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CHAPTER V THREE LETTERS
“Here it is!” exclaimed Ruth Garnier as she bent an earnest scrutiny on the bulletin board in the hall and triumphantly plucked from it the fateful letter, addressed to herself in Marian’s familiar hand. Four days had elapsed since the posting of Ruth’s letter to her cousin, and the seven friends had been impatiently awaiting a reply.
“Get you ready, there’s a meeting here to-night,
Get you ready, there’s a meeting here to-night!”

joyously caroled Jane Pellew, who stood peering over Ruth’s shoulder. By way of expressing further approbation, Jane executed a few fantastic steps as she trilled.

“Sing the rest of it, Janie,” called mischievous Frances from the stairs. “Then Miss Belaire will hear you and come out of her office to compliment you on the sweetness and carrying power of your voice, particularly the carrying power. May I ask if that is an original ditty? If so, it is rather of a sameness. I suppose the third line is precisely like the first and the second, etc.”

“No, it isn’t an original ditty,” mimicked Jane. “It’s a good old camp meeting song that the darkies down home sing, and—”

“How interesting,” interrupted Frances blandly. “So glad you told me. I had an idea it was a kind of vocal announcement that the Equitable Eight would hold forth this evening.”

“Well, so it is.” Jane doggedly stuck to facts, refusing to be teased. “Ruth has a letter from Marian. That means a meeting, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” agreed Frances, “provided Ruth says so.”

“No provided about it,” argued Jane. “If your memory was a trifle longer, you’d remember what we said the other night about holding another meeting when Marian’s answer came.”

“My memory is a great deal lengthier than you seem to think. My remark about Ruth was merely a test to discover the precise length of your memory, Plain Jane.”

“The very idea!” Jane glared, her indignation at this preposterous statement. “Oh, what’s the use,” she groaned, turning her back upon the fatuously smiling face peering at her over the banister.

“None whatever.” Frances made a reckless descent of the remaining stairs and joined the two at the bulletin board.

“Why not hold the meeting now?” proposed Ruth. “It’s only half past four. We’ll have plenty of time before dinner. Emmy is upstairs in our room. We can hold it there as soon as we locate Betty, Anne and Sarah.”

“Betty and Anne haven’t come in yet. They had an errand to do in town,” informed Jane. “They are likely to be here any minute, though. I don’t know where Sarah is.”

“She’s upstairs. I’ll go and tell her the news. We’ll meet you in Ruth’s room. One or both of you had better hang around down here and waylay Betty and Anne,” directed Frances.

“I’ll play herald,” volunteered Jane. “Go on upstairs, Ruth, and wait for us.”

“All right.” Ruth followed Frances, who had already reached the head of the staircase. In her hand were two other letters, addressed to herself, which she had extracted from the bulletin board along with Marian’s. All three were as yet unopened. Her mind occupied for the moment with the receipt of her cousin’s letter, she had paid no attention to the others, beyond noting that they were for her. Now as she climbed the stairs, she examined them, emitting a little cluck of surprise as she recognized the script on one of them. Tearing open the envelope as she walked, she drew forth a single sheet of heavy gray note paper and read:

“Dear Ruth:

“Will you come to my room at eight o’clock this evening? I wish to discuss with you a matter of some importance.
“Sincerely yours,
“Evelyn Drexal.”

“What can it be?” mused Ruth, half aloud. “Something about the Camp Fire, perhaps.”

Arrived at her room, she entered, exclaiming: “Here’s Marian’s answer, Emmy! I haven’t opened the letter yet. I thought I’d wait a little. I’ve asked the girls to meet us here as soon as Betty and Anne come in. They are out shopping. I ought to have consulted you first, though. I see you are busy.”

“Only a letter.” Emmy glanced reassuringly up from her writing. “I’ll finish it later. I can imagine what Marian has written. It is ‘yes,’ of course.”

“I think so, too,” nodded Ruth. “We’ll soon see, at any rate. There come Sarah and Frances. I can hear Sarah’s giggle.”

A succession of energetic thumps on the hapless panels proclaimed the fact that Frances and Sarah had indeed arrived.

“We were afraid you might not hear us,” greeted Frances solicitously, as Ruth opened the door to admit her clamorous guests.

“How thoughtful in you,” was her merry retort. “I suppose Jane is still keeping a lonely watch downstairs.”

“She is. I was thoughtful enough to go to the head of the stairs and call down a few encouraging words in passing.” Frances’ dancing eyes and mischievous grin conveyed a fair idea of the quality of her encouraging speeches.

“Sit down, girls,” invited Ruth. “I am going to ask you to let Emmy entertain you, or vice versa, while I read a letter. It’s the last of the three I took from the bulletin board, and I am rather curious to know who it is from. It’s postmarked ‘New York,’ but I can’t recognize the handwriting.”

“Read away. I give you my gracious permission,” acceded Frances, with a profound bow. “Sarah and I will entertain Emmy. What is your favorite form of diversion, my dear Miss Cerrito?”

“Listening to you and Jane argue,” laughed Emmy. “With Jane posted in the hall, I don’t see how you can carry out the whole of your contract.”

“Nothing easier,” assured Frances airily. “I will not only be myself but Plain Jane, also. Let me see.” Frances immediately launched forth into a spirited argument, supposedly carried on between herself and the absent Jane, which had to do with whether or not it had rained on the previous Thursday.

Ruth listened laughingly for a moment, then directed her attention to her neglected letter. As she took it from its envelope, curiosity impelled her to look first at the signature; a sharp ejaculation of amazement burst from her lips. Hastily turning to the salutation she was confronted with:

“Dear Miss Garnier:

“Blanche has written me that you have been so kind as to invite her to be your guest during the month of August. Since my physician ordered me to a sanatorium for the summer, I have been greatly concerned for my daughter’s welfare, as it is not advisable for her to be with me. She has no doubt explained matters to you. Your timely invitation has relieved my mind not a little. I am glad to grant her my permission to accept it, and wish to thank you for your thoughtfulness. I trust that she may prove an ideal guest. I am sure you cannot fail to be an ideal hostess. With best wishes, I remain,
“Sincerely yours,
“Alice Graham Shirly.”

“Oh!” Ruth’s second ejaculation stilled Frances’ flow of nonsense and brought all eyes to bear on her.

“What is it, Ruth?” asked Emmy concernedly.

Before Ruth could make reply the murmur of voices outside the door announced the arrival of the missing three.

“Wait a minute and I’ll tell you,” she answered briefly, stepping to the door.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” began Betty, “but we couldn’t possibly know—”

“Of course you couldn’t,” interrupted Frances. “So glad to find that Janie stuck to her post. I did my best to inspire her to good work. A helpful word shouted over the banister often acts as a stimulus to duty, doesn’t it, Plain Jane?”

A withering glance at her tormentor was Jane’s only indication of having heard the question. “Please read us Marian’s letter, Ruth?” she requested, assuming an air of dignity that caused Frances to wriggle with delight.

“I’ve another letter that I must first read you.” Ruth’s intonation was distinctly dry. “Get comfy, girls, and I’ll proceed.”

“All ready,” signalled Betty, as she seated herself beside Frances and Sarah, who were already occupying Ruth’s bed. Jane, Anne and Emmy drew their chairs in line with it.

For an instant Ruth surveyed the row of girls without speaking. Then, in the same dry tone she read them Mrs. Shirly’s letter. A murmur of indignation swept the line as she finished. “Let us see what Marian has to say,” she quickly continued, “before we discuss the letter I’ve just read you.”

“I hope she says ‘no,’” muttered Jane.

“Dearest Cousin,” Ruth’s clear voice was again heard. “Your letter came to me yesterday. I put off answering until to-day, because I wanted to think it over. Of course, I don’t mind Miss Shirly’s making one of our house party. Why should I? Just remember that last summer I was the intruder. Still, I don’t think it would be fair to her or to you girls to invite her on the strength of her mistake. If you do, both sides will probably be sorry later on. You must consider only whether or not you are really anxious to help her along as a Camp Fire Girl. I think that is the only right way to look at it. I imagine you must be of the same opinion. Whatever you decide, I shall be satisfied. Please forgive me for chopping off this letter. I am due in ten minutes at Winton Hall for a chemistry recitation. Will have to make giant strides across the campus to get there. With much love to you and the girls. Let me hear from you soon.
“Affectionately,
“Marian.”

“Remarks are in order.” Ruth folded the letter, her glance traveling from one to another of her friends.

“The last county having been heard from, Blanche is now among the elect,” stated Betty without enthusiasm.

“I’m not so sure of that,” contradicted Jane, her black eyes snapping. “What about Mrs. Shirly’s letter?”

“Yes, what about it?” chimed in Sarah crossly. “What business had Blanche to write to her mother that she had been invited to our reunion before she knew whether or not she was? It’s what I should call a put-up job, from start to finish.”

“I think we’d better do a little private investigating and find out Blanche’s real reason for all this,” hinted Jane darkly. “It’s something quite different from the one we know, or my name’s not Jane Pellew.”

“Don’t be so suspicious, Plain Jane,” reproved Frances, half bantering, half serious. “Even if Blanche has something up her sleeve, her mother’s letter is proof enough of what she told Ruth. As gentlemen, we can’t unfeelingly blast the fond hope of a sick lady bound for a sanatorium. Think of the everlasting debt of gratitude she will owe us for taking the fair but unruly Blanche under our august wing!”

“Oh, let’s end the thing once and for all by inviting her.” Anne Follett sprang impatiently to her feet. “Whatever Blanche has in her mind, she’ll be better off with us than moping at home. We are eight against one. We can afford to be generous.”

Anne’s impetuous proposal was ratified by four assenting voices. Sarah and Jane alone remained dissenters. It took ten minutes’ spirited persuasion to bring them to terms. Intrenching herself in her earlier stubborn stand against Blanche, Jane proved provokingly obdurate. She held out even after Sarah had deserted her, finally yielding with an ungracious, “All right, I give in. But don’t expect me to act as though I were delighted to have Blanche with us. I’ll treat her civilly but that’s all.”

“That won’t be fair to her, Jane. Don’t you remember what Marian said in her letter?” reminded Anne gently. “As Camp Fire Girls we must accept her as one of us or not at all.”

“Oh, well, I might be a little bit nice to her if she behaves well,” relented Jane.

“Then you are all of the same mind?” inquired Ruth. “You are willing to take Blanche on the terms of Marian’s letter?”

“We are,” was the concerted answer. This time without a dissenting voice. Blanche Shirly’s boast to Jeanette had not been an idle one.


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