Chapter V. A Coasting Party.
 

The memory of that happy day sustained Hinpoha through many of the trials that came to her in the days that followed. It seemed that everything she did brought down the wrath of her aunt in some way or another. For instance, she left a bottle of bees standing on the table in her room, and Aunt Phoebe's dog Silky, who had been in the habit of going into the room and chewing Hinpoha's painted paddle, knocked the bottle over and let the bees out, getting badly stung in the process. Then there was a scene with Aunt Phoebe because she had brought the bees in. This and a dozen more incidents of a similar nature made Hinpoha despair of ever gaining the good will of her aunt. Thus the autumn wore away to winter and as yet the Desert of Waiting had borne nothing but thorns.

Gladys's progress through school was like the advance of a conquering hero. Although she had just entered this fall she was already one of the most popular girls in school. She had that fair, delicate prettiness which invariably appeals to boys, and an open, unaffected manner which endeared her to the girls. Beside her very lovable personality she had a background which was almost certain to insure popularity to a girl. She was rich and lived in a great house on a fashionable avenue; she had a little electric car all her own, and she wore the smartest clothes of any girl in school. Her fame as a dancer soon spread and she was in constant demand at school entertainments. Nyoda watched her a trifle anxiously at first. She was just a little afraid that Gladys's head would be turned with all the homage paid her, or that, blinded by her present success, she would lose the deeper meanings of life and be nothing but a butterfly after all. But she need not have feared. Gladys's experience in camp had kindled a fire in her that would never be extinguished as long as life guarded the flame. Having changed her Camp Fire name from Butterfly to Real Woman, she was anxious to prove her right to the name. So she worked diligently to win new honors which made her efficient in the home as well as those which helped her to shine in society.

Mrs. Evans was returning from an afternoon card party. She was tired and her head ached and she felt out of sorts. A remark which she had overheard during the afternoon stayed in her mind and made her cross. Two ladies on the other side of a large screen near which she was sitting were discussing a campaign in which they were interested to raise funds for a certain philanthropy. "I am going to ask Mrs. Evans if she would not like to subscribe one hundred dollars," said the one lady.

"So much?" asked the other in an uncertain voice, "I don't believe I would if I were you."

"Why not?" asked the first lady.

"Haven't you heard," replied the second lady, with the air of imparting a delicious secret, "that Mr. Evans is on the verge of financial ruin?"

"No," replied the second in a tone of lively interest, "I haven't. Who told you so?"

"A great many people are saying so," continued the first. "Do you know that they took their daughter out of the private school she had been attending and sent her to public school this year? They must be hard up if they can't pay school bills any more."

"It certainly looks like it," said the first lady.

"Possibly I had better not ask Mrs. Evans for any subscription at all. It might embarrass her, poor thing." The voices trailed off and Mrs. Evans was left feeling decidedly annoyed. She was the kind of woman who rarely discussed other people's affairs, and likewise disliked having her own discussed by other people. The thought that some folks might misconstrue Gladys's entering the public school to mean that her father was about to fail in business, first amused, and then irritated her. Nothing like that could be farther from correct, but the thought came to her that such rumors floating around might have some effect on Mr. Evans's standing in the business world. She began to wonder if after all it had not been a mistake to take Gladys out of Miss Russell's school in the middle of her course.

Thinking cynical thoughts about the gossiping abilities of most people, she drove up the long driveway and entered the house. The long hall with its wide staircase and large, splendidly furnished rooms opening on either side, struck her as being cold and gloomy. The polished chairs and tables shone dully in the fast waning light of the December afternoon, cheerless and unfriendly looking. The house suddenly seemed to her to be less a home than a collection of furniture. For the moment she almost hated the wealth which made it necessary to maintain this vast and magnificent display. The women she had played cards with that afternoon seemed shallow and artificial. Life was decidedly uninteresting just then. She went upstairs and took off her wraps and came down again, aimlessly. Gladys was nowhere in sight, which made the house seem lonelier than ever, for with Gladys around there would have been somebody to talk to. At the foot of the stairs she paused. She could hear some one singing in a distant part of the house. "Katy's happy, anyway," she said with a sigh, "if she feels like singing in that hot kitchen," A desire for company led her out to the kitchen. It was not Katy, however, who greeted her when she opened the door. It was Gladys--Gladys with a big apron on and her sleeves rolled up, just taking from the oven a pan of golden brown muffins. The room was filled with the delicious odor of freshly baked dough.

Gladys looked up with a smile when she saw her mother in the doorway. "How do you like the new cook?" she asked. "Katy went home sick this afternoon and I thought I would get supper myself." The kitchen looked so cheerful and inviting that Mrs. Evans came in and sat down. Gladys began mixing up potatoes for croquettes.

"Can't I do something?" asked her mother.

"Why, yes," said Gladys, bringing out another apron and tying it around her waist, "you heat the fat to fry these in." Mrs. Evans and Gladys had never had such a good time together. Gladys had planned the entire menu and her mother meekly followed her directions as to what to do next. She and Gladys frolicked around the kitchen with increasing hilarity as the supper progressed. Never before had there existed such a comradeship between them.

"Do you think this is seasoned right?" asked Mrs. Evans, holding out a spoonful of white sauce for Gladys to taste.

"A little more salt," said Gladys judicially. Mrs. Evans had forgotten her irritation of the afternoon. The conversation which had aroused her ire before now struck her as humorous.

"If Mrs. Davis and Mrs. Jones could only see me now," she thought with an inward chuckle, "doing my own cooking!" The half-formed plan of sending Gladys back to Miss Russell's the first of the year faded from her mind. Send Gladys away? Why, she was just beginning to enjoy her company! Another plan presented itself to her mind. In the Christmas vacation Gladys should give a party which would forever dispel any doubts about the soundness of their financial standing. Her brain was already at work on the details. Gladys should have a dress from Madame Charmant's in New York. They would have Waldstein, from the Symphony Orchestra, with a half dozen of his best players, furnish the music. There would be expensive prizes and favors for the games. Mrs. Davis and Mrs. Jones would have a chance to alter their opinions when their daughters brought home accounts of the affair. She planned the whole thing while she was eating her supper.

After supper Gladys washed the dishes and her mother wiped them, and they put them away together. Then Gladys began to get ready to go to Camp Fire meeting and Mrs. Evans reluctantly prepared to go out for the evening. The nearer ready she was the more disinclined she felt to go. "Those Jamieson musicales are always such a bore," she said to herself wearily. "They never have good singers--my Gladys could do better than any of them--and they are interminable. Father looks tired to death, and I know he would rather stay at home. Gladys," she called, looking into her daughter's room, "where is your Camp Fire meeting to-night?"

"At the Brewsters'," answered Gladys.

"Do you ever have visitors?" continued her mother.

"Why, yes," answered Gladys, "we often do."

"Do you mind if you have one to-night?" asked Mrs. Evans.

"Certainly not," replied Gladys.

"Well, then, I'm coming along," said her mother.

"Will you?" cried Gladys. "Oh goody!" The Winnebagos were surprised and delighted when Mrs. Evans appeared with Gladys. Since that Saturday's outing she had held a very warm place in their affections.

"Come in, mother," called Sahwah; "you might as well join the group too, we have one guest. This is Mrs. Evans, Gladys's mother," she said, when her mother appeared after hastily brushing back her hair and putting on a white apron. The two women held out their hands in formal greeting, and then changed their minds and fell on each other's necks.

"Why, Molly Richards!" exclaimed Mrs. Evans.

"Why, Helen Adamson!" gasped Mrs. Brewster. The Winnebagos looked on, mystified.

"You can't introduce me to your mother," said Mrs. Evans to Sahwah, laughing at her look of surprise. "We were good friends when we were younger than you. Do you remember the time," she said, turning back to Mrs. Brewster, "when you drew a picture of Miss Scully in your history and she found it and made you stand up in front of the room and hold it up so the whole class could see it?"

"Do you remember the time," returned Mrs. Brewster, "when we ran away from school to see the Lilliputian bazaar and your mother was there and walked you out by the ear?" Thus the flow of reminiscences went on.

"How little I thought," said Mrs. Evans, "when I first saw Sarah Ann going around with Gladys, that she was your daughter!"

"How little I thought," said Mrs. Brewster, "when Gladys began coming here, that she was your daughter!"

"How many more of these girls' mothers are our old schoolmates, I wonder?" said Mrs. Evans.

"Let's meet them and find out," said Mrs. Brewster. "Here, you girls," she said, "every one of you go home and get your mother." Delightedly the girls obeyed, and the mothers came, a little backward, some of them, a little shy, pathetically eager, and decidedly breathless. Migwan's mother, Mrs. Gardiner, had known Mrs. Brewster in her girlhood, and Nakwisi's mother had known Mrs. Evans, and Chapa's and Medmangi's mothers had known each other. What a happy reunion that was, and what a chorus of "Don't you remembers" rose on every side! Tears mingled with the laughter when they spoke of the death of Mrs. Bradford, whom most of them had known in their school days.

"Do you remember," said one of the mothers, "how we used to go coasting down the reservoir hill? You girls have never seen the old reservoir. It was levelled off years ago."

"I'd enjoy going coasting yet," said Mrs. Brewster.

"Let's!" said Mrs. Evans. "The snow is just right."

Girls and mothers hurried into their coats and out into the frosty air. The street sloped down sharply, and the middle of the road was filled with flying bobsleds, as the young people of the neighborhood took advantage of the snowy crust. Sahwah brought out her brother's bob, which he was not using this evening, and piled the whole company on behind her. She could steer as well as a boy. Down the long street they shot, from one patch of light into another as they passed the lamp posts. The mothers shrieked with excitement and held on for dear life. "Oh," panted Mrs. Brewster when they came to a standstill at the bottom of the slope, "is there anything in the world half so exciting and delightful as coasting?" Down they went, again and again, laughing all the way, and causing many another bobload to look around and wonder who the jolly ladies were. Most of the mothers lost their breath in the swift rush and had to be helped up the hill to the starting point. Once Sahwah turned too short at the bottom of the street and upset the whole sledful into a deep pile of snow, from which they emerged looking like snowmen. "Oh-h-h," sputtered Mrs. Brewster, "the snow is all going down inside of my collar! Sarah Ann, you wretch, you deserve to have your face washed for that!" She picked up a great lump of snow and hurled it deftly at Sahwah's head. It struck its mark and flew all to pieces, much of it going down the back of her neck.

"This coasting is all right," said Mrs. Gardiner, "but, oh, that walk up hill!"

Mrs. Evans spied her machine standing in front of the Brewster house, and it gave her an idea. "Why not tie the bob to the machine," she said, "and go for a regular ride?" This suggestion was hailed with great joy, and carried out with alacrity.

"Would you like to drive, mother?" asked Gladys.

"No, indeed!" said her mother. "I'm out sleigh-riding to-night. You get in and drive it yourself!" Gladys complied, with Migwan up beside her for company, and away they flew up one street and down another and through the park. And just as they were going around a curve, Sahwah, who sat at the front end of the sled, untied the rope, and away went the machine around the corner, and left them stranded in the snow. Gladys felt the release of the trailer, but pretended that she knew nothing about it, and drove ahead at full speed, and traveling in a circle, came up behind the marooned voyagers and surprised them with a hearty laugh. This time she towed them back to Sahwah's house, where they drank hot cocoa to warm themselves up, and all declared they had never had such fun in their lives.

"And to think how near I came to missing this!" said Mrs. Evans, as she and Gladys were driving home, and she shivered when she remembered how she had almost gone to the musicale.