Betty Gordon in Washington/14
LIBBIE IS ROMANTIC
The girls, marshaled by Bobby, made a tour of the windows, and though Betty was fascinated by the views of the city spread out before her and bought post cards to send to the Pineville friends and those she knew in Glenside and Laurel Grove, her mind was running continuously on young Mrs. Hale's announcement.
"She couldn't be the old bookstore man's wife," she speculated, her eyes fixed on the Potomac while Bobby cheerfully tangled up history and geography in a valiant effort to instruct her guests. "Lockwood Hale was an old man, Bob said. He didn't say he had a son, but I wonder— Oh, Bobby, the Jesuit fathers didn't sail down the Potomac, did they?"
"Well, it was some river," retorted Bobby. "Anyway, Miss, you didn't seem to be listening to a word I said. What were you thinking about in such a brown study?"
Betty made a little face, but she had no intention of revealing her thoughts. She wanted to find out about the bookshop quietly, and if possible get the address. Always providing that Mrs. Hale was related to the man who had shown such an interest in Bob Henderson's almshouse record.
"Of course Hale is an ordinary enough name," she mused. "And yet there is just a chance that it may be the same."
The girls were planning to take the next car down, and yet when it came up they lingered diplomatically to catch a glimpse of the bridegroom. "John" proved to be a good-looking young man, not extraordinary in any way, but with a likeable open face and square young shoulders that Libbie, who startled them all by turning poetical late that night, declared were "built for manly burdens."
Louise, Esther and Bobby were the last to squeeze into the car, Libbie, the prudent, having ducked earlier. As Betty turned to follow them, the gate closed.
"Car full!" said the operator.
"Oh, Betty!" Bobby's wail came to her as the car began to disappear. "We'll wait for you," came the parting message before it dropped from sight.
Mrs. Hale laughed musically.
"Now you know something of how I felt," she said merrily. "May I present my husband? John, those five girls have been so nice to me. And now you'll go round with us, won't you?"
But Betty knew better than that.
"I'm going to write some of my post cards," she said. "But I would love to ask you a question before you go. Do you know a man in Washington who keeps a bookshop? His name is Lockwood Hale."
Mr. and Mrs. Hale exchanged glances.
"Know him?" repeated the young man. "Why, I should think we did! He's my great-uncle."
"I'm very anxious to see him to ask about a friend of mine," explained Betty. "Mr. Hale thought he might be able to tell him something of his parents who died when he was a baby. As soon as I heard your name I hoped you could tell me where to find the bookstore."
"Yes, uncle is a wizard on old family records," admitted the nephew. "Sometimes I think that is why he hates to part with a book. He keeps a secondhand bookshop, you know, and he's positively insulting to customers who try to buy any of the books. The old boy is really queer in his head, but there's nothing to be afraid of. He wouldn't hurt a flea, would he, Elinor?"
Mrs. Hale said doubtfully, no, she supposed not.
"Elinor didn't have a very good impression of him," laughed her husband. "We're on our wedding trip, you know,"—he blushed slightly—"and mother made us promise we'd stop in to see the old man. He hasn't seen me since I wore knickerbockers, and we had a great time making him understand who we were. Then he said that he hoped we liked Washington, and went back to his reading."
"And the shop is so dirty!" shuddered the bride. "I don't think she ought to go to such a place alone, John."
"I won't," promised Betty hastily. "If you'll let me have the address, I'll be ever so grateful and it may be a great help to my friend."
Young Mr. Hale wrote down the street and number on the back of the brand-new visiting card his wife pulled from her brand-new purse, and Betty thanked them warmly and turned to her card writing, leaving them free to enjoy each other and the view to their hearts' content. She had directed post cards to a dozen friends before the elevator returned, and this time both she and the bridal couple made sure that they were among the first to step in.
Betty felt of the little slip in her purse several times during the afternoon, inwardly glowing with satisfaction. If she could find Bob Henderson in Washington through the old bookseller, or learn something definite of the lad, she would find it easier to wait for word from her uncle.
After luncheon, which was calculated to please the healthy appetites of five girls to a nicety, they went into several of the large shops with Mrs. Littell, and then, because it had begun to rain and did not promise pleasant weather for driving, they went to a moving picture show.
"Had a full day?" asked Mr. Littell at dinner that night. "Libbie, what did you see?"
Libbie's answer provoked a gust of laughter. She was so essentially a matter-of-fact little personage in appearance and manner that when she opened her red mouth and announced, "A bride and groom!" the effect was startling.
That started Bobby, and she told the story of the lost John, told it as her father would have, for neither Bobby nor Mr. Littell were at all inclined toward sentimentality.
"Well, Betty," Mr. Littell beckoned to her afterward when they were all in the pleasant living-room across the hall, "think you're going to like Washington, even if it is overrun with brides and grooms?"
"It's lovely," Betty assured him fervently. "We've had the most perfect day. And, Mr. Littell, what do you think—I've found out something important already."
She had told him about Bob that morning, and he was interested at once when she narrated what the bride and groom had told her of old Lockwood Hale.
"Why, I know where his shop is. Everybody in Washington does," said Mr. Littell when she had finished. "He has lots of rare books mixed in with worthless trash. Funny I didn't take in you meant that Hale when you spoke of him. I suppose you'll want to go there to-morrow. Carter will take you in the car, and you'd better have one of the girls go with you. Bobby is all right—she may be scatter-brained but she doesn't talk."
For some reason none of the girls was sleepy that night, and after going upstairs they all assembled in Bobby and Betty's room to talk. Libbie could not keep her mind off the bride.
"I wonder how I'd look in a lace veil," she said, seizing the fluted muslin bedspread and draping it over her head. "It must be lovely to be a bride!"
"You've been reading too many silly books," scolded Bobby. "Anyway, Libbie, you're too fat to look nice in a veil. Better get thin before you're old enough to be married, or else you'll have to wear a traveling suit."
Libbie eyed her scornfully and continued to parade up and down in her draperies.
"Betty would look pretty in a veil," said Louise suddenly. "Come on, girls, let's stage a wedding. Libbie won't sleep all night if she doesn't have some romantic outlet. I'll be the father."
She seized a pillow and stuffed it in the front of her dressing gown so that it made a very respectable corpulency.
"I'll be the mother!" Esther began to pin up her hair, a dignity to which she secretly aspired.
"I'm your bridesmaid, Libbie," announced Betty, catching up the bride's train and beginning to hum the wedding march under her breath.
"If you will be silly idiots, I'm the minister," said Bobby, mounting the bed and leaning over the foot rail as if it were a pulpit.
The bride stopped short, nearly tripping up the devoted bridesmaid.
"I don't think you should make fun of ministers," she said, looking disapprovingly at her cousin. "It's almost wicked."
"I'd like to know how it's any more wicked than to pretend a wedding," retorted Bobby wrathfully. "Weddings are very solemn, sacred, serious affairs. Mother always cries when she goes to one."
Betty began to laugh. She laughed so hard that she had to sit down on the floor, and the more the two girls glared at each other, the harder she laughed.
"I don't see what's so funny," resented Bobby, beginning to snicker, too. "For goodness sake, don't have hysterics, Betty. Mother will hear you and come rapping on the door in a minute."
"I just thought of something." The convulsed Betty made a heroic effort to control her laughter and failed completely. "Oh, girls," she cried, wiping her eyes, "here you are bickering about the bride and the minister, and not one of us thought of the bridegroom. We left him out!"
Louise and Bobby rolled over on the bed and had their laugh out. Libbie collapsed on the floor, and Esther leaned against the bureau, laughing till she cried.
"They say the bridegroom isn't important at a wedding, but I never heard of ignoring him altogether," gasped Bobby, and then they were off again.
They made so much noise that Mrs. Littell tapped on the door to ask why they were not in bed, and when Bobby told her the joke, she had to sit down and laugh, too.
"I'll send you up some sponge cake and milk if you'll promise to go right to sleep after that," she told them, kissing each one good night all over again. "Libbie shall at least have the wedding cake, if she can't have a wedding."