CHAPTER I MADGE MORTON'S PLAN
"I never can bear it!" cried Madge Morton excitedly, throwing herself down on her bed in one of the dormitories of Miss Tolliver's Select School for Girls. "It is not half so bad for Eleanor. She, at least, is going to spend her holiday with people she likes. But for Uncle William and Aunt Sue to leave for California just as school closes, and to send me off to a horrid old maid cousin for half my vacation, is just too awful! If I weren't nearly seventeen years old, I'd cry my eyes out."
Madge was alone in her bedroom, which she shared with her cousin, Eleanor Butler. The two girls lived on an old estate in Virginia, but for the two preceding terms they had been attending a college preparatory school at Harborpoint, not far from the city of Baltimore.
Madge had never known her own parents. She had been reared by her Uncle William and Aunt Sue Butler and she dearly loved her old southern home. But just when she and Eleanor were planning a thousand pleasures for their three months' vacation a letter had arrived from Mr. and Mrs. Butler announcing that they were leaving their estate for six weeks, as they were compelled to go west on important business. Eleanor was to be sent to visit a family of cousins near Charlottesville, Virginia, and Madge was to stay with a rich old maiden cousin of her father. Cousin Louisa did not like Madge. She felt a sense of duty toward her, and a sense of duty seldom inspires any real affection in return. So Madge looked back on the visits she had made to this cousin with a feeling of horror. Inspired by her Aunt Sue, Madge had always tried to be on her best behavior while she was the guest of Cousin Louisa. But since propriety was not Madge Morton's strong point she had succeeded only in being perfectly miserable and in offending her wealthy cousin by her unconventional ways.
Madge had a letter from this cousin in her hand while she gave herself up to the luxury of despair. She had not yet read the letter, but she knew exactly what it would say. It would contain a formal invitation from Cousin Louisa, asking Madge to pay her the necessary visit. It would suggest at the same time that Madge mend her ways; and it would doubtless recall the unfortunate occasion when Mistress Madge had set fire to the bedclothes by her wicked habit of reading in bed.
It was the study hour at Miss Tolliver's school, and all of the girls except Madge were hard at work. Eleanor had slipped across the hall to the room of their two chums to consult them about a problem in algebra. Madge at that moment was far too miserable to be approached in regard to a lesson, though at other times she would have done anything for Eleanor.
Finally Madge raised herself to a sitting posture. It struck her as rather absurd to have collapsed so entirely, simply because she was not to spend the first part of her summer as she chose. She knew, too, that it was high time she fell to preparing her lessons.
With a little shiver she opened Cousin Louisa's letter....