THE GUEST OF HONOR

“Oh, girls, Crullers can’t come.”

Sue Warner ran down the flight of stone steps that led from the side
entrance at Calvert Hall to the garden, her face full of perplexity.
Waiting for her were three of the girls, Isabel Lee, Ruth Brooks, and
Edwina, or rather, “Ted” Moore.

“But why?” demanded Ted. “Is she behind on classes? I’ll help her out
to-morrow, tell her. She must go. Polly said so.”

“But she can’t, Ted, don’t you understand? She would if she could. Why,
her face looked as if she’d swallowed a lot of tacks when I passed her
just now. Miss Murray was with her.”

“That accounts for said tacks,” Ruth put in, gravely. “Bonnie Jean has
very likely hurt Crullers’ feelings.”

Sue laughed, as she gathered up a pile of books from the old Roman seat
at the turn of the path, and led the way out of the garden.

“Perhaps this time it’s Crullers who has hurt Bonnie Jean’s feelings.
Crullers stumbles over other people’s feelings the same as she does over
stools or steps or anything. Where’s Polly? Why didn’t she wait for us?”

“The Admiral drove by, and called her to ride home with him,” Ruth
explained. “Oh, girls, isn’t it getting pretty and summery? Look—the
vines on the old stone wall are leafing out.”

“Polly said four sharp. No time for landscape gazing.”

“Ted, you never see what’s happening right under your nose.”

“Can’t when you carry a perpetual spy-glass on coming events,” laughed
Ted, with a gay toss of her head.

“Since Ted went into psychics last fall, she hasn’t touched real ground
to speak of.”

“And a good thing too,” protested Ted, shaking her head at them. “If
Polly and I did not keep a level outlook on the business side of things,
where would the club be? As secretary I’ve had my spy-glass leveled all
winter at the coming summer. Polly and I figured and studied over the
whole plan while you girls were noticing old vines on stone walls, and
‘sech like,’ as Aunty Welcome says. Now, wait till you hear what she has
to say.”

Down the beautiful old street they started. It was the end of April, and
never did Queen’s Ferry show to such advantage as when springtime
scattered blossoms everywhere. The horse-chestnut trees were showing
feathery plumes of gold and white. Over gray garden walls catalpas
lifted masses of bloom, and fruit trees stood in orchards like brides in
their snowy loveliness. The air was heavy with fragrance of white lilac
and cherry blossoms.

It was Friday. Only Calvert Hall girls knew just what that stood for in
the calendar of events. It was the one day when discipline relaxed, when
books and lessons went into desks, when Miss Calvert herself partook of
the general relaxation, put aside her gown of stiff gray silk, and,
garbed in white lawn, with a black lace shawl draped about her slender
shoulders, went out into the garden with a book of poetry.

Strangely enough, the girls could always tell just how the week had
affected her nerves, by her choice of books on Friday night.

“It’s Tennyson to-day, girls,” Sue had told the rest, when she came
through the garden after seeking Crullers. “Spring calls to the Lady
Honoria. She’s reading ‘The Princess’ with a bunch of red and yellow
tulips on her lap.”

“Just as sure a sign of summer as ripening buds,” Isabel had added,
happily. “All through the winter, don’t you remember, girls, she read
Whittier and Milton, and now she’s put all the old chilly poets back
into the library, and has her own small, handy volumes of Browning and
Burns and even Whitman. She says she likes the poetry in springtime that
makes you think of freshly turned earth and upspringing buds.”

“What a good old darling she is,” Ruth said in her serious,
grandmotherly way. “I found her this morning standing before the old
painting in the hall, and I’m sure there were tears in her eyes, girls.”

The girls were silent. The Calvert spirit towards its principal was very
peculiar. The girls loved and honored her, but mingled with both
sentiments was a curiously protective feeling too. The story of Calvert
had passed into the realm of romantic tradition with its students, and
they held it sacred. Every new girl was taken apart by Polly and Ruth
and solemnly initiated into it. They were told how Honoria and her
younger sister had been left well-nigh penniless at the death of their
father, old Orrin Calvert, thirty years before. They had been brought up
in seclusion, and fed on all the old traditions of Queen’s Ferry as it
had been from the days that followed on the Jamestown settlement. The
main teaching they had received was that no Calvert should work for a
living. But after the old gentleman’s passing, and a long talk with the
family lawyer from Richmond, Miss Honoria had felt tradition and
sentiment slip from her like a worn-out garment.

All that was left of the old estate, when her father’s obligations were
canceled, was Calvert Hall; and the excellent education both young women
possessed was their sole capital. Yet the two had faced the issue
contentedly and courageously, like other Dixie girls of the newer
generation, and had turned the old Hall into a home school for young
girls.

Later Miss Diantha, the younger sister, had married. She lived in the
West, but the Hall remained the same, a landmark at Queen’s Ferry.

Sometimes it seemed to the girls in the great, somber stone house, as
though the tender spirit and influence of Diantha still lived there, and
made her stately sister more tolerant in dealing with the merry,
youthful natures over which she ruled.

At the foot of the broad oaken staircase, was a full-length oil painting
of the sisters, when they were girls. Quaint, old-fashioned portraits
they were, too, with Honoria in white mulle with pink rosebuds, and
Diantha in white mulle with forget-me-nots scattered over its flounces.
Honoria’s chin was up, and she looked right ahead, just as calmly and as
serenely as she did to-day in the classroom. But Diantha’s head was half
averted, and she was smiling shyly, and the little rows of short
up-and-down curls around her head seemed ready to bob and tremble at any
moment with a laugh.

“Do you know, girls,” Polly would say, after a fresh inspection of the
painting, “I think the old darling hung it there so that all her girls
would try to pattern themselves after it. I only wish we could.”

Polly’s own home, “Glenwood,” was about half an hour’s walk from the
Hall, down along the river bank. As they drew near, they caught sight of
Polly herself, watching for them from the veranda railing, with old Tan,
the Gordon setter, beside her.

“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here,” she exclaimed, running to meet them; “I
was afraid something had happened, and you know we’re going to have a
feast.”

“That’s the very first thing Polly thinks of—something good to eat,”
laughed Ruth, dropping down into the nearest garden chair.

“So do all good generals,” retorted Polly, calmly. “It makes people
friendly to eat and enjoy the same kind of food at the same time.”

“Bread and salt in the Arab’s tent, Polly?” queried Ted.

“Yes, only this time——um-m-m. I promised not to tell. The bread and salt
gave out, so we have other supplies.” She laughed, and counted heads.
“Where’s Crullers?”

“Unavoidably detained,” Sue replied. “Now, it’s no use asking why,
Polly. None of us can even guess. Crullers never would miss a good
chance at a feast, you know, unless there was a vital reason for her
absence. And she wouldn’t tell. I hunted everywhere for her, and finally
caught her just coming out of the upper recitation room with Miss
Murray.”

“Bonnie Jean?” Polly’s forehead puckered doubtfully. “What has Crullers
been doing?”

“I think she’s broken her parole,” Isabel said.

“What parole? We didn’t know she was on parole.”

“I did,” Polly added, quickly. “Wait till we get settled down in the
arbor, and I’ll tell you about it. That’s just about what has happened
if she has Miss Murray on her trail.”

She led the way around the broad veranda, down the short flight of steps
that led to the garden, and out to the arbor that stood on the terrace.
Every one who loved Polly knew her garden, and the old arbor. It
overlooked the river, and faced the sunset, and was thickly covered with
rose vines. They were just leafing out now. The seats that encircled it
were Polly’s private invention. Beneath them were lockers, in boat
fashion, for cushions, books, hammocks, and all kinds of things which
Polly found necessary to comfort or happiness when she took possession
of the arbor.

“Let’s put up a couple of hammocks, girls,” she said. “Sue, you and Ted
might do that, and Ruth and Isabel can set the table. I’m going to pick
over strawberries while we talk. Aren’t they beauties? Stoney just got
them for me out of the garden.”

The girls gathered around the rustic table for a peep at the
generous-sized basket filled with red fruit, piled high in a nest of
green leaves.

“Oh, let’s eat them that way, Polly,” Isabel cried. “They look so
tempting and pretty.”

“Can’t,” said Polly, briefly. “Against orders. These are to be hulled,
mashed, and sweetened.”

“Now, we know,” exclaimed Ted. “Short—”

“No fair telling.”

“But only think how poor Crullers would have loved a piece of it!”

“We’ll send her some. Yes, and girls,”—here Polly’s brown eyes twinkled
with the merry glint of mischief,—“we’ll send Miss Murray a nice share
too. To-night. I’ll take it to the Hall and find out what’s the matter
with Crullers. Did we ever desert a comrade in distress?”

“Never,” came back the swift and hearty chorus, just as Stoney came down
the walk from the kitchen garden.

CHAPTER II

A SHORTCAKE PARLEY

He smiled a broad welcome at Miss Polly’s guests, as he set down the
tray from his head, and uncovered the contents, his brown face fairly
glistening with importance.

“Whipped cream in de blue jug, Mis’ Polly, and—and sho’tcake in de deep
dish, and gran’maw says you’re to eat it while it’s hot.”

“We will, Stoney,” promised Polly. “Now, girls, gaze on this.”

Back went the snowy linen towel, and there lay disclosed to view one of
Aunty Welcome’s famous three-layer shortcakes, all ready for the
“fillin’s,” as Stoney would say. It was hot and crisp from the oven. The
girls spread the layers with the berries and piled them up.

“I just love this kind of shortcake,” said Ted, as she poured cream from
the blue jug over the cake. “Sometimes it’s only plain layer cake with
some whole berries laid on the frosting.”

“I knew you’d like it.” Polly leaned her arms on the table with a happy
disregard of formalities. As Aunty Welcome had expressed it once, “Dar’s
a little laxity permissible in yo’ own backyard, honey chile.” Polly
went on. “I wish Crullers were here, too. What new scrape do you suppose
she has managed to tumble into?”

“The last one isn’t cold yet,” laughed Ted. “She was sorry for a stray
cat, and smuggled it up to the dormitory, and hid it in the closet
there. Then Annie May, the cook, gave her some milk for it, and she took
that up when she went to bed. But the closet had a spring lock, and
Crullers couldn’t open it. Tableau at ten o’clock. Miss Calvert roused:
appears in nightgown and kimono, hair in crimpers, dangling a bunch of
keys like Fatima. When closet is opened, poor kitty is scared out of its
wits, makes a flying leap past the girls, out the nearest window, and
disappears. Annie May says she doesn’t believe it was a cat at all. She
says it must have been something with an unquiet spirit.”

“Probably poor Crullers had the unquiet spirit when she saw it dash
out,” Sue said. “But it really was funny, Polly. The dormitory girls
told us about it. Crullers had the milk under her bed, and all at once
the cat started to yowl awfully. Then Miss Murray heard it.”

[Illustration: Stony Smiled a Broad Welcome]

“Her room’s right over the dormitory in that wing,” Ted put in, eagerly.

“Too bad,” Polly said, judicially, “but it’s Crullers all over. What did
Miss Calvert do?”

“Paroled her on good behavior for a week, to report nightly to Miss
Murray.”

“And she’s probably forgotten all about her parole, and broken it. I’ll
find out when I take up the offering of shortcake to-night. Only I wish
it were one of the regular teachers, because I don’t know Miss Murray
very well.”

“Don’t you like our Bonnie Jean, Polly?” inquired Ted, happily. “She
hasn’t distinction, of course—”

“Distinction! Ted Moore,” cried Sue, indignantly. “She hasn’t as much
distinction as Buttercup, the Hall tabby. I don’t know why it is, but
she never seems friendly to us girls. She’s so abrupt.”

Here the girls broke in with laughter at Sue, for surely if anyone at
the Hall could be dubbed abrupt, it was Sue herself, who always thought
out loud, and never knew by any chance what she was going to say next.

“Well, I don’t care if you do laugh at me,” Sue declared. “It’s true.
She comes from the far West, and I don’t see how she ever got into
Calvert Hall as teacher.”

“I’ll ask her to-night, Sue,” promised Polly, gayly.

“But, really and truly, Polly, how did she? Isn’t she unresponsive and
ordinary looking? I’ve tried to talk to her ever so many times, and all
she says is, ‘Perhaps,’ or ‘I should judge so.’ I don’t think she has
any imagination at all.”

Sue pronounced sentence in a very grieved tone of voice, but the girls
only laughed at her.

“Miss Murray is in earnest, though,” Ruth said, finally. “She has always
seemed strange to us girls, but maybe we’ve seemed so to her. She surely
is in earnest, girls, and Miss Calvert says that’s the very first
quality a teacher needs. Maybe if we knew her better, we’d like her.”

“Eat your shortcake, children, and stop criticizing your elders,” Polly
ordered. “This meeting is not called to discuss Miss Murray or Crullers
either. This is the first call for action on the part of the vacation
club.”

“Isn’t it pretty early even to think of vacation, Polly?” asked Isabel,
with a sigh. “It’s weeks and weeks ahead of us.”

“Don’t groan, good pilgrim, over the hills ahead. They lead to glory,”
chanted Polly. “Indeed, it isn’t too early; not if we expect to
accomplish anything worth while. Haven’t we planned for it ever since
last December, when we gave the first outing bazaar? How much did we
glean that time, Ruth?”

“Thirty-four dollars and seventy-two cents,” replied the treasurer,
proudly.

“Do you know, Polly,” interrupted Sue, “I think that was a dandy idea;
to take the spoils of one vacation, and make them help out on the coming
one. We sold off all the frames of seaweed Isabel made, at twenty-five
cents each, remember, and the shell curtains went at five dollars each.
That’s what swelled the fund.”

“They were not too high,” Isabel said, with a sigh of recollection. “It
took pecks and pecks of those pink shells to make the curtains. Kate and
I worked on them for two months at odd times.”

“And the tableaux helped out besides. Wasn’t Crullers funny?”

“Forget the past,” Polly ordered. “The future is bobbing right up under
our noses, and says ‘attend to me.’ We gave four entertainments—”

“I don’t think they were entertainments, Polly, do you? I think they
were fantastic gatherings,” interposed Isabel in her precise way. “The
Friendship Fair, where we sold everything that friends could possibly
think of—”

“You’re exaggerating, Isabel,” Ruth put in, stolidly. “We just sold airy
trifles that people buy to show other people they are remembering them.”

“Same thing,” pronounced Polly. “Have some more shortcake, children, and
don’t waste time arguing.”

“The long and the short of it all is this,” said Ruth, who was treasurer
of the outing club, and could therefore speak with authority. “Out of
the monthly entertainments, fairs, and other things that we have given
through the winter, we have cleared about $124.00. Of course Kate Julian
helped out too, before she went home, and all the mothers helped, and
Polly’s grandfather, but I think we’ve done mighty well.”

“It won’t fill the toe of the stocking when it comes to paying for a
real vacation for us girls, Ruth,” Polly returned. “It’s April now, and
we must make up our minds where we wish to go, and then work for it with
all our might.”

“Now then, how’s the board of lady managers to-day?” demanded a deep
voice outside the arbor, and the gray head of the Admiral looked in at
them smilingly.

“Oh, grandfather, dear—” exclaimed Polly, holding up a slice temptingly
on a plate, “Shortcake?”

“No, Polly, don’t coax me. Not a bite to eat. I’ve just been riding
along the river. And girls, that reminds me.” The Admiral sank into one
of the deep-seated garden chairs, and held up his finger at them all
mysteriously. “I have seen her again.”

“The same girl?” asked Polly eagerly, bending forward and even
forgetting the shortcake.

“The same one. I never saw a girl ride so splendidly in all my life. She
is the admiration of every one along the river road. I heard Senator
Yates telling somebody about her at dinner last evening, and bless my
heart, she isn’t any larger than Isabel here. Yet, she must be older,
but she does not appear so mounted. I can always rely on meeting her
Friday afternoons about this hour. Never have I seen her on the street,
mind—but ride! Polly, if you could sit a horse like that, and take the
road as she does, I’d—why, I don’t know what I would do as a reward of
merit.”

Polly leaned back, puzzled, and thinking hard.

“I don’t see who it can be, girls. Grandfather says he sees her every
Friday afternoon, and has for weeks this spring, and I don’t know her at
all. Maybe it is a guest at one of the houses outside of Queen’s Ferry.”

“Maybe it’s the ghost of the Lady Kathleen,” Ruth suggested gravely.
“Don’t you remember her?

“Along the dark highway, at night there is seen,
The ghost of a horse and its rider, Kathleen.
And when some stray traveler calls out a hail,
Upon the bleak nightwind is borne back a wail.”

“I think you made that up, Ruth,” Polly cried, merrily. “Is the Lady
Kathleen blonde or brunette, grandfather dear?”

“I should say she was rather sorrel,” remarked the Admiral judicially.
“But I strongly advise this board of lady managers to discover her
identity, and gather her into your circle. I can usually tell a
thoroughbred, can’t I, Polly?”

“What color are her eyes, Admiral Page?” asked Isabel.

“Bless my heart, child, I did not get near enough for that. But if you
will watch the river road about five any Friday afternoon, you will find
her. Now, I must go and dress for dinner.”

“How can we find out who she is?” asked Isabel, when the Admiral left
them for his late stroll by the river. “I don’t know anybody around
Queen’s Landing that looks like that.”

“We’ll ask Miss Calvert on Monday,” Ruth declared. “She knows everybody
who is anybody in this vicinity, and their pedigree back to the days
when the first English ship sailed into Jamestown harbor. We must be
going, Polly, and your shortcake was dandy. Next Friday it is my treat,
girls. Don’t forget.”

Polly walked with them to the tall green hedge that separated Glenwood
from the road, and waved good-bye. Then she hurried back to the arbor,
and called Stoney up from the garden.

“I want the little green basket, Stoney, and a nice fresh pitcher of
whipped cream, and then you and I will go for a walk up to the Hall.”

Aunty Welcome’s turbaned head appeared at the side door as the two
started away.

“Whar’ you-all gwine to, Mis’ Polly chile?”

“Just up to the Hall, Aunty dear. I won’t be late for dinner, truly. And
I’m taking some of your lovely shortcake to Crullers.”

Aunty smiled and shook her head.

“Nevah did see sech a chile for squiggling out of trouble. Yo’ jes’
think yo’ done cotched her safe and sound, and if she ain’t a-dancin’
away, and always leavin’ yo’ feelin’ so good, too. Stoney, you hold that
basket steady, boy.”

Polly walked on up the broad, beautiful old street, Stoney in the rear.
She had stopped to gather a great bouquet of lilac blossoms, white and
purple. Those were for Miss Calvert, and when she reached the Hall, she
left Stoney to carry them out into the fragrant old garden, while she
went upstairs with her offering for Crullers the unfortunate. Polly was
first and last a believer in diplomacy. As the Admiral was fond of
remarking, she had inherited that trait from him.

There were two dormitories at Calvert Hall, one where the younger girls
slept, the other for the Seniors. But even the dormitories had
distinctive features. Each girl had her own cot, chair, washstand, and
chiffonier. Around each individual corner were horizontal poles, from
which hung long curtains that could be swung back, or enclosed, as the
occupant saw fit. This gave privacy to each girl, and yet they were all
in the same room.

The curtains hung soberly all about Crullers’ nook this day, just like a
yellow and white catafalque. It was too early for the other girls to
come upstairs, yet. Polly went softly to the curtains, and called
gently.

“Crullers!”

There was no response.

“Crullers, I have brought you some shortcake.”

“I’ll be right out, Polly, dear,” called back Crullers, with a hasty
change of heart. “Or, no, you may come in. I’m not even allowed to get
out of bed.”

Polly pushed back the curtains, and there was Crullers, her hair braided
in two long pigtails, one over each shoulder, undressed, with her pink
kimono over her nightgown, and her face full of utter misery.

“You look just like somebody in history, and I can’t think who it is,”
laughed Polly. “Somebody who sat up in bed at the last minute, and told
everybody just what she thought of them before she died. Was it
Catherine de Medici, or Queen Katherine?”

“Oh, Polly, don’t, please. Give me the shortcake quick. My heart is
broken.”

“And your poor ‘tummy’ is all empty.” Polly handed her the basket, and
sat down beside her. “Half of it is for Miss Murray.”

“Miss Murray!” Crullers pushed the cake from her indignantly. “Then I
won’t eat a bit of it, Polly Page. How could you?”

Crullers turned right over, and buried her face in the pillow, sobbing,
while the green basket barely escaped being capsized.

“How could I what?” asked Polly in astonishment. “Don’t you like Bonnie
Jean?”

Then she stopped short, because, all at once, down at the far end of the
dormitory, she saw Miss Murray, the teacher from out West, coming
towards them with her quick, easy walk, and she was in riding habit.

“How are you, Polly?” she called, pleasantly. “Isn’t it a gem of a day?”

Polly looked at Crullers, doubled up beneath the blankets, and rose
determinedly. But she left the shortcake in the basket within easy
reach. If anything could take away Crullers’ trouble, it would be that.

“Could I talk with—you, Miss Murray please?” she asked. “I came
expressly to see you.”

“Won’t it keep until Monday, Polly?” smiled back Jean, unpinning her
black sailor hat, and letting down her long skirt. “I’ve only half an
hour to dress for dinner. You know on Fridays I run away after the girls
are through. This is my one weekly holiday.”

Polly leaned forward, looking up at the tall, slender figure in
unconcealed admiration. Dearly did Polly love blow-away hair, as she
would have called it. Curly, fluffy masses of blonde hair just verging
on red, swept back from Jean’s low, broad forehead. Her face was rather
broad, and her mouth was broad too, but so was her smile, and her teeth
were even and white as new corn. There was a fine sprinkling of freckles
over her nose. Her eyes were blue, not gray, nor hazel, but blue as
forget-me-nots, and they always looked straight at you without blinking.

“I don’t want to bother you,” Polly said doubtfully. “It’s only about
Crullers,—I mean Jane Daphne Adams. You know we girls always call her
Crullers.”

“Jane Daphne is on my mind too, Polly,” Miss Murray rejoined. “Come up
to my room, Polly, and we’ll talk it over.”

As they left the dormitory, Crullers’ tousled head and red moist face
appeared from beneath the quilt, and she reached for the green basket
and its contents with a sigh. She knew she was in the wrong, and that
even Polly would not uphold her, when she heard the truth. And it
troubled her, for Polly’s opinion was her court of last appeal in all
things at Calvert Hall.

Ever since she had come there as a pupil the previous year, she had been
under Polly’s wing, for none of the other girls could put up with her
slow ways and blunders. And yet, as she sat up in the bed now, eating
the shortcake with sad and deliberate relish, and dropping salt tears on
the whipped cream, she could not see why everybody should have “jumped
on” her just because she had rescued a stray cat, and hidden it in the
dormitory closet. It was a live cat. She had fully intended feeding it.
And it wasn’t her fault that the lock had snapped. She had been told to
appear for sentence in Miss Calvert’s study the following morning, and
there she had faced both the principal and Miss Murray. The latter was
in charge of the dormitory Tuesdays and Fridays, and it was on a Tuesday
night the cat had been found.

“Jane Daphne Adams,” Miss Calvert had said, in her stateliest manner,
“you will bring my gray hair in sorrow to the grave. Ever since you came
to the Hall, there has been trouble.”

“I didn’t mean to, Miss Calvert,” Crullers had said, helplessly.

“That is the only excuse you ever make for anything you do, Jane,”
returned Miss Calvert with dignity. “You are totally irresponsible. I
shall have to put you on parole for a week, and you are not to leave the
grounds under any pretext whatever. Miss Murray will report to me
nightly on your good behavior.”

After that it had seemed to Crullers as though she had a prison guard
mounted over her. She was in disgrace. All the girls knew of it. It was
tacitly understood at the Hall that no pupil was to associate with
another pupil on parole. They were sent to Coventry and lived a life
apart. The girls dreaded it more than any other form of punishment, and
Crullers had dared to break her parole. That was the worst of it. Dearly
did Crullers love pickled limes and doughnuts as a combination lunch,
and there was one little cozy shop in Queen’s Landing where the best of
both were found. So Crullers had slipped out the side gate of the
kitchen garden, and had tried to get to the shop and back at noon. And
she had been caught red-handed, with the warm doughnuts in one bag, and
the pickled limes leaking out of another.

Polly heard all about it now. She followed Miss Murray out of the
dormitory, and up to the third floor of the old square mansion. On each
side of it, a wing stretched out. The west wing that overlooked the
river, was the prettier, and the large room on its third floor had been
given up to the young teacher from the West. Compared with the spacious
rooms below, the ceiling seemed rather low, and the windows opened
outward, lattice like. As they came in, the breeze from the river was
blowing back the short, frilly muslin curtains.

“Here we are, Polly,” said Miss Murray, happily, laying aside her hat,
and smiling at her guest. “This is the nearest approach to home that I
have here. Sit down while I change my dress for dinner, and we will talk
about poor, careless Jane Daphne. This room used to be Diantha Calvert’s
nursery when she was a little girl—did you know that? She used to tell
me all about it, and I always hoped that some day I might see it, but I
never thought I should live in it myself.”

Polly turned quickly from the window, where she had been admiring the
wide-spread view.

“Why, Miss Murray, I didn’t know that you knew Miss Diantha,” she cried,
“I didn’t even know that she was still alive. You know Miss Calvert
never talks to us girls about her at all. We always wondered if there
was a mystery about her. Do you know?”

For a minute or two there was silence in the quiet old room. Jean Murray
drew the shell pins from her hair deliberately, and shook out its thick,
curly waves. Then she went to the wardrobe, and took out her dinner
dress before she answered. And Polly noticed that this was the simplest
dinner gown she had ever seen. In fact, to Polly’s practiced eye, it was
made of cream cotton voile, with a yoke of baby Irish crochet lace, and
the same around the short sleeves. That was all. Yet when Jean slipped
it on, and puffed up her hair, with a wide bank of black velvet tied
about its reddish gold waves, and a narrow band of black about her
girlish throat, Polly thought that she looked every inch a thoroughbred
as the Admiral had declared.

“Miss Diantha lives on the next ranch to ours out home,” Jean said
finally, and there was a curious note of rebellious contradiction in her
voice, as if she were offering apologies against her will for Diantha
Calvert. “She is my mother’s dearest friend, and we all love her more
than I can say.”

“But why doesn’t she ever come back home to Queen’s Landing?” asked
Polly wonderingly. “Grandfather has told us what a dear girl she was
years ago, and how she was one of the belles here and up at Washington
in those days. But that must be thirty years ago.”

“It surely was, and do you realize how old that makes her now? She is
fifty her next birthday, I know, and she lives at the Alameda Ranch,
about seven miles from us.”

“She does!” Polly’s brown eyes opened wide in amazement. “What’s her
name, Miss Murray? What will the girls say?”

“Her name is Mrs. Alexander MacDowell, but we call her Mrs. Sandy,” and
as Jean said it, even a casual observer could have told from the little
tender smile on her lips, and the light in her eyes, what one member, at
least, of the Murray outfit thought of Mrs. Sandy.

Polly pushed back her hair from her forehead quickly, as she always did
when she was a little bit excited or surprised, and sat down on the
window seat.

“Oh, dear, I came expressly to talk about Crullers, Miss Murray, and now
I’ve found out about Miss Diantha. And it’s so interesting, I don’t know
which to talk of first—and it’s getting late, and Aunty Welcome said I
must hurry home.”

Jean laughed.

“Well, you are in a tangle, aren’t you?” she said. “I can tell you of
Jane Daphne in a minute, but it would take days and days to make you
understand our Mrs. Sandy. That is what we all call her out home.”

“Where is your home, please, Miss Murray? I don’t believe I ever heard
you say.”

“I don’t believe that any of you girls ever asked, did you?” Jean’s blue
eyes looked quizzically at Polly. Then she, too, sat down on the window
seat, and looked out towards the West, where the sun was reddening the
distant hills, and her face caught some of its radiance, as she went on,
quietly. “My home is yonder, Polly, west of the hills. It is away, ’way
out West in Wyoming, up in the northeastern corner, under the shoulder
of Bear Lodge.”

“Is there a large family?” asked Polly, wistfully. “I love lots and lots
of children in a family.”

“We think it is large. Let’s count up. There’s mother and father, first
of all. Then I am the eldest, and I am twenty-eight. Neil is next to me.
He is taking a post-graduate course at the State University. Then come
Archie and Don. Arch is in his Soph year, and Don is only sixteen, so he
helps father on the ranch, and goes to school winters. Then Margaret is
the baby. She is twelve, and we call her Peggie. That is all of the real
family, but besides there is old Sally Lost Moon, a half-breed Shoshone
woman that mother took in one winter, and she has stayed ever since.
Then father has about five men who work for him. They are mostly out on
the range with the cattle. That is all the humans we have, as Sally
would say. But there are horses, and dogs, and Prometheus, Don’s pet
bear—”

“A real live one?”

“Yes, indeed, he is very much alive. I guess you would think so if you
lived there. He is only a youngster now, but so full of mischief, you
never can tell where it will crop out next. We have called him
‘Prometheus Unbound’ ever since the Sunday when the Missionary Bishop
came to the ranch to dinner, and to hold service. That bear got loose
somehow, Polly, and found his way into the cook house, and ate up
everything in sight, and when Sally and mother went to set the table for
dinner, you should have seen their faces!” Jean stopped and looked at
her watch. “Child of mortality, as Miss Calvert would say,” she cried,
“do you know the time of day? It’s after six now. Don’t ask me another
question about home or Mrs. Sandy. I must hurry down to dinner, or I’ll
be late for grace, and Miss Calvert never forgives that.”

“May I come and hear some more after school Monday?” asked Polly, as she
followed the figure in white downstairs.

“Why, of course you may, and I shall be ever so glad to have you, Polly.
Sometimes, this winter, I’ve wondered whether you girls really liked me
or not.”

“We’ll like you better if you give us a chance to get acquainted,” said
Polly, with her merry frankness. “I think the ranch is the most
interesting place I’ve heard about in a long time. Oh, I forgot all
about Crullers, Miss Murray.” She stopped short outside the dormitory
door. “What did she do this time, please?”

“Broke her parole. She must stay in bed until to-morrow as a punishment.
Just at noon to-day, she was found climbing out of the back hall window
to the porch roof, and she dropped down to the other side of the garden
wall, and made for the side street. Oh, she confessed. It was for
pickled limes and doughnuts. Good-bye, Polly.” She went down the
staircase, and turned to wave her hand at the bottom. And all at once an
idea occurred to Polly.

“Couldn’t you come down to Glenwood to-morrow, and have dinner with
grandfather and me, Miss Murray?” she asked eagerly. “We’d love to have
you.”

“Would you, truly?” Jean paused, and smiled back at her. “Then I shall
be glad to come. And I will have a chance to tell you more about the
ranch, and Mrs. Sandy, bless her.” She turned, and made a low curtsy
before the two girls in the oil painting, before she hurried down the
wide old hall to the dining-room.

Polly went on out into the front garden where Stoney waited for her. He
was half asleep on the grass by the gates, but roused up, and trudged
after her down the broad, shady street towards Glenwood. Polly could
hardly wait to reach home, and tell the Admiral that she thought his
“thoroughbred” was Jean Murray.

The dinner hour was always a ceremonial period, partly because Aunty
Welcome insisted on adhering to tradition in this regard, partly because
both Polly and the Admiral enjoyed this time most of all the day.

There were long, delicate sprays of flowering almond in tall, slender
vases at each end of the dining table, the only bright spot of color in
the quiet, high ceiled old room.

“Am I late, grandfather dear?” Polly asked contritely, pausing a moment
at the open doors. There was no reply, so she crossed the hall to the
study, and tapped gently.

“Come in, child, come in,” called the Admiral’s deep, cheery voice, and
she obeyed. There was some one in the room besides the Admiral. At first
she could not tell who it was, but when the person put out his hand, and
said, “Now, Miss Polly, have you forgotten your ‘smuggler’ so soon?” all
at once, Polly remembered.

“Oh, it’s Doctor Smith.”

It was indeed, the genial, merry doctor who had been the girls’ neighbor
at Lost Island on their vacation trip of the previous year. As Polly
laid her hand in his, she remembered all the fun of that summer, how the
doctor had lived alone at “Smugglers’ Cove,” and the girls had
discovered him, and thought him a pirate or a smuggler. How they had
gone to the Orienta Club’s reception, and had found that their smuggler
was no less a personage than Doctor Penrhyn Smith, the great naturalist
from Washington, D. C.

“Grown a trifle taller, Admiral, that is the only change. Where are you
to spend the summer this year, Commodore Polly?”

“Not as a Commodore,” Polly replied, shaking her head, and sitting down
on the broad arm of the Admiral’s chair. “We haven’t really decided yet,
but we want to do something different from last year.”

“The Doctor is on the same trail,” said the Admiral. “Why can’t you be
content, like I am, to let the summers drift along like the blossoms the
wind is blowing off those fruit trees yonder?”

“Because we are children,” returned the Doctor promptly, quite as though
his fifty-seven years were fifteen. “Last year I hunted a certain kind
of polypus, remember, Polly? This year, I am seriously thinking of
skipping away to Wyoming on a still hunt after a dinosaurus.”

“Oh, Doctor,” cried Polly, eagerly. “Are you? Those are the lizards that
were running around before the Flood, aren’t they? And they’re terribly
long, hundreds and hundreds—”

“Now, Polly,” warned the Admiral.

“Of inches,” finished Polly, mischievously. “Ruth was telling us about
them. Ruth reads all that kind of stuff, you know. She’s walked right
through a whale—I mean through the skeleton. She told us of some museum
of natural history where there is a whale hanging in mid air, and a nice
little gang plank is built through him so you trot across and feel like
Jonah.”

“Preposterous, Polly!” laughed the Doctor.

“Truly,” Polly insisted earnestly. “I think it was at Charleston. Ruth’s
been all around seeing interesting things, and she always remembers the
most interesting of all to tell us girls.”

“I should say she did,” said the Doctor, gravely. “Polly, that whale
story shall be preserved, and passed down to posterity. Now, I am really
going up to Wyoming, and I sincerely believe that I shall tap the
foothills and the buttes, and discover the long-buried remains of a
dinosaurus, yet I feel that Ruth has gone me one better as a
naturalist.”

“Wyoming,” repeated Polly, pushing her hair up from her forehead.
“Grandfather dear, there’s another sign-post.”

“What do you mean, child?”

“Why, don’t you know, when you are undecided about something, if you
watch, you will find sign-posts pointing the right way to go.” Polly’s
brown eyes sparkled with eagerness, as she explained one of her pet
ideas. “We want a good vacation this year, and a different kind of a
one, and this is the second sign-post that has said Wyoming.”

“What was the first?”

“Jean Murray, ranch girl, thoroughbred, Wyoming.” Polly counted off the
different heads on her finger-tips. “She is one of the Freshman teachers
at Calvert Hall, grandfather dear, and she’s coming to dinner to-morrow,
and we’ve got a wonderful surprise for you, I think.”

“Sign-posts?”

“Maybe.” Polly looked over at the doctor, and suddenly began to laugh.
“Oh, I do believe—I’m almost sure—that even the Doctor is a sign-post
pointing the way to Wyoming.”

“I am thankful it was not Kamchatka, for I verily think you would have
had a try for it, Polly.” The Admiral rose, one hand on Polly’s young
shoulder, and they went in to dinner, Aunty Welcome bowing and smiling
in the wide hall outside the door as though she were trying to live up
to her name.

And through the dinner, Polly listened with deepest interest to the
conversation between her grandfather and the doctor, all about the
recent researches throughout the Yellowstone valley, and following the
glacial drift, and about dinosauri and other prehistoric animals until
Wyoming seemed a veritable land of hidden enchantment. If it could be
managed, then and there Polly made up her mind, the vacation club should
have its summer outing in that far-off land of wonders.

On Saturday mornings, Polly had two important duties to perform, dusting
the Admiral’s study and her own room. Then came an hour’s practice on
the piano, and after that she was free to walk around the garden and
consult Uncle Peter.

As far back as Polly could remember, Uncle Peter had been as much a part
of the garden at Glenwood as the old elms that bordered the garden, and
she had always considered him a remarkable authority on all subjects. In
fact Uncle Peter justified her opinion of him.

He was not tall and stately like Aunty Welcome, but a little,
stoop-shouldered old man, with a face like a wrinkled russet apple, and
it wore a perpetual smile. Polly used to believe sincerely, when she was
a little girl, that when Uncle Peter walked along the garden paths, all
the flowers turned their heads and bowed to him deferentially.

To-day, as she watched him transplanting seedlings along the borders,
she asked thoughtfully:

“Uncle Peter, do you know what sort of flowers grow out in Wyoming?”

“Whar’s dat, Mis’ Polly?” asked Uncle Peter, gently. “I don’t jest
recollect any sech locality.”

“It’s ’way out west, and kind of northwest, too, up next to the two
Dakotas.”

“Oh, suttinly, suttinly. I s’pose geraniums mought grow dar. Dey’ll
mostly take a holt any ole place. Dey’ll grow upside downside, geraniums
will. Maybe pansies grow dar, too, and phloxes and most any no-account
plant dat ain’t perticklar.”

“Do you think so?” Polly pondered. Her only impression of Wyoming was a
place filled with mountain ranges, and vast wastes of sage brush, and
most of all, a place that was wholly wild—wild flowers, wild animals.
And yet, come to think of it, Jean Murray did not act like a ranch girl
who had run wild. Polly veered to a new tack.

“Did you ever see Miss Diantha Calvert, Uncle Peter?”

“I suttinly did.” Uncle Peter always used his own thumb to make nests in
the soft earth for his baby seedlings, and the thumb went in a bit more
forcibly as he spoke. “She’s stood and watched me work in dis yere very
garden, when she wasn’t much taller’n you be, Mis’ Polly, and I was a
lil’ shaver like Stoney.”

“You’ve always lived here at Glenwood, haven’t you, Uncle Peter?” asked
Polly wonderingly. “Years, and years, and years.”

“And I don’ want to live in no better place ’ceptin’ Paradise, possibly
Paradise,” smiled back the old man, happily. “I was born down yonder in
de ole quarters, yo’ know. We don’ use ’em no more nowadays, ’ceptin’
for storehouses. Miss Diantha, she’d come visitin’ with her sister, and
her lady mother. Dey was quality, now I’m tellin’ you. And Miss Di, she
allers liked de time when de lilies come troopin’ along, de big lilies,
gold with ruby hearts.”

“Did she know my own mother?” Polly asked the question slowly, and
softly, as she always spoke of the young mother whom she had never seen,
who had died when she was only a few days old.

“Land, no, chile. She knew yo’ grandma. Mis’ Car’line. Dat’s de
Admiral’s lady. Why, your own daddy warn’t no more’n born. What you all
askin’ questions for? Jes’ like a darby bird.”

Polly forgot to ask what a darby bird was, in her eagerness to get at
the truth of this matter about Miss Diantha.

“Why, I heard only last night, that she was married, and lived ’way out
west in Wyoming, and I wondered how it had happened.”

“Like enough, like enough,” Uncle Peter rejoined placidly. “When folks
move away from Virginny, after being blessed enough to be born hyar,
dey’s liable to have all sorts of misconveniences happen to ’em.”

“Yes, sir,” Polly said meekly. Not for worlds would she have directly
contradicted Uncle Peter. Next to the Admiral and Aunty Welcome, he
stood in authority. On her way back to the house she gathered flowers to
decorate the broad old hall, great clusters of purple and white lilac
that filled the air with fragrance. As she was arranging them in the
low, plump jardinières in the hall, she thought of that other girl,
years and years ago, who had loved to visit beautiful Glenwood when the
lilies were in bloom. She wondered whether Mrs. “Sandy” of the Alameda
Ranch, ever longed to see some of these same golden lilies with the ruby
hearts, just to make her think of dear old Queen’s Ferry. And most of
all, perhaps, she wondered how it had all happened, why Diantha had ever
married, why she had gone to live so far west, and why Miss Calvert
never mentioned her name, yet loved her memory dearly.

It was about five that afternoon when Miss Murray arrived.

“Am I too early, Polly?” she asked, as Polly ran to greet her. “It is
only five, but you know you said to come early.”

“Oh, and I’m so glad that you did, Miss Murray,” cried Polly.
“Grandfather has gone up to the Capitol to meet Senator Yates this
afternoon, and is going out home with him to Fair Oaks, so I am all
alone. We’ll go out in the garden, and talk.”

“This is my first visit anywhere since I came east,” Jean remarked, as
she laid aside her hat and coat, “so you can guess how much I enjoy it.”

“Why is it your first?” Polly had a natural gift for hitting the main
point on the head.

“Because no one has asked me, I think.” Jean’s mouth was full of
expression. It had a way of closing, and then smiling in the most
knowing sort of way, Polly thought, as she watched it now. Somehow, it
made her feel nonplussed, but she went ahead frankly.

“Maybe no one dared to. I know I never did. You always act—so—oh, I
hardly know how to say it. As if you didn’t care really whether anybody
liked you or not, as if you were so sure of yourself, and so well
acquainted with yourself, don’t you understand, Miss Murray, that you
did not need other people for company.”

“Ah, but I do need them, and very badly, too, sometimes,” protested
Jean, slipping her arm around Polly’s waist, as they went down the
broad, old-fashioned hall to the open doors at the back. “I have been
more lonely since I came east than I dare to confess. You may be sure,
though, I never wrote home that I was. We are Scotch, Polly, and you
warm-hearted Southerners will never know all that that means. When
anything is in your heart, it bubbles out like a spring, doesn’t it,
sorrow or happiness? But when we are happiest or saddest, well, we just
can’t say anything. It is all here, ’way down deep in our hearts, but we
can’t seem to lift it out, and exhibit it. So you see, girlie, while I
may have seemed independent and self-sufficient all winter long, I was
really eating my heart out for very lonesomeness. Can you understand?”

Polly nodded sympathetically. She always could understand the other
person’s point of view.

“That is why the girls never became really acquainted with you, then. I
tried to. You see, I always liked you, Miss Murray, and when I like
anybody without trying to like them—when it just happens all by itself,
I know it will last.”

Jean leaned back her head, and laughed merrily.

“Polly, you are a joy. You think aloud, don’t you? And what a dear,
quaint old garden. I love these winding paths, and arbors, but how oddly
some of the flowers have come up, how unexpectedly, I mean.” She stopped
before a clump of tall flag lilies, unfolding purple and golden banners
to the soft air.

“Yes, I know,” Polly replied, happily. “I planted those bulbs there last
fall. That turn of the path seemed sort of bare all through the summer,
so I remembered it, and when fall came, I tucked some bulbs in there.
I’ve always planted things where I’ve wanted to out here. At first Uncle
Peter—that’s our gardener—didn’t like it, but as soon as he saw the
effect, he said that I ‘suttinly had good intentions.’ I like to take a
lot of seed in my sweater pockets in the early spring, and wherever I
find a good place, just plant some. It’s so interesting and surprising,
too, because I never know exactly what it is I’ve planted till they
start to come up.”

“It must be fun to watch for the surprises.”

“Oh, indeed it is. Why, once,” Polly’s eyes were brimful of mischief at
the sudden memory, “once I put a bulb down in that corner by the hedge,
and watched the next spring to see what it would be. It came up all
right, with green spikes, but it never bloomed at all. And it grew and
grew so tall. I called it the Mystery Lily. At last, one day last fall,
it did bloom. Right at the very top of the single stalk was a cluster of
queer, starry flowers, all bunched together. Uncle Peter didn’t know
what it was, and grandfather came out to take a look at it, and what do
you suppose it was, Miss Murray? Just a plain, every-day onion gone to
seed.”

“Polly, Polly,” exclaimed Jean, shaking her head, “I shall always think
of you after this, like Millet’s Sower, with a peck of mixed seed, going
around planting seed as the wind does.”

Someway, she began to feel happier and more relaxed than she had since
her coming to Queen’s Ferry. The long winter’s work at the Hall had been
very confining, and she was not used to that. Out here, in Polly’s
garden, all her nature-loving self responded to the growing things about
her, and most of all, to the growing girl, whose soul and personality
were unfolding, too, in her springtime of youth, with all the unknown
possibilities and promises of her random seed.

“I would love to see you out on the range, Polly,” she continued. “They
say, you know, that Johnny Appleseed went through the wilderness
planting apple trees back in colonial times, and in California to-day,
up at ‘The Heights’ above San Francisco, the dear old poet of the
Sierras plants roses through the cañons.”

“Does he?” Polly thought for a minute. “I think that is splendid. I
shall tell Ruth about it. You know how old-fashioned and motherly she
is, Miss Murray. Sometimes, I almost think she is my dearest friend,
although I like the other girls, too. Ruth says that my way of planting
is an allegory. She says we all of us sow kind deeds and happy thoughts
broadcast, and trust to the winds that blow, and the rains that fall,
and the sun that is sure to shine sometime, to make them take roots and
grow, even in strange hearts. Let’s sit on this stone seat, and talk
about the ranch. I wish that our outing club had a chance to go to some
place like that.”

“Why not make the chance?” Jean reached out her hand to the bush of
flowering quince beside the seat. The branches were heavy with the rich,
red blossoms. “I used to talk about waiting for chances, too, long ago,
until mother taught me to make my own chances. You see, Polly, it is
different with us at the ranch. Nearly all of you girls at Calvert do
not have to fret or care about the future. You have beautiful old homes
like this—”

“Not Ruth, Miss Murray,” interrupted Polly, soberly. “Her father’s dead,
and she is studying, to support her invalid mother—didn’t you know that?
I think she’s so strong and brave. She says she loves to even think that
she is able to. And beautiful homes, even like Glenwood, can’t make up
to a girl for mothers and fathers. I haven’t any, myself, you know.”

The two looked at each other with new-born understanding, and Jean’s
strong, freckled hand was laid over Polly’s, as it rested on the bench
beside her.

“I know, dear. But it usually makes a girl more self-reliant and helpful
to others, if she does have to think of her own future, and to lend a
helping hand towards feathering the home-nest. That is what we three
older children have done, and it binds us in a closer tie of love, each
helping the rest to get along as soon as he himself can fly alone, so to
speak.”

“Helping how?”

“Well, for instance, I am the eldest at home. Father and mother worked
hard to push me through school, and I had two years at the University
besides, but had to leave to help. I began to teach, then, and my
earnings helped launch the boys on their schooling. Don and Peggie come
last of all, but they will have their turn the same as the rest. Don’t
you see?”

Polly opened her eyes wider, and nodded her head. She did see, a little
bit clearer. Life and happiness had been made so easy for her that she
hardly ever thought how hard a path to travel it might be for the boy or
girl who had no home like Glenwood, and no grandfather like the Admiral.
Somehow, this quiet chat by the river bank, in the soft glow of the late
April afternoon, brought new conceptions to her mind, and new vistas of
life. Love that was strong enough to make willing sacrifices for those
it loved even though it involved hardship and self-denial, was quite new
to her.

“I’d love to know them all at your ranch,” she said, finally.

Just here the Admiral came pacing along the path towards them, fresh
from his ride over to Senator Yates’ place. Whenever he missed Polly, he
always knew where to find her, but this time, he stared thoughtfully at
the young woman with her.

“God bless my heart and soul, Polly,” he exclaimed, “if you haven’t
captured my thoroughbred! Present me, Polly, present me.”

Polly did so, happily, and the old gentleman bowed low over Jean’s hand
with all the old-time courtly grace that he was famous for.

“My dear child, you must pardon an old chap’s enthusiasm,” he said, “but
you certainly ride a horse more inspiringly than any girl I ever saw. It
is a joy to watch you. I have reined up several times to look after you
as you took the river road at a dead gallop—and Polly, she sits her
saddle like an Indian. None of this modern rising and falling, if you
please. Where did you learn, Miss Murray, if I may ask?”

Jean laughed, and blushed. Praise was new to her.

“I don’t remember learning to ride, Admiral Page,” she said, doubtfully.
“I’m a ranch girl, and we learn to sit in a saddle almost before we can
walk.”

The Admiral regarded her admiringly, stroking his thin gray imperial
slowly.

“You must teach my Polly. And mind, while you remain here at Queen’s
Ferry, the gates of Glenwood stand wide to you as guest of honor—a girl
who can ride like that.”

Jean could hardly reply, except to smile at him. During the long winter
of close work, she had made no new friends, and had not come in contact
with Southern hospitality. Now, as she walked back through the lovely
old-fashioned garden, between Polly and the stately old gentleman, she
began to feel the charm of it stealing over her. It seemed so strange,
though, that she, Jean Murray of the Crossbar ranch, should be guest of
honor at Glenwood. She lifted her chin a little bit higher than usual,
not from pride, for there was precious little of personal vanity in her
make-up, but just at the thought of what her mother and the boys and
Peggie would say if they only knew.

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