KIT OF GREENACRE FARM
The World Syndicate Publishing Co. Cleveland, O. New York, N.Y. George W. Jacobs & Company
I. "NO TRESPASSING"
II. MRS. GORHAM SMELLS SMOKE
III. KIT RISES TO PROPHESY
IV. THE ORACLE AT DELPHI
V. SHEPHERD SWEETINGS
VI. EXPECTING "KIT"
VII. PERSONALLY CONDUCTED
VIII. AT THE SIGN OF THE MUMMY
IX. ALL SANDY'S FAULT
X. THE DEAN'S OUTPOSTS
XI. "KEEP OUT"
XII. KIT LOCATES A "FOUNDER"
XIII. ENTER THE ROYAL MUMMIES
XIV. IN HONOR OF MARCELLE
XV. THE FAMILY ADVISES
XVI. SHOPPING FOR SHAKESPEARE
XVII. HOPE'S PRIMROSE PATH
XVIII. STANLEY APOLOGIZES
XIX. THE COURT OF APPEAL
XX. HOGS AND HORACE
XXI. THE CIRCLE OF RA
XXII. HEADED FOR GILEAD
XXIII. THE DEAN SEES THE STAR
XXIV. THE TENTS OF GREENACRES
XXV. COAXING THE WILDERNESS
XXVI. PAYING GUESTS
XXVII. HELENITA'S SONG-BIRD
XXVIII. STANLEY PAYS AN OLD SCORE
XXIX. KIT GIVES HER BLESSING
XXX. FACING REALITY
Kit was on lookout duty, and had been for the past hour and a half. The cupola room, with its six windows, commanded a panoramic view of the countryside, and from here she had done sentry duty over the huckleberry patch.
It lay to the northeast of the house, a great, rambling, rocky, ten acre lot that straggled unevenly from the wood road down to the river. To the casual onlooker, it seemed just a patch of underbrush. There were half-grown birches all over it, and now and then a little dwarf spruce tree or cluster of hazel bushes. But to the girls of Greenacres, that ten acre lot represented a treasure trove in the month of August when huckleberries and blueberries were ripe. Shad said knowing the proper time to pick huckleberries was just born in one, so the girls had guarded the old pasture from any marauding youngsters or wayside peddlers.
"You've got to keep a good eye out for them this year," Shad warned them. "Last year wasn't good for huckleberries, apples or nuts, but this is going to be a regular jubilee harvest. Them bushes up there are hanging so full that you can put up quarts and quarts and quarts of them and send huckleberry pies to the heathen all winter if you want to."
And he had likewise warned them that that particular berry patch had been famous throughout the countryside ever since the days when Greenacres had belonged to the Trowbridges. Several times when it had happened to be a good year for the huckleberry crop, raiders had swept down and culled the best of the harvest. Not from around the near-by villages had they come, but from the small towns, ten or fifteen miles away.
"Them mill boys and girls," Shad declared, "just think that the Lord grows things in the country for anybody to come along and pick. They don't pay no more attention to a 'No Trespassing' sign than they would to a woodchuck's tracks. The only thing to do is watch, and when you see 'em turn in through the bars off the main road, you come down and let me know, and telephone over for Hannibal Hicks to come and ketch 'em. Hannibal ain't doin' nothin' to earn his fifteen dollars a year as constable 'round here, and we ought to help him out if we can."
So to-day, it was Kit's turn to watch the huckleberry patch from the cupola room, and along towards three o'clock she beheld a trig-looking red-wheeled, black-bodied wagon, drawn unmistakably by a livery horse, pull up at the pasture bars, and its driver calmly and shamelessly hitch there. He took out of the wagon not a burlap bag, but a tan leather hand bag of generous size, and also something else that looked like a capacious box with a handle to it.
"Camouflage," said Kit to herself, scornfully. "He's going to fill them with our berries, and then make believe he's selling books."
Down-stairs she sped with the news. Doris was out at the barn negotiating peace terms with a half-grown calf that she had been trying to tame for days, and which still persisted in butting its head every time she came near it with friendly overtures. Jean and Helen had gone up to Norwich with Mrs. Robbins for the day, and her father was out in the apple orchard with Philemon Weaver, spraying the trees against the attacks of the gypsy moths. Leastwise, Philemon held to spraying, but Mr. Robbins was anxious to experiment with some of the newer methods advocated by the government.
All unconscious of Kit's intentions or Shad's eagerness to abet them, the two rambled off towards the upland orchards. Kit had started Shad after the trespasser, while she went back to telephone to Mr. Hicks. The very last thing she had said to Shad was to put the vandal in the corn-crib and stand guard over him until Mr. Hicks came.
"Don't you worry one bit, Miss Kit," the constable of Gilead Township assured her over the wire. "I'll be there in my car in less than twenty minutes. You folks ain't the only ones that's suffering this year from fruit thieves, and it's time we taught these high fliers from town that they can't light anywhere they like and pick what they like. I'll take him right down to the judge this afternoon."
Kit sat by the open window and fanned herself with a feeling of triumphant indignation. If Jean or Helen had been home, she knew perfectly well they would have been soft-hearted and lenient, but every berry on every bush was precious to Kit, and she felt that now was the appointed hour, as Cousin Roxy would have said.
Inside of a few minutes, Shad came back, perspiring and red faced, but filled with unholy glee. He dipped a tin bucket into the water pail.
"I've got him," he said, happily, "safe and sound in the corn-crib, and it's hotter than all get out in there. He can't escape unless he slips through a crack in the floor. I just caught him red handed as he was bending down right over the bushes, and what do you suppose he tried to tell me, Miss Kit? He said he was looking for caterpillars." Shad laughed riotously at the recollection. "Did you call up Han Hicks?"
Kit nodded, looking out at the corn-crib. The midsummer sun beat down upon it pitilessly, at the end of the lane behind the barn.
"Do you suppose he'll survive, Shad? I'll bet a cookie it's a hundred and six inside there."
"Do him good," retorted Shad. "Probably it's the only chance he's ever had to meditate on his misdoings. Don't you fret about him. He's just as husky as I be, and twice as hefty. It was all I could do to ketch a good holt on him."
"Oh, Shad," exclaimed Kit. "I didn't want you to touch him, you know."
"I didn't," Shad laughed. "I just gave him a bit of sound scripture reasoning, aided by fist persuasion when he was inclined to put up an argument. I'll stand guard over him until Han comes along, and takes him quietly off our hands. I reckon he didn't think we had any majesty of the law here in Gilead."
Kit looked after his retreating figure somewhat dubiously. It was one thing to act on the impulse of the moment and quite another to face the consequences. Now that the prisoner was safe in the corn-crib, she wondered somewhat uneasily just what her father would say when he found out what she had done to protect the berry patch. But just now he was safe in the upper orchard with old Mr. Weaver, deep in apple culture, and she thought she could get rid of the trespasser before he returned.
Mrs. Gorham was in the kitchen putting up peaches. Her voice came with droning, old-fashioned sweetness through the screen door.
"When I can read my title dear To mansions in the skies, I'll bid farewell to every fear, And wipe my weeping eyes."
Kit slipped around the side drive behind the house out to the hill road. Mr. Hicks would have to come from Gilead Green in this direction, and here she sat on one of the high entrance posts, waiting and cogitating.
The woodbine that clambered over the two high, white posts was still green, but scrambling along the ground were wild blackberry runners just turning a rich brown crimson.
The minutes passed and still Mr. Hicks failed to appear. If Kit could have visualized his journey hither, she might have beheld him, lingering here and there along the country roads, stopping to tell the news to any neighbor who might be working out his road tax in the lull of the season between haying and harvest time. Beside him sat Elvira, his youngest, drinking in every word with tense appreciation of the novelty. It was the first chance Mr. Hicks had had to make an arrest during his term of office, and as a special test and reward of diligence, Elvira had been permitted to come along and behold the climax with her own eyes. But the twenty minutes stretched out into nearly an hour's time and more, and Kit's heart sank when she beheld her father strolling leisurely down the orchard path, just as Mr. Hicks hove in sight.
Mr. Weaver hobbled beside him, smiling contentedly.
"Well, I guess we've got 'em licked this time, Jerry," he chuckled. "If there's a bug or a moth that can stand that leetle dose of mine, I'll eat the whole apple crop myself."
"Still, I'll feel better satisfied when Howard gets here, and gives an expert opinion," Mr. Robbins rejoined. "He wrote he expected to be here to-day without fail."
"Well, of course you're entitled to your opinion, Jerry," Mr. Weaver replied doubtfully. "But I never did set any store at all by these here government chaps with their little satchels and tree doctor books. I'd just as soon walk up to an apple tree and hand it a blue pill or a shin plaster."
Kit slid hastily down from the post as Mr. Hicks' black and white horse turned in from the road.
"Hello," he called out, cheerily. "How be you, Jerry? Howdy, Philemon? Miss Kit here tells me you've been harboring a fruit thief, and you've caught him."
Kit's cheeks were bright red as she laid one hand on her father's shoulder.
"Shad's got him right over in the corn-crib, Mr. Hicks. I haven't told father yet, because it might worry him. It isn't anything at all, Dad," she added, hurriedly. "We girls have been keeping a watch on the berry patch, you know, and to-day it was my turn to stand guard up in the cupola. I just happened to see somebody over there after the berries, so I told Shad to go and get him, and I called up Mr. Hicks."
Mr. Robbins shook his head with a little smile.
"I'm afraid Kit has been overzealous, Hannibal," he said. "I don't know anything about this, but we'll go over to the corn-crib and find out what it's all about."
Kit and Evie secured a good point of vantage up on the porch while the others skirted around the garden over to the old corn-crib where Shad stood sentinel duty.
"My, I like your place over here," Evie exclaimed, wistfully. "You've got so many ornaments out-of-doors. Ma says she can't even grow a nasturtium on our place without the hens scratching it up."
Kit nodded, but could not answer. Already she had what Cynthy Allen called a "premonition" that all was not as it should be at the corn-crib. She saw Shad stealthily and cautiously put back the wide wooden bars that held the door, then Mr. Hicks, fully on the defensive with a stout hickory cane held in readiness for any unseemly onslaught on the part of the culprit, advanced into the corn-crib. Evie drew closer, her little freckled face full of curiosity.
"Ain't Pop brave?" she whispered, "and he never made but two arrests before in all his life. One was over at Miss Hornaby's when she wouldn't let Minnie and Myron go to school 'cause their shoes were all out on the ground, and the other time he got that French weaver over at Beacon Hill for selling cider."
Still Kit had no answer, for over at the corn-crib she beheld the strangest scene. Out stepped the prisoner as fearlessly and blithely as possible, spoke to her father, and the two of them instantly clasped hands, while Shad, Mr. Hicks and Philemon stared with all their might. The next the girls knew, the whole party came strolling back leisurely, and Kit could see the stranger was regaling her father with a humorous view of the whole affair. Shad tried to signal to her behind his back some mysterious warning, and even Mr. Hicks looked jocular.
Kit leaned both hands on the railing, and stared hard at the trespasser. He was a young man, dressed in a light gray suit with high sport boots. He was, as Mrs. Gorham expressed it later, "light complected" and tanned so deeply that his blonde, curly hair seemed even lighter. He lifted his hat to Kit, with one foot on the lower step, while Mr. Robbins called up:
"Mr. Howard, my dear, our fruit expert from Washington, whom I was expecting."
And Kit bowed, blushing furiously and wishing with all her heart she might have silenced Evie's audible and disappointed ejaculation:
"Didn't he hook huckleberries after all?"
MRS. GORHAM SMELLS SMOKE
"I was perfectly positive that if we went away and left you in charge for one single day, Kit, you would manage to get into some kind of misadventure," Jean said, reproachfully, that evening. "If you only wouldn't act on the impulse of the moment. Why on earth didn't you tell father, and ask his advice before you telephoned to Mr. Hicks?"
"That's a sensible thing for you to say," retorted Kit, hotly, "after you've all warned me not to worry Dad about anything. And I did not act upon the impulse of the moment," very haughtily. "I made certain logical deductions from certain facts. How was I to know he was hunting gypsy moths and other winged beasts when I saw him bending over bushes in our berry patch? Anyhow it would simplify matters if Dad would let us know when he expected illustrious visitors. Did you see old Hannibal's face and Evie's, too? They were so disappointed at not having a prisoner in tow to exhibit to the Gilead populace on the way over to the jail."
Mrs. Gorham glanced up over her spectacles at the circle of faces around the sitting-room table. The girls had volunteered to help her pick over berries for canning the following day. It was a sacrifice to make, too, with the midsummer evening calling to them in all its varied orchestral tones: Katydids and peep frogs, the swish of the wind through the big Norway pines on the terraces, and the scrape of Shad's old fiddle from the back porch. It was Friday evening, and Mr. and Mrs. Robbins had driven over to the Judge's to attend a community meeting, the latter being one of Cousin Roxy's innovations in Gilead.
"Land alive," she had been wont to say. "Here we are all living on the same hills and valleys and never meeting 'cept on Sundays when we have to, or now and again when there happens to be a funeral. I declare if I didn't drive about all the time behind Ella Lou, I'd never know how folks were getting on. So every two weeks the Judge and I are going to hold an old-time social, only we call it a community meeting so as to try to give it the new spirit. It's just as well for us to remember that we ain't all dead yet by a long shot, 'though I do think there's a whole lot that ain't got any more get up and get to them than Noah's old gray mule that had to be shoved off the Ark."
Mr. Robbins had invited the erstwhile prisoner to accompany them, but he had decided instead to keep on his way to the old Inn on the hill above the village, much to Jean and Helen's disappointment.
Helen had discovered that his first name was Stanley, which relieved her mind considerably.
"If it had been Abijah or Silas, I know I could never have forgiven him for getting in the berry patch," she said, "but there is something promising about Stanley. Seems as if he lit like Mercury just when there wasn't anything happening here at all."
"Wonder if I turned out that oil stove," Mrs. Gorham said thoughtfully. "Seems like I smell something. Shad," raising her voice, "do you get up and go out in that 'ell' room and see if I turned out that fire under the syrup. I smell smoke."
"Oh, Lord," groaned Shad, laying aside his cherished instrument. "You could smell ice if you half tried."
He got up lumberingly and sauntered out through the kitchen into the long lean-to addition, that was used as a summer kitchen now, and the moment he opened the door there poured out a thick volume of black smoke and flying soot. The old-fashioned oil stove had a way of letting its wicks "work up," as Shad said, if left too long to its own devices.
There was a spurt of flame from the woodwork behind the stove, and Shad slammed the door to, and ran for the water bucket.
It seemed incredible how fast the flames spread. Summoned by his outcry, the girls formed a bucket brigade from the well to the kitchen door, while Shad, his mouth bound around in a drenched Turkish towel, fought the blaze single handed.
Mrs. Gorham made straight for the telephone, calling up the Judge, and two or three of the nearest neighbors for help. The Peckham boys from the sawmill were the first to respond, and five minutes later Hiram was on the spot, having seen the rising smoke and flare in the sky from Maple Lawn.
"You'll never save the place," old Mr. Peckham told them flatly. "The well's low and everything is dry as tinder. Better start carrying things out, girls, because the best we men-folks can do is to keep the roofs wet down and try to save the barn."
While the fire was confined to the "ell" kitchen, the two older Peckham boys set to work up-stairs, under Jean's direction. Kit had made for her father's room the first thing. When Jean opened the door she found her piling the contents of the desk and chiffonier drawers helter-skelter into blankets.
"It's all right, Jean," she called. "I'm not missing a thing. You tie the corners up and have the boys carry these down-stairs and bring back the clothes-basket and a couple of tubs for the books. Tell Helen to take the canaries out."
"Doris has them, and Gladsome, too," answered Jean. "And Mrs. Gorham is getting all of the preserves out of the cellar, and Mr. Peckham says he's sure they'll save the piano and most of the best furniture, but, oh, Kit, just think of how father and mother will feel when they see the flames in the sky, and know it's Greenacres burning."
"You'd better start in at mother's room and stop cogitating, or we'll be sliding down a lightning rod to get out of here."
Nobody quite noticed Helen in the excitement, but later when all was over, it was found that she had rescued all the treasures possible, the pictures and bric-a-brac, the sofa pillows and all the linen and family silver that had been packed away in the bottom of the sideboard.
As the rising glow of the flames lighted up the sky help began to arrive from all quarters. Mrs. Gorham's thoughtfulness in telephoning immediately brought the Judge first, with all of the neighbors that had been present at the community meeting. Cousin Roxy was bareheaded, little curly wisps of hair fluttering around her face.
"I made your father stay up at our place," she told the girls. "You'll all probably have to come back with me anyhow and excitement isn't good for him. Besides, he wouldn't be a bit of good around here. Seems like they're getting the fire under pretty good control. I don't believe all the house will go. It was fearful old anyway, and it needed to be rebuilt if you ever expect your great-grandchildren to live here."
Kit noticed an entirely new and unsuspected trait in Cousin Roxy on this night of excitement. It was the only time when she had not seen her take command of the situation. But to-night she helped Mrs. Gorham pack all the necessary household supplies into the back of the wagon for Shad to drive up to Maple Lawn. As soon as she had seen the extent of the damage she had said immediately that the robin's nest must be moved up the hill to her own old home, where she had lived before her marriage to Judge Ellis.
"It won't take but a couple of days to put it into shape for you, and Hiram's right up there to look after things. You'll be back here before snow flies, with a few modern improvements put in, and all of you the better for the change. Helen, go bring the family treasures from under that pine tree, and put them in the back of our car."
"You know, Cousin Roxy," Kit exclaimed, "I thought the minute you showed up down here to-night you'd be the chief of the fire department."
Cousin Roxy laughed heartily.
"Did you, child? Well, I've always held that there are times and seasons when you ought to let the men-folks alone. After you've lived a lifetime in these parts, you'll know that every boy born and bred around here is taught how to fight fire from the time he can tote a water bucket. Did you save all the chickens, Shad?"
"Ain't lost even a guinea hen!" Shad assured her. "The barn ain't touched, and so I'm going to sleep over the harness room and watch out for the stock."
It was always a secret joy to the girls to hear the way Shad would roll out about the Greenacre "stock."
"Just as if," Jean said, "we had all the cattle upon a thousand hills and racers and thoroughbreds into the bargain, instead of Bonnibel and Lady Bountiful, with Princess and the hens. I think Helen put him up to it. She always thinks in royal terms of affluence."
KIT RISES TO PROPHESY
The morning after the fire found the family at breakfast over with the Judge's family. It was impossible as yet for the girls to feel the full reaction over their loss. As the Judge remarked, youth responds to change and variety quicker than any new interest, and they were already planning a wonderful reconstruction period. Kit and Billy rode down on horseback to look at the ruins, and came back with an encouraging report. The back of the house was badly damaged, but the main building stood intact, though the charred clapboards and wide vacant windows looked desolate enough.
"Thank goodness the wind was from the south, and blew the flames away from the pines," said Kit, dropping into her chair, hungrily. "Doesn't it seem good to get some of Cousin Roxy's huckleberry pancakes again, girls? Oh yes, we met my prisoner—I should say, my erstwhile prisoner—on the road. He was tapping chestnut trees over on Peck's Hill like a woodpecker. You needn't laugh, Doris, 'cause Billie saw him too, didn't you, Bill? And he's got a sweet forgiving nature. He doffed his hat to me and I smiled back just as though I'd never caught him in our berry patch, and had Shad lock him up in the corn-crib."
"Was he heading this way?" the Judge asked. "I want him to look at my peach trees and tell me what in tunket ails them."
"Why, Judge, I'm surprised at you, and before the children, too." Cousin Roxy's eyes twinkled with mirth at having caught the Judge in a lapse.
"I only said tunket, Roxy," he began, but Cousin Roxy cut him short.
"Tunket's been good Connecticut for Tophet ever since I was knee high to a toadstool, and we won't say anything more about that. Jerry will be glad to go up with you to the peach orchard, and you can take the youngsters with you. I want Jean and Kit to drive over with us and help fix Maple Lawn."
But before a week was out, all of the carefully laid plans for housing the "robins" before snow fell were knocked higher than a kite. Kit said that one of the most delightful things about country life, anyway, was its uncertainty. You went ahead and laid a lot of plans on the lap of the Norns, and then the old ladies stood up and scattered everything helter-skelter. The beauty of it was, though, that they usually turned around and handed you unexpected gifts so much better than anything you had hoped for, that you were left without a chance for argument.
The family had taken up its new quarters at Maple Lawn, and two of the local carpenters, Mr. Peleg Weaver, Philemon's brother, and Mr. Delaplaine, had been persuaded to devote a portion of their valuable time to rehabilitating Greenacre Farm. It took tact and persuasion to induce the aforesaid gentlemen to desert their favorite chairs on the little stoop in front of Byers' Grocery Store, and approach anything resembling daily toil. There had been a Squire in the Weaver family three generations back, and Peleg held firmly to established precedent. He might be landed gentry, but he was no tiller of the soil, and he secretly looked down on his elder brother for personally cultivating the family acres.
Mr. Delaplaine was likewise addicted to reverie and historic retrospect. Nothing delighted Billie and Kit so much as to ride down to the store and get a chance to converse with both of the old men on local history and family "trees." Mr. Delaplaine's mail, which consisted mostly of catalogues, came addressed to N.B. Delaplaine, Esq., and even the little French Canadian kiddies tumbling around the gardens of the mill houses down in Nantic knew what that N.B. stood for, but to Gilead he was just "Bony" Delaplaine.
Every day that first week found the girls down at the Farm prying around the ruins for any lost treasures. Stanley Howard struck up a friendship with both the Judge and Mr. Bobbins, and usually drove by on his way from the village. He would stop and chat for a few moments with them, but Kit was elusive. Vaguely, she felt that the proper thing for her to do was to offer an apology, for even considering him an unlawful trespasser. When Stanley would drive away, Jean would laugh at her teasingly.
"Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud, sister mine? He seems a very sightly young man, even if he does 'chase caterpillars for a living.' I never did see any one except you, Kit, who hated to acknowledge herself in the wrong. The rest of us all have the most peaceful, forgiving sort of dispositions, but you can be a regular porcupine when you want to be."
"It could come from Uncle Cassius," retorted Kit. "Did you hear them all talking about him over at Elmwood while we were there? Let's sit here under the pines a minute until the mailman goes by. I'm awfully tired poking over cinders. Cousin Roxy said he was the only notable in our family. Dean Cassius Cato Peabody. We ought to tell 'Bony' that."
"Don't you call him 'Bony' so he'll hear you," whispered Jean. "It would hurt his feelings." She glanced back over her shoulder to where Mr. Delaplaine worked, taking off the outer layer of charred clapboards from the front of the house.
"Still it is nice to own a dean, almost as good as a squire," repeated Kit, placidly. "There were only seven original ones here in Gilead; and his grandfather was one of those. Let's see, Jean, he would have been our great-great-great-grandfather, wouldn't he? Great-Uncle Cassius is named for him, Cassius Cato Peabody. Just think of him, Jean, with a name like that when he was a little boy, in a braided jacket and those funny high waisted breeches you see in the little painted woodcuts in Cousin Roxy's childhood books."
"I didn't pay much attention to what they were saying about him," said Jean, dreamily. "Is he still alive?"
"He is, but I guess he might as well be dead as far as the rest of the family is concerned. Cousin Roxy said he'd never married, and he lived with his old maiden lady sister out west somewhere. Not the real west, either; I mean the interesting west like Saskatchewan and Saskatoon and—and California; you know what I mean, Jean?"
"I didn't even hear where they lived. I'm afraid I wasn't interested. Aren't you glad the fire didn't bum the cupola? I almost wish they could leave the house that lovely weathered brown tone, instead of painting it white with green blinds again. Dad would like it that way, too. I suppose everybody would say it was flying in the face of tradition, after the Trowbridge place has been white two hundred years."
"There comes the mail," called Jean, starting up and running down the drive like a young deer, as the little cart hove in sight. The carrier waved a newspaper and letter at them.
"Nothin' for you girls, to-day, only a letter for your pa, and weekly newspaper for Hiram. I'll leave it up at the old place as I go by." He added as a happy afterthought to relieve any possible anxiety on their part, "It's from Delphi, Mich."
Kit stood transfixed with wonder, as he passed on up the hill.
"Jean," she said, slowly, "there's something awfully queer about me. I heard Cousin Roxy say once, I was born with a veil, and ought to be able to prognosticate. That letter was from Uncle Cassius Cato Peabody."
"Well, what if it is?" asked Jean, shaking the needles from her serge skirt as she rose leisurely.
Kit drew on her freshman knowledge of ancient history, and quoted:
"Last night the eagles circled over Rome, And Caesar's destiny——"
Jean laughed and pointed to a line of crows rising leisurely from a clump of pine woods.
"What does it mean when the crows circle over Gilead?"
Kit jammed her velvet "tam" down over one ear adventurously, and started towards the gateway, finishing the quotation as she went:
"—crowned him thrice king!"
THE ORACLE AT DELPHI
It appeared that Uncle Cassius lived strictly up to tradition, for it had been over fifteen years since any word had been received from the oracle at Delphi, as the girls dubbed him from the very first. The letter which broke the long silence was read aloud several times that day, the girls especially searching between its lines for any hidden sentiment or hint of family affection.
"I don't see why on earth he tries to be generous when he doesn't know how," Helen said, musingly. "I wonder if he's got bushy gray hair and whiskers, like somebody we were studying about yesterday. Who was that, Kit?"
Kit glanced up from Uncle Cassius' letter with a preoccupied expression.
"Whiskers?" she repeated. "Why, I don't know; Walt Whitman, Ibsen, Longfellow, Joaquin Miller? Tolstoi had long straggly ones, didn't he?"
"These were kind of bushy ones. I think it was Carlyle."
"Wait a minute while I read this thing over carefully again," Kit warned them. "I think while we're alone we ought to discuss it freely. Mother just took it as if it were a case of 'Which shall it be, which shall it be, I looked at John, John looked at me.' It seems to me, since it concerns us vitally, that we ought to have some selection in the matter ourselves."
"But Kit, dear, you didn't read carefully," Jean interposed with a little laugh. "See here," she followed the writing with her finger tip. "He says, 'Send me the boy.' There isn't any boy."
"No," Kit agreed, thoughtfully, "but I presume there should have been a boy. I'm more like father than any of you, and I'd love to have been the boy in the family. I wonder why he said that."
"Well, it certainly shuts off any further negotiations because 'there ain't no sech animal' in the 'robin's' roster. And no matter what you say, Kit, I don't think you're 'specially like father at all. He hasn't a quick temper and he's not a single bit domineering."
Kit leaned over her tenderly.
"Dearest, am I domineering to you? Have I crushed your spirit, and made you all weak and pindlin'? I'm awfully sorry. I didn't mean that my bad traits were inherited from Dad. What I meant was my glorious initiative and craving for novelty. Just at the moment I can't think of anything that would be more interesting or adventurous than going out to Uncle Cassius, and trying to fulfill all his expectations."
"Thought you wanted to go out to the Alameda Ranch with Uncle Hal more than anything in the world, a little while ago. You're the original weather-vane, Kit."
"Well, I wouldn't give a snap of my finger for a person who couldn't face new emergencies and feel within them the surge of—of——"
"Don't declaim in the family circle, Kit. We admit the surge, but would you really and truly be willing to go to this place? I don't even know what state it's in."
"The Lady Jean is forgetful of her mythology," chanted Kit. "Delphi is in Greece, somewhere near Delos, and I don't think it's so very far from the grove where Atalanta took refuge before she ran her races."
Helen glanced up in her absent-minded way.
"Delphi?" she said, musingly. "Wasn't that the place where they used to put a tripod over a rift in the rock and a veiled priestess sat down and waited for Apollo's message to come to her? We had that up at school when we took up Greece."
"I shall take a milking stool out with me," said Kit, promptly, "and if the situation is not already filled, I shall be the veiled priestess of Delphi."
There was a footstep in the long hallway, and the mother bird came in from the kitchen. The kitchen at Maple Lawn still bore the stamp of Cousin Roxy's taste. It was more a living-room than a "cookery." There was no library proper here, only the parlor, a large corner bedroom, and a dining-room which took up the width of the house except for the hall. This latter was the favorite consulting room of the girls, and to-day they were all busily paring early apples and quinces to put down in stone crocks, against the coming of winter days.
"Mother," called Helen, "were you ever in Delphi, where Uncle Cassius lives?"
Mrs. Robbins sat down on the arm of Jean's chair and smiled at the eager faces upturned to hers.
"Just once, long ago when I was about eight years old. We were passing through on our way east from California, and mother stayed for about a week at Delphi. It's a little college town on Lake Nadonis, about twelve miles inland from Lake Michigan, and perhaps sixty miles north of Chicago on the big bluffs that line the shore nearly all the way to Milwaukee. Uncle Cassius was a first settler there, I believe. You don't have to be very old to have been a first settler in Wisconsin. I think about the first thing he helped establish there was Hope College. I don't remember so very much about it, girls, it was so long ago. I know I loved the bluffs and the little winding paths that led up from the shore below, but it seems to me Uncle Cassius' house was rather cheerless and formal. He was a good deal of a scholar and antiquarian. Aunt Daphne seemed to me just a deprecating little shadow that trotted after him, and made life smooth."
Kit listened with the attentive curiosity of a squirrel, and Jean, who knew every changing expression on her face, was sure she was having a little private debate with herself.
"I don't think," continued Mrs. Robbins, easily, "that it is such a misfortune after all our not having a boy to fill his order. It wouldn't be a very cheerful or sympathetic home for any young person."
"Oh, but mother, dear," Kit burst forth, eagerly. "Think what glorious fun it would be to train them, and make them understand how much more interesting you can make life if you only take the right point of view."
"Yes, but supposing what seemed to be the right point of view to you, Kit, was not the right point of view to them at all. Every one looks at life from his own angle."
"Carlota always said that, too," Jean put in. "I remember at our art class each student would see the subject from a different angle and sketch accordingly. Carlota said it was exactly like life, where each one gets his own perspective."
"But you can't get any perspective at all if you shut yourself up in the dark," Kit argued. She leaned her chin on both palms, elbows planted firmly on the table, as she prepared to influence the opinion of the family. "Now just listen to this, and don't all speak at once until I get through. You went away, Jean, down to New York, and then up to Boston, and though I say it as shouldn't, right to your face, you came back to the bosom of your family, very much better satisfied and pleasanter to live with. I think after you've stayed in one place too long you get, well—as Billie says, 'fed up' and wish to goodness you could get away somewhere. I haven't any art at all, or anything special that I could wave at you and demand 'expression' as Bab Crane calls it. What I need is something new to develop my special gifts and talents, and mother darling, if you would only consent to let me go for even two or three months, I will come back to you a perfect angel, besides doing Uncle Cassius and Aunt Daphne a pile of good, I know."
"It sounds right enough, dear," Mrs. Robbins said, her brown eyes full of amusement, "but we can't very well disguise you as a boy, and Uncle Cassius is not the kind of person to trifle with."
Kit thought this over seriously.
"Don't tell them until I've started," she suggested, "and be sure and mail the letter so it will get there after I do, and send me quick, so they won't have any chance to change their minds. Jean will be home until the middle of October, and you really and truly don't need me here at all. I'm sure there must have been a missionary concealed away in our family like a hidden spring, for I feel the zeal of conversion upon me. I long to descend on Delphi."
"Well, I don't know what to say, Kit. I'll have to talk it over with your father first. I wonder why Uncle Cassius thought we had a boy in the family, and why he wanted him specially."
"Maybe he thought a boy would be more interested in antiques. Are they Chinese porcelains and jewels, or just mummy things?"
"Mostly ruins, as I remember," laughed her mother. "When he was young, Uncle Cassius used to be sent away by the Geographical Society to explore buried cities in Chaldea and Egypt."
"Bless his heart, I wish I could coax him to start in again, right now, and take me with him," Kit exclaimed, blithely. "Anyhow, I'm going to hope that it will come right and I can go. I shall collect my Lares and Penates and start packing. Can I borrow your steamer trunk, Jean? Just write a charming letter, mother dear, sort of in the abstract, you know, thanking him, and calling us 'the children' in the aggregate, so he can't detect just what we are, then when I depart, you can wire them, 'Kit arrives such and such a time.' They'll probably expect a Christopher, and once I land there, and they realize the treasure you have sent them, they will forgive me anything."
Uncle Cassius' letter was read over again carefully by Mr. Robbins. Kit carried it out to the grape arbor, where he and Hiram were untangling and training some vagrant vines to travel in the way they should go, up over the trellis work. There was a round table here made of birchwood that just fitted nicely into the octagonal arbor, encircled by birch seats. Leading away from the arbor proper were two long pergolas, likewise built by Hiram, of birchwood. The arbor had always been a favorite spot with the girls, when Aunt Roxy had lived in the rambling old white homestead. Now that it was their abiding place pro tem., they spent nearly all their leisure time out there. There was always a breeze from the south that made the arbor a port of call, and each one of its vine-framed openings was a lookout over wide spaces of beauty. Cousin Roxy had once said that she had made a point of using the arbor as a spot to "rest and invite her soul," for years. It had been to her like David's tower, with all its windows open towards Jerusalem.
"I don't mind Hiram hearing," Kit said; "maybe he can suggest some way out. Just read that letter over, Dad, very, very carefully, and see if there isn't some way you can smuggle me out to Delphi, without hurting Uncle Cassius' feelings."
Mr. Bobbins adjusted his eye-glasses, smiling the little whimsical smile that Kit loved, and together they read the missive again——
"MY DEAR JERROLD:—
"I trust both you and Elizabeth are enjoying good health, and that this finds you both facing a more prosperous time than when I heard last from you.
"It has occurred to both Daphne and myself that we may be able to relieve you of part of your responsibility and care, at least for a short time. If the experiment should prove advantageous to all concerned we might be able to arrange a longer stay. One suggestion, however, I feel privileged to make. We would prefer that you would send the boy, as you know this is a college town, and I am sure it would broaden his views to come west, even for a short time. I need hardly add that we will do all in our power to make his stay a pleasant and profitable one.
"Another point to consider is this. I would like to interest him in a few of my little hobbies, archaeology, geology, etc. I have delved deeply into the mysteries of the past, and feel I should pass what I have learned on as a heritage to youth.
"Trusting that you and Elizabeth will be able to coincide with our views in the matter, I remain,
"Yours faithfully, CASSIUS C. PEABODY."
"You know, Dad," here Kit slipped her area persuasively around her father's neck and patted his shoulder, "you've always said yourself that I was the 'David Copperfield' in the family. Don't you know how the child was to be named after his aunt, Betsy Trotwood, and she never really forgave him for turning out to be a boy instead of a girl. Mother has told me how she named me Jerrold, Jr., and anyway I've done the best I could to live up to it. Billie says I'm an awfully good pal, and he'd much rather talk to me than any of the boys he knows at school, because I understand what he's driving at."
"But don't you think your mother will need you here? Jean will be going back to Boston in October to her art class, and Helen is only fourteen. I don't think it would matter, if you only visited them for a couple of months, but supposing Uncle Cassius took a fancy to you." Mr. Robbins' eyes twinkled as he watched Kit's grave face.
"You mean," she said, "supposing he decided that my brain measured up to his expectations of Jerry, Jr., and they wanted me to stay all winter? Couldn't I go to school there, just as well as here? You know, Dad, I'm really not a child any longer. Don't you realize that I'm fifteen and a half?"
"Reaching years of discretion, aren't you, girlie?" smiled her father. "I suppose it would do you a lot of good in a broadening way to go through a new experience like this."
"I'm not thinking about that," Kit sent back an understanding gleam of fun, "but I'm perfectly positive that it would do Uncle Cassius and Aunt Daphne an awful lot of good."
"Then we must not deprive them of the opportunity. Do you think so, Hiram?"
Hiram stuck his head through the clambering vines and clustering leaves, like a tousled freckle-faced New England faun.
"Couldn't do no harm either way, s'far as I can see," he said, judiciously. "And if the old folks need any sort of discipline, I'd certainly start Miss Kit after them."
That was the end of August. Cousin Roxy heartily approved of the plan, and said no doubt the fire down at Greenacres had been a direct dispensation of Providence.
"You were all of you settling down into a rut before it happened, and the old place needed a thorough going over anyhow. You know you couldn't have afforded it, Jerry, if it hadn't been for the fire insurance money coming in so handy like. Now, you'll all move back the first part of the winter, with the new furnace set up, and no cracks for the wind to whistle through. Jean will be started off on her path of glory, and I don't think Kit's a mite too young to be fluttering her wings a bit. Land alive, Elizabeth, you ought to be so thankful that you've got children with any get up and get to them in this day and age. The Judge and I were saying just the other night it seems as if most of the young folks up around here haven't got any pluck or initiative at all. They're born to feel that they're heirs of grace, and most of them are sure of having a farm or wood-lot in their own right, sooner or later."
So the steamer trunk stood open most of the time, and Kit prepared for her pilgrimage to Delphi. Mr. Robbins was inclined to take it as rather a good joke on the Dean, but the mother bird could not get over a certain little feeling of conscience in the matter, perhaps because she could remember her own visit with her uncle and aunt, and still retained a certain feeling of veneration for the two old people. But the rest of the family pinned its faith on Kit's persuasive adaptability.
Helen and Doris, especially, felt that, if anything, the Robbins family was conferring a high favor on the "Oracle of Delphi." Kit had always been the starter and organizer ever since they could remember, and Helen especially dreaded going back to school without her.
"Piney and Sally will go over with you," Kit told her, cheerfully, "and just think of the wonderful letters you'll have from me, Helenita. Miss Cogswell says that I always shine best when I wield the pen of a ready writer, and I'll tell you all the news of Hope College. By the way, mother told me last night that she's pretty sure in those little family colleges they run a 'prep' department, which takes in the last two years of high school. Perhaps I could persuade them that the great-grandniece of Cassius Cato would be a deserving object of their consideration. Don't forget to pack my skates, Helen. I loaned them to you last, and they're hanging in your closet."
Cousin Roxy decided to have a farewell party, two nights before Kit left, and the girls were delighted. Any party launched by Cousin Roxy promised novelty and excitement.
A big dancing platform was built on the lawn under the great elms, and rows of Japanese lanterns hung like glowworms all among the branches.
Cady Graves was there with his violin, and called out for the dancing, but Jean took the piano between times in the house, and the girls and boys gathered around her, Billie leading in the old college songs they all knew best.
It really seemed as though there were a special moon hung up in the August sky just for the occasion. It was so richly luminous, and as Doris said, so near you. The children had been playing forfeits, and in Gilead you played games at parties until you were at least twenty. Piney Haddock was giving out the forfeits, sitting blindfolded on a chair, while Jean held them over her head, calling out with each one:
"Heavy, heavy hangs over your head, What shall the owner do to redeem it?"
Whereupon Piney would have to respond interestedly,
"Fine or superfine?"
It happened that Kit's little turquoise forget-me-not ring was the particular forfeit dangling over Piney's head, when Billie stuck his head in at the open window with a couple of other boys, and Piney lifted her chin at the sound of his voice.
"She must catch Billie Ellis, and bring him back to kneel at my feet, and hand over his forfeit."
Billie had evaded this, escaping with Banty Herrick, and the big Peckham boy, to show them his Belgian hares. Billie never had liked kissing games, and one of the Judge's favorite stories was how he had tried to give Billie a birthday party once, when he was seven years old. Most of the guests were the Judge's friends, with a small scattering of youngsters, and it appeared that just as the Judge had lined up some sweet-faced old ladies to kiss Billie, Billie had been found missing. Later he was located, clad only in overalls, leading the whole string of other children to a ruined sawmill that stood on a winding stream below the house.
So to-night the spirit of adversity whirled him about from the driveway, and he sped down the long lane with Kit in fast pursuit. Overhead the mulberry trees met in a leafy arcade, and out of the hazel thicket a whippoorwill called, flying low down the lane after the two darting forms, as if it were trying to find out what the excitement was about at that time of night. At the turn of the lane there were three apple trees, early Shepherd Sweetings, and here Billie slipped down and lay breathing heavily, his hands hunting for windfalls in the tall grass. Kit passed him by, speeding the full length of the lane, and bringing up at the end of the log-run, before the old mill.
"Billie Ellis, you come out of there," she called. "I've got my slippers wet already chasing after you, and I'm not going to climb all over those old timbers hunting for you."
Only the whippoorwill answered, calling now from a clump of elderberry bushes close by the water's edge, and while she stood listening, there was the dull splash in the pond where some big bullfrog had taken alarm at her coming.
Billie gathered a goodly supply of apples, and stole after her in the shadows.
"Well, I'm not going to stay out here all night waiting for you," Kit said, decisively, addressing the wide dark entrance to the mill, when all at once there came his voice, directly behind her shoulder.
"Why didn't you try to catch me? I was resting back under the apple tree. Let's sit down over the falls and eat some. If Piney's waiting for me to kneel in front of her, she'll wait all night. I'd like to see myself kneeling in front of a girl!"
The words had hardly left his lips, before Kit played an old-time schoolgirl trick on him. Catching him by his collar, she twirled him about with an odd twist until he knelt in front of her. Although they were just about of an age, she was taller and stronger, and Billie shook himself ruefully when he rose.
"You always catch a fellow off guard," he said.
"Do you good," she retorted serenely. "Ever since you went away to school, you've had a high and mighty opinion of yourself. I don't know what will become of you after I've gone away, and there's no one who really knows how to make you behave. Aren't these apples bully though? Do you suppose they'll mind very much if we stay just a few minutes? Don't you love this old pond, Billie? Remember your flat-bottomed boat that always leaked when we used to go fishing in it. How I hated to take turns bailing it out."
Billie dipped into his inner coat pocket and drew forth a little leather bill fold, somewhat sheepishly.
"I've got a snap shot here that I wanted you to take out with you. It's funny you just happened to speak about it. That hat nearly covered your face, but anybody could tell it was you, Kit. It was the day we got caught in the rain, when we were out after pickerel, and when the sun came out, Ben came along, and snapped us with my camera."
Kit took the little photograph in her hand. There was plenty of light to see it by. The little old, red, flat-bottomed boat out in midstream, with Billie standing, barelegged to his knees, straddling from the stem seat to the rear middle one, while he strove persuasively with a big pickerel. Kit was half kneeling in the other end of the boat, bailing for dear life, dressed in an old middy and wash skirt, with a boy's farm hat pulled low over her eyes.
"Wouldn't it be strange, Billie, if either of us were famous some day," she said, thoughtfully, "and this picture would just be priceless? You know, that's one thing awfully nice about us two. We've always appreciated each other so much. I know you're going to be somebody special. Maybe it will just be in natural history, but I wish it were exploring, or something awfully adventurous."
Billie laughed comfortably, perching himself just below her on the heavy timbers of the old sluice gate.
"Grandfather says I have a great responsibility on my shoulders, because I'm the last of the Ellis family. He says there's always been an Ellis in the State Legislature at Hartford, ever since there was a Legislature, and just as soon as I'm old enough, he's going to set me to reading law. Gee, I wish he wouldn't. Think of being shut up all day long in an office."
Far down the lane they heard the others calling them and Kit sprang up, scattering the apples as she did so.
"I'd forgotten all about the party," she exclaimed. "Anyway, I'm glad we had a chance to talk, because I won't see you again before I leave. If I were you, I'd just read and study everything I could lay my hands on about entymology, all the time I was in school, and then when the Judge sees that you're in dead earnest about it, he'll let you go on if Cousin Roxy says so. I heard Dad say that Mr. Howard knew more about insects than any man he'd ever met, and that he was considered one of the coming experts in government work. Why, Billie, it's just like a great surgeon or doctor, who is able to discover a certain germ that can be used as a toxin, only you doctor Mother Nature."
"I know," Billie agreed, enthusiastically. "There was some fellow who discovered the cause of the wheat blight in the south a few years ago, and somebody else is trying to land whatever is killing our chestnuts off. Kit, you're a bully pal. If it wasn't for you, I don't know whether I'd ever have seen a chance to win out or not, but you do spur a fellow on."
Kit laughed, and tagged him on the shoulder as she broke into a run.
"You're it," she cried. "Don't give any one else the credit for starting you off in the way you know you ought to go. Just take a good deep breath and race for it."
Mr. Robbins had answered the first letter from Delphi, under Kit's careful supervision, and the acceptance was couched in language ambiguous enough to please even her.
It aroused no suspicions whatever in the minds of Dean Peabody or Miss Daphne. The only question was, who was to meet the child in Chicago. The through express would leave him there, and in order to connect with the Wisconsin trains it was necessary to make the change over to the Northwestern Depot.
Miss Daphne was far more perturbed over it than her brother. One of the latter's favorite mottoes was inscribed in old English lettering over his desk:
"Never set in motion forces which you cannot control."
Having set in motion the coming guest, he believed firmly that an unfaltering Fate would direct his footsteps safely to Delphi. Cassius Cato Peabody had been peculiar all his life. He had been a peculiar boy, unsettled, studious, impractical. Miss Daphne was his younger sister, and ever since her girlhood had tried to give him all the love and encouragement that others refused. She had trotted after him faithfully and happily on all of his exploring expeditions. Perhaps one reason why these had been so successful was because somehow she had always managed to surround him with home comforts, even in the wilds of the upper Nile. The Dean had had his regular meals and clean changes of clothing in the shadow of Nineveh's ruins in far Chaldea, just as though he had been in his own domicile.
And perhaps the quaintest thing about it all was that Miss Daphne herself, no matter on what particular point of the globe she had happened to pitch her tent, had always retained her courage, although she had faced dangers that the average woman would have fled from. Perhaps she carried in her heart an unfailing faith that Providence could not deny her protection when she was enabling the Dean to give the benefit of his great gifts to the world.
Their house stood on the same hill as Hope College, the highest point in the rising ridge of bluffs along the Lake Shore at Delphi. It was built of dark red brick, a square double edifice, with long French windows and two rotunda shaped wings, somewhat in the French style. A grove of pine trees almost hid it from view on its street side, the stately Norway pines that Kit always loved. The back of the house looked directly out over the lake, and the land here was frankly left to nature. Trees, grass and underbrush rioted at will, until they suddenly ended on the brow of the bluff, where there was a sheer declivity of sand to the beach. Looking at it from below, Kit afterwards thought it was like a miniature section of the Yosemite, the sand had hardened into such fantastic shapes, and the strata in places was so plainly visible.
Mrs. Robbins' telegram arrived the night before Kit herself. It was brief and non-committal.
"Kit arrives Union Station, Chicago, Thursday, 10:22 A.M."
"Kit," repeated the Dean. "Humph! Nickname. Superfluous and derogatory."
Miss Daphne took the telegram from his desk with a little smile that was almost tremulous with excitement.
"It's probably the diminutive for Christopher, brother," she said. "I think it's a nice name. I always liked the legend of St. Christopher. Somebody'll have to meet him down in Chicago. He might lose his head and take the wrong train."
"He's about fourteen, isn't he? Old enough to change from one train to another, and use his tongue if he's in doubt. When I was fourteen, Daphne, I was earning my own living working on a farm, summers, and going to a school in the winter time where we all had to work for our board. Never hurt us a bit. The greatest trait of character you can inculcate in a child is self-reliance."
Miss Daphne had a little way of appearing to listen while her brother expatiated on any of his favorite topics. It had grown to be a loving habit with her, and she had a way of answering absently.
"Yes, dear, I'm quite sure of it," which always satisfied him that he had her attention. But now, she sat looking out the window and thinking, a perplexed expression on her face. It had not altogether been her desire that the coming child should be a boy, although not one word had she breathed of this to Dean Peabody. Their lives had run in tranquil grooves. Everything about their daily routine was as St. Paul suggested, "Decently and in order."
The determination to take one of the Greenacre brood had been a sudden one. The Dean had been reading somebody's theory about the obligations of age to youth.
"Daphne, my dear," he had remarked one evening, as the two sat quietly in the old library, "we have been leading very narrow, selfish lives, and we will suffer for it as we grow older. We have shut ourselves away from youth. I am seventy-four now, and what heritage am I leaving to the world beyond a few books of reference, and my collections? What I should do is to take some child, still in the impressionable stage, and impart to it all I know."
Miss Daphne glanced up with a little amused twinkle in her eyes.
"But, brother, what about the child? Surely you would require an exceptional child for such an experiment. One who would have the mentality to grasp all that you were trying to impart to it."
The Dean cogitated over this, pursing his lips and tapping his knuckles with his rimless eye-glasses.
"Possibly," he granted, "and yet, Daphne, surely there would be far more credit attached to planting the seed of knowledge where it needed much cultivating. It has surprised and amazed me up at the college to find that usually the children who appreciate an education are the farmer boys, and very often the foreign element."
Miss Daphne rocked to and fro gently. She knew her brother well enough to understand that this had become a fixed idea with him, and the easiest way out was to find him an impressionable child. And then, it happened that she thought of Elizabeth Ann Robbins, their niece, and all her nestful of young mouths to be satisfied with life's gifts and privileges. She remembered having one letter after the breaking up of the home on Long Island. This had told them of Mr. Robbins' illness and breakdown. But with the optimism that was inherent in every one of the family, there had been no appeal for aid or cry of despondency over the sudden change in their fortunes.
Several times the Dean had written to Mr. Robbins but always on archaeological topics. Some little point of controversy upon which he desired confirmation. Somehow material needs never seemed to suggest themselves to the Dean. Blessed with absolute self-reliance from his boyhood, he had educated and made a success of himself, and he could not understand how any one could falter or repine in the race. Particularly, if Nature had granted them any precious ratio of Peabody blood.
"Do you know, brother," began Miss Daphne, in the bright, abrupt little way she had, "I think it would be the right thing if we took one of the Robbins' children. There are four or five of them——"
"Boys or girls?" interrupted the Dean.
"Well, now I'm not quite sure, but if my memory serves me, I think there's a boy amongst them. I know the eldest girl is named Jean Daphne, because I've always sent her a silver spoon on her birthday since she was born. They're all of them over ten, I am sure. Why don't you just write to Jerrold and make known your willingness? I am sure they would take it in the spirit in which it was offered."
So this was how it happened that the Dean's letter went forth to Gilead, and produced the hour when Kit stood on the platform of the Union Station in Chicago, looking around her to discover any one who might appear to be seeking a small boy.
Gradually the long platform that led up to the concourse cleared. Kit went leisurely on, following the porter who carried her suit-case. She was looking for some one who might resemble either the Dean or Miss Daphne from her mother's description of them.
"As I remember him," Mrs. Robbins had said, "the Dean was very tall, rather sparely built, but broad-shouldered and always with his head up to the wind. His hair was gray, worn rather long and curly at the ends, and he had the old-fashioned Gladstone whiskers. Miss Daphne was like a little bird, a gentle, plump, busy Jenny Wren, with bright brown eyes and a little smile that never left her lips. I am sure you can't mistake them, Kit, for in their way they are very distinctive."
Yet Kit was positive now that neither the Dean nor his sister had come to meet her. She stood in the waiting-room quite unconscious of the attention she attracted, for Kit would have been singled out from the multitude anywhere by reason of what Jean called "her unique individuality."
She wore a dark tan serge traveling coat with a brown service cap to match that set a bit rakishly on her red curls. There was about her an air of buoyant and friendly self-possession, which always ingratiated her with any casual acquaintances. Therefore it was no wonder that Mr. Bellamy glanced at her several times with interest, even while his gaze sought through the crowd for a young New England type of boy, bound for Delphi, Wis.
But Kit noticed Mr. Bellamy. Noticed his alert anxiety as he walked up and down, eyeing every newcomer. He was eighteen or nineteen, and unmistakably looking for some one. Even while Kit watched him, she saw a girl of about her own age hurry up to him. Her voice reached her plainly, as she said:
"I've looked up and down that end, and I'm positive he isn't there. Oh, but the Dean will lecture you, Rex, if you miss him."
At this identical moment, Rex's eyes met a pair of dancing, mischievous ones, and Kit crossed over to where they stood.
"I do believe you must be looking for me," she said. "I'm Kit Robbins."
"Oh, but we were expecting your brother," exclaimed the other girl, eagerly.
"I know, the whole family have," said Kit, placidly, "for years and years. But there aren't any boys at all in our family," and here she smiled sweetly, and quite innocently. "I'm afraid the Dean made a little mistake, didn't he? Do you think he'll mind so very much when he sees me?"
"Mind?" repeated Mr. Bellamy. "Why, I think he'll be perfectly delighted. My name is Rex Wade Bellamy, Miss Robbins, and this is my sister, Anne. We're close neighbors of the Dean and Miss Daphne, and as we happened to be coming in town to-day they asked us to be sure to meet your——" Here he hesitated.
"My brother," laughed Kit. "Well, here I am, and I only hope that mother's letter reached them this morning, explaining everything. Of course, they did write for a boy, and it takes so long for a letter to get out here and be answered, that I told mother and Dad I knew it would be perfectly all right for me to come instead. Don't you think it will be?"
Anne's blue eyes were brimful of merriment.
"Oh, dear," she exclaimed. "I do wish I could go back with you, so I could see their faces when they find out. I don't live in Delphi. Mother and I have been here all summer so I could keep up my music at the conservatory. Rex has had to 'batch it' alone, but we'll be back in a week, so I'll see you then, and anyway, we're sure to visit back and forth. I'm awfully glad you're a girl."
"But I won't be here all winter," Kit answered. "I've only come for a couple of months. On trial, you know. Maybe it'll only be a couple of days, if they're fearfully disappointed."
Anne exchanged quick glances with her brother and he smiled as he led the way to the waiting car.
"You don't know the elaborate plans the Dean has laid out for your education," he said. "It will take you all winter long to live up to them, but I'm sure he will not be disappointed."
Kit had her own opinion about this, still it was impossible for her to feel apprehensive or unhappy, as the car sped over towards the Lake Shore Drive. The novelty of everything after two years up in the Gilead hills of rest was wonderfully stimulating. But it was not until they had left the city and river behind and had reached Lincoln Park that she really gave vent to her feelings. It was a wonderful day and the lake lay in sparkling ripples beyond the long stretch of shore.
"Are we going all the way in the car?" she asked, eagerly.
Rex shook his head.
"No, only as far as Evanston. We'll drop Anne off, and have lunch with mother and then catch the train to Delphi. I have an errand for the Dean out at the University."
"You know," said Kit, "we lived right on the edge of Long Island Sound before we moved up to Connecticut, and ever since I was in rompers, I can remember going away somewhere to the seashore every summer, but I think your lake is ever so much more interesting than the ocean. Somehow it seems to belong to one more. I always felt with the ocean as if it just condescended to come over to my special beach, after it had rambled all over the world, and belonged to everybody."
"But you have all the shells and the seaweed, and we haven't," demurred Anne. "Before I ever went East, we had a couple of clam shells, just plain every-day old round clam shells, that had come from Cape May, and I used to think they were perfectly wonderful because they had belonged in the real ocean."
After the rugged landscape of New England, Kit found this level land very attractive. They passed through one suburb after another, with the beautiful Drive following the curving shore line out to Evanston. Here she caught her first glimpse of the Northwestern University, its terra-cotta hued buildings showing picturesquely through the beautiful giant willows around the campus.
They left Rex at the main entrance and drove on to where Mrs. Bellamy was stopping. The houses made Kit think of those back at the Cove, with their spacious lawns and large restful homes of plenty. Mrs. Bellamy was filled with amusement when she heard the story of Kit's substitution of herself for the boy the Dean had asked for. She was a tall, slender woman with ashen gold hair and gray eyes, who seemed almost like an elder sister of Anne's. They occupied a suite of rooms near the campus.
"It is ever so much pleasanter than living in the heart of the city," she said, "and Rex has so many friends among the boys out here that it makes it pleasant for both of the children. We used to live in North Evanston before Mr. Bellamy took the chair of modern history up at Delphi. I wish that you were going to live here for Anne's sake."
"Well, that's almost selfish, mother, because Delphi is a hundred times more fun than Evanston," Anne declared, "and we're sure to see a lot of each other, anyway, when school opens. Kit's promised to tell me all about her sisters and Greenacres. It must be awfully queer to live up in the hills like that."
"Queer?" repeated Kit, laughingly. "It's a joy to the soul and a discipline to the body, Cousin Roxy says."
Anne immediately wanted to know who Cousin Roxy was, and Kit waxed eloquent on her favorite topic.
"She's an angel in a gingham apron, we girls think," she concluded, "and yet she can take off the gingham apron and stand up and address any kind of a meeting. I just can't tell you all that she's been to us since we lived there."
Early in the afternoon Rex returned, and they caught the 2:45 local up to Delphi. Kit could hardly keep from looking out of the car window all the time. Every now and then the rich blueness of the lake would flash through the trees in the distance, and to the westward there stretched long level vistas of prairie land, dipping ravines which unexpectedly led one into woodland ways. Gradually the bluffs heightened as they neared the Wisconsin line above Waukegan, and just beyond the state line, between the shore and the region of the small lakes, Oconomowoc and Delevan, they came suddenly upon Delphi. It stood high upon the bluff, its college dominating the shady serenity of its quiet avenues.
"The Dean doesn't keep a carriage or car," said Rex as they alighted at the gray stone station covered with clambering vines. "Besides, he thought I was bringing a boy, who would not mind the hike up the hill!"
"I don't mind a bit," returned Kit. "I like it. It seems so good to find real hills after all. I thought everything out here was just prairie. I do hope they won't be watching for us. It will be ever so much easier if I can just walk in before they get any kind of a shock, don't you know."
Rex did not tell her which was the house until they came to the two tall sentinel poplars at the entrance to the drive. Kit caught the murmur of the waves as they broke on the shore below and lifted her chin eagerly.
"Oh, I like it," she cried. "This is it, isn't it? Isn't it a dear, drowsy dreamful place? I only hope they'll let me stay."
AT THE SIGN OF THE MUMMY
"DEARLY BELOVED FAMILY:—
"I can't stop to write separate letters to-night to all of you, because I'm so full of Delphitis that I can hardly think of anything else. First of all, Rex met me at the train with his sister Anne. It's quite all right to call him Rex, Aunt Daphne says. No relation to us but he lives next door, and is Uncle Cassius' pet educational proposition next to your little sister Katherine.
"Mother's letter had not arrived, and they were expecting 'brother' any moment, when Rex and I walked in on them, and right here I must say they showed presence of mind, and what Cousin Roxy would call resignation to the ways of Providence. The Dean's eyes twinkled as Rex explained things, and then I kissed Aunt Daphne, and explained to her too, and I'm sure that she was relieved. After Rex had gone, the Dean took me into his study after dinner, and we had a long heart-to-heart talk. I want you all to understand that he thinks I'm a good specimen of the undeveloped feminine brain.
"I am going to enter the preparatory class at the college in October, and take what the Dean calls supplementary lessons from him along special lines. I don't quite know all that this means, but I guess I can weather it. It probably has to do with what Rex called the 'cosmic makings,' geology and all sorts of prehistoric stuff. I know the Dean mentioned one thing that began with a 'paleo' but I have forgotten the rest of it. I'll let you know later.
"I have a perfectly darling room. It looks right out over Lake Michigan. There's a big square bay window to it, that overhangs the edge of the bluff like the balcony of a Spanish beauty. Our back garden just topples right over into a ravine that ends up short on the shore. I never saw such abrupt little chasms in my life. Uncle Cassius was showing me the layers of strata there that a little recent landslide had shown up, and he says that the formation is just exactly like it is out west in Wyoming and Colorado.
"Aunt Daphne is just a dear. It's more fun to hear her tell of how she worried over a boy coming into the family. The whole house is filled from one end to the other with Uncle Cassius' treasures that he's been collecting for years. You're liable to stumble over a stuffed armadillo or a petrified slice of some prehistoric monster anywhere at all. I found a mummy case in the library closet, but there wasn't anything in it at all, and I was awfully disappointed. I don't know but what I like it after all, although I miss you fearfully, dear nestful of robins. I don't even dare to think there are about a thousand miles between us.
"This is all I can write to you to-night because I'm so sleepy I can hardly keep my eyes open. Aunt Daphne just came in and kissed me good-night. She told me again how glad she is that I'm not a boy. Uncle Cassius hasn't committed himself yet, but I think he's curious about me anyway. Good-night all, and write oodles of news to me.
"Devotedly yours, KIT.
"Sign of the Mummy, Delphi, Wis."
At the same moment that Kit was writing home, the Dean and Miss Daphne stepped out on the broad veranda. Every evening about nine-thirty passers-by might have seen the flickering glow of the Dean's good-night cigar. He was not an habitual smoker, but the evening cigar was a sort of nocturnal ceremonial. It gave him an excuse to step out into the fragrant darkness of the garden walk for a quiet little stroll before bedtime, and usually Miss Daphne would try to join him.
So to-night they paced together, discussing the girl with the red curls who had come to them from far-off New England, in lieu of the boy they had sent for.
"There's no reason," remarked the Dean, reflectively, "why the child should not have a pleasant visit, since she is here. I have had a long conversation with her, and while I would not say that she was exceptionally—er——"
"Bright," suggested Daphne.
"I should like to call it intellectual," the Dean said kindly, "she is keenly impressionable and self-reliant. I think I may be able to interest her, at least in a simplified course of study. I have always believed that boys were more amenable to routine discipline in education than girls, but we shall see."
Miss Daphne's eyes, if he could only have seen them, held a twinkle of mirth, and her smile was a little more pronounced than usual.
"I think," she said, softly, "that she is a very lovable, attractive girl. I am quite relieved, brother, not to have a boy in the house."
Kit wakened the following morning with the sunlight calling to her. It was early, but back on the farm the girls usually rose about five. There did not seem to be any one stirring yet, so she dressed quietly, and found her way down-stairs. The Dean kept a cook, gardener and second girl. Kit heard Delia, the latter, singing in the dining-room and went out at once to make friends with her.
"Is it very far down the bluff to the shore, Delia?" she asked, eagerly. "I'm dying to climb down there, if I have time before breakfast."
"Sure, Miss, it's as easy as rolling off a log. You take the roundabout way through the garden, and the little path, behind the tool shed, and you just follow it until you can't go any farther, and there's the bluff. I haven't been down myself, but Dan says there's a little path you take to the shore if you don't mind scrambling a bit."
Kit waved good-bye to her and went in search of the path. She found Dan, the gardener, raking up leaves in the back garden. He was a plump rosy-cheeked old Irishman, his face wrinkled like a winter pippin, and he lifted his cap at her approach with a smile of frank curiosity and approval.
A half-grown black retriever came bounding to meet her, his nose and forepaws tipped with white.
"That's a welcome he's giving you you wouldn't have had if you'd been a boy, Miss," Danny said, shrewdly. "I'm glad to meet you, and hope you'll like it here."
Kit was stroking Sandy's silky curls. His real name he told her was Lysander. Anything that the Dean had the naming of received the benediction of ancient Greece, but Sandy, in his puppyhood, had managed to acquire a happy diminutive.
"I don't see," Kit said, laughingly, "why you dreaded a boy coming. I know some awfully nice boys back home, and there's one specially"—she paused just a moment, before she added—"named Billie. He's kind of related to us, because his grandfather married Cousin Roxy, and she's my father's cousin. It's a little bit hard to figure it out, but still we're related, and we're very, very good friends. I think he's just the kind of a boy the Dean expected to see, but perhaps he'll get used to me. Do you think he will?"
"Sure, it's like asking me could he get used to the sunshine," answered Danny, gallantly.—"If you leave it to Sandy to find the shore, he'll take you the quickest way."
ALL SANDY'S FAULT
Everything was so different from the Connecticut verdure and underbrush. Instead of the thick, lush growth which came from richly watered black loam, here one found sand cherries and little dwarf willows and beeches springing up from the sand. Tall sword grass waved almost like Cousin Roxy's striped ribbon grass in the home garden, and wild sunflowers showed like golden glow here and there.
The beach was level and rockless, different entirely from the Eastern Atlantic shores, but the sand was beautifully white and fine, and there were great weather-beaten, wave-washed boulders lying half buried in the sand, also trunks of trees, their roots uprearing grotesquely like strange heads of animals. Kit thought whimsically how the Dean might have added them with profit to his prehistoric collection. There was no glimpse or hint of the town to be seen down here. Not even a boat house, only one long pier. About a mile and a half from shore was a lightship, and farther out a white steamer showed in perfect outline against the blueness of the morning sky.
Kit followed Sandy's lead, hardly realizing the distance she was covering, until he suddenly disappeared behind a nosing headland. When she rounded it, she saw a cottage built close under the shelter of the bluff. The sand drifted like snow half-way up to its windows. It had been painted red once, but now its old clapboards were the color of sorrel, and weather-beaten and wave-washed like the boulders. There were fish nets drying on tall staples driven in behind a couple of overturned rowboats, and at that first glimpse it seemed to her as if there were children everywhere. Four stalwart boys from fourteen to eighteen worked over the nets, mending them; around the back door there were four or five more, and sitting in the sunlight in a low rocking-chair was an old woman as picturesque as some ancient sibyl.
Sandy seemed to greet them as old acquaintances, so Kit called good-morning in good old Yankee fashion. The boys eyed her, somewhat askance, and all of the children scurried like a flock of startled chickens as she came up the boardwalk to the kitchen door, but the old grandmother kept serenely on paring potatoes, calm-eyed and unembarrassed.
"How do you do?" said Kit, smilingly. "I'm Dean Peabody's grandniece. I just came west yesterday, and Sandy brought me here this morning. I didn't know where he was going, but he seemed to know the way."
The old woman's brown eyes followed the movement of the dog.
"He ver' fine, that dog," she said, deliberately. "He come ver' often. I know him since he is un petit chien, ver' small pup—so beeg." She measured with her hand from the ground.
"Do you know the Dean?" Kit asked, sitting down on the doorstep beside her. "He lives up in the big house on the bluff, where the pine and maples are."
The old woman shook her head placidly.
"I not go up that bluff in forty-eight year."
Kit's eyes widened with quick interest. Just then a girl a little older than herself came out of the kitchen door. Two long braids of straight brown hair hung over her shoulders, and her dress was slouchy and gypsy-like. She looked at Kit with quiet, steady scrutiny, and then questioningly over at the boys. But Kit herself relieved the tension.
"Hello," she said. "I think you've got an awfully nice place down here. I like it because it looks old like our houses back home. All the other places I've seen since I came west have looked so newly painted."
"This isn't new," the girl told her slowly. "This place belonged to my grandfather's father, Louis Beaubien. There were Indians around here then. Most of them 'Jibways."
Jean used to say that the instant Kit's curiosity was aroused, she was just exactly like a squirrel after nuts, and here was an entirely new field of romance and adventure to be uncovered. She fairly sniffed the air. The wonderful old grandmother, basking in the sun with memories of the past like a Mother Time. The strong, tanned boys working at the nets, the flock of dark-skinned youngsters, and the girl, Marcelle, whom she was to know so well before her stay in Delphi was over.
She hurried back, eager to ask questions about the Beaubiens, and found herself late for breakfast the very first morning she was there. The Dean's face was a study as she entered, and Miss Daphne's fingers fluttered somewhat nervously over the coffee urn, and fragile cups. Kit was out of breath, and so full of excitement that she did not even notice the air was chill.
"I've had a perfectly wonderful time," she began. "No coffee, Aunt Daphne, please. Mother doesn't allow me to have any. It's all Sandy's fault. I just wanted to run down the bluff to the shore, and he led me way round that headland to the funniest old house, half-sunken in the sand, and I got acquainted with the old grandmother and Marcelle. The boys and the little youngsters seemed half-scared to death at the sight of me, and so I didn't bother to get acquainted with them yet."
The Dean looked up at her over his glasses with a quizzical expression, and Miss Daphne fairly caught her breath.
"The Beaubiens on the shore, my dear?" she asked. "Those half-breed French Canadians?"
"Well, I didn't know just what they were," answered Kit, cheerfully, "but I think they're awfully interesting. Don't you think that they look like the Breton fisher people in some of the old French paintings? That girl looked just exactly like the youngest one crossing the sands at low tide at St. Malo. We have the painting at home, and I love it. And there was another girl about thirteen that I saw staring at me from the kitchen, and she looked just like 'The Song of the Lark' girl where she's crossing the fields at dawn."
"The Beaubiens have not a very good reputation, my dear," the Dean coughed slightly behind his hand as he spoke. "The present generation may be law-abiding, but even within my memory, the Beaubiens had a little habit of smuggling."
"Smuggling?" repeated Kit, interestedly. "How could they smuggle way off here?"
"Very easily. There were schooners that used to make the run down from the Canadian shore around the Straits carrying contraband goods in war time. Besides, there is the Indian strain in them, and they are squatters. There have been several lawsuits against them, and they have persisted in staying there on the shore when the property owners on the bluff distinctly purchased riparian rights."
"But, brother, the Beaubiens won all their suits, didn't they?" asked Miss Daphne, pleasantly. "I'm sure the older boys are very industrious, and I think the girl Marcelle is strikingly attractive. You're not really forbidding Kit to go down there, I'm sure."
The Dean said something that was lost in a murmur, for he had been one of the property owners vanquished in the lawsuits by the Beaubiens. After breakfast Kit went up-stairs with Miss Daphne into her own little sitting-room. This looked towards the street, out over the maple and pine-shaded lawn. Also, you could command a very fair view of the college. This was built of gray stone like a Norman castle, with square towers, and was overgrown with woodbine just beginning to show a tinge of crimson.
"It seems awfully queer, Aunt Daphne," Kit said as she leaned out of the window, "to think that I am going there into the 'prep' class. Rex said on the way up here——"
She leaned suddenly farther out and waved.
"Hello, Rex, are you coming over?"
Rex glanced up at the radiant face as he came along the hedge-bordered drive between his home and the Dean's and waved back in neighborly fashion.
"I'm going up to the campus now," he said. "Ask Miss Daphne if she'd let you be in the library club. There's a meeting this morning."
"Could I, Aunt Daphne? Please say yes. I haven't joined anything in ages," Kit begged. "I don't care whether it's a library club or an Indian powwow. I am just dying to be in something out here, where I'll meet every one and get acquainted. If you don't need me this morning——" She hesitated, but some of her enthusiasm had caught Miss Daphne, and she immediately succumbed to the whim of the moment.
"Why, I think, my dear, that I'll go with you. The Dean has taken up so much of my time that I've rather lost my interest and activity in affairs. You go down with Rex, and I'll join you presently."
The Dean's desk stood in a wide square bay window which overlooked the driveway. He had settled down to his morning's portion of labor and was blocking out a curriculum of study for Kit, when he happened to glance up, and beheld the trio passing happily out through the gates. Certainly they did not realize, nor did he at that moment, that already the leaven of youth was at work in the old shadowy house behind the sentinel pines.
THE DEAN'S OUTPOSTS
The first budget of family letters arrived the following week. Kit fairly pounced on them when the mail carrier came up the walk, for she had been watching anxiously at each delivery. After all, it was the first time she had been away from home, and after the first excitement and novelty had worn off, her heart, she told herself laughingly, "harked back to Dixie."
It seemed the Dean had written to her father on the night of her arrival, and this was a surprise to Kit.
"It is a great relief to us all to know that you have made such a favorable impression," Mr. Bobbins' letter read. "After all, it was somewhat of an experiment, and I confess that I was rather sceptical of the result, knowing the Dean as I do. Try to adapt yourself as much as possible to the home conditions there, Kit. You know, we have always lived somewhat of an easy-going life so far as discipline and set routine go, and consequently you girls have been brought up in a happy-go-lucky fashion. Do you remember what Emerson had inscribed over his study door? 'Whim.' The old Concord philosopher and Thoreau have been close pals of mine, and I fear that I adopted at an early age the same motto. Be considerate of all the Dean's notions, and make yourself as useful and lovable as you can while you are with them, dear.
"The rebuilding of the house is going along splendidly, and we hope to have our Christmas there. I have followed the old plan, but with some improvements, I think, putting in a good furnace, and enlarging the dining-room and kitchen. The veranda also will extend around three sides of the house instead of two, and we are building the supports of field stone. There will be an outdoor fireplace on the west side also, and I know you will enjoy this."
Enjoy it? Kit stared ahead of her at the shady lawn. Miss Daphne was bending over nasturtium beds gathering the black seeds, but instead, Kit saw in a vision ahead a great hickory fire burning in the outdoor veranda fireplace with the mystery of the night crooning low over the sleeping hills. Her mother's letter came next. Kit read it with delight. She could tell just exactly the mood the mother bird was in when she wrote, just how her conscience pricked her for having been a party to Kit's plan.
"Of course, while the Dean's letter was very nice, still I am sure he felt 'put upon,' as Cousin Roxy would say. I am ever so sorry that we did not write sooner, and tell them that you were coming. It rests with you now, Kit, to make yourself so adaptable that they will forget all about the boy they wanted. I have no objection to your staying for the winter term at Hope College. Between ourselves, dear, our plans are a little unsettled here. Father is certain that the house will be ready for us this winter, but you know we have kept from him any worry about financial matters, and I am afraid he figures on a wider latitude in expense than we can afford. At the little farm here, and with you and Jean both away we could manage very well. In order to rebuild at all, we had to part with some securities which I had always hoped to save for you girls. It will be sad, won't it, if the royal princesses have to be launched without wedding chests and dowries?
"Make all the friends that you possibly can among your college mates. You won't realize it now, but so many of these friendships become precious lifelong ones. Billie is leaving this week for school. You remember Mr. Howard, who came to look after our trees? He has been staying up at the Judge's, and took a great interest in Billie. Instead of going back to Blackwood Hall, Billie is going on to a school in Virginia, not far from Washington, that Mr. Howard suggested sending him to. He is a great believer in the value of environment that is associated with historic traditions."
Kit read this last over twice, but could not agree with it at all. She had always liked the pioneer outlook, the longing to break new trails, the starting of little colonies in clearings of one's own making. If there was an ivy around her castle, she wanted the joy of planting it herself, and seeing it grow from her own efforts.
Jean had always told her that this came from the distaff side of the family. There had been a Virginian ancestor long ago, who had broken away from the conventional life on the big river estate, near Roanoke, and had gone faring forth into the wilderness. This was Kit's favorite ancestor, John Carisbrook. He had wandered far through the west, and had married a girl in one of the outlying settlements along the Ohio River, a girl with French blood in her, Gabrielle de la Chapelle. Kit always liked to believe that it was from these two she had received her love of adventure, and of trail blazing.