E-text prepared by Al Haines
The book's Frontispiece was missing. There were no other illustrations.
JANICE DAY AT POKETOWN
HELEN BEECHER LONG
Author of "The Testing of Janice Day," "How Janice Day Won," "The Mission of Janice Day," Etc.
Illustrated by Walter S. Rogers
The Goldsmith Publishing Co. Cleveland
Copyright, 1914, by Sully & Kleinteich
I. A NEW-FASHIONED GIRL II. POKETOWN III. "IT JEST RATTLES" IV. FIRST IMPRESSIONS V. 'RILL SCATTERGOOD AND HER SCHOOL VI. AN AFTERNOON OF ADVENTURE VII. THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LOST THE ECHO VIII. A BIT OF ROMANCE IX. TEA AND A TALK WITH DADDY X. BEGINNING WITH A BEDSTEAD XI. A RAINY DAY XII. ON THE ROAD WITH WALKY DEXTER XIII. NELSON HALEY XIV. A TIME OF TRIAL XV. NEW BEGINNINGS XVI. "SHOWING" THE ELDER XVII. CHRISTMAS NEWS XVIII. "THE FLY-BY-NIGHT" XIX. CHRISTMAS, AFTER ALL! XX. THE TROUBLE WITH NELSON HALEY XXI. A STIR OF NEW LIFE IN POKETOWN XXII. AT THE SUGAR CAMP XXIII. "DO YOU MEAN THAT?" XXIV. THE SCHOOL DEDICATION XXV. THROUGH THE SECOND WINTER XXVI. JUST HOW IT ALL BEGAN XXVII. POKETOWN IN A NEW DRESS XXVIII. NO ODOR OF GASOLINE! XXIX. JANICE DAY'S FIRST LOVE LETTER XXX. WHAT THE ECHO MIGHT HAVE HEARD
A NEW-FASHIONED GIRL
"Well! this is certainly a relief from the stuffy old cars," said Janice Day, as she reached the upper deck of the lake steamer, dropped her suitcase, and drew in her first full breath of the pure air.
"What a beautiful lake!" she went on. "And how big! Why—I had no idea! I wonder how far Poketown is from here?"
The ancient sidewheel steamer was small and there were few passengers on the upper deck, forward. Janice secured a campstool and sat down near the rail to look off over the water.
The officious man in the blue cap on the dock had shouted "All aboard!" the moment the passengers left the cars of the little narrow-gauge railroad, on which the girl had been riding for more than two hours; but it was some minutes before the wheezy old steamer got under way.
Janice was interested in everything she saw—even in the clumsy warping off of the Constance Colfax, when her hawsers were finally released.
"Goodness me!" thought the girl, chuckling "what a ridiculous old tub it is! How different everything East here is from Greensboro. There! we're really off!"
The water hissed and splashed, as the wheels of the steamer began to turn rheumatically. The walking-beam heaved up and down with many a painful creak.
"Why! that place is real pretty—when you look at it from the lake," murmured Janice, looking back at the little landing. "I wonder if Poketown will be like it?"
She looked about her, half tempted to ask a question of somebody. There was but a single passenger near her—a little, old lady in an old-fashioned black mantilla with jet trimming, and wearing black lace half-mitts and a little bonnet that had been so long out of date that it was almost in the mode again.
She was seated with her back against the cabin house, and when the steamer rolled a little the ball of knitting-cotton, which she had taken out of her deep, bead-bespangled bag, bounced out of her lap and rolled across the deck almost to the feet of Janice.
Up the girl jumped and secured the runaway ball, winding the cotton as she approached the old lady, who peered up at her, her head on one side and her eyes sparkling, like an inquisitive bird.
"Thank ye, child," she said, briskly. "I ain't as spry as I use ter be, an' ye done me a favor. I guess I don't know ye, do I?"
"I don't believe you do, Ma'am," agreed Janice, smiling, and although she could not be called "pretty" in the sense in which the term is usually written, when Janice smiled her determined, and rather intellectual face became very attractive.
"You don't belong in these parts?" pursued the old lady.
"Oh, no, Ma'am. I come from Greensboro," and the girl named the middle western state in which her home was situated.
"Do tell! You come a long distance, don't ye?" exclaimed her fellow-passenger. "You're one of these new-fashioned gals that travel alone, an' all that sort o' thing, ain't ye? I reckon your folks has got plenty of confidence in ye."
Janice laughed again, and drew her campstool to the old lady's side.
"I was never fifty miles away from home before," she confessed, "and I never was away from my father over night until I started East two days ago."
"Then ye ain't got no mother, child?"
"Mother died when I was a very little girl. Father has been everything to me—just everything!" and for a moment the bright, young face clouded and the hazel eyes swam in unshed tears. But she turned quickly so that her new acquaintance might not see them.
"Where are you goin', my dear?" asked the old lady, more softly.
"To Poketown. And oh! I do hope it will be a nice, lively place, for maybe I'll have to remain there a long time—months and months!"
"For the land's sake!" exclaimed the old lady, nodding her head briskly over the knitting needles. "So be I goin' to Poketown."
"Are you, really?" ejaculated Janice Day, clasping her hands eagerly, and turning to her new acquaintance. "Isn't that nice! Then you can tell me just what Poketown is like. I've got to stay there with my uncle while father is in Mexico——"
"Who's your uncle, child?" demanded the old lady, quickly. "And who's your father?"
Janice naturally answered the last question first, for her heart was full of her father and her separation from him. "Mr. Broxton Day is my father, and he used to live in Poketown. But he came away from there a long, long time ago."
"Yes? I knowed there was Days in Poketown; but I ain't been there myself for goin' on twelve year. I lived there a year, or so, arter my man died, with my darter. She's teached the Poketown school for twenty year."
"Oh!" cried Janice. "Then you can't really tell me what Poketown is like—now?"
"Why, it's quite a town, I b'lieve," said the old lady. "'Rill writes me thet the ho-tel's jest been painted, and there's a new blacksmith shop built. You goin' to school there— What did you say your name was?"
"Janice Day. I don't know whether I shall go to school while I am in Poketown, or not. If there are a whole lot of nice girls—and a few nice boys—who go to your daughter's school, I shall certainly want to go, too," continued Janice, smiling again at the little old lady.
"Wal, 'Rill Scattergood's teached long enough, I tell her," declared the other. "I'm goin' to Poketown now more'n half to git her to give up at the end o' this term. With what she's laid by, and what I've got left, we could live mighty comfertable together. Who's your uncle, child?" pursued Mrs. Scattergood, who had not lost sight of her main inquiry.
"Mr. Jason Day. He's my father's half brother."
"Ya-as. I didn't know them Days very well when I lived there. How long did you say you was goin' to stay in Poketown?"
"I don't know, Ma'am," said Janice, sadly. "Father didn't know how long he'd be in Mexico——"
"Good Land o' Goshen!" ejaculated Mrs. Scattergood, suddenly, "ain't that where there's fightin' goin' on right now?"
"Yes'm. That's why he couldn't take me with him," confessed Janice, eager to talk with a sympathetic listener. "You see, I guess 'most all the money we've got is invested in some mine down there. The fighting came near the mine, and the superintendent ran away and left everything."
"Goodness! why wouldn't he?" exclaimed the old lady, knitting faster than ever in her excitement.
"But then that made it so my father had to go down there and 'tend to things," explained Janice.
"What! right in the middle of the war? Good Land o' Goshen!"
"There wasn't anybody else to go," said Janice, sadly. "The stockholders might lose all they put into it. And our money, too. Why! we had to rent our house furnished. That's why I am coming East to Uncle Jason's while father is away."
"Too bad! too bad!" returned the old lady, shaking her head.
"But you see," Janice hastened to say, with pride, "my father is that kind of a man. The other folks expected him to take hold of the business and straighten it out. He—he's always doing such things, you know."
"I see," agreed Mrs. Scattergood. "He's one o' these 'up an' comin' sort o' men. And you're his darter!" and she cackled a little, shrill laugh. "I kin see that. You're one o' these new-fashioned gals, all right."
"I hope I'm like Daddy," said Janice, quietly. "Everybody loves Daddy—everybody depends on him to go ahead and do things. I hope Uncle Jason will be like him."
With the light breeze fluttering the little crinkles of hair between her hat and her brow, and an expression of bright expectancy upon her face, Janice was worth looking at a second time. So Mrs. Scattergood thought, as she glanced up now and again from her knitting.
"Poketown—Poketown," the girl murmured to herself, trying to spy out the land ahead as the Constance Colfax floundered on. "Oh! I hope Daddy's remembrance of it is all wrong now. I hope it will belie its name."
"What's that, child?" put in the sharp voice of her neighbor.
"Why—why—if it is poky I know I shall just die of homesickness for Greensboro," confessed Janice. "How could the early settlers of these 'New Hampshire Grants' ever dare give such a homely name to a village?"
"Pshaw!" ejaculated Mrs. Scattergood. "What's a name? Prob'bly some man named Poke settled there fust. Or pokeberries grew mighty common there. People weren't so fanciful about names in them days. Why! my son-in-law lives right now in a place in York State called 'Skunk's Hollow' and the city folks that's movin' in there is tryin' to git the post office to change the name to 'Posy Bloom.' No 'countin' for tastes in names. My poor mother called me Mahala Ann—an' me too leetle to fight back. But I made up my mind when I was a mighty leetle gal that if ever I had a baby I'd call it sumthin' pretty. An' I done the right thing by all my children.
"Now here's 'Rill," pursued Mrs. Scattergood, waxing communicative. "Her full name's Amarilla—Amarilla Scattergood. Don't you think that's purty yourself, now?"
Janice politely agreed. But she quickly swung the conversation back to Poketown.
"I suppose, if mills had been built there, or the summer boarders had discovered Poketown, its name would have been changed, too. And you haven't been up there for twelve years?"
"No, child. But that ain't long. Ain't much happens in twelve years back East here."
Janice sighed again; but suddenly she jumped from her stool excitedly, crying: "Oh! what place is that?"
She pointed far ahead. Around a rocky headland the view of a pleasant cove had just opened. The green and blue-ribbed hills rose behind the cove; the water lay sparkling in it. There was a vividly white church with a heaven-pointing spire right among the big green trees.
A brown ribbon of main thoroughfare wound up from the wharf, but was soon lost under the shade of the great trees that interlaced their branches above it—branches which were now lush with the late spring growth of leaves. Here and there a cottage, or larger dwelling, appeared, most of them originally white like the church, but many shabby from the action of wind and weather.
Over all, the warm sun spread a mantle. In the distance this bright mantle softened the rigid lines of the old-fashioned houses, and of the ledges and buttresses of the hills themselves.
Old Mrs. Scattergood stood up, too, looking through her steel-bowed glasses.
"I declare for't!" she said, "that's Poketown itself! That's the spire of the Union Church you see. We'll git there in an hour."
Janice did not sit down again just then, nor did she reply. She rested both trimly-gloved hands on the rail and gazed upon the scene.
"Why, it's beautiful!" she breathed at last. "And that is Poketown!"
Some ancient dwellings have the dignity of "homestead" resting upon them like a benediction; others are aureoled by the name of "manor." The original Day in Poketown had built a shingled, gable-ended cottage upon the side-hill which had now, for numberless years, been called "the old Day house"—nothing more.
"Jason! You Jase! I'd give a cent if you'd mend this pump," complained Mrs. Almira Day. "Go git me a pail of water from Mis' Dickerson's and ask how's her rheumatism this mawnin'. Come on, now! I can't wash the breakfas' dishes till I hev some water."
The grizzled, lanky man who had been sitting comfortably on a bench in the sun, sucking on a corncob pipe and gazing off across the lake, never even turned his head as he asked:
"The goodness only knows! Ye know he ain't never here when ye want him."
"Why didn't ye tell him about the water at breakfas' time?"
"Would that have done any good?" demanded Mrs. Day, with some scorn. "Ye know Marty's got too big to take orders from his marm. He don't do nothin' but hang about Josiah Pringle's harness shop all day."
"I told him to hoe them 'taters," said Mr. Day, thoughtfully.
"Well, he don't seem ter take orders from his dad, neither. Don't know what that boy's comin' to," and a whine crept into Mrs. Day's voice. "He can't git along with 'Rill Scattergood, so he won't go to school. His fingers is gettin' all stained yaller from suthin'—d'you 'xpect it's them cigarettes, Jase?"
Her husband was rising slowly to his feet. "Gimme the pail," he grunted, without replying to her last question. "I'll git the water for ye this onc't. But that's Marty's job an' he's got to l'arn it, too!"
"Here, Jase! take two pails," urged Mrs. Day. "An' I wish you would git Pringle to cut ye a new pump-leather."
But Mr. Day ignored the second pail. "I don't feel right peart to-day," he said, shambling off down the path. "And there's a deal of heft to a pail of water—uphill, too. An' by-me-by I got ter go down to the dock, I s'pose, when the boat comes in, to meet Broxton's gal. I 'xpect she'll be a great nuisance, 'Mira."
"I'll stand her bein' some nuisance if you give me the twenty dollars a month your brother wrote that he'd send for her board and keep," snapped Mrs. Day. "You understand, Jase. That money's comin' to me, or I don't scrub and slave for no relation of yourn. Remember that!"
Jason shuffled on as though he had not heard her. That was the most exasperating trait of this lazy man—so his wife thought; he was too lazy to quarrel.
He went out at the gate, which hung by one hinge to the gatepost, into the untidy back lane upon which one end of his rocky little farm abutted. Had he glanced back at the premises he would have seen a weed-grown, untidy yard surrounding the old house, with decrepit stables and other outbuildings in the rear, a garden which was almost a jungle now, although in the earlier spring it had given much promise of a summer harvest of vegetables. Poorly tilled fields behind the front premises terraced up the timber-capped hill.
Jason Day always "calkerlated ter farm it" each year, and he started in good season, too. The soil was rich and most of his small fields were warm and early; but somehow his plans always fell through before the season was far advanced. So neither the farm nor the immediate premises of the old Day house were attractive.
The house itself looked like a withered and narly apple left hanging upon the tree from the year before. In its forlorn nakedness it actually cried out for a coat of paint. Each individual shingle was curled and cracked. Only the superior workmanship of a former time kept the Day roof tight and defended the family from storms.
Some hours later the Constance Colfax came into view around a distant point in the lake shore. Mr. Day had camped upon the identical bench again and was still sucking at the stem of his corncob pipe.
"Wal," he groaned, "I 'xpect I've got to go down to meet that gal of Broxton's. And the sun's mighty hot this mawnin'."
"You wouldn't feel it so, if ye hadn't been too 'tarnal lazy to change yer seat," sniffed his wife. "Now, you mind, Jase! That board money comes to me, or you can take Broxton's gal to the ho-tel."
Mr. Day shambled out of the front gate without making reply.
"Drat the man!" muttered his wife. "If I could jes' git a rise out o' him onc't——"
It was not far to the dock. Indeed, Poketown was so compactly built on the steep hillside that there was scarcely a house within its borders from which a boy could not have tossed a pebble into the waters of the cove. Jason strolled along in the shade, passing the time of day with such neighbors as were equally disengaged, and spreading the news of his niece's expected arrival.
As he passed along the lane which later debouched upon the main thoroughfare of Poketown, it was evident to the most casual glance that the old Day house was not the only dwelling far along in a state of decay. Poketown was full of such.
On the street leading directly to the dock there were several well-cared-for estates—some of them wedged in between blocks of two-story frame buildings, the first floors of which were occupied by stores of various kinds. The post office had a building to itself. The Lake View Inn was not unattractive, its side piazza overlooking the cove and the lake spread beyond.
But the rutty, dusty road showed that it had been rutty and muddy in the earlier spring. The flagstones of the sidewalks were broken, and the walks themselves ill kept. The gutters were overgrown with grass and weeds. Before the shops the undefended tree trunks were gnawed into grotesque patterns by the farmers' hungry beasts. Hardware was at a premium in Poketown, for a dozen gates along the line were hung with leather hinges, and bits of rope had taken the places of the original latches.
From the water, however, even on closer view, the hillside village made a pretty picture. Near the wharf it was not so romantic, as Janice Day realized, when the coughing, wheezy steamboat came close in.
There were decrepit boats drawn up on the narrow beach; there were several decaying shacks bordering on the dock itself; and along the string-piece of the wharf roosted a row of "humans" that were the opposite of ornamental. The quick eye of Janice Day caught sight of this row of nondescripts.
"Goodness me, Mrs. Scattergood!" she exclaimed, turning to the old lady who had been in receipt of her confidences. "Is the almshouse near Poketown?"
"There's a poorfarm, child; but there ain't nobody on it but a few old folks an' some orphans. We ain't poor here—not pauper poor. But, goodness me! you mean them men a-settin' there? Why, they ain't poor—no, no, child. I don't suppose there's a man there that don't own his own house. There's Mel Parraday, who owns the ho-tel; and Lem Pinney that owns stock in this very steamboat comp'ny; and Walkworthy Dexter—Walky's done expressin' and stage-drivin' since before my 'Rill come here to Poketown to teach."
"But—but they look so ragged and unshaven," gasped Janice.
"Pshaw! they ain't proud, I reckon," cackled the old lady, gathering up her knitting and dropping it into the beaded bag, which she shut with a snap.
"But isn't there anybody proud of them?" queried Janice. "Haven't they mothers—or wives—or sisters?"
The old lady stared at her. Then she made a sudden clicking in her throat that might have been a chuckle. "I declare for't, child!" she ejaculated. "I dunno as many of us in these parts air proud of our men folks."
Just then the steamboat's bow bumped the wharf. The jar scarcely seemed to awaken the languid line of Poketownites ranged along the other side. The only busy person in sight was the employee of the steamboat company who caught the loop of the hawser thrown him, and dropped it over a pile. The rest of the men just raised their heads and stared, chewing reflectively on either tobacco or straws, until the plank was dropped and the deckhands began trundling the freight and baggage ashore.
There were two or three commercial drummers beside Mrs. Scattergood and Janice, who disembarked on this dock. Mrs. Scattergood bade the girl from the West a brisk good-bye and went directly up the dock, evidently expecting nobody to meet her at this time of day. A lanky man, with grizzled brows and untrimmed beard, got up slowly from the stringpiece of the wharf and slouched forward to meet Janice Day.
"I reckon you be Broxton's gal, eh?" he queried, his eyes twinkling not unkindly. "Ye sort er favor him—an' he favored his mother in more ways than one. You're Janice Day?"
"Oh, yes indeed! And you're my Uncle Jason?" cried the girl, impulsively seizing Mr. Day's hand. There was nothing about this man that at all reminded Janice of her father; yet the thought of their really being so closely related to each other was comforting. "I'm so glad to see you," she continued. "I hope you'll like me, Uncle Jason—and I hope Aunt Almira will like me. And there is a cousin, too, isn't there—a boy? Dear me! I've been looking forward to meeting you all ever since I left Greensboro, and been wondering what sort of people you would be."
"Wal," drawled Uncle Jason, rather staggered by the way Janice "ran on," "we reckon on makin' ye comferble. Looks like we'd have ye with us some spell, too. Broxton writ me that he didn't know how long he'd be gone—down there in Mexico."
"No. Poor Daddy couldn't tell. The business must be 'tended to, I s'pose——"
"Right crazy of him to go there," grunted Uncle Jason. "May git shot any minute. Ain't no money wuth that, I don't believe."
This rather tactless speech made the girl suddenly look grave; but it did not quench her vivacity. She was staring about the dock, interested in everything she saw, when Uncle Jason drawled:
"I s'pose ye got a trunk, Janice?"
"Oh, yes. Here is the check," and she began to skirmish in her purse.
"Wal! there ain't no hurry. Marty'll come down by-me-by with the wheelbarrer and git it for ye."
"But my goodness!" exclaimed the girl from Greensboro. "I haven't anything fit to put on in this bag; everything got rumpled so aboard the train. I'll want to change just as soon as I get to the house, Uncle."
"Wal!" Uncle Jason was staggered. He had given up thinking quickly years before. This was an emergency that floored him.
"Why! isn't that the expressman there? And can't he take my trunk right up to the house?" continued the girl.
"Ya-as; that's Walky Dexter," admitted Mr. Day.
A stout, red-faced man was backing a raw-boned nag in front of a farm wagon, down upon the wharf and toward a little heap of baggage that had been run ashore from the lower deck of the Constance Colfax. Janice, still lugging her suitcase, shot up the dock toward the expressman, leaving Jason, slack-jawed and well-nigh breathless.
"Jefers-pelters! What a flyaway critter she is!" the man muttered. "I don't see whatever we're a-goin' to do with her."
Meanwhile Janice got Mr. Dexter's attention immediately. "There's my trunk right there, Mr. Dexter," she cried. "And here's the check. You see it—the brown trunk with the brass corners?"
"I see it, Miss. All right. I'll git it up to Jason's some time this arternoon."
"Oh, Mr. Dexter!" she cried, shaking her head at him, but smiling, too. "That will not do at all! I want to unpack it at once. I need some of the things in it, for I've been traveling two days. Can't you take it on your first load?"
"Wa-al—I might," confessed Dexter, looking her over with a quizzical smile. "But us'ally the Days ain't in no hurry."
"Then this is one Day who is in a hurry," she said, briefly. "What is your charge for delivering the trunk, sir?"
"Oh—'bout a quarter, Miss. And gimme that suitcase, too. 'Twon't cost ye no more, and I'll git 'em there before Jason and you reach the house. Poketown is a purty slow old place, Miss," the man added, with a wink and a chuckle, "but I kin see the days are going to move faster, now you have arove in town. Don't you fear; your trunk'll be there—'nless Josephus, here, busts a leg!"
Quite stunned, Uncle Jason had not moved from his tracks. "Now we're all right, sir," said the girl, cheerily, taking his arm and by her very touch seeming to galvanize a little life into his scarecrow figure. "Shall we go home?"
"Eh? Wal! Ef ye say so, Janice," replied Mr. Day, weakly.
They started up the main street of Poketown, Janice accommodating her step to that of her uncle. Mr. Day was not one given to idle chatter; but the girl did not notice his silence in her interest in all she saw.
It was a beautiful, shady way, with the hill not too steep for comfort. And some of the dwellings set in the midst of their terraced old lawns, were so beautiful! It was the beauty of age, however; there did not seem to be a single new thing in Poketown.
Even the scant display of goods in the shop windows had lain there until they were dust-covered, sun-burned, and flyspecked. The signs over the store doors were tarnished.
They came to the lane that led up the hill away from High Street, and on which Uncle Jason said he lived. An almost illegible sign at the corner announced it to be "Hillside Avenue." There were not two fences abutting upon the lane that were set in line, while the sidewalks were narrow or broad, according to the taste of the several owners of property along the way.
The beautiful old trees were everywhere, however; only some of them needed trimming badly, and many overhung the roofs, their dripping branches having rotted the shingles and given life to great patches of green moss. There was a sogginess to the grass-grown yards that seemed unhealthful. There were several, picturesque, old wells, with massive sweeps and oaken buckets—quaint breeders of typhoid germs—which showed that the physicians of Poketown had not properly educated their patients to modern sanitary ideas.
Altogether the village in which her father had been born and bred was a dead-and-alive, do-nothing place, and its beauty, for Janice Day, faded before she was halfway up the hill to her uncle's house.
"IT JEST RATTLES"
Almira Day was a good-hearted woman. It was not in her to treat her husband's niece otherwise than kindly, despite her threat to the contrary when Jason left the old Day house to meet Janice at the steamboat dock.
She stood smiling in the doorway—a large, pink, lymphatic woman, as shapeless as a half-filled meal-sack with a string tied around its middle, quite as untidy as her husband in dress, but with clean skin and a wholesome look.
Her calico dress was faded and, in places, strained to the bursting-point, showing that it was "store-bought" and had never been fitted to Mrs. Day's bulbous figure. She wore a pair of men's slippers very much down at the heel, and pink stockings with a gaping hole in the seam at the back of one, which Janice very plainly saw as her aunt preceded her upstairs to the room the visitor was to occupy.
"I hope ye won't mind how things look," drawled Aunt 'Mira. "We ain't as up-an'-comin' as some, I do suppose. But nothin' ain't gone well with Jason late years, an' he's got some mis'ry that he can't git rid of, so's he can't work stiddy. Look out for this nex' ter the top step. The tread's broke an' I been expectin' ter be throwed from top to bottom of these stairs for weeks."
"Can't Uncle Jason fix it?" asked Janice, stepping over the broken tread.
"Wal, he ain't exactly got 'round to it yet," confessed her aunt. "There! I do hope you like your room, Niece Janice. There's a pretty outlook from the winder."
True enough, the window overlooked the hillside and the lake. Only, had the panes been washed one could have viewed the landscape and the water so much better!
The room itself was the shabbiest bedchamber Janice Day had ever seen. The carpet on the floor had, generations before, been one of those flowery axminsters that country people used to buy for their "poller." Then they would pull all the shades down and shut the room tightly, for otherwise the pink roses faded completely out of the design.
This old carpet had long since been through that stage of existence, however, and was now worn to the warp in spots, its design being visible only because of the ingrained grime which years of trampling had brought to it.
The paper on the walls was faded and stained. Empty places where pictures had hung for years, showed in contrast to the more faded barren districts. A framed copy of the Declaration of Independence ornamented the space above the mantel. Hanging above the bed's head were those two famous chromos of "Good-Morning" and "Good-Night." A moth-eaten worsted motto and cross, "The Rock of Ages," hung above the little bureau glass. There was, too, a torn and faded slipper for matches, and a tall glass lamp that, for some reason, reminded Janice of a skeleton. She could never look at that lamp thereafter without expecting the oil tank to become a grinning skull with a tall fool's cap (the chimney) on it, and its thin body to sprout bony arms and legs.
The furniture was decrepit and ill matched. Janice could have overlooked the shaky chair, the toppling bureau, and the scratched washstand; but the bed with only three legs, and a soap-box under the fourth corner, did bring a question to the guest's lips:
"Where is the other leg, Aunty?"
"Now, I declare for't!" exclaimed Mrs. Day. "That is too bad! The leg's up on the closet shelf here. Jase was calkerlatin' to put it on again, but he ain't never got 'round to it. But the box'll hold yer. It only rattles," she added, as Janice tried the security of the bedstead.
That expression, "it only rattles," the girl from Greensboro was destined to hear unnumbered times in her uncle's home. It was typical of the old Day house and its inmates. Unless a repair absolutely must be made, Uncle Jason would not take a tool in his hand.
As for her Cousin Martin ("Marty" everybody called the gangling, grinning, idle ne'er-do-well of fourteen), Janice was inclined to be utterly hopeless about him from the start. If he was a specimen of the Poketown boys, she told herself, she had no desire to meet any of them.
"What do you do with yourself all day long, Marty, if you don't go to school?" she asked her cousin, at the dinner table.
"Oh, I hang around—like everybody else. Ain't nothin' doin' in Poketown."
"I should think it would be more fun to go to school."
"Not ter 'Rill Scattergood," rejoined the boy, in haste. "That old maid dunno enough to teach a cow."
Janice might have thought a cow much more difficult to teach than a boy; only she looked again into Marty's face, which plainly advertised the vacancy of his mind, and thought better of the speech that had risen to her lips.
"Marty won't go to school no more," her aunt complained, whiningly. "'Rill Scattergood ain't got no way with him. Th' committee's been talkin' about gittin' another teacher for years; but 'Rill's sorter sot there, she's had the place so long."
"There's more than a month of school yet—before the summer vacation—isn't there?" queried Janice.
"Oh, yes," sighed Mrs. Day.
"I'd love to go and get acquainted with the girls," the guest said, brightly. "Wouldn't you go with me some afternoon and introduce me to the teacher, Marty?"
"Me? Ter 'Rill Scattergood? Naw!" declared the amazed Marty. "I sh'd say not!"
"Why, Marty!" exclaimed his mother. "That ain't perlite."
"Who said 'twas?" returned her hopeful son, shortly. "I ain't tryin' ter be perlite ter no girl. And I ain't goin' ter 'Rill Scattergood's school—never, no more!"
"Young man," commanded his father, angrily, "you hold that tongue o' yourn. And you be perlite to your cousin, or I'll dance the dust out o' your jacket with a hick'ry sprout, big as ye be."
Janice hastened to change the subject and tune the conversation to a more pleasant key.
"It is so pretty all over this hillside," she said. "Around Greensboro the country is flat. I think the hills are much more beautiful. And the lake is just dear."
"Ya-as," sighed her aunt. "Artis' folks come here an' paint this lake. I reckon it's purty; but ye sort er git used ter it after a while."
It was evidently hard for Aunt 'Mira to enthuse over anything. Marty volunteered:
"We got a waterfall on our place. Folks call it the Shower Bath. Guess a girl would think 'twas pretty."
"Oh! I'd love to see that," declared Janice, quickly.
"I'll show it to you after dinner," said Marty, of a sudden surprisingly friendly.
"You'll hoe them 'taters after dinner," cried his father, sharply. "That's what you'll do."
"Huh!" growled the sullen youth. "Yer said I was to be perlite, an' when I start in ter be, you spring them old pertaters on a feller. Huh!"
"Aw, now, Jason," interposed his mother. "Can't Marty show his cousin over the farm and hoe the 'taters afterward?"
"No, he can't!" denied Master Marty, quickly. "I ain't goin' ter work double for nobody. Now, that's flat!"
"Oh, we can go to the Shower Bath some other time," suggested Janice, apprehensive of starting another family squabble. "I don't know as I'd be able to hoe potatoes; but maybe there are other things I can do in the garden. I always had a big flower garden at home."
"Huh!" grunted Marty. "Flowers are only a nuisance."
"I s'pose you could weed some," sighed Aunt 'Mira. "It hurts me so to stoop."
"She'd better pick 'tater bugs," said Marty, grinning. "They've begun to come, I reckon. Hard-shells, anyway."
Janice could not resist shivering at this suggestion. She did not love insects any better than do most girls. But she took Marty's suggestion in good part.
"You wait," she said. "Maybe I can do that, too. I'll weed a little, anyway. Have you a large farm, Uncle Jason?"
"It's big enough, Janice," grumbled Jason. "Does seem as though—most years—it's too big for us to manage. If Marty, here, warn't so triflin'——"
"I don't see no medals on you for workin' hard," whispered the boy, loud enough for Janice to hear.
"This was a right good farm, onc't," said Aunt 'Mira. "B'fore Jason got his mis'ry we use ter have good crops. That's when we was fust married."
"But that's what broke my health all down," interposed Uncle Jason. "Don't pay a man to work so hard when he's young. He has ter suffer for it in the end."
"Huh!" grunted Marty. "If it wasn't good for you to work so hard when you was young, what about me?"
"You git along out o' here an' start on them 'taters!" commanded Mr. Day, angrily.
Marty slid out, muttering under his breath. Janice jumped up from the table, saying cheerfully:
"I'll help you with the dishes, Aunty. Let's clear off."
Her uncle had risen and was feeling for his corncob pipe on the ledge above the door. Mrs. Day looked a bit startled when she saw Janice begin briskly to collect the soiled dishes.
"I dunno, Janice," she hesitated. "I gin'rally feel right po'ly after dinner, and I'm use ter takin' forty winks."
Janice did not wonder that her aunt felt "right po'ly." She had eaten more pork, potatoes, spring cabbage and fresh bread than would have served a hearty man.
"Let's get rid of the dishes first, Aunty," said Janice, cheerfully. "You can get your nap afterward."
"Wa-al," agreed Mrs. Day, slowly rising. "I dunno's there's water enough to more'n give 'em a lick and a promise. Marty? Oh, you Marty! Come, go for a pail of water, will ye? That's a good boy."
"Now, ye know well enough," snarled Jason's voice just outside the door, "that that boy ain't in earshot now."
"Oh, I can get a pail of water from the pump, Aunty," said Janice, briskly starting for the porch.
"But that pump ain't 'goin'," declared Mrs. Day. "An' no knowin' when 'twill be goin'. We have ter lug all our water from Dickerson's."
"Oh, gimme the bucket!" snapped Uncle Jason, putting his great, hairy hand inside the door and snatching the water-pail from the shelf. "Wimmen-folks is allus a-clatterin about suthin'!"
Janice had never imagined people just like these relatives of hers. She was both ashamed and amused,—ashamed of their ill-breeding and amused by their useless bickering.
"Wa-al," said her aunt, yawning and lowering herself upon the kitchen couch, the springs of which squeaked complainingly under her weight, "Wa-al, 'tain't scurcely wuth doin' the dishes now. Jason'll stop and gab 'ith some one. It takes him ferever an' a day ter git a pail o' water. You go on about your play, Niece Janice. I'll git 'em done erlone somehow, by-me-by."
Mrs. Day closed her eyes while she was still speaking. She was evidently glad to relax into her old custom again.
Janice took down her aunt's sunbonnet from the nail by the side door and went out. Amusement had given place in the girl's mind to something like actual shrinking from these relatives and their ways. The porch boards gave under even her weight. Some of them were broken. The steps were decrepit, too. The pump handle was tied down, she found, when she put a tentative hand upon it.
"'It jest rattles,'" quoted Janice; but no laugh followed the sigh which was likewise her involuntary comment upon the situation.
There was a long, well-shaded yard behind the house, bordered on the upper hand by the palings of the garden fence. Had this fence not been so over-grown by vines, wandering hens could have gone in and out of the garden at pleasure.
Robins were whisking in and out of the tops of the trees, quarreling over the first of the cherry crop. Janice heard Marty's hoe and she opened the garden gate. About half of this good-sized patch was given over to the "'tater" crop; the remainder of the garden seemed—to the casual glance—merely a wilderness of weeds. There may have been rows of vegetable seeds planted there in the beginning; but now it was a perfect mat of green things that have no commercial value—to say the least.
Marty was about halfway down the first row of potatoes. He was cleaning the row pretty well, and the weeds were wilting in the sun; but the rows were as crooked as a snake's path.
"Hullo!" said the boy, willing to stop and lean on the hoe handle. "Don't you want to help?"
"I don't believe I could hoe, Marty," said Janice, doubtfully.
"If you'd been a boy cousin, I wouldn't have minded," grunted Marty. "He and me could have had some fun."
"Don't you think I can be any fun?" demanded Janice, rather amused by the frankness of the youth.
"Never saw a gal that was," responded Marty. "Always in the way. Marm says I got to be perlite to 'em——"
"And is that such a cross?"
"Don't know anything about no cross," growled Marty; "but a boy cousin that I could lick would ha' been a whole lot more to my mind."
"Oh, Marty! we're not going to quarrel."
"I dunno whether we are or not," returned the pessimistic youth. "Wait till there's only one piece o' pie left at dinner some day. You'll have ter have it. Marm'll say so. But if you was a boy—an' I could lick ye—ye wouldn't dare take it. D'ye see?"
"I'm not so awfully fond of pie," admitted Janice. "And I wouldn't let a piece stand in the way of our being good friends."
"Oh, well; we'll see," said Marty, grudgingly. "But ye can't hoe, ye say?"
"I don't believe so. I'd cut off more potato plants than weeds, maybe. Can't you cultivate your potatoes with a horse cultivator? I see the farmers doing that around Greensboro. It's lots quicker."
"Oh, we got a horse-hoe," said Marty, without interest. "But it got broke an' Dad ain't fixed it yet. B'sides, ye couldn't use it 'twixt these rows. They're too crooked. But then—as the feller said—there's more plants in a crooked row."
"What's all that?" demanded Janice, waving a hand toward the other half of the garden.
"Weeds—mostly. Right there's carrots. Marm always will plant carrots ev'ry spring; but they git lost so easy in the weeds."
"I know carrots," cried Janice, brightly. "Let me weed 'em," and she dropped on her knees at the beginning of the rows.
"Help yourself!" returned Marty, plying the hoe. "But it looks to me as though them carrots had just about fainted."
It looked so to Janice, too, when she managed to find the tender little plants which, coming up thickly enough in the row, now looked as livid as though grown in a cellar. The rank weeds were keeping all the sun and air from them.
"I can find them, just the same," she confided to Marty, when he came back up the next row. "And I'd better thin them, too, as I go along, hadn't I?"
"Help yourself," repeated the boy. "But pickin' 'tater bugs wouldn't be as bad as that, to my mind."
"'Every one to his fancy, And me to my Nancy.'
as the old woman said when she kissed her cow," quoted Janice, laughing. "You can have the bugs, Marty."
"Somebody'll have to git 'em, pretty soon, or the bugs'll have the 'taters," declared her cousin. "Say! you'd ought to have somethin' besides your fingers ter scratch around them plants."
"Yes, and a pair of old gloves, Marty," agreed Janice, ruefully.
"Huh! Ain't that a girl all over? Allus have ter be waited on. I wisht you'd been a boy cousin—I jest do! Then we'd git these 'taters done 'fore night."
"And how about getting the carrots weeded, Marty?" she returned, laughing at him.
Marty grunted. But when he finished the second row he threw down his hoe and disappeared through the garden gate. Janice wondered if he had deserted her—and the potatoes—for the afternoon; but by and by he returned, bringing a little three-fingered hand-weeder, and tossed on the ground beside her a pair of old kid gloves—evidently his mother's.
"Oh, thank you, Marty!" cried Janice. "I don't mind working, but I hated to tear my fingers all to pieces."
"Huh!" grunted Marty. "Ain't that jest like a girl?"
Grudgingly, however, as his interest in Janice was shown, the girl appreciated the fact that Marty was warming toward her. Intermittently, as he plodded up and down the potato rows, they conversed and became better acquainted.
"Daddy has a friend who owns a farm outside of Greensboro, and I loved to go out there," Janice ventured. "I always said I'd love to live on a farm."
"Huh!" came Marty's usual explosive grunt. "You'll git mighty tired of livin' on this one—I bet you!"
"Why should I? You've got horses, and cows, and chickens, and—and all that—haven't you?"
"Well, we've got a pair of nags that you can plow with. But they ain't fit for driving. Jim Courteval, who lives up the road a piece, now he's got some hossflesh wuth owning. But our old crowbaits ain't nothing."
"Don't you love to take care of them—and brush them—and all that?" cried the girl, eagerly.
"Not much I don't! I reckon if old Sam and Lightfoot felt a currycomb once more they'd have a fit. And you ought to see our cow! Gee! Dad tried to trade her the other day for a stack of fodder, and the man wouldn't have her. He'll have ter trade her off 'sight unseen' if he ever gits rid of her. Ye see, we never do raise feed enough, an' she certainly come through the winter in bad shape; an' our paster fence is down in places so we can't let her get the grass."
"Why, the poor creature!" murmured Janice. "Why don't you mend the fence, Marty, so the cow can feed in the pasture?"
"Me? Huh! I guess not," snarled Marty, starting down the potato row again. "Let the old man do it."
It was not long after this that Marty got tired of hoeing and threw down the implement altogether, to seek the shadow of the cherry tree in the fence corner.
"Why don't ye quit?" he asked Janice. "You're getting all hot and mucky. And for what? Them things will only have ter be weeded again."
Janice laughed. "I'll keep them clean as far as I can go. I won't let a lot of old weeds beat me."
"Huh! what's the odds?"
"Why, Marty!" she cried. "Don't you like to see 'a good task well done?'"
"Ya-as,—by somebody else," grinned that young hopeful. "Come on an' sit down, Janice."
"Haven't got time," laughed his cousin
"Pshaw! 'Time was made for slaves'—that's what Walky Dexter says. Say! let's go up to see the Shower Bath."
"How about the potatoes?"
"Shucks! I've done a good stint, ain't I? Dad can't expect me to work all the time. An' I bet he ain't doin' a livin' thing himself but settin' down talkin' somewhere."
Janice, though shaking her head silently, thought this was more than likely to be true. And Marty would not leave her in peace; so she was willing to desert the carrot patch. But she had cleaned up quite a piece of the bed and was proud of it.
Marty sauntered along by her side as they passed through the barnyard and paddock. It was plain that what Marty had said about currying the horses was quite true. The beasts' winter coats still clung to them in rags. And the poor cow!
A couple of lean shoats squealed in a pen.
"What makes them so noisy, Marty?" asked his cousin.
"I guess they're thirsty. Always squealin' about sumthin'—hogs is. More nuisance than they're worth."
"But—I s'pose if you wanted water, you'd squeal?" suggested Janice.
"Huh! smart, ain't ye?" growled Marty. "I'd go down ter Dickerson's an' git a drink. So'll them shoats if Dad don't mend that pen pretty soon."
It was no use to suggest that Marty might make the needed repairs; so Janice made no further comment. The trail of shiftlessness was over everything. Fences were down, doors flapped on single hinges, roofs were caved in, heaps of rubbish lay in corners, here and there broken and rusted farm implements stood where they had last been used. Neglect and Decay had marked the Day farm for their own.
The fields were plowed for corn and partly worked up with the harrow. But nothing further had been done for several days past, and already the weeds were sprouting.
Most of the fences were of stone; but the pasture fence was of three strands of wire, and with a hammer and staples a good deal might have been done for it in a few brisk hours.
"Aw, what's the use?" demanded Marty. "It'd only be down again in a little while."
"But the poor cow——"
"Shucks! She's gone dry long ago. An' I'm glad of it, for Dad made me milk her."
The climb through the pasture and the woodlot above it, however, was pleasant, and when Janice heard the falling water she was delighted. This was so different from the prairie country to which she was used that she must needs express her appreciation of its loveliness again and again.
"Oh, yes," grunted Marty. "But these rocky old farms are mighty hard to work. I bet I picked up a million dornicks out o' that upper cornfield las' month. An' ye plow jest as many out o' the ground ev'ry year. Mebbe the scenery's pretty upon these here hills; but ye can't eat scenery, and the crops are mighty poor."
Over the lip of a smoothly-worn ledge the water sprayed into a granite basin. The dimpling pool might have been knee-deep, and was as cold as ice.
"It's like that the hottest day in August," said Marty. "But it's lots more fun to go swimmin' in the lake."
It was late afternoon when they came down the hillside to the old Day house once more. Mr. Day was puttering around the stables.
"Ye didn't finish them 'taters, Marty," he complained.
"Oh, I'll do 'em to-morrer," said the boy. "It most broke my back a'ready. And did ye see all the carrots we got weeded?"
"Uh-huh," observed his father. "Lots you had to do with weedin' the carrots, Marty," he added, sarcastically.
When Janice went into the house the dinner dishes were still piled in the sink; yet Aunt 'Mira was already getting supper. She was still shuffling around the kitchen in her list slippers and the old calico dress.
"I declare for't!" she complained. "Seems ter me I never find time to clean myself up for an afternoon like other women folks does. There's allus so much ter do in this house. Does seem the beatenes'! An' there ain't nobody nowheres likes nice clo'es better than I do, Niece Janice. I use ter dress pretty nifty, if I do say it. But that was a long time ago, a long time ago.
"No. Never mind 'em now. I'll wash the hull kit an' bilin' of 'em up after supper. No use in takin' two bites to a cherry," she added, referring to the dishes in the sink.
Janice climbed the stairs to her room, carefully stepping over the broken tread. There was water in her pitcher, and she made her simple toilet, putting on a fresh frock. Then she sat down in the rocker by the window. Every time she swung to and fro the loose rocker clicked and rattled.
The red light that heralded the departure of the sun behind the wooded hills across the lake seemed to make the room and its mismated furnishings uglier than before. The girl turned her back upon it with almost a sob, and gazed out upon the terraced hillside and the lake, the latter already darkening. The shadows on the farther shore were heavy, but here and there a point of sudden light showed a farmhouse.
A belated bird, winging its way homeward, called shrilly. The breeze sobbed in the nearby tree-tops, and then died suddenly.
Such a lonely, homesick feeling possessed Janice Day as she had never imagined before! She was away off here in the East, while Daddy's train was still flying westward with him, down towards that war-ruffled Mexico. And she was obliged to stay here—in this ugly old house—with these shiftless people——.
"Oh, dear Daddy! I wish you could be here right now," the girl half sobbed. "I wish you could see this place—and the folks here! I know what you'd say, Daddy; I know just what you'd say about it all!"
'RILL SCATTERGOOD AND HER SCHOOL
With the elasticity of Youth, however, Janice opened her eyes the following morning on a new world. Certainly the outlook from her window was glorious; therefore her faith in life itself—and in Poketown and her relatives—was renewed as she gazed out upon the beautiful picture fresh-painted by the fingers of Dawn.
All out-of-doors beckoned Janice. She hurriedly made her toilet, crept down the squeaking stairs, and softly let herself out, for nobody else was astir about the old Day house.
The promise of the morning from the window was kept in full. Janice could not walk sedately—she fairly skipped. Out of the sagging gate and up the winding lane she went, her feet twinkling over the dew-wet sod, a song on her lips, her eyes as bright as the stars which Dawn had smothered when she tiptoed over the eastern hills.
And then at a corner of a cross-lane above her uncle's house, Janice came upon the only other person in Poketown astir as early as herself—Walkworthy Dexter, who led Josephus, the heavy harness clanking about the horse's ribs.
"Ah-ha! I see there's a new day," chuckled Mr. Dexter, his pale blue eyes twinkling. "And how do you find your Uncle Jase? Not what you'd call a fidgety man, eh? He ain't never stirred up about nothing, Jase Day ain't. What d'ye think?"
Janice didn't know just what to think—or, to say, either.
"Find Jase jest a mite leisurely, don't ye?" pursued the gossipy Dexter. "I bet a cooky he ain't much like the folks where you come from?"
"I couldn't give an opinion so soon," said Janice, shyly, not sure that she liked this fat man any more for the scorn in which he held his neighbors.
"There speaks the true Day—slow but sure," laughed Dexter, and went his way without further comment, leading the bony Josephus.
But the morning was quite spoiled for Janice. She wondered if her uncle's townsfolks all held Walkworthy Dexter's opinion of the Day family? It hurt her pride to be classed with people who were so shiftless that they were a byword in the community.
She went back to the house when she saw the smoke curling out of the chimney below her. Aunt 'Mira was shuffling around the kitchen in slow preparation for the morning meal. Mr. Day was pounding on the stairs with a stick of stove-wood, in an endeavor to awaken Marty.
"That boy sleeps like the dead," he complained. "Marty! Marty!" he shouted up the stairs, "your marm is waitin' for you to git her a pail of water."
Then he started for the stable to feed the stock, without waiting to see if his young hopeful was coming down, or not.
"I declare for't!" Aunt 'Mira sighed; "I'm allus bein' put back for water. I do wish Jason would mend that pump."
Janice took the empty pail quietly and departed for the neighbor's premises. It was an old-fashioned sweep-and-bucket well at the Dickerson's, but Janice managed it. The pail of water was heavy, however, and she had to change hands several times on her way up the hill. Marty came yawning to the door just as his cousin appeared.
He grinned. "You kin git up an' do that ev'ry morning, if ye want to, Janice," he said. "I won't be jealous if ye do."
"Ye'd oughter be ashamed, Marty," whined his mother, from the kitchen, "seein' a gal do yer work for ye."
"Who made it my work any more'n it's Dad's work?" growled Marty. "And she didn't have ter do it if she didn't want to."
Janice did her best to keep to a cheerful tone. "I didn't mind going, Aunty," she said. "And we'll get breakfast so much quicker. I'm hungry."
She endeavored to be cheerful and chatty at the breakfast table. But the very air her relatives breathed seemed to feed their spleen. Mr. Day insisted upon Marty's finishing the hoeing of the potatoes, and it took almost a pitched battle to get the boy started.
Mrs. Day was inclined, after all, to "take sides" with her son against his father, so the smoke of battle was not entirely dissipated when Marty had flung himself out of the house to attack the weeds.
"Ef you'd do a few things yourself when they'd oughter be done, p'r'aps the boy'd take example of ye," said Mrs. Day, bitterly.
Her husband reached for his pipe—that never-failing comforter—and made no reply.
"Ev'rythin' about the house is goin' to rack an' ruin," pursued the lady, slopping a little water into the dishpan. "No woman never had to put up with all I hafter put up with—not even Job's wife! There! all the water's gone ag'in. I do wish you'd mend that pump, Jason."
But Jason had departed, and only a faint smell of tobacco smoke trailed him across the yard.
Janice tried to help her aunt—and that was not difficult. Almira Day was no rigid disciplinarian when it came to housekeeping. By her own confession she frequently satisfied her housewifely conscience by giving things "a lick and a promise." And anybody who would help her could make beds and "rid up" as best pleased themselves. Aunt 'Mira was no housekeeping tyrant—by no means! Consequently she did not interfere with anything her niece did about the house.
The upstairs work was done and the sitting room brushed and set to rights much earlier than was the Day custom. When Janice had done this she came back to the kitchen, to find her aunt sitting in a creaky rocker in the middle of the unswept floor and with the dishes only half washed, deep in a cheap weekly story paper.
"Why! how smart you be, child! All done? Wa-al, ye see, I gotter wait for Jason, or Marty, to git me a pail o' water. They ain't neither of 'em been down to the house yit—an' I might's well rest now as any time."
It was this way all day long. Aunt Almira was never properly through her work. Things were always "in a clutter." She did not find time from morning till night (to hear her tell it) to "clean herself up like other wimmen."
Janice helped in the garden again; but Marty was grumpy, and as soon as the last row of potatoes was hoed he disappeared until supper time. Uncle Jason was marking a field for corn planting. A harness strap broke and he was an hour fixing it, while old Lightfoot dragged the rickety marker into the fence corner and patiently cropped the weeds. Later a neighbor leaned on the fence, and Uncle Jason gossiped for another hour.
The girl saw that none of the neighboring housewives came to call on Aunt 'Mira. In the afternoon she saw several of them exchanging calls up and down the lane; but they were in fresh print dresses and carried their needlework, or the like, in their hands, while Aunt 'Mira was still "down at the heel" and in her faded calico.
Janice was getting very lonely and homesick. Every hour made the separation from her father seem harder to bear. And she had scarcely spoken to a soul save the Days and Walky Dexter since her arrival in Poketown. Friday noon came, and at dinner Janice desperately broached the subject of 'Rill Scattergood's school again.
"I'd love to visit it," she said. "Maybe I'd get acquainted with some of the girls. I might even attend for the remainder of the term."
"Huh!" scoffed Marty. "That old maid can't teach ye nothin'."
"But it would be something to do," exclaimed Janice, with vigor.
"My goodness me, child!" drawled Aunt Almira. "Can't you be content to jest let things go along easy?"
"Yer must want sumthin' ter do mighty bad, ter want ter go ter 'Rill Scattergood's school," was again Marty's scornful comment.
"Just the same I'm going," declared Janice. "It's not far, is it?"
"Right up at the edge of town," said her uncle. "They built it there ter git the young'uns out o' the way. Hard on some of 'em in bad weather, it's sech a long walk. Some o' these here flighty folks has been talkin' up a new buildin' an' a new teacher; but taxes is high enough as they be, I tell 'em!"
"'Rill Scattergood ain't no sort er teacher," said Mrs. Day. "She didn't have no sort er control over Marty."
"Huh!" grunted that young man, "she couldn't teach nothin' ter nobody—that ol' maid."
"But 'most of the girls and boys of Poketown go to school to her, don't they?" asked Janice.
"Them whose folks can't send 'em to the Middleboro Academy," admitted her aunt.
"Then I'm going up to get acquainted after dinner," announced Janice. "I—I had so many friends in Greensboro—so many, many girls at school—and some of the boys were real nice—and the teachers—and other folks. Oh, dear! I expect it's Daddy I miss most of all, and if I don't pretty soon find something to do—something to take a real interest in—I'll never be able to stand having him 'way down there in Mexico and me up here, not knowing what's happening to him!"
The girl's voice broke and the tears stood in her eyes. Her earnestness made even Marty silent for the moment. Aunt Almira leaned over and patted her hand.
"You go on to the school, if ye think ye got to. I'd go with ye an' introduce ye ter 'Rill Scattergood if I didn't have so much to do. It does seem as though I allus was behindhand with my work."
A little later, when Janice, in her neat summer frock and beribboned shade-hat, passed down Hillside Avenue, she was conscious of a good many people staring at her—more now than when she had come up the hill with her uncle several days before.
Here and there some attempts had been made to grow flowers in the yards, or to keep neat borders and rake the walks. But for the most part Hillside Avenue displayed a forlorn nakedness to the eye that made Janice more than ever homesick for Greensboro.
The schoolbell had ceased ringing before she turned into High Street and began to ascend the hill again, so there were no young folks in sight.
Higher up the main street of Poketown there were few stores, but the dwellings were no more attractive. Nobody seemed to take any pride in this naturally beautiful old town.
Janice realized that she was a mark for all idle eyes. Strangers were not plentiful in Poketown.
She came at length in sight of the school. It was set in the middle of a square, ugly, unfenced yard, without a tree before it or a blooming bush or vine against its dull red walls. The sun beat upon it hotly, and it did seem as though the builders must have intended to make school as hateful as possible to the girls and boys who attended.
The windows and doors were open, and a hum came from within like that of a swarming hive of bees. Janice went quietly to the nearest door, mounted the steps, and looked in.
She had by chance come to the girls' entrance. The scholars' backs were toward her and Janice could look her fill without being observed.
There was a small class reciting before the teacher's desk—droning away in a sleepy fashion. The older scholars, sitting in the rear of the room, were mainly busy about their own private affairs; few seemed to be conning their lessons.
Several girls were busily braiding the plaits of the girls in front of them. Two, with very red faces and sparkling eyes, were undeniably quarreling, and whispering bitter denunciations of each other, to the amusement of their immediate neighbors. One girl had a bag of candy which she was circulating among her particular friends. Another had raised the covers of her geography like a screen, and was busily engaged in writing a letter behind it, on robin's-egg-blue paper.
At the far end of the room the teacher, Miss Scattergood, sat at her flat-topped desk. "That old maid," as Marty had called her, was not at all the sort of a person—in appearance, at least—that Janice expected her to be. Somehow, a spinster lady who had taught school—and such a school as Poketown's—for twenty years, should have fitted the well-known specifications of the old-time "New England schoolmarm." But Amarilla Scattergood did not.
She was a little, light-haired, pink-cheeked lady, with more than a few claims to personal attractiveness yet left. She had her mother's birdlike tilt to her head when she spoke, her eyes were still bright, and her complexion good.
These facts were visible to Janice even from the doorway.
When she knocked lightly upon the door-frame, Miss Scattergood looked up and saw her. A little hush fell upon the school, too, and Janice was aware that both girls and boys were turning about in their seats to look at her.
"Come in," said Mics Scattergood. "Scholars, attention! Eyes forward!"
She might as well have spoken to the wind that breathed at the open window and fluttered the papers upon her desk. The older scholars paid the little school-mistress no attention whatsoever.
Janice felt some little confusion in passing down the aisle, knowing herself to be the center of all eyes. Miss Scattergood dismissed the class before her briefly, and offered Janice a chair on the platform.
"I guess you're Jason Day's niece," said the teacher, pleasantly, taking her visitor's hand. "Mother was telling me about you."
"Yes, Miss Scattergood," Janice replied. "I am Janice Day, and when you have time I'd love to have you examine me and see where I belong in your school."
"You—you are too far advanced for our school," said the little teacher, with some hesitation and a flush that was almost painful. "Especially if you came from a place where the schools are graded as in the city."
"Greensboro has good schools," Janice said, "I was in my junior year at high."
"Oh, dear me!" Miss Scattergood cried, hastily. "We don't have any such system here, of course. The committee doesn't demand it of me. I have to teach the little folks as well as the big. We go as far as our books go—that is all."
She placed several text-books before Janice. It was plain that she was not a little afraid of her visitor, for Janice was much different from the staring, "pig-tailed" misses occupying the back seats of the Poketown school.
Janice was hungry for young companionship, and she liked little Miss Scattergood, despite the uncontradicted fact that "she didn't have no way with her."
While she conned the text-books the school-mistress had placed before her, Janice watched proceedings with interest. She had never even heard of an ungraded country school before, much less seen one. The older pupils, both girls and boys, seemed to be a law unto themselves; Miss Scattergood had little control over them.
The teacher called another class of younger scholars. This class practically took all of her attention and she did not observe the four boys who carried on a warfare with "snappers" and "spitballs" in the back seats; of the predatory campaign of the lanky, white-haired youth who slid from seat to seat of the smaller boys, capturing tops, marbles, and other small possessions dear to childish hearts, threatening by gesture and writhing lips a "slaughter of the innocents" if one of them dared "tell teacher."
Few of the older boys were studying, and none of the bigger girls. The latter were too much interested in Janice. Looking them over, there was not one of these Poketown girls to whom Janice felt herself attracted. Some of them giggled as they caught her eye; others whispered together with the visitor as the evident subject of their secret observations; and one girl, seeing that Janice was looking at her, actually stuck out her tongue—a pink flag of scorn and defiance!
Janice believed that in English, history and mathematics she might improve by reciting with Miss Scattergood's classes, and she told the little teacher so.
"You'll be welcome, I'm sure," said the school-mistress, nervously. "Are you coming Monday? That's nice," and she shook hands with her as the visitor arose.
Janice passed down the girls' aisle again, trying to pick out at least one of the occupants of the old-fashioned benches who would look as though she might be chummy and nice; but there was not one.
"Dear me—dear me!" murmured Janice, when she was outside and stood a moment to look back at the ugly, red schoolhouse. "It—'it jest rattles'—that's what it does; like everything about Uncle Jason's, and like everything about the whole town. That school swings on one hinge like the gates on Hillside Avenue.
"Oh, dear me! Poketown is just dreadful—it's dreadful!"
AN AFTERNOON OF ADVENTURE
The late spring air, however, was delicious. The trees rustled pleasantly. The bees hummed and the birds twittered, and altogether there were a hundred things to charm Janice into extending her walk. Down at the foot of a side street a bit of water gleamed like a huge turquoise. There seemed to be no dwellings at the foot of this street, and Janice, with the whole afternoon before her, felt the tingle of exploration in her blood.
Just off High Street was another store. It was in a low-roofed building shouldering upon the highway, with a two-story cottage attachment at the back. Two huge trees overshadowed the place and lent a deep, cool shade to the shaky porch; but the trees made the store appear very gloomy within.
Of all the shops Janice had observed in Poketown it seemed that this little store was the most neglected and woeful looking. Its two show windows were a lacework of dust and flyspecks. In the upper corners were ragged spider webs; and in one web lay a gorged spider, too well fed to pounce on the blue-bottle fly buzzing in the toils within easy pouncing distance! Only glimpses of a higgledy-piggledy of assorted wares were to be caught behind the panes. Across the front of the building was a faded sign reading:
HOPEWELL DRUGG GROCERIES AND DRY GOODS
Nothing about the shop itself would have held Janice Day's attention even for a moment; but from within (the front door stood ajar) came the wailing notes of a violin, the uncertain bow of the performer seeking out the notes of "Silver Threads Among the Gold."
Yet, with all its uncertainty, the fiddler's touch groped for the beauty and pathos of the chords:
"Darling, I am growing old, Silver threads among the gold."
Janice heard the haunting sweetness of the tune all the way down the shaded lane and she wondered who the player might be.
There was a deep, grass-grown ditch on one side—evidently an open drain to carry the overflow of water from High Street. As the drain deepened toward the bottom of the hill, posts had been set and rails laid on top of them to defend vehicles from pitching into the ditch in the dark. But many of the rails had now rotted and fallen to the sod, or the nails had rusted and drawn out, leaving the barrier "jest rattling."
From a side road there suddenly trotted a piebald pony, drawing a low, basket phaeton, in which sat two prim, little, old ladies, a fat one and a lean one. Despite the difference in their avoirdupois the two old ladies showed themselves to be what they were—sisters.
The thin one was driving the piebald pony. "Gidap, Ginger!" she announced, flapping the reins.
She had better have refrained from waking up Ginger just at that moment. A fickle breath of wind pounced upon an outspread newspaper lying on the grass, fluttered it for a moment, and then, getting fairly under the printed sheet, heaved it into the air.
Ginger caught a glimpse of the fluttering paper. He halted suddenly, with all four feet braced and ears forward, fairly snorting his surprise. As the paper began flopping across the road, he began to back. The whites of his eyes showed plainly and he snorted again. The wind-shaken paper utterly dissipated the pony's corn-fed complacency.
"Oh! Oh! Gidap!" shrieked the thin old lady.
"He—he's backin' us into the ditch, Pussy," cried her sister.
"I—I can't help it, Blossom," gasped the driver of the frightened pony.
The phaeton really was getting perilously near the edge of the undefended ditch, when Janice ran out beside the pony's head, clutched at his bridle, and halted him in his mad career. The paper dropped into the ditch and lay still, and the pony began to nuzzle Janice's hand.
"Isn't he just cunning!" gasped the girl, turning to look at the two little old ladies.
From a nearby house appeared a lath-like man, who strode out to the road, grinning broadly.
"Hi tunket! Ye did come purty nigh backin' into the ditch that time, gals," he cackled. "All right now, ain't ye? That there leetle gal is some spry. Ginger ain't shown so much sperit since b'fore Adam!"
"Now, I tell ye, Mr. Cross Moore," declared the driver of the pony, sharply, "we came very near having a serious accident. And all because these rails aren't repaired. You're one of these-lectmen and you'd oughter have sense enough to repair that railin'. Wait till somebody drives plump into the ditch and the town has a big damage bill to pay."
"Aw, now, there ain't many folks drives this way," defended Mr. Cross Moore.
"There's enough. And think o' Hopewell Drugg's Lottie. She's always running up and down this lane. Somebody's goin' to pitch head-fust inter that ditch yet, Cross Moore, an' then you'll be sorry."
She was a very vigorous-speaking old lady, that was sure. The sister by her side was of much milder temperament, and she was thanking Janice very sweetly while the other scolded Selectman Moore.
"We thank you very much, my dear. You are much braver than I am, for I'm free to confess I'm afraid of all cattle," said the plump old lady, in a somewhat shaken voice. "Who are you, my dear? I don't remember seeing you before."
"I am Janice Day, Ma'am."
"Day? You belong here in Poketown? There's Days live on Hillside Avenue."
"Yes, Ma'am," confessed Janice. "Mr. Jason Day is my uncle. But I am Broxton Day's daughter."
"Why, do tell!" cried the plump little old lady, who had pink cheeks and the very warmest of warm smiles, as she looked into the girl's hazel eyes. "See here, Pussy," she cried to her sister. "Do you know who this little girl turns out to be? She's Brocky Day's girl. Surely you remember Brocky Day?"
But "Pussy" was still haranguing the town selectman upon his crimes of omission and could not give her attention to Janice.
"Anyhow, dear, won't you come and see us? Pussy's disturbed a mite now; but she'll love to have you come, too. We live just a little way out o' town—anybody can tell you where the Hammett Twins live," said this full-blown "Blossom." "Yes. My sister an' I are twins. And we're fond of young folks and like to have 'em 'round us. There! Ginger's all right, Pussy. We can drive on."
"You'd oughter fix them rails, Cross Moore," repeated the lean sister, as the old pony started placidly up the hill again.
Mr. Moore languidly squinted along the staggering barrier. "Wa-al—I reckon I will—one o' these days," he said.
He grinned in a friendly way at Janice as she started on. "Them Hammett gals is reg'lar fuss-bugets," he observed. "But they're nice folks. So you're Broxton Day's gal? I heard you'd arove. How do you like Poketown?"
"I don't know it well enough to say yet, Mr. Moore," returned Janice, bashfully, as she went down the hill.
There were no more houses, but great, sweeping-limbed willow trees shaded the lower range of the hill. She came out, quite suddenly, upon a little open lawn which edged the lake itself. Here an old dock stuck its ugly length out into the water—a dock the timbers of which were blackened as though by a fire, and the floor-boards of which had mostly been removed. There was but a narrow path out to the end of the wharf.
Between the wharf and the opposite side of this little bay was a piece of perfectly smooth water, the softly breathing wind did not ruffle the bay at all. The long arm of the shore that was thrust out into the lake was heavily wooded. Rows of dark, almost black, northern spruce stood shouldering each other on that farther shore, making a perfect wall of verdure. Their deep shadow was already beginning to creep across the water toward the old wharf.
"What a quiet spot!" exclaimed Janice, aloud.
"'Iet spot!'" breathed the echo from the opposite shore.
"Why! it's an echo!" cried the startled Janice.
"'An echo!'" repeated the sprite, in instant imitation of her tone.
It was then that Janice saw the little girl upon the old wharf. At first she seemed just a blotch of color upon the old burned timbers. Then the startled visitor realized that the gaily-hued frock, and sash, and bonnet, garbed a little girl of perhaps eight or nine years.
Janice could not see her face. When she rose up from where she had been sitting and went along the shaking stringpiece of the dock, her back was still toward the shore.
Yet her gait—the groping of one hand before her—all the uncertainty and questioning of her attitude—shot the spectator through with alarm. The child was blind! More than this, her unguided feet were leading her directly to the abrupt end of the half ruined wharf!
THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LOST THE ECHO
Shocked by the discovery of the child's misfortune, Janice scarcely appreciated at first the peril that menaced the blind girl. It was a mystery how her unguided feet had brought her so far along the wharf-beam without catastrophe. But there—just ahead—was the end of the half-ruined framework. A few more steps and the groping feet would be over the water.
With a sudden, stifled cry, Janice darted forward. At that moment the child halted; but she gave no sign that she was aware of Janice Day's presence. The child faced the not far-distant line of thickly-ranked spruce upon the opposite shore of the little inlet, and from her parted lips there issued a strange, wailing cry:
"He-a! he-a! he-a!" she repeated, three times; and back into her face was flung the mocking laughter of the echo.
Janice had stopped again—held spellbound by wonder and curiosity. The little girl stood in a listening attitude.
"He-a! he-a! he-a!" she cried again.
The obedient echo repeated the cry; but did the blind girl hear it? She seemed still to be listening. Janice crept on along the broken wharf, her hand outstretched, her heart beating in her throat.
The child ventured another step, and, indeed, she stamped upon the beam. "He-a! he-a! he-a!" she wailed again—a thin, shrill, unchildlike sound that made Janice shudder.
The cry was almost one of anger, surely that stamping of her foot denoted vexation. Janice could see the profile of the child's face, a sweet, wistful countenance. Her lips moved once more and, in a thin, flat voice, she murmured over and over again: "I have lost it! I have lost it!"
Janice spoke, her own voice shaking: "My dear! do you know it is dangerous here?"
Her hand reached to clutch the child's arm if she was startled. A little misstep would send the blind girl over the edge of the wharf. But it was Janice who was startled!
The child gave her not the least attention—she did not hear. Blind and deaf, and alone upon the shaking, broken timbers of this old wharf!
She raised her wailing cry again, and then listened for the echo that she could no longer hear. The older girl's hand was stayed. She dared not seize the child, for they were both in a precarious place and if the little one was frightened and tried to wrench away from her, Janice feared that they might both fall into the lake.
But the girl from Greensboro thought quickly; and this was an emergency when quick thought was needed. She remembered having read that blind people are very susceptible to any vibration or jar. She herself stamped upon the old wharf-beam, and instantly the child turned toward her.
"Who is it?" asked the little girl, in a flat, keyless tone.
"You don't know me, my dear," Janice said, instinctively; then, remembering the blind eyes as well as the deaf ears, she drew quite close to the child and gently took her hand.
The child responded and touched Janice lightly, gropingly. The latter could see her eyes now—deep, violet eyes, the appearance of which belied the fact that the light had gone from them. They were neither dull-looking nor with a film drawn over them. It was very hard indeed to believe that the little girl was sightless.
She was flaxen-haired, pink-cheeked, and not too slender. Yet Janice could not say that she was pretty. Indeed the impression the afflicted child made upon one was quite the reverse.
The little hand crept up Janice's arm to her shoulder, touched her hair and neck lightly, and then the slender fingers passed over the older girl's face. She did this swiftly, while Janice took her other hand and with a soft, urgent pressure tried to draw her along.
But although she seemed so sweet and amenable, Janice did not breathe freely until they were both off the old wharf. Then she demanded, quickly:
"Do they let you come here alone? Where do you live?"
The little girl did not answer; of course she did not hear. She was still looking back toward the tall wall of spruce across the inlet, from which the sharp echo was flung.
"He-a! he-a! he-a!" she wailed again, and the echo sent back the cry; but the little girl shook her head.
"I have lost it! And I don't hear what you say—do I? You can speak, can't you?"
Janice squeezed her hand quickly, and the child seemed to accept it as an affirmative reply.
"But, you see, I don't hear you," she continued, in that strange, flat voice. Janice suddenly realized that hearing had much to do with the use of the vocal cords. It is because we can hear ourselves speak that we attune our voices to pleasant sounds. This unfortunate child had no appreciation of the tones that issued from her lips.
"I used to hear," said the afflicted one. "And I could see, too. Oh, yes! I haven't forgotten how things look. You know, I'm Lottie Drugg. I can find my way about. But—but I've lost the echo. I used to hear that always. I'd run down there to the wharf and shout to the echo, and it would answer me. But now I've lost it."
Janice squeezed the little hand again. She found herself weeping, and yet the child did not complain. But it was plainly an effort for her to speak. Like most victims of complete deafness, it would not be long before she would be speechless, too. She "mouthed" her words in a pitiful way.
Blind—deaf—approaching dumbness! The thought made Janice suddenly seize the child in her arms and hug her, tight.
"Do you love me?" questioned Lottie Drugg, returning the embrace. "I wish I could hear you. But I can't hear father any more—nor his fiddle; only when he makes it quiver. Then I know it's crying. Did you know a fiddle could cry? You come home with me. Father will play the fiddle for you, and you can hear it."
Janice did not know how to reply. There was so much she wished to say to this poor little thing! But her quick mind jumped to the conclusion that the child belonged to the person whom she had heard playing the violin as she came down from High Street—the unknown musician in the store above the door of which was the faded sign of "Hopewell Drugg."
She squeezed the little girl's hand again and it seemed to suffice.
"I know the way. My feet are in the path now," said little Lottie, scuffling her slipper-shod feet about on the narrow footpath. "Yes! I know the way now. The sun is behind us. Come," and she put forth her hand, caught Janice's again, and urged her along the bank of the lake to the foot of the lane down which the girl from Greensboro had wandered.
Up the hill they went, Janice marveling that Lottie could be so confident of the way. She seldom hesitated, and Janice allowed herself to be led. Mr. Cross Moore was still smoking his pipe out in front of his house.
"I calkerlate that child's goin' to be drowned-ed some day," he said calmly, to Janice. "Jest a marcy that she ain't done it afore now. An' Hopewell—Huh! him sittin' up there fiddlin'——"
It seemed to Janice as though a spirit of criticism had entered into all the Poketownites. There was Walky Dexter scoffing at her Uncle Jason; and here was Selectman Moore criticising the father of little Lottie. Yet neither critic, as far as Janice could see, set much of an example for his townsmen to follow!
Lottie, with her hand in the bigger girl's, tripped along the walk as confidently as though she had her eyesight. She was an affectionate little thing, and she "snuggled" closely to Janice, occasionally touching her new friend's face and lips with her free hand.
"I guess I love you," she said, in her strange, little, flat voice. "You come in and see father. We are most there. Here is Mis' Robbins' gate. I used to see her flowers. Her yard's full of them, isn't it?"
"Oh, yes!" replied Janice, fighting her inclination to burst into tears. "Oh, yes, dear! beautiful flowers." She pressed the hand tightly.
"I can smell 'em," said the child, snuffing with her nose like a dog. "And now here is the shade of our big trees. It's darker and cooler under these trees than anywhere else on the street. Isn't it?"
Janice agreed by pressing her hand again, and little Lottie laughed—such a shrill, eyrie little laugh! They were before the gloomy-looking store of Hopewell Drugg. The wailing of the fiddle floated out upon the warm afternoon air.
The blind girl tripped up the steps of the porch and in at the open door. "Silver Threads Among the Gold" came to a sharp conclusion.
"Merciful goodness!" croaked a frightened voice. "I thought you was asleep in your bed, Lottie."
Janice had followed the little girl to the doorway. She saw but dimly the store itself and the shelves of dusty merchandise. From the back room where he had been sitting with his violin, a gray, thin, dusty-looking man came quickly and seized Lottie in his arms.
"Child! child! how you frighten me!" he murmured. Then he looked over the little girl's head and blinked through his spectacles at Janice in the doorway.
"I'm certainly obliged to ye," he said. "She—she gets away from the house and I don't know it. I—I can't watch her all the time and she ain't got no mother, Miss. I certainly am obliged to ye for bringing her home."
"She was down on the old wharf at the foot of the street, trying to wake the echo from the woods across the inlet," said Janice, gravely.
The gray man hugged his daughter tightly, and his eyes blinked like an owl's in strong daylight, as he peered through his spectacles at Janice. "She—she loved to go there—always," he murmured. "I go with her Sundays—and when the store is closed. But she is so quick—in a flash she is out of my sight."
"Can—can nothing be done for her?'" questioned Janice, in a whisper.
"She cannot hear you—now," said Hopewell Drugg, gloomily, shaking his head. "And the doctors here tell me she is almost sure to be dumb, too. If I could only get her to Boston! There's a school for such as her, there, and specialists, and all. But it would cost a pile of money."
"You play the fiddle, father," commanded little Lottie. "And make it quiver—make it cry, father! Then I can hear it."
He set her down carefully, still shaking his head. Her strange little voice kept repeating: "Play for her, father! Play for her, father!"
Hopewell Drugg picked up the violin and bow from the end of the counter. He leaned against the counter and tucked the violin under his chin. There was only a brown light in the dusky store, and the dust danced in the single band of sunlight that searched out a knot hole in the wall of the back room—the shed between the store proper and the cottage in the rear.
"Darling, I am growing old, Silver threads among the gold——"
The old violin wailed out the tune haltingly. The deaf and blind child caught the tremulo of the final notes, and she danced up and down and clapped her little hands.
"I can hear that! I can hear that!" she muttered, her lips writhing to form the sounds.
Janice felt the tears suddenly blinding her. "I'll come back and see you again—indeed I will!" she said, brokenly, and hugging and kissing little Lottie impetuously, she released her and ran out of the ugly, dark little store.