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- Half a Dozen Girls - 20/45 -


"'Bow to the wittiest, Kneel to the prettiest, And kiss the one he loves best.'"

Like most sensible mothers, Mrs. Adams had a horror of anything like kissing games; and now she frowned a little, in spite of herself. No one of the V, she felt sure, would have pronounced this fine. She turned to glance at Alan who stood for a moment, blushing as his eye moved over the group. Then he walked up to Polly and bowed low, passed on to Katharine's chair where he dropped on one knee, and then, walking straight to Mrs. Adams, he bent down and kissed her cheek with a heartiness which was not all play. She put out her hand and drew him down on the sofa, at her side.

"Thank you, dear," she whispered. "It was a pretty compliment, and we old people enjoy such things, you may be sure."

"It was true," said Alan simply, as he settled himself beside her with a confiding, little-boyish motion.

The last forfeit had not been redeemed, when the heavy portieres swung open, and a figure swathed in dark draperies and with a veil over her face came slowly into the room. The girls gazed doubtfully at this ghostly apparition, till a brown hand--was extended and a deep voice spoke from under the veil,--

"I am here to reveal the future. To-night is the time to know the secret of your coming lives. Let the oldest advance first."

Katharine, still a little in awe of the mysterious stranger, stepped forward and laid her hand on the dark one before her. The being scanned it closely.

"A long life," she said, "and a happy one, for you will slowly learn the joy of doing good to those around you and forgetting yourself for others. Then, wherever you go, you will be surrounded with friends and your name will long be remembered."

Katharine smiled, as she stepped back and Jean took her place.

"You will have the best possession the earth can give, a contented mind. I see in the future a little house presided over by a strong, quiet woman whose life is in her home."

Then Molly's turn came. Her fate was quickly spoken.

"Yours is a husband six feet tall, and your children will number nineteen, as they sit about your meagre table."

Molly groaned, as she yielded her place to Florence.

"I see a lordly house, richly furnished and filled with servants. Within is a devoted husband who watches over a wife with golden hair."

"How elegant!" said Polly. "Now it's my turn." And she held out her hand with a smile.

"You will suffer much and have much happiness," the voice went on. "You will love deeply and be loved in return, and the end will more than repay the beginning."

"Isn't that queer!" And Polly withdrew, to ponder on her mystical fortune.

"Now Jessie," said Mrs. Adams; "see what fate has in store for you."

"I'm half afraid," she said, laughing.

"Love, happiness, and sunshine," was what she heard. "A tiny cottage simply furnished with a teapot and eleven cats."

There was a shout.

"Now, Alan."

The brown hand trembled a little, and the eyes under the veil looked right into Alan's, as she spoke. "Some pain, much joy; a slow, even growth into a glorious manhood that knows no wrong, but lives for truth. Whatever else maybe is hidden from my sight."

"What a splendid one, Alan!" exclaimed Polly, her face flushing, as she took in all the meaning of the words.

And Katharine added quietly,--

"You have read us very well, Aunt Ruth."

"Mamma?" exclaimed Molly and Alan, in a breath.

"Yes, mamma," answered Mrs. Hapgood's voice, as she quickly shed her wrappings. "I thought I would have a finger in this pie, too. But how did you know me so soon, Katharine?"

"I knew nobody else would say what you did, for it was just a part of our talk the other day," she replied, as she unpinned the thick veil from Mrs. Hapgood's hair.

"Good-night, Mrs. Adams," said Jean, as they stood grouped about her in the hall. "This has been a lovely Hallowe'en, and I shall always remember it, I know."

"I hope you will, too, till next year," added Alan suggestively, as he went out into the bright starlight.

CHAPTER IX.

THE NEW READING CLUB.

"The beautiful summer of All Saints" was at its height, and the soft haze lay upon the blue hills and rested lightly over the meadows along the river. Such days were tempting enough to entice a hermit from his cell, and Mrs. Adams and the young people had agreed to devote Saturday afternoon to a long drive. Soon after their early lunch they had started off, Job leading the way, with Mrs. Adams, Jessie, Molly, and Jean, followed by Cob, the wiry little mustang that Mr. Shepard had sent East for his daughters' use, drawing Katharine, Florence, Polly, and Alan. Their destination was the nearer of the two mountains, a drive to the foot and then a scramble to the tip-top house, for the sake of one last look down upon the beautiful valley, before winter should shut it in. Unfortunately, Job was in one of his languid moods that day, and in spite of warning checks and flapping of lines, and even a mild application of the whip, he refused to break into a trot; but, with bowed head and discouraged mien, he plodded onward with as much apparent effort as if each motion of his aged frame were to be his last. In vain Katharine again and again reined in Cob, to wait for his companion; the old horse lagged farther and farther in the rear. At length Mrs. Adams called,--

"This is unbearable, Katharine! I am afraid we shall have to give up and go home. Job acts as if he couldn't crawl another step. I'm sorry," she added to her passengers, "to spoil our plan, but I dare not drive this old fellow any further, for fear he might never get home."

But even the turning back again failed to inspire Job as it usually did. In her secret heart, Mrs. Adams regarded this as an ominous symptom, and felt an ever-increasing anxiety lest he should never reach home alive. They were less than two miles from the town, but it was a long hour before Job dragged his weary way up the street, in at the gate, and tottered feebly up to the open door of the barn. By making little side excursions up and down the country, the other carriage had managed to keep respectfully in the rear; and Katharine now tied Cob outside the gate, while the others crowded around Job to watch with pitying eyes, as Mrs. Adams unharnessed this feeble veteran who had probably gone on his final march. The last strap was unbuckled and allowed to fall to the ground, while Mrs. Adams invitingly held up the worn old halter, to slip it on Job's nose. Perhaps she was slower than usual, perhaps some sudden thought of a neglected opportunity shot through Job's brain. However that might be, there was a quick scattering of the group, as two iron-shod heels flew up into the air, the brown head was playfully tossed from side to side, and Job, the feeble, the lifeless, went frisking away across the lawn, now galloping furiously up and down, with a lofty disregard of the holes he was tearing in the soft, dry turf, now stopping to roll on his back and kick his aged legs ecstatically in the air, with all the joyous abandonment of a young colt, then scrambling up again, to go pounding away, straight across a brilliant bed of chrysanthemums and only pausing, for a moment, to gaze pensively out over the front gate.

"Whoa, Job! Whoa, boy!" Mrs. Adams was calling in vain, while Jean exclaimed spitefully,--

"Mean old thing! I'll never be sorry for him again! I didn't lean back all the time we were gone, but just sat on the very front edge of the seat and tried to make myself as light as I could."

Then followed an exciting chase, for Job appeared to have regained all the agility of his far-off ancestors that roamed the plains at their own sweet will. Such sudden wheelings! Such wild leaps! Such frantic kicks! He refused to be coaxed; he cocked up his ears in derisive scorn when they scolded him and requested him to whoa. He had no intention of whoaing. He recognized from afar that a snare lay hidden somewhere in the measure of oats which Mrs. Adams held out before him, and he drew back his lips in a contemptuous smile, as he capered away to the remotest corner of the grounds. The pursuit lasted for an hour, and at the end of that time, Job appeared to be far fresher than his pursuers, fresher even than he had been at the start.

It was plain that nothing was to be gained in this way, so Mrs. Adams and the girls retired to the house to take counsel, leaving Alan to drive Job to the stable, and come back to dinner with the others.

"I am tired, if he isn't," sighed Mrs. Adams, dropping into a chair by the window overlooking the lawn.

"Has he ever done it before?" asked Florence sympathetically.

"Never with me; but he used to get away from John, when he was younger. Now he has started, I am afraid he will repeat the experiment, he has had such a good time to-day. It just makes me want to whip him!" And Mrs. Adams glared out at the unconscious


Half a Dozen Girls - 20/45

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