She seized the lapels of his coat and spoke swiftly: “Jim, don’t say it! As you care for our friendship and the days gone by, never think it again–never think of thinking it! I did care–and perhaps you did too, and didn’t realize it. But that’s over. That had to do with your heart; but the thing you’ve just said now has to do with your soul! and–”
“Ella,”–he put his hands over her own that were tugging desperately at his coat, and gave them a little shake–“what are you talking about?”
“Oh, the immeasurable wrong of your saying that! After you’re married!”
There was a lightning-like change of expression on Jim’s face. “Good lord, Ella! I’m not married!” He seemed divided between merriment and the seriousness of the moment. “That’s Grace–little Gracie Sheldon, my kid cousin. Do you mean you weren’t upstairs when we first came in and straightened matters out? Such a pow-wow!” Jim was laughing boyishly. “It was certainly rich! I thought the dear old souls would eat her up. And you should have seen Grace and Georgiana Meeker fall on each other’s necks. It was Tom Tuttle’s mistake, and mine too. If I had called her ‘Grace’ over the ‘phone, he’d have known, I suppose, but I said ‘Miss Sheldon,’ as I naturally call her to other people. And Tom, of course, thought ‘Mis’ Sheldon’ was a newly-acquired bride.”
It is a very dizzying process–taking an emotional plunge like that. It left Ella very weak and limp, both physically and mentally.
Jim put his hand under her chin and lifted her scarlet face, but she would not raise her eyes. “No, Ellanora, I’m not married–and you said you cared.”
“That was said under–under–a–misconception–of–”
“I’ll grant that–but it can never be unsaid.” He dropped his voice to its tenderest tone. “Say it again, Ellanora; without any misunderstanding.”
She lifted the lids from love-brimming eyes: “Oh, Jim! I–I do care.”
SO IT came about that the guest of honor climbed up two flights of stairs a little later, carrying the frappé to his own party. And Ella followed to kiss shyly the familiar-strange little neighbor-girl who had grown into such a charming young lady. Then, with prickly little chills chasing up and down her spine, and her cheeks ablaze, she served to the perspiring multitude a great deal of frappé permanently weakened by several quarts of well-water.
And always, no matter where she was looking, she could see Jim looming up above everyone, shaking hands, laughing; could hear him saying, “Auntie Tuttle, you certainly look good to me!” And, “Mrs. Meeker, I’ll bet forty cents these are your sandwiches. They’re worth a trip half around the world.”
Oh, the deliciousness of the secret! The surprise of Centerville! Jim had said he would give her just two weeks to get ready, had scouted her notion of finishing the school year, had said she didn’t need any new clothes, that they had a few dresses left down in New York. Oh, the exquisite joy of knowing she was going with Jim! Everywhere–anywhere! Honolulu, Hongkong, the moon!
With brimming heart Ella looked at the noisy crowd about her. How kind everyone seemed! What a good old place Centerville was! She was recklessly unashamed of a dozen children who had taken possession of a temporarily abandoned sandwich table and were breaking world records in cramming down the spoils; was shamelessly unabashed when old Sandy Wing, overalled, coal-grimed, wiping his face with a red bandana, came up the back stairway to wring Jim’s hand; was audaciously laughter-stricken–with Jim–when Mrs. Meeker hissed across at her, “My good land of liberty, Ella, there’s a lot of little sticks and leaves in the bottom of this frappé bowl!”