Read CHAPTER I - The return of the wanderers of Molly Brown's Sophomore Days , free online book, by Nell Speed, on ReadCentral.com.

“I never thought I could be so glad to be anywhere except home,” thought Molly Brown as she swung off the ’bus, and, seizing her suit case, ran into Queen’s Cottage without so much as ringing the bell.

Two juniors whom Molly had known only by sight the year before and several freshmen had been in the Wellington omnibus; no one in whom she could confide her enthusiasm as the ’bus turned a bend in the road and Wellington’s towers came into view.

“Molly! Molly!” cried a voice from somewhere in the upper regions of Queen’s, and down three flights of stairs rushed a wild figure, her fluffy light brown hair standing out all over her head and her voluminous kimono sailing behind her like the tail of a kite.

“Oh, Judy, it’s good to see you again,” cried Molly, and the two girls were instantly folded in each other’s arms in a long, loving embrace.

“You remind me strongly of Meg Merriles,” continued Molly, holding her friend off at arms’ length and giving her a joyful little shake. “You look as if you had been running over the moors in the wind.”

“You’d think I was a bit daffy if you could see my room,” replied Julia Kean, who, those of you who have met her in an earlier story will recall, was nicknamed “Judy” by her friends. “I’m unpacking. It looks like the world in the era of chaos: mountains of clothes and islands of shoes and archipelagoes of hats all jumbled into a hopeless mass. But, never mind that now. Let’s talk about each other. Come on upstairs. Your room’s ready. I looked in half an hour ago. You’ve got new wall paper and a fresh coat of paint. That’s because you are one of Mrs. Markham’s little pets.”

“Really,” cried Molly, delighted. “How charmed Nance will be. And I’ve brought some white dimity curtains with ruffled edges to hang at the windows. I made them last summer when it was ninety-eight in the shade. Where is Nance, by the way? And where are all the Queen’s girls, and what new ones are here?”

“One at a time, Miss Brown,” laughed Judy, following Molly up to the third story and into the large room shared by Molly and her friend, Nance Oldham.

“How sweet it’s going to look,” cried Molly, clasping her hands and gazing around her with all the ardor of a returned wanderer. “But where is Nance?”

Judy’s face became very grave.

“Is it possible you haven’t heard the news about Nance?” she said.

“Judy, what do you mean?” cried Molly, taking off her hat and running her fingers through her rumpled auburn hair, a trick she had when she was excited and overwrought. “Now, tell me at once what has happened to Nance. How could you have kept it from me? Dear old Nance!”

Judy blew her nose violently.

“Why don’t you answer me, Judy? Isn’t Nance coming back? I haven’t heard from her for weeks. Oh, do tell me.”

“I’m going to tell you in a minute,” answered Judy. “I can’t blow my nose and talk at the same time. It’s a physical impossibility. I’ve got a wretched cold, you see. I am afraid it’s going into influenza.”

“Julia Kean, you are keeping something from me. I don’t care a rap about your nose. Isn’t Nance coming back?”

Molly almost fell on her knees in the excess of her anxiety. Judy turned her face away from those appealing blue eyes and coughed a forced throaty cough.

“Suppose I should say she wasn’t coming back, Molly? Would you mind it?”

“Would I mind it?” repeated Molly, her eyes filling with tears.

Suddenly the closet door was flung open and out rushed Nance.

“Oh, Molly, forgive me,” she cried, throwing her arms around her roommate’s neck. “Judy thought it would be a good practical joke, but I couldn’t stand the deception any longer. It was worth it, though, if only to know you would miss me.”

“Miss you?” exclaimed Molly. “I should think I would. Judy, you wretch!”

“I never did say she wasn’t coming,” replied Judy. “I simply said, ’Is it possible you haven’t heard the news about Nance?’ It shows how your heart rules your head, Molly. You shouldn’t take on so until you get at the real truth. Your impetuous nature needs ”

Here Judy was interrupted by the noise of a headlong rush down the hall. Then the door was burst open and three girls blew into the room all laughing and talking at once.

“My goodness, it sounds like a stampede of wild cattle,” exclaimed Judy. “How are you, old pals?”

A general all-round embrace followed.

It was Margaret Wakefield, last year’s class president; her chum, Jessie Lynch; and Sallie Marks, now a senior, but not in the least set up by her exalted state.

“Where’s Mabel Hinton?” someone demanded.

“She’s moved over to the Quadrangle into a singleton. She wanted to be nearer the scene of action, she said, and Queen’s was too diverting for her serious life’s work,” so Margaret explained.

“I’m sorry,” said Molly. “I’m one of those nice comfortable home bodies that likes the family to keep right on just the same forever, but I suppose we can’t expect everybody to be as fond of this old brown house as we are. Sit down, everybody,” she added, hospitably. “And oh, yes, wait a moment I didn’t open this on the train at all.”

She fell on her knees and opened her suit case while her friends exchanged knowing smiles.

“Ruling passion even strong in death,” observed Judy.

“Of course it’s something good to eat,” laughed pretty Jessie.

“Of course,” replied Molly, pitching articles of clothing out of her satchel with all the carelessness of one who pursues a single idea at a time. “And why not? My sister made them for me the morning I left and packed them carefully in a tin box with oiled paper.”

“Cloudbursts!” they cried ecstatically and pounced on the box without ceremony, while Molly, who, like most good cooks, had a small appetite, leaned back in a Morris chair and regarded them with the pleased satisfaction of a host who has provided satisfactory refreshment for his guests.

The summer had made few changes in the faces of her last year’s friends. Margaret was a bit taller and more massive, and her handsome face a little heavier. Already her youthful lines were maturing and she might easily have been mistaken for a senior.

Nance was as round and plump as a partridge and there was a new happiness in her face, the happiness of returning to the first place she had ever known that in any way resembled a home. Nance had lived in a boarding house ever since she could remember; but Queen’s was not like a boarding house; at least not like the one to which she was accustomed, where the boarders consisted of two crusty old bachelors; a widow who was hipped about her health and always talked “symptoms”; a spinster who had taught school for thirty years; and Nance’s parents that is, one of them, and at intervals the other. Mrs. Oldham only returned to her family to rest between club conventions and lecture tours.

Judy had a beautiful creamy tan on her face which went admirably with her dreamy gray eyes and soft light brown hair. There were times when she looked much like a boy, and she did at this moment, Molly thought, with her hair parted on one side and a brilliant Roman scarf knotted around her rolling Byronic collar.

Jessie, just now engaged in the pleasing occupation of smiling at her own image in the mirror over the mantel, was as pretty as ever. As for Sallie Marks, every familiar freckle was in its familiar place, and, as Judy remarked later, she had changed neither her spots nor her skin. She had merely added a pair of eye-glasses to her tip-tilted critical nose and there was, perhaps, an extra spark of dry humor in her pale eyes.

Molly was a little thin. She always “fell-off” after a ninety-eight-in-the-shade summer; but she was the same old Molly to her friends, possessed with an indescribable charm and sweetness: the “nameless charm,” it had been called, but there were many who could name it as being a certain kindly gentleness and unselfishness.

“What’s the news, girls?” she demanded, giving a general all-round smile like that of a famous orator, which seemed to be meant for everybody at once and no one in particular.

“News is scarce; or should I say ’are’?” replied Margaret. “Epimenides Antinous Green, ‘the handsomest man ever seen,’ was offered a chair in one of the big colleges and refused.”

“But why?” cried Molly, round-eyed with amazement.

“Because he has more liberty at Wellington and more time to devote to his writings.”

Molly walked over to the window to hide a smile.

“The comic opera,” she thought.

“He’s just published a book, you know, on the ‘Elizabethan Drama,’” went on Margaret, “which is to be used as a text book in lots of private schools. And he’s been on a walking trip through England this summer with George Theodore ”

“How did you know all that?” interrupted Judy.

“Well, to tell you the truth, I came up to Wellington on the train with Andy McLean and he answered all the questions I asked him,” replied Margaret, laughing. “I also answered all the questions he asked me about a particular young lady ”

Nance pretended to be very busy at this moment with the contents of her work bag. The other girls began laughing and she looked up, disclosing a scarlet countenance.

“Don’t you know she never could take a teasing?” cried Judy.

“Who’s teasing?” answered Margaret. “No names were mentioned.”

“Don’t you mind, Nance, dear,” said Molly, always tender-hearted when it came to teasing. “The rest of us haven’t had one ‘inquiring friend,’ as Ca’line, our cook, used to call them. When I wrote letters for her to her family in Georgia, she always finished up with ’Now, Miss Molly, jes’ end with love to all inquirin’ friends.’”

The dainty little French clock on the mantel, one of Nance’s new possessions, tinkled five times in a subdued, fairy chime and the friends scattered to their various rooms to unpack. Judy was now in Frances Andrews’ old room, next to the one occupied by Molly and Nance.

“I think I’ll take a gimlet and bore a hole through the wall,” she announced as she lingered a moment after the others had gone, “so that we can communicate without having to walk ten steps I counted them this morning and open two doors.”

“Who has your old room, Judy?” inquired Molly.

“You’d never guess in a thousand years, so I’ll have to enlighten you,” answered Judy. “A young Japanese lady.”

“For heaven’s sake!” cried Molly and Nance in one breath, while Judy, who loved a climax, sailed from the room without vouchsafing any more information.