SHAMROCKS

The party that night was given by one of the senior girls and was quite
general. Nearly all of the girls in the small high school were there
and many of the boys, with some who had been graduated or stopped to go
to work in some store or business.

The town was small. Originally a community formed in a farming district
not far from Lake Michigan, it was populated by people who were
intelligent and of good standing. But a big railroad had diverted its
main line from the town and a larger town, with manufacturing interests
had absorbed such growth as this village might have had. The school was
good, but small.

As Jean had said, there was no organization for girls outside of the
school literary clubs and the church societies. These were excellent
in their lines, but girls bubbling over with activity wanted something
else. So did the boys and the “Black Wizards” were created.

The party proved to be an advance St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The
house was appropriately decorated and one of the senior girls stood at
the foot of the stairs to pin on each girl and boy, as they came from
leaving wraps in the respective rooms, a bright green shamrock. A March
wind blustered outside, but it was bright and warm within.

“I’d forgotten that tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day,” said Jean to Nan,
with whom she had come. Jimmy had gotten to the stage when he escorted
one of the girls to the party. Most of the younger ones let the girls
come by themselves, yet took them home. But Jimmy Standish was more or
less devoted now to a very pretty senior, Clare Miller, and permitted
Nan to make any arrangements she liked about being escorted to this or
any other party. Sisters were of secondary importance, as Nan told Jean.

“I’d have worn my green frock, if I’d known,” replied Nan, “but this
blue one is more becoming. I love your orchid, Jean.”

Jean adjusted her bracelet and repinned her shamrock a little
self-consciously, for Billy Baxter was making straight for her and some
one of the girls drew Nan away at that moment. “Hello, S. P.,” said
Billy.

“Oh, Billy, please,” said Jean, putting her finger to her lips. “I told
you that in confidence. We’re not a bit ready to have that get around!”

Billy grinned, and Jean was surprised to see that he was really
pleased, probably over knowing something that the other boys had not
been told. “I hope you didn’t tell Danny Pierce what I said,” Jean
continued.

“No, I didn’t,” returned Billy, glad that an accident had saved
him from imparting the news which he would have had no hesitation
in passing on. Jean hadn’t told him not to tell. But Danny had had
something to tell Billy; then they had met some other Black Wizards
with great schemes afoot. “_I_ told _you_ things I oughtn’t to’ve,”
said Billy, “so we’re even. But we’re all wearing our pins right out
to-night, you see. And say, Jean, may I see you home to-night after
it’s over?”

“Yes, Billy, of course. But please don’t say S. P. till I give you
leave.”

“All right. But who belong, Jean?”

“Sh-sh! I’ll tell you to-morrow if I see you when no one’s around.”

“All right,” said Billy again. “Don’t you kind of like our pins, Jean?”

“They’re stunning, Billy–even if I am scared of snakes; and I think
that ‘Black Wizards’ is an awfully cute name. I suppose you have some
terrible initiation, don’t you?”

“Yes. We have _some doings_ at our meetings, believe _me_, Jean.”

At that point Jean and Billy were summoned to take part in a game that
was being started and Jean did not have any conversation with him for
some time. Yet Nan told her that he “hovered” around, and one of the
senior boys tried to tease her by remarking that Billy Baxter had
gotten over his dislike for girls. “Is that so?” she answered without
confusion, recalling that the senior had passed her and Billy as they
had been walking along together that afternoon.

But Jean was wondering how, now that Billy was pledged to silence,
some knowledge of the S. P.’s could “leak out”; for there would be no
fun unless the boys did know. She had not thought of that when she was
talking to Billy this time. But perhaps some of the other girls were
managing better than she had done.

She threw herself into the games, however, enjoying everything, as Jean
always did, and temporarily forgetting both Black Wizards and S. P.’s.
The scene was gay with the decorations, the light dresses of the girls
and the movement of the games. Once, when Jean was waiting with others
for a charade to be begun, she stood by Fran and whispered the state of
things to her.

“Don’t worry. I’ll fix it,” said Fran with a twinkle.

When the time came for the refreshments, which were more elaborate on
this occasion than usual at the parties Jean had attended, she saw that
Fran was next to one of the boys who wore the Black Wizard pin. She
herself had found her pretty place card between Billy and Danny. Bess
was on the other side of Danny, and once she heard him exclaim, “Is
that so? What do you call it?” and she knew that Fran had passed the
word on to Bess.

It was a shame, though, to have started it the way she had. What was
it about “tangled webs” when first we “practice to deceive”? But there
were to be no fibs. When they were looking at the attic room, it had
been decided that if they were asked how long since their club had been
started they would answer “Not very long.” More searching questions
need not be answered at all, and presently the club would be taken as
a matter of course. Such thoughts as these ran through Jean’s mind and
she ate her green salad, nibbled the green frosting on her cake or
took a spoonful of green and white brick ice-cream.

As a rule Jean acted on impulse first in ordinary affairs; but most of
her impulses had been so far based on common sense she had thought.
Anyhow, a club would be fun.

There were more games after the late refreshments, for the seniors were
running this party. Jean was both tired and sleepy, though happy, when
Billy took her through the sloppy streets to her home. “Say, Jean, I
noticed that you had lost your shamrock in the games,” said Billy, as
they stepped upon the porch. “I want you to take mine.” With this he
threw open his overcoat and unpinned the precious snake pin, for the
Black Wizards had put their badges upon the shamrocks to make them more
prominent, a little while after arrival.

“You may as well pin it on with this, too,” he added. “You can give it
to me in the morning. Goodnight, Jean.”

“Goodnight, Billy,” returned Jean, astonished to find both shamrock and
pin in her hand. “Thanks.” But Billy was half way out of the yard by
that time.

A sleepy mother was waiting up for her, but Jean shut her hand upon
shamrock and pin. That was a crazy thing for Billy to do! “Yes,
Mother, we had a lovely time. Billy Baxter brought me home, and Danny
Pierce took Nan. Most everybody was there. It was a St. Patrick’s Day
party and they had the best refreshments and everything, a regular
supper. Jimmy took Clare and the seniors ran things. I’ll tell you
all about it to-morrow. There were some of the older boys and girls
not in school, too. Oh, there must have been forty or fifty there, I
think,–maybe not so many. And Mother, that was an S. P. meeting here
yesterday and I’m so delighted that we can have the attic. Please don’t
say anything about it.”

“I usually know more about a matter before I talk about it, daughter,”
said Mrs. Gordon. “Get to bed as soon as possible, child. It is such a
pity to have a party in the middle of the week. You will be too sleepy
to study to-morrow.”

Jean was almost too sleepy to get up the next morning, but she did not
forget to pin on the shamrock which Billy had given her. She certainly
owed him that little attention. The snake pin she had under her coat
ready, and when she passed Billy’s house on the way to school she found
that he was waiting for her, as she shrewdly judged, to receive the pin
before its absence should be noted by other Black Wizards.

“I didn’t have sense enough to think that you couldn’t wear the
shamrock that late last night,” Billy explained, rather sheepishly.
“Some day we’re going to give a party and badge the girls we invite
with our pins for the evening. Jimmy Standish said that last night and
I was thinking of it as we went home.”

“Oh, that was all right, Billy. It was great fun to have it and I’m
wearing the shamrock, you see, on my coat. I see Nan coming now and
I’ll just stroll back to meet her, I think. There goes Danny. Do ask
him if Bess told him anything startling last night. I thought I heard
her say ‘S. P.’”

So Jean’s handling of the situation saved her from walking to
school with Billy and probably, as she thought, saved him from some
embarrassment. It would also give Billy a chance to say to Danny that
he “knew it already,” if, as she thought, Bess had told. Jean had not
exactly planned it, but instinctively she felt a situation when it
occurred.




The seven S. P.’s felt a little undercurrent all day, but they avoided
being together except as they would usually meet, in twos or threes.
Once or twice conversation, not upon the S. P.’s at all, was suddenly
stopped, as they had planned.

Jean had really forgotten about having promised to tell Billy about who
belonged to the club, till after school that afternoon Billy caught
up with her before she had left the school grounds and took her books
as Jimmy had just taken Clare’s in front of them. He copied Jimmy’s
nonchalant air and said, “Excuse me, Nan,–I’ve got to see Jean about
something.”

Bess was just coming up behind them and caught Nan’s arm, drawing her
aside as Billy and Jean walked on. Well, thought Jean, maybe Billy
hadn’t liked it that she hadn’t walked to school with him that morning.

But Billy made no reference to that. “Jean, it’s all over school about
your club. The other girls must have let it out.” So Billy began in a
low voice. “Before I said a word to Danny he said, ‘So the girls have
got a secret society, too; I heard last night.’

“‘What did you hear?’ I asked. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘they’ve started
something and all Bess would tell me was the initials of their name,
the S. P.’s, and I suppose it stands for Sweet Pickles or Sour Grapes
or something like that.’

“I told him, of course, that I had heard about it before, and that he’d
better go slow on ‘Sour Grapes,’ because they were mighty nice girls
all right. But do tell me who they are, so I’ll not be so ignorant the
next time.”

Jean laughed heartily. “I don’t mind a bit. That was cute of Danny.
Why it’s Fran and Bess and Molly, Phoebe and Leigh, and of course Nan
and I are in it. There are exactly seven of us now, though it might be
possible that we’d take in some more girls later on. I sort of think we
ought to, when we carry out one of the things I’ve been thinking of.
I’m president, Billy, and that’s everything I can tell you.”

“I thought you would be, Jean,” said admiring Billy. “You are great at
getting up things.”

“Not half so good at it as Molly, or Nan either, for that matter.”

“That will do for you to say, Jean. Come on, Jimmy’s taking Clare into
the delicatessen. Let’s go, too.”

Jean wondered what was getting into Billy, Billy the shy with girls. He
was “certainly putting coals of fire on her head,” though he did not
know it. But she had known Billy Baxter all her life and it seemed very
natural to sit at the little table and sip a chocolate soda. They left
the subject of secret societies and talked about the school teams, the
prospect for baseball, the plans for the new gym, how the old town
might wake up after a while, and who had a new car. Jimmy Standish
slapped Billy on the shoulder as he passed him, going out with Clare,
and said, “Hello, Jean, how are the Seven Peaches to-day?”

“I can’t imagine what you mean,” grinned Jean, “but that’s a nice
name.”