Read CHAPTER III - A clashing of wits of Molly Brown's Sophomore Days , free online book, by Nell Speed, on ReadCentral.com.

Queen’s Cottage seemed destined to shelter girls of interesting and unusual types.

“They always do flock together, you know,” Miss Pomeroy had remarked to the President, as the two women sat talking in the President’s office one day. The question had come up with the subject of the new Japanese student, the first of her nation ever to seek learning in the halls of Wellington.

“They do,” said the President, “but whether it’s the first comers actively persuading the next ones or whether it’s a matter of unconscious attraction is hard to tell.”

“In this case I understand it’s a matter of very conscious attraction on one side and no persuasion on the other,” replied Miss Pomeroy. “That charming overgrown girl from Kentucky, Miss Brown, although she’s as poor as a church mouse and last year even blacked boots to earn a little money, is one of the chief attractions, I think. But some of the other girls are quite remarkable. Margaret Wakefield lives there, you know. She makes as good a speech as her politician father. It will be interesting to watch her career if she only doesn’t spoil everything by marrying.”

The two spinsters looked at each other and laughed.

“She won’t,” answered the President. “She’s much too ambitious.”

“Then,” went on Miss Pomeroy, “there’s Julia Kean. She could do almost anything she wished, and like all such people she doesn’t want to do anything. She hasn’t a spark of ambition. It’s Miss Brown who keeps her up to the mark. The girl was actually about to run away last winter just at mid-years. She lost her courage, I believe, and there was a remarkable scene, but she was induced to stay.”

“Who are the other girls?” asked the President thoughtfully.

“One of them, you recall, is a daughter of the famous suffragette, Mrs. Anna Oldham. But I fancy the poor daughter has had quite enough of suffrage. The only other really interesting characters at Queen’s, besides your Japanese, are two sophomores who roomed at Plympton’s last year. They are the Williams sisters, Katherine and Edith, and they are remarkably bright. They work in a team, and I have not been able to discover which is the brighter of the two, although I had them to tea once or twice last year. One is talkative and the other is quiet, but I suspect the quiet one of doing a deal of thinking.”

The two women enjoyed these occasional chats about Wellington students. They were accustomed to regard most of the classes as units rather than the members as individuals. Sometimes it was a colorless, uninteresting class with no special traits worthy of admiration. Sometimes it was a snobbish, purse-proud class, as in the case of the present juniors. And again, as with last year’s seniors, it was a class of sterling qualities made up of big girls with fine minds. Seldom did a class contain more than one or two brilliant members, often not one. The present sophomore class was one of those “freak” bodies which appear once in a life time. It was an unusually small class, there being only thirty-eight members. Some twenty of these girls were extremely bright and at least ten gave promise of something more than ordinary. As the fastest skaters keep together on the ice, so the brightest girls gradually drifted into Queen’s and became as one family. It was known that there was a good deal of jealousy in the less distinguished portion of the class because of this sparkling group. But, all unconscious of the feeling they were exciting, the Queen’s girls settled themselves down to the enjoyment of life, each in her own peculiar way.

The two new sophomores at Queen’s were, in fact, a welcome addition, and Molly and her friends found them exceedingly amusing. They were tall, rather raw-boned types, with sallow skins and large, lustrous, melancholy eyes. There was only a year’s difference in their ages, and at first it was difficult to tell one from the other, but Edith, the younger of the sisters, was an inch taller than Katherine and was very quiet, while Katherine talked enough for the two of them. Because they were always together they were called “the Gemini,” although occasionally they had terrific battles and ceased to be on speaking terms for a day or two.

One afternoon, not long after the opening day at college, the Williams sisters and Mabel Hinton, who now lived in the Quadrangle, paid a visit to Molly in her room.

“We came in to discuss with you who you consider would make the best class president this year, Molly,” began Katherine. “It’s rather hard to choose one among so many who could fill the place with distinction ”

“But I think Margaret should be chosen,” interrupted Molly. “She was a good one last year. Why change?”

“Don’t you think it looks rather like favoritism?” put in Mabel. “Some of the other girls should have a chance. There’s you, for instance.”

“Me?” cried Molly. “Why, I wouldn’t know how to act in a president’s chair. I’d be embarrassed to death.”

“You’d soon learn,” said Katherine. “It’s very easy to become accustomed to an exalted state.”

“But why not one of you?” began Molly.

“It’s a question,” here remarked the silent Edith, “whether a class president should be the most popular girl or the best executive.”

“Margaret is both,” exclaimed Molly loyally; “but, after all, why not leave it to the vote at the class meeting?”

“Oh, it will be finally decided in that way, of course,” said Katherine, “but such things are really decided beforehand by a little electioneering, and I was proposing to do some stump speaking in your behalf, Molly, if you cared to take the place.”

“Oh, no,” cried Molly, flushing with embarrassment; “it’s awfully nice of you, but I wouldn’t for anything interfere with Margaret. She is the one to have it. Besides, as Queen’s girls, we ought to vote for her. She belongs to the family.”

“But some of the girls are kicking. They say we are running the class, and are sure to ring in one of our own crowd just to have things our way.”

“How absurd!” ejaculated Molly. “I’m sure I never thought of such a thing. But if that’s the case, why vote for me, then?”

“Because,” replied Mabel, “the Caroline Brinton faction proposed you. They say, if they must have a Queen’s girl, they’ll take you.”

“‘Must’ is a ridiculous word to use at an honest election,” broke in Molly hotly. “Let them choose their candidate and vote as they like. We’ll choose ours and vote as we like.”

“That’s exactly the point,” said Katherine. “They are something like Kipling’s monkey tribe, the ‘banderlog.’ They do a lot of chattering, but they can’t come to any agreement. They need a head, and I propose to be that head and tell them whom to vote for. Shall it be Molly or Margaret?”

“Margaret,” cried Molly; “a thousand times, Margaret. I wouldn’t usurp her place for worlds. She’s perfectly equipped in every possible way for the position.”

Nance and Judy now came into the room. Nance looked a little excited and Judy was red in the face.

“Do you know,” burst out the impetuous Judy, “that Caroline Brinton has called a mass meeting of all the sophomores not at Queen’s? She has started up some cock-and-bull tale about the Queen’s girls trying to run the class. She says we’re a ring of politicians. We ran in all our officers last year and we’re going to try and do it this year.”

“What a ridiculous notion,” laughed Molly. “Margaret was elected by her own silver-tongued oratory, and Jessie was made secretary because she was so pretty and popular and seemed to belong next to Margaret anyway.”

“But the question is: are the Queen’s girls going to sit back and let themselves be libeled?” demanded Nance.

Here Edith spoke up.

“Of course,” she said, “let them talk. Don’t you know that people who denounce weaken their own cause always, and it’s the people who keep still who have all the strength on their side? Let them talk and at the class meeting to-morrow some of us might say a few quiet words to the point.”

The girls recognized the wisdom of this decision and concluded to keep well away from any forced meeting of sophomores that evening. It had not occurred to simple-hearted Molly that it was jealousy that had fanned the flame of indignation against Queen’s girls, but it had occurred to some of the others, the Williamses in particular, who were very shrewd in regard to human nature. As for Margaret Wakefield, she was openly and shamelessly enjoying the fight.

“Let them talk,” she said. “To-morrow we’ll have some fun. Just because they have made such unjust accusations against us they ought to be punished by being made to vote for us.”

It was noted that Margaret used the word “us” in speaking of future votes. She had been too well-bred to declare herself openly as candidate for the place of class president, but it was generally known that she would not be displeased to become the successful candidate. The next morning they heard that only ten sophomores attended the mass meeting and that they had all talked at once.

Later in the day when the class met to elect its president for the year, as Edith remarked: “The hoi polloi did look black and threatening.”

Molly felt decidedly uncomfortable and out of it. She didn’t know how to make a speech for one thing and she hoped they’d leave her alone. It was utterly untrue about Queen’s girls. The cleverest girls in the class happened to live there. That was all.

Margaret, the Williamses and Judy wore what might be called “pugilistic smiles.” They intended to have a sweet revenge for the things that had been said about them and on the whole they were enjoying themselves immensely. They had not taken Molly into their confidence, but what they intended to do was well planned beforehand.

Former President Margaret occupied the chair and opened the meeting with a charming little speech that would have done credit to the wiliest politician. She moved her hearers by her reference to class feeling and their ambition to make the class the most notable that ever graduated from Wellington. She flattered and cajoled them and put them in such a good humor with themselves that there was wild applause when she finished and the Brinton forces sheepishly avoided each other’s eyes.

There was a long pause after this. Evidently the opposing side did not feel capable of competing with so much oratory as that. Margaret rose again.

“Since no one seems to have anything to say,” she said, “I beg to start the election by nominating Miss Caroline Brinton of Philadelphia for our next class president.”

If a bomb shell had burst in the room, there couldn’t have been more surprise. Molly could have laughed aloud at the rebellious and fractious young woman from Philadelphia, who sat embarrassed and tongue-tied, unable to say a word.

Again there was a long pause. The Brinton forces appeared incapable of expressing themselves.

“I second the nomination of Miss Brinton,” called Judy, with a bland, innocent look in her gray eyes.

Then Katherine Williams arose and delivered a deliciously humorous and delightful little speech that caused laughter to ripple all over the room. She ended by nominating Margaret Wakefield for re-election and before they knew it everybody in the room was applauding.

Nominations for other officers were made after this and a girl from Montana was heard to remark:

“I’m for Queen’s. They’re a long sight brighter than any of us.”

When the candidates stood lined up on the platform just before the votes were cast, Caroline Brinton looked shriveled and dried up beside the ample proportions of Margaret Wakefield, who beamed handsomely on her classmates and smiled so charmingly that in comparison there appeared to be no two ways about it.

“She’s the right one for president,” Judy heard a girl say. “She looks like a queen bee beside little Carrie Brinton. And nobody could say she ran the election this time, either. Carrie has had the chance she wanted.”

Molly was one of the nominees for secretary and, standing beside a nominee from the opposing side, she also shone in comparison.

When the votes were counted, it was found that Margaret and Molly had each won by a large majority, and Caroline Brinton was ignominiously defeated.

That night Jessie Lynch, who had not in the least minded being superseded as secretary by Molly, gave a supper party in honor of her chum’s re-election. Only Queen’s girls were there, except Mabel Hinton, and there was a good deal of fun at the expense of Caroline Brinton of Philadelphia.

“Poor thing,” said Molly, “I couldn’t help feeling sorry for her.”

“But why?” demanded Katherine. “She had the chance she wanted. She was nominated, but she was such a poor leader that her own forces wouldn’t stand by her at the crucial moment. Oh, but it was rich! What a lesson! And how charming Margaret was! How courteous and polite through it all. What a beautiful way to treat an enemy!”

“What a beautiful way to treat wrath, you mean,” said her sister; “with ‘a soft answer.’”

“It was as good as a play,” laughed Judy. “I never enjoyed myself more in all my life.”

But, somehow, Molly felt a little uncomfortable always when she recalled that election, although it was an honest, straightforward election, won by the force of oratory and personality, and so skillfully that the opposing side never knew it had been duped by a prearranged plan of four extremely clever young women.