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CHAPTER VIII BLANCHE LIVES UP TO HER REPUTATION
Once the bathing party had retired to their rooms, they made short work of discarding their wet suits for comfortable middy blouses, bloomers and blue uniform skirts. Though Blanche had begun her dressing prior to their return, they preceded her entrance into the dining room by several minutes. As a matter of fact, the Equitable Eight and Miss Drexal were patiently engaged in awaiting her coming, when she appeared among them, head held high, the picture of offended dignity.

“Good morning, Blanche,” greeted Miss Drexal pleasantly. She calmly ignored the signs of ill-humor, written large on the girl’s set features.

“Good morning.” Nodding stiffly to her hostess, Blanche swept wrathfully down upon Frances, who stood by a window talking to Anne Follett.

“How dare you make fun of me, Frances Bliss? You ought to be ashamed of yourself for singing that hateful song about me at the top of your voice.” Blanche’s own voice had achieved staccato heights. Her face was an angry red; her eyes two belligerent blue sparks. “I heard every single word you and Jane Pellew said about me while you were out in front of the cottage, and just let me warn you that you’d better not try to play any stupid tricks on me. I won’t stand it. Do you hear me?”

“Of course I hear you. I’m not deaf.” Stung to anger by the unexpected attack, Frances brought mild sarcasm to her defense.

“I never said a word about you out there except to ask if you were up.” Glaring her righteous indignation, Jane Pellew now entered the lists.

From their various positions about the room, where they had been standing awaiting Blanche’s tardy arrival before sitting down to breakfast, the listeners to the altercation viewed the instigator in blank amazement.

“You said more than that,” hotly accused Blanche. Dislike of Jane caused her to seize the opportunity to lay the burden of the offense at the black-eyed girl’s door.

“What else did I say?” furiously challenged Jane.

“Jane said nothing whatever about you,” cut in Frances sharply. “I am the only one that said anything, and I was only in fun. It is very unjust in you—”

“That will do, girls.” Miss Drexal interrupted in her most registrarial manner. “As hostess, it is not my place to rebuke my guests. As your guardian and teacher, I must insist that you stop this quarreling. Please take your places at table. After breakfast, we will hold court in the living room, and go further into this matter.”

The prey of many emotions, eight girls slipped obediently into the places they had occupied at dinner the previous evening. Blanche alone made no move to obey the dignified request. For an instant she stood stubbornly still, then flounced to her place with a toss of her auburn head. Seating herself at the head of the table, Miss Drexal touched the little silver bell beside her plate. The signal brought Martha from the kitchen.

“We are ready for breakfast, Martha. Will you serve the canteloupe?” she requested, with a show of placidity which she was far from feeling.

It was a somewhat uncommunicative company that presently began eating the delicious pink canteloupe Martha set before them. The several impersonal comments which one or another of them made fell rather flat. The atmosphere was still charged with the constraint created by Blanche’s outburst. Her lowered brows and pouting lips plainly indicated the will to renew the conflict at the first possible opportunity. Jane, also, showed signs of undiminished wrath. Frances’ merry features wore the preternaturally solemn expression that she usually assumed when trying to hold back her laughter. She was already beginning to see the funny side of the affair. Betty, Anne and Marian looked frankly puzzled. As faithful adherents to the kitchen, they were scatheless. Emmy’s lovely face wore an expression of bored resignation to the inevitable. Ruth’s eyes were full of grave concern. She had feared dire results when Frances had raised her voice in mischievous paraphrase. Sarah was industriously wondering whether Blanche had heard what she had said.

“Here comes the sacred omelet,” Betty called out with forced gaiety, as Martha appeared, bearing a large platter on which reposed a thick golden omelet, crowned with an inch of frothy white, faintly browned on top. “This is Marian’s and my work of art. I beat the eggs, and she did the rest. We made two, knowing that one would never satisfy this hungry horde.”

“Just wait until you see the bacon,” boasted Anne, “I’m responsible for its perfection. I helped Martha with the toast, too.”

“Let us also be helpful and gobble up this glorious array of eats,” beamed Frances as Martha reappeared with the bacon, made more crisply tempting by a garnishing of parsley.

An audibly contemptuous sniff from Blanche caused a quick flush to mount to Frances’ cheeks. The unfortunate allusion to being helpful had aroused the injured one to fresh ire. Before she could fling a cutting remark at Frances, Ruth tactfully headed her off.

“You all deserve to be decorated as chefs,” she said brightly.

“You mean chefesses,” amended Anne waggishly.

“Something like that,” returned Ruth, flashing her a grateful smile.

“Wait until Sarah and I take our turn in the kitchen. Then you’ll have something really praiseworthy in the line of eats,” promised Frances. “By the way, when are we to do our cooking stunt. I prefer trying my hand at breakfast. I think breakfast should be a very simple meal, though. Just fruit and coffee, and perhaps a little toast. Bread would be better. I can slice bread beautifully. Sarah can tend to the fruit, and we’ll let Martha make the coffee. It’s all just as simple as A. B. C.”

“Entirely too simple,” jeered Jane. “It’s a plain case of you shirk and we starve. I move that Frances be made to get the dinner to-night, all by herself, from a bill of fare that we shall lay out for her. I believe in a punishment that fits the crime.”

“You’ll find it an unlucky move for the Equitable Eight,” cheerfully retorted Frances. “I won’t speak of myself.”

“Have a little mercy on the rest of us, Plain Jane. Leave Frances alone in the kitchen to get the dinner, and we’ll all go hungry to bed. I wouldn’t trust her to boil water. She’d let the tea-kettle go dry while she composed an ode to the stove, or a sonnet dedicated to the frying pan,” ended Sarah with a derisive chuckle.

The vision of Frances dashing off an inspiration to the hapless kitchen range, while the tea-kettle bubbled merrily on to disaster, provoked a ripple of mirth in which Blanche Shirly alone refused to join. She was still darkly immersed in her own grievances. Nevertheless, this did not deter her from eating a substantial breakfast. Now and then she loftily addressed herself to Miss Drexal, at whose left she was seated, and who courteously attended to her wants. Her girl companions, however, might have been a thousand miles away for all the notice she took of them.

The meal, which had begun so unpropitiously, ended in a return of the irrepressible jollity that usually attended the Equitable Eight. Under the careless chatter and light laughter, there still lurked in each youthful mind the disquieting recollection of the session yet to be held in the living room. It was that, undoubtedly, which caused the breakfasters to linger at the table. No one, except Blanche, was anxious for that particular session to commence.

“Perhaps we had better go into the living room, girls.” There was an almost imperceptible shade of annoyance in Miss Drexal’s reminder. Rising, she led the way to the spacious, sunlit room, directly across the short hallway from the dining room. It was an attractive apartment, done in soft browns, and simply but very comfortably furnished with deep willow and rope chairs. Aside from a broad willow settee, piled high with gaily colored cushions, a book case, a cabinet phonograph and a graceful willow stand heaped with current magazines, the room contained little else in the way of furnishings.

“Line up your chairs with the settee,” requested the registrar, a half smile curving her lips. “Blanche, I wish you to sit by me.” Miss Drexal had already set her chair where it faced the row. Now she motioned Blanche to one she had placed beside it. Seating herself she said with the utmost gravity. “You girls must necessarily play the part of the defendants. Blanche is of course the plaintiff. You also see before you your stern judge. Now let us attack this disagreement heart and soul, and see if we can’t settle it. We will first listen to the plaintiff. What seems to be the trouble, Blanche?”

Blanche scowled vindictively at the row of girlish faces bent on her. She did not approve of Miss Drexal’s straightforward methods. She was convinced that the older woman was merely trying to place her in a ridiculous light before the entire company. Shrugging her shoulders, she said disdainfully, “I don’t think it is my place to speak first. You had better ask these girls what they said about me.”

“According to law, you must state your own case,” declared Miss Drexal evenly.

“Very well, then, I will.” Blanche cast a spiteful, sidelong glance at the impassive disciple of the law, and proceeded to pour forth her tale of woe in short, angry sentences which lengthened as she continued into a veritable tirade, directly largely against Frances and the unjustly-maligned Jane. “For girls who pretend to be followers of the Camp Fire, I must say they act very queerly. I don’t believe back-biting is included in the list for Camp Fire honors. If it is, I’ve never seen it. When I have anything horrid to say to a girl, I say it to her face, not behind her back,” was her scornful conclusion.

“You have all heard the plaintiff’s accusations,” Miss Drexal stated quietly. “What have you to say, Frances?”

She was hardly in sympathy with Blanche, whom she guessed to have been guilty of undue stress in her accusations. Neither did she approve of the part Frances had played in the morning’s jangle.

“It’s all my fault,” Frances’ contrite apology shattered the hush that had succeeded the formal statement and question. “But Blanche won’t believe that I was only in fun. Besides, she didn’t hear Ruth say before we climbed the hill that she was probably sleeping later than the rest of us, because she wasn’t used to long hikes. Nobody said another word about Blanche until Anne called to us to hurry and get ready for breakfast. Jane asked if Blanche was up yet, and then I sang out that silly paraphrase before I thought how it might sound. I am always making rhymes about the girls, but they don’t mind.

“Ruth told me then that I ought not to have sung it. Sarah said that Blanche wouldn’t be able to sleep after I had made so much noise.” Frances gallantly left out Sarah’s reference to Blanche as a “sleepyhead,” for which the former was duly grateful. As Blanche had not accused her directly of back-biting, she concluded that her uncomplimentary appellation had passed unnoticed.

“Ruth said, ‘Be good, Frances,’” continued the defendant ruefully. “I said I was good, gooder, goodest, and that I’d thought of a way to be helpful to Blanche and asked Jane to help me. Jane was not a bit anxious to, but asked me to tell her what it was. I said I wouldn’t tell her just then because we were too near the cottage, and Blanche might hear me and miss a delightful surprise. It did sound rather horrid.” A flush dyed her cheeks as she made this candid admission. “It wasn’t anything dreadful, though.

“No one is to blame but myself. Marian and Betty weren’t even on the scene. Anne and Emmy didn’t say a single word. What Jane, Ruth and Sarah said didn’t amount to a row of pins. I am the real villain. Blanche, I apologize most humbly for my sins. Please believe that I didn’t intend to be ill-natured.” Frances made her apology with convincing sincerity.

“I shall not accept your apology unless you tell me the trick you said you were going to play on me, and give me your word that you won’t play it,” snapped Blanche.

“I am willing to promise not to trouble you with any of my jokes, but that is all.” It was Frances who was angry now. “You may accept my apology or not, just as you like.”

“I think you ought to make Frances tell me, Miss Drexal,” Blanche made pettish appeal. “How can I know that she will keep her word?”

“Oh-h!” The exclamation burst angrily from Jane’s lips. No matter how much she and Frances might argue, in time of stress she was a loyal supporter.

“That is hardly fair, Blanche,” Miss Drexal gently rebuked. “I, for one, will vouch for Frances’ word.” An affirmative murmur swept along the row of shocked listeners. “As for the joke itself, I should advise both of you to dismiss all thought of it. As your hostess, girls,” she continued, addressing herself to the entire company, “it does not become me to lecture you. As Camp Fire Girls, it does not become any one of you to speak in a manner that may give offense to another. What may seem merely fun to you may not be regarded as fun by someone else. We came here with the intention of spending a happy season together. We must not allow the slightest shadow of dissension to settle down upon us. I shall make no further criticism upon this little rift in the lute. I shall also appreciate it if you will refrain from all discussion of it with one another. And now, let us forget it and talk of our plans for the day. Sentence on the defendants is suspended, and court is dismissed,” she concluded humorously.

While the registrar was speaking, Blanche stared fixedly at a spot high on the opposite wall, her mouth set in sullen lines. The instant the older woman had finished, she rose, and said with satirical politeness, “I, at least, will try to follow your advice. May I be excused, please? I have a very important letter to write. Whatever plans you may make will be agreeable to me.” Without waiting for permission to retire, she marched from the room, her elaborate, half-fitted negligee of pale blue silk fairly fluttering her displeasure as she swished out of the door and disappeared. If it had suddenly been gifted with the power of speech, it would undoubtedly have expressed sentiments quite different from those she had offered.


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