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CHAPTER XVIII


BETTY UNDERSTANDS


Betty hurried back and began a hasty inspection of the rooms. She recollected seeing Libbie upstairs at the door of Washington's room the last time she had definitely noticed her, and she ran upstairs to see if she might not be there.

No Libbie was in any of the rooms.

Downstairs she searched hurriedly, peeping under people's elbows, trying not to annoy others and yet to make a thorough hunt in a short time so as not to keep the others waiting. Then in the music room, or East Parlor, as it is often called, she found the truant, gazing with rapt eyes at the quaint old harpsichord which had belonged to Nellie Custis.

"Every one is waiting for you," announced Betty, pulling her gently by the sleeve. "Come on, Libbie, we're all going. We've seen the whole house."

Libbie followed in a sort of daze, and when they rejoined the others she seemed to be still in a brown study.

"For goodness sake," prodded Bobby impatiently, "what were you doing back there? We nearly went off and left you. Where did you find her, Betty?"

"I was in the music room," announced Libbie with dignity. "I wanted to see the harpsichord. Say, girls, did you know Washington gave that to Nellie Custis when she was married? He wore his uniform when he gave her away, and—"

"Well, for pity's sake!" Bobby's disgust was ludicrous. "Trust Libbie to dig up a romance wherever she goes. What else did you find connected with weddings, Lib?"

Libbie was inclined to be ruffled, but Mrs. Littell soothed the troubled waters by telling them that the old barn, which they had reached by this time, was built in 1733 by Washington's father and that the bricks were supposed to have been imported from England.

The beautiful old formal garden further mellowed their tempers, for it was impossible to say sharp things walking along the very paths which George Washington had often trod and between the rows of box brushed by the silken skirts of Mrs. Washington. Where her rose bushes used to be are planted others, and Mrs. Littell assured the girls that it was one of the great pleasures of the First Lady of the Land to gather rose leaves for her potpourri jars and to make a perfumed unguent for which she was famous among her friends.

"She was a wonderful housekeeper," added Mrs. Littell, smiling at Libbie, whose momentary resentment had quickly faded, "and a very fine manager. We are told that she was thoroughly domestic in her tastes and that she made her husband ideally happy."

Presently Carter came with a hamper of luncheon and their appetites did full justice to Mammy Lou's dainties. Betty wondered, sitting on the grass, the Potomac flowing lazily several feet below, whether she was dreaming and might not wake up to find herself at Bramble Farm with Mr. Peabody scolding vigorously because something had not gone to suit him. She often had this odd feeling that her present happiness could not be real.

This, too, brought the thought of her uncle to her mind, and again she wondered if she would ever hear from him—if something dreadful had not happened to him, leaving her almost as much alone in the world as Bob Henderson. She shivered a little, then resolutely threw herself into the chatter of the other girls and soon forgot all but the present pleasure and excitement.

After rambling about the grounds another hour or so, the party from Fairfield was ready to go, and they all found it restful to lean back in the comfortable car and spin back to the city.

"If you're not too tired I think we might drive down Pennsylvania Avenue," suggested Mrs. Littell. "Our guests haven't seen the White House yet, have they?"

Neither Betty nor Libbie had, and as the car turned into the famous thoroughfare both girls sat up alertly so as not to miss a single sight of interest. Carter slowed down as they approached a high iron fence, and at the first glimpse of the white mansion separated from the fence and street by a wide stretch of lawn, Libbie shouted joyfully.

"The White House!"

"Well, you needn't tell everybody," cautioned Bobby. "Think of the weddings they've held in there, Libbie!"

"I imagine any one who has ever seen a picture of the White House recognizes it instantly," said Betty, fearing a resumption of cousinly hostilities. "How beautiful the grounds are."

"You must go through it some day soon," said Mrs. Littell. "And now we'll drive to the Capitol. Day after to-morrow would be a good time for you to take the girls to the Capitol, Bobby."

The Capitol reminded Libbie of a pin tray she had at home, and awoke recollection in Betty's mind of a bronze plaque that had been one of Mrs. Arnold's treasures in the stiff little parlor of the Pineville house. All good Americans know the White House and the Capitol long before they make a pilgrimage to Washington.

On their arrival at Fairfields they found Mr. Littell playing solitaire, and something in his undisguised relief at seeing them made Betty wonder if time did not hang heavily on his hands.

After dinner Bobby proposed that they turn on the phonograph and have a little dance among themselves.

"Oh, that will be fine!" cried Betty.

"Then you can dance?"

"A little—mother taught me."

So the girls danced and had a good time generally for an hour or more, with Mr. and Mrs. Littell looking on. Then Betty sank down on the arm of Mr. Littell's chair.

"I've been thinking of something," she half whispered. "Do you like to play checkers? If you do, I know how."

Maybe Mr. Littell understood that she was doing it largely to keep him company. But he said nothing, and they played checkers for nearly two hours. Betty was a fairly good player and managed to land several victories.

"With a little more practice you'll make a very good player," declared Mr. Littell. "I appreciate your staying to play with a cripple like me," he added gratefully. "Does your Uncle Dick play?"

"I don't really know," replied the girl, and now her face clouded for an instant. Oh, why didn't she hear from Uncle Dick?

The next few days were filled with sightseeing trips. Betty was kept too busy to have much time to worry, which was fortunate, for no word came from her uncle and no word reached her from Bob Henderson. The Guerins and the Benders wrote to her, and each letter mentioned the fact that Bob had sent a postal from Washington, but that no later word had come from him.

"I met Peabody on the road yesterday," ran a postscript to Norma Guerin's letter, written by her doctor father. "He hinted darkly that Bob had done something that might land him in jail, but I couldn't force out of him what fearful thing Bob had done. I hope the lad hasn't been rash, for Peabody never forgives a wrong, real or fancied."

Betty knew that the farmer's action had to do with the unrecorded deed, but she did not feel that she should make any disclosures in that connection. Of Bob's innocence she was sure, and time would certainly clear him of any implication.

The girls visited the Capitol, seeing the great bronze doors that are nineteen feet high and weight ten tons. Betty was fascinated by the eight panels, and studied them till the others threatened to leave her there over night and call for her in the morning. Then she consented to make the tour of the three buildings. But the historical paintings again held her spellbound. When she reached the Senate chamber, which was empty, except for a page or two, the Senate not being in session, she dropped into a gallery seat and tried to imagine the famous scenes enacted there. They spent the better part of a day at the Capitol, and saw practically everything in the buildings. They were so tired that night that Libbie went to sleep over her dessert, and Betty dreamed all night of defending the city with a shotgun from the great gilded dome. But she and Libbie agreed that they would not have missed it for anything.