By Eleanor Hallowell Abbott, 1919


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UNTIL Daphne Bretton's peremptory departure from college she had neither known nor liked her father well enough to distinguish him with a nick name. But on that momentous day in question, when blurting into the problematical presence of an unfamiliar parent in an unfamiliar room in an unfamiliar city she flung her unhappy news across his book-cluttered desk, the appellation slipped from her stark lips as though it were the only fluid phrase in a wooden-throated world.

"Old-Dad!" she said, "I have been expelled from college!"

From under the incongruous thatch of his snow-white hair her young father lifted his extraordinarily young face with a snarl like the snarl of a startled animal.

"Why?—Why Daphne!" he gasped. "What?"

With her small gloved hand fumbling desperately at the great muffly collar of her coat the young girl repeated her statement.

"I—I have been expelled from college!" she said.

"Yes, but Daphne!—What for?" demanded her father. His own face was suddenly as white as hers, his lips as stark. "What for?" he persisted.

Twice the young girl's lips opened and shut in an utter agony of inarticulation. Then quite sharply the blonde head lifted, the shoulders squared, and the whole slender, quivering little body braced itself to meet the traditional blow of the traditional Avenger.

"For—for having a boy in my room—at night," said the girl.

Before the dumb, abject misery in the young blue eyes that lifted so heavily to his, a grin like the painted grin on a sick clown's face shot suddenly across the father's mobile mouth.

"Oh I hope he was a nice boy!" he said quite abruptly. "Blonde or brunette?"

"Why—Why—Father!" stammered the girl. "I—I thought you would—would kill me!"

"Kill you?" mumbled her father. More essentially at the moment he seemed concerned with an overturned bottle of ink that was splashing its sinister pool across his morning's work. "Kill you?" he repeated vaguely. Across the high, intervening barrier of books and catalogues he craned his neck suddenly with a certain sharp intentness.

"And is your shoulder broken, too?" he asked very gently.

"My shoulder?" quivered the girl.

"It sags so," murmured her father.

"It's my suit-case," said the girl. "My heavy suit-case."

"Why not put it down?" asked the man.

Across the young girl's fluctuant face a dozen new miseries flared hotly.

"I didn't—just know—whether you'd want me to put it down," she said.

"You've come home, haven't you?" questioned the man. "Home is supposed to be where your father is, isn't it?"

"It never has been," said the girl quite simply.

Like a clash of swords the man's eyes smote across the girl's and the girl's across the man's. The ironic grin was still twisting wryly at one corner of the man's mouth but under the mocking fend of his narrowing eye lids a glisten of tears showed suddenly.

"Oh—Father," rallied the girl. "They called me an evil name! They——" With a gesture of ultimate bewilderment and despair she took a single step towards him. "Oh, Father," she gasped. "What is it about boys that makes it so wicked to have them around?" And pitched over headlong in a dead faint at his feet.

When blackness turned into whiteness again she found herself lying limply in the big Oxford chair before the fire with a slate-colored hound sniffing rather interrogatively at her finger-tips and the strange man whom she had called "father" leaning casually with one elbow on the mantel-piece while he stood staring down at her through a great, sweet, foggy blur of cigarette smoke.

"Wh—what is the blue dog's name?" she asked a bit vaguely.

"Creep-Mouse," said the man.

"I'm—I'm glad there's a dog," she whispered.

"So it's all right now, is it?" smiled the man. The smile was all in his eyes now and frankly mechanical still—a faint flare of mirth through a quizzical fretwork of pain.

"Yes, it's all right—now," said the girl, "unless of course——" Edging weakly forward to the front of the chair she clutched out gropingly for its cool, creaking straw arms and straightened up suddenly very stiff and tense. "Aren't you even going to ask me," she faltered, "what the boy was doing in my room—at night?"

"Oh, of course, I'm only human," admitted her father. Very leisurely as he spoke he stopped to light a fresh cigarette and stood for a moment blowing innumerable rings of smoke into space. "Only somehow—that's a matter," he smiled, "that I'd rather hear directly from the boy himself!"

"From the boy himself?" stammered the girl. With her slender, silken-shod limbs, the short skirt of the day, the simple blouse, the tousled hair, she looked for all the world like a little child just jumping up to play. "Why—why he's here now!" she said.

"Here now?" cried her father. "Where?"

"Downstairs," said the girl. "We came on together."

"Came on together?" demanded her father. "From college, you mean? Two days and a night?"

"Yes," said the girl.

With a sharp intake of his breath that might have meant anything the man stepped suddenly forward.