A PARTY CAPE OF BLUE

The next day went by in a whirl. After seeing the folks off for
Europe–Nancy and Rosa went over to Mount Major, where Mr. and Mrs.
Fernell took the New York train–the remaining hours seemed too few in
which to crowd all the things Rosa had planned to do.

The injured foot was all but forgotten. Never was a girl livelier than
Rosa, more enthusiastic nor more expectant–for the great times ahead.
But through all her plans, it seemed to Nancy, a vein of mystery ran.
For instance, she would talk about losing weight, exercising, dieting
and go over the entire formula, when suddenly she would stop short,
maybe put her finger to her lips and do something to indicate secrecy.

“It’s all planned and plotted,” she declared, when she finally did
agree to take a little walk through the special fern path from
which the place had received its name, “and won’t daddy and Betty be
surprised?”

“What makes you so sure?” asked Nancy. “How ever can you tell that you
will lose pounds and pounds?”

“I’m _positive_,” replied Rosa. “And I just dream of it all the time.
Haven’t you ever had that sort of dream?”

“The silly kind? Surely. I had one special pet–and I’m afraid I
haven’t banished it yet,” admitted Nancy. “I always wanted to wake up
with light golden curls and heavenly blue eyes.”

The shout with which Rosa replied to this must have disturbed every
pixy in the woods, for she simply roared!

“And you think _that_ would make you happy! Why, I have blue eyes and
curls, and my hair was golden–”

“And you are very pretty!”

“Nancy–Antoinette Brandon!”

“I mean it. You are!”

“Fat me!”

“You don’t have to stay fat!”

“I’m _not_ going to!”

“Rosa–Rosalind Fernell!”

“What?”

“Please tell me what you mean.”

“By getting thin?”

“No. How are you going to get thin?”

“Oh.” Rosa swung herself around until she touched the little white
birch tree with her finger tips. “You just wait and see!”

“I think that’s rather mean.” Nancy also swung herself around but
not in Rosa’s direction. “I do hope you are not going to do anything
foolish.”

“That depends. _Margot_ thinks everything I do is foolish.”

“Oh, you know I don’t mean that, Rosa,” Nancy answered quickly. “But,
you see, with the folks away we’ve got to be rather–cautious.”

“Now, don’t preach.”

“I don’t know how. Ted says I preach like the umpire at a ball game.”

“You were going to show me his funny letter,” put in Rosa, her
eagerness to change the subject not even thinly disguised. “I know you
have a whole batch of them, too. You know, Dell is just crazy about
that sort of thing. She wants to teach kindergarten. Just imagine!”

“She’s very intelligent,” said Nancy, falling back into her own way
of saying things which had ever been a part of her home life. “Mother
always says we can tell folks by the things they prefer, rather than by
the company they keep.”

“You’re over my head, Nancy,” laughed Rosa. “But if that’s true I must
be a spiritual skeleton, for I love–thin folks.” Impulsively Rosa
had thrown her arms around Nancy, and just as impulsively Nancy had
thrown her arms around Rosa, until presently they were dancing through
the woods like a couple of sprites–even if Rosa was a trifle out of
spritely proportion.

They sang snatches of songs, they tried out different steps and were as
free as the air about them; until they heard something queer.

“What’s that?” Nancy asked the question first.

“I wonder,” replied Rosa.

“Sounds like someone groaning.”

“A man, don’t you think?” Rosa’s voice had dwindled to a whisper.

Again came the noise interrupting their questions. This time there was
no mistaking it. Someone was groaning.

“Let’s run back; we’re away out in Baker’s Woods,” said Rosa with deep
concern. “And there’s the road. We’ll take that,” at which both girls
turned to the well beaten path.

“Halt!” came the command. “Right about face!”

“Garry Durand!” exclaimed Rosa. “You mean thing!”

“Not to be an old tramp or something?” jeered the boy, who had stepped
out into their path and was enjoying the little fright he had given
them. “I suppose,” he went on, “you are disappointed. A real bandit
would have been more fun.”

“Now, Gar,” scolded Rosa, “you know a lot better than that. We were
just wondering where you and Dell had been keeping yourselves.”

“Like fun you were, just wondering. We’ve been watching you dance. What
was that? A new one?”

“We?” queried Rosa.

“Yes. Come on, Paul; get introduced.”

At this there stepped from behind a big tree, another young man–no
doubt Paul.

“This is Paul Randolph,” said Gar, “Miss Brandon and the famous Rosa–”

But Rosa cut that short. “The idea,” she protested, “of you peeping.”

“We weren’t, really,” defended Paul. “We just came along. Our car went
dry and we were walking back.”

“Then, we’ll forgive you,” Nancy managed to say. She was losing the
natural self-consciousness which had at first been difficult to
overcome. Coming from the home of her devoted mother and darling Ted
into the confused surroundings of Rosa, this was easy to understand.

As she spoke Paul stepped up to her, and they started off in the
direction of home. Rosa was ahead with Gar and she, it appeared, was
not in agreement with him. He argued and she protested.

Instantly his remark about Nancy coming just in time to save Rosa from
some mysterious danger, flitted back into Nancy’s mind. It had been
said at their very first meeting, but as time wore on, many other
things appeared to make it seem important, and, of course, it was
connected with Orilla. Now, Nancy could scarcely keep track of what
Paul was saying, because of the distraction ahead with Rosa and Gar.

“I tell you flatly I won’t!” Gar broke out once just as Rosa, smiling,
grabbed his arm and turned the remark into a joke. But as he turned
around facing Nancy and Paul, his expression flatly belied Rosa’s
attempt.

“Did you hear about the fun we are going to have at Sunset?” Rosa asked
Paul.

“Hear about the _fun_ you are _going_ to have?” he teased. “How could
we?”

“Oh, you know what I mean,” pouted Rosa. “We are going to the dances.”

“So are we,” said Paul gallantly, “so I suppose that’s hearing about
the fun we are _all_ going to have.”

“They have swell music,” put in Gar. “The best banjoist in Boston is
with that outfit.”

“But really it isn’t Sunset that’s so attractive, but getting out,”
explained Rosa. “You see, I’ve been rather tied to the apron string of
Margot–”

“Lovely long string,” said Paul gaily, “judging from Gar’s accounts.”

“Has he been giving away my secrets?” asked Rosa, winking at Nancy and
attempting to strike Gar.

“Better be careful,” cautioned Nancy, “or you’ll give them away
yourself, Rosa. That’s the worst of having secrets; they’re so tricky.”

“Now we’re getting interesting,” remarked Paul. “Go ahead, Nancy. Give
us your idea of–secrets.”

“Oh, she hasn’t any,” put in Rosa, rather flustered. “That is, she
hasn’t any of my kind; she doesn’t have to.”

Everybody laughed at that except Rosa, and even to Paul Randolph, the
stranger, Rosa’s uneasiness must have been evident. Quickly deciding
to save her cousin from further embarrassment, Nancy broke into a
lively talk about New Hampshire, comparing it with Massachusetts, and
insisting that the big, measureless lake, with mountains all around
it, and according to tradition with mountains hidden in its depth, was
no more scenically beautiful than many another less famous and much
smaller lake in the sister state.

“I’ll show you scenery,” declared Gar in worthy defense of his adopted
territory. “Over among those hills there’s everything you could imagine
in the way of rocks and lands and vegetation–”

“Except pretty wild flowers,” cut in Nancy. “And you don’t even have
very pretty ferns.”

Whereat a general study in the ferns all around them was begun. The
little by-play helped to make talk and the interest shown was surely
genuine, although occasionally Rosa would step aside with Gar and
insist upon whispering to him. Nancy tried to keep up her contention
that New Hampshire ferns were not as lacy as those of Massachusetts,
but the argument going on between Rosa and Gar was hard to close her
ears to.

“Say!” called out Paul suddenly, kicking over a big bunch of “umbrella
fungus,” “what’s going on between you two anyway? Don’t you want an
umpire?”

“No,” fired back Gar, “a referee would be better. Rosa thinks because
I’m an old friend she can get me into her sort of scrapes. You’ve no
idea, Nancy,” he sighed playfully, “how many scrapes Rosa _can_ get
into.”

“Oh, you think you’re smart, don’t you?” snapped Rosa, childishly.
“Just because–because I happen to have different plans from yours,
Gar.”

“But we’re helpless, you know, Rosa,” Nancy hurried to say. “We only
got permission to go out without Margot, on condition that we would be
very good and do everything that Dell and Gar wanted us to do.”

“As if I intend to follow that silly stuff,” flung back Rosa, defiantly.

“Oh, all right,” drawled Gar elaborately, as if he were being very much
offended. “Don’t worry about us. We can find plenty to do without–”

“Peace! Peace!” chanted Paul, as if fearful that the fun might result
otherwise. “We might want an umpire or even a referee, but we don’t
want a policeman.”

“Well, how about it?” asked Gar, turning so suddenly to another trend
of thought that Nancy didn’t even guess what he meant. “Do we go to the
dance to-night or don’t we?”

“I can’t go,” declared Rosa, promptly.

“Oh, you know you can if you want to, Rose,” the boy urged, “and it’s
going to be a big time.”

“But we really don’t take part in the dance, do we?” queried Nancy,
just a little timidly, for she was not yet old enough to go to dances.

“Don’t worry, lamb,” said Rosa, facetiously, “even the very babes
dance at summer hotels early in the evening. Later, of course, the
grown-ups own the floor. What we want to see is the masquerade, the
follies, and all the stunts they get up. They’re fun!” she admitted,
thus agreeing with Gar, who wanted to go to an affair that evening.

They were back to the porch of the big house now, and although Rosa
pressed the boys to sit on the bench awhile, they politely declined,
declaring they would presently have to go back to town for the delayed
car.

Nancy was interested in Paul; it was so easy to talk to him–which fact
Rosa presently explained.

“That’s because he’s so awfully smart,” she said when Nancy remarked
how much she liked him. “He’s all ready for the M. I. T. I heard Gar
say so.”

“The Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” amplified Nancy, “and he
seems only like a high school boy.”

“Just being smart does it,” said Rosa cryptically. “One has either to
be smart or handsome, and Paul is going to be both.”

Margot came hurriedly out and interrupted them.

“I want to see you alone, Rosalind,” she said, so severely that Nancy
was glad to run off to her room and leave Rosa with her judge. She
wondered what could be the matter that Margot would use such a tone,
and look so indignantly at Rose.

“All right, Maggie,” was all that Rosa said in reply to the peremptory
summons.

It was two days later that the box of pretty things arrived from
Boston. Nancy was glad that it had been addressed to Mrs. Frederic
Fernell, for had her name been upon it, even under the other, she would
not have known how to explain to Rosa.

And its coming brought a welcome relief in the feud which seemed to
exist between Margot and Rosa, consequent upon that little private
interview which had occurred after the walk in the woods.

Rosa had been sullen almost to the point of rudeness, but by this
time Nancy had learned to regard her whims as mere childishness, a
determination not “to give in” which was about as strong as good pie
crust–and just as easily broken.

That Rosa’s running off without giving an account of her business was
the real cause of Margot’s misgivings, Nancy was now well aware, for
Rosa would slip away without any explanation, about every time she
found the chance of getting a ride into town without taking her own
car, her own chauffeur, Margot or even Nancy.

At first this hurt Nancy’s feelings. She was plainly being slighted.
When Dell, Gar and Paul would come over or phone over for the girls
to go off to see a tennis match, go swimming in the best part of the
lake, which was some little distance from their cottages, or even go
berrying, which was the thing Nancy best liked to do–to all or any of
this Rosa would very likely find an excuse. And then, when some obscure
person with a little flivver would happen along, she would suddenly
remember something very important to be procured, and dash off.

Nancy was forming her own opinions of these unexplained flights. She
noticed the messages that preceded them, she noticed Rosa trying to
gather a certain amount of money, even asking Nancy to lend her a few
dollars until she could cash her allowance, and she noticed more than
any of these unfavorable symptoms, that Rosa had headaches, real severe
headaches that made her cheeks burn, her eyes smart and feel altogether
miserable–these always followed one of the flurried trips to town.

The advent of the box of pretty things was, therefore, a most welcome
diversion, and now as Nancy and Rosa both tore off the wrappings, they
chuckled merrily over what they hoped would be the contents.

“You must choose first,” said Rosa generously. “You may have just
whatever you like best.”

Nancy was not sure that she would do this, and she felt almost guilty
in her deception, for Mrs. Betty had very plainly said that the box was
to be for Nancy.

Presently the papers had all been removed, the tissues torn apart, and
there was then revealed such a gorgeous display of lovely, colorful
things, that Rosa and Nancy fairly danced in delight over them.

“You take this,” pressed Rosa. And then: “Oh, it must be for you, for
it’s too tiny for me.” The article just referred to was a straight-line
dress of tub silk, in a variegated stripe that was charming. Nancy took
it, held it up and said how lovely she thought it was.

“And these undies,” exclaimed Rosa again. “Betty must have bought those
for you,” as she passed over the dainty silk under things, “because I
wear a special kind. These are lovely, though. Don’t you think so?”

“Oh, they are be-u-tee-ful!” declared Nancy. “Hasn’t Betty wonderful
taste?”

“Yes, that’s what she has the very most of–taste,” said Rosa a little
critically. “But then, she needs it. How would she look without it? Oh,
see here!” as a little sport hat was dug out of its wrappings. “Now,
someone has to have her hair bobbed,” and she attempted to put the hat
on her head. It stood up on top, as hats used to when women wore full
skirts.

The girls went into gales of laughter at the effect. Then Nancy tried
on the yellow felt hat, and, of course, it fitted her.

“For you again,” declared Rosa, still happily expectant herself.

Then there was a darling little party dress of black roses in
georgette, over yellow. This, obviously, was also for Nancy, until she
began to feel embarrassed that nothing of Rosa’s size was forthcoming.

Finally Rosa held up something blue. It was a cape–a lovely soft,
fluffy cape of blue peach-blow cloth, trimmed with white fur.

“Oh! How darling!” both girls exclaimed in perfect harmony.

It was lovely. Almost like a piece of blue sky with a little fleecy
cloud of white fur at the neck. Each of the girls held it; they fondled
it, caressed it. Both of them loved it, it would fit both. Rosa decided
she could wear _that_, and Nancy secretly tried to keep back the wish
that she herself might have it.

She had always dreamed of just such a cape as that.

“It goes beautifully with my shade of hair, doesn’t it,” Rosa prattled.
“And I adore that tone of blue. Oh, Nan, you can have everything else,
but I’m so glad Betty thought to get this for me! I’m going to love her
for it. Maybe I have been mean, as you say, Nan, and maybe Betty does
love me, after all.” And thereat the cape became the property of Rosa,
while poor, disappointed Nancy applauded.

If ever a girl’s heart can suddenly turn to ice and then try to choke
her, that seemed to be what was happening just then to Nancy.

That cape! That precious, adorable cape, that she had always secretly
dreamed of and that she could have made such wonderful use of! It was
to her like a picture from her first fairy book.

Her mother or even Miss Manners (the loving “Manny” who was away off
this summer) could have made dresses, pretty under things, and perhaps
any of the other lovely articles, but a peach-blow cape, trimmed with
white fur, seemed beyond the reach forever of poor Nancy.

“Don’t you love it?” persisted Rosa, flirting around the glorious blue
wings, like a great live bird.

“Yes, I do,” said Nancy, too truthfully.

“I’m sorry now that we didn’t plan to go down to the hotel to-night.
I can’t rest until I show this off. Not that I haven’t a pretty party
cape, for I have. Have you one, Nancy?”

“No, not yet,” faltered Nancy. “I’ve never needed one.”

“Then, you can have my red one. It will look stunning on you with
your dark hair. It’s called love-apple, that’s tomato red, you know,”
explained Rosa, still flirting with the lovely new mantle.

“Oh, thank you, Rosa, but I really don’t go to parties yet, you know,”
replied Nancy. She never cared for red in coats or capes, especially
tomato red.

“It’s quite gorgeous, with chiffon fliers, like wings when you walk.
I’m sure none of your friends could have anything more elaborate–”

“That’s just it, Rosa,” interrupted Nancy, “I couldn’t wear things as
elaborate as yours. They would look just as if you had given them to
me.”

“Oh, of course, if you feel that way about it; all right,” replied the
cousin a little stiffly. And that ended the discussion upon capes.

Somehow the joy that came in the box had exploded like a toy balloon,
but Nancy tried to make herself think of the importance of Rosa’s
changed attitude toward Betty.

“If the cape does that,” she prompted herself, “surely I can give it
up.”

Still, she could not forget how much she would have loved to own it.
And it really was hers.

Hours passed bringing a keen sense of loneliness to Nancy. She wasn’t
having much fun–this sort of life, although it included so much that
she could not have had at home, also lacked much that she would have
had.

Romping about freely with her girl friends in the little summer
colonies, doing unusual things, some of which had turned out
wonderfully important for mere girls to accomplish, and, above all,
that surrounding of loved ones–these were the things and conditions
that Nancy missed.

Not that she didn’t love Rosa, for she really did, but because Rosa was
so very hard to understand, and was apt to do almost anything reckless,
foolish and even risky.

Pitying herself a little, Nancy gave in to her homesickness. She
refused to go over to Durand’s with Rosa after dinner, she refused to
take a walk with the suspecting Margot, who must have understood the
signs she could not have helped noticing about Nancy, she even refused
to listen to the radio, and decided to go to her own room–and read.

Passing Rosa’s room she saw the precious blue cape thrown carelessly
over a chair. The sight of it brought on a new fit of bitterness, and
she dashed into the room, grabbed up the cape, hugged it, as if it were
her own, then threw it swiftly over her shoulders.

There was no one in that part of the house. Rosa had gone over to
Durand’s and Nancy felt free to indulge in the coveted joy.

It was lovely! She stood under the big soft lights and gazed in the
broad mirror, spellbound.

“It’s mine,” she whispered, “and I’ll always make believe I’m wearing
it.”

Then came the test–Ted’s test.

Glad or sorry? Was she honestly, truly glad or sorry that she had not
told Rosa all that Betty had told her about the contents of that box?

Rosa felt so kindly now toward Betty, and Betty would have bought her
any sort of a cape she had wished for, could she have only known!

Again she whirled around and hugged closer the soft, white fur collar.

Then she heard a step, a very light step, and turning quickly, she
found herself facing Orilla Rigney!

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