JOHN’S MISSION

It was the first of August, and as yet John Hadley had received no
answer to the letter he had written some time ago to Marjorie. He
watched anxiously for a letter from her, which would reassure him as
the continuation of their friendship. But it did not come.

He mentioned the fact to Dorothy Snyder when he next saw her at Cape
May. She had advised him to write to Marjorie, and had attributed the
girl’s silence to his failure to start the correspondence again; now
he was proving that she was wrong. Evidently Marjorie did not care
anything about him after all.

“She probably has a good many interests,” said Dorothy, consolingly.

“She always has a lot of interests,” he admitted, grudgingly. “And
probably they’re in the form of young men at the ranch now!”

“Not necessarily,” said Dorothy. “Didn’t you say she is a Girl Scout?
Well, they always have lots to do. And if she is thinking about
graduating, and going to college–”

“She did graduate from Miss Allen’s Boarding School this summer,”
interrupted John. “And I believe she is planning to go to college in
the Fall.”

“Miss Allen’s Boarding School!” repeated Dorothy, almost to herself.
“Where have I heard of that school before?”

“You probably knew somebody who went there,” suggested John, glancing
critically at the girl. She seemed exactly the type of young woman that
one usually found at Miss Allen’s.

“Yes, yes, perhaps,” she replied hastily, growing very red and
embarrassed. Always, John noticed, when the conversation showed signs
of becoming personal, she grew alarmed, and instantly she was on her
guard. He had observed this so many times that he resolved to question
his mother more in detail about her. Who was Dorothy Snyder, and what
was it she feared? Perhaps they were unwittingly harboring a criminal
in their home.

As soon as he found an opportunity, he put the question to Mrs. Hadley.

“Mother,” he said, when they were alone that evening, “what do you make
of Dorothy?”

“What do you mean, John?” asked Mrs. Hadley, looking up from her
sewing.

“You know what I mean–who she is, and where does she come from?”

“She comes from a little town in New York state, and her people are all
dead.”

“But what happened that made her so ill, and so penniless? And yet she
said she had never worked before.”

Mrs. Hadley shook her head; she could not answer that question.

“I know nothing, except what she had volunteered to tell me. I never
ask her about herself.”

“But how did you find her? You never told me the whole story.”

“She was sitting in a pavilion, her face buried in her hands, and
sobbing very quietly. I went up and asked her if I could help her.”

“And she accepted?”

“No, not right away. She said she was very ill, and had lost her money,
and would be grateful if I could take her in for a night. Naturally I
took her home. She gave her name as Dorothy Snyder, of Edgetown, New
York.”

“As you know, I took care of her till she got better. She never talked
much, except to tell me how grateful she was for my kindness. Once she
told me that she had been through an awful experience, and begged me
not to ask her any questions. Of course I promised.”

“Don’t you suppose she will ever tell us about herself?”

“Yes, but I think she is trying to shield somebody or hide something,
and will not tell till everything is cleared up.”

“Do you–did you ever think she had done anything wrong herself?” John
asked the question fearfully, as if he dreaded lest the answer might be
in the affirmative.

“No,” replied his mother, decidedly. “I am sure of the girl’s
innocence. I don’t know how or why, but I am.”

The young man breathed a sigh of relief, and yet he was not entirely
satisfied. He longed to go to the bottom of the matter, to tear aside
the veil, as it were, from Dorothy’s obscurity, and have her for a
friend as he might have any other normal girl.

He was glad, however, that she never avoided him now, that since he
had told her about Marjorie, she raised no barrier to their continuous
companionship during his visits to his mother. Accordingly, when he
asked her to go for a walk with him on Sunday afternoon, she willingly
agreed.

She seemed preoccupied at first, and they walked along in silence for a
quarter of an hour. It was Dorothy who spoke first, surprising him by
her remark.

“I am going to ask you to do me a great favor, John,” she began. “I
don’t want you to think I am forward or pushing, but I do want very
much to meet those Girl Scouts from Miss Allen’s school. I have a good
reason, though it is a strange one; but I can’t tell it to you now. Do
you suppose that when they come back from the ranch in the Fall, it
could possibly be arranged?”

John wrinkled his brow. What, he wondered, could have prompted this
strange request? Dorothy could not possibly be jealous of Marjorie–she
had never cared for him in that way–nor did she seem like a
social climber who wanted to meet all the people who were in good
circumstances. Like all the other mysteries about this girl, he had to
give this one up unsolved.

“Perhaps,” he said, slowly. “But it would be hard to have any sort
of party, for they will be so scattered. Five or six of them have
graduated from Miss Allen’s, and probably they will all be at
different places. But I’ll think about it. Is it–” he hesitated for a
moment–“is it any one girl in particular that you want to meet?”

“No, indeed,” she hastened to reassure him. “And you never need tell me
which is the girl you care for. But I would love to see them together.”

John was turning over in his mind how the thing could possibly be
carried out. Dorothy so seldom asked him for anything that he hated
to refuse her. Suddenly his eyes lighted up with inspiration. He had
it–the very thing! His mother might invite all eight of the girls
for a week-end at Cape May, as a sort of return for the Wilkinson
hospitality earlier in the summer. He told Dorothy of the idea.

“That’s wonderful!” she cried. “But wouldn’t it be too much work for
your mother?”

“We could both turn in and help,” said John.

“Of course we would. But–would the house be big enough for eight
girls, besides us?”

“Yes, they enjoy sleeping in a bunch. We could get in some extra cots,
and fit them up four in a room.”

“Let’s hurry back and ask your mother right away,” suggested Dorothy.

More mystified than ever at this unusual display of enthusiasm, he
complied with the girl’s request. All the way back they talked of
nothing else. He too was thrilled with the plan; he said he would take
a room at the hotel and come in only for meals, so that the house would
be freer for the girls.

As soon as they were home, they lost no time in putting the project
before Mrs. Hadley. Always glad to comply with the young people’s
wishes, she readily fell in with the scheme, and seemed as pleased
as they were. She suggested that they make a tour of inspection of
the house with her, so that she might assure herself of the plan’s
practicality. They began with the attic.

“These rooms are small,” she said, throwing open the two doors and
displaying the conventional attic rooms, with the slanting roofs
besides the windows. “But they really aren’t bad.”

“They’re very comfortable!” said Dorothy. “At least I find mine so.”

“Well, then, that disposes of four girls, and there are two bedrooms
besides mine on the second floor. Yes–” she was noting two or three
things to attend to, as she talked–“we can put eight girls up, if John
will move out.”

“Of course I will!” he replied, readily.

“Then really the only thing that worries me is the dining room,” she
concluded. “Do you suppose we could get eleven people around our small
table?”

“I’d just as soon be waitress,” offered Dorothy; “and that would bring
the number down to ten.”

“Indeed you won’t!” protested Mrs. Hadley. “When the party is given in
your honor!”

“Suppose Dorothy and I both be ‘waitresses’?” suggested John. “That
would be only fair, if you do the cooking.”

“I thought I’d get Eliza in to cook,” said his mother.

“That’s a good idea!” commented John. “Still, I stick to the waitress
plan. I think I’d make a hit in a cap and apron.”

Dorothy laughed at the picture of John in a waitress’s costume, and she
too urged Mrs. Hadley to let them adopt the plan.

“Well, whatever you like,” said the older woman. “And now since it’s
all settled, I guess I had better go write the letter.”

But before she had reached her desk, the door-bell rang, and she went
to answer it. A telegraph messenger asked whether Mr. John Hadley lived
there.

“Yes,” replied Mrs. Hadley, mechanically taking the envelope and
signing the paper. Then, closing the door she handed the telegram to
her son.

“I suppose your firm want you to go to New York or Boston, or some such
place again,” she said with resignation. “They seem to expect to send
you all over the globe.”

John smiled, and tore open the telegram.

“By George, I’ve got a real trip this time!” he exclaimed. “Two places
in California, and a stop in Wyoming on the way back!”

Neither Mrs. Hadley nor Dorothy shared the young man’s enthusiasm; they
were both thinking how lonely it would be for them, with him away for
such a long time.

“And how long will you be gone?” asked Mrs. Hadley, making a supreme
effort to hide her dismay.

“I don’t know. This says a letter follows.”

“I wonder whether you start right from here.”

“Probably,” answered John, “or they would hardly have telegraphed.”

“Will this–” began Dorothy, hesitating for a second–“will this mean
that our house-party has to be given up?”

“Certainly not!” replied John. “I’ll surely be back by September, and
even if I weren’t, it would be all right to have it without me.”

Neither woman said anything further; but Dorothy noticed that Mrs.
Hadley gave up all idea of writing the invitation, for the time being,
at least. Somehow, the house-party would seem flat without the presence
of its originator, and neither of the others cared to press it. They
busied themselves with the supper, and with the inspection of John’s
clothing, to be in readiness for the hasty summons that would probably
come late that night.

Mrs. Hadley had already gone to bed when John received his special
delivery letter. He and Dorothy had been sitting in the little parlor,
reading a story aloud, when the messenger arrived. The girl watched him
quietly as he perused its contents. First she noticed a slight frown on
his face; but a moment later this was replaced by an ecstatic smile.
John Hadley had wonderful news!

“By George!” he cried, handing the letter to his companion, “I’m to see
_her!_ To go to California first, and stop on my way back at the Hilton
ranch, near Bailey, Wyoming, to deliver a radio to the Girl Scouts,
and set it up. Oh, did you ever hear of such luck? It sounds like the
Arabian Nights!”

Dorothy tried to enter whole-heartedly into his joy.

“It is wonderful, of course. And the Girl Scouts ordered their outfit
from you?”

John examined the order, and nodded his head, smilingly.

“Then it must be all right with–with–you know, I don’t know her
name!” she added.

“I guess you are right,” agreed John. “And now I must go wake mother,
and tell her, for I start early in the morning.”

“And when do you get back?”

“I don’t know. My vacation comes the last two weeks in August,
so–well–I might spend it on the ranch!”

“With the Girl Scouts!” added Dorothy. “I envy you, John!”

“Yes, it would be nice,” he said. “And I could give them mother’s
invitation in person.”

“And I do so hope they accept,” said the girl, fervently. “Somehow, I
feel as if my whole fate rested upon their decision.”

John forgot for a moment his own affairs, in his surprise at what
Dorothy was saying. Why, he asked himself again, did she care so much
about the house-party, and in what way was her future dependent upon
it? He looked at her questioningly; his eyes held the interrogation his
lips dared not utter.

As Dorothy watched him, and noted his eager interest, she came to the
sudden decision to tell him all that she knew of her past. Perhaps he
would be able to help her; at any rate, he was too good a friend to
betray her confidence.

“John,” she said, in reply to his silent question, “I want to talk to
you about myself. Have you time?”

“I certainly have,” replied the young man.

For the next five minutes he listened to one of the strangest
experiences he had ever heard. Dorothy’s explanation was different from
anything he had imagined, and more pitiful. Never in his life had he so
longed to help anyone, and never, he thought, had he been so powerless.

“And may I tell mother?” he asked, when she had finished her story.

“I believe I would rather tell her myself–tomorrow,” replied Dorothy.
“For you will want to go and tell her your own news now.”

“That is true,” he said, rising, and extending his hand. “And now
goodnight, Dorothy, and goodbye; for I leave early in the morning.”

“Goodbye,” she answered, taking his hand. “And please don’t tell my
secret to anyone except ‘_the girl_,’ will you?”

“I promise,” he said, with sincerity.

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