears!”

And in her own room, Miss Lucinda was owning to herself that the day,
for one reason or another, had been different from all the long line of
Thanksgivings stretching out behind her.

“Mother,” she said, coming to the half-open door between their
rooms, “I’ve been thinking--how would it be to give Blue Bonnet a
party--during Christmas week?”

“As a reward of merit?” Mrs. Clyde asked.

“Elizabeth used always to have her Christmas party,” Miss Lucinda
answered. “We have not entertained, in that way, since she went West.”



CHAPTER XIII

CHRISTMAS BOXES AND OTHER MATTERS


The next morning Mr. Ashe left for New York. “I’ll be back in time to
get that box off,” he promised; “you have your part all ready, Honey.”

Aunt Lucinda was going in town with the “Boston relatives.” “Everybody
seems going somewhere, except you and me, Grandmother,” Blue Bonnet
said, as she stood before the fire in the sitting-room on her return
from the station. It was hard to settle down to the every day business
of practising and so on.

“You will be riding this afternoon, dear,” Mrs. Clyde answered; and
then Aunt Lucinda came down, ready for her trip.

She handed Blue Bonnet a little roll of crisp new bills. “For your
Christmas shopping,” she explained. “I am not so unreasonable, my dear,
as to expect your present allowance to cover that.”

Blue Bonnet’s face brightened; “I have been rather wondering--” she
admitted. “This will do a lot, won’t it, Grandmother?”

“Doesn’t that depend?” Mrs. Clyde asked, with a smile.

“And it won’t be a bit too soon to begin, will it?”

“Too soon!” Miss Lucinda repeated. “My dear, I began last Spring!”

“I don’t think I should like that,” Blue Bonnet commented; “I think the
hurry at the end is half the fun.”

“There is generally a fair amount of that in spite of all one’s
planning,” Grandmother observed.

The talk during the ride that afternoon was largely of the coming
Christmas. It pleased Kitty, for the moment, to treat Blue Bonnet as a
mere novice in the art of Christmas shopping.

The latter’s reminder that even in Texas there were such things as
stores was coolly ignored.

“You must make a list before leaving home,” Kitty insisted, “putting
down the names of all the persons you intend giving presents to, and
opposite the name the gift you have decided upon.”

“After that--according to Kitty’s own methods,” Debby interrupted, “you
must either leave the list at home, or lose it as quickly as possible.”

“And even if you don’t do that,” Ruth said, “just as likely as not you
can’t find the thing you’ve decided on.”

“I’ll settle with you two later,” Kitty warned. “Listen, Blue Bonnet.
As soon as you’ve bought your present you must wrap it up in tissue
paper and tie it prettily with ribbon and label it--”

“Right there in the store!” Blue Bonnet protested. “How inconvenient,
Kitty!”

“To avoid confusion at the last,” Kitty finished, calmly.

“You wait till you’ve seen Kitty’s room day before Christmas!” Debby
remarked.

“I’m making most of my presents,” Sarah said.

“I haven’t made up my mind,” Kitty flicked Black Pete lightly, “whether
yours is an example to be followed, or shunned, Sarah. I’d hate to feel
lonesome--the way you must.”

Sarah shifted herself in the saddle; she still found riding more of a
duty than a pleasure--which Kitty declared was her principal reason for
keeping on with it. “Lonesome!” she repeated, wonderingly, “what _do_
you mean?”

“You remember what the poet says--” Kitty’s gray eyes were most
demure--“‘Be good and you’ll be lonesome’?”

“Then you’ve never been lonesome, Kitty Clark!” Susy remarked.

Sarah was looking puzzled; she took her English literature very
seriously. “I don’t remember any poet saying--”

“Never you mind, Sarah _mia_,” Blue Bonnet laughed; she checked the
mare’s pace, making her--much against her will--keep step with Sarah’s
horse. “Tell me what you’re making for Christmas? I wish I could make
something, too--but my stupid fingers are all thumbs, when it comes to
sewing.”

Sarah responded cordially. “It would be nice for you to make something
to send back in your box, Blue Bonnet; they’d like it, I’m sure.”

“Grandmother,” Blue Bonnet said, that evening, “can you crochet?”

“I used to.”

“Shoulder shawls?”

“Those among other things.”

“Please--will you show me how? I want to make one for Benita. She’d
love it.”

“Have you ever crocheted, Blue Bonnet?”

“Never--Benita tried to teach me to knit once, but it wasn’t a success.”

“Then wouldn’t it be wiser to begin with something simpler?”

“But there won’t be time for two things--and I know Benita would like
the shawl. I’ll get the wools to-morrow.”

“There is some worsted and a needle in the lower drawer of my work
table. If you like, you shall have your first lesson now, dear.”

Coming down stairs again, Blue Bonnet met Delia in the hall. “A letter
for you, miss; one of the parsonage children just brought it up; it’d
been sent there.”

Blue Bonnet read the address, wonderingly--

  “‘Blue Bonnet,’
      “Care of the Rev. Sam. Blake,
                      “Woodford, Mass.”

“Grandmother!” she exclaimed, “it must be from my ‘missionary-box’
girl!”

She opened the letter, with its Texas post-mark. “Shall I read it
aloud, Grandmother?”

“I should like to hear it, dear.”

“I don’t know if Blue Bonnet is really your name,” the letter began,
“but somehow, I can’t help hoping that it is. My name is Caroline
Judson--but I am always called Carita; and I am writing to thank you
for the lovely dress you sent me. Nothing like it ever came in any of
our other boxes, and at first mother thought it must be a mistake,
until we found your note and the purse in the pocket. And if you knew
how I thank you for that, too!

“Now I can go Christmas shopping. I’m going to buy each of the boys a
knife of his own--then they can all whittle at once. I wonder if you
have any brothers? I have four--all younger than I am--but no sisters.

“I wonder a lot about you; I think, perhaps, you’ve gone East to
school--that’s where father wants to send me--but that you love it
out here in Texas best. I wish you would write to me--I never get any
letters--and tell me how old you are, and what Woodford is like.
Father says he is sure it has a public library--I wish we had one out
here. Don’t you love to read, better than anything? I was fourteen last
August and all the dress needed was to have a tuck taken in it, and
that will make it all the longer getting too short for me. That’s a
pretty mixed-up sentence, isn’t it? But you will know what I mean.

“Mother thinks I’d better stop writing now--as it is a first letter. It
is so good to be writing to someone.

“Please believe me, very truly and gratefully,

              “Yours,
                “CARITA ADELINE JUDSON.”

“Grandmother!” Blue Bonnet folded up the letter, “Mayn’t I send Carita
Adeline Judson a Christmas box?”

“If not a box--a Christmas remembrance, at least,” Grandmother answered.

“Please, a whole box! If you knew how jolly it was unpacking the ones
you and Aunt Lucinda always sent! One can put all sorts of little
things in a box--I’ll put in something for each of the boys--”

And during the lesson in crocheting which followed, Blue Bonnet planned
enough boxes to have called for, Grandmother said, a whole car of their
own.

She did not take readily to the lesson itself; but that was because she
was thinking about something else, she explained.

“A good many ‘else’s,’ I am afraid,” Grandmother answered. “Better
unravel that and start afresh.”

“It’s easier just to break it off,” Blue Bonnet suited the action to
the word. “I wonder who invented crocheting! I think they might have
found something better to do!”

“You are not discouraged already, Blue Bonnet!”

“Not ‘discouraged,’ Grandmother, but sort of--disgusted. I hope
Benita properly appreciates her shawl. I wonder whether she would
rather have a purple and crimson, or red and yellow? It’ll have to be
bright-colored, in any case.”

Mrs. Clyde glanced at the pink worsted chain Blue Bonnet was making;
at present, it resembled a corkscrew more closely than anything else.
“Isn’t it a bit soon to decide upon the color?”

“I always want to get things settled as soon as possible; besides, I
shall feel as if it were really started, once I have bought the wools,”
Blue Bonnet urged.

As soon as the regulation Saturday duties were through with the next
morning, she was off to buy her wools. They occupied the place of honor
on the clubroom table that afternoon.

The snow predicted by Denham, though a trifle behind schedule time, had
arrived in good earnest; there could be no riding that afternoon.

“And a very good thing, too!” Ruth remarked. “Now we shall have to
work.” And presently, forming a circle about the pile of purple and
crimson wools, were six work-bags of various sizes and hues.

There were other things on the table; Blue Bonnet’s pies, still intact,
Mr. Ashe having deeded his share in them to the club; a dish of nuts
and raisins and one of fruit.

“You must have ‘spent the hull ten-cent piece,’ Blue Bonnet!” Kitty
said.

“We’re going to have a beautiful time this afternoon,” Blue Bonnet
assured them. “Isn’t it the nicest storm?”

It beat against the windows in sudden fitful gusts, the air was full of
the white, whirling flakes, and down in the garden were great, drifting
heaps.

Susy looked at the white world without and then about the large,
square room. “I always did want to belong to a club--and have a real
clubroom,” she said contentedly.

It had been a nursery in former years, as the window bars and the
bright colored prints on the walls still testified. Now the center
table, the wide lounge, generously supplied with the biggest and
softest of cushions, the quaint medley of chairs, big and little,
the low hassocks at either end of the broad hearth, made it, in the
eyes of club members, an ideal gathering-place. There was nothing
breakable--in the ordinary sense--and there were no curtains at the
four windows,--just shades that could be raised quite out of sight
when necessary; and on club days, a bright fire burned in the deep
fireplace, behind the tall wire screen.

“So you’ve got your work, Blue Bonnet!” Sarah said, taking up a skein
of the purple wool. “Have you learnt the stitch?”

“I’m--learning it. Please--before you all begin, listen to this--” and
she read them the letter received the night before.

“So that is what it was,” Sarah said. “How oddly she addressed it!”

“Do you suppose she would like to have the rest of us write to her?”
Ruth asked.

“I’m sure of it!” Blue Bonnet cried, delightedly. “I mean to answer
this right away--and I’m going to send her a Christmas box.”

“Oh,” Susy dropped the square of linen she was hemstitching, “let’s
make it a ‘We are Seven’ box.”

“And all write a letter to put in it,” Amanda added.

“I do think you are the dearest girls!” Blue Bonnet exclaimed
enthusiastically.

“Let’s plan now,” Ruth proposed.

“Not until Blue Bonnet gets at her work!” Sarah advised.

“Sarah’s working you a motto, Blue Bonnet,--” Kitty said, “‘How doth
the little busy’--and so forth, and so forth.”

“Kitty!” Sarah protested, “You know I am doing nothing of the kind.”

“Well, you can--now I’ve put the idea into your head.”

“The way I learned it was like this--” Blue Bonnet produced her ball of
pink worsted and crochet needle rather reluctantly--

  “‘How doth the busy little bee,
    Delight to bark and bite;
    And gather honey all the day,
    To eat it up at night.’”

Sarah looked pained, but Kitty dropped her lace work to run around and
hug Blue Bonnet. “That’s the best version I’ve heard yet.”

“I don’t approve of parodies,” Sarah remarked. “Are you going to make a
_pink_ shawl, Blue Bonnet?”

“Grandmother thought I had better practice my stitch a little before
starting regularly to work,” Blue Bonnet answered.

Kitty’s brows arched expressively. “And ‘Grandmother’ was quite right,
my child! How did you get it shirred like that; is it a new stitch?”

“Why shouldn’t I shirr it, if I like it that way?” Blue Bonnet laid her
work on the table, patting and pulling at it with impatient fingers.

“But you shouldn’t hold your finger out like that!” Sarah corrected
presently. “You’ll get the habit.”

“No, I won’t!” Blue Bonnet declared; she looked from one busy worker
to another. How nimble every pair of hands in the room, except hers,
seemed.

“I--I hate crocheting!” she announced presently. “It makes me feel
cross and as if I should go to pieces.”

“I like it,” Sarah looked down at the bed-shoe she was making. “Only I
don’t get much time for it.”

Five minutes longer Blue Bonnet worked, then she pushed back her chair.
“Fifteen minutes--and as many more as you like--for refreshments.
Sarah, will you please cut the pies?”

And after refreshments, with the dusk coming on, and Blue Bonnet firmly
refusing to have the lights lit, there was nothing for it but to gather
about the fire and talk.

“Now this is what I call a sensible way of spending one’s time!” Blue
Bonnet threw on another log. “Let’s talk Christmas--remember, if you
please, that this is the first time I’ve had a lot of girls to talk it
with.”

She went with them to the door, when at last she could neither coax nor
cajole them into remaining any longer, and from there on down to the
gate--first catching up Aunt Lucinda’s garden cape from its nail.

All but Kitty were going home to what Blue Bonnet mentally designated
“families,” and Kitty lived next door to Amanda and was almost as much
at home in the Parker house as in her own.

It seemed to Blue Bonnet, as she stood there in the fast-falling snow,
watching the six walk briskly off down the darkening street, Kitty
and Debby stopping now and again to exchange snowballs with a passing
friend, that of all seasons of the year, Christmas was the very nicest
in which to be part of a large family.

She was turning to go in when she caught the sound of Alec’s whistle,
and waited to speak to him. “Do come in,” she urged, “I feel--just like
Mrs. Gummidge. I want someone to talk to who is--young, and can’t do
things with his hands.”

“Thanks--awfully,” Alec said.

“Not tiresome crocheting sort of things--nor hemstitching--nor knitting
double stitch--nor--”

“You needn’t go on enumerating! I plead guilty to each separate charge.
You come over instead--Grandfather’ll be no end delighted.”

“I’ll interview Grandmother,” Blue Bonnet started for the house.
Halfway up the path, she turned and came back. “I can’t! I haven’t done
my lessons for Monday. I kept thinking there was so much time--and I
did mean to do some extra studying, too.”

“Can’t you--” Alec began.

Blue Bonnet put her fingers over her ears. “Run away! or I’ll come--and
I mustn’t, truly.”

When Blue Bonnet came back to the sitting-room that evening,
school-books strapped ready for carrying Monday morning, she found Miss
Lucinda sorting embroidery silks at the table.

“Are you going to embroider something, Aunt Lucinda?” she asked.
“Aren’t they pretty! Did you get them in Boston yesterday?”

“Which question shall I answer first?” Miss Lucinda asked, with the
smile it was Blue Bonnet’s secret wonder she did not use oftener--it
was so very becoming. “Some of them I had, some I got new. I am sending
a little bundle of silks and one or two stamped patterns to each of the
older girls in a home for cripples, in which I am interested.”

“You mean for Christmas?”

“Yes.”

Blue Bonnet was immensely interested, offering to help sort and asking
any number of questions about the girls. “Couldn’t I go with you some
time, Aunt Lucinda?” she asked. “I’ve never been to a place of that
kind--and mayn’t I send them something, too?”

“I should be very glad to have you, Blue Bonnet.”

“What lots of things there are to do--in the world; and such a little
time for the Christmas things,” Blue Bonnet said, thoughtfully.

“There is always a year between one Christmas and the next,” her aunt
answered.

“But not between now and this coming Christmas. And those hateful exams
sticking themselves in between. It ought to be against the law--having
examinations at holiday time.” Blue Bonnet rumpled up her hair
impatiently.

Her grandmother looked amused. “The school laws, as revised by Miss
Elizabeth Blue Bonnet Ashe, should prove interesting reading.”

“But if I don’t pass--it’ll just spoil being a ‘We are Seven’!” Blue
Bonnet insisted.

“Then--screw not only your courage but your attention to the sticking
point, and you’ll not fail,” Miss Lucinda counselled.

“I don’t see how Sarah gets time for everything the way she does,” Blue
Bonnet sighed. “She never seems to hurry.”

“It is generally the busiest people who have most time,” Grandmother
said, forestalling Miss Lucinda.

“Alec says there have to be some idlers in the world to keep things
balanced. Alec does say such comforting things.”

“More comforting than bracing, I am afraid,” Miss Lucinda commented;
“but in his case, there is some excuse, as he is really not strong.”

Blue Bonnet decided to go to bed. “We were getting on thin ice,” she
confided to Solomon, who insisted on going upstairs for a final chat.
“And it seemed a pity--after we’d been getting on so comfortably.
Solomon, I’ve such an inspiration--got straight from Aunt Lucinda--I’ll
send Benita the wool in the Christmas box--and let her make her own
shawl!”

And when Kitty asked on Monday morning how the shawl was progressing,
Blue Bonnet told her what she had told Solomon.

“So thoughtful of you, my dear!” Kitty observed. “But don’t forget to
put in the sample too--as proof of how it ought not to be done.”

And for the rest of that recess there was a coolness between them.

For some reason--unexplained even to herself, Blue Bonnet had put off
telling her grandmother of her change of plan. Perhaps Grandmother
would speak of the shawl first. Grandmother did, that same evening.

“I--I’ve given up making it,” Blue Bonnet explained. “I--I don’t
believe crocheting is my vocation.”

“And have you discovered just what your vocation is?” her aunt asked.

Blue Bonnet shook her head. “Unless, not having one.”

“It is something to have found out what it is not,” Grandmother said.
“I have known people who had not attained even to that point.”

Blue Bonnet pinched one of Solomon’s long ears; they were behaving
beautifully--Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda.

And then Grandmother said, slowly, “All the same, Blue Bonnet--though
I agree with you that there would hardly be time, under present
circumstances, for you to get the shawl done, I do not at all approve
of your taking things up and then dropping them as suddenly.”

Blue Bonnet looked into the fire; she had been afraid Grandmother
would take it like that. Then she looked up, with eyes full of sudden
mischief. “Grandmother, dear, I give you my word of honor, that the
next time I start in to make anyone a crocheted shawl I’ll finish it!”

And even Aunt Lucinda was obliged to smile.

Never days went by more quickly than those short December ones. And
never, in Blue Bonnet’s experience, had days been half so full of
business.

Two or three times a week came messages from Uncle Cliff, generally
accompanied by packages for the box, or rather boxes. For Mr. Ashe had
been promptly told of that second Christmas box, also destined for
Texas, and had as promptly expressed his unqualified approval.

The two stood side by side on the table in the clubroom, and in one a
big bundle of bright purple and crimson wools held no inconspicuous
place.

There were shopping trips in town with Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda,
and one made by the club in a body. Blue Bonnet declared she would
never forget that shopping trip; Sarah inwardly registered the same
vow, though from different reasons.

There were innumerable impromptu meetings of the club at the house of
one or another.

There were the daily walks, which, now that the riding was over,
Grandmother firmly insisted on.

And in between times were snatches of extra studying, hasty reviews.

“And you’ve gone through with it all every year for ages and ages!”
Blue Bonnet said one morning, looking from Sarah to Kitty in positive
admiration.

“Why don’t you put it centuries?” Kitty asked.

“Of course we have,” Sarah said, calmly. She expected to pass; she
always had, though never brilliantly; and when she went to bed
on Christmas Eve, though it might be late, it would be with the
comfortable feeling that she had accomplished all she had set out to
do.

“Alec’s cousin came last night!” Blue Bonnet announced with one of her
sudden changes of subject.

“What’s he like?” Kitty asked.

“He isn’t like Alec. I daresay he’s--New Yorky. I don’t like him as
well as I do Alec.”

“How can you tell so soon?” Sarah objected.

Blue Bonnet shrugged. “Oh, because--and anyhow, even if I did, I
wouldn’t.”

“Would you mind saying that over again?” Sarah looked bewildered.

“News!” Debby joined them. “The pond’s frozen over! You skate, Blue
Bonnet?”

“Alec’s going to teach me. I’ve got news, too--Grandmother’s going to
give me a Christmas party!”

There was a little chorus of excited approval.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Well, Honey!” It seemed to Uncle Cliff as if he had been gone three
months rather than nearly three weeks. “Box all ready?”

“Except a few last things, which we’re going to get together.” Blue
Bonnet nestled closely to him, under the big buffalo robe. “Maybe I
haven’t done some tall rustling lately! I haven’t a reputation ’round
these parts for getting there before the train starts, but I’ve done it
this time! And just wait till you see what I’ve got for Uncle Joe! Aunt
Lucinda suggested it--when it comes to Christmasing, Aunt Lucinda’s a
jim-dandy. And if Carita Adeline Judson doesn’t open her eyes!”

“Call a halt, Honey!” Mr. Ashe implored, laughingly. “Looks like you
were trying to keep time with those sleigh-bells!”

He was waiting for her when school closed the next afternoon, and
together they caught the three-twenty for town. The boxes must go the
next day without fail. They shopped until dinner time--Uncle Cliff’s
vigorous methods making even Blue Bonnet feel rather dizzy--then
dined in delightful holiday fashion at one of the big, gaily-lighted
restaurants; where, what with the crowds, the music, and the excitement
of it all, Blue Bonnet found it hard to eat anything.

Then back on the eight o’clock for the final fillings-in, at which not
only the club _en masse_, but Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda were present.

At last the finishing spray of holly was laid on the top of each
generously-stored box, the covers were nailed on by Mr. Ashe, the
addresses marked.

Blue Bonnet drew a long breath--“We did get them done--in time!” She
waltzed Debby up and down the room with its litter of paper and string,
its ends of Christmas ribbons and soft-tinted cotton. “But this ‘we’
wouldn’t’ve, if it hadn’t’ve been for you all.”

“To-morrow they’ll be on their way, Solomon!” she assured him later;
and later still, lying awake in her room, with the fire throwing
flickering shadows over walls and ceiling, Blue Bonnet tried to picture
to herself the unpacking of those boxes, in lonely ranch house, and,
perhaps, almost as lonely parsonage.

Uncle Joe Terry’s delight when her laughing face looked up at him from
its silver frame; and Carita’s joy on opening a certain envelope, in
which was a printed certificate telling how for twelve long, happy
months, that most welcome of all visitor, dear old _Saint Nicholas_,
was to make his appearance at the Judson home.

“Aunt Lucinda suggested that, too,” Blue Bonnet said to herself,
sleepily. Christmas was the dearest time in all the year,--she had
always known that,--but this year she was finding out its wonderful
possibilities more clearly every day.

Two or three days later those dreadful examinations began, and like a
good many other things in this world, proved upon closer acquaintance
not half so dreadful as they had seemed, viewed at long distance.

“I’m getting all the questions that I know,” Blue Bonnet rejoiced more
than once; but for all her rejoicing, she walked softly those days.

“They’re over at last!” she told her uncle, coming home one afternoon.

“And now what next, Honey?”

“Sentence--and we won’t know until the last day of school!”

But when that all-important Friday arrived, Blue Bonnet came home
jubilant.

“I’ve passed!” she announced to Solomon watching for her at the
gate. Uncle Cliff was the next to hear the news; he was on the
veranda--walking up and down and thinking the afternoon unusually long.
Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda heard it next; then Blue Bonnet carried
the glad tidings out to the kitchen.

“And now,” she came back to the veranda, “now I’m ready for a good
time. And Monday’ll be Christmas! And to-morrow--which’ll be like
Christmas Eve--we’re going into town! I say, Uncle Cliff, what larks!”



CHAPTER XIV

CHRISTMAS


Aunt Lucinda was playing Christmas carols; it seemed to Blue Bonnet,
listening in her big chair by one of the long windows, that the air had
been full of carols all day. At church in the morning, at Sunday school
in the afternoon; and later, as she and Grandmother made their rounds
in the big, old-fashioned sleigh, carrying Christmas cheer to more than
one home, the very bells had seemed to be singing a carol of their own.

The little bank had been emptied of its contents the morning before,
considerably more coming out than Blue Bonnet herself had put in,
though she had been faithful in those weekly contributions; and she and
Uncle Cliff had spent a delightful hour in a little toyshop, rather off
the main stream of traffic--chosen because it was little and looked
sort of lonely and forlorn, whose proprietor had been most sincere in
his urgent request that they should call again.

That long day in Boston,--with the blessed knowledge at the back of
one’s mind that one had “passed,” and that school was done with for
ten whole days; with the wind nipping one’s fingertips and reddening
one’s cheeks; with the stores reminding one of the fairy-land, and
the streets almost as gay and wonderful as the stores; with Uncle
Cliff declaring that Christmas only came once a year, and that this
was the first time they had ever had a chance to go shopping together
properly,--had been a day not soon to be forgotten.

And then the making up of the baskets in the evening! Grandmother
insisted that one sleigh would never carry them all.

“Every part of Christmas seems the nicest,” Blue Bonnet had sighed,
happily, filling a bag with nuts and raisins for the small Pattersons,
and almost envying Luella Patterson the brown-eyed, brown-haired doll
lying smiling up at her from its box.

Nor had this “between-time” Sunday lacked its own particular charm. “It
gives one a little chance to get one’s breath,” Blue Bonnet confided
to Solomon, curled up in the chair beside her, “Though it hasn’t been
what one would call precisely an idle day! But I’ve got everything
ready--think of that, Solomon! All the home things packed away in the
closet, and after supper, Uncle Cliff and I are going to take Alec’s
and the ‘We are Seven’ theirs. Think what a lot of presents I’ve had to
wrap up and write on!”

Solomon wriggled appreciatively; there was something for him,--he had
been told so.

While out in the hall stood a big, travel-stained box, object of
Solomon’s liveliest curiosity. It had arrived the day before from Texas.

“Don’t you want to come sing this, Blue Bonnet?” Aunt Lucinda asked;
and as Blue Bonnet came to the piano, she struck the opening chords of
Mrs. Clyde’s favorite carol: “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Blue Bonnet sang it all, looking out to where above the familiar street
the silent stars went by, and trying to picture to herself the little
hillside town of Bethlehem, resting in its quiet sleep.

  “‘O holy Child of Bethlehem!
      Descend to us, we pray;
    Cast out our sin, and enter in,
      Be born in us to-day.
    We hear the Christmas angels
      The great, glad tidings tell
    Oh, come to us, abide with us;
      Our Lord Emmanuel!’”

The girl’s clear voice sounded softly through the quiet parlor, with
its trimmings of evergreen and holly, carrying two of her listeners
back to more than one Christmas Eve in the past.

All in all, Christmas Eve was almost as nice as Christmas itself, Blue
Bonnet decided that night, sitting on the hearth-rug before the fire in
her own room. Then her face grew suddenly wistful. It was not so many
years ago that her mother had sat on this same hearth-rug, thinking of
the joys to come on the morrow, while the clock on the mantel ticked
away the moments bringing the great day of days nearer and nearer.

Solomon was the first to give her Christmas greeting the next morning,
choosing Christmas for his first venture above stairs before breakfast;
aided and abetted therein by Delia. Sure, and the child should have
somebody to talk to on Christmas morning--and Solomon was wiser than a
deal of humans.

He received warm welcome; Blue Bonnet was sitting up in bed, a little
square, pasteboard box in her hand. “I found it under my pillow,” she
told the ever-curious Solomon. “Now how did Grandmother smuggle it in
without my knowing it?”

She slipped the slender gold band with its one deep, dark blue stone on
her finger. “Isn’t it pretty, Solomon?”

And it was with the brightest of Christmas faces that Blue Bonnet came
down to breakfast half an hour later. No one was in the dining-room,
but the table stood ready, a true Christmas table, with its shining
silver and bowl of crimson roses; its pile of presents at each place;
overflowing, in Blue Bonnet’s case, from table to floor.

“Please!”--Blue Bonnet went to the door--“Won’t everybody hurry! I
don’t think I can wait much longer!”

“So hungry as all that, Honey?” her uncle laughed, coming in from his
morning constitutional on the veranda. “Merry Christmas!”

“You were in very good time this morning, my dear!” Miss Lucinda
laughed, when the various Christmas greetings had been exchanged and
they all sat down to breakfast.

“Wasn’t I?” Blue Bonnet’s fingers were busy with ribbon and paper.
There were furs from Uncle Cliff, books, ribbons, and neckwear from
Grandmother, skates and the prettiest fur skating-cap from Aunt
Lucinda, books from the “Boston relatives,” remembrances from Alec and
each of the girls, from Katie and Delia, a new collar for Solomon from
Denham. There were any number of odd little trifles such as girls love,
which Mr. Ashe had picked up for her in New York; there was a box of
chocolates big enough to promise the entire club much enjoyment; and
under her napkin--when at least she had calmed down enough to remember
to unfold it, was a slip of paper which told that “Darrel’s mare” was
Darrel’s no longer but belonged to the owner of the Blue Bonnet Ranch.

By that time, Blue Bonnet had quite given up trying to put her delight
and gratitude into words, but her shining eyes said it very plainly to
the three watching her.

“How did everybody know exactly what I wanted, when I hadn’t begun to
think of half so many lovely things myself?” she said.

As for Blue Bonnet, she and Uncle Cliff had put their heads together to
very good purpose. Grandmother, whose pet hobby was fine china, openly
rejoiced over the delicate beauty of the tea-set filling the box at her
place; while Aunt Lucinda--who was a true music lover--bent delightedly
over the lives of her favorite musicians, in their soft, rich bindings.

For Uncle Cliff, Blue Bonnet had gone to Grandmother for advice; and
the girl’s laughing, happy face looking out at him from the purple
velvet miniature case pleased him as nothing else could have done.

“It won’t be quite like going back without you now, Honey,” he told her.

After breakfast, came the unpacking of the Texas box; a box with
something in it for everyone; bright-colored Mexican _serapes_, some
of Benita’s fine drawn work--at sight of which Grandmother and Aunt
Lucinda exclaimed delightedly; there were jars of highly spiced Mexican
conserves, which Blue Bonnet rejoiced over; a tin box of Lisa’s best
pinochie; and down at the bottom were eight wonderfully fringed and
trimmed Mexican saddle blankets--one for each of the “We are Seven’s”
and Alec, and there was even a cleverly-wrought leather leash for
Solomon.

“Isn’t it the nicest Christmas!” Blue Bonnet cried, her lap full of
treasures. “There’s Alec! I’ll give him his blanket right away! I
reckon he’s come to take me skating--I sha’n’t have to borrow skates
now.”

“But dear,” Mrs. Clyde laid a detaining hand on her arm, “there will
not be time for skating before church.”

“Are we going to church--on Christmas?” Blue Bonnet looked rather blank.

“Isn’t that the time of all others to go, dear; to return thanks for
the greatest Gift of all--on His own day?”

Blue Bonnet’s eyes deepened. “I’ll be ready on time,” she promised, and
ran to welcome Alec.

“Oh, I say!” he cried, as she gave him his saddle blanket, “how
uncommonly jolly in them to remember me! And I’ve come to say thank you
for something else, too.”

“Alec, are you going to church?” Blue Bonnet asked, as they went out to
the dining-room to examine the skates and other presents.

He nodded. “But we can go skating after dinner--the pond’s in fine
condition. Boyd’s coming too--between us we’ll get you taught in no
time.”

It was a typical New England winter’s day, all white and blue; even in
the sun, it was necessary to move pretty briskly if one wanted to keep
warm.

[Illustration: “‘ISN’T IT THE NICEST CHRISTMAS!’ BLUE BONNET CRIED, HER
LAP FULL OF TREASURES.”]

The broad village street was alive with people; the bells were ringing
for the Christmas service; on every side one had cheery Christmas
greetings. Blue Bonnet, a knot of holly pinned to her dark furs, looked
up at her uncle with eager face. “Isn’t it all like being part of a
Christmas card scene--the crystallized kind?”

“So it is,” he agreed.

“After Texas, I believe I love Massachusetts,” Blue Bonnet decided.
“There go Ruth and Susy--it must be nice having a sister almost one’s
own age on Christmas. Oh, me, I can’t help hoping Mr. Blake won’t
preach very long.”

But Mr. Blake was under the spell of the day, quite like other people.
It was hardly a sermon at all he gave them, just a simple Christmas
talk starting with the message of peace and good-will brought down by
the angels at that first far-off Christmas-tide.

Blue Bonnet listening to it, her eyes turning, as they always did in
church, to the memorial window beyond, with the winter sunshine shining
through its rich coloring, wondered if her mother and father knew how
very happy she was to-day? Knew, too, of the new thoughts and resolves
stirring within her. Every Christmas all her life should find someone
the richer, happier, for her being here in this world--that, at least,
she was determined on; not just the home people and friends.

And after church, surrounded by the other six club members, each
insisting that she come with them and see their things, Blue Bonnet
could hardly keep from dancing from very happiness.

They compromised at last; the seven would adjourn to the parsonage,
that being the nearest point; after dinner they would all meet at the
pond, and from the pond they would go to Blue Bonnet’s.

“Think of it!” Blue Bonnet exclaimed. “The mare’s my very own! I’m
going to name her Chula! I thought of it in--church!”

“What else have you been thinking about--in church?” Kitty demanded.

“Oh, any amount of things--Christmas things! Wasn’t it dear of Uncle
Cliff?”

“You shouldn’t have him _all_ the time for an uncle,” Debby protested.
“It isn’t a fair division.”

The sitting-room at the parsonage told plainly what day of the year it
was. Five small Blakes, ranging from twelve to three, swooped joyously
down upon the newcomers.

“What did you get?” resounded on every side, broken by excited
exclamations of admiration and sympathy.

“I am glad Aunt Lucinda thought of my skates!” Blue Bonnet rejoiced.
“We’ll go every afternoon, won’t we?--while the ice holds.”

“I’ll have to go now--not skating,” Debby said, and at that the party
broke up.

There was to be only a home dinner that day, at the usual time, in
order to give Delia and Katie their Christmas holiday; so Blue Bonnet
was waiting when the boys came for her.

Boyd Trent, though several months younger than his cousin, was taller
and stronger looking in every way than Alec. Blue Bonnet wondered, as
the three went down the path and out at the back gate, why she felt so
sure that she should never really like him.

He certainly gave her no cause for complaint that afternoon; between
him and Alec, she got on very well.

“You’ll get there,” Boyd assured her. “Let go, Alec--she mustn’t have
too much help.”

“Like it?” Kitty asked, coming up.

“I love it!” Blue Bonnet declared.

“How many tumbles so far?”

“Did you think we would let her fall?” Boyd asked.

“She doesn’t always wait to be let--before doing things,” Kitty
answered, “particularly, in school.”

“But you see we prevented any desire,” Alec explained.

“Let’s see you try it alone?” Kitty urged, and Blue Bonnet took a few
not too unsteady steps.

The wide pond was crowded with skaters; they made a pretty sight,
darting about, the girls in their bright coats and caps, the boys in
bright sweaters.

Not until the west was all aglow and the wind sweeping down from the
hills too keen and nipping, did the “We are Seven’s” and their especial
friends turn their faces homewards.

At the Clyde gate the club members turned in, slipping in at the side
door and straight on up to Blue Bonnet’s room. She had spread most of
her gifts out on her bed, trying to realize them that way.

“But I can’t--yet,” she said now. “I wonder if anyone ever felt as rich
as I do.”

“Not everyone has such cause,” Debby answered. All of the others had
fared well; but, as Kitty put it, it almost seemed as if Blue Bonnet
had fared too well for her own good. “You haven’t anything left to
_want_ for,” she insisted.

“I don’t want Uncle Cliff to go West.”

“Nor do we,” Ruth laughed.

“Let’s talk about the party,” Amanda suggested; for Blue Bonnet’s party
was to be on Thursday night. “Who’s coming, Blue Bonnet?”

“You all:--”

“I should rather think so,” Kitty remarked.

“And Alec and his cousin, and a lot of the other boys and girls. Some
of them I don’t know very well.”

“It’ll be a real big party, won’t it?” Susy rejoiced. “Mother says that
when she was a girl she liked the parties here better than any she
went to. She has one of her old party dresses still.”

“I wonder,” Amanda said, as the six were on their way home, “what Blue
Bonnet’s going to wear Thursday night?”

“It won’t be anything fussy,” Debby remarked. “Miss Clyde doesn’t
approve of fussy things for girls.”

“She is quite right,” Sarah said; “young people shouldn’t--”

“Couldn’t you let it go at that, please!” Kitty interposed.

“Kitty! Besides, you don’t know what I was going to say!”

“Oh, yes, we do, Sallykins!” It was the final straw, and Kitty knew it,
calling Sarah Sallykins.

“If I were Blue Bonnet,” Debby interposed, “I’d have all the pretty
clothes I wanted.”

“I daresay she has,” Ruth laughed; “she has all she needs, at any
rate--and they’re always pretty.”

“Then, Debby,” Amanda objected, “you wouldn’t be Blue Bonnet! One of
the nicest things about Blue Bonnet Ashe is the way she never seems to
realize how much she could have, nor to want it.”

Debby still looked unconvinced; but then Debby was the youngest of
several sisters, and her mother had a talent for “making over.”

“Please, Grandmother!” Blue Bonnet came to a standstill in the center
of her grandmother’s room, “Aunt Lucinda said for me to come show
myself. Do I look--partified?”

Mrs. Clyde turned from her dressing-table to glance with pleased eyes
at the speaker. Blue Bonnet was all in white from head to foot, save
for the spray of crimson holly berries in her brown hair. “You look,”
Grandmother said slowly, “very happy; and you are dressed as I like to
see a school girl dressed--simply and becomingly.”

Blue Bonnet swung her fan by its slender chain,--they had been Alec’s
Christmas present; “Aunt Lucinda wasn’t taking any chances to-night;
she didn’t send Delia.”

Grandmother smiled. “This party is in honor of ‘Miss Elizabeth Blue
Bonnet Ashe,’ not ‘_Señorita_.’”

“And I’m on time! Grandmother, you look lovely!” Blue Bonnet’s eyes
sparkled. “Just as I like to see--a grandmother dressed.”

“And now, having exchanged compliments, shall we go down?” Mrs. Clyde
asked.

In the hall below, they found Mr. Ashe waiting.

“Well! well!” he said, as Blue Bonnet swept him a courtesy, “I wish
Uncle Joe and the folks back there could see you, Honey!”

“Come and have a turn before anyone gets here!” Blue Bonnet begged,
as from the back parlor came the strains of old “Uncle Tim’s” fiddle.
“Uncle Tim” and his grandson “Young Tim” were Woodford’s standbys in
affairs of this sort. No one could play dance music like old black Tim,
though his grandson bade fair to follow in his steps. The old man’s
kindly wrinkled face beamed now at sight of Blue Bonnet--“Want ter
dance a bit ’fore de folkses gits yere? All right--yo’ shore looks like
yo’ all ready for de dancin’.”

The two long parlors thrown into one and cleared for dancing made an
admirable ballroom; at one end, potted palms fenced off the corner
reserved for the elders.

“Isn’t it all too delightful!” Blue Bonnet said, as she and her uncle
waltzed gaily down the length. “Please, Uncle Cliff,” she gave him her
programme, “put your name down for just as many as you want--before
anyone else gets here.”

“I’m not out looking for trouble, Honey!” Mr. Ashe laughed. “You play
with the young folks to-night--why, that was one of the things you came
East for!”

“I came East because--you know now why I wanted to come,--and what made
me so horrid all that time.”

“If you’re going to call my ward names, I’ll quit dancing with you,”
Mr. Ashe insisted.

“There’s Kitty!” Blue Bonnet exclaimed.

Kitty had come luggage laden; she was to stay over night, Mrs. Clyde
having declared that one of the pleasantest things about a party was
the talking it over in bed afterwards.

“How nice you look!” Blue Bonnet said warmly: “Come on upstairs--and,
oh, Kitty! You must see my flowers! Ever and ever so many sent me
flowers!”

“Naturally,” Kitty observed; “didn’t you expect they would? Whose are
those?” she touched the white carnations in Blue Bonnet’s girdle.

“Uncle Cliff’s, I couldn’t wear them all--and I thought he’d like it if
I chose his--he’s going away so soon now, too.”

Kitty gave her hair a few touches here and there. “I’m ready now!”

There was nothing formal about Blue Bonnet’s manner of receiving her
guests; she was glad to see them, and she said so. Her own enjoyment
was evident; loving dancing herself, she was quite sure everyone else
must be equally fond of it, and she was determined that there should
be no wall-flowers at her party. Uncle Cliff was an invaluable ally,
dancing with whomever she bade him.

“This is better than tea-parties?” Alec asked, when his turn with her
came.

“Yes, indeed.”

“So I think; I wasn’t at that tea-party, you may remember?”

“I remember you very nearly prevented my being at it.”

“Is that the reason you’re turning me down now?”

“I’m not. The next three are duty dances--with boys I don’t know very
well.”

“Thanks--for not including this among them.”

Blue Bonnet turned to her next partner, a tall boy--one of the coming
graduates; she hoped he wasn’t as serious as he looked.

It was a pretty sight; the long rooms, still wearing their Christmas
trimmings of evergreen and holly, filled with light-hearted,
bright-faced young people, keeping time to the strains of the waltz
“Uncle Tim” was playing. To the elders, looking on from their sheltered
corner, it was like a return to old times.

“Isn’t it lovely?” Amanda said, as she and Debby met for a moment
between dances. Amanda felt that Susy’s mother was right--_she_ had
never been to a nicer dance.

“There’s Blue Bonnet with Alec’s cousin. Do you like him?” Debby asked.

Amanda hesitated. “He’s--very polite.”

“Sarah’s looking real pretty, isn’t she?” Debby said; it was Debby’s
private opinion that all the club members had done themselves proud
this evening. She gave her soft pink skirts a smoothing touch; pink
was Debby’s color, and this was a perfectly new dress.

“She certainly is,” Amanda agreed; “and she looks as though she were
having a good time, too. Mostly, one can never be quite sure whether
Sarah Blake is really having a good time, or just being polite.”

Then Blue Bonnet bore down upon them. “What are you two doing off here?
You are neither ‘elders’ nor chaperons!”

“Comparing notes,” Debby answered.

“Oh, we’re having the best time ever!” Amanda cried enthusiastically.
Blue Bonnet Ashe wasn’t the sort of girl who never cared whether anyone
else had a good time or not, so long as she had one herself; Amanda
knew girls like that.

“Aunt Lucinda says we’re to form for the supper march soon,” Blue
Bonnet said; “I’ve never been to this kind of a party before--but then
I reckon I’ve never been to a really truly party before--but I’m trying
my hardest to be a credit to the family. Please say I’ve succeeded so
far!” she begged, laughingly.

“You have--so far as I’ve seen,” Debby teased.

“Oh, there’s the General!” Blue Bonnet exclaimed. “He promised to look
in during the evening. I wish I might go out to supper with him, or
Alec, or Uncle Cliff--someone I really know--instead of that big boy
from the first grade. Imagine! He started talking ‘Sargent,’ before
we’d been dancing five seconds!”

“I think, Blue Bonnet,” Sarah said, coming up, “that Miss Clyde is
looking for you.”

“So do I.” Blue Bonnet gave Sarah’s knot of blue ribbons a little pat.
“_Are_ you having a _good_ time, Sarah _mia_?”

“Very! So good that I am almost afraid it will be rather difficult to
go back to one’s regular way of living to-morrow.”

“Then don’t think of it now!” Blue Bonnet advised.

The line was forming for the march out to supper; once in the
dining-room, it broke up into little groups, four to a table.

And then, from every side came eager exclamations of surprise and
pleasure; for in the center of each table was a little candle-lighted
Christmas tree, from the base of which ran four crimson ribbons, to
which were attached the place cards, with their borders of Christmas
elves bearing dainty sprays of holly and mistletoe; while among the
decorations on the trees were tiny favors, both pretty and amusing.

It was all as much a surprise to Blue Bonnet as to her guests; she
had known that Miss Lucinda was giving considerable thought to the
details of her party, but she had never dreamed of anything like this.
Blue Bonnet told herself, that she _never, never_ would be vexed or
impatient with Aunt Lucinda again--let her seem ever so exacting.

If it would only go on and on indefinitely! “Why must all the nicest
things come to an end so soon?” Blue Bonnet asked her partner abruptly.

He looked down at her in surprise--for not the first time that evening.
“Doesn’t everything come to an end sooner or later?”

“That’s just what I’m complaining of! There ought to be more than sixty
minutes to an hour--at times like these.”

“But, Miss Blue Bonnet, think what confusion--”

“You know--” Blue Bonnet’s eyes were most demure, “we really manage
little things like that much better out in Texas.”

“And I verily believe he thought I was in earnest,” she confided to
Ruth later. “Now why didn’t Aunt Lucinda send him out with Sarah?”

“Perhaps she has an eye for contrasts,” Ruth suggested. “Well, I
suppose it’s all over--I’m mighty sorry!”

“So am I,” Blue Bonnet said.

And after she had said good-night to the last departing guest, and
had seen Kitty on her way upstairs, promising to come too, directly,
Blue Bonnet came back to where her aunt and grandmother were talking
together. “You’ve given the nicest, prettiest party that ever could
be!” she said gratefully, slipping a hand into both Grandmother’s and
Aunt Lucinda’s; “and I just can’t thank you enough--but I’ll never,
never forget it.”

“I think we may call it a perfect success from start to finish,” Miss
Lucinda said.



CHAPTER XV

A DARE


Monday morning, Mr. Ashe left for the West; and the next day, the new
term began.

“It’ll seem odd, not going to Miss Rankin’s room,” Blue Bonnet said,
overtaking Debby on the way to school. “I wonder if she’ll miss us.”

“Some of us,” Debby suggested.

“Alec says, Miss Fellows is ever so jolly.”

“She hasn’t been at it so long,” Debby commented. “Are you taking
French, Blue Bonnet?”

Blue Bonnet nodded. “It has to be that, or German, hasn’t it? Aunt
Lucinda thought I’d better choose French this year. I’ve studied it
some; one of the tutors instituted an hour’s conversation every day,
just after dinner; there used to be--interruptions.”

Blue Bonnet came home that afternoon most enthusiastic; Miss Fellows
was all she ought to be, she shouldn’t have a bit of trouble with her.

“And does the lady in question feel confident regarding you?” Mrs.
Clyde asked.

Blue Bonnet laughed. “She hasn’t said--yet. It’s ever so big a class,
Grandmother; there were a lot of left-overs. French is three times a
week--Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays--Mademoiselle looks awfully
nice! Sarah and Amanda are taking German--isn’t it just like Sarah
to choose the hardest? All the rest of us club members are taking
French--Kitty says she wants to learn how to take ‘French leave’ and,
oh, me, I promised not to be five minutes--they’re all waiting down at
the back gate for me.”

Blue Bonnet dropped her strap of books, ran for her skates, paid a
visit to the cookie jar in the pantry, patted Solomon, and with a
“Good-bye, Grandmother,” was off, leaving Mrs. Clyde feeling as if a
small whirlwind had swept through the quiet house.

       *       *       *       *       *

What with school, her afternoons on the pond, her evenings of study,
broken by occasional neighborhood gatherings, Blue Bonnet found the
time slipping by very fast. While she missed her uncle greatly, she
was learning more and more how much can be done by letter-writing,
and those were far from doleful letters that traveled every week from
Woodford to the far-away Texas ranch.

The weather held wonderfully; never had the pond been in better
condition than during those January days.

“But the thaw’s bound to come before long,” Debby predicted one
afternoon.

“The snow’s coming first!” Susy pointed to the clouds banking
themselves up above the low line of hills--“Coming before to-morrow
morning, too.”

“Let’s not go in just yet!” Blue Bonnet pleaded, as Susy bent to
unfasten her straps.

“But it’s time!”

“You’re such a prompt-to-the-minute girl, Susy Doyle!” Blue Bonnet
objected. “I’m not ready to go--are you, Kitty?”

“You never are ready,” Debby protested. They four were the only club
members out that afternoon; as Debby insisted later, if only Sarah had
been there it would never have happened.

“I’d like to start right off now and skate and skate without stopping,
until I got to the end of the pond!” Blue Bonnet declared.

“But no one ever does skate up at the upper end of the pond,” Susy
explained; “the ice is always rough up there; besides, it isn’t safe in
ever so many spots.”

“Anyhow, I’d like to try it.” Blue Bonnet was in the mood for
adventure; wasn’t it Friday afternoon? “I mean to ask Alec to go with
me.”

“He’s playing hockey!” Kitty said, looking at a group of boys down
beyond. “He wouldn’t take you if he wasn’t--nor let you go,” she added
mischievously.

“I don’t see how he could very well help that,” Blue Bonnet retorted.
“I believe I’ll try it alone.”

“Blue Bonnet!” Susy gasped.

“I’d like awfully well to see you!” Kitty teased, in what Amanda called
her “aggravating tone.”

“Is that a dare?” Blue Bonnet demanded.

“If you like to call it one.”

Blue Bonnet bent to tighten her skates.

“Blue Bonnet Ashe!” Debby exclaimed. “Are you clean daft! Start up
there at this time of the evening--when you ought to be going home?”

“You don’t know how far it is,” Susy urged.

“No--but I’m going to find out,” Blue Bonnet said.

“Don’t worry, Susy,” Kitty remarked; “she won’t go very far.”

Blue Bonnet’s eyes flashed. “I’ll go as far as you will, Kitty Clark!”

“‘Is that a dare?’” Kitty quoted; she, too, bent to tighten her skates.
“Come on!” she said; and before Debby or Susy realized it the two were
off.

“Of all the--” Debby took a few steps, then came back to where Susy
still stood, her skates in her hand. “Kitty, or Blue Bonnet, alone, one
might manage to do something with--but together! Come on, Susy--it’s
no use our standing here in the cold; perhaps they’ll turn around
presently. Kitty knows she’s no right letting Blue Bonnet go up there
after dark.”

“Shall we go tell some of the boys?” Susy asked.

But the boys were far down at the other end by now, fighting an
exciting game to a finish. The pond had been thinning rapidly the last
half hour, for, with the coming of night, a cold wind had sprung up.

Debby shivered. “It wouldn’t be much use; by the time we got them those
two foolish girls would be out of call. It’s all that Kitty’s fault!
She just dared Blue Bonnet on.”

At first, Blue Bonnet thoroughly enjoyed that swift rush along through
the gathering dusk; they had the wind at their back, and ahead of
them the pond to themselves. Then the two hours or more already spent
in skating that afternoon began to tell on her, and with the sense
of fast-growing fatigue came equally rapid misgivings. She glanced
sideways at her companion; why wouldn’t Kitty speak! If only she would
admit the foolishness of the undertaking, Blue Bonnet would give in
too, but until Kitty gave in--she would not.

Kitty was thinking the same; she knew, as Blue Bonnet did not, not
only the foolishness, but the risk of what they had undertaken. What
had possessed her to start such a ball rolling? Once started, it went
without saying that she could not be the first to throw up the game.
Blue Bonnet was getting tired already, one could see that, though she
was trying not to show it; and then--

But Kitty reckoned without knowledge.

The pond was growing narrower now, with sharp twists and turns that
made Blue Bonnet think of the brook she and Alec had followed that
August afternoon. The thought of the brook reminded her of Aunt Lucinda.

For just a moment, Blue Bonnet wavered; Aunt Lucinda had gone into town
and would not be back until the nine o’clock train--Grandmother was
alone, and would be worried.

Kitty saw the sudden slackening on Blue Bonnet’s part, and took comfort
from it. “Ready to go back?” she asked, more than a hint of “I told you
how it would be” in her voice.

Blue Bonnet wavered no longer; it was impossible to give in to
Kitty--of all people; Kitty had started it, and it was her place to
make the first move towards turning back.

“I am ready whenever you are,” she answered; “you have only to say the
word.”

“I thought you wanted to go to the very end?”

Blue Bonnet made no answer. Kitty was the--Sarah would never be so
horrid; and then the mere thought of Sarah in connection with such a
foolish performance as this, made Blue Bonnet laugh.

So the two pushed doggedly on through the fast-deepening dusk,
stumbling more than once against snags; tired, cold, hungry, and
miserable, and with the discouraging knowledge that every moment was
taking them further from home.

It seemed to Blue Bonnet as if the pond had no end, but was like some
dreary, enchanted lake in the fairy stories; that she and Kitty, like
the brook, must go on and on forever. It did not seem possible that it
could be the same pond she and the others had skated on so gaily that
afternoon--if it really was that afternoon.

It was quite dark by now. Far away, across the fields, a solitary light
showed in some lonely farmhouse window, and now and then they caught
the sound of a dog barking.

It wouldn’t have been so unbearable, Blue Bonnet thought, if only Kitty
would speak.

And then Kitty did speak--“We shall have to keep close to the bank from
now on--the ice isn’t safe further out--that is, unless you want to
go back?” No one should say that she had not given Blue Bonnet every
opportunity to behave like a reasonable being.

“Do _you_?” Blue Bonnet asked.

In her heart, Kitty knew herself more than ready, but the little demon
that had seemed hovering near her all the afternoon, prompted her to
say, “We haven’t got to the end yet. I thought--”

On they went again, both too tired to skate at all fast. Kitty told
herself that she would never dare anyone like Blue Bonnet Ashe again;
it had proved a veritable boomerang of a dare. Blue Bonnet felt that
once she had got her skates off, she should never want to see them
again. While the realization that ahead of them both waited a probable
very bad quarter of an hour, did not serve to make things any brighter.

And then a little group of bare trees loomed tall and shadowy almost in
front of them, and, a moment later, the end of the pond was reached.

“I know now,” Blue Bonnet dropped wearily down on the snowy bank, “how
Miss Rankin’s beloved Pilgrim Fathers felt when they landed on Plymouth
Rock!”

“You mustn’t do that!” Kitty commanded. “Get up this moment.”

“I simply can’t--just yet. Only I don’t suppose our motive and theirs
for setting out were precisely similar, do you, Kitty?”

“I’m not supposing anything about it! Will you get up? Or do you want
to catch the worst cold you’ve ever had--and have everyone saying it
was _my_ fault?”

“I don’t see how they could say that,” Blue Bonnet got up reluctantly.
“I suppose our next move--is to go back.”

“We can’t go back on the ice--it’s too dark and the wind would be dead
against us all the way.”

Blue Bonnet began working at her skates. “I’m mighty glad of that!”

“Going ’cross lots through the snow won’t be exactly what you might
call fun,” Kitty remarked. “Come on--I don’t know what time we’ll get
home, as it is.”

“Let’s not have ‘Quaker meeting’ going home, Kitty,” Blue Bonnet begged.

“It won’t be ‘Quaker meeting’--once we do get home, I’m thinking,”
Kitty answered; “and I just know mamma will be worried to death.”

“Kitty, why did we do it?” Blue Bonnet asked.

“Maybe we’d better not go into that at present,” Kitty suggested.
“There--it’s beginning to snow!”

It certainly was, in a thorough-going, determined fashion that promised
to last through the night, at the least.

Walking ’cross lots after dark through ankle-deep snow, with the storm
beating in one’s face, was not a particularly pleasant way of passing
the time, Blue Bonnet decided. “Kitty Clark!” she burst out. “If ever
you _dare_ dare me again!”

Kitty laughed. “You didn’t have to take it!”

“You knew I would!”

Kitty pulled off her mittens, blowing on her numbed fingers. “Well, I
got paid in kind, didn’t I? Blue Bonnet, you mustn’t!” For Blue Bonnet
had slipped her muff off, throwing the chain over Kitty’s head.

“Turn and turn about!” she insisted.

“Are you--too utterly fagged out?” Kitty asked presently, real concern
in her voice, as Blue Bonnet stumbled, just saving herself from falling.

“I’m--a bit tired,” Blue Bonnet confessed. “I suppose it’s because
I’m not so used to this sort of thing!” She wondered if Kitty really
did know her way through the dark and storm; to all outward seeming,
they were struggling aimlessly on across fields that had apparently no
boundaries. They had left the friendly little light behind long since;
it seemed as if she and Kitty were quite alone in a world of wind and
snow.

All at once, she came to an abrupt stop. “Kitty, I’ve got to rest!” She
dropped down on the snow in a forlorn little heap.

Kitty longed to follow suit; instead, she gave Blue Bonnet a little
shake. “Blue Bonnet, get up immediately! We’re nearly to the road now;
it won’t be half as hard walking then.”

“I don’t think I care very much whether we are near the road or not,”
Blue Bonnet said wearily; “all I want is to sit still for a while.”

“Blue Bonnet, please! Haven’t you and I both had enough of doing what
_we_ want for one day?”

“I’ve had more than enough,” Blue Bonnet conceded readily, but she did
not get up.

Kitty gave her a second shake, and a harder one. “Blue Bonnet! I got
you into this, and I’ve got to get you out of it! Get up this moment!
Think how worried they must be at home about us!”

“Grandmother will be worried,” Blue Bonnet agreed. “Aunt Lucinda isn’t
at home; but I don’t seem to mind about that, either, now--I’m so
tired.”

“Then I’ll sit down too!” Kitty dropped down beside Blue Bonnet. “I
might as well sit as stand.”

Blue Bonnet roused herself impatiently. “What a provoking girl you are!
Come on, then! Only you might let me rest.”

Kitty drew a deep sigh of thankfulness when, a few yards further on,
they stumbled against the last fence, over which the snow was drifting
fast. “It won’t be nearly so hard now,” she repeated, as they managed
to scramble over it into the road.

A moment or so later, Kitty cried eagerly--“Blue Bonnet, listen!”

From down the road came the jingling of bells, coming nearer every
moment; then a voice called, “Halloa! Halloa, there! Anyone about?”

“It’s Jim Parker!” Kitty cried joyously. “Here we are!” she called back.

“Well of all the tom-fool scrapes!” Jim drew his horse up with a jerk.
“What do you mean by this, Kitty Clark! Setting the whole place by the
ears!”

“It was just as much my fault!” Blue Bonnet protested.

“Well, we won’t stand here scrapping about that!” Jim bundled the two
into the bottom of the box sleigh most unceremoniously, piling buffalo
robes thick about them. “There’s blame enough to go shares on and have
some left over.”

“Please don’t scold!” Kitty pleaded. “We’re dreadfully sorry, and if
you knew how tired and hungry we were!”

Jim took up the reins--“And so you ought to be!” He was a big, hearty
fellow of twenty, who had been pulling Kitty out of scrapes ever since
she had been big enough to get into them,--and Kitty had begun early.

“How did you know where we were,--did Debby tell?” Kitty asked. Blue
Bonnet cared neither to ask, nor answer questions.

“Why,” Jim explained, “when you didn’t come home your mother sent over
to our place, thinking you must be there. Amanda hadn’t seen you since
school; then Mrs. Clyde sent her Delia down to your place, in search
of Blue Bonnet. Debby’d gone out to supper with Susy, and by the time
we’d got ’round to the Doyles and found out where you had started for,
it was getting pretty late, and some of the seniors were more or less
anxious. Your father hadn’t got in yet. Some of the boys started up the
pond with lanterns, and I came this way, thinking it barely possible
you might have developed enough sense not to try to come back on the
ice.”

“Is everyone dreadfully worried?” Kitty asked.

“Worried enough! That end of the pond isn’t the safest place,
particularly after dark.”

Kitty subsided. When Jim, who was her staunch ally, used that tone
towards her, matters must be pretty serious.

Never had the lights of the village, blinking at them through the snow,
seemed more friendly or more welcome to the two nestled under the
buffalo robes in the bottom of the Parker box sleigh.

Jim was blowing the horn he had brought, three good blasts.

“That means we’re found!” Kitty’s voice was trembling; some realization
of what those blasts meant to those here at home had come to her.

Blue Bonnet roused herself. “Kitty, didn’t it almost seem--out
there--in the snow--”

“Don’t!” Kitty dropped her face on Blue Bonnet’s shoulder.

It was not at all the sort of welcome they should have received,
Dr. Clark declared afterwards; but then, as Kitty pointed out, he
was the first to reach the sleigh--having heard the news on his way
home--taking her into his own cutter, and on home to an exceedingly
anxious mother, while Jim turned into the Clyde drive.

There Solomon met them, scrambling into the sleigh, and diving in
among the robes, licking his mistress’ face, her ears--only stopping,
momentarily, to bark in most ungrateful manner at Jim in his great fur
coat.

“Here we are! All safe and sound!” Jim said, cheerily, as Mrs. Clyde
came forward from the open doorway, just within which, Delia and Katie
hovered excitedly. It was Delia’s and Katie’s firm conviction that
“that Kitty” was to blame for the whole affair, it being “just like
her.”

The next thing Blue Bonnet knew, Jim was carrying her indoors, robes
and all, depositing her in the big armchair Grandmother drew forward.
“There!” he said. “You’re home now and it’s up to someone to keep you
here for one while!”

Blue Bonnet tried to say thank you, but made rather a failure of it; it
was all she could do just then to fight back a sudden desire to cry. It
was so good to be at home again--where it was warm and light and there
were people about.

Grandmother seemed to understand, for she asked no questions; and
before many minutes Blue Bonnet found herself in bed, with hot water
bottles everywhere.

And then, quite unexpectedly, the doctor appeared; explaining that
he thought he would look in and see how this second member of the
exploring party was getting on.

“I’m all right!” Blue Bonnet told him, as he took her hand in his.
“Please, Dr. Clark, it was my fault--not Kitty’s!”

“Time enough to-morrow to discuss that side of the question,” the
doctor said. “What you’ve got to do now is to get in all the sleep you
can.”

Blue Bonnet looked up at him with troubled eyes. “But every time I shut
my eyes, I keep seeing--” she broke, abruptly.

“We’ll soon remedy that!” the doctor answered, taking out his medicine
case.

“You are all so good to me!” Blue Bonnet told Grandmother, when the
doctor had gone. “And you shouldn’t be, because--”

“We won’t go into that ‘because’ to-night, dear,” Mrs. Clyde bent to
kiss the flushed face. “You must go to sleep now, as the doctor said.”

It was still snowing when Blue Bonnet woke the next morning. Down
below, the hall clock was striking nine. It was a good thing that
it was Saturday, Blue Bonnet thought; she felt stiff and tired. She
wondered if Aunt Lucinda had been kept in town by the storm. Aunt
Lucinda would have the right to be vexed with her this time; Blue
Bonnet moved restlessly--she didn’t want to think about last night.
Why, someone must have slept over there on her lounge! Surely,
Grandmother hadn’t--Aunt Lucinda was coming upstairs now.

“Have you been awake long, Blue Bonnet?” Miss Lucinda asked. She sat
down on the side of the bed, laying a hand over the one Blue Bonnet
held out to her; she looked grave, but not at all--lectury, Blue Bonnet
decided.

“I only just woke up, I’ll get right up,” the girl said.

Miss Lucinda shook her head. “Breakfast first, and then--if the doctor
says you may--we’ll talk about the getting up.”

“But I don’t need the doctor!” Blue Bonnet protested.

She had little appetite for the daintily prepared breakfast Miss
Lucinda brought her presently. “I ought not to have these dishes
this morning,” she insisted, touching the pretty sprigged cup and
saucer,--“I ought not to have anything nice.”

Miss Lucinda smiled. “Dr. Clark has been known to give very unpleasant
doses; it is possible that he may give you something very far from
nice.”

“I hope he says I may get up,” Blue Bonnet said. “I hate lying in bed.”

“Then it should prove excellent discipline,” Miss Lucinda suggested,
shaking out her pillow and making her comfortable in a way Blue Bonnet
found very pleasant.

“Did you sleep in here on the lounge last night, Aunt Lucinda?” she
asked.

“Yes,” Miss Lucinda answered; she was putting the room to rights now.
Blue Bonnet watched her interestedly. “How easily you do things--so
quickly and without a bit of fuss,” she said. “There comes the
doctor--I know he’ll say I’m foolish--lying here.”

What the doctor said, among other things, was that, in his opinion,
Woodford had the unenviable distinction at that moment of containing
two as headstrong and foolish young persons as it had ever been his lot
to run across. And he ended by prescribing a day’s quiet in bed for
Blue Bonnet; after which, he and Aunt Lucinda went downstairs together.

“A little cold, a good deal of fatigue, and considerable nervous
excitement,” the doctor told Mrs. Clyde and Miss Lucinda. “She isn’t as
rugged as some of our Woodford girls,” he added, “and this is her first
New England winter. Quiet and coddling will bring her around all right.”

“And Kitty?” Mrs. Clyde inquired.

“Tired, and I trust--penitent,” Kitty’s father answered.

Blue Bonnet slept most of the day, Solomon mounting guard on the rug
beside her bed. According to calculation, it should have been Saturday,
but never had Solomon known his mistress to spend Saturday in such
peculiar fashion before.

When Blue Bonnet finally awoke, towards late afternoon, feeling
wonderfully rested, she found Grandmother sitting before the fire, her
sewing lying idly in her lap. She looked tired and troubled, Blue
Bonnet told herself, and it was all her fault.

“Grandmother,”--Blue Bonnet sat up in bed, shaking her hair back from
her face--“please, I am ever and ever so sorry! About last night--it
was just a foolish dare that I took up--and was too obstinate to let
drop. I don’t believe, in the beginning, Kitty really meant it for a
dare; she was only teasing. And I might have gone, even if she hadn’t
gone too, but she wouldn’t have gone without me. So it was a good deal
more my fault than hers. Once we’d got started, neither of us would
give in. And then--afterwards, all the way home through the dark--I
kept thinking of what happened last summer--out on the ranch; and
seeing it all over again; and remembering what Uncle Joe said--how it
need never have happened, if the poor, foolish fellow had had the grit
enough _not_ to take a dare. You see, one of the other cowboys dared
him to ride that horse, and he would do it--though Uncle Joe warned him
not to.”

“It should not have taken much ‘grit’ not to take Kitty’s dare last
night, Blue Bonnet,” Mrs. Clyde said, gravely. “A moment’s thought
should have been enough to deter you.”

“Somehow, I never do seem to do my thinking until afterwards,” Blue
Bonnet mourned.

“But ‘afterwards,’ when there had been plenty of time for thought, you
still went on.”

“Y--yes,” Blue Bonnet admitted, “but it didn’t seem as if _I_ could
give in before Kitty did, Grandmother.”

“It is not so many years ago, Blue Bonnet,” Grandmother said, “that a
party of young people went skating up at that end of the pond, against
orders, and that one of them did not come back with the rest.”

“Grandmother! And you had that to think about--all last evening!”

“Yes, Blue Bonnet.”

“I--hate myself! I’ll never take such a silly dare as that was last
night again!”

“It is my experience,” Grandmother observed, “that most dares come
under that description.”

When Aunt Lucinda came up just before supper, bringing messages from
various friends, and a little knot of lemon verbena and heliotrope from
Sarah’s window garden, she found Blue Bonnet looking very sober.

“We shall not have to keep you prisoner to-morrow, my dear,” Miss
Lucinda said. “I expect we shall have numerous callers, even if it is
Sunday.”

Blue Bonnet laid Sarah’s flowers against her face. “I’m sorry the club
couldn’t meet--it’s the first time we’ve missed since starting.” For
a moment or two, she lay looking across at her aunt in the low chair
before the fire; then she asked, suddenly, “Aunt Lucinda, aren’t _you_
going to--say anything to me?”

“Say anything, Blue Bonnet?”

“About--last night?”

“Haven’t you and your grandmother talked things over, Blue Bonnet?”

“Yes,” Blue Bonnet answered, “but Grandmother was just--dear, and I
thought--I don’t mean that you’re not--” Blue Bonnet colored, “only it
does seem as if someone ought to--scold me. It was so horrid of me.”

Miss Lucinda half smiled. “And you consider that my especial
prerogative? No, Blue Bonnet, I am not going to ‘say anything,’ as you
express it, to you. I am going to _ask_ that another time you will give
a little thought to the worry and anxiety your heedlessness is likely
to cause other people. I do not think you realize how troubled your
grandmother was last evening.”

“Oh, I _will_ try,” Blue Bonnet’s voice trembled. “I will, I truly
will, Aunt Lucinda!”

“Solomon,” she confided to him later, as they two were alone in the
firelight, “Solomon, Aunt Lucinda can be such a dear!”



CHAPTER XVI

LADIES’ DAY


The storm was followed by the thaw; a very thorough-going thaw, which
gave Blue Bonnet her first experience of what country roads can be like
under such conditions.

“We can’t skate, we can’t coast, we can’t ride, and the walking is--”

“That’s just what it is!” Boyd agreed.

“Then what can we do?” Blue Bonnet looked at Alec, as if expecting
_him_ to solve the difficulty.

“You might meditate and invite your soul,” he suggested.

It was a Saturday morning, and the three were sitting on the Clyde’s
back porch in the sunshine. Blue Bonnet had explained that she could
stay only “a moment”--that she was dusting; but Blue Bonnet’s minutes
were apt to prove elastic.

“I don’t want to invite my soul!” she protested now. On the whole,
the past fortnight had been very tiresome; what she wanted, more than
anything at this moment, was to have some fun--fun spelled with a
capital F.

Lying alone in the twilight that Saturday evening two weeks ago, she
had made all manner of good resolutions, among which, being in early
had taken prominent place. Then the thaw had come, and there had been
no excuse for staying out.

Worst of all, the warm February wind, with its touch of Spring
softness, blowing the last few days, would keep sending her thoughts
back to the great open sweep of the prairie. Oh, for one long ride
across it with Uncle Cliff! One glimpse of the old familiar ranch life!
Of Uncle Joe and old Benita!

“Woodford _is_ dull,” Boyd was saying,--“at least for us outsiders.
There’s no use denying it.”

Blue Bonnet flicked her duster; that was what had brought her out to
the porch in the first place, and whenever the thought that she ought
to go in grew too insistent, she flicked it again.

“That makes ten times,” Alec laughed. “I’ve kept tally.”

“I suppose,” Blue Bonnet said, slowly, “that Aunt Lucinda would say,
that neither was there any use in asserting it.”

“Without doubt,” Boyd agreed.

“Maybe it’s just me.” Blue Bonnet looked at Alec; and somehow, he
couldn’t help feeling glad that she had not used Boyd’s “us.”

“I’m afraid not,” he answered, “though it’s very kind of you to be
willing to shoulder all the responsibility. We might get up a crowd and
go in town this afternoon.”

“Museum!” Boyd scoffed. “Botanical Gardens! Library! I don’t see
myself.”

“It’s club day,” Blue Bonnet said.

“Chuck it!” Boyd advised.

And suddenly, Blue Bonnet felt a strange desire to follow his
suggestion. It would be an indoor meeting; they would all bring their
work. She could see the six bags ranged in a circle about the table,
could see Sarah taking small, precise stitches in the apron she was
making for the third youngest Blake, could hear Kitty teasing them all,
and Ruth trying to keep peace.

While between now and club time lay dusting, and mending, and lessons
to get.

She was tired of being “good” and “behaving properly”! She might as
well have been born Sarah Blake and done with it.

“Isn’t there anything _new_ to do?” She turned imploring eyes to Alec.
“Something exciting and out of the everlasting old rut!”

“What’s the use of asking him?” Boyd said. “He’s already made two
suggestions.”

For a moment, Alec said nothing; then he got up. “May I have ten
minutes--to make quite sure it is feasible in?”

Blue Bonnet’s face brightened. “Will it happen in ten minutes?”

“Happen, if it happens at all, it won’t happen until this afternoon.
Come along, Boyd--there’ll be work enough for two.”

Blue Bonnet slipped from the porch railing to her feet. “Did you bring
that horrid word in on purpose? And, Alec, you know, I can’t really
‘chuck’ the club--wouldn’t Aunt Lucinda love that word! It wouldn’t do.”

“Who wants you to?”

“Will the club be in it?”

“If I have to use a club to get them there!”

Boyd whistled softly; collectively, he did not find the “We are
Seven’s” so interesting.

Ten minutes later, Blue Bonnet, down on her knees giving the final
finish to the spindle legs of the oldest mahogany card table, heard
Alec calling to her from one of the side windows. “All serene,” he
said. “Mind, you show up at three o’clock, promptly! Take the side
door and make straight for the attic! By the way, there’ll be supper
afterwards. Norah’s grumbling beautifully about it right now.”

“And the club?” Blue Bonnet asked, joyfully.

“Boyd and I’ll look out for them. So long!”

Blue Bonnet flew to tell Grandmother the good news, cheerfully ignoring
the fact that she and her work-basket had been for some time overdue up
there.

“Do you suppose it’s charades?” she asked.

“Shall we two have a tableau now?” Grandmother suggested. “‘The
Mending-hour’?”

“We played charades at the Doyles’ one night,” Blue Bonnet went on, as
she settled herself in the low sewing-chair beside her grandmother.
“They were lots of fun! This isn’t.” Blue Bonnet dropped the darning
egg into the toe of a stocking rather impatiently. “It would be a whole
lot easier just to run a draw string ’round the holes and tie them up.”

“Until you came to walking on them,” Mrs. Clyde laughed. “Careful,
dear--remember, ‘the more haste, the less speed.’”

“That’s one of the things I never can remember; and that reminds
me--Grandmother, I’ve never answered Carita Judson’s Christmas-box
letter.”

“Then isn’t it about time you did?”

“Uncle Joe--when he’s away from the ranch--just wires every little
while,--he says it saves time and trouble.”

“I hardly think I should adopt that plan with Carita, dear.”

“No, but I’ll write to her to-morrow afternoon, after I’ve written
Uncle Cliff.”

Promptly at quarter to three the other members of the club appeared
in a body, and the seven went across to the Trent’s side door, where
several pairs of rubbers showed that they were not the first arrivals.

Up the two flights of stairs to the attic they hurried. “What are they
doing!” Kitty exclaimed. “It sounds like steam rollers!”

“Who says we can’t go skating?” Alec laughed, coming to meet them, as
they reached the head of the second flight.

“Alec!” Blue Bonnet cried, joyfully. “Oh, you are the cleverest boy!”

“Roller skating!” Kitty clapped her hands, delightedly. “That will be
fun! Alec, Blue Bonnet’s right!”

A wide space had been cleared from end to end of the big attic, and the
stairway opening protected by a line of trunks; over other trunks bits
of curtain stuff had been thrown for seats; before the windows, Alec
had fastened heavy draperies, shutting out the daylight, while from the
rafters hung lighted Chinese lanterns, left over from some garden party.

“Isn’t it pretty!” Susy cried--“We never dreamed of anything like this!”

“Ladies’ Day at the new Trent Rink!” Boyd said. “We _have_ made rather
a tidy job of it, haven’t we?--considering what short notice we had.”

“Step this way, ladies--for your skates!” Billy Slade cried, from the
corner where the table stood piled with skates.

“We’re all here now--so the party can begin,” Alec agreed.

“Just we girls and a boy apiece,” Debby was counting heads.

“But,” Blue Bonnet questioned, as Alec fastened her skates for her,
“whatever made you think of it?”

“It was pretty well up to me to think of something--mighty quick; and I
had an inward conviction that what you wanted was something with more
or less movement to it.”

“One thing,” Billy Slade announced, one eye on Kitty,--“if anybody
should dare anybody to go to the end of the pond, they could get back
all right before--”

“Billy’s thinking of his supper already!” Kitty cut in; at which Billy,
who certainly had a weakness in that direction, colored hotly, and
immediately after, by way of adding to his ease of mind, sat down with
more abruptness than grace.

“You don’t mean to say that you’re too faint to stand!” Kitty held out
a mocking hand.

But Billy was not the only one to sit down in like fashion, poor Sarah
being especially active in that line. Indeed, Kitty declared it made
her positively dizzy, trying to decide whether Sarah was going down, or
getting up.

“I--I’ve never had on roller skates before,” Sarah explained rather
breathlessly, and the look in her eyes seemed to imply that she hoped
never to have them on again.

[Illustration: “‘LADIES’ DAY AT THE TRENT RINK’ PROVED A THOROUGH
SUCCESS.”]

“But it’s fun--isn’t it?” Blue Bonnet caught her enthusiastically about
the waist. “To think that, if it hadn’t been for Alec, we girls would
have been sitting poked up over our work!”

This time, Sarah’s look implied that in her opinion there were worse
ways of passing an afternoon than sitting comfortably around a bright
fire with one’s sewing.

“I--” she began, then went down, taking Blue Bonnet with her.

“That’s right!” Kitty called, “just sit down together and talk it
over,” and promptly followed their example, thanks to a gentle shove
from Billy Slade.

But if there were frequent tumbles, there were no serious ones; as
Debby put it, they fell to rise again.

“We’ll start a roller-skating club, and call ourselves the ‘Phoenix
Club,’” one of the boys declared.

All in all, “Ladies’ Day at the Trent Rink” proved a thorough success.
It proved, too, an excellent outlet for the superfluous energies of at
least one member there.

“I don’t know when I’ve had such a good time, or been so tired!” Blue
Bonnet confided to Amanda, as they sat resting on a low steamer trunk.

For the afternoon had been by no means confined to skating--in the
exact sense of the word; everything which could be done on roller
skates, and some--which, as it proved, could not,--had been tried.
Tag, blind-man’s buff, hide and seek; and as the grand finale, the
Virginia Reel, to the tune of Alec’s whistling.

Downstairs in the kitchen, Norah paused more than once in her work to
wonder if the old house was coming down about her ears.

“Let’s do it every week!” Kitty urged, as they dropped down, breathless
and happy, to take off their skates--while from below came the
appetizing odor of hot chocolate.

“I’ve never seen you so beautifully untidy before in all my life, Sarah
Blake,” Debby assured Sarah, as the girls went down to the best room to
freshen up for supper.

“I am afraid we have been very boisterous,” Sarah said, soberly, “and
yet--it has been rather enjoyable.”

“It’s a good thing the General wasn’t home,” Susy laughed; “though I
suppose if he had been Alec wouldn’t have planned such a lively party.”

They had a picnic supper, instead of the regulation
sit-down-to-the-table affair; fresh graham bread sandwiches, apple-pie
and cheese, doughnuts, and the hot chocolate with whipped cream.

And the appetites!

“Sure ’tis a comfort to know none of you do be pinin’ like,” Norah
laughed, as she refilled the sandwich plate for the third time.

“You shouldn’t make them so good,” one of the boys told her.

“And you should have seen how hard we worked,” Ruth added.

“I’m not sayin’ I’ve not been hearin’ you!” Norah retorted. She smiled
to herself as she glanced at Alec’s face--the boy was a boy for sure
nowadays,--thanks mainly to “that there” Blue Bonnet.

After supper, they told stories--not being inclined to anything
more active in the way of amusement; and when presently the General
appeared, he found his dining-room given up to a very contented set of
young people.

“We’re having a beautiful time!” Blue Bonnet went to meet him.
“Don’t you want to come tell stories, too? But it hasn’t been all
story-telling.”

“And what has it all been?” General Trent asked, as Alec helped him off
with his overcoat, and drew forward a chair.

“The Great and Only Trent Roller-Skating Rink opened its doors to the
public this afternoon, sir,” Boyd explained.

“Isn’t that something new?” his grandfather asked.

“It had to be something new, sir; our neighbor,” Boyd glanced towards
Blue Bonnet, “insisted upon that. I think we more than fulfilled
expectations. But it was certainly impromptu. Wasn’t it, old chap?” he
smiled good-naturedly at Alec.

“Rather,” Alec answered, dryly.

“Well! Well!” the General said. And Blue Bonnet felt that he was giving
credit for the idea, where credit was not due; and that Boyd had meant
him to.

“One would think----” she began.

Alec looked up quickly. “Have you any strength left for thinking?”

“Attention!” Boyd commanded. “General Trent has the floor. He is going
to tell us a story.”

The General looked gratified, though he protested that his stories
were all old. He liked to tell of those early days of his at West
Point; but he had got out of the habit of speaking of them to Alec; he
didn’t want the boy to feel how disappointed he was that he was not to
be a West Pointer, too. Lately, however, since Boyd’s coming, he had
been led more than once to draw upon his memories of cadet life. Boyd
had suddenly decided that he should like to take his chance at being
“General Trent” some day. “Someone ought to keep the old name up in the
old line,” he explained to Alec, “and since it doesn’t appear to be
your line, I may as well make it mine.”

And he listened, really interested now, to the stories his grandfather
told, taking care not to hide his interest; conscious, as the General
was, that Alec had drawn a little back from the circle of light thrown
by the fire.

Blue Bonnet noticed it too, and forgot to listen with this new feeling
of indignant sympathy crowding out all other ideas except the fear that
Alec had overtired himself on her account. He had managed not to take
too active a share in the afternoon’s merrymaking; all the same, she
was afraid that it had proved rather too vigorous an affair for him.

“I don’t believe we will do it every week,” she said as they crossed
the lawn together; “it might not be such fun again--second times are a
bit risky--and I don’t want to spoil the thought of this.”

“Then the Trent Rink is to be a short-lived affair?”

“As far as I have any say about it.”

“It was opened in your honor, and it shall be closed at your command,”
Alec laughed.

“You’re getting to be as accommodating as Uncle Cliff! I couldn’t put
it stronger. But, Alec, how could you--”

“How could I what?”

“Let your grandfather think it was all--”

“See here,” Alec interposed. “I thought we were not to spoil--anything.
Truly, Blue Bonnet, he did a lot of the work; and I daresay it may have
looked to him as if he had pulled it off.”

“I don’t care how it looked to _him_! And if he is your cousin--I don’t
like him--one bit! And I’ve had a splendid time--but it’s you I’m
thanking for it!”

“You don’t expect me to find fault with you for that,” Alec laughed.
“Good night, my lady.”

“Good night,” Blue Bonnet answered, and went on into the sitting-room
to give Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda an account of the afternoon’s
doings.

“Maybe I’m not tired,” she said, curling herself up among the pillows
on the lounge, “and maybe we haven’t had a good time!”

“Doing what, my dear?” Aunt Lucinda asked, laying down her book, and
suddenly realizing that the evening had seemed rather longer than usual.

“‘Acting up,’” Norah called it. “She said it sounded to her like there
were forty instead of fourteen up attic, and that we weren’t one of us
a day over four.”

“Poor Norah!” Mrs. Clyde laughed. “But what did ‘acting up’ consist of?”

“Falling down and getting up, mostly,” Blue Bonnet answered; “that is,
for some of us. Alec rented a lot of roller-skates and turned the attic
into the jolliest rink. Wasn’t it the cutest idea? And that horrid
Boyd--”

“Blue Bonnet!” Miss Lucinda began.

“Well, he is horrid, Aunt Lucinda! Taking all the credit! I wish he’d
never come--and I think Alec wishes it, too, though he’d die, rather
than let on that--” Blue Bonnet paused to slip another pillow behind
her back. “Please don’t let’s talk about him, Aunt Lucinda!”

“My dear, I am not aware that _we_ were talking about him.”

“He makes me feel cross all over--the same as making crocheted shawls
does.”

“I thought we were not to talk about him,” Miss Lucinda suggested,
while Grandmother asked, laughingly, how many such shawls Blue Bonnet
had made.

Whereupon, Blue Bonnet subsided. Gradually the little pucker of
irritation the thought of Boyd had called up disappeared; the vague
feeling of discontent and longing of the morning had disappeared,
too, by now. She felt very grateful to Alec. She had been just in the
mood for--almost anything in the way of mischief; and then--to-night,
it would have been like that Saturday night, two weeks ago, all over
again. Only this time, how could Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda have
believed her honestly in earnest, have felt that she was ever to be
depended on?

She was glad now that she had done her dusting and mending--so long
as Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda were so keen about it. And at the
same time, somewhere in the back of her mind was the dim remembrance
of something that had been left undone, a remembrance which, in her
present drowsy condition, she was perfectly willing should remain in
the back of her mind.

And when, presently, Grandmother spoke to her, Blue Bonnet was fast
asleep.

“She should be in bed,” Miss Lucinda said, as Mrs. Clyde got up to lay
a light afghan over the curled-up figure among the cushions.

“She will probably rouse up in a few moments,” Mrs. Clyde answered. “I
remember how I used to enjoy such a little nap before the fire at her
age.”

“What is Blue Bonnet’s age?” Miss Lucinda asked, half gravely, half
laughingly. “It would seem to be as variable as the weather, ranging
all the way from six years to normal, but striking the latter point
very seldom.”

“Are you in a hurry to have her grow up, Lucinda?”

Miss Lucinda was rather long in answering this question. “Not to grow
up--as you put it,” she said at last. “I should like to see her become
more responsible. She will be sixteen in June.”

Mrs. Clyde glanced at the sleeping face. “We must trust to time,
and--the grace of God.”

Miss Lucinda glanced also at the flushed face in its frame of tangled
hair. Blue Bonnet asleep looked more childish than ever; and yet--

“She should really be in bed,” Miss Lucinda said. “She is likely to
take cold sleeping there.”

But at that moment, Blue Bonnet sat up, facing them with eyes almost
tragic.

“Do you know!” she brought each word out with emphatic distinctness, “I
haven’t prepared my lessons for Monday! I knew there was something I’d
forgotten--I just couldn’t study last evening; I hated the mere sight
of those tiresome books! And to-day, I forgot all about them!”

Blue Bonnet slipped to her feet and started for the closet where she
kept her school-books. “That’s what comes of having a place for things
and putting them in it! If they’d only been laying ’round--”

“Not to-night, Blue Bonnet,” her aunt said. “It is altogether too late
for studying. You must get an early start Monday morning.”

“All right,” Blue Bonnet agreed with a readiness Miss Lucinda found
discouraging; “only you’ll have to call me, Aunt Lucinda.”

“I don’t suppose,” she confided to Solomon, as she tucked his warm
blanket about him, “I don’t suppose Sarah Blake ever forgets to get her
lessons, do you?”

She put the question to Sarah herself, on the way home from church the
next morning.

“Why, no,” Sarah answered, wonderingly. “I don’t think one ought--”

“How many oughts make a must?” Blue Bonnet interrupted.

Sarah colored slightly. “I am afraid I do use that word too often.” She
stood a moment, her hand on the parsonage gate. There seemed to be so
many more oughts in her life than in Blue Bonnet’s; and yet, everyone
liked Blue Bonnet. Dr. Clark had said only the other day that she was
as refreshing as one of the breezes from off her own prairies. Sarah
had no desire to be called breezy, but of late she was conscious that
she didn’t want to be thought--the word came hard--priggish. That was
the exact term Kitty had used yesterday. “I--I don’t want to seem to
be--preaching at you,” she added.

“You weren’t! You’re just a dear, good old Sarah!” In spite of the fact
that they were standing right on the main street, Blue Bonnet gave her
companion a hearty hug.

Sarah colored considerably more than slightly this time; no one had
ever hugged her on Main Street before.

“I think,” Blue Bonnet announced later, at the dinner-table, “that,
when you remember her bringing up, Sarah isn’t half bad!”

Grandmother’s eyes twinkled. “It is very kind of you to make proper
allowances for her bringing up, though I had not supposed there was
anything out of the way about it.”

“There is--from the Texas point of view,” Blue Bonnet laughed. “Anyhow,
I mean to try and be more like her. That would suit you right down to
the ground, wouldn’t it, Aunt Lucinda?”

“How soon do you begin, Blue Bonnet?” Miss Lucinda’s smile was most
expressive.

“Why, right away!” the girl answered.

She wrote to Uncle Cliff and Carita that afternoon, was in early from
her run with Solomon, and after supper was found by Miss Lucinda
standing before one of the tall bookcases in the back parlor, studying
the titles inside with dubious eyes.

“Aren’t there any one-volume Lives, Aunt Lucinda?” she asked. “Sarah’s
Sunday evening reading was always devoted to ‘Lives.’”

“Certainly, Blue Bonnet; but just now, I think your grandmother is
waiting for you to sing for her.”

Blue Bonnet relinquished her pursuit of a one-volume Life that should
look fairly tempting from the outside, most willingly. Singing hymns
to Grandmother in the twilight, with a break now and then into the old
Spanish _Ave Maria_ learned from Benita, seemed a far pleasanter way of
passing the time.

“Grandmother,” she asked, when the singing was over, and Aunt Lucinda
had lighted the low reading-lamp on the center table, “did you like
reading dull books when you were my age? Lives, you know, and--?”

“But they are not necessarily dull reading, Blue Bonnet. My mother used
to read them with me of a Sunday evening; I got to think it one of
the most enjoyable evenings of the whole week. It was she who gave me
my fondness for reading about things that had really happened, and of
people who had really lived and struggled.”

“The persons in the books one loves best do seem alive,” Blue Bonnet
said.

“So they do,” Grandmother agreed. She got up and, going over to the
bookcase, which to Blue Bonnet had seemed likely to yield very little
in the way of fruit, came back presently with Helen Keller’s “The Story
of My Life.”

“Suppose we begin this, Blue Bonnet. I shall be much mistaken if you
find it ‘dull.’”

Blue Bonnet established herself in a big chair opposite; Solomon
pressed close against her skirts,--Solomon meant to insinuate himself
into the chair beside his mistress so soon as Grandmother’s attention
had become sufficiently diverted. Solomon appeared to enjoy being read
to quite as much as Blue Bonnet did.

Very far from dull the latter found the story of the deaf, dumb, and
blind girl--as told by herself. “Shall we go on with it next Sunday
evening, Blue Bonnet?” Grandmother asked, as she closed the book.

“Mayn’t we go on with it right now, Grandmother, please?”

Mrs. Clyde pointed to the clock on the mantel. “There is studying to be
done to-morrow morning before breakfast, you remember; which must mean
an early start to-night.”

Blue Bonnet shoved Solomon gently to the floor--Solomon had
accomplished his intention. “I am not at all sure that I approve of
studying before breakfast,” she sighed.

She was quite sure that she did not when Aunt Lucinda tapped at her
door the next morning, punctual to the moment. It seemed to Blue
Bonnet that Woodford people carried their love of punctuality to an
unnecessary extreme.

“I surely would like,” she told herself, sleepily, “to live for one
while where there were no clocks!” Then she snuggled comfortably down
under the warm blankets for “just one minute more.”

The next thing Blue Bonnet knew, Delia was tapping at her door
with--“Half past seven, Miss!”

“_Half past seven!_” Blue Bonnet tumbled out of bed, very wide awake.
She had been asleep a whole hour!

Being in a hurry, it naturally followed that everything went wrong. It
was an extremely flushed Blue Bonnet that slipped into her place at the
breakfast table five minutes late.

“Did you get through all right, dear?” Grandmother asked.

“I didn’t begin! I--fell asleep again! I just know the ‘jolly good--’”

“Who, Blue Bonnet?” her aunt interposed.

“Miss Fellows will be anything but a ‘jolly--’ I beg your pardon,
Aunt Lucinda--will be tiresome.” Blue Bonnet added an extra spoonful
of sugar to her porridge, as if she felt that her day was likely to
prove far from sweet. Grandmother looked disappointed, and Aunt Lucinda
looked--; yet when you came to think of it, _she_ was the one who would
have to face the music.

“Something’s happened to somebody!” Kitty chanted, as her fellow club
member came upstairs to the dressing-room that morning.

Blue Bonnet swung her strap of books impatiently. “I haven’t prepared a
single lesson--except what I did in study hour Friday--I forgot to do
them!”

“But I thought you intended getting up early,” Sarah began.

“I thought so, too--yesterday,” Blue Bonnet interrupted. She didn’t
feel in the least inclined to adopt Sarah for a model this morning.
Just at present the sight of Sarah’s placid face, framed in smooth
plaits of blond hair, roused a sudden unreasoning desire in her to
shake Sarah Blake. Sarah would answer every question put to her in her
slow, correct way.

“You’ll have to bluff for all you’re worth,” Debby advised,--Debby was
an authority in the gentle art of bluffing teachers.

“Yes,” Kitty chimed in. “When you forget to ‘do’ your lessons, you must
remember to ‘do’ the teacher.”

Blue Bonnet turned away; they were very unsympathetic! Uncle Cliff
would have cared--and Alec.

Miss Fellows was at her desk; her smile, as she said good morning, sent
a warm glow to the girl’s heart. She was sorry things would have to be
horrid, they had got on beautifully--so far.

All at once she turned, coming up to the desk. “You might as well know
the worst beforehand, Miss Fellows,” she said, impulsively. “I expect
I’ll have a lot of failures to-day.”

“Dear me, are you quite sure?” Miss Fellows asked, sympathetically.

“Quite--and it’s all my own fault,” Blue Bonnet went on to explain the
situation; when she reached the “one minute more” part, her listener
felt suddenly for her pocket handkerchief. “It isn’t very easy getting
up early these mornings,” she observed; “but we won’t give up hope so
soon, Blue Bonnet.”

It was after morning exercises, that Miss Fellows announced, most
unexpectedly, that the Latin lesson that morning would be in the nature
of a general review.

“Why couldn’t she have told us Friday, instead of giving out a lesson
the same as usual?” Kitty whispered to Amanda.

Blue Bonnet came home that afternoon at the usual time and quite
her usual light-hearted self. Balancing on the arm of a chair, she
gleefully explained the turn affairs had taken at school that day.

“Wasn’t it the luckiest thing that the ‘jolly good’--please, Aunt
Lucinda, I must call her that this time!--should have hit on to-day for
a review all along the line?”

“Including English, Blue Bonnet?” Miss Lucinda suggested.

Blue Bonnet laughed. “Including everything--except French--she doesn’t
have that; but I managed all right there, I’d been over the ground at
home. As it happened, I needn’t have told her what I did this morning.”

“And what did you tell her?” Grandmother asked.

“Why all about what Kitty calls--my sleep and a forgetting. I thought
she might as well be prepared for what was coming.”

“Lucinda,” Mrs. Clyde remarked, when Blue Bonnet had gone out. “Suppose
we were to invite Miss Fellows to tea some evening? She strikes me as
being a woman of a--singularly sympathetic disposition.”

Miss Lucinda smiled--a little unwillingly.

“Please, Aunt Lucinda,” Blue Bonnet came back just then to say, “I
forgot to tell you--I’m so sorry I got you up unnecessarily this
morning. I reckon getting out early to study isn’t much in my line.”



CHAPTER XVII

A CLASS AFFAIR


Kitty came down the class-room aisle as jubilant and beaming, as if,
outside, March winds and March rains were not having it all their own
way.

“I’ve my subject for the Sargent!” she announced to the little group
gathered about one of the windows at the far end of the room.

“What is it?” Debby asked.

“That’s telling,” Kitty settled herself on the window-seat beside Blue
Bonnet.

“I wish I had mine,” Amanda sighed. “Have you yours, Blue Bonnet?”

“I’m not going to write any.” Blue Bonnet felt a swift relief in this
sudden settling of the question, once for all. She didn’t want to even
hear about the Sargent just then. She wanted to get out in the rain, to
battle with the wind and storm, instead of watching it here from the
window. But there wouldn’t be any good in getting out for the little
while recess lasted. It must have been someone like the founder of the
Sargent prize who had settled on half-hour recesses.

“Not going to try!” Susy exclaimed, wonderingly. “But we’re all going
to, Blue Bonnet!”

“Probably.”

“It’s the--the proper thing to do, you know,” Ruth added.

“Ruth’s poaching on your ground, Sarah!” Kitty remarked.

Blue Bonnet twisted the end of her long braid impatiently. “That’s one
reason why I am not going to try! There are so many ‘proper things’ to
be done here in Woodford.”

“Don’t you worry, my dear,” Kitty observed; “no one’s likely to mistake
you for a true, bred-in-the-bone Woodfordite--yet awhile.”

“You’ll be the only one of the ‘We are Seven’s’ not trying, Blue
Bonnet,” Ruth protested.

“That’ll be something. Anyhow, only one girl can get it, out of the
whole class.”

“That’s what makes it so jolly if one does win!” Kitty explained.

“I think it would be horrid, winning it away from everyone else!” Blue
Bonnet declared. “And if one didn’t win--that would be horrid too.”

“But,” Sarah said slowly, “even if one doesn’t win the prize, won’t it
be better, for one’s self, I mean, to know one has tried?”

  “It is better to have tried and lost,
  Than never tried at all.”

Kitty chanted.

Sarah looked grave; “I don’t think you should parody those lines,
Kitty!”

Kitty wrinkled up her pert little nose. “Don’t you, Sallykins? Then I
won’t--until the next time they come in handy.”

“Kitty, be good!” Ruth urged.

“‘And let who will, be clever,’” Debby added. “Has anyone heard how
Mademoiselle is? Will she be able to come to-day?”

“She’s worse!” Ruth said, “I asked this morning.”

All but Sarah and Amanda--who were not taking French--groaned. It was
Wednesday,--French day,--and it would make the third time running that
Mademoiselle had had to be absent. It would also mean Monsieur Hugo
again.

“It’s very provoking, how the wrong persons will go and get sick,”
Debby sighed. “No one would have minded Monsieur Hugo getting the grip!”

“As if he could ever really substitute for Mademoiselle Lamotte,” Susy
protested--the class adored Mademoiselle. “We haven’t had a decent
recitation with him yet.”

“It’s all his fault!” Debby insisted; “he’s so cross and so--polite. I
mean it,” she added, as the rest laughed, “I don’t know whether to call
it crossly polite, or politely cross. One could stand either of them
alone--but together!”

“My prophetic soul warns me that there are breakers ahead!” Kitty said.

And that afternoon, catching sight of Monsieur through the half-open
door, she leaned forward to whisper to Blue Bonnet, who sat just in
front, “I’ve discovered what he’s like--he looks as though he had been
brought up on his own irregular verbs and they hadn’t agreed with him.”

“Wouldn’t you have wanted them to?” Blue Bonnet laughed back.

“Katherine! Elizabeth!” Miss Fellows said, adding that the French class
were to go to their recitation-room at once.

“She should have said--the class in French,” Debby commented, slipping
into place behind Blue Bonnet and Kitty, “Poor Monsieur, I’m rather
sorry for him.”

“I’m letting pity begin at home!” Kitty returned, as the three retired
modestly to the back row, leaving the front seats for Hester Manly and
what Kitty called, “the other stars.”

“The class will come to order!” Monsieur was looking straight at the
back row; he had very keen eyes behind his gold-rimmed spectacles.

That was a truly awful half-hour for more than one member of the class.

Monsieur did not in the least understand “the youth American,” and
had even less sympathy with what he considered his present pupils’
inexcusable lack of preparation.

Extremely polite in voice and manner, but possessing to a marked
degree the gift of sarcasm, his methods were so dissimilar from those
of their beloved Mademoiselle--who had the knack of extracting answers
from the most unpromising pupil--that the majority of the class soon
gave up trying to make even a creditable showing; deciding, apparently,
that endurance--and dumb endurance at that--was the only course left
them.

His polite request that they should not all endeavor to reply at once,
they obeyed to the letter.

“He’s only a ‘sub,’ anyhow,” Kitty reminded Blue Bonnet.

Blue Bonnet’s face was crimson; he was too hateful--_she_ shouldn’t try
to answer another single question.

Monsieur was on his feet by now, walking back and forth before the
class, gesticulating nervously, shrugging impatiently; was it possible
that he had made the mistake--that they were not the class in French
after all? Or was it that they took not the interest in his language?
He was there to instruct, to hear the recitations, to correct the
pronunciation, _mais_--

All of which, poured out in rapid French, did not help matters any.

“We go now to make the attempt further,” he opened the book again.
“Mademoiselle,” he fixed his glance on Hester, “will kindly translate.”

Hester did her best, which was not so bad after what had gone before,
and for a few moments peace descended on the room. But Hester giving
place presently to her next neighbor, a boy who was only taking French
because another fellow had said it was a whole lot easier than German,
trouble began once more.

“That will do!” Monsieur closed his book. “It is incomprehensible--the
badness of it!” He looked from one to another of the faces before
him, some flushed, some indifferent, some sullen, and some genuinely
distressed. “We will call it the failure--all complete. You comprehend
that? The failure for each! For the next time, we take the same lesson.
_Moi_, I do not permit myself the hope that it will go better, I have
not the room for hope left--only the amazement, indescribable. The
class is dismissed.”

Three minutes after general dismission that afternoon, an indignation
meeting was held in that same little recitation-room.

“He’s an old--” Kitty’s gesture, borrowed from Monsieur, filled out her
sentence.

“At least, he didn’t show any partiality--when it came to compliments,”
one of the boys laughed.

“Some of us did fail,” Ruth began.

“We did,” the other cut in.

“But not all--Hester and some of the rest did all right; it wasn’t
fair, giving them failures too.”

“Maybe,” another boy suggested, “he was trying to strike the general
average. I say--wouldn’t Mademoiselle have been proud of us!”

“I’ll never, never recite to him again!” Debby declared.

“Has any one accused you of reciting this afternoon?” her brother Billy
asked.

“Nor will I!” Kitty exclaimed.

“Listen--everybody!” Billy jumped up on to one of the benches.
“Let’s take a vote on it--here and now! Supposing--which the fates
forbid!--Monsieur Hugo should again--present himself in the capacity of
substitute for Mademoiselle, will the class cut class in a body?--or
will it not?”

“It will!” one of his mates answered promptly.

For a few moments confusion reigned supreme; then one of the older
boys, deposing Billy, not too gently, succeeded in getting the
attention of the rest. “It is hereby resolved, and so forth,” he said.
“Those in favor--kindly signify in the usual manner! The ayes have it!
Majority rules.”

“Oh, dear,” one of the girls said anxiously, “I hope he doesn’t come
again.”

“I don’t,” Kitty insisted, “I’d just like to show him--”

“But,” Blue Bonnet said, as the club members went downstairs
together--all except Sarah and Amanda, “wouldn’t it be a great deal
simpler to go tell Mr. Hunt that you didn’t want that Monsieur Hugo
again?”

Kitty stopped to stare at her. “Bless the child’s ignorance! I’d like
to see any of us doing it!”

“I wouldn’t mind--truly,” Blue Bonnet answered.

Kitty turned on her almost fiercely; “You’d better not, Blue Bonnet
Ashe! This is a class affair--don’t you forget that!”

“Well,” Ruth said thoughtfully, “it is to be hoped Mademoiselle is able
to come Friday; we’ll be in pretty hot water if she isn’t.”

Blue Bonnet was looking perplexed; school life seemed full of
unexpected pitfalls. “I suppose,” she questioned, “that cutting class
is considered pretty bad?”

“We sha’n’t exactly expect rewards of merit for doing it,” Debby
answered.

“Which way did you vote, Blue Bonnet?” Kitty asked, sharply.

“I didn’t vote; before I really understood what it was you were all
going to do, Billy told me it was quite settled.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Kitty said; “of course, you’ll go with the class;
unless--”

“Unless?” Blue Bonnet repeated.

Kitty laughed. “Unless you want to be jolly uncomfortable afterwards.”

“We’re all of us likely to be that,” Ruth said hurriedly, as Blue
Bonnet’s color rose. “Oh, I’m not backing out--so you needn’t look at
me in that tone of voice, Kitty! But I’ve got sense enough not to look
forward with any pleasure to a tussle with the powers that be.”

“The powers that be shouldn’t have sent such a horrid substitute!”
Debby insisted.

Contrary to her usual habit, Blue Bonnet did not go into the
sitting-room on reaching home, but straight on up to her own room.
Curling herself up in the window-seat overlooking the bare, rain-swept
garden, she tried to think things over; knowing all the while that for
her there was no choice.

“I am going to put you on your honor not to disobey in this fashion
again; and so try to conform more carefully to all the rules of the
school.” The words had been running through her mind all the way home.

She had promised.

The girls would think that she was--Blue Bonnet moved restlessly; they
must think what they would. Oh, why had Mademoiselle gone and got the
grip! If it had not been for what Kitty had said about it’s being a
class affair, she could have gone to Mr. Hunt and asked him to release
her from her promise. He would have understood. He had understood
perfectly that morning; and been so kind.

“Solomon,” she said wearily, as he came rubbing against her, asking
reproachfully why she had left it for him to find out that she had got
home, “Solomon, old chap, we’re up against it!”

Solomon jumped up beside her, sticking his cold nose under her soft
chin.

“If it isn’t one thing, it’s another, at school, Solomon,” she told
him. “Be mighty thankful you don’t have to go to school, sir.”

It was a very sober Blue Bonnet who came down at last to the
sitting-room, where Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda waited anxiously, Aunt
Lucinda being of Blue Bonnet’s own mind--that if it were not one thing,
it was apt to be another.

“Did you get wet, dear?” Grandmother asked.

“Not to amount to anything.” Blue Bonnet dropped down on the lounge,
looking as if life were all at once too much for her.

“Has anything gone wrong at school, my dear?” her aunt asked.

“I should rather think there had! But I can’t tell you about it, Aunt
Lucinda; because it’s what Kitty calls--‘a class affair.’”

Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda looked relieved; there was safety in
numbers; but Blue Bonnet, lying back among the cushions, watched the
little flames opposite dance and flicker, with troubled eyes.

They had all taken it for granted that she would act with them, and
when she did not--

It would spoil everything, the club good times--everything. Blue
Bonnet sprang up and went to her practising; Mademoiselle must come on
Friday! Surely she would be well enough by then.

It was just before supper that Alec ran over to return a book; he found
Blue Bonnet alone in the back parlor.

“You did have a lively time this afternoon,” he said. “No, I can’t wait
to sit down. I must go right back.”

“Alec, did you ever cut class?” Blue Bonnet asked.

“No, but--”

“Then you would, if--”

“I’d stand by my class, naturally. I hope there won’t be any ifs. I’m
not ’round looking up trouble.”

“I think school is--hateful!”

“Halloa! Why only the other day you were--”

“The other day was the other day; to-day is--different.”

“What’s up?--this business of Monsieur Hugo? He must be a wonder!”

“I hate French!”

“Or one particular Frenchman?” Alec laughed.

“I wish I’d taken German.”

Alec looked puzzled; Blue Bonnet couldn’t be af--, he broke the word
off hastily. Why, he had expected to find her ready and eager to seize
the chance to throw her gauntlet with the rest, with all her usual
disregard of consequences.

“Mademoiselle’ll be on hand, you’ll see,” he said, trying not to show
his surprise, but Blue Bonnet felt the change in his voice. He would
think her afraid, too. None of them would understand.

“I’ve decided on my Sargent,” he added, as if glad to change the
subject.

“Have you?” Blue Bonnet’s pretense at interest was not very successful.
“Everybody seems to be getting their subjects. I’m glad I’m not trying.
What is yours?”

“It’s a secret--remember?”

“I can keep secrets, and--promises.”

Alec looked at her, wonderingly, caught by something in her voice. “I’m
going to write up about some of the earlier Sargent winners--not the
famous ones, they’ve been done to death, but some of the poor chaps who
didn’t go on winning prizes. It won’t be easy, getting at the necessary
facts.”

“It sounds interesting,” Blue Bonnet said.

She went with him to the door. The rain had stopped and over in the
west the clouds had taken on a touch of sunset color. The wind had
changed; it blew fresh and cool against Blue Bonnet’s face.

“It’s going to clear, isn’t it?” she asked.

Alec nodded.

Blue Bonnet’s spirits rose; it was going to clear--everything would
come out right, after all.

But when Friday came, Mademoiselle, though better, was still unable to
come to her classes.

“Mind,” Debby warned Blue Bonnet at recess, “that you take your books
home at noon. We often do on Fridays, so it won’t be noticed.”

Blue Bonnet, making a pretense at studying, looked up, questioningly.
“Why?”

“We only have drawing and French Friday afternoons; and we sha’n’t be
coming back to our room after French to-day. One doesn’t cut class and
then walk back to her place like a good little girl.”

“I suppose not,” Blue Bonnet said. She must tell them, it wasn’t fair
not to. “But I am not--going to cut class.”

It was Kitty who broke the short silence that followed. “Blue Bonnet
Ashe, do you mean that?”

“Yes,” Blue Bonnet answered. She--would tell them why. She couldn’t
bear to have them think her--not loyal.

“Maybe,” Kitty’s gray eyes were full of scorn. “Maybe you _have_ taken
French longer than we have, but you certainly do not seem to have
learned the meaning of ‘_esprit de corps_’! Perhaps they don’t teach
that sort of thing--out in Texas!”

Blue Bonnet drew back as if struck, her face white. She would never
tell them her reason now! They could think what they liked. She would
never speak to Kitty Clark again!

“Kitty, how can you!” Debby cried. “Blue Bonnet! surely you don’t mean
that you--”

“_Will_ you please go away!” Blue Bonnet broke in.

“I hope you don’t think we intend staying?” Kitty answered. “Perhaps
you _are_ wise not to risk being sent to Mr. Hunt a _second_ time.”

One swift, upward flash, Blue Bonnet could not help, then she sat quite
still looking down at the book lying open on the desk before her, with
unseeing eyes. She was determined that she would not cry.

It seemed as if noontime would never come; she hated the big, busy
schoolroom and--everybody in it; at least, nearly everybody! Girls
were--detestable. A boy wouldn’t have said a thing like that. If Uncle
Cliff could know how mean Kitty had been. One thing was sure--they
could never be friends again.

“My dear,” Mrs. Clyde asked, as Blue Bonnet came in to lunch, “what has
happened?”

Blue Bonnet tossed her coat and hat on to the lounge, and pushed back
her hair from her hot face. “Everything has happened!”

“My dear--”

“And I can’t tell you what it is, Grandmother. I wish I’d never seen
the old academy! I can’t think how anyone likes going to school!”

“But I hoped that the trouble was over, Blue Bonnet.”

“It’s only just begun!”

“Then I am afraid that I shall have to ask questions, dear.”

“I couldn’t answer them--yet. Please, Grandmother, need I bother with
lunch? I’m not hungry.”

But Mrs. Clyde was firm on that point; Blue Bonnet must eat a proper
lunch if she wanted to go back to school.

“I don’t want to,” she said, with a little laugh; “only I’ve just got
to, or they would think--” Blue Bonnet hurried through her luncheon in
a way Aunt Lucinda, had she been there, would hardly have countenanced;
but when it was over, she lingered in the garden with Solomon until
there was barely time to get back to school.

There, she went straight to her desk, trying not to see the little
group gathered about Debby’s seat, and scarcely answering Sarah’s
remark about the club-meeting to-morrow.

Sarah would think it was her duty to be just the same as usual, but she
didn’t want “duty friendliness.” Good; Miss Fellows was going to ring
for order right now.

Blue Bonnet was glad that drawing followed immediately; one didn’t
have to answer questions in drawing, and there was a chance to think.
Though in this case, thinking only meant going over and over the same
old road and winding up each time at the same high, blank wall. Once,
glancing up unexpectedly, she found Ruth looking at her in a wonder
that was half reproach.

Blue Bonnet dropped her pencil on to the desk and turned to the window.
Ruth loved law and order as she did not, and yet Ruth was prepared to
act in open defiance of both, in obedience to that intangible something
called “class spirit.”

Blue Bonnet stared at the soft, fleecy clouds piling themselves up like
great, white snow-drifts. Was she wrong after all?

And then the clouds sent her thoughts back to that night on the pond,
to the long, weary tramp afterwards through real snow-drifts. Was
this, after all, another sort of dare? Were they--all those others,
consciously or unconsciously, daring her now to break her promise?

But “living straight and true” could never mean breaking one’s word.

“Miss Elizabeth!” the drawing-master laid a hand on her book; he
intended criticizing rather sharply her work, or, rather, lack of work,
but the face she turned towards him disarmed him.

“Why, you are not even doing your second best,” he said, with a smile.

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Post,” she answered.

“We are not studying cloud effects to-day, you know,” he suggested.

“I was thinking about--something.” Blue Bonnet took up her pencil
again; fifteen minutes more and--

Debby was signaling to her, doing it rather openly, too. Blue Bonnet
shook her head, impatiently. Why wouldn’t they let her alone?

“That will do for to-day,” she heard Mr. Post say at last.

Five minutes later, she found herself out in the corridor with the
other members of the French class. Billy, making elaborate motions to
the rest to be very cautious, was leading the way towards the back
stairs; his start of surprise when Blue Bonnet took the turn to the
little recitation-room beyond, oddly enough, was one of the hardest
things about the whole affair for her. It said so plainly that she was
the last girl he would have expected to go back on them.

“Blue Bonnet,”--Susy, risking detection, had slipped after her, putting
a hand into hers,--“Blue Bonnet, you don’t understand!”

“Yes, I do,” Blue Bonnet faced about, meeting squarely the surprise,
scorn, indignation, and incredulity, in those fourteen pairs of eyes.
“I understand perfectly.”

A moment more and she had closed the door of the recitation-room behind
her.

Monsieur was not there yet. From the open window came a sound of
muffled laughter, suddenly hushed; the class had reached the yard.

Monsieur was coming now. Blue Bonnet went over to her usual place; it
didn’t matter if he were cross, nothing mattered--now that she was
really started along the dismal road leading to that dreary land called
Coventry,--a land that in the old Texas days she had never dreamed of
even sighting.

Then the door opened; but it was not Monsieur who entered. Blue Bonnet
caught her breath at sight of Mr. Hunt.

“Good afternoon, Elizabeth,” he said, his quick glance taking in
the empty places; “I am sorry to have kept you waiting. I am taking
Mademoiselle’s place to-day.”

“Monsieur Hugo is not coming?”

“No--he is not coming.” Mr. Hunt opened the book in his hand. “The
lesson is--? Or suppose,” he glanced again at Blue Bonnet’s face,
“suppose we do not take up the regular lesson this afternoon--but have
a little conversation--in French, of course--instead?”

It was the shortest French recitation the old room had ever seen.
And it is to be feared that even then the teacher did most of the
“conversing.”

When it was over, and they were leaving the room together, Mr. Hunt
laid a hand for a moment on Blue Bonnet’s shoulder. “They teach you how
to keep promises out in your beloved Texas, it would seem,” he said.

Blue Bonnet looked up gratefully; at least, he understood why she had
come.

Once at home, and there had been no tarrying along the way that
afternoon, she made straight for her room. There Mrs. Clyde found her,
lying face down on the bed, shaken with sobs, while a much distressed
small dog did his best to console her.

Sitting down beside the bed, Grandmother drew the story from her. “I
had to do it!” Blue Bonnet sobbed. “But the girls think--If you knew
what Kitty said!”

“And I am not to know everything, even yet?” Mrs. Clyde stroked the
tumbled hair lovingly.

“Uncle Cliff says repeating things like that only makes them worse.”

“He is quite right, dear; but in this case--”

“If I do repeat them, I’ll only feel angrier with her than ever--and
that’s useless!” Blue Bonnet dabbed her wet eyes. “Everything’s spoiled
now. Oh, dear, if I just hadn’t run away those times last fall, I could
have--”

“Disobeyed the rules now?” Grandmother suggested.

“Grandmother! Wouldn’t you have gone with your class?”

For a moment, Mrs. Clyde said nothing, there was a far-away look in her
eyes; then she smiled softly. “I suppose I should have, because once
I--did. But I had not promised. It makes me very proud and glad, dear,
that you kept yours in spite of so much pressure from within, as well
as without. And everything is not spoiled, you will see.”

Blue Bonnet sat up. “I’m glad it’s Friday! Only I wish to-morrow were
not club day.”

“To-morrow isn’t here yet,” Grandmother answered. “Suppose you go give
this forlorn little object a run in the garden. He is sharing in all
the unhappiness, without understanding what it is about.”

“Dogs never go back on one.” Blue Bonnet gave Solomon an affectionate
squeeze.

“Nor grandmothers,” Mrs. Clyde said.

“That’s one of the things that goes without saying,” Blue Bonnet
answered. A good romp with Solomon helped to restore her spirits; it
did not seem, after all, as if things could stay very wrong in such a
world of March wind and sunshine.

The sight of Alec coming towards her across the lawn brought the doubts
back. What would he think?

“Halloa!” Alec called, cheerily, and Blue Bonnet, suddenly on the
alert, could detect no change in his manner. But perhaps he didn’t know.

Alec knew, and inwardly was much perplexed; however, where one did not
understand--in the case of a friend like Blue Bonnet--one must go by
faith. She had some good reason, no doubt about it.

“Look here,” he said, “I’ve evolved a capital scheme--I think I shall
take up the profession of furnishing ideas to the needy. I’ve ’phoned
in town, and secured a box, and to-morrow the club and one or two other
persons are to be my guests at the jolliest matinée of the jolliest
play of the season. Grandfather’s going to chaperon us. He makes the
best chaperon going--being at heart very much of a boy,--that’s a way
they have in the army. What do you say?”

“I can’t say--anything,” Blue Bonnet’s lips were trembling.



CHAPTER XVIII

COVENTRY


It was after opening exercises on Monday morning, that Mr. Hunt,
stepping to the front of the platform, announced that the pupils from
Miss Fellows’ room who had absented themselves from French on Friday
afternoon, were to go to his office instead of to their classroom.

The assembly-room had been very still while the principal was speaking,
but as he finished a little ripple of excitement ran over it, and here
and there there was a curious turning of heads. Then Miss Rankin struck
the preliminary chords, and the various classes formed into line.

Blue Bonnet, with Kitty just behind and Ruth only two places ahead, was
wishing with all her heart that presently she too might drop out of
line with the others. The fourteen had not been the only ones towards
whom curious glances had been turned that morning. “The girl who had
not cut” was as much an object of interest as the pupils who had; only
there had been no sympathy for her.

That she didn’t look as if she cared, was the general verdict; Alec,
watching her from his corner of the big room, knew better. He would
have liked to tell those girls what he thought of them--it was the
girls who were the worst. He was glad when opening exercises were over
and Blue Bonnet had reached the comparative shelter of her classroom.

She was glad, too, though for the moment, in spirit at least, she was
in the office with the fourteen. What would Mr. Hunt say to them?
Kitty had said once that he could be “rather awful.” Perhaps Kitty had
exaggerated; she had not found him so.

But the young people waiting in the office were not so hopeful.

“I believe he’s just keeping us waiting on purpose!” Kitty grumbled, as
the moments went by and Mr. Hunt did not appear.

“We’ll lose our Latin,” Susy mourned.

“If that’s all we lose, we’ll be mighty lucky,” one of the boys told
her.

“Kit’s lost her _temper_ already,” Billy Slade remarked.

“Why didn’t he tell us he was going to take the class Friday
afternoon?” his sister Debby protested. “Then we should have been all
right.”

“Hush! he’s coming!” one of the other girls warned.

“Get out your hankys, young ladies!” Billy whispered. “Try and look as
penitent as possible!”

“I won’t!” Kitty declared. “I’m not sorry, and I won’t say I am!”

“You will before he’s through with you, my young friend,” Billy
retorted.

Kitty tossed her red head defiantly, but a moment later even her
courage wavered at sight of Mr. Hunt’s face.

For a moment he said nothing. Then, sitting down at his desk, he put
one or two direct questions to each in turn. After which followed
another short silence, broken only by the ticking of the clock, and
from a room below, the sound of children chanting their multiplication
table in unison.

“Twice two is four!” Debby found herself nervously repeating it with
them under her breath. Would Mr. Hunt never speak!

She caught Susy’s eye; Susy was looking penitent enough to touch a
heart of stone, Debby thought. So, for that matter, were most of the
girls.

Debby began to realize that anything begun in haste might require
repenting of at leisure.

And then Mr. Hunt pronounced sentence, prefacing it first with a few
remarks, which, if brief, were none the less pointed.

He considered their recent conduct utterly inexcusable; it had involved
not only a wilful and deliberate breaking of rules, but, in intention,
great discourtesy and disrespect towards a gentleman who was a
comparative stranger to them, and, in a sense, the guest of the class.

He should, therefore, suspend them in a body for one week; they could
report to him, before school opened, next Monday morning; also, it
being an implied condition that all competitors for the Sargent should
be pupils in good standing, it was an open question whether or no they
would have the right to try for it. He would decide upon that later.
They were dismissed.

Out in the yard, fourteen very crestfallen young people looked at each
other in dismay.

Not to be allowed to try for the Sargent! Each of the fourteen felt an
immediate and strong conviction that he or she would have been among
the prize winners.

To be suspended for a whole week!

Ruth mopped her eyes openly. Oh, dear, what would her mother and father
say!

“He certainly can do things up brown, when he sets out to,” Billy
commented, a rueful note underlying his chuckle.

Kitty stamped her foot. “It isn’t fair! We had every right to do what
we did--under the circumstances.”

“Except the right--to do it,” one of the boys commented.

“How everybody looks at us,” Hester sighed. “I suppose they’re
wondering what we are all doing out of school at this time of the
morning.”

“Probably they think we’re delegates to something or other,” Billy
remarked, “chosen on account of good conduct.”

“Cut it!” one of his companions commanded.

“We did, once,” Debby laughed, “but we never will again.”

“It isn’t fair!” Kitty repeated; she hoped her father would see it in
that light. “Come on home with me, Debby; at any rate, we sha’n’t have
to study.”

“Aren’t you going to try and keep up with the class this week?” Hester
asked.

Kitty shrugged. “Maybe--maybe not. I do wish Amanda Parker would go
visiting for the week,” she confided to Debby, as they turned the
corner together. “She’ll be mighty tiresome! She’s such an ‘I told you
so’ sort of girl.”

“Isn’t it queer,” Debby said, “that Blue Bonnet, who dislikes school
more than any of us do, hasn’t got to--”

“Don’t you mention Blue Bonnet Ashe to me!” Kitty broke in. “Horrid
little prig!”

“You know better, Kitty Clark!”

“Then she’s a coward--and that’s even worse.”

“Alec says he knows she had some good reason.”

“Then it’s the first time she’s ever had a good reason for anything.
Debby, listen--it’s as I told Amanda yesterday,--you’ve got to choose
between us.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Kitty!”

Kitty sniffed; at that moment she resembled nothing so much as a
porcupine with its quills all ready for action. “I mean it!” she
insisted.

Debby herself was not in her calmest mood; inwardly she very much
regretted that rash speech of hers which had set this particular ball
rolling. She wasn’t going to be dictated to by Kitty Clark--who was
largely to blame for the scrape they were in. “Then I choose Blue
Bonnet,” she said.

“Naturally! She has so much more to offer.”

“In the way of sweet temper--I quite agree with you.”

Kitty slammed the front gate with an energy that brought her mother
to the door. Mrs. Clark was something of an invalid, and her daughter
had thought it as well not to trouble her with any account of
Friday’s doings until she found out what the consequences were. And
a particularly troublesome case had kept the doctor from reading the
signs of the times.

But there was no keeping things back any longer, and Kitty went
promptly to the heart of the matter, going into the subject with
a fullness and a fluency that reduced her mother to the verge of
hysterics.

“I don’t know what your father will say!” she cried, eying Kitty in
mingled amazement and dismay. Girls never did such things in her day.

Kitty retired to the old swing on the side piazza. There was nothing
to be ashamed of--they had only stood up for their rights. Try as
she would, she could not shut out the sight of the pleasant, busy
classroom, with Blue Bonnet sitting just in front of her. It had
required some diplomacy to effect such an arrangement; Miss Rankin
would never have allowed it. In her secret heart, Kitty had always felt
that she stood just a little nearer to Blue Bonnet Ashe than any of the
other club members.

But of course, all that was changed now. One could not be friends with
a girl who--

Kitty gave the swing an impatient push. She was glad that she had not
gone to the matinée with them on Saturday--though Alec had been mighty
angry with her for holding out; Blue Bonnet should see that they were
not all going to--

She was glad, too, that she had cut short Amanda’s enthusiastic account
of the afternoon’s delights.

Kitty was not the only one of the fourteen to whom the thought of the
classroom from which they had been exiled had grown suddenly very dear.

On the other hand, their fellow-pupils were giving no less thought
to them. When recess came, and there was still no sign of them,
excitement ran high, so did conjecture.

Blue Bonnet, standing alone quite at the lower end of the yard,
wondered forlornly if all the recesses to come were to be like this?
For the first time in her life, she had been cut, and by more than one
schoolmate, and the experience had been far from pleasant.

Sarah, of them all, acted just as usual; but Sarah was--Sarah; Amanda
was clearly on the fence--very well, she might stay there. Of her
intimates among the French class, Ruth and Susy had been too absorbed
in their own thoughts, during those few moments before school opened,
to do more than say good morning. Debby had barely nodded, while Kitty
had done neither.

It was Kitty’s attitude that hurt most. Alec had refused to give her
Kitty’s reason for not accepting his invitation--as if she could not
guess, and he had managed, for this time, to break down the sense of
reserve and embarrassment between herself and the other girls. Besides,
at the theatre one forgot other people.

But Sunday had not been easy; Blue Bonnet had come home from
Sunday-school in hardly the state of mind her teacher--a gentle
little body--would have rejoiced in. The talk with Grandmother in the
twilight, and Aunt Lucinda’s few words of encouragement, had helped
some.

But to-day! And there would be all of April and May, besides the rest
of March and part of June, before school closed.

Blue Bonnet turned to watch a group of children; they were playing “The
farmer in the dell,” and Julia Blake beckoned invitingly to her to come
make one of the big ring. Any of the little Blakes could have told you
what a delightful playfellow Blue Bonnet was.

Blue Bonnet shook her head; at another time she would have gone readily
enough, but no one should say she had been forced into finding friends
among the “primaries.”

Sarah was crossing the yard towards her, while midway between Sarah and
the open doors, Amanda halted, irresolutely.

“Oh, Blue Bonnet!” Sarah called.

Blue Bonnet stood still, her hands behind her. “Duty or choice?” she
demanded, as Sarah came up.

Sarah looked puzzled.

“Did you come because you wanted to, or because you didn’t want to?”

“Why shouldn’t I want to?” Sarah looked really hurt.

Blue Bonnet slipped an arm about her. “Sarah, you dear, I might’ve
known you wouldn’t go back on me.”

“I don’t think the others have--truly; you see, from their side of it,
it does almost seem as if you hadn’t played--quite fair. But I’m sure
you must’ve had some reason, and if you would tell _me_ what it was, I
could--explain.”

For a moment Blue Bonnet hesitated; so far as she knew, only
Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda--excepting, of course, Mr. Hunt--knew why
she had not gone with her class. Then she drew herself up; if they
couldn’t take her on trust--as Alec and Sarah had--

“Is that what you wanted me for?” she asked.

“Partly; but I thought you might like to hear about the rest. Miss
Fellows just told me they are suspended for a week--”

“It seems to me that that is what you might call putting a premium on
crime,” Blue Bonnet commented; a whole week’s vacation--which is what
it would really amount to.

“Blue Bonnet!”

“Is that all Mr. Hunt did?”

“_All!_” Sarah gasped. “It’s about as bad as it can be; but, in
addition, they may not be allowed to try for the Sargent.”

“I suppose they will mind that--after worrying so to get their
subjects, but I reckon only Hester stood any chance--among the girls.”

Sarah looked utterly bewildered. “Blue Bonnet, you are so--”

“So what? There’s the bell!”

All in all, Blue Bonnet found that week a long one; she drew a deep
breath of relief when Friday afternoon came.

Ruth and Susy had not been in town since Monday, and she had seen
nothing of them. Debby, when she had met her on the street, had been
fairly friendly; that she had not been more so, was perhaps as much
Blue Bonnet’s fault as hers. Kitty would have been openly unfriendly
had Blue Bonnet given her the opportunity. Amanda was still on the
fence.

There had been no difference in Sarah’s manner; and Alec was just as
usual, but seeing much of Alec meant seeing more or less of Boyd, and
Blue Bonnet, try as she might, could not like Boyd.

One bright spot, or rather three, the week had held for her;
Mademoiselle had been able to take up her work again, and Mademoiselle
had seemed to understand. She had asked no inconvenient questions, made
no embarrassing references to the absent members.

For that matter, Miss Fellows had been mighty kind, too; when one came
to think of it, all the grown-ups had behaved beautifully.

Nevertheless, it was a rather depressed Blue Bonnet who walked slowly
up the broad street that Friday afternoon. She was homesick for the
gay times, the old comradeship. The sight of those empty places in the
classroom made her inexpressibly lonesome. There had been no Debby to
signal messages to her right under Miss Fellows’ very nose, no Kitty to
whisper provoking little speeches that simply had to be answered. That
her deportment for the week had reached the high water mark gave small
comfort; she would have willingly sacrificed any number of credit marks
on the altar of good fellowship.

And next week it would probably be even worse.

In the meantime, what should she do with her afternoon? Alec had
gone in town with his cousin; she might ride, but riding alone--from
necessity--was horrid. Sarah’s patient old nag was only at Sarah’s
disposal on Saturday afternoons.

“Grandmother,” Blue Bonnet asked, coming into the sitting-room, “may I
have the phaeton?”

“Certainly, dear,” Mrs. Clyde glanced at the girl’s listless face a
little anxiously. She, too, was glad the week was over; next week must
be better.

“I might as well take Sarah driving. I don’t suppose Denham would trust
me with both the horses.”

“Probably not.”

“And he’s sure to give me ‘Peter the Poke’!”

“Poor old Peter!” Grandmother laughed. “To think he should have lived
to be spoken of in that fashion.”

“Sooner or later, we are apt to get what we deserve,” Miss Lucinda
remarked. “Blue Bonnet, suppose you stop at Mrs. Morrow’s and find out
when you are to go for your fittings?”

Blue Bonnet sighed. “It would save a heap of trouble, Aunt Lucinda, if
we would just take a day off, and go in town and buy everything I need
_ready-made_.”

“Perhaps, but saving trouble is not the chief end of man, my dear.”

“More than of most women, I reckon,” Blue Bonnet answered.

Miss Lucinda let that pass; she had let more than one thing pass the
last week. “Don’t be late getting back,” she warned, as Blue Bonnet
turned away. “Remember, Mr. and Mrs. Blake are coming to tea.”

“I’ll be on time,” Blue Bonnet promised.

Sarah looked both pleased and doubtful when Blue Bonnet, drawing up
before the parsonage gate, called to her to get her hat and come on;
but with her mother downing objections as fast as they were raised,
there was nothing for it but to yield.

They went out along the turnpike, striking as brisk a pace as Peter
would consent to,--which was not so brisk as to cause Sarah any very
serious tremors,--turning off after a while into a winding country lane
that had a pleasant, aimless air about it. Peter disapproved of that
lane; he had a chronic objection to getting muddy and uncomfortable.
If that headstrong young person at the other end of the reins had but
consulted him first, he could have told her what a country lane was
like at this season of the year.

But if it was muddy underfoot, it was delightful overhead, with the
soft wind driving the fleeciest of white clouds across the bluest of
Spring skies, and reminding Blue Bonnet of ships at sea. Gradually her
face lost its troubled look, as she leaned back in the phaeton, her hat
off, the little curls blown back from her forehead. Sarah was not a bad
companion on a drive like this; Kitty would have fussed about going so
slowly, but, after all, poor old Peter was doing his best.

She and Sarah were both inclined to be rather silent; school and
club-meetings were both subjects to be avoided. Carita Judson proved a
safe topic, Blue Bonnet had had a letter from her the other day; there
was always the ranch.

Suddenly, Sarah found herself wishing that Blue Bonnet were not going
back to it in June, she should miss her very much. It was too bad this
school trouble had come up; perhaps now, Blue Bonnet would not want to
return in the fall.

Sarah tried, not very successfully, to imagine what it would be
like--doing just as one pleased.

“But,” her companion protested, as she voiced this thought, “I don’t!”

“You do--more than anyone I’ve ever known before. It’s queer, but it
doesn’t seemed to have--spoiled you.”

Blue Bonnet laughed. “You are forgetting to make allowance for my
naturally angelic disposition. I’m afraid Aunt Lucinda wouldn’t agree
with you, though.”

“But you like it here?”

“I--did. You see, when one can’t do what one likes, one must like what
one can do.”

“Y--yes,” Sarah agreed, wonderingly. “I never supposed you looked at
things like that.”

“Another dream shattered?” Blue Bonnet laughed again. “Case in point;
I’d like awfully to go on indefinitely along this jolly little lane,
that doesn’t belong by right to Woodford at all--it’s so meandering and
ambitionless--but instead, I’m going home.”

“It’s been a lovely ride,” Sarah answered; not so very long before she
would have said--very pleasant.

It was not until she had left Sarah at her own gate that Blue Bonnet
remembered her errand at the dressmaker’s.

Mrs. Morrow lived quite at the far end of the street, in a quaint,
old-fashioned little house; altogether too pleasant, in Blue
Bonnet’s opinion, to be the home of anyone who followed the trade of
dressmaking, and gave people fittings.

The big tiger-cat, enjoying the evening on the doorstep, came down the
path to meet Blue Bonnet, arching her back, and purring loudly; while
in the doorway, Netty Morrow, Mrs. Morrow’s niece, was standing.

“My aunt’s been looking for you before this, Miss Blue Bonnet,” she
said; “she’s gone out now--but you’re to come try on Monday afternoon
without fail.”

“I did forget that last time, truly,” Blue Bonnet apologized.

Netty led the way into the sewing-room, picking up one of Blue Bonnet’s
new skirts. “I should think you’d be feeling fine--having so many
pretty things all at once.”

“But I don’t get them all at once! I wish dresses could grow from
seeds!”

“Well of all the queer ideas!”

“Are you going out?” Blue Bonnet asked, as Netty took up her hat. “It’s
lovely out.”

Netty pointed to several parcels lying on the table. “I have to take
them home, Miss.”

“Could I leave them for you?”

The other looked surprised. But why not? It wouldn’t hurt Blue Bonnet
to make herself a bit useful for once; they wouldn’t take her much out
of the way, and it would leave Netty herself all the more time for her
own new blouse.

“You are sure you don’t mind?” she asked.

“Of course I don’t,” Blue Bonnet answered. “We’d better put them into
the phaeton box,” she added, as she and Netty and the parcels went
down the box-bordered path together. She felt grateful to Netty for
accepting her offer; it was good to be doing something for somebody,
one didn’t feel so out in the cold.

“You’re quite sure you understand where they’re to go?” she heard Netty
asking, and came back to things practical.

“Don’t you worry,” she laughed; “they’ll get there all right.”

“But you’ll have to do your best, Peter!” she warned, as they started,
“or we’ll be late home.” And Peter, mindful of the nearness of the
supper hour, did do his best.

“Blessed be back stairs!” Blue Bonnet told Solomon, as he scampered up
ahead of her on her return home.

But if Blue Bonnet came down rather flushed and breathless, and not
altogether on time, Mrs. Blake, arriving at that moment with her
husband, was even more so. “I know we are late,” she apologized to
Mrs. Clyde and Miss Lucinda, “but it was quite--unavoidable. I--I was
detained--most unexpectedly--at the last moment.”

And in spite of Grandmother’s assurances that it did not signify in the
least, Mrs. Blake continued to look flushed, and, it seemed to Blue
Bonnet, disappointed.

The next morning, Miss Lucinda came in to where Blue Bonnet was
practising. “Denham found this in the phaeton box just now. Do you know
anything about it?” She held out a flat parcel.

Blue Bonnet stared at the limp, brown-paper parcel as if spellbound.
“Know anything about it!” she had caught the parcel from her aunt’s
hand and was out of the room by now. “It’s Mrs. Blake’s new silk
waist!” came back from the hall.

Then the front door slammed.



CHAPTER XIX

THE BOSTON RELATIVES


“I’m mighty glad it wasn’t something belonging to Mr. Blake,” Blue
Bonnet rejoiced, hurrying bare-headed down the street to the parsonage;
“I would have hated having to explain to him!”

She understood now why Mrs. Blake had looked so flushed and
disappointed the evening before; probably, she had set her heart on
having her new waist to wear.

“Oh, dear!” Blue Bonnet sighed; and she was so tragic in her request
to see Mrs. Blake at once that Lydia, who opened the door, thought
something dreadful must have happened at the Clyde place, and led the
way directly to the kitchen, where her mother was kneading bread.

“You can’t imagine what I’ve come to tell you!” Blue Bonnet laid the
brown-paper parcel on the table beside the big bread-pan. “Nor how
sorry I am!”

“Bring Blue Bonnet a chair, Lydia,” Mrs. Blake said, looking at the
parcel in surprise. “You will excuse me if I go on with what I am
doing, my dear?”

“I’m afraid it is you who will not want to forgive me!” Blue Bonnet
plunged into the full tide of confession, explanation, and apology;
with the result that presently her listener--who had really been
greatly disappointed at the non-appearance of the waist at the promised
time,--new waists were rare events at the parsonage,--found herself
called upon to play the part of comforter; Blue Bonnet’s distress of
mind was so evident.

“But it _does_ matter!” Blue Bonnet insisted. “It matters very much!
I can’t think how I--” she broke off abruptly; through the one door,
leading to the dining-room, she caught sight of Debby. Debby’s head was
down on the table, her shoulders shaking convulsively.

As Blue Bonnet stopped speaking, she looked up. “I couldn’t help
hearing; and--and it was so like you, Blue Bonnet Ashe! Oh, dear, I
can’t help it!” Debby’s head went down again.

“D--don’t!” Blue Bonnet implored; it would be adding insult to injury
for her to laugh, but if Debby didn’t stop--

“Suppose you go in the other room with Debby,” Mrs. Blake suggested;
she knew all about the events of the past week; she was glad Debby had
happened to be there.

And the next moment, Blue Bonnet and Debby found themselves sitting
side by side on the shabby old sofa.

“Will you look at this!” Debby held up the rag doll she was stuffing
for Trotty Blake. “I’ve done my best with the old thing, and she keeps
getting lumpier and lumpier!”

It was Blue Bonnet who went off into a gale of laughter this time.
“She looks like our Lisa, at home! And Lisa looks like a pillow with a
string tied--not too tightly--about the middle.”

When Sarah came down she found the two chatting away as pleasantly as
ever.

“Have you any bright pieces?” Blue Bonnet asked. “We’re going to dress
Trotty a Mexican doll.”

“I’ll ask mother if we may have the piece-bag,” Lydia offered.

Before Blue Bonnet realized it, it was dinner time and Julia had begun
to lay the table; she jumped up in dismay. “I only meant to stay a
few moments! What will Aunt Lucinda say? I was right in the middle of
practising.”

Visions of an undusted parlor, of Grandmother waiting patiently for her
and her mending-basket, rose before her.

“It had to be in the _middle_ of _something_, hadn’t it?” Debby laughed.

“But you are both to stay to dinner with us,” Mrs. Blake said, coming
in; “I’m sending word by Lydia now.”

“Oh, I would love to do that!” Blue Bonnet exclaimed; it would be fun
making part of a family, if only for a day.

“I wish I had _five_ little sisters!” she told Sarah, sitting on the
bed in the latter’s room. “It _must_ be lovely, having someone to share
your room with you.”

Sarah, conscious of certain unexpressed longings for a room all to
herself,--Julia was so untidy,--only smiled by way of answer.

“How about the club this afternoon?” Debby asked, from the washstand.
“Are we meeting here, or at Blue Bonnet’s?”

Blue Bonnet turned suddenly to look out of the window, while Sarah
answered, hurriedly. “Let’s make it a walking meeting, it’s too nice to
stay indoors. Father’s going out by the Doyles’ after dinner; I’ll ask
him to tell Ruth and Susy to meet us at the cross-roads.”

“Kitty can’t go, she’s off with the doctor for the day,” Debby said;
“it’s Amanda’s treat. I’ll run around there after dinner and remind
her. Sarah, I never knew that the view from your back window was so
absorbing.”

“Didn’t you?” Blue Bonnet asked. “I think back yards are more
interesting than front ones. Sarah, I wish I had remembered to ask
Lydia to bring my hat back with her.” There was a happy ring in Blue
Bonnet’s voice; the “We are Seven’s” were to have their meeting; and
perhaps if Kitty _hadn’t_ gone with her father, she would have gone
with them. Her week was not turning out so badly, after all.

She thoroughly enjoyed that far from quiet family dinner; helping Sarah
with the dishes afterwards was fun too, so was helping clean up the
younger children for the afternoon.

Then Debby called to them from downstairs that she and Amanda were
tired of waiting, and presently the four were off through the garden
and out the back way.

If Blue Bonnet had forgotten about her hat, Miss Lucinda had not; Lydia
had reappeared with the hat and Solomon,--the latter self-invited.
Solomon was dancing on ahead now, the happiest small dog in the
township.

At the cross-roads, they found Ruth and Susy waiting. “We’ve been
here the longest time!” Susy told them. And in the pleasure felt by
all six at being together again, and out in the open, the troubles
and misunderstandings of the past few days were ignored by common
consent. Even Amanda found courage to come down from her fence, on the
right side; and when she explained that the box she carried contained
fresh fudge made that morning, thereby admitting that she had expected
the club to meet as usual, it was felt that she had made the _amende
honorable_; and not only that, but excellent fudge as well.

They had a long, rambling tramp, coming back a bit muddy and a good
deal tired, to the cross-roads, where Ruth and Susy were to leave them.
Just then Dr. Clark drove by, Kitty in the gig beside him.

“Good afternoon,” he called out, barely drawing rein. “Are you a party
of walking delegates?” But Kitty, with one brief, comprehensive glance
at the group in the road, sat looking straight before her.

“_Well!_” Debby remarked, as the doctor drove on.

Amanda looked uncomfortable; there were times when living next door to
Kitty had its disadvantages, and this was going to be one of them.

“It is to be hoped,” Debby went on, “that our young friend climbs down
from her high horse before Monday morning.”

“We really must be going on,” Sarah said.

The rest of the walk was a silent one. Sarah and Blue Bonnet were the
last to separate; as they stopped at the Clyde gate, Sarah said, a
little hesitatingly, “I’m sorry--it happened, Blue Bonnet; but Kitty
doesn’t mean all she does--or says; I daresay she’s sorry too, by now.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Blue Bonnet answered, turning to go in; then she
came back. “That wasn’t true, it does matter! And--and you’ve been
awfully good to me all this week, Sarah; I’ll never, never forget it!”
Leaning over the gate, she gave Sarah a hasty good night kiss, and ran
off up the walk.

Mrs. Clyde and Miss Lucinda were out making calls, Delia told her. “I
hope,” she added, a laugh in her kind, Irish-gray eyes, “that you’ll be
finding the parlor dusted to your liking, miss.”

Blue Bonnet laughed. “If Aunt Lucinda was suited, I am. Thank you so
much, Delia.”

She was waiting on the veranda when the carriage drew up before the
steps a few moments later. “I’m glad you’re not going to make a formal
call here,” she told Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda; “and for once, _I_
got home first.”

“You left first,” Miss Lucinda answered.

Blue Bonnet’s eyes danced. “But you see, I just had to get Mrs. Blake’s
waist home; it was considerably overdue as it was.”

Grandmother sat down on one of the veranda benches. “What I don’t
understand is how it came to be in your possession.”

Blue Bonnet came to sit at the other end of the bench. “I begin to
think I was born to trouble; and my intentions--in this case, at
least--were so good. Netty Morrow would have had ever so long a walk,
and there was Peter and the phaeton. I got the other two home all
right; I can’t understand how I came to miss that one. Mrs. Blake was
awfully nice about it. I think she was simply born to be a minister’s
wife, she makes such a beautiful one.”

“But Blue Bonnet,” Miss Lucinda was looking grave, “try and put
yourself in Mrs. Blake’s place; how would you have liked being
disappointed?”

“If I were Mrs. Blake, I suppose I wouldn’t have liked it, Aunt
Lucinda. Though I don’t see but what she looked very nice; and she’s
got the new one all fresh for the next being asked out to tea. We might
ask her again right soon, and then she could wear it here.”

Miss Lucinda sighed.

“And anyhow, if it hadn’t happened that way, I shouldn’t have gone
to Sarah’s like I did, and met Debby, and had such a nice day,
every moment of it until--And Delia did my dusting, and I’ll finish
practising and do my mending this evening.”

“Don’t you want to stop and take breath, dear?” Grandmother asked. “We
are very glad you have had a pleasant day; though another time, it
might be just as well not to leave in quite such a hurry. As for the
evening, Alec expects you over there. There is the hint of dancing, in
a very small and very early affair, Alec assured me.”

“How lovely!” Blue Bonnet’s eyes danced more than ever.

“And there is a letter for you on the sitting-room mantel,” Aunt
Lucinda told her.

The letter was from Cousin Honoria Winthrop. They had hoped to have the
pleasure of a short visit from their little Texas relative long before
this, but various matters had combined to prevent their being able to
invite her; however, they trusted that she would be able to come to
them from Friday until Monday, of the following week.

“Will it be jolly, Solomon, or won’t it?” Blue Bonnet asked, slipping
the letter back into its envelope. “Two whole days and two parts of
days with the Boston relatives; it sounds a bit scaresome.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Blue Bonnet and Grandmother were walking slowly up and down the
veranda; Sunday was nearly over, Blue Bonnet was thinking, and the
something which she had been hoping all day would happen had not
happened. It had not seemed possible that Kitty would let this
first day of a new week go by without making some effort towards a
reconciliation. And she would have been so willing to meet her halfway,
to forgive those unkind speeches and all the slights since, including
that of yesterday afternoon--if only Kitty had asked her to.

Mr. Blake had preached on charity that morning; he had not been nearly
so dull and prosy as usual; and Kitty had been there. How could Kitty
feel it her Christian duty not to want to be friends? If only all the
“We are Seven’s” could start afresh to-morrow morning, letting bygones
be bygones.

Blue Bonnet looked wistfully off across the broad lawn, in all its
Spring greenness, to the quiet street, lying bright and deserted in
the afternoon sunlight. Woodford always seemed a little different on
Sundays from other days; there seemed a sort of hush over everything.
Just a moment before, Grandmother had quoted George Herbert’s line--

  “‘Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,’”

“Charity suffereth long, and is kind.” Blue Bonnet wished the words
would not keep running through her thoughts. She felt that she had
suffered long, very long; and she certainly was willing to be “kind.”

“... seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked.” Perhaps she had been
fairly easy to provoke, “... endureth all things.” Enduring things
wasn’t her strong point, that was certain.

“Grandmother,” Blue Bonnet said, much as she had said it that August
evening on this same veranda, “it is very uncomfortable--not being
friends with people.”

“Then why not try to put an end to the discomfort, dear?”

“But--”

“After all, there is something to be said on Kitty’s side, you know.
Suppose someone whom you liked and trusted quite unexpectedly did
something directly contrary to what you considered fair and loyal,
wouldn’t you think you had a right to know the reason why?”

“But I _would_ have told her, only she said--”

“I can easily imagine what she said, just as I can easily imagine how
often since then she has wished that she had not said it.”

“Then why hasn’t she come and told me so?”

“I can imagine the answer to that too. But because Kitty is willing to
let a little false pride stand in the way of friendship, is no reason
that you do the same.”

Two or three more turns Blue Bonnet took, then she came to a sudden
halt. “I reckon I should have told her why I couldn’t go with the
class! I--I’ll go do it--right now.”

“Not at too quick a pace on Sunday afternoon, dear,” Grandmother
warned, and Blue Bonnet tried to moderate her steps accordingly.

Then, just as she was turning Kitty’s corner, she came plump upon Kitty
herself.

“I was coming to--” Blue Bonnet began, hastily.

“So was I--” Kitty cut in.

“To tell you why I didn’t--”

“To tell _you_ that I know now why you didn’t--”

Then they both stopped to laugh, after which they started back up the
street together, arm in arm, in the old way.

“I only hope that Mr. Hunt doesn’t make us promise!” Kitty said. “Blue
Bonnet, when I think of the hateful things I said--”

“Please, let’s not think about them! You wouldn’t’ve, only--”

But Kitty was not to be shut off in that fashion. “The ‘rankin’
officer’ told Alec--she’s known all about Mr. Hunt’s putting you on
your honor that time, and she’s been keeping her weather-eye open
lately; Alec came and told me. Oh, it has been the longest, dreariest
week! Yesterday, I made papa take me with him, on purpose to avoid the
club meeting; and then, coming home, he--Were you ever lectured in a
gig, Blue Bonnet?”

“No,” Blue Bonnet laughed.

“Nor out of one, I imagine. Then we met you girls, and you looked as
if you had been having such a good time, and that made me crosser than
ever.”

Blue Bonnet came home, the last shadow lifted; it was all right again
with the “We are Seven’s,” and to-morrow those empty places in the
schoolroom would be filled once more. And Alec knew now; she couldn’t
help being glad of that.

She found him on the veranda with Grandmother. “Shake!” he said,
holding out his hand. He smiled over at Mrs. Clyde. “She’s a very
foolish girl, isn’t she?” he said; “and a mighty plucky one.”

“She looks to me like a very happy one,” Mrs. Clyde answered.

Blue Bonnet started for school at the usual time the next morning. Near
the building she met Billy Slade. “See here,” he said, “why on earth
didn’t you let on, and not let folks go thinking all sorts of nonsense?”

“They didn’t _have_ to think nonsense, did they? Where’s Debby?”

“Gone on to the reception; she went early, so as to get a back seat.”

“Will it be very--?” Blue Bonnet asked, sympathetically.

“I can tell you better about that later on.” Billy turned towards the
front entrance, leading up to Mr. Hunt’s office.

In the office, he found the rest of the fourteen waiting, and chiefly
occupied with the question--Would Mr. Hunt keep them until after
opening exercises, or would he allow them to join their class before
school began?

“It’s worse than waiting at the dentist’s,” Ruth sighed.

“He’s coming now!” one of the boys called, softly, from his place near
the door, and Mr. Hunt came in.

Fourteen pairs of eyes were lifted to his, more or less anxiously. But
he was not very hard on them this morning. A few grave words of advice
they had to listen to; to _promise_, each in turn, that there should be
no more cutting of classes on their part. Then Mr. Hunt said that in
regard to the Sargent, he was still undecided; it would depend largely
upon the promptitude with which they made up the lessons for the past
week.

“That means we can try, doesn’t it?” Hester said, as they were on their
way to their classroom. “I’m glad I’ve kept up.”

“The old boy’s a trump!” one of the boys said. “I thought we were out
of that for good.”

“Make up all those lessons!” Blue Bonnet sympathized, as Kitty told her
what Mr. Hunt had said.

“It lets the ‘jolly good’ in for a lot, doesn’t it?” Kitty commented.
“I’m glad it isn’t the ‘rankin’ officer’! Making lessons up with her
wasn’t always a summer-day’s picnic!”

“I think Miss Rankin was ever so nice--generally.”

“She was--to you!” Kitty slipped into her seat. “My, it’s good to be
back!”

Before the end of the day was reached, the gates of Coventry had closed
behind Blue Bonnet.

“One wouldn’t exactly suppose you hated school now!” Alec remarked,
overtaking her on the way home. “It had begun to look as though you
would never get rid of your body-guard.”

“I don’t hate it--now.” It occurred to Blue Bonnet that Alec was
looking--not precisely tired, but as if things were a bit twisted. “How
are you getting on with your paper?” she asked.

“I have all my notes ready. It ought not to take very long to write it.”

“Is Boyd trying?”

“I don’t know. He hasn’t said.”

“I’m going to Boston on Friday, to stay until Monday morning; it’ll be
the first time I’ve been away over night since I came to Woodford.”

“To stay with the Boston relatives?”

Blue Bonnet nodded. “I wonder will they be very--Bostony.”

“They won’t be anything else; but they might be worse. Suppose we have
a walk in honor of the great event? Just by our twosomes.”

“You wouldn’t rather ride?”

“Boyd’s bespoken Victor.”

And it occurred to Blue Bonnet that Boyd was getting more good out of
Victor these Spring afternoons than Alec was. “He rides Victor too
hard,” she said; “I’d just like to get Uncle Joe Terry after him--he
would tell him a few things.”

“He rides a good many things too hard,” Alec said. “Will you be long?”

“Only long enough to leave my books and report to the commanding
officer,” Blue Bonnet answered.

“And what will the club do without you on Saturday?” Alec asked, as
they set out.

“Just that--I reckon.”

There was considerable protest among the six, when it was known that
their president intended leaving them for so long; they flatly refused
to hold a meeting without her. “It wouldn’t be any fun!” Debby declared.

They were down at the station in a body to see her off; very much as
if she were going on a real journey. “Which is what she will be doing
before long,” Susy said, watching the train draw out; “so we’d better
make the most of her while she’s here.”

“Like last week?” Sarah asked, with such unusual spirit that the others
stared at her in astonishment.

“Good for you, Sallykins!” Kitty commented. “You’re coming on!”

Blue Bonnet, seated beside Aunt Lucinda, and rejoicing as she always
did in the swift sense of motion, was thinking herself that girls were
queer; last week, they would hardly speak to her; this week, they
couldn’t be friendly enough.

“I’ll have to take an early train Monday morning, won’t I?” she said,
turning to her aunt.

“The 7.45 from town.”

“I hope I don’t oversleep!”

“Your Cousin Honoria will not let you lose your train, my dear.”

“I wish you were going to stay too,” Blue Bonnet said. After all, the
Boston cousins were little more than strangers to her, and very elderly.

“You are not afraid of being homesick?” But Miss Lucinda looked pleased.

“I believe I am.” And when, later, the cab drew up before the rather
somber-looking old house on Beacon Street, Blue Bonnet was quite sure
of it.

       *       *       *       *       *

But in spite of those first misgivings, Blue Bonnet thoroughly enjoyed
her visit to her elderly relatives; they were so anxious that she
should be happy while she was with them that that in itself went far
towards counteracting that first sense of strangeness.

“And what should you like to do this morning, Señorita?” Cousin Tracy
asked, at breakfast on Saturday morning; the evening before had been
devoted to what Cousin Honoria called “getting acquainted.”

“I should love,”--Blue Bonnet looked from one to another of the three
with that quick smile of hers, which seemed taking for granted perfect
agreement with her wishes,--“I should just _love_ to go all about
Boston in one of those big sight-seeing motors.”

There was a moment’s silence; it seemed to Miss Augusta that the very
portraits on the wall looked horrified.

“Uncle Cliff meant to take me when he was on last winter,” Blue Bonnet
explained in blissful unconsciousness, “but we didn’t get ’round to it.”

Miss Honoria and Miss Augusta looked at their brother; as the man
of the family, it was his place to deal with such an unlooked-for
emergency.

“We will go, by all means,” Cousin Tracy answered; he abhorred
motor cars, and now he was called upon to spend his morning riding
about Boston in a public one! Young people nowadays had the most
extraordinary ideas.

“Perhaps your aunts would like to join us,” he suggested.

But the sisters, it appeared, had various duties on hand, which would
prevent their going pleasuring that morning.

Strangely enough, Mr. Winthrop really enjoyed his morning. Blue
Bonnet’s interest in everything was refreshing, her point of view, her
own. On the whole, she was pleased to approve of his city, as a city.

“I’ve learned a lot of history,” she announced at the luncheon table.
“It was ever so interesting really _seeing_ Bunker Hill! But what queer
little narrow streets you have in ever so many places! I suppose,
when they first laid Boston out, they didn’t realize how much was
going to happen here. Cousin Tracy’s going to take me to the Library
this afternoon; I’ve been there before, but I reckon one could go
there every time one came to Boston. Take it all around, Boston is
considerable of a town, isn’t it?”

“Boston considerable of a--” Miss Augusta repeated, helplessly.
She glanced at her brother, but Mr. Winthrop did not look in the
least dismayed; on the contrary, he appeared to be enjoying himself
exceedingly.

The afternoon was given to the Library, with, later, a walk on the
Common. In the evening, Cousin Honoria and Cousin Augusta took their
young guest to a concert. Blue Bonnet went to bed feeling that she had
been quite dissipated.

The next day was a truly April day; showery enough by afternoon to
keep people indoors,--anyone, that is, who happened to be visiting the
Boston relatives,--but with sweet, damp odors coming from the Common
in to Blue Bonnet through her open window, as she sat writing to
Uncle Cliff, and thinking a little longingly of the broad veranda at
Woodford, the big, pleasant garden, fast putting on its Spring dress.
How could people be content to live their lives out in cities?

Cousin Honoria and Cousin Augusta were taking the daily nap that only
a family crisis had power to prevent; Cousin Tracy was in the library
when Blue Bonnet came down.

“I thought maybe you wouldn’t mind showing me your collections?” she
asked. “And don’t you think we might get a walk later? I think being
out in the rain is fun.”

“I wonder if I did at sixteen?” Cousin Tracy answered, laying down his
book, and going to open the doors of the tall cabinets where he kept
his collections of rare coins and medals.

The medals interested Blue Bonnet more than the coins; they had been
won by someone; each in itself represented some deed of daring, some
act of courage. “Every one has its own story, hasn’t it?” she said.

“Yes,” Mr. Winthrop replied, “with the same theme as a foundation.”

“I wish you could tell me some of them.”

“I wish I could tell them to myself. And on the other side, think how
many stories there are--to which there are no medals attached.”

“You mean?”

Mr. Winthrop sat down in the big chair opposite. The rain had stopped,
and through the wide bow-window came a sudden flash of sunshine,
lighting up the sober room, and turning the bronze medal in Blue
Bonnet’s hand to gold. “You know the story of the Alamo?” he said.

“I could not be a Texas girl and _not_ know it,” Blue Bonnet
answered,--she could hardly remember when her father had first told it
to her.

“_There_ is a story to stir the hearts of men for all time! I should
like an ‘Alamo medal’ to put among these others.”

“And they must have had them, if--I see now what you meant, Cousin
Tracy.”

“Did you know that among those men was one whose father had been a
Woodford man? A distant connection of the family, at that?”

Blue Bonnet shook her head. “I never knew that.”

“Woodford should be proud of him. Not a bad subject for a Sargent, eh?”

It seemed to Blue Bonnet, that if all roads led to Rome, most subjects
nowadays led up, sooner or later, to the Sargent. “Then you know about
the Sargent competition?” she asked.

“My dear Señorita, could one have relatives in Woodford, and not know
of it?”

“And you feel that way about it, too? Oh, I am glad!”

Mr. Winthrop smiled slightly. “I have sometimes thought that if I lived
in Woodford, I might be tempted to feel that way about it.”

Blue Bonnet smiled across at him in perfect understanding. “I’m not
going to try, you know.”

“Ah!” Then Cousin Tracy’s face sobered; Lucinda would not at all
approve of the turn the conversation was taking.

“Isn’t that a mistake?” he asked. “Will not your grandmother and aunt
be disappointed if you do not try?”

“That’s the worst of it,” Blue Bonnet admitted. “Somehow, not doing
the things that perhaps one ought to do seems to make one more
uncomfortable here than it used to at home on the ranch.”

“It looks as though you were developing a New England conscience. An
exceedingly troublesome possession to have around--at times, but, once
acquired, extremely difficult to get rid of.”

“I believe you,” Blue Bonnet answered, ruefully.

She was sure of it, as she lay awake that night in the big bed in the
spare room, listening to the unaccustomed city noises, and trying _not_
to listen to the thoughts running so persistently through her mind. How
disappointed Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda would be at her not trying,
how pleased if she did; how proud Uncle Cliff would be, if she won a
prize. And like an undercurrent through it all, her father’s story
of the Alamo. How odd that one of those men should have been from a
Woodford family! A connection of the family!

“I reckon I’ll just have to do it!” she sighed at last.

She did not oversleep the next morning; when the maid tapped at her
door, she found Blue Bonnet up and dressed.

“I’ve had a beautiful time!” Blue Bonnet told the sisters, as she and
Cousin Tracy were starting for the depot.

“I hope Cousin Elizabeth will lend you to us again,” Cousin Honoria
said, and Cousin Augusta added that it was wonderful how a young person
brightened up a house.



CHAPTER XX

CONCERNING THE SARGENT


To go into a thing half-heartedly was not Blue Bonnet’s fashion; before
she was half-way to Woodford she was deep in plans for her paper. It
should not be hard, just to tell the story of The Alamo, as her father
used to tell it to her. She must find out about that Woodford man, but
there were any amount of old record books at the Woodford Library;
Alec had shown them to her one afternoon,--she had thought them very
dull-looking.

No one else would have thought of this subject; and she would say
nothing about it to anyone--not even at home--until her paper was
finished. Then Grandmother should be allowed to see it before it was
handed in.

It was mighty good of her and Aunt Lucinda not to have bothered
her about it; perhaps--Blue Bonnet straightened herself at the
thought--they had not considered it worth while,--had been sure that in
spite of her protestations she would come around in the end.

“They came near being disappointed,” she said to herself; “if Cousin
Tracy hadn’t given me such a good subject, I shouldn’t be going to
try.”

Alec was waiting when the train drew into the Woodford station; “I
thought Bruce and the cart would make better time than Peter and the
phaeton,” he explained. “You don’t want to start the week being late to
school, I suppose? So they did get you off in time?”

“They didn’t have to ‘get’ me; I met all their efforts more than
half-way. I’ve had a beautiful time--and I hope Woodford’s missed me a
little bit?”

“Some of it has. Mind you don’t go and do it again.”

“I may not get the opportunity.”

Alec was not the only one glad to see her; as for Solomon, he was all
over her, before she was well out of the cart. There was only time to
kiss Grandmother and Aunt Lucinda, before snatching up her school-books.

“Well!” Kitty demanded, waiting for her at the parsonage gate with
Sarah; “I hope you’re glad to get back.”

“Even if I were not, I hope I am too polite to say so,” Blue Bonnet
laughed, falling into step. Going to and coming from school was fun; it
was the staying there that was apt to prove irksome.

She did not go directly home from school that afternoon; instead,
she turned off in the direction of the Library, standing well back
from the street in its own square of green. It had been easy to put
Sarah and Amanda off; the rest of the club were busy “making up”
these afternoons. It seemed to Blue Bonnet, that, on the whole, it
was Miss Fellows who was paying the penalty for the fourteen’s act of
insubordination.

Once at the Library, Blue Bonnet hurried to the little room at one
side, devoted to the books concerning local history. There was no one
else there, though the reading-room was filling fast with pupils on
Sargent thoughts intent. Standing before the rows of musty-looking old
volumes, Blue Bonnet gave an impatient thought to the originator of so
much trouble. It was positively wicked to waste such a glorious Spring
afternoon indoors. Perhaps, if she hurried there would still be time
for a ride.

Blue Bonnet found that it was not going to be as easy to keep her
secret as she had thought, neither at home nor at school. Some of the
fourteen had already been granted the longed-for permission, and on
the big board up at the front of the assembly-room, the list of papers
turned in--including titles and names of competitors--was lengthening
daily.

“I think,” Blue Bonnet confided one afternoon to Chula, as they started
briskly off down the drive, “that I’ll begin to write mine on Saturday
morning; I’ve got all the dates and details about ready.”

At the sound of quick steps behind her, she looked around. “Two is
company, you know,” Boyd said, riding up beside her; “I hope you are
in a mood for company--present company, at that.”

“Then you don’t call a horse and dog company?”

“Do you?”

“Certainly, and very good company.” Blue Bonnet leaned forward to pat
Victor; they had become good friends since that ride together last
October. “You’ve been riding Victor too hard--again,” she added, with
sudden severity.

“Victor has been spoiled ridiculously. He and I have been having a bit
of an argument.”

Blue Bonnet’s eyes flashed; “He is not spoiled; but he is used to his
owner.”

“He will get used to me--after a while; he’s been learning a thing or
two lately.”

By way of answer, Blue Bonnet wheeled Chula around towards home. She
knew now _why_ she had not liked Boyd Trent; underneath that smiling,
easy politeness were selfishness and cruelty.

Boyd turned too; she was a queer girl, but she was interesting,--which
was more than could be said for some of her friends,--and she rode
well. “Are you always so extremely sociable?” he asked.

Blue Bonnet flushed; Aunt Lucinda would say that she had been showing
her dislike too plainly. “I was thinking of--something,” she said; “I
suppose you are looking forward to summer?” After all, he was even more
of a newcomer in Woodford than she was, and he hadn’t half as many
friends; even if one were horrid, one might have feelings like other
people.

“Well, rather!” Boyd laughed; “I’ve seen livelier spots.”

“Don’t you like it at the academy?”

“Slow like all the rest of the place.” He pulled out a note-book; “I’ll
show you some snap-shots of my school at home.”

Blue Bonnet brought Chula nearer; the snap-shots though small were
clear, and the bits of school-life they gave interested her. She
decided that she would like a camera; she would like some Woodford
views to take back to the ranch.

“Did you take these?” she asked.

“Yes,” Boyd answered. “I’ll overhaul the camera, and we’ll go
picture-hunting some Saturday morning.” He was returning the views to
his note-book, and, as he spoke, some papers fell from it to the ground.

“One would think you were taking notes for a book--” Blue Bonnet began,
then she stopped. They _were_ notes, and they were all in Alec’s
handwriting.

Boyd had slipped down from his horse, and was gathering the slips of
paper up hurriedly; he looked confused, Blue Bonnet thought.

The little incident came back to her the next morning, as Kitty drew
her to a standstill before the bulletin board in the assembly-room.
“Three more names,” Kitty commented; “they’re coming in fast. Why,
there’s Boyd Trent’s. I didn’t know he meant to try; it not being the
regulation thing, apparently, for outsiders to do.”

Blue Bonnet let the little dig pass; she was bending to read the title
of Boyd’s paper--“The After Stories of Some Sargent Winners.” Suddenly,
Blue Bonnet saw again the little pile of papers lying in the dusty
road, and Boyd’s face as he bent to pick them up.

“What’s the matter?” Kitty asked; “Are you beginning to repent? It’s
not too late even yet! Billy’s still on the tenterhooks,--I think Mr.
Hunt might temper judgment with mercy a little more quickly,--and if
there’s time for Billy Slade to get up a paper, there’s time enough for
you. Nothing happening, you’ll be reading Katherine Clark’s name there
before many days.”

“Come on!” Blue Bonnet said. “No, I’m not beginning to repent; I’ve
always understood that it was a very uncomfortable process to go
through with.” Her thoughts were in a whirl. Had Boyd really taken
Alec’s--She couldn’t think that.

She thought about it all during opening exercises; also, all through
the Latin recitation afterwards, with the result that she failed twice
on questions that she knew quite as well as the girl next her who
answered them so glibly.

“So like the dear old days!” Kitty murmured provokingly; and Blue
Bonnet decided to put the matter out of her thoughts until after
school. Just what she intended to do then, was not clear to her; she
could hardly go to Boyd and accuse him of--that.

She wouldn’t ride that afternoon; Boyd would probably have Victor--she
wished General Trent knew how seldom Alec had the use of his own horse
nowadays; she and Alec would go for a walk, and--

“Elizabeth!” Miss Fellows said, “I am afraid that you are not attending
to the matter in hand.”

“But I’m going to, really and truly!” Blue Bonnet promised, with an
earnestness not all for Miss Fellows. “Mind you do,” she told herself,
“or there won’t be any time for walking _this_ afternoon.”

“No, I can’t go home with you!” she assured Kitty after school. “I
can’t go home with any of you girls! Yes, there is something on, Little
Miss Why; but I am not going to tell you what it is.”

Kitty looked impatient; “You’re the greatest girl for wrapping yourself
up in mysteries!”

“I’m not!” Blue Bonnet answered; “but little girls mustn’t ask
impertinent questions; good-bye, I’ll see you to-morrow morning.”

“Or before--perhaps,” Kitty retorted. “As I take the notion.”

Blue Bonnet found Alec reading on the side piazza; he _was_ looking
troubled about something, she told herself. “If you don’t mind, I would
like to follow our brook this afternoon,” she said.

“And I am to follow you?”

“It would be more sociable if we kept together.”

They went out across the back meadow, the dogs leaping and barking on
ahead, just as they had that August afternoon. A good deal had happened
in the eight months since, Blue Bonnet thought; it did not seem as if
any other eight months could ever bring so many new experiences; she
felt considerably more than eight months older.

“What are you looking so sober over?” Alec asked.

“A great many things.”

They had reached the brook, and turning they followed it back along
the way it had come until the woods were reached; here they went more
slowly. The April woods were too lovely to be hurried through, Blue
Bonnet thought, with the light falling soft and shimmering through the
young green of the trees, and the Spring beauties making a delicate
border for the brook, which laughed and splashed over the stones, as if
it knew that at last the long winter were gone for good.

“Let’s go up to our old picnic place,” Blue Bonnet suggested, and they
came at last to the open space where they had lunched that afternoon,
with, it would seem, the very same squirrel eying them askance from
the upper bough of a tall tree.

“Isn’t it nice here!” Blue Bonnet leaned back against the moss-covered
trunk of an old tree. “Why couldn’t we come out here for school! It
would be much more sensible!”

“From your point of view!”

Blue Bonnet passed a hand lovingly over the pink and white beauties
which seemed to be smiling up at her. “And isn’t it good that at last
all the fourteen can try for the Sargent? Billy got his discharge
papers this noon.”

“I thought Mr. Hunt would prove amenable.”

“How soon do you send your paper in?” Blue Bonnet was picking a knot of
the flowers for her blouse and did not look up; she hoped her question
sounded sufficiently casual.

“I--oh, I’ve decided to follow your example.”

“You mean you’ve given up trying?”

“Sounds that way, doesn’t it?” Alec was looking straight ahead of him;
there was a little pucker between his brows.

Blue Bonnet seemed for the moment to be giving _her_ attention to her
flowers. It was just as she had expected; by some means, evidently not
fair ones, Boyd must have secured Alec’s notes and used them. Of course
she had not liked him--he was selfish and cruel and mean! And she would
have to pretend not to know, unless Alec made some sign, which he
would not--she wasn’t good at pretending.

[Illustration: “‘BUT I THOUGHT,’ SHE SAID, ‘THAT IT WAS A GIRL’S
PRIVILEGE TO CHANGE HER MIND?’”]

“But I thought,” she said, “that it was a _girl’s_ privilege to change
her mind?”

“Mayn’t we borrow one of your privileges occasionally? You borrow some
of ours. Besides, I won a prize last year--suppose I should do it
again, wouldn’t too much glory be bad for a fellow?”

“Aunt Lucinda won it three times running when she was a girl.”

“Yes, but she was--Miss Lucinda! Come to think of it, my lady, you are
not precisely in a position to lecture me for not trying.”

“But I--” Blue Bonnet caught herself up; “I don’t want to lecture
anyone--to-day,” she ended, and leaning back again she looked
thoughtfully up at the soft stretch of blue showing between the tree
tops.

She wished Alec would up and fight Boyd on his own ground! But then,
Boyd had stolen his ammunition. Good subjects for the Sargent were not
lying around waiting to be picked up; no wonder, when one remembered
all the papers that had been written since the originating of the
competition.

Blue Bonnet caught her breath; suppose--

But he would not take her subject. Very well, he would have to be
managed. She could not help feeling a very real sense of regret. She
had meant to begin writing her paper to-morrow morning; she had become
honestly interested in the doing of it, and she was looking forward to
Grandmother’s and Aunt Lucinda’s surprise and pleasure when she told
them. As for the girls--

Fortunately, she had said nothing about it. There would not be time to
hunt up another subject; besides, she didn’t want any other, she knew
how Alec felt about that; still, she was offering him a really new
idea. It was the manner of offering it that was troubling her now.

“We aren’t very talkative, are we?” she said.

“We don’t seem to be,” Alec agreed.

“Shall I tell you about Cousin Tracy’s medals? He has a fine
collection;” and presently she had him interested in the short accounts
Mr. Winthrop had given her, introducing--much as he had done--the
subject of the Alamo, and the fact that the father of one of its heroes
had been a Woodford man.

“I never knew that,” Alec said.

“I’m glad, somehow,--so long as I belong to both places,--that Woodford
can claim a share in the Alamo.” And Blue Bonnet went on to tell the
story as her father used to tell it to her; seeing, and making Alec see
the tragic drama enacted there in that little church near San Antonio
during those memorable three weeks; the struggle, the heroic courage,
the no less heroic endurance of the men, who, like the Old Guard,
could die, but would not surrender.

“I don’t wonder your Texans took ‘Remember the Alamo’ for their war-cry
afterwards!” Alec said. There was an eager light in the boy’s gray
eyes; he had not come of a race of soldiers for nothing.

He was not much more talkative going home than he had been coming,
but from a different reason, Blue Bonnet felt sure; and she lingered
a moment on the porch, watching him cross the lawn after saying good
night. “Will he, or won’t he, Solomon?” she asked.

As she came up the drive the next afternoon, after her ride with the
club, Alec came to meet her. “See here,” he said, stroking the head
Chula stretched towards him, “I’ve been thinking--”

“Did it come hard?” Blue Bonnet laughed.

“I’ll settle that score later! We’ll stick to business now, if you
please. My New England thrift makes me hate to see good material going
to waste.”

“He will do it!” Blue Bonnet told herself. “Then why not prevent it?”
she asked.

“Don’t _you_ feel an inner call to turn that Alamo business into a
Sargent?”

Blue Bonnet stroked Chula’s mane thoughtfully; “No,” she answered, “I
don’t think I do;” and to herself, she added, that she didn’t--now.

“I’ve a notion that if you don’t do something of the sort your Woodford
relatives will be a bit disappointed.”

“They might be more disappointed if I did.”

“Then you are _quite_ sure?”

“Perfectly.”

“In that case--it’s such splendid material, I really don’t see how you
have strength to let it alone--I believe I’ll change my mind a second
time.”

“You may; only don’t get into the habit--and change it again,” Blue
Bonnet warned.

“I won’t,” Alec promised; “I’m going straight to work. I’m no end
obliged to you for telling that story; it’s the best subject ever.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Spring came early that year, and no one rejoiced more in its coming
than Blue Bonnet. Now that the winter was over, she began to realize
how long it had seemed; and, as the days went by, Miss Fellows began
to realize with equal vividness something of what Miss Rankin had gone
through with last fall.

There was no wilful breaking of rules, Blue Bonnet had not forgotten
her promise, but there was much inward rebellion and outward struggle,
resulting in more or less inattention during school hours. Blue
Bonnet’s eyes would wander again and again to the window, her thoughts
drifting even further afield. The remembrance of what the ranch must
be like now grew daily more insistent.

The long rides and walks after school, the hunts for wild flowers, the
tennis which, with the coming of Spring, the Woodford young people had
promptly instituted, helped a good deal.

By the fifteenth of May, all of the papers for the Sargent had to be in.

“And to-morrow is the fifteenth!” Blue Bonnet rejoiced one afternoon.
“Now, perhaps, the old thing can drop!”

“Ah, but the waiting will begin now,” Ruth said.

“Can’t you wait in silence?”

“You’re a very disrespectful girl!” Debby said severely.

Blue Bonnet smiled agreeingly; “I have learned a lot of things since I
came East, haven’t I?”

The “We are Seven’s” were sitting under the trees in Kitty’s front
yard, resting after a long walk. “I’m going to have a birthday next
Saturday week,” Amanda announced.

“Is there to be a celebration?” Kitty inquired.

Amanda nodded importantly.

“Of course there is, little Miss Why!” Debby said. “There’s some use
in having a birthday in Woodford. If you were wise, Blue Bonnet, you’d
arrange to have yours while you were here--there would be something
doing then.”

“In August I’ll be on the ranch--and there’ll be something doing
there. There’s some good in having a birthday on the Blue Bonnet Ranch.”

“Aunt Huldah”--Amanda looked still more important--“says I may bring a
party out there for supper and--”

Kitty came nearer; “‘Codlin’s your friend!’ And look here,” she turned
to the others, “we’ll appoint a body-guard right now to see that Blue
Bonnet doesn’t pay any visits to the Poor Farm between now and a week
from Saturday.”

“I’ve never been there but that once!” Blue Bonnet protested.

“That’s not saying you wouldn’t go again if the fancy seized you,”
Kitty rejoined.

“I wish you would listen,” Amanda objected; “I thought I’d ask you
girls--”

“If you didn’t some of us would be asking the reason why,” Debby
interposed.

“And the boys who were at the ‘skating-rink party’ that day. I couldn’t
take any larger party than that.”

“Making it Gentlemen’s Day?” Blue Bonnet asked.

“Uncle Dave’s just finished building a new barn,” Amanda went on.

Kitty clapped her hands--“And we’re to dance in it after supper! Oh,
what fun!”

“It’ll be moonlight coming home, I looked it up in the almanac.”
Amanda leaned back with a sigh of satisfaction.

“Amanda Parker, you’re the sensiblest girl!” Kitty declared. “Now I
don’t believe Blue Bonnet or I would ever have thought of providing a
full moon too. Sarah might’ve.”

Blue Bonnet carried her good news home. “And I may go this time?” she
said. “I won’t ask anybody to tea for that night. I’d just love to
see a real farm. I suppose it’s what Uncle Joe would call a ‘juvenile
ranch.’ Twelve days is going to be an awful long while to wait.”

“A what, my dear?” Aunt Lucinda suggested.

“Very--spelled like--awful,” Blue Bonnet laughed.

“The days are going pretty fast the past weeks,” Grandmother said,
thinking sadly that already May was half gone and that June would soon
be here; even now, Mr. Ashe was writing of coming East for Blue Bonnet.
The summer seemed to stretch ahead, unusually long and quiet; and who
knew what the fall would bring forth? Blue Bonnet had not said as much
lately about coming back; and once Mr. Ashe had her safely on the
ranch, would he be willing to part with her again?

Grandmother roused herself; at least, Blue Bonnet had not gone yet.
Looking up, she found Blue Bonnet watching her rather soberly; and
presently, when supper was over, the latter ran hastily upstairs to
her own room.

“I’ve the best plan ever, Solomon!” she confided to him, as he danced
on before her. Five minutes later, she was down again. “I’m going to
the office to mail a letter,” she announced from the sitting-room
doorway; “I won’t be gone long.”

Those twelve days were not so long in passing. That all of the
invitations should have been promptly accepted was only to be expected.

“It’s about the only thorough-going jollification we’ll have time for
between now and closing of school,” Debby told Blue Bonnet; “the exams
will be beginning soon.”

“And we’ll have all last winter’s agony to go through with again?”

“That depends upon how easily you agonize.”

“I’m not quite so scared as I was then,” Blue Bonnet said; “I wonder if
one would ever get where an exam didn’t really bother one at all?”

“I’m not wasting my time over any such nonsense,” Kitty declared; “I’m
wondering why the wagon doesn’t come.”

The party were waiting on the Parker front steps for the big hay wagon
from the farm; the girls, in their fresh summer dresses, making a
bright spot of color against the green background of the vine covering
the piazza.

“Here it comes!” one of the boys said.

Billy had provided himself with a horn, a battered old affair which had
seen much service but was still capable of more, as Billy proceeded to
prove, waking the echoes of the quiet old street.

“Billy!” Mrs. Parker implored, coming out, “you’re not going to take
that thing?”

“I am surprised at you!” Billy eyed her reproachfully. “Don’t I always
take it?”

“We won’t let him blow it too often,” Alec promised; “if he tries to,
we’ll drop him and it overboard.”

“Isn’t living in a village ever and ever so much more fun than living
on a ranch?” Kitty demanded of Blue Bonnet as the wagon started.

“Tell her ‘no,’” Alec said.

“Tell her comparisons are odious,” another of the boys suggested.

“Tell _me_ to come and see,” Billy urged.

And suddenly Blue Bonnet found herself wishing that it were possible to
take all the “We are Seven’s” and some of their friends back to Texas
with her. Would they find the life there as strange and as confusing
as she had found it here? At least, there would be no school; just
long happy care-free days to be spent out-of-doors. She would like
Uncle Joe Terry to know Kitty--she could see the twinkle in his shrewd
kindly eyes as he looked down into the freckled, piquant little face;
she would like him to know Sarah, too, and all the girls, and Alec.
And she would like them all to know Uncle Joe. So long as there were
no fences making choice of side imperative, even Amanda was good fun;
besides, she was a club member.

But of course, it was not to be thought of.

“If I were the ‘rankin’ officer,’” Kitty announced, “I should be
calling you to attention just about now, Blue Bonnet Ashe. You are the
unhearingest girl that ever was!”

“But you’re not, you know,” Blue Bonnet answered; “and I was thinking
of something.”

“You mostly are--when you shouldn’t be; and mostly aren’t when you
should be,” Kitty observed.

“The ‘rankin’ officer’ is a part of the past, so far as we are
concerned,” Debby said comfortably.

“And so will the ‘jolly good’ be soon,” Billy said.

“And will you tell me,” Kitty looked from one to another, as if the
question were a momentous one, “what we are going to do next term with
a teacher named _Kent_!”

“You haven’t got her yet,” one of the boys reminded her. “‘There’s many
a slip ’twixt the cup and the lip.’”

“‘Spell it with a we, my lord, spell it with a we,’” Alec quoted.

“And have her _V_ent it all on us?” Ruth laughed.

“Somebody kindly head Sarah off! She’s getting ready to remonstrate!”
Kitty added.

“I see the new barn!” Susy called; “I guess you’re glad we’re nearly
there.” She looked up at Mrs. Parker, in the seat of honor beside the
driver.

“I’ve chaperoned you young people before,” Mrs. Parker answered,--a
remark, which, as Alec said, could be construed in more than one way.

“Choose your partners,” Billy called; “it’ll save time afterwards.”

They were within sight of the low, stone farmhouse by now; from the
front porch, Amanda’s Aunt Huldah was waving a welcome to them.

Boyd gave Billy a sudden shove into the road, slipping into his place
beside Blue Bonnet. “May I have the first dance?” he asked.

“It’s promised,” she answered; Alec had seen to that the night before.

“Well, I like that!” Billy stood staring after the wagon. “A nice way
to treat a fellow.”

“He thought you needed exercise, Billy,” Kitty called.

“Then, the second?” Boyd asked; she had seemed to avoid him whenever
possible lately,--he half wanted to find out why; and outside of that,
she was the best dancer there.

The wagon was stopping, but Blue Bonnet did not appear to have noticed;
she was looking off down the road they had come by, a doubtful
expression in her blue eyes; then she turned, meeting Boyd’s glance
fully, “I’ll give you the next to the last.”

“The next to the last!” She was a queer girl.

“Come on, Blue Bonnet!” Amanda called; “I want to introduce you to Aunt
Huldah--you and Boyd too.”

“I’m coming!” Blue Bonnet did not seem to see the helping hand Boyd
held out.

As she went up the steps with the other girls, he stood a moment
looking after her. He was not so sure now that he did want to find out
why she had--she had some nonsense in her mind. It couldn’t be about--

With a little shake of the shoulders, Boyd followed the rest.



CHAPTER XXI

THE END OF THE TERM


Boyd was in two minds about claiming that dance--it wouldn’t do the
little Texan any harm to be called down; but when the time came, he
presented himself before Blue Bonnet, outwardly as smiling as usual.

“Would you mind if we sat it out?” she asked.

Boyd looked his surprise; she had not been sitting out any of the other
dances, and again that uneasy feeling came over him. “As you like, of
course,” he answered, leading the way to the old bench under a big
apple tree just outside.

“I wanted to tell you,” Blue Bonnet began at once,--“I’ve thought it
all over, and it doesn’t seem fair _not_ to tell you--that I know
about--”

Boyd’s quick glance of astonishment, even though she felt it to be half
assumed, made it hard to go on.

“About your Sargent paper,” she added determinedly.

“Is that to be wondered at? It is down on the board with the rest.”

“I think you know what I mean. You know that those notes you dropped
the other day belonged to Alec.”

“Upon my word, that is--”

“And that the subject you used was really the one he was using.”

“Aren’t you taking a good deal for granted?” Boyd broke in; she should
not have it all her own way.

“You know what I say _is_ so,” Blue Bonnet insisted. “Those were Alec’s
notes, the subject was his, and all at once he gave up sending in a
paper. It’s very plain.”

“It has not occurred to you that Alec might have given me those notes?”

“Then, in that case, you would not have looked so--ashamed, while you
were picking them up.”

Boyd sprang to his feet, his face crimson. “I don’t wonder they sent
you East to be taught--manners!”

It was Blue Bonnet’s turn to crimson, but she held back the retort
trembling at the edge of her tongue; she had come out there to tell
Boyd Trent what she knew, and she had told him. It was inconceivable
that a Trent--the General’s grandson, and Alec’s cousin--should have
done this thing.

“I only wish you were a boy!” Boyd said.

“I’d like well to be--for a few moments,” Blue Bonnet answered, turning
away.

Boyd did not follow her; instead he wandered off to the lower end of
the yard, out of sight of the lantern-lighted barn, but not out of
hearing of the fiddle played by Amanda’s Uncle Dave. Leaning against
the old stone wall, the boy stared miserably out over the broad moonlit
meadow.

The worst of it was that he did not know what Blue Bonnet would do
now. As things were, it would be just his luck for that paper to take
a prize. It ought to, considering how carefully Alec had prepared
those notes; there had been very little left for him to do, beyond
putting them together. He wouldn’t have bothered about writing a
paper at all--what did he care for Woodford customs?--except that his
grandfather had seemed to expect it, and he wanted to keep on the right
side of his grandfather--for various reasons. Alec shouldn’t have left
the notes lying around, he knew he had been hunting for a subject;
and anyhow, they were only notes--taken from books; he wouldn’t have
thought of taking a real paper. There would have been plenty of time
for Alec to get up another one; it was the sort of thing he liked
doing. If only Blue Bonnet had not--Alec could have been depended
on not to tell; he had not referred to the matter since--Boyd moved
impatiently; that brief interview between his cousin and himself was
one of the things he preferred to forget.

It was all a horrid mess whatever way you looked at it; he would be
mighty glad when school closed; next fall he should be going back to
his own school; he never wanted to see Woodford again.

In the meantime, he supposed that Amanda girl was wondering where her
partner for this last dance was? She would have to wonder, that was all.

They were finishing the dance as he went back to the barn. Amanda
received his murmured apology about a sudden headache in indignant
silence; she didn’t believe he had a headache.

More than once, during the ride home, Boyd felt Kitty’s inquisitive
eyes upon him. “Why aren’t you singing with the rest of us?” she
demanded at last.

“I’d rather listen.”

“You didn’t look as if you were doing even that,” Kitty remarked.

Alec glanced at his cousin; something had happened during that sitting
out.

“Don’t let’s wait to talk,” Susy urged; “we’ll be home before we know
it now. Mrs. Parker, mayn’t we go around the long way? It’s such a
beautiful night.”

But Mrs. Parker vetoed this request; the short way ’round was fully
long enough in her opinion.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two or three days later, Blue Bonnet came in after school waving a
letter. “I met the carrier! It’s from Uncle Cliff! He expects to get
here by the twelfth. He will be here in two weeks! And then in ten
days school will be out!” Blue Bonnet waltzed Solomon about the room
excitedly.

There was a litter of sewing about the sitting-room; Blue Bonnet was
to take her summer things back with her, and Grandmother insisted on
having a share in the making of them. Being fitted by Grandmother was
much pleasanter than being fitted by Mrs. Morrow, Blue Bonnet thought;
she didn’t fill her mouth full of pins, and then sigh if one so much as
stirred.

Not that there were no fittings to be gone through with at the
old-fashioned house at the further end of the village; Mrs. Morrow was
making the new white dress for “Closing Day” right now, and Blue Bonnet
was due in her little trying-on room right now, too.

“To think that it’s only two weeks!” Blue Bonnet looked about the
sitting-room a little soberly; would she be homesick for it after she
got back to the ranch? The great living-room there was not much like
this, certainly.

“Only a matter of weeks,” Aunt Lucinda said, dislodging Solomon from
the piece of muslin, where he had suddenly elected to take a nap.

Blue Bonnet’s face sobered even more; if only they wouldn’t care so
much. “Uncle Cliff thinks Chula had better go out to Darrel’s for the
summer,” she went on. “And, oh, Grandmother! He’s going to give me a
week in New York before we go West!”

“That will be fine!” Mrs. Clyde said, her thoughts going back to the
Spring afternoon when the other Elizabeth had sat there on that same
lounge telling of certain plans, a letter from Texas in her hand.

“I think, Blue Bonnet,” Aunt Lucinda suggested, “that Mrs. Morrow will
be wondering where you are.”

“You’d think she give that up by now, wouldn’t you?” Blue Bonnet
remarked. “But she always looks just as surprised as if it was the
first time I’d kept her waiting. Come on, Solomon, you may go,
too,--but you are not to chase the cat, remember.”

The “We are Seven’s” received the news of Mr. Ashe’s expected arrival
with mingled pleasure and regret. “It isn’t that we mind his coming, if
it didn’t mean your going,” Kitty explained, linking her arm through
Blue Bonnet’s.

“I suppose,” Ruth said, “that if you asked him your prettiest, he would
let you stay on through the summer.”

“That’s one of the things you’re not likely to find out,” Blue Bonnet
laughed.

The seven were out in full force to welcome Mr. Ashe. “May I have her
this time?” he asked Kitty.

“I reckon we’ll have to lend her to you--for the summer,” Kitty
answered; “but you’ll have to promise first to get her back before
school opens.”

“Woodford appears to agree with you, Honey,” Mr. Ashe said, as the club
left them at the gate. He stood a moment before opening it. It was over
five months since he had seen her. She had grown taller in the five
months; taller, and a bit older. “I suppose one of these trips I shall
come back and find you quite grown up,” he said.

Blue Bonnet’s laugh was reassuring. “Not as long as I can help it! Tell
me about everything, Uncle Cliff! It doesn’t seem believable that in
just a little while now I’ll be going back. They’ll be glad to see me,
won’t they?”

“Uncle Joe intimated pretty plainly that if I came back without you
this time he wouldn’t hold himself responsible for anything that might
happen.”

“One thing, there won’t be anything changed!”

Uncle Cliff’s eyes twinkled.

“And please, Uncle Cliff, you’ll ask Grandmother the first thing? I
want that settled. There she is in the garden; Aunt Lucinda’s out.”

“Haven’t you asked her, Honey?”

“I waited till you came; I didn’t want to give her too much time for
thinking it over in.”

“It is really very good of you to be glad to see me,” Mr. Ashe said, as
Grandmother came forward to meet him, “considering that this time I do
not ‘go back alone.’”

“I have been telling myself that turn and turn about is only fair
play,” Mrs. Clyde answered; “and that the fall is not so far off.”

“Please, Grandmother,” Blue Bonnet’s tone was most insinuating, “it
won’t take you very long to get ready?”

“‘To get ready’?” Mrs. Clyde repeated.

“Why, to go with us. Uncle Cliff and I have been hoping and planning
for that this ever so long; but I didn’t tell you before, because I
didn’t want you to have time to think up objections in. There aren’t
any really, you know.”

Grandmother sat down on one of the garden benches, looking from Blue
Bonnet to Mr. Ashe in a surprise too great for words.

“It would be so lovely,” Blue Bonnet sat down beside her; “for us, I
mean, and we would try to make it as pleasant as possible for you. You
see, I never knew, until I came East, how much I needed a grandmother.”

“The need was mutual,” Grandmother said softly.

“And you could keep me from slipping back into the old spoilt ways; you
could see that I did my mending and practising, and only took coffee at
Sunday morning breakfast--”

Mrs. Clyde smiled. “At least, I should be on hand to bring you back
with me in the fall;” and suddenly, Texas did not seem as far away as
it had. Lucinda wanted to go abroad this summer--the only drawback had
been leaving her mother alone. She would like to see the Blue Bonnet
Ranch, where the other Elizabeth had been so happy during those few
years of her married life. And it would mean too the not parting with
Blue Bonnet for the summer.

“I will think it over,” she said.

“But that is just what I didn’t want you to do,” Blue Bonnet protested.
“Please, couldn’t you promise first?”

“Couldn’t you?” Mr. Ashe said. “Blue Bonnet and I have certainly set
our hearts on this; and I have a rooted objection to having our young
lady disappointed--unnecessarily.”

“There comes Aunt Lucinda, I hear Solomon’s bark!” Blue Bonnet jumped
up. “May I go and tell her it’s all settled, Grandmother?”

“You may go and tell her what it is we are trying to settle,” Mrs.
Clyde laughed.

Miss Lucinda approved of the plan thoroughly. “I think it would be a
delightful trip for you, Mother,” she said.

“And next year, maybe you won’t be wanting to go abroad, Aunt Lucinda,”
Blue Bonnet said; “then you and Grandmother can both come out to the
ranch.”

“Perhaps.” Miss Lucinda agreed.

After supper, Blue Bonnet and her uncle went for a ride. “Chula’ll miss
me,” Blue Bonnet said, patting the glossy neck; “she’s the dearest
horse.”

“And Firefly will be mighty glad to see you. Listen, Honey, I’ve been
cogitating. Don’t you want to take one or two of those girls along with
you for the summer? You must be sort of used to having girls to run
with by now.”

“Uncle Cliff! Oh, I would love that!”

“Kitty, I suppose--who else?”

“Kitty would be most fun. And Sarah’s been--you don’t know how good
Sarah Blake was to me a while back, Uncle Cliff!”

“How about telling me, Honey?”

Mr. Ashe listened to the rather sketchy story she told him, filling in
the outlines from his knowledge of her. When she finished, he leaned
nearer, laying a hand over hers. “Sarah’s going out to the ranch with
us if I have to kidnap her.”

The thought of Sarah being kidnapped sent Blue Bonnet off into a fit of
laughter. “But,” she said presently, “it wouldn’t do, really, to pick
and choose like that. The others would feel ever so hurt. They’re ‘We
are Seven’s’ too.”

“Then we’ll corral the whole bunch. There’s room enough for them on the
ranch, and if there isn’t, the one adjoining is in the market.”

“I wish we could! They’ve all been so nice to me, and we’ve had such
good times together. But I’m afraid it’s impossible.”

“I thought it was a copy-book maxim that nothing was impossible.”

“You haven’t lived ten months in Woodford, Uncle Cliff.”

“The first thing is--whether you really want them all to go?”

“Indeed I do!”

“Then the next thing to do is to see how your grandmother feels about
it. It may strike her as a pretty big proposition.”

“Grandmother won’t mind--she likes young people about. And if she says
yes, I suppose you will allow their fathers and mothers some voice in
the matter?”

“As a matter of courtesy, it might be as well to,” Mr. Ashe laughed.
“How about your neighbor; I thought it was settled that he was to have
a taste of ranch life?”

“Alec! Oh, he would like that. It would do him a lot of good. His
cousin is going abroad for the summer, to stay with his people.”

It was Aunt Lucinda who looked dubious when this latter plan was
explained. “Wouldn’t it mean too much responsibility for you, Mother?”
she asked.

“But please,” Blue Bonnet exclaimed, “we’d try not to trouble
Grandmother one bit; she wouldn’t have to do anything for us; and we’d
be as good as gold. Why, most of the time, she wouldn’t know we were on
earth.”

“My dear--” Aunt Lucinda began.

“That would hardly be a very satisfactory state of mind to be in,”
Mrs. Clyde said; she smiled down into Blue Bonnet’s eager face. “I
should hate to be the one to deprive any of the young people of such a
summer’s outing. And the fact that I am going may make it the easier
for you to secure their parents’ consents.”

“Thank you so much!” Blue Bonnet said joyously; and Aunt Lucinda
reflected that it was very improbable they would all be allowed to go.

“The first one who makes you a bit of trouble you send to me, ma’am,”
Mr. Ashe said.

“They would hate that so!” Blue Bonnet laughed. “But none of us would
dream of bothering Grandmother. And it’s all settled beautifully! We’ll
look like a party of Raymond’s Tourists, won’t we? And now I can tackle
those dreadful exams with a clear mind. They begin to-morrow.”

Blue Bonnet found Alec in his garden the next morning before breakfast.
“Uncle Cliff’s coming over to see General Trent by and by,” she said.
“Guess what for?”

Alec’s gray eyes lightened, as if before them he already saw the wide
open sweep of the prairie. “Oh, I say!” he cried.

“Grandmother’s going!”

“Good!”

“And--Uncle Cliff says that it is only fair to prepare you--all the
girls, if we can manage it.”

Alec stood the shock bravely. “It’ll prove an eye opener for Sarah.”

“It’ll be like having seven sisters, won’t it--for you?”

“I’ve always understood,” Alec laughed, “that the only boy in a large
family of girls got a lot of waiting on and spoiling.”

“You think your grandfather will say yes?”

“I’m not much afraid of his saying no,” Alec answered.

The six girls were the next to be told. “This isn’t the official
invitation,” Blue Bonnet explained, as they sat in a little group under
a tree in the school yard--she had started for school good and early
that morning; “Uncle Cliff and I are going visiting this afternoon, but
I wanted you to be prepared--so _you_ wouldn’t say no instead of yes
when your mothers asked if you would like to go.”

The wonder of it was holding even Kitty speechless.

“If we could--” Ruth sighed at last.

“Do you want us to go--very, very much, Blue Bonnet?” Debby asked.

“I do.”

“Then,” Debby nodded confidently at the others, “it’s as good as
settled. Blue Bonnet always gets what she wants--if she wants it hard
enough.”

And, to everybody’s surprise except Blue Bonnet’s and her uncle’s,
Debby’s word proved true. Fathers and mothers shook their heads
doubtfully, uncles and aunts indulged in grave forebodings, big
brothers and sisters offered advice, but after not too much delay all
the invitations were accepted.

Sarah went about with a look of continual astonishment in her light
blue eyes; to be going to Texas, to be breaking away from all the
old routine of home duties and simple village amusements for a whole
vacation--Sarah and her sense of duty underwent daily conflict.

“But your father and mother want you to go!” Blue Bonnet argued.
“You’re bound to obey your parents, Sarah.”

“Sure!” Kitty added. “And don’t you worry, Sallykins, you’re bound to
run across a few things now and then which only your strong sense of
duty will enable you to go through with. Wait until you’re face to face
with your first tamale.”

School was to close on the twenty-second. The following week, Mr. Ashe
and Blue Bonnet were to spend in New York, giving the fellow travelers
time to make their final preparations,--the whole party leaving
Woodford for Texas on the first of July.

The ease and rapidity with which Mr. Ashe detailed these arrangements,
took the six club members’ breaths away.

“We might be simply running in to Boston for a day’s shopping,” Susy
commented.

“The more time the more worry,” Blue Bonnet said.

There were three all-engrossing topics of conversation during those
days; the Texas trip, the hoped-for promotion, and the Sargent.

“Two of which you’ve a share in, and one of which you haven’t!” Kitty
said to Blue Bonnet, now, after enumerating them.

“Did you know,” Debby asked, “that Boyd Trent had withdrawn his paper?”

“Withdrawn his paper!” five voices echoed excitedly. “Why didn’t you
tell us before?”

“I was waiting for a clear field,” Debby laughed. “He told me so
himself this morning.”

“But why?” Kitty asked.

“He didn’t tell me that.”

“Perhaps he thought it wasn’t good enough,” Ruth suggested.

“I’m sure I sometimes wish I could withdraw mine,” Amanda sighed.

“It wouldn’t have made any difference; he’d never have got a prize,”
Kitty declared.

As she went on up the street after leaving the girls, Blue Bonnet told
herself that _she_ knew why Boyd had withdrawn his paper. Perhaps he
had told Debby, knowing Debby would tell her among the others. She had
scarcely seen him since the night of Amanda’s birthday; to all intents
and purposes, he was devoting himself to baseball during most of his
out-of-school time.

That relations continued strained between the two cousins it was easy
to see; a mere outward semblance of friendliness being kept up on the
General’s account.

“Solomon,” Blue Bonnet said, as he came to meet her, “should I have
said what I did that night, or shouldn’t I? Maybe it was more or less
of a rushing-in business? But it didn’t seem fair not to let him know
why one couldn’t dance with him, or be friends. And it was true!”

Solomon appeared perfectly willing to take her word for it.

“What’s the trouble, Honey?” Uncle Cliff asked, as she came across the
lawn to the bench where he sat, busy over some papers Uncle Joe had
forwarded him.

“Just some school business,” she hadn’t any right to tell even such a
close confidant as Uncle Cliff about it. “You don’t get much chance to
lead the Simple Life going to school.”

“The twenty-second’s coming nearer every day, Honey.”

“At least, the exams will be over soon; the Sargent winners aren’t
given out until the very last day, at closing exercises.”

“Why didn’t you try? Afraid of cutting out all the others?” Mr. Ashe
laughed.

“I did think of it--then I changed my mind.”

She had fallen into their ways and customs pretty well, Mr. Ashe
thought; she couldn’t have been expected to go in for them all.

Blue Bonnet broke off a spray of white roses, brushing them lightly
across her face. She was sorry on Grandmother’s and Aunt Lucinda’s
account; they were disappointed, though they had said nothing. She
would like them to know the rights of it, and to be able to show
Grandmother the little bundle of papers thrust into one of the
pigeonholes of her desk.

“By the way,” her uncle asked, “how about the present financial
condition?”

“I’m getting on,” Blue Bonnet laughed; “last month I actually saved
a whole ten-cent piece. Aunt Lucinda thinks I’m almost ready for an
advance. She’s giving me a camera as a reward of merit.”

Nor had the little brick house on the mantelpiece been neglected; its
contents were to go to the Floating Hospital. She had not made that
promised visit to Aunt Lucinda’s crippled girls--that was one of the
things that must wait over until fall now; next year she meant not to
have so many wait-overs.

“I had a wire this morning from Maldon,” Mr. Ashe said; “he places The
Wanderer at our disposal for the trip West; she happens to be lying
idle in Boston.”

“How perfectly lovely! I must go tell Grandmother; and now--” Blue
Bonnet’s face was radiant, “_now_, Solomon needn’t travel in the
baggage-car.”

“Maldon will be relieved when he learns that,” Mr. Ashe observed.

The six received this latest piece of news wide-eyed. “Travel all the
way to Texas in a private car!” Amanda exclaimed.

“Blue Bonnet Ashe!” Kitty declared solemnly. “It was a lucky day for us
when you came East!”

       *       *       *       *       *

The Boston relatives arrived on the twenty-first for a short visit;
Cousin Honoria and Cousin Augusta looked upon Cousin Elizabeth’s
proposed Western trip in mingled amazement and dismay; a little kindly
advice, a little gentle persuasion, were the least they could offer.

What would she do on a ranch--where there were cowboys and Mexicans
and--Cousin Honoria glanced appealingly at her sister.

“Mustangs!” Cousin Augusta felt that she had added the final touch.

Blue Bonnet left the room with a haste that Grandmother could only
envy. “But I do not intend to ride the mustangs,” she said; “and I
have always wanted to see a real cowboy; and Benita is a Mexican.
Elizabeth was very fond of Benita; so is Blue Bonnet.”

“I think Mother will enjoy her summer very much,” Miss Lucinda said,
patting Solomon; Solomon had been more than ever attached to Miss
Lucinda lately. Solomon couldn’t understand just what was about to
happen, but he had an instinctive feeling that in an emergency Miss
Lucinda was likely to prove a veritable tower of defence.

It was that afternoon that Blue Bonnet came home jubilant, as she had
that Friday before Christmas. “I’ve passed!” she announced. “That’s
twice running! Looks like _I_ was getting the habit! And I needn’t have
worked so hard, after all; it wasn’t such a close thing. Alec’s passed
too,” she went on hurriedly, seeing reproof in her aunt’s eye; “and the
girls--Amanda’s conditioned. She’ll have to study this summer. I did
think there wouldn’t be a single school book along.”

“A little regular study on the part of each one of you girls every
day--” Miss Lucinda began.

“But,” Blue Bonnet broke in, “nothing is too regular out there, not
even the meals; that’s the delightful part of it.”

And Grandmother laughed at the sudden look in Cousin Honoria’s and
Cousin Augusta’s eyes.

At last, the twenty-second really came; Blue Bonnet, standing before
the glass, while Aunt Lucinda buttoned the long line of tiny buttons
down the back of the new white gown, decided that going to school has
its attractions, Closing Day being one of them. And later, sitting in
her place in the big assembly-room, sharing the common thrill of eager
excitement in the air, she was sure of it.

The graduation exercises were to take place that night. Blue Bonnet was
not much interested in those; she was waiting for the great moment of
the morning--the announcing of the names of the winners of the Sargent
prizes.

It came at last, the tall boy who had taken her in to supper the night
of her dance leading the list; Blue Bonnet thought his subject sounded
very dull, like himself. If only Mr. Hunt would hurry along to Alec’s
class! Would Alec--

“‘Remember the Alamo,’” Mr. Hunt read presently, “Alexander Morton
Trent.”

It was General Trent who led the applause that time.

“Now our room!” Kitty whispered. “It’ll be Hester--for the girls!”

But it was not Hester.

“‘The Sargents of the Future,’” Mr. Hunt announced, “Katherine Benton
Clark,” and no one was more surprised than Kitty herself.

“To think,” she whispered to Blue Bonnet, as she came back to her
place, “to think how dreadfully near I came to not being allowed to
try!”

After the general exercises were various gatherings in the different
classrooms, congratulations to be made and received, good-byes to be
said.

“And so,” Mr. Hunt said, meeting Blue Bonnet on the stairs, “you did
_not_ let your class go on without you?”

“Not either time,” she answered happily.

“I understand that you are off to Texas before long, taking a good
portion of the school with you?”

“To make sure that they do not go on without me,” she laughed back.
“Good-bye,” she added, holding out her hand, “and--thank you so much.”
He had been mighty kind, she told herself,--what a perfectly delightful
tutor he would have made!

It was towards late afternoon when she reached home, tired and happy.
The General was there, looking very proud.

“For the second time,” he was saying, for rather more than the second
time. “He really is a clever boy--they both are, for that matter; it
seems that Boyd withdrew his paper almost at the last--for some reason
or other I couldn’t quite make out--or we might have had a tie between
them.” He turned to Blue Bonnet. “Alec tells me that it is really
you, my dear, whom I have to thank--for supplying him with such an
uncommonly good subject.”

Cousin Tracy looked interested. “So that’s what you did with it,
Señorita?”

“I passed it on into the right hands, you see,” Blue Bonnet said, and
presently she slipped away to her room.

The big trunk which Benita had packed with such loving care for the
journey East stood open, and partly filled, and on the lounge lay her
suit case ready for the morrow.

Blue Bonnet sat down near it, Solomon beside her, thinking of that last
afternoon at home, and the hopes and fears filling her heart then;
thinking of a good many other things besides.

It was going to be a different going back from the one she had so
insisted on that November morning; very “decently and in order,”
for--Blue Bonnet’s eyes danced--was not Aunt Lucinda superintending the
packing?

How many things had happened in this room; she had had her good moments
and her bad, but the former had predominated; and when next fall came
it would be almost like coming home.

“And if I haven’t learned anything else, Solomon,” she observed, “I
have learned to make a bed beautifully; Aunt Lucinda said as much this
morning.”

“Will you be wanting any help, Miss?” Delia asked, from the open door,
and Blue Bonnet relinquished most willingly the task of unbuttoning
that long row of buttons.

“Katie and me ain’t liking to think of to-morrow,” Delia said. “’Tis
the dull house this’ll be the summer long.”

“You’ll be dusting the parlor _every_ Saturday morning now,” Blue
Bonnet laughed; “not just when I’ve forgotten it.” It was awfully good
of everybody to be nice about not wanting her to go.

She was sitting on the porch in the twilight, thinking contentedly
of the long twilights to come on the ranch veranda, with Grandmother
sitting close by, and all the “We are Seven’s” and Alec there, too,
when Mrs. Clyde said slowly, “Blue Bonnet, why--when Cousin Tracy
gave you such excellent material to work with--didn’t you try for the
Sargent? Why, at one time, we thought you were going to,--your aunt and
I.”

Blue Bonnet looked out across the shadowy lawn; she believed she would
tell Grandmother; it should be their secret between them.

“I have got a reason, truly,” she said; “but it takes in such a number
of other people. It began one afternoon when Boyd Trent met me out
riding, and--”

“When in doubt, always confide in your grandmother,” Mrs. Clyde
advised, as Blue Bonnet hesitated; “that’s one of the things
grandmothers were made for.”

“All right,” Blue Bonnet answered.

“Please,” she asked, as she finished her story, “was it very
dreadful--what I said to Boyd that night?”

“I think, taking everything into consideration, that it was
very--pardonable,” Grandmother said.

“And you won’t mind, now that you know I really did mean to try? And
Alec won a prize. I don’t believe I should have done that; and if I
had, Kitty couldn’t’ve.”

“How should I mind, dear?--now that I understand your reason for not
trying.”

Blue Bonnet drew a deep breath of relief. “Then I haven’t a single
worry left on my mind. I didn’t like you and Aunt Lucinda thinking I
was being--just horrid.”

“I am very glad you have told me this, Blue Bonnet. You must let me
tell your aunt.”

From the stile came the sound of Alec’s whistling--“All the Blue
Bonnets are over the border;” and from the open windows of Mr. Ashe’s
room came the same tune, as he bent over the packing of his valise.

“They will be over pretty soon now,” Blue Bonnet laughed.

“Blue Bonnet,” Miss Clyde said from the doorway, “Cousin Honoria is
hoping that you are not too tired to sing one of your Spanish songs
for them?”

“Of course I’m not!” Blue Bonnet answered. “Grave or gay?” she asked,
as Mr. Winthrop opened the piano for her.

“Both,” he replied.

She gave them both, choosing, in closing, the little song Benita had
crooned over her work during those final days at home last year, with
its soft Spanish words of farewell.

Cousin Honoria and Cousin Augusta suddenly found themselves envying
Cousin Elizabeth. It was wonderful how a young person brightened up a
house.

When she came back to the veranda, Blue Bonnet found a small detachment
of the “We are Seven’s” there, with Alec and Grandmother.

“We only came to say,” Debby explained, “that we are so glad we haven’t
got to say a really good-bye; and that we will be down at the station
in the morning.”

“And mind,” Kitty pointed a warning forefinger, “mind you and Mr. Ashe
don’t forget to come back for us!”

“As if--” Blue Bonnet laughed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just before going to bed, Blue Bonnet, in dressing gown and slippers,
came to her aunt’s room.

Miss Clyde was sitting by one of the open windows, looking out at the
soft, summer starlight, filled with the scent of the yellow and white
honeysuckle covering the veranda below. She was thinking of the past
ten months, wondering how deeply their teachings had taken root with
Blue Bonnet.

“May I come in--for just a few moments?” Blue Bonnet asked. “I want
to--talk;” and apparently forgetting that Miss Lucinda did not approve
of her sitting on the floor, she dropped down beside her aunt’s
chair, resting an arm on her lap, quite as though Aunt Lucinda were
Grandmother. “I can talk so much better this way,” she said. “Please,
Aunt Lucinda, I’m afraid I’ve been a lot of trouble to you--all these
months. But it hasn’t had to be ‘_Elizabeth!_’ so very often lately,
has it? You do think I’ve improved some?”

Miss Lucinda smiled. “I do not think that you have ever meant to be ‘a
lot of trouble,’--the words are yours, not mine, my dear; and it has
been a great comfort to both your grandmother and myself, having you
with us.”

“And when I come back next fall, you’ll see--” Blue Bonnet said
earnestly. “You’ve been ever so good to me, Aunt Lucinda--even if I
didn’t--exactly think so--at the time. And I thought--maybe--we’d make
this our real good-bye; because when Uncle Cliff and I get back from
New York, it won’t be for much more than a stopping over.”

“But it is not to be _good-bye_,” Miss Lucinda laid a hand over Blue
Bonnet’s--“only, until we meet again.”

“And,” Blue Bonnet added softly, as her aunt bent to kiss her, “‘Va
Usted con Dios!’”


THE END.



The Blue Bonnet Series

  _By Lela Horn Richards
            and
    Caroline E. Jacobs_

  [Illustration]

  Each, one vol., large 12mo, illustrated, $2.00

    A TEXAS BLUE BONNET
    BLUE BONNET’S RANCH PARTY
    BLUE BONNET IN BOSTON
    BLUE BONNET KEEPS HOUSE
    BLUE BONNET--DÉBUTANTE
    BLUE BONNET OF THE SEVEN STARS
    BLUE BONNET’S FAMILY

         *       *       *       *       *

THE COSY CORNER SERIES

  _By Caroline E. Jacobs_

  Each, one vol., large 12mo, illustrated, $0.75

    BAB’S CHRISTMAS AT STANHOPE
    THE CHRISTMAS SURPRISE PARTY
    A CHRISTMAS PROMISE

  [Illustration]

  L. C. PAGE & COMPANY
  53 Beacon Street : Boston, Mass.



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  _Each large 12mo, cloth decorative, illustrated,
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  _The seven volumes, boxed as a set_                 14.00

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    BY CAROLINE E. JACOBS.

  BLUE BONNET’S RANCH PARTY
    BY CAROLINE E. JACOBS AND EDYTH ELLERBECK READ.

  BLUE BONNET IN BOSTON
    BY CAROLINE E. JACOBS AND LELA HORN RICHARDS.

  BLUE BONNET KEEPS HOUSE
    BY CAROLINE E. JACOBS AND LELA HORN RICHARDS.

  BLUE BONNET--DÉBUTANTE
    BY LELA HORN RICHARDS.

  BLUE BONNET OF THE SEVEN STARS
    BY LELA HORN RICHARDS.

  BLUE BONNET’S FAMILY
    BY LELA HORN RICHARDS.

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  would like to have in one’s home.”--_New York Sun._



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  BY ANNIE FELLOWS JOHNSTON

  _Each large 12mo, cloth, illustrated, per volume_   $2.00


  THE LITTLE COLONEL STORIES
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  Being three “Little Colonel” stories in the Cosy Corner Series,
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  MARY WARE’S PROMISED LAND

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  _Cloth, 12mo, illustrated by Billie Chapman_        $1.75

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  THE JESTER’S SWORD



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  PEGGY
  RITA
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  BY M. M. DANCY MCCLENDON.

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  poster jacket, by P. L. Martin_                     $1.75



Transcriber’s Note:

  Punctuation has been standardised. Changes to the original publication
  have been made as follows:

  Contents Chapter XII
  Senorita _changed to_
  Señorita

  Page 148
  with an impetuousity that _changed to_
  with an impetuosity that

  Page 220
  withdraw it, _Senorita_ _changed to_
  withdraw it, _Señorita_

  Page 253
  one for each of the “We are Sevens _changed to_
  one for each of the “We are Seven’s

  Book catalogue
  Lousville Times _changed to_
  Louisville Times





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