HOW IT ALL STARTED

Jean Gordon rushed into the house, her face all aglow. There was some
fire within which made her eyes bright and the sharp wind, which came
from lakes not too far away, gave her rosy cheeks and nipped her nose
as well.

Without stopping in the hall to take off her pretty red coat or the
close little hat that left little but eyes, nose and mouth to be seen,
she opened the door into the dining-room, from which the sound of her
mother’s machine could be heard.

“O Mother! May I have the room in the attic for a club room?”

Jean had opened this door a little more decorously and now she closed
it more softly than she had opened and closed the front door, whose
bang her mother must have heard. With an amused smile Mrs. Gordon
turned from her work. “Is this my dear hurricane, home from school?”

“It is,” laughed Jean. “Please excuse the front door, Mother. It
slipped out of my hand. And I suppose I should not have shouted right
out. Good afternoon, fair lady!” A deep courtesy was made in grave
exaggeration before Jean ran to her mother and deposited a quick kiss
upon her cheek.

“Your apology is accepted, Miss Gordon,” said Jean’s mother, with a pat
upon the cold hand which Jean laid upon her chair. “Now, what is it
that you want?”

“The attic room for a club,–please, Mother!”

“It is cold up there,” returned Mrs. Gordon, starting to baste the hem
of a blouse which she was making for Jean.

“Oh, that is going to be precious!” exclaimed Jean, stopping to look at
the garment. “I’ll be all fixed for school now. I don’t see what makes
me get so shabby.”

“Nor do I,” said Mrs. Gordon with a comical look. “But clothes will
wear out.”

Jean sat on the arm of her mother’s chair to continue the original
subject. “There’s a radiator there, isn’t there, Mother? Couldn’t the
heat be turned on?”

“I suppose so; but that one always turned hard, and it has not been
used for a long time. But why the pressing need of a club room and who
will clean it?”

Jean laughed. “Ay, there’s the _rub_! I hope you appreciate my smart
remark, Mother. But March is almost time for house-cleaning, isn’t it?
Besides, the club members will fix up the room. I promise not to bother
you about it. There isn’t much in it. Why couldn’t we have the old
chairs that are in the rest of the attic?”

“You could. You _may_. Tell me about the club. This is something new,
isn’t it?”

“Rather; but if you don’t mind, Mother, I’ll tell you more about it
tonight. There is a reason why I have to call up the girls _right
away_!”

“Run along, then.” Mrs. Gordon looked after her daughter with a twinkle
in the brown eyes that were so much like Jean’s. What new scheme did
those children have now?

Jean pulled off her hat and hung it upon the hall rack, but without
removing her coat she sat down at the little table near to telephone.

“No, Central, it’s one–O–two–O, please,–yes, X.”

A long pause made Jean tap her feet impatiently while she waited. Why
didn’t Central ring again? But here came the “hello” Jean wanted.
“Hello, Molly. I’m glad that’s you. Can you call up Phoebe and Bess
and Fran for me and all of you come right over? There’s something I
have to see you about right away. It’s terribly important and I want
to get everybody here the first minute possible, or I wouldn’t ask you
to telephone. I’ve just _got_ to see you before the party tonight! Oh,
good! Thank you _so_ much. Tell them there’s a mystery and that’ll
bring ’em. I’m going to get Nan over and start making fudge. Wasn’t it
_grand_ that we got out of school so early?”

Molly evidently agreed that it was “grand,” and in a moment the
receiver was hung up, Jean hanging up her coat in the interval between
calls.

Again Jean was sitting at the small table. “That you, Nan? Since I saw
you something has happened and if you want your old Jean vindicated,
as ’twere, come on over and help me out. Just walk right in, because
I’ll probably be telephoning, or may be, anyhow. We’ll make some fudge
before the girls get here. What? Oh, I’ll ‘splain’ when you get here.
I’ve a great scheme,–only maybe you won’t like it, of course.”

Nan must have asserted her interest in Jean’s schemes, for Jean
turned from the telephone with a dimple in one cheek fully evident and
a funny quirk in her smile. Nan was her chum in chief, and a girl of
some originality. What Jean could not think of, Nan proposed. Between
them had some interesting experiences, though usually within the bounds
imposed by their very sensible parents.

Next, a number had to be looked up. “I do hate to call the Dudley’s,”
Jean was thinking. She stood a moment, thinking, then went on a run
through the hall and into the kitchen, neat and clean and orderly.
Jean made a dash for the aluminum sauce-pan in which she always made
her fudge. Another dash, and she had measured out the sugar, put a cup
under the faucet for water, set out another pan, to receive the fudge
when done, a bottle of flavoring extract and a big spoon. Then she
looked for milk and butter, changing her mind a time or two about the
ingredients.

While Jean was in the midst of these hurried proceedings, the kitchen
door opened after a short rap and a girl with a blue coat over her head
and shoulders came in, though stopping in the door to take off her
rubbers. “My, it’s muddy in your back yard, Jean,” said she. “I just
took a notion to come over this way, since you said fudge. Why aren’t
you telephoning?”

The enveloping coat came off as Nan Standish talked, revealing a girl
of about Jean’s height, the usual height of girls about fifteen. Nan’s
clear eyes were blue and her hair fluffy and yellow. She was as light
on her feet as Jean and came dancing over to where Jean stood. “Here,
just skeedoodle, Jean Gordon. I’ll start this, while you do whatever
else you want to do. I’m dying to know what it’s all about.”

“I’ve only got one more place to telephone, Nan. I’ve decided to use
milk instead of water, since there seems to be plenty. So put in one
cup to the three cups of sugar, already measured. See? I’ll be back in
a minute and tell you all about it, the plan, I mean, not the fudge.”

“Yes, I’ve made fudge with you before. Trot along.”

Jean trotted. “Is this Mrs. Dudley?” she asked, when she had the proper
number. “This is Jean Gordon. Would it be too much trouble to ask Leigh
to come to the telephone?”

Jean’s tone was very formal now. She did not know Mrs. Dudley very
well, and she stood just a little in awe of the Dudley formality as
expressed in Leigh. But Phoebe would not enjoy a club without Leigh,
and Leigh was a girl that any club would be glad to have. To do without
Phoebe, too, was not to be thought of!

It was plainly not too much trouble to notify Leigh, for presently she
came to talk with Jean. “A little meeting of a few girls, Jean,–to
do something about something? That’s very clear!” Leigh’s low laugh
came over the wire. “Why the mystery? Yes, of course, I’ll come, and
stop for Phoebe, too. Oh, it may be fifteen minutes. I’ll have to tell
Mother and get my wraps. I’m terribly curious.”

“Wasn’t that nice, Nan?” asked Jean, in the kitchen again. “Phoebe told
me yesterday that Leigh is just shy, being new here this year, you
know, and not knowing any of the girls before.”

“We-ell,” Nan replied, with a spoonful of the hot fudge to try it in
a glass of cold water, “I do think that the Dudleys think pretty well
of themselves, with that big place and all,–but I suppose, for that
matter, all of our families do, and Leigh–gracious, Jean, this fudge
is ready to come off! Is that the pan of cold water to set this in?”

The fudge cooling before being beaten, our two girls linked arms and
ran upstairs to Jean’s room, where with many giggles Jean imparted her
news to her friend. “Do you think it was so awful, Nan?” she asked. “I
feel dreadfully guilty, yet I just did it on the spur of the moment and
if you girls only do it, it will be a lot of fun.”

“Of course it will. I’m for it, Jean. Why haven’t we done it before?”

“But how about the name? Do you suppose–?”

“Oh, that will be all right. If I were you I’d tell them all about
it. What is a secret society without a secret to keep? Jimmy has been
awfully smart about his pin, and if we _could_ keep it quiet about our
plans–”

“Especially as we haven’t any,” laughed Jean.

“Yes, but they need not know that. Oh, there’s the doorbell! The girls
are coming. I’ll slip down the back stairs and beat that fudge while
you let them all in. But don’t do anything till I get there,–_please_!”

“Not a word, Nan. It shall remain a mystery till you come in. But don’t
you want some help beating that fudge?”

“Not _necessarily_, Jean, but send anybody out you like.”

By this time Jean was at the foot of the front stairs to open the door,
and Nan’s quick feet were pattering down the uncarpeted back stairs to
the kitchen. The Gordon home was almost like her own.




The last girl to be reached by telephone was the first to arrive.
Leigh Dudley and Phoebe Wood stood at the Gordon door, giving bright
greetings to Jean’s welcoming words. “Come right in,” she cordially
urged. “Isn’t this a March wind, though?”

Leigh was taller than Jean, with a vivid color, almost black hair
and dark blue eyes. She slipped out of a handsome fur coat, which
Jean took from her and put upon a hanger. Phoebe, little and dark and
quick, waited upon herself. A wood fire was burning in the living room
fireplace and to this the girls betook themselves, warming cold hands.

As Leigh rubbed her hands together in front of the blaze, she said,
“I thought at first that you wanted us for something about the party.
Phoebe thought it a birthday party. Do you suppose we ought to give a
present?”

“No,” replied Jean. “I know that it is not a birthday celebration.
Excuse me,–there come Molly with Bess and Fran. Oh, look at Fran’s new
hat. Isn’t it _darling_?”

With this Jean flew to the hall again, while Leigh and Phoebe looked
out of the window to behold the “darling” hat, a very cocky felt
affair. Only girls could have told any difference in the style from
those of the other girls. “Isn’t it a shame that Fran had to get a new
hat this late in the winter?” asked Phoebe.

“Why did she? They’re wearing straw hats now in some places.”

“Why, don’t you know, on the bob-sled last night Fran’s hat got knocked
off and Jimmy Standish stepped right into it and through it! Fran
managed to fix it up enough to wear to school this morning. Then at
noon Fran went and got a wonderful bargain because it is so late.”

More raw breezes entered with the newcomers, who talked about how the
snow had turned to slush and how raw the wind was and how Fran would
have her hat for “next fall” if the styles didn’t change. Then Nan came
in with a plate of fudge, divided into squares and still hot. “Your
mother came out and gave me the plate, Jean,” said she.

The girls ate fudge and toasted their toes by the fire. Molly French
was a plump, happy looking girl with a way of looking at one and
considering a moment before she spoke. “Molly always thinks twice
before she speaks,” said the girls sometimes. But then Molly was “the
preacher’s” daughter.

Frances Lockhart was as tall as Leigh and very thin. But her features
were good and her humor so jolly that even if her clothes usually hung
on her, as she herself declared, “Fran” was very popular in her class
at school, as well as with other young friends. Bess or Elizabeth Crane
had grown up “next door” to Frances, as Nan and Jean had lived. Now
both girls were united in an admiration and friendship that bound them
to the capable and friendly Molly, whose father was their minister.
There was nothing particularly remarkable about the appearance of
Bess. Brown hair, hazel eyes, a nose inclined to turn up a trifle and
a slight figure as graceful as Fran’s was awkward, were what one would
observe as Bess entered the room.

Like so many butterflies settling after uncertain movements, Jean’s
guests turned from the closer proximity to the fire and took seats.
Four of them bounced on the cushion-covered springs of the big
davenport that was placed at an angle where the cozy warmth of the
fire reached them. Leigh sank into a big over-stuffed chair. Nan
perched on its arm, as she happened to be near with the plate of fudge,
just passed again. Jean, now thinking thoughts of new presidents or
promoters of clubs, stood with her hand on one end of the mantel and
surveyed the girls with a smile half embarrassed.

“What’s the great excitement, Jean?” asked practical Molly, tossing
back a flaxen bob and leaning forward on the davenport, with her hands
around one knee. “What scheme have you and Nan gotten up now?”

Blue eyes and brown eyes exchanged an amused look, though Jean grew
rather sober, while Nan spoke up. “I haven’t a thing to do with this
one, except to stand by Jean. She’ll explain.”

“All right. Explain and satisfy our curiosity, Jean, or else forever
after hold your peace!”

“There must have been a wedding at the parsonage, girls,” suggested
Fran. “Were you a witness, Molly?”

“Not this time. Go on, Jean, and tell. I have to get home early and
help get supper.”

“All right, Molly. I’m just thinking it out. This is a ‘S. O. S.’ call
girls, and if you don’t help me out, I’m disgraced for life, I guess.”

“It is _very_ serious,” remarked Nan, with mock soberness and an air
as important as she could manage while still holding the fudge plate,
sadly depleted.