SHEDDING SECRETS

Orilla was now moving about the room in such an excited manner that
Nancy became alarmed!

“Come on out, Orilla,” she begged. “I really have stayed too long. Rosa
will be back–”

“All right. Let’s go. But I want to tell you that I broke the fern
stand–Mrs. Betty’s, you know,” Orilla said, her voice raising beyond
the pitch of security. “I came back that night–mother was to be away a
week and I came up here for that one night–and I had forgotten my key.
I was so mad to have to go back home all alone and it was late, you
know, that I just Smashed that fancy stand for revenge!”

“Orilla! That lovely fernery!” gasped Nancy.

“Yes, I know it does seem cowardly,” admitted the girl, “but my head
was splitting–”

“You have a headache now,” interrupted Nancy, noting again the girl’s
highly flushed face.

“Yes, and I must go,” she cast a lingering look about the room, which
really was quite cozy. “How I would love to be able to come in here and
fix things up,” she sighed.

Nancy was thinking of a possible plan, but she had no time to mention
it now. She wanted to get outside and find Rosa.

“Of course I’m going to tell Rosa,” she said, making sure of speaking
positively so that Orilla would not expect to object.

“I suppose you can. I am so tired of secrets that I was determined to
tell you before my old crankiness would come over me again,” confessed
Orilla. She had locked the door and again they were treading their way
under the wild grape-vine tunnel. “I don’t know why it is that some
people can soothe one so. I should never have thought of confiding
in anyone else, and yet you’re just a little girl,” reasoned Orilla
wonderingly.

“Maybe that’s it,” replied Nancy brightly. “Because I’m little–”

“Oh, no. That isn’t all of it, but you wouldn’t care for soft soap,”
said Orilla wistfully.

“I’m sure I hear Rosa–”

“But I must go, Nancy. My head is bursting, and if I get talking to
Rosa, she’ll say so much–”

“You know she has been looking for you all day,” persisted Nancy,
anxiously.

“I can’t help it. Everything has got to wait–until to-morrow. Tell her
I’ll be here in the morning–if I’m able–”

“Orilla, I can’t let you go,” interposed Nancy. “I’m afraid you’re
sick–”

“No, I’m not, really. I have these headaches often, and bringing you
into my room, you see–”

“Yes, I understand,” said Nancy kindly. “And if you feel that perhaps,
as you say, you had better get quiet. All right; I’ll tell Rosa. Don’t
worry that she’ll find fault; she always speaks well of you, Orilla.”

“Yes, little Rosa’s all right, but silly. She was so ashamed of being
fat–why–” and a little laugh escaped Orilla’s lips. “Wasn’t she
foolish?”

Nancy heard voices from the roadway just as Orilla slipped into her
boat and paddled off. Finding the secret room had been such a sudden
revelation that Nancy could scarcely understand it all even yet. That
Orilla should have so loved that room, and that she had been coming to
it secretly for so long a time, seemed incredible.

“Uncle Frederic would have let her have it, I’m sure,” Nancy reasoned,
“and _I’m_ going to ask him to,” she determined, when the unmistakable
voice of Rosa floated in through the hedge.

It was going to be exciting, Nancy knew, this news to Rosa. It would
surely be met with one of Rosa’s typical outbursts, so she decided to
postpone the telling until Rosa was safely, if not quietly, indoors.

“Drydens want us to come to their hotel some night,” Rosa reported,
“and we must go. Nancy, they think I’m thin enough. What do you think
of that?” and Rosa took a look in the mirror to help Nancy’s answer.

“Calm yourself, Rosa,” said Nancy importantly. “I’ve got such news–”

“Orilla been here?”

“Yes–”

“And she’s gone? Why didn’t you chain her till I came–”

“I couldn’t, Rosa, she had a dreadful headache–”

“Headache! What’s that to the trouble I’ve got? Her troubles, I mean,”
and Rosa fell into a chair as if in despair.

“Do let me tell you, Rosa. I feel a little done up myself.”

“Selfish me, as usual. Go ahead, Coz. I’ve got my fingers crossed
and am gripping both arms of the chair. No, that’s a physical
impossibility; but I’ve got my feet crossed, so it’s all the same. Now
please–tell!”

“Did you have any idea that Orilla came to her room here, in this
house?” Nancy began in her direct way.

“Her room? In this house? What do you mean? She hasn’t any room here!”

“I mean the room she had before Betty came–”

“That little first floor corner–”

“Yes, behind the storeroom, down by the west wing–”

“I knew there was a corner of the house there, but it’s been shut up
for ages,” replied Rosa, already showing her eagerness to hear all of
the story.

“Well, poor Orilla could never give up that room, and she has been
coming to it every chance she got. She took me in there to-night and I
never saw anything so pathetic,” explained Nancy simply. “She fairly
loves the room and insists that it should still be hers.”

“Can you–beat–that!” Rosa was so surprised no other wording seemed
strong enough for her. “Coming to that little cubby-hole! Say, Nancy,
honestly, do you think that Orilla’s crazy?”

“No, I don’t. But I’ve heard mother tell of such cases. And I’ve read
about girls keeping their baby loves, old dolls, you know, and things
like that. But this is the oddest–”

“For mercy sakes! How ever did she manage it?” Rosa asked, blinking
hard to see through the surprising tale.

Then Nancy told her, as well as she could, how Orilla came by the
elderberry path, from the lake, through the maze of wild grape vines to
the small door of the small porch at the west end of the big rambling
house.

“I always said,” put in Rosa, “that there was a door for each servant
around this house, but I must have missed that one. Well, poor old
Orilla! I guess she’s quite a wreck, isn’t she?”

“She had a headache, as I told you, but she seemed glad to get rid of
some of her secrets, and I don’t wonder,” admitted Nancy. “She has
enough secrets to make a book. But I told her _I_ wasn’t going to keep
any more of them. I told her I was going to tell _you_ everything she
told _me_.”

“Goody for you!” chanted Rosa. “And go ahead–tell.”

“Well, she asked me not to tell you when she had been here one night,”
began Nancy, taking another chair for a fresh start in the narrative.
“I didn’t then, as it couldn’t make much difference–”

“She came sneaking in here–”

“She came through the hall the night the things came from Boston,” went
on Nancy. “And I might just as well tell you all about it.”

“All?”

“Yes. I was standing right over there trying on the blue cape–”

“Nancy! You liked that cape!”

“Yes, but I like the red one–”

“You don’t. I know now. That cape was intended for you and I’m a greedy
thing to have grabbed it. Of course, _you_ wouldn’t even hint–”

Nancy was a little confused now. She had never expected the blue cape
issue to come up again. But Rosa was positive and would not listen to
Nancy’s protests.

“But, Rosa,” Nancy insisted, “Betty said she would love to get things
for you if you would only let her. And surely, when you admired the
cape–”

“Oh, yes, I know. You being Nancy, and all that,” said Rosa, meaningly.
“Well, _I’ll_ forgive you. You did succeed in getting me to listen to
reason and now I’ll try to be civil to Betty.”

“You would have been, anyhow,” said Nancy. “Because you were bound to
be more reasonable–”

“I’m not trying to compliment you, little dear, so don’t try so
desperately hard to shut me off. But all the same, look–look at my
figger! Ain’t it just grand!” and Rosa strutted again before the
patient mirror making sure doubly sure that she was quite genteel.

“I suppose you’ll think I’m complimenting you if I tell you how well
you look,” retorted Nancy. “But I’m sure you have gone down twenty
pounds!”

“And a half,” flashed Rosa. “Twenty and one-half pounds less, and my
clothes are falling off me. Won’t dad and Betty howl?”

“But you’ve got to keep up your walking, your tennis and non-candy
schedule,” Nancy reminded her. “Don’t forget that. All right, don’t
answer, please, I have heaps more to tell you about Orilla and we’re
miles off the track.”

“My turn. I’ve get to tell now; you listen. First about the blue cape.
You’ve got to have that. No, don’t object,” as Nancy seemed about to do
so. “I feel like a thief now. To have taken that from you,” declared
Rosa.

“I wish you would keep it. Just to show Betty how you liked her
choice,” Nancy argued.

“I won’t. I care more about your choice. Besides, I can wear something
else she bought, so don’t worry. But about Orilla. You said she had let
down the bars on all secrets? That we can tell?”

“Yes, she agreed _I_ could,” replied Nancy.

“Then that’s good enough for me,” decided Rosa. “Now you sit pretty
and listen, but don’t faint. The reason I tried so desperately hard to
find her to-day was because I had a message from Boston for her. Her
fresh air kids are arriving to-morrow,” said Rosa facetiously, drawing
a funny face.

“Fresh air–children!” corrected Nancy. “What does that mean?”

“It means that the wily Orilla has made arrangements to entertain
some poor children and their caretaker at a camp that she hasn’t got.
She thought she would have it–I suppose that was what I was chopping
down trees for–but the camp doesn’t seem to have developed. And those
children leave Boston _early_ in the morning!”

“Do you mean that Orilla agreed to take children at a camp out here and
now they are coming–”

“Exactly. And the camp isn’t. That’s the little fix _I’m_ in.”

“You’re in?”

“Yep. I got her mail and it came here in my name. It didn’t seem much
to do for her, but I’d like to know how I’m going to forestall those
children, who will leave their humble homes with their breakfasts in
shoe boxes to-morrow morning.”

Rosa’s mood was happy and her expressions flippant, but for all that
Nancy knew she intended no disrespect to the strange children.

“You mean they expect to come to Fernlode?” Nancy queried, puzzled anew.

“They seem to; although, land knows, I didn’t expect them to. You see,
Orilla couldn’t give up the idea of this being her headquarters and I,
poor dumb-bell, just helped her carry it along.”

“Well, there’s no harm done,” said Nancy calmly.

“No harm done! Wait till I get you to read that telegram. There, read
it and–rejoice!”

Nancy read the message. It stated that the children, a dozen of them,
would arrive at Craggy Bluff on the morning train and directed the
recipient of the message to be sure to meet them with cars!

“Oh,” said Nancy. “That is rather complicated, isn’t it, for it’s
addressed to you?”

“Bet your life it is,” flashed Rosa. “And please tell me quickly,
pretty maiden, and all that, what’s a girl to do about it?”

“You don’t suppose Orilla has the camp ready?”

“I know she hasn’t. She sent message after message, or I did for her,
to keep them back. But now they’re coming to-morrow!”

“Then, let them come, that’s all,” said Nancy.

“Yes, just like that,” Rosa continued to joke.

“We can take care of them. It will be fun.”

“_We_ can?”

“Certainly. Why not? They’re just like any other children. In fact,
mother thinks they’re always more natural and interesting when they
come to the library.”

Rosa simply stared. Her big blue eyes were indeed lovely now in her
pretty round face, which had lost the flesh which before had all but
disfigured it. Her “figger,” as she termed her form, was also much
more shapely than it had been in early summer, for magical as the
result of her simple new living rules really were, there was no denying
its reality. Nancy was watching her now with undisguised admiration.

“Yes,” she repeated, “it will be fun, and we can get Durand’s car–”

“Oh, Nancy, I know!” almost screamed Rosa, “we’ll have them here and
say they were entertained by Betty, by Mrs. Frederic Fernell! Betty
adores that sort of thing and why shouldn’t we do it?”

“We’ll have to, I guess,” said Nancy dryly, “so just come along and
prepare Margot.”

It was amazing how everyone joined in preparing for those children.

“It’s so much better fun than just having an ordinary party,” Rosa
remarked, as she and Nancy folded the paper napkins, “because in doing
this we are doing something worth while, and just a party is–only a
party,” she deduced in her own naive way.

“Yes,” added Nancy, “this is more than a party; it’s a picnic. And
isn’t Margot lovely about it?”

“She’s going to have the best fun of any of us, for Margot loves
children, especially strange children,” Rosa said, slyly.

“If only we could get Orilla to come,” Nancy continued, “but her mother
was away all night and when she reached home this morning Orilla had
gone out. I didn’t have a chance to tell you that, Rosa,” said her
cousin. “You were so busy with the baker boy when I got back.”

“Oh, I knew you wouldn’t locate Orilla. It takes more than a little
hunting to do that. She flits around like a squirrel,” replied Rosa.
“But I’m not worrying about her. We have enough on our own hands now,”
and she proceeded to count and classify the paper plates.

“But she promised to come and she did seem so dreadfully upset last
night,” Nancy insisted upon saying. “I’m glad our party will be over
early this afternoon. Directly after they leave we must go tell Orilla
about the room. I can hardly wait, can you?”

“That was a great idea of yours, Nancy, and so simple. If we had waited
to ask Betty and Dad as I thought of doing it would have been ages
before we got our answer. But you asked Margot–”

“Margot is in charge here. There always has to be someone in charge of
every place.”

“So simple when you think; but I don’t always think,” laughed Rosa.
“Won’t Orilla be tickled? And why on earth shouldn’t she use that old
room since it means so much to her?”

“If you’ll behave, Rosa,” Nancy ventured. “You are not like Orilla, you
know; _you_ have everything.”

“But sense, and you’ve got the family supply of that.”

“Now don’t go offending me,” warned Nancy. They had little time for
this conversation and it was being pretty well mixed up with paper
plates and napkins. “You know how unpopular a smart girl is, Rosa,”
and Nancy dropped her big dark eyes with something like a suspicious
blinking.

“Ye-ah, all right, you’re a dumb-bell, if you like that better, but I
don’t know what I’m saying. I can’t think of a thing but children. What
do you suppose they’ll do and say? Think they ever saw a mountain house
before?”

“Why, Rosa? How absurd. They’re just like any other children, only not
so well off. Maybe they’ll know more about mountain houses than we
do,” said Nancy, indignantly.

“That’s so. Maybe they go on excursions every week,” contributed Rosa.
They were ready now to wash up and go to meet the train.

“It isn’t likely they go often, because there’s such a lot of them to
pass the trips around to,” Nancy reasoned out.

“Gosh!” ejaculated Rosa. “How you can think!”

“But please don’t call me smart, remember how I hate that,” again came
the warning.

“Don’t blame you. Smart girls are a pest and, as you say, unpopular,”
replied Rosa. “That’s one blessing in _my_ favor. But don’t let’s fight
about it,” concluded Rosa. “Hurry along. We’ve got to get three cars,
you know.”

The two girls were wearing their simplest frocks, out of consideration
for the coming visitors, but Nancy in her candy-stripe with the red
bindings and red belt, and Rosa in her blue chambray, to match her
eyes, looked pretty enough and well dressed enough for any picnic.

The bustle and excitement into which Fernlode had been thrown by the
girls’ sudden resolve, to take over what should have been Orilla’s
party, was little short of that which goes to make up “a swell affair,”
as Thomas the butler expressed it, when he insisted upon using the
tea carts on the lawn. He knew, he pointed out, how the Fernells did
things, and that was the way they were going to be done this time.

Margot claimed that she also knew something of the Fernlode prestige,
so she insisted upon a number of things, among them being favors for
each guest. These were substantial, as she said, being a half dozen
handkerchiefs in a pretty pictured box for each of the twelve children
to be entertained.

“And if there’s more girls than boys I suppose you and I, Nancy,
will have to chip in our best hankies to make up the right kind,”
cryptically stated Rosa. To which suggestion Nancy merely groaned.

Altogether “the help” as well as the hostesses were enjoying the
preparations, and now the girls were racing off to meet the train.

There came, first, the Fernell big open touring car, which Chet the
chauffeur drove, then the town car with the three seats which Gar
drove, and Dell Durand drove their own touring car, so that provided
plenty of room, surely. Two cars would have been ample, but Rosa was
afraid “an extra batch” might come, and it would have been dreadful not
to have had room enough.

It was really queer to be expecting strangers and not even to know what
they would look like, but when the train pulled in, and the conductor
began handing children down from the cars, both Rosa and Nancy were too
excited to care what they looked like.

Both girls, with Dell, pushed their way to the platform and claimed as
many of the youngsters as could be lined up before them.

“I’m Miss Geary,” announced the pleasant, stately, middle-aged woman
who was in charge of the outing, “and I suppose,” she said to Dell,
“you are Miss Rigney.”

“Miss Rigney is ill,” Dell quickly replied, “but this is Rosalind
Fernell and this is Nancy Brandon, both of Fernlode. I’m their neighbor
and chaperon,” Dell continued in her easy social way. “We’ll all do
what we can to give you a happy time,” she promised brightly.

There was no need for further formalities, and if there had been the
girls would have just as completely overlooked the need, for Nancy was
trailing off with a quartette of the children, two girls and two boys,
while Rosa piloted three girls and one boy. Dell was made custodian
of a pair of the “darlingest twinnies,” two little girls in blue, and
there were also with the party three older girls who assisted Miss
Geary.

To attempt to describe a children’s picnic would be as futile an
undertaking as trying to describe childhood itself, for every moment
and each hour something so new and novel developed, in the way of fun
and good times, that even a picture of a period in the merry-making
failed to record its actual happy spirit.

“And imagine!” babbled Rosa, while she spilled a whole dish of ice
cream by allowing it to slip smoothly off the paper plate, “just
imagine a photographer making a picture to be published! Did you
notice, Nancy,” and she placed a neat pile of dry leaves over the
crest-fallen ice cream, “how I looked? Did I look–thin?”

“You looked so happy surrounded by your flock,” Nancy assured her,
“that weight couldn’t count. There, call that curly-head. She hasn’t
had a balloon of her own yet and she’s exploded a half dozen of them.
Give her one, Rosa, and tell her–_that’s all!_”

They were picnicking and frolicking around stately old Fernlode, and
the sight was such a pleasant one that numbers of cars were drawn up,
while their occupants witnessed the festivities.

“All our neighbors!” exclaimed Nancy. “There’s the Pickerings. Let
Thomas bring them cream–”

“And they’ll tell Betty! There’s the Gormans! Oh, Nancy, why don’t we
have a big folks party, too?” proposed the over-joyed Rosa.

“No, we couldn’t. That would spoil this,” Nancy pointed out, having a
mind to correct standards. “We must do all we can to have this go off
well, and that–”

“Will be plenty,” agreed Rosa, steering her tea cart of “empties” (the
glasses, cups and real dishes) along the driveway toward the house.

Miss Geary and Dell found each other mutually attractive, their taste
for work among children being alike, so that they not only took care of
the little ones but had an exceptionally fine time doing so.

“Just look at Margot’s face. She hasn’t room for all the smiles,” Nancy
took time to say to Rosa. She was on the lemonade staff and Thomas, the
butler, had made the drink pink, “just to make the young ones think
of a circus,” he explained. That may have accounted for the rush at
Nancy’s booth, a kitchen table draped with the ends of the vines that
formed a canopy above.

At the moment Margot was trying to carry a huge plate of chocolate cake
in one hand, and with the other help little Michael, age five, to
navigate toward Nancy’s lemonade stand. He had a lollypop in each of
his hands, so the leadership was rather difficult to carry out.

How they romped, shouted, sang, cheered and even choked! For the bounty
provided this day’s outing was plentiful to the point of extravagance.

“Why can’t we take them on the lake?” pleaded Rosa again, that offer
having been politely refused by Miss Geary a short time before.

“Too risky!” replied Nancy. “But look down at the landing! There are
the twinnies all alone!”

“And they’re too near the edge,” joined in Rosa. “I thought those big
girls were watching them. Let’s run! They’ll topple over–”

But Nancy and Rosa were on their way. The twinnies were in danger and
the lake was deep at that point. Innocently the little tots, hand in
hand, gazed upon the dazzling water. They seemed fascinated, watching
something.

“A flish! A flish!” shrilled little Molly, the fairest of the fair
twins.

Then her sister Mattie leaned over– Norfloxacin

“Oh!” screamed Nancy. “She’s in!”

“It’s deep,” Rosa warned, seeing Nancy toss off her sweater. But the
next moment Nancy jumped into the water and before anyone knew that
little Mattie had fallen in, she was promptly fished out! Wet and
somewhat scared, the child clung to her rescuer, who easily brought her
to shore. It was no trouble at all for Nancy.

“Oh, there’s the photographer!” joyfully called out Rosa, and then–

Nancy had to have her picture taken, standing on the end of the
landing, with her dripping little friend in her arms. The photographer
would call it, he said, “a prompt rescue.”

This brought the entire picnic down to the water’s edge, and the usual
accident had presently been successfully disposed of. There were other
incidents, many of them, but they did not prevent the day from drawing
to a close. Shadows hovered threateningly near when Margot and Thomas
passed around the favors, those pretty handkerchiefs, and the ride back
to the station was soon marked as the final treat.

Nancy had changed into a fresh outfit and little Mattie was made happy
in the smallest dress that could be borrowed in the neighborhood,
prettier than the one she wore before the wetting, which made up for
everything to Mattie.

It had been wonderful, that day in all the summer for the Fernlode
folks, but Rosa and Nancy had not forgotten Orilla.

“We can go directly from the train to her mother’s,” Nancy proposed,
as they neared the station. “I have a feeling that something is really
wrong with Orilla.”

“Because she was sick last night?” Rosa asked. They were presently
piling the children in the cars and had little chance to talk.

“That and–you know she said she would be here to-day if she were
able,” Nancy made opportunity to answer. “And I know she meant to keep
her word.”

You may also like