Read CHAPTER XIV - Questions and answers of Molly Brown's Sophomore Days , free online book, by Nell Speed, on ReadCentral.com.

“Oh, Molly, what was that awful black wagon that went up the avenue a few minutes ago?” demanded half a dozen voices as she opened the door into her own room.

“The freshman at the Infirmary who was threatened with typhoid fever is getting well,” remarked Margaret Wakefield.

“Surely, nothing has happened to any of the Wellington girls?” put in Jessie uneasily.

“No, no,” answered Molly, “nothing so terrible as that, thank goodness. It wasn’t an undertaker’s wagon, but an ambulance.” She paused. It would be rather hard on Nance to tell the news about Andy before all the girls.

“It looked something like the Exmoor ambulance,” here observed Katherine Williams.

Molly was silent. Suppose she should tell the sad news and Nance should break down and make a scene. It would be cruel. “I’ll wait until they go,” she decided. But this was not easy.

“Who was in the ambulance, Molly?” asked Judy impatiently. “I should think you would have had curiosity enough to have noticed where it stopped.”

It was no use wrinkling her eyebrows at Judy or trying to evade her direct questions. The inquisitive girl went on:

“Wasn’t that Dr. McLean on the seat with the driver?”

“Naturally he would be there, being the only physician in Wellington,” replied Molly.

Then Lawyer Wakefield began a series of cross-questions that fairly made the poor girl quail.

“In which direction were you going when you met the ambulance?” asked this persistent judge.

“I was coming this way, of course.”

“And you mean to say your curiosity didn’t prompt you to turn around and see where the ambulance stopped?”

“I didn’t say that,” faltered Molly, feeling very much like a prisoner at the bar.

“You did turn and look then? Was it toward the faculty houses or the Quadrangle that the ambulance was driving?”

“Well, really, Judge Wakefield, I think I had better seek legal advice before replying to your questions.”

Margaret laughed.

“I only wanted to prove to myself that the only way to get at the truth of a matter is by a system of questions which require direct answers. It’s like the game of ‘Twenty Questions,’ which is the most interesting game in the world when it’s properly played. Once I guessed the ring on the Pope’s finger in six questions just by careful deduction. It’s easier to get at the truth by subtracting than adding ”

“Truth, indeed. You haven’t got a bit nearer than any of us,” burst in the incorrigible Judy. “With all your legal mind you haven’t made Molly tell us who was in the ambulance, and of course she knows. She has never said she didn’t, yet.”

Molly felt desperately uncomfortable. She wished now that she had told them in the beginning. It had only made matters worse not to tell.

“Molly, you are the strangest person. What possible reason could you have for keeping secret who was in the ambulance? Was it one of the students or one of the faculty?” demanded Nance.

“People who live in the country say that calves are the most inquisitive creatures in the world, but I think girls are,” remarked Molly.

“This is as good as a play,” cried one of the Williams girls, “a real play behind footlights, to sit here and look on at this little comedy of curiosity. You’ve asked every conceivable question under the sun, and Molly there has never told a thing. Now I happen to know that the ambulance is connected with the sanitarium over near Exmoor. I saw it once when we were walking, and it is therefore probably bringing someone from Exmoor here. Then if you wish to inquire further by the ’deductive method,’ as Judge Wakefield calls it: who at Exmoor has connections at Wellington?”

“Dodo Green and Andy McLean,” said Judy quickly.

“Exactly,” answered Edith.

Nance’s eyes met Molly’s and in a flash she understood why her friend had been parrying the questions of the other girls. It was to save her from a shock.

Perhaps some of the other girls recognized this, too, for Margaret and the Williamses rose at the same moment and made excuses to go, and the others soon followed. Only blundering and thoughtless Judy remained to blunder more.

“Molly Brown,” she exclaimed, “you have been getting so full of mysteries and secrets lately that you might as well live in a tower all alone. Now, why ”

“Is he very badly hurt, Molly?” interrupted Nance in a cold, even voice, not taking the slightest notice of Judy’s complaints.

“Pretty badly, Nance. The journey over from Exmoor was harder on him than they thought it would be. I stood beside the stretcher for a minute.”

Nance walked over to the side window and looked across the campus in the direction of the McLean house. On the small section of the avenue which could be seen from that point she caught a glimpse of the ambulance making its return trip to Exmoor.

She turned quickly and went back to her chair.

“It looks like a hearse,” she said miserably.

“Is it Andy?” asked Judy of Molly in a whisper.

Molly nodded her head.

“What a chump I’ve been!” ejaculated Judy.

“It happened the night of the carnival, of course,” pursued Nance.

“Yes.”

“It was all my fault,” she went on quietly. “I would coast down one of those long hills and Andy didn’t want me to. I knew I could, and I wanted to show him how well I could skate. Then, just as we got to the bottom, my heel came off and we both tumbled. It didn’t hurt us, but Andy was provoked, and then we quarreled. Of course, walking back made us late and he missed the others.”

“But, dear Nance, it might have happened just the same, even if he had been with the others,” argued Molly.

“No, it couldn’t have been so bad. He must have been lying in the snow a long time before they found him, and was probably half frozen,” she went on, ruthlessly inflicting pain on herself.

“They did go back and find him, fortunately,” admitted Molly.

“He was the first and only boy friend I have ever had,” continued Nance in a tone of extreme bitterness. “I always thought I was a wallflower until I met him. Other girls like you two and Jessie have lots of friends and can spare one. But I haven’t any to spare. I only have Andy.” Her voice broke and she began to sob, “Oh, why was I so stubborn and cruel that night?”

Judy crept over and locked the door. She was sore in mind and body at sight of Nance’s misery.

“I feel like a whipped cur,” she thought. “Just as if someone had beaten me with a stick. Poor old Nance!”

“You mustn’t feel so hopeless about it, Nance dear,” Molly was saying. “I’m sure he’ll pull through. They wouldn’t have brought him all this distance if he had been so badly off.”

“They have brought him home to die!” cried Nance fiercely. “And I did it. I did it!” she rocked herself back and forth. “I want to be alone,” she said suddenly.

“Of course, dear Nance, no one shall disturb you,” said Molly, taking a pile of books off the table and a “Busy” sign, which she hung on the door. “We’ll bring up your supper. Don’t come down this evening.”

But when the girls returned some hours later with a tray of food, Nance had gone to bed and turned her face to the wall, and she refused to eat a morsel. All next day it was the same. Nance remained in bed, ruthlessly cutting lessons and refusing to take anything but a cup of soup at lunch time. The girls called at Dr. McLean’s to inquire for Andy and found that his condition was much the same. Nance’s condition was the same, too. She turned a deaf ear to all their arguments and declined to be reasoned with.

“She can’t lie there forever,” Judy exclaimed at last.

“But what are we to do, Judy?” Molly asked. “She’s just nursing her troubles until she’ll go into melancholia! I would go to Mrs. McLean, but she won’t see anyone and the doctor is too unhappy to listen. I tried to tell him about Nance and he didn’t hear a word I was saying. I didn’t realize how much they adored Andy.”

Judy could offer no suggestion and Molly went off to the Library to think.

It occurred to her that Professor Green might give her some advice. He knew all about the friendship between Nance and Andy, and, besides, he had interested himself once before in Nance’s troubles when he arranged for her to go to the McLeans’ supper party the year before. Molly glanced at the clock. It was nearly half-past four.

“He’ll probably be in his little cloister study right now,” she said to herself, and in three minutes she was rapping on the oak door in the corridor marked “E. Green.”

“Come in,” called the Professor.

He was sitting at his study table, his back turned to her, writing busily.

“You’re late, Dodo,” he continued, without looking up. “I expected you in time for lunch. Sit down and wait. I can’t stop now. Don’t speak to me for fifteen minutes. I’m finishing something that must go by the six o’clock mail.”

Molly sank into the depths of the nearest chair while the Professor’s pen scratched up and down monotonously. Not since the famous night of her Freshman year when she was locked in the cloisters had she been in the Professor’s sanctum, and she looked about her with much curiosity.

“I wish I had one just like it,” she thought. “It’s so peaceful and quiet, just the place to work in and write books on ’The Elizabethan Drama,’ and lyric poetry, and comic operas ”

There was a nice leathery smell in the atmosphere of book bindings mingled with tobacco smoke, and the only ornament she could discover, except a small bronze bust of Voltaire and a life mask of Keats, was a glazed paper weight in the very cerulean blue she herself was so fond of. It caught the fading light from the window and shone forth from the desk like a bit of blue sky.

Molly was sitting in a high back leather chair, which quite hid her from Judith Blount, who presently, knocking on the door and opening it at the same moment, entered the room like a hurricane.

“Cousin Edwin, may I come in? I want to ask you something ”

“I can’t possibly see you now, Judith. You must wait until to-morrow. I’m very busy.”

“Oh, pshaw!” exclaimed the girl and banged the door as she departed into the corridor.

What a jarring element she was in all that peaceful stillness! The muffled noises in the Quadrangle seemed a hundred miles away. Molly rose and tiptoed to the door.

“He’ll be angrier than ever if he should find me here,” she thought. “I’ll just get out quietly and explain some other time.”

Her hand was already on the doorknob when the Professor wheeled around and faced her.

“Why, Miss Brown,” he exclaimed, “was it you all the time? I might have known my clumsy brother couldn’t have been so quiet.”

“Please excuse me,” faltered Molly. “I am sure you are very busy. I am awfully sorry to have disturbed you.”

“Nonsense! It’s only unimportant things I won’t be bothered with, like the absurd questions Judith thinks up to ask me and Dodo’s gossip about the fellows at Exmoor. But I am well aware that you never waste time. I suspect you of being one of the busiest little ladies in Wellington.”

Molly smiled. Somehow, she liked to be called a “little lady” by this distinguished professor.

“But your letter that must go by the six mail?”

“That can wait until morning,” he said.

He had just said it was to go at six, but, of course, he had a right to change his mind.

“Sit down and tell me what’s the trouble. Have you had bad news from home?”

“No, it’s about Nance,” she began, and told him the whole story. “You see,” she finished, “Nance has had so few friends, and she is very fond of Andy. Because she thinks the accident was her fault, she is just grieving herself into an awful state.”

The Professor sat with his chin resting on his hand.

“Poor little girl!” he said. “And the Doctor and Mrs. McLean are in almost as bad a state themselves. You know it’s just a chance that Andy will pull through. He has developed pneumonia.”

“Oh, dear, with all those broken bones and that terrible gash! Isn’t it dreadful?”

“Pretty bad. Have you tried talking to Miss Oldham?”

“I’ve tried everything and nothing will move her. It’s just a kind of stubborn misery that seems to have paralyzed her, mind and body.”

The two sat in silence for a moment, then the Professor said:

“Suppose I go down to Queen’s to-night and see Miss Oldham? Do you think she could be induced to come down into Mrs. Markham’s sitting room and have a talk with me?”

“I should think so. She wouldn’t have the courage to decline to see one of the faculty.”

“Very well. If she is roused to get up and come down stairs, she may come to her senses. But don’t go yet. I have something to tell you, something that doesn’t concern Miss Oldham but er myself. Do you remember the opera I told you about?”

Molly nodded.

“It’s going into rehearsal Christmas week and will open in six weeks. Are you pleased?”

Molly was pleased, of course. She was always glad of other people’s good luck.

“How would you like to go to the opening?” he asked.

“It would be wonderful, but but I don’t see how I can. I told you there were complications.”

“Yes, I know,” he answered, “but you’re to forget complications that night and enjoy my first attempt to be amusing.”

“I’ll try,” answered Molly, not realizing how her reply might sound to the author of the comic opera, who only smiled good-naturedly and said:

“The music will be pretty at any rate.”

They sat talking about the opera for some time, in fact, until the tower clock clanged six.

“I never dreamed it was so late,” apologized Molly, “and I have kept you all this time. I know you must be awfully busy. I hope you will forgive me.”

“Didn’t I just say that your time was quite as important as mine?” he said. “And when two very important people get together the moments are not wasted.”

That night the Professor did call on Nance at Queen’s, and the unhappy girl was obliged to get into her things as quickly as possible and go down. What he said to her Molly and Judy never knew, but in an hour Nance returned to them in a normal, sensible state of mind, and not again did she turn her face to the wall and refuse to be comforted.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Professor Green is the nicest person in Wellington, that is, of the faculty,” thought Molly as she settled under the reading lamp, and prepared to study her Lit. lesson.