MARJORIE’S RIVAL

Although John Hadley had resolutely put his own feelings aside, and
outwardly was as light-hearted as the rest on the week-end party, he
felt far from cheerful. It was not that he was foolish enough to resent
Marjorie’s change of plans, for after all that had been accidental on
her part. He and she had planned nothing definite, and it was only
natural that her father should have the final decision. The latter had
not even known of their little vacation project; probably if he had, he
would hardly have considered it of sufficient consequence to change his
larger plans for his daughter’s entire summer.

But John felt wretched because Marjorie had not displayed the slightest
regret at giving up their vacation. The prospect, which had filled
all his dreams for the past month, meant nothing to her; she could
relinquish it as easily as she might cancel one theatre engagement for
another. John came suddenly face to face with the fact that Marjorie
did not care in the least for him in the way in which he cared for her.

He went over some of his past experiences with her, recalling bitterly
the fact that her pleasure had not been because of his presence, but
rather for some more practical reason. She had seemed to enjoy the
dance at Princeton two years ago; but her joy was nothing in comparison
with that which she displayed when she found her friend, Frieda
Hammer. Then, too, at camp the preceding summer, she was wild with
delight at his visit; but was it not more because of the present–the
wireless–which he had taken to her, than for himself?

John knew that Marjorie had invited Griffith Hunter to the senior
dance. Griffith Hunter, a college man of wealth and position, with
everything that a young girl might wish to find in her future husband!
What a contrast to himself!

He was working in Philadelphia now, and spending the week-ends with
his mother at Cape May. She was not well enough to be in the hot city
during the summer, so he had obtained a comfortable little cottage
where she could keep house and entertain her old friends modestly.

After the week-end at Atlantic City with the Wilkinsons, the days
seemed interminable to John. Each evening he would walk home from
work, through an open square, to his cheap boarding house; for he was
living very frugally this summer, in order that his mother might have
every comfort she needed. It was July now, and the evenings were hot
and stifling; rejected figures sprawled on the square benches, fanning
themselves with newspapers, and mopping their brows now and again with
their handkerchiefs. Only the children seemed to possess any energy.
A great longing seized the young man for the rest and coolness of the
seashore. He was thankful it was Thursday; he would have only one more
day to wait.

Cheered by this prospect, he hastened his steps to his house. When
he reached the hall-way, he looked eagerly for mail. Yes, there was
a letter for him–but not from Marjorie! It was in his mother’s
handwriting.

Once in his own room, he sat down on his bed to read it. But he did not
find the news pleasing; his mother was asking him not to come down over
the week-end!

“I am taking care of a sick girl, whom I found one day on the beach,
and have given her your room,” she wrote. “She has been delirious, and
is very nervous now, so that I think it would be better for her not to
see anyone this week.

“She seems to be a lovely girl–I like her immensely. She is eager to
go to work immediately, but I want her to get well first.

“So I should rather you did not come down until next week, much as I
should like to see you–”

John felt a wild surge of disappointment rush over him. What business
had this stranger to come in and take his place–keeping him in the
hot city, away from his mother! Then he laughed at himself–why he was
as jealous as a school girl! How absurd it was to resent his mother’s
helping a sick, friendless girl! He began to be glad to be able to do
his part, to help her by sacrificing his own week-end.

But the time dragged on heavily, and he longed for his mother’s next
letter which would tell him whether or not he might pay his accustomed
visit on Friday. It was not until Thursday night that he finally
received it.

“Miss Snyder is better now,” she wrote, “and I think it will be all
right for you to come. She has insisted upon moving out of your room
and taking the little attic one. She says she is going to find work
next week.

“She is a nice little girl, and I am sure you will like her. But be
very careful not to remind her of her trouble. She has lost someone
very dear–but I do not know whether it is a parent, or a fiancé, or
some very dear friend. But she almost goes into hysterics whenever I
start to ask questions, so that I have resolved to say nothing. Perhaps
she will tell us some time.”

John felt himself growing strangely interested in this mysterious girl.
And, having resolutely decided to put Marjorie Wilkinson so far as
possible from his thoughts, he did all in his power to encourage this
new fancy. It had been a long time since he had felt an attraction for
any other girl but Marjorie; the sensation therefore was novel.

Spurred on by this emotion, he displayed more eagerness than usual in
leaving his desk promptly on Friday afternoon to take the train to
Cape May. He tried to attribute his excitement to the desire for fresh
air and rest, after a week in the hot city, but he knew that this was
not all. For when his mother, alone, met the train, he experienced a
decided feeling of disappointment.

“How’s Miss Snyder?” he asked, as soon as he had satisfied himself as
to his mother’s health.

“Much better, thank you. She’s gone to bed early, so you won’t see her
tonight. She needs all her strength.”

Another disappointment! John managed to conceal his feelings.

“She–she doesn’t mind my coming?” he faltered.

“Not a bit. She hardly listened when I told her.”

This piece of information was not particularly pleasant to a young
man who was hoping to forget his infatuation for one girl by becoming
interested in a new one. Suppose she were as indifferent as Marjorie!

“What’s she like?” asked John.

“Quite pretty–and of rather a refined type, I should say. She comes of
a cultured family, for she has a charming voice, and lovely manners.”

“Does she seem to have recovered from her illness?”

“Yes, except that she is very pale, and awfully nervous. But I think
she will soon come around all right.”

“And how old a girl do you think she is?”

“I hardly know. Let’s see–Marjorie Wilkinson is eighteen, isn’t she?”

John flushed at the mention of the girl’s name, and nodded assent.

“Well, Miss Snyder must be two or three years older,” continued Mrs.
Hadley; “although you can’t tell, because her illness has pulled her
down so.”

John was afraid to ask any more questions, lest his mother might think
his interest too pointed, and decided to restrain his curiosity until
the following day.

“Have you heard anything from Marjorie?” asked Mrs. Hadley, when they
were inside the attractive little cottage.

“Not a word!” replied her son.

“Have you written?”

“No–not lately. I didn’t think it was worth while. Marjorie’s having
too good a time to care for letters from me.”

“That’s just where you’re mistaken, John,” said Mrs. Hadley, kindly.
“If I were you I’d write. Girls love to get letters when they are far
away from home.”

“But Marjorie has always seemed rather indifferent. I guess it’s
because she’s so sure of me. If I could only make her jealous by being
interested in some other girl! But it just seems as if I can’t!”

“Well, you have plenty of time, John, so I wouldn’t worry if I were
you,” answered his mother, consolingly. “But I would write to her once
in a while.”

Early the next morning John was up, anxious not to lose any more of his
visit than necessary in sleep. He could sleep in the city, where he had
nothing else to do in the evenings; but here he wanted to enjoy the
fresh air as much as possible.

He was surprised to find his mother’s guest in the dining-room when he
came down stairs. She was setting the table, and, as she bent over the
blue and white breakfast dishes, she made a pretty picture. She smiled
slightly when Mrs. Hadley presented her son.

“And now I think breakfast is ready,” she said. “Dorothy, you and John
sit down, and I’ll bring the things in.”

“You’ll do nothing of the sort!” objected John. “I’ll bring them in,
myself! It will be great sport to be waiter. What comes first?”

“Cantaloupes,” replied Mrs. Hadley, obediently submitting to his orders.

Although John did his best to be lively and entertaining during the
meal, he found his efforts falling strangely flat. Miss Snyder seemed
unconscious of his conversation, and only came out of her reverie when
he addressed to her a direct question. Finally he gave it up, and
talked entirely to his mother.

“Are you young people going in bathing?” asked Mrs. Hadley, at the
conclusion of the meal.

“No, I’m not,” replied the girl, without raising her eyes from her
plate. “I’m going to look for a job.”

“Oh, wait till Monday!” urged Mrs. Hadley. “Why don’t you and John
amuse each other today?”

Miss Snyder shook her head decidedly.

“No,” she said, “I bought the paper, and I want to answer some ads in
person.”

John saw that she had no intention of including him in any of her
plans, so he decided to go his own way, just as if she were not
present. He would look up some of the fellows and join their bathing
party, and in the afternoon he would take his mother to the beach.

When he and his mother returned from their walk late in the afternoon,
they found Miss Snyder in high good spirits. Her eyes were sparkling,
and there was some color in her formerly pale cheeks. She had obtained
a position.

She told them all she knew about it at supper.

“It’s only selling embroidery in a fancy-work shop on the boardwalk,”
she explained; “but during my spare time I am to embroider, and I get
paid extra for my work. I’m really awfully lucky!”

“I think they’re lucky!” cried John, with sincere admiration. The girl
looked capable.

“No, I am, because you see I have never worked before, and I couldn’t
give any references.”

John was quiet for a moment; he was trying to imagine what her life had
been. Evidently she came of a well-to-do family; as Mrs. Hadley had
said, she was not an ordinary girl. If she had been, he knew his mother
would have made some effort to help her, but she would not have brought
her into her own home.

“But surely you could give some personal friends as references?”
suggested John.

“No, I couldn’t!”

“Heavens! You sound as if you had been serving a term in prison!” He
laughed as he said this; the remark sounded too absurd. But to his
amazement, the girl’s eyes filled with tears.

“No! No! Not that!” she protested, and John took the warning, realizing
that his remark had been tactless.

“I say,” said the young man hastily, “let’s celebrate by going to a
show tonight! What do you say?” He looked eagerly at Dorothy.

“If–if your mother wants to,” said the girl, shyly.

“Yes, all right,” said Mrs. Hadley; “but I am tired. John and I had
quite a long walk this afternoon. Why don’t you young people go alone?”

“No, I won’t go without you, Mrs. Hadley,” replied Dorothy, quietly.

“All right then, I’ll go,” consented the older woman. “Where do you
want to go?”

“Wherever there’s dancing afterward,” said John. “At least, if Miss
Snyder cares to dance.”

“I love it!” cried Dorothy, with more genuine, youthful animation than
she had heretofore expressed over anything.

Saturday night is, of course, the biggest night at any of the seashore
resorts, and as it was well on to the height of the season, all
the walks were so crowded that they could hardly go three abreast;
sometimes John would find himself alone, and at other times he would be
with one of the women. Unconsciously he pressed Dorothy’s arm whenever
they were in the thickest part of the crowd; it seemed as if she were a
girl so greatly in need of protection.

The evening passed pleasantly, although the girl talked little, and
when they began to dance, John felt scarcely better acquainted with her
than when he first met her. But as the dancing progressed, her cheeks
flushed with the exercise and her eyes became bright and happy; she
looked as if she were having a good time.

Already John was congratulating himself upon his growing interest in
the girl. Suppose Marjorie could see him now! What would she think?

The thought was just passing through his mind, when he looked around
and caught sight of a familiar face. He looked again–was it possible
that he had been right the first time? Yes, for the other had
recognized him; a second later Jack Wilkinson nodded pleasantly.

“One of your friends?” asked Dorothy.

“Yes,” answered John, slowly. “Yes, indeed.”

“Do you want to look for him after this dance?”

“Yes, I suppose so,” said the young man, wearily. Somehow, he seemed to
have lost interest in everything.

At the conclusion of the dance, the young men found each other, and the
girls were introduced. Jack explained that he had simply run over from
Atlantic City for the evening, and that even now he must hurry back.

“Well, I’m glad to see you’re not grieving much!” he added, as he left
them. He winked significantly at John.

John flushed, and turned away, suggesting to Dorothy that they find
his mother and start for home. For now, whether he liked it or not,
Marjorie would hear about Dorothy Snyder.