Fair Exchange and No Robbery by Lucy Maud
Katherine Rangely was packing up. Her chum and roommate, Edith Wilmer,
was sitting on the bed watching her in that calm disinterested fashion
peculiarly maddening to a bewildered packer.
"It does seem too provoking," said Katherine, as she tugged at an
obstinate shawl strap, "that Ned should be transferred here now, just
when I'm going away. The powers that be might have waited until
vacation was over. Ned won't know a soul here and he'll be horribly
"I'll do my best to befriend him, with your permission," said Edith
"Oh, I know. You're a special Providence, Ede. Ned will be up tonight
first thing, of course, and I'll introduce him. Try to keep the poor
fellow amused until I get back. Two months! Just fancy! And Aunt
Elizabeth won't abate one jot or tittle of the time I promised to stay
with her. Harbour Hill is so frightfully dull, too."
Then the talk drifted around to Edith's affairs. She was engaged to a
certain Sidney Keith, who was a professor in some college.
"I don't expect to see much of Sidney this summer," said Edith. "He's
writing another book. He is so terribly addicted to literature."
"How lovely," sighed Katherine, who had aspirations in that line
herself. "If only Ned were like him I should be perfectly happy. But
Ned is so prosaic. He doesn't care a rap for poetry, and he laughs
when I enthuse. It makes him quite furious when I talk of taking up
writing seriously. He says women writers are an abomination on the
face of the earth. Did you ever hear anything so ridiculous?"
"He is very handsome, though," said Edith, with a glance at his
photograph on Katherine's dressing table. "And that is what Sid is
not. He is rather distinguished looking, but as plain as he can
Edith sighed. She had a weakness for handsome men and thought it
rather hard that fate should have allotted her so plain a lover.
"He has lovely eyes," said Katherine comfortingly, "and handsome men
are always vain. Even Ned is. I have to snub him regularly. But I
think you'll like him."
Edith thought so too when Ned Ellison appeared that night. He was a
handsome off-handed young fellow, who seemed to admire Katherine
immensely, and be a little afraid of her into the bargain.
"Edith will try to make Riverton pleasant for you while I am away,"
she told him in their good-bye chat. "She is a dear girl—you'll like
her, I know. It's really too bad I have to go away now, but it can't
"I shall be awfully lonesome," grumbled Ned. "Don't you forget to
write regularly, Kitty."
"Of course I'll write, but for pity's sake, Ned, don't call me Kitty.
It sounds so childish. Well, bye-bye, dear boy. I'll be back in two
months and then we'll have a lovely time."
When Katherine had been at Harbour Hill for a week she wondered how
upon earth she was going to put in the remaining seven. Harbour Hill
was noted for its beauty, but not every woman can live by scenery
"Aunt Elizabeth," said Katherine one day, "does anybody ever die in
Harbour Hill? Because it doesn't seem to me it would be any change for
them if they did."
Aunt Elizabeth's only reply to this was a shocked look.
To pass the time Katherine took to collecting seaweeds, and this
involved long tramps along the shore. On one of these occasions she
met with an adventure. The place was a remote spot far up the shore.
Katherine had taken off her shoes and stockings, tucked up her skirt,
rolled her sleeves high above her dimpled elbows, and was deep in the
absorbing process of fishing up seaweeds off a craggy headland. She
looked anything but dignified while so employed, but under the
circumstances dignity did not matter.
Presently she heard a shout from the shore and, turning around in
dismay, she beheld a man on the rocks behind her. He was evidently
shouting at her. What on earth could the creature want?
"Come in," he called, gesticulating wildly. "You'll be in the
bottomless pit in another moment if you don't look out."
"He certainly must be a lunatic," said Katherine to herself, "or else
he's drunk. What am I to do?"
"Come in, I tell you," insisted the stranger. "What in the world do
you mean by wading out to such a place? Why, it's madness."
Katherine's indignation got the better of her fear.
"I do not think I am trespassing," she called back as icily as
The stranger did not seem to be snubbed at all. He came down to the
very edge of the rocks where Katherine could see him plainly. He was
dressed in a somewhat well-worn grey suit and wore spectacles. He did
not look like a lunatic, and he did not seem to be drunk.
"I implore you to come in," he said earnestly. "You must be standing
on the very brink of the bottomless pit."
He is certainly off his balance, thought Katherine. He must be some
revivalist who has gone insane on one point. I suppose I'd better go
in. He looks quite capable of wading out here after me if I don't.
She picked her steps carefully back with her precious specimens. The
stranger eyed her severely as she stepped on the rocks.
"I should think you would have more sense than to risk your life in
that fashion for a handful of seaweeds," he said.
"I haven't the faintest idea what you mean," said Miss Rangely. "You
don't look crazy, but you talk as if you were."
"Do you mean to say you don't know that what the people hereabouts
call the Bottomless Pit is situated right off that point—the most
dangerous spot along the whole coast?"
"No, I didn't," said Katherine, horrified. She remembered now that
Aunt Elizabeth had warned her to be careful of some bad hole along
shore, but she had not been paying much attention and had supposed it
to be in quite another direction. "I am a stranger here."
"Well, I hardly thought you'd be foolish enough to be out there if you
knew," said the other in mollified accents. "The place ought not to be
left without warning, anyhow. It is the most careless thing I ever
heard of. There is a big hole right off that point and nobody has ever
been able to find the bottom of it. A person who got into it would
never be heard of again. The rocks there form an eddy that sucks
everything right down."
"I am very grateful to you for calling me in," said Katherine humbly.
"I had no idea I was in such danger."
"You have a very fine bunch of seaweeds, I see," said the unknown.
But Katherine was in no mood to converse on seaweeds. She suddenly
realized what she must look like—bare feet, draggled skirts, dripping
arms. And this creature whom she had taken for a lunatic was
undoubtedly a gentleman. Oh, if he would only go and give her a chance
to put on her shoes and stockings!
Nothing seemed further from his intentions. When Katherine had picked
up the aforesaid articles and turned homeward, he walked beside her,
still discoursing on seaweeds as eloquently as if he were commonly
accustomed to walking with barefooted young women. In spite of
herself, Katherine couldn't help listening to him, for he managed to
invest seaweeds with an absorbing interest. She finally decided that
as he didn't seem to mind her bare feet, she wouldn't either.
He knew so much about seaweeds that Katherine felt decidedly
amateurish beside him. He looked over her specimens and pointed out
the valuable ones. He explained the best method of preserving and
mounting them, and told her of other and less dangerous places along
the shore where she might get some new varieties.
When they came in sight of Harbour Hill, Katherine began to wonder
what on earth she would do with him. It wasn't exactly permissible to
snub a man who had practically saved your life, but, on the other
hand, the prospect of walking through the principal street of Harbour
Hill barefooted and escorted by a scholarly looking gentleman
discoursing on seaweeds was not to be calmly contemplated.
The unknown cut the Gordian knot himself. He said that he must really
go back or he would be late for dinner, lifted his hat politely, and
departed. Katherine waited until he was out of sight, then sat down on
the sand and put on her shoes and stockings.
"Who on earth can he be?" she said to herself. "And where have I seen
him before? There was certainly something familiar about his
appearance. He is very nice, but he must have thought me crazy. I
wonder if he belongs to Harbour Hill."
The mystery was solved when she got home and found a letter from Edith
"I see Ned quite often," wrote the latter, "and I think he is
perfectly splendid. You are a lucky girl, Kate. But oh, do you know
that Sidney is actually at Harbour Hill, too, or at least quite near
it? I had a letter from him yesterday. He has gone down there to spend
his vacation, because it is so quiet, and to finish up some horrid
scientific book he is working at. He's boarding at some little
farmhouse up the shore. I've written to him today to hunt you up and
consider himself introduced to you. I think you'll like him, for he's
just your style."
Katherine smiled when Sidney Keith's card was brought up to her that
evening and went down to meet him. Her companion of the morning rose
to meet her.
"You!" he said.
"Yes, me," said Miss Rangely cheerfully and ungrammatically. "You
didn't expect it, did you? I was sure I had seen you before—only it
wasn't you but your photograph."
When Professor Keith went away it was with a cordial invitation to
call again. He did not fail to avail himself of it—in fact, he became
a constant visitor at Sycamore Villa. Katherine wrote all about it to
Edith and cultivated Professor Keith with a dear conscience.
They got on capitally together. They went on long expeditions up shore
after seaweeds, and when seaweeds were exhausted they began to make a
collection of the Harbour Hill flora. This involved more long,
companionable expeditions. Katherine sometimes wondered when Professor
Keith found time to work on his book, but as he made no reference to
the subject, neither did she.
Once in a while, when she had time to think of them, she wondered how
Ned and Edith were getting on. At first Edith's letters had been full
of Ned, but in her last two or three she had said little about him.
Katherine wrote and jokingly asked Edith if she and Ned had quarreled.
Edith wrote back and said, "What nonsense." She and Ned were as good
friends as ever, but he was getting acquainted in Riverton now and
wasn't so dependent on her society, etc.
Katherine sighed and went on a fern hunt with Professor Keith. It was
getting near the end of her vacation and she had only two weeks more.
They were sitting down to rest on the side of the road when she
mentioned this fact inconsequently. The professor prodded the harmless
dust with his cane. Well, he supposed she would find a return to work
pleasant and would doubtless be glad to see her Riverton friends
"I'm dying to see Edith," said Katherine.
"And Ned?" suggested Professor Keith.
"Oh yes. Ned, of course," assented Katherine without enthusiasm. There
didn't seem to be anything more to say. One cannot talk everlastingly
about ferns, so they got up and went home.
Katherine wrote a particularly affectionate letter to Ned that night.
Then she went to bed and cried.
When Professor Keith came up to bid Miss Rangely good-bye on the eve
of her departure from Harbour Hill, he looked like a man who was being
led to execution without benefit of clergy. But he kept himself well
in hand and talked calmly on impersonal subjects. After all, it was
Katherine who made the first break when she got up to say good-bye.
She was in the middle of some conventional sentence when she suddenly
stopped short, and her voice trailed off in a babyish quiver.
The professor put out his arm and drew her close to him. His hat
dropped under their feet and was trampled on, but I doubt if Professor
Keith knows the difference to this day, for he was fully absorbed in
kissing Katherine's hair. When she became cognizant of this fact, she
drew herself away.
"Oh, Sidney, don't!—think of Edith! I feel like a traitor."
"Do you think she would care very much if I—if you—if we—"
hesitated the professor.
"Oh, it would break her heart," cried Katherine with convincing
earnestness. "I know it would—and Ned's too. They must never know."
The professor stooped and began hunting for his maltreated hat. He was
a long time finding it, and when he did he went softly to the door.
With his hand on the knob, he paused and looked back.
"Good-bye, Miss Rangely," he said softly.
But Katherine, whose face was buried in the cushions of the lounge,
did not hear him and when she looked up he was gone.
Katharine felt that life was stale, flat and unprofitable when she
alighted at Riverton station in the dusk of the next evening. She was
not expected until a later train and there was no one to meet her. She
walked drearily through the streets to her boarding house and entered
her room unannounced. Edith, who was lying on the bed, sprang up with
a surprised greeting. It was too dark to be sure, but Katherine had an
uncomfortable suspicion that her friend had been crying, and her heart
quaked guiltily. Could Edith have suspected anything?
"Why, we didn't think you'd be up till the 8:30 train, and Ned and I
were going to meet you."
"I found I could catch an earlier train, so I took it," said
Katherine, as she dropped listlessly into a chair. "I am tired to
death and I have such a headache. I can't see anyone tonight, not even
"You poor dear," said Edith sympathetically, beginning a search for
the cologne. "Lie down on the bed and I'll bathe your poor head. Did
you have a good time at Harbour Hill? And how did you leave Sid? Did
he say anything about coming up?"
"Oh, he was quite well," said Katherine wearily. "I didn't hear him
say if he intended to come up or not. There, thanks—that will do
After Edith had gone down, Katherine tossed about restlessly. She knew
Ned had come and she did not want to see him. But, after all, it was
only putting off the evil day, and it was treating him rather
shabbily. She would go down for a minute.
There were two doors to the parlour, and Katherine went by way of the
library one, over which a portiere was hanging. Her hand was lifted to
draw it back when she heard something that arrested the movement.
A woman was crying in the room beyond. It was Edith—and what was she
"Oh, Ned, it is all perfectly dreadful! I couldn't look Catherine in
the face when she came home. I'm so ashamed of myself and I never
meant to be so false. We must never let her suspect for a minute."
"It's pretty rough on a fellow," said another voice—Ned's voice—in a
choked sort of a way. "Upon my word, Edith, I don't see how I'm going
to keep it up."
"You must," sobbed Edith. "It would break her heart—and Sidney's too.
We must just make up our minds to forget each other, Ned, and you must
Just at this point Katherine became aware that she was eavesdropping
and she went away noiselessly. She did not look in the least like a
person who has received a mortal blow, and she had forgotten her
When Edith came up half an hour later, she found the worn-out invalid
sitting up and reading a novel.
"How is your headache, dear?" she asked, carefully keeping her face
turned away from Katherine.
"Oh, it's all gone," said Miss Rangely cheerfully.
"Why didn't you come down then? Ned was here."
"Well, Ede, I did go down, but I thought I wasn't particularly wanted,
so I came back."
Edith faced her friend in dismay, forgetful of swollen lids and
"Don't look so conscience stricken, my dear child. There is no harm
"Some surprising speeches. So you and Ned have gone and fallen in love
with one another?"
"Oh, Katherine," sobbed Edith, "we—we—couldn't help it—but it's all
over. Oh, don't be angry with me!"
"Angry? My dear, I'm delighted."
"Yes, you dear goose. Can't you guess, or must I tell you? Sidney and
I did the very same, and had just such a melancholy parting last night
as I suspect you and Ned had tonight."
"Yes, it's quite true. And of course we made up our minds to sacrifice
ourselves on the altar of duty and all that. But now, thank goodness,
there is no need of such wholesale immolation. So just let's forgive
"Oh," sighed Edith happily, "it is almost too good to be true."
"It is really providentially ordered, isn't it?" said Katherine. "Ned
and I would never have got on together in the world, and you and
Sidney would have bored each other to death. As it is, there will be
four perfectly happy people instead of four miserable ones. I'll tell
Ned so tomorrow."