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CHAPTER XII


STRAIGHTENING THINGS OUT


Betty's speech was shock number one. Another quickly followed.

The gentleman tugged quizzically at his short gray mustache.

"And you," he announced quietly, "are not my niece, Betty Littell!"

Esther and Louise stared, round-eyed, while Bobby collapsed dramatically on a convenient couch.

"Have we kidnapped anybody?" she asked, a bit hysterically. "Good gracious. Dad, don't tell me I've forcibly run off with a girl? Haven't you made a mistake? She must be Betty—she said so."

"My darlings, I'm sorry to be late," said a new voice, a rich, sweet contralto, and a stout woman with a kindly, florid face swept through the doorway. "Why, what is the matter?" she demanded hurriedly, confronting the tense group.

"Momsie!" exclaimed Bobby, hurling herself upon the newcomer. "Oh, Momsie, isn't this Betty Littell? We went to meet her and she said her name was Betty, and all the way home she talked about Uncle Dick, and now she says dad isn't her uncle! I'm afraid I've made a mess of things."

"Yes, I think you have," said Betty, with blazing cheeks. "I came to Washington to meet my uncle, Mr. Richard Gordon, who is stopping at the Willard. Of course my name is Betty. I'm Betty Gordon, and he's my Uncle Dick. And goodness only knows what he is doing now—he'll be about crazy if he came to meet me."

Bobby began to laugh uncontrollably.

"I never heard of such a thing in my life!" she giggled, wiping her eyes. "Dad's name is Richard Littell, and we've been expecting our cousin Betty Littell to arrive to-day from Vermont for a long visit. We haven't seen her since she was six years old, but I took a chance on recognizing her. And then there was the name! How could I guess there would be two Bettys looking for two Uncle Dicks! Don't be mad, Betty; you can see a mix-up like that wouldn't happen twice in a life time."

"She isn't mad," interposed Mr. Littell, lowering himself carefully to the window seat, for he had been standing all this time and his foot began to pain again. "After she knows you a little better, Bobby, she will expect this sort of denouement to follow whatever you undertake. I say we ought to have some dinner, Mother, and then talk at the table."

"Of course, of course," agreed motherly Mrs. Littell. "The poor child must be famished. Take Betty—you don't mind if I call you Betty, do you, dear?—up to your room, Bobby, and when you come down dinner will be served."

"But my uncle!" urged Betty. "He will be so worried. And the other girl—where do you suppose she is?"

"By George, the child has more sense than I have," said Mr. Littell energetically. "I'd give a fortune if Bobby had half as level a head. Our Betty is probably having hysterics in the station if she hasn't taken the next train back to Vermont."

His keen eyes twinkled appreciatively at Betty, and she knew that she liked him and also sensed instinctively that his eldest daughter was very like him.

"Why, Father, how you do talk!" reproved Mrs. Littell comfortably. "I'll call up the station while the girls are upstairs and then Betty shall call the Willard, or you do it for her, and then perhaps we can eat dinner before the soufflé is quite ruined."

The girls took Betty upstairs to a luxurious suite of rooms they shared, and when she had bathed her face and hands and brushed her hair, they came down to find that Mr. Littell had called up the Union Station and discovered that because of a freight wreck the Vermont express had been delayed and would not be in before nine o'clock that night.

"So our Betty is probably having a comfortable dinner on the train," he announced. "Now just a minute, and I'll have the Willard for the other Betty. We'll tell your uncle you are safe and that we'll bring you into Washington to-night."

In a few minutes he had the connection, and they heard him ask for Mr. Richard Gordon. His mobile face changed as the clerk answered, and Betty, watching, knew that he had disconcerting news. He turned to them, covering the mouthpiece with his hand.

"Mr. Gordon left early this morning for Oklahoma," he said. "He left an address for mail and there's a telegram which came after he left. It was sent from Halperin and was received at eleven-thirty this morning."

"That's the one I sent!" answered Betty. "And Uncle Dick's gone to Oklahoma! What on earth shall I do?"

"Do!" repeated Mr. and Mrs. Littell in concert. "Why, stay right here with us, of course! Do you suppose we'd let a young girl like you knock around alone in a city? We'll be glad to have you stay as long as you will, and you mustn't be uncomfortable another second. When you hear from your uncle there'll be plenty of time to make other plans."

Betty did not try to express her gratitude to these new kind friends, for she knew that she could never say one-half the thanks she felt toward them. They were cordiality itself, and did everything in their power to make her feel at home. An excellent dinner was served in the charming dining-room with a mixture of formality and simple home courtesy that was as unusual as it was delightful, and in this atmosphere of good breeding and tact, Betty bloomed like a little rose.

"A charming girl, whoever she is," said Mr. Littell to his wife, as he smoked his cigar after dinner and the girls drew Betty to the piano. "She has plenty of spirit, but lacks Bobby's boisterousness. It will be a good thing for the girls to have some one like her, self-reliant and quiet and yet with decided snap, to chum with."

"I like the idea of five girls in the house," beamed Mrs. Littell, who was the soul of hospitality and fairly idolized her three daughters. Whatever discipline they had came from their father. "And now I think I had better go to the station, after our Betty, don't you?"

"Oh, Mother!" came in concert from the piano, where Bobby was rattling off a lively waltz. "We all want to go. Please? There's plenty of room in the car."

Mrs. Littell looked undecided.

"One of you may go with your mother," said Mr. Littell decisively. "I think it had better be Louise. Now, there is no use in arguing. One girl is enough. Betty will be tired after traveling all night and all day, and she will be in no mood for talking and carrying on. I'll tell Carter to bring the car around, Mother."

Bobby pouted for a few moments after her mother and sister had gone, but her good-nature was easily restored and she and Betty and Esther were deep in an exchange of confidences when Mrs. Littell returned bringing the missing Betty with her.

"Now stand up for a minute, you two Bettys," commanded Bobby, when greetings had been exchanged and explanations made. "I want to see if I made such a dreadful mistake in taking Betty Gordon for Betty Littell."

The two girls stood side by side, and though they both had dark eyes and hair, there the resemblance ceased. Betty Littell was a dumpling of a girl with curly hair, a snub nose and round face. She looked the picture of good-nature, and her plumpness suggested a fondness for sweets that subsequent acquaintance with her fully sustained.

Betty Gordon had grown tall through the summer, and she was of a slender, wiry build that hinted of a fondness for outdoor life. Her heavy straight hair was wrapped around her well-shaped little head in braids, and her exquisite little hands and feet, so far her one claim to beauty, though later promises lay in her glowing face, gave her, as Louise afterward confided to her mother, "an air like an Indian princess."

"No, you don't look much alike," conceded Bobby, after a prolonged scrutiny. "But Betty Gordon looks the way I thought Betty Littell would look, so I don't see that I am to blame."

"Trust Bobby to excuse herself from a scrape," chuckled her father. "By the way, how are you going to arrange about names? Two Bettys in the family will involve complications."

"I think we'll have to call Betty Littell, 'Libbie,'" suggested Mrs. Littell, smiling. "That was your mother's name at home, always, Betty."

"Yes, I know it; and that's why they called me Betty," replied the Littell girl. "Two names, the same names, I mean, do make confusion. I'm willing to be called Libbie, Aunt Rachel, if you let me have a little time to get used to it. If I don't answer right away, you'll understand that I'm listening for 'Betty.'"

"Well, Mother, I think at least two of these girls need sleep," announced Mr. Littell. "Betty Gordon looks as if she couldn't keep her eyes open another moment, and Betty Littell has yawned twice. I should say we all might retire—it's after eleven."

"Goodness, so it is," said his wife hastily. "Time does fly so when you're talking. Come, girls, if you are going sightseeing to-morrow, you'll need a good night's rest."

There were three bedrooms and a private bath at the disposal of the girls, and separate beds in all the rooms. Betty Gordon shared a room with Bobby, Louise and Betty Littell had the one adjoining, and Esther slept alone in the third room, which was also connected with the others.

Long after the other girls were asleep Betty lay awake, thinking over the happenings of the day. Finally she worked around to the suggested change in names.

"They must expect me to stay if they plan to avoid confusion of names," she thought. "I must talk to Mr. Littell in the morning and ask him if it's really all right. I feel as if it were an imposition for me, a perfect stranger, to accept their hospitality like this."

In the morning she was up and dressed before the rest, fortunately having a fresh blouse in her bag so that, although she had nothing but her suit skirt, she looked well-groomed and dainty. Betty Littell was also without her trunk, though Bobby promised that both trunks should be brought from the station that morning.

"I'd like to speak to your father a minute," said Betty, when she was dressed.

Bobby, on the floor tying her shoes, blew her a kiss.

"You'll find him on the terrace probably," she said confidently. "Go ahead, dear, but it won't do you any good. We're determined to keep you to play with us."

So the astute Bobby had guessed what she wanted to say! Nevertheless, Betty was determined to carry out her resolution. She went slowly down the wide staircase and stepped out through double screen doors on to the bricked terrace. Sure enough, there sat Mr. Littell, smoking comfortably and reading his morning paper.