Betty Gordon at Boarding School/Chapter 6

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CHAPTER VI


FINE FEATHERS


Betty Gordon had always, foolishly perhaps, associated courtesy and good-breeding with beautiful clothes. This strange girl, who could speak so on such slight provocation (none at all, to be exact) wore a handsome suit, and if her jewelry was too conspicuous it had the merit of being genuine. Betty herself had a lively temper, but she was altogether free from snappishness and when she "blew up" the cause was sure to be unmistakable and significant.

Bob jumped when the girl fired her question at him. There had been nothing in his limited experience with girls to prepare him for such an outburst. Betty half expected him to acquiesce and leave the stranger in possession of his seat, but to her surprise he simply turned on his heel and walked away. Not, however, before Betty had seen something bordering on contempt in his eyes.

"I'd hate to have Bob look at me like that," she thought. "It wasn't as if he didn't like her, or was mad at her—what is it I am trying to say? Bob looked as if—as if—Oh, bother, I know what I mean, but I can't say it."

The little spitfire in the seat beside her wriggled uneasily as if she, too, were not as comfortable as she would pretend. Bob's silent reception of her discourtesy had infuriated her, and she knew better than Betty where she stood in the boy's estimation. She had instantly forfeited his respect and probably his admiration forever.

In a few minutes Bob was back, and with him the conductor.

"Young lady, you're in the wrong seat," that official announced in a tone that admitted of no trifling. "You were in eighteen in the other car and I had to move you to twenty-three in here. Just follow me, please."

He reached in and took one of the suitcases, and Bob matter-of-factly took the other two. The girl opened her mouth, glanced at the conductor, and thought better of whatever she was going to say. Meekly she followed him to another section on the other side of the car and found herself compelled to share a seat with a severe-looking gray-haired woman, evidently a sufferer from hay fever, as she sneezed incessantly.

Bob dropped down in his old place and shot a quizzical look at Betty.

"Flame City may be tough," he observed, "and I'd be the last one to claim that it possessed one grain of culture; but at that, I can't remember having a pitched battle with a girl during my care-free existence there."

"She's used to having her own way," said Betty, with a laudable ambition to be charitable, an intention which she inadvertently destroyed by adding vigorously: "She'd get that knocked out of her if she lived West a little while."

"Guess the East can be trusted to smooth her down," commented Bob grimly. "Unless she's planning to live in seclusion, she won't get far in peace or happiness unless she behaves a bit more like a human being."

The girl was more or less in evidence during the rest of the trip and incurred the cordial enmity of every woman in the car by the coolness with which she appropriated the dressing room in the morning and curled her hair and made an elaborate toilet in perfect indifference to the other feminine travelers who were shut out till she had the last hairpin adjusted to her satisfaction.

She was met at the Chicago terminal by a party of gay friends who whisked her off in a palatial car, and Bob and Betty who, acting on Mr. Gordon's advice, spent their two-hour wait between trains driving along the Lake Shore Drive, forgot her completely.

But first Betty fell victim to the charms of a hat displayed in a smart little millinery shop, and had an argument with Bob in which she came off victor.

"Oh, Bob, what a darling hat!" she had exclaimed, drawing him over to the window as they turned down the first street from the station. "I must have it; I want to look nice when I meet the girls in Washington."

"You look nice now," declared Bob sturdily. "But if you want to buy it, go ahead," he encouraged her. "Ask 'em how much it is, though," he added, with a sudden recollection of the fabulous prices said to be charged for a yard of ribbon and a bit of lace.

The hat in question was a soft brown beaver that rolled slightly away from the face and boasted as trimming a single scarlet quill. It was undeniably becoming, and Bob gave it his unqualified approval.

"And you will want a veil?" insinuated the clever young French saleswoman. "See—it is charming!"

She threw over the hat a cobwebby pattern of brown silk net embroidered heavily with chenille dots and deftly draped it back from Betty's glowing face.

"You don't want a veil!" said Bob bluntly.

Now the mirror told Betty that the veil looked very well indeed, and made her, she was sure of it, prettier. Betty was a good traveler and the journey had not tired her. The excitement and pleasure of choosing a new hat had brought a flush to her cheeks, and the shining brown eyes that gazed back at her from the glass assured her that a veil was something greatly to be desired.

"You don't want it," repeated Bob. "You're only thirteen and you'll look silly. Do you want to dress like that girl on the train?"

If Bob had stopped to think he would have realized that his remarks were not exactly tactful. Especially the reference to Betty's age, just when she fancied that she looked very grown up indeed. She was fond of braiding her heavy thick hair and wrapping it around her head so that there were no hair-ribbons to betray her. In Betty's experience the border line between a young lady and a little girl was determined by the absence or presence of hair-ribbons.

"How much is it?" she asked the saleswoman.

"Oh, but six dollars," answered that young person with a wave of one jeweled hand as though six dollars were a mere nothing.

"I'll take it," said Betty decisively. "And I'll wear it and the hat, too, please; you can wrap up my old one."

Bob was silent until the transaction had been completed and they were out of the shop.

"You wait here and I'll see about getting a car to take us along the Drive," he said then.

"You're—you're not mad at me, are you Bob?" faltered Betty, putting an appealing hand on his arm. "I haven't had any fun with clothes all summer long."

"No, I'm not mad. But I think you're an awful chump," replied Bob with his characteristic frankness.

Before the drive was over, Betty was inclined to agree with him.

The car was an open one, and while the day was warm and sunny, there was a lively breeze blowing straight off the lake. The veil persisted in blowing first into Betty's eyes, then into Bob's, and interfered to an amazing degree with their enjoyment of the scenery. Finally, as they rounded a curve and caught the full breath of the breeze, the veil blew away entirely.

"Let it go," said Betty resignedly. "It's cost me six dollars to learn I don't want to wear a veil."

Bob privately decided he liked her much better without the flimsy net affair, but he wisely determined not to air his opinion. There was no use, he told himself, in "rubbing it in."

They had lunch in a cozy little tea-room and went back to the train like seasoned travelers. Bob was an ideal companion for such journeys, for he never lost his head and never missed connections, while nervous haste was unknown to him.

"Won't I be glad to see the Littells!" exclaimed Betty, watching the porter make up their berths.

"So shall I," agreed Bob. "Did you ever know such hospitable people, asking a whole raft of us to spend the week at Fairfields? How many did Bobby write would be there?"

"Let's see," said Betty, checking off on her fingers. "There'll be Bobby and Louise, of course; and Esther who is too young to go away to school, but who will want to do everything we do; Libbie Littell and another Vermont girl we don't know—Frances Martin; you and I; and the five boys Mr. Littell wrote you about—the Tucker twins, Timothy Derby, Sydney Cooke and Winifred Marion Brown. Twelve of us! Won't it be fun! I do wish the Guerin girls could be there, but we'll see them at the school."

"I'd like to see that Winifred Marion chap," declared Bob. "A boy with a girl's name has his troubles cut out for him, I should say."

"Lots of 'em have girls' names—in history," contributed Betty absently. "What time do we get into Washington, Bob?"

"Around five, probably six p.m., for we're likely to be a bit late," replied Bob. "Let's go to bed now, Betty, and get an early start in the morning."

The day spent on the train was uneventful, and, contrary to Bob's expectations, they were on time at every station. Betty's heart beat faster as the hands of her little wrist watch pointed to 5:45 and the passengers began to gather up their wraps. The porter came through and brushed them thoroughly and Betty adjusted her new hat carefully.

The long train slid into the Union Station. With what different emotions both Bob and Betty had seen the beautiful, brilliantly lighted building on the occasion of their first trip to Washington! Then each had been without a friend in the great city, and now they were to be welcomed by a host.

Betty's cheeks flushed rose-red, but her lovely eyes filled with a sudden rush of tears.

"I'm so happy!" she whispered to the bewildered Bob.

"Want my handkerchief?" he asked anxiously, at which Betty tried not to laugh.