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CHAPTER III ALL FOR THE SAKE OF RUTH
“It’s the worst example of pure and unadulterated nerve I’ve ever heard of,” cried Jane Pellew inelegantly.

“It’s even worse,” agreed Sarah Manning with equal fervor.

“I, for one, refuse to consent to it,” coldly declared Emmeline Cerrito.

“Let’s hear Ruth out before we condemn her,” smiled peace-loving Anne Follett.

“We’ve heard too much already,” grumbled Frances Bliss. For once her merry face looked decidedly glum.

“I suppose I ought to have begun at the very beginning and gradually led up to the awful revelation.” Ruth’s brown eyes roved wistfully from one to the other of her belligerent chums. “It simply goes to show that I’m no diplomat. But I thought I might as well say the worst first and do most of my explaining afterward.”

“I can’t see that there’s much more to explain,” sputtered Jane. “You’ve told us why Blanche Shirly has seen fit to invite herself to a strictly private reunion, but I can’t see why we should martyr ourselves for a whole month, just because Blanche’s mother has decided to go off to a sanatorium and leave her darling daughter at home with the housekeeper and a companion. I should say that her place is with her mother, sanatorium or no sanatorium.”

“Blanche says her mother doesn’t wish her to go there with her,” reminded Ruth patiently, “because Blanche makes her nervous.”

“Her mother appears to know Blanche almost as well as we do,” commented Frances wickedly.

“So it would seem,” giggled Sarah.

“It’s quite out of the question, Ruth.” Emmy’s chilly accents conveyed distinct displeasure. “You know what I said to you last night. I now say it again. Blanche has an axe to grind. She is very shallow in some respects and very deep in others. She isn’t in the least interested in the Camp Fire movement. She has some other secret reason for—for—”

“Butting in,” cheerfully supplied Sarah.

“Exactly,” nodded Emmy, then cast a reproachful glance at the offender whose ever-ready chuckle burst gleefully forth. Knowing Emmy’s horror of slang, Sarah had slyly taken advantage of this glowing opportunity to trap her.

“I forgive you, Sarah.” Emmy readily joined in the laugh at her expense. “You said exactly what I meant. Slang appears to have its uses as well as its abuses. To go on with what I was saying, Blanche has her own reasons for this sudden change of heart. If we agree to let her come to the reunion, she will surely do something to make us sorry we invited her. She’s not to be trusted. She’s likely to do all sorts of foolish things. Her head is filled with beaux and clothes. Do you suppose her mother would engage a companion to look after Blanche while she is gone, if she really trusted her?”

“I’m glad you said that, Emmy,” put in Ruth quietly. “It paves the way for me. I’ve gone over almost the same things to myself. But it only makes me feel all the more that we ought to have Blanche with us. As Camp Fire Girls, we ought to be willing and ready to give her the benefit of any doubts we may have of her sincerity. Suppose I go to her to-morrow and say: ‘We don’t want you.’ How do you suppose she will feel, if she is really in earnest? What will she think of us?”

“But she invited herself, and I am fairly certain she knew what she was about, even if she did pretend that she had misunderstood about the reunion,” maintained Emmy stubbornly.

“We can’t be certain of that,” asserted Anne gravely. “I think Ruth is right in saying that we should take Blanche on faith.”

“Thank you, Anne.” Ruth cast her one supporter a grateful smile. “There’s another thing I’d like to bring forward. It’s about my mother. I’d love to have Blanche learn to know her. Mumsie will share our good times, and I can’t help thinking that—that—well, that Mumsie could help Blanche a great deal. Don’t you believe, too, that if we make this—I must say it—little sacrifice, afterward we shall look back at it and say that we are glad we made it? Blanche won’t interfere much with our plans, if we don’t allow her to do so. Ever since that time when I was so perfectly horrid about Marian, I’ve vowed always to try to make the best of things and not run out to meet calamity. Of course, Anne and I are two against five. The majority rules, I suppose.”

“Ruth, you make me feel ashamed of myself,” was Emmy’s penitent cry. “After the hateful way I treated Marian last summer, I have no right to object to Blanche Shirly or anyone else whom you may choose to invite to your home. As our hostess-to-be, you are privileged to invite whom you please. Go ahead and invite Blanche.” It had cost proud Emmy no little effort to say this. Ruth’s sturdy avowal of past failings had brought back to her the memory of her own lapses.

The sudden brightening of Ruth’s sober face, repaid Emmy for her impulsively spoken words. “That’s sweet in you, Emmy,” she commended. “Please believe, girls, that I wouldn’t take advantage of being hostess to invite Blanche to the reunion. That has nothing to do with it. The only way to look at the question is impersonally. It is the Equitable Eight who has the only right to decide it; not Ruth Garnier.”

“All right, Ruth, I surrender,” smiled Betty Wyndham, “but only because you wish it.”

“Three against four,” remarked Sarah reflectively, fixing a significant eye on Jane.
“Three lonely rebels, looking rather blue,
One changed her stubborn mind, and then there were two,”

chanted Frances.

“Frances has poetically given up the ghost,” laughed Anne.

“I am nothing if not charitable,” grinned Frances. “I would that I could say the same of others.”

“That’s us,” snickered Sarah, playfully prodding Jane with her elbow. “Good-bye, Jane. I am going to leave you. I’ve decided to enlist in the great Shirly reform movement.”

“Good-bye,” returned belligerent Jane unemotionally. “I intend to stay where I am for the present. I never make up my mind in a hurry. Besides Frances’ rhyme is away off. She didn’t count Marian.” Still inclined to regard Blanche as an unnecessary affliction, Jane was bent on being provoking.

“Humph!” ejaculated Frances. “You are laboring under a delusion, Plain Jane. The first line of my—er—poem distinctly says ‘rebels.’ How do we know that Marian is a rebel?”

“You never thought of that until I reminded you,” flung back Jane.

“I—Jane, I cannot tell a lie.” Frances put on an expression of exaggerated nobility. “For once in your life you furnished me with inspiration. All the rest of your days you may be proud of it. Although your obstinacy grieves us deeply, Miss Pellew, we will graciously make allowance for it, Miss Pellew. We cannot hope to follow the confused meanderings of a contrary mind, Miss Pellew, we can only trust that as the golden years glide by, Miss Pellew, time will soften your stony heart and open your blind eyes, Miss Pellew, to the glorious possibilities of reform.
“Breathes there a Jane with soul so dead—
She yet shall lift her stubborn head
And shout: ‘Me for reform!’”

Frances’ impassioned ovation was hailed with a gust of mirth that threatened to make itself heard outside the sacred precincts of the council chamber. Even Jane had to laugh. Frances’ diverting burst of eloquence was too entirely good-humored to arouse resentment. Incidentally, it influenced prejudiced Jane to a broader perspective.

“I ought to be furiously angry with you, Frances Bliss, for orating on my so-called stubbornness,” she said, with a futile effort toward dignity, which ended in a laugh. “Just to show you that my contrary mind isn’t quite so contrary as you are trying to make out, I’ll join the reform movement now.”

“Hurrah!” exclaimed Anne and Emmy together.

“Good old Jane,” beamed Frances patronizingly. “Come to my room to-morrow and I’ll decorate you. In the dim recesses of my trunk repose a Grand Army badge, a suffragist button and a nice, crinkly, red paper Christmas bell. You may wear them all.”

“Thank you,” Jane’s sharp chin elevated itself, “but I couldn’t bear to deprive you of such treasures. Now stop teasing me. I want to ask Ruth something.”

“Ask ahead,” invited Ruth, with an encouraging smile. Fully expecting that of the six girls Emmy would be the hardest to convert, Jane’s obstinate stand had surprised her considerably. She mentally offered a vote of thanks to Frances for her timely oration.

“What are you going to do about Marian?” questioned Jane. “I think she ought to have her say in the matter, too.”

“I’ll write her to-night,” promptly assured Ruth. “Blanche is anxious to know her fate, but I didn’t promise when I would tell her. If she asks me about it to-morrow, I will explain that we can’t answer until we hear from Marian. If she should ask any one of you, please tell her the same. I don’t imagine that she will, though.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if she did,” declared Jane. “She’ll be crazy to know.”

“Having settled the question, suppose we give Blanche a rest,” suggested tactful Betty. She had sensed a slight weariness in Ruth’s voice as she gave her final direction, and realized that the valiant Torch Bearer would welcome a change of subject.

“Jane and I are not going to send our guests away hungry,” she made further cheerful announcement. “Hidden away in the bottom of the wardrobe are eats—glorious eats. Come on, Jane, let’s spread the feast. Which will you have, girls, tea or chocolate?”

Unanimous decision in favor of the latter sent Betty to her closet, the top shelf of which harbored the necessary ingredients. Meanwhile, Jane knelt before the open wardrobe, extracting numerous brown paper parcels that smacked of delicatessen.

“Come here and make yourself useful, Frances,” she ordered. “Take this stuff as I hand it to you, and be sure you put it on the table, right side up with care.”

“I will cheerfully and skillfully perform my act of contrition. So glad of the opportunity,” amiably avowed Frances as she proceeded to carry out Jane’s directions with an exaggerated carefulness that was irresistibly funny.

“We’ll have to hustle,” observed Jane, who had busied herself with the laying out of the various comestibles, while Frances, under her instruction, set the oblong center table with such dishes and cutlery as were available. “It’s half past nine now. Ten-thirty will be here before we know it.”

“Tell that to Betty,” retorted Frances. The table set, she had begun the slicing of a loaf of brown bread. “Our part of the feast is almost ready.”

“What’s that?” Hearing her name, Betty turned from her alert watch on the chafing dish containing the chocolate.

“Jane was merely reminding me of the frenzied galloping of time,” replied Frances. “She asked me to mention it to you.”

“The chocolate is ready, if that’s what she means,” smiled Betty, as she neatly circumvented its bubbling attempt to leave the safe confines of the chafing dish. “Bring me the chocolate-pot, please, Jane, and then draw up that little table, that holds the cups, beside the big one. We can manage to squeeze ourselves around the big one. Three strong-armed ladies can haul my cedar chest up to it, and sit on that. With one girl at each end and two on the other side we shall be all right.”

Laughingly complying with Betty’s directions, the seven friends gathered about the table. A combination of pimento cheese, brown bread, pickles, cold ham, olives, cocoanut layer cake and candy held for them no terrors. Blessed with good digestions and the proverbial schoolgirl love of spreads, they were quite ready to show their appreciation of the good cheer provided for them.

Over the merry little repast the subject of Blanche Shirly remained strictly taboo, though by no means forgotten. Secretly, each of the seven experienced a slight sense of depression. It arose from the knowledge that they had resolutely shoved something disagreeable into the background which would remain there but temporarily. The unexpected intrusion of Blanche Shirly into their plans for the coming reunion had served to cast a damper over them all. Anne and Betty had supported Ruth’s views for purely conscientious reasons. Remorse for past failings had actuated Emmy’s acceptance of the situation. Sarah and Frances had yielded partly from good nature, but largely because both adored Ruth and respected her convictions. Jane had been reluctantly won by Frances’ oration. Of the seven girls, she alone actually detested Blanche Shirly. While Emmy regarded Blanche with considerable contempt, Jane’s dislike for the frivolous, self-seeking girl was deep-rooted.

At three minutes before half-past ten the party broke up in a general rush for the door, punctuated by laughing goodnights. When the last guest had departed, leaving Jane and Betty to clear away the remnants of the spread, Jane spoke her mind to Betty.

“I think we are making a mistake,” she declared bluntly.

“About Blanche?” interrogated Betty quickly.

“Yes.” Jane wagged an emphatic brown head. “What we ought to do is to tell her flatly that we don’t want her. It would be more honest and save us a good lot of trouble later on. The longer I know Blanche, the less I like her. We couldn’t make her see things differently in a hundred years. I was surprised when Emmy gave in. She hasn’t any more faith in Blanche than I have. We all agreed to Ruth’s plan for Ruth’s sake. No one could stand out long against her ideas of right. Now that we’ve committed ourselves, we can only do our best. But remember what I say: Our best will be lost on Blanche.”


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