The Second Violin
by Grace S. Richmond
THE SECOND VIOLIN
BY GRACE S. RICHMOND
A. L. BURT COMPANY PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Copyright, 1905, 1906, by Perry Mason Company.
BOOK I. THE SECOND VIOLIN
BOOK II. THE CHURCHILL LATCH-STRING
* * * * *
BOOK I. THE SECOND VIOLIN
* * * * *
Crash! Bang! Bang! “The March of the Pilgrims” came to an
abrupt end. John Lansing Birch laid down his viola and bow, whirled
about, and flung out his arms in despair. “Oh, this crowd is hopeless!”
he groaned. “Never mind any other instrument, providing yours is
heard. This march is supposed to die away in the distance! You murder
it in front of the house. That second violin—”
Here his wrath centered upon the red-cheeked, black-eyed young
The second violin returned his gaze with resentment. “What's the use
of my playing like a midsummer zephyr when Just's sawing away like mad
on the bass?” she retorted.
The first violin smiled pleasantly on the little group. “Let's try
it again,” she suggested, “and see if we can please John Lansing
“You're all right,” said Lansing, with a wave of his hand at Celia,
“if the rest of the strings wouldn't fight to drown you out. Charlotte
plays as if second violin were a solo part, with the rest as
Charlotte tucked her instrument under a sulky, round chin, raised
her bow and waited, her eyes on the floor. Celia, smiling, softly tried
“That's it, precisely,” began the leader, still with irritation.
“Celia tunes between practice; Charlotte takes it for granted she's all
right and fires ahead. Your E string is off!”
The second violin grudgingly tightened the E string; then all her
strings in turn, lengthening the process as much as possible. The
'cello did the same—the 'cello always stood by the second violin. Jeff
gave Charlotte a glance of loyalty. His G string had been flatter than
Lansing wheeled about and picked up his instrument, carefully trying
its pitch. He gave the signal, and the “March of the Pilgrims“
began—in the remote distance. The double-bass viol gripped his bow
with his stubby twelve-year-old fingers, and hardly breathed as he
strove to keep his notes subdued. The 'cello murmured a gentle
undertone; the first violin sang as sweetly and delicately as a bird,
her legato perfect. The second violin fingered her notes
through, but the voice of her instrument was not heard at all.
The leader glanced at her once, with a frown between his fine
eyebrows, but Charlotte played dumbly on. The Pilgrims approached—
crescendo; drew near—forte; passed—fortissimo;
marched away—diminuendo; were almost lost in the distance—
piano—pianissimo. Uplifted bows—and silence.
“Good!” said a hearty voice behind them. Everybody looked up,
smiling—even the second violin. His children always smiled when Mr.
Roderick Birch came in. It would have been a sour temper which could
have resisted his genial greeting.
“Mother would like the 'Lullaby' next,” he said. “She's rather
tired to-night. And after the 'Lullaby' I want a little talk
with you all.”
Something in his voice or his eyes made his elder daughter take
notice of him, as he dropped into a chair by the fire. “Play your
best,” she warned the others, in a whisper. But they needed no warning.
Everybody always played his best for father. And if mother was tired—
The notes of the second violin fell daintily, caressing those which
wrought out the melody enveloping but never overwhelming them. As the
music ceased, the leader, turning to the second violin, met her
reluctant eyes with a softening in his own keen ones. The hint of a
laugh curved the corners of her lips as his smiled broadly. It was all
the truce necessary. Charlotte's sulks never lasted longer than Lanse's
They laid aside their instruments and gathered round their father.
Graceful, brown-eyed Celia sat down beside him; Charlotte's curly black
hair mingled with his heavy iron-gray locks as she perched upon the arm
of his chair, her scarlet flannel arm under his head. The youngest boy,
Justin, threw himself flat on the hearth-rug, chin propped on elbow,
watching the fire; sixteen-year-old Jeff helped himself to a low stool,
clasping long arms about long legs as his knees approached his head in
this posture; and the eldest son, pausing, drew up a chair and sat down
to face the group.
“Now for it,” he said. “It looks serious—a consultation of the
whole. Mayn't we have mother to back us?”
“I've sent mother to bed,” Mr. Birch explained. “She wanted to come
down to hear you play, but I wouldn't let her. And indeed there are
moments—” He glanced quizzically at his eldest son.
“Yes, sir,” Lansing responded, promptly. “There are moments when the
furnace pipes convey up-stairs as much din as she can bear.”
Mr. Birch sat looking thoughtfully into the fire for a minute or
He began at last, gently, “Celia—has mother seemed quite strong to
you of late?”
“Mother—strong?” asked Celia, in surprise. “Why, father, isn't she?
She—had that illness last winter, and was a long time getting about,
but she has seemed well all summer.”
Their eyes were all upon his face. Even young Justin had swung about
upon his elbows and was regarding his father with attention. They
“I took her to Doctor Forester to-day, and he—surprised me a good
deal. He seemed to think that mother must not spend the coming winter
in this climate. Don't be alarmed; I don't want to frighten you, but I
want you to appreciate the necessity. He thinks that if mother were to
have a year of rest and change we need have no fears for her.”
“Fears!” repeated Lansing, under his breath. Was it possible that
anything was the matter with mother? Why, she was the central sun about
which their little family world moved! There could not—must not—be
anything wrong with mother!
“Tell us plainly, father,” urged Celia's soft voice. She was pale,
but she spoke quietly.
Charlotte, at the first word of alarm, had turned her face away.
Jeff's bright black eyes—he was Charlotte's counterpart in colouring
and looks—rested anxiously on the second violin's curly mop of hair,
tied at the neck with a big black bow of ribbon. It was always most
expressive to Jeff, that bow of ribbon.
Lansing repeated Celia's words. “Yes, tell us plainly, sir. We'd
“I am alarming you,” Mr. Birch said, quickly. “I knew I could not
say the slightest thing about her without doing that. But I need to
talk it over with you all, because if we carry out the doctor's
prescription it means much sacrifice for every one. I had no doubt that
you would make it, but I think it is better for you to understand its
importance. Doctor Forester says New Mexico is an almost certain cure
for such trouble as mother's, if taken early. And we are taking it
Justin and Jeff looked puzzled, but Celia caught her breath, and
Lansing's ruddy colour suddenly faded. Charlotte buried her head in her
father's shoulder and drew the scarlet flannel arm tighter about his
The iron-gray head bent over the curly black one for a moment, as if
the strong man of the household found it hard to face the anxious eyes
which searched his, and would have liked, like his eighteen-year-old
daughter, to run to cover. But in an instant, he looked up again and
spoke in the cheery tone they knew so well.
“Now listen, and be brave,” he said. “Mother's trouble is like a
house just set on fire. A dash of Water and a blanket—and it is out.
Wait till a whole room is ablaze, and it's a serious matter to stop it.
Now, in our case, we've only the little kindling corner to smother, and
the New Mexico air is water and blanket—a whole fire department, if
need be. The doctor assures me that with mother's good constitution,
and the absence of any hereditary predisposition to this sort of thing,
we've only to give her the ten or twelve months of rest and
reenforcement—the winter in New Mexico, the summer in Colorado—to nip
the whole thing in the bud. I believe him, and you must believe
him—and me. More than all, you must not show the slightest change of
front to her. She knows it all, but she doesn't want you to know. I
think differently about that.
“Three of you are men and women now, and the other two,” he smiled
into the upturned, eager faces of Jeff and Justin, “are getting to be
men. Even my youngest can be depended upon to act the strong part.”
Justin scrambled to his feet at that, and gravely laid a muscular
boy's hand in his father's.
“I'll stand by you, sir,” he said.
Nobody laughed. Charlotte's black bow twitched and a queer sound
burst from the shoulder where her head was buried. Jeff's thick black
lashes went down for a moment; Celia shook two bright drops from
brimming eyes and patted Just's sturdy shoulder. Mr. Birch shook the
hand vigorously without speaking, and only Lansing found words to
express what they felt.
“He speaks for us all, I know, sir. And now if you'll tell us our
part we'll take hold. I think I know what it means. Trips to New
Mexico, from New York, are expensive.”
“They are very expensive,” Mr. Birch replied, slowly. “I must go
with her. We must travel in the least fatiguing fashion, which means
state-rooms on trains and many extras by the way. She has kept up
bravely, but this unusual exhaustion after one day in town shows me how
careful I must be of her on the long journey. Then, once away, no
expense must be spared to make the absence tell for all there is in it.
And most of all to be considered, while I am away there will be—no
They looked at each other now, Celia at Lansing, and Lansing at
Jeff, and Jeff at both of them. Charlotte sat up suddenly, her cheeks
and eyes burning, and stared hard at each in turn.
The income would stop. And what would that mean? The family had
within three years suffered heavy financial losses from causes outside
of their control, and the father's income, that of attorney-at-law in a
large suburban town, had since become the only source of support. So
far it had sufficed, although Charlotte and Celia had been sent away to
school, and both Celia and Lansing were now in college.
It was the remembrance of these heavy demands upon the family purse
which now caused the young people to look at one another with startled
questioning. Lansing was about to begin his senior year at a great
university; Celia had finished her first year at a famous women's
college. Within a fortnight both were expecting to begin work.
Charlotte did not care about a college course, but she had planned
for two years to go to a school of design, for she was a promising
young worker in things decorative. As for Jefferson, sixteen years old,
captain of the high-school football team, six feet tall, and able to
give his brother Lansing a hard battle for physical supremacy, his
dearest dream was a great military school. Even Justin—but Justin was
only twelve—his dreams could wait. His was the only face in the group
which remained placid during the moments succeeding Mr. Birch's mention
of the astonishing fact about the income.
The father's observant eyes noted all that his children's looks
could tell him of surprise, disappointment and bewilderment; and of the
succeeding effort they made to rally their forces and show no sign of
Lansing made the first effort. “I can drop back a year,” he said,
thoughtfully. “Or I—no—merely working my way through this year
wouldn't do. It wouldn't help out at home.”
“Why, Lanse!” began Celia, and stopped.
He glanced meaningly at her, and the colour flashed back into her
cheeks. In the next instant she had followed his lead.
“If Lanse can stay out of college, I can, too,” she said, with
“If I could get some fairly good position,” Lanse proposed, “I ought
to be able to earn enough to—well, we're rather a large family, and
“I could do something,” began Charlotte, eagerly. “I could—I could
At that there was a general howl, which quite broke the solemnity of
the occasion. “Charlotte—sewing!” they cried.
“Why not take in washing?” urged Lanse.
“Or solicit orders for fancy cooking?”
“Or tutor stupid little boys in languages? Come! Fiddle—stick to
Charlotte's face was a study as she received these hints. They
represented the things she disliked most and could do least well. Yet
they were hardly farther afield than her own suggestion of sewing.
Charlotte's inability with the needle was proverbial.
“What position do you consider yourself eminently fitted for, Mr.
Lansing Birch?” she inquired, with uplifted chin.
“You have me there,” her brother returned, good-humouredly. “There's
only one thing I can think of—to go into the locomotive shops.
Mechanics' wages are better than most, and a little practical
experience wouldn't hurt me.”
It was his turn to be met with derision. It could hardly be wondered
at, for as he stood before them, John Lansing looked the
personification of fastidiousness, and his face, although it surmounted
a strongly proportioned and well developed body, suggested the mental
characteristics not only of his father, but of certain
great-grandfathers and uncles, who had won their distinction in
intellectual arenas. Even his father seemed a little daunted at this
“That's it—laugh!” urged Lanse. “If I'd proposed to try to get on
the 'reportorial staff' of a city newspaper you'd all smile approval,
as at a thing suited to my genius. I'd have to live in town to do that,
and what little I earned would go to fill my own hungry mouth. Now at
the shops—you needn't look so top-lofty! Dozens of fellows who are
taking engineering courses put on the overalls, shoulder a lunch-pail
and go to work every morning during vacation at seven o'clock. They
come grinning home at night, their faces black as tar, their spirits up
in Q, jump into a bath-tub, put on clean togs, and come down to dinner
looking like gentlemen—but not gentlemen any more thoroughly
than they have been all day.”
Jeff looked at his brother seriously. “Lanse,” he said, “if you go
into one of the locomotive shops won't you get a place for me?”
But Celia interposed. “Whatever the rest of us do,” she said, “Jeff
and Just must keep on with school.”
Jeff rebelled with a grimace. “Not much!” he shouted. “I guess one
six-footer is as good as another in a boiler-shop. You don't catch me
swallowing algebra and German when I might be developing muscle. If
Lanse puts on overalls I'm after him.”
Celia looked at her father. “What do you think of all this, sir?”
she asked. “If I stay at home, dismiss Delia, and do the housework
myself, and Lanse finds some suitable position, can't we get on?
Charlotte can put off the school of design another year. We will all be
very economical about clothes——”
“Being economical doesn't bring in cash to pay bills,” interrupted
Jeff. “Do the best he can, Lanse won't draw any hair-raising salary the
first year. He could probably get clerical work at one of the banks,
but what's that? He'd fall off so in his wind I could throw him across
the room in three months.”
They all laughed. Jeff's devotion to athletics dominated his ideals
at all times, and his disgust at the thought of such a depletion of his
brother's physical forces was amusing.
Celia was still looking at her father. He spoke in the hearty tone
to which they were accustomed, his face full of satisfaction.
“You please me very much, all of you,” he said. “It will be the best
tonic I can offer your mother. Her greatest trial is this very
necessity, which she foresaw the instant the plan was formed—so much
sacrifice on the part of her children. Yet she agreed with me that the
experience might not be wholly bad for you, and she said”—he paused,
smiling at his elder daughter—“that with Celia at the helm she was
sure the family ship wouldn't be wrecked”
Then he told them that they might plan the division of labour and
responsibility as they thought practicable. He agreed with Celia that
the younger boys must remain in school, but added—since at this point
it became necessary to mollify his son Jefferson—that a fellow with a
will might find any number of remunerative odd jobs out of school and
study hours. He commended Lansing's idea, but advised him to look
around before deciding; and he passed an affectionate hand over
Charlotte's black curls as he observed that young person sunk in gloom.
“Cheer up, little girl!” he said. “The second violin is immensely
important to the music of the family orchestra. The hand that can
design wall-papers can learn to relieve the mistress of the house of
some of her cares. Celia, without a maid in the kitchen, will find
plenty of use for such a quick brain as lies under this thatch.”
But at this moment something happened—something to which the family
were not unused. Charlotte suddenly wriggled out from under the
caressing hand, and in half a dozen quick movements was out of the
room. They had all had a vision of brilliant wet eyes, flushing cheeks,
and red, rebellious mouth.
“Poor child!” murmured Celia. “She thinks we find her of no use.”
“She is rather a scatterbrain,” Lanse observed. “The year may do her
good, as you say, father—as well as the rest of us,” he added, with
“There's a lot of things she can do, just the same,”—Jeff fired up,
instantly—“things the rest of us are perfect noodles at. When she gets
to earning more money in a day than the rest of us can in a month maybe
we'll let up on that second-fiddle business.”
“Good for you, you faithful Achates!” said Lanse. Then he turned to
his father. “You haven't told us yet when you go, sir.”
“If we can, two weeks from to-day,” said Mr. Birch. Then he went
up-stairs to tell his wife that she might go peacefully to sleep, for
her children were ready to become her devoted slaves. Justin followed
Jeff out of the room, and Jeff broke away from this younger brother and
hastened to rap a familiar, comforting signal of comradeship on
Charlotte's locked door.
Left alone, Lanse and Celia looked at each other.
“Well, old girl—” began Lansing, gently.
“O Lanse!” breathed Celia.
He patted her shoulder. “Bear up, dear. It's tough to give up
college for a year—”
“Oh, that's not it!” cried the girl, and buried her face in a
“No, that's not it,” he answered, under his breath. He shook his
shoulders and walked away to the fire, stood staring down into it for a
minute with sober eyes, then drew a long breath and came back to his
“It's a relief that there's something we can do to help her get
well,” he said, slowly. “And she will get well, Celia—she will—she
* * * * *
“Where's the shawl-strap?”
“Charlotte, wait just a moment; are you perfectly sure that mother's
dressing sack and knit slippers are in the case? Nobody saw them put
in, and I don't—”
“Justin, run down-stairs, please, and get that unopened package of
water-biscuit. You'll find it on the pantry shelf, I think.”
“Lanse, if the furnace runs all night with the draught on, your fire
will be burned out in the morning, and it will take an extra amount of
coal to get it started again.”
“Where's Jeff? He must be told about—”
“Put mother's overshoes to warm.”
“I have left two hundred dollars to your credit at the bank,
Lansing, and I—”
“Lanse, did you telephone for—”
“Where did Celia put the—”
“Listen, all of you. I—”
“What did Jeff do with that small white—”
“Silence!” shouted Lansing, above the din. “Can't you people
get these traps together without all yelling at once? You will have
mother so used up she can't start.”
Mrs. Birch smiled at her tall son from the easy chair where she had
been placed ten minutes before, her family protesting that they could
finish the numberless small tasks yet to be done. It was nine o'clock
in the evening, and it lacked but an hour of train-time.
They all looked at the slender figure in the easy chair. They had
learned in these last two weeks to take note of their mother's
appearance as, with easy confidence in her exhaustless strength, they
had never done before. Since the night when they had learned that she
was not quite well, they had discovered for themselves the delicacy of
the smiling face, the thinness of the graceful body, the many small
signs by which those who run may read the evidences of lessened
vitality, if their eyes are once opened. They wondered that they had
not seen it all before, and found the only explanation in the cheery,
undaunted spirit which had covered up every sign of fatigue.
“She is too tired already,” declared Celia. “Run away, and let
father and me finish.”
But they would not go. How could they, with only an hour left? They
subdued their voices, and ran whispering about. Jeff held a long
conference in an undertone with his mother. Justin perched on the arm
of her chair, with his head on her shoulder, and she would not have him
taken away, her own heart sick within her at thought of the long
absence from them all. Altogether, when one took into account the
preceding fortnight of making ready for the trip, it was not strange
that in this last hour of preparation she gave out entirely.
The first they knew of it was when Mr. Birch, with a low
exclamation, sprang across the room, and catching up his wife in his
arms, carried her to a couch.
“Water!” he said. “And open the window!”
Startled, they obeyed him. It was only a brief unconsciousness, and
the lovely brown eyes when they unclosed were as full of bravery as
ever, but Mr. Birch spoke anxiously to Lansing in the hall outside.
“I don't like to start with her, as worn-out as this,” he said. “Yet
everything is engaged—the state-room and all—and I don't want to
delay without reason. There's not time to send to the city for Doctor
Forester. Suppose you telephone Doctor Ridgway to come around and tell
us what to do about starting. If he is out, try Sears or Barton. Have
him hurry. We've barely forty-five minutes now.”
In three minutes Lansing came back and beckoned his father out of
“They're all out,” he said, “I tried old Doctor Hitchcock, too, but
he's sick in bed. How about that new doctor that's just moved in next
door? I like his looks. He certainly will know enough to advise about
Mr. Birch hesitated a moment. “Well, call him,” he decided.
Lansing was already down the stairs. Three minutes later he returned
with the young doctor. Mr. Birch met them in the hall.
“Doctor Churchill, father.” Mr. Birch looked keenly into a pair of
eyes whose steady glance gave him instantly the feeling that here was a
man to trust.
The young people waited impatiently outside while Doctor Churchill
spent fifteen quiet minutes with their father and mother. When Mr.
Birch came to the door again with the physician, he was looking
Doctor Churchill paused before the little group, his eyes glancing
kindly at each in turn, as he spoke to Lansing. He certainly was young
but there was about him an air of quiet confidence and decision which
one felt instinctively would be justified by further acquaintance.
“Don't be anxious,” he said. “All this hurry of preparation has been
a severe test on her, taken with her reluctance to leave her home. She
is feeling stronger now, and it will be better for her to get the
leave-taking over than to postpone and dread it longer. You will all
make it easy for her—No breakdowns,” he cautioned, with a smile. “New
Mexico is a great place, and you are doing the best thing in the world
in getting her off before cold weather.”
He was gone, but they felt as if a reviving breeze had passed over
them, and when they went back to their mother's room it was with serene
faces. If Charlotte swallowed hard at a lump in her throat, and Celia
lingered an instant behind the rest to pinch the colour back into her
cheeks, nobody observed it. Perhaps each was too occupied with acting
his own light-hearted part. Somehow the minutes slipped away, and soon
the travellers were at the door.
Into Mrs. Birch's face, also, the colour had returned, summoned
there, it may be, not only by the doctor's stimulating draught, but by
the insistence of her own will.
“Good-by! good-by! God be with you all!” murmured Mr. Birch,
breaking with difficulty away from Justin's frantic hug.
Mrs. Birch, on Lansing's arm, had gone down the steps to the
carriage. The father followed, surrounded by an eager group. Only
Lansing was to go to the train. The others, as they crowded round the
carriage door, were incoherently mingling parting messages. Then
presently they were left behind, a suddenly quiet, sober group.
Inside the carriage Mrs. Birch, with her hand in her eldest son's,
was saying to him things he never forgot, while his father looked
steadily out of the window.
“I leave them in your care, dear,” she told Lansing, in the quiet,
confident tones to which he was used from her. “I could never go, I
think, if I hadn't such a strong, brave, trustworthy son to leave in
care of the younger ones. Celia will do her part, and do it
beautifully, I know, but it's on you I rely.”
“I'll do my best,” he answered, cheerfully, although he felt, even
more than before, the heavy responsibility upon him.
“I know you will. Don't let Celia overdo. She will be so ambitious
to run the household economically that she will set herself tasks she's
not fit for. See that Jeff keeps steadily at his studies, and be
lenient with Justin. He adores you—you can make the year do much for
him if you take thought. And with my little Charlotte—be very patient,
Lanse. She will miss us most—and show it least.”
“I doubt that,” thought Lanse, but aloud he said, “We'll all hang
together, mother, you may count on that. We have our differences and
our, eccentricities, but we've a lot of family spirit, and no one of us
is going to sacrifice alone while the rest fail to take notice. And
you're going to know all that goes on. We've planned to take turns
writing so that at least every other day a letter will start for New
“And if anything should go wrong?”
“Nothing will,” asserted Lansing.
“That you don't know, dear,” said the gentle voice, not quite so
steadily as before. “If anything should come we must know.”
“I'll remember,” he promised, reluctantly, his hand under pressure
from hers. But inwardly he vowed, “Anything short of real trouble
you'll not know, little mother. Your children are stronger than you
now, and they can bear some things for you.”
At the train it took all Lansing's determination, sturdy fellow
though he was, to keep up his cheerful front. The colour had ebbed away
from Mrs. Birch's face once more, and as she put up her arms to her
tall son, in the little state-room, she seemed to him all at once so
small and frail that he could not endure to see her go away from them
all, facing even the remote possibility that in the new land she might
fail to find again her old vigour.
It had to be done, however. Lansing received her clinging good-by,
whispered in her ear something which would have been unintelligible to
any but a mother's intuition, so choky was his voice, gripped his
father's hand with both his own, turned and smiled back at the two as
he pulled open the door, and swung off the train just as it began to
He raced away over the streets to take a trolley-car for home,
having dismissed the carriage, and craving nothing so much as a long
walk in the cool September night.
At home he found everybody gone to bed except Celia, who met him at
the door. She smiled at him, but he could see that she had been crying.
Although he had carried home a heavy heart, he braced himself to begin
his task of keeping the family cheered up.
“Off all right!” he announced, in a casual tone, as if he had just
sent away the guests of a week. “Splendid train, jolly state-room,
porter one of the 'Yassir, yassir' kind. Judge and Mrs. Van Camp
were taking the same train as far as Chicago. That will do a lot toward
making things pleasant to start with.”
“I'm so glad!” Celia agreed. “How did mother get off? Did her
strength keep up?”
“Pretty well—better than I'd have thought possible after all the
fuss of that last hour. The new doctor braced her up in good shape. He
seems all right. Didn't you like the way he acted? Neither like an old
family physician nor a new johnny-jump-up; just quiet and cool and
pleasant. Glad he lives next door. I mean to know him.”
Lansing was turning out lights as he talked, looking after window
fastenings, and examining things generally. Celia watched him from her
place on the bottom stair. He was approaching her with the intention of
putting out the hall light and joining her to proceed up-stairs, when
he stopped still, wheeled, and made for the back of the hall, where the
cellar stairs began.
“I'm forgetting the furnace!” he cried.
“It's all right,” Celia assured him. “Jeff took care of it. He says
that's his work, since you're to be away all day.”
“Think he can manage it?”
“Of course he can. The way to please Jeff is to give him
responsibility. He's old enough, and even having to look after such
small matters regularly will help to develop him.”
Lansing laughed; then, extinguishing the light, he came up to her on
the stair, and putting his arm about her shoulders, began to ascend
slowly with her.
“Shouldering your cares already, aren't you? Got to keep us all
straight, and develop all our characters. Poor girl, you'll have a hard
“I'm afraid I shall. Do you go to work at the shops in the morning?”
“Yes. Breakfast at six. Did you tell Delia?”
“Yes, but I'm going to let her go afterward. I arranged with her,
when father first told us, to stay just till they had gone, and then
leave things to me. I can't be too busy from now on, and I don't want
to wait a day to begin.”
“Wise girl. Sorry, though, that I have to get you up every morning
so early. Couldn't you leave things ready so I could manage for myself
about breakfast, somehow?”
“No, indeed! If I'm to have a day-labourer for a brother, I shall
see that he has a good hot breakfast and the heartiest kind of a lunch
in his pail every-day.”
“You're the right sort!” murmured Lansing, patting his sister's
shoulder as he paused with her in front of her door. “I must admit I
shall prefer the hot breakfast. Better sleep late to-morrow morning,
“I shall be up when you are,” Celia declared.
“Look here, little girl,” said Lansing, speaking soberly in the
darkness. “You know you haven't got this household on your shoulders
all alone. It's a partnership affair, and don't you forget it. Now,
good night, and take care you sleep like a top.”
Celia held him tight for a minute, and answered bravely:
“You're a dear boy, and a great comfort.”
Lansing tiptoed away to his own room, farther down the hall, feeling
a strong sense of relief that the determination of the young substitute
heads of the house to begin the new regime without a preliminary hour
of wailing had been successfully carried through.
“We've got the worst over,” he thought, as he fell asleep. “Once
fairly started, it won't be so bad. Celia's clear grit, that's sure.”
Alone in her room, Celia had it out with herself, and spent a
wakeful night. But she brought a cheerful face to Lansing's early
breakfast, and when the younger members of the family came down later
she was ready for them with the sunshine they had dreaded not to find.
Everybody spent a busy day. Jeff and Justin went off to school.
Charlotte announced with meekness that she was ready for whatever work
Celia might find for her, and was given various rooms up-stairs to
sweep and dust, her sister being confident that vigorous manual labour
would be the best tonic for a mind dispirited.
As for Celia herself, she dismissed Delia, the maid of all work,
with a kindly farewell and the letters of recommendation her mother had
prepared, and plunged eagerly into business. She was a born manager,
and loved many of the details of housework, particularly the baking and
brewing, and she was soon enthusiastically employed in putting the
small kitchen to rights.
At noon Charlotte and the boys were served with a light luncheon,
with the promise of greater joys to come, and by five in the afternoon
the house was filled with the delightful odours of successful cookery.
At that hour Charlotte, whose labours had been enlarged by herself
to cover a thorough overhauling of the entire house—such tasks being
her special aversion, and therefore to be discharged without mitigation
on this first day of self-sacrifice—wandered disconsolately into the
kitchen with broom and dust-pan, looking sadly weary. She gazed with
envious eyes at her sister, flying about in a big apron, with sleeves
rolled up, her cheeks like carnations, her eyes bright with triumph.
“Well, you do start in with vim,” the younger sister observed,
dropping into a chair with a long sigh.
“Yes; and the work has gone better than I had hoped,” declared
Celia, whisking a tinful of plump rolls into the oven. “It's really
“I'm glad you like it.”
“Poor child,” said Celia, pausing to glance at the dejected figure
in the chair, its dark curls a riot of disorder, a smudge of black upon
its forehead, and its pinafore disreputable with frequent use as a
duster, “I gave you too much to do! Didn't I hear you in Delia's room?
You needn't have touched that to-day.”
“Wanted to get through with it. Delia may be a good cook, but she
left a mess of a closet up-stairs. Please give me one of those warm
cookies. I'm so used up and hungry I can't wait for supper.”
“Justin came in half an hour ago so famished there wouldn't have
been a cookie left if I hadn't filled him up with a banana. By the way,
I sent him down cellar after some peach pickles, and I haven't seen him
since. I'll run down and get some. I've hot rolls and honey for supper,
and Lanse always wants peach pickles with that combination.”
Celia took a bowl from the cupboard, opened the cellar door and
started down, turning on the second step to say:
“Go and take a bath and put on a fresh frock; you won't feel half so
tired. Wear the scarlet waist, will you? I want things particularly
bright and cheery to-night, for I know Lanse will come home fagged with
the new work. Mrs. Laurier sent over some red carnations. I've put them
in the middle of the table; they look ever so pretty. I'm going to——”
What she intended to do Celia never told, if she ever afterward
remembered. What she did do was to slip upon the third step of the
steep stairway, and, with no outcry whatever, go plunging heavily to
* * * * *
“Celia—Celia—are you hurt?” cried Charlotte, and dashed down the
There was no answer. With trembling hands she felt for her sister's
head. It lay close against the cellar wall, and she instantly
understood that Celia must be unconscious. But whether there might be
more to be feared than unconsciousness she could not tell in the dark.
Her first thought was to get a light, the next that she must have help
She rushed up the stairs, calling Jeff and Justin, but neither boy
was to be found. Then she ran to the telephone, with the idea of
summoning one of the suburban physicians, but turned aside from this
purpose with the further realisation that first of all Celia must be
brought up from the cold, dark place in which she lay, and restored to
She ran to the front door to summon the nearest neighbour, and she
remembered then, with relief, that the nearest neighbour was Doctor
Churchill, the young physician who had been called in to see her mother
the evening before.
She flew across the narrow lawn between her own house and that where
the new doctor had set up his office, and rang imperatively. The door
opened, and Doctor Churchill, hat and case in hand, evidently on his
way to a patient, stood before her.
What he thought of the figure before him, with its riotous curly
black hair, brilliant eyes, pale dark cheeks, dusty pinafore, a
singular smudge upon the forehead, and sleeves rolled up to the elbows,
nobody would have known from his manner, which instantly expressed a
Charlotte could only gasp, “Oh, come—quick!”
He followed her, stopping to ask no questions. At the open cellar
door Charlotte stood aside to let him pass.
“Down there—my sister!” she breathed.
“Bring a light, please,” said the doctor, and he disappeared down
the stairs. Charlotte lighted a little kitchen lamp and came after him.
He bade her stand by while he made his first brief examination.
“I think the blow on her head isn't serious,” he said, presently,
“but I can't tell where else she may be hurt till I get her up-stairs.”
He was strong, and he lifted Celia as if she had been a child, and
carried her easily up the steep stairs.
Charlotte led the way to a wide couch in the living-room. As Celia
was laid gently upon it she opened her eyes.
Half an hour later, John Lansing Birch, in his oldest clothes and
wearing a rather disreputable soft hat pulled down over his forehead,
with his hands and face excessively dirty and a lunch-pail on his arm,
pushed open the kitchen door. “Phew-w! Something's burning!” he
shouted. “Celia—Charlotte—where are you all? Great Scott, what a
He strode across the room and lifted from the stove a kettle of
potatoes, from which the water had boiled away some minutes before.
“First returns from the amateur cooking district!” he muttered,
glancing critically about the kitchen.
Something else in the way of overcooked viands seemed to assail his
nostrils, and he jerked open the oven door. A tin of blackened rolls
puffed out at him their pungent smoke.
“Well, what—” he was beginning with the natural irritation of the
hungry man, who has been anticipating his supper all the way home, and
sees it in ruin before his eyes, when Charlotte appeared in the
“O Lanse!” she cried, and ran to him.
“Well, what is it? Celia got a headache and left you in charge?
Everything's burnt up—I can tell you that——”
“Celia is—she's broken her knee!”
“She fell down the cellar stairs and——”
“Where is she?” Lunch-pail and hat went down on the floor as Lanse
got rid of them and seized Charlotte's arm.
“Up in her room. Doctor Churchill's there. He's sent for Doctor
“Churchill—Forester,” repeated Lanse, as if dazed. “Poor old
girl—is she much hurt?”
“She's broken her knee, I tell you,” Charlotte repeated. “Of course
she's much hurt. She's suffering dreadfully. She hit her head, too. She
was unconscious at first. I was all alone with her.”
Lanse started for the door, then hesitated. “Shall I go up?”
“The doctor wants to see you as soon as you are home. He's waiting
for Doctor Forester. He's made Celia as comfortable as he can, but
wants our regular doctor here, he says, before he does up her knee. I
don't see why. I wanted him to fix it himself.”
“That's all right,” said Lanse. “Doctors always do that kind of
thing—the honourable ones do. It's better to have Doctor Forester see
it, too. Did you get him? Will he be here right off?”
“The doctor got him. He'll be here soon.”
“Go tell Doctor Churchill I'm here, will you? Maybe I'd better not
see Celia till I'm cleaned up a bit. She's not used to me like this.
Poor little girl! poor little girl!” he groaned, as he made his rapid
way to the bath-room. “The cellar stairs—they're dark and steep
enough, but how could a light-footed girl like Celia get a fall like
that? And father and mother—how are we going to fix it with them?”
In the midst of his splashing and scrubbing he heard Jeff and Justin
come shouting in for supper and Charlotte hushing them and telling them
the news. The next instant Jeff was upon him.
“Say, but this is awful, Lanse! She was getting up a rattling good
dinner, too—been at it all day. Her one idea was to please you, your
first day at the shops. Been up to see her? Charlotte says I'd better
not go yet—nor Just. Just's all broken up, poor youngster! Says Celia
told him to go after the pickles, and he forgot it. If he'd gone she
wouldn't have got her tumble. What'll father and mother say? What are
we going to do, anyhow? Second Fiddle's no good on earth in the
kitchen; she couldn't boil an egg. Say, breaking your knee-pan's no
joke. Price Williston did it a year ago August, and he hasn't got good
use of it yet,—'fraid he never will——”
“Oh, let up on that,”—Lanse cut him short,—“and don't mention it
again to anybody. Doctor Forester and Churchill will fix her up all
right, only it's an awful shame it should have happened. I'm going up
to see Doctor Churchill.”
At the foot of the stairs he met that person coming down, shook
hands with him eagerly, and listened to a brief and concise account of
his sister's injury. As it ended, Doctor Forester's automobile rolled
up to the door.
“Did the five and a half miles in precisely twenty minutes,” said
Doctor Forester, as he came up the steps, watch in hand; “slow speed
within limits and all. Lanse, my boy, this is too bad. Doctor
Churchill—very glad to see you again. Decided to settle out here, eh?
Well, on some accounts I think you're wise. Charlotte, little girl,
cheer up! There are worse things than a fractured patella—I believe
that's what you called the injury, Doctor Churchill.”
In such genial fashion the surgeon and old friend of the family made
his entry, bringing with him that atmosphere which men of his
profession carry about with them, making the people who have been
anxiously awaiting them feel that here is somebody who knows how to
take things coolly, and is not upset at the notion of a broken bone.
He moved deliberately up-stairs toward Celia's room, listening to
the younger physician's statement of the conditions under which he had
been called, turning at the door to smile and nod back at Charlotte,
who watched him from the top of the staircase with serious eyes.
At the end of what seemed like a long period of time the two
physicians came down-stairs together, meeting Lanse at the foot.
“Well, sir,” said Doctor Forester, “so far, so good. Celia is as
comfortable as such cases usually are an hour or two afterward, which
is not saying much from her point of view, though a good deal from
ours. She has a long siege of inactivity before her to put that knee
into a strong condition, but it will not be a great while before she
can be about on crutches, I hope. Doctor Churchill, at my insistence,
has put up the knee in the best possible shape, and I am going to leave
it in his care. I'll drop in now and then, but the doctor is right
beside you, and I've full confidence in him. I knew his father, and I
know enough about him to be sure that you're all right in his hands.”
Lanse drew a long breath of relief. “I'm very thankful it's no
worse,” he said. “But, Doctor Forester, what are we to do about father
and mother? We can't tell them——”
“Tell them! No!” said Doctor Forester, with decision. “I wouldn't
have your mother told under any consideration, so long as the girl does
well. She would be back here on the next train and then we'd have
something worse than a broken patella on our hands. If there is any way
by which you can let your father know I should do that.”
“I can, I think,” said Lanse, thoughtfully. “We're to send them
general-delivery letters until they're settled, and father will get
those at the post-office and read them first.”
“As to your other problems—housekeeping and all that, over which
Celia is several times more worried than over her own condition—can
you figure those out?”
“Good! Go up and tell her so. She thinks the house is going to
destruction without her. Good chance for the second violin. Too bad
that clever little orchestra will have to drop its practice for a few
weeks. I meant to run in some evening soon and hear you play. Well, I'm
overdue at the hospital. Good-by, Lanse—Doctor Churchill. Keep me
posted concerning the knee.”
Then the busy surgeon, who had put off several engagements to come
out to the suburban town and look after the family of his old friend,
whom he had known and loved since their college days, was off in his
runabout, his chauffeur getting promptly under as much headway as the
law allows, and rushing him out of sight in a hurry.
Lanse turned to Doctor Churchill, who stood upon the porch beside
him, hat and case in hand.
“I'm mighty thankful you were so near,” he said.
“Doctor Forester hasn't given you much choice,” said the other man,
smiling. “I did my best to give you the chance of having some one of
the physicians you know here in town take charge of the case, but he
insisted on my keeping it. I should like, however, to be sure that you
are satisfied. You don't know me at all, you know.”
The steady eyes were looking keenly at Lanse, and he felt the
sincerity in the words. He returned the scrutiny without speaking for
an instant; then he put out his hand.
“Somehow I feel as if I do,” he said, slowly. “Anyhow, I'm going to
know you, and I'm glad of the chance.”
“Thank you.” Doctor Churchill shook hands warmly and went down the
steps. “I will come over for a minute about ten o'clock,” he added, “to
make sure that Miss Birch is resting as quietly as we can hope for
Lanse watched the broad-shouldered, erect figure cross the lawn and
disappear in the office door of the old house near by; then he turned.
“Well, we're in a sweet scrape now, that's certain,” he said
gloomily to himself, as he marched up-stairs.
At the top he encountered his young brother Justin. That
twelve-year-old stood awaiting him, his face so disconsolate that in
spite of himself Lanse smiled.
“Cheer up, youngster,” he said. “It's pretty tough, but as Doctor
Forester says, it might be worse. Want to go in with me and see sister
But Justin got hold of his arm and held him back. “Lanse, I've got
to tell you something,” he begged. “Please come here, in your room a
Lanse followed, wondering. Justin, although a healthy and happy boy
enough, was apt to take things seriously, and sometimes needed to be
joked out of singular notions. In Lanse's room Justin carefully locked
“It's all my fault, Celia's knee,” he said, going straight to the
point, as was his way. His voice shook a little, but he went steadily
on. “She sent me down cellar after pickles, and I sat on the top of the
stairs finishing up a banana before I went. I've been down there to
look, and—and the banana skin was there—all mashed. It was what did
He choked, and turned away to the window.
“You left a banana skin on those stairs?” Lanse half-shouted.
“Right there, at the top—when Delia almost broke her neck more than
once going down those stairs only last winter, just because they're so
steep and narrow?”
“And you fell on a banana skin once yourself, and wanted to thrash
the fellow who left it!”
Just's chin sank lower and lower.
Lanse eyed him a moment, struggling with a desire to seize the boy
and punish him tremendously. But as his quick wrath cooled a trifle in
his effort to control himself and act wisely, something about Just's
brave acknowledgment, where silence would have covered the whole thing,
appealed to him. The thought of the way the absent father and mother
had met every confession of his own that he could remember in a life of
prank-playing softened the words which came next to his lips.
“Well, it's pretty bad,” he said, in a deep voice of regret. “I
don't wonder it breaks you up. Such a little thing to do so much
mischief—and so easy to have avoided it all. I reckon you'll take care
of your banana skins after this. But I like the way you own up, Just,
and so will Celia. That's something. You haven't been a sneak in
addition to being thoughtless. It would have been hard to forgive you
if I had found it out while you kept still. It's pretty hard as it is,”
he could not help adding, as his imagination pictured Celia spending
her winter as a cripple.
Just said not a word, but the outline of his profile against the
fading light at the window was so suggestive of boyish despair that the
elder brother walked over to him and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“It gives you a chance to make it up to her in every way you can,”
he said. “There are a lot of things you can do for her, and I shall
expect you to try to square the account a little.”
“I will! Oh, I will!” cried poor Just, who had longed for his mother
in this crisis, and had found facing the elder brother, whom he both
admired and feared, harder than anything he had ever had to do. “I'll
do anything in the world for her, if she'll only forgive me.”
“She'll forgive you, for she's made that way. It's forgiving
yourself that can't be done.”
“I never shall.”
“Don't. If I thought you would, I'd thrash you on the spot,” said
Lanse, grimly, sure that a wholesome remorse was to be encouraged. Then
he relented sufficiently to say in a tone considerably less severe:
“Go and wash up, and begin your good resolutions by getting down and
seeing to the kitchen fire. It's undoubtedly burnt itself out by this
time. There's probably no dinner for anybody, but we can't mind little
things like that to-night.”
He went to Celia's room at last, feeling many cares upon him, a
sensation which an empty, stomach did not tend to relieve. He found his
sister able to give him a very pale-faced but courageous smile, and to
receive his earnest sympathy with a faint:
“Never mind, dear. Don't worry. It might have been worse.”
“That seems to be everybody's motto, so I'll accept it. We'll take
courage, and you shall have us all on our knees, since yours are laid
up for repairs.”
“You haven't had your dinner, Lanse,” murmured Celia. She was
suffering severely, but she could not relax anything of her anxiety for
the family welfare.
“Oh, I forgot there was such a thing as dinner in the world!” cried
Charlotte, and was hurrying to the door when Celia called her back. “
Please wash that smudge off your face,” she whispered, and covered
* * * * *
Coming down-stairs from Celia's room, Dr. Andrew Churchill made his
way through what had now become somewhat familiar ground to the little
kitchen. As he looked in at the door he beheld a slim figure in a big
Turkey-red apron, bending over a chicken which lay, in a state of
semi-dissection, upon the table. As he watched for a moment without
speaking, Charlotte herself spoke, without turning round.
“You horrid thing!” she said, tragically, to the chicken. “I hate
you—all slippery and bloody. Ugh! Why won't your old windpipe come
out? How anybody can eat you who has got you ready I don't know!”
“May I bother you for a pitcher of hot water?” asked an even voice
from the doorway.
Charlotte turned with a start. Her cheeks, already flushed, took on
a still ruddier hue.
“Yes, if you'll please help yourself,” she answered, curtly, turning
back to her work. “I am—engaged.”
“I see. A congenial task?”
“Very!” Charlotte's tone was expressive.
“Did I gather that the fowl's windpipe was the special cause of your
distress?” asked the even voice again.
Charlotte faced round once more.
“Doctor Churchill,” she said, “I never cleaned a chicken in my life.
I don't know what I'm doing at all, only that I've been doing it for
almost an hour, and it isn't done. I presume it's because I take so
much time washing my hands.”
She smiled in spite of herself as the doctor's hearty laugh filled
the little kitchen.
“I think I can appreciate your feelings,” he remarked.
He walked over to the table. “Get a good hold on the offending
windpipe, shut your eyes and pull.”
“I'm afraid of doing something wrong.”
“You won't. The trachea of the domestic fowl was especially designed
for the purpose, only the necessary attachment for getting a firm grip
on it was accidentally omitted.”
“It certainly was.” Charlotte tugged away energetically for a
moment, and drew out the windpipe successfully. The doctor regarded the
bird with a quizzical expression.
“I should advise you to cut up the chicken and make a fricassee of
it,” he observed.
“I want to roast it. I've got the stuffing all ready.” She indicated
a bowlful of macerated bread-crumbs mixed with milk and butter, and
liberally seasoned with pepper.
“I see. But I'm a little, just a little, afraid you may have trouble
in getting the stuffing to stay in while the chicken is roasting. You
see—” He paused.
“I suppose I've cut it open too much.”
“Rather—unless you're a very good amateur surgeon. And even then—”
“I'm no surgeon—I'm no cook—I never shall be! I—don't want to
be!” Charlotte burst out, suddenly, beginning to cut up the chicken
with vigorous slashes, mostly in the wrong places.
“Yes, you do. Hold on a minute! That joint isn't there: it's farther
down. There. See? Once get the anatomy of this bird in your mind, and
it won't bother you a bit to cut it up. Pardon me, Miss Charlotte, but
I know you do want to be a good cook—because you want to be an
Charlotte put down her knife, washed her hands with furious haste,
got out a pitcher, poured it full of hot water, and handed it silently
to Doctor Churchill without looking at him. He glanced from it to her
with amusement as he received it “Thank you,” he said, politely, and
When he came down-stairs fifteen minutes later, he found the slim
figure in the Turkey-red apron waiting for him at the bottom. As the
girl looked up at him he noted, as he had done many times already in
the short two weeks he had known her, the peculiar, gipsy-like beauty
of her face. It was a beauty of which she herself, he had occasion to
believe, was absolutely unconscious, and in this he was right.
Charlotte disliked her dark skin, despised her black curls, and
considered her vivid colouring a most undesirable inheritance. She
admired intensely Celia's blonde loveliness, and lost no chance of
privately comparing herself with her sister, to Celia's infinite
“Doctor Churchill,” she said, as he approached her, hat in hand, “I
was very rude to you just now. I am—sorry.”
She held out her hand. Doctor Churchill took it. Charlotte's thick
black lashes swept her cheek, and she did not see the look,
half-laughing, half-sympathetic, which rested on her downcast face.
“It's all right,” said Doctor Churchill's low, clear voice. “Don't
think I fail to understand what it means for the cares of a household
like this to descend upon a girl's shoulders. But I want you to know
that I—that they are all immensely pleased with the pluck you are
showing. I have seen your sister's lunch tray several times since I
have been coming here; it was perfect.”
“I burned her toast just this morning,” said Charlotte, quickly.
“And poached the egg too hard. Lanse says the coffee is better,
but—oh, no matter—I'm just discouraged this morning, I—shall learn
something some time, perhaps, but——” She turned away impulsively.
Doctor Churchill followed her a step or two.
“See here, Miss Charlotte,” he said, “how many times have you been
out of the house since your sister was hurt?”
“Not at all,” owned Charlotte, “except evenings, after everything is
done. Then I steal out and run round and round the house in the
moonlight, just running it off, you know—or maybe you don't know.”
“Yes, I do. Will you do something now if I ask you to very humbly?”
Charlotte looked at him doubtfully. “If you mean go for a
walk—which is what doctors always mean, I believe—I haven't time.”
Doctor Churchill looked at his watch. “It is half past ten. Is that
chicken for luncheon?”
“No, for supper—or dinner—I don't know just what it is we have at
night now. I simply began to get it ready this morning because I hadn't
the least idea in the world how long it takes to cook a chicken.” She
was smiling a little at the absurdity of her own words.
“And you didn't want to ask your sister?”
“I meant to surprise her.”
“Well, of one thing I am fairly confident,” said Doctor Churchill,
with gravity. “If you take a run down as far as the old bridge and
back, there will still be time to see to the chicken. What is more, by
the time you get back, all big obstacles will look like little ones to
you. Go, please. I am to be in the office for the next hour, and if the
house catches fire I will run over and put it out. I could even
undertake to steal in the back door and put coal on the kitchen fire,
if it is necessary.”
“It won't be.”
“Then will you go?”
“Perhaps—to humour you,” promised Charlotte.
“Thank you! And remember, please, Miss Charlotte, if you are to do
justice to yourself and to your family, you must not plod all the time.
Plan to get away every day for an hour or two. Go to see your
friends—anything—but don't cultivate 'house nerves' at eighteen.”
“I'm older than that,” said Charlotte, as she watched him go down
the steps. He turned, surprised. “But I shall not tell you how much,”
said she, and closed the door.
Doctor Churchill went straight through his small bachelor house to
the kitchen. Here a tall, thin woman, with sharp eyes and kindly mouth,
was energetically kneading bread.
“Mrs. Fields,” said he, “I wish you would find it necessary
to-morrow morning to run in at that door over there”—he indicated the
little back porch of the Birch house—“and borrow something.”
Mrs. Fields eyed him as if she thought he had taken leave of his
senses. “Me—borrow?” she said. “Doctor Andrew—are you——”
“No, I'm not crazy,” the doctor assured her, smiling. “I know it's
tremendously against your principles, but never mind the principles,
for once—since by ignoring them you can do a kindness. Run in and
borrow a cup of sugar or something, and get acquainted.”
“Who with? That curly-haired girl with the red cheeks? She don't
want my acquaintance.”
“She would be immensely grateful for it if it came about naturally.
Take over some of your jelly for Miss Birch, if that way suits you
better, but get to know Miss Charlotte, and show her a few things about
cookery. She's trying to do all the work for the whole family, and she
knows very little about it.”
“I suspected as much. You haven't told me about 'em, and of course,
being a doctor's housekeeper, I'm too well trained to ask.”
The doctor smiled, for Mrs. Fields had been housekeeper in his
mother's family in the days of his boyhood, and she felt it her right
to tell him, now and then, what she thought. She was immensely proud of
her own ability to hold her tongue and her curiosity in check.
“So I know only what I've seen. You told me the oldest girl had
broke her knee, and that's all you've said. But I see this girl
a-hanging dish-towels, and opening the kitchen door to let out the
smoke each time she's burned up a batch of something, and I guessed she
wasn't what you might call a graduate of one of those cooking-schools.”
“You must be a bit tactful,” warned the doctor. “The young lady is a
trifle sensitive, as is natural, over her inefficiency, but she's very
anxious to learn, and there's nobody to teach her. She is too
independent to go to the other neighbours, but I've an idea you could
be a friend to her.”
“She looks pretty notional,” Mrs. Fields said, doubtfully. “Shakes
out her dust-cloth with her chin in the air——”
“To avoid the dust.”
“And pulls down the shades the minute the lamp is lighted——”
“So do you.”
“I saw her lock the kitchen door in the face of that Mis' Carter the
other day, when she caught sight of her coming up the walk.”
“See here, Fieldsy, you've been spying on your neighbours,” said
Doctor Churchill severely. “You despise that sort of thing yourself, so
you mustn't yield to it. Go over and be neighbourly, as nobody knows
how better than yourself, but don't judge people by their chins or
He gave her angular shoulder an affectionate pat, looked straight
into her sharp eyes for a moment, until they softened perceptibly,
said, “You're all right, you know,”—and went whistling away.
“That's just like your impudence, Andy Churchill,” said Mrs.
Hepsibah Fields to herself, as she laid her smooth loaves of
bread-dough into their tins and proceeded energetically to scrape the
board. “You always did have a way with you, wheedling folks into doing
what they didn't want to just to please you. Now I've got to go
meddling in other people's business and getting snubbed, most likely,
just because you're trying to combine friendship and doctoring.”
But Mrs. Fields, when her work was done, went to look up her best
jelly, as Doctor Churchill had known she would do. And twenty-four
hours had not gone by before she had made friends with Charlotte Birch.
It was not hard to make friends with the girl if one went at it
aright. Mrs. Fields came in as Charlotte was stirring up gingerbread.
“I don't think much of back-door neighbours,” Mrs. Fields said, “but
I didn't want to come to the front door with my jelly. I thought maybe
your sister would relish my black raspberry.”
“That's very kind of you,” said Charlotte. “You are—I think I've
seen you across the way. Won't you come in?”
“No, thank you. You're busy, and so am I. Yes, I'm Doctor
Churchill's housekeeper, and his mother's before that.”
The sharp eyes noted with approval, in one swift glance as Charlotte
turned away with the jelly, the fact that the little kitchen was in
careful order. To be sure, it was four o'clock in the afternoon, an
hour when kitchens are supposed to be in order, if ever, yet it was a
relief to Mrs. Fields to find this one in that condition. Brass faucets
gleamed in the afternoon sunlight, the teakettle steamed from a shining
spout, the linoleum-covered floor was spotless, and the table at which
Charlotte was stirring her gingerbread had been scrubbed until it was
as nearly white as pine boards can be made.
“Gingerbread?” said the housekeeper, lingering in the doorway. “I
always like to make that. It seems the biggest result for the smallest
labour of anything you can make, and it smells so spicy when it comes
out of the oven.”
“Yes, when it isn't burned,” agreed Charlotte, with a laugh. Things
had gone fairly well with her that day, and her spirits had risen
“Burning's a thing that will happen to the best cooks once in a
while. 'Twas just day before yesterday I blacked a pumpkin pie so the
doctor poked his fun at me all the time he was eating it,” said the
housekeeper, with a tactful disregard for the full truth, which was
that a refractory small patient in the office had driven the doctor to
require her assistance for a longer period than was consistent with
attention to her oven.
“Oh, did you?” asked Charlotte, eagerly. “That encourages me. Doctor
Churchill told me he had the finest cook in the state, and I've been
envying you ever since.”
“Doctor Churchill had better be careful how he brags,” Mrs. Fields
declared, much gratified. “Well, now, I'll tell you what you do. It
ain't but a step across the two back yards. When you get in a quandary
how to cook anything—how long to give it or whether to bake or
boil—you just run across and ask me. I ain't one o' the prying
kind—the doctor'll tell you that—and you needn't be afraid it'll go
any further. I know how hard it must be for a young girl like you to
take the care of a house on yourself, and I'll be pleased to show you
anything I can.”
“That's very good of you,” said Charlotte, gratefully, as Mrs.
Fields went briskly down the steps; and she really felt that it was.
She would have resented the appearance of almost any of her neighbours
at her back door with an offer of help, suspecting that they had come
to use their eyes, and afterward their tongues, in criticism. But
something about Mrs. Hepsibah Fields disarmed her at once. She could
not tell why.
“This gingerbread is perfect,” said Celia, an hour later, when
Charlotte had brought up her supper. “You are improving every day. But
it frets me not to have you come to me for help. I could plan things
for you, and teach you all the little I know. I'm doing so well now,
the doctor says I may get down-stairs on the couch by next week. Then
you certainly must let me do my part.”
But Charlotte shook her head obstinately. “I'm going to fight it
through myself. I'd rather. You've enough to do—writing letters.”
When Lanse came into Celia's room that evening, his first words were
“What I'm anxious to know,” he said, “is what you did with your rice
pudding. Charlotte says you ate it—and the inference was that it was
good to eat. So I ate mine—manfully, I assure you. But it was a bitter
“Poor little girl! She tries so hard, Lanse. And the gingerbread was
“So it was. It helped take out the taste of the pudding. Did you
honestly eat that pudding?”
“See here.” Celia beckoned him close. She reached a cautious hand
under her pillow and drew out her soap-dish. “Please get rid of it for
me,” she whispered, “and wash the dish. I couldn't bear not to seem to
eat it, so I slipped it in there.”
Striving to smother his mirth, Lanse bore the soap-dish away.
Returning with it, he carefully replaced the soap and set the dish on
the stand, where it had been within Celia's reach. “I wish I had had a
soap-dish at the table,” he remarked, “but the cook's eye was upon me,
and I had to stand up to it. But see here. I've a letter for you—from
Celia stretched an eager hand, for a letter from Uncle John
Rayburn—middle-aged, a bachelor, and an ex-army officer, retired by an
incurable injury which did not make him the less the best uncle in the
world—could not fail to be welcome. But she had not read a page before
she dropped the sheet and stared helplessly and anxiously at Lanse.
“What's up?” he asked.
“Why, Uncle Rayburn writes that he would like to come to spend the
winter with us,” answered Celia.
“Luck—with Charlotte in the kitchen?”
“Uncle Ray is a crack-a-jack of a cook himself. His board bill will
help out like oil on a dry axle, and if we don't have a lot of fun,
then Uncle Ray has changed as—I know he hasn't.”
* * * * *
“Two cripples,” declared Capt. John Rayburn—honourably discharged
from active service in the United States Army on account of permanent
disability from injuries received in the Philippines,—“two cripples
should be able to keep a household properly stirred up. I've been here
five days now, and my soul longs for some frivolity.”
He leaned back in his big wicker armchair and looked quizzically
across at his niece Celia, who lay upon her couch at the other side of
the room. She gave him a somewhat pale-faced smile in return. Four
weeks of enforced quiet were beginning to tell on her.
“Some frivolity,” repeated Captain Rayburn, as Charlotte came to the
door of the room. “What do you say, Charlie girl? Shall we have some
“Dear me, yes, Uncle Ray,” Charlotte responded, promptly, “if you
can think how!”
“I can. Is there a birthday or anything that we may celebrate? I've
no compunction about getting up festivities on any pretext, but if
there happened to be a birthday handy—”
“November—yes. Why, we had forgotten all about it! Lanse's birthday
is the fourth. That's—”
“Day after to-morrow. Good! Can you make him a birthday-cake? If
“Oh, yes, I can!” cried Charlotte, eagerly. “I've just learned an
“All right. Then we'll order a few little things from town, and have
a jollification. Not a very big one, on account of the lady on the
couch there, who reminds me at the moment of a water-lily whom some one
has picked and then left on the stern seat in the sun. She looks very
sweet, but a trifle limp.”
Celia's smile was several degrees brighter than the previous one had
been. Nobody could resist Uncle Ray when he began to exert himself to
cheer people up.
He was a young, or an old, bachelor, according to one's point of
view, being not yet forty, and looking, in spite of the past suffering
which had brought into his chestnut hair two patches of gray at the
temples, very much like a bright-faced boy with an irrepressible spirit
of energy and interest in the life about him. It could hardly be
doubted that Capt. John Rayburn, apparently invalided for life and cut
off from the activity which had been his dearest delight, must have his
hours of depression, but nobody had ever caught him in one of them.
“I should like some music at this festival,” Captain Rayburn went
on. “Is the orchestra out of practice?”
“We haven't played for six weeks,” Charlotte said. “And Celia's
“You couldn't play, bolstered up?”
Celia shook her head. “I should be tired in ten minutes.”
“I'm not so sure of that, but we'll see. Anyhow, I've the old flute
“Oh, fine!” cried Charlotte.
“Suppose we ask Doctor Forester out, and your young doctor here next
door, and two or three of your girl friends, and a boy and girl or two
for Jeff and Just.”
“What a funny mixture, Uncle Ray! Doctor Forester and Norman Carter,
Just's chum, and Carolyn Houghton?”
“Funny, is it?” inquired Captain Rayburn, undisturbed. “Now do you
know, that's my ideal of a well-planned company, particularly when all
the family are to be here. Invite somebody for each one, mix 'em all
up, play some jolly games, and you'll find Doctor Forester vying with
Norman Carter for the prize, and enjoying it equally well. It sharpens
up the young wits to be pitted against the older ones, and it—well, it
burnishes the elder rapiers and keeps them keen.”
“All right, this is your party,” agreed Charlotte, and she went back
to her duties.
“You're not afraid it will be too much for you, little girl?”
Captain Rayburn asked Celia, whose smile had faded, and who lay with
her head turned away.
“Mercury a little low in the tube this morning?”
“Just a little.”
“Any good reason why?”
“Except the best reason in the world—heavy atmospheric pressure.
Knee a trifle slow to become a solid, capable, energetic knee, such as
its owner demands. Owner a bit restless, physically and mentally. Plans
for the winter upset—second lieutenant winning spurs while the colonel
lies in the hospital tent, fighting imaginary battles and trying to
keep cool under the strain.”
Celia looked round and smiled again, but her head went back to its
old position, and tears forced themselves out from under the eyelids
which she shut tightly together.
“And a little current of anxiety for the inhabitants of New Mexico
keeps flowing under the edge of the tent and makes the colonel fear
it's not pitched in the right place?”
“Well, that's not warranted in the face of the facts. Latest advices
from New Mexico report improvement, even sooner than we could have
expected. Then at home—Lanse is conquering the situation in the
locomotive shops very satisfactorily. Doctor Churchill told me
yesterday that he's won the liking of nearly all the men in his
shop—which means more than a girl like you can guess. Jeff and Just
are prospering in school, according to Charlotte, who is herself
working up in her new profession, and whose last beefsteak was broiled
to a turn, as her critical soldier guest appreciates. As for Celia—”
He got to his feet slowly, grasped his two stout hickory canes and
limped across the room to the couch, showing as he went a pitiful
weakness in the tall figure, whose lines still suggested the martial
bearing which it had not long ago presented, and which it might never
present again. Captain Rayburn sat down close beside Celia and took her
“In one thing I made a misstatement,” he said, softly. “They're not
imaginary battles that the colonel lies fighting in the hospital tent.
They're real enough.”
There was a short silence; then Celia spoke unsteadily from the
depths of her pillow:
“Uncle Ray, were you ever mean enough to be jealous?”
The captain looked quickly at the fair head on the pillow.
“Jealous?” said he, without a hint of surprise in his voice. “Why,
yes—jealous of my colonel, my lieutenants, my orderlies, my privates,
my doctors, my nurses—jealous of the very Filipino prisoners
themselves—because they all had legs and could walk.”
“Oh, I know—I don't mean that!” cried Celia, “Of course you envied
everybody who could walk. Poor Uncle Ray! But you weren't small enough
to mind because the officers under you had got your chance?”
“Wasn't I, though? Well, maybe I wasn't,” said the captain, speaking
low. “Perhaps I didn't lie and grind my teeth when they told me about
the gallant work Lieutenant Garretson had done with my men at
Balangiga. A mere boy, Garretson! The whole world applauded it. If I'd
not been knocked out so soon it would have been my name that would have
gone into history. Yes, I chewed that to shreds many a sleepless night,
and hated the fellow for getting my chance.”
Captain Rayburn drew a long breath, while his fingers relaxed for an
instant; and it was Celia's hand which tightened over his.
“But I got past that,” he said, quietly. “It came to me all at once
that Garretson and the other fellows in active service weren't the only
ones with chances before them. I had mine—a different commission from
the one I had coveted, to be sure, but a broader one, with infinite
possibilities, and no fear of missing further promotion if I earned
There was a little stillness after that. When the captain looked
down at Celia again he found her eyes full of pity, but this time it
was not pity for herself. He comprehended instantly.
“No, I don't need it, dear,” he said, very gently. “I've learned
some things already in the hospital tent I wouldn't have missed for a
year's pay. And you, who are to be only temporarily on the sick-leave
list, you don't need to mind that the little second lieutenant—”
But the second lieutenant was rushing into the room, bearing on a
plate a great puffy, round loaf, brown and spicy.
“Look,” she cried, “at my steamed brown bread! I've tried it four
times and slumped it every time. Now Fieldsy has shown me what was the
matter—I hadn't flour enough. Fieldsy is a dear—and so are you!”
She plunged at Celia, brown bread and all, and kissed the top of her
head, tweaked a lock of Captain Rayburn's thick hair, and was flying
away when Celia spoke. “You're the biggest dear of anybody,” she said,
with a smile.
* * * * *
It was getting up a party in a hurry, but somehow the thing was
accomplished. Whether Lanse remembered his own birthday at all was a
question. When he came home at six o'clock on that day, Charlotte told
him that she had special reasons for seeing him in his best.
“Why, you're all dressed up yourself,” he observed. “What's up?”
“Doctor Forester's coming out to hear us play,” was all she would
tell him, and Lanse groaned over the fact that the little orchestra was
so out of practice.
When the guests arrived, they found the man with the birthday
anxiously looking over scores. He greeted them with enthusiasm.
“Doctor Forester, this is good of you, if we can't play worth a
copper cent. Miss Atkinson! Well this is a surprise—a delightful one!
Miss Carolyn, how goes school? How are you, Norman? You'll find Just in
a minute. Miss Houghton, now you and I can settle that little question
we were discussing. Charlotte, you rogue, you and Uncle Ray are at the
bottom of this! Ah, Doctor Churchill! This wouldn't have been complete
without our neighbour. Miss Atkinson, allow me to present Doctor
Thus John Lansing Birch accepted at once and with his accustomed
ease the role of host, and enjoyed himself immensely. Celia, watching
him from her couch, said suddenly to Captain Rayburn, who sat beside
“This is just what the family needed. If you hadn't come we should
probably have gone drudging on all winter without realising what was
the matter with us. No wonder poor Lanse appreciates it. He's had a
month of hard labour without an enlivening hour. And Charlotte—doesn't
she look like a fresh carnation to-night?”
“Very much,” agreed the captain, with approving eyes on his younger
niece, who wore her best frock of French gray, a tint which set off her
warm colouring to advantage. Celia had thrust several of Captain
Rayburn's scarlet carnations into her sister's belt, with a result
gratifying to more than one pair of eyes.
“Still,” remarked the captain, his glance returning to Celia, “I'm
not sure that I can say whether a fresh carnation is to be preferred to
a newly picked rose. That pale pink gown you are wearing is certainly a
joy to the eye.”
Celia blushed under his admiring glance. There could be no question
that she was very lovely, if a trifle frail in appearance from her
month's quiet, and it was comforting to be assured that she was not
looking like a “limp water-lily” to-night.
“When are we to hear the orchestra?” cried Doctor Forester, after an
hour of lively talk, a game or two, and some remarkable puzzles
contributed by Just. The distinguished gentleman from the city was
enjoying himself immensely, for he was accustomed to social functions
of a far more elaborate and formal sort, and liked nothing better than
to join in a frolic with the younger people when such rare
“Of course we're horribly out of practice and all that,” explained
Lanse, distributing scores, and helping to prop up Celia so that she
might try to play, “but since you insist we'll give you all you'll want
in a very few minutes. Here's your flute, Uncle Ray. If you'll play
along with Celia it will help out.”
It was not so bad, after all. Lanse had chosen the most familiar of
the old music, everybody did his and her best, and Captain Rayburn's
flute, exquisitely played, did indeed “help out.”
Celia, her cheeks very pink, worked away until Doctor Churchill
gently took her violin from her, but after that the music still went
“Good! good!” applauded Doctor Forester. “Churchill, you're in luck
to live next door to this sort of thing.”
“Now that I know what I live next door to,” remarked the younger
physician, “I shall know what to prescribe for the entire family on
There could be no question that Doctor Churchill also was enjoying
the evening. Helping Charlotte and the boys serve the sandwiches and
chocolate, which appeared presently—the chocolate being made by Mrs.
Fields in the kitchen—he said to the girl:
“I haven't had such a good time since I came away from my old home.”
“It was so nice of Fieldsy to make the chocolate,” Charlotte
replied, somewhat irrelevantly. Then as the doctor looked quickly at
her and laughed, she flushed. “Oh, I don't call her that to her face!”
she said, hurriedly.
“I don't think she would mind. That's what Andy Churchill called
her, and calls her yet, when he forgets her newly acquired dignity as a
doctor's housekeeper. I'm mighty glad Fieldsy can be of service to you.
You've won her heart completely and I assure you that's a bigger
triumph than you realise.”
“She's the nicest neighbour we ever had,” said Charlotte, gaily. The
doctor paused, delayed them both a moment while he rearranged a pile of
spoons and forks upon his tray, and said:
“If you talk of neighbours, Miss Charlotte, there's a certain
homesick young doctor who appreciates having neighbours, too.”
Charlotte answered as lightly as he had spoken: “With Mrs. Fields in
the kitchen and you in here with a tray full of hospitality, I'm sure
you seem very much like one of our oldest neighbours.”
“Thank you!” he answered, with such a glad little ring in his voice
that Charlotte could not be sorry for the impulsive speech. But she
found herself wondering more than once during the evening what he had
meant by calling himself “homesick.”
“See here, Mrs. Fields,” called Jeff, hurrying out for fresh
supplies, “this is the best chocolate ever brewed! Doctor Forester
wants another cup, and all the fellows looked sort of wistful when they
heard him ask for it. May everybody have another cup?”
“Well, I must say, Mr. Jefferson!” said Mrs. Fields, in
astonishment. “I thought Miss Charlotte was going clean crazy when she
would have three double-boilers made. But it seems she knew her
friends' appetites. Don't you know it ain't considered proper to pass
more than one cup—light refreshments like these?”
“Oh, this isn't any of your afternoon-tea affairs, I can tell you
that!” declared Jeff, watching with pleasure the filling of the tall
blue-and-white chocolate pot. “People know they are going to get
something good when they come here. I warned the fellows not to eat too
much supper before they came. Any more of those chicken sandwiches?”
“For the land's sake, Mr. Jeff!” cried Mrs. Fields.
“What's the matter, Jeffy?” asked Charlotte, coming out. Doctor
Churchill was behind her, bearing an empty salad bowl.
“I want more sandwiches,” demanded Jeff.
“Everybody fall to quick and make them,” commanded Charlotte.
“Norman Carter and Just have had seven apiece. That makes them go
“Well, I never!” breathed the housekeeper once more. But Charlotte
was slicing the bread with a rapid hand. The doctor, laughing,
undertook to butter the slices, and Jeff would have spread on the
chicken if Mrs. Fields had not taken the knife from his hand.
Ten minutes later Jeff was able to announce that everybody seemed to
“That's a mercy,” said Mrs. Fields, handing him a tray full of pink
and white ices, Captain Rayburn's contribution to the festivities.
“You'd have to give 'em sody-crackers now if they wasn't. Carry that
careful, and tell Miss Charlotte to send out for the cake. I'll light
Doctor Churchill came out alone for the cake. It stood ready upon
the table, Charlotte's greatest success—a big, old-fashioned orange
“layer-cake,” with pale yellow icing, twenty-three pale yellow candles
surrounding it in a flaming circle, and one great yellow Marechal Niel
rose in the centre.
“Whew-w, that's a beauty!” cried Doctor Churchill. “Did you make it,
“Indeed I didn't,” denied Mrs. Fields, with great satisfaction.
“Miss Charlotte made it herself, and I didn't know but she'd go crazy
over it, first for fear it wouldn't turn out right, and then for joy
because it had.”
The doctor handed it about with a face so beaming that Doctor
Forester leaned back in his chair and regarded his young colleague
“You make this cake, Churchill?” he asked.
The doctor laughed. “It was joy enough to bring it in,” he said.
“Who did make it?” demanded Forester. “It was no caterer, I know.”
Charlotte attempted to escape quietly from the room, but Lanse
barred the way. “Here she is,” he said, and turned his sister about and
made her face the company. A friendly round of applause greeted her,
mingled with exclamations of surprise. They all knew Charlotte, or
thought they did. To most of them this was a new and unlooked-for
“It's not half so good as the sort Celia makes,” murmured Charlotte,
and would hear no more of the cake. But Celia, in her corner, said
softly to Doctor Forester:
“It's going to be worth while, my knee, for the training Charlotte
is getting. She'll be a perfect little housekeeper before I'm about
“It's going to be worth while in another way too,” returned her
friend, with an appreciative glance at the face which always reminded
him of her mother's, it was so serenely sweet and full of character.
“It is? How?” she asked, eagerly, for his tone was emphatic.
“I have few patients on my list who learn so soon to bear this sort
of thing as quietly as you are bearing it,” he said. “Don't think that
doesn't count.” Then he rose to go.
Celia hardly heard the leave-takings, her mind was so happily busy
with this bit of rare praise from one whose respect was well worth
earning. And half an hour afterward, as Lanse stooped to gather her up
and carry her up-stairs to bed, she looked back at Captain Rayburn, who
still sat beside her couch, and said, with softly shining eyes:
“The colonel almost wouldn't be the second lieutenant if he
could, Uncle Ray.”
Lanse, lifting his sister in his strong arms, remarked, “I should
say not. Why should he?”
Celia and Captain Rayburn, laughing, exchanged a sympathetic,
* * * * *
Three times Jefferson Birch knocked on his sister Charlotte's door.
Then he turned the knob. The door would not open. “Fiddle!” he called,
softly, but got no reply.
“You're not asleep, I know,” he said, firmly, at the keyhole. “I can
see a light from outside, if you have got it all plugged up here. Let
me in. I've some important news for you.”
Charlotte's lock turned and she threw the door open. “Well, come
in,” she said. “I didn't mean anybody to know, but I'm dying to tell
somebody, and I can trust you.”
“Of course!” affirmed Jeff, entering with an air of curiosity.
“What's doing? Painting?”
The table by the window was strewn with artist's materials,
drawings, sheets of water-colour paper and tumblers of coloured water.
In the midst of this confusion lay one piece of nearly finished
work—the interior of an unfurnished room, showing wall decoration and
nothing more. The colouring caught Jeff's eye.
“That's stunning!” he commented, catching up the board upon which
the colour drawing was stretched. “What's it for? Going to put in some
Charlotte laughed. “No, I'm not going to put in any furniture,” she
said. “This is just to show a scheme for decorating a den—a man's den.
Do you really like it?”
“It's great!” Jeff stood the board up against the wall and backed
away, studying it with interest. “Those dull reds and blues will show
off his guns and pictures and things in fine shape. How did you ever
think it up?”
Charlotte brought out some sheets of wall-paper, as Jeff thought,
but he saw at once that they were hand-work. They represented in
full-size detail the paper used upon the den walls. Jeff studied them
“So this is where you are evenings, after you slip away. You're
sitting up late, too. See here, this won't do!”
“Oh, yes, it will. Don't try to stop me, Jeff. I'm not up late,
really I'm not—only once in awhile.”
“I thought people couldn't paint by artificial light.”
“They can when they get used to the difference it makes. But I do
only the drudgery, evenings—outlines and solid filling in and that
sort of thing.”
“Going to show this to somebody?”
“Oh, don't talk about it!” said Charlotte, breathlessly. “If I can
get my courage up. You know Mr. Murdock, with that decorating house
where the Deckers had their work done? Well, some day I'm going to show
him. But I'm so frightened at my own audacity!”
“If he doesn't like this, he's a fool!” declared Jeff, vigorously,
and although Charlotte laughed she felt the encouragement of his boyish
approval. Putting away her work, she suddenly remembered the excuse her
brother had given for forcing his way into her room.
“You said you had important news for me. Did you mean it, or was
that only to get in?”
“Oh,” said Jeff sitting down suddenly and looking up at her, his
face growing grave. “You put it out of my head when I came in. I met
the doctor just now. He'd been to see Annie Donohue. She's worse.”
Charlotte dropped her work instantly. “Worse?” she said, all the
brightness flying from her face. “Why, I was in yesterday, and she
seemed much better. Jeff, I must go down there this minute.”
“It's after ten—you can't. Wait till morning.”
“Oh, no!” The girl was making ready as she spoke. “You'll go with
me. Think of the baby. There'll be a houseful of women, all wailing, if
anything goes wrong with Annie. They did it before, when they thought
she wasn't doing well. The baby was so frightened. She knows me. Of
course I must go. Think what mother would do for Annie—after all the
years Annie was such a faithful maid.”
That brought Jeff round at once. In ten minutes he and Charlotte had
quietly left the house. A rapid walk through the crisp January night
brought them to the poorer quarter of the town and the Donohue cottage.
A woman with a shawl over her head met them just outside.
“Annie's gone,” she said, at sight of Charlotte. “Took a turn for
the worse an hour ago. I never thought she'd get well, she's had too
hard a life with that brute of a man of hers.”
Charlotte stood still on the door-step when the woman had gone on.
She was thinking hard. Jeff remained quiet beside her. Charlotte had
known more of Annie than he; Annie had been Charlotte's nurse.
All at once Charlotte turned and laid a hand on his arm. “Jeff,” she
said, very softly and close to his ear, “we must take little Ellen home
with us to-night.”
“Yes, we must. She's such a shy little thing. Every time I've been
here I've found her frightened half to death. It worried Annie
“Well—but, Charlotte—some of these women can take care of
“They are not Annie's friends; they're just her neighbours. Not
Annie's kind at all. They're good-hearted enough, but it distressed
Annie all the time to have any of them take care of Ellen. They give
her all sorts of things to eat. She's only a baby. She was half-sick
when I was here Thursday. Oh, don't make a fuss, Jeff! Please, dear!”
“But you don't know anything about babies.”
“I know enough not to give them pork and cabbage. I can put the
little thing to sleep in Just's crib. It's up in the attic. You can get
it down. Jeff, we must!”
But Jeff still held her firmly by the arm. “Girl, you're crazy! If
you once take her, you've got her on your hands. Annie has no
relations. You told me that yourself. The child'll have to go to an
asylum. It's a good thing that husband of hers is dead. If he wasn't,
you'd have some cause to be worried.”
“Jeff,” said Charlotte, pleadingly, “you must let me do what I think
is right. I couldn't sleep, thinking of little Ellen to-night. Besides,
when Annie was worrying about her Thursday, I as much as promised we'd
see that no harm came to the baby.”
Jeff relaxed his hold. “I never saw such a girl!” he grumbled. “As
if you hadn't things enough on your shoulders already, without adopting
other people's kids!”
* * * * *
Dr. Andrew Churchill opened the door which led from the room of one
of his patients into the small, slenderly furnished living-room of the
tiny house which had been her home. It was her home no longer. Doctor
Churchill had just lost his first patient in private practice.
In the room were several women, gathered about a baby not yet two
years old. Over the child a subdued but excited discussion was being
held, as to who should take home and, for the present, care for poor
Annie Donohue's orphan baby.
Doctor Churchill closed the door behind him and stood for a moment,
looking down at the baby, a pretty little girl with a pair of big
frightened blue eyes.
“Well, I guess I'll have to be the one,” said the youngest woman of
the company, with a sigh. “You're all worse fixed than I am, and I
guess we can make room for her somehow, till it's decided what to do
with her. Poor Mis' Donohue's child has got to stay somewhere to-night
besides here, that I do say.”
“Well, that's kind of you, Mary, and we'll all lend a hand to help
you out. I'll bring over some extra milk I can spare and——”
A sudden draft of January air made everybody turn. A girlish figure,
in a big dark cape with a scarlet lining which seemed to reflect the
colour from a face brilliant with frost-bloom, stood in the outer door.
The next instant Charlotte Birch, closing the door softly behind her,
had crossed the room and was addressing the women, in low quick tones.
The doctor she did not seem to notice.
“I've come for the baby,” she said, with a gentle imperiousness.
“I've just heard about poor Annie. Of course we are the ones to see to
little Ellen. If mother were here she would insist upon it. Where are
her wraps, please? And has one of you an extra shawl she can lend me?
It's a sharp night.”
As she spoke, Charlotte knelt before the child and held out her
arms. Baby Ellen stared at her for an instant, then seemed to recognise
a friend and lifted two little arms, her tiny lips quivering. Charlotte
drew her gently up, and rising, walked away across the room with her,
the small golden head nestling in her neck. The women looked after her
“I suppose the child wouldn't be sufferin' with such as us,” said
one, “if we ain't got no silk quilts to put over her.”
“Neither have I,” said Charlotte, with a smile, as she caught the
words. “But I'm so fond of her. Annie was my nurse, you know.”
“May I carry her home for you?” asked the doctor, at her elbow.
“Jeff is here,” she answered.
But it was the doctor who carried the baby, after all, for she cried
at sight of Jeff. She was ready to cry at sight of any strange face,
poor little frightened child! But Doctor Churchill held her so tenderly
and spoke so soothingly that she grew quiet at once.
It was a silent walk, and it was only as they reached the house that
the doctor said softly to Charlotte, “If you need advice or help, don't
hesitate to call on Mrs. Fields. She's a wise woman, and her heart is
warm, you know.”
“Yes, I know, thank you! And thank you, doctor, for—not scolding me
“Scold you?” he said, as Charlotte took the baby from him at the
door. “Why should I do that?”
“Jeff did, and I didn't dare tell Lanse.”
“If you hadn't brought the baby home,” whispered the doctor, “I
should have.” And Charlotte, looking quickly up at him as Jeff opened
the door and the light streamed out upon them, surprised upon his face,
as his eyes rested upon the baby's pink cheek, an expression which
could hardly have been more tender if he had been Ellen's father.
“Now, Jeffy, get the crib down, please, as softly as you can,”
begged Charlotte, when she had laid the baby on her own white bed and
noiselessly closed the door. Jeff tried hard to do her bidding, but the
crib did not get down-stairs without a few scrapings and bumpings,
which made Charlotte hold her breath lest they rouse a sleeping
“Now go down and warm some milk for her in the blue basin. Don't get
it hot—just lukewarm. Put the tiniest pinch of sugar in it.”
“You seem to know a lot about babies,” Jeff murmured, pausing an
instant to watch his sister gently pulling off the baby's clothes.
“I do. Didn't I have the care of you?” answered Charlotte, with a
“Two years younger than yourself? Oh, of course, I forgot that,” and
Jeff crept away down-stairs after the milk. It took him some time, and
when he came tiptoeing back he found the baby in her little coarse
flannel nightgown, her round blue eyes wide-awake again.
“She seems to accept you for a mother all right,” he commented, as
Charlotte held the cup to the baby's lips, cuddling her in a blanket
meanwhile. But the girl's eyes filled at this, remembering poor Annie,
and Jeff added hastily, “What'll happen if she wakes up and cries in
the night? Babies usually do, don't they?”
“Annie has always said Ellen didn't, much, and she's getting to
sleep so late I hope she won't to-night. I don't feel equal to telling
the others what I've done till morning,” and Charlotte smiled rather
faintly. Now that she had the baby at home she was beginning to wonder
what Lanse and Celia would say.
“Never mind. I'll stand by you. You're all right, whatever you
do—if I did think you were rather off your head at first,” promised
Jeff, sturdily. He was never known to fail Charlotte in an emergency.
Whether it was the strange surroundings or something wrong about the
last meal of the day cannot be stated, but Baby Ellen did wake up. It
was at three o'clock in the morning that Charlotte, who, excited by the
strangeness of the situation, had but just fallen asleep, was roused by
a small wail.
The baby seemed not to know her in the trailing blue kimono, with
her two long curly braids swinging over her shoulders, and in spite of
all that Charlotte could do, the infantile anguish of spirit soon
filled the house.
Charlotte walked the floor with her, alternately murmuring
consolation and singing the lullabies of her own childhood; but the
uproar continued. It is astonishing what an amount of disturbance one
small pair of lungs can produce. It was not long before the anxious
nurse, listening with both ears for evidences that the family were
aroused, heard the tap of Celia's crutches, which the invalid had just
learned to use. And almost at the same moment Lanse's door opened and
shut with a bang.
“Here they come!” murmured Charlotte, trying distractedly to hush
the baby by means which were never known to have that effect upon a
startled infant in a strange house.
Her door swung open. Celia stood on the threshold, her eyes wide
with alarm. Lanse, lightly costumed in pink-and-white pajamas, gazed
over her shoulder.
“Charlotte Birch!” cried Celia, and words failed her. But Lanse was
ready of speech.
“What the dickens does this mean?” he inquired, wrathfully. “Have we
become an orphanage? I thought I heard singular sounds just after I got
to bed. Is there any good reason why the family shouldn't be informed
of what strange intentions you may have in your brain before you carry
them out? Whose youngster is it, and what are you doing with it here?”
Charlotte's lips were seen to move, but the baby's fright had
received such an accession from the appearance of two more unknown
beings in the room that nothing could be distinguished. What Charlotte
said was, “Please go away! I'll tell you in the morning.” But the
visitors, failing to catch the appeal, not only did not go away, but
“Why, it's Annie Donohue's baby!” cried Celia, and shrieked the
information into Lanse's ear. His expression of disfavour relaxed a
degree, but he still looked preternaturally severe. Celia hobbled over
to the baby, and sitting down in a rocking-chair, held out her arms.
But Charlotte shook her head and motioned imperatively toward the door.
At this instant Jeff, in a red bathrobe, appeared in the doorway,
grasped the situation, nodded assurance to Charlotte, and hauled his
elder brother across the hall into his own room, where he closed the
door and explained in a few terse sentences:
“Annie died last night—to-night. We heard of it late, and Charlotte
thought she wouldn't disturb anybody. The doctor was there. He carried
the baby home. We couldn't leave her there. She was scared to death.
She knows Fiddle, and she'll grow quiet now if you people don't stand
round and insist on explanations being roared at you.”
“But we can't keep a baby here,” began Lanse, who had come home
late, unusually tired, and was feeling the customary masculine
displeasure at having his hard-earned rest broken—a sensation which at
the moment took precedence over any more humanitarian emotions.
“We don't have to settle that to-night, do we?” demanded Jeff, with
scorn. “Hasn't the poor girl got enough on her hands without having you
scowl at her for trying to do the good Samaritan act—at three o'clock
in the morning?”
Jeff next turned his attention to Celia. He went into Charlotte's
room, picked up his elder sister without saying “by your leave,” and
carried her off to her own bed.
“But, Jeff, I could help Charlotte,” Celia remonstrated. “The poor
baby may be sick.”
“Don't believe it. She's simply scared stiff at kimonos and pajamas
and bathrobes stalking round her in a strange house. Charlotte can cool
her down if anybody can. If she can't, I'll call the doctor. Now go to
sleep. Charlotte and I will man the ship to-night, and in the morning
you can go to work making duds for the baby. It didn't have anything to
wear round it but a summer cape and Mrs. O'Neill's plaid shawl.”
This artful allusion touched Celia's tender heart and set her mind
at work, as Jeff had meant it should; so putting out her light, he
slipped away to Charlotte, exulting in having so promptly fixed things
But Charlotte met him with anxious eyes. The baby was still
“See how she stiffens every now and then, and holds her breath till
I think she'll never breathe again!” she called in his ear. “I do
really think you'd better call Mrs. Fields. You can wake her with a
knock on her window. She sleeps in the little wing down-stairs.”
As he hurried down the hall, the door of Captain Rayburn's room
opened, and Jeff met the quiet question, “What's up, lad?”
He stopped an instant to explain, encountered prompt sympathy, and
laid a hasty injunction upon his uncle not to attempt to assist
Charlotte in her dilemma. That gentleman hobbled back to bed, smiling
tenderly to himself in the dark—why, if he had seen him, Jeff never
would have been able to guess.
* * * * *
“I've got a sewing-machine that I know the kinks of,” said Mrs.
Fields to Celia and Charlotte and the baby, who regarded her with
interest from the couch, where they were grouped. “The doctor's going
to be away all day to-morrow, and if you'll all come over, we can get
through a lot of little clothes for the baby. Land knows she ain't
anyway fixed for going outdoors in all kinds of weather, the way the
doctor wants her to.”
This was so true that it carried weight in spite of the difficulties
in the way. So before he went off to school on a certain February
morning, Jeff had carried Celia across to Mrs. Field's sitting-room,
and by ten o'clock three busy people were at work. Captain Rayburn had
begged to be of the party, and although Mrs. Fields received with
skepticism his declaration that he could do various sorts of sewing
with a sufficient degree of skill, she allowed him to come, on
condition that he look after the baby.
“Well, for the land's sake!” cried the forewoman of the sewing
brigade, as she opened the big bundle Captain Rayburn had brought with
him. “I should say you haven't left much for us to do!”
The captain regarded with complacency the finished garments she was
“Yes,” said he, “I telephoned the big children's supply shop to send
me what Miss Ellen would need for out-of-doors. It seemed a pity to
have her stay in another day, waiting to be sewed up. Aren't they
right? I thought the making of her indoor clothes would be enough.”
Celia and Charlotte were exclaiming with delight over the pretty,
wadded white coat which Mrs. Fields held aloft. There was a little
furry hood to match, mittens, and a pair of leggings of the sort
desirable for small travellers.
“If he hasn't remembered everything!” cried Mrs. Fields, when this
last article of apparel came to view. “Well, sir, I won't say you
haven't saved us quite a chore. I've got the little flannel petticoats
all cut out. Doctor Churchill bought flannel enough to keep her covered
from now till she's five years old. Talk about economy—when a man goes
Mrs. Fields plunged into business with a will. The sewing-machine
hummed ceaselessly. Celia, with rapid, skillful fingers, kept pace with
her in basting and putting together, and Charlotte—well, Charlotte did
her best. Meanwhile Captain Rayburn and the baby explored together
mysterious realms of pockets and picture-books.
“For the land's sake, Miss Charlotte!” cried Mrs. Fields, suddenly,
in the middle of the morning. “If you ain't made five left sleeves and
only one right!”
Charlotte looked up, crimsoning. “How could I have done it?”
“Easy enough.” Mrs. Field's expression softened instantly at sight
of the girl's dismay. “I've done it a good many times. Something about
it—sleeves act bewitched. They seem bound to hang together and be all
one kind or all the other, anything but pairs.”
“Why don't you rest a little, and take baby outdoors in her new
coat?” Celia suggested. “Sewing is such wearisome work, if one isn't
used to it.”
So Charlotte and her charge gladly went out. A neighbour had lent an
old baby sled, and in it Miss Ellen Donohue, snuggled to the chin in
the warmest of garments and wrappings, took her first airing since the
night, a week before, when she had been brought home in Doctor
She was a shy but happy baby, and had already won all hearts. Nobody
was willing to begin the steps necessary to place her in any of the
institutions designed for cases like hers. Charlotte, indeed, would not
hear of it; and even the practical John Lansing, who had learned to
figure the family finances pretty closely since he himself had become
the wage-earner, succumbed to the touch of baby fingers on his face and
the glance of a pair of eyes like forget-me-nots.
As for Captain Rayburn, he was the baby's devoted slave at all
times, his most jealous rival being Dr. Andrew Churchill, who was
constantly inventing excuses for coming in for a frolic with Baby
“If the doctor could look in on us now,” observed Mrs. Fields,
suddenly, in the middle of the afternoon, when Charlotte was again
bravely trying to distinguish herself at tasks in which she was by no
means an adept, “he'd be put out with me for having this party a day
when he was away. He sets great store by anything that looks like a lot
of people at home.”
“Is he one of a large family?” Celia asked.
“He was two years ago. Since then he's lost a brother and a sister
and his mother. His father died five years ago. He has a married
brother in Japan, and an unmarried one in South Africa. There ain't
anybody in the old home now. It broke up when his mother died, two
years ago. He hasn't got over that—not a bit. She was going to come
and live with him here. It was a town where she used to visit a good
deal, and since he couldn't settle near the old home, because it wasn't
a good field for young doctors, she was willing to come here with him.
That's why he's here now, though I suppose it don't begin to be as
advantageous a place for him as it would be in the city itself. He
thought a terrible lot of his mother, Andy did. Seems as if he wanted
to please her now as much as ever. And he has some pretty homesick
times, now and then, though he doesn't show it much.”
It was the first time the doctor's housekeeper had been so
communicative, and her three hearers listened with deep interest,
although they asked few questions, made only one or two kindly
comments, and did not express half the sympathy they felt. Only Captain
Rayburn, thoughtfully staring out of the window, gave voice to a
sentiment for which both his nieces, although they said nothing in
reply, inwardly thanked him.
“Doctor Churchill is a rare sort of fellow,” he said. “Doctor
Forester considers him most promising, I know. But better than that, he
is one whose personality alone will always be the strongest part of his
influence over his patients, winning them from despair to courage—how,
they can't tell. And the man who can add to the sum total of the
courage of the human race has done for it what it very much needs.”
A few minutes after this little speech the subject of it quite
unexpectedly came dashing in, bringing with him a great breath of
February air. He stopped in astonishment upon the threshold.
“If this isn't the unkindest trick I ever heard of!” he cried, his
brilliant eyes flashing from one to another. “I suppose that
arch-traitor of a Fieldsy planned to have you all safely away before I
came home. I'm thankful I got here two hours before she expected me.
See here, you've got to make this up to me somehow.”
“Sit down!” invited Captain Rayburn. “You may hem steadily for two
hours on flannel petticoats. If that won't make it up to you I don't
know what will.”
“No, it won't,” retorted the doctor. “Sewing's all right in its way,
but I've just put up my needle-case, thank you, and no more stitching
for me to-day. I want—a lark! I want to go skating. Who'll go with
“By the process of elimination I should say you would soon get at
the answer to that,” remarked the captain. “There seems to be just one
candidate for active service in this company—unless Mrs. Fields—I've
no doubt now that Mrs. Fields——”
“Will you go?” Doctor Churchill turned to Mrs. Fields. She glanced
up into his laughing eyes.
“Run along and don't bother me,” she said to him. “Take that child
there. She's about got her stent done, I guess.”
Doctor Churchill looked at the curly black head bent closely over
the last of the little sleeves.
“You don't deceive me, Miss Charlotte,” said he. “You're not as
wedded to that task as you look. Please come with me. There's time for
a magnificent hour before you have to put the kettle on. Miss Birch, I
wish we could take you, too. Next winter—well, that knee is doing so
well I dare to promise you all the skating you want.”
Celia looked up at him, smiling, but her eyes were wistful.
“Doctor,” cried Captain Rayburn, “telephone to the stables for a
comfortable old horse and sleigh, will you? Celia, girl, we'll go,
“And I'll look after Ellen,” said Mrs. Fields, before anybody could
mention the baby. “Go on, all of you.”
“May we all come back to supper with you?” asked Doctor Churchill,
giving her a glance with which she was familiar of old.
“If you'll send for some oysters I'll give you all hot stew,” she
said, and received such a chorus of applause that she mentally added
several items to the treat.
“Now I can enjoy my fun,” whispered Charlotte to Celia, as she
brought her sister's wraps, and pulled on her own rough brown coat.
“Such a jolly uncle, isn't he?”
“The best in the world. Wear your white tam, dear, and the white
mittens. They look so well with your brown suit. Tie the white silk
scarf about your neck—that's it. Now run. I'm so afraid somebody will
call the doctor out and spoil it all.”
Charlotte ran, and found the doctor waiting impatiently, two pairs
of skates on his arm. He hurried her away down the street.
“We must get all there is of this,” he said. “I feel as if I could
skate fifty miles and back again. Do you?”
“Indeed I do. I've wanted to get up and run round the block between
every two stitches all day.”
“They say the river is good for three miles up. That will give us
just what we want—a sensation of running away from the earth and all
its cares. And when we get back we'll be ready for Fieldsy's stew.”
They found everybody on the river; Charlotte was busy nodding to her
friends while the doctor put on her skates. In a few moments the two
were flying up the course.
“Oh, this is great!” exulted Doctor Churchill. “And this is the
first time you've been on the ice this winter—in February!”
“This is fine enough to make up. I do love it. It takes out all the
“Doesn't it? I thought you'd been cultivating puckers to-day the
minute I saw you—or else I interpreted your mood by my own. Talk about
puckers—and nerves! Miss Charlotte, I've done my first big operation
in a certain line to-day. I mean, in a new line—an experiment. It
She looked up at him, her face full of sympathy. “Oh, I'm so glad!”
“Are you? Thank you! I wanted somebody to be glad—and I hadn't
anybody. I had to tell you. It's too soon to be absolutely sure, but it
promises so well I'm daring to be happy. It's the sort of operation in
which the worst danger is practically over if the patient gets through
the operation itself. She's rallied beautifully. And whatever happens,
I've proved my point—that the experiment is feasible. Some of the men
doubted that—all thought it a big risk. But I had to take it, and
now—Ah, come on, Miss Charlotte! Let's fly!”
Away they went, faster and faster—long, swinging strokes in perfect
unison; two accomplished skaters with one object in view; working off
healthy young spirits at a tension. They did not talk; they saved their
breath; they went like the wind itself.
At the farthest extremity of the smooth ice, which ended at a little
frost-bound waterfall, they came to a stop. Churchill looked down at a
face like a rose, black eyes that were all alight, and lips that smiled
with the fresh happiness of the fine sport.
“I've skated at Copenhagen and at St. Petersburg,” he said gaily,
“to say nothing of Fresh Pond and Lake Superior and other such home
grounds. But it's safe to say I never enjoyed a mile of them like that
last one. You—you were really glad, weren't you, that it went so well
with me to-day?”
“How could I help it, Doctor Churchill?” she answered, earnestly.
Ever since coming out she had been remembering the little revelation
his housekeeper had made of his life, and it had touched her deeply to
know why he had come to settle in the suburban town instead of in the
much more promising city field—a question which had occurred to her
many times since she had known him.
“I always expected,” he went on, in a more quiet way, “to be able to
come home and tell my mother about my first triumphs. She would have
been so proud and happy over the smallest thing. Her father was a
distinguished surgeon—Marchmont of Baltimore. He died only four years
ago—his books are an authority on certain subjects. My other
grandfather was Dr. Andrew Churchill of Glasgow—an old-school
physician and a good one. So you see I come honestly by my love for it
all. And mother—how we used to talk it all over—”
He stopped abruptly, with a tightening of the lips, and stood
staring off over the frozen fields, his eyes growing sombre.
Charlotte's own eyes fell; her heart beat fast with sympathy. She laid
the lightest of touches on his arm.
“I know,” she said, softly. “Fieldsy told me—a little bit. I'm so
He drew a long breath and looked down at her, his eyes searching her
face. “You are a little comrade,” he said, and his voice was low
and moved. Then with a quick motion he seized her hands again and they
were off, back down the river. Not so fast as before, and silently, the
two skaters covered the miles, and only as they came within sight of
the crowd of people at the beginning of the course did Doctor Churchill
“This has been a fine hour, hasn't it?” he said. “Your face looks as
if you had lost all the puckers. Have you?”
“Indeed I have! Haven't you?”
“It has done me a world of good. I was wrought up to a high
pitch—now I'm cool again. I have to go back to the hospital as soon as
supper is over. I shall stay all night.”
“When you get back,” said Charlotte, “will you telephone me how the
case is doing?”
“May I?” he answered, eagerly.
“Of course you may. I shall be anxious till I know.”
“I have no business to add one smallest item of anxiety to your list
of worries,” he admitted. “But it seems so good to me to have somebody
care, just now. Fieldsy's a dear soul—I couldn't get on without her,
but—Never mind, that's enough of Andrew Churchill for one afternoon.
Shall we make a big spurt to the finish? Let's show them what skating
is—no little cutting of geometrical spider-webs in a forty-foot
They drew in with swift, graceful strokes, threaded their course
through the crowd of skaters, and were soon on their way home. Captain
Rayburn and Celia passed them, called back that it was a great day for
invalids and children, and reached home just in time for the doctor to
carry Celia into the little brick house. Charlotte ran to summon her
three brothers, for it was after six o'clock.
Never had an oyster stew such enthusiastic praise. Not an appetite
was lacking, not a spoon flagged. Mrs. Fields, moved to lavish
hospitality, in which she was upheld by the doctor, produced a chicken
pie, which had been originally intended for his dinner alone, and which
she had at first designed, when she proposed the oysters, to keep over
until the morrow. This was flanked by various dishes, impromptu but
delectable, and followed by a round of winter fruit and spongecake—the
latter the pride of the housekeeper's heart, and dear to her master
from old association.
“If you live like this all the time, Doctor Churchill,” said John
Lansing Birch, leaning back in his chair at last with the air of a man
who asks no more of the gods, “I advise you to keep up a bachelor
establishment to the end of your days.”
“How would that suit you, Mrs. Fields?” asked the doctor, laughing.
Mrs. Fields, from her place at the end of the table—they had
insisted on having her sit down with them—answered deliberately:
“As long as a man's a man I suppose nothing on earth ever will make
him feel so satisfied with himself and all creation as being set down
in front of a lot of eatables. Now what gives me most peace of mind
to-night is knowing that that little Ellen Donohue, asleep on my bed,
has got enough new clothes, by this day's work, to make a very good
beginning of an outfit.”
“Now, how do you old bachelors feel?” cried Celia, amidst laughter,
and the party broke up.
At ten o'clock that evening, when Charlotte had seen her sister
comfortably in bed—for Celia still needed help in undressing—had
tucked in Just and warned Jeff that it was bedtime, the telephone-bell
Lanse and Captain Rayburn sat reading in the living-room, where the
telephone stood upon a desk, and Lanse, who was near it, moved lazily
to answer it. But before he could lift the receiver to his ear
Charlotte had run into the room and was taking it from him, murmuring,
“It's for me—I'm sure it is.”
“Well, I could have called you,” said Lanse, looking curiously at
her as, with cheeks like poppies, she sat down at the desk and
answered. With ears wide open, although he had again taken up the
magazine he had laid down, he listened to Charlotte's side of the
conversation. It was brief, and no more remarkable than such
performances are apt to be, but Lanse easily appreciated the fact that
it was giving his sister immense satisfaction.
“Hullo—yes—yes!” she called. “Yes—oh, is she? Yes—yes,
I'm so glad! Yes—of course you are. I'm so glad! Thank you.
Yes—Good night!” Charlotte hung up the receiver and swung round from
the desk, her face radiant, her eyes like stars.
“Is she, indeed?” interrogated Lanse, lifting brotherly, penetrating
eyes to her face. “Engagement just announced? When is she to be
married? I'm glad you're glad—you might so easily have been jealous.”
Charlotte laughed—a ripple of merriment which was contagious, for
Captain Rayburn smiled over the evening paper, and Lanse himself
“Mind telling us the occasion of such heartfelt joy?” he inquired.
But Charlotte came up behind him, laid a warm velvet cheek against his
for a moment, patted her uncle on the shoulder, cried, “Good night to
you, gentlemen dear!” and ran away to bed.
* * * * *
Charlotte let little Ellen slide down from her lap, washed and
“Now, Ellen, be a good girl,” she said as she set about picking up
the various articles she had been using in the baby's bath and
dressing. “Charlotte's in a hurry.”
The door-bell rang. Celia was in the kitchen, stirring up a pudding.
It was April now, and Celia's knee was so far mended that she could be
about the house without her crutches, with certain restrictions as to
standing, or using the knee in any way likely to strain it.
It was Charlotte who did the running about, and it was she who
started for the door now, after casting one hasty look around the
bath-room to make sure that the baby could do herself no harm.
Left to herself, Ellen investigated the resources of the bath-room
and found them wanting. After she had thrown two towels, the soap and
her own small tooth brush back into the tub from which she had lately
emerged, and which Charlotte had not yet emptied, she found her means
of entertainment at an end. The other toilet articles were all beyond
her reach. She gazed out of the window; there was nothing moving to be
seen but a row of Mrs. Fields's dish-towels waving in the wind.
She turned to the door. Charlotte had meant to latch it, but it was
a door with a peculiar trick of swinging slowly open an inch after it
had apparently been closed, and it had not been latched. Ellen pushed
one small hand into the crack and pulled it open.
Charlotte was nowhere to be seen or heard Across the hall was the
door of her room, ajar; and since doors ajar have somehow a singular
charm for babies, this one crossed to it and swung it wide.
Here was richness. This was Charlotte's workshop. She slept in a
smaller room adjoining, the baby in the crib by her side; and with that
smaller room little Ellen was familiar, but not with this. The tiny
feet travelled eagerly about, from one desirable object to another. And
presently she remembered the big, porcelain-lined bath-tub, There was
nothing Ellen liked so well as to throw things into that tub and see
Two books crossed the hall and made the plunge, one after the other,
into the soapy water. Ellen gurgled with delight. Two more journeys
deposited a shoe, a hair-brush and a small box, contents unknown, in
the watery receptacle. Then Ellen made a discovery which filled her
small soul with joy.
Just two days before, Charlotte had completed the set of colour
drawings which delineated the wall decoration of four rooms—a “den,” a
dining-room and two bedrooms. They represented the work of the winter,
pursued under the exceeding difficulties of managing a household, and,
for the last three months, caring in part for a little child.
But Charlotte had toiled faithfully, with the ardour of one who,
having only a small portion of time to give to a beloved pursuit, works
at it all the more zealously. And she had gone on from one room to
another, in her designing, with the hope that if in one she failed to
please those upon whom her success depended, some one of the series
might appeal to them, and give her the desired place in their interest.
It was her intention on this very day, after luncheon should be over
and she should be free for a few hours, to make the much-dreaded,
wholly-longed-for visit to the great manufacturing house where she was
to show her wares.
The drawings lay in a pile upon Charlotte's table, ready to be
wrapped. Baby Ellen, spying the pile of drawings, with an edge or two
of brilliant colour showing, trotted gaily over to the table. She stood
on tiptoe and pulled at the corner nearest her. The drawings fell from
the table in a disordered heap on the floor.
The sight of them pleased Ellen immensely. She held one up and shook
it in her small fists, slowly and carefully tore a corner off it, and
cast the sheet down in favour of the next in order. This she tore
cleanly in two in the middle. The paper was tough, to be sure, but the
little fists were strong.
Then she remembered that seductive bath-tub. A patter of little
feet, a laugh of pleasure—“Da!” cried Ellen, gleefully—-and the first
sheet was in.
Seven trips, pursued with vigour and growing hilarity, and
Charlotte's work had received its initial plunge into a new state of
being. Four of the drawings had been torn in two. The bath-tub was a
mass of softly blending colours.
Charlotte came running back up the stairs, her mind, which had been
held captive by a young caller, reverting with some anxiety to the
small person whom she had left, as she thought, shut up in the safe
bath-room. She expected to hear Ellen crying, as was likely to be the
case when left alone without sufficient means of amusement; but the
silence, as she flew up-stairs, alarmed her. Silence was almost sure to
The bath-room door was ajar. Charlotte pushed it open and looked in.
One glance showed her he havoc which had been wrought. She stopped
short, staring with wild eyes into the bath-tub; then she caught her
treasures out of it, held them dripping before her for an instant, and
let them drop on the floor. She turned and ran out of the room to look
The baby sat calmly on a rug, in the middle of Charlotte's room,
engaged in pulling the leaves, one by one, out of a small sketch-book
which had been on the table with the drawings. She looked up, a most
engaging and innocent expression on her round face, and smiled at
Charlotte. But she met no smile in return.
“You little wretch!” breathed Charlotte, between her teeth, as she
seized the sketch-book and whirled the baby to her feet. “Oh! Is
this the way you pay me for all I've done for you? You
It was the explosion of a blind wrath which made the girl shake the
tiny form until Baby Ellen roared lustily. Charlotte set her upon the
floor again, and stood looking down at her with blazing eyes. The small
head was clasped in two little fists, as the child tore at her yellow
curls, her infant soul stirred to indignation and fright at this most
unexpected treatment. Suddenly Charlotte seized her again and bore her
swiftly away to Captain Rayburn's room.
“Take care of her for an hour? Surely. But what's the matter?”
It was small wonder he asked, for Charlotte's face was white, her
eyes brilliant, and her lips quivering as she spoke:
“It's nothing—only baby has spoiled something of mine, and I'm so
angry I don't dare trust myself with her.”
She dropped little Ellen in his arms and fled, leaving her uncle to
think what he might. He looked grave as he soothed the baby, whose
small breast still heaved convulsively.
“Are you conscientiously trying to do your full share in developing
our little second fiddle's capacity to play first?” he asked the baby,
with his face against hers. “Never mind, little one, never mind. Baby
doesn't know—but John Rayburn does—that this being a means of
education to other people is a thankless task sometimes. Don't cry.
Aunty Charlotte will kiss her hard and fast by and by, to make up for
losing her temper with the little maid. I suspect you were very, very
trying, to make Aunty Charlotte look like that.”
Charlotte came down-stairs after a time and attended to the
luncheon, her lips pressed tight together, her eyes heavy—although not
with tears. She would not let herself cry.
Celia had a headache and did not notice, being herself disinclined
to talk, and Captain Rayburn forbore to look at Charlotte. But Jeff,
when he came in, observed at once that something was amiss. As soon as
the meal was over he drew Charlotte into a corner.
“You haven't been to Murdock with the pictures and been—turned
down?” he asked.
“Going this afternoon, aren't you?”
“Why not? Thought that was the plan.”
Charlotte turned away, fighting hard for self-control. Jeff caught
“See here, Fiddle, you've got to tell me. You look like a ghost. No
bad news—from New Mexico?”
“Oh, no—no! Please go away.”
“I won't till you tell me what's up. You're not sick?”
Charlotte ran off up-stairs, Jeff following. “Charlotte,” he cried,
as he pursued her into her room before she could turn and close the
door, “what's the use of acting like this? Something's happened, and
I'm going to know what it is.”
Charlotte sat down in a despairing heap on the floor and hid her
face in her hands. Jeff glanced helplessly from her to the table in the
corner. Then he observed that it was bare of the pile of drawings.
“Nothing's happened to the wall-paper?” he asked, eagerly.
“Go look up in the attic, if you must know.”
Jeff dashed up-stairs, and surveyed the havoc. He came back
breathless with dismay.
“How did it happen?”
“The little—imp! Are they spoiled?”
“Yes; colours run together a bit on some, others torn in two. Yet
they show what they were, Fiddle—I vow they do. I'd take them just as
they are, explain the whole thing, and see what comes of it.”
Charlotte raised her head to shake it vigorously. “Offer work in
such shape as that? I'm not such a goose.”
“Got to do them all over?”
Her head sank again. “If I can get the courage.”
“Of course you can,” declared Jeff, more cheerfully. “You never lack
pluck. Poor girl, I'm mighty sorry, though. It's simply tough to have
it happen at the last minute. You're all tired out, too—I know you
are; you ought never to have to do it all over again.”
“If I could just have shown them to Mr. Murdock,” said Charlotte,
heavily, “and have found out that it was the sort of thing they would
like, it wouldn't seem so hard to do them all over again. But to work
for weeks more—and then perhaps have it a failure, after all——”
“I know. Well, I've got to be off, or I'll be late. Mid-term exams
this week. Cheer up, Fiddle, maybe you can fix 'em up easier than you
Late in the afternoon Charlotte came to her uncle for the baby. He
had cared for her all day.
“She's safe with you now?” he asked, with a keen look up into her
“I hope so.” Charlotte's cheek was against the little head; she held
the baby tenderly.
“When she is in bed to-night will you come and tell me what she
Charlotte shook her head, with a faint smile. “She wasn't to blame.
I left her alone for ten minutes.”
“But I should like to know about it,” he said, coaxingly. “I have
had rather a busy day with Ellen-baby—why not reward me with your
But she would not promise; neither did she come. This was
exceedingly characteristic of the girl, but Captain Rayburn, his sharp
eyes observing in her aspect the signs of misery in spite of a brave
attempt to seem cheerful, made up his mind to find out for himself.
Twice he encountered her coming down from the attic, and each time she
avoided speaking to him.
That night, after everybody was in bed, Captain Rayburn, his canes
held under his arm, crept slowly up-stairs, a little electric candle of
his own in his pocket. By means of this he soon discovered Charlotte's
ruined work, which she had not yet found heart to remove from the place
where she had first laid it, trusting to the privacy of a place which
was seldom invaded by anybody.
He sat down on a convenient box and studied the coloured plates and
sketches. As he looked, his lips drew into a whistle of surprise and
admiration, followed by a long breath of pity for what he was sure he
Jeff, having just dropped off into the sound sleep of the healthy
boy, found himself gently punched into wakefulness.
“Come to, Jeff, and tell me what I want to know,” said Captain
Rayburn, smiling at his nephew in the dim white light from the candle.
Jeff raised himself on his pillow.
“Wh-what's up?” he grunted, blinking like an owl.
“Nothing serious. What was Charlotte going to do with her colour
drawings? Show them to some wall-paper manufacturers?”
“What—er—yes—no. What do you know about it?” Jeff was up on his
elbow now, staring at his uncle.
“All about it—except that.”
“Charlotte tell you? I didn't think she——”
“She didn't. I guessed—and found out. You may as well tell me the
“Isn't it a shame? Poor girl's worked months on those things; just
got 'em done. You ought to have seen them; they were great. I told her
she could take them as they were, but she wouldn't hear of it.”
“But where were they going?”
“To Mr. Murdock, at Chrystler &Company's office. He saw something of
Charlotte's once by chance, through a niece of his who's Charlotte's
friend, and he sent word to Fiddle that she ought to cultivate that
colour sense, or whatever it was, I forget what he called it—for she
had it to an unusual degree. Charlotte has cultivated it for two years
since then, and now—oh, confound that baby! That's what you get for
trying to be a missionary. I wish we'd sent her to an orphanage right
off. What's the use?”
“You don't feel that 'sweet are the uses of adversity'? Sometimes
they are, though, son. The little second violin hasn't given in and
wailed about it; I saw no traces of tears.”
“No, you're right you haven't,” agreed Jeff, proudly. “She's not
that sort. She's all broken up, though, inside, and I don't blame her.”
“No. Jeff, to-morrow—it's Saturday, isn't it? You must get those
drawings early in the morning, while Charlotte is busy with her
Saturday baking. We'll have a livery outfit, and you shall drive me
down to Chrystler's.”
“Uncle Ray! You're a trump! It's just what I said should be done.
The work shows perfectly well what she intended, and if a chap like you
Captain Rayburn limped away, laughing, his hand red with the
tremendous grip his nephew had just given it. It gave him great
pleasure to see the way the boy invariably stood by his sister. It was
a characteristic of the Birch family, as a whole, which, it may be
said, was worth more both to themselves and to the world at large than
the possession of almost any other trait.
It was not until dinner was over that Captain Rayburn and his nephew
returned, begging pardon for their tardiness, and explaining that they
had taken luncheon in the city.
“Fiddle,” Jeff said, with a face of preternatural gravity, “come up
to Uncle Ray's room when the dishes are done, will you?”
He vanished before his sister could ask why, and before she could
see the grin which overspread his ruddy countenance as he turned away.
But something he could not keep out of his voice roused her curiosity,
and she made quick work of the dishes.
“Come in, come in!” invited Captain Rayburn, and Jeff rose from the
couch, where his nose had been buried among some of his uncle's
There were always books and magazines by the Score wherever Captain
Rayburn settled himself for any length of time.
The ex-soldier and the schoolboy eyed each other doubtfully for an
instant as Charlotte dropped into a chair. Her usually bright face was
still very sober, and her eyelashes swept her cheek as she waited.
Captain Rayburn nodded at Jeff. The boy stood on one foot, then on
the other, pushed his hands deep into his pockets, pulled them out
again, cleared his throat, laughed nervously, and strode suddenly
across the room to his sister. He thrust out his hand as he came to a
halt before her. “Congratulations to the distinguished decorator!” he
cried, and came to the end, temporarily, of his eloquence.
Charlotte looked up in amazement. Jeff seized her hand and pumped it
up and down. She glanced in bewilderment at her uncle, and met his
smile of encouragement.
“Mine, too,” he said.
“What—” she began, and her voice stuck in her throat. Her heart
began to thump wildly. Then Jeff told it all in one burst:
“Uncle Ray found your stuff in the attic—thought it great—woke me
up and ground it out of me what you meant to do with it. He was sure,
as I was, it was fit to show, and you ought not to do it all over
first. Got a horse, drove into Chrystler's, saw Murdock. He would look
at anything, listened to the story about the baby, looked at the stuff.
Face changed—didn't it, Uncle Ray?—from politeness to interest, and
all the rest of it. Said the work had faults, of course—you expected
that, Fiddle—but it showed promise—'great promise,' that's just what
he said. He wants to see everything you do. He wants you to come and
see him. He thinks he can use at least two of your rooms, after you've
made them over. Oh, he was great! You've done it, Fiddle, you've done
But he was not prepared for the way his sister took the good news.
She sat looking solemnly at him for a minute; then she jumped up,
turned toward Captain Rayburn with a face on fire with conflicting and
uncontrollable emotions, then whirled about and was out of the room
like a flash.
“Well, if I ever!” declared Jeff, in intense displeasure, staring at
his uncle. But Captain Rayburn's face was the picture of satisfaction.
“It's all right, Jeff,” said his uncle. “You never can tell what a
woman will do, but you can count on one thing—it won't be what you
“You don't suppose she was angry, do you?”
The captain smiled. “No, I don't think she was angry,” he said
The door flew open again. Two impetuous arms were around Jeff's neck
from behind, nearly strangling him. A breezy swirl of skirts, and
Captain Rayburn feared for the integrity of his head upon his
shoulders. And then the two were alone again.
“Christopher Columbus!—discovered America in 1492!” ejaculated
Jefferson, an expression of great delight irradiating his countenance.
Then he looked at his uncle with an air of superior wisdom. “Now
she'll cry,” he said.
“I shouldn't wonder if she did,” agreed the captain, nodding.
* * * * *
Lanse stood in the kitchen door, lunch-pail in hand. It lacked ten
minutes of seven of a June morning; therefore he wore his working
clothes. He glanced down at them now with an expression of extreme
distaste, then from Celia to Charlotte, both of whom wore fresh print
dresses covered with the trim pinafore aprons which were Celia's pride.
“When this siege is over,” he remarked, “maybe I won't appreciate
the privilege of wearing clean linen from morning till night every day
in the week.”
“Poor old Lanse!” said Celia, with compassion. “That's been the part
that has tried your soul, hasn't it! You haven't minded the work, but
“I hope I'm not a Nancy, either,” Lanse went on. “I'm sure I don't
feel that my wonderful dignity is compromised by my occupation. Better
men than I soil their hands to more purpose every day, but—well, I
must be off.”
He departed abruptly, leaving Celia standing in the door to wave a
hand to him as he turned the corner.
“John Lansing is tired,” she said to Charlotte, sisterly sympathy in
her voice. “I don't think we've half appreciated what all these months
in the shops have meant to him. It isn't as if he were training for one
of the engineering specialties, and were interested in his work as
practical education in his own line. He'll never have the least use for
anything he's learning now.”
“He may,” Charlotte suggested. “He may marry a girl who will want
him to do odd jobs about the house. A mechanic in the family is an
awfully desirable thing. Mrs. Fields says there's nothing Doctor
Churchill can't do in the way of repairing; and when I told that to
Uncle Ray he said that all good surgeons needed to be born mechanics,
and usually were. And even though Lanse makes a lawyer, like father, he
may need to get out of the automobile he'll have some day, and crawl
under it and make it over inside before he can go on.”
Celia laughed, and went to call the rest of the family from their
beds, early hours having now perforce become the habit of the Birch
It was some three hours later that Charlotte sat down for a moment
to rest on the little vine-covered back porch. The breakfast work and
the bed-making were over, the kitchen was in order, and there was time
to draw breath before plunging into the next set of duties.
Celia had gone up-stairs to some summer sewing she had on hand;
Captain Rayburn had taken the baby around the corner to a pretty park,
where the two spent long hours now, in the perfect June weather; the
boys were at school, and the house was very still.
Charlotte stretched her arms above her head, drawing a long breath.
“How long ago it seems that I was free after breakfast to do what I
wanted to!” she said to herself. “And how little I realised all the
cares that were always on mother! Oh, if it were only time for them to
come back—this day—this hour—this minute! I wouldn't mind the work
now, if they were only here.”
The girl's gaze, fixed wistfully on the leafy treetops above her,
suddenly dropped to earth. A man's figure was stumbling along the
little path which led diagonally from the back of the Birch premises
through a gateway and off toward a back street, the route by which
Lanse was accustomed to take an inconspicuous short cut toward the
locomotive shops, by the river.
For an instant, only the similarity of the figure to Lanse's struck
her, for the wavering walk and bandaged head, with hand pressed to the
forehead, did not suggest her brother. At the next instant the man
lifted a white face, and Charlotte gave a startled cry as she saw that
it was John Lansing himself, in a sorry plight.
She ran to him. His head was clumsily tied up in a soiled cloth,
which the blood was beginning to stain. As she put her arm about him he
smiled wanly down at her, murmuring, “Thought I couldn't make it—glad
I have. No—not the house—Doctor's office. Don't want to scare Celia.
It might be nothing, but he was leaning heavily on his sister's
strong young shoulder as they crossed the threshold of Doctor
Churchill's little office, Charlotte having flung open the door without
waiting to ring. Nobody was there.
“No, don't try to sit up in a chair. Here, lie down on the couch,”
she insisted, and Lanse yielded, none too soon. His face had lost all
colour by the time he had stretched his tall form on the wide leather
couch which stood ready for just such occupants.
Charlotte went back to the door and rang the bell; then, as nobody
appeared, she explored the lower part of the house for Mrs. Fields in
Returning, she caught sight for the first time of a little
memorandum on the doctor's desk: “Out. Return 10:30 A.M.” She
glanced at the clock. It was exactly quarter past ten.
She studied her brother's face anxiously. The stain upon the cloth
was rapidly growing larger. She was sure he ought not to lie there with
the bleeding unchecked. She went to the door of the small private
office; her eyes fell upon a package labeled “Absorbent Cotton.” She
opened it, pulled out a handful, and went back to her brother.
She lifted the cloth from his head, and saw a long, uneven gash,
from which the blood was freely oozing. Taking two rolls of cotton, she
laid one on each side of the wound, forcing the edges together. After a
little experimenting she found that by holding her cotton very firmly
and pressing in a certain way, the flow of the blood was almost
“Does that hurt?” she asked Lanse. He nodded without speaking, but
she did not lighten her pressure. She saw that he was very faint.
“I'm sorry it hurts you, dear,” she said, “but it stops the blood
when I press this way, and I'm sure that's better for you. The doctor
will be here soon, and I think I'd better hold it till he comes.”
Lanse nodded again, his brows contracting with pain, not only from
the pressure upon the wound, but from the reaction from the blow which
had caused it.
Charlotte's eyes watched the clock, her hands never relinquishing
“What next?” she was thinking. “Will the time ever be up and father
and mother come back to find us all safe? Three more months—three more
Dr. Andrew Churchill came whistling softly across the lawn, glancing
at his watch, and noting that he was fifteen minutes later than he had
expected to be. In the doorway of his office he came to a surprised
“Miss Charlotte! What's happened?”
Lanse spoke faintly for himself: “Got hit at the shop—wrench
slipped out of man's hands above me—nothing much——”
“No—I see,” the doctor answered, surveying the situation.
He lifted Charlotte's cotton rolls, noted the character and extent
of the injury, and lost no time in getting at work.
“Keep up that pressure just as you were doing, please, Miss
Charlotte, while I make things ready. We'll have you all right in a
Two minutes later the doctor had Lanse stretched on a narrow white
table in an inner office. “I've got to hurt you quite a bit,” he said
to his patient. “I don't want to give you an anesthetic, but somebody
must hold your head. Shall I call Mrs. Fields?”
He glanced at Charlotte, and met what he had counted on—her help.
“No, I can manage,” she said quietly.
The doctor was soon ready, with arms, surgically clean, bared to the
It was rather a bad ten minutes for Lanse that followed, although he
bore it bravely, without a sound. The strong, steady support of his
sister's hands on the sides of his head never varied, and her eyes
watched the doctor's rapid movements with absorbed attention. Doctor
Churchill glanced at her two or three times, but met only quiet resolve
in her face, which, although pale, showed no sign of weakness.
The injury was a severe one, being no clean cut, but a jagged gash
several inches in length, caused by a heavy blow with a rough tool.
Charlotte observed that the worker seemed never at a loss what to do,
that his touch was as light as it was practised, and that his eyes were
full of keen interest in his work. At length Doctor Churchill finished
his manipulations and put on the smooth bandages, which, he remarked
with a laugh, were to turn Lanse into the image of the Terrible Turk.
“You show all the Spartan attributes of the real martyr,” declared
the doctor, as he helped his patient back to a couch. “It took pluck to
get home here alone. How was it they sent no man with you?”
“Everybody busy. A man was coming with me if I'd let him, but I
didn't care for his company so I slipped out. It was farther home than
I thought,” Lanse explained. “How long will this lay me up? I can go
back to-morrow, can't I?”
“Suppose we say the day after. That hammock on your front porch
behind the vines strikes me as a restful place for you. A bit of
vacation won't hurt you.”
By afternoon the ache in John Lansing's head had reached a point
where he gladly lay quietly in the hammock and submitted to be waited
on by two devoted feminine slaves. The doctor came over to see him
after supper, and found him in a high state of restlessness. He got him
to bed, stayed with him until he fell into an uneasy slumber, then left
him in charge of Celia, and came so quietly down to the front porch
again that he startled Charlotte, who lay in the hammock Lanse had
“Do you need me?” she asked eagerly. “I thought Lanse would rather
have Celia with him, and I was sure she wanted to take care of him, so
I stayed. But I'm ready, if I'm wanted.”
“You're wanted,” returned Doctor Churchill, gently, “but not
up-stairs just now. Lie still in that hammock; let me fix the pillows a
bit. Yes, do, please. Do you know it's positively the first time I've
seen you appearing to rest since I've known you?”
“Why, Doctor Churchill!”
“It's absolutely so. You're growing thin under the cares you've
assumed. And I suspect, besides the cares, you keep yourself busy when
you ought to be resting. Am I right?”
Charlotte coloured in the twilight of the porch, which the thick
vines of the wisteria screened from the electric light on the corner,
except for a few feet at the end nearest the door. She had been working
harder than ever all the spring over her designs for Chrystler
&Company, and her cheeks were of a truth somewhat less round and her
colour less vivid of hue. She was tired, although she had not owned it,
even to herself.
“You see, Doctor Churchill,” she said, slowly, “until father and
mother went away I had been the lazy one of the family, the
good-for-nothing—the drone—and I've not yet learned to work in the
quiet way my sister does, which accomplishes so much without any fuss.
Now that she can get about again she does twice as much as I do, but
she doesn't make such a clatter of tools, and doesn't get the credit
for being as busy as I.”
“I see. Of course I had a feeling all along that this dish-washing
and dinner-getting and baby-tending were mere pretense, and I'm
relieved to have you own up to it!”
Charlotte laughed. “After all, one doesn't like to be taken at one's
own estimate,” she admitted. “I confess I feel a pang to have you agree
with me, even in jest.”
“Do you know,” he said, abruptly, after an instant's silence, “you
gave me great pleasure this morning?”
“By the way you stood by your brother.”
“Oh!” said Charlotte, astonished. “But I didn't do anything.
“Nothing at all, except keep cool and hold steady. Those are the
hardest things a surgeon can set a novice at, you know.”
“But you needed me; and Mrs. Fields was out. You didn't know that,
but I did. And I don't think I'm one of the fainting-away kind.”
“No, you can stand fire. I think sometimes—do you know what I
Charlotte waited, her cheeks warm in the darkness. Praise is always
sweet when one has earned it.
“I believe you would stand by a friend—to the last ditch.”
Charlotte was silent for a minute; then she answered, low and
honestly, “If he were a friend at all worth having I should try.”
“And expect the same loyalty in return?”
“Indeed I should.”
“I should like,” said Doctor Churchill's steady voice, “to try a
friendship like that—an acknowledged one. I always was a fellow who
liked things definite. I don't like to say to myself, 'I think that man
is my friend—I'm sure he is—he shows it.' No, I want him to say
so—to shake hands on it. I had such a friend once—the only one. When
he died I felt I had lost—I can't tell you what, Miss Charlotte. I
never had another.”
There was a long silence this time. The figure in the hammock lay
still. But Charlotte's heart was beating hard. She knew already that
Doctor Churchill was the warm friend of the family. Could he mean to
single her out as the special object of his regard—her,
Charlotte—when people like Lanse and Celia were within reach?
Charlotte rose to her feet, the doctor rising with her. She held out
her hand, and he could see that she was looking steadily up at him. He
gazed back at her, and a bright smile broke over his face.
“Do you mean it?” he said, eagerly. “Oh, thank you!”
He grasped the firm young hand as Charlotte fancied he might have
grasped that of the comrade he had lost.
“Can't we take a little walk in this glorious moonlight?” he asked,
happily. “Just up and down the block once or twice? Or are you too
Charlotte was not too tired; her weariness had vanished as if by
magic. The two strolled slowly up and down the quiet street, talking
earnestly. The doctor told his companion about several interesting
cases he had among the children, and of one little crippled boy upon
whom he had recently operated. The girl listened with an unaffected
interest and sympathy very grateful to the man who had long missed
companionship of that sort. An hour went by as if on wings.
Celia came to the door as the two young people were saying
good-night at the foot of the steps. The doctor looked up at her with a
“Is the patient quiet?” he asked.
“Yes, only he mutters in his sleep.”
“That's not strange. He's bound to be a bit feverish after that
blow; but I don't anticipate serious trouble. Let Jeff sleep on the
couch in his room; that will be all that's necessary.”
Celia stood looking down at the doctor as her sister came up the
steps. “It's strange,” she said, “for I know Lanse isn't badly hurt,
but all I can think of to-night is how I wish father and mother were
“That's been in my head all day,” said Charlotte, with her arm
around Celia's shoulder.
“I can understand,” Doctor Churchill answered them both, and they
knew he could. “But just remember that though they were on the other
side of the world to stay for years, they can still come back to you.
Just to know that seems to me enough.”
They understood him. Celia would have made warm-hearted answer, but
at that instant the sound of heavy carriage-wheels rapidly rounding the
corner and coming toward them made all three turn to look. The carriage
came on at a great pace, swerved toward them, and drew in to the curb,
the driver pulling in his horses at their door.
“Who can it be?” breathed Celia. “Nobody has written. It must be a
Charlotte gasped. “It couldn't be—Celia—it couldn't be——”
The driver leaped from the box and flung open the door. A tall
figure stepped out, turned toward them as if trying to make sure who
they were, then waved its arm. The familiar gesture brought two cries
of rapture as Charlotte rushed and Celia hurried down the steps.
The doctor stood still and watched, his pulse quickening in
sympathy. He saw the tall figure grasp in turn both the slender ones,
heard two eager cries of “Mother!” and beheld the second
occupant of the carriage fairly dragged out, to be smothered in two
pairs of impetuous young arms. Then he went quietly away over the lawn
to his own house, feeling that he had as yet no right to be one of the
group about the home-comers.
In his room, an hour later, he stood before the portrait of a woman,
no longer young, but beautiful with the beauty which never grows old.
He stood looking up at it, then spoke gently to it.
“She's just your sort, dear,” he said, his keen eyes soft and
bright. “It's only friendship now, for she's not much more than a
child, and I wouldn't ask too much too soon. But some day—give me your
blessing, mother, for I've been lonely without you as long as I can
* * * * *
“The gentle art of cooking in a chafing-dish,” discoursed Captain
John Rayburn, lightly stirring in a silver basin the ingredients of the
cream sauce he was making for the chopped chicken which stood at hand
in a bowl, “is one particularly adapted to the really intelligent
masculine mind. No noise, no fuss, no worry, no smoke, everything
systematic,”—with a practised hand he added the cream little by little
to the melted butter and flour—“business-like and practical. It is a
pleasure to contemplate the delicate growth of such a dish as this
which I am preparing. It is——”
“You may have thickening enough for all that cream,” Celia
interrupted, doubtfully, watching her uncle's cookery with an anxious
“And you may have sufficient mental poise to be able to
lecture on cookery and do the trick at the same time,” supplemented
Doctor Churchill, his eyes also on the chafing-dish. In fact,
everybody's eyes were on the chafing-dish.
The entire Birch family, Doctor Churchill, Lanse's friend, Mary
Atkinson; Jeff's comrade, Carolyn Houghton; and Just's inseparable,
Norman Carter—Just scorned girls, and when asked to choose whom he
would have as a guest for Captain Rayburn's picnic, mentioned Norman
with an air of finality—sat about a large rustic table upon a charming
spot of greensward among the trees of a little island four miles down
A great bowl of pond-lilies decorated the centre of the table; and
bunches of the same flowers, tied with long yellow ribbons, lay at each
When Captain Rayburn entertained he always did it in style. And
since this picnic had been especially designed to celebrate the
home-coming of the travellers, a week after their arrival, no pains had
been spared to make the festival one to be remembered.
Mrs. Birch was in the seat of honour, a position which she graced.
In a summer gown of white, her face round and glowing as it had not
been in years, she seemed the central flower of a most attractive
bouquet. Mr. Birch looked about him with appreciative eyes.
“I don't think I could attend to the chafing-dish with any
certainty of result,” he remarked. “I am too much occupied in observing
the guests. It strikes me that nowhere, either in New Mexico or
Colorado, did I see any people approaching those before me in interest
and attractiveness. Except one,” he amended, as a general laugh greeted
this extraordinary statement, “and even she never seemed to me quite
so——” He hesitated.
“Say it, sir!” cried Lanse. “We're with you whatever it is. I think
'beautiful' is the word you want.”
Mr. Birch's face lighted with a smile. “Thank you, that is the
word,” he said.
The captain stirred his chopped chicken into his cream sauce with
the air of a chef. “Now here you are,” he said.
The captain would not allow everything upon the table at once,
picnic fashion, but kept the viands behind a screen a few feet away,
and with Jeff's and Just's assistance, served them according to his
ideas of the fitness of things.
Toward the end of the feast a particularly fine strawberry shortcake
appeared, which was followed by ice-cream. Altogether, the captain's
guests declared no picnic had ever been so satisfactory.
“Isn't the captain great?” said Doctor Churchill, enthusiastically,
to Celia, when they had all left the table and were beginning to stroll
about. “Cut off from the sort of thing he would like best to do—that
he aches to do—he occupies himself with what comes in his way. He
would deceive any one into thinking him completely satisfied.”
“I'm so glad you understand him,” Celia answered. “Everybody
doesn't. Just the other day a caller said to me, 'Isn't it lovely that
Captain Rayburn is so contented with his quiet life? Whenever I see him
sitting in the park with the baby and a book, I think what a mercy it
is that he isn't like some men, or he never could take it so calmly.'
Calmly! Uncle Ray would give his life to-morrow night if he could have
a day at the head of his company over there in the Philippines.”
“I don't doubt it for an instant. Since I've known him I've learned
more admiration for the way he keeps himself in hand than I ever had
for any single quality in any human being. I'm mighty sorry he's going
away. It's for a year in France and Italy, he tells me.”
“Yes. He's very fond of travel, and I imagine he's a little restless
after the winter here. Do you know what I suspect? That he came just so
that mother might feel somebody was keeping an eye on us.”
“That would be like him. He's immensely fond of you all.”
Celia caught sight of her uncle beckoning to her, and went to him.
Doctor Churchill saw Mrs. Birch, lying among the gay striped pillows in
a hammock which had been brought along for her special use, and went
over to her. His eyes noted the direction in which Charlotte was
vanishing, but he sat down on a log by the hammock as if he had no
other thought than for the gracious lady who looked up at him with a
And indeed he had thought for her. It was impossible to be with her
and not give oneself up to her charm.
“I have been wanting to see you alone for a minute, Doctor
Churchill,” she said. “It has been such a busy week I haven't had half
a chance to express to you how I appreciate your care for my little
family. And especially I am grateful to you for the perfect recovery of
Celia's knee. Doctor Forester has assured me that the knee might easily
have been a bad case.”
“I am very thankful that the results were good, Mrs. Birch,” Doctor
Nobody interrupted the two for a long half-hour. At the end of it
Doctor Churchill rose, his eyes kindling.
“Thank you!” he said fervently. “Thank you! More than that I won't
ask—yet. But if you will trust me—I promise you may trust me, little
as you know me—you may be sure I shall keep my word, not only to you,
but to my mother I know her ideals, and if I can be fit to be the
friend of one who fills them——”
Mrs. Birch held out her hand.
“I do trust you, Doctor Churchill,” she said. “Not only from what
Doctor Forester has told me of your family, but from what I have seen
and heard for myself.”
With a light heart the doctor went away over the hill to the path
which descended to the river. Far down the bank, near the pond-lilies,
he had caught a glimpse of a blue linen gown.
Captain Rayburn and Celia came over to establish themselves upon
rugs and cushions by the side of the hammock. Mr. Birch, who had been
out with Just and Norman in a boat, appeared, sunburned and warm, and
joined the party.
“I've been wanting to get just this quartet together,” remarked the
captain, when his brother-in-law had cooled off and was lying
comfortably stretched along a mossy knoll.
“Go ahead, Jack, we are ready to listen. Your plans are always
interesting,” Mr. Birch replied. “What now?”
“In the first place,” began the captain, “I want you people to
understand that the person who has had least fun out of this absence of
yours is the young woman before you.”
“O Uncle Ray!” protested Celia, instantly. “Haven't I had as much
fun as you?”
“Hardly. Between Mrs. Fields and Miss Ellen Donohue I don't know
when I've been so enlivened. I hardly know which of the two has
afforded me more downright amusement, each in her way. But Celia, I
tell you, Roderick and Helen, has been one brave girl, and that's all
there is of it.”
“You'll find no dissenting voice here,” Celia's father declared, and
her mother added:
“Nobody who knows her could expect her to be anything else.”
Celia looked away, her cheeks flushing.
“So now I want her to have her reward,” said Captain Rayburn. “Let
me take her with me for the year abroad.”
Celia started, glancing quickly from her father to her mother,
neither of whom looked so surprised as she would have expected. Both
returned her gaze thoughtfully.
“How about the going to college?” Mr. Birch questioned. “I thought
that was the great ambition.”
“She shall have a four year's course in one if she comes with me. I
shall spend much time in the libraries and art collections. My friends
in several cities are people it is worth a long journey to meet.
Undoubtedly such a year would be valuable at the end of a college
course, and it may appear to you that the studies within the scholastic
walls in this country had better come first. The point is that I am
going now. I may not be, at the moment Celia takes her diploma. And the
question of her health seems to me also one to be considered. Months of
enforced quiet haven't been any too good for her.”
“There's not much need to ask Celia what she would like,” Mr. Birch
The girl studied his face anxiously. “But could you spare me?” she
asked. “If it means that mother would have to take my place again——”
“It won't mean that,” said Captain Rayburn, stoutly. “My plans cover
two maids in the Birch household, the most capable to be obtained.”
“See here Jack,” said Mr. Roderick Birch, quickly, “you can't play
good fairy for the whole family—and it's not necessary. As soon as I
am at work in the office again this close figuring will be over.”
“I want my niece Charlotte to go to her school of design,” the
captain went on, imperturbably.
“We mean that she shall.”
“I wish you people would let me alone!” he cried. “Here I am, your
only brother, without a chick or a child of my own. Am I to be denied
what is the greatest delight I can have? By a lucky accident my money
was safe in the panic that swept away yours. Pure luck or providence,
or whatever you choose to call it—certainly not because my business
sagacity was any greater than yours. You wouldn't take a cent from me
at the time, but you've got to let me have my way now. Celia goes with
me—if you agree. Charlotte goes to her art school, and if you refuse
me the fun of assuming both expenses, I'll be tremendously offended—no
joke, I shall.”
He looked so fierce that everybody laughed—somewhat tremulously.
There could be no doubt that he meant all he said. Celia's cheeks were
pink with excitement; Mrs. Birch's were of a similar hue, in sympathy
with her daughter's joy.
“I tell you, that girl Charlotte,” began the captain again,
“deserves all anybody can do for her. She has developed three years in
one. Fond as I've always been of her, I hadn't the least idea what was
in the child. She's going to make a woman of a rare sort. Look here!” A
new idea flashed into his mind.
He considered it for the space of a half-minute, then brought it
“Let me take her, too. Not for the year—don't look as if I'd hit
you, Helen—just till October. I mean to sail in ten days, you know.
I've engaged plenty of room. There'll be no trouble about a berth——”
“O Uncle Ray!” Celia interrupted him. There could be no question
about her unselfish soul. If she had been happy before, she was
“Three months will give her quite a journey,” the captain hurried
on, leaving nobody any time for objections. “I'll see that she gets art
enough out of it to fill her to the brim with inspiration. And there
will surely be somebody she can come back with. May I have her?”
“What shall we do with you?” his sister said, softly. “I can't deny
you—or her. If her father agrees——”
“If I didn't know your big heart so well, Jack,” said Roderick
Birch, slowly, “I should be too proud to accept so much, even from my
wife's brother. But I believe it would be unworthy of me—or of you—to
let false pride stand in my girls' way.”
From the distance two figures were approaching, one in blue linen,
the other in white flannel—Charlotte and Doctor Churchill.
They were talking gaily, laughing like a pair of very happy
children, and carrying between them a great bunch of daisies and
buttercups that would have hid a church pulpit from view.
“Let's tell her now,” proposed Celia. “I can't wait to have her
“Go ahead,” agreed her uncle. “And let the doctor hear it, too. If
he isn't a brother of the family, it's because the family doesn't know
one of the finest fellows on the face of the earth when it sees him.”
“You're a most discerning chap, Jack Rayburn,” said his
brother-in-law, heartily, “but there are other people with discernment.
I have liked young Churchill from the moment I saw him first. All that
Forester says of him confirms my opinion.”
“How excited you people all look!” called Charlotte, merrily, as she
drew near. “Tell us why.”
Captain Rayburn nodded to Celia. She shook her head vigorously in
return. He glanced at Mr. and Mrs. Birch, both of whom smilingly
refused to speak. So he looked up at Charlotte, and put his question as
he might have fired a shot.
“Will you sail for Europe with Celia and me week after next, to stay
till October? Celia will stay the year with me; you I shall ship home
as useless baggage in the fall.”
Charlotte stood still, her arms tightening about the daisies and
buttercups, as if they represented a baby whom she must not let fall. A
rich wave of colour swept over her face. She looked from one to another
of the group as if she could not believe her good fortune. Then
suddenly she dropped her flowers in an abandoned heap, clasped her
hands tightly together, and drew one long breath of delight.
“Can you spare me?” she murmured, her eyes upon her mother.
Mrs. Birch nodded, smiling. “I surely can,” she said.
“Turn about is fair play,” said Mr. Birch, “and your uncle seems to
consider himself a person of authority.”
“I want,” declared Captain Rayburn, his bright eyes studying each
niece's winsome young face in turn, “in the interest of the family
orchestra, to tune the violins.”
* * * * *
“Speaking of violins,” said the captain, half an hour later, quite
as if no interval of busy talk and plan-making had occurred, “suppose
we see about how far off the key they are at present. Jeff—Just——”
Everybody stared, then laughed, for Jeff and Just instantly
produced, from behind that same screen, five green-flanneled, familiar
shapes. The entire company had reassembled under the oak-trees, drawn
together by a secret summons from the captain.
“Now see here, Uncle Ray,” remonstrated his eldest nephew, “this is
stealing a march on us with a vengeance.”
“I'm entirely willing you should let a march steal on me,” retorted
the captain, disposing himself comfortably among his rugs and cushions,
“or a waltz, or a lullaby, or anything else you choose. But music of
some sort I must have.”
Laughing, they tuned their instruments, and the rest of the company
settled down to listen. Lanse, his eyes mischievous, passed a whispered
word among the musicians, and presently, at the signal, the well-known
notes of “Hail to the Chief” were sounding through the woods,
played with great spirit and zest. And as they played, the five Birches
marched to position in front of the captain, then stood still and
“Off with you, you strolling players!” cried the captain. “The
spectacle of a 'cello player attempting to carry his instrument and
perform upon it at the same time is enough to upset me for a week. Sit
down comfortably, and give us 'The Sweetest Flower That Blows.'“
So they played, softly now, and with full appreciation of the fact
that the melodious song was one of their mother's favourites.
But suddenly they had a fresh surprise, for as they played, a voice
from the little audience joined them, under his breath at first,
then—as the captain turned and made vigorous signs to the singer to
let his voice be heard—with tunefully swelling notes, which fell upon
all their ears like music of a rare sort:
“The sweetest flower that blows
I give you as we part.
To you it is a rose,
To me it is my heart.”
The captain knew, as the voice went on, that those barytone notes
were very fine ones—knew better than the rest, as having a wider
acquaintance with voices in general. But they all understood that it
was to no ordinary singer they were listening.
When the song ended the captain reached over and laid a brotherly
arm on Doctor Churchill's shoulder. “Welcome, friend,” he said, with
feeling in his voice. “You've given the countersign.”
But the doctor, although he received modestly the words of praise
which fell upon him from all about, would sing no more that day. It had
been the first time for almost three years. And “The Sweetest Flower
That Blows” was not only Mrs. Birch's favourite song; it had been
Mrs. Churchill's also.
“See here, Churchill,” said Lanse, as the orchestra rested for a
moment, “do you play any instrument?”
“Only as a novice,” admitted the doctor, with some reluctance.
“And never owned up!” chided Lanse. “You didn't want to belong to
such an amateurish company?”
“I did—very much,” said Churchill, with emphasis. “But you needed
no more violins.”
“If I'm to be away all next year,” said Celia, quickly, “they will
need you. Will you take my place?”
“No, indeed, Miss Celia,” the doctor answered, decidedly. “But if
you would let me play—second.”
He looked at Charlotte, smiling. She returned his smile, but shook
her head. “I'm Second Fiddle,” she said. “I'll never take Celia's
The eyes of the two sisters met, affectionately, comprehendingly.
“I should like to have you, dear,” said Celia, softly.
But Charlotte only shook her head again, colouring beneath the
glances which fell on her from all sides. “I'd rather play my old
part,” she answered.
Jeff caught up and lifted high in the air an imaginary glass.
“Here's to the orchestra!” he called out. “May Doctor Churchill read
the score of the first violin. Here's to the First Violin! May she hear
plenty of fine music in the old country, and come back ready to coach
us all. And here's—”
He paused and looked impressively round upon the company, who
regarded him in turn with interested, sympathetic eyes. “I say we've
called her 'Second Fiddle' long enough,” he said, and hesitated,
beginning to get stranded in his own eloquence. “Anyhow, if she hasn't
proved this year that she's fit to play anything—dishes or wall-paper
or babies—” He stopped, laughing. “I don't know how to say it, but as
sure as my name's Jefferson Birch she—er—”
“Hear! hear!” the captain encouraged him softly.
“Here's,”—shouted the boy, “here's to the Second Violin!”
Through the friendly laughter and murmurs of appreciation,
Charlotte, dropping shy, happy eyes, read the real love and respect of
everybody, and felt that the year's experiences had brought her a rich
reward. But all she said, as Jeff, exhausted by his effort at oratory,
dropped upon the grass beside her, was in his ear:
“If anybody deserves a toast, Jeffy boy, I think it's you. You've
eaten so many slices of mine—burnt to a cinder—and never winced! If
that isn't heroism, what is?”
* * * * *
BOOK II. THE CHURCHILL LATCH-STRING
* * * * *
“Here's another, Charlotte!”
Young Justin Birch's lusty shout rang through the house from hall to
kitchen, vibrating even as far as the second-story room in the rear,
where Charlotte herself happened at that moment to be. In response
people appeared from everywhere. The bride-elect was the last to put in
an appearance, and when she came, there was a certain reluctance in her
“Hurry up, there!” admonished Just, already busy with chisel and
hammer at the slender, flat box which lay upon the hall floor, in the
centre of an interested group. He paused to glance up at his sister,
where she had stopped upon the landing. “You act as if you didn't want
to see what's in it,” he remonstrated, whacking away vigorously.
“Indeed I do,” Charlotte declared, coming on down the staircase,
smiling at the faces upturned toward her, which were smiling back,
every one. “But I'm beginning to feel as if I—as if they—as if—”
“It must seem odd to feel like that,” John Lansing agreed,
quizzically. Lanse had but just arrived, having come on especially for
the wedding, from the law-school at which he had been for two years.
Celia slipped her arm about her younger sister's shoulders. “I know
what she means,” she said, in her gentle way. “It's so unexpected to
her, after sending out no invitations at all, that gifts should keep
pouring in like this. But it's not unexpected to us.”
“Oh, I know how many of them come from father's and mother's
friends, and how many from Andy's grateful patients. It's all the more
overwhelming on that account.”
“Look out there, Just!” The admonition came from Jeff, and
consequently was delivered from some six feet in the air, where that
nineteen-year-old's head was now carried. “Don't split those pieces;
they'll be fine for the Emerson boys building.”
“That's so.” Just wielded his tools with more care. Presently he had
the long parcel lying on the floor. At this moment Mr. Roderick Birch
opened the outer hall door.
“As usual,” was his smiling comment, as he laid aside hat and
overcoat and joined the circle. “Charlotte's latest?”
Charlotte herself undid the wrappings, wondering what the gift could
be. She disclosed a long piece of dingy-looking metal.
“A new shingle for Andy!” cried Jeff.
Just turned the heavy slab over, and it proved to be of copper.
Words came into view, hammered and beaten into the glinting metal. An
effective conventionalised border surrounded the whole.
“'Ye Ornaments of a House are ye Guests who Frequent it,'“ read the
assembled company, in chorus.
“Oh, isn't that beautiful!” cried Charlotte.
Jeff glanced at her suspiciously. “She says that about everything,”
he remarked. “Don't think much of it myself. The sentiment may be
awfully true—or otherwise; but what's the thing for? If anybody wanted
to hint at an invitation to visit Andy and Charlotte, he might have
done it without putting himself on record on a slab of copper four feet
long. Who sent it, anyway?”
Celia hunted carefully through the wrappings, and everybody finally
joined in the search, but no card appeared.
“I'm so sorry!” lamented Charlotte. “I shall never know whom to
“It lets you out, anyhow,” Jeff said, soothingly. “You won't have to
tell any lies. The thing is of about as much use as a bootjack.”
“Why, but it's lovely!” protested Charlotte, with evident sincerity.
“Copper things are very highly valued just now, and the work on that is
artistic. Don't you see it is?”
“Can't see it,” murmured Jeff. “But of course my not seeing it
doesn't count. I can't see the value of that idiotic old battered-up
copper pail you cherish so tenderly, but that's because I lack the
true, heaven-born artist's soul. Where are you going to put this,
Charlotte's eyes grew absent. She was sending them in imagination
across the lawn to the little old brick house next door, which was soon
to be her home, as she had done every time a new gift arrived. There
were a good many puzzles of this sort in connection with her wedding
gifts. Where to put some of them she knew, with a thrill of pleasure,
the instant she set eyes on them; where in the world others could
possibly go was undoubtedly a serious question.
“Hello, here comes Andy!” called Just, from the window. “Give him a
chance at it. Perhaps he can use it somewhere in the surgery—as a
delicate way of cheering the patients when they feel as if perhaps
they'd better not have come.”
Charlotte turned as the hall door swung open, admitting Dr. Andrew
Churchill and a fresh breath of October air.
Everybody turned about also. Into everybody's face came a look of
affectionate greeting. Even the eyes of the father and mother—and
this, just now, was the greatest test of all—showed the welcome to
which their own children were happily used.
The figure on the threshold was one to claim attention anywhere. It
was a strong figure with a look of life and intense physical vigour.
The face matched the body: it was fresh-coloured and finely molded; and
nobody who looked at it and into the clear gray eyes of Andrew
Churchill could fail to recognise the man behind.
Lanse, who was nearest, shook hands warmly. “It seems good to see
you, old fellow,” he said, heartily. “If this whirl of work they tell
me you are in had kept up much longer, I should have turned patient
myself and sent for you. Going to find time to be married in, think,
“I rather expect to be able to manage it,” responded Doctor
Churchill, laughing. “How long have you been home, Lanse—two hours?
Just promised to let me know when you came.”
“I started, but you were whizzing up the street in the runabout,”
protested Just, picking up the debris of the unpacking and carrying it
away. “There was a trail of steam behind you sixteen feet long. I think
you were running beyond lawful speed.”
“Here's your latest acquisition.” Jeff pointed it out, picking up
the copper slab and holding it at the stretch of his arms for
inspection. Doctor Churchill turned and regarded it with interest. Then
his bright glance shifted to Charlotte, and he smiled at her.
“That's great, isn't it?” he said, and she nodded, smiling.
Just, returning, shouted. “Trust 'em both to get round anything that
may turn up! 'That's great!' is certainly safe and non-committal of a
four-foot motto that's of no earthly use.”
“Well, but I like it,” Doctor Churchill asserted, and came over to
Charlotte's side, where he examined the copper slab with attention.
“Don't you believe that will pretty nearly fit the depression in the
fireplace just above the shelf?”
Her interested look responded to his. “Why, I believe it will!” she
“Who sent it?”
“We can't find out.”
“No card? That's odd. But there may be something about it to show.
It looks to me as if it had been made for that place. If it proves to
fit, we can narrow the mystery down to the few people who have seen the
new fireplace. Let's go over and try, shall we? Come on—everybody!”
Accordingly, the whole company streamed out across the
lawn—Charlotte and Doctor Churchill, Celia, her pretty blond head
shining in the October sunlight, Lanse and Jeff and Just, three
stalwart fellows, ranging in ages from twenty-six to sixteen, Mr. and
Mrs. Birch, the happy possessors of this happy clan.
They hurried up the two steps of the small front porch, into the
brick house, and stampeded into the front room. They stopped opposite
the fireplace, where Doctor Churchill was already triumphantly
inserting the copper panel—for that is what it instantly became—in
the long, horizontal depression in the fireplace.
“It fits to a hair!” he exclaimed, and a general murmur of
approbation arose. Now that the odd gift was where it so clearly
belonged, its peculiar beauty became evident even to the skeptical Jeff
The new fireplace was the heart of the little old house. Moreover,
so cunningly had it been designed and built that it seemed to have been
in its place from the beginning.
Doctor Churchill and Charlotte had made a certain distant field the
object of many walks and drives, and had personally selected the
“hardheads” of which the fireplace was constructed. A small bedroom,
opening off the square little parlour, had had its partition removed,
and in this alcove-like end of the room the fireplace had been built.
The effect was very good, and the resulting apartment, the only one
on the lower floor which could be spared for general use, had become at
once the place upon which Charlotte was concentrating most of her
efforts, meaning to make it a room where everybody should wish to come.
The usual interruption of a summons for Doctor Churchill to the
office in the wing sent the assembled company off again. Just as
Charlotte was leaving the room, however—the last of all, because she
could not bring herself to desert the joy of the copper panel in its
setting of gray stone—Doctor Churchill hurriedly returned.
Seeing Charlotte alone and about to vanish, he ran after her and
drew her back.
“I have to go right away, dear,” he said. “But I want to look at the
new gift alone with you a minute. It's really a fine addition, isn't
“Oh, beautiful! In the firelight and the lamplight how that copper
“I wish we knew to whom we owe such a thought of us. I like the
sentiment, too, don't you, Charlotte? I hope—do you know, it's one of
my pleasantest hopes—that our home is going to be one that knows how
to dispense hospitality. The real sort—not the sham.”
Charlotte looked up at him and smiled.
“As if I need tell you what I wish!” he said, with gay tenderness.
“You know every thought I have about it.”
“We'll make people happy here,” said Charlotte. “Indeed, I want to,
Andy Churchill. This room—they shall find a welcome always—rich and
poor. Especially—the poor ones.”
“Especially the poor ones. Won't old Mrs. Wilsey think it's pleasant
here? And Tom Brannigan—he'll be scared at first, but we'll show him
it's a jolly place—Charlotte, I musn't get to dreaming day-dreams now,
or I never can summon strength of purpose to wait another week. One
week from to-day! What an age it seems!”
“Run and make your calls,” advised Charlotte, laughing, as she
escaped from him and hurried to the door. “The busier you keep, the
shorter the time will seem.”
The week went by at last. To the young man, one of a large family
long since scattered—many members of it, including both father and
mother, in the old Virginia churchyard—the time could not come too
soon. He had lived alone with his housekeeper almost four years now,
and during nearly all that time he had been waiting for Charlotte.
She was considerably younger than he, and when he had been, after
two years of acquaintance, allowed to betroth himself to her, he had
been asked to wait yet another two years while she should “grow up a
little more,” as her wise father put it.
As for Charlotte herself, she still seemed to those who loved her at
home hardly grown up enough at twenty-two to go to a home of her own.
Yet father and mother, brothers and sister, were all ready to
acknowledge that those two years had resulted in the early budding of
very sweet and womanly qualities; and nobody, watching Charlotte with
her lover, could possibly fear for either that they were not ready for
the great experiment.
The autumn leaves were bright, the white fall anemones were in
blossom, when Charlotte's wedding-day came; and with leaves and
anemones the little stone church was decorated.
Not an invitation of the customary sort had been sent out. But, as
is usual in a comfortable, un-aristocratic suburb, the news that Doctor
Churchill and Miss Charlotte Birch wanted everybody who knew and cared
for them to come to the church and see them married had spread until
The result was that no one of Doctor Churchill's patients—and he
had won a large and growing practice among all classes of people—felt
left out or forgotten, and that, as the clock struck the hour of noon,
the church was crowded to the doors with those who were real friends of
the young people.
“Somehow I don't feel a bit like a bride,” said Charlotte, looking,
however, very much like one, as she stood in the centre of her mother's
room in bridal array.
Four elegant male figures, two in frock coats, two in more youthful
but equally festive attire, were surveying her with satisfaction.
Near by hovered Celia, the daintiest of maids of honour: Mrs. Birch,
as charming as a girl herself in her pale gray silken gown: and little
Ellen Donohue, a six-year-old protegee of the family, her hazel eyes
wide with gazing at Charlotte, whom she hugged intermittently and
adored without cessation.
“You don't feel like a bride, eh?” was Lanse's reply to Charlotte's
statement. “Well, I shouldn't think you would—an infant like you. You
look more suitable for a christening than for a marriage ceremony.
Father's likely, when Doctor Elder asks who gives the bride away, to
murmur, 'Charlotte Wendell,' thinking he's inquiring the child's name.”
Charlotte threw him a glance, half-shy, half-merry. “As best man you
should be saying complimentary things about your friend's choice.”
“I am. The trouble is you're not old enough to enjoy being mistaken
for a babe in arms.”
“I don't think she looks like a child. I think she's the stunningest
young woman I ever saw!” declared Just, with enthusiasm. “If her hair
was done up on top of her head she'd be a regular queen.”
Celia laughed. Her own beautiful blond locks were piled high, and
the style became her. But Charlotte's dusky braids were prettier low on
the white neck, in the girlish fashion in which they had long been
worn, and Celia announced this fact with a loving touch on the graceful
coiffure her own hands had arranged for her sister.
“You can't improve her,” she said. “She looks like our Charlotte,
and that's just the way we want her to look. That's what Andy wants,
“Of course he does. And I can tell you, he looks like Andy,” Lanse
asserted. “Did you know he'd been making calls all the morning, the
same as usual? Made 'em till the last minute, too. It isn't fifteen
minutes since I saw his machine roll in. Hope he wasn't rattled when he
wrote his prescriptions.”
It was the Birches' custom to make as little as possible of family
crises. Talk and laugh as lightly as they would, however, every one of
them was watching Charlotte with anxiety, for it was the first break in
the dear circle, and it seemed almost as if they could have better
spared any other.
Yet Charlotte was going to live no farther away than next door—this
was the comfort of the situation.
“Well, I must be off to look after my duties to the groom,” Lanse
announced presently, with a precautionary glance into his mother's
mirror to make sure that not a hair of his splendour was disturbed. “I
ought to have been with him before this, only my infatuation for the
bride makes my case difficult. You've heard of these fellows who hang
about another chap's girl till the last minute, doing the forsaken act.
I feel something like that. Good luck, little girl. Keep cool, and
trust Andy and Doctor Elder to get you safely married.”
He stooped to kiss her, and Charlotte held him close for an instant.
But he made the brotherly embrace a short one, comprehending that much
of that sort of thing would be unsafe both for Charlotte and her
family, and went gaily away to the house next door.
“Nerve good?” Lanse asked Doctor Churchill, an hour later as they
waited in the vestry for the summons of the organ.
Doctor Churchill smiled. “Pretty steady,” he answered. “Still—I'm
aware something is about to happen.”
Lanse eyed him affectionately.
“Do you know it's a good deal to me to be gaining three brothers by
this day's work?” the doctor added; and Lanse felt a sudden lump in his
throat, which he had to swallow before he could answer:
“I assure you we're feeling pretty rich, to-day, too, old fellow.”
It was all over presently—a very simple, natural sort of affair,
with the warm October sunlight streaming through the richly coloured
windows upon the figures at the altar, touching Celia's bright hair
into a halo, and sending a ruby beam across the trailing folds of
Charlotte's bridal gown.
There was no display of any sort. The whole effect was somehow that
of a girl being married in the enclosing circle of her family, without
thought of the hundreds of eyes upon her. A quiet wedding breakfast
followed, at which Doctor Forester and his son, the latter lately
returned from a long period of study abroad, were the only guests.
Doctor Churchill's housekeeper, Mrs. Fields, although invited to be
present as a guest insisted on remaining in the kitchen.
“Just as if,” she said, when everybody in turn remonstrated with
her, “when I've looked after that boy's food from the days when he ate
nothing but porridge and milk, I was going to let anybody else feed him
with his wedding breakfast!”
But this part of the business of getting married was also soon over.
Doctor Churchill was to take his bride away for a month's stay in a
little Southern resort among the mountains, dear to him by old
association. It was the first vacation he had allowed himself during
these four years of his practice, and his eyes had been sparkling as he
planned it. They were sparkling again now, as he stood waiting for
Charlotte to say good-bye and come away with him, but his face spoke
his sympathetic understanding of those who were finding this the
hardest moment which had yet come to them.
“Take care of her, Andy,” was what, in almost the same words, they
all more or less brokenly said to him at last; and to each and all he
answered, in that way of his they loved and trusted, “I will.”
From Andrew Churchill it was assurance enough.
* * * * *
“There! Doesn't that look like a 'Welcome Home'?”
Celia stood in the doorway and surveyed her handiwork. Mrs. Birch,
from an opposite threshold, nodded, smiling.
“It does, indeed. You have given the whole house a festival air
which will captivate Andy's heart the instant he sets eyes on it. As
for our little Charlotte—”
She paused, as if it were not easy to put into words that which she
knew Charlotte would think. But Celia went on gleefully:
“Charlotte will be so crazy with delight at getting home she will
see everything through a blur at first. But when we have all gone away
and left them here, then Charlotte will see. And she'll be glad to find
traces of her devoted family wherever she looks.”
She pointed from the little work-box on the table by the window,
just equipped and placed there by her mother's hand, to the book-shelf
made and put up in the corner by Jeff. She waved her hand at a great
wicker armchair with deep pockets at the sides for newspapers and
magazines, which had been Mr. Birch's contribution to the living-room,
and at the fine calendar which Just had hung by the desk. Her own
offerings were the dressing-table furnishings up-stairs.
All these were by no means wedding gifts, but afterthoughts,
inspired by a careful inspection of the details of Doctor Churchill's
bachelor home, and the noting of certain gaps which only love and care
would be likely to fill.
In four hours now the travellers would be at home, in time, it was
expected, for the late dinner being prepared by Mrs. Hepzibah Fields.
For the present, at least, Mrs. Fields was to remain. “I've had full
proof of Charlotte's ability to cook and to manage a house,” Doctor
Churchill had said, when they talked it over, “and I want her free this
first year, anyway, to work with her brush and pencil all she likes,
and to go about with me all I like.”
Mrs. Fields, although a product of New England, had spent nearly
half her life in Virginia, in the service of the Churchills. She had
drawn a slow breath of relief when this decision had been made known to
her, and had said fervently to Doctor Churchill:
“I expect I know how to make myself useful without being
conspicuous, and I'm sure I think enough of both of you not to put my
foot into your housekeeping. That child's worked pretty hard these four
years since I've known her, and a little vacation won't hurt her.”
So it had been settled, and Mrs. Fields was now getting up a dinner
for her “folks,” as she affectionately termed them, which was to be
little short of a feast.
Charlotte had written that she and Andy wanted the whole family to
come to dinner with them that first night. All day Celia and her mother
had been busy getting the little house, already in perfect order, into
that state of decorative cheer which suggests a welcome in itself. Now,
with Just's offering of ground-pine, and Celia's scarlet carnations all
about the room, a fire ready laid in the fireplace, and lamps and
candles waiting to be lighted on every side, there seemed nothing to be
“I suppose there's really not another thing we can do,” said Celia.
“Absolutely nothing more, that I can see,” agreed Mrs. Birch, taking
up her wraps from the chair on which they lay. “You can run over and
light up at the last minute. Really, how long it seems yet to seven
“Doesn't it? And how good it will be to get the dear girl back!
Well, the first month has gone by, mother dear. The worst is over.”
Celia spoke cheerfully, but her words were not quite steady. Mrs.
Birch glanced at her.
“You've been a brave daughter,” she said, with the quiet composure
which Celia understood did not always cover a peaceful heart. “We shall
all grow used to the change in time. I think sometimes we're not half
thankful enough to have Charlotte so near.”
“Oh, I think we are!” Celia protested.
“The children have had a beautiful month. Haven't their letters
It was nothing more startling than the front door-bell, but this was
so seldom rung at the bachelor doctor's house, where everybody who
wanted him at all wanted him professionally at the office, that it sent
Celia hastily and anxiously to the door. It was so impossible at this
hour, when the travellers were almost home, not to dread the happening
of something to detain them. At the same moment Mrs. Field put her head
in at the dining-room door. “Land, I do hope it ain't a telegram!” she
observed, in a loud whisper.
It was not a telegram. It was a pale-faced little woman in black,
with two children, a boy and a girl, beside her. Celia looked at them
“This is Doctor Churchill's, isn't it?” asked the stranger, with a
hesitating foot upon the threshold. “Is he at home?”
“He is expected home—he will be in his office to-morrow,” Celia
answered, thinking this a new patient, and feeling justified in keeping
Doctor Churchill's first evening clear for him if she could. But the
visitor drew a sigh of relief, and came over the threshold, drawing her
children with her. Celia gave way, but the question in her face brought
“I reckon it's all right, if he's coming so soon. I'm his cousin,
Mrs. Peyton. These are my children. I haven't seen Andrew since he was
a boy at college, but he'll remember me. Are you—” She hesitated.
Mrs. Birch came forward. “We are the mother and sister of Mrs.
Churchill,” she said, and offered her hand. “Doctor Churchill was
“Well, maybe not just at this time,” admitted the newcomer, without
reluctance. “I didn't know I was coming myself until just as I bought
my ticket for home. I happened to think I was within sixty miles of
that place in the North where I knew Andrew settled. So I thought we'd
better stop and see him and his new wife.”
There was nothing to do but to usher her in. With a rebellious heart
Celia led Mrs. Peyton into the living-room and assisted her and the
children out of their wrappings. All sorts of strange ideas were
occurring to her. It was within the bounds of possibility that these
people were not what they claimed to be—she had heard of such things.
She was unwilling to show them to Charlotte's pretty guest-room, to
offer them refreshment, even to light the fire for them.
It was too bad, it was unbearable, that the home-coming for which
she and her mother had made such preparation should be spoiled by the
presence of these strangers. To be sure, if she was Andrew's cousin she
was no stranger to him, yet Celia could not recollect that he had ever
spoken of her, even in the most casual way.
But her hope that in some way this might prove to be a case of
mistaken identity was soon extinguished. When she had slipped away to
the kitchen, at a suggestion from her mother that the guests should be
served with something to eat, she found that information concerning
Mrs. Peyton was to be had from Mrs. Fields.
“Peyton? For the lands' sake! Don't tell me she's here! Know her? I
guess I do! Of all the unfortunate things to happen right now, I should
consider her about the worst calamity. What is she? Oh, she ain't
anything—that's about the worst I can say of her. There ain't anything
bad about her—oh, no. Sometimes I've been driven to wish there was, if
I do say it! She's just what I should call one of them characterless
sort of folks—kind of soft and silly, like a silk sofy cushion without
enough stuffing in it. Always talking, she is, without saying anything
in particular. I don't know about the children. They were little things
when I saw 'em last. What do you say they look like?”
“The girl is about fourteen, I should think,” said Celia, getting
out tray and napkins. “She's rather a pretty child—doesn't look very
strong. The boy is quite a handsome fellow, of nine or ten. Oh, it's
all right, of course, and I've no doubt Doctor Churchill will be glad
to see any relatives of his family. Only—if it needn't have happened
“I know how you feel,” said the housekeeper. “Here, let me fix that
tray, Miss Celia; you've done enough. I suppose we've got to feed 'em
and give 'em a room. Ain't it too bad to put them in that nice spare
room? No, I don't believe the doctor'll be powerful pleased to see 'em,
though I don't suppose he'll let on he ain't. Trouble is, she's a
stayer—one of the visiting kind, you know. Mis' Churchill, doctor's
mother, used to have her there by the month. There was what you
may call a genuine lady, Miss Celia. She'd never let a guest feel he
wasn't welcome, and I guess Andy—I guess the doctor's pretty much like
her. Well, well!”
Mrs. Fields sighed, and Celia echoed the sigh. Nevertheless, the
little hint about Doctor Churchill's mother took hold.
Celia knew what Southern hospitality meant. If Mrs. Peyton had been
accustomed to that, it must be a matter of pride not to let her feel
that Northern homes were cold and comfortless places by comparison. By
the time she had shown the visitors to Charlotte's guest-room, and had
made up a bed for the boy on a wide couch there, Celia had worked off a
little of her regret. Nevertheless, when Jeff and Just heard the news,
their disgust roused her to fresh rebellion.
“I call that pretty nervy,” Jeff declared, indignantly, “to walk in
on people like this, without a word of warning! Nobody but an idiot
would expect people just coming home from their honeymoon to want to
find their house filled up with cousins.”
“Oh, Andy's relatives'll turn up now,” said Just, cynically. “People
he never heard of. I'll bet he won't know this woman till he's
“Yes, he will. I've found her name on the list we sent announcements
to,” Celia said, dismally. “I didn't notice at the time, because there
were ever so many friends of his, people in all parts of the world.
'Mrs. Randolph Peyton,' that's it.”
“Hope Mr. Randolph Peyton'll get anxious to see her, and send for
her to come home at once!” growled Jeff.
“She's in mourning. I presume she's a widow,” was all the comfort
Celia could give him.
“Then she'll stay all winter!” cried Just with such hopeless
inflection that his sister laughed.
When she went over at half past six o'clock, to light the fire, she
found the three visitors gathered in the living-room. She had hoped
they might stay up-stairs at least until the first welcome had been
given to Charlotte and Andrew. But it turned out that Mrs. Peyton had
inquired of Mrs. Fields the exact hour of the expected arrival, and
presumably had considered that since the Peytons represented Doctor
Churchill's side of the house, their part in his welcome home was not
to be gainsaid.
Mr. Birch, Jeff, Just, and Mrs. Birch with little Ellen, presently
appeared. Lansing had gone back to his law school, but a great bunch of
roses represented him. It had been Charlotte's express command that
nobody should go to the station to meet the returning travellers, but
that everybody should be in the little brick house to welcome them when
they should drive up.
“Here they are! Here they are!” shouted Just, from behind a window
curtain, where he had been keeping close watch on the circle of
radiance from the nearest arc-light. There was a rush for the door.
Jeff flung it open, and he and Just raced to the hansom which was
driving up. The rest of the party crowded the doorway, Mrs. Peyton and
Lucy and Randolph being of the group.
“How are you, everybody?” called Doctor Churchill's eager voice, as
he and Charlotte ran up the walk to the door, Jeff and Just following.
“Well, this is fine! Father—mother—Celia—my little Ellen—bless your
hearts, but it's good to see you!”
How could anybody help loving a son-in-law like that? One would have
thought they were indeed his own. While Charlotte remained wrapped in
her mother's embrace, Doctor Churchill was greeting them all twice
over, with apparently no eyes for the three he had not expected to see.
For the moment it was plain that he had not recognized them, and
supposed them to be strangers to whom he would presently be made known.
But now, as somebody moved aside and the light struck upon her, he
caught the smile on Mrs. Peyton's face. He left off shaking Jeff's
hand, and made a quick movement toward the little figure in black.
“Why, Cousin Lula!” he exclaimed.
Charlotte, at the moment hugging little Ellen with laughter and
kisses, turned at the cry, and saw her husband greeting with great
cordiality these strange people whom she, too, had supposed to be the
guests of her mother.
“Charlotte,” said Doctor Churchill, turning about, “this is my
cousin, Mrs. Peyton, of Virginia—and her children.”
Charlotte came forward, cordially greeted Mrs. Peyton and Lucy and
Randolph, and led them into the living-room as if the moment were that
of their arrival instead of her own.
“She has the stuff in her, hasn't she?” murmured Just to Jeff, as
the two stood at one side of the fireplace.
“Could you ever doubt it?” returned Jeff, with as much emphasis as
can be put into a mumbled retort. Jeff had been Charlotte's staunchest
champion all his life.
“Ah, Fieldsy, but I'm glad to be back!” Doctor Churchill assured his
housekeeper, in the kitchen, to which he had soon found his way. “We've
had a glorious time down in the Virginia mountains, but this is home
now, as it never was before, and it's great fun to be here. How are
you? You're looking fine.”
“And I'm feeling fine,” assented Mrs. Fields, her spare face lighted
into something like real comeliness by the pleasure in her heart. “Just
one thing, Doctor Andy. I'm terrible sorry them relatives of yours
happened along just now. If I'd gone to the door—well—I don't believe
but I'd have seen my way clear to—”
Churchill shook his head, smiling. “No, Fieldsy, you know you
wouldn't. Besides, Cousin Lula looks far from well, and she's had a lot
of trouble. It's all right, you know. My, but this is a good dinner we
have coming to us!”
He went off gaily. Mrs. Fields looked after him affectionately.
“Oh, yes, Andy Churchill, it's plain to be seen your heart's in the
right place as much as ever it was, if you have got married,” she
“O Fieldsy,”—and this time it was Charlotte who invaded the kitchen
and grasped the housekeeper's hands—“how good it seems to be back! But
I can't realise a bit I'm at home over here, can you?”
“You'll soon get used to it, I guess, Mis' Churchill.”
“Oh, and that sounds strange—from you!” declared Charlotte,
laughing. “I'd begun to get a little bit used to it down in Virginia.
If you don't say 'Miss Charlotte' once in a while to me I shall feel
“I guess Doctor Churchill 'd have something to say about that, if I
should. I don't believe but what he's terrible proud of that name.”
It was certainly a name nobody seemed able to “get used to.” Just
called his sister by the new title once during the evening. They were
at the table when he thus addressed her, and there followed a
succession of comments.
“Don't you dare call her that when I'm round!” remarked Jeff.
“I actually didn't understand at first whom you meant,” said Celia.
“I've not forgotten how long it took me to learn that my name was
Birch,” said Charlotte's mother, with a smile so bright that it covered
the involuntary sigh.
“Is Aunty Charlotte my Aunty Churchill now?” piped little Ellen.
Lucy and Randolph Peyton laughed.
“Of course, she is, dumpling, only you can keep on calling her Aunty
Charlotte. And I'm your Uncle Andy. How do you like that?”
“Oh, I like that!” agreed Ellen, and edged her chair an inch nearer
Dinner over, Celia bore Ellen home to bed. Charlotte suggested the
same possibility for the Peyton children, but although it was nearing
nine o'clock, both refused so decidedly that after a glance at their
mother, who took no notice, Charlotte said no more.
Randolph grew sleepy in his chair, and Doctor Churchill presently
took pity on him. He sat down beside the lad and told him a story of so
intentionally monotonous a character that Randolph was soon half over
the border. Then the doctor picked him up, and with the drooping head
on his shoulder observed, pleasantly:
“This lad wants his bed, Cousin Lula. May I take him to it?”
Mrs. Peyton, engaged in telling Mr. Birch her opinion of certain
Northern institutions she had lately observed, nodded absently. Doctor
Churchill ascended the stairs, and Charlotte, slipping from the room,
ran up ahead of him to get Randolph's cot in readiness.
“That's it, old fellow! Wake up enough to let me get your clothes
off,” Churchill bade the sleep-heavy child. “Can you find his
nightclothes, Charlotte? Cousin Lula seems to have unpacked. That's it.
Thank you! Now, Ran, you'll be glad to be in bed, won't you? Can you
wake up enough to say your prayers, son? No? Well that's not altogether
your fault,” he said, softly, and smiled at Charlotte. “I think we'd
better invite Lucy up, too, don't you?”
“Won't she—Mrs. Peyton—think we're rather cool?” Charlotte
suggested, as they tucked the boy in.
“Not a bit. She'll be glad to have the job off her hands. The
youngsters are tired, and ought to have been in bed an hour ago. Stay
here, and I'll run down after Lucy.”
On the stairs, as they descended, after Charlotte had seen Lucy to
her quarters, they met Jeff.
“Been putting the kids to bed?” he questioned curiously, under his
breath. “Well, you're great. Their mother doesn't seem much worried
about it. She's quite a talker. Guess she didn't notice what happened.
Say, I'm going. It's ten o'clock. You two ought to have a chance to
look 'round without any more company to-night. Justin slipped off while
you were up-stairs. Told me to say good-night. Father and mother are
only waiting for a pause in your cousin's conversation long enough to
throw in a word of their own before they get up.” He made an expressive
“You know mother's invariable rule,” he chuckled, “never to get up
to go at the end of one of your guest's conversational sprints, but
always to wait until you can interrupt yourself, so to speak. Well—I
don't mean any disrespect to the lady from Virginia, Andy, but I'm
afraid mother'll have to make an exception to that rule, or else remain
for the night.”
The three laughed softly, Charlotte's hand on her brother's
shoulder, as she stood on the step above him.
“You mustn't say any saucy things, Jeffy,” said she, with a soft
touch on his thick locks.
“I won't. I'm too tickled to have you back—both of you. We missed
Fiddle pretty badly,” he said to Doctor Churchill, “but we found time
to miss you almost as much. There have been several times while you've
been gone that I'd have welcomed the chug of your runabout under
my window, waking me up in the middle of the night.”
“Thank you, old fellow!” said Doctor Churchill with a hand on Jeff's
other shoulder. “That's mighty pleasant to hear.”
In spite of Jeff's prediction, Mrs. Birch soon managed, in her own
tactful way, to follow her sons home. Mrs. Peyton went up to her room
at last, a cordial good night, following her from the foot of the
stairs. Then Doctor Churchill drew his wife back into the living-room
and closed the doors. He stood looking at Charlotte with eyes in which
were mingled merriment and tenderness.
“It wasn't just as we planned it, was it, little girl?” he said.
“But there's always this to fall back upon. People we want, and people
we don't want so much, may be around us, to the right of us, and the
left of us, but even so, nobody can ever—come between.”
The door-bell rang.
“Oh, I hoped nobody would know you were home to-night!' cried
Charlotte, the smile fading from her lips. Doctor Churchill went
quickly to the door. A messenger boy with a telegram stood outside. The
doctor read the dispatch and dismissed the boy. Then he turned to
“No, it's no bad news,” he said, and came close. “It's just—can you
bear up?—another impending guest! Charlotte, I've done a lot of
talking about hospitality, and I meant it all. I certainly want our
latch-string always out, but—don't you think we rushed that copper
motto into place just a bit too soon?”
* * * * *
“Charlotte, what are we going to do? It turns out Lee has his sister
Mrs. Andrew Churchill, engaged in making up a fresh bed with linen
smelling faintly of lavender, dropped her sheets and blankets and stood
up straight. She gazed across the room at Andy, whose face expressed
both amusement and dismay.
“Andy,” said she, “haven't I somewhere heard a proverb to the effect
that it never rains but it pours?”
“There's an impression on my mind that you have,” said her husband.
“You are now about to have a practical demonstration of that same
proverb. I wrote Lee, as you suggested after his second telegram, and
this is his answer. He was detained by the illness of his sister
Evelyn, who is with him. It seems she was at school up here in our
state, but overworked and finally broke down, and he has come to take
her home. But you see home for them means a boarding-house. The family
is broken up, mother dead, father at the ends of the earth; and Lee has
Evelyn on his hands. The worst of it is, he wants me to see her
professionally, so I can't very well suggest that we're too full to
“Of course you can't,” agreed Charlotte, promptly. “But it means
that we must find another room somewhere in the house. Of course mother
would—but I don't want to begin right away to send extra guests over
“Neither do I,” said Doctor Churchill. “Do you suppose we could put
a cot into my private office for Lee? Then the sister could have this.”
“How old is she?”
“Sixteen, he says.”
“Oh, then this will do. And we can put a cot in your private
office—after office hours. If Mr. Lee is an old friend he won't object
“You're a dear girl! And they won't stay long, of course—especially
when they see how crowded we are. You'll like Thorne Lee, Charlotte;
he's one of the best fellows alive. I haven't seen the sister since she
was a small child, but if she's anything like her brother you'll have
no trouble entertaining her, sick or well. All right! I'll answer Lee's
letter, and say nothing about our being full-up.”
“Of course not; that wouldn't be hospitality. When will they come?”
“In a day or two—as soon as she feels like travelling again.”
“I'll be ready for her,” and Charlotte gave him her brightest smile
as he hurried off.
She finished her bed-making, put the little room set apart for her
own private den into guest-room condition as nearly as it was possible
to do with articles of furniture borrowed from next door, and went down
to break the news to Mrs. Fields. She found that person explaining with
grim patience to the Peyton children why they could not make candy in
her kitchen at the inopportune hour of ten in the morning.
“But we always do at home!” complained Lucy, with a frown.
“Like as not you don't clear up the muss afterward, either,”
suggested Mrs. Fields, with a sharp look.
“Course we don't,” Randolph asserted, with a curl of his handsome
upper lip. “What's servants for, I'd like to know?”
“To make friends with, not to treat impolitely,” said a clear voice
behind the boy.
Randolph and Lucy turned quickly, and Mrs. Fields's face, which had
grown grim, softened perceptibly. Both children looked ready to make
some tart reply to Charlotte's interpolation, but as their eyes fell
upon her they discovered that to be impossible. How could one speak
rudely when one met that kind but authoritative glance?
“This is Mrs. Fields's busiest time, you know,” Charlotte said, “and
it wouldn't do to bother her now with making candy. In the afternoon
I'll help you make it. Come, suppose we go for a walk. I've some
marketing to do.”
“Ran can go with you,” said Lucy, as Charlotte proceeded to make
ready for the trip. “It's too cold for me. I'd rather stay here by the
fire and read.”
Charlotte looked at her. Lucy's delicate face was paler than usual
this morning; she had a languid air.
“The walk in this fresh November breeze will be sure to make you
feel ever so much better,” said Charlotte. “Don't you think so, Cousin
Mrs. Peyton looked up reluctantly from her embroidery.
“Why, I wouldn't urge her, Charlotte, if she doesn't want to go,”
she said, with a glance at Lucy, who was leaning back in a big chair
with a discontented expression. “You mustn't expect people from the
South to enjoy your freezing weather as you seem to. Lucy feels the
cold very much.”
Charlotte and Randolph marched away down the street together, the
boy as full of spirits as his companion.
She had found it easy from the first to make friends with him, and
was beginning, in spite of certain rather unpleasant qualities of his,
to like him very much. His mother had done her best to spoil him, yet
the child showed plainly that there was in him the material for a
sturdy, strong character.
When Charlotte had made several small purchases at the market, she
did not offer to give Randolph the little wicker basket she carried,
but the boy took it from her with a smile and a proud air.
“Ran,” said Charlotte, “just round this corner there's a jolly hill.
I don't believe anybody will mind if we have a race down it, do you?”
It was a back street, and the hill was an inviting one. The two had
their race, and Randolph won by a yard. Just as the pair, laughing and
panting, slowed down into their ordinary pace, a runabout, driven by a
smiling young man in a heavy ulster and cap, turned the corner with a
rush. Amid a cloud of steam the motor came to a standstill.
“Aha! Caught you at it!” cried Doctor Churchill. “Came down that
hill faster than the law allows. Get in here, both of you, and take the
run out to the hospital with me. I shall not be there long. I've been
out once this morning. This is just to make sure of a case I operated
on two hours ago.”
“Shall we, Ran?” asked Charlotte.
“Oh, let's!” said the boy, with enthusiasm. So away they went. The
result of the expedition came out later in the day. Before dinner the
entire household was grouped about the fire, Doctor Churchill having
just come in, after one of his busiest days.
“Been out to the hospital again, Cousin Andy?” Ran asked.
“Yes; twice since the noon visit.”
“How was the little boy with the broken waist?
“Fractured hip? Just about as you saw him. He's got to be patient a
good while before he can walk again, and these first few days are hard.
He asked me when you would come again.”
“Oh, I'll go to-morrow!” cried Randolph, sitting up very straight on
his cushion. “And I'll take him a book I've got, with splendid
“Good!” Doctor Churchill laid a hand on the boy's thick locks. “That
will please him immensely.”
Mrs. Peyton was looking at him with dismay. “Do I understand you
have taken him to a hospital?” she asked.
Doctor Churchill nodded. “To the boys' surgical ward. Nothing
contagious admitted to the hospital. It's a wonderful pleasure to the
little chaps to see a boy from outside, and Ran enjoyed it, too, didn't
“Oh, it was jolly!” said the boy.
“I shouldn't think that was exactly the word to describe such a
spot,” said Mrs. Peyton, and she looked displeased. “I think there are
quite enough sad sights in the world for his young eyes without taking
him into the midst of suffering. I should not have permitted it if you
had consulted me.”
It was true that Doctor Churchill possessed a frank and boyish face,
wearing ordinarily an exceedingly genial expression; but the friendly
gray eyes were capable of turning steely upon provocation, and they
turned that way now. He returned his cousin's look with one which
concealed with some difficulty both surprise and disgust.
“I took Ran nowhere that he would see any extreme suffering,” he
explained. “This ward contains only convalescents from various injuries
and operations. The graver cases are elsewhere, and he saw nothing of
those. A visit to this ward is likely to excite sympathy, it is true,
but not sympathy of a painful sort. The boys have very good times among
themselves, after a limited fashion, and I think Ran had a good time
with them. How about it, Ran?”
“Oh, I did! I taught two of 'em to play waggle-finger. Their legs
were hurt, but their hands were all right, and they could play
waggle-finger as well as anybody. They liked it.”
“Nevertheless, Randolph is of a very sensitive and delicate
make-up,” pursued his mother, “and I don't think such associations good
for him. He moaned in his sleep last night, and I couldn't think what
it could be.”
“It couldn't have been the candy we made this afternoon, could it,
Cousin Lula?” Charlotte asked, in her gentlest way. A comprehending
smile touched the corners of Doctor Churchill's lips.
“Why, of course not!” said Mrs. Peyton, quickly. “Candy made this
afternoon—how absurd, Charlotte! It was last night his sleep was
“But the hospital visit was this morning,” Charlotte said. “I should
think the one might as easily be responsible as the other.”
Mrs. Peyton looked confused. “I understood you to say the visit to
the hospital occurred yesterday,” she said, with dignity, and Doctor
Churchill smothered his amusement. “I certainly do not approve of
taking children to such places,” she repeated.
Charlotte adroitly turned the conversation into other channels, and
nothing more was said about hospitals just then. Only the boy, when he
had a chance, whispered in Doctor Churchill's ear:
“You just wait. I'll tease her into it.”
His cousin smiled back at him and shook his head. “Teasing's a
mighty poor way of getting things, Ran,” he said. “Leave it to me.”
Toward the end of the following day Jeff, crossing the lawn at his
usual rapid pace, was hailed from Doctor Churchill's office door by
Mrs. Fields. The housekeeper waved a telegram as he approached.
“Here, Mr. Jeff,” said she. “Would you mind opening this? There
ain't a soul in the house, and I don't want to take such a liberty, but
it ought to be read. I make no manner of doubt it's from those extry
visitors that are coming.”
“Where are they all?” Jeff fingered the envelope reluctantly. “I
don't like opening other people's messages.”
“I don't know where they are, that's it. Doctor took Miss Charlotte
and Ranny off after lunch in his machine, and Mis' Peyton and Lucy have
gone to town with your mother. Doctor Andy wouldn't like it if his
friends came without anybody to meet 'em.”
Jeff tore open the dispatch. “The first two words will tell me, I
suppose,” he said. “Hello—yes, you're right! They'll be here on the
five-ten. That's”—he pulled out his watch—“why, there's barely time
to get to the station now! This must have been delayed. You say you
don't know where anybody is?”
“Not a soul. Doctor usually leaves word, but he didn't this time.”
“I'll telephone the hospital,” and Jeff hurried to Doctor
Churchill's desk. In a minute he had learned that the doctor had come
and gone for the last time that day. He looked at Mrs. Fields.
“You'll have to go, Mr. Jeff,” said she. “I know Doctor Andy's ways.
He'd as soon let company go without their dinners as not be on hand
when their train came in. He wasn't expecting the Lees till to-morrow.”
“Of course,” said Jeff, “I'll go, since there's nobody else. How am
I to know 'em? Young man and sick girl? All right, that's easy,” and he
was off to catch a car at the corner.
As he rode into town, however, he was rebelling against the
situation. “This guest business is being overdone,” he observed to
himself. “These people are probably some more off the Peyton piece of
cloth. An invalid girl lying round on couches for Fiddle to wait
on—another Lucy, probably, only worse, because she's ill. Well, I'm
not going to be any more cordial than the law calls for. I'll have to
bring 'em out in a carriage, I suppose. She'll be too limp for the
He reached the station barely in time to engage a carriage before
the train came in. He took up his position inside the gates through
which all passengers must pass from the train-shed into the great
“Looking for somebody?” asked a voice at his elbow.
He glanced quickly down at one of his old schoolmates, Carolyn
Houghton. “Yes, guests of the Churchills,” he answered, his gaze
instantly returning to the throng pouring toward him from the train.
“Help me, will you? I don't know them from Adam. It's a man and his
invalid sister, old friends of Andy's.”
“There they are,” said Carolyn, promptly, indicating an approaching
Jeff laughed. “The sister isn't quite so antique as that,” he
objected, as a little woman of fifty wavered past on the arm of a stout
“You said 'old' friends,” retorted Carolyn. “Look, Jeff, isn't that
she? The sister's being wheeled in a chair by a porter, the brother's
walking beside her. They look like Doctor Churchill's friends,
“Think you can tell Andy's friends by their uniform?”
“You can tell anybody's intimate friends in a crowd—I mean the same
kind of people look alike,” asserted Carolyn, with emphasis. “These are
the ones, I'm sure. I'll just watch while you greet them and then I'll
slip off. I'm taking this next train. What a sweet face that girl has,
but how delicate—like a little flower. She's a dear, I'm sure. The
brother looks nice, too. They're the ones, I know. See, the brother's
looking hard at us all inside the gates.”
“Here goes, then. Good-by!” Jeff turned away to the task of making
himself known to the strangers. But he was forced to admit that if
Charlotte must meet another onslaught of visitors, these certainly did
“Yes, I'm Thorne Lee,” the young man answered, with a straight look
into Jeff's eyes and a grasp of the outstretched hand as Jeff
introduced himself. He motioned the porter to wheel the chair out of
the pressing crowd.
Jeff explained about the delayed telegram. Mr. Lee presented him to
the young girl in the chair, and Jeff looked down into a pair of hazel
eyes which instantly claimed his sympathy, the shadows of fatigue lay
on them so heavily. But Miss Evelyn Lee's smile was bright if fleeting,
and she answered Jeff's announcement that he had a carriage waiting
with so appreciative a word of gratitude that he found his preconceived
antipathy to Doctor Churchill's guests slipping away.
So presently he had them in a carriage and bowling through the
streets which led toward the suburbs. Thorne Lee sat beside his sister,
supporting her, and talked with Jeff. By the time they had covered the
long drive to the house Jeff was hoping Lee would stay a month.
The hazel eyes of Lee's young sister had closed and the lashes lay
wearily sweeping the pale cheeks as the carriage drove up.
“Are we there?” Lee asked, bending over the slight figure. “Open
your eyes, dear.”
Jeff jumped out and ran to the house. He burst in upon Charlotte and
Andy. “Your friends are here!” he shouted. “I had to meet 'em myself.”
Doctor Churchill and Charlotte were at the door before the words
were out of Jeff's mouth, and in a moment more Andy was lifting Evelyn
Lee's light figure in his arms, thanking heaven inwardly as he did so
for his young wife's wholesome weight. At the same moment words of of
eager, cheery welcome for his old friend were on his lips:
“Thorne Lee, I'm gladder to see you than anybody in the world! Miss
Evelyn, here's Mrs. Churchill. She's not an old married woman at
all—she's the dearest girl in the world. She's going to seem to you
like one of your schoolfellows. Charlotte, here she is; take good care
Thorne Lee stood looking on, a relieved smile on his lips as his old
friend's wife took his sick little sister into her charge. It was not
two minutes before he saw Evelyn, lying pale and mute on the couch, yet
smiling up at Charlotte's bright young face.
Charlotte administered a cup of hot bouillon talking so engagingly
meanwhile that Evelyn was beguiled into taking without protest the
whole of the much-needed nourishment. Then he saw the young invalid
carried off to bed, relieved of the necessity of meeting any more
members of the household. He learned, as Charlotte slipped into the
room after an hour's absence, that Evelyn had already dropped off to
sleep. He leaned back in his chair with a long breath.
“What kind of a girl is this you've married, Andy?” he asked, with a
smile and a look from one to the other. The three were alone, Mrs.
Peyton and her children having gone out to some sort of entertainment.
“Just what she seems to be,” replied Doctor Churchill, smiling back,
“and a thousand times more.”
“I might have known you would care for no other,” Lee said. “And you
two 'live in your house at the side of the road, to be good friends to
man,'—if I may adapt those homely words.”
“We haven't been at it very long, but we hope to realize an ambition
of the sort. It doesn't take much philanthropy to welcome you.”
“You can't think what a relief it is to me to get that little sister
of mine under your wing, even for a few hours.”
“Tell us all about her.”
Lee had not meant to begin at once upon his troubles, but his friend
drew him on, and before the evening ended the doctor and Charlotte had
the whole long, hard story of Lee's guardianship of several young
brothers and sisters, his struggle to get established in his profession
and make money for their support, his many anxieties in the process,
and this culminating trouble in the breakdown of the younger sister,
just as he thought he had her safely established in a school where she
might have a happy home for several years.
Lee stopped suddenly, as if he had hardly known how long he had been
talking. “I'm a pleasant guest!” he said, regret in his tone. “I meant
to tell you briefly the history of Evelyn's illness, and here I've gone
on unloading all my burdens of years. What do you sit there looking so
benevolent and sympathetic for, beguiling a fellow into making a
weak-kneed fool of himself? My worries are no greater than those of
millions of other people, and here I've been laying it on with a
trowel. Forget the whole dismal story, and just give me a bit of
professional advice about my little sister.”
“Look here, old boy,” said his friend, “don't go talking that way.
You've done just what I was anxious you should do—given me your
confidence. I can go at your sister's case with a better chance of
understanding it if I know this whole story. And now I'm going to thank
you and send you off to bed for a good night's sleep. To-morrow we'll
take Evelyn in hand.”
“Bless you, Andy! You're the same old tried and true,” murmured
Thorne Lee, shaking hands warmly.
Then Charlotte led him away up-stairs to see his sister, who had
waked and wanted him. Stooping over her bed, he felt a pair of slender
arms round his neck and heard her voice whispering in his ear:
“Thorny, I just wanted you to know that I think Mrs. Churchill is
the dearest person I ever saw, and I'm going to sleep better to-night
than I have for weeks.”
“Thank God for that!” thought Lee, and kissed the thin cheek of the
girl with brotherly fervor.
Down-stairs in the hall a few minutes later Andrew Churchill
advanced to meet his wife, as she returned to him after ministering to
Evelyn Lee's wants.
“Do you know,” said he, looking straight down into her eyes as she
came up to him, “those words of Stevenson's—though they always fit
you—seem particularly applicable to you to-night?
“Steel-true and blade-straight
The great artificer
Made my mate.'“
* * * * *
“I think,” said Doctor Churchill, leaning back in his office chair,
with a mingling of the professional and the friendly in his air, “that
we can get at the bottom of Evelyn's troubles without very much
difficulty.” He had just sent Evelyn back to Charlotte, after an hour
in the office, during which he had subjected her to a minute and
painstaking examination into the cause of her ill health. And now to
her brother, anxiously awaiting his verdict, he spoke his mind.
“If you'll let me be very frank with you, Thorne,” he said, “I'll
tell you just what I think about Evelyn, and just what it seems to me
is the proper course for us to take with her.”
“Go ahead; it's exactly that I want,” Lee declared. “I know well
enough that my care of her has been seriously at fault.”
“Never in intention,” said Doctor Churchill, “only in the excess of
your tenderness. Evelyn has lived in overheated rooms, with hot baths,
insufficient exercise, and improper food. In the kindness of your heart
you have been nourishing a little hot-house plant, and there's no
occasion for surprise that it wilts at the first blast of ordinary
Lee looked dismayed.
“I'm mighty sorry, Andy,” he said, remorsefully.
“Don't feel too badly,” was his friend's reply. “After a winter with
us Evelyn will be another girl.”
“What?” Lee started in his chair. “Andy, what are you thinking
“Just what I say. Charlotte and I have talked it all over. We've
both taken an immense liking to Evelyn and we'd honestly enjoy having
her here for the winter. It only remains for you to convince Evelyn
herself that we are to be trusted, and to secure her promise that we
may have our way with her from first to last, and the thing is done.”
“You are sure that's really all there is to it? You're not keeping
anything from me?”
“Not a thing. And I'm as sure as a man can well be. That's why I
don't prescribe a sanatorium for her, or anything of that sort. All she
needs is a rational, every-day life of the health-making kind, such as
Charlotte and I can teach her—Charlotte even more effectively than I.
Evelyn needs simply to build up a strong physical body; then these
troublesome nerves will take care of themselves. Believe me, Thorne,
it's refreshingly simple. I've not even a drug to suggest for your
sister. She doesn't need any.”
“But, Andy, it doesn't seem to me I can let Evelyn stay here with
you all winter—the first winter of your married life. You two ought to
be alone together.”
“No. Charlotte and I haven't set out to go through life—even this
first year of it—alone together. We are together, no matter how many
we have about us. It will be only in the day's work if we keep Evelyn
with us, and it's a sort of work that will pay pretty well, I fancy.”
“It certainly will—in more than one kind of coin,” and Lee gripped
his friend's hand.
So it was settled. Evelyn agreed so joyously to the plan that her
brother's last doubt of its feasibility was removed, and he went away a
day later with a heart so much lighter than the one he had brought with
him that it showed in his whole bearing.
“God bless you and your sweet wife, Andy Churchill,” he wrote back
from his first stopping-place, and when Churchill showed the letter to
Charlotte she said, happily:
“We'll make the copper motto come true with this guest, won't we?
Evelyn will be a very pretty girl when she loses that fragile look. Her
eyes and expression are beautiful. Do you know, she accepts everything
I say as if I were the Goddess of Wisdom herself.”
“Charlotte,” said Mrs. Peyton, a few days later, coming hurriedly
into Charlotte's own room, where that young woman was busy with various
housewifely offices, “I've had a telegram. I'm so upset I don't know
what to do. My sister is sick and her husband is away, and she's sent
for me. I'm not able to do nursing—I'm not strong enough—but I don't
see but that I must go.”
“I'm very sorry your sister is ill,” said Charlotte. “Tell me about
Mrs. Peyton told at length. “And what I'm to do with the children,”
she said, mournfully, “I don't know. Sister doesn't want them to come.
But here I'm away up North and sister's out West, and the children
couldn't go home alone. Besides, there's nowhere for them to go. I am
their only home. Dear, dear, what shall I do?”
The front door-bell, ringing sharply, sent Charlotte down-stairs. At
this moment she saw her husband coming up the street in his runabout.
When Doctor Churchill ran into his office after a case of instruments
he had forgotten, his wife cast herself into his arms, in such a state
of emotion that he held her close, bewildered.
“What on earth is it, dear?” he asked. “Are you laughing or crying?
Here, let me see your face.”
“O Andy”—Charlotte would not let her face be seen—“it's Cousin
Lula! She's—she's—oh, she's—going away!”
Churchill burst into smothered laughter. “It can't be you're
crying,” he murmured. “Charlotte, I don't blame you. Look up and smile.
I know how you must be feeling. You've been a regular heroine all these
“I'm awfully ashamed,” choked Charlotte, on his shoulder, “but, O
Andy, what it will seem not to have to—oh, I mustn't say it, but—”
“I know, I know!” He patted her shoulder.
“Her sister is ill, in the West somewhere. She has to go to her at
once. She wants the children to stay with us.”
“Her sister doesn't want them there, and she can't send them home.
Andy, I wouldn't mind that so awfully. I'd almost like the chance to
see what we could do with them.”
“Well, don't answer definitely till I have time to talk it over with
you and with her. I must go now.”
They talked it over, together, and with Mrs. Peyton. The result of
these conferences was that two days later that lady took her departure,
leaving her children in the care of the Churchills.
“On one condition, Cousin Lula,” Doctor Churchill had said to her
with decision. “That you put them absolutely in our care and trust our
judgment in the management of them.”
Mrs. Peyton tried to make a few reservations. Her cousin would have
none of them. At last she submitted, understanding well enough in her
heart that Andrew Churchill would be the safest sort of a guardian for
her children, and admitting to herself, if she did not to anybody else,
that Charlotte would give them care of the sort which money cannot buy.
“That woman gone?” asked Jeff, coming into his sister Celia's room.
“Well, I'm delighted to hear it. But I must say I think Charlotte's
taken a good deal of a contract. I didn't mind so much about their
agreeing to keep Evelyn Lee, for she's a mighty nice sort of a girl,
and will make a still nicer one when she gets strong. But these Peyton
youngsters—I certainly don't think taking care of them ought to have
been on the bill. That idiot Lucy—” His expressive face finished the
sentence for him.
Celia smiled. “I know. I feel as you do, and I think father and
mother are a little anxious lest Charlotte has taken too much care on
her shoulders. But Charlotte and Andy have set out to make everybody
happy, and they're seizing every chance that offers. They're so
enthusiastic about it one can't bear to dampen their ardour. The least
we can do is to help them whenever we can.”
Jeff made a wry face. “I don't mind assisting in the boy's
education, but I draw the line at the girl. She's a silly. Why, she—“
His face coloured with resentment. “It sounds crazy to say, but she
does, for a fact, make eyes at every man or boy she sees.”
Celia laughed. “I hadn't noticed. But she can't mean to, Jeff. She's
“That's the idiocy of it. She's only fifteen, but you watch her the
next time any of us fellows come into the room. Just can tell you; he's
in a chronic state of laugh over it. She thinks she's a beauty, and she
thinks we're all impressed with the fact.”
“She is pretty.”
“I don't think so. I don't call any girl pretty who's so struck with
herself that she can't get by a mirror without a glance and a pat of
that big fluff of front hair. You don't catch Eveyln looking into a
glass or acting as if she thought everybody was about to fall in love
with her. I'm going to take her skating when she gets strong enough.”
“That won't be for some time, I'm afraid. But she certainly is
looking better already.”
So she was. Charlotte had begun very gently with Evelyn, reducing
the temperature of the daily bath only by a degree at a time, lessening
the heat in the sleeping room, opening the windows for outside air an
inch more each night, coaxing her out for a short walk of gradually
increasing length each day, and generally luring her toward more
healthful ways of living than those to which she had been accustomed.
Bedtime found Evelyn exceedingly weary, but it was healthful
weariness, and she was beginning to be able to sleep.
A tinge of colour was growing in the pale cheeks, a brighter
expression in the large eyes, and altogether the young guest was
showing a gratifying response to the new methods.
“I think,” said Charlotte to Evelyn one morning, when three weeks
had gone by, “we shall have to celebrate your improvement by a little
concert this evening. Would you like to hear the Birch-Churchill
“Orchestra? How lovely! Indeed I should!” cried Evelyn, with a
display of enthusiasm quite unusual. “What do you play?”
“Strings. We're badly out of practice, but there are always a few
old things we can get up fairly well at a minute's notice. The truth
is, we haven't played together since long before my wedding-day, and I
resolved the minute we were married we'd begin again. We will begin,
this very night. I know they'll all be glad.”
The performers did, indeed, show their pleasure by arriving early,
flannel-shrouded instruments under their arms. Doctor Churchill came in
just as they were tuning. Since Lanse had been away, Andy, who was
something of a violinist had taken up Lanse's viola, and was now able
to occupy his brother-in-law's place. Celia, however, had been chosen
to fill the vacant role of leadership.
“The rest of us are only imitators,” Jeff declared to Evelyn, as he
stood near her, softly trying his strings. “Charlotte's the best, and
Andy's very good indeed; but it's only Celia who goes to hear big music
and sits with the tears rolling down her cheeks, while the rest of us
are wondering what on earth it all means.”
Evelyn, leaning back among the pillows of the wide couch, called
Lucy softly, motioning her to a seat by her side.
Lucy came quickly, pleased by Evelyn's notice. She in her turn had
been regarding Evelyn as a monopolist of everybody's attention and had
made up her mind not to like her. But now she sank into the place by
Evelyn's side, and accepted the delicate touch of Evelyn's hand on hers
as recognition at last that here was another girl fit to make friends
“Don't they play well?” whispered Evelyn, as the music came to a
sudden stop that Celia might criticise the playing of a difficult
“She doesn't think so,” called Just, softly, having caught the
whisper. He indicated his elder sister. “She won't let me boom things
with my viol the way I'd like to. What's the use of playing the biggest
instrument if you can't make the biggest noise?”
“Solo, by the double-bass!” cried Andy; and the whole orchestra,
except the first violin of the leader, burst into a boisterous
rendering of a popular street song, in which Just sawed forth the
leading part, while the others kept up a rattling staccato
accompaniment. Evelyn and Lucy became breathless with laughter, and Mr.
and Mrs. Birch, who had just slipped into the room, joined in the
“There you are,” chuckled Jeff. “That's what you get when you give
the donkey the solo part among the farmyard performers.”
“He can sing as well as the peacock,” retorted Just, with spirit.
“We were right in the middle of the 'Hungarian Intermezzo,'“
explained Celia to the newcomers. “I stopped them to tell them why they
needed to look more carefully to their phrasing, and the children burst
into this sort of thing. What shall I do with them?”
“It's a great relief to feel that they're not altogether grown up,
after all,” said Mr. Birch, helping himself to his favourite easy chair
near the fireplace. “There are times when we feel a strong suspicion
that we haven't any children any more. Moments like these assure us
that we are mistaken. Go on with your 'Intermezzo,' but give us
another nursery song before you are through.”
“Nursery song! That's pretty good,” said Jeff, in Just's ear, and
that sixteen-year-old mumbled in reply, “I can throw you over my
shoulder just the same.”
“Boys, come! We're ready!” called Celia, and the music began again.
“Are you getting tired, dear?” asked Mrs. Birch of Evelyn, when the
“Intermezzo” was finished, noting the flush on the delicate
cheek. Evelyn looked up brightly.
“Not enough to hurt me. I'm enjoying it so! Aren't large families
lovely? I was so much younger than my brothers and sisters that by the
time I was old enough to care about having good times like this on
winter evenings they were all away at school or married. We never had
anything so nice as a family orchestra, either. I wish I could play
“How about the piano?” asked Charlotte, who sat near. Evelyn's flush
“I can play a little,” she said. “But you don't need the piano.”
“Yes, we do. A piano would add ever so much. Next time we'll have
our practice at home, and give you a part.”
Then she glanced at Lucy, and saw what might have been expected, a
look of envy and discontent. “Is there anything you can play, Lucy?”
she asked. “It would be very nice to have everybody in. Perhaps Ran
could have a triangle.”
“I play the piano,” said Lucy.
“Oh, give Lucy the piano,” Evelyn said, quickly,—also as might have
“We'll try you both,” put in Doctor Churchill, “as they always do
aspirants for such positions.”
“I've had lessons from the best master in our state,” said Lucy to
“That so? Then you may win out,” was his opinion. “But you can't be
sure. Evelyn's not much of a bragger, but she seems to be a pretty
“Just, be careful!” warned Charlotte, in his ear, as she drew him
gently to one side. “I know you don't like her, but you must be
considerate of her.”
“I don't feel much like it.”
“You know I want your help about Lucy.” Charlotte had drawn him
still farther away, so that she could speak with safety. “But you know,
too, that snubbing isn't a way to get hold of anybody.”
“It's the only way with conceited softies,” began Just.
But Charlotte caught his hand and squeezed it. “No, it isn't. I'm
sure she's worth being friends with, and if she can learn certain
things you can teach her in the way of athletics, and reading, and all
that, you can do her lots of good.”
“Don't feel a bit like being a missionary!” growled Just. “Suppose
I've got to try it, to please you. Evelyn's all right, isn't she?”
“Yes, she's a dear. I'm so glad we kept her. That makes me realise
she's had quite enough excitement for to-night. I must carry her off to
bed. Perhaps you'd all better—”
“No, you don't!” said Just, with a rebellious laugh. “Just because
you've set up a sanatorium and a kindergarten you can't send your
brothers off to bed at nine o'clock. I want a good visit with you after
the infants and invalids are in bed.”
“All right, big boy,” promised Charlotte, rejoicing in the
affectionate look he gave her.
She had been anxious that her marriage should in no way interfere
with the old brotherly and sisterly relations, and it was a long time
since she had had a confidential talk with her youngest brother. Jeff
was always coming to her precisely as in the old days, with demands for
interest and advice; but Just had seemed a little farther away.
So when she had seen the “infants and invalids” happily gone to
rest, and after a quiet hour of family talk about the fireside had said
good-night to all the others, Charlotte turned to Just with a look of
welcome as fresh and inviting as if the evening had but now begun.
Doctor Churchill had gone to make a bedtime call upon a patient
critically ill, and the two were quite alone.
“This is jolly,” said Just, settling himself on a couch pillow at
her feet, his long legs stretched out to the fire, his head resting
against his sister's knee. “Now I'm going to tell you everything that's
happened to me since you were married. Not that there's anything
wonderful to tell, or that I'm in any scrape, you know, but I'd like to
feel I've got my sister and that she cares—just as much as ever.” He
twisted his head about till he could look up into the warm, sweet face
above him. “Does she care as much as ever?”
It was an unusual demonstration from the big boy, now at the age
when sisterly companionship is often despised, and Charlotte
appreciated it. More than Justin Birch could understand was in her
voice as her fingers rested upon his hair, but what she said gave him
great satisfaction, although it was only a blithe:
“Just as much—and a little more, dear. Tell me the whole story.
There's nothing I'd like so much to hear.”
* * * * *
“Evelyn! Miss Evelyn Lee! Where are you?”
Jeff's shout rang up the stairs, and in obedience to its imperative
summons Evelyn immediately appeared at the head.
“Yes, Mr. Jefferson Birch,” she responded. “Is the house on fire?”
“Not a bit, but I'm anxious for your hearing. I've been roaring
gently all over the house without a result, except to scare three
patients in Andy's office. Won't you come down?”
She descended slowly, but she neither clung to the rail nor sat down
to rest half-way, as she had done when she first came under the
Her face was acquiring the soft bloom of a flower, her eyes were
full of light and interest. She still looked slim and frail, but she
was beginning to show signs of waxing health very pleasant to see for
those who had grown as interested in her as if she were a young sister
of their own.
“I've an invitation for you from Carolyn Houghton for an impromptu
sleigh-ride to-night. Don't you suppose you can go? I'll take all sorts
of care of you and see that you don't get too tired. You've met
Carolyn; she's a jolly girl to know, and she told me to bring you if
Evelyn dropped into a chair. “Oh, how I should love to go!” she
said. “I never went on a sleigh-ride like that in my life. Do you go
all together in a big load?”
“Yes—a regular prairie-schooner of a sleigh. Holds a dozen of us,
packed like sardines, so nobody can get cold. We take hot soapstones
and rugs and robes, and we go only twelve miles, to a farmhouse where
we get a hot supper—oysters and hot biscuit and maple-syrup, and all
sorts of good things. You must go.”
“If I only could!” sighed Evelyn. “I'm so afraid they won't think I
“They will, if you think you can,” asserted Jeff. “You're up
to it, aren't you? You needn't do a thing. Six of the crowd are going
to give a little play. I'll get the load started home early, and we'll
come back flying. Be here by midnight at the latest. It'll do you good,
I know it will.”
“O Mrs. Churchill!” breathed Evelyn, as Charlotte appeared from the
“O Evelyn Lee!” answered Charlotte, smiling back at the eager face.
“Yes, I heard most of it, Jeff, for I was coming down-stairs, and you
weren't exactly whispering. It's an enticing plan, isn't it?”
“Of course it is. And it's magnificent weather for the affair. Not
cold a bit and no wind; moonlight due if no clouds come up. Evelyn
can't get cold. I'll keep her done up to the tip of her nose, and be so
devoted nobody else will have a chance to worry her. Say she may go.
Don't you see the disappointment would be worse for her than the trip?”
“You artful pleader, I'm not sure but it would. If Doctor Churchill
agrees, Evelyn, I'll let you try it. On one condition, Jeff—that you
really do get back by midnight. For a girl who has been put to bed for
weeks at nine that's late enough.”
Evelyn went about all day with a lighter step than her friends had
yet seen her assume.
“Now remember, I trust her absolutely to your care,” Charlotte said
to Jeff that evening, as he appeared, his arms full of accessories for
making his charge comfortable.
Evelyn, in furs and heavy coat, smiled at her escort. “I'm not a bit
afraid,” she said. “Oh, what a beautiful night! The moon is out. Is
that the sleigh coming up the street now, with all those horns? What
“I want to put Miss Lee right in the middle of everything!” Jeff
called out, as the sleighload stopped. “I'm particularly requested not
to let a breath of frost strike her.”
“Come on, here's just the spot,” answered Carolyn Houghton, holding
out a welcoming hand; and then the girl from the South, who had never
known the sleighing-party of the North, found herself being whirled
away over the road, to an accompaniment of youthful merriment, bursts
of songs and tooting of horns.
Before it seemed possible the twelve miles of fine sleighing had
been covered, and the old farmhouse, its door flung hospitably open at
the sound of the horns, was invaded by the gay band.
Evelyn, in a quaint up-stairs bedroom, lighted by kerosene lamps and
warmed by a roaring wood fire in an old-fashioned box stove, was
attended by Carolyn Houghton, who was, as Jeff had said, a “jolly girl
to know.” Herself a blooming maid with black locks and carnation
cheeks, Carolyn admired intensely Evelyn's auburn hair and fair
“Don't you think she's the dearest thing?” she whispered to a
friend, as they descended the stairs. “There's something so soft and
sweet and ladylike about her, as if nobody could be slangy or loud
before her, you know. Yet she isn't a bit dull; she just sparkles
when you get her interested and happy. I do want her to have a good
There could be no doubt that Evelyn was having a good time.
Everything pleased her, everybody interested her. It seemed to her that
she had never seen such charming young people before.
The little play made her laugh till she was as flushed and gay as a
child. Those with whom Evelyn showed herself so delighted became
equally delighted with her, and before the evening was over she was
feeling that she had always known these young friends, had forgotten
that she had ever been an invalid, and was indeed “sparkling,” as
Carolyn Houghton had said, in a way that drew all eyes toward her in
Jeff, indeed, stared at her as if he had never seen her before.
“I'm sure this isn't hurting you a bit,” he said in her ear, as the
evening slipped on. “You must be feeling pretty well, for I've never
seen you so jolly. I'm going to do the prescribing after this. I know
what's good for little girls.”
“I believe you do,” Evelyn answered. “No, I'm not a bit tired. Why,
is it almost eleven?”
“Yes, and time to go, if we live up to our promises. Seems a pity,
doesn't it? But it doesn't pay to break your word, so as soon as you
girls can get into your toggery we'll be off.”
“Of course, we must keep our promise,” agreed Evelyn, with decision,
and straightway she went up-stairs for her wraps. The other girls
followed more reluctantly.
“'Goodness, girls, look out!” cried somebody from the window. “Did
you ever see it so thick? The barns are just down there, where that
glimmer is, but you can't see them at all.”
“All the more fun,” said another girl.
“We're pretty far out in the country, and the road's awfully
winding. I hope we get home all right.”
“Oh, nonsense!” said some one else, with great positiveness. “I
should know the way with my eyes shut. Besides, it was as clear as a
bell when we came. It can't have been snowing long enough to block
things in the least.”
They found it had done so however, when they descended to the
sleigh. That vehicle had been brought close to the porch, that the
girls might not have to walk through the deep snow. The air was so full
of the whirling white particles that from the farther end of the sleigh
one could barely see the horses.
“I declare, I don't feel just easy about you folks starting out,”
said the farmer whose guests they had been. “Better watch the road some
careful, you driver. I suppose you know it pretty well.”
“He doesn't, but I do!” called a tall youth from the driver's seat.
“I'll keep him straight. We'll be all right. We're due home at
midnight, and we'll be there, unless the roads are too heavy to keep
the pace we came in.”
“No, sir, we can't ever keep the pace we come in,” presently averred
the man from the livery-stable, who was driving. “The road's pretty
heavy. I declare, I don't know as I ever see snow so thick. Do I turn a
little to the right here or do I keep straight ahead?”
“Straight ahead,” answered the boy beside him, confidently. “I've
been over this road a thousand times, and it doesn't bend to the right
for half a mile yet.”
“It's lucky you know,” said the driver. “I'm all at sea already.
Can't see the fences only now and then. I'd ha' swung off there, sure,
if you hadn't said not.”
As the rising wind began to whirl snowily about their ears and
necks, the party turned up their coat-collars and tucked in their fur
robes. The horses were plowing with increasing difficulty through the
heavily drifted roads, and more than once their driver found himself
obliged to make a long detour around a drift which had not been in the
road when they first came over it. Moreover, in spite of the snow, the
air seemed to have grown colder and to be acquiring a penetrating, icy
quality which at last made Jeff declare to Evelyn:
“You may say you're not cold, but I'm going to insist on your
letting me wrap this steamer rug found your shoulders, with the corner
over your head, so. Now doesn't that keep off a lot of wind?”
“Indeed it does, thank you,” admitted Evelyn, with a little shiver
she could not quite conceal.
“You are cold!” Jeff said, anxiously.
“No colder than anybody else. Please don't worry about me.”
But he did worry, and with reason. Indeed, although nobody was
willing yet to admit it, the situation was becoming a little
unpleasant. In spite of the stout confidence of the boy on the seat
with the driver, others who were somewhat familiar with the road were
beginning to question his leading.
“That clump of trees doesn't look natural just there,” said one,
standing up in the sleigh and trying to peer through the wall of
snowflakes. “It's too near. It ought to be a hundred feet away.”
“No. You're thinking we're farther back than We are,” declared Neil
Ward, from the front seat. “We're almost at the turn by the railroad.”
“Why, we can't be! We haven't passed the Winters farm. I tell you,
you're off the road.”
“I think we are,” agreed the driver, uneasily, pulling his cap
farther over his snow-hung eyebrows. “I've been thinking so for quite a
“We're all right. You people just keep cool!” cried Neil.
“No trouble about keeping cool in this blizzard!” growled somebody,
and there was a general laugh.
One of the girls started a song, and they all joined cheerily in. A
proposition to toot the horns, forgotten in the bottom of the sleigh,
with a hope of attracting attention from some one, was adopted, and a
hideous din followed, and was kept up till every one was weary—with no
All at once, without warning, the horses plunged heavily and solidly
to their steaming shoulders into an undreamed-of ditch, and the sleigh
stopped, well into the same hole.
“Will you admit now that we're off the road, Neil Ward?” cried some
one, fiercely; and Neil, without contention but with evident chagrin,
admitted it. There was no ditch that he was aware of within a mile of
Jeff drew the rugs tighter about Evelyn, then lifted a corner to
peer in. “Don't be frightened, little girl. We'll get out of this all
right,” he said, as cheerfully as he could, although he was alarmed for
her safety more than he would have dared to admit, even to himself.
The other girls were all strong, healthy specimens of young
womanhood, presumably able to endure a good deal of cold and exposure
without danger of serious harm. But this little sensitive plant! Jeff
waited in suspense for her answer.
It came in a clear, sweet voice, without a particle of fright in it:
“Of course we shall. And won't it be fun to tell about it afterward?”
“You're right, it will!” he responded, with enthusiasm. Inwardly he
said, “You're a plucky one, all right.” Then, with the other fellows,
he leaped out of the sleigh, and went to trampling down the snow around
the imprisoned horses.
* * * * *
Alone together, after Randolph and Lucy had gone to bed, Andrew and
Charlotte passed the long evening. Charlotte was not willing to let
Evelyn come home to a closed and silent house, so the two awaited her
“Why, Andy, it's snowing furiously!” said Charlotte, from the
window, whither she had gone at the stroke of twelve. Doctor Churchill
put down the book from which he had been reading aloud, and came to her
“So it is. Blowing, too. But it can't have been at it long or we
should have noticed.”
“I've been noticing the wind now and then for the last hour. I hope
it's not grown cold. I wouldn't have anything happen to upset Evelyn's
improvement for the world.”
“Nothing will. They'll be home before the half-hour. Come back and
listen to the rest of this chapter.”
Charlotte came back, but as the quarter-hours went slowly by she
became restless, and vibrated so continually between fireplace and
window that Andy finally put away the book and kept her company.
“It's growing worse every minute.” Charlotte's face was pressed
close against the frosty pane. “If they don't come by one it will look
as if something had happened.”
“Oh, they're at the irresponsible age. When they come they'll say,
'Why, we didn't dream it was so late!'“
“Jeff's not irresponsible when he gives a promise. He never breaks
one,” Charlotte answered, confidently.
“This storm would make the roads heavy. Even if they started on
time, they would have to travel twice as slowly as when they went. Stop
worrying, dear; it's not in character for you.”
Charlotte closed her lips, but when the clock struck one her eyes
spoke for her. “Evelyn is so delicate,” they said, mutely, and Andy
answered as if she had spoken.
“Evelyn is wrapped too heavily to be cold. Besides, they'll all take
care of her. She won't come to any harm, I'm sure of it. They'll be
here before half-past-one, I'm confident, and then we can antidote any
chill she may have got.”
But at half-past-one there was still no sign of the sleighing party.
Moreover, the storm was steadily increasing; it had become what is
known as a “blizzard.” Even in the protected suburban street the drifts
were beginning to show size, and the arc-light at the corner was almost
lost to view through the downfall.
Charlotte turned to her husband with something like imperiousness in
her manner, and met the same decision in his look. Before she could
speak he said:
“Yes, I'll go to meet them. It does look as if they might be stalled
somewhere. It's rather a lonely road till they reach the railroad, and
it's possible they've missed the way.”
He went to the telephone.
“Andy,” cried Charlotte, following him, “order a double sleigh,
please! I must go with you.”
He turned and looked at her, hesitating. “It isn't necessary, dear.
I'll go over and wake up Just, I think. We two will be—”
“I must go,” she interrupted. “I couldn't endure to wait here any
longer. And if Evelyn should be very much chilled she'll need me to
look after her. Besides—”
He smiled at her. “You won't let me get lost in a snow-drift myself
She nodded, and ran away to make ready. By the time the
livery-stable had been awakened from its early morning apathy, and had
sent round the double sleigh with the best pair of horses in its
stalls, the party was ready.
Just, awakened by snowballs thrown in at his open window, had
joyfully dressed himself. At the last moment Charlotte had thought of
the automobile headlight, and this, hurriedly filled and lighted,
streamed out over the snow as the three jumped into the sleigh. All
were warmly dressed, and Charlotte had brought many extra wraps, as
well as a supply of medicines for a possible emergency of which she did
not like to think.
“Julius Caesar, but this is a night!” came from between Just's
teeth, as the sleigh reached the end of the suburban streets and made
the turn upon the open country road. He clutched at his cap, pulling it
still farther down over his ears. “What a change in six hours!”
“This is a straight nor'easter,” answered Doctor Churchill, slapping
hands already chilled, in spite of his heavy driving gloves. Then he
turned his head. “Can't you keep well down behind us, Charlotte?” he
called over his shoulder.
“I'm all right!” she called back. One had to shout to be heard in
the roar of the wind.
After that nobody talked, except as Just from time to time offered
to drive, to give Andrew's hands a chance to warm. That young man,
however, would not give over the reins to anybody. It was not for
nothing that he had been driving over this country, under all possible
conditions of weather, for nearly five years.
When they had crossed the railroad which marked the end of the main
highway between two towns and the beginning of the narrow side road
which led off across country to the farmhouse of the sleighing party,
conviction that the young people had been stalled somewhere on the
great plain they were crossing became settled.
It was with the utmost difficulty that Doctor Churchill kept the
road. Only the fact that the storm was showing signs of decreasing, and
that now and then came moments when he could see more clearly the
outlying indications of fence and tree and infrequent habitation
assured him that he had not lost the way.
“Hark!” cried Charlotte, suddenly, as they plowed along.
For the instant the wind had lulled. Doctor Churchill stopped his
horses, and the three held their breath to listen. After a brief
interval came the faint, far toot of a horn. Then, away to the left, a
light suddenly flashed, vanished, and flashed again.
“There they are!” cried three exultant voices.
“But how shall we get to them?” shouted Just, instantly alive with
excitement. “Why, they're a mile away! There's no road over there, nor
any houses. They're right out in the fields.”
Then the sifting snow shut down again. The three looked at one
another in the yellow glare from the automobile headlight.
* * * * *
“Don't they see our light?” Charlotte asked, eagerly.
“I think perhaps they have seen it,” Doctor Churchill answered, “and
that's why they were blowing their horns. Probably some of them will
start toward us. If they're not stuck, they'll begin to drive this way.
I believe the thing to do will be for Charlotte to stay here in the
sleigh, keeping the headlight pointed just to the left of that big
tree—I noticed that was where the flash of their fire came—and for
Just and me to start across the fields. I'll turn the horses with their
backs to the wind and blanket them. Then—hold on, I've a better plan.
Let's make a fire of our own. That will insure Charlotte's keeping
“Everything's too wet,” objected Just. “That crowd must have had a
time getting green wood to burn.”
“We can do it.” Doctor Churchill was feeling among the robes at his
feet. “I thought of it before we started, and put in a kerosene-can and
some newspapers. Hatchet, too.”
Just got out of the sleigh and waded away toward a thick growth of
underbrush along the side of the road.
In ten minutes a roaring fire was leaping into the descending
snowfall. A pile of brush and some broken fence-rails were left with
Charlotte, the horses made as snug as possible, and then the two others
jumped the fence and plunged off into the snow.
Guided by glimpses of the apparently fitful fire of the sleighing
party, Doctor Churchill and Just made their way. Sometimes the course
was comparatively free from drifts; again they had to wallow nearly to
“Confounded long way!” grunted Just. “Good thing we're both tough
and strong. Except for Jeff, there aren't any athletes in the Houghton
“Don't I see somebody coming toward us?” Doctor Churchill asked,
The snowfall was lightening again, and the small flame in the
distance looked nearer. He put his hands to his mouth and gave a long,
clear hail. He was answered by a similar one. Then followed a peculiar
musical call, which Just, recognising, answered ecstatically.
“It's Jeff!” he shouted. “Whoop! I'll bet he's glad to hear
He was. He came plunging through the last big drift toward them, a
snow-encrusted figure. “Well, well!” he cried, in tones of pleasure and
relief. “I knew you'd come. Where are we, anyhow?”
“A mile off the road. Are you all right? I see you've got a fire.
“Evelyn's all right, I think. Since we managed the fire she's fairly
warm again. Plucky as any girl in the crowd, and they're all plucky.
How are we to get our load down to the road?”
“I brought ropes, and we've a strong pair back there. We'll go and
get them, now that we know where you are. You go back to your party and
prepare them to be rescued.”
“No, Just can go to the camp, and I'll keep on with you.”
Just, being entirely willing to accept the part of rescuer, plowed
on through the big holes Jeff had left in his track. Doctor Churchill
and Jeff made their way back to Charlotte.
“Yes, we had rather a bad time for a while,” admitted Jeff, as he
helped Andy make the horses ready to start. “We got pretty cold, and I
thought we'd never make the fire go. Found the inside of an old stump
at last, and got her started. Yes, all the girls looked after
Evelyn—came pretty near smothering her. I don't believe she's taken
cold. The snow's letting up. I can see our fire back there. No, we
didn't see yours; we were just tooting on general principles. Evelyn
insisted she caught a glimmer, and I started out to climb a tree to
find out. I saw it then, for a minute, and was sure it was you. Keep
this fire going, Charlotte. The storm may close down again, and we want
to make straight tracks across the fields.”
By the time they reached the camp in the fields both Jeff and Doctor
Churchill were pretty well wearied. But they greeted the party there
with an enthusiasm which matched the welcome they received.
The spirits of the whole company had risen with a jump the instant
they had caught sight of Just, and now, with four horses to pull the
ponderous sleigh through the drifts, the boys walking by its side and
the girls tucked snugly in among the robes, the whole aspect of things
was changed. The situation lost seriousness, and although each was
prepared to make a thrilling tale of it for the various family circles
when daylight came, nobody except Jeff really regretted the experience
of the night. When they reached Charlotte and the smaller sleigh, there
was a great chorus of explanations. She swiftly extracted Evelyn and
took her in beside herself.
“Indeed, yes, I'm warm, Mrs. Churchill,” protested the girl. Her
voice showed that she was very tired, but her inflection was as
cheerful as ever. With a hot soapstone at her feet, a hot-water bag in
her lap and Charlotte's arm about her, she leaned back on the fur-clad
shoulder beside her and rejoiced. One thing was certain. She had had a
real Northern good time, with an exciting ending, and she was quite
willing to be tired.
With the wind at their backs and the fall of snow nearly ceased, the
party was not a great while in getting back to town. The clocks were
striking five when Charlotte, having put her charge to bed, and fed her
with hot food and spicy, steaming drinks, administered the last pat and
tuck. “Now you're not to open your eyes and stir until four o'clock
this afternoon,” she admonished her, with decisive tenderness. “Then if
you're very good, you may get up and dress in time for dinner.”
“I'll be good, Mrs. Churchill,” promised Evelyn, smiling rather
faintly. She fell asleep almost before the door closed.
“You must feel a load off your shoulders,” Just observed to Jeff, as
the two made ready for slumber for the brief time remaining before
breakfast and the school and college work which would then claim them
“I do. But if Evelyn comes out all right I shall be glad I took her.
I tell you that girl's a mighty good sort.”
“I wish Lucy was like her. What do you think I'm in for? Our class
reception is for Friday night, at the head-master's house. Doctor
Agnew's daughters have met Lucy, and I'm sure she gave 'em a hint to
invite her to come with me. Anyhow, they've done it, and of course I've
got to take her.”
“Oh, well, a fellow has to be civil to a lot of girls he doesn't
particularly admire. Lucy's not so bad. She's rather pretty—when she's
feeling amiable—and she certainly dresses well.”
Jeff's assertion in the matter of Lucy's appearance was proved true.
When Just, on Friday evening, marched across to the other house,
inwardly raging at his fate, he had an agreeable surprise. As he stood
by the fireplace with Charlotte, Lucy came down-stairs and floated in
at the door. Just stopped in the middle of a sentence and stared.
Being really a very pretty girl, and feeling, at the present moment,
the height of fluttering expectation, her face was illumined into an
attractiveness that was quite a revelation to her friends. For the
first time Lucy felt herself to be in the centre of things, and it made
another girl of her. In addition, the evening frock she wore was so
charming in style and colouring that it contributed not a little to the
Altogether, Just experienced quite a revulsion of feeling in regard
to the painful duty before him, and came forward to assist Lucy into
her long coat with considerable alacrity and cheerfulness.
“Oh, I do love parties so,” she declared, as they hurried along the
streets. “I'm not used to being so dull as I've been here. It seems to
me that you have mighty few doings for young people. I don't call
candy-pulls and fudge parties real parties.”
“Probably you won't call this to-night a real party, then. There's
never much that's exciting at Doctor Agnew's. He always has an
orchestra playing, and we walk round and talk, and usually somebody
does something to entertain us—a reading or songs. Maybe you won't
think it's as festive as you expect.”
“Oh, well, I reckon it will be a nice change,” said she, with quite
unexpected good humour.
In the dressing-room Chester Agnew, the son of the head-master, came
up to Just with an expression of mingled pleasure and chagrin.
“Awfully glad to see you, Birch,” he said, “I suppose you noticed
that we have no music going to-night. It's a shame, isn't it?
Lindmann's men have been delayed by a freight wreck on the P. &Q. They
were coming home from a wedding down the line somewhere, and telephoned
us they couldn't get out here before midnight. We've tried to get some
other music, but everything's engaged somewhere.”
“Too bad, but it's no great matter,” Just replied, comfortably. “We
can worry along without the orchestra.”
“No, you can't. Mother's plans for to-night were for a series of
national dances, in costume, by sixteen of the juniors, and that's all
up without the music.”
“Why won't the piano do?”
“We haven't a piano in the house. Yes, I know, but it was Helena's,
and when she was married in November she took it with her. Father
hasn't bought a new one yet, because the other girls don't play. Now do
you see? You're in for the stupidest evening you've had this winter,
for it's too late to get anybody here to do any sort of entertaining.”
“That is too bad,” admitted Just, thinking of Lucy, and finding
himself caring a good deal that she should not think the affair dull.
He walked along the hall with Chester to the point where he should meet
Lucy, thinking about the situation. Then an idea popped into his head.
“Isn't your telephone in that little closet off the dining-room?” he
“Yes. Want to use it?”
“Yes. Take Lucy down, will you? You know her. I've just thought of
Just slipped down to the dining-room. He carefully closed the door
of the closet and called up Doctor Churchill. To him he rapidly
explained the situation and the remedy which had occurred to him.
Doctor Churchill's voice came back to him in a tone of amused surprise.
“Why, Just, do you think we could carry it through decently? We
don't know the music at all. Oh, play our own and make it fit? What
sort will do—ordinary waltzes and two-steps? I shouldn't mind helping
them out, of course, if I thought we could manage it. Better than
nothing? Well—possibly. Better consult Mrs. Agnew before we do
Just ran up the rear staircase and down the front one. He found
Chester and whispered his plan. Interrupting Chester's eager gratitude,
he asked for somebody who could tell him what music would be needed.
“Mother's receiving, and so are the girls. Carolyn Houghton will
know, I think. She's been at the rehearsals. I'll get her.”
“Well, are you going to leave me to myself much longer?” Lucy
inquired, reproachfully, as Just waited silently beside her for
“Why, I'm awfully sorry,” he said, remembering his duties, which in
the excitement of the moment he realised he was forgetting. “I hope
you'll excuse me, but I've got to help the Agnews out if I can.” And he
hurriedly told her his plan. She stared at him in astonishment.
“You don't mean you would come and take the place of a hired
orchestra for a reception?” she cried, under her breath.
It was Just's turn to stare. Then he straightened shoulders which
were already pretty square. “Would you mind telling me why not? That
is, provided we can do it well enough.”
“I think it's a mighty queer thing to do,” insisted Lucy, with
Carolyn Houghton appeared and beckoned Just and Chester out into the
hall. Lucy followed, not liking to be left alone. Everybody seemed to
be forgetting her, although Chester had turned, and said cordially,
“That's right, Miss Lucy! Come and help us plan.”
Carolyn lost no time. “It's fine of you,” she said eagerly. “Yes,
I'm sure you can do it. Not one person in fifty will know whether the
tunes you play are national or not. Something quaint and queer for the
Hungarian, and jigsy and gay for the Irish. Castanets in the Spanish
dance—have you them?”
“Young Randolph Peyton can work those,” began Just, looking at Lucy.
She frowned. “Really, I don't believe you'd better have him in it,”
she said, with such an air that Carolyn glanced at her in amazement,
and Chester coughed and turned away.
“Oh, very well!” Just answered, instantly. “You can do 'em yourself,
“All right,” said Chester. “There is a big screen of palms and ferns
for the orchestra,” he explained, with satisfaction, to Lucy.
“Nobody'll know who's performing, anyhow.”
“Oh!” said Lucy.
Carolyn had soon convinced Just that the little home orchestra could
undertake the music without much fear of failure.
“Of course there's a chance that the change may put the dancers out,
yet I don't think so. I noticed it was rather simple music, and they're
so well drilled they're not very dependent on the music. Anyhow, people
will be too interested in the costumes and the steps to notice whether
the music is strictly appropriate. As long as you give them something
in precisely the right time, I don't believe the change will bother
them. I can coach you on that.”
“All right,” and Just hurried back to the telephone.
Within three-quarters of an hour he had them all there, a laughing
crew, ready for what struck them as a frolic for themselves. Chester
Agnew carried the instruments behind the screen, and managed to slip
the members of the new orchestra one by one from the dining-room
doorway to the shelter of the palms without anybody's being the wiser.
In ten minutes more soft music began to steal through the crowded
“The orchestra has come, after all,” said Mrs. Agnew to her husband,
in the front room. Her voice breathed relief.
He nodded satisfaction. “So I hear. I don't know how they managed
it, but I accept the fact without question.”
“Do you think it's always safe to do that?” queried his son Chester,
coming up in time to hear.
“Accept facts without question? What else can you do with facts?”
“But if they should turn out not to be facts?”
“In this case I have the evidence of my ears,” returned the learned
man, comfortably, and Chester walked away again, his eyes dancing.
“Nobody can tell you from Lindmann,” he whispered, behind the
screen, during an interval.
“That's good. Hope the delusion keeps up. We don't feel much like
Lindmann,” returned Churchill, hastily turning over a pile of music.
“Get your crowd to talking as loud as it can—then we're comparatively
safe. Where's the second violin part of 'King Manfred'? Look out,
Just—you hit my elbow twice with your bow-arm last time. These
quarters are a bit—There you are, Charlotte. Now take this thing slow,
and look to your phrasing. All ready!”
The costume dances did not come until after supper. By that time the
Churchills and Birches, behind the screen, had settled down to steady
work. During supper a violin, with the 'cello and bass, carried on the
music, while Doctor Churchill, Celia and Carolyn Houghton planned a
substitute programme for the dances.
In two cases they found the original music familiar; in most of the
others it proved not very difficult to adapt other music. The leaders
of the dances were told that whatever happened they were to carry
through their parts without showing signs of distress.
“It's a pretty big bluff,” murmured Jeff, leaning back in his chair
and mopping a perspiring brow. “Phew-w. but it's hot in here! I expect
to see several of those crazy dances go all to pieces on our account.
That Highland Fling! Mind you keep up a ripping time on that. It ought
to be piped, not stringed.”
Nevertheless, in spite of a good deal of perturbation on the part of
both dancers and orchestra, the entertainment went off well enough to
be applauded heartily. Certain numbers, notably the South Carolina
breakdown, the Irish jig, and the minuet of Washington's time, “brought
down the house,” presumably because the music fitted best and bothered
the dancers least.
When it was over, the musicians expected to escape before they were
found out, thinking the fun Would be the greater if the Agnews did not
learn to whom they were indebted until later. But young Chester Agnew
defeated this. He instructed half-a-dozen of his friends, and as the
final strains were coming to a close, these boys laid hold of the wall
of palms and pulled it to pieces. The musicians, laughing and
protesting, were shown to the entire company.
A great murmur of surprise was followed by a burst of applause and
laughter, in the midst of which Doctor and Mrs. Agnew hurried to the
front, followed by their daughters, who had already discovered the
truth, but had been warned by their brother to keep quiet about it.
“My dear friends!” exclaimed the head-master. “Is it possible that
it is you who have filled the gap so successfully? Well, really, what
shall we say to such kindness?”
“Mrs. Churchill—Doctor Churchill—Miss Birch—all of you,” Mrs
Agnew was saying, in her surprise, “what a very lovely thing to do! It
has been too kind of you. We appreciate it more than we can tell you.
You must come out at once and have some supper.”
“The evening would have been spoiled without you!” cried Jessica
Agnew, and Isabel said the same thing. Chester was loud in his praises,
and indeed, the orchestra received an ovation which quite overwhelmed
it. It went out to supper presently, escorted by at least twenty young
“Here, come and sit by me, Lucy,” invited Just, in good humour at
the success of his plan. “You can keep handing me food as I consume it.
I never was so starved in my life. Well, have you had a good time?
Sorry I had to desert you, but I've no doubt the others introduced you
round and saw that you weren't neglected.”
“I think Chester Agnew is one of the handsomest boys I ever met,”
whispered Lucy. “Hasn't he the loveliest eyes? He was just devoted to
Just turned, his mouth full of chicken pate, and regarded her
with interest. “Yes, his eyes are wonders,” he agreed, his own
twinkling. “Full of soul, and all that, you mean? Yes, they are, though
I never noticed it till you pointed it out.”
Lucy looked at him suspiciously.
“He liked my dress,” she went on.
“Did, eh? Ches must be coming on. Never knew him to notice a girl's
“I saw him looking at it,”—Lucy's tone was impressive—“and asked
if he liked pink. He said it was his favourite colour.”
“H'm! I must take lessons of Ches.”
“He looked at me so much I was awfully embarrassed,” said Lucy,
under her breath, with drooping eyes.
Just favoured her with another curious glance. “Maybe he's never
seen just your kind before,” he suggested. “Lucy, by the time you're
twenty you'll be quite an old hand at this society business, won't
“What makes you think so?” she asked, not sure whether to be
gratified or not.
“Oh, your small talk is so—well, so—er—interesting. A fellow
always likes to hear about another fellow—about his eyes, and so on.”
“Oh, you mustn't be jealous,” said Lucy, with a glance which
finished Just. He choked in his napkin, and turned his attention to
Carolyn Houghton, on his other side.
But when he went to bed that night he once more gave vent to his
feelings on the subject of his sister's guest.
“Jeff,” said he, “if a girl has absolutely no brains in her head,
what do you suppose occupies the cavity?”
“Give it up,” returned Jeff, sleepily.
“I think it must be a substance of about the consistency of a
marshmallow,” mused Just, thoughtfully. “I detest marshmallows,” he
added, with some resentment.
“Oh, go to bed!” murmured Jeff.
* * * * *
“Nobody at home, eh? Well, I'm sorry. I wanted to see somebody very
much. And there's no one at the other house, either. I'm away so much I
see altogether too little of these people, Mrs. Fields.” Thus spoke
Doctor Forester of the city—the old friend and family counselor of
both Birches and Churchills.
His son Frederic—who had managed since his return from study abroad
to see much more of the Birch household than his father—was watching
the conversation on the door-step from his position in the driver's
place on Doctor Forester's big automobile, which stood at the curb. It
was a cool day in May, and a light breeze was blowing.
“I don't know but Miss Evelyn's in the house somewhere,” admitted
Mrs. Fields. “But I don't suppose you'd care to see her?”
“Miss Evelyn? Why, certainly I should! Please ask her to come down.”
So presently Evelyn was at the door, her slender hand in the big one
of the distinguished gentleman of whom she stood a little in awe.
“All alone, Miss Evelyn?” said Doctor Forester. “Then suppose you
get your hat and a warm jacket and come with us. Fred and I expected to
pick up whomever we found and take them for a little run down to a
certain place on the river.”
Such an invitation was not to be resisted. Doctor Churchill and
Charlotte were at the hospital; Randolph was with them, visiting his
friends and proteges among the convalescent boys. Lucy had gone to town
with the Birches, and nobody knew where Jeff and Just might be.
“Suppose you sit back in the tonneau with me,” Doctor Forester
suggested. “Fred likes to be the whole thing on the front seat there.”
He put Evelyn in and tucked her up. “Wearing a cap? That's good
sense. It spoils my fun to take in a passenger with all sails spread.
Hello, son, what are you stopping for? Oh, I see!”
It was Celia Birch beside whom the motor was bringing up with such a
sudden check to its speed. She had appeared at the corner of the street
and had instantly presented to the quick vision of Mr. Frederic
Forester a good and sufficient reason for coming to a stop.
“Please come with us!” urged that young man, jumping out. “We've
been to the house for you.”
Celia put her hand to her head, “Just as I am?” she asked.
“Just as you are. That little chapeau will stay on all right.
If it doesn't I'll lend you my cap. Will you keep me company in front?
Father has appropriated Miss Evelyn behind there.”
Celia mounted to the seat, and they were off through the wide
streets, and presently away in the country, spinning along at a rate
much faster than either passenger realised. The machine was a fine one,
operating with so little fuss and fret that the speed it was capable of
attaining was not always appreciated.
“Oh, this is glorious, isn't it, Evelyn?” cried Celia, over her
Doctor Forester glanced from her to the young girl on the seat
beside him, smiling at both. “I'm glad you put your trust in the
chauffeur so implicitly. It took me some time to get used to him, but
he proves worthy of confidence. I wouldn't drive my own machine a
block—never have. Yes, it's delightful to go whirling along over the
country in this way. I suppose you don't know where I'm taking you?”
“I don't think we much care,” Celia answered, and Evelyn nodded.
Both were pink-cheeked and bright-eyed with the delight of the motion.
The doctor did not explain where they were going until they had
nearly reached their destination. They had passed many fine country
places all along the way, and had reached a fork in the river. The
broad road leading on up the river was left behind as they turned to
the left, following the windings of the smaller stream.
The character of the houses along the way had changed at once. They
had become comfortable farmhouses, with now and then a place of more
“This is the sort of thing I prefer,” Doctor Forester announced,
with satisfaction. “I wouldn't give a picayune to own one of those
castles, back there. But down here I'm going to show you my ideal of
Fred turned in at a gateway and drove on through orchards and grove
to a house behind the trees on the river bank.
“Doesn't that look like home?” exclaimed the doctor, as they
alighted. “Well, it is home! I bought it yesterday, just as it stands.
Nothing fine about it, outside or in. I wanted it to run away to when
I'm tired. I'm not going to tell anybody about it except—-”
“Except every one he meets,” Fred said, gaily, to Celia, leading her
toward the wide porch overlooking the river, about which the May vines
were beginning to cluster profusely. “He can't keep it a secret. I may
as well warn you he's going to invite you and the whole family out here
for a fortnight in June. So if you don't want to come you have a chance
to be thinking up a reasonable excuse.”
“As if we could want one! What a charming plan for us! Does he
really mean to include all of us?”
“Every one, under both roofs. I assure you it's a jolly plan for us,
and I'm holding my breath till I know you'll come.”
“What a lovely rest it will be for Charlotte!” murmured Celia,
thinking at once, as usual, of somebody else. “She won't own it, but
she's really had a pretty hard winter.”
“So I should imagine, for the first year of one's married life. I'm
afraid I couldn't be as hospitable as she and her husband—not all at
once, you know. Do you think it's paid?”
“What? Having the three through the winter?” Celia glanced at
Evelyn, who at the other end of the long porch with Doctor Forester was
gazing with happy eyes out over the sunlit river. “Oh, I'm sure
Charlotte and Andy would both say so. In Evelyn's case I think there's
no doubt about it. From being a delicate little invalid she's come to
be the healthy girl you see there. Not very vigorous yet, of course,
but in a fair way to become so, Andy thinks.”
“Yes, I can see,” admitted Forester, thoughtfully. “But those other
Celia laughed. It was easy to think well of everybody out here in
this delicious air and in the company of people she thoroughly liked.
Even Lucy Peyton seemed less of an infliction.
“Little Ran has certainly improved very much,” she said, warmly.
“And even Lucy—”
“Has Lucy improved?” Forester looked at her with a quizzical smile.
“The last time I saw her I thought she was rather going backward. I met
her by accident in town one day. Charlotte was shopping, and Lucy was
waiting. She rushed up to me as to a long lost friend. She practically
invited me to invite herself and Charlotte to lunch with me—she
somewhat grudgingly included Charlotte. I was rather taken off my feet
for an instant. Charlotte heard, and came up. I wish you could have
seen the expression on the face of Mrs. Andrew Churchill! I don't know
which felt the more crushed, Lucy or I. I assure you I was anxious to
take them both to lunch after that, Mrs. Andrew had made it so clearly
“The perversity of human desires,” laughed Celia. “Poor Lucy!
Charlotte won't stand the child's absurd affectations.”
“Come here, and listen to my plan!” called Doctor Forester, unable
to wait longer to unfold it. So for the next half-hour the plan was
discussed in all its bearings.
Celia proposed at once that they keep it a secret from Charlotte
until the last possible moment, and this was agreed upon. Then Evelyn
suggested, a little shyly, that it also remain unknown to Jeff. He was
to be graduated from college about the middle of June, was very busy
and hurried, and might appreciate the whole thing better when
Commencement was out of the way. It was finally decided that the party
should come down to “The Banks” upon the evening of Jeff's Commencement
Day, and that to him and Charlotte the whole arrangement should be a
The date was only three weeks ahead, and Celia and Evelyn, Mrs.
Birch and the others, found plenty to do in getting ready for the
outing, to say nothing of seeing that neither Charlotte nor Jeff made
other engagements for the period.
“No, no, let's not get in our camping so early in the season. It'll
be all over too soon, then,” argued Just with his brother. Upon Just
devolved the task of heading Jeff off for those prospective two weeks.
“Besides, I've an idea Lanse may prefer July or August.”
“If you'd been boning for examinations the way I have,” retorted
Jeff, “your one idea would be to get off into the wilderness just as
soon as your sheepskin was fairly in your hands. I don't see why you
argue against going in June. You were eager enough for it a week ago.”
“Oh, not so awfully eager. I——”
“You were in a frenzy to go. And I haven't cooled off, if you have.”
“He's hopeless,” Just confided to Evelyn. “His granite mind is set
on going camping in June, and I can't get him off it. If you've any
little tricks of persuasiveness all your own now's your time to try 'em
on him. He'll spoil the whole thing.”
“Write your brother Lansing to tell Jeff to put it off on his
account,” suggested Evelyn.
“That won't do, unfortunately, for Lanse has been uncertain about
going all the time.”
“I'll try to think of something,” promised Evelyn.
She had a chance before the day was over. Jeff appeared, late in the
afternoon, and invited her to take a walk with him.
“I'll tell you what I want,” he said, as they went along. “Let's go
down by the old bridge at the pond, and if there's nobody about I'd
like to have you do me the favour of listening while I spout my
class-day oration. Would you mind?”
“I shall be delighted,” answered Evelyn, and this program was
carried out accordingly. Down behind the willows Jeff mounted a
prostrate log and gave vent to a vigorous and sincere discourse.
“Splendid!” cried his audience, as he finished. “If you do it half
as well as that it will be a great success.”
“Glad you think so.” Jeff descended from the log with a flushed brow
and an air of relief. “I'm not the fellow for class orator, I know, but
I'm it, and I don't want to disgrace the crowd. Pretty down here, isn't
“Beautiful. It makes me very blue to think of leaving it—as if I
oughtn't to be simply thankful I could be here so long. It was lovely
of your sister and brother to insist on my staying when my brother
Thorne had to go to Japan so suddenly.”
“You're not going soon?” Jeff looked dismayed.
“Two weeks after your Commencement,” said Evelyn. “My brother's ship
should be in port by the last of June, and I want to surprise him by
being at home when he reaches there. I shall leave here the minute he
gets into San Francisco.”
“Oh, that's too bad. I'd forgotten there was any such thing as your
going away. You seem—why, you seem one of us, you know!” declared
Jeff, as if there could be no stronger bond of union.
“Oh, thank you—it's good of you to say so. You've all been so kind
I can't half tell you how I appreciate it. We'll have to make the most
of June, I think,” said Evelyn, smiling rather wistfully, and looking
away across the little pond.
“I should say so. We'll have every sort of lark we can think of the
minute Commencement's—Oh, I was going camping after that—but I'll put
it off. Just was arguing that way only this morning, but I saw no good
reason for waiting, then. Now, I do.”
“I'm sorry to have you put it off,” protested Evelyn, with art.
“Hadn't you better go on with your plans, if they're all made? Of
course I should be sorry, but—”
“Oh, I'll put it off!” said Jeff, decidedly, with the very human
wish to do the thing he need not do.
So it was settled. Commencement came rapidly on, bringing with it
the round of festivals peculiar to that season. Jeff insisted on the
presence of his entire family at every event, and for a week, as
Charlotte said, it seemed as if they all lived in flowered organdies
and white gloves.
“I'm really thankful this is the last,” sighed Celia, coming over
with her mother and Just to join the party assembling for the final
great occasion on the Churchill's porch. “Evelyn, how dear you look in
that forget-me-not frock! And that hat is a dream.”
“Well, people, we must be off. When it's all over, let's come out
here on the porch in the dark and luxuriate.” Charlotte drew a long
breath as she spoke.
“That will be a rest,” agreed Celia, with a private pinch of
Evelyn's arm, and Lucy and Randolph giggled.
The younger two had been let into the secret only within the last
twenty-four hours, fears being entertained that they might not be safe
repositories of mystery. Celia gave them a warning look as she passed
them, and kept them away from Charlotte during the car ride into the
“How well the dear boy looks!” whispered his family, one to another,
as the class filed into the University chapel in cap and gown. They
were in a front row, where Jeff could look down at them when he should
come upon the stage for his diploma.
There was not the slightest possibility of his looking either there
or anywhere else. His oration had been delivered on class day, and his
remaining part in the exercises of graduation was to listen
respectfully to the distinguished gentlemen who took part, and to watch
with interested eyes the conferring of many higher degrees before it
was time for himself and his class to receive the sonorous Latin
address which ended by bestowing upon them the title of Bachelor of
It was a proud moment, nevertheless, and many hearts beat high when
it came. Down in that row near the front father and mother, brothers
and sisters and friends, watched a certain erect figure as if there
were no others worth looking at—as all over the hall other
affectionate eyes watched other youthful, manly forms.
Jeff had worked hard for his degree, being not by nature a student,
like his elder brother Lansing, but fonder of active, outdoor life than
of books. He had been incited to deeds of valour in the classroom only
by the grim determination not to disgrace the family traditions or the
scholarly ancestors to whom he had often been pointed back.
“Thank heaven it's over!” exulted Jeff, with his classmates, when,
after the last triumphant speech of the evening, the audience was
dismissed to the strains of a rejoicing orchestra.
“Say, fellows, I'm going to bolt. Hullo, Just! Ask Evelyn for me if
she won't go home flying with me in the Houghton auto—Carolyn's just
sent me word.”
“That will be just the thing,” whispered Celia to Evelyn, when the
message came. “Go with him, but don't let him stop at the Houghtons'.
Whisper it to Carolyn, and see that he's safely on the porch with you
when we get there.”
Evelyn nodded and disappeared with Just, who took her to his
“Now we're off,” murmured Jeff, as he and Evelyn followed Carolyn
and her brother out through a side entrance. “What a night! What a
moon! My, but it feels good to be out in the open air after that
pow-wow in there!”
They had half an hour to themselves in the quiet of the moonlit
porch before the others, coming by electric car, could reach home.
They filled the time by sitting quietly on the top step, Jeff in the
subdued mood of the young graduate who sees, after all, much to regret
in the coming to an end of the years of getting ready for his
life-work. He was, besides, not a little wearied by the final
examinations, preparation for his part in Commencement, and the closing
round of exercises. Evelyn, herself somewhat fatigued, leaned back
against the porch pillar and gladly kept silence.
Before the others came Jeff spoke abruptly. “It isn't everybody who
knows when to let a fellow be an oyster,” he said, gratefully. “But I'm
getting over the oyster mood now, and feel like talking. Do you know,
you're going to leave an awful vacancy behind you when you go?”
“Oh, no,” Evelyn answered. “There are so many of you, and you have
such good times together, you can't mind much when a stranger goes
“Call yourself that?” Jeff laughed. “Well I assure you we don't.
You're too thoroughly one of us—in the way of liking the things we
like and despising the things we despise. Hullo, here come the people!
It was rather stealing a march on them to race home in an auto and let
them follow by car, wasn't it?' Let's go make 'em some lemonade to
cheer their souls.”
“All right.” Evelyn was wondering if this would give her the
necessary chance to change her dress, when the big Forester automobile
rounded the corner and rolled up to the curb, just as the party from
the car reached the steps. Behind it followed a second car of still
more ample dimensions.
“I've come to take the whole party for a moonlight drive down the
river!” called Frederic Forester. “Go take off those cobweb frocks and
put on something substantial. I'll give you ten minutes. I've the
prettiest sight to show you you've seen this year.”
“I believe I'm too tired and sleepy to go,” said Charlotte to Andy,
as he followed her up-stairs. “This week of commencing has about
finished me. Can't you excuse me to Fred? You go with them, if you
“I don't like, without you.” Doctor Churchill was divesting himself
of white cravat and collar. “I know you're worn out, dear, but I think
the ride will brace you up. It's hot in the house to-night; it will be
blissfully cool out on the river road. Besides, Forester would be
disappointed. It isn't every night he comes for us with a pair of
“If I were going all alone with you in the runabout—” sighed
Charlotte, with a languor unusual to her.
“I know, I'd like that better myself. But you needn't talk on this
trip—there are enough to keep things lively without you. You shall sit
next your big boy, and he'll hold your hand in the dark,” urged Doctor
“On that condition, then,” and Charlotte rose from among the
pillows, where she had sunk.
There was certainly something very refreshing about the swift motion
in the June air. Leaning against her husband's shoulder, Charlotte
began to rest.
It had been a busy week, the heat had been of that first unbearable
high temperature of mid-June with which some seasons assault us, and
young Mrs. Churchill had felt her responsibilities more heavily than
ever before. As the car flew down the river road she shut her eyes.
“Why, where are we turning in?” Charlotte opened her eyes. She had
been almost asleep, soothed by the cool and quiet.
“Look ahead through the trees,” Doctor Churchill said in her ear,
and Charlotte sat up.
She saw on the river bank, far ahead, a low house with long porches,
hung thickly with Chinese lanterns. Each window glowed with one of the
swinging globes, and long lines of them stretched off among the trees.
At one side gleamed two white tents, and in front of these burned
“What is it? It must be a lawn party. But we're not dressed for it!”
murmured Charlotte, her eyes wide open now.
Just then a tremendous shout from the automobile in front rang
through the grove. Their own car ran up to the steps, where stood
Doctor Forester and John Lansing Birch under the lanterns, both dressed
from head to foot in white.
“Welcome to 'The Banks!'“ the doctor cried. “Charlotte, my dear, why
this expression of amazement? You've only come to my house party, my
woods party, my river party—for a fortnight—all of you. Will you
stay, or are you going to sit staring down at us with those big black
“I think I'll stay,” said Charlotte, happily, slipping down from the
car into her brother's outstretched arms. “O Lanse! O Lanse! It's good
to see you. What a surprise!”
* * * * *
Charlotte swung herself up into the runabout as Doctor Churchill
paused for her at the gateway of “The Banks.” She had met him here at
six o'clock every day since they came, and this was the seventh day.
It was impossible for him to get through his round of work earlier,
but he was enjoying his evenings and nights in the country with a zest
almost sufficient to make up for the daytime hours he missed.
Charlotte, however, although she joined merrily in all that went on
through the day, was never so happy as when this hour arrived, and
dressed in cool white for the evening, she could slip away and walk
slowly down this winding road through the orchard and the grove to the
gateway. Here she waited in a shady nook for the first puff of the
coming motor. The moment she heard it she sprang out into the roadway,
and stood waving her handkerchief in response to a swinging cap far up
Then came the nearer salutation, the quick climb into the small car,
assisted by the grip of Andy's hand, and the eager greeting of two
pairs of eyes.
“Do you know this outing is doing you a world of good already?” said
Doctor Churchill, noting with approval the fresh colour in Charlotte's
“I know it is. I didn't realise that I needed it a bit until I
actually found myself here, with nothing to do except rest and play.
It's doing everybody good. You should have heard the plans at breakfast
to-day. Although it's been so hot, nobody has been idle a minute. I've
been fishing all day with Lanse and Fred and Celia. Andy, do you know
what I think? I admit I didn't think it till Lanse put it into my head,
but I believe he's right. Fred——”
“Is going to want Celia? Of course. That was a foregone conclusion
from the start.”
“Andy Churchill, you weren't so discerning as all that, when not
even I thought it was serious with either of them! Celia's had so many
admirers, and turned them all aside so coolly—and Mr. Frederic
Forester is such an accomplished person at paying attentions—how could
I think it meant anything? But Lanse insists Celia is different from
what she ever was before, and I don't know but he's right.”
“To be sure he's right. Next to you, I never saw a more attractive
young person than Celia. What a charming colour you have, child! To be
sure, you have burned the tip of that small Greek nose a very little,
but I find even that adorable. Charlotte, stop pinching my arm. If
you're half as glad to have me get here as I am to arrive, you're
pretty happy. I laid stern commands on Mrs. Fields not to telephone,
unless it were a matter of absolute necessity, so I'm pretty sure of
not being disturbed.”
They found supper laid on the piazza, and enjoyed it with keen
appetites. Afterward they spent an hour drifting on the river, followed
by a long and delightful evening on the lawn at the river bank. Celia
and Lanse picked the strings of violin and viola, and the others sang.
Doctor Forester, in his white clothes lay stretched on a rustic seat,
and professed himself to be having “the time of his life.”
“I don't think the rest of us are far behind you,” declared Lanse.
“If you people had been digging away at law in a hot old office you'd
think this was Paradise.”
Evelyn, looking out over the moonlit river, drew a little sigh which
she meant nobody to hear, but Jeff divined it, and whispered, under
cover of an extravaganza from Just in regard to the night, the company,
and the occasion, “You're coming again next summer, you know. And all
winter we'll write about it—shall we?”
“Do you think you will have time to write?” she asked.
“Have time! I should say I would make time,” he murmured. “Think I'm
going to stand having this sort of thing cut off short? I guess
not—unless—you're the one who hasn't time. And even then I don't
think I could be kept from boring you with letters.”
“I shall certainly want to hear what you all are doing,” she
She was thinking about this plan when she went up-stairs to bed an
hour later. Jeff had stopped her at the foot of the stairs to say, “I'd
just like a good secure promise from you about that letter-writing.
I'll enjoy the time that's left a lot better if I know it isn't coming
to a regular jumping-off place at the end. Will you promise to write
She paused on the bottom step, where she was just on a level with
the straightforward dark eyes, half boy's, half man's, which met hers
with the clear look of good comradeship. There was no sentimentality in
the gaze, but undeniably strong liking and respect. She answered in
Jeff's own spirit:
“I promise. I really shouldn't know how to do without hearing about
your plans and the things that happen to you. I'm not a very good
letter-writer, but I'll try to tell you things that will interest you.”
“Good! I'm no flowery expert myself, but I fancy we can write as we
talk, and that's enough for me. Good-night! Happy dreams.”
“Good-night!” she responded, and went on up-stairs, turning to wave
at Jeff from the landing, as he stood in the doorway, preparing to go
out to the tents where he and Just, Doctor Forester, Frederic and Lanse
were spending these dry June nights.
Evelyn went on to the odd old bedroom under the gable, where she and
Lucy were quartered together. She found Lucy lying so still that she
thought her asleep, and so made ready for bed with speed and quiet,
remembering that Lucy had been first to come in, and imagining her
tired with the day's sports.
Evelyn herself did not go at once to sleep. There were too many
pleasant things to think of for that; and although her eyes began to
close at last, she was yet, at the end of half an hour, awake, when
Lucy stirred softly beside her and sat up in bed. After a moment the
younger girl slipped out to the floor, using such care that Evelyn
thought her making unusual and kindly effort not to disturb her
After a little, as Lucy did not return, Evelyn opened her eyes and
looked out into the moonlight. Lucy was dressing, so rapidly and
noiselessly that Evelyn watched her, amazed.
She was on the point of asking if the girl were ill when she
observed that Lucy was putting on the delicate dress and gay ribbons
she had worn during the evening, and was even arranging her hair.
Something prompted Evelyn to lie still, for in all the winter's
association she had never grown quite to trust Lucy or to like her
More than any one else, however, she herself had won the other
girl's liking, and had come to feel a certain responsibility for her.
So when Lucy, after making wholly ready, had stolen to the door, let
herself out, and closed it silently behind her, Evelyn sprang out of
Perhaps Lucy simply could not sleep, she said to herself, and had
gone down to sit on the lower porch, or lie in one of the hammocks
swinging under the trees. The night was exceedingly warm, even the
usual cooling breath from the river being absent.
“That's all there is of it,” said Evelyn, reassuringly, to herself,
although at the same time she felt uneasiness enough to send her out
into the hall to a gable window over the porch, which commanded a view
of the camp. Nothing stirring was to be seen, except the dwindling
flame of the evening camp-fire, burned every night for cheer, not for
warmth. Evelyn crept to a side window. As she reached it a white figure
could be seen hurrying away through the orchard.
Back in her room, Evelyn dressed with as much haste as Lucy had
done, if with less care. Instead of the white frock of the evening,
however, she put on a dark blue linen, for she was sure that she must
follow Lucy and discover what this strange departure, stealthily made
at midnight, could mean.
She went down to the front door. The moment she opened it a tall
figure started up from one of the long lounging chairs there, and
Jeff's voice said softly, “Charlotte?”
“No, it's Evelyn,” she whispered back. “Don't be surprised. I
thought everybody in the camp was asleep.”
“I wasn't sleepy, and thought I'd lounge here till I was. What's the
matter? Anybody sick?”
“No. I'm just going for a little walk.”
“Walk? At this hour? Can't you sleep? But you mustn't go and walk
alone, you know. I'll go with you.”
She did not want to tell him, but she saw no other way.
“It's Lucy,” she explained hurriedly. “She's dressed and gone out
somewhere, and I can't think why. It frightened me, and I'm going to
“No, you stay here and I'll follow. Which way did she go? What can
she be up to? That girl's a queer one, and I've thought so from the
“No, no! There's some explanation. It may be she walks in her sleep,
you know—though I'm sure she's never done it this winter. Let me go,
Jeff; she'll get too far. She took the path toward the river. Oh, if it
should be sleep-walking——”
“I guess it's not sleep-walking.” Jeff's tone was skeptical.
But Evelyn had started away at a run, and Jeff was after her. The
two hastened along with light, noiseless steps. At the bottom of the
path, on the very brink of the river, was an old summer-house, looking
out over the water. It was a favourite retreat, for the boat-house and
the landing were but a rod away, and after a row on the river the
shaded summer-house was a pleasant place in which to linger.
“Hush!” breathed Evelyn, stopping short as they neared the
They advanced with caution, and presently, as they drew within
speaking distance of the little structure, they saw a white-clad figure
emerge from it and stand just outside. Jeff drew Evelyn quickly and
silently into the shelter of a cluster of hemlocks.
After a space the dip of oars lightly broke the stillness of the
night, and soon a row-boat pulled quietly into view, with one dark
figure outlined against the gleam of the moonlit water. Evelyn caught a
smothered sound from Jeff, whether of recognition or of displeasure she
could not tell. She felt her own pulses throbbing with excitement and
The stranger pulled in to the landing, noiselessly shipped his oars,
jumped out and made fast. Lucy came cautiously down to the wharf, and
against the radiance of the moonlight on the river the two behind the
trees could see the greeting.
The slight, boyish figure which met Lucy had a familiar look to
Jeff, but he could not tell with any certainty whose it might be. That
it was youthful there could be no question. Even in the dim light the
diffidence of both boy and girl could be plainly observed.
“Young idiots!” exploded Jeff, between his teeth, as the two they
were watching sat down side by side on the steps of the boat-landing,
where only their heads were visible to the watchers—heads decidedly
close together. Then he bent close to Evelyn's ear and whispered, “Come
farther back with me, and we'll decide what to do.”
With the utmost caution the two made their retreat. At a safe
distance Jeff halted, and said rapidly, “I think the best thing will be
for you to go back to bed and to sleep—if you can. At any rate, don't
let her know that you hear her come in. I'll come back here and mount
guard. I won't let them see me. I'll take care that Lucy gets safely
back to the house, and I won't interfere unless she attempts to go off
in the boat with him or do some fool thing like that. You needn't
worry. They aren't going to run away and get married. She's just full
of sentimental nonsense, and thinks it romantic and grown-up to steal
out in the night to meet some idiot of a boy—you can see that's all he
is by his build. Probably somebody we know, don't you think that's the
“Yes, for to-night,” agreed Evelyn, in a troubled whisper. “I feel
as if I ought to talk to her when she comes in, though.”
“If you do you'll just make her angry. The thing is to let her go
uncaught until we can think what to do. Little simpleton!”
“I'll do as you say, but—don't be hard on her, Jeff. She's just
silly; she hasn't been brought up like your sisters.”
“Or like you,” thought Jeff, as he watched the figure before him
flit away toward the house. He followed at a distance, till he saw the
door close on Evelyn; then he went back to his post.
The next morning, as he and Evelyn walked down the road through the
apple-orchard toward the gateway, to open the rural-delivery mail-box,
which stood just outside the gate, Jeff told Evelyn what he had found
“Nothing more serious than a simple case of spoon,” he said, with an
expression at which Evelyn might have laughed if she had not felt so
disturbed. “The boy turned out to be our next neighbour here. They've
made another appointment for to-night. He thinks it a great
lark—probably will brag about it to all the boys. He's got to eat his
little dish of humble pie, too. Evelyn, I've a plan. Will you trust me
to carry it out to-night?”
She looked at him. In her face was written a concern for Lucy so
tender that Jeff adored her for it. At the same time he hastened to
assure her that it was needless.
“If you merely talk with her I don't think that will do it,” he
said, decidedly. “She's been with you all winter, has seen just how a
girl should behave,”—he did not know what a thrill of happiness this
bluntly sincere compliment gave his hearer—“and she hasn't taken it in
a bit. She needs something to bring her to her senses. I'd rather not
tell you my plan, for if you can assure her afterward that you weren't
in it, you can do her more good than if she's as provoked at you as
she's sure to be at me. But I give you my word of honour I'll not do a
thing to frighten her, or play any fool practical jokes. I'll have to
let Just into the secret, I think, but nobody else. Will you trust me?”
“Of course, I will,” said the girl, quickly. “On just one condition,
Jeff. Think of her as if she were your own sister, and
“Be 'as funny as I can'? No, I won't.”
Evelyn observed Lucy all that day with understanding, and found
herself longing to warn the girl that her foolishness was about to meet
with its punishment. She noted with sorrow the strangely excited look
in the young eyes, the light, half-hysterical laugh, the changing
colour in the pretty face. Lucy's promise of beauty had never seemed to
her so characterless, or her words so empty of sense.
She found her in a corner of their room, reading a worn novel by a
certain author whose very name she had been taught to regard as a
synonym for vapidity and sentimentalism of the most highly flavoured
sort, and she could not keep back a quick exclamation at sight of it.
Lucy looked up with a frown and a flush.
“I suppose you think it's terrible to read novels,” she said,
pettishly flirting the leaves. “Well, I don't.”
“Dear, it's not 'novels' that I've been taught to despise, but the
sort of novel that writer writes. I don't know anything about them
myself, but I saw my brother Thorne once put that one you're reading in
the stove and jam on the cover, as if he were afraid it would get out.
Do you wonder I don't like to see Lucy Peyton reading it?” asked Evelyn
gently, with her cheek against the other girl's.
“He must be a terrible Miss Nancy, then,” said Lucy, defiantly.
“There's not a thing in it that couldn't be in a Sunday-school book.
The heroine is the sweetest thing.”
“If she is she won't mind your putting her down and coming out for a
walk with me,” answered Evelyn, with a smile which might have
captivated Lucy if she had seen it. But the younger girl got up and
flung away out of the room, murmuring that she did not feel like
walking, and would take herself and her book where they would not
Evelyn looked after her with a little sigh, and owned that Jeff
might be right in thinking that mere gentle argument with Lucy would
have scant effect on a head full of nonsense or a heart whose love for
the sweet and true had had far too little development.
Half an hour before the time set for the rendezvous at the
summer-house that night Jeff and Just walked down the path, shoulder to
shoulder, talking under their breath. Just, being younger, was even
more deeply interested than his brother in the prospective encounter,
and received his final instructions with ill-concealed glee.
“All right!” he gurgled. “I'm to give him a good scare, in the shape
of a lecture—with a thrashing promised if he cuts up any more. He's to
give his word, on pain of a lot of things, not to give any of this
little performance of his away to a soul. Then he's to be forbidden the
premises while Miss Peyton is on them. I understand.”
“Well, now, look here,” warned Jeff. “I give you leave, but, mind
you, I trust your discretion, too. You never can tell what these
Willie-boys will do. Dignity's your cue. Be stern as an avenging fate,
but don't get to cuffing him round and batting him with language just
because you're bigger. You——”
“Look here,” expostulated Just, aggrieved, “you picked me out for
this job; now leave it to me. I'll have the boy saying 'sir' to me
before I get through.”
Just ran down to the boat-house, got out a slim craft, launched it,
and was about rowing away when he bethought himself of something. He
pulled in to the landing, made fast his painter, and ran like a deer up
to the house. He was back in five minutes.
“Don't believe I'll go by boat, after all,” he whispered to Jeff,
standing in the summer-house door. “It might be simpler not to have a
boat to bother with. I'll just leave the Butterfly tied there,
and put her up when I get back.”
He was off before Jeff could reply. Jeff started toward the boat to
put it up, but stopped, considering.
Lucy would think it that of her admirer, and would be all the more
sure to keep her appointment. He left it as it was, swinging lightly on
the water, six feet out. It was a habit of Just's to moor a boat at the
length of her painter, to prevent her bumping against the rough old
Lucy, coming swiftly down the path fifteen minutes later, saw the
boat and hastened her steps. She did not observe that this was a
slimmer, longer craft than the boat George Jarvis was using. She
reached the landing and looked about. Of course he was in the
summer-house. She went to it, her skirts, which she had of late been
surreptitiously lengthening, held daintily in her hand.
As she came close, a figure appeared in the doorway. Before she
could be frightened by the realisation that it was not Jarvis's slender
young frame which confronted her, Jeff accosted her in the mildest
“It's only Jefferson Birch. Don't be scared. Fine night, isn't it?”
“Y-yes,” stammered Lucy, in dismay. She stood still, her skirts
gathered close, as if she were about to run.
“Don't go. Out for a stroll? So am I,” said Jeff, pleasantly, as if
midnight promenades were the accustomed thing at “The Banks.” “Won't
you sit down?”
There were seats outside the summer-house as well as within, and he
motioned toward one of them.
“No, thank you. I think I'll go back,” said Lucy, and her voice
“Why, you've only just come! Why not stay a while and have a visit
with me? You must have been intending to stay.”
“Oh, no!” said Lucy, eagerly, and stopped short, listening. What if
George Jarvis should come round the corner at any moment? She must get
Jeff away with her. “Won't you walk along up to the house with me? I
only came down to see if I'd left something in the summer-house.”
Jeff had planned what he would say to her, but at this his disgust
got the better of him. “Lucy,” said he—and his voice had changed from
lightness to gravity—“don't you mind a bit saying what isn't true
* * * * *
“What do you mean, Jefferson Birch, by saying such a thing?” Lucy's
tone was one of mingled anger and fright.
“I mean,” said Jeff, coolly, “that if coming down here to meet
George Jarvis were what you were proud of doing, you wouldn't try to
cover it up. Do you know, Lu, I'm tremendously sorry you find any fun
in a thing like that.”
“Dear me,”—Lucy tried hard to assume her usual self-confident
manner—“Who appointed you guardian of young ladies?”
“The trouble is—well—you're not a young lady yet. You're only a
girl. If you were a real grown-up young lady there'd be nothing I could
do about your stealing out at this late hour to meet a young man except
to laugh and think my own thoughts. But since you're only a girl—”
“You can insult me!” Lucy was very near tears now—angry, mortified
“I don't mean to insult you, and I think you know that. If anybody
has insulted you it's the boy who asked you to meet him here. He must
have been the one to propose it, of course, and you thought it would be
fun. Lu, when I found this out I should have gone straight to my sister
Charlotte and told her to come and meet you here instead of myself, if
I hadn't known how it would disappoint her. She would have taken it to
heart much more seriously than you can realise. She's entertained you
all winter and spring, and the responsibilities of looking after you
and Ran have been heavy on her shoulders. She's tried hard to give you
a good time, too.”
Lucy turned and walked deliberately away down the path toward the
“I'm bungling it,” thought Jeff, uncomfortably, and stood still,
waiting. “Perhaps I ought to have let Evelyn tackle the business, after
Lucy walked out upon the landing, where the Butterfly swung
lazily in the wash of the current. Suddenly, quite without warning, she
ran the length of the little pier and leaped for the boat. It had
looked an easy distance, but as she made the jump she realised too late
that the interval of water between pier and boat was wider than it had
looked in the moonlight. With a scream and a splash she went down, and
an instant later Jeff, dashing down the pier, saw only a widening
circle gleaming faintly on the water.
He flung off his coat, tore off his low shoes, and waited. The
river-bottom shelved suddenly just where the pier ended, and the depth
was fully twenty feet. Moment after moment went by while he watched
breathlessly for the appearance of the girl at the surface. The current
was strong a few feet out, and his gaze swept the water for some
distance. When he caught sight of the break in the surface which told
him what he wanted, it was even farther down-stream than he had
“I mustn't risk this alone,” he thought, quickly, and gave several
ringing shouts for Just, whom he knew to be only two or three hundred
yards up-shore. Then he made his plunge, swimming furiously to get
below the place where the girl's white-clad form had risen, that he
might be at hand when his chance came again.
The current helped him, and so did the moonlight on the water. It
was in the very centre of a glinting spot of light that Lucy came to
the surface the second time. Before she had sunk out of sight Jeff had
her by the skirts, and was working desperately to get her head above
water. She was struggling with all her fierce young strength, crazed
with fright and suffocation, and she continually dragged him under in
her blind attempts to pull herself up by him.
When he could get breath he shouted again, and after what seemed to
him an age, there came a response from two directions. Just running
along the river bank, and Doctor Churchill, plunging down the hill,
saw, and were coming to the rescue.
“Hold on! Hold on! I'm coming!” both shouted as they ran.
Doctor Churchill, having the easier course, reached the bank first.
Being clad only in his pajamas, he was unburdened by superfluous
clothing. With a long leap he was in the water, and with a half-dozen
vigorous strokes he had reached Jeff's elbow.
“Let go! I've got her!” he cried, and Jeff, spluttering and
breathing hard, attempted to let go.
But Lucy still fought so desperately that it was no easy matter to
get her clutch away from Jeff's clothing. By this time, however, Just
was also in the water, and the three soon had the girl under control.
“Keep quiet! You're all right! Let us take you in!” called Doctor
Churchill to the struggling, strangling little figure. So in a minute
more they had her on the bank.
“Why, it's Lucy!” Doctor Churchill cried in astonishment, as he
dropped upon his knees beside her and fell to work.
“Yes, it's Lucy!” panted Jeff.
But there was no chance just then for explanations. For the next ten
minutes he and Just were kept busy obeying peremptory orders. As under
Andy's directions they silently and anxiously worked over the young
form upon the grass, they were feeling intensely grateful that the
necessary skill had been so close at hand. But until the doctor's
satisfied “She's coming out all right!” gave them leave, neither dared
draw a good breath for himself.
Just was wondering what he and Jeff were to say, but his brother was
heaping reproaches upon himself, and sternly holding Jeff Birch
responsible for the whole unfortunate affair.
By the time Lucy was herself again and able to breathe without
distress, Evelyn had come flying down the path—-the only other person
roused by the distant shouts. It had been a day full of active sports,
and everybody was sleeping the sleep of the weary. Even Charlotte had
not been roused by Andy's departure.
Just ran to the house for blankets; Evelyn, at Doctor Churchill's
direction, followed him to prepare a steaming hot drink for Lucy; and
presently they had her in her bed, warm and dry, although much
exhausted by her experience in the waters of the river, which were cold
even on a June night. Doctor Churchill had insisted on calling
Charlotte, but Evelyn had begged him to arouse nobody else, and after
one look into her face he had agreed.
At last, Lucy having dropped off to sleep under the soothing
influence of the hot beverage, the others gathered quietly in a lower
room. The three wet ones had acquired dry if informal garments, and a
council had been asked for by Evelyn.
“It's entirely my fault,” began Jeff, promptly, and he plunged into
a brief but graphic account of the accident.
“It's not in the least your fault,” Evelyn interrupted, at last, as
Jeff came to a pause with a repetition of his self-condemnation. “It's
mine, if anybody's. I should have taken the whole thing to Mrs.
Churchill at once, instead of trying to keep it quiet.”
“My meeting her down there alone was entirely my plan,” began Jeff
again; but this time it was his sister Charlotte who interrupted.
“Neither of you is in the least to blame, my dears,” she said,
smiling on them both. “You had the best of motives, and the plan might
have worked out well but for the child's sudden mad idea of jumping
into that boat. I suppose she meant to row away.”
“She didn't stop to cast off—she couldn't have got away before I
should have been in the boat, too,” objected Jeff.
“That simply shows how out of her head with excitement she was. But
that's all over. She mercifully wasn't drowned”—a little involuntary
shiver passed over the speaker—“and we'll hope for no serious
consequences. The thing now is to think how to act when she wakes in
“I should say treat the whole thing for what it is, a childish
escapade. Show her the silliness of it, and then let it drop,” said
Charlotte looked at him appealingly.
“Lucy and Ran go home next week,” she said, slowly. “I hoped—I
wanted so much to send Lucy away with—I can't express it—a little bit
higher ideals than any she has known before. I thought we were
succeeding; she has seemed more considerate and less fault-finding.”
“She certainly has,” Evelyn agreed quickly, and the two looked at
each other. There was an instant's silence; then Just spoke:
“How do you know but you'll find her quite a different proposition
when she wakes up? A plunge like that is a sobering sort of experience,
I should say, for a girl who can't swim. She may be the meekest thing
on earth after this. If it does her as much good as a lively dressing
down did George Jarvis, she's likely to be a changed girl.”
They could not help smiling at the satisfaction in the boy's voice.
“He may be right,” admitted Doctor Churchill.
“At any rate, if Lucy isn't ill to-morrow let's tell nobody what has
happened. The poor child certainly doesn't need any more humiliation
just at present, and I'd like to spare her all I can.” Charlotte spoke
They agreed to this. Evelyn went to her place beside Lucy, planning
an affectionate greeting when the younger girl should wake; and
Charlotte, when she fell asleep, dreamed of Lucy until morning.
It was quite a different Lucy who met them all in the morning. She
showed no ill effects except a slight languor, and when Charlotte had
established her in a hammock on the porch, she lay there with a quiet,
sober face, which showed that she had been doing some thinking.
When Jeff approached with his most deferential manner to inquire
after her welfare, she astonished him by saying more simply and sweetly
than he had dreamed possible:
“I want to tell you I won't forget what you did for me last night. I
was foolish, I suppose. I—I didn't think what I was doing was any
harm, but I—”
She choked a little and felt for her handkerchief. Jeff grasped her
hand. He had a warm heart, and he had not got over the thought of how
he should have felt if he had not been able to rescue the girl he had
attempted to lecture. His answer to Lucy was very gentle:
“We'll never think of it again. I'm awfully thankful it all ended
well. If you'll forgive me for frightening you, I'll say that I'm sure
you're really a sensible little girl, and I shan't lie awake nights
worrying over your taking midnight strolls.”
His tone was not priggish, and his smile was so bright that Lucy
took heart of grace, and said, earnestly, “You needn't. I don't want
any more,” and buried her face in her pillow.
But it was not to cry, for Evelyn came by. Jeff called to her, and
between them they soon had Lucy smiling. Before the day was over she
had had a little talk with Charlotte, in which the young married woman
came nearer to the heart of the girl that she had ever succeeded in
doing before, and Lucy had learned one or two simple lessons she never
“But it's the first and last time I ever attempt the education of
the young girl,” declared Jeff, solemnly, to Evelyn, that afternoon, as
they gathered armfuls of old-fashioned June roses for the decoration of
“Don't feel too badly. Lucy is going to value your respect very much
after this, and I think you'll be able to give it to her. A girl who
has no older brother misses a great deal, I think. I don't know what I
should have done without mine,” answered Evelyn, reaching up to pull at
a pink cluster far above her head.
“Let me get that for you,” and Jeff's long arm easily grasped the
spray and drew it down to her. “Well, I owe a lot to my sisters, that's
With quite a knightly air he cut the fairest bud at hand, and gave
it to her, saying quietly, “You wouldn't like it if I said anything
soft and sentimental, but you won't mind if I tell you that you seem to
me a lot like that bud there—that's going to blossom some day.”
He knew it pleased her, for the ready colour told him so. But she
“As yet I'm quite content to be only a bud. Your sister Celia is the
opening rose. Isn't she lovely? Here's one just like her. Take it to
her and tell her I said so, will you?”
She plucked the rose and motioned to where Celia was coming alone
along the orchard road, Frederic Forester having just left her for a
hasty trip to town. Jeff laughed, took the rose and the message, and
brought back Celia's thanks. Evelyn met him with her full basket, and
the rose-picking was over.
“She says to tell you you're a flatterer, but being a woman, she
likes it—and you,” said Jeff, taking her basket away.
Doctor Forester's party had lasted eight days now, and his guests
were planning how to make the most of the time remaining, when Doctor
Churchill came spinning out in the middle of a Thursday morning with a
letter. Mrs. Peyton had sent word that Randolph and Lucy were to meet
her in a distant city, thirty-six hours' ride away. From there the trio
were to proceed to their home.
“They will have to leave this evening in order to make it,” Doctor
Churchill announced. “This letter has barely allowed time—a little
characteristic of Cousin Lula which I remember of old. She has an idea
that time and tide—if they wait for no man—can sometimes be prevailed
upon to change their schedule on account of a woman.”
Upon hearing the news Lucy burst into tears. She did not want to go,
she did not want to go so soon—more than all, she was afraid to go
“Undoubtedly some one can be found who is going the same way,” the
letter read, easily, “and in any case, you can put them in charge of
the railroad officials, who will see that they make no mistakes. I
cannot possibly afford to come so far for them.”
“Why can't Evelyn go now, too?” pleaded Lucy, as she and Evelyn,
Charlotte and Celia were being conveyed on a rapid run home by Frederic
Forester. It had been decided necessary for all feminine hands to fall
to work, to accomplish the packing in time to get the young people off
at nine that evening.
“Evelyn doesn't go until next Tuesday, and this is only Thursday,”
Charlotte answered, promptly.
“Five days isn't much difference,” urged Lucy mournfully. “And when
Evelyn's going right over the same road almost to our home, I should
think she'd like to go when we do, if it did cut off a little. She's
been here all winter.”
“So have you, Lu, and you don't want to go,” Charlotte reminded her.
She did not say that nobody could bear to think of Evelyn's
departure any sooner than was absolutely necessary, for it was not
possible honestly to say the same about Lucy. But when they reached the
house, and Charlotte had run up to her room to exchange her dress for a
working frock, Evelyn came to her and softly closed the door. Evelyn
had persuaded herself that she ought to accompany the others.
“It isn't as if Lucy were a different sort of girl,” she
argued—against her own wishes, for she longed to stay more than she
dared to own. “But nobody knows how she might behave—if anybody tried
to get to know her—somebody she oughtn't to know. And besides, she's
afraid. It really doesn't matter. I can use the extra time getting
things ready for Thorne. Please don't urge me, Mrs. Churchill. It won't
be a bit easier next week.”
Gentle as she was, Charlotte had learned that when Evelyn made up
her mind that she ought to do a thing, it was as good as done. So
presently Evelyn, too, was packing, her smiles at the remonstrances of
Charlotte and Celia very sweet, her heart very heavy.
“Well, dear, I've telephoned the others at 'The Banks,'“ said
Charlotte, coming into Evelyn's room, having just left Lucy in an
ecstatic condition over the decision. “You should have heard the
dismay. Jeff and Just have already started home on their wheels, to
prevent your going by main force.”
This was literally true. From Doctor Forester down to his youngest
guest had come regret and remonstrance. Finally, however, Doctor
Forester, having called up Evelyn herself, and been persuaded that she
was sure she was right, had fallen to planning what could be done to
make the girl's leave-taking a pleasant one for her to remember.
After a little an idea seized him. He chuckled to himself, and fell
to telephoning again. He had Doctor Churchill on the wire, then
Charlotte, Celia and his son Frederic, who had remained at the
Birches', finally the railway-station, the Pullman office, and a
certain official of whom he was accustomed to ask favours and get them
“Good-by, Mrs. Fields!” said Evelyn Lee, coming out upon the back
porch, where the doctor's housekeeper was resting after a busy days
work. “I shall never forget how good you've been to me, and I hope you
won't forget me.”
“Forget you!” ejaculated Mrs. Fields, her spare, strong hand
grasping tight the slender one held out to her. “Well, there ain't much
danger of that, nor of anybody else's forgetting you. I've been about
as pleased as the doctor and Miss Charlotte to see you pick up. You
don't look like the same girl that came here last fall.”
“I'm sure I don't feel much like her. Ever so much of it is
certainly due to your good cooking, Mrs. Fields.”
“It's so hard to take leave of you all,” said Evelyn, on the porch,
where the others were assembled. “I'd almost like to slip away without
a word—only that would look so ungrateful. And I'm the most grateful
“You needn't say good-by to me,” said Doctor Forester, “for I'm
going as far as Washington with you.” He smiled at the joy which
flashed into her face.
“Oh, are you really?” she cried.
“You needn't say good-by to me, either,” said Frederic Forester, as
she turned to him, standing next to his father, “for I'm going, too,”
“I think I'll go along,” said Doctor Churchill.
“Will you take me?” Charlotte was smiling at Evelyn's bewildered
“If Charlotte goes, I shall, too,” supplemented Celia.
Evelyn looked at them. Surely enough, although in the hurry she had
not noticed it before, they were all in travelling dress. She had known
they had meant to go as far as the city station with her; she saw now
that they were fully equipped for the journey. And Washington was
nearly twenty hours away!
“You dear people!” murmured Evelyn, and rather blindly cast herself
into Mrs. Birch's outstretched arms.
There was only one thing lacking to her peace of mind. Jeff had not
appeared to bid her good-by. Charlotte observed that Evelyn's voice
trembled a little when she said, “Where's Jeff? Will you tell him
good-by for me?”
Charlotte answered, “He won't fail, dear. He'll surely be at the
But when they reached the station no Jeff was there. Nobody seemed
to notice, for the men of the party were busy looking after various
details of the trip. Celia was explaining to Evelyn and Lucy how it had
all come about.
“Doctor Forester was so upset and sorry over your going,” she said,
“that he went to thinking up excuses to go along. He remembered an
important medical convention in Washington, and persuaded Andy that he
could get away for the three days' session. Then he invited Charlotte
and me, and convinced Mr. Frederic that he ought to go, too. We were
only too willing, so here we are.”
“It's the loveliest thing that could happen,” said Evelyn, and tried
hard not to let her eyes wander to the doors of the station.
She had not seen Jeff since early in the afternoon, when, after hot
argument, he had at last given up trying to persuade her that she need
not go until the coming Tuesday. To Just only, however, as he carried
her little travelling bag on board the train for her, did she say a
“Please tell Jeff for me,” she said in his ear, as he established
her in the designated section of the sleeping-car, “that I felt very
badly not to say good-by to him. But give him my best remembrance, and
say that I'm sure he must have been kept from coming by something he
“Of course he must have been,” agreed Just, heartily, feeling like
pitching into his delinquent brother with both fists for bringing that
hurt little look into the hazel eyes below him. “He'll probably turn up
just as your train gets under headway, and then he'll be the maddest
fellow you ever saw. Hullo, I'll bet that messenger boy is looking for
you!” as he saw Frederic Forester pointing a blue-capped carrier of a
florist's box toward Evelyn. He went forward, claimed the box, and
brought it back to Evelyn.
She peeped within, saw a great cluster of roses, and drew out a
card. “Of course it's Jeff's?” queried Just, anxiously, and he felt
immense relief when Evelyn nodded.
“Well, I'm off!” Just gripped her hand as the train began to move.
“Good-by! I'm mighty sorry to have you go,” and with lifted hat, and a
hasty farewell to Lucy and Randolph, he was gone.
Evelyn smiled at him from the window, as he ran down the platform
waving at her, but her heart was still heavy. It was very good of Jeff
to send the flowers, but she would rather have had one hearty grasp of
his friendly hand than all the roses in his Northern state.
* * * * *
“Well, I consider myself pretty lucky to have secured four sections
all together on this train,” said Doctor Forester, with satisfaction,
as he and Andrew Churchill and Frederic retired to the smoking-room
while their berths were being made up.
“Why, what are we slowing down for out here?” Frederic glanced out
of the window. “This is West Weston, isn't it? Yes—we're off again.
Some official, probably.”
A door slammed and a tall figure hurried through the passage, looked
in at the smoking-room, and turned back. “Hullo!” said a familiar
voice, and Jeff's laughing face beamed in upon them.
“Well, well, did you hold up the train?” they cried.
“Thought you'd come along, too, did you?” asked Doctor Forester.
“Good! Glad to have you. I thought it was odd you weren't round to see
us off. Go and surprise the girls. They're just back there, waiting for
Jeff hurried eagerly away. A moment later Evelyn, standing in the
aisle beside Charlotte, felt a touch on her arm. She looked up, and met
Jeff's eyes smiling down at her.
“Did you think I'd let you go like that?” he said in her ear.
“I'm afraid I thought you had,” she admitted, grown happy in an
“You see, I had an appointment with a man in West Weston on some
work I've been doing for him. After I heard this plan of Doctor
Forester's I had only just time to catch a train and get out there. He
kept me so long I missed the train that would have brought me back in
time to see you off, so I telephoned Chester Agnew to get the flowers
for me and write a card. That was when I was afraid I might not make
connections at all. But when this man I went to see—he's a railroad
man—heard what train I'd wanted to make, he offered to stop it for me.
Then it just came into my mind that I'd join the party, even without an
invitation. Tell me you're not sorry—won't you?”
“Of course I'm not.” She allowed him one of her frank looks, and he
smiled back at her.
“We'll have a great day to-morrow,” he prophesied. “They'll put on a
Pullman with an observation rear in the morning, and if the weather
holds we'll camp out there for the day. We don't get into Washington
till three in the afternoon, and the scenery all the way down will be
fine. I suppose I'll have to go off now and let you be tucked up.
Please get up bright and early in the morning, will you?”
It was a merry party which entered the dining-car the next morning
the moment the first summons came. The day had risen bright and clear
as a June day could be, and everybody was in a hurry to get out on the
Doctor Forester, sitting opposite Charlotte and Andy at one table,
glanced across at the rest of the party, on the opposite side of the
car, and said in a low voice:
“This is literally a case of speeding the parting guest, isn't it?
Captain John Rayburn got you into something of a scrape when he sent
you that copper inscription over your fireplace, didn't he? He didn't
realise that the 'ornaments' it brought you in November would have to
be conveyed away by force in June. It was the only way to give you an
interval when you should, for the first time in the history of your
married life, have no guests at all.”
Charlotte and Andrew were staring at him in amazement.
“Uncle Ray?” cried Charlotte, under her breath. “Was he the one? Did
you know it all the time, Doctor Forester?”
“Yes, I knew it all the time” he owned. “In fact, Captain Rayburn
wrote to me after he had heard of the fireplace. You sent him a
photograph of it, didn't you?”
“So we did,” Doctor Churchill answered. “We took it the day the
fireplace was finished, I'd forgotten it completely, but I remember
now. We thought he'd be interested, because something he once said
about the ideal fireplace had put the idea into our heads of collecting
the stones ourselves. So he wrote all the way from Denmark to have that
“He had it made there, and wrote me for the measurements. He
expressed it to me, and I repacked it and sent it to you,” chuckled
Doctor Forester. “He was determined to puzzle you completely.”
“He certainly succeeded. Did he give you leave to tell at this
“It was left to my discretion after the first six months, provided
you had had any guests. I thought the time was ripe, and you'd earned
your diploma. All that worries me is that you may find a fresh
instalment of ornaments when you get back. The motto strikes me as a
sort of uncanny provider of them.” The others laughed. Charlotte
glanced across at Evelyn.
“It has paid,” she said softly. Andy nodded. “It certainly has. All
the thanks we shall need will be in Thorne Lee's letter, after he has
seen his little sister.”
“I rather think it's paid with the others, too,” Doctor Forester
added. “Anyhow, you've certainly done your part.”
Out on the back of the train Charlotte found Lucy at her elbow. She
looked into the girl's face, and discovered the blue eyes to be full of
tears. “Why, Lu, dear!” she said, softly.
“Mrs. Churchill”—Lucy was almost crying—“I just can't bear to
think it's the last day! I wish—oh, I wish—I lived with you!”
“Do you, dear? That's very pleasant,” and Charlotte drew her close,
feeling more warmth toward Lucy than the girl had yet inspired. “But
don't be blue.”
“I can't help it. It's almost ten o'clock now, and at three we shall
be going away from you all.”
“No, you won't,” Charlotte whispered in her ear. “It was to have
been a surprise, but I think you'll enjoy it more to know. Only don't
tell Evelyn. Doctor Forester has telegraphed your mother and received
her answer. You're not to go till to-morrow night at six, and we're to
have twenty-eight hours together in Washington.”
“Oh! Oh!” Lucy almost screamed, so that the others looked
around at her and smiled. “Oh, I do think Doctor Forester and you are
just the nicest people I ever knew!”
Doctor Forester's secret was not very well kept, after all. Lucy
whispered the good news to Jeff, and he could not forbear telling it to
Evelyn just as the train was drawing out of Baltimore. His own spirits
had been drooping as time went on, but the reprieve of a day sent them
up with a bound.
“The question is what we shall do with our time,” said Doctor
Forester, looking round at his party in the hotel parlour, where he had
taken them. “Speak up, everybody. We can divide our forces if
necessary. Is there anybody here who hasn't been here before?”
Lucy and Randolph seemed to be the only ones not more or less
familiar with the capital. On hearing this, Doctor Forester declared
that he should himself take them to as many of the most interesting
places as possible.
“Whatever we do to-night, I vote for the trip down the Potomac to
Mount Vernon in the morning,” said Doctor Churchill, promptly. “We'll
get back in plenty of time for Evelyn's train, and there certainly
isn't a better way to put in the time than that.”
This was heartily agreed upon, and the remainder of the day was used
in various ways, not more than two of which, it may be remarked, were
alike. Charlotte smiled meaningly at her husband as she watched Celia
and Fred Forester, having proceeded half-way across Lafayette Park with
Jeff and Evelyn, leave the two at a cross-path, and walk briskly off by
“That's certainly a sure thing, isn't it?” said he.
“No question of it, I think.”
“Are you satisfied?”
“Perfectly. I haven't seen very much of Fred since he—and we—grew
up, but if he's his father's son——”
“He is, I think,” said Doctor Churchill, confidently. “And the
doctor likes it, I'm sure. There's satisfaction in his face whenever he
looks at them. In fact, I can't help thinking he planned both the house
party and this trip with a view of bringing them together all he
“Dear Celia—if she's just half as happy as she deserves to be——”
“She will be. She loves to travel, hasn't had half enough of it, and
he'll take her round the world. I haven't had a chance to tell you that
he's going to India in the fall, in some important capacity. He
received the appointment just yesterday.”
“Really?” Charlotte looked thoughtful. “Celia—in India! Andy——”
“Does that startle you? I don't imagine it's for any long stay, but
as a matter of some scientific investigations. Here, don't go to
looking sober. I shall be sorry I told you.”
Charlotte smiled and answered brightly that it was not a thing to
look sober over. Nevertheless, her thoughts were much with her sister.
The next morning, as the party found their places on the little steamer
which was to take them down the river to Mount Vernon, she found
herself watching Celia more closely than she had meant to do, in the
anxiety to discover if the trip to India was really imminent.
“Isn't Mount Vernon a fascinating spot?” asked Evelyn, as she and
Jeff walked up the long, ascending road from pier to house together.
“I've never forgotten my first visit. I lived in Washington's times in
my dreams for weeks afterward. I never saw it at this season of the
year. The garden must be in its prime now.”
“Let's go and see it first,” responded Jeff, quickly. “I don't
remember much about it. My two visits here have all been spent in the
So while the others rambled through the quaint and interesting
rooms, Jeff and Evelyn made their way to the box-bordered paths of Lady
Washington's garden, and wandered about there in the warm June
sunshine. It grew so hot after a while that they betook themselves to
the lawn and banks overlooking the river, and sat there talking, as
they watched the waters of the Potomac.
“What are you going to do when you get home?” asked Jeff, somewhat
“Put our rooms in order,” Evelyn responded, promptly.
“All by yourself?”
“We live in the same house with a lovely little woman, the wife of a
former Confederate general. I shall be with her until Thorne comes.”
“I suppose you've lots of friends of your own age?” Jeff observed.
“Not as many as I ought to have. You see, I've lived very quietly
with my brother for six years now, except for the time I spent at a
girls' school in Baltimore. Since I came home from there I've not been
very strong, and Thorne has kept me very quiet, until he sent me North
to school last fall.”
“You're so well now you'll be going about a lot. Any young people in
the house with you? It's a boarding-house, isn't it?”
“Yes, a small one. There are no young people in it except Mrs.
“How old a fellow?”
“Twenty-one, I believe.”
“I suppose you're great friends with him?” said Jeff suspiciously.
Evelyn looked at him quickly and laughed, flushing a little. “Why,
we're naturally very good friends,” she said.
“Evelyn,” said Jeff, sitting up straight again, “I'm absolutely
bursting to tell you some news, and I can't seem to lead up to it. I've
got to bring it out flat. The only thing I'm anxious about is whether
it's going to be as good news to you as it is to me.”
She looked at him with a quickening of her pulses, his expression
had become so very eager. “Please don't keep me in suspense,” she
“Well”—Jeff did his best to speak coolly, as if the matter were
really of no great importance, after all—“you know it's been a
question with me all along as to just what I was going to do when I got
out of college. I wanted tremendously to get to work, and a lot of the
usual things didn't seem to appeal to me at all. I haven't enough of a
scientific turn to go into any of the engineering courses. I didn't
care for a mercantile berth. In fact, while my brother Lanse has had
his future cut out for him since he was fourteen, and Just, at sixteen,
is body and soul in for electrical engineering, I've been the family
problem. Father's had the sense not to assert his wishes for a moment.
He saw from the start, I suppose, that the family traditions were not
for me—I could never begin by studying law and end by wearing the
ermine, as a lot of my grandfathers and uncles have done. So—”
Jeff paused and drew a long breath. He had been looking off down the
river as he talked, but now he brought his eyes back to Evelyn's face,
and his spirits leaped exultantly as he saw with what eager attention
she was listening.
“You really care to hear all this, don't you?” he asked, happily,
and went on before she could do more than nod. “Well, the short of it
is that through Doctor Forester I got to know a friend of his who is a
railroad magnate—the real thing—and to please the doctor he seemed to
take an interest in me. He's offered me a position in one of his
offices, provided I take a year to study practical railroading first.
Of course I'm only too glad to do that. And now I'm coming to the point
of the whole thing. When my year is up, that office where I'm to begin
to work up in the railroad business is”—he paused dramatically,
watching his hearer's face, as his own, in spite of himself, broke into
a smile—“in your own city, Evelyn Lee!”
If he had had any lingering doubt that this might not be as good
news to Evelyn as he wanted it to be, his fears were put to rout.
“O Jeff!” she said, quite breathlessly, and the happy colour surged
into her face. “Why, that's almost too good to be true!”
“Is it? You're a trump for saying so. Jupiter! I feel like standing
up and shouting. The thing has been sure since that afternoon I went to
Weston, but I didn't mean to tell you of it in this crazy boy fashion,
but write it to you quite calmly after you got home. But—it wouldn't
“I shouldn't think it would. Besides, it's so much nicer to hear it
now, when it makes it——”
She stopped abruptly, and jumped up. Jeff leaped to his feet also.
“Makes it—what?” he asked, eagerly.
“Why—it's such a pleasant place to hear good news in.”
“That wasn't what you were going to say.”
“We ought to go back to the house.” She began to move slowly away.
“I'd like to hear the end of that sentence,” he urged, as they
walked up the grassy slope to the house in the clear sunlight.
She laughed a little, but shook her head. She was looking very sweet
in her brown travelling dress, her russet hair shaded by a wide brown
hat with captivating curving outlines. Jeff looked at her dainty
profile and realised that the hour for separation was coming fast.
“Anyhow, I know what I wish you were going to say,”—he was
striding close by her side—“and I can certainly say it if you can't.
Telling you that I'm coming to work near you next year makes it easier
for me to say good-by now. And that's—well—that's going to be a bit
Evelyn walked on a few steps in silence. Then she turned and spoke
softly over her shoulder. There was not a touch of coquetry in her
simple manner, yet it had an engaging quality all its own.
“That's what I wanted to say, Jeff.”
“Thank you,” he responded. “I'll not forget that,” and his tone told
that he appreciated the little concession.
It seemed but the briefest possible space of time before they had
gone over the house, had been hurried back to the landing by emphatic
toots from the small excursion steamer, and were off for the city
again. The trip back up the river was finished also before it seemed
hardly begun. All too soon for anybody the three young travellers were
on their train, and Doctor Churchill and Fred Forester had taken leave
of them and were out on the platform, ready to jump off. Jeff had
lingered till the last.
“Good-by, Lucy! Good-by, Ran!” he said, and gave each a hearty grip
and smile. Then his hand clasped Evelyn's, his eyes said things his
lips would not have ventured to speak, and his hand wrung hers with a
fervour which made it sting. Then he went away without a backward look,
as if he must get the parting quickly over.
Outside the train, however, he turned with the others, and as the
train rolled slowly out of the station, and Evelyn strained her eyes to
see the group of her friends waving affectionately to her from the
platform, the last face upon which her gaze rested wore the strong,
loyal, eloquent look of Jefferson Birch.
* * * * *
“Home again,” said Andrew Churchill, as he set his latch-key in the
door of the brick house four days later. “Fieldsy must be away, or she
would have answered.”
They hurried through the house. It was in absolute order, but empty.
On the office desk was a note in the housekeeper's awkward hand:
“If you should come to-night, I've had to go to take care of a sick
woman, will be back in the morning, you will find everything cooked
Doctor Churchill read it with a laugh. “Charlotte, we're actually
alone in our own house. Let's run over to the other house and embrace
them all round, and then come back and see how it feels over here.”
So they went across the lawn.
“We shall be delighted to have you stay with us, my dears,” said
Mrs. Birch, after the greetings.
“Mother Birch,” said her son-in-law, with air affectionate hand on
her shoulder, “not even you can charm us out of our own house to-night.
Do you know that we're all alone—that not even Fieldsy is over there?
Charlotte's going to get dinner, and I'm to help her with the clearing
up, and then we're going to sit on our porch. Of course we shall be
constantly looking down the street for a messenger boy with a telegram
announcing the coming of our next guest, but until he comes—”
Everybody laughed at the expressive breath he drew.
“Go, you dear children,” said Mrs. Birch, and the rest joined in
“I'll sit on our doorstone with a rifle, and pick off the visitors
as they come up the street!” cried Just, as the two went off.
“Don't shoot to kill!” Doctor Churchill called back, gaily. Then the
door closed on the pair.
When the happy little dinner was over, the dishes put away, and
Charlotte had slipped on a cool frock in which to spend the warm summer
evening, she went out to find her husband lying comfortably in the
hammock behind the vines, his hands clasped under his head. The
twilight was just slipping into evening, and the breath of unseen roses
was sweet upon the shadows.
Charlotte drew a chair close to her husband's side and sat down.
“After all, Andy,” said she, as they fell to talking of the past
year, “I wouldn't have had it different. One thing is certain—out of
our three guests we entertained at least one angel unawares.”
“Yes, and I like to think that perhaps the others are none the worse
for staying with us,” Andrew Churchill answered, thoughtfully. “I'm
glad we did it, glad it's over, and shall be glad to have other people
come to see us—by and by. But—I want a good long honeymoon first. Is
that your mind?”
“Yes,” she answered fervently, smiling.