Chapter VI. Gladys Upholds the Family Credit.
 

Mrs. Evans confided her plans for a Christmas week party to Gladys the day following the snow frolic, and Gladys was delighted with the idea. She dearly loved to entertain her friends. The frock was ordered from New York and Mrs. Evans and Gladys spent long hours working out the details of the affair. Rumors of the party and the dress Gladys was to have leaked out to the Winnebagos and from them to the whole class. Every one was on tiptoe to find out who would be invited. Mrs. Davis and Mrs. Jones, hearing the talk about the coming function, began to wonder if they were on the right track after all in regard to the Evans fortune. Two weeks before Christmas the invitations came out. Twenty-five girls and twenty-five boys, mostly from the high school class, were asked. What a flutter of satisfaction there was among those who had been invited, and what a disappointment among those who had not been, and what consultations about dresses among the favored ones!

This question was an acute one with Migwan. She had not had a new party dress for several years, and in the present state of their finances she could not get one now. She looked at the old one, faded and spotted, and shook her head despairingly. "I foresee where Miss Migwan develops a sudden illness on the night of the party," she said with tight lips, "unless I hear from my story in time." As if in answer to her thoughts the story came back the very next day. There was no letter from the editor concerning the merits or faults of the piece, only a printed rejection slip, but that stated that only typewritten manuscripts would be considered. Migwan's air castle tumbled about her ears. She had no typewriter and knew no one who had. Her experience did not include a knowledge of public stenographers, and even if she had thought of that way out the expense would have prevented her from having her story copied. Her dream of fame and wealth was short-lived, and the world was stale, flat and unprofitable. The house was not yet rented, as the repairs had been delayed again and again. It would be another month at least before that would be a paying proposition. Hearing the other girls talk about Gladys's party all the time filled her with desperation. She began to shun the Winnebagos. The keen zest went out of her studying and even her beloved Latin lost its savor.

Nyoda finally noticed it. Migwan failed to recite in English class for two days in succession, which was an unheard-of thing. Nyoda thought that Migwan had her head so full of the coming party that she was neglecting her lessons, and said so, half banteringly, as Migwan lingered after class to pick up some papers she had dropped on the floor. That was the last straw, and Migwan burst into tears. Nyoda was all sympathy in a moment. Now Nyoda happened to have the "seeing eye," with which some people are blessed, and had surmised, from certain little signs she had observed, that Migwan had written something or other, and sent it away to a magazine. She knew only too well what the outcome would be, and her heart ached when she thought of Migwan's coming disappointment. Therefore, when Migwan, quickly recovering her composure, said calmly, "It's nothing, Nyoda; I simply tried to do something and failed," Nyoda asked quietly, "Did your story come back?"

Migwan looked at her in amazement. "How did you know I had written any story?" she asked.

"Oh, a little bird told me," replied Nyoda lightly. "Cheer up. All the famous authors had their first work rejected. You have achieved the first mark of fame." Migwan smiled wanly. Her tragedies always seemed to lose their sting in the light of Nyoda's optimism. She told her about the necessity for a typewriter. "I could have told you that to begin with, if you had asked my humble advice," replied Nyoda. "But if a miserable writing machine is all that stands between you and fame and fortune, your fortune is already made. The woman whose rooms I am living in has one in her possession. It belongs to her son, I believe, but as he is at present in China there is no danger of his wanting it for some time. She has offered to let me use it on several occasions, and I don't doubt but what we can make some arrangement to accommodate you."

The world seemed a pretty good place of habitation after all to Migwan that day when she went home from school, in spite of the fact that she had no dress to wear to the party. The situation began to appear faintly humorous to her. Here was all the interest centered on what Gladys was going to wear, when all the time the real, vital question was what she was going to wear! What a commotion there would be if the other Winnebagos knew the truth! Her thoughts began to beat themselves, into rhythm as she walked home through the crunching snow:

  "Broke, broke, broke,
  And such clothes in the windows I see!
  And I would that my purse could answer
  The demands that are made on she!

  "O well for the millionaire's wife,
  Who can pay eighty bones for a shawl,
  And well for the African maids,
  Who don't need any clothes at all!

  "And the pennies, they all go
  To the grocer, and so do the dimes,
  But, O, for the little crepe meteor dress
  I saw down in Oppenheim's!

  "Broke, broke, broke,
  And such styles in the windows I see!
  What would I not give for the rest of the month
  For the salary of John D!"

"Would you just as soon run up to the attic and get the blanket sheets out of the trunk?" asked her mother when she had finished her dinner. "I was cold in bed last night." Migwan went up promptly. She found the sheets and laid them out, and was then seized with a desire to rummage among the things in the trunk. She pawed over old valentines, bonnets of a by-gone day, lace mitts, and all the useless relics that are usually found in mother's trunk that had been her mother's. Down at the bottom, however, there was a paper package of considerable size. Migwan opened it carefully and brought to view a dress made of white brocaded satin, yellowed with age. A sudden inspiration struck her, and, laying it carefully on top of the blankets, she ran downstairs to her mother. "What is this dress?" she asked eagerly.

Mrs. Gardiner's face lighted tenderly when she saw it. "Why, that's my wedding dress," she said.

"Oh," said Migwan in a disappointed tone, laying the dress down.

"What did you want with it?" asked her mother.

"Why, I thought if it was just a dress," replied Migwan, "I could make it over to wear to Gladys's party, but of course if it is your wedding dress you wouldn't care to have it changed."

"I don't see why not," said Mrs. Gardiner. "It's no good as it is. I've never had it on since my wedding day. The material in that dress cost two dollars a yard and is better than what you get at that price nowadays." A sudden recollection illumined her face. "The night of the party is my wedding anniversary," she said. "There couldn't be a better occasion to wear it!"

"Would you really be willing to have me cut it up?" asked Migwan rapturously clasping her hands. That afternoon her head really was so full of party plans that she forgot to get her lessons. The dress was laid out on the dining room table and examined as to its possibilities. "I don't know but what it would be best to dye it some pretty shade of green or blue," said Mrs. Gardiner, after thinking the matter over. "It is too yellow to use as it is, and there is no time to bleach it properly." So it was ripped up and dyed Nile green, a shade which was particularly becoming to Migwan. There was enough goods in the train to make the entire dress, so there was no need to do any piecing.

Instead of avoiding the subject of the party, Migwan now joined happily in the discussions, and asked questions right and left about the best style in which to make her dress. She said nothing about the former function of that particular piece of goods. "Extravagant Migwan!" said Sahwah, "getting a satin dress for the party. My mother made me get silk poplin," Gladys's dress had arrived from New York, but she would not breathe a word in regard to it and the girls were wild with curiosity. Only Hinpoha was allowed to behold its glories, as a consolation for not being able to come to the party. Of course Hinpoha had been sworn to secrecy regarding it, but that did not keep her from rhapsodizing about it on general principles and pitching the girls' curiosity still higher.

Now there was one girl who had been invited to the party who said very little about it. This was Emily Meeks, who sat beside Gladys in the session room. Emily had also entered the class this fall, but, unlike Gladys, her path had not been marked by triumphs. She was timid and retiring, and after being three months in the class was little better known than she had been at first. The truth was that Emily was an orphan, working her way through High School by taking care of the children of one of the professors after school hours, and had neither money nor time to spend in the company of her classmates. Gladys was sorry for her because she always looked so sad and lonely, and, thinking to give her one good time at least to treasure up in the memory of her school days, invited her to the party. Emily accepted the invitation gratefully.

The night of the party came at last. Migwan's dress was finished and when she was finally arrayed in it she could compare favorably with the wealthiest girl in the crowd. She even wore her mother's high-heeled white satin wedding slippers with the little gold buckles, which fitted her perfectly. She skipped away happily with a good-bye kiss to her mother, who was tired out with her labors.

Gladys had relented at the last minute, and promised the Winnebagos that if they would come a half hour early they might help her dress. That was because the Winnebagos were closer kin to her than the rest of the girls, and it would be a shame to have any one else see the dress first. So they all gathered in Gladys's room, where the dress lay on the bed. It was of light blue chiffon, exquisitely hand embroidered in dainty-colored butterflies. "Oh-h," they gasped, not daring to touch it.

"There goes the bell!" exclaimed Gladys, "and I'm not even dressed. It's some of the boys, I hear their voices," she said presently, after listening for the sounds from below. "Run down, will you, girls, and entertain them until I come?"

The Winnebagos departed to act the part of hostesses for their friend and Gladys got hurriedly into her dress. Before she was ready to go down she heard a large group of girls arriving, then another delegation of boys. The orchestra had begun playing. Gladys's foot tapped the floor in time to the music as she fastened up the dress. "Just wait until they see me dance the Butterfly Dance," she was thinking, with innocent pride. She clasped the butterflies on her shoulders in place and with a last survey of herself in the glass she set forth to greet her guests. When she reached the head of the stairs the bell rang again and she paused to see who it was. From the hall upstairs she could get a view of the entire reception room without being seen herself. The last comer was Emily Meeks, whom the maid was relieving of her wraps. She was all alone, apparently at a loss what to do in company, and--dressed in a white skirt and middy blouse! Gladys could see the coldly amused glances some of the girls were bestowing on her, and the indifference with which she was being treated by the boys. Why did she come dressed in such a fashion? Gladys felt a little indignant at her. Then she reflected that Emily probably had nothing else to wear, and, besides, it didn't make any difference if one was dressed so plainly; there were enough brightly dressed girls to make the brilliant scene that she loved.

But at the same time a thought struck her which made her decidedly uncomfortable. It was, "How would you like to be the odd one in the crowd, and have all the others take notice of you because you didn't match your surroundings? To face a battery of eyes that were amused or scornful or pitying, according to the disposition of the owner of the eyes? To feel lonesome in the midst of a crowd and wish you were miles away?" With one foot on the top step Gladys hesitated. In her mind there rose a picture--the picture of her first night in camp when she had seen a Camp Fire Ceremonial for the first time, when she felt lonesome and far away and out of place. Again she saw the figures circling around the fire and heard the words of their song:

  "Whose hand above this blaze is lifted
  Shall be with magic touch engifted
  To warm the hearts of lonely mortals
  Who stand without their open portals.

       *       *       *       *       *

  "Whoso shall stand
  By this hearthstone
  Flame fanned,
  Shall never stand alone----"

And later the flame had been given into her keeping, and she was supposed to possess the magic touch to warm lonely hearts. She glanced at herself in the long mirror in the hall, and was struck afresh by the beauty of the dress. The shade of blue was just the right one to bring out the tint of her eyes and the gold of her hair. From head to foot she was a vision of loveliness such as delighted her dainty nature. One interpretation of "Seek Beauty" was to always dress as beautifully and becomingly as possible. Her mother was impatiently waiting for her to come down and show herself. Then she looked over the railing again. Emily Meeks had withdrawn from the groups of laughing girls and boys and had crept into a corner by herself. The words of the Fire Song echoed again in her ears:

  "Whoso shall stand
  By this hearthstone
  Flame fanned,
  Shall never stand alone!"

Gladys turned and fled to her room and resolutely began to unclasp the fasteners of her butterfly dress. A ripple of astonishment went through the rooms downstairs when she descended clad in a white linen skirt and a middy blouse. All the girls had heard about the dress from New York and were impatient to see it. Frances Jones and Caroline Davis stood right at the foot of the stairs waiting for Gladys to come down so they would not lose a detail of it, and Mrs. Evans was watching them to see what effect the butterfly dress would have on them. When Gladys came down dressed in a white skirt and middy she could not believe her eyes. She hurried forward and asked in a low voice what was the matter with the new dress.

"Nothing, mother," said Gladys sweetly, with such a beautiful smile that her mother dropped back in perplexity. Gladys advanced straight to Emily Meeks and greeted her first of all, with a friendly cordiality that put her at her ease at once. Emily, who had been dismayed when she found herself so conspicuous among all the brightly gowned girls, was reassured when she saw Gladys similarly clad, and never found out about that quick change of costume that had taken place after her coming. The other girls of course understood this fine little act of courtesy, and shamefacedly began to include Emily in their conversation and merrymaking.

So, if Mrs. Evans had counted on Gladys's dress that night to testify to the soundness of the Evans fortune she was destined to be disappointed; but on the other hand, if inborn courtesy is a sign of high birth and breeding, then Gladys had proven herself to be a princess of the royal blood.