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- Nan Sherwood at Rose Ranch - 2/37 -
daughter ever let her mates lose sight of that fact.
"My goodness!" exclaimed Cora, "didn't you have anybody with you?"
"Well, no. You see, I invited Walter and Grace Mason, but they had people in the chair car they thought they must entertain," and she sniffed again.
"Oh, you Linda!" laughed Laura. "I bet I know who they were entertaining."
"Here comes the bus!" cried Amelia suddenly.
A rush of more than half the girls gathered about the open hearth for the great main entrance door of Lakeview Hall followed the announcement. This hall was almost like a castle set upon a high cliff overlooking Lake Huron on one side and the straggling town of Freeling, and Freeling Inlet, on the other.
The girls flung open the door. The school bus had just stopped before the wide veranda. Girls were fairly "boiling out of it," as Laura declared. Short, tall, thin, stout girls and girls of all ages between ten and seventeen tramped merrily up the steps with their handbags. Such a hullabaloo of greeting as there was!
"Come on, Cora," said Linda, haughtily. "Let us go up to our room. They are positively vulgar."
"Oh, no, Linda!" Cora cried. "I want to stay and see the fun."
"Fun!" gasped the disdainful Linda.
"Yes," said Cora, who was a terrible toady, but who showed some spirit on this occasion. "I want to have fun with the other girls. I don't want to be left out of everything just because of you. Even if you are going to flock by yourself this term, as you did most of last, because you are all the time quarreling with the girls that have the nicest times, I'm going to get into the fun."
This, according to Linda Riggs' opinion, was crass ingratitude and treachery. Besides, she and Cora had the nicest room in the Hall, for it had been fixed up especially for his daughter by Mr. Riggs; and Cora, who was poor, was allowed to be Linda's roommate without extra charge.
"You mean that you want to run with that Nan Sherwood and Bess Harley crew!" exclaimed Linda.
"I want to get into some of the fun. And so do you, Linda! Don't act offish," and Cora walked toward the open door to meet the new arrivals.
It was a terrible shock to the railroad magnate's daughter--this. The defection of her chief henchman and ally would rather break up the little group which Laura Polk had unkindly dubbed "the School of Snobs." With all her wealth Linda had but few retainers.
In the van of the newcomers were a rather comely, brown-eyed girl with a bright and cheerful expression of countenance, a dark beauty with curls and flashing eyes, and a demure but pretty girl to whom Lillie Nevins ran with exclamations of joy. This last was Grace Mason, the flaxen-haired girl's chum.
"Oh, Nancy! how well you look," cried Laura, hugging the brown-eyed girl. And to the curly-haired one: "What mischief have you got into, Bess? You look just as though you had done something."
"Don't say a word!" gasped Bess Harley in the red-haired girl's ear. "It's what we are going to do. Some sawneys have arrived. We'll have a procession."
"Oh, say!" exclaimed Amelia Boggs, "there is one special sawney expected. Did she come on this train with you other girls?"
"Oh, that's so! Who has seen Roistering Rhoda of the Staked Plains? Mrs. Cupp said she was due tonight," cried Laura.
"For goodness' sake!" exclaimed Bess, "who is that?"
"A sawney!" cried one of the other girls.
"They say she is Rhoda Hammond, from the very farthest West there is," Laura said gravely. "Of course she will ride in on a mustang, or something like that."
"What! with the snow two feet deep?" laughed the brown-eyed girl, tossing off her furs and smiling at the group of her schoolmates with happy mien.
"Say not so!" begged Laura. "No pony? What is the use of having a cow-girl fresh from the wildest West come to Lakeview Hall unless she comes in proper character?"
Nan Sherwood, having swept her old friends with her quick glance, now looked back at the group that had followed her into the hall. The bus had been so crowded and so dark that she had not known half of those who had been with her coming up from the Freeling railroad station.
"How nice it is to get back, isn't it?" she murmured to her special chum, Bess Harley.
"I should say!" agreed Elizabeth, warmly and emphatically.
Laura Polk, as an older girl and, after all, one of the most thoughtful, suddenly noticed a stranger in brown who still stood just inside the door that somebody had thoughtfully closed.
She made quite a charming, not to say striking, figure, as she stood there alone, just the faintest smile upon her lips, yet looking quite as neglected and lonely as any novice could possibly look.
This stranger wore brown furs and a brown coat, with a hat to match on which was a really wonderful brown plume. She wore bronze shoes and hose. Even Linda Riggs was dressed no more richly than this girl; only the latter was dressed in better taste than Linda.
Laura, leaving the gay company, went quickly toward the girl in brown and held out her hand.
"I am sure you are a stranger here," she said. "And I am a member of the Welcoming Committee. I am Laura Polk. And you--?"
"I am Rhoda Hammond," said the demure girl quietly.
"What!" almost shouted the startled Laura. "You're never! You can't be! Not Rollicking Rhoda from Rustlers' Roost, the wild Western adventuress we've heard so much about?"
"No," said the girl in brown, still placidly. "I am Rhoda Hammond from Rose Ranch."
"Oh, my auntie!" murmured Amelia Boggs, using most uncommendable slang. "Stung!"
But Laura Polk, if inclined to be boisterous and rather rude in her jokes, was by no means petty. She burst into such a good-natured and disarming laugh that the girl in brown was forced to join her.
"There, Laura," said Bess Harley, "the biter for once is the bitten. I hope you are properly overcome."
Nan Sherwood likewise hastened to offer the new girl her hand.
"I am glad to greet you, Rhoda Hammond," she said sympathetically. "You must not mind our animal spirits. We just do slop over at this time, my dear. Wait till you see how gentle and decorous we have to be after the semester really begins. This is only letting off steam, you know."
"Do you meet all newcomers with the same grade of hospitality?" asked Rhoda Hammond, with more than a little sarcasm in both her words and tone.
"Only more so," Bess Harley assured her. "Oh, Nan! consider what they did to us when we came here for the first time last September. 'Member?"
Nan nodded with sudden gravity in her pretty face. She was not likely to forget that trying time. She had been on a very different footing with her schoolmates for the first few weeks of her life at Lakeview Hall than she was now.
Rhoda Hammond, the new girl, seemed to apprehend something of this change, for she said quickly and with much good sense:
"Well, if you two could stand it, and are evidently so much thought of now, I'll grin and bear it, too. Though it isn't just as we are taught to treat strangers out home. At Rose Ranch if a person is a tenderfoot we try to make it particularly easy for him."
"Oh, my dear," drawled Bess, her eyes dancing, "it works just the opposite at a girls' boarding school, believe me!"
Her chum, Nan, was for the moment not in a laughing mood. She could scarcely realize now that she was the same Nan Sherwood who had come so wonderingly and timidly to Lakeview Hall.
Of the Sherwoods there were only Nan and her father and mother. They were an especially warmly attached trio and probably, if a most wonderful and startling thing had not happened, Nan and Momsey and Papa Sherwood would never have been separated, or been fairly shaken out of their family existence, as they had been just about a year before this present story opens.
The Sherwoods lived in a little cottage on Amity Street in Tillbury. Bess Harley lived with her parents and brothers and sisters in the same town; but they were much better off financially than the Sherwoods. Mr. Sherwood was a foreman in the Atwater Mills, and when that company abruptly closed down, Nan's father was thrown out of work and the prospect of real poverty stared the
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