MARY ROBERTS RINEHART
Author of "A Poor Wise Man," "Dangerous Days," "The Amazing Interlude," "Bab," "K," Etc.
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BY MARY ROBERTS RINEHART
A POOR WISE MAN DANGEROUS WAYS THE AMAZING INTERLUDE "K" BAB: A SUB-DEB TISH MORE TISH SIGHT UNSEEN AND THE CONFESSION AFFINITIES AND OTHER STORIES LOVE STORIES KINGS, QUEENS AND PAWNS TWENTY-THREE AND A HALF HOURS' LEAVE "ISN'T THAT JUST LIKE A MAN?" ETC., ETC.
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New York George H. Doran Company Copyright, 1921, By George H. Doran Company Copyright, 1912, 1917, 1919, By The Curtis Publishing Company Printed in the United States of America
I page THE CAVE ON THUNDER CLOUD 9
II TISH DOES HER BIT 75
III SALVAGE 161
THE CAVE ON THUNDER CLOUD
It is doubtful if Aggie and I would have known anything about Tish's plan had Aggie not seen the advertisement in the newspaper. She came to my house at once in violent excitement and with her bonnet over her ear, and gave me the newspaper clipping to read. It said:
"WANTED: A small donkey. Must be gentle, female, and if possible answer to the name of Modestine. Address X 27, Morning News."
"Well," I said when I had read it, "did you insert the advertisement or do you propose to answer it?"
Aggie was preparing to take a drink of water, but, the water being cold and the weather warm, she was dabbing a little on her wrists first to avoid colic. She looked up at me in surprise.
"Do you mean to say, Lizzie," she demanded, "that you don't recognize that advertisement?"
"Modestine?" I reflected. "I've heard the name before somewhere. Didn't Tish have a cook once named Modestine?"
But it seemed that that was not it. Aggie sat down opposite me and took off her bonnet. Although it was only the first of May, the weather, as I have said, was very warm.
"To think," she said heavily, "that all the time while I was reading it aloud to her when she was laid up with neuralgia she was scheming and planning and never saying a word to me! Not that I would have gone; but I could have sent her mail to her, and at least have notified the authorities if she had disappeared."
"Reading what aloud to her—her mail?" I asked sharply.
"'Travels with a Donkey,'" Aggie replied. "Stevenson's 'Travels with a Donkey.' It isn't safe to read anything aloud to Tish any more. The older she gets the worse she is. She thinks that what any one else has done she can go and do. If she should read a book on poultry-farming she would think she could teach a young hen to lay an egg."
As Aggie spoke a number of things came back to me. I recalled that the Sunday before, in church, Tish had appeared absorbed and even more devout than usual, and had taken down the headings of the sermon on her missionary envelope; but that, on my leaning over to see if she had them correctly, she had whisked the paper away before I had had more than time to see the first heading. It had said "Rubber Heels."
Aggie was pacing the floor nervously, holding the empty glass.
"She's going on a walking tour with a donkey, that's what, Lizzie," she said, pausing before me. "I could see it sticking out all over her while I read that book. And if we go to her now and tax her with it she'll admit it. But if she says she is doing it to get thin don't you believe it."
That was all Aggie would say. She shut her lips and said she had come for my recipe for caramel custard. But when I put on my wraps and said I was going to Tish's she said she would come along.
Tish lives in an apartment, and she was not at home. Miss Swift, the seamstress, opened the door and stood in the doorway so we could not enter.
"I'm sorry, Miss Aggie and Miss Lizzie," she said, putting out her left elbow as Aggie tried to duck by her; "but she left positive orders to admit nobody. Of course if she had known you were coming—but she didn't."
"What are you making, Miss Letitia?" Aggie asked sweetly. "Summer clothes?"
"Yes. Some little thin things—it's getting so hot!"
"Humph! I see you are making them with an upholsterer's needle!" said Aggie, and marched down the hall with her head up.
I was quite bewildered. For even if Tish had decided on a walking tour I couldn't imagine what an upholsterer's needle had to do with it, unless she meant to upholster the donkey.
We got down to the entrance before Aggie spoke again. Then:
"What did I tell you?" she demanded. "That woman's making her a——"
But at that very instant there was a thud under our feet and something came "ping" through the floor not six inches from my toe, and lodged in the ceiling. Aggie and I stood looking up. It had made a small round hole over our heads, and a little cloud of plaster dust hung round it.
"Somebody shot at us!" declared Aggie, clutching my arm. "That was a bullet!"
I stooped down and felt the floor. There was a hole in it, and from somewhere below I thought I heard voices. It was not very comfortable, standing there on top of Heaven knows what; but we were divided between fear and outrage, and our indignation won. With hardly a word we went back to the rear staircase and so to the cellar. Halfway down the stairs both of us remembered the same thing—that it was Tish's day to use the basement laundry, and that perhaps——
Tish was not in the laundry, nor was Hannah, her maid. But Tish's blue-and-white dressing sacque was on the line, and the blue had run, as I had said it would when she bought it. In the furnace room beyond we heard voices, and Aggie opened the door.
Tish and Hannah were both there. They had not heard us.
"Nonsense!" Tish was saying. "If anybody had been hit we'd have heard a scream; or if they were killed we'd have heard 'em fall."
"I heard a sort of yell," said poor Hannah. "I don't like it, Miss Tish. The time before you just missed me."
"Why did you stick your arm out?" demanded Tish. "Now take that broomstick and we'll start again. Did you score that?"
"How'll I score it?" asked Hannah. "Hit or miss?" She went to the cellar wall and stood waiting, with a piece of charcoal in her hand. The whitewashed wall was marked with rows of X's and ciphers. The ciphers predominated.
"Mark it a miss."
"But I heard a yell——"
"Fiddle-de-dee! Are you ready?" Tish had lifted a small rifle into position and was standing, with her feet apart, pointing it at a white target hanging by a string from a rafter. As she gave the signal. Hannah sighed, and, picking up a broomhandle, started the target to swaying, pendulum fashion; Tish followed it with the gun.
I thought things had gone far enough, so I stepped into the cellar and spoke in ringing tones.
"Letitia Carberry!" I said sternly.
Tish pulled the trigger at that moment and the bullet went into the furnace pipe. It was absurd, of course, for Tish to blame me for it, but she turned on me in a rage.
"Look what you made me do!" she snapped. "Can't a person have a moment's privacy?"
"What I think you need," I retorted, "is six months' complete seclusion in a sanitarium."
"You nearly shot us in the upper hall," Aggie put in warmly.
"Well, as long as I didn't shoot you in the upper hall or any other place, I guess you needn't fuss," said Tish. "Ready, Hannah."
This time she shot Hannah in the broomhandle, and practically put her hors de combat; but the shot immediately after was what Tish triumphantly called a clean bull's-eye—that is, it hit the center of the target.
That is the time to stop, when one has made a bull's-eye in any sort of achievement, I take it. And Tish is nobody's fool. She took off her spectacles and wiped the perspiration and gunpowder streaks from her face. She was immediately in high good humor.
"Every unprotected female should know how to handle a weapon," she said oracularly, and, sitting down on the edge of the coal-bin, proceeded to swab out the gun with a wad of cotton on the end of a stick.
"The poker has been good enough for you for fifty years," I retorted. "And if you think you look sporty, or anything but idiotic, sitting there in a flowered kimono and swabbing out the throat of that gun——?"
Just then the janitor came down, and Tish gave him a dollar for the use of the cellar and did not mention the furnace pipe. Aggie and I glanced at each other. Tish's demoralization had begun. From that minute, to the long and entirely false story she told the red-bearded man in Thunder Cloud Glen several days later, she trod, as Aggie truthfully said, the downward path of mendacity, bringing up in the county jail and hysterics.
We went upstairs, Tish ahead and Aggie and I two flights behind, believing that Tish with an unloaded gun was a thousand times more dangerous than any outlaw with an entire arsenal loaded to the muzzle.
We had a cup of tea in Tish's parlor, but she kept us out of the bedroom, where we could hear Miss Swift running the sewing machine. Finally Aggie said out of a clear sky:
"Have you had any answers to your advertisement?"
Tish, who had been about to put a slice of lemon in her tea, put it in her mouth instead and stared at us both.
"We know all about it, Tish," I said. "And if you think it proper for a woman of your age to go adventuring with only a donkey for company——"
"I've had worse!" Tish snapped. "And I'm not feeble yet, as far as my age goes. If I want to take a walking tour it's my affair, isn't it?"
"You can't walk with your bad knee," I objected. Tish sniffed.
"You're envious, that's what," she sneered. "While you are sitting at home, overeating and oversleeping and getting fat in mind and body, I shall be on the broad highway, walking between hedgerows of flowering—flowering—well, between hedgerows. While you sleep in stuffy, upholstered rooms I shall lie in woodland glades in my sleeping-bag and see overhead the constellation of—of what's its name. I shall talk to the birds and the birds will talk to me."
Sleeping-bag! That was what Aggie had meant that Miss Swift was making.
"What are you going to do when it rains?"
"It doesn't rain much in May. Anyhow, a friendly farmhouse and a glass of milk—even a barn——"
Aggie got up with the light of desperation in her eyes. Aggie hates woods and gnats, has no eye for Nature, and for almost half a century has pampered her body in a featherbed poultice, with the windows closed, until the first of June each year. Yet Aggie rose to the crisis.
"You shan't go alone, Tish," she said stoutly. "You'll forget to change your stockings when your feet are wet and you can't make a cup of coffee fit to drink. I'm going too."
Tish made a gesture of despair, but Aggie was determined. Tish glanced at me.
"Well?" she snapped. "We might as well make it a family excursion. Aren't you coming along, too, to look after Aggie?"
"Not at all," I observed calmly. "I'll have enough to do looking after myself. But I like the idea, and since you've invited me I'll come, of course."
At first I am afraid Tish was not particularly pleased. She said she had it all planned to make four miles an hour, or about forty miles a day; and that any one falling back would have to be left by the wayside. And that if we were not prepared to sleep on the ground, or were going to talk rheumatism every time she found a place to camp, she would thank us to remember that we had really asked ourselves.
But she grew more cheerful finally and seemed to be glad to talk over the details of the trip with somebody. She said it was a pity we had not had some practice with firearms, for we would each have to take a weapon, the mountains being full of outlaws, more than likely. Neither Aggie nor I could use a gun at all, but, as Tish observed, we could pot at trees and fenceposts along the road by way of practice.
When I suggested that the sight of three women of our age—we are all well on toward fifty; Aggie insists that she is younger than I am, but we were in the same infant class in Sunday-school—three women of our age "potting" at fences was hardly dignified, Tish merely shrugged her shoulders.
She asked us not to let Charlie Sands learn of the trip. He would be sure to be fussy and want to send a man along, and that would spoil it all.
What with the secrecy, and the guns and everything, I dare say we were like a lot of small boys getting ready to run away out West and kill Indians. In fact, Tish said it reminded her of the time, years ago, when Charlie Sands and some other boys had run away, with all the carving knives and razors they could gather together, and were found a week later in a cave in the mountains twenty miles or so from town.
Tish showed us her sleeping-bag, which was felt outside and her old white fur rug within. Aggie planned hers immediately on the same lines, with her fur coat as a lining; but I had mine made of oilcloth outside, my rheumatism having warned me that we were going to have rain. I was right about the rain.
I had an old army revolver that had belonged to my father, and of course Tish had her coal-cellar rifle, but Aggie had nothing more dangerous than a bayonet from the Mexican War. This being too heavy to carry, and dull—being only possible as a weapon by bringing the handle down on one's opponent's head—Aggie was forced to buy a revolver.
The man in the shop tried to sell her a small pearl-handled one, but she would not look at it. She bought one of the sort that goes on shooting as long as one holds a finger on the trigger—a snub-nosed thing that looked as deadly as it was. She was in terror of it from the moment she got it home, and during most of the trip it was packed in excelsior, with the barrel stuffed with cotton, on Modestine's back.
Which brings me to Modestine.
Tish received three answers to her advertisement: One was a mule, one a piebald pony with a wicked eye, and the third was a donkey. It seemed that Stevenson had said that the pack animal of such a trip should be "cheap, small and hardy," and that a donkey best of all answered these requirements.
The donkey in question was, however, not a female. Tish was firm about this; but on no more donkeys being offered, she bought this one and called him Modestine anyhow. He was very dirty, and we paid a dollar extra to have him washed with soap powder, as our food was to be carried on his back. Also the day before we started I spent an hour or so on him with a fine comb, with gratifying results.
I must confess I entered on the adventure with a light heart. Tish had apparently given up all thought of the aeroplane; her automobile was being used by Charlie Sands; the weather was warm and sunny, and the orchards were in bloom. I had no premonition of danger. The adventure, reduced to its elements of canned food, alcohol lamp, sleeping-bags and toothbrushes, seemed no adventure at all, but a peaceful and pastoral excursion by three middle-aged women into green fields and pastures new.
We reckoned, however, without Aggie's missionary dime.
Aggie's church had sent each of its members a ten-cent piece, with instructions to invest it in some way and to return it multiplied as much as possible in three months. This was on Aggie's mind, but we did not know it until later. Really, Aggie's missionary dime is the story. If she had done as she had planned at first and invested it in an egg, had hatched the egg in cotton wool on the shelf over her kitchen range and raised the chicken, eventually selling the chicken to herself for dinner at seventy-five cents, this story would never have been written.
What the dime really bought was a glass of jelly wrapped in a two-day-old newspaper. But to go back:
We were to start from Tish's at dawn on Tuesday morning. Modestine's former owner had agreed to bring him at that hour to the alley behind Tish's apartment. On Monday Aggie and I sent over what we felt we could not get along without, and about five we both arrived.
Tish was sitting on the floor, with luggage scattered all round her and heaped on the chairs and bed.
She looked up witheringly when we entered.
"You forgot your opera cloak, Lizzie," she said, "and Aggie has only sent five pairs of shoes!"
"I've got to have shoes," Aggie protested.
"If you've got to have five pairs of shoes, six white petticoats, summer underwear, intermediates and flannels, a bathrobe, six bath towels and a sunshade, not to mention other things, you want an elephant, not a donkey."
"Why do we have a donkey?" I asked. "Why don't we have a horse and buggy, and go like Christians?"
"Because you and Aggie wouldn't walk if we did," snapped Tish. "I know you both. You'd have rheumatism or a corn and you'd take your walking trip sitting. Besides, we may not always keep to the roads. I'd like to go up into the mountains."
Well, Tish was disagreeable, but right. As it turned out the donkey, being small, could only carry the sleeping-bags, our portable stove and the provisions. We each were obliged to pack a suitcase and carry that.
We started at dawn the next day. Hannah came down to the alley and didn't think much of Modestine. By the time he was loaded a small crowd had gathered, and when we finally started off, Tish ahead with Modestine's bridle over her arm and Aggie and I behind with our suitcases, a sort of cheer went up. It was, however, an orderly leave-taking, perhaps owing to the fact that Tish's rifle was packed in full view on Modestine's back.
I have a great admiration for Tish. She does not fear the pointing finger of scorn. She took the most direct route out of town, and by the time we had reached the outskirts we had a string of small boys behind us like the tail of a kite. When we reached the cemetery and sat down to rest they formed a circle round us and stared at us.
Tish looked at her watch. We had been an hour and twenty minutes going two miles!
We were terribly thirsty, but none of us cared to drink from the cemetery well; in fact, the question of water bothered us all that day. It was very warm, and after we left the suburban trolley-line, where motormen stopped the cars to look at us and people crowded to the porches to stare at us, the water question grew serious. Tish had studied sanitation, and at every farm we came to the well was improperly located. Generally it was immediately below the pigsty.
Luckily we had brought along some blackberry cordial, and we took a sip of that now and then. But the suitcases were heavy, and at eleven o'clock Aggie said the cordial had gone to her head and she could go no farther. Tish was furious.
"I told you how it would be!" she said. "For about forty years you haven't used your legs except to put shoes and stockings on. Of course they won't carry you."
"It isn't my feet, it's my head," Aggie sniffed. "If I had some water I'd b-be all right. If you're going to examine everything you drink with a microscope you might as well have stayed at home."
"I'd have died before I drank out of that last well," snapped Tish. "One could tell by looking at that woman that there are dead rats and things in the water."
"You are not so particular at home," Aggie asserted. "You use vinegar, don't you? And I'm sure it's full of wrigglers. You can see them when you hold the cruet to the light."
We got her to go on finally, and at the next well we boiled a pailful of water and made some tea. We found a grove beside the road and built a fire in our stove there, and while Modestine was grazing we sat and soaked our feet in a brook and looked for blisters. Tish calculated that as we had been walking for six hours we'd probably gone twenty-two miles. But I believe it was about eight.
While we drank our tea and ate the luncheon Hannah had put up we discussed our plans. Tish's original scheme had been to follow the donkey; but as he would not move without some one ahead, leading him, this was not feasible.
"We want to keep away from the beaten path," Tish said with a pickle in one hand and her cup in the other. "These days automobiles go everywhere. I'm in favor of heading straight for the mountain."
"I'm not," I said firmly. "Here in civilization we can find a barn on a rainy night."
"There are plenty of caves in the mountains," said Tish. "Besides, to get the real benefit of this we ought to sleep out, rain or shine. A gentle spring rain hurts no one."
We rested for two hours; it was very pleasant. Modestine ate all that was left of the luncheon, and Aggie took a nap with her head on her suitcase. If we had not had the suitcases we should have been quite contented. Tish, with her customary ability, solved that.
"We need only one suitcase," she declared. "We can leave the other two at this farmhouse and pack a few things for each of us in the one we take along. Then we can take turns carrying it."
Aggie wakened finally and was rather more docile about the suitcases than we had expected. Possibly she would have been more indignant; but her feet had swollen so while she had her shoes off that she could hardly get them on at all, and for the remainder of the day her mind was, you may say, in her feet.
At four we stopped again and made more tea. The road had begun to rise toward the hills and the farmhouses were fewer. Ahead of us loomed Thunder Cloud Mountain, with the Camel's Back to the right of it. The road led up the valley between.
It was hardly a road at all, being a grass-grown wagontrack with not a house in a mile. Aggie was glad of the grass, for she had taken off her shoes by that time and was carrying them slung over her shoulder on the end of her parasol. We were on the lower slope of the mountain when we heard the green automobile.
It was coming rapidly from behind us. Aggie had just time to sit on a bank—and her feet—before it came in sight. It was a long, low, bright-green car and there were four men in it. They were bent forward, looking ahead, except one man who sat so he could see behind him.
They came on us rather suddenly, and the man who was looking back yelled to us as they passed, but what with noise and dust I couldn't make out what he said. The next moment the machine flew ahead and out of sight among the trees.
"What did he say?" I asked. Aggie, who has a tendency to hay-fever, was sneezing in the dust.
"I don't know," returned Tish absently, staring after them. "Probably asked us if we wanted a ride. Lizzie, those men had guns!"
"Fiddlesticks!" I said.
"Guns!" repeated Tish firmly.
"Well, what of it? Our donkey has a gun."
And as at that instant the sleeping-bags and provisions slid gently round under Modestine's stomach, the green automobile and its occupants passed out of our minds for a while.
By the time we had got the things on Modestine's back again we were convinced he had been a mistake. He objected to standing still to be reloaded, and even with Tish at his head and Aggie at his tail he kept turning in a circle, and in fact finally kicked out at Aggie and stretched her in the road. Then, too, his back was not flat like a horse's. It went up to a sort of peak, and was about as handy to pack things on as the ridge-pole of a roof.
For an hour or so more we plodded on. Tish, who is an enthusiast about anything she does, kept pointing out wild flowers to us and talking about the unfortunates back in town under roofs. But I kept thinking of a broiled lamb chop with new potatoes, and my whole being revolted at the thought of supper out of a can.
At twilight we found a sort of recess in the valley, level and not too thickly wooded, and while Tish and I set up the stove and lighted a fire Aggie spread out the sleeping-bags and got supper ready. We had canned salmon and potato salad. We ate ravenously and then, taking off our shoes and our walking suits, and getting into our flannel kimonos and putting up our crimps—for we were determined not to lapse into slovenly personal habits—we were ready for the night.
Tish said there were all sorts of animals on Thunder Cloud, so we built a large fire to keep them away. Tish said this was the customary thing, being done in all the adventure books she had read.
Aggie had to be helped into her sleeping-bag, her fur coat having been rather skimp. But, once in, she said it was heavenly, and she was asleep almost immediately. Tish and I followed, and I found I had placed my bag over a stone. I was, however, too tired to get up.
I lay and looked at the stars twinkling above the treetops, and I felt sorry for people who had nothing better to look at than a wall-papered ceiling. Tish, next to me, was yawning.
"If there are snakes," she observed drowsily, "they are not poisonous—I should think. And, anyhow, no snake could strike through these heavy bags."
She went to sleep at once, but I lay there thinking of snakes for some time. Also I remembered that we'd forgotten to leave our weapons within reach, although, as far as that goes, I should not have slept a wink had Aggie had her Fourth-of-July celebration near at hand. Then I went to sleep. The last thing I remember was wishing we had brought a dog. Even a box of cigars would have been some protection—we could have lighted one and stuck it in the crotch of a tree, as if a man was mounting guard over the camp. This idea, of course, was not original. It was done first by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, the detective.
It must have been toward dawn that I roused, with a feeling that some one was looking down at me. The fire was very low and Aggie was sleeping with her mouth open. I got up on my elbow and stared round. There was nothing in sight, but through the trees I heard a rustling of leaves and the crackling of brushwood. Whatever it was it had gone. I turned over and before long went to sleep again.
At daylight I was roused by raindrops splashing on my face. I sat up hastily. Aggie was sleeping with the flap of her bag over her head, and Tish, under an umbrella, was sitting fully dressed on a log, poring over her road map. When I sat up she glanced over at me.
"I think I know where we are now, Lizzie," she said. "Thunder Cloud Mountain is on our left, and that hill there to the right is the Camel's Back. The road goes right up Thunder Cloud Glen."
I looked at the fire, which was out; at Modestine, standing meekly by the tree to which he was tied; at the raindrops bounding off Aggie's round and prostrate figure—and I rebelled. Every muscle was sore; it hurt me even to yawn.
"Letitia Carberry!" I said indignantly. "You don't mean to tell me that, rain or no rain, you are going on?"
"Certainly I am going on," said Tish, shutting her jaw. "You and Aggie needn't come. I'm sure you asked yourselves; I didn't."
Well, that was true, of course. I crawled out and, going over, prodded at Aggie with my foot.
"Aggie," I said, "it is raining and Tish is going on anyhow. Will you go on with her or start back home with me?"
But Aggie refused to do either. She was terribly stiff and she had slept near a bed of May-apple blossoms. In the twilight she had not noticed them, and they always bring her hay-fever.
"I'b goi'g to stay right here," she said firmly between sneezes. "You cad go back or forward or whatever you please; I shad't bove."
Tish was marking out a route on the road map by making holes with a hairpin, and now she got up and faced us.
"Very well," she said. "Then get your things out of the suitcase, which happens to be mine. Lizzie, the canned beans and the sardines are yours. Aggie, your potato salad is in those six screw-top jars. Come, Modestine."
She untied the beast and, leading him over, loaded her sleeping-bag and her share of the provisions on his back. She did not glance at us. At the last, when she was ready, she picked up her rifle and turned to us.
"I may not be back for a week or ten days," she said icily. "If I'm longer than two weeks you can start Charlie Sands out with a posse."
Charlie Sands is her nephew.
"Come, Modestine," said Tish again, and started along. It was raining briskly by that time, and thundering as if a storm was coming. Aggie broke down suddenly.
"Tish! Tish!" she wailed. "Oh, Lizzie, she'll never get back alive. Never! We've killed her."
"She's about killed us!" I snarled.
"She's coming back!"
Sure enough, Tish had turned and was stalking back in our direction.
"I ought to leave you where you are," she said disagreeably, "but it's going to storm. If you decide to be sensible, somewhere up the valley is the cave Charlie Sands hid in when he ran away. I think I can find it."
It was thundering louder now, and Aggie was giving a squeal with every peal. We were too far gone for pride. I helped her out of her sleeping-bag and we started after Tish and the donkey. The rain poured down on us. At every step torrents from Thunder Cloud and the Camel's Back soaked us. The wind howled up the ravine and the lightning played round the treetops.
We traveled for three hours in that downpour.
Only once did Tish speak, and then we could hardly hear her above the rush of water and the roar of the wind.
"There's one comfort," she said, wading along knee-deep in a torrent. "These spring rains give nobody cold."
An hour later she spoke again, but that was at the end of that journey.
"I don't believe this is the right valley after all," she said. "I don't see any cave." We stopped to take our bearings, as you may say, and as we stood there, looking up, I could have sworn that I saw a man with a gun peering down at us from a ledge far above. But the next moment he was gone, and neither Tish nor Aggie had seen him at all.
We found the cave soon after and climbed to it on our hands and knees, pulling Modestine up by his bridle. A more outrageous quartet it would have been impossible to find, or a more outraged one. Aggie let down her dress, which she had pinned round her waist, releasing about a quart of water from its folds, and stood looking about her with a sneer. "I don't think much of your cave," she said. "It's little and it's dirty."
"It's dry!" said Tish tartly.
"Why stop at all?" Aggie asked sarcastically. "Why not just have kept on? We couldn't get any wetter."
"Yes," I added, "between flowering hedgerows! And of course these spring rains give nobody cold!"
Tish did not say a word. She took off her shoes and her skirt, got her sleeping-bag off Modestine's back, and—went to bed with the worst attack of neuralgia she had ever had.
That was on Wednesday, late in the afternoon.
It rained for two days!
We built a fire out of the wood that was in the cave, and dried out our clothes, and heated stones to put against Tish's right eye, and brought in wet branches to dry against the time when we should need them. Aggie sneezed incessantly in the smoke, and Tish groaned in her corner. I was about crazy. On Thursday, when the edge of the neuralgia was gone, Tish promised to go home the moment the rain stopped and the roads dried. Aggie and I went to her together and implored her.
But, as it turned out, we did not go home for some days, and when we did——
By Thursday evening Tish was much better. She ate a little potato salad and we sat round the fire, listening to her telling how they had found the runaways in this very cave.
"They had taken all the hatchets and kitchen knives they could find and started to hunt Indians," she was saying. "They got as far as this cave, and one evening about this time they were sitting round the fire like this when a black bear——"
We all heard it at the same moment. Something was scrambling and climbing up the mountainside to the cave. Tish had her rifle to her shoulder in a second, and Aggie shut her eyes. But it was not a bear that appeared at the mouth of the cave and stood blinking in the light. It was a young man!
"I beg your pardon," he said, peering into the firelight, "but—you don't happen to have a spare box of matches, do you?"
Tish lowered the rifle.
"Matches!" she said. "Why—er—certainly. Aggie, give the gentleman some matches."
The young man had edged into the cave by that time and we saw that he was limping and leaning on a stick. He looked round the cave approvingly at our three sleeping-bags in an orderly row, with our toilet things set out on a clean towel on a flat stone and a mirror hung above, and at our lantern on another stone, with magazines and books grouped round it. Aggie, finding some trailing arbutus just outside the cave that day, had got two or three empty salmon cans about filled with it, and the fur rug from Tish's sleeping-bag lay in front of the fire. The effect was really civilized.
"It looks like a drawing room," said the young man, with a long breath. "It's the first dry spot I've seen for two days, and it looks like Heaven to a lost soul."
"Where are you stopping?"
"I am not stopping. I am on a walking tour, or was until I hurt my leg."
"Don't you think you'd better wait until things dry up?"
"And starve?" he asked.
"The woods are full of nuts and berries," said Tish.
"Not in May."
"And there is plenty of game."
"Yes, if one has a weapon," he replied. "I lost my gun when I fell into Thunder Creek; in fact, I lost everything except my good name. What's that thing of Shakespeare's: 'Who steals my purse steals trash, ... but he——'"
Aggie found the matches just then and gave him a box. He was almost pathetically grateful. Tish was still staring at him. To find on Thunder Cloud Mountain a young man who quoted Shakespeare and had lost everything but his good name—even Stevenson could hardly have had a more unusual adventure.
"What are you going to do with the matches?" she demanded as he limped to the cave mouth.
"Light a fire if I can find any wood dry enough to light. If I can't—— Well, you remember the little match-seller in Hans Christian Andersen's story, who warmed her fingers with her own matches until they were all gone and she froze to death!"
Hans Christian Andersen and Shakespeare!
"Can't you find a cave?" asked Tish.
"I had a cave," he said, "but——"
"Three charming women found it while I was out on the mountainside. They needed the shelter more than I, and so——"
"What!" Tish exclaimed. "This is your cave?"
"Not at all; it is yours. The fact that I had been stopping in it gave me no right that I was not happy to waive."
"There was nothing of yours in it," Tish said suspiciously.
"As I have told you, I have lost everything but my good name and my sprained ankle. I had them both out with me when you——"
"We will leave immediately," said Tish. "Aggie, bring Modestine."
"Ladies, ladies!" cried the young man. "Would you make me more wretched than I already am? I assure you, if you leave I shall not come back. I should be too unhappy."
Well, nothing could have been fairer than his attitude. He wished us to stay on. But as he limped a step or two into the night Aggie turned on us both in a fury.
"That's it," she said. "Let him go, of course. So long as you are dry and comfortable it doesn't matter about him."
"Well, you are dry and comfortable too," snapped Tish. "What do you expect us to do?"
"Call him back. Let him sleep here by the fire. Give him something to eat; he looks starved. If you're afraid it isn't proper we can hang our kimonos up for curtains and make him a separate room."
But we did not need to call him. He had limped back and stood in the firelight again.
"You—you haven't seen anything of the bandits, have you?" he asked.
"Train robbers. I thought you had probably run across them."
All at once we remembered the green automobile and the four men with guns. We told him about it and he nodded.
"That would be they," he said. As Tish remarked later, we knew from that instant that he was a gentleman. Even Charlie Sands would probably have said "them." "They got away very rapidly, and I dare say an automobile would be—— Did one of them have a red beard?"
"Yes," we told him. "The one who called to us."
Well, he said that on Monday night an express car on the C. & L. Railroad had been held up. The pursuit had gone in another direction, but he was convinced from what we said that they were there in Thunder Cloud Glen!
As Tish said, the situation was changed if there were outlaws about. We were three defenseless women, and here was a man brought providentially to us! She asked him at once to join our party and look after us until we got to civilization again, or at least until the roads were dry enough to travel on.
"To look after you!" he said with a smile. "I, with a bad leg and no weapon!"
At that Aggie brought out her new revolver and gave it to him. He whistled when he looked at it. "Great Scott!" he said. "What a weapon for a woman! Why, you don't need any help. You could kill all the outlaws in the county at one loading!"
But finally he consented to take the revolver and even to accept the shelter of the cave for that night anyhow, although we had to beg him to do that. "How do you know I'll not get up in the night and take all your valuables and gallop away on your trusty steed before morning?" he asked.
"We'll take a chance," Tish said dryly. "In the first place, we have nothing more valuable than the portable stove; and in the second place, if you can make Modestine gallop you may have him."
It is curious, when I look back, to think how completely he won us all. He was young—not more than twenty-six, I think—and dressed for a walking tour, in knickerbockers, with a blue flannel shirt, heavy low shoes and a soft hat. His hands were quite white. He kept running them over his chin, which was bluish, as if a day or two's beard was bothering him.
We asked him if he was hungry, and he admitted that he could hardly remember when he had eaten. So we made him some tea and buttered toast, and opened and heated a can of baked beans. He ate them all.
"Good gracious," he said, with the last spoonful, "what a world it would be without women!"
At that he fell into a sort of study, looking at the fire, and we all saw that he looked sad again and rather forlorn.
"Yes," Tish said, "you're all ready enough to shout 'Beware of woman' until you are hungry or uncomfortable or hurt, and then you are all just little boys again, crying for somebody to kiss the bump."
"But when it is a woman who has given the—er—bump?" he asked.
Aggie is romantic. Years ago she was engaged to a Mr. Wiggins, a roofer, who met with an accident due to an icy roof. She leaned forward and looked at him with sympathy.
"That's it, is it?" she asked gently.
He tried to smile, but we could all see that he was suffering.
"Yes, that's it—partly at least," he said.
"That is, if it were not for a woman——" He stopped abruptly. "But why should I bother you with my troubles?"
We were curious, of course; but it is hardly good taste to ask a man to confide his heartaches. As Tish said, the best cure for a masculine heartache is to make the man comfortable. We did all we could. I dried his coat by the fire, and Tish made hot arnica compresses for his ankle, which was blue and swollen. I believe Aggie would gladly have sat by and held his hand, but he had crawled into his shell of reserve again and would not be coaxed out.
"I have a nephew about your age," Tish said when he objected to her bathing his ankle. "I'm doing for you what I should do for Charlie Sands under the same circumstances."
"Charlie Sands!" he said, and I was positive he started. But he said nothing, and we only remembered that later. We were glad to have a man about. Heaven only knows why women persist in regarding men as absolute protection against fire, burglars and lightning. But they do. A sharp storm came up at that time, and ordinarily Aggie would have been in her sleeping-bag, with Modestine's saddle on top by way of extra protection. But now, from sheer bravado, she went to the mouth of the cave and stood looking out at the lightning.
"Come and look at it, Tish!" she said.
"It's—— Good gracious! There's a man across the valley with a gun!"
We all ran to the mouth of the cave except the walking-tour gentleman, who had his foot in a collapsible basin of arnica and hot water. But none of us saw Aggie's man.
When we went back: "Wouldn't it be better to darken things up a bit?" he suggested. "If there are bandits round it isn't necessary to send out a welcome to them, you know."
This seemed only sensible. We put the fire out and sat in the warm darkness. And that was when our gentleman told us his story.
"Ladies," he began, "in saying that I am on a walking tour I am telling the truth, but only part of the truth. I am on a walking tour, but not for pleasure. To be frank, I—I am after the outlaws who robbed the express car on the C. & L. Railroad Monday night."
I heard Aggie gasp in the dark.
"Did you expect to capture them with a walking-stick?" Tish demanded. She might treat his ankle as she would treat Charlie Sands' ankle, but—Tish has not Aggie's confidence in people, or mine.
"Perfectly well taken," he said good-humoredly. "I left home with an entire arsenal in my knapsack, but, as I say, I lost everything when I fell into the flooded creek. Everything, that is, but my——"
"Good name?" Aggie suggested timidly.
"Determination. That I still have. Ladies, I'm not going back empty-handed."
"Then you are in the Government service?" Tish asked with more respect.
"Have you ever heard of George Muldoon, generally known as Felt-hat Muldoon?"
Had we? Weren't the papers full of him week after week? Wasn't it Muldoon who had brought back the communion service to my church, with nothing missing and only a dent in one of the silver pitchers? Hadn't he just sent up Tish's own Italian fruit dealer for writing blackhand letters? Wasn't he the best sheriff the county had ever had?
"Muldoon!" gasped Tish. "You Muldoon!"
"Not tonight or for the next two or three days. After that—— Tonight, ladies, and for a day or two, why not adopt me to be your nephew—what was his name—Sands?—accompanying you on a walking tour?"
Adopt him! The great Muldoon! We'd have married him if he had said the word, name and all. We sat back and stared at him, open-mouthed. To think that he had come to us for help, and that in aiding him we were furthering the cause of justice!
He talked for quite a long time in the darkness, telling us of his adventures. He remembered perfectly about getting back the silver for the church, and about Tish's Italian, and then at last, finding us good listeners, he told about the girl.
"Is it—er—money?" Aggie breathlessly asked.
"Well—partly," he admitted. "I don't make much, of course."
"But with the rewards and all that?" asked Aggie, who'd been sitting forward with her mouth open.
"Rewards? Oh, well, of course I get something that way. But it isn't steady money. A chap can't very well go to a girl's father and tell him that, if somebody murders somebody else and escapes and he captures him, he can pay the rent and the grocery bill."
"Is she pretty?" asked Aggie.
"Beautiful!" His tone was ardent enough to please even Aggie.
He sat without speaking for a time, and none of us liked to interrupt him. Outside it had stopped raining, and the moon was coming up over the Camel's Back. We could hear Modestine stirring in the thicket and a watery ray of moonlight came into the cave and threw our shadows against the wall.
"If only," said Sheriff Muldoon thoughtfully—"If only I could get my hands on that chap with the red beard!"
We all went to bed soon after. Aggie, as usual, went to sleep at once, and soon, from, behind the kimono screen across the cave, loud noises told us that Mr. Muldoon also slept. It was then that Tish crept over and put her mouth to my ear.
"That may be Muldoon all right," she whispered. "But if it is he's got a wife and two children. Mrs. Muldoon is related to Hannah."
Somehow, with the morning our suspicions, if we had any, vanished. Mr. Muldoon had been up at dawn, and when we wakened he had already brought water from a near-by spring and was boiling some in the teakettle.
Seen by daylight, he was very good-looking. He had blue eyes with black lashes and dark-brown hair, and a habit of getting up when any of us did that kept him on his feet most of the time. His limp was rather better—or his ankle.
"That's what a little mothering has done for me," he said gayly, over his coffee and mackerel. "It's a long time since I've had any one to do anything like that for me."
"But surely your wife——" began Tish. He started and changed color. We all saw it.
"You've got a wife and two children, haven't you?"
He looked at us all and drew a long breath.
"Ladies," he said, "I see some of my painful history is known to you. May I ask—is it too much to beg—that—that we do not discuss that part of my life?"
Tish apologized at once. We could not tell, from what he said, whether he had been divorced or had lost them all from scarlet fever. Whichever it was, I must say he was not depressed for very long, although he had reason enough for depression, as we soon learned.
"It's like this," he said. "They know I'm here in the glen—the outlaws, I mean. The red-bearded man, Naysmith, has sworn to get me."
"Get you?" from Aggie.
"Shoot me. The other three all owe me grudges, too, but Naysmith's the worst. He's just out of the pen—I got him a ten-year sentence for this very thing, robbing an express car."
"Ten years!" I exclaimed. "You look as if you hadn't shaved in ten years!"
He looked at me and smiled.
"I'm older than you think," he said, "and, anyhow, he got a lot off for good behavior. It's outrageous, the discount that's given to a criminal for behaving himself. He got—I think I am right when I say—yes, he was sent up in '07—he got seven years off his sentence."
We all thought that this was a grave mistake, and Tish, whose father was once warden of the penitentiary, observed that there was nothing like that in old times, and she would write to the governor about it. Tish has written to the governor several times, the last occasion being the rise in price of brooms.
"It's like this," said Mr. Muldoon. "They've got the glen guarded. There's a man at each end and the rest are covering the hilltops. A squirrel couldn't get out without their knowledge. I might have before I got this leg, but now I'm done for."
"Oh, no!" we chorused.
"It amounts to that," he said dejectedly. "They've been watching you women and they're not afraid of you. As long as I stay in the cave here I'm safe enough, but let me poke my nose out and I'm gone. It's an awful thing to have to hide behind a woman's petticoats!"
We could only silently sympathize.
It was bright and clear that day. The sun came out and dried the road below. It would have been a wonderful day to go on, but none of us thought of it. As Tish said, here was a chance to assist the law and a fellow being in peril of his life. Our place was there.
Even had we doubted Mr. Muldoon's story, we had proof of it before noon. A man with a gun came out on a ledge of rock across the valley and stood, with his hands to his eyes, peering across at our cave. Tish was hanging some of our clothing out to dry, and although she saw the outlaw as well as we did she did not flinch. After a time the man seemed satisfied and disappeared.
Tish came into the cave then and took a spoonful of blackberry cordial. As we knew, her intrepid spirit had not quailed; but, as she said, one's body is never as strong as one's soul. Her knees were shaking.
We put in a quiet and restful afternoon. Mr. Muldoon had a pack of cards with him and we played whist. He played a very fair game, but he was on the alert all the time. At every sound he started, and once or twice he slipped out into the thicket and searched the glen in every direction with his eyes.
He had asked us, if the outlaws surprised us, to say that he was Tish's nephew, Charlie Sands, and to stick to it. "Unless it's Naysmith," he said. "He knows me." From that to calling us Aunt Tish, Aunt Aggie and Aunt Lizzie was very easy. At four o'clock we stopped playing, with Mr. Muldoon easily the winner, and Aggie made fudge for everybody.
Late in the afternoon Tish called me aside. She said she did not want Mr. Muldoon to feel that he was a burden, but that we were almost out of provisions. We had expected to buy eggs, milk and bread at farmhouses, and instead we had been shut up in the cave. She thought there was a farm up the glen, having heard a cow-bell, and she wanted me to go and find out.
"Go yourself!" I said somewhat rudely. "If you want to be shot down in your tracks by outlaws, well and good. I don't."
Aggie, called aside, refused as firmly as I had. Tish stood and looked at us both with her lip curling.
"Very well," she said coldly; "I shall go. But if I get my neuralgia again from wading through the creek bottom don't blame me!"
She put on her overshoes and, taking a tin bucket for milk and her trusty rifle, she started while Mr. Muldoon was showing Aggie a new game of solitaire. I went to the cave mouth with her and listened to the crackling of twigs as she slid down into the valley. She came into view at the bottom much sooner than I had expected, having, as I learned later, slipped on a loose stone and rolled fully half the way down.
The next two hours seemed endless. Mr. Muldoon, tiring of solitaire, had rolled himself up in a corner and was peacefully sleeping, with his injured foot on Aggie's hop pillow. Aggie and I sat on guard, one on each side of the cave mouth, and stared down at the valley, which was darkening rapidly.
Tish had been gone two hours and a half and no sign of her, when Aggie began to cry softly.
"She'll never come back!" she whimpered. "The outlaws have got her and killed her. Oh, Tish, Tish!"
"Why would they kill her?" I demanded. "Because she's trying to buy milk and eggs?"
"B-because she knows too much," Aggie wailed. "We've found their lair, that's why—don't tell me this isn't an outlaw's cave. It's just b-built for it. They'll do away with her and then they'll come after us."
Aggie never carries a secret weight in her bosom. She always opens up her heart to the nearest listener. This probably relieves Aggie, but it does not make her a cheerful companion. Eight o'clock and darkness came, and still no Tish. I went into the cave and brought out my gun, and Aggie roused Mr. Muldoon and explained the situation to him. He grew quite white.
"Good heavens!" he exclaimed. "What possessed her anyhow? To the farmhouse! Why, they'll——"
His face more than his words convinced us that the matter was really serious. He examined Aggie's revolver, which he mostly carried in his hip pocket, and, going to the mouth of the cave, listened carefully. Everything was quiet. The cave and both sides of the valley were in deep shadow, but over the ridge of the Camel's Back across from us there was still a streak of red sunset light. Mr. Muldoon looked and pointed.
Against the background of crimson cloud a man's figure stood out clearly. He was peering down toward us, although in the dusk he could hardly have seen us, and he carried a gun. Mr. Muldoon smiled faintly.
"Well, they've spotted me, I guess," he said. "I'd better move on before I get you into trouble. They won't hurt women."
"Why don't you shoot him?" Aggie asked. "It would be one bandit less. If you do arrest him, and he gets nearly all his sentence off for good behavior, he'll be out again in no time, doing more mischief."
But at that moment we saw the man on the hill throw his gun to his shoulder and aim at something moving below in the valley. Aggie screamed, and I believe I did also.
"Tish!" cried Aggie. "He's shooting at Tish!" And at that instant the bandit fired. He fired three times, and the noise of his gun echoed backward and forward among the hills. We thought we heard a yell from, the valley. Then the next second there was a faint crack from below and the outlaw's gun flew out of his hands. Mr. Muldoon's jaw dropped. "Did you see that?" he said feebly. "Did—you—see—that—shot?"
The outlaw disappeared from the skyline and perhaps ten minutes later Tish crawled up to the cave and put down a tin pail full of milk, a glass of jelly wrapped in a newspaper, and a basket of eggs. Aggie fell on her and cried with joy.
"Be careful of those eggs," Tish warned her. "That outlaw charged me forty cents a dozen."
"You gave him a good fright anyhow," said Aggie fondly.
"When you shot at him."
"Oh, that one! I'm talking about the woman at the farm."
"And—the one on the hill over there?"
"Oh! Well, he fired at me and I fired back. That's all."
With an air of exaggerated indifference Tish swaggered into the cave and took off her overshoes.
"Hurry up supper, Ag," she said—never before or since has she called Aggie "Ag"—"I'm starving."
She said she had heard little or nothing. She had found the farmhouse, had bought her supplies from a surly woman and had come away again. Asked by Mr. Muldoon if she had seen any men, she said she had seen a farmhand milking. That was all, except the outlaw on the hill.
But under her calmness Tish was terribly excited. I could tell it by her glittering eyes and the red spot in each cheek. Manlike, Mr. Muldoon did not see these signs; he ate very little and sat watching her, fascinated. Only once, however, did he broach the subject.
"I had no idea you were such a shot, Miss Letitia," he said. "It—that was a marvel."
"Oh, I shoot a little," said Tish coolly. "Only for my own amusement, of course."
Mr. Muldoon made no reply. He was very thoughtful all evening, did not care to play whist, and watched Tish whenever he could, furtively.
Tish herself was in an exalted mood, but not about the shot—she was modest enough about that.
And with cause. Months after she told us how it happened. She said she was carrying the eggs and milk with her left hand and had the gun in her right, when a shot struck a tree beside her. She was so startled that her finger pulled the trigger of her own rifle, which was pointed up, with the result we know of. She would probably never have confessed even then, had she not taken rheumatic fever and thought she was dying.
When Mr. Muldoon went out to fix Modestine for the night Tish called us to the back of the cave.
"I bought the milk and eggs," she said hurriedly, "and having a dime left—your missionary dime, Aggie, I borrowed it—I went back and bought a glass of jelly. Men like preserves. The woman wrapped it in a newspaper, and there is a full account of the robbery and of Muldoon being after the outlaws. He's after the outlaws, but he's after the reward too. They're quoted at a thousand dollars!"
"He can have the thousand dollars for all of me," said Aggie.
"A thousand dollars!" said Tish. "A thousand dollars to hand in to the church as the return from your missionary dime! And if we don't get it Muldoon will! As soon as he can get about on his leg he'll cease being hunted and begin to hunt. Why should he have it? He has plenty of chances, and we'll never have another."
That was all she had a chance to say, Muldoon joining us at that moment.
We retired early, but I did not sleep well. I wakened from time to time and I could hear Tish stirring next to me. At last I reached over and touched her.
"Can't you sleep?" I whispered.
"Don't want to," she whispered back. "I've got it all fixed, Lizzie. We'll take those outlaws back to the city, roped two by two."
It was a cool spring night, but I broke into a hot perspiration.
Tish began with Mr. Muldoon the next morning. He could not leave the cave to carry up water, for daylight revealed another guard across the valley and it was clear we were being watched. While Aggie and I went to the spring Tish talked to him.
She told him that he had undertaken too much, single-handed, and that he should have brought a posse with him. He agreed with her. He said he had started with a posse, but that they had split up. Also he insisted that but for his accident he could have managed easily.
"I'm up against it," he said, "and I know it. They'll get me yet. For the last day or two they've been closing up round this cave, and in a night or two they'll rush it. They've got their headquarters at that farmhouse."
"The thing for you to do then," said Tish, "is to get out while there is time. You can get help and come back."
"And leave you women here alone?"
"They're not after us," Tish replied, "and we've managed alone for a good many years. I guess we'll get along."
But when she proposed her plan, which was that he should put on Aggie's spare outfit and her sun veil and ride out of the valley on Modestine's back in daylight, he objected. He said no outlaw worthy of the name would fall for a thing like that, and he said he wouldn't wear skirts, and that was all there was to it.
But in the end Tish prevailed, as usual.
"I'm going to the farmhouse this morning and I am going to say that one of the ladies is leaving this afternoon and going back home. That will be you. I wish you had a razor, but the veil will hide that. They'll not molest you. You'll not only look like Aggie—you'll be Aggie."
Well, it seemed to be his best chance, although none of us dared to think what might happen if the hat blew off or Aggie's gray alpaca ripped at the seams.
We worked feverishly all day, letting out the dress and setting forward the buttons on her raincoat. Mr. Muldoon was inclined to be sulky. He sat at the back of the cave, playing solitaire and every now and then examining the road maps. Aggie was depressed too. But, as Tish said, getting rid of Muldoon was the first step toward the thousand dollars, and even if Aggie never got her gray alpaca again it had seen its best days.
That morning, while Aggie and I sewed and ripped and Mr. Muldoon sat back in the cave with the road map on his knees, Tish went to the farmhouse. She came back at eleven o'clock with a chicken for dinner and a flush on each cheek.
"I've fixed it, Mr. Muldoon," she said. "I talked to one of the outlaws!"
"What?" screeched Aggie.
"He'd come in for something to eat—the red-bearded one. We had quite a chat. I told him we were traveling like Stevenson—with a donkey; but that one of the ladies had an abscess on a tooth and was going home. He said it was no place for women and offered himself as an escort."
Mr. Muldoon groaned. "What am I going to do if one of them comes up and makes an ass of himself?" he demanded. "Kiss him?"
Tish looked at him coldly.
"You'll have your jaw tied up," she said. "That will cover your chin, and you needn't speak. Point to your jaw. Anyhow, they'll not bother you. I said the toothache had affected your disposition, and we were just as glad you were going. The red-haired man says he's got relatives near the mouth of the valley and you can stay there overnight. One of the men folks pulls teeth in emergencies."
It is hard, writing all this of Tish, to remember that she has always been a truthful woman. As Charlie Sands said later, when we told him the story and he had sat, open-mouthed, staring from one to the other of us, no one knows what depths of mendacity lie behind the most virtuous countenance.
We started "Aggie" off at two o'clock that afternoon, sitting sideways on Modestine, jaw tied up, veiled and sun-hatted, with Aggie's flowered-silk bag hanging to one wrist and a lunch-basket on the other arm. Tish and I saw "her" down the hill and kissed "her" good-by.
This was Tish's idea. I thought it unnecessary, but as a matter of fact, no matter what Charlie Sands may say, it was not a real kiss, going as it did through a veil and a bandage.
The man with a gun watched "her" off, and Tish, having waved "her" out of sight round a curve, looked up at him and nodded. Far away as he was, he saw that and swept his hat off with quite an air.
* * * * *
Tish's plan was very simple. She told us as we cleared up the cave after the day's excitement.
"When I go for the evening milk," she said, "I shall mention that we have a young man with us, a stranger, who has hurt his ankle and cannot walk. And I'll ask for arnica. That's all."
"That's all!" Aggie and I exclaimed together.
"Certainly that's all. Sometime tonight they'll rush the cave."
"You're a fool!" said Aggie shortly.
"Why?" demanded Tish. "We won't be in it. We'll be outside. The moment they are in we'll start to shoot. Not one of them will dare to stick his nose out."
When we told this to Charlie Sands he slid entirely off his chair and sat on the floor. "Not really!" he kept saying over and over. "You dreamed it! You must have! A thing like that!" I hastened to explain. "Tish planned it," I said. I remember him, looking at Tish—who was crocheting as she told the story—and moistening his lips. He was quite green in color.
Clipping from the Morning News of May the seventh:
REMARKABLE EXPERIENCE OF MULDOON AND PARTY IN THUNDER CLOUD GLEN
An extraordinary state of affairs was discovered by the relief party of constables, city and county detectives and state constabulary sent to the relief of Sheriff Muldoon and his posse, who have been on the track of the C. & L. train bandits since last Monday.
The relief party was sent out in response to a telephone message from a farmhouse in Thunder Cloud Glen, and transmitted from the farmer's line to a long-distance wire. This message was to the effect that the sheriff and his posse, shut in a cave, were being held prisoners by the outlaws, being shot at steadily, and that so far every attempt at escape had been thwarted by the terrific fire of the bandits.
A relief party in automobiles was rushed at once to the scene.
Thunder Cloud Glen is a narrow valley between the Camel's Back and Thunder Cloud Mountain. A mile or so from the entrance to the glen the road, always bad and now almost washed away by the recent heavy rains, became impassable. The party abandoned the machines and in skirmish order proceeded up the glen.
Within an hour's time firing was heard, and the rescuers doubled their pace. Passing a bend in the valley, the scene of the outrage lay spread before them: On the left the low mouth of a cave, and across the valley, on a slope of the Camel's Back, a faint cloud of smoke, showing where the outlaws had their lair. As the rescuers came in sight the firing ceased and an ominous stillness hung over the valley.
The relief expedition had been seen by the imprisoned party also. Muldoon's well-known soft felt hat, tied to the end of a pole, was thrust from the cave mouth and waved vigorously up and down, showing that some of the imprisoned party still lived. One solitary shot was aimed at the hat, followed by profound quiet.
Using every precaution, Deputy Sheriff Mulcahy deployed his men with the intention of closing in on the outlaws from, all sides at the same time.
At this time an interesting interruption occurred. From the underbrush at the foot of the Camel's Back emerged three elderly women, their clothing in tatters, and in the wildest excitement. They insisted that the outlaws were in the cave, and hysterical with fright from their terrible experience, declared that they had been holding the bandits in check and demanded the reward for their capture. They were rational enough in other ways and explained that they had been on a walking tour with a donkey. There was, however, no donkey.
Deputy Sheriff Mulcahy, who is noted for his gallantry, sent the three women to a safe place at the rear of the party and detailed a guard to make them, comfortable. It being thought possible that the women were accomplices of the outlaws, precautions were also taken to prevent their escape.
No trace of the outlaws was found. Sheriff Muldoon and his three deputies, now enabled to leave the cave, joined the searchers. Every inch of Thunder Cloud Glen was searched, but without result. Across from the cave mouth, behind a heap of fallen rocks, was found the spot from which the outlaws had been shooting. The ground was trampled and the rock chipped by the return fire from the cave. Here, too, was found a new automatic revolver, a small rifle and another gun of antique pattern. In a crevice of rock was discovered a flowered-silk bag, containing various articles of feminine use, including a packet of powders marked "hay-fever," a small bottle labeled "blackberry cordial," and a dozen or so unexploded cartridges for the revolver.
Convinced now that the three women were accomplices of the outlaws—and this corroborated by Sheriff Muldoon's statement that he had positively seen one of the three women peering over the rock and aiming a rifle at him, and that the same woman, two days before, had fired at him from the valley, knocking his gun out of his hand—Deputy Sheriff Mulcahy promptly arrested the women and had them taken in an automobile to the city.
At the jail, however, it was discovered that an unfortunate error had been made, and the ladies were released. They went at once to their homes. While their names have not been divulged it is reported that they are well known and highly esteemed members of the community, and much sympathy has been expressed for their disagreeable experience.
Up to a late hour last night no trace had been found of the outlaws. It is believed that they have left Thunder Cloud Glen and have penetrated farther into the mountains.
* * * * *
Charlie Sands came for us at the jail. He asked us no questions, which I thought strange, but he got a carriage and took us all to Tish's. He did not speak a word on the way, except to ask us if we had no hats. On Tish's replying meekly that we had left them in the cave, he said nothing more, but sat looking like a storm until we drew up at the house.
I dare say we did look curious. Our clothes were torn and draggled, and although we had washed at the jail we were still somewhat powder-streaked and grimy.
Charlie Sands led us into Tish's parlor and shut the door. Then he turned and surveyed the three of us.
"Sit down," he said grimly.
We sat. He stood looking down at each of us in turn.
"I'll hear the story in a minute," he said, still cold and disagreeable. "But first of all, Aunt Tish, I want to ask you if you realize that this last escapade of yours is a disgrace to the family?"
"Nothing of the sort," Tish asserted with something of her old spirit. "It was all for Aggie's missionary dime. I——"
"A moment," he said, holding up his hand. "I'm going to ask a question. I'll listen after that. Did you or did you not hold up the C. & L. express car?"
We were too astounded to speak.
"Because if you did," he said, "missionary dime or no missionary dime, I shall turn you over to the authorities! I have gone through a lot with you, Aunt Tish, in the past year."
Aggie and I expected to see Tish rise in majesty and point him out of the room. But to our amazement she broke down and cried.
"No," she said feebly, "we didn't rob the car. But oh, Charlie, Charlie! We nursed that wretch Muldoon, and fed him and sent him off on Modestine in Aggie's gray alpaca, and he got away; and if you say to go to jail I'll go."
"The wretch who said he was Muldoon. The—the train robber."
Well, it took hours to tell the story, and when we had all finished and Aggie had gone to bed in Tish's spare room with hysteria, and Tish had gone to bed with tea and toast, Charlie Sands was still walking up and down the parlor, stopping now and then to mutter: "Well, I'll be——" and then going on with his pacing.
Hannah brought me a cup of junket at eight o'clock, for none of us had eaten dinner. I was sitting there with the cup in my lap when the doorbell rang. Charlie Sands answered it. It was a letter addressed to all three of us.
We called Tish and Aggie and they crept in, very subdued and pallid. Charlie Sands opened the letter and read it:
Dear and Charming Ladies: I am abject. What can I say to you, who have just come through such an experience on my account? How can I apologize or explain? Especially as I am confused myself as to what really happened. Did Muldoon actually attack the cave? Were you in it when he arrived? Or is it possible that, with my foolish fabrication in your mind, you attempted—— But that is absurd, of course.
Whatever occurred and however it occurred, I am on my knees to you all. Even a real bandit would have been touched by your kindness. And I am not a real bandit any more than I am a real sheriff.
I am, an ordinary citizen, usually a law-abiding citizen. But as a result of a foolish wager at my club, brought about by the ease with which numerous trains have been robbed recently, I undertook to hold up a C. & L. train with an empty revolver, and to evade capture for a certain length of time. The first part was successful. The train messenger, on seeing my gun, handed me, without a word, a fat package. I had not asked for it. It was a gift. I do not even now know what is in it. The newspapers say it is money. It might have been eggs, as far as I know. The second part would have been simple also, had I not hurt my leg.
Things were looking serious for me when you found me. I shall never forget the cave, or the omelets, or the tea, or the fudge. I can never return your hospitalities, but one thing I can do.
The express company offers a reward of a thousand dollars for my little package. Probably they are right and it is not eggs. Whatever it is, it is buried under the tree where we tied our noble steed, Modestine. Please return the package and claim the reward. If you have scruples against taking it remember that the express company is rich and the Fiji Islanders needy. Turn it in as the increased increment on Miss Aggie's missionary dime.
(Signed) THE OUTLAW OF THUNDER CLOUD.
We found the package, or Charlie Sands found it for us, and the express company paid us the reward. We gave it to Aggie, and with the exception of fifty dollars she turned it all in at the church, where it created almost a riot. With the fifty dollars we purchased, through Charlie Sands, a revolver with a silver inlaid handle, and sent it to the real Sheriff Muldoon. It eased our consciences somewhat.
That was all last spring. It is summer now. Tish is talking again of flowering hedgerows and country lanes, but Aggie and I do not care for the country, and the mere sight of a donkey gives me a chill.
Yesterday evening, on our way to prayer meeting, we heard a great noise of horns coming and stopped to see a four-in-hand go by. A young gentleman was driving, with a pretty girl beside him. As we lined up at the curb he turned smiling from the girl and he caught our eyes.
He started, and then, bowing low, he saluted us from the box.
It was "Muldoon."
TISH DOES HER BIT
From the very beginning of the war Tish was determined to go to France. But she is a truthful woman, and her age kept her from being accepted. She refused, however, to believe that this was the reason, and blamed her rejection on Aggie and myself.
"Age fiddlesticks!" she said, knitting violently. "The plain truth is—and you might as well acknowledge it, Lizzie—that they would take me by myself quick enough, just to get the ambulance I've offered, if for no other reason. But they don't want three middle-aged women, and I don't know that I blame them."
That was during September, I think, and Tish had just received her third rejection. They were willing enough to take the ambulance, but they would not let Tish drive it. I am quite sure it was September, for I remember that Aggie was having hay fever at the time, and she fell to sneezing violently.
Tish put down her knitting and stared at Aggie fixedly until the paroxysm was over.
"Exactly," she observed, coldly. "Imagine me creeping out onto a battlefield to gather up the wounded, and Aggie crawling behind, going off like an alarm clock every time she met a clump of golden rod, or whatever they have in France to produce hay fever."
"I could stay in the ambulance, Tish," Aggie protested.
"I understand," Tish went on, in an inflexible tone, "that those German snipers have got so that they shoot by ear. One sneeze would probably be fatal. Not only that," she went on, turning to me, "but you know perfectly well, Lizzie, that a woman of your weight would be always stepping on brush and sounding like a night attack."
"Not at all," I replied, slightly ruffled. "And for a very good reason. I should not be there. As to my weight, Tish, my mother was always considered merely a fine figure of a woman, and I am just her size. It is only since this rage for skinny women——"
But Tish was not listening. She drew a deep sigh, and picked up her knitting again.
"We'd better not discuss it," she said. But in these days of efficiency it seems a mistake that a woman who can drive an ambulance and can't turn the heel of a stocking properly to save her life, should be knitting socks that any soldier with sense would use to clean his gun with, or to tie around a sore throat, but never to wear.
It was, I think, along in November that Charlie Sands, Tish's nephew, came to see me. He had telephoned, and asked me to have Aggie there. So I called her up, and told her to buy some cigarettes on the way. I remember that she was very irritated when she arrived, although the very soul of gentleness usually.
She came in and slammed a small package onto my table.
"There!" she said. "And don't ever ask me to do such a thing again. The man in the shop winked at me when I said they were not for myself."
However, Aggie is never angry for any length of time, and a moment later she was remarking that Mr. Wiggins had always been a smoker, and that one of his workmen had blamed his fatal accident on the roof to smoke from his pipe getting into his eyes.
Shortly after that I was surprised to find her in tears.
"I was just thinking, Lizzie," she said. "What if Mr. Wiggins had lived, and we had had a son, and he had decided to go and fight!"
She then broke down and sobbed violently, and it was some time before I could calm her. Even then it was not the fact that she had no son which calmed her.
"Of course I'm silly, Lizzie," she said. "I'll stop now. Because of course they don't all get killed, or even wounded. He'd probably come out all right, and every one says the training is fine for them."
Charlie Sands came in shortly after, and having kissed us both and tried on a night shirt I was making for the Red Cross, and having found the cookie jar in the pantry and brought it into my sitting room, sat down and came to business.
"Now," he said. "What's she up to?"
He always referred to Tish as "she," to Aggie and myself.
"She has given up going to France," I replied.
"Perhaps! What does Hannah report?"
I am sorry to say that, fearing Tish's impulsive nature, we had felt obliged to have Hannah watch her carefully. Tish has a way of breaking out in unexpected places, like a boil, as Charlie Sands once observed, and by knowing her plans in advance we have sometimes prevented her acting in a rash manner. Sometimes, not always.
"Hannah says everything is quiet," Aggie said. "Dear Tish has apparently given up all thought of going abroad. At least, Hannah says she no longer practises first aid on her. Not since the time Tish gave her an alcohol bath and she caught cold. Hannah says she made her lie uncovered, with the window open, so the alcohol would evaporate. But she gave notice the next day, which was ungrateful of her, for Tish sat up all night feeding her things out of her First Aid case, and if she did give her a bit of iodine by mistake——"
"She is no longer interested in First Aid," I broke in. Aggie has a way of going on and on, and it was not necessary to mention the matter of the iodine. "I know that, because I blistered my hand over there the other day, and she merely told me to stick it in the baking soda jar."
"That's curious," said Charlie Sands.
"Because—— Great Scott, what's wrong with these cigarettes?"
"They are violet-scented," Aggie explained. "The smell sticks so, and Lizzie is fond of violet."
However, he did not seem to care for them, and appeared positively ashamed. He opened a window, although it was cold outside, and shook himself in front of it like a dog. But all he said was:
"I am a meek person, Aunt Lizzie, and I like to humor whims when I can. But the next time you have a male visitor and offer him a cigarette, for the love of Mike don't tell him those brazen gilt-tipped incense things are mine."
He then ate nine cookies, and explained why he had come.
"I don't like the look of things, beloved and respected spinsters," he said. "I fear my revered aunt is again up to mischief. You haven't heard her say anything more about aeroplanes, have you?"
"No," I replied, for us both.
"She's been taking swimming lessons again," I said, thoughtfully.
"Lizzie!" Aggie cried. "Oh, my poor Tish!"
"I think, however," said Charlie Sands, "that it is not a submarine. There are no submarine flivvers, as I understand it, and a full-size one would run into money. No, I hardly think so. The fact remains, however, that my respected and revered aunt has made away with about seven thousand dollars' worth of bonds that were, until a short time ago, giving semi-annual birth to plump little coupons. The question is, what is she up to?"
But we were unable to help him, and at last he went away. His parting words were:
"Well, there is something in the air, and the only thing to do, I suppose, is to wait until it drops. But when my beloved female relative takes to selling bonds without consulting me, and goes out, as I met her yesterday, with her hat on front side behind, there is something in the wind. I know the symptoms."
Aggie and I kept a close watch on Tish after that, but without result, unless the following incident may be called a result. Although it was rather a cause, after all, for it brought Mr. Culver into our lives.
I think it important to relate it in detail, as in a way it vindicates Tish in her treatment of Mr. Culver, although I do not mean by this statement that there was anything of personal malice in the incident of June fifth of this year. Those of us who know Tish best realize that she needs no defence. Her motives are always of the highest, although perhaps the matter of the police officer was ill-advised. But now that the story is out, and Mr. Ostermaier very uneasy about the wrong name being on the marriage license, I think an explanation will do dear Tish no harm.
I should explain, then, that Tish has retained the old homestead in the country, renting it to a reliable family. And that it has been our annual custom to go there for chestnuts each autumn. On the Sunday following Charlie Sands' visit, therefore, while Aggie and I were having dinner with Tish, I suggested that we make our annual pilgrimage the following day.
"What pilgrimage?" Tish demanded. She was at that time interested in seeing if a table could be set for thirty-five cents a day per person, and the meal was largely beans.
"For chestnuts," I explained.
"I don't think I'll go this year," Tish observed, not looking at either of us. "I'm not a young woman, and climbing a chestnut tree requires youth."
"You could get the farmer's boy," Aggie suggested, hopefully. Aggie is a creature of habit, and clings hard to the past.
"The farmer is not there any more."
We stared at her in amazement, but she was helping herself to boiled dandelion at the time, and made no further explanation.
"Why, Tish!" Aggie exclaimed.
"Aggie," she observed, severely, "if you would only remember that the world is hungry, you would eat your crusts."
"I ate crusts for twenty years," said Aggie, "because I'd been raised to believe they would make my hair curl. But I've come to a time of life when my digestion means more to me than my looks. And since I've had the trouble with my teeth——"
"Teeth or no teeth," said Tish, firmly, "eating crusts is a patriotic duty, Aggie."
She was clearly disinclined to explain about the farm, but on being pressed said she had sent the tenants away because they kept pigs, which was absurd and she knew it.
"Isn't keeping pigs a patriotic duty?" Aggie demanded, glancing at me across the table. But Tish ignored the question.
"What about the church?" I asked.
Tish has always given the farm money to missions, and is therefore Honorary President of the Missionary Society. She did not reply immediately as she was pouring milk over her cornstarch at the time, but Hannah, her maid, spoke up rather bitterly.
"If we give the heathen what we save on the table, Miss Lizzie," she said, "I guess they'll do pretty well. I'm that fed up with beans that my digestion is all upset. I have to take baking soda after my meals, regular."
Tish looked up at her sharply.
"Entire armies fight on beans," she said
"Yes'm," said Hannah. "I'd fight on 'em too. That's the way they make me feel. And if a German bayonet is any worse than the colic I get——"
"Leave the room," said Tish, in a furious voice, and finished her cornstarch in silence.
But she is a just woman, and although firm in her manner, she is naturally kind. After dinner, seeing that Aggie was genuinely disappointed about the excursion to the farm, she relented and observed that we would go to the farm as usual.
"After all," she said, "chestnuts are nourishing, and might take the place of potatoes in a pinch."
Here we heard a hollow groan from the pantry, but on Tish demanding its reason Hannah said, meekly enough, that she had knocked her crazy bone, and Tish, with her usual magnanimity, did not pursue the subject.
There was a heavy frost that night, and two days later Tish called me up and fixed the following day for the visit to the farm. On looking back, I am inclined to think that her usual enthusiasm was absent, but we suspected nothing. She said that Hannah would put up the luncheon, and that she had looked up the food value of chestnuts and that it was enormous. She particularly requested that Aggie should not bake a cake for the picnic, as has been her custom.
"Cakes," she said, "are a reckless extravagance. In butter, eggs and flour a single chocolate layer cake could support three men at the front for two days, Lizzie," she said.
I repeated this to Aggie, and she was rather resentful. Aggie, I regret to say, has rather a weakness for good food.
"Humph!" she said, bitterly. "Very well, Lizzie. But if she expects me to go out like Balaam's ass and eat dandelions, I'd rather starve."
Neither Aggie nor I is inclined to be suspicious, and although we noticed Tish's rather abstracted expression that morning, we laid it to the fact that Charlie Sands had been talking about going to the American Ambulance in France, which Tish opposed violently, although she was more than anxious to go herself.
Aggie put in her knitting bag the bottle of blackberry cordial without which we rarely travel, as we find it excellent in case of chilling, or indigestion, and even to rub on hornet stings. I was placing the suitcase, in which it is our custom to carry the chestnuts, in the back of the car, when I spied a very small parcel. Aggie saw it too.
"If that's the lunch, Tish," she said, "I don't know that I care to go."
"You can eat chestnuts," said Tish, shortly. "But don't go on my account. It looks like rain anyhow, and the last time I went to the farm in the mud I skidded down a hill backwards and was only stopped by running into a cow that thought I was going the other way."
"Nonsense, Tish," I said. "It hasn't an idea of raining. And if the lunch isn't sufficient, there are generally some hens from the Knowles place that lay in your barn, aren't there?"
"Certainly not," she said stiffly, although it wasn't three months since she had threatened to charge the Knowleses rent for their chickens.
Well, I was puzzled. It is not like Tish to be irritable without reason, although she has undoubtedly a temper. She was most unpleasant on the way out, remarking that if the Ostermaiers's maid continued to pare away half the potatoes, as any fool could see around their garbage can, she thought the church should reduce his salary. She also stated flatly that she considered that the nation would be better off if some one would uncork a gas bomb in the Capitol at Washington, in spite of the fact that my second cousin, once removed, the Honorable J. C. Willoughby, represents his country in its legislative halls.
It is always a bad sign when Tish talks politics, especially since the income tax.
Although it had no significance for us at the time, she did not put her car in the barn as she usually does, but left it in the road. The house was closed, and there was no cool and refreshing buttermilk with which to wash down our frugal repast, which we ate on the porch, as Tish did not offer to unlock the house. Frugal repast it was indeed, consisting of lettuce sandwiches made without butter, as Tish considered that both butter and lettuce was an extravagance. There were, of course, also beans.
Now as it happens, Aggie is not strong and requires palatable as well as substantial food to enable her to get about, especially to climb trees. We missed her during the meal, and I saw that she was going toward the barn. Tish saw it also, and called to her sharply.
"I am going to get an egg," Aggie replied, with gentle obstinacy. "I am starving, Tish, and I am certain I heard a hen cackle. Probably one of the Knowles's chickens——"
"If it is a Knowles's chicken," Tish said, virtuously, "its egg is a Knowles's egg, and we have no right to it."
I am sorry to relate that here Aggie said: "Oh, rats!" but as she apologized immediately, and let the egg drop, figuratively, of course, peace again hovered over our little party. Only momentarily, however, for, a short time after, a hen undoubtedly cackled, and Aggie got up with an air of determination.
"Tish," she said, "that may be a Knowles's hen or it may be one belonging to this farm. I don't know, and I don't give a—I don't care. I'm going to get it."
"The barn's locked," said Tish.
"I could get in through a window."
I shall never forget Tish's look of scorn as she rose with dignity, and stalked toward the barn.
"I shall go myself, Aggie," she said, as she passed her. "You would probably fall in the rain barrel under the window. You're no climber. And you might as well eat those crusts you've hidden under the porch, if you're as hungry as you make out you are."
"Lizzie," Aggie hissed, when Tish was out of hearing, "what is in that barn?"
"It may be anything from a German spy to an aeroplane," I said. "But it's not your business or mine."
"You needn't be so dratted virtuous," Aggie observed, scooping a hole in the petunia bed and burying the crusts in it. "Whatever's on her mind is in that barn."
"Naturally," I observed. "While Tish is in it!"
Tish returned in a short time with one egg, which she placed on the porch floor without a word. But as she made no effort to give Aggie the house key, and as Aggie has never learned to swallow a raw egg, although I have heard that they taste rather like oysters, and slip down in much the same way, Aggie was obliged to continue hungry.
It is only just to record that Tish grew more companionable after luncheon, and got into a large chestnut tree near the house by climbing on top of the hen house. We had always before had the farmer's boy to do the climbing into the upper branches, and I confess to a certain nervousness, especially as Tish, when far above the ground, decided to take off her dress skirt, which was her second best tailor-made, and climb around in her petticoats.
She had to have both hands free to unhook the band, and she very nearly overbalanced while stepping out of it.
"Drat a woman's clothes, anyhow," she said. "If we had any sense we'd wear trousers."
"I understand," I said, "that even trousers are not easy to get out of, Tish."
"Don't be a fool, Lizzie," she said tartly. "If I had trousers on I wouldn't have to take them off. Catch it!"
However, the skirt did not fall clear, but caught on a branch far out, and hung there. Tish broke off a small limb and poked at it from above, and I found a paling from a fence and threw it up to dislodge it. But it stuck tight, and the paling came down and struck Aggie on the head. Had we only known it, this fortunate accident probably saved Aggie's life, for she sat down suddenly on the ground, and said faintly that her skull was fractured.
I was bending over Aggie when I heard a sharp crack from above. I looked up, and Tish was lying full length on a limb, her arm out to reach for the skirt and a most terrible expression on her face. There was another crack, and our poor Tish came hurtling through the air, landing half in Aggie's lap and half in the suitcase.
I was quite unable to speak, and owing, as I learned later, to Tish's head catching her near the waist line, Aggie had no breath even to scream.
There was a dreadful silence. Then Tish said, without moving:
"All my property is to go to Charlie Sands."
"Tish!" I cried, in an agony, and Aggie, who still could not speak, burst into tears.
However, a moment later, Tish drew up first one limb and then the other, and observed that her back was broken. She then mentioned that Aggie was to have her cameo set and the dining room sideboard, and that I was to have the automobile, but the next instant she felt a worm on her neck and sat up, looking rather dishevelled, but far from death.
"Where are you hurt, Tish?" I asked, trembling.
"Everywhere," she replied. "Everywhere, Lizzie. Every bone in my body is broken."
But after a time the aching localized itself in her right arm, which began to swell. We led her down to the creek and got her to hold it in the cold water and Aggie, being still nervous and unsteady, slipped on a mossy stone and sat down in about a foot of water. It was then that our dear Tish became like herself again, for Aggie was shocked into saying, "Oh, damn!" and Tish gave her a severe lecture on profanity.
Tish was quite sure her arm was broken, as well as all the ribs on one side. But she is a brave woman and made little fuss, although she kept poking a finger into her flesh here and there.
"Because," she said, "the First Aid book says that if a lung is punctured the air gets into the tissues, and they crackle on pressure."
It was soon after this that I saw Aggie, who had made no complaint about Tish falling on her, furtively testing her own tissues to see if they crackled.
Leaving my injured there by the creek, I went back to the tree and secured my paling again. By covering it with straw from the barn I was quite sure I could make a comfortable splint for Tish's arm. However, I had but just reached the barn and was preparing to crawl through a window by standing on a rain barrel when I saw Tish limping after me.
"Well?" she said. "What idiotic idea is in your head, Lizzie? Because if it is more eggs——"
"I am going to get some straw and make a splint."
"Nonsense. What for?"
"What do you suppose I intend it for?" I demanded, tartly. "To trim a hat?"
"I won't have a splint."
"Very well," I retorted. "Then I shall get some straw and start a fire to dry Aggie out."
"You'll stick in that window," Tish said, in what, in a smaller woman, would have been a vicious tone.
"Look here, Tish," I said, balancing on the edge of the rain barrel, "is there something in this barn you do not wish me to see?"
She looked at me steadily.
"Yes," she said. "There is, Lizzie. And I'll ask you to promise on your honor not to mention it."
That promise I am glad to say I have kept until now, when the need of secrecy is past, Tish herself having divulged the truth. But at the time I was greatly agitated, and indeed almost fell into the rain barrel.
"Or try to find out what it is," Tish went on, sternly.
I promised, of course, and Tish relaxed somewhat, although I caught her eye on me once or twice, as though she was daring me to so much as guess at the secret.
"Of course, Lizzie," she said, as we approached Aggie, "it is nothing I am ashamed of."
"Of course not," I replied hastily. I took my courage in my hands and faced her. "Tish, have you an aeroplane hidden in that barn?"
"No," she replied promptly. She might have enlarged on her denial, but Aggie took a violent sneezing spell just then, pressing herself between paroxysms to see if she crackled, and we decided to go home at once.
Here a new difficulty presented itself. Tish could not drive the car! I shall never forget my anguish when she turned to me and said:
"You will have to drive us home, Lizzie."
"Never!" I cried.
"It's perfectly easy," she went on. "If children can run them, and the idiots they have in garages and on taxicabs——"