Chapter XXIV. The Painted Face
 

Human life seems so like that depicted in the elements about us; a patch of blue here, and a streak of blackness stealing up there to cover it. A glint of gold there and a flurry of smoke almost upon it. So with life: brightness is so closely followed by shadows that gloom and glow become inseparable. Perhaps the contrasts save us from the blinding glare of extremes; it may be well to have even our joys tempered with moderation.

It had been such a happy day--Tavia felt she had never before known how to enjoy life. There had been many happy times of course, in Dalton, and Dorothy had often surprised her with entirely unexpected little treats; but somehow this was different, there was so much to be enjoyed at once.

Ah, Tavia! that is why reaction comes so suddenly. You left Nature behind you in Dalton--human wild flowers have a hard time of it when first thrust upon the pavements of social concrete.

Dorothy was with Tavia in the pretty bedroom. The moonlight made its way in at the curtained windows, and the two girls were clinging to each other there on the cushioned seat, trying to "think it out," Dorothy said.

"I had such a lovely time," sobbed Tavia, "and every one had been so good to me. But I could not help it Doro dear. When that Rosabel came I saw the difference--I saw I never could be your friend when we grew up. And then I got to thinking about home--Dorothy, I must go. I must talk about that money with dear mother and father and even little Johnnie--he did seem to need me so much! And I have been so selfish--to leave them all."

"Now, Tavia, you make me feel badly. It is I who am selfish to take you away, but I am sure your mother particularly wanted you to come, and your father was so pleased. I tell you, dear it is all that money. You just feel you cannot wait to talk all about it, and I don't blame you at all. You shall go home just as soon as you want to."

"But you must stay," said Tavia, brightening up at the thought of going home. "I came to be company for you, but you do not need me."

Was there just a sign of jealousy in her words? Dorothy instantly detected a change--Tavia drew herself up so like other girls, but so unlike Tavia.

"Not need you! Why, Tavia, who in all this world could take your place," and her arms were wound around the neck of the weeping girl, while the fondest sister-kiss was pressed to the tear-stained cheek.

"My, what a goose I am!" suddenly exclaimed Tavia, springing up. "I never was homesick or had the real blues in all my life, and I do not propose to do the baby act now. So there," and she gave a hearty hug to Dorothy. "I'm done with blubbering, and I'm more ashamed of myself than I was the day I ran away after the row with Sarah. Now, I'll beat you to bed, and to sleep, too, for that matter. We will have to do some tall snoring to catch up with the rosy Rosabel--her cheeks will make ours look like putty."

It was late, and Dorothy was glad to feel that Tavia had conquered her homesickness, for that is what Dorothy insisted the attack was. It was, however, the first--but the pain it left in Tavia's heart did not heal at once, nor did it leave the spot unscarred.

Mrs. White had prudently left the girls to themselves, but now, by some strange intuition she felt the "storm" was over, and sent a maid to ask Dorothy if some crackers or an ice would not taste good. In replying the girls discovered they were not the only ones up late, and presently the entire party had assembled in the beautiful chintz dining room, and the ices were being served between good-natured "jollyings."

"That hair cut went to your head," Ned told Tavia, "but wait until I go down for the tresses, I'll scare Mike stiff--make him believe we thought he had 'cribbed' them."

Tavia was entirely herself now, and had word for word with the jolly boys.

Mrs. White studied her closely, but of course, unobserved. She was a fine girl, no doubt of it, and a pleasant companion for Dorothy. Her humor was as pure as the bubbles in the brook, and just as unfailing. And what a pretty girl she was! Those hazel eyes and that bronze head. No wonder even the foreign barber had noted that it was "scarce."

"A veritable wildflower," concluded the hostess, just as others had said; Major Dale for instance.

Dorothy was of an entirely different type. Her beauty was the sort that grows more and more attractive, as character develops, not depending upon mere facial outline.

"Now, children, off to bed with you," said Mrs. White, touching the bell to tell the maid the late lunch was over, "and to-morrow you know we go to camp. You will not have a headache, Tavia?"

"I have never had one in my life," answered Tavia, in that polite tone she always used in speaking to the hostess. "Perhaps my head does not know enough to ache."

"Blissful ignorance then," replied Mrs. White, "see to it that you never become so worldly-wise as to learn how. A head that does not ache is a joy forever."

Hasty good nights were exchanged, and this time there was no "waking night-mare" for Tavia. She wanted to sleep--young hearts may ache once in a while, but they have a comfortable habit of deferring to tired nature at least once in twenty-four hours.

So the Cedars rustled to their hearts' content, and the pines whispered derisively at their attempt to make themselves heard in the world of music makers--poor little stunted cedars! So small beside the giant pines, so useless in a tree's great province--to give shade; but that file of trees, scarcely taller than a hedge, had for years and years made the division between one land and another, so they stood for that at least. As Nat had explained to Tavia "they knew where to draw the line."

The morning that followed was one of those beautiful streaks of Nature's capriciousness when she allows spring to turn back and give orders to summer. It was late in June, yet the air was soft and balmy, and the sunshine behaved so nicely that Tavia, looking out of her window actually found dew on the honeysuckle, and saw there was no need to close blinds at even ten o'clock--which was late for dew certainly, and late for a girl like Tavia Travers to get her first romp out of doors.

Dorothy looked in mischievously.

"We didn't call you," she said smiling, "because you were so anxious about your cheeks, you know. Let me see. I do declare, Tavia Travers, is that a blush? Or did you dream you were Rosabel? Now don't try to tell me that's perfectly natural. It isn't--it's simply divine," and she gave her friend a reassuring kiss.

"When we get to talking such nonsense," said Tavia with as much severity as she could summon on short notice, "I think we should do something for it--get busy at something you know. It is plainly the result of downright idleness."

"Dr. Gray's prescription, you know. But now for camp. The boys have gone on ahead, and Aunt Winnie is going to stop at the hotel for lunch, She said she thought we would enjoy it."

"Oh, I will, I am sure," answered Tavia, promptly. "That's what worries me, I am getting to enjoy everything. What in the world will I do when I get back to Dalton?"

"Write letters to Nat, I suppose. Now don't get any deeper shade of red, dear. The one that you woke up with is so becoming."

"How much time have we?" asked Tavia, bestowing more care on the brushing of her short hair now than she had ever thought of giving the mass that the barber still had in his keeping.

"Perhaps an hour, but we want to get out on the lawn, for a game of ball before we start. I am just dying to play real ball! I do miss Joe and Roger so!"

"I am sure they miss you, too, Doro. I have been wondering how you have managed to keep away from them."

"Well, I have to you know. Besides I get a letter every day. Joe said yesterday that your folks had taken the Baldwin house."

"Father said in his letter he expected to. But do you know, Doro, I would never advise a poor girl to go out of her own territory, I think I shall be unhappy now--at home."

"Nonsense. You will enjoy the simple life more thoroughly than ever. That is only a scruple, you are afraid you shouldn't enjoy anything but Dalton. You know perfectly well you would rather dig Jacks-in-the-pulpit out by our back wall, than snatch those honeysuckles at your window."

"Perhaps," said Tavia vaguely. "But I guess you are right, Doro. You always are. I am just afraid to think of anything but what we've got."

"Not even the five hundred?"

"Oh, that is what upsets me. I shall expect it to make us millionaires."

"And so it will in happiness. I can't blame you one bit for wanting to get home to talk it over."

"Oh, that was yesterday. To-day I want to go to camp."

Dorothy looked at her uneasily. She remembered it was told her once that sudden changes were always unwholesome to young people.

"It must be that," she told herself, "Tavia has had too many sudden changes lately. And she always was so sentimental. I believe, after all, it is best for girls to keep busy at practical things. Tavia has never been trained."

"Now," said Tavia, who had been fixing before the pretty dressing table, "I'm ready. But I have a plan--to help Nat out with Rosabel's complexion test."

"Oh, he was only joking," exclaimed Dorothy. "He wouldn't be so rude."

"It's no harm, I'm sure; I've done it lots of times. Come out and I'll show you."

Out on the lawn Tavia ran about like the girl she used to be. She was looking for something. Down behind the hedge of Cedars then out on the open fields patches of clover and daisies were tangled--they grew outside the Cedars; beyond the line.

"Here it is!" she called to Dorothy. "Such a lovely bunch."

Then running back she brought to Dorothy a long stem of mullen leaves.

"What are they for?" asked Dorothy, for she knew the common plant well enough.

"To paint our cheeks with, and it doesn't come off! Won't Rosabel be surprised."

"But I wouldn't think of putting those sticky leaves to my face," objected Dorothy.

"Why, they're not poison," said Tavia, beginning to unfold the velvet leaves that look so soft and are really so very "scratchy."

"Don't!" begged Dorothy. "It is just as bad as paint, and paint is positively vulgar. I am sure you were mistaken about Rosabel. No respectable girl would be so foolish."

But Tavia was rubbing the leaves to her pink cheeks with absolute disregard of everything but "rubbing." That seemed to be the one thing necessary in the operation.

Presently a deep red stained her cheeks. She felt the sting but wanted to make sure it was all rubbed on.

"Does it burn?" asked Dorothy in surprise that Tavia should really carry out her threat to make her cheeks redder than Rosabel's.

"A little," admitted Tavia. "Don't you want to try it?"

"Not for worlds," answered Dorothy. "Since you say it will not wash off how are you going to explain it?"

"Sunburn," promptly answered the other, with a subtlety surprising to Dorothy.

"You really must not help the boys play any joke on Miss Glen," said Dorothy. "You know they are Aunt Winnie's neighbors, and we are her guests."

"Oh, all right, if you feel that way about it," said Tavia a little stiffly, "perhaps, Dorothy, I had better have a headache and not go out to camp--I don't mean to be pouty," she hurried on, "but really, Dorothy, I have never been able to withstand that sort of temptation and I might embarrass you. I wouldn't do it for anything, Doro."

Dorothy Dale was perplexed. First Tavia had said sunburn instead of mullen leaves, and now she was willing to substitute headache for rudeness. Wasn't she learning a trifle too fast? Aunt Winnie never advocated that sort of thing--the rich may be just as honest as the poor, and more so, for they have opportunities of discerning the great difference between a gentle and polite way of saving persons' feelings and the rude unpardonable way of seeking refuge behind little quibbles at the expense of truth.

"We were only joking, of course," said Dorothy finally, jumping up from her seat on the old tree stump, "But it is different where some one else is concerned. Everybody is not willing to take a joke you know."

"I've noticed that lately," replied Tavia, pressing both hands to her cheeks to stop, if possible, the burning of the mullen leaves. "But you know I once promised to show you how I looked painted. Now I've kept my promise."

The flaming red of her cheeks seemed to make her eyes blaze as well, and it could not be denied she looked wonderfully pretty--or would look so at longer range, through opera glasses, perhaps. But in calm daylight there was something strange about her face. The short bronze hair, the dancing hazel eyes,--"

"Tavia," exclaimed Dorothy, dismay in her voice, "I am so sorry--you look like--an actress."