Bertha Sutherland hurried home from the post office and climbed the stairs of her boarding-house to her room on the third floor. Her roommate, Grace Maxwell, was sitting on the divan by the window, looking out into the twilight.
A year ago Bertha and Grace had come to Dartmouth to attend the Academy, and found themselves roommates. Bertha was bright, pretty and popular, the favourite of her classmates and teachers; Grace was a grave, quiet girl, dressed in mourning. She was quite alone in the world, the aunt who had brought her up having recently died. At first she had felt shy with bright and brilliant Bertha; but they soon became friends, and the year that followed was a very pleasant one. It was almost ended now, for the terminal exams had begun, and in a week’s time the school would close for the holidays.
“Have some chocolates, Grace,” said Bertha gaily. “I got such good news in my letter tonight that I felt I must celebrate it fittingly. So I went into Carter’s and invested all my spare cash in caramels. It’s really fortunate the term is almost out, for I’m nearly bankrupt. I have just enough left to furnish a ‘tuck-out’ for commencement night, and no more.”
“What is your good news, may I ask?” said Grace.
“You know I have an Aunt Margaret—commonly called Aunt Meg—out at Riversdale, don’t you? There never was such a dear, sweet, jolly aunty in the world. I had a letter from her tonight. Listen, I’ll read you what she says.”
I want you to spend your holidays with me, my dear. Mary Fairweather and Louise Fyshe and Lily Dennis are coming, too. So there is just room for one more, and that one must be yourself. Come to Riversdale when school closes, and I’ll feed you on strawberries and cream and pound cake and doughnuts and mince pies, and all the delicious, indigestible things that school girls love and careful mothers condemn. Mary and Lou and Lil are girls after your own heart, I know, and you shall all do just as you like, and we’ll have picnics and parties and merry doings galore.
“There,” said Bertha, looking up with a laugh. “Isn’t that lovely?”
“How delightful it must be to have friends like that to love you and plan for you,” said Grace wistfully. “I am sure you will have a pleasant vacation, Bertie. As for me, I am going into Clarkman’s bookstore until school reopens. I saw Mr. Clarkman today and he agreed to take me.”
Bertha looked surprised. She had not known what Grace’s vacation plans were.
“I don’t think you ought to do that, Grace,” she said thoughtfully. “You are not strong, and you need a good rest. It will be awfully trying to work at Clarkman’s all summer.”
“There is nothing else for me to do,” said Grace, trying to speak cheerfully. “You know I’m as poor as the proverbial church mouse, Bertie, and the simple truth is that I can’t afford to pay my board all summer and get my winter outfit unless I do something to earn it. I shall be too busy to be lonesome, and I shall expect long, newsy letters from you, telling me all your fun—passing your vacation on to me at second-hand, you see. Well, I must set to work at those algebra problems. I tried them before dark, but I couldn’t solve them. My head ached and I felt so stupid. How glad I shall be when exams are over.”
“I suppose I must revise that senior English this evening,” said Bertha absently.
But she made no move to do so. She was studying her friend’s face. How very pale and thin Grace looked—surely much paler and thinner than when she had come to the Academy, and she had not by any means been plump and rosy then.
I believe she could not stand two months at Clarkman’s, thought Bertha. If I were not going to Aunt Meg’s, I would ask her to go home with me. Or even if Aunt Meg had room for another guest, I’d just write her all about Grace and ask if I could bring her with me. Aunt Meg would understand—she always understands. But she hasn’t, so it can’t be.
Just then a thought darted into Bertha’s brain.
“What nonsense!” she said aloud so suddenly and forcibly that Grace fairly jumped.
“Oh, nothing much,” said Bertha, getting up briskly. “See here, I’m going to get to work. I’ve wasted enough time.”
She curled herself up on the divan and tried to study her senior English. But her thoughts wandered hopelessly, and finally she gave it up in despair and went to bed. There she could not sleep; she lay awake and wrestled with herself. It was after midnight when she sat up in bed and said solemnly, “I will do it.”
Next day Bertha wrote a confidential letter to Aunt Meg. She thanked her for her invitation and then told her all about Grace.
“And what I want to ask, Aunt Meg, is that you will let me transfer my invitation to Grace, and ask her to go to Riversdale this summer in my place. Don’t think me ungrateful. No, I’m sure you won’t, you always understand things. But you can’t have us both, and I’d rather Grace should go. It will do her so much good, and I have a lovely home of my own to go to, and she has none.”
Aunt Meg understood, as usual, and was perfectly willing. So she wrote to Bertha and enclosed a note of invitation for Grace.
I shall have to manage this affair very carefully, reflected Bertha. Grace must never suspect that I did it on purpose. I will tell her that circumstances have prevented me from accepting Aunt Meg’s invitation. That is true enough—no need to say that the circumstances are hers, not mine. And I’ll say I just asked Aunt Meg to invite her in my place and that she has done so.
When Grace came home from her history examination that day, Bertha told her story and gave her Aunt Meg’s cordial note.
“You must come to me in Bertha’s place,” wrote the latter. “I feel as if I knew you from her letters, and I will consider you as a sort of honorary niece, and I’ll treat you as if you were Bertha herself.”
“Isn’t it splendid of Aunt Meg?” said Bertha diplomatically. “Of course you’ll go, Gracie.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Grace in bewilderment. “Are you sure you don’t want to go, Bertha?”
“Indeed, I do want to go, dreadfully,” said Bertha frankly. “But as I’ve told you, it is impossible. But if I am disappointed, Aunt Meg musn’t be. You must go, Grace, and that is all there is about it.”
In the end, Grace did go, a little puzzled and doubtful still, but thankful beyond words to escape the drudgery of the counter and the noise and heat of the city. Bertha went home, feeling a little bit blue in secret, it cannot be denied, but also feeling quite sure that if she had to do it all over again, she would do just the same.
The summer slipped quickly by, and finally two letters came to Bertha, one from Aunt Meg and one from Grace.
“I’ve had a lovely time,” wrote the latter, “and, oh, Bertie, what do you think? I am to stay here always. Oh, of course I am going back to school next month, but this is to be my home after this. Aunt Meg—she makes me call her that—says I must stay with her for good.”
In Aunt Meg’s letter was this paragraph:
Grace is writing to you, and will have told you that I intend to keep her here. You know I have always wanted a daughter of my own, but my greedy brothers and sisters would never give me one of theirs. So I intend to adopt Grace. She is the sweetest girl in the world, and I am very grateful to you for sending her here. You will not know her when you see her. She has grown plump and rosy.
Bertha folded her letters up with a smile. “I have a vague, delightful feeling that I am the good angel in a storybook,” she said.