There was a great deal of suppressed excitement in school during the last wee_n June, the cause thereof being Rhoda Stuart's birthday party, which was t_ake place early in July. The amount of heart-burning was incredible. Who wa_o be invited? That was the great question. There were some who knew the_ouldn't and some who knew they would; but there were more who were in trul_orrible suspense. Everybody paid court to Emily because she was Rhoda'_earest friend and might conceivably have some voice in the selection o_uests. Jennie Strang even went as far as bluntly to offer Emily a beautifu_hite box with a gorgeous picture of Queen Victoria on the cover, to keep he_encils in, if she would procure her an invitation. Emily refused the brib_nd said grandly that she could not interfere in such a delicate matter. Emil_eally did put on some airs about it. _She_ was sure of her invitation.
Rhoda had told her about the party weeks before and had talked it all ove_ith her. It was to be a very grand affair—a birthday cake covered with pin_cing and adorned with ten tall pink candles—ice-cream and oranges—and writte_nvitations on pink, gilt-edged note-paper _sent through the post-office_ —this last being an added touch of exclusiveness. Emily dreamed about tha_arty day and night and had her present all ready for Rhoda—a pretty hair- ribbon which Aunt Laura had brought from Shrewsbury.
On the first Sunday in July Emily found herself sitting beside Jennie Stran_n Sunday-school for the opening exercises. Generally she and Rhoda sa_ogether, but now Rhoda was sitting three seats ahead with a strange littl_irl—a very gay and gorgeous little girl, dressed in blue silk, with a large, flower-wreathed leghorn hat on her elaborately curled hair, white lace-wor_tockings on her pudgy legs and a bang that came clean down to her eyes. No_ll her fine feathers could make a really fine bird of her, however; she wa_ot in the least pretty and her expression was cross and contemptuous.
"Who is the girl sitting with Rhoda?" whispered Emily.
"Oh, she's Muriel Porter," answered Jennie. "She's a towny, you know. She'_ome out to spend her vacation with her aunt, Jane Beatty. I hate her. If _as her I'd never _dream_ of wearing blue with a skin as dark as hers. Bu_he Porters are rich and Muriel thinks she's a wonder. They say Rhoda and he_ave been _awful thick_ since she came out—Rhoda's always chasing afte_nybody she thinks is up in the world."
Emily stiffened up. She was not going to listen to disparaging remarks abou_er friends. Jennie felt the stiffening and changed her note.
"Anway, I'm _glad_ I'm not invited to Rhoda's old party. I wouldn't _want_o go when Muriel Porter will be there, putting on her airs."
"How do you know you are not invited?" wondered Emily.
"Why, the invitations went out yesterday. Didn't you get yours?"
"Did you get your mail?"
"Yes—Cousin Jimmy got it."
"Well, maybe Mrs Beecher forgot to give it to him. Likely you'll get it to- morrow."
Emily agreed that it was likely. But a queer cold sensation of dismay ha_nvaded her being, which was not removed by the fact that after Sunday-schoo_hoda strutted away with Muriel Porter without a glance at any one else. O_onday Emily herself went to the post-office, but there was no pink envelop_or her. She cried herself to sleep that night, but did not quite give up hop_ntil Tuesday had passed. Then she faced the terrible truth—that she—she, Emily Byrd Starr, of New Moon—had not been invited to Rhoda's party. The thin_as incredible. There _must_ be a mistake somewhere. Had Cousin Jimmy los_he invitation on the road home? Had Rhoda's grown-up sister who wrote th_nvitations overlooked her name? Had—Emily's unhappy doubts were for eve_esolved into bitter certainty by Jennie, who joined her as she left the post- office. There was a malicious light in Jennie's beady eyes. Jennie liked Emil_uite well by now, in spite of their passage-at-arms on the day of their firs_eeting, but she liked to see her pride humbled for all that.
"So you're not invited to Rhoda's party after all."
"No," admitted Emily.
It was a very bitter moment for her. The Murray pride was sorely wrung—and, beneath the Murray pride, something else had been grievously wounded but wa_ot yet quite dead.
"Well, I call it dirt mean," said Jennie, quite honestly sympathetic in spit_f her secret satisfaction. "After all the fuss she's made over you, too! Bu_hat's Rhoda Stuart all over. Deceitful is no name for _her_."
"I don't think she's deceitful," said Emily, loyal to the last ditch. "_elieve there's some mistake about my not being invited."
"Then you don't know the reason? Why, Beth Beatty told me the whole story.
Muriel Porter hates you and she just up and told Rhoda that she would not g_o her party if you were invited. And Rhoda was so crazy to have a town gir_here that she promised she wouldn't invite you."
"Muriel Porter doesn't know me," gasped Emily. "How can she hate me?"
Jennie grinned impishly.
" _I_ can tell you. She's _dead struck_ on Fred Stuart and Fred knows i_nd he teased her by praising _you_ up to her—told her you were the sweetes_irl in Blair Water and he meant to have you for _his girl_ when you were _ittle older. And Muriel was so mad and jealous she made Rhoda leave you out.
_I_ wouldn't care if I was you. A Murray of New Moon is away above suc_rash. As for Rhoda not being deceitful, I can tell you she _is._ Why, sh_old you that she didn't know that snake was in the box, when it was he_hought of doing it in the first place."
Emily was too crushed to reply. She was glad that Jennie had to switch of_own her own lane and leave her alone. She hurried home, afraid that she coul_ot keep the tears back until she got there. Disappointment about th_arty—humiliation over the insult—all were swallowed up in the anguish of _aith betrayed and a trust outraged. Her love of Rhoda was quite dead now an_mily smarted to the core of her soul with the pain of the blow that ha_illed it. It was a child's tragedy—and all the more bitter for that, sinc_here was no one to understand. Aunt Elizabeth told her that birthday partie_ere all nonsense and that the Stuarts were not a family that the Murrays ha_ver associated with. And even Aunt Laura, though she petted and comforted, did not realize how deep and grievous the hurt had been—so deep and grievou_hat Emily could not even write about it to her father, and had no outlet fo_he violence of emotion that racked her being.
The next Sunday Rhoda was alone in Sunday-school, Muriel Porter having bee_uddenly summoned back to town by her father's illness; and Rhoda looke_weetly towards Emily. But Emily sailed past her with a head held very hig_nd scorn on every lineament. She would _never_ have anything to do wit_hoda Stuart again—she couldn't. She despised Rhoda more than ever for tryin_o get back with her, now that the town girl for whom she had sacrificed he_as gone. It was not for Rhoda she mourned—it was for the friendship that ha_een so dear to her. Rhoda _had_ been dear and sweet on the surface a_east, and Emily had found intense happiness in their companionship. Now i_as gone and she could never, _never_ love or trust anybody again. _There_ay the sting.
It poisoned everything. Emily was of a nature which even as a child, did no_eadily recover from or forget such a blow. She moped about New Moon, lost he_ppetite and grew thin. She hated to go to Sunday-school because she though_he other girls exulted in her humiliation and her estrangement from Rhoda.
Some slight feeling of the kind there was, perhaps, but Emily morbidl_xaggerated it. If two girls whispered or giggled together she thought she wa_eing discussed and laughed at. If one of them walked home with her sh_hought it was out of condescending pity because she was friendless. For _onth Emily was the most unhappy little being in Blair Water.
"I think I must have been put under a curse at birth," she reflecte_isconsolately.
Aunt Elizabeth had a more prosaic idea to account for Emily's langour and lac_f appetite. She had come to the conclusion that Emily's heavy masses of hair
"took from her strength" and that she would be much stronger and better if i_ere cut off. With Aunt Elizabeth to decide was to act. One morning she cooll_nformed Emily that her hair was to be "shingled."
Emily could not believe her ears.
"You don't mean that you are going to cut off my hair, Aunt Elizabeth," sh_xclaimed.
"Yes, I mean exactly that," said Aunt Elizabeth firmly. "You have entirely to_uch hair especially for hot weather. I feel sure that is why you have been s_iserable lately. Now, I don't want any crying."
But Emily could not keep the tears back.
"Don't cut it _all_ off," she pleaded. "Just cut a good big bang. Lots o_he girls have their hair banged clean from the crown of their heads. Tha_ould take half my hair off and the rest won't take too much strength."
"There will be no bangs here," said Aunt Elizabeth. "I've told you so ofte_nough. I'm going to shingle your hair close all over your head for the ho_eather. You'll be thankful to me some day for it."
Emily felt anything but thankful just then.
"It's my one beauty," she sobbed, "it and my lashes. I suppose you want to cu_ff my lashes too."
Aunt Elizabeth _did_ distrust those long, upcurled fringes of Emily's, whic_ere an inheritance from the girlish stepmother, and too un-Murray-like to b_pproved; but she had no designs against them. The hair must go, however, an_he curtly bade Emily wait there, without any fuss, until she got th_cissors.
Emily waited—quite hopelessly. She must lose her lovely hair—the hair he_ather had been so proud of. It might grow again in time—if Aunt Elizabeth le_t—but that would take years, and meanwhile what a fright she would be! Aun_aura and Cousin Jimmy were out; she had no one to back her up; this horribl_hing must happen.
Aunt Elizabeth returned with the scissors; they clicked suggestively as sh_pened them; that click, as if by magic, seemed to loosen something—som_trange formidable power in Emily's soul. She turned deliberately around an_aced her aunt. She felt her brows drawing together in an unaccustomed way—sh_elt an uprush as from unknown depths of some irresistible surge of energy.
"Aunt Elizabeth," she said, looking straight at the lady with the scissors, _"my hair is not going to be cut off._ Let me hear no more of this."
An amazing thing happened to Aunt Elizabeth. She turned pale—she laid th_cissors down—she looked aghast for one moment at the transformed or possesse_hild before her—and then for the first time in her life Elizabeth Murra_urned tail and fled—literally fled—to the kitchen.
"What is the matter, Elizabeth?" cried Laura, coming in from the cook-house.
"I saw—Father—looking from her face," gasped Elizabeth, trembling. "And sh_aid, 'Let me hear no more of this'—just as _he_ always said it—his ver_ords."
Emily overheard her and ran to the sideboard mirror. She had had, while sh_as speaking, an uncanny feeling of wearing somebody else's face instead o_er own. It was vanishing now—but Emily caught a glimpse of it as it left—th_urray look, she supposed. No wonder it had frightened Aunt Elizabeth—i_rightened herself—she was glad that it had gone. She shivered—she fled to he_arret retreat and cried; but somehow, she knew that her hair would not b_ut.
Nor was it; Aunt Elizabeth never referred to the matter again. But severa_ays passed before she meddled much with Emily.
It was a rather curious fact that from that day Emily ceased to grieve ove_er lost friend. The matter had suddenly become of small importance. It was a_f it had happened so long ago that nothing, save the mere emotionless memor_f it, remained. Emily speedily regained appetite and animation, resumed he_etters to her father and found that life tasted good again, marred only by _ysterious prescience that Aunt Elizabeth had it in for her in regard to he_efeat in the matter of her hair and would get even sooner or later.
Aunt Elizabeth "got even" within the week. Emily was to go on an errand to th_hop. It was a broiling day and she had been allowed to go barefooted at home; but now she must put on boots and stockings. Emily rebelled—it was too hot—i_as too dusty—she couldn't walk that long half-mile in buttoned boots. Aun_lizabeth was inexorable. No Murray must be seen barefooted away from home—an_n they went. But the minute Emily was outside the New Moon gate sh_eliberately sat down, took them off, stowed them in a hole in the dyke, an_ranced away barefooted.
She did her errand and returned with an untroubled conscience. How beautifu_he world was—how softly blue was the great, round Blair Water—how gloriou_hat miracle of buttercups in the wet field below Lofty John's bush! At sigh_f it Emily stood stock still and composed a verse of poetry.
> Buttercup, flower of the yellow dye, > I see thy cheerful face > Greeting and nodding everywhere > Careless of time and place.
> In boggy field or public road > Or cultured garden's pale > You sport your petals satin-soft, > And down within the vale.
So far, so good. But Emily wanted another verse to round the poem off properl_nd the divine afflatus seemed gone. She walked dreamily home, and by the tim_he reached New Moon she had got her verse and was reciting it to herself wit_n agreeable sense of completion.
> You cast your loveliness around > Where'er you chance to be, > And you shall always, buttercup, > Be a flower dear to me.
Emily felt very proud. This was her third poem and undoubtedly her best.
Nobody could say _it_ was very blank. She must hurry up to the garret an_rite it on a letter-bill. But Aunt Elizabeth was confronting her on th_teps.
"Emily, where are your boots and stockings?"
Emily came back from cloudland with a disagreeable jolt. She had forgotten al_bout boots and stockings.
"In the hole by the gate," she said flatly.
"You went to the store barefooted?"
"After I had told you not to?"
This seemed to Emily a superfluous question and she did not answer it. Bu_unt Elizabeth's turn had come.