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CHAPTER XII THE PROMISE
“You haven’t any right to pry into my affairs, and I shan’t tell you a thing.” Secure in the knowledge that only Ruth had seen her in the automobile, Blanche’s dismay changed to defiance. “Whatever I choose to do is no concern of yours. Kindly mind your own business.”

“This happens to be my business.” Ruth was not to be shaken in her purpose. “You were to be my guest in the first place. When we changed our plans, I included you in them. I was warned that you had an axe to grind. I didn’t believe it. But that doesn’t matter now. What does matter is that while you are Miss Drexal’s guest, you shan’t do again as you did to-day. If you expect to go automobiling with a young man, then you must do so openly, and with Miss Drexal’s consent.”

“I want you to distinctly understand that I am engaged to that young man. I have a perfect right to accept his attentions, if I choose.” Defense of her conduct wrung this admission from Blanche’s unwilling lips.

“Not in the way you did to-day,” maintained Ruth. “What do you suppose Miss Drexal would say if she knew this? She is not merely our hostess, she is our guardian. She feels responsible for all of us. If, as you say, he is your fiancé, then you should have announced your engagement to her, and asked her if he might call on you openly.”

“You don’t understand things at all,” retorted Blanche hotly.

“But I intend to before I leave this room!” Ruth steadily assured. “You will have to do one of two things, Blanche. Either you must explain the whole affair to me, or else go to Miss Drexal and tell her.”

Blanche gasped angrily, but offered no reply. She glowered at Ruth for an instant, then dropped her eyes. “If I did tell you, you’d go and tell her anyway,” she muttered.

“Perhaps I wouldn’t. I’d rather not if we can settle things between ourselves. That’s why I’m asking you to be frank with me.”

Something in the earnest words awoke Blanche to the fact that Ruth really did wish to help her, rather than expose her folly. “I suppose I’d better tell you,” she said sulkily. “My mother doesn’t know I’m engaged, and I don’t want her to. She forbade me even to be friends with Donald. She doesn’t allow him to call on me. That’s why I was anxious to get away from home this summer. I thought if I went to visit you, he could come to see me there and pretend to be my cousin. Then Miss Drexal changed things all around and upset our plans. So he came up here, and is staying in Lakeview.

“I thought I could see him once in a while and no one would know it. No one would have, either, if that old storm hadn’t come up. I was going to walk home from the place where I met him this morning. It’s about a mile from here. We drove to Lakeview and had luncheon there at a hotel. We left the machine there and walked all around the town. While we were driving back, the sky began to get dark. He was afraid I’d get caught in the storm, so he brought me almost home. I never thought you girls would come back that way,” she ended in an aggrieved tone.

Ruth’s feelings, as she listened to this tale, were decidedly varied. So this was the fabled axe that she had willingly turned the grindstone to sharpen. She had often heard Emmy privately refer to Blanche as “boy-struck.” It was also generally known among the Hillside girls that Blanche preferred the reading of sentimental fiction to study. It now appeared as though she had introduced Romance into her own life with a vengeance. For a long moment Ruth silently regarded the pouting features of the narrator.

“It seems to me,” she said slowly, “that it was a good thing we did come back that way. I am glad that none of the others saw you, though. You haven’t been fair with me, Blanche, but I’m going to give you a chance to be fair now. I want you to promise me that you will write to this young man to-night, telling him that you cannot see him again while you are here at the cottage.”

“But I can’t do that!” was the protesting cry. “He’d think me—”

“It’s not so much what he may think as what others will surely think of your deception,” broke in Ruth a trifle sharply. “In the first place, you have disobeyed your mother. Then, too, you owe it to Miss Drexal to write that letter. If you will write it, then I will agree to say nothing of this to anyone, provided you keep your word. You must see for yourself that you can’t go on meeting this young man outside the Heights without being found out by someone else in the cottage. Anyway, I wouldn’t allow you to do it. It wouldn’t be fair to you, or your mother, or Miss Drexal. After you leave here to go to your own home, you are free to do as you choose, so far as Miss Drexal is concerned. But not until then. Why don’t you turn around and try to be a Camp Fire Girl in earnest, Blanche? You are too young to be thinking so much about love and all that nonsense,” Ruth entreated with sudden energy. “You’re just a schoolgirl like the rest of us.”

Blanche continued to scowl, but said nothing. She was not in the mood for advice. She was trying to decide which would be the lesser of two evils. Much as she disliked the idea of writing the letter Ruth demanded, she stood in far greater awe of Miss Drexal’s sure disapproval, should the registrar learn what Ruth had accidentally stumbled upon. She was also forced to admit to herself that Ruth’s logic was sound.

“If I promise not to see Donald again while I’m up here, will you promise not to write to my mother?” she sullenly compromised, as she glanced at Ruth’s set features.

“I hadn’t intended that. I think you ought to be the one to tell her, but not now. Wait until you go home from the reunion, then go to her frankly. If she still objects to your fiancé, it is your duty to break your engagement. Undoubtedly she knows what is wisest for you. If you wrote her about it now, it would upset her dreadfully. She would be likely to send for you to come home. I’d rather you’d stay and be one of us, share our good times, and win a lot of Camp Fire honors.”

Ruth had a shrewd idea that once cut off from association with the youth Blanche claimed engagement to, her interest in him would soon wane. She guessed that the engagement was a sentimental schoolgirl and boy affair, which had risen out of pure defiance of Mrs. Shirly’s wishes. Blanche was far too selfish to be in love with anyone except Blanche. Then and there Ruth resolved that before they left the Heights, she would somehow win Blanche over to be as she had advocated, “a Camp Fire Girl in earnest.”

“I’ll write to Donald to-night.” The promise came most reluctantly.

“I’m glad of that.” Ruth breathed a little relieved sigh. “Let’s shake hands and forget the disagreeable part.” Although quite aware that the promise had been unwillingly given, and the reference to Mrs. Shirly and the Camp Fire baldly ignored, she thought it best to make no further allusion to either. She would bide her time.

Very half-heartedly, Blanche laid a limp hand in Ruth’s. “Remember, you’ve promised not to tell,” she muttered.

“I shall keep my word,” Ruth gravely assured. She refrained from adding that she hoped Blanche would also stick to her agreement. She was fairly sure of it, however. She knew that Blanche stood in wholesome fear of exposure. “I must go,” she said, turning abruptly toward the door. She was sincerely glad to conclude the unpleasant interview.

Mutely, Blanche watched the door close on her accuser. Though she would not have admitted it to Ruth, she was not entirely sorry at the way things had turned out. Ever selfish of her own comfort, the day’s deception had entailed altogether too much trouble and worry to suit her. During her frantic dash for shelter, she had half resolved not to repeat it. Had the stubborn stand she had at first taken with Ruth been wholly genuine, she would not have yielded so tamely. Nevertheless, she was furious with Ruth for having interfered in her personal affairs. “I suppose she thinks she’s done something wonderful,” was her scornful comment as she seated herself before her mirror and moodily viewed her reflection. “She’s a snippy little goody-goody. A Camp Fire Girl in earnest!” she mimicked. “She’ll wait a long time for that to happen!”


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