The Girl Scout's Triumph - novelonlinefree.info
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"Father, look at me! Am I like those other girls? Do I look like them or act like them or talk like them? Is my heart like theirs? Oh, father, do you suppose they ever have the fits of awful temper that I have, or do the wild things I like to do? Just look at me, father! I am thirteen years old, and I feel thirty. Why do you make me have anything to do with them--those girls, I mean? We won't be friends, ever. It will be just like it has always been on other Posts where you have been stationed. You always want me to make friends with girls. And I hate them! And sooner or later they find it out and they are shocked. I wish I could shock them worse than I do! I'd like to scream and dance and pull my hair at them!"
"Steady, Claire, steady!" said Colonel Maslin in a quiet level voice.
He tried to take his daughter's hands but she jerked away.
"Don't!" she exclaimed harshly. "Oh, father, can't you _see_ how it is?
Can't you _see_ that they never, never like me? They look at my red hair, and they stare at Chang, and snub Nancy because they think that is the way to treat my maid, and they like the candy you always bring me, but we are never _friends_. Oh, I hate them all: every one of them!
Sunbeams you call them. Well, I feel like a streak of lightning, and I would like to _strike_ them!"
She beat her slender hands together violently, and crossing the room flung herself down on a divan and covered her eyes. Her father, white faced and stern, followed her and seated himself on the edge of the divan, although Claire lay rigid and tried to crowd him off.
Colonel Maslin was silent for a time, and when he spoke his voice was very sad.
"This is my fault, my child," he said. "When your mother was taken ill and could not be with us, I could not face the loneliness of having you away from me. Both your aunts insisted that I was wrong, but I wanted you for comfort, my darling, so I took you with me. Later, when I should have sent you to a good boarding-school, I did not have the courage. You are old for your age, I confess it, yet in many ways you are a spoiled and undisciplined child, my dear. You make it very hard for me, for I need you and you fail me. Now I am going to ask one more favor of you.
After that, after you have honestly tried to do what I ask you, we will consider the subject closed for all time and you will go away to school."
"You know I hate that worst of all!" cried Claire, lifting a stained and tearful face. "_Nothing_ but girls at school! Oh, father, why can't you let me do what I want to do, just amuse myself my own way, when I am not studying? You know I work hard at my books and music, and I don't _want_ any friends. Girls are so curious, they always want to know things, and I am so afraid they will find out--"
"Our misfortune is not a disgrace, Claire," said her father in a voice that shook in spite of his efforts to keep it steady. "And I want you to have friends."
"Claller for Mlissie Claire," said Chang, coming silently from the telephone.
"Another of them!" groaned Claire, sitting up. "Tell her I must be excused."
"No," said Colonel Maslin sternly. "You promised to do what I asked, and I want to see you begin now--today. If after three months of honest effort you still take no pleasure in the society of these girls, I will give up the struggle and arrange your life in some different way. Come, Claire, do, _do_ try! You have given me your promise. A Maslin never breaks his word and I hold you to yours."
Claire looked up wearily. "Very well, father, I will really try. Who is it, Chang?"
"Mlieeis Blooster," said Chang in his pleasant sing-song voice.
"Oh, yes, I know that girl," said Claire. "She is a queer one. Ask her to come up, Chang."
Mabel, rather flustered over her adventure into the unknown mysteries of the big hotel, entered sedately and seated herself in the deepest and most comfortable chair that she could choose. For once Claire had to lead the conversation, as Mabel spoke but little and seemed to expect her hostess to do the talking. Colonel Maslin, thinking that his presence might keep the girls from getting on an easier footing, excused himself, and in a few minutes sent up from the office a huge box of candy.
Mabel did brighten at this and stayed long after the proper length of a first call, while she ate candy and told her troubles, both real and imaginary, to her bored hostess. She finally told her of the task the Captain had set for her. And at last Claire was interested. She listened intently as Mabel droned on about her experiences.
"I don't think parents really understand their children," said Mabel, carefully choosing a large chocolate cream. "Of course it may be different with you, but my mother certainly does not understand me at all. I am naturally very sensitive and love to read and dream, and I never get well into a book without her reminding me of something horrid and domestic that has to be done. I know I could write beautifully if I had time to collect my thoughts. And now that Captain Horton expects me to lead my own life regardless of others for a whole week, though of course part of the time has gone, I thought I could write some truly beautiful things. But nothing goes right. Of course mother does not know that Captain Horton told me to try this and she never notices any change in me, but she acts too queer for anything. She goes out all the time, and doesn't do any sewing for us (I have a brother) and last night she was talking about a _career_! My brother ought to stop her, but he just backs her right up."
"It is too bad," sympathized Claire, passing the candy. "My father doesn't understand--"
"I think a parent's place is in the home," Mabel interrupted. She was not at all interested in Claire or her father. Like all selfish people, she talked for the pleasure of hearing herself. "But mother has changed.
I suspect it is old age. She will be thirty-five her next birthday. I have three more days for my experiment, and then if I cannot live my own life at home I shall ask mother to arrange something different. I have always wanted to be a bachelor girl. I read a story about one. She wrote for the papers and made enormous sums and had a _sweet_ apartment, and was so happy because she felt her soul was free. My, I must go! It is nearly supper time, and I think mother is going to have Parker House rolls. I adore them. I had no idea I had stayed so long, but you are so entertaining and it is so nice to think we feel alike about leading our own lives our own way, and all that."
Claire murmured a faint good-bye after her departing guest and flopped heavily down on the divan where she had so recently thrown herself in tears.
She lay staring at the ceiling, deep in thought. A hazy question flitted through her mind. "Am I like that?" she asked herself. Then she laughed and dismissed the silly idea.
"What a dreadful girl!" she concluded. "Too dreadful! And father wants me to bother with people like that!"
Having met Colonel Maslin in the hotel lobby, Mabel found herself riding home in the beautiful Maslin limousine. She sat exactly in the center of the softly cushioned seat and stared haughtily at the passersby. She inclined her head a trifle in condescending acknowledgment of the traffic police who waved them on as they turned from Broadway into Third Street. Mabel was sorry that he did not seem to notice her. He lived three doors from Mabel on the side street and it seemed a pity not to impress him, especially as he was forever bringing home the Brewster dog when he ran away without his tag.
But luck was with Mabel when the big car rolled noiselessly up to the curb before her home, for her mother was standing at the window, and her brother and three other boys were having a last confab before separating for the night. Mabel crossed the sidewalk and went up the steps in her most stately manner. She did not notice the boys at all.
"Well," said her mother as she entered the house, "did you get a ride home? How do you like the Maslin girl?
"She is a rare soul," said Mabel. Then descending to earth, "I wish you could see the rooms they live in. You never _did_ see such lovely things. And she has a maid, and a Chinese house-servant, and her father is a perfect dear and sent us up a big box of candy."
"A rare soul, is she?" said Mrs. Brewster. "How do you mean?"
"Oh, I can't explain," said Mabel. "She is so understanding, and we seemed to think and feel just alike on so many subjects. I expect to see a great deal of her. We have so much in common."
"Does she object to dusting and making beds and things of that sort?"
asked Mrs. Brewster in a mild tone.
"I don't know," said Mabel, flushing.
"Ummm," said Mrs. Brewster. To Mabel the smile was maddening,--infuriating.
"I don't see why you take it like that," she burst out harshly. "Just because I have a mind above the average and want to live my own life and set my soul free! I am reading every little while about some girl who does it. But I never get a chance. Nothing for _me_ but school and practice and that old dusting and helping around the house!"
Mrs. Brewster sat down and looked quizzically at her excited elder child. She was in no hurry to break the silence, while Mabel stared out of the window and drummed on the pane with nervous finger tips. Finally she said gently, "Just what do you think you would like to do?"
"Oh, I want to break away, and have a chance to expand! I feel choked the way things go now. I read about one girl about my age who left home and took an apartment and lived her own life. It was wonderful. She went to work too, and made lots and lots of money."
"Lucky girl," said Mrs. Brewster. "What a help she must have been to her family! Oh, I forgot; the trick was that she _didn't_ help her family at all, did she? Was she a rare soul too?"
Mabel registered what she fondly hoped was a look of scorn. She did not speak, and after a moment Mrs. Brewster continued:
"What was her chosen field of endeavor? In other words, what job did she get?"
"She became a newspaper woman," said Mabel.
"But what did she do in the meantime? What did she do while she was learning to do newspaper work? Didn't you say she was a girl about your age?"
Mabel answered patiently.
"She became a newspaper writer at once," she said. "Don't you see, mamma, that is just the point? She went away from all the worries of her own home, where she never had time to think things out for herself, and it gave her a chance to _expand_. While she was at home her time was so broken."
"I see," said Mrs. Brewster. "I suppose her cruel parents expected her to dust and wash dishes and mend her clothes and practice, and all that. It was a great pity. I suppose there are a great many parents like that--so thoughtless."
"Indeed there are!" said Mabel with feeling. For the moment, hearing her mother agree with her, she forgot to whom she was talking. "If mothers and fathers only could understand that girls want to be _free_, that they want to expand and be themselves, everything would be different."