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CHAPTER IV A HEART TO HEART TALK
True to her word, Ruth dutifully dashed off a short letter to Marian Selby before retiring that night. The writing of it was after all a mere formality. Ruth was certain that her cousin would offer no objection to the presence of a ninth girl at the reunion. In the first place, Marian would be sure to see matters as she saw them. Then, too, Marian would be the last person in the world to bar another’s road to happiness.

Her duty done, it but remained to Ruth to inform Blanche that her case was still under consideration pending the decision of the eighth member of the Equitable Eight. The following morning she was rather taken aback when, on going to her door in answer to a persistent rapping, she beheld Blanche, kimono clad and smiling serene expectation.

“What did they say? Is it all right?” were her eager queries, just above a whisper.

“Come in, Blanche.” Ruth was perfunctorily polite. She found it difficult to mask her disapprobation of her early morning caller.

“Oh, I can’t.” Blanche drew back hastily. Knowing Emmy to be within, she prudently kept to the hall. “I must hurry and dress. I was so worried! I simply had to come and ask you about things. You see, it means so much more to me than you can possibly understand,” she continued, simulating a wistfulness which fell so far short of the mark as to be faintly patronizing.

Blanche was quite unconscious of this. Ruth, however, sensed it keenly and it annoyed her. “The girls are willing that you should spend August with the Equitable Eight,” she made answer, “but we thought it fair to write to Marian Selby, my cousin, about it. She belongs to the Equitable Eight, too. I wrote her last night after the meeting. I am going to post the letter as soon as I have had my breakfast. That is all I can say until I hear from her.”

A decided frown darkened Blanche’s plump features as she listened to Ruth. Thrown off her guard by this unlooked for news, she burst forth pettishly. “I don’t see what difference—”

A flash in Ruth’s brown eyes warned her to caution. “Excuse me,” she apologized. “It’s not my place to find fault with anything you girls want to do. It’s sweet in you to go to so much trouble on my account. When do you expect an answer from your cousin?” This last with scarcely suppressed eagerness.

“Within three or four days,” replied Ruth briefly. “I’ll let you know as soon as I hear from her.” Ruth hoped Blanche would take this last assurance as a courteous protest against further quizzing.

“I am sure you will. I won’t bother you any more about it.” Blanche sighed and looked meekly grateful. “Thank you ever so much.” She turned and sped down the hall to her room, leaving Ruth to stare moodily after her, wondering for the fortieth time, “Is she really sincere?”

Entering her room, her troubled eyes met Emmy’s quizzical glance. From her position before the dressing table, Emmy had swung about in her chair at the sound of the closing door. “Well?” she drawled.

“I don’t know whether it’s ‘well’ or not.” Still in her kimono, Ruth seated herself on her bed, chin in hands. “Blanche didn’t like it at all when I told her about Marian. She started to fuss, then turned around and put on a humble face. Now, what made her do that? If she felt queerly about Marian’s being a stranger to her, then that might explain it. But it certainly looked as though she was peeved and tried to hide it for fear of making me cross. I’d far rather she had been frank and said what she started to say. I hate pretense.”

Emmy shrugged her shoulders. It was on her tongue to say, “Then steer clear of Blanche Shirly.” Ruth’s dejection forbade it, however. She realized that her chum was baring her troubled soul in a fashion quite foreign to herself. It was not Ruth’s way to advocate a measure and then renege. She understood, if Ruth did not, that the latter’s honest nature, which bade her distrust Blanche, was warring against her belief in living up to her obligations as a Torch Bearer.

“Don’t worry about it, Ruth,” Emmy sturdily put away her own doubts in order to still her friend’s misgivings. “I’m sorry I said anything to make you doubt Blanche. Let’s agree to believe her honest until she proves herself a villain. She may give us all an agreeable surprise by behaving beautifully every minute of the reunion.”

“I hope she will. I wish I could say, ‘I’m sure she will,’ but truly, I’m not a bit sure of it. No one except you is ever going to know that, though. It’s splendid in you to—to—” Ruth paused in sudden embarrassment.

“To accept Blanche so peacefully after what I said the other night,” supplemented Emmy, smiling.

“Well, yes,” admitted Ruth candidly. “I suppose that was what I really meant. I didn’t intend to say it so bluntly, though. I might as well own up that I was more afraid of you than of the others. It was Jane who surprised me.”

Emmy laughed. “I knew Jane would be up in arms,” she asserted. “She always takes things more seriously than Sarah or Frances. I wonder that she ever forgave me for the hateful way I treated Marian. That’s the reason,” Emmy’s beautiful eyes grew somber, “I am determined to do my level best for Blanche. I owe it to you and to myself.”

“Aren’t you ever going to forget, Emmy!” Ruth asked almost appealingly. It was the first time the painful subject had been brought up since that eventful night at Wanderer’s Roost when Emmy had found her better self.

“No; I don’t think so. I hope not,” was the steady response. “If I did, I might stumble again, especially if my good little roommate happened to be far away from me. All year I’ve tried to follow your example and consider others before myself. That’s the only way to keep out of mischief.”

“Now it’s you, instead of Jane, who are taking things too seriously,” cried Ruth, coloring under Emmy’s tribute to herself. “You’ve been a perfect angel to all the girls here, Emmeline Cerrito. You’ve done all sorts of kind things and everybody here adores you.”

“Nonsense.” Emmy made a deprecating gesture, as though to discount the very idea of her own popularity at Hillside.

“It’s the truth,” was Ruth’s stout insistence.

It was indeed true that Emmy had returned to Hillside the previous fall, a changed girl. Once she had shown merely a bored tolerance of her fellow students. But she had long since dropped her provoking attitude for one of kindly interest in her classmates. During the year so nearly ended, more than one girl owed her a lasting debt of gratitude for some favor graciously bestowed. There was still left in her enough of the Emmy of old to draw the line at Blanche and Jeanette. She had never succeeded in bringing herself to the point of being more than civil to either, sometimes hardly that. Comparing them to Ruth, whom she made her model, they were as dross to pure gold.

It was this very distrust and contempt for them which had leaped to the surface to oppose Ruth when she made plea to her chums for Blanche. The mere mention of Marian’s name had been sufficient to move Emmy to withdraw that opposition.

“No breakfast for you and Emmy unless we end this complimentary session and do a rapid-dressing stunt,” was all she vouchsafed to Ruth’s emphatic assertion. “Observe the time, oh, noble Torch Bearer, and you still languishing in your kimono!”

“I am observing it.” Ruth sprang to her feet. Slipping hastily out of her kimono she proceeded to dress with a speed that quite outstripped Emmy’s leisurely preparations for the day. “There, I beat you,” she announced as she deftly fastened the last troublesome hook in place. “It’s your turn to do a little observing. You still are minus your outer garments, my dear Miss Cerrito.”

“Not now.” Emmy’s black head emerged triumphantly from the one piece gown of navy blue broadcloth which she had slid over it, temporarily eclipsing her lovely face. “Help me fasten my frock. There’s a dear. Then we must run. The breakfast bell rang at least five minutes ago.”

Their minds now bent on breakfast, nothing further of a confidential nature passed between them as they began an orderly rush down the stairs. The little heart to heart talk had, however, done much toward laying Ruth’s doubts to rest. She mentally reproached herself for having allowed them to trouble her, and resolved that she would somehow make up to Blanche for this brief season of distrust.



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