Author: Dana Gatlin

Chapter VIII a Happy Downfall

Ah, pensive scholar, what is fame?—A fitful tongue of fickle flame. And what is prominence to me, When a brown bird sings in the appletree? Ah, mortal downfalls lose their sting When World and Heart hear the call of Spring! You ask me why mere friendship so Outweighs all else that but comes to go? . . . A truce, a truce to questioning: "We two are friends," tells everything. I think it vile to pigeon-hole The pros and cons of a kindred soul. (From Melissa’s Improvement on Certain Older Poets.)

The year Melissa was a high school Junior was fated to be an unforgettable epoch. In the space of a few short months, all mysteriously interwoven with their causes and effects, their trials turning to glory, their disappointments and surcease inexplicable, came revelations, swift and shifting, or what is really worth while in life. Oh, Life! And oh, when one is sixteen years old! That is an age, as many of us can remember, one begins really to know Life—a complex and absorbing epoch.

The first of these new vistas to unspread itself before Missy’s eyes was nothing less dazzling than Travel. She had never been farther away from home than Macon City, the local metropolis, or Pleasanton, where Uncle Charlie and Aunt Isabel lived and which wasn’t even as big as Cherryvale; and neither place was a two-hours’ train ride away. The most picturesque scenery she knew was at Rocky Ford; it was far from the place where the melons grow, but water, a ford and rocks were there, and it had always shone in that prairie land and in Missy’s eyes as a haunt of nymphs, water-babies, the Great Spirit, and Nature’s poetics generally—the Great Spirit was naturally associated with its inevitable legendary Indian love story. But when Aunt Isabel carelessly suggested that Missy, next summer, go to Colorado with her, how the local metropolis dwindled; how little and simple, though pretty, of course, appeared Rocky Ford.

Colorado quivered before her in images supernal. Colorado! Enchantment in the very name! And mountains, and eternal snow upon the peaks, and spraying waterfalls, and bright-painted gardens of the gods—oh, ecstasy!

And going with Aunt Isabel! Aunt Isabel was young, beautiful, and delightful. Aunt Isabel went to Colorado every summer!

But a whole year! That is, in truth, a long time and can bring forth much that is unforeseen, amazing, revolutionizing. Especially when one is sixteen and beginning really to know life.

Missy had always found life in Cherryvale absorbing. The past had been predominantly tinged with the rainbow hues of dreams; with the fine, vague, beautiful thoughts that "reading" brings, and with such delicious plays of fancy as lend witchery to a high white moon, an arched blue sky, or rolling prairies-even to the tranquil town and the happenings of every day. Nothing could put magic into the humdrum life of school, and here she must struggle through another whole year of it before she might reach Colorado. That was a cloud, indeed, for one who wasn’t "smart" like Beulah Crosswhite. Mathematics Missy found an inexplicable, unalloyed torture; history for all its pleasingly suggestive glimpses of a spacious past, laid heavy taxes on one not good at remembering dates. But Missy was about to learn to take a more modern view of high school possibilities. Shortly before school opened Cousin Pete came to see his grandparents in Cherryvale. Perhaps Pete’s filial devotion was due to the fact that Polly Currier resided in Cherryvale; Polly was attending the State University where Pete was a "Post-Grad." Missy listened to Cousin Pete’s talk of college life with respect, admiration, and some unconscious envy. There was one word that rose, like cream on milk, or oil on water, or fat on soup, inevitably to the surface of his conversation. "Does Polly Currier like college?" once inquired Missy, moved by politeness to broach what Pete must find an agreeable subject. "Naturally," replied Pete, with the languor of an admittedly superior being. "She’s prominent." The word, "prominent," as uttered by him had more than impressiveness and finality. It was magnificent. It was as though one might remark languidly: "She? Oh, she’s the Queen of Sheba"—or, "Oh, she’s Mary Pickford."

Missy pondered a second, then asked:

"Prominent? How is a-what makes a person prominent?"

Pete elucidated in the large, patronizing manner of a kindlydisposed elder.

"Oh, being pretty—if you’re a girl—and a good sport, and active in some line. A leader."

Missy didn’t yet exactly see. She decided to make the problem specific.

"What makes Polly prominent?"

"Because she’s the prettiest girl on the hill," Pete replied indulgently. "And some dancer. And crack basket-ball forward—Glee Club—Dramatic Club. Polly’s got it over ’em forty ways running."

So ended the first lesson. The second occurred at the chance mention of one Charlie White, a Cherryvale youth likewise a student at the University.

"Oh, he’s not very prominent," commented Pete, and his tone damned poor Charlie for all eternity.

"Why isn’t he?" asked Missy interestedly.

"Oh, I don’t know—he’s just a dub."

"A dub?"

"Yep, a dub." Pete had just made a "date" with Polly, so he beamed on her benignantly as he explained further: "A gun—a dig-a greasy grind."

"But isn’t a smart person ever prominent?"

"Oh, sometimes. It all depends."

"Is Polly Currier a grind?"

"I should hope not!" as if defending the lady from an insulting charge.

Missy looked puzzled; then asked:

"Does she ever pass?"

"Oh, now and then. Sometimes she flunks. Polly should worry!"

Here was strange news. One could be smart, devote oneself to study— be a "greasy grind"—and yet fail of prominence; and one could fail to pass—"flunk"—and yet climb to the pinnacle of prominence. Evidently smartness and studiousness had nothing to do with it, and Missy felt a pleasurable thrill. Formerly she had envied Beulah Crosswhite, who wore glasses and was preternaturally wise. But maybe Beulah Crosswhite was not so much. Manifestly it was more important to be prominent than smart.

Oh, if she herself could be prominent!

To be sure, she wasn’t pretty like Polly Currier, or even like her own contemporary, Kitty Allen—though she had reason to believe that Raymond Bonner had said something to one of the other boys that sounded as if her eyes were a little nice. "Big Eyes" he had called her, as if that were a joke; but maybe it meant something pleasant. But the High School did not have a Glee Club or Dramatic Society offering one the chance to display leadership gifts. There was a basket-ball team, but Missy didn’t "take to" athletics. Missy brooded through long, secret hours.

The first week of September school opened, classes enrolled, and the business of learning again got under way. By the second week the various offshoots of educational life began to sprout, and notices were posted of the annual elections of the two "literary societies," Iolanthe and Mount Parnassus. The "programmes" of these bodies were held in the auditorium every other Friday, and each pupil was due for at least one performance a semester. Missy, who was an Iolanthian, generally chose to render a piano solo or an original essay. But everybody in school did that much—they had to—and only a few rose to the estate of being "officers."

The Iolanthians had two tickets up for election: the scholastic, headed by Beulah Crosswhite for president, and an opposition framed by some boys who complained that the honours always went to girls and that it was time men’s rights were recognized. The latter faction put up Raymond Bonner as their candidate. Raymond was as handsome and gay as Beulah Crosswhite was learned.

It was a notable fight. When the day of election arrived, the Chemistry room in which the Iolanthians were gathered was electric with restrained excitement. On the first ballot Raymond and Beulah stood even. There was a second ballot—a third—a fourth. And still the deadlock, the atmosphere of tensity growing more vibrant every second. Finally a group of boys put their heads together. Then Raymond Bonner arose.

"In view of the deadlock which it seems impossible to break," be began, in the rather stilted manner which befits such assemblages, "I propose that we put up a substitute candidate. I propose the name of Miss Melissa Merriam."

Oh, dear heaven! For a second Missy was afraid she was going to cry- -she didn’t know why. But she caught Raymond’s eye on her, smiling encouragement, and she mistily glowed back at him. And on the very first vote she was elected. Yes. Miss Melissa Merriam was president of Iolanthe. She was prominent.

And Raymond? Of course Raymond had been prominent before, though she had never noticed it, and now he had helped her up to this noble elevation! He must think she would adorn it. Adorn!—it was a lovely word that Missy had just captured. Though she had achieved her eminence by a fluke,

Missy took fortune at the flood like one born for success. She mazed the whole school world by a meteoric display of unsuspected capacities. Herself she amazed most of all; she felt as if she were making the acquaintance of a stranger, an increasingly fascinating kind of stranger. How wonderful to find herself presiuing over a "meeting" from the teacher’s desk in the Latin room, or over a "programme" in the auditorium, with calm and superior dignity!

Missy, aflame with a new fire, was not content with the old hackneyed variety of "programme." It was she who conceived the idea of giving the first minstrel show ever presented upon the auditorium boards. It is a tribute to Missy’s persuasiveness when at white heat that the faculty permitted the show to go beyond its first rehearsal. The rehearsals Missy personally conducted, with Raymond aiding as her first lieutenant-and he would not have played second fiddle like that to another girl in the class-he said so. She herself chose the cast, contrived the "scenery"; and she and Raymond together wrote the dialogue and lyrics. It was wonderful how they could do things together! Missy felt she never could get into such a glow and find such lovely rhymes popping right up in her mind if she were working alone. And Raymond said the same. It was very strange. It was as if a mystic bond fired them both with new talents-Missy looked on mixed metaphors as objectionable only to Professor Sutton.

Her reputation-and Raymond’s-soared, soared. Her literary talent placed her on a much higher plane than if she were merely "smart"- made her in the most perfect sense "prominent."

After the minstrel triumph it was no surprise when, at class elections, Melissa Merriam became president of the Juniors. A few months before Missy would have been overwhelmed at the turn of things, but now she casually mounted her new height, with assurance supreme. It was as though always had the name of Melissa Merriam been a force. Raymond said no one else had a look-in.

At the end of the term prominence brought its reward: Missy failed in Geometry and was conditioned in Latin. Father looked grave over her report card.

"This is pretty bad, isn’t it?" he asked.

Missy fidgeted. It gave her a guilty feeling to bring that expression to her indulgent father’s face.

"I’m sorry, father. I know I’m not smart, but-" She hesitated.

Father took off his glasses and thoughtfully regarded her.

"I wasn’t complaining of your not being ’smart’—’smart’ people are often pests. The trouble’s that this is worse than it’s ever been. And today I got a letter from Professor Sutton. He says you evince no interest whatever in your work."

Missy felt a little indignant flare within her.

"He knows what responsibilities I have!"

"Responsibilities?" repeated father.

Here mother, who had been sitting quietly by, also with a disapproving expression, entered the discussion:

"I knew all that Iolanthe and class flummery would get her into trouble."


Missy’s voice quavered. "That’s a very important part of school life, mother! Class spirit and all—you don’t understand!" "I suppose parents are seldom able to keep up with the understanding of their children," replied mother, with unfamiliar sarcasm. "However, right here’s where I presume to set my foot down. If you fail again, in the spring examinations, you’ll have to study and make it up this summer. You can’t go with Aunt Isabel."

Lose the Colorado trip! The wonderful trip she had already lived through, in vivid prospect, a hundred times! Oh, mother couldn’t be so cruel! But Missy’s face dropped alarmingly.

"Now, mamma," began father, "I wouldn’t-"

"I mean every word of it," reaffirmed mother with the voice of doom. "No grades, no holiday. Missy’s got to learn balance and moderation. She lets any wild enthusiasm carry her off her feet. She’s got to learn, before it’s too late, to think and control herself."

There was a moment’s heavy pause, then mother went on, significantly:

"And I don’t know that you ought to buy that car this spring, papa."

The parents exchanged a brief glance, and Missy’s heart dropped even lower. For months she had been teasing father to buy a car, as so many of the girls’ fathers were doing. He had said, "Wait till spring," and now-the universe was draped in gloom.

However, there was a certain sombre satisfaction in reflecting that her traits of frailty should call forth such enthrallingly sinister comments. "Lets any wild enthusiasm carry her off her feet"— "before, it’s too late"—"must learn to control herself—"

Human nature is an interesting study, and especially one’s own nature when one stands off and regards it as a problem Allen, mysterious and complicated. Missy stared at the endangered recesses of her soul—and wondered what Raymond thought about these perilsfor any girl. He liked her of course, but did he think she was too enthusiastic?

Yet such speculations did not, at the time, tie up with views about the Colorado trip. That was still the guiding star of all her hopes. She must study harder during the spring term and stave off the threatened and unspeakable calamity. It was a hard resolution to put through, especially when she conceived a marvellous idea-a "farce" like one Polly Currier told her about when she was home for her Easter vacation. Missy wrestled with temptation like some Biblical martyr of old, but the thought of Colorado kept her strong. And she couldn’t help feeling a little noble when, mentioning to mother the discarded inspiration-without allusion to Colorado-she was praised for her adherence to duty.

The sense of nobility aided her against various tantalizing chances to prove anew her gifts of leadership, through latter March, through April, through early May—lengthening, balmy, burgeoning days when Spring brings all her brightly languid witchery in assault upon drab endeavour.

The weather must share the blame for what befell that fateful Friday of the second week in May. Blame? Of course there was plenty of blame from adults that must be laid somewhere; but as for Missy, a floating kind of ecstasy was what that day woke in her first, and after the worst had happened—But let us see what did come to pass.

It was a day made for poets to sing about. A day for the young man to forget the waiting ledger on his desk and gaze out the window at skies so blue and deep as to invite the building of castles; for even his father to see visions of golf-course or fishing-boat flickering in the translucent air; for old Jeff to get out his lawnmower and lazily add a metallic song to the hum of the universe. And for him or her who must sit at schoolroom desk, it was a day to follow the processes of blackboard or printed page with the eyes but not the mind, while the encaged spirit beat past the bars of dull routine to wing away in the blue.

Missy, sitting near an open window of the "study room" during the "second period," let dreamy eyes wander from the fatiguing Q. E. D.’s of the afternoon’s Geometry lesson; the ugly tan walls, the sober array of national patriots hanging above the encircling blackboard, the sea of heads restlessly swaying over receding rows of desks, all faded hazily away. Her soul flitted out through the window, and suffused itself in the bit of bright, bright blue showing beyond the stand-pipe, in the soft, soft air that stole in to kiss her cheek, in the elusive fragrance of young, green, growing things, in the drowsy, drowsy sound of Mrs. Clifton’s chickens across the way. . .

Precious minutes were speeding by; she would not have her Geometry lesson. But Missy didn’t bring herself back to think of that; would not have cared, anyway. She let her soul stretch out, out, out.

Such is the sweet, subtle, compelling madness a day of Spring can bring one.

Missy had often felt the ecstasy of being swept out on the yearning demand for a new experience. Generally because of something suggestive in "reading" or in heavenly colour combinations or in sad music at twilight; but, now, for no definable reason at all, she felt her soul welling up and up in vague but poignant craving. She asked permission to get a drink of water. But instead of quenching her thirst, she wandered to the entry of the room occupied by Mathematics III A—Missy’s own class, from which she was now sequestered by the cruel bar termed "failure-to-pass." Something was afoot in there; Missy put her ear to the keyhole; then she boldly opened the door.

A tempest of paper-wads, badinage and giggles greeted her. The teacher’s desk was vacant. Miss Smith was at home sick, and the principal had put Mathematics III A on their honour. For a time Missy joined in their honourable pursuit of giggles and badinage. But Raymond had welcomed her as if the fun must mount to something yet higher when she came; she felt a "secret, deep, interior urge" to show what she could do. The seductive May air stole into her blood, a stealthy, intoxicating elixir, and finally the Inspiration came, with such tumultuous swiftness that she could never have told whence or how. Passed on to her fellows, it was caught up with an ardour equally mad and unreckoning. One minute the unpastored flock of Mathematics III A were leaning out the windows, sniffing in the lilac scents wafted over from Mrs. Clifton’s yard; the next they were scurrying, tip-toe, flushed, laughing, jostling, breathless, out through the cloak-room, down the stairs, through the side-door, across the stretch of school-yard, toward a haven beyond Mrs. Clifton’s lilac hedge.

Where were they going? They did not know. Why had they started? They did not know. What the next step? They did not know. No thought nor reason in that, onward rush; only one vast, enveloping, incoherent, tumultuous impulse—away! away! Away from dark walls into the open; away from the old into the new; away from the usual into the youdon’t-know-what; away from "you must not" into "you may." The wild, free, bright, heedless urge of Spring!

Behind their fragrant rampart they paused, for a second, to spin about in a kind of mental and spiritual whirlpool. Some began breaking off floral sprays to decorate hat-band or shirt-waist. But Missy, feeling her responsibility as a leader, glanced back, through leafy crevices, at those prison-windows open and ominously near.

"We mustn’t stay here!" she admonished. "We’ll get caught!"

As if an embodiment of warning, just then Mrs. Clifton emerged out on her front porch; she looked as if she might be going to shout at them. But Raymond waited to break off a lilac cluster for Missy. He was so cool about it; it just showed how much he was like the Black Prince—though of course no one would "understand" if you said such a thing.

The fragrantly beplumed company sped across the green Clifton yard, ruthlessly over the Clifton vegetable garden, to the comparative retreat of Silver Street, beyond. But they were not yet safe—away! away! Missy urged them westward, for no defined reason save that this direction might increase their distance from the danger zone of the High School.

Still without notion of whither bound, the runaways, moist and dishevelled, found themselves down by the railroad tracks. There, in front of the Pacific depot, stood the 10:43 "accommodation" for Osawatomie and other points south. Another idea out of the blue!

"Let’s go to Osawatomie!" cried Missy.

The accommodation was puffing laboriously into action as the last Junior clambered pantingly on. But they’d all got on! They were on their way!

But not on their way to Osawatomie.

For before they had all found satisfactory places on the red plush seats where it was hard to sit still with that bright balminess streaming in through the open windows—hard to sit still, or to think, or to do anything but flutter up and down and laugh and chatter about nothing at all—the conductor appeared.

"Tickets, please!"

A trite and commonplace phrase, but potent to plunge errant, winging fancies down to earth. The chattering ceased short. No one had thought of tickets, nor even of money. The girls of the party looked appalled—in Cherryvale the girls never dreamed of carrying money to school; then furtively they glanced at the boys. Just as furtively the boys were exploring into pockets, but though they brought forth a plentiful salvage of the anomalous treasure usually to be found in school-boys’ pockets, the display of "change" was pathetic. Raymond had a quarter, and that was more than anyone else turned out.

The conductor impatiently repeated:

"Tickets, please!"

Then Missy, feeling that financial responsibility must be recognized in a class president, began to put her case with a formal dignity that impressed every one but the conductor.

"We’re the Junior class of the Cherryvale High School—we wish to go to Osawatomie. Couldn’t we—maybe—?"

Formal dignity broke down, her voice stuck in her throat, but her eyes ought to have been enough. They were big and shining eyes, and when she made them appealing they had been known to work wonders with father and mother and other grown-ups, even with the austere Professor Sutton. But this burly figure in the baggy blue uniform had a face more like a wooden Indian than a human grown-up—and an old, dyspeptic wooden Indian at that. Missy’s eyes were to avail her nothing that hour.

"Off you get at the watering-tank," he ordained. "The whole pack of you."

And at the watering-tank off they got.

And then, as often follows a mood of high adventure, there fell upon the festive group a moment of pause, of unnatural quiet, of "let down."

"Well, what’re we going to do now?" queried somebody.

"We’ll do whatever Missy says," said Raymond, just as if he were Sir Walter Raleigh speaking of the Virgin Queen. It was a wonder someone didn’t start teasing him about her; but everyone was too taken up waiting for Missy to proclaim. She set her very soul vibrating; shut her eyes tightly a moment to think; and, as if in proof that Providence helps them who must help others, almost instantly she opened them again.

"Rocky Ford!"

Just like that, out of the blue, a quick, unfaltering, almost unconscious cry of the inspired. And, with resounding acclaim, her followers caught it up:

"Rocky Ford! Rocky Ford!"—"That’s the ticket!"—"We’ll have a picnic’."—"Rocky Ford! Rocky Ford!"

Rocky Ford, home of nymphs, water-babies and Indian legend, was only half a mile away. Again it shone in all its old-time romantic loveliness on Missy’s inward eye. And for a fact it was a good Maytime picnic place.

That day everything about the spot seemed invested with a special kind of beauty, the kind of beauty you feel so poignantly in stories and pictures but seldom meet face to face in real life. The Indian maiden became a memory you must believe in: she had loved someone and they were parted somehow and she was turned into a swan or something. Off on either side the creek, the woods stretched dim and mysterious; but nearby, on the banks, the little new leaves stirred and sparkled in the sun like green jewels; and the water dribbled and sparkled over the flat white stones of the ford like a million swishing diamonds; and off in the distance there were sounds which may have been birds—or, perhaps, the legendary maiden singing; and, farther away, somewhere, a faint clanging music which must be cowbells, only they had a remote heavenly quality rare in cow-bells.

And, all the while, the sun beaming down on the ford, intensely soft and bright. Why is it that the sun can seem so much softer and brighter in some places than in others?

Missy felt that soft brightness penetrating deeper and deeper into her being. It seemed a sort of limpid, shining tide flowing through to her very soul; it made her blood tingle, and her soul quiver. And, in some mysterious way, the presence, of Raymond Bonner, consciousness of Raymond—Raymond himself—began to seem all mixed up with this ineffable, surging effulgence. Missy recognized that she had long experienced a secret, strange, shy kind of feeling toward Raymond. He was so handsome and so gay. and his dark eyes told her so plainly that he liked her, and he carried her books home for her despite the fact that the other boys teased him. The other girls had teased Missy, too, so that sometimes she didn’t know whether she was more happy or embarrassed over Raymond’s admiration.

But, to-day, everyone seemed lifted above such childish rudeness. When Missy had first led off from the watering-tank toward Rocky Ford, Raymond had taken his place by her side, and he maintained it there masterfully though two or three other boys tried to include themselves in the class president’s group—"buttinskys," Raymond termed them.

Once, as they walked together along the road, Raymond took hold of her hand. He had done that much before, but this was different. Those other times did not count. She knew that this was different and that he, too, knew it was different. They glanced at each other, and then quickly away.

Then, when they turned off into a field, to avoid meeting people who might ask questions, Raymond held together the barbed wires of the fence very carefully, so she could creep under without mishap. And when they neared the woods, he kicked all the twigs from her path, and lifted aside the underbrush lest it touch her face. And at each opportunity for this delicious solicitude they would look at each other, and then quickly away.

That was in many ways an unforgettable picnic; many were the unheard-of things carried out as soon as thought of. For example, the matter of lunch. What need to go hungry when there were eggs in a farmer’s henhouse not a half-mile away, and potatoes in the farmer’s store-house, and sundry other edibles all spread out, as if waiting, in the farmer’s cellar? (Blessings on the farmer’s wife for going avisiting that day!)

The boys made an ingenious oven of stones and a glorious fire of brush; and the girls made cunning dishes out of big, clean-washed leaves. Then, when the potatoes and eggs were ready, all was devoured with a zest that paid its own tribute to the fair young cooks; and the health of the fair young cooks was drunk in Swan Creek water, cupped in sturdy masculine hands; and even the girls tried to drink from those same cups, laughing so they almost strangled. A mad, merry and supremely delightful feast.

After she had eaten, for some reason Missy felt a craving to wander off somewhere and sit still a while. She would have loved to stretch out in the grass, and half-close her eyes, and gaze up at the bits of shining, infinite blue of the sky, and dream. But there was Raymond at her elbow—and she wanted, even more than she wanted to be alone and dream, Raymond to be there at her elbow.

Then, too, there were all the others. Someone shouted:

"What’ll we do now? What’ll we do, Missy?"

So the class president dutifully set her wits to work. Around the flat white stones of the ford the water was dribbling, warm, soft, enticing.

"Let’s go wading!" she cried.


Usually Missy would have shrunk from appearing before boys in bare feet. But this was a special kind of day which held no room for embarrassment; and, more quickly than it takes to tell it, shoes and stockings were off and the new game was on. Missy stood on a stepping-stone, suddenly diffident; the water now looked colder and deeper, the whispering cascadelets seemed to roar like breakers on a beach. The girls were all letting out little squeals as the water chilled their ankles, and the boys made feints of chasing them into deeper water.

Raymond pursued Missy, squealing and skipping from stone to stone till, unexpectedly, she lost her slippery footing and went sprawling into the shallow stream.

"Oh, Missy! I’m sorry!" She felt his arms tugging at her. Then she found herself standing on the bank, red-faced and dripping, feeling very wretched and very happy at the same time—wretched because Raymond should see her in such plight; happy because he was making such a fuss over her notwithstanding.

He didn’t seem to mind her appearance, but took his hat and began energetically to fan her draggled hair.

"I wish my hair was curly like Kitty Allen’s," she said.

"I like it this way," said Raymond, unplaiting the long braids so as to fan them better.

"But hers curls up all the prettier when it’s wet. Mine strings."

"Straight hair’s the nicest," he said with finality.

He liked straight hair best! A wave of celestial bliss stole over her. It was wonderful: the big, fleecy clouds so serenely beautiful up in the enigmatic blue; the sun pouring warmly down and drying her dress in uneven patches; the whisperings of the green-jewelled leaves and the swishing of the diamond-bubbles on the stones; the drowsy, mysterious sounds from far away in the woods, and fragrance everywhere; and everything seeming delightfully remote; even the other boys and girls—everything and everybody save Raymond, standing there so patiently fanning the straight hair he admired.

Oh, the whole place was entrancing, entrancing in a new way; and her sensations, too, were entrancing in a new way. Even when Raymond, as he manipulated her hair, inadvertently pulled the roots, the prickly pains seemed to tingle on down through her being in little tremors of pure ecstasy.

Raymond went on fanning her hair.

"Curly hair’s messy looking," he observed after a considerable pause during which, evidently, his thoughts had remained centred on this pleasing theme.

And then, all of a sudden, Missy found herself saying an inexplicable, unheard-of thing:

"You can have a lock-if you want to."

She glanced up, and then quickly down. And she felt herself blushing again; she didn’t exactly like to blush—yet—yet—

"Do I want it?"

Already Raymond had dropped his improvised fan and was fumbling for his knife.

"Where?" he asked.

Missy shivered deliciously at the imminence of that bright steel blade; what if he should let it slip?—but, just then, even mutilation, provided it be at Raymond’s hand, didn’t seem too terrible.

"Wherever you want," she murmured.

"All right—I’ll take a snip here where it twines round your ear—it looks so sort of affectionate."

She giggled with him. Of course it was all terribly silly—and yet—

Then there followed a palpitant moment while she held her breath and shut her eyes. A derisive shout caused her to open them quickly. There stood Don Jones, grinning.

"Missy gave Raymond a lock of her hair! Missy gave Raymond a lock of her hair!"

Missy’s face grew hot; blushing was not now a pleasure; she looked up, then down; she didn’t know where to look.

"Gimme one, too! You got to play fair, Missy—gimme one, too!"

Then, in that confusion of spirit, she heard her voice, which didn’t seem to be her own voice but a stranger’s, saying:

"All right, you can have one, too, if you want it, Don."

Don forthwith advanced. Missy couldn’t forebear a timid glance toward Raymond. Raymond was not looking pleased. She wished she might assure him she didn’t really want to give the lock to Don, and yet, at the same time, she felt strangely thrilled at that lowering look on Raymond’s face. It was curious. She wanted Raymond to be happy, yet she didn’t mind his being just a little bit unhappy—this way. Oh, how complicated and fascinating life can be!

During the remainder of their stay at the ford Missy was preoccupied with this new revelation of herself and with a furtive study of Raymond whose continued sulkiness was the cause of it. Raymond didn’t once come to her side during all that endless three-mile tramp back to Cherryvale; but she was conscious of his eye on her as she trudged along beside Don Jones. She didn’t feel like talking to Don Jones. Nor was the rest of the crowd, now, a lively band; it was harder to laugh than it had been in the morning; harder even to talk. And when they did talk, little unsuspected irritabilities began to gleam out. For now, when weary feet must somehow cover those three miles, thoughts of the journey’s end began to rise up in the truants’ minds. During the exalted moments of adventure they hadn’t thought of consequences. That’s a characteristic of exalted moments. But now, so to speak, the ball was over, the roses all shattered and faded, and the weary dancers must face the aftermath of to-morrow. . .

And Missy, trudging along the dusty road beside Don Jones who didn’t count, felt all kinds of shadows rising up to eclipse brightness in her soul. What would Professor Sutton do?—he was fearfully strict. And father and mother would never understand. . .

If only Don Jones would stop babbling to her! Why did he persist in walking beside her, anyway? That lock of hair didn’t mean anything! She wished she hadn’t given it to him; why had she, anyway? She herself couldn’t comprehend why, and Raymond would never, never comprehend.

The farther she walked, the less she saw the pleasanter aspects of Raymond’s jealousy and the more what might be the outcome of it. Perhaps he’d never have anything to do with her again. That would be terrible! And she’d have such a short time to try making it up. For in less than a month she’d have to go with Aunt Isabel to Colorado; and, then, she wouldn’t see Raymond for weeks and weeks. Colorado! It was like talking of going to the moon, a dreary, dead, far-off moon, with no one in it to speak to. Aunt Isabel? Aunt Isabel was sweet, but she was so old—nearly thirty! How could she, Missy, go and leave Raymond misunderstanding her so?

But who can tell how Fate may work to confound rewards and punishments!

It was to become a legend in the Cherryvale High School how, once on a day in May, a daring band ran away from classes and how the truant class, in toto, was suspended for the two closing weeks of the semester, with no privilege of "making up" the grades. And the legend runs that one girl, and the most prominent girl in the class at that, by reason of this sentence fell just below the minimum grade required to "pass."

Yes; Missy failed again. Of course that was very bad. And taking her disgrace home—indeed, that was horrid. As she faced homeward she felt so heavy inside that she knew she could never eat her dinner. Besides, she was walking alone—Raymond hadn’t walked home with her since the wretched picnic. She sighed a sigh that was not connected with the grade card in her pocket. For one trouble dwarfs another in this world; and friendship is more than honours—a sacred thing, friendship! Only Raymond was so unreasonable over Don’s lock of hair; yet, for all the painfulness of Raymond’s crossness, Missy smiled the littlest kind of a down-eyed, secret sort of smile as she thought of it. . . It was so wonderful and foolish and interesting how much he cared that Missy began to question what he’d do if she got Don to give her a lock of his hair.

Then she sobered suddenly, as you do at a funeral after you have forgotten where you are and then remember. That card was an unpleasant thing to take home! . . . Just what did Raymond mean by giving Kitty Allen a lock of his hair? And doing it before Missy herself—"Kitty, here’s that lock I promised you"—just like that. Then he had laughed and joked as if nothing unusual had happened— only was he watching her out of the corner of his eye when he thought she wasn’t looking? That was the real question. The idea of Raymond trying to make her jealous! How simple-minded boys are!

But, after all, what a dear, true friend he had proved himself in the past—before she offended him. And how much more is friendship than mere pleasures like travel—like going to Colorado.

But was he jealous? If he was—Missy felt an inexplicable kind of bubbling in her heart at that idea. But if he wasn’t—well, of course it was natural she should wonder whether Raymond looked on friendship as a light, come-and-go thing, and on locks of hair as meaning nothing at all. For he had never been intimate with Kitty Allen; and he had said he didn’t like curly hair. Yet, probably, he had one of Kitty Allen’s ringlets. . . Missy felt a new, hideous weight pulling down her heart.

Of course she had given that straight wisp to Don Jones—but what else could she do to keep him from telling? Oh, life is a muddle! And here, in less than a week, Aunt Isabel would come by and whisk her off to the ends of the earth; and she might have to go without really knowing what Raymond meant. . .

And oh, yes—that old card! How dreary life can be as one grows older.

Missy waited to show the card till her father came home to supper— she knew it was terribly hard for father to be stern. But when Missy, all mute appeal, extended him the report, he looked it over in silence and then passed it on to mother. Mother, too, examined it with maddening care.

"Well," she commented at last. "I see you’ve failed again."

"It was all the fault of those two weeks’ grades," the culprit tried to explain. "If it hadn’t been for that—"

"But there was ’that.’" Mother’s tone was terribly unsympathetic.

"I didn’t think of grades—then."

"No, that’s the trouble. I’ve warned you, Missy. You’ve got to learn to think. You’ll have to stay home and make up those grades this summer. You’d better write to Aunt Isabel at once, so she won’t be inconvenienced."

Mother’s voice had the quiet ring of doom.

Tender-hearted father looked away, out the window, so as not to see the disappointment on his daughter’s face. But Missy was gazing down her nose to hide eyes that were shining. Soon she made an excuse to get away.

Out in the summerhouse it was celestially beautiful and peaceful. And, magically, all this peace and beauty seemed to penetrate into her and become a part of herself. The glory of the pinkish-mauve sunset stole in and delicately tinged her so; the scent of the budding ramblers, and of the freshly-mowed lawn, became her own fragrant odour; the soft song of the breeze rocking the leaves became her own soul’s lullaby. Oh, it was a heavenly world, and the future bloomed with enchantments! She could stay in Cherryvale this summer! Dear Cherryvale! Green prairies were so much nicer than snow-covered mountains, and gently sloping hills than sharp-pointing peaks; and much, much nicer than tempestuous waterfalls was the sweet placidity of Swan Creek. Dear Swan Creek. . .

The idea of Raymond’s trying to make her jealous! How simple-minded boys are! But what a dear, true friend he was, and how much more is friendship than mere pleasures like travel—or prominence or fine grades or anything. . .

It was at this point in her cogitations that Missy, seeing her Anthology—an intimate poetic companion—where she’d left it on a bench, dreamily picked it up, turned a few pages, and then was moved to write. We have borrowed her product to head this story.

Meanwhile, back in the house, her father might have been heard commenting on the noble behaviour of his daughter.

"Didn’t let out a single whimper—brave little thing! We must see to it that she has a good time at home—poor young one! I think we’d better get the car this summer, after all."


Related Resources

Children's Literature

Download Options

Title: Missy

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Missy

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Dana Gatlin, "Chapter VIII a Happy Downfall," Missy, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in Missy (New York: George E. Wood, 1912), Original Sources, accessed October 2, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L43K8RBNNZ4BQQA.

MLA: Gatlin, Dana. "Chapter VIII a Happy Downfall." Missy, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in Missy, Vol. 22, New York, George E. Wood, 1912, Original Sources. 2 Oct. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L43K8RBNNZ4BQQA.

Harvard: Gatlin, D, 'Chapter VIII a Happy Downfall' in Missy, ed. . cited in 1912, Missy, George E. Wood, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 2 October 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L43K8RBNNZ4BQQA.