Madge went slowly back to her room in a most unhappy frame of mind. She knew a way in which Miss Jones would be able to spend her summer out-of-doors, and perhaps grow well and strong again. She could be invited to chaperon the houseboat party. She knew her friends would immediately agree to the idea. They liked Miss Jones far better than she did. Even if they had not liked her, sympathy would have inspired them to extend the invitation. It was she alone who would hesitate. Of course, she never expected to be as good as her friends. So Madge argued with herself. It was too dreadful to give up the idea of asking her adored “Lady of Quality” to act as their guardian angel. Madge decided she simply could not make the sacrifice. Then, too, she did not even know whether her uncle and aunt would consent to the houseboat party. It would be time enough afterward to deliver her last invitation.
For two days, which seemed intolerably long to impatient Madge Morton, the four friends waited to hear their fate from Mr. and Mrs. Butler.
On the third morning a letter addressed to Madge in Mrs. Butler’s handwriting was handed to her while she and her chums were at breakfast. In her great excitement her hands trembled so that she could hardly finish her breakfast. “Here, Eleanor,” Madge finally faltered, as the four girls left the dining room to go upstairs, “you take the letter and read it to us, please do. Positively I haven’t the courage to look at it. I feel almost sure that Aunt Sue will say we can’t go on our houseboat trip.”
Lillian put her hand affectionately on Madge’s arm, while Phil stood next to Eleanor.
“My dear Madge,” the letter began, “I think your houseboat plan for the summer a most extraordinary one. I never heard of young girls attempting such a holiday before. I can not imagine how you happened to unearth such a peculiar idea.”
Madge gave a gasp of despair. She felt that the tone of her Aunt Sue’s letter spelled refusal. But Eleanor read on: “Like a good many of your unusual ideas, this houseboat scheme seems, after all, to be rather an interesting one. Your uncle and I have talked over your letter and Eleanor’s. We do not wish you and Eleanor to be separated, and we do wish you both to have the happiest holiday possible, as we are quite sure you have earned it. So, if you can find a suitable chaperon, we are willing to give our consent to your undertaking. We had intended to pay twenty-five dollars a month board for Eleanor with her cousins at Charlottesville, so we shall be glad to contribute that sum toward the provisioning of the house-boat.”
There was a dead silence in the room when Eleanor at last finished reading the letter. For half a minute the four chums were too happy to speak. Then there was a united sigh of relief.
“Oh, I shall never be able to survive it! It is too much joy for one day!” cried the irrepressible Madge, dancing around in a circle and dragging Lillian Seldon, whose arm was linked in hers, with her.