Part 4 out of 6
"But my throat's better. And I've GOT to keep up my lessons, mother!
And just a half a block can't hurt me if I bundle up." Missy had
formulated her plan well; Kitty Allen had been chosen as an alibi
because of her proximity.
"Very well, then," agreed mother.
As Missy sped toward the library, conflicting emotions swirled
within her and joined forces with the sharp breathlessness brought
on by her haste. She had never before been out alone at night, and
the blackness of tree-shadows lying across the intense whiteness of
the snow struck her in two places at once--imaginatively in the
brain and fearsomely in the stomach. Nor is a guilty conscience a
reassuring companion under such circumstances. Missy kept telling
herself that, if she HAD lied a little bit, it was really her
parents' fault; if they had only let her go to church, she wouldn't
have been driven to sneaking out this way. But her trip, however
fundamentally virtuous--and with whatever subtly interwoven elements
of pleasure at its end--was certainly not an agreeable one. At the
moment Missy resolved never, never to sneak off alone at night
In the brightly lighted library her fears faded away; she warmed to
anticipation again. And she found some very enjoyable stories in the
new magazines--she seemed, strangely, to have forgotten about any
"history references." But, as the hands on the big clock above the
librarian's desk moved toward half-past eight, apprehensions began
to rise again. What if Arthur should fail to come? Could she ever
live through that long, terrible trip home, all alone?
Then, just as fear was beginning to turn to panic, Arthur sauntered
in, nonchalantly took a chair at another table, picked up a magazine
and professed to glance through it. And then, while Missy
palpitated, he looked over at her, smiled, and made an interrogative
movement with his eyebrows. More palpitant by the second, she
replaced her magazines and got into her wraps. As she moved toward
the door, whither Arthur was also sauntering, she felt that every
eye in the Library must be observing. Hard to tell whether she was
more proud or embarrassed at the public empressement of her "date."
Arthur, quite at ease, took her arm to help her down the slippery
Arthur wore his air of assurance gracefully because he was so used
to it. Admiration from the fair sex was no new thing to him. And
Missy knew this. Perhaps that was one reason she'd been so modestly
pleased that he had wished to bestow his gallantries upon her. She
realized that Raymond Bonner was much handsomer and richer; and that
Kitty Allen's cousin Jim from Macon City, in his uniform of a
military cadet, was much more distinguished-looking; and that Don
Jones was much more humbly adoring. Arthur had red hair, and lived
in a boarding-house and drove a delivery-wagon, and wasn't the least
bit humble; but he had an audacious grin and upcurling lashes and "a
way with him." So Missy accepted his favour with a certain proud
She felt herself the heroine of a thrilling situation though their
conversation, as Arthur guided her along the icy sidewalks, was of
very ordinary things: the weather--Missy's sore throat (sweet
solicitude from Arthur)--and gossip of the "crowd"--the weather's
probabilities to-morrow--more gossip--the weather again.
The weather was, in fact, in assertive evidence. The wind whipped
chillingly about Missy's shortskirted legs, for they were strolling
slowly--the correct way to walk when one has a "date." Missy's teeth
were chattering and her legs seemed wooden, but she'd have died
rather than suggest running a block to warm up. Anyway, despite
physical discomforts, there was a certain deliciousness in the
situation, even though she found it difficult to turn the talk into
the spiritual trend she had proposed. Finally Arthur himself
mentioned the paper-wad episode, laughing at it as though it were a
sort of joke.
That was her opening.
"You shouldn't be so worldly, Arthur," she said in a voice of gentle
"Worldly?" in some surprise.
She nodded seriously over her serviceable, unworldly brown
"How am I worldly?" he pursued, in a tone of one not entirely
"Why--throwing wads in church--lack of respect for religious things-
-and things like that."
"Oh, I see," said Arthur, his tone dropping a little. "I suppose it
was a silly thing to do," he added with a touch of stiffness.
"It was a profane kind of thing," she said, sadly. "Don't you see,
"If I'm such a sinner, I don't see why you have anything to do with
It stirred her profoundly that he didn't laugh, scoff at her; she
had feared he might. She answered, very gravely:
"It's because I like you. You don't think it's a pleasure to me to
find fault with you, do you Arthur?"
"Then why find fault?" he asked good-naturedly.
"But if the faults are THERE?" she persevered.
"Let's forget about 'em, then," he answered with cheerful logic. "
Everybody can't be good like YOU, you know."
Missy felt nonplussed, though subtly pleased, in a way. Arthur DID
admire her, thought her "good"--perhaps, in time she could be a good
influence to him. But at a loss just how to answer his personal
allusion, she glanced backward over her shoulder. In the moonlight
she saw a tall man back there in the distance.
There was a little pause.
"I don't s'pose you'll be going to the Library again to-morrow
night?" suggested Arthur presently.
"Why, I don't know--why?" But she knew "why," and her knowledge gave
her a tingle.
"Oh, I was just thinking that if you had to look up some references
or something, maybe I might drop around again."
"Maybe I WILL have to--I don't know just yet," she murmured,
confused with a sweet kind of confusion.
"Well, I'll just drop by, anyway," he said. "Maybe you'll be there."
Another pause. Trying to think of something to say, she glanced
again over her shoulder. Then she clutched at Arthur's arm.
"Look at that man back there--following us! He looks something like
As she spoke she unconsciously quickened her pace; Arthur
consciously quickened his. He knew--as all of the boys of "the
crowd" knew--Mr. Merriam's stand on the matter of beaux.
"Oh!" cried Missy under her breath. She fancied that the tall figure
had now accelerated his gait, also. "It IS father! I'll cut across
this vacant lot and get in at the kitchen door--I can beat him home
Arthur started to turn into the vacant lot with her, but she gave
him a little push.
"No! no! It's just a little way--I won't be afraid. You'd better
run, Arthur--he might kill you!"
Arthur didn't want to be killed. "So long, then--let me know how
things come out!"--and he disappeared fleetly down the block.
Missy couldn't make such quick progress; the vacant lot had been a
cornfield, and the stubby ground was frozen into hard, sharp ridges
under the snow. She stumbled, felt her shoes filling with snow,
stumbled on, fell down, felt her stocking tear viciously. She
glanced over her shoulder--had the tall figure back there on the
sidewalk slowed down, too, or was it only imagination? She scrambled
to her feet and hurried on--and HE seemed to be hurrying again. She
had no time, now, to be afraid of the vague terrors of night; her
panic was perfectly and terribly tangible. She MUST get home ahead
Blindly she stumbled on.
At the kitchen door she paused a moment to regain her breath; then,
very quietly, she entered. There was a light in the kitchen and she
could hear mother doing something in the pantry. She sniffed at the
air and called cheerily:
"Been popping corn?"
"Yes," came mother's voice, rather stiffly. "Seems to me you've been
a long time finding out about those lessons!"
Not offering to debate that question, nor waiting to appease her
sudden craving for pop-corn, Missy moved toward the door.
"Get your wet shoes off at once!" called mother.
"That's just what I was going to do." And she hurried up the back
stairs, unbuttoning buttons as she went.
Presently, in her night-dress and able to breathe naturally again,
she felt safer. But she decided she'd better crawl into bed. She lay
there, listening. It must have been a half-hour later when she heard
a cab stop in front of the house, and then the slam of the front
door and the sound of father's voice. He had just come in on the
9:23--THAT hadn't been him, after all!
As relief stole over her, drowsiness tugged at her eyelids. But,
just as she was dozing off, she was roused by someone's entering the
room, bending over her.
It was father! Her first sensation was of fear, until she realized
his tone was not one to be feared. And, responding to that
tenderness of tone, sharp compunctions pricked her. Dear father!--it
was horrible to have to deceive him.
"I've brought you a little present from town." He was lighting the
Her blinking eyes saw him place a big flat box on the bed. She
fumbled at the cords, accepted his proffered pen-knife, and then--
oh, dear heaven! There, fluffy, snow-white and alluring, reposed a
set of white fox furs!
"S-sh!" he admonished, smiling. "Mother doesn't know about them
"Oh, father!" She couldn't say any more. And the father, smiling at
her, thought he understood the emotions which tied her tongue, which
underlay her fervent good night kiss. But he could never have
guessed all the love, gratitude, repentance, self-abasement and high
resolves at that moment welling within her.
He left her sitting up there in bed, her fingers still caressing the
silky treasure. As soon as he was gone, she climbed out of bed to
kneel in repentant humility.
"Dear Jesus," she prayed, "please forgive me for deceiving my dear
father and mother. If you'll forgive me just this once, I promise
never, never to deceive them again."
Then, feeling better--prayer, when there is real faith, does lift a
load amazingly--she climbed back into bed, with the furs on her
But she could not sleep. That was natural--so much had happened, and
everything seemed so complicated. Everything had been seeming to go
against her and here, all of a sudden, everything had turned out her
way. She had her white fox furs, much prettier than Genevieve
Hicks's--oh, she DID hope they'd let her go to church next Sunday
night so she could wear them! And she'd had a serious little talk
with Arthur--the way seemed paved for her to exert a really
satisfactory influence over him. As soon as she could see him again-
-Oh, she wished she might wear the furs to the Library to-morrow
night! She wished Arthur could see her in them--
A sudden thought brought her up sharp: she couldn't meet him to-
morrow night after all--for she never wanted to deceive dear father
again. No, she would never sneak off like that any more. Yet it
wouldn't be fair to Arthur to let him go there and wait in vain. She
ought to let him know, some way. And she ought to let him know, too,
that that man wasn't father, after all. What if he was worrying,
this minute, thinking she might have been caught and punished. It
didn't seem right, while SHE was so happy, to leave poor Arthur
worrying like that. . . Oh, she DID wish he could see her in the
furs. . . Yes, she OUGHT to tell him she couldn't keep the "date"--
it would be awful for him to sit there in the Library, waiting and
waiting. . .
She kept up her disturbed ponderings until the house grew dark and
still. Then, very quietly, she crept out of bed and dressed herself
in the dark. She put on her cloak and hat. After a second's
hesitation she added the white fox furs. Then, holding her breath,
she stole down the back stairs and out the kitchen door.
The night seemed more fearsomely spectral than ever--it must be
terribly late; but she sped through the white silence resolutely.
She was glad Arthur's boarding-house was only two blocks away. She
knew which was his window; she stood beneath it and softly gave "the
crowd's" whistle. Waited--whistled again. There was his window going
up at last. And Arthur's tousled head peering out.
"I just wanted to let you know I can't come to the Library after
all, Arthur! No!--Don't say anything, now!--I'll explain all about
it when I get a chance. And that wasn't father--it turned out all
right. No, no!--Don't say anything now! Maybe I'll be in the kitchen
to-morrow. Good night!"
Then, while Arthur stared after her amazedly, she turned and
scurried like a scared rabbit through the white silence.
As she ran she was wondering whether Arthur had got a really good
view of the furs in the moonlight; was resolving to urge him to go
to church next Sunday night even if SHE couldn't; was telling
herself she mustn't ENTIRELY relinquish her hold on him-for his
sake. . .
So full were her thoughts that she forgot to be much afraid. And the
Lord must have been with her, for she reached the kitchen door in
safety and regained her own room without detection. In bed once
again, a great, soft, holy peace seemed to enfold her. Everything
was right with everybody--with father and mother and God and Arthur-
At the very time she was going off into smiling slumber--one hand
nestling in the white fox furs on her pillow--it happened that her
father was making half-apologetic explanations to her mother:
everything had seemed to come down on the child in a lump--commands
against walking and against boys and against going out nights and
everything. He couldn't help feeling for the youngster. So he
thought he'd bring her the white fox furs she seemed to have set her
And Mrs. Merriam, who could understand a father's indulgent,
sympathetic heart even though--as Missy believed--she wasn't capable
of "understanding" a daughter's, didn't have it in her, then, to
spoil his pleasure by expounding that wanting furs and wanting beaux
were really one and the same evil.
BUSINESS OF BLUSHING
Missy was embroiled in a catastrophe, a tangle of embarrassments and
odd complications. Aunt Nettie attributed the blame broadly to "that
O'Neill girl"; she asserted that ever since Tess O'Neill had come to
live in Cherryvale Missy had been "up to" just one craziness after
another. But then Aunt Nettie was an old maid--Missy couldn't
imagine her as EVER having been fifteen years old. Mother, who could
generally be counted on for tenderness even when she failed to
"understand," rather unfortunately centred on the wasp detail--why
had Missy just stood there and let it keep stinging her? And Missy
felt shy at trying to explain it was because the wasp was stinging
her LEG. Mother would be sure to remark this sudden show of modesty
in one she'd just been scolding for the lack of it--for riding the
pony astride and showing her--
Oh, legs(! Missy was in a terrific confusion, as baffled by certain
inconsistencies displayed by her own nature as overwhelmed by her
disgraceful predicament. For she was certainly sincere in her
craving to be as debonairly "athletic" as Tess; yet, during that
ghastly moment when the wasp was . . .
No, she could never explain it to mother. Old people don't
understand. Not even to father could she have talked it all out,
though he had patted her hand and acted like an angel when he paid
for the bucket of candy--that candy which none of them got even a
taste of! That Tess and Arthur should eat up the candy which her own
father paid for, made one more snarl in the whole inconsistent
It all began with the day Arthur Simpson "dared" Tess to ride her
pony into Picker's grocery store. Before Tess had come to live in
the sanitarium at the edge of town where her father was head doctor,
she had lived in Macon City and had had superior advantages--city
life, to Missy, a Cherryvalian from birth, sounded exotic and
intriguing. Then Tess in her nature was far from ordinary. She was
characterized by a certain dash and fine flair; was inventive,
fearless, and possessed the gift of leadership. Missy, seeing how
eagerly the other girls of "the crowd" caught up Tess's original
ideas, felt enormously flattered when the leader selected such a
comparatively stupid girl as herself as a chum.
For Missy thought she must be stupid. She wasn't "smart" in school
like Beulah Crosswhite, nor strikingly pretty like Kitty Allen, nor
president of the Iolanthians like Mabel Dowd, nor conspicuously
popular with the boys like Genevieve Hicks. No, she possessed no
distinctive traits anybody could pick out to label her by--at least
that is what she thought. So she felt on her mettle; she wished to
prove herself worthy of Tess's high regard.
It was rather strenuous living up to Tess. Sometimes Missy couldn't
help wishing that her chum were not quite so alert. Being all the
while on the jump, mentally and physically, left you somewhat
breathless and dizzy; then, too, it didn't leave you time to sample
certain quieter yet thrilling enjoyments that came right to hand.
For example, now and then, Missy secretly longed to spend a
leisurely hour or so just talking with Tess's grandmother. Tess's
grandmother, though an old lady, seemed to her a highly romantic
figure. Her name was Mrs. Shears and she had lived her girlhood in a
New England seaport town, and her father had been captain of a
vessel which sailed to and from far Eastern shores. He had brought
back from those long-ago voyages bales and bales of splendid
Oriental fabrics--stiff rustling silks and slinky clinging crepes
and indescribably brilliant brocades shot with silver or with gold.
For nearly fifty years Mrs. Shears had worn dresses made from these
romantic stuffs and she was wearing them yet--in Cherryvale! They
were all made after the same pattern, gathered voluminous skirt and
fitted bodice and long flowing sleeves; and, with the small lace cap
she always wore on her white hair. Missy thought the old lady looked
as if she'd just stepped from the yellow-tinged pages of some
fascinating old book. She wished her own grandmother dressed like
that; of course she loved Grandma Merriam dearly and really wouldn't
have exchanged her for the world, yet, in contrast, she did seem
It was interesting to sit and look at Grandma Shears and to hear her
recount the Oriental adventures of her father, the sea captain. But
Tess gave Missy little chance to do this. Tess had heard and re-
heard the adventures to the point of boredom and custom had caused
her to take her grandmother's strange garb as a matter of course;
Tess's was a nature which craved--and generally achieved--novelty.
Just now her particular interest veered toward athleticism; she had
recently returned from a visit to Macon City and brimmed with
colourful tales of its "Country Club" life--swimming, golf, tennis,
horseback riding, and so forth. These pursuits she straightway set
out to introduce into drowsy, behind-the-times Cherryvale. But in
almost every direction she encountered difficulties: there was in
Cherryvale no place to swim except muddy Bull Creek--and the girls'
mothers unanimously vetoed that; and there were no links for golf;
and the girls themselves didn't enthuse greatly over tennis those
broiling afternoons. So Tess centred on horseback riding, deciding
it was the "classiest" sport, after all. But the old Neds and
Nellies of the town, accustomed leisurely to transport their various
family surreys, did not metamorphose into hackneys of such spirit
and dash as filled Tess's dreams.
Even so, these steeds were formidable enough to Missy. She feared
she wasn't very athletic. That was an afternoon of frightful chagrin
when she came walking back into Cherryvale, ignominiously following
Dr. O'Neill's Ben. Old Ben, who was lame in his left hind foot, had
a curious gait, like a sort of grotesque turkey trot. Missy
outwardly attributed her inability to keep her seat to Ben's
peculiar rocking motion, but in her heart she knew it was simply
because she was afraid. What she was afraid of she couldn't have
specified. Not of old Ben surely, for she knew him to be the
gentlest of horses. When she stood on the ground beside him,
stroking his shaggy, uncurried flanks or feeding him bits of sugar,
she felt not the slightest fear. Yet the minute she climbed up into
the saddle she sickened under the grip of some increasingly heart-
stilling panic. Even before Ben started forward; so it wasn't Ben's
rocking, lop-sided gait that was really at the bottom of her fear--
it only accentuated it. Why was she afraid of Ben up there in the
saddle while not in the least afraid when standing beside him? Fear
was very strange. Did everybody harbour some secret, absurd,
unreasonable fear? No, Tess didn't; Tess wasn't afraid of anything.
Tess was cantering along on rawboned Nellie in beautiful unconcern.
Missy admired and envied her dreadfully.
Her sense of her own shortcomings became all the more poignant when
the little cavalcade, with Missy still ignominiously footing it in
the rear, had to pass the group of loafers in front of the Post
Office. The loafers called out rude, bantering comments, and Missy
burned with shame.
Then Arthur Simpson appeared in Pieker's doorway next door and
"Hello! Some steed!" he greeted Tess. "Dare you to ride her in!"
"Not to-day, thanks," retorted Tess insouciantly--that was another
quality Missy envied in her friend, her unfailing insouciance. "Wait
till I get my new pony next week, and then I'll take you up!"
"All right. The dare holds good." Then Arthur turned his grin to
Missy. "What's the matter with YOU? Charger get out of hand?"
The loafers in front of the Post Office took time from their chewing
and spitting to guffaw. Missy could have died of mortification.
"Want a lift?" asked Arthur, moving forward.
Missy shook her head. She longed to retrieve herself in the public
gaze, longed to shine as Tess shone, but not for worlds could she
have essayed that high, dizzy seat again. So she shook her head
dumbly and Arthur grinned at her not unkindly. Missy liked Arthur
Simpson. He wore a big blue-denim apron and had red hair and
freckles--not a romantic figure by any means; but there was a
mischievous imp in his eye and a rollicking lilt in his voice that
made you like him, anyway. Missy wished he hadn't been a witness to
her predicament. Not that she felt at all sentimental toward Arthur.
Arthur "went with" Genevieve Hicks, a girl whom Missy privately
deemed frivolous and light-minded. Besides Missy herself was, at
this time, interested in Raymond Bonner, the handsomest boy in "the
crowd." Missy liked good looks--they appealed to the imagination or
something. And she adored everything that appealed to the
imagination: there was, for instance, the picture of Sir Galahad, in
shining armour, which hung on the wall of her room--for a time she
had almost said her prayers to that picture; and there was a
compelling mental image of the gallant Sir Launcelot in "Idylls of
the King" and of the stern, repressed, silently suffering Guy in
"Airy Fairy Lilian." Also there had recently come into her
possession a magazine clipping of the boy king of Spain; she
couldn't claim that Alphonso was handsome--in truth he was quite
ugly--yet there was something intriguing about him. She secretly
treasured the printed likeness and thought about the original a
great deal: the alluring life he led, the panoply of courts, royal
balls and garden-parties and resplendent military parades, and
associating with princes and princesses all the time. She wondered,
with a little sigh, whether his "crowd" called him by his first
name; though a King he was just a boy--about her own age.
Nevertheless, though Arthur Simpson was neither handsome nor
revealed aught which might stir vague, deep currents of romance,
Missy regretted that even Arthur had seen her in such a sorry
plight. She wished he might see her at a better advantage. For
instance, galloping up on a spirited mount, in a modish riding-
habit--a checked one with flaring-skirted coat and shining boots and
daring but swagger breeches, perhaps!--galloping insouciantly up to
take that dare!
But she knew it was an empty dream. Even if she had the swagger
togs--a notion mad to absurdity--she could never gallop with
insouciance. She wasn't the athletic sort.
At supper she was still somewhat bitterly ruminating her failings.
"Missy, you're not eating your omelet," adjured her mother.
Missy's eyes came back from space.
"I was just wondering--" then she broke off.
"Yes, dear," encouraged mother. Missy's hazy thoughts took a sudden
plunge, direct and startling.
"I was wondering if, maybe, you'd give me an old pair of father's
"What on earth for, child?"
"Just an old pair," Missy went on, ignoring the question. "Maybe
that pepper-and-salt pair you said you'd have to give to Jeff."
"But what do you want of them?" persisted mother. "Jeff needs them
disgracefully--the last time he mowed the yard I blushed every time
he turned his back toward the street."
"I think Mrs. Allen's going to give him a pair of Mr. Allen's--Kitty
said she was. So he won't need the pepper-and-salts."
"But what do you want with a pair of PANTS?" Aunt Nettie put in.
Missy wished Aunt Nettie had been invited out to supper; Aunt Nettie
was relentlessly inquisitive. She knew she must give some kind of
"Oh, just for some fancy-work," she said. She tried to make her tone
insouciant, but she was conscious of her cheeks getting hot.
"Fancy-work--pants for fancy-work! For heaven's sake!" ejaculated
Mother, also, was staring at her in surprise. But father, who was a
darling, put in: "Give 'em to her if she wants 'em, dear. Maybe
she'll make a lambrequin for the piano or an embroidered smoking-
jacket for the old man--a'la your Ladies' Home Companion."
He grinned at her, but Missy didn't mind father's jokes at her
expense so much as most grown-ups'. Besides she was grateful to him
for diverting attention from her secret purpose for the pants.
After supper, out in the summerhouse, it was an evening of such
swooning beauty she almost forgot the bothers vexing her life. When
you sit and watch the sun set in a bed of pastel glory, and let the
level bars of thick gold light steal across the soft slick grass to
reach to your very soul, and smell the heavenly sweetness of dew-
damp roses, and listen to the shrill yet mournful even-song of the
locusts--when you sit very still, just letting it all seep into you
and through and through you, such a beatific sense of peace surges
over you that, gradually, trivial things like athletic shortcomings
seem superficial and remote.
Later, too, up in her room, slowly undressing in the moonlight, she
let herself yield to the sweeter spell. She loved her room,
especially when but dimly lit by soft white strips of the moon
through the window. She loved the dotted Swiss curtains blowing, and
the white-valanced little bed, and the white-valanced little
dressing-table all dim and misty save where a broad shaft of light
gave a divine patch of illumination to undress by. She said her
prayers on her knees by the window, where she could keep open but
unsacrilegious eyes on God's handiwork outside--the divine miracle
of everyday things transformed into shimmering glory.
A soft brushing against her ankles told her that Poppylinda, her
cat, had come to say good night. She lifted her pet up to the sill.
"See the beautiful night, Poppy," she said. "See!--it's just like a
great, soft, lovely, blue-silver bed!"
Poppy gave a gentle purr of acquiescence. Missy was sure it was
acquiescence. She was convinced that Poppy had a fine, appreciative,
discriminating mind. Aunt Nettie scouted at this; she denied that
she disliked Poppy, but said she "liked cats in their place." Missy
knew this meant, of course, that inwardly she loathed cats; that she
regarded them merely as something which musses up counterpanes and
keeps outlandish hours. Aunt Nettie was perpetually finding fault
with Poppy; but Missy had noted that Aunt Nettie and all the others
who emphasized Poppy's imperfections were people whom Poppy, in her
turn, for some reason could not endure. This point she tried to make
once when Poppy had been convicted of a felonious scratch, but of
course the grown-ups couldn't follow her reasoning. Long since she'd
given up trying to make clear the real merits of her pet; she only
knew that Poppy was more loving and lovable, more sympathetic and
comprehending, than the majority of humans. She could count on
Poppy's never jarring on any mood, whether grave or gay. Poppy
adored listening to poetry read aloud, sitting immovable save for
slowly blinking eyes for an hour at a stretch. She even had an
appreciation for music, often remaining in the parlour throughout
her mistress's practice period, and sometimes purring an
accompaniment to tunes she especially liked--such tunes as "The
Maiden's Prayer" or "Old Black Joe with Variations." There was, too,
about her a touch of something which Missy thought must be
mysticism; for Poppy heard sounds and saw things which no one else
could--following these invisible objects with attentive eyes while
Missy saw nothing; then, sometimes, she would get up suddenly,
switching her tail, and watch them as they evidently disappeared.
But Missy never mentioned Poppy's gift of second sight; she knew the
old people would only laugh.
Now she cuddled Poppy in her lap, and with a sense of companionship,
enjoyed the landscape of silvered loveliness and peace. A sort of
sad enjoyment, but pleasantly sad. Occasionally she sighed, but it
was a sigh of deep content. Such things as perching dizzily atop a
horse's back, even cantering in graceful insouciance, seemed far,
Yet, after she was in her little white bed, in smiling dreams she
saw herself, smartly accoutred in gleaming boots and pepper-and-salt
riding-breeches, galloping up to Pieker's grocery and there, in the
admiring view of the Post Office loafers and of a dumbfounded
Arthur, cantering insouciantly across the sidewalk and into the
Her dream might have ended there, nothing more than a fleeting
phantasm, had not Tess, the following week, come into possession of
Gypsy was a black pony with a white star on her forehead and a long
wavy tail. She was a pony with a personality--from the start Missy
recognized the pony as a person just as she recognized Poppy as a
person. When Gypsy gazed at you out of those soft, bright eyes, or
when she pricked up her ears with an alert listening gesture, or
when she turned her head and switched her tail with nonchalant
unconcern--oh, it is impossible to describe the charm of Gypsy. That
was it--"charm"; and the minute Missy laid eyes on the darling she
succumbed to it. She had thought herself absurdly but deep-rootedly
afraid of all horseflesh, but Gypsy didn't seem a mere horse. She
was pert, coquettish, coy, loving, inquisitive, naughty; both Tess
and Missy declared she had really human intelligence.
She began to manifest this the very day of her arrival. After Tess
had ridden round the town and shown off properly, she left the pony
in the sideyard of the sanitarium while she and Missy slipped off to
the summerhouse to enjoy a few stolen chapters from "The Duchess."
There was high need for secrecy for, most unreasonably, "The
Duchess" had been put under a parental ban; moreover Tess feared
there were stockings waiting to be darned.
Presently they heard Mrs. O'Neill calling, but they just sat still,
stifling their giggles. Gypsy, who had sauntered up to the
summerhouse door, poked in an inquisitive nose. Mrs. O'Neill didn't
call again, so Tess whispered: "She thinks we've gone over to your
house--we can go on reading."
After a while Missy glanced up and nudged Tess. "Gypsy's still
there--just standing and looking at us! See her bright eyes--the
"Yes, isn't she cute?" agreed Tess.
But, just at that, a second shadow fell athwart the sunny sward, a
hand pushed Gypsy's head from the opening, and Mrs. O'Neill's voice
"If you girls don't want your whereabouts given away, you'd better
teach that pony not to stand with her head poked in the door for a
half-hour without budging!"
The ensuing scolding wasn't pleasant, but neither of the miscreants
had the heart to blame Gypsy. She was so cute.
She certainly was cute.
The second day of her ownership Tess judged it necessary to give
Gypsy a switching; Gypsy declined to be saddled and went circling
round and round the yard in an abandon of playfulness. So Tess
snapped off a peach-tree switch and, finally cornering the pony,
proceeded to use it. Missy pleaded, but Tess stood firm for
discipline. However Gypsy revenged herself; for two hours she
wouldn't let Tess come near her--she'd sidle up and lay her velvet
nose against Missy's shoulder until Tess was within an arm's length,
and then, tossing her head spitefully, caper away.
No wonder the girls ejaculated at her smartness.
Finally she turned gentle as a lamb, soft as silk, and let Tess
adjust the saddle; but scarcely had Tess ridden a block before--
wrench!--something happened to the saddle, and Tess was left seated
by the roadside while Gypsy vanished in a cloud of dust. The imp had
deliberately swelled herself out so that the girth would be loose!
Every day brought new revelations of Gypsy's intelligence. Missy
took to spending every spare minute at Tess's. Under this new
captivation her own pet, Poppy, was thoughtlessly neglected. And
duties such as practicing, dusting and darning were deliberately
shirked. Even reading had lost much of its wonted charm: the
haunting, soul-swelling rhythms of poetry, or the oddly phrased
medieval romances which somehow carried you back through the
centuries--into the very presence of those queenly heroines who
trail their robes down the golden stairways of legend. But Missy's
feet seemed to have forgotten the familiar route to the Public
Library and, instead, ever turned eagerly toward the O'Neills'--that
is, toward the O'Neills' barn.
And, if she had admired Tess before, she worshipped her now for so
generously permitting another to share the wonderful pony--it was
like being a half owner. And the odd thing was that, though Gypsy
had undeniable streaks of wildness, Missy never felt a tremor while
on her. On Gypsy she cantered, she trotted, she galloped, just as
naturally and enjoyably as though she had been born on horseback.
Then one epochal day, emulating Tess's example, she essayed to ride
astride. It was wonderful. She could imagine herself a Centaur
princess. And, curiously, she felt not at all embarrassed. Yet she
was glad that, back there in the lot, she was screened by the big
barn from probably critical eyes.
But Gypsy made an unexpected dart into the barn-door, through the
barn, and out into the yard, before Missy realized the capricious
creature's intent. And, as luck would have it, the Reverend MacGill
was sitting on the porch, calling on Grandma Shears. If only it had
been anybody but Rev. MacGill! Missy cherished a secret but profound
admiration for Rev. MacGill; he had come recently to Cherryvale and
was younger than ministers usually are and, though not exactly
handsome, had fascinating dark glowing eyes. Now, as his eyes turned
toward her, she suddenly prickled with embarrassment--her legs were
showing to her knees! She tried vainly to pull down her skirt, then
tried to head Gypsy toward the barn. But Grandma Shears, in
scandalized tones, called out:
"Why, Melissa Merriam! Get down off that horse immediately!"
Shamefacedly Missy obeyed, but none too gracefully since her legs
were not yet accustomed to that straddling position.
"What in the world will you girls be up to next?" Grandma Shears
went on, looking like an outraged Queen Victoria. "I don't know what
this generation's coming to," she lamented, turning to the minister.
"Young girls try to act like hoodlums--deliberately TRY! In my day
girls were trained to be--and desired to be--little ladies."
Little ladies!--in the minister's presence, the phrase didn't fall
pleasantly on Missy's ear.
"Oh, they don't mean any harm," he replied. "Just a little innocent
There was a ghost of a twinkle in his eyes. Missy didn't know
whether to be grateful for his tolerance or only more chagrined
because he was laughing at her. She stood, feeling red as a beet,
while Grandma Shears retorted:
"Innocent frolic--nonsense! I'll speak to my daughter!" Then, to
Missy: "Now take that pony back to the lot, please, and let's see no
more such disgraceful exhibitions!"
Missy felt as though she'd been whipped. She felt cold all over and
shivered, as she led Gypsy back, though she knew she was blushing
furiously. Concealed behind the barn door, peeping through a crack,
"It was awful!" moaned Missy. "I can never face Rev. MacGill again!"
"Oh, he's a good sport," said Tess.
"She gave me an awful calling down."
"Oh, grandma's an old fogy." Missy had heard Tess thus pigeonhole
her grandmother often before, but now, for the first time, she
didn't feel a little secret repugnance for the rude classification.
Grandma Shears WAS old-fogyish. But it wasn't her old-fogyishness,
per se, that irritated; it was the fact that her old-fogyishness had
made her "call down" Missy--in front of the minister. Just as if
Missy were a child. Fifteen is not a child, to itself. And it can
rankle and burn, when a pair of admired dark eyes are included in
the situation, just as torturesomely as can twice fifteen.
The Reverend MacGill was destined to play another unwitting part in
Missy's athletic drama which was so jumbled with ecstasies and
discomfitures. A few days later he was invited to the Merriams' for
supper. Missy heard of his coming with mingled emotions. Of course
she thrilled at the prospect of eating at the same table with him--
listening to a person at table, and watching him eat, gives you a
singular sense of intimacy. But there was that riding astride
episode. Would he, maybe, mention it and cause mother to ask
questions? Maybe not, for he was, as Tess had said, a "good sport."
But all the same he'd probably be thinking of it; if he should look
at her again with that amused twinkle, she felt she would die of
That afternoon she had been out on Gypsy and, chancing to ride by
home on her way back to the sanitarium barn, was hailed by her
"Missy! I want you to gather some peaches!"
"Well, I'll have to take Gypsy home first."
"No, you won't have time--it's after five already, and I want to
make a deep-dish peach pie. I hear Rev. MacGill's especially fond of
it. You can take Gypsy home after supper. Now hurry up!--I'm
So Missy led Gypsy into the yard and took the pail her mother
brought out to her.
"The peaches aren't quite ripe," said mother, with a little worried
pucker, "but they'll have to do. They have some lovely peaches at
Picker's, but papa won't hear of my trading at Picker's any more."
Missy thought it silly of her father to have curtailed trading at
Picker's--she missed Arthur's daily visit to the kitchen door with
the delivery-basket--merely because Mr. Picker had beaten father for
election on the Board of Aldermen. Father explained it was a larger
issue than party politics; even had Picker been a Republican he'd
have fought him, he said, for everyone knew Picker was abetting the
Waterworks graft. But Missy didn't see why that should keep him from
buying things from Picker's which mother really needed; mother said
it was "cutting off your nose to spite your face."
Philosophizing on the irrationality of old people, she proceeded to
get enough scarcely-ripe peaches for a deep-dish pie. Being horribly
afraid of climbing, she used the simple expedient of grasping the
lower limbs of the tree and shaking down the fruit.
"Missy!" called mother's voice from the dining room window. "That
horse is slobbering all over the peaches!" "I can't help it--she
follows me every place."
"Then you'll have to tie her up!"
"Tess never ties her up in THEIR yard!"
"Well, I won't have him slobbering over the fruit," repeated mother
"I'll--climb the tree," said Missy desperately.
And she did. She was in mortal terror--every second she was sure she
was going to fall--but she couldn't bear the vision of Gypsy's
reproachful eyes above a strangling halter; Gypsy shouldn't think
her hostess, so to speak, less kind than her own mistress.
The peach pie came out beautifully and the supper promised to be a
great success. Mother had zealously ascertained Rev. MacGill's
favourite dishes, and was flushed but triumphant; she came of a
devout family that loved to feed preachers well. And everyone was in
fine spirits; only Missy, at the first, had a few bad moments. WOULD
he mention it? He might think it his duty, think that mother should
know. It was maybe his duty to tell. Preachers have a sterner creed
of duty than other people, of course. She regarded him anxiously
from under the veil of her lashes, wondering what would happen if he
did tell. Mother would be horribly ashamed, and she herself would be
all the more ashamed because mother was. Aunt Nettie would be
satirically disapproving and say cutting things. Father would
probably just laugh, but later he'd be serious and severe. And not
one of them would ever, ever understand.
As the minutes went by, her strain of suspense gradually lessened.
Rev. MacGill was chatting away easily--about the delicious chicken-
stuffing and quince jelly, and the election, and the repairs on the
church steeple, and things like that. Now and then he caught Missy's
eye, but his expression for her was exactly the same as for the
others--no one could suspect there was any secret between them. He
WAS a good sport!
Once a shadow passed outside the window. Gypsy! Missy saw that he
saw, and, as his glance came back to rest upon herself, for a second
her heart surged. But something in his eyes--she couldn't define
exactly what it was save that it was neither censorious nor
quizzical--subtly gave her reassurance. It was as if he had told her
in so many words that everything was all right, for her not to worry
the least little bit. All of a sudden she felt blissfully at peace.
She smiled at him for no reason at all, and he smiled back--a nice,
not at all amused kind of smile. Oh, he was a perfect brick! And
what glorious eyes he had! And that fascinating habit of flinging
his hair back with a quick toss of the head. How gracefully he used
his hands. And what lovely, distinguished table manners--she must
practice that trick of lifting your napkin, delicately and swiftly,
so as to barely touch your lips. She ate her own food in a kind of
trance, unaware of what she was eating; yet it was like eating
supper in heaven.
And then, at the very end, something terrible happened. Marguerite
had brought in the pie'ce de re'sistance, the climactic dish toward
which mother had built the whole meal--the deep-dish peach pie,
sugar-coated, fragrant and savory--and placed it on the serving-
table near the open window. There was a bit, of wire loose at the
lower end of the screen, and, in the one second Marguerite's back
was turned--just one second, but just long enough--Missy saw a
velvety nose fumble with the loose wire, saw a sleek neck wedge
itself through the crevice, and a long red tongue lap approvingly
over the sugar-coated crust.
Missy gasped audibly. Mother followed her eyes, turned, saw, jumped
up--but it was too late. Mrs. Merriam viciously struck at Gypsy's
muzzle and pushed the encroaching head back through the aperture.
"Get away from here!" she cried angrily. "You little beast!"
"I think the pony shows remarkably good taste," commented Rev.
MacGill, trying to pass the calamity off as a joke. But his hostess
wasn't capable of an answering smile; she gazed despairingly,
tragically, at the desecrated confection.
"I took such pains with it," she almost wailed. "It was a deep-dish
peach pie--I made it specially for Mr. MacGill."
"Well, I'm not particularly fond of peach pie, anyway," said the
minister, meaning to be soothing.
"Oh, but I know you ARE! Mrs. Allen said that at her house you took
two helpings-that you said it was your favourite dessert."
The minister coughed a little cough--he was caught in a somewhat
delicate situation; then, always tactful, replied: "Perhaps I did
say that--her peach pie was very good. But I'm equally fond of all
sweets--I have a sweet tooth."
At this point Missy gathered her courage to quaver a suggestion.
"Couldn't you just take off the top crust, mother? Gypsy didn't
touch the underneath part. Why can't you just--"
But her mother's scandalized look silenced her. She must have made a
faux pas. Father and Rev. MacGill laughed outright, and Aunt Nettie
smiled a withering smile.
"That's a brilliant idea," she said satirically. "Perhaps you'd have
us pick out the untouched bits of the crust, too!" Missy regarded
her aunt reproachfully but helplessly; she was too genuinely upset
for any repartee. Why did Aunt Nettie like to put her "in wrong"?
Her suggestion seemed to her perfectly reasonable. Why didn't they
act on it? But of course they'd ignore it, just making fun of her
now but punishing her afterward. For she divined very accurately
that they would hold her accountable for Gypsy's blunder--even
though the blunder was rectifiable; it was a BIG pie, and most of it
as good as ever. They were unreasonable, unjust.
Mother seemed unable to tear herself away from the despoiled
"Come, mamma," said father, "it's nothing to make such a fuss about.
Just trot out some of that apple sauce of yours. Mr. MacGill doesn't
get to taste anything like that every day." He turned to the
minister. "The world's full of apple sauce--but there's apple sauce
and apple sauce. Now my wife's apple sauce is APPLE SAUCE! I tell
her it's a dish for a king."
And Rev. MacGill, after sampling the impromptu dessert, assured his
hostess that her husband's eulogy had been only too moderate. He
vowed he had never eaten such apple sauce. But Mrs. Merriam still
looked bleak. She knew she could make a better deep-dish peach pie
than Mrs. Allen could. And, then, to give the minister apple sauce
and nabiscos!--the first time he had eaten at her table in two
Missy, who knew her mother well, couldn't help feeling a deep degree
of sympathy; besides, she wished Rev. MacGill might have had his
pie--she liked Rev. MacGill better than ever. But she dreaded her
first moments after the guest had departed; mother could be terribly
Nor did her fears prove groundless.
"Now, Missy," ordered her mother in coldly irate tones, "you take
that horse straight back to Tess. This is the last straw! For days
you've been no earthly use--your practicing neglected, no time for
your chores, just nothing but that everlasting horse!"
That everlasting horse! Missy's chin quivered and her eyes filled.
But mother went on inflexibly: "I don't want you ever to bring it
here again. And you can't go on living at Tess's, either! We'll see
that you catch up with your practicing."
"But, mother," tremulously seeking for an argument, "I oughtn't to
give up such a fine chance to become a horsewoman, ought I?"
It was an unlucky phrase, for Aunt Nettie was there to catch it up.
"A horsewoman!" and she laughed in sardonic glee. "Well, I must
admit there's one thing horsey enough about you--you always smell of
manure, these days."
Wounded and on the defensive, Missy tried to make her tone chilly.
"I wish you wouldn't be so indelicate, Aunt Nettie," she said.
But Aunt Nettie wasn't abashed. "A horsewoman!" she chortled again.
"I suppose Missy sees herself riding to hounds! All dressed up in a
silk hat and riding-breeches like pictures of society people back
It didn't add to Missy's comfiture to know she had, in truth,
harboured this ridiculed vision of herself. She coloured and stood
"Someone ought to put pants on that O'Neill girl, anyway," continued
Aunt Nettie with what seemed to her niece unparallelled malice.
"Helen Alison says the Doctor saw her out in the country riding
astraddle. Her mother ought to spank her."
Mother looked at Missy sharply. "Don't let me ever hear of YOU doing
anything like that!"
Missy hung her head, but luckily mother took it for just a general
attitude of dejection. "I can't tolerate tomboys." she went on. "I
can't imagine what's come over you lately."
"It's that O'Neill girl," said Aunt Nettie.
Mother sighed; Missy couldn't know she was lamenting the loss of her
sweet, shy, old-fashioned little girl. But when she spoke next her
accents were firm.
"Now you go and take that horse home. But come straight back and get
to bed so you can get an early start at your practicing in the
morning. Right here I'm going to put my foot down. It isn't because
I want to be harsh--but you never seem to know when to stop a thing.
It's all well and good to be fond of dumb animals, but when it comes
to a point where you can think of nothing else--"
The outstanding import of the terrific and unjust tirade was that
Missy should not go near the sanitarium or the pony for a week.
When mother "put her foot down" like that, hope was gone, indeed.
And a whole week! That was a long, long time when hope is deferred--
especially when one is fifteen and all days are long. At first Missy
didn't see how she was ever to live through the endless period, but,
strangely enough, the dragging days brought to her a change of mood.
It is odd how the colour of our mood, so to speak, can utterly
change; how one day we can desire one kind of thing acutely and
then, the very next day, crave something quite different.
One morning Missy awoke to a dawn of mildest sifted light and
bediamonded dew upon the grass; soft plumes of silver, through the
mist, seemed to trim the vines of the summerhouse and made her catch
her breath in ecstasy. All of a sudden she wanted nothing so much as
to get a book and steal off alone somewhere. The right kind of a
book, of course--something sort of strange and sad that would make
your strange, sad feelings mount up and up inside you till you could
almost die of your beautiful sorrow.
As soon as her routine of duties was finished she gained permission
to go to the Library. As she walked slowly, musingly, down Maple
Avenue, her emotions were fallow ground for every touch of Nature:
the slick greensward of all the lawns, glistening under the torrid
azure of the great arched sky, made walking along the shady sidewalk
inexpressibly sweet; the many-hued flowers in all the flowerbeds
seemed to sing out their vying colours; the strong hard wind passed
almost visible fingers through the thick, rustling mane of the
trees. Oh, she hoped she would find the right kind of book!
Mother, back on the porch, looked up from her sewing to watch the
disappearing figure, and smiled.
"We have our little girl back again," she observed to Aunt Nettie.
"I wish that O'Neill girl'd move away," Aunt Nettie said. "Missy's a
It's a pity Missy couldn't hear her new classification; it would
have interested her tremendously; she was always interested in the
perplexing vagaries of her own nature. However, at the Library, she
was quite happy: for she found two books, each the right kind,
though different. One was called "Famous Heroines of Medieval
Legend." They all had names of strange beauty and splendour--
Guinevere--Elaine--Vivien--names which softly rustled in syllables
of silken brocade. The other book was no less satisfying. It was a
book of poems--wonderful poems, by a man named Swinburne--lilting,
haunting things of beauty which washed through her soul like the
waves of a sun-bejewelled sea. She read the choicest verses over and
over till she knew them by heart:
Before the beginning of years, there came to the making of man Grief
with her gift of tears, and Time with her glass that ran . . .
and, equally lovely:
From too much love of living, from hope and fear set free, We thank
with brief thanksgiving whatever gods may be That no life lives
forever; that dead men rise up never; That even the weariest river
winds somewhere safe to sea . . .
The verses brought her beautiful, stirring thoughts to weave into
verses of her own when she should find a quiet hour in the
summerhouse; or to incorporate into soul-soothing improvisings at
Next morning, after her hour's stint at finger exercises, she
improvised and it went beautifully. She knew it was a success both
because of her exalted feelings and because Poppy meowed out in
discordant disapproval only once; the rest of the time Poppy purred
as appreciatively as for "The Maiden's Prayer." Dear Poppy! Missy
felt suddenly contrite for her defection from faithful Poppy. And
Poppy was getting old--Aunt Nettie said she'd already lived much
longer than most cats. She might die soon. Through a swift blur of
tears Missy looked out toward the summerhouse where, beneath the
ramblers, she decided Poppy should be buried. Poor Poppy! The tears
came so fast she couldn't wipe them away. She didn't dream that
Swinburne was primarily responsible for those tears.
Yet even her sadness held a strange, poignant element of bliss. It
struck her, oddly, that she was almost enjoying her week of
punishment--that she WAS enjoying it. Why was she enjoying it,
since, when mother first banned athletic pursuits, she had felt like
a martyr? It was queer. She pondered the mysterious complexity of
There passed two more days of this inexplicable content. Then came
the thunder-storm. It was, perhaps, the thunder-storm that really
deserves the blame for Missy's climactic athletic catastrophe. No
lightning-bolt struck, yet that thunder-storm indubitably played its
part in Missy's athletic destiny. It was the causation of renewed
turmoil after time of peace.
Tess had telephoned that morning and asked Missy to accompany her to
the Library. But Missy had to practice. In her heart she didn't
really care to go, for, after her stint was finished, she was
contemplating some new improvisings. However, the morning didn't go
well. It was close and sultry and, though she tried to make her
fingers march and trot and gallop as the exercises dictated,
something in the oppressive air set her nerves to tingling. Besides
it grew so dark she couldn't see the notes distinctly. Finally she
abandoned her lesson; but even improvising failed of its wonted
charm. Her fingers kept striking the wrong keys. Then a sudden, ear-
splitting thunder-clap hurled her onto a shrieking discord.
She jumped up from the piano; she was horribly afraid of thunder-
storms--mother wouldn't mind if she stopped till the storm was over.
She longed to go and sit close to mother, to feel the protection of
her presence; but, despite the general softening of her mood, she
had maintained a certain stiffness toward the family. So she
crouched on a sofa in the darkest corner of the room, hiding her
eyes, stopping her ears.
Then a sudden thought brought her bolt upright. Gypsy! Tess had said
Gypsy was afraid of thunder-storms--awfully afraid. And Gypsy was
all alone in that big, gloomy barn--Tess blocks away at the Library.
She tried to hide amongst the cushions again, but visions of Gypsy,
with her bright inquisitive eyes, her funny little petulances, her
endearing cajoleries, kept rising before her. She felt a stab of
remorse; that she could have let even the delights of reading and
improvising compensate for separation from such a darling pony. She
had been selfish, selfcentred. And now Gypsy was alone in that old
barn, trembling and neighing. . .
Finally, unable to endure the picture longer, she crept out to the
hall. She could hear mother and Aunt Nettie in the sitting-room--she
couldn't get an umbrella from the closet. So, without umbrella or
hat, she stole out the front door. Above was a continuous network of
flame as though someone were scratching immense matches all over the
surface of heaven, but doggedly she ran on. The downpour caught her,
but on she sped though rain and hail hammered her head, blinded her
eyes, and drove her drenched garments against her flesh.
She found Gypsy huddled quivering and taut in a corner of the stall.
She put her arms round the satiny neck, and they mutely comforted
each other. It was thus that Tess discovered them; she, too, had run
to Gypsy though it had taken longer as she had farther to go; but
she was not so wet as Missy, having borrowed an umbrella at the
"_I_ didn't wait to get an umbrella," Missy couldn't forebear
commenting, slightly slurring the truth.
Tess seemed a bit annoyed. "Well, you didn't HAVE to go out in the
rain anyway. Guess I can be depended on to look out for my own pony,
But Missy's tactful rejoinder that she'd only feared Tess mightn't
be able to accomplish the longer distance, served to dissipate the
shadow of jealousy. Before the summer storm had impetuously spent
itself, the friends were crowded companionably in the feed-box,
feeding the reassured Gypsy peppermint sticks--Tess had met Arthur
Simpson on her way to the Library--and talking earnestly.
The earnest talk was born of an illustration Tess had seen in a
magazine at the Library. It was a society story and the illustration
showed the heroine in riding costume.
"She looked awfully swagger," related Tess. "Flicking her crop
against her boot, and a derby hat and stock-collar and riding-
breeches. I think breeches are a lot more swagger than habits."
"Do you think they're a little bit--indelicate?" ventured Missy,
remembering her mother's recent invective against tomboys.
"Of course not!" denied Tess disdainfully. "Valerie Jones in Macon
City wears 'em and she's awfully swell. Her father's a banker. She's
in the thick of things at the Country Club. It's depasse to ride
Missy was silent; even when she felt herself misunderstood by her
family and maltreated, she had a bothersome conscience.
"There's no real class to riding horseback," Tess went on, "unless
you're up to date. You got to be up to date. Of course Cherryvale's
slow, but that's no reason we've got to be slow, is it?"
"No-o," agreed Missy hesitantly. But she was emboldened to mention
her father's discarded pepper-and-salt trousers. At the first she
didn't intend really to appropriate them, but Tess caught up the
idea enthusiastically. She immediately began making concrete plans
and, soon, Missy caught her fervour. That picture of herself as a
dashing, fearless horsewoman had come to life again.
When she got home, mother, looking worried, was waiting for her.
"Where on earth have you been? Look at that straggly hair! And that
dress, fresh just this morning--limp as a dish-rag!"
Missy tried to explain, but the anxiety between mother's eyes
deepened to lines of crossness.
"For heaven's sake! To go rushing off like that without a rain-coat
or even an umbrella! And you pretend to be afraid of thunder-storms!
Now, Missy, it isn't because you've ruined your dress or likely
caught your death of cold--but to think you'd wilfully disobey me!
What on earth AM I to do with you?"
She made Missy feel like an unregenerate sinner. And Missy liked her
stinging, smarting sensations no better because she felt she didn't
deserve them. That heavy sense of injustice somewhat deadened any
pricks of guilt when, later, she stealthily removed the pepper-and-
salts from the upstairs store-closet.
But Aunt Nettie's eagle eyes chanced to see her. She went to Mrs.
"What do you suppose Missy wants of those old pepper-and-salt
"I don't know, Nettie. Why?"
"She's just sneaked 'em off to her room. When she saw me coming up
the stairs, she scampered as if Satan was after her. What DO you
suppose she wants of them?"
"I can't imagine," repeated Mrs. Merriam. "Maybe she hardly knows
herself--girls that age are like a boiling tea-kettle; yon know;
their imagination keeps bubbling up and spilling over, and then
disappears into vapour. I sometimes think we bother Missy too much
with questions--she doesn't know the answers herself."
Mrs. Merriam was probably feeling the compunctions mothers often
feel after they have scolded.
Aunt Nettie sniffed a little, but Missy wasn't questioned. And now
the scene of our story may shift to a sunny morning, a few days
later, and to the comparative seclusion of the sanitarium barn.
There has been, for an hour or more, a suppressed sound of giggles,
and Gypsy, sensing excitement in the air, stands with pricked-up
ears and bright, inquisitive eyes. Luckily there has been no
intruder--just the three of them, Gypsy and Missy and Tess.
"You're wonderful--simply wonderful! It's simply too swagger for
words!" It was Tess speaking.
Missy gazed down at herself. It WAS swagger, she assured herself. It
must be swagger--Tess said so. Almost as swagger, Tess asseverated,
as the riding outfit worn by Miss Valerie Jones who was the
swaggerest member of Macon City's swaggerest young set. Yet, despite
her assurance of swaggerness, she was conscious of a certain
uneasiness. She knew she shouldn't feel embarrassed; she should feel
only swagger. But she couldn't help a sense of awkwardness, almost
of distaste; her legs felt--and LOOKED--so queer! So conspicuous!
The upper halves of them were clothed in two separate envelopments
of pepper-and-salt material, gathered very full and puffy over the
hips but drawn in tightly toward the knee in a particularly swagger
fashion. Below the knee the swagger tight effect was sustained by a
pair of long buttoned "leggings."
"You're sure these leggings look all right?" she demanded anxiously.
"Of course they look all right! They look fine!"
"I wish we had some boots," with a smothered sigh.
"Well, they don't ALWAYS wear boots. Lots of 'em in Macon City only
wore puttees. And puttees are only a kind of leggings."
"They're so tight," complained the horsewoman. "My legs have got a
lot fatter since--"
Thrusting out one of the mentioned members in a tentative kick, she
was interrupted by the popping of an already overstrained button.
"SEE!" she finished despondently. "I SAID they were too tight."
"You oughtn't to kick around that way," reproved Tess. "No wonder it
popped off. Now, I'll have to hunt for a safety-pin--"
"I don't want a safety-pin!--I'd rather let it flop."
The horsewoman continued to survey herself dubiously, took in the
bright scarlet sweater which formed the top part of her costume. The
girls had first sought a more tailored variety of coat, but peres
Merriam and O'Neill were both, selfishly, very large men; Tess had
brilliantly bethought the sweater--the English always wore scarlet
for hunting, anyway. Missy then had warmly applauded the
inspiration, but now her warmth was literal rather than figurative;
it was a hot day and the sweater was knitted of heavy wool. She
fingered her stock collar--one of Mrs. O'Neill's guest towels--and
tried to adjust her derby more securely.
"Your father has an awfully big head," she commented. "Oh, they
always wear their hats way down over their ears." Then, a little
vexed at this necessity for repeated reassurance, Tess broke out
"If you don't want to wear the get-up, say so! I'LL wear it! I only
let you wear it first trying to be nice to you!"
Then Missy, who had been genuinely moved by Tess's decision that the
first wearing of the costume should make up for her chum's week of
punishment, pulled herself together.
"Of course I want to wear it," she declared. "I think it's just fine
of you to let me wear it first."
She spoke sincerely; yet, within the hour, she was plotting to
return her friend's sacrifice with a sort of mean trick. Perhaps it
was fit and just that the trick turned topsy-turvy on herself as it
did. Yet the notion did not come to her in the guise of a trick on
Tess. No; it came just as a daring, dashing, splendid feat in which
she herself should triumphantly figure--she scarcely thought of Tess
It came upon her, in all its dazzling possibilities, while she was
cantering along the old road which runs back of Smith's woods. She
and Tess had agreed it would be best, till they'd "broke in"
Cherryvale to the novelty of breeches, to keep to unfrequented
roads. But it was the inconspicuousness of the route, the lack of an
admiring audience, which gave birth to Missy's startling Idea. Back
in the barn she'd felt self-conscious. But now she was getting used
to her exposed legs. And doing really splendidly on Dr. O'Neill's
saddle. Sitting there astride, swaying in gentle rhythm with Gypsy's
springing motion she began to feel truly dashing, supremely swagger.
She seemed lifted out of herself, no longer timid, commonplace,
unathletic Missy Merriam, but exalted into a sort of free-and-easy,
Princess Royal of Swaggerdom. She began to wish someone might see
her. . .
Then startling, compelling, tantalizing, came the Idea. Why not ride
openly back into Cherryvale, right up Main Street, right by the Post
Office? All those old loafers would see her who'd laughed the day
she tumbled off of Ned. Well, they'd laugh the other way, now. And
Arthur Simpson, too. Maybe she'd even ride into Pieker's store!--
that certainly would surprise Arthur. True it was Tess he'd "dared,"
but of course he had not dreamed SHE, Missy, would ever take it up.
He considered her unathletic--sort of ridiculous. Wouldn't it be
great to "show" him? She visioned the amazement, the admiration, the
respect, which would shine in his eyes as, insouciantly and yet with
dash, she deftly manoeuvred Gypsy's reins and cantered right into
Afterwards she admitted that a sort of madness must have seized her;
yet, as she raced back toward the town, gently swaying in unison
with her mount, her pepper-and-salt legs pressing the pony's sides
with authority, she felt complacently, exultantly sane.
And still so when, blithe and debonair, she galloped up Main Street,
past piazzas she pleasurably sensed were not unpeopled nor
unimpressed; past the Court House whence a group of men were
emerging and stopped dead to stare; past the Post Office where a
crowd awaiting the noon mail swelled the usual bunch of loafers; on
to Pieker's where, sure enough, Arthur stood in the door!
"Holy cats!" he ejaculated. "Where in the world did--"
"Dare me to ride in the store?" demanded Missy, flicking the air
with her crop and speaking insouciantly. She was scarcely aware of
the excited sounds from the Post Office, for as yet her madness was
"Oh, I don't think you could get her in!--You'd better not try!"
Missy exulted--he looked as if actually afraid she might attempt it!
As a matter of fact Arthur was afraid; he was afraid Missy Merriam
had suddenly gone out of her head. There was a queer look in her
eyes--she didn't look herself at all. He was afraid she might really
do that crazy stunt; and he was afraid the boss might return from
lunch any second, and catch her doing it and blame HIM! Yes, Arthur
Simpson was afraid; and Missy's blood sang at the spectacle of
happy-go-lucky Arthur reduced to manifest anxiety.
"CAN'T get her in?" she retorted derisively. "Just watch me!"
And, patting Gypsy's glossy neck, she headed her mount directly
toward the sidewalk and clattered straight into Pieker's store."
Arthur had barely time to jump out of the way. "Holy cats!" he again
invoked fervently. Then: "Head her out!--She's slobbering over that
bucket of candy!"
True enough; Gypsy's inquisitive nose had led her to a bewildering
profusion of the sweets she adored; not just meagre little bits,
doled out to her stingily bite by bite. And, as if these delectables
had been set out for a special and royal feast, Gypsy tasted this
corner and sampled that, in gourmandish abandon.
"For Pete's sake!" implored Arthur, feverishly tugging at the
bridle. "Get her out! The old man's liable to get back any minute!--
He won't do a thing to me!"
Missy, then, catching some of his perturbation, slapped with the
reins, stroked Gypsy's neck, exhorted her with endearments and then
with threats. But Gypsy wouldn't budge; she was having, unexpectedly
but ecstatically, the time of her career. Missy climbed down; urged
and cajoled, joined Arthur in tugging at the bridle. Gypsy only
planted her dainty forefeet and continued her repast in a manner not
dainty at all. Missy began to feel a little desperate; that former
fine frenzy, that divine madness, that magnificent tingle of aplomb
and dash, was dwindling away. She was conscious of a crowd
collecting in the doorway; there suddenly seemed to be millions of
people in the store--rude, pushing, chortling phantoms as in some
dreadful nightmare. Hot, prickling waves began to wash over her.
They were laughing at her. Spurred by the vulgar guffaws she gave
another frantic tug--
Oh, dear heaven! The upper air suddenly thickened with sounds of
buzzing conflict--a family of mud-wasps, roused by the excitement,
were circling round and round! She saw them in terrified
fascination--they were scattering!--zizzing horribly, threateningly
as they swooped this way and that! Heavens!--that one brushed her
hand. She tried to shrink back--then gave an anguished squeal.
WHAT WAS THAT? But she knew what it was. In petrified panic she
stood stock-still, rooted. She was afraid to move lest it sting her
more viciously. She could feel it exploring around--up near her hip
now, now crawling downward, now for a second lost in some voluminous
fold. She found time to return thanks that her breeches had been cut
with that smart bouffance. Then she cringed as she felt it again.
How had It got in there? The realization that she must have torn her
pepper-and-salts, for a breath brought embarrassment acutely to the
fore; then, as that tickling promenade over her anatomy was resumed,
she froze under paramount fear.
"For Pete's sake!" shouted Arthur. "Don't just stand there!--can't
you do SOMETHING?"
But Missy could do nothing. Removing Gypsy was no longer the
paramount issue. Ready to die of shame but at the same time
engripped by deadly terror, she stood, legs wide apart, for her
life's sake unable to move. She had lost count of time, but was
agonizedly aware of its passage; she seemed to stand there in that
anguished stupor for centuries. In reality it was but a second
before she heard Arthur's voice again:
"For Heaven's sake!" he muttered, calamity's approach intensifying
his abjurgations. "There's the old man!"
Apprehensively, abasedly, but with legs still stolidly apart, Missy
looked up. Yes, there was Mr. Picker, elbowing his way through the
crowd. Then an icy trickle chilled her spine; following Mr. Picker,
carrying his noon mail, was Rev. MacGill.
"Here!--What's this?" demanded Mr. Picker.
Then she heard Arthur, that craven-hearted, traitor-souled being she
had once called "friend," that she had even desired to impress,--she
heard him saying:
"I don't know, Mr. Picker. She just came riding in--"
Mr. Picker strode to the centre of the stage and, by a simple
expedient strangely unthought-of before--by merely pulling away the
bucket, separated Gypsy from the candy.
Then he turned to Missy and eyed her disapprovingly.
"I think you'd better be taking the back cut home. If I was your
mamma, I'd give you a good spanking and put you to bed."
Spanking! Oh, shades of insouciance and swagger! And with Rev.
MacGill standing there hearing--and seeing! Tears rolled down over
"Here, I'll help you get her out," said Rev. MacGill, kindly. Missy
blessed him for his kindness, yet, just then, she felt she'd rather
have been stung to death than to have had him there. But he was
there, and he led Gypsy, quite tractable now the candy was gone, and
herself looking actually embarrassed, through the crowd and back to
High moments have a way, sometimes, of resolving their prime and
unreducible factors, all of a sudden, to disconcertingly simple
terms. Here was Gypsy, whose stubbornness had begun it all, suddenly
soft as silk; and there was the wasp, who had brought on the
horrendous climax, suddenly and mysteriously vanished. Of course
Missy was glad the wasp was gone--otherwise she might have stood
there, dying of shame, till she did die of shame--yet the sudden
solution of her dilemma made her feel in another way absurd.
But there was little room for such a paltry emotion as absurdity.
Rev. MacGill volunteered to deliver Gypsy to her stall--oh, he was
wonderful, though she almost wished he'd have to leave town
unexpectedly; she didn't see how she'd ever face him again--but she
knew there was a reckoning waiting at home.
It was a painful and unforgettable scene. Mother had heard already;
father had telephoned from the office. Missy supposed all Cherryvale
was telephoning but she deferred thoughts of her wider disgrace; at
present mother was enough. Mother was fearfully angry--Missy knew
she would never understand. She said harsher things than she'd ever
said before. Making such a spectacle of herself!--her own daughter,
whom she'd tried to train to be a lady! This feature of the
situation seemed to stir mother almost more violently than the
"It's all that O'Neill girl," said Aunt Nettie. "Ever since she came
here to live, Missy's been up to just one craziness after another."
Mother looked out the window and sighed. Missy was suddenly
conscious that she loved her mother very much; despite the fact that
mother had just said harsh things, that she was going to punish her,
that she never understood. A longing welled up in her to fling her
arms round mother's neck and assure her that she never MEANT to be a
spectacle, that she had only--
But what was the use of trying to explain? Mother wouldn't
understand and she couldn't explain it in words, anyway--not even to
herself. So she stood first on one foot and then on the other, and
felt perfectly inadequate and miserable.
At last, wanting frightfully to say something that would ameliorate
her conduct somewhat in mother's eyes, she said:
"I guess it WAS an awful thing to do, mother. And I'm AWFULLY sorry.
But it wouldn't have come out quite so bad--I could have managed
Gypsy better, I think--if it hadn't been for that old wasp."
"Wasp?" questioned mother.
"Yes, there was a lot of mud-wasps got to flying around and one some
way got inside of my--my breeches. And you know how scared to death
I am of wasps. I KNOW I could have managed Gypsy, but when I felt
that wasp crawling around--" She broke off; tried again. "Don't
think I couldn't manage her--but when I felt that--"
"Well, if the wasp was all that was the matter,'' queried mother,
"why didn't you go after it?"
Missy didn't reply.
"Why did you just stand there and let it keep stinging you?"
Missy opened her lips but quickly closed them again. She realized
there was something inconsistent in her explanation. Mother had
accused her of immodesty: riding astride and wearing those
scandalous pepper-and-salts and showing her legs. If mother was
right, if she WAS brazen, somehow it didn't tie up to claim
confusion because her--
She didn't try to explain. With hanging head she went meekly to her
room. Mother had ruled she must stay there, in disgrace, till father
came home and a proper punishment was decided upon.
It was not a short or glad afternoon.
At supper father came up to see her. He was disapproving, of course,
though she felt that his heart wasn't entirely unsympathetic. Even
though he told her Mr. Picker had made him pay for the bucket of
candy. Missy knew it must have gone hard with him to be put in the
wrong by Mr. Picker.
"Oh, father, I'm sorry!--I really am!"
Father patted her hand. He was an angel.
"Did you bring it home?" brightening at a thought.
"Bring what home?" asked father.
"Why, the candy."
"Of course not."
"I don't see why, if you had to pay for it. The bottom part wasn't
hurt at all."
Father laughed then, actually laughed. She was glad to see the
serious look removed from his face; but she still begrudged all that
Nor was that the end of the part played by the candy. That night, as
she was kneeling in her nightgown by the window, gazing out at the
white moonlight and trying to summon the lovely thoughts the night's
magic used to bring, the door opened softly and mother came
"You ought to be in bed, dear," she said. No, Missy reflected, she
could never, never be really cross with mother. She climbed into bed
and, with a certain degree of comfort, watched mother smooth up the
sheet and fold the counterpane carefully over the foot-rail.
"Mrs. O'Neill just phoned," mother said. "Tess is very sick. It
seems she and Arthur got hold of that bucket of candy."
"Oh," said Missy.
That was all she said, all she felt capable of saying. The twisted
thoughts, emotions and revulsions which surge in us as we watch the
inexplicable workings of Fate are often difficult of expression.
But, after mother had kissed her good night and gone, she lay
pondering for a long time. Life is curiously unfair. That Tess and
Arthur should have got the candy for which SHE suffered, that the
very hours she'd been shut up with shame and disgrace THEY were
gorging themselves, seemed her climactic crown of sorrow.
Yes, life was queer. . .
Almost not worth while to try to be athletic-she didn't really like
being athletic, anyway . . . she hoped they'd had the ordinary human
decency to give Gypsy just a little bit . . . Gypsy was a darling .
. . that wavy tail and those bright soft eyes and the white star . .
. but you don't have to be really athletic to ride a pony--you don't
have to wear breeches and do things like that . . . Arthur wasn't so
much, anyway--he had freckles and red hair and there was nothing
romantic about him. . . Sir Galahad would never have been so scared
of Mr. Picker--he wouldn't have shoved the blame off onto a maiden
in distress. . . No, and she didn't think the King of Spain would,
either . . . Or Rev. MacGill. . . There were lots of things just as
good as being athletic . . . there were . . . lots of things . . .
A moonbeam crept up the white sheet, to kiss the eyelids closed in
A HAPPY DOWNFALL
Ah, pensive scholar, what is fame?--A fitful tongue of fickle flame.
And what is prominence to me, When a brown bird sings in the apple-
tree? Ah, mortal downfalls lose their sting When World and Heart
hear the call of Spring! You ask me why mere friendship so Outweighs
all else that but comes to go? . . . A truce, a truce to
questioning: "We two are friends," tells everything. I think it vile
to pigeon-hole The pros and cons of a kindred soul. (From Melissa's
Improvement on Certain Older Poets.)
The year Melissa was a high school Junior was fated to be an
unforgettable epoch. In the space of a few short months, all
mysteriously interwoven with their causes and effects, their trials
turning to glory, their disappointments and surcease inexplicable,
came revelations, swift and shifting, or what is really worth while
in life. Oh, Life! And oh, when one is sixteen years old! That is an
age, as many of us can remember, one begins really to know Life--a
complex and absorbing epoch.
The first of these new vistas to unspread itself before Missy's eyes
was nothing less dazzling than Travel. She had never been farther
away from home than Macon City, the local metropolis, or Pleasanton,
where Uncle Charlie and Aunt Isabel lived and which wasn't even as
big as Cherryvale; and neither place was a two-hours' train ride
away. The most picturesque scenery she knew was at Rocky Ford; it
was far from the place where the melons grow, but water, a ford and
rocks were there, and it had always shone in that prairie land and
in Missy's eyes as a haunt of nymphs, water-babies, the Great
Spirit, and Nature's poetics generally--the Great Spirit was
naturally associated with its inevitable legendary Indian love
story. But when Aunt Isabel carelessly suggested that Missy, next
summer, go to Colorado with her, how the local metropolis dwindled;
how little and simple, though pretty, of course, appeared Rocky
Colorado quivered before her in images supernal. Colorado!
Enchantment in the very name! And mountains, and eternal snow upon
the peaks, and spraying waterfalls, and bright-painted gardens of
the gods--oh, ecstasy!
And going with Aunt Isabel! Aunt Isabel was young, beautiful, and
delightful. Aunt Isabel went to Colorado every summer!
But a whole year! That is, in truth, a long time and can bring forth
much that is unforeseen, amazing, revolutionizing. Especially when
one is sixteen and beginning really to know life.
Missy had always found life in Cherryvale absorbing. The past had
been predominantly tinged with the rainbow hues of dreams; with the
fine, vague, beautiful thoughts that "reading" brings, and with such
delicious plays of fancy as lend witchery to a high white moon, an
arched blue sky, or rolling prairies-even to the tranquil town and
the happenings of every day. Nothing could put magic into the
humdrum life of school, and here she must struggle through another
whole year of it before she might reach Colorado. That was a cloud,
indeed, for one who wasn't "smart" like Beulah Crosswhite.
Mathematics Missy found an inexplicable, unalloyed torture; history
for all its pleasingly suggestive glimpses of a spacious past, laid
heavy taxes on one not good at remembering dates. But Missy was
about to learn to take a more modern view of high school
possibilities. Shortly before school opened Cousin Pete came to see
his grandparents in Cherryvale. Perhaps Pete's filial devotion was
due to the fact that Polly Currier resided in Cherryvale; Polly was
attending the State University where Pete was a "Post-Grad." Missy
listened to Cousin Pete's talk of college life with respect,
admiration, and some unconscious envy. There was one word that rose,
like cream on milk, or oil on water, or fat on soup, inevitably to
the surface of his conversation. "Does Polly Currier like college?"
once inquired Missy, moved by politeness to broach what Pete must
find an agreeable subject. "Naturally," replied Pete, with the
languor of an admittedly superior being. "She's prominent." The
word, "prominent," as uttered by him had more than impressiveness
and finality. It was magnificent. It was as though one might remark
languidly: "She? Oh, she's the Queen of Sheba"--or, "Oh, she's Mary
Missy pondered a second, then asked:
"Prominent? How is a-what makes a person prominent?"
Pete elucidated in the large, patronizing manner of a kindly-
"Oh, being pretty--if you're a girl--and a good sport, and active in
some line. A leader."
Missy didn't yet exactly see. She decided to make the problem
"What makes Polly prominent?"
"Because she's the prettiest girl on the hill," Pete replied
indulgently. "And some dancer. And crack basket-ball forward--Glee
Club--Dramatic Club. Polly's got it over 'em forty ways running."
So ended the first lesson. The second occurred at the chance mention
of one Charlie White, a Cherryvale youth likewise a student at the
"Oh, he's not very prominent," commented Pete, and his tone damned
poor Charlie for all eternity.
"Why isn't he?" asked Missy interestedly.
"Oh, I don't know--he's just a dub."
"Yep, a dub." Pete had just made a "date" with Polly, so he beamed
on her benignantly as he explained further: "A gun--a dig-a greasy
"But isn't a smart person ever prominent?"
"Oh, sometimes. It all depends."
"Is Polly Currier a grind?"
"I should hope not!" as if defending the lady from an insulting
Missy looked puzzled; then asked:
"Does she ever pass?"
"Oh, now and then. Sometimes she flunks. Polly should worry!"
Here was strange news. One could be smart, devote oneself to study--
be a "greasy grind"--and yet fail of prominence; and one could fail
to pass--"flunk"--and yet climb to the pinnacle of prominence.
Evidently smartness and studiousness had nothing to do with it, and
Missy felt a pleasurable thrill. Formerly she had envied Beulah
Crosswhite, who wore glasses and was preternaturally wise. But maybe
Beulah Crosswhite was not so much. Manifestly it was more important
to be prominent than smart.
Oh, if she herself could be prominent!
To be sure, she wasn't pretty like Polly Currier, or even like her
own contemporary, Kitty Allen--though she had reason to believe that
Raymond Bonner had said something to one of the other boys that
sounded as if her eyes were a little nice. "Big Eyes" he had called
her, as if that were a joke; but maybe it meant something pleasant.
But the High School did not have a Glee Club or Dramatic Society
offering one the chance to display leadership gifts. There was a
basket-ball team, but Missy didn't "take to" athletics. Missy
brooded through long, secret hours.
The first week of September school opened, classes enrolled, and the
business of learning again got under way. By the second week the
various offshoots of educational life began to sprout, and notices
were posted of the annual elections of the two "literary societies,"
Iolanthe and Mount Parnassus. The "programmes" of these bodies were
held in the auditorium every other Friday, and each pupil was due
for at least one performance a semester. Missy, who was an
Iolanthian, generally chose to render a piano solo or an original
essay. But everybody in school did that much--they had to--and only
a few rose to the estate of being "officers."
The Iolanthians had two tickets up for election: the scholastic,
headed by Beulah Crosswhite for president, and an opposition framed
by some boys who complained that the honours always went to girls
and that it was time men's rights were recognized. The latter
faction put up Raymond Bonner as their candidate. Raymond was as
handsome and gay as Beulah Crosswhite was learned.
It was a notable fight. When the day of election arrived, the
Chemistry room in which the Iolanthians were gathered was electric
with restrained excitement. On the first ballot Raymond and Beulah
stood even. There was a second ballot--a third--a fourth. And still
the deadlock, the atmosphere of tensity growing more vibrant every
second. Finally a group of boys put their heads together. Then
Raymond Bonner arose.
"In view of the deadlock which it seems impossible to break," be
began, in the rather stilted manner which befits such assemblages,
"I propose that we put up a substitute candidate. I propose the name
of Miss Melissa Merriam."
Oh, dear heaven! For a second Missy was afraid she was going to cry-
-she didn't know why. But she caught Raymond's eye on her, smiling
encouragement, and she mistily glowed back at him. And on the very
first vote she was elected. Yes. Miss Melissa Merriam was president
of Iolanthe. She was prominent.
And Raymond? Of course Raymond had been prominent before, though she
had never noticed it, and now he had helped her up to this noble
elevation! He must think she would adorn it. Adorn!--it was a lovely
word that Missy had just captured. Though she had achieved her
eminence by a fluke,
Missy took fortune at the flood like one born for success. She mazed
the whole school world by a meteoric display of unsuspected
capacities. Herself she amazed most of all; she felt as if she were
making the acquaintance of a stranger, an increasingly fascinating
kind of stranger. How wonderful to find herself presiuing over a
"meeting" from the teacher's desk in the Latin room, or over a
"programme" in the auditorium, with calm and superior dignity!
Missy, aflame with a new fire, was not content with the old
hackneyed variety of "programme." It was she who conceived the idea
of giving the first minstrel show ever presented upon the auditorium
boards. It is a tribute to Missy's persuasiveness when at white heat
that the faculty permitted the show to go beyond its first
rehearsal. The rehearsals Missy personally conducted, with Raymond
aiding as her first lieutenant-and he would not have played second
fiddle like that to another girl in the class-he said so. She
herself chose the cast, contrived the "scenery"; and she and Raymond
together wrote the dialogue and lyrics. It was wonderful how they
could do things together! Missy felt she never could get into such a
glow and find such lovely rhymes popping right up in her mind if she
were working alone. And Raymond said the same. It was very strange.
It was as if a mystic bond fired them both with new talents-Missy
looked on mixed metaphors as objectionable only to Professor Sutton.
Her reputation-and Raymond's-soared, soared. Her literary talent
placed her on a much higher plane than if she were merely "smart"-
made her in the most perfect sense "prominent."
After the minstrel triumph it was no surprise when, at class
elections, Melissa Merriam became president of the Juniors. A few
months before Missy would have been overwhelmed at the turn of
things, but now she casually mounted her new height, with assurance
supreme. It was as though always had the name of Melissa Merriam
been a force. Raymond said no one else had a look-in.
At the end of the term prominence brought its reward: Missy failed
in Geometry and was conditioned in Latin. Father looked grave over
her report card.
"This is pretty bad, isn't it?" he asked.
Missy fidgeted. It gave her a guilty feeling to bring that
expression to her indulgent father's face.
"I'm sorry, father. I know I'm not smart, but-" She hesitated.
Father took off his glasses and thoughtfully regarded her.
"I wasn't complaining of your not being 'smart'--'smart' people are
often pests. The trouble's that this is worse than it's ever been.
And today I got a letter from Professor Sutton. He says you evince
no interest whatever in your work."
Missy felt a little indignant flare within her.
"He knows what responsibilities I have!"
"Responsibilities?" repeated father.
Here mother, who had been sitting quietly by, also with a
disapproving expression, entered the discussion:
"I knew all that Iolanthe and class flummery would get her into
Missy's voice quavered. "That's a very important part of school
life, mother! Class spirit and all--you don't understand!" "I
suppose parents are seldom able to keep up with the understanding of
their children," replied mother, with unfamiliar sarcasm. "However,
right here's where I presume to set my foot down. If you fail again,
in the spring examinations, you'll have to study and make it up this
summer. You can't go with Aunt Isabel."
Lose the Colorado trip! The wonderful trip she had already lived
through, in vivid prospect, a hundred times! Oh, mother couldn't be
so cruel! But Missy's face dropped alarmingly.
"Now, mamma," began father, "I wouldn't-"
"I mean every word of it," reaffirmed mother with the voice of doom.
"No grades, no holiday. Missy's got to learn balance and moderation.
She lets any wild enthusiasm carry her off her feet. She's got to
learn, before it's too late, to think and control herself."
There was a moment's heavy pause, then mother went on,
"And I don't know that you ought to buy that car this spring, papa."
The parents exchanged a brief glance, and Missy's heart dropped even
lower. For months she had been teasing father to buy a car, as so
many of the girls' fathers were doing. He had said, "Wait till
spring," and now-the universe was draped in gloom.
However, there was a certain sombre satisfaction in reflecting that
her traits of frailty should call forth such enthrallingly sinister
comments. "Lets any wild enthusiasm carry her off her feet"--
"before, it's too late"--"must learn to control herself--"
Human nature is an interesting study, and especially one's own
nature when one stands off and regards it as a problem Allen,
mysterious and complicated. Missy stared at the endangered recesses
of her soul--and wondered what Raymond thought about these perils-
for any girl. He liked her of course, but did he think she was too
Yet such speculations did not, at the time, tie up with views about
the Colorado trip. That was still the guiding star of all her hopes.
She must study harder during the spring term and stave off the
threatened and unspeakable calamity. It was a hard resolution to put
through, especially when she conceived a marvellous idea-a "farce"
like one Polly Currier told her about when she was home for her
Easter vacation. Missy wrestled with temptation like some Biblical
martyr of old, but the thought of Colorado kept her strong. And she
couldn't help feeling a little noble when, mentioning to mother the
discarded inspiration-without allusion to Colorado-she was praised
for her adherence to duty.
The sense of nobility aided her against various tantalizing chances
to prove anew her gifts of leadership, through latter March, through
April, through early May--lengthening, balmy, burgeoning days when
Spring brings all her brightly languid witchery in assault upon drab
The weather must share the blame for what befell that fateful Friday
of the second week in May. Blame? Of course there was plenty of
blame from adults that must be laid somewhere; but as for Missy, a
floating kind of ecstasy was what that day woke in her first, and
after the worst had happened--But let us see what did come to pass.
It was a day made for poets to sing about. A day for the young man
to forget the waiting ledger on his desk and gaze out the window at
skies so blue and deep as to invite the building of castles; for
even his father to see visions of golf-course or fishing-boat
flickering in the translucent air; for old Jeff to get out his lawn-
mower and lazily add a metallic song to the hum of the universe. And
for him or her who must sit at schoolroom desk, it was a day to
follow the processes of blackboard or printed page with the eyes but
not the mind, while the encaged spirit beat past the bars of dull
routine to wing away in the blue.
Missy, sitting near an open window of the "study room" during the
"second period," let dreamy eyes wander from the fatiguing Q. E.
D.'s of the afternoon's Geometry lesson; the ugly tan walls, the
sober array of national patriots hanging above the encircling
blackboard, the sea of heads restlessly swaying over receding rows
of desks, all faded hazily away. Her soul flitted out through the
window, and suffused itself in the bit of bright, bright blue
showing beyond the stand-pipe, in the soft, soft air that stole in
to kiss her cheek, in the elusive fragrance of young, green, growing
things, in the drowsy, drowsy sound of Mrs. Clifton's chickens
across the way. . .
Precious minutes were speeding by; she would not have her Geometry
lesson. But Missy didn't bring herself back to think of that; would
not have cared, anyway. She let her soul stretch out, out, out.
Such is the sweet, subtle, compelling madness a day of Spring can
Missy had often felt the ecstasy of being swept out on the yearning
demand for a new experience. Generally because of something
suggestive in "reading" or in heavenly colour combinations or in sad
music at twilight; but, now, for no definable reason at all, she
felt her soul welling up and up in vague but poignant craving. She
asked permission to get a drink of water. But instead of quenching
her thirst, she wandered to the entry of the room occupied by
Mathematics III A--Missy's own class, from which she was now
sequestered by the cruel bar termed "failure-to-pass." Something was
afoot in there; Missy put her ear to the keyhole; then she boldly
opened the door.
A tempest of paper-wads, badinage and giggles greeted her. The
teacher's desk was vacant. Miss Smith was at home sick, and the
principal had put Mathematics III A on their honour. For a time
Missy joined in their honourable pursuit of giggles and badinage.
But Raymond had welcomed her as if the fun must mount to something
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