Betty Gordon in Washington/13
"You're up early!" the gentleman greeted Betty cordially. "Guess you're ahead of even Esther, who usually leads the van. Sleep well? That's good," as she nodded. "No troubles this bright morning?"
Betty gave him a grateful glance.
"I can't help it," she said bravely. "You know how I feel, coming here like this—you don't know me—"
"No-o," drawled Mr. Littell, pulling forward a gay-cushioned chair and motioning for her to sit down. ("Can't have any manners when your foot is smashed," he explained in an aside.) "No, Betty, it's true we don't know you. But mother and I think we know a nice girl when we see her, and we're glad to have you stay with us just as long as you can feel comfortable and at home. If I were you, I'd just bury these uneasy feelings you speak of. Fact is, I'll give you two good reasons why you should make us a little visit. One is that if we had had the pleasure of your acquaintance you would have had a regular letter from mother weeks ago, asking you to come and spend the summer with us. The second is that I know how your uncle would feel to think of you alone in the city or the country. Guess how I'd take it if one of my own daughters was waiting for word from me and no one made things pleasant for her. Won't you shake hands and make a bargain with me that you'll try to see our side of it, your uncle's and mine, and then just plan to have a happy time with the girls until we can reach him in the West?"
Betty placed her small hand in the larger one held out to receive it, and smiled back at Mr. Littell. He had a smile very few people could resist.
"That's better," he said with satisfaction. "Now we're friends. And, remember, I'm always ready to give advice or listen. That's what fathers and uncles are for, you know. And I'd like to have you look on me as a second Uncle Dick."
Thus encouraged, Betty briefly outlined for him her story, touching lightly on her experiences at Bramble Farm, but going into detail about Bob Henderson, her uncle, and her pleasant recollections of Pineville.
By the time she had finished, the four girls had joined them on the terrace and presently a table was brought out and spread with a cloth, and, Mrs. Littell following the maid with a silver coffee urn, breakfast was served.
"The girls will want to go into town to-day, I suppose," said the motherly lady, selecting the brownest muffin for Betty and signaling her husband to see that the maid served her an extra portion of omelet. "I have some shopping to do, so I'll go in with them in the car. But I absolutely refuse to 'do' the Monument again."
"Poor mother!" laughed Bobby. "She hates to ride in an elevator, and yet I know by actual count she's gone up in the Monument a dozen times."
"I suppose every one who comes to Washington wants to go sightseeing," said Betty Littell, or, as she must begin to be called now, Libbie, "I know how it is in our little town at home. There's just one monument—erected to some Revolutionary hero—and I get fairly sick of reading the inscription to all the visiting aunts and uncles."
"Well, I like to go around," declared the energetic Bobby. "But just once I had an overdose. We had a solemn and serious young theological student who made notes of everything he saw. He was devoted to walking, and one of his favorite maxims was never to ride when he could walk. He dragged me up every one of those nine hundred steps in the Washington Monument and down again, and I was in bed for two days."
"Wait till you see the steps, and you'll understand," said Louise to Libbie and Betty. "If you try to walk down you're apt to get awfully dizzy."
After breakfast Carter brought the car around, and Mr. Littell hobbled to the door to see them off.
"Betty wants to send a telegram to her uncle," he said in an aside to his wife, while she stood at the long glass in the hall adjusting her veil. "Better help her, for she'll feel that she is doing something. If Gordon is in the oil regions, as I think from what she tells me he is, there isn't much chance of a telegram reaching him any quicker than a letter. However, there's no use in dampening her hopes."
"Now we'll drop you at the Monument," planned Mrs. Littell, as the car bore them down the driveway. "You can walk from there to that pretty tea-room—what is its name, Bobby?—can't you?"
"The Dora-Rose, you mean, Mother," supplied Bobby. "Of course we can walk. But Carter is taking the longest way to the Monument."
"We're going to the station first," answered her mother. "Betty wants to send her uncle a telegram, and Carter is going to leave directions to have the trunks sent up to the house. You have your baggage checks, haven't you, girls?"
They produced them, and Carter slipped them into his pocket. Betty had leisure and opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the handsome building as they approached it this perfect morning, and she could not help exclaiming.
"Yes, it is fine, every one says so," admitted Bobby, with the carelessness of one to whom it was an old story. "Finer, daddy says, than the big terminals in New York."
Libbie had the advantage of being the only one of the girls who had been to New York.
"This has lots more ground around it," she pronounced critically. "Course in a city like New York, they need the land for other buildings. But you just ought to see the Pennsylvania Station there!"
"All right, take your word for it," said Bobby. "Where do we go to send a telegram, Momsie?"
Mrs. Littell smiled.
"Betty and I are all who are necessary for that little errand," she said firmly. "The rest of you stay right in the car."
Carter opened the door for them and then went in search of the baggage man. Betty and Mrs. Littell found the telegraph window and in a few minutes a message was speeding out to Richard Gordon, Flame City, Oklahoma, telling him that his niece was in Washington, giving her address and asking what he wished her to do.
"I'll write him a letter to-night," promised Mrs. Littell when this was accomplished. "Then he'll know that you are in safe hands. You must write to him, too, dear, Flame City may consist of one shack and a hundred oil wells and be twenty miles from a post-office, you know."
Carter reported that the trunks were already on their way to Fairfields, and now the car was turned toward the gleaming Monument that seemed to be visible from every part of the city. Betty, her mind relieved by the sending of the telegram, abandoned herself to the joys of sightseeing. Here she was, young, well and strong, in a luxurious car, surrounded by friends, and driving through one of the most beautiful cities in the United States. Any girl who, under those circumstances, could remain a prey to doubts and gloom, would indeed be a confirmed misanthrope.
The car was stopped at one of the concrete walks leading to the base of the Monument, and with final instructions as to the time and place they were to meet her, Mrs. Littell drove away.
"Why, there's a crowd there!" cried Libbie in wonder.
"Waiting to be taken up," explained Louise. "Come on, we'll have to stand in line."
The line of waiting people extended half way around the Monument. The girls took their places, and when the crowd streamed out and they were permitted to go inside, Betty and Libbie, the two strangers, understood the reason for the delay. The elevator seemed huge, but it was quickly filled, and when the gates were closed the car began to mount very slowly.
"We'd be sick and dizzy if they went up as fast as they do in department stores and office buildings," said Bobby. "It takes about fifteen minutes to reach the top. Watch, and you'll see lots of interesting things on the floors we pass."
Betty was wondering how Bobby had ever survived the climb up the stairs and the trip down again with the enthusiastic theological student, when a cry somewhere in the back of the car startled her.
"What's the matter?" demanded the elevator operator, without turning his head.
"John isn't here!" declared a hysterical feminine voice. "Oh, can't you stop the car and go down and get him? He pushed me in, and I thought he was right behind me. Aren't you going back?"
"Can't, Madam," was the calm answer. "Have to finish the trip. You can go right back with the next load."
"Oh, goodness gracious," moaned the voice. "What'll I do? If I go back I may miss him. If I wait at the top it will be half an hour. Suppose he walks up? Maybe I'd better start to walk down to meet him."
Bobby stifled a giggle with difficulty.
"Bride and groom," she whispered to Betty. "Washington's full of 'em. Guess the poor groom was lost in the shuffle. Is she pretty—can you see?"
Betty tried to look back in the car, though the press of passengers standing all about her made it difficult. The bride was easily identified because she was openly crying. She was an exceedingly pretty girl, modishly gowned and apparently not more than twenty years old.
"We'll get hold of her and persuade her to wait," planned Bobby. "I'll show her the sights to amuse her while we're waiting for the next elevator load to come up. Here we are at the top."
A crowd was waiting to descend, and as they walked from the elevator, the bride meekly following, Bobby plucked her sleeve.
"Excuse me," she said bluntly, but with a certain charm that was her own, "I couldn't help hearing what you were saying. Your husband missed the elevator, didn't he?"
The bride blushed and nodded.
"Well, don't try to walk down," advised Bobby. "I did it once, and was in bed for two days. He'll come up with the next load. No one ever walks up unless they are crazy—or going to theological seminary. Your husband isn't a minister, is he?"
"Oh, no, he's a lawyer," the bride managed to say.
"All right," approved Bobby, noting with satisfaction that the elevator gate had closed. "Come round with us and see the sights, and then when your husband comes up you can tell him all the news. This is Betty Gordon, Libbie Littell and Louise, Esther and Bobby Littell, all at your service."
"I'm Mrs. Hale," said the bride, stumbling a little over the name and yet pronouncing it with obvious pride.