Marjorie Dean's Romanceñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Oh, I don’t want it. I only want a little fun,” Leslie said.
Warily the pair skirted the crowd and went on to the gymnasium. Leslie’s funny face immediately challenged the attention of a number of frisky couples parading the great room. They began flocking about herself and Doris, asking foolish questions in a gleeful effort to learn her identity. She remained mute for which Doris was thankful. Her vacant smiling mask merely continued to beam upon her hilarious questioners.
The Hamtown Gilt Medal Band and Orkestry were already in their corner, importantly ensconced behind a white pasteboard picket fence. They alone of the ruralites were unmasked. They were simple geniuses of music in overalls, gay-checked shirts and high-crowned haying hats of rough straw, speckled green and red. Strings of richly gilded pasteboard medals struggled across each musician’s manly chest; they testified eloquently of past musical achievement. A large gilt-lettered sign, high on a standard flaunted the proud legend: “We have won all the medals in Hamtown for the past forty years. The only other band was a hand organ. Notice our decorations.”
The leader and first violin of this renowned group of musicians was tall and rather blonde, with an imposing blonde goatee and an artistic sweep of curled blonde mustache. His companion players were hardly less well supplied with whiskers, mustaches and even side burns. In direct apposition to the rustic youths of the community of Hamtown they presented a decidedly mature, dignified appearance. They seemed complacently well aware of their musical superiority over their humbler companions and gave themselves plenty of airs.
At intervals about the spacious gym were little open booths where popcorn fritters, salted peanuts, stick candy, apples and oranges, molasses taffy and pink lemonade were sold. In each booth a masked rustic maid presided, keeping a lynx eye on her wares.
After the orchestra had tuned up with considerable scraping, sawing and tooting they burst into the rallying strains of the grand march. Doris heard the sound of the music with patent relief. She had grown more and more uneasy for fear that Leslie might forget her role of silence and blurt out a remark in her characteristic fashion. Anyone who had known her in the past would be likely to recognize her voice.
Doris had suggested that it would be better for they two to dance together the few numbers before the unmasking for which Leslie dared remain. To this Leslie would not hear. She craved freedom to roam about the gymnasium by herself and dance with whom she fancied. She and Doris walked through the grand march together and danced the first number. Then Leslie left Doris, who was being singled out by two or three husky farmer boys for attention, and strolled down the gymnasium, her striped umbrella under one arm.
Behind the fatuously-smiling blonde face her small dark eyes were keeping a bright watch on the revelers.
She wondered where Bean and her Beanstalks were and tried to pick them out by height and figure. She decided that a maid in a pale pink lawn frock was Marjorie and promptly kept away from her. When the music for the second dance began she made her bow to a slim sprite in fluffy white who accepted with a genuine freshie giggle.
Encouraged by her success as a beau Leslie danced the next and still the next, each time with a different partner. She was a good dancer, and led with a sureness and ease quite masculine. After a couple of turns about the room Leslie had been obliged to discard her umbrella. She had boldly set it up inside the orchestra’s picket fence where it would be less likely to attract the attention of prankish wags.
At the beginning of the fifth dance Leslie was not yet ready to go. She glanced at the wall clock which stood at five minutes to nine. It was still too early for unmasking. She believed herself safe for at least two more dances after the one about to begin. She started toward a group of two or three disengaged maids.
Suddenly from the farther end of the gymnasium a cry arose which Leslie mistook for “Unmask.” It threw her into a panic. She forgot in her dismay that Doris had said the signal for unmasking would be the blast of a whistle. What she remembered instead was her striped umbrella. She was only a few steps from the orchestra corner. She made a frantic rush to it, reached over the low picket fence and snatched up the umbrella. She turned away, not noticing that she had laid low a section of the fence. She hurried across the floor, bent only on reaching the door.
“Oh!” A forceful exclamation went up as she crashed against a couple who had begun to dance. The force of the collision fairly took the breath of all three girls. Leslie made an unintentional backward step. The umbrella slid from under her arm toward the floor just as the jostled swain and his lady were about to move on. It tripped the rustic gallant neatly and he sprawled forward full length on the highly waxed floor, dragging his partner with him.
A RANK OUTSIDER
“What a clumsy creature you are!” The fallen gallant scrambled up from the floor and delivered the opinion in a feminine voice. It was shrill and wrathful. It rose in its shrillness above the rhythmic melody of the orchestra. “It’s both inconsiderate and dangerous in you to carry such a large umbrella onto the floor. Your face and your behavior go nicely together.”
“Beg your pardon for upsetting you, but keep your opinion to yourself.” Leslie began the reply with forced politeness, but ended her words almost in a hiss. Behind her simpering mask she was a dark fury. “I never allow anyone to speak in that tone to me.”
“How do you propose to prevent my saying what I please?” came back tauntingly from the belligerent swain. His partner, a slender, graceful figure in a pale yellow gingham gown placed a gently arresting hand on her angry gallant’s arm. It was shaken off with instant hateful impatience.
“I don’t propose to do that. Nothing short of a clamp could keep you from shrieking.” Leslie had changed in a twinkling to rude insolence. “I’ll have mercy on my ear drums and beat it.”
“Wha-a-t?” The angry swain’s voice had suddenly changed key. It had lowered in a mixture of amazed, disapproving conviction.
The utterance of that one amazed word acted upon Leslie like a sudden dash of cold water. She wheeled and swaggered on down the room with an air of elaborate unconcern. It was entirely make-believe. Her heart was thumping with dismay. She had spoken after having vowed within herself that whatever might happen at the romp she would remain mute. More, she was afraid she had been recognized by the student whom she had unwittingly tripped up with her umbrella. Something in those higher pitched tones had sounded familiar. She could not then remember, however, of whom they reminded her.
She had turned away from the quarrel just in time. Attracted by the commotion at that part of the gymnasium more than one pair of dancers had steered toward the accident center. Some of these now headed Leslie off in her perturbed journey down the room. They collected about her with mischievous intent, hemming her in and calling out to her.
“Such a pretty boy!” “Hello, April smiles!” “Wait a minute, puddeny-woodeny!” “I’m crazy about you!” were some of the pleasantries hurled at her. Under other circumstances Leslie would have laughed at the extravagances. Now she was growing worried for her own security from identification. She was now in precisely the situation against which Doris had warned her. Suppose the call to unmask were to come just then? She resolved desperately that, unheeding it, she would bolt for the door.
Meanwhile the tripped-up rustic was sputtering to his dainty partner in a manner which indicated trouble to come for Leslie.
“I wouldn’t stand such insolence from another student, much less from an intruder,” Julia Peyton was saying wrathfully. “I wouldn’t – ”
“Try to forget the matter, Miss Peyton,” urged a soft voice.
“I shan’t. Who are you, and how do you happen to know me?” demanded Julia rudely. “You don’t know who that mask is. I do. She has no invitation or right to be here tonight. It’s against all Hamilton tradition. Doris Monroe is to blame for this outrage. She has helped that horrid Miss Ca – ”
“I am Miss Dean, Miss Peyton,” came the interruption, low, but vibrating with sternness. “You will please not mention the name you were going to say.”
“I’ll do as I please about that. I’ll do more. I’ll expose that Miss Cairns before she has a chance to leave here. I know who’s to blow the whistle for unmasking. She is a sophie friend of mine. I’ll ask her to blow it now. Then we’ll see what Miss Cairns will do.”
Before Marjorie could stop her she had started up the room on a hunt for the sophomore who had been detailed to blow the unmasking whistle. A dismayed glance after Julia, then Marjorie followed her. There was but one thing she could do. She must follow Julia and discover to which sophomore had been intrusted the signal detail. Each class had been given a certain amount of the details for the romp. Among sophomore details was the sounding of the unmasking signal.
Unaware that she was being followed by Marjorie, Julia had gone on a tour of the room, searching this way and that, with spiteful eagerness. She now had a stronger motive for exposing Leslie than the latter’s offense against tradition. She was determined to be even with Doris for having “almost” snubbed her on numerous occasions. It would not reflect to Doris’s credit to be named as the student who had smuggled into the gym a girl who had been expelled from Hamilton.
The sophomore who was to blow the whistle was Jane Everest. Dressed in a befrilled frock of apricot dotted swiss, Jane formed a bright spot of color among the pale blues and pinks which was easily picked out. Julia had little trouble locating her. Marjorie, now not more than three yards behind Julia, reached the pair almost as soon as Julia hailed Jane. The two had met before that evening. Each knew the other’s costume.
“Who do you think is here tonight?” Julia caught Jane’s arm. This time she took the precaution of whispering to her. “Leslie Cairns,” she answered before Jane could speak. “Isn’t that outrageous. I want you to blow the whistle this instant. She’s down there in the middle of a crowd. She won’t be able to get free of it. She must be exposed Jane. It’s necessary to the interest of the whole college that she should be sternly dealt with. Imagine her sneaking in here under the cover of a mask.”
“Why – That is really dreadful, Julia,” Jane whispered back. “Are you sure? Some of the freshies don’t want the whistle blown until ten o’clock. The committee says it had better be after the next dance. I ought to do as they wish, you know. Where is she?”
“Down there.” Julia nodded sulkily toward a group of enjoying wags at the far end of the gymnasium. Those who composed it were finding more sport in teasing Leslie than in dancing.
Marjorie was waiting until Julia should have finished whispering to the apricot mask before soliciting the latter’s attention. She was uneasily watching the fun going on around Leslie. She could not be sure that the mask to whom Julia was whispering was the one to blow the unmasking whistle. For all she knew Julia might have stopped to cite her grievance to one of her particular friends.
“Is she that ridiculous, silly-faced mask?” Jane cried. “She’s awfully droll.”
“I fail to see it.” Julia was haughtily contradictory. “Will you please blow the whistle now, Jane? You know she shouldn’t be here.”
“Please pardon me, I must speak to you.” Marjorie had made up her mind to act. If the apricot mask were the soph detailed to blow the whistle, then she must be asked to delay blowing it until Leslie could be steered from the gym without discovery. If she were not the one appointed Marjorie decided that she would hurry down to Leslie and inform her of the danger.
“You have no – ” Julia began angrily.
“I am Miss Dean,” ignoring Julia, Marjorie serenely continued. “Will you please tell me who you are?”
“Yours truly, Jane Everest, Marjorie.” A little laugh rippled out from behind the concealing mask.
“Oh, Jane!” There was inexpressible relief in the exclamation. “I’m so glad it’s you. Are you the soph who is to blow the unmasking whistle? If you are, don’t blow it for at least ten minutes yet.”
“I insist that Miss Everest shall blow it, and at once,” burst forth Julia Peyton furiously. “She has just promised me that she will.”
“No, I haven’t promised to blow the whistle at once, Julia,” Jane steadily corrected.
“What right have you to interfere in our fun? Post graduates are not supposed to interest themselves too closely in class affairs.” Julia tossed her head in withering disdain of Marjorie. “What right have you to prevent me from exposing that detestable Miss Cairns. Do you consider it honorable or fair to the traditions of Hamilton to permit a former student who was expelled to come on the campus socially?”
“How do you know, Miss Peyton, that Miss Cairns, a former student of Hamilton, is present in the gymnasium, or has been here this evening?” Marjorie inquired with a cool evenness that made Julia gasp. “Have you seen her?”
“I know, and so do you. Didn’t she trip us with her umbrella? Didn’t we hear her voice. I recognized it. You may not have.” The answer was freighted with sarcasm.
“A masker carrying an umbrella tripped us. When she spoke her voice sounded like that of Miss Cairns,” Marjorie stated impersonally. “I did not see the masker’s face. Did you?”
“What difference does that make?” sharply countered Julia. “We both recognized her by her voice.”
“Since we did not see her face how can we be sure that we recognized her. Lacking the evidence of our own eyes our best plan is to launch no accusations against Miss Cairns. Jane,” Marjorie turned to the sophomore, “when are you going to blow the unmasking whistle?”
“After the next dance. This dance is ending now, I think.” Jane turned momentary attention to the music, which was beating to a syncopated end. “That is the time the floor committee has set. I can change it if you like, Marjorie.”
“No, thank you. That suits me nicely. I must go now, but I’ll see you soon after unmasking, Jane.” With a slight, courteous inclination of the head to Miss Peyton, Marjorie walked composedly down the great room to where Leslie stood, still surrounded.
Marjorie had not spoken to Leslie Cairns more than two or three times during the long period of time in which they had been students together at Hamilton. She had never spoken to Leslie since Leslie had been away from the college. She now wondered what she could say to the uninvited masker which might not be too humiliating to her.
A FRIENDLY TURN
Circling the group around Leslie she approached the latter from the left side. Simultaneous with her approach the opening strains of a fox trot broke up the group. Not more than half a dozen persistent “rushers” lingered.
“Let’s move on,” she breathed to Leslie. She adopted a soft almost babyish tone. As she spoke she took light hold of Leslie’s arm and began to steer her gently free of the few masks who were mischievously trying to detain the foolish-faced swain.
“Surest thing you know, sweetums,” Leslie returned in a deep gruff voice. “You’re the little kid who fell over my amberil. I didn’t go for to trip you up, peaches. Want to dance?”
“Not yet. Let’s go walking up the hall so folks can see your han’some face.” Obeying an impish impulse Marjorie added, “It is simply celostrous. It’s the only one you have, isn’t it?”
“By cricky, it is. I ought to be proud of it.” Leslie was oddly pleased to have the partner of “that screech owl” single her out for friendly attention. “I knowed you wasn’t mad at me, kid,” she next volunteered.
“No, I wasn’t.” The small soft voice held positiveness.
“That’s fine. I know you’ve got a kind face.” Both girls indulged in a smothered giggle at this inane tribute.
“Fade away,” Leslie waved a careless hand toward two or three lingering tormentors. “Can’t you let me and my girl alone?” She brandished her umbrella at them and swaggered out of their ken with Marjorie on an arm.
They looked after her, laughing, but did not pursue the pair. Leslie thought it extremely lucky that she should have been singled out for attention by “friendly ruffles.” She had no idea where in the big room to look for Doris. She dared not linger to search for her. Her one thought now was to gain the safety of outdoors before unmasking time came.
Up the room the pair now strolled with an air of rustic gaiety. It was simulated by both with difficulty. They kept fairly close to the west wall of the gymnasium so as to be well out of the path of the dancers. Neither appeared to be in a hurry. Both were battling against a strong desire to break into a run.
They were nearing the door before a knowledge of what to say to Leslie came to little “friendly ruffles.” Marjorie came into a sudden understanding that Leslie was as anxious as she to reach the door. With unspoken intent both had steered directly for it.
Lightly withdrawing her fingers from her escort’s arm Marjorie said in a very low, distinct tone. “The unmasking will take place after this dance. There will be a short intermission then. The girls will probably go parading about the campus.”
“Who are you? Do you know me?” Leslie had instantly caught the hidden inference. Her partner knew her to be an outsider.
“Does it matter who we are? I must go. Good night.” Followed the gracious addition. “Your costume was much the funniest at the romp.”
In the second of silence which succeeded the compliment the two maskers faced each other, Leslie across the threshold now, Marjorie still inside the vestibule.
“Thank you, and double thank you,” Leslie said in an odd muffled voice. “Good night.” She turned and started across the campus at a swinging stride which might have belonged to a true country boy.
“Thank goodness,” breathed Marjorie. She watched the lonely figure fast disappearing into the darkness and a feeling of pity rose in her heart because Leslie could not remain at the romp and enjoy the fun of winning the prize her ludicrous get-up merited.
It had taken longer than she thought to conduct Leslie to the door. Marjorie decided it to be hardly worth while to renew her search for Robin Page, whom thus far she had not been able to pick out among the rustic throng. She had not more than re-entered the ball room when the unmasking whistle blew shrilly. Its high, piercing blasts were immediately drowned by waves of echoing laughter as masks were removed and identities jubilantly made known.
Marjorie made a swift rush forward to meet an Irish country woman who was jogging peacefully along, a small, covered, green and white basket on her arm. She was dressed in a voluminous bright-figured brown cretonne dress. Over her shoulders was a green and red plaid shawl, on her head a white mob cap with a full white outstanding ruffle and a huge green satin bow decorating the front of it. Wide flat black slippers, green and red plaid hosiery which her ankle length dress permitted a glimpse of and a bright green umbrella completed her gay attire.
“Now for the sake av ould Ireland, is it yerself I am finding forninst me?” demanded the delighted Hibernian lady, offering Marjorie one end of her umbrella to shake instead of her hand.
“Yes, it is certainly myself and no other. But where have you been? Not out on the floor. I never saw sign of you in that costume until this minute. You tricky old Celt. You appeared late on purpose, that’s what you did,” Marjorie accused.
Leila smiled widely and cheerfully. “Now how can you blame me? Since I am Irish then how could I appear in the gym in an Irish costume of my own special fancy and not have the campus dwellers add two and two? So I have had a fine, exciting time sitting up in my room twirling my Irish thumbs until time for me to set out for the festival.”
“What a mean thing to do; to put your friends to so much needless trouble. How long have you been on the floor?”
Leila looked thoughtful then beamed again: “Perhaps three minutes,” she admitted. “I have not yet met a Traveler except you, Beauty. You are the same beauty-bright colleen as ever. You would be that though dressed in canvas bags.”
“You are direct from County Blarney,” Marjorie made a gesture of unbelief. “Jerry and I picked out Muriel first thing. She is so funny. I knew Ronny and Lucy, too, and Lillian. I’m sorry Kathie couldn’t be in this. That’s the penalty she pays for being of the faculty. Let’s go Traveler hunting, Leila.” She took Leila’s arm and the two strolled on together further to investigate the many groups of mirthful, chattering rustics who crowded the spacious room.
It was not long before Leila and Marjorie were the center of a group of their own composed of Muriel, Vera, Lillian, Lucy, Barbara Severn, Ronny and Jerry. Leila circulated among them, beaming affably. She announced mysteriously that she had something nice to give each one.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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