Chapter VI. A Surprise in Store for Hillsdale
 

Sahwah stood in the long parlor under the portrait of Elizabeth Carver, gazing, with an expression of great respect, mingled with envy, up into the vivacious young face. The eyes in the picture gazed back just as intently at her, with a deep humorous twinkle lurking in their depths, and the red lips curving upwards at the corners in the promise of a smile seemed just about to speak. To Sahwah it did not seem to be a painting, a creation of oil on canvas, it was a real girl, Elizabeth Carver herself. She smiled back into the eyes that smiled at her, like two real girls who have just been introduced to each other and feel instinctively at the moment of introduction that they are going to like each other tremendously. Quite naturally, just as she would have done with a flesh-and-blood person, Sahwah began talking aloud.

"That was a wonderfully brave thing you did, saving your lover's life that way," she said admiringly. "I wish I had known you. I think we would have been good friends. We would have had no end of fun swimming together. Could you do Trudgeon, and Australian Crawl? Or couldn't you swim? Girls didn't swim as much in your day as they do now, I believe. It's because the side stroke wasn't invented then. But you could ride horseback. I haven't done much of that, I never had a horse, but I know I could ride if I had the chance. But I can paddle a canoe, standing on the gunwales--could you do that?"

Sahwah paused anxiously, as if half fearing the accomplished Colonial maid would also claim this, her most cherished attainment. But Elizabeth gave no sign that she could rival Sahwah's prowess with the canoe, and Sahwah, made affable by the knowledge of her own powers, went on graciously, "You could play on the harp, though, and of course I can't," She laid her hand on the gilt frame of the harp that stood at her side, and looked at its wires and pedals respectfully. She did not venture to play upon it, as Hinpoha had done, somehow she didn't quite dare, with Elizabeth there looking on.

"You must have looked beautiful playing on it," resumed Sahwah in soft, musing tones. "No wonder the man named Paul fell in love with you. And to think you saved his life! I wish I could save a man's life. Oh, wouldn't I have had the adventures, though, if I had lived in your time!" Sahwah had unconsciously clasped her hands, and stood looking up at Elizabeth with a world of envy and longing in her eyes.

Voices in the room behind her brought her back to the present. She turned, and there was Hinpoha with two strange girls.

"Oh, Sahwah, are you alone?" said Hinpoha in surprise. "I thought some of the rest were in here with you, I was sure I heard talking here when I came in. I want you to meet Agony and Oh-Pshaw, whose father you have already met. You remember my writing to you about the Heavenly Twins, the Wings, the famous Flying Column of the class? I was just on my way to hunt them up this morning when I met them on the street. They were just on their way to hunt us up. Girls, this is our Sahwah, once named Sarah Ann Brewster, but now only Sahwah the Sunfish."

Sahwah came forward, radiating smiles, to meet the twins about whom she had heard so much, and grasped their hands with delighted cordiality.

"Agony and Oh-Pshaw!" she exclaimed. "What delicious names!"

"Oh, we have baptismal names among our goods and chattels, too," said the twin whom Sahwah held by the right hand. "They are very good names, too, in their way, even Alta and Agnes, but you're not to use them under any circumstances. You're to call us Agony and Oh-Pshaw the same as everybody does."

Sahwah started at the deep, rich tones of Agony's voice. People invariably did when they heard it for the first time. It rolled and reverberated like the lowest tones of a cathedral organ. Although low-pitched and well-modulated, it had a peculiar penetrating quality, which made it carry for a surprisingly long distance.

Gladys and Migwan, upstairs putting their room to rights, heard it and came rushing down into the parlor to fling themselves upon the Twins with loud cries of joy.

"Agony! It's been years since I've seen you!"

"Gladys! I simply can't get used to going to bed without shouting good-night through the transom to you!"

"Hinpoha, my angel of light, come to my arms once more! Come sit on my knee and tell me all your adventures since you went home from college!"

Just then Nyoda came into the room and raptures were interrupted by new introductions.

"Twins!" said Nyoda delightedly. "And just alike, too! How am I going to tell you apart?"

"Easy," said Agony brightly. "Oh-Pshaw's nose is a shade more classic than mine, while I have a more angelic expression."

"Thank you for calling those little points to my attention," said Nyoda. "Now that you mention it I see the difference clearly. I shall never mistake one of you for the other."

Nyoda's clear-seeing eye had already noted a dozen points of difference in the two girls. Both had very black hair and very blue eyes and very red lips; both had deep, vibrant voices. But Agony was more vivid than Oh-Pshaw in every way. Her hair was more brilliantly black; her eyes more sparklingly blue; her lips more glowingly carmine. The greatest point of difference was their voices. Oh-Pshaw spoke in deep, musical chest tones, but in Agony's there was an added quality of resonance, a timbre unlike anything she had ever heard before. Nyoda had heard a great many kinds of voices in her years in the classroom.

Also her eye detected other, subtler, differences. In Agony she read a nature impulsive, enthusiastic, brilliant, confident, fascinating; also hot-headed, strong-willed and impatient of restraint. In Oh-Pshaw she saw a less all-conquering, a more plodding nature, slower to comprehend, less ardent and with less power to influence. But if the eyes were not so sparkling they were more thoughtful, and if the red lips were set in a less bewitchingly mischievous curve there was something about their lines that told more of patience and perseverance. All this Nyoda, who was an expert judge of character, read in the faces of the two girls as she watched them with interested and friendly scrutiny.

Veronica came in and Hinpoha immediately jumped up and drew her forward with an air of great ceremony. "Girls," she said impressively, "meet Lady Veronica Szathmar--er--Lehar. She's a real baroness," she added.

Agony and Oh-Pshaw looked first at each other in astonishment, and then with eager interest at the slim, dark-eyed girl before them.

Veronica laughed and came forward simply, cordially acknowledging the introduction. Then she turned to Hinpoha. "I thought you understood my name was just Veronica Lehar," she said reproachfully.

"Of course," murmured Hinpoha, her mind on the tremendous impression her casual mention of the sonorous title had apparently made on the Twins. Then she launched into a full account of Veronica's history for their benefit.

"You are a Hungarian, are you?" Agony asked Veronica, and Nyoda noticed that she drew back and her tone had become somewhat frigid. Quickly, she flung herself into the breach, and sending Veronica out to tell Hercules that Kaiser Bill was in the geranium bed, she graphically described Veronica's passionate outbreak of a few nights before and told of her intense desire to be an American. The coldness died from Agony's expressive face as she listened and when Veronica returned she treated her with sincere cordiality. Nyoda, however, still felt disturbed about Veronica. With the intense feeling of patriotism that people naturally had they would be quite likely to look askance at Veronica when they heard that she belonged to a baronial family of Hungary and her father had been a Captain in an Austrian regiment.

"Veronica," she said seriously, "I don't know whether it's a wise thing for you to tell people about yourself with such perfect frankness. It's all right with us here, of course, because we understand your feelings, but you know at such a time as this there are always people who are on the lookout for sensations, and if it were generally known that you were a Hungarian girl with a title some people might misunderstand, and it might make you unhappy. I would avoid the subject of nationality as much as possible, and not speak so freely about your father's having been in the Austrian army."

Thus did Nyoda endeavor to shield Veronica from further coldness and looks of suspicion such as she had seen displayed by Agony directly she heard that Veronica was an alien enemy.

"I suppose it would be better not to tell people about it," agreed Veronica. "No one knows that my real name isn't Lehar, outside of my uncle's family, and you," said Veronica lightly. "I've never told anyone else about it."

"We haven't told anyone but Agony and Oh-Pshaw," said the Winnebagos, and promised to keep the secret inviolate.

"May I ask you also to say nothing about it?" Nyoda asked the Twins.

"Certainly we'll keep it to ourselves," replied Agony readily. "I think it's perfectly epic to have such a secret. We wouldn't divulge it for worlds, would we, Oh-Pshaw?"

Agony chatted on gaily, entertainingly, flitting from subject to subject, and the rest listened from sheer pleasure of hearing her rich voice.

"I'm so glad you Winnebagos have come to town," she exclaimed jubilantly, bestowing a hug on Sahwah, who stood beside her, "you've saved our lives!"

"How so?" asked Sahwah curiously.

"With your help we can do it," continued Agony.

"Do what?" asked Sahwah.

"Beat Hillsdale," replied Agony. "Hillsdale is the next largest town to Oakwood in the county and they're trying their best to outdo us in every way. They've done it, too, in most respects. Their prep school has beaten our academy both in football and basketball for the last five years; their city baseball team beat ours every time they played; they got ahead of us in the number of men who enlisted in the army, and they outdid us in the Liberty Loan. There's nothing but rivalry all through everything. Oakwood is just wild to get ahead of Hillsdale in something. Now there's going to be a great exhibition military drill for girls held in Philadelphia the last week in August and each county is to send its prize drill company. So far Hillsdale is the only town in our county who has a company of girls drilling, and they're cocksure of getting to Philadelphia to enter the big contest. Oakwood girls haven't got the courage to get up a company. They say they'll only be beaten out by Hillsdale anyway, so what's the use? But now that you're here it'll be different. With you to start a company and carry it along we'll beat Hillsdale and her old Girl Scouts to a frazzle, I know we can. I'm so tired of hearing those Hillsdale Girl Scouts raved about. Everybody thinks they're perfectly wonderful and their own personal opinion is that there never was anything created quite as marvelous as they. Just wait until we beat them out in the drill contest! You'll get up a company of the girls here, won't you?" she pleaded eagerly. "I can get somebody to drill us if you do."

"We will!" answered the Winnebagos enthusiastically, their sporting blood immediately aroused. When did the Winnebagos ever let a challenge of their supremacy go unanswered?

"Oh, goody!" cried Agony. "I knew you'd do it! Oh, poor Hillsdale! Poor, poor Hillsdale!" Agony, jubilant, waved her parasol around her head wildly. "Come to dinner Friday night," she said, "and we'll work out the details. That is the last night father is to be home. There's another guest coming, an artist who has just come to town. Father met him on the train and is quite taken with him. What do you think of my father?" she wound up.

"He's very grand looking, but jolly, too," said Sahwah.

"Lots of people are afraid of father," Agony chatted on. "He's Assistant District Attorney in Philadelphia, you know. He is always gentle with us, but he can be very stern with people when he wants to. They say that prisoners always quail before him in the court room and that witnesses dread to be cross-examined by him. He has a way of piercing people through with his eyes that makes them lose their nerve and they always confess. He's been merciless in his prosecution of slackers and draft evaders and has made himself quite famous. There was an article about him in one of the Sunday papers recently."

"Oh!" murmured the Winnebagos, quite impressed.

The big grandfather clock on the stairs chimed eleven and the Twins jumped up hastily. "We've got to go this minute!" exclaimed Agony. "Grandmother is not at home this morning and I left a kettleful of peas boiling on the stove. They're probably burned to cinders by this time!"

Evidently the fate of the peas did not weigh very heavily on Agony's conscience, for she made her adieux leisurely, and paused frequently to look about her admiringly.

This was the first time she had ever been inside of the historical old Carver House, although she had seen it many times from the outside. Uncle Jasper Carver had not been a man of sociable habits, and but few of the townspeople ever came to see him. Agony and Oh-Pshaw had only lived in Oakwood for the past four years, having been born in Philadelphia and spending their early school days there. At the death of their mother, four years before, they had come to live with their grandmother in Oakwood.

The Carver house, viewed from the outside, had been a source of much curiosity and speculation when the twins, in their rambles about Oakwood in the long warm summer evenings, would walk past and stop to admire the stately old mansion set in its old-fashioned garden, and many were the schemes they talked over for gaining admittance and seeing it on the inside.

And now, out of a clear sky, their beloved friends, the Winnebagos, were in full possession of the house of their dreams, and here they were, free to enter as often as they chose! Dreams certainly had a delightful way of coming true, if you only waited long enough!