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Phebe, Her Profession - A Sequel to Teddy: Her Book
by Anna Chapin Ray
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Phebe, Her Profession

A Sequel to Teddy: Her Book

BY ANNA CHAPIN RAY

1902



CHAPTER ONE

"How do you do?"

The remark was addressed to a young man who roused himself from a brown study and looked up. Then he looked down to see whence the voice proceeded. Directly in his pathway stood a wee boy, a veritable cherub in modern raiment, whose rosy lips smiled up at him blandly, quite regardless of the sugary smears that surrounded them. One hand clasped a crumpled paper bag; the other held a rusty iron hoop and a cudgel entirely out of proportion to the size of the hoop.

"And how is everybody at your house?" the babe demanded. "Are vey pretty well?"

"Very well, thank you." The young man was endeavoring to remember where, during the two weeks he had spent in Helena, he had seen this child.

"So is my people," the boy explained politely. "It is a great while since I have seen you."

Amicably enough, the stranger accepted his suggestion of a past acquaintance.

"It is a good while. Where have you been keeping yourself?"

The atom tried to drop into step at his side, tangled himself in the long tails of his little coat, gave up the attempt and broke into a jog trot.

"My mamma wouldn't let me go to walk alone for 'most a monf."

"Why?"

"'Cause I used to stay a good while, and spend all my pennies at Jake's shop."

"Where is that?"

"Vat's where vey sells candy. I've got some now. Want some?" He rested the hoop against a convenient lamp-post and opened the bag invitingly.

"Thanks, no. You don't appear to have much to spare."

With a sigh of manifest relief, the child gathered up the crumpled top of the bag once more.

"I did have some," he explained; "but I gave half of it to a boy. Vat's what my Sunday-school teacher said I must do. And ven, by and by, I took his hoop," he added, as he resumed his march.

"Did your Sunday-school teacher tell you to do that?"

"No; but I just fought I would. He couldn't give me half of it, you see, for it wouldn't be good for anyfing if it was busted."

"No?" The stranger felt that the child's logic was better than his moral tone.

"I'm going to be good now, all ve time," the boy went on, looking up with an angelic smile. "When my mamma says 'No, Mac,' I shall say 'All right,' and when my papa smites me, I shall turn ve uvver also. Vat's ve way."

"Does he smite you?"

The smile vanished, as the child slowly nodded three times.

"Yes, awful."

"What did you do to make him smite you?"

Silence.

"What was it?"

The stranger's voice was not so stern as it might have been, and the smile came back and dimpled the child's cheeks, as he answered,—"Pepper in ve dining-room fireplace."

"What made you do that, you sinner?"

"A boy told me. You ought to have heard vem sneeze, and ven papa fumped me."

"Much?"

The child eyed him distrustfully,

"What for do you want to know?"

"Oh, because—you see, I used to get thumped, myself, sometimes."

"Yes, he fumped awful, and ven he stopped and sneezed, and I sneezed, too, and we all sneezed and had to stop."

"And then did you turn the other also?"

"No; I hadn't begun yet. I only sneezed a great deal, and papa said somefing about rooty ceilings."

In vain the stranger pondered over the last remark. He was unable to discover its application, and accordingly he passed to a more obvious question.

"What is your name?" he asked.

"What's yours?"

"Gifford Barrett."

"Mine is McAlister Holden."

"Um-m. I think I haven't met you before."

"You could if you'd wanted to, I live in ve brown house, and I've seen you lots of times. Once you 'most stepped on me."

"Did I? How did that happen?"

"You were finking of fings and got in my way."

"Was that it?"

"Vat's what my papa says, when I do it. He says I ought to look where I am going." The boy's tone was severe.

There was a pause, while Mac swung his hoop against a post. On the rebound, it struck the stranger a sharp blow just under and back of the knees. He turned and glared at the child.

"I feel just as if I should like to say confound it," Mac drawled, twisting his pink lips with relish of the forbidden word.

"So should I. Suppose we do. But how old are you?"

"'Most four."

"But little boys like you shouldn't say such words."

"My papa does; I heard him. My mamma puts soap in my mouf, when I do it," he added, with an artless frankness which appeared to be characteristic of him. Then abruptly he changed the subject. "Ve cook has gone, and mamma made such a funny pudding, last night," he announced. "It stuck and broke ve dish to get it out. Good-bye. Vis is where I live." And he clattered up the steps and vanished, hoop and all, through the front doorway, leaving the stranger to marvel at the precocity of western children and at the complexity of their vocabularies.

A week later, they met again, this time however not by accident. The young man had tried meanwhile to find out something about the child; but his sister whose guest he was, had moved to Helena only a month before, and she could furnish no clue to the mystery. His visit was proving a dull one; Mac had been vastly entertaining, so, for some days, the stranger had been watching in vain for another glimpse of the boy. At length, his efforts were rewarded. Strolling past the brown house, one morning, he became aware of a tiny figure sitting on the steps in the bright sunshine and wrapped from head to foot in a plaid horse-blanket.

"Good-morning, Mac!" he called blithely.

"How do you do?" The voice was a shade more subdued, to-day.

"Well. What are you doing?"

"Nofing much." The minor key was still evident.

"Are you sick?"

"No; 'course not."

"Playing Indian?"

Mac shook his head.

"What is the blanket for, then? It isn't cold, to-day."

The lips drooped, and the blue eyes peered out suspiciously from under their long lashes.

"I wants to wear it," he said, with crushing dignity.

"All right. Come and walk to the corner fruit stand with me."

The invitation was too tempting to be refused, and Mac scrambled to his feet. As he did so, the blanket slipped to one side. Swiftly Mac huddled it around him again; but the momentary glimpse had sufficed to show the stranger a dark blue gown and a white apron above it.

"Why, I thought you were a boy!" he gasped, too astonished at this sudden transformation to pay any heed to Mac's probable feelings in the matter.

"So I are a boy."

"But you are wearing a dress."

Mac hung his head.

"I ran away," he faltered. "Vat's why."

The stranger tried to look grave. Instead, he burst into a shout of laughter.

"I think I understand," he said, as soon as he could speak. "You have to wear these clothes, because you ran away, and the blanket is to cover them up. What made you run away?"

"Aunt Teddy."

"Who?"

"My Aunt Teddy."

"Is it—a woman?" The stranger began to wonder if it were hereditary in Mac's family to confound the genders in such ways as this.

"Yes, she is my aunt; she's a woman, not an uncle."

"Oh. It's a curious name."

"Ve rest of her name is Farrington," Mac explained, pulling the blanket closer about his chubby legs, as he saw some people coming up the street toward him.

"And she made you run away?"

Mac nodded till his cheeks shook like a mould of currant jelly.

"What did she do?"

"Talk, and talk some more, all ve time. I want to talk some, and I can't. She eats her eggs oh natural."

"What? What does that mean?"

"'Vout any salt. Vat's what she calls it, oh natural. I like salt."

"Don't you like grapes?"

"Yes."

"Let's get some."

Wrapped like an Indian brave, Mac started off down the street, his yellow and blue toga trailing behind him and getting under his feet at every step. His dignity, nevertheless, was perfect and able to triumph over even such untoward circumstances as these, and he accepted the stranger's conversational attempts with a lofty courtesy which suggested a reversal of their relative ages. Just as the corner was reached, however, and the fruit stand was but a biscuit-toss away, he suddenly collapsed.

"Vere vey are!" he exclaimed.

"Who?"

"My mamma, and Aunt Teddy." And, turning, he scurried away as fast as his blanket would let him.

As he passed them, the young man gave a glance at the two women, swift, yet long enough to take in every detail of their appearance and stamp it upon his memory. The shorter one with the golden hair was evidently Mac's mother, not only because she was the older, but became the child's mischievous face was like a comic mask made in the semblance of her own gentle features. Her companion was more striking. Taller and more richly dressed, she carried the impression of distinctiveness, of achievement, as if she were a person who had proved her right to exist. Gifford Barrett's eyes lingered on her longer, at a loss to account for a certain familiarity in her appearance. Where had he seen her before? Both face and figure seemed known to him, other than in the relation of Mac's Aunt Teddy.

"I saw the small boy again, to-day," he told his sister, that night.

"Who? Your little Mac?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"I decline to assume any responsibility for him, Kate. He passes my comprehension entirely. He looks like a cherub on a Della Robbia frieze and converses like the king of the brownies. I expect to hear him quote Arnold at any instant."

His sister laughed.

"I can't imagine who he can be," she said. "I wish you weren't going East so soon, Giff, and we would go on a tour of investigation. Such a child isn't likely to remain hid under a bushel; and, if I find him, I will let you know all about him. What is it, Jack?" she added, as her husband looked up from his paper with an exclamation of surprise.

"I've have been entertaining angels unawares,—in the next block, that is," he answered. "Listen to this: 'Mrs. Theodora McAlister Farrington, the novelist, who has been spending the winter with her sister, Mrs. Holden of Murray Street, left for her home in New England, to-night.'"

"Ah—h!" There was a sigh of content from across the table. "Now I have my bearings. My imp is Mac Holden and Mrs. Farrington is Aunt Teddy, of course. I met her in New York, last winter, at a dinner or two; but she evidently had forgotten me. Such is fame!"

"Which?" his sister inquired, as she rose to leave the table.



CHAPTER TWO

The Savins, glistening in its snowy blanket, wore an air of expectancy, the house on the corner below was being swept and garnished, while the cold twilight air was burdened with savory odors suggestive of feastings to come. Mrs. McAlister came back from a final survey of the corner house, made her eleventh tour of the parlor, dining-room and kitchen at The Savins, and then took her stand at the front window where she tapped restlessly on the glass and swayed the curtain to and fro impatiently. She was not a nervous woman; but to-night her mood demanded constant action. Moreover, it was only an hour and a quarter before the train was due. If she were not watchful, the carriage might come without her knowing it, and the occupants miss half their welcome home.

Framed in the soft, white draperies, her face made an attractive picture for the passer-by. Mrs. McAlister's girlhood had passed; a certain girlishness, however, would never pass, and her clear blue eyes had all the life and fire they had shown when, as Bess Holden she had been the leader in most of the pranks of her class at Vassar. The brown hair was still unmarked by grey threads and the complexion was still fresh and rosy, while in expression the face in the window below was far younger than the one peering out from the upper room, just above it.

Allyn McAlister was a graft on the family stock, in temperament, at least. Born into a genial, jovial, healthy family, his was the only moody nature there. His brother and sisters might be mischievous or even fractious; but they were never prone to have black half-hours. It was reserved for the youngest one of them all, Allyn McAlister, aged fifteen, to spell his moods with a capital M. His father was wont to say that Allyn was a mixture of two people, of two nameless, far-off ancestors. For days at a time, he was a merry, happy-go-lucky boy. Then, for some slight cause or for no cause at all, he retired within himself for a space when he remained dumb and glowered at the rest of the world morosely. Then he roused himself and emerged from his self-absorption into a frank crossness which wore away but slowly. A motherless childhood when he was alternately teased and spoiled by his older sisters and brother had helped on the trouble, and not even the wisdom of his father and the devotion of his stepmother could cure the complaint. At his best, Allyn was the brightest and most winning of his family; at his worst, it was advisable to let him severely alone. In the whole wide world, only two persons could manage him in his refractory moods. One was his father; the other was his sister Theodora, and Theodora had been in Helena, all winter long. However, she was coming home that night, and Allyn's nose grew quite white at the tip, as he pressed it against the windowpane, in a futile effort to see still farther up the street.

Theodora, meanwhile, sat watching the familiar landscape sweeping backward past the windows of the express train. She knew it all by heart, the low hillocks crowned with clusters of shaggy oaks still thick with unshed leaves, the strips of salt marsh with the haycocks like gigantic beehives, the peeps of blue sea, sail-dotted or crossed by a thin line of smoke, and the neat little towns so characteristic of southern New England. Impulsively she turned to her husband.

"Oh, don't you pity Hope, Billy?"

"What for?"

"To live out there. I suppose Archie's business makes it a necessity; but I do wish he would come back and settle down near us."

"He would be like a bull in a china shop, Teddy. Fancy Archie Holden, after having all the Rocky Mountains for his workshop, coming back and settling down into one of these bandboxy little towns! He is better off, out there."

"Perhaps. But isn't it good to get back again?"

He looked at her in some perplexity.

"I thought you were having such a good time, Ted."

"I was, a beautiful one; but I am so glad to see blue, deep water again. I was perfectly happy, while I was there; but now I feel as if I couldn't wait to be in our own home again, Billy, and gossip with you after dinner in the library. People are so in the way. It will be like a second honeymoon, with nobody to interrupt us."

He laughed at her enthusiasm.

"Old married people like us! But you will mourn for Mac, Ted; you know you will."

Forgetting the familiar landscape, she turned to face him with a laugh which chased all the dreaminess from her eyes.

"Billy Farrington! But did you ever know such a mockery of fate?"

"As Mac?"

"Yes, as Hope's having such a child?"

"It is a little incongruous."

"It is preposterous. Hope was always the meek angel of the household, and Archie is not especially obstreperous. But Mac—" Theodora's pause was expressive.

Billy laughed.

"He combines the face of an angel and the wisdom of a serpent," he remarked. "I don't know whether his morals or his vocabulary are more startling. Hope has her hands full; but she will find a way to manage him, even if she can't learn from her own childhood, as you could."

"Thank you, dear. Your compliments are always charming. Perhaps I wasn't an angel-child; but you generally aided and abetted me in my misdeeds. I do hope, though, that Mac will grow in grace before they come East, next summer."

Her husband glanced up, started slightly, then leaned back in his chair while a sudden look of amusement came into his blue eyes. The next moment, Theodora sprang up with a glad exclamation.

"Hu!"

The train had stopped, and a young man had come into the car, given a quick look at the passengers and then marched straight to Mrs. Farrington's chair. Resting his hands on her shoulders, he bent down and laid his cheek against hers, and Theodora, regardless of the people about her, turned and cast herself into his arms. Tall and lithe and singularly alike in face, it scarcely needed a second glance to show that they were not only brother and sister, but twins as well. Moreover, in spite of Hubert's successful business life and Theodora's devotion to her husband, the twins were as necessary to each other as the blades of a pair of scissors.

"How well you are looking! Have you missed me? Aren't you glad to see us back? How are they all at home?" she demanded breathlessly.

Her brother laughed, as he shook hands with Billy.

"Steady, Ted! One at a time. You haven't lost your old trick of asking questions. We are all well, and I left the mother alternately peering out of the front window of our house and punching up the pillows on the couch in your library."

"And papa?"

"Splendid, and covered with glory for his last operation on the Gaylord child. It is the talk of the town."

Theodora's eyes flashed proudly.

"Isn't he wonderful? If he had never had a patient but Billy, he might have been content. I wish you could be half the man he is, Hu."

"I do my endeavors, Ted."

"Yes, and you are a boy to be proud of, even if you aren't a doctor," she answered. "You look as if the last five months had agreed with you."

"They have, for I didn't have anybody around to torment me, and I grew fat and sleek from day to day. How is Hope?"

"As well as is compatible with being Mac's mother."

"What is the matter with him? You didn't write much."

"No; for I knew you wouldn't believe the half of my tales. Hu, the boy is an imp."

"He combines the least lovely traits of Teddy and Babe," Mr. Farrington remarked gravely.

"I was never half so original and daring as he is," Theodora said regretfully. "My iniquities were trite; his are fresh from the recesses of his own brain. He is a cunning child, Hu, and a pretty one; but his ways are past finding out, and—"

"And, as I said, he favors his Aunt Teddy," her husband interposed.

Theodora decided to change the subject.

"How is Allyn?" she asked.

Hubert's face sobered.

"He is well."

"Is anything the matter with the boy?" Theodora demanded, for Allyn had always been her own especial charge, and her marriage had made no break in their relations. Allyn's home was as much at the corner house as at The Savins.

"No; only the world goes hard with him. He has needed you, Teddy. The rest of us rub him the wrong way. He has a queer streak in him. I wish I could get hold of him; but I can't."

"It is the cross-grained age," Theodora said thoughtfully. "He will come out all right."

"Perhaps; but meanwhile he is having a bad time of it, for he can't get on with any of the boys. He lords it over them, and then resents it and sulks, if they rebel. Where does he get it, Ted? We weren't like that."

"It is too bad," she said slowly; "but I'll see what I can do with him."

"He has needed you, Teddy; that is a fact. Even the mother can't get on with him as you do. You're going to stay at home now for a while; aren't you?"

"Yes; we are going to have a perfect honeymoon of quiet. We have wandered enough, and we don't mean to budge again for the next ten years. I am going to write, all day long; and, when twilight falls, Billy and I will draw our elbow chairs to the fire, and sit and gossip and nod over the andirons till bedtime. We haven't had an hour to ourselves for five months, and now we must make up for lost time."

Hubert laughed.

"You are as bad as ever. When do I come in?"

"On Sundays. I expect a McAlister dinner party, every Sunday night. Otherwise, four times a day. We have three elbow chairs, you know, and the hearth is a broad one."

"You haven't asked after Phebe," Hubert said, after a pause.

"What was the use? Billy had a letter from his mother, the day we left Helena, and I knew you would have had nothing later."

"But we have."

"What?"

"She sailed for home, to-day, on the Kaiserina."

"Hubert!"

"Theodora?"

"What do you mean?"

"Just that and no more."

"How did you hear?"

"A cable, to-day."

"But Mrs. Farrington said she was going to Italy."

"Perhaps she is."

"Not if she is coming home."

"She isn't."

Theodora looked mystified, as much at the ambiguity of the pronouns as at the fact itself.

"Babe is coming home alone," Hubert added.

"Is she ill?"

"Quite well, she says."

"Then what in the world is she coming for?" Theodora's tone expressed both indignation and incredulity.

"It passes my comprehension. What do you think, Billy?"

Mr. Farrington took off his hat and pushed back his red-gold hair. It was a trick he had, when he was worried or annoyed.

"I can't imagine," he said anxiously. "Mother has enjoyed Babe and she has written often of Babe's being happy over there. It seemed a pleasant thing for them both; and I am sorry to have the arrangement broken up. What has Babe written to you?"

"Constant ecstasies. She has been perfectly happy, and has chanted the praise of your mother for paragraphs at a time. I think there can't have been any trouble, or Babe would have told us. She isn't the one to disguise her feelings and spoil a story for relationship's sake."

Theodora sighed. Then she laughed.

"It is only another one of Babe's freaks," she said, with a blitheness which was meant for her husband's ear. "We must bide our time till she comes to explain herself. Did you ever know her to do what you expected of her?"

It was nearly dark when the train rolled in at the familiar station. The Farrington carriage was waiting, and beside it waited a grey-haired man in plain green livery. The travelers hailed him as Patrick, and he greeted them with a delight that was out of all keeping with the severe decorum of his manner of a moment before. Then, merry as a trio of children, they drove up the snowy streets, Theodora and Billy in wild rapture at the thought of being at home once more, Hubert more quiet, but none the less happy in the prospect of having his sister within reach again.

They were to dine at The Savins, that night, and they drove directly there. The low red house rested unchanged on its hilltop where the twilight was casting greyish shadows across the snow. Lights gleamed in all the windows; but no welcoming face was silhouetted against them. Upstairs, Allyn was restlessly pacing his room at the back of the house; below, a sudden fragrance of burning meats had sent Mrs. McAlister flying to the kitchen, and for an instant the travelers stood alone in the broad front hall, with no one to welcome them.

It was only for an instant, however. Dr. McAlister rushed out from his office, and Mrs. McAlister came running to meet them, to exclaim over them and lead them forward to the blazing fire. Then there was a thud and a bump, and Theodora was gripped tight in two strong boyish arms and felt a clumsy boyish kiss on her cheek, while she heard, not noisily, but quite low,—

"Oh, Teddy, you've come at last!"



CHAPTER THREE

Phebe McAlister sat on the floor beside an open trunk. Around her was scattered a pile of feminine mysteries, twice as bulky as the trunk from which they had come, and the bed was littered with gowns as varied in hue as in material. Pink chiffon met green broadcloth, and white silk and blue gingham nestled side by side with a friendly disregard of the fact that their paths in life would not often bring them together. The whole room was in a wild state of disarray. The only orderly object in it was Phebe herself.

A girl of the early twenties, perfect in health and in trim neatness, never lacks a certain attractiveness; but Phebe went beyond that. At a first glance, her features might be condemned as irregular, her eyes as too piercing, her lips and chin as too firm. The next moment, all that was forgotten. Phebe was rarely silent for more than one moment at a time. As soon as she spoke, her face lighted and became whimsical, piquant, merry, or fiery as suited her mood; and Phebe's friends were never agreed as to which of her moods was most becoming. Pretty she was not, beautiful she was not; but she was undeniably interesting, and at times brilliantly handsome.

She looked up, as Theodora came into the room.

"How do? Sit down," she said briefly.

"I came over to see if I couldn't help you with your unpacking," Theodora said, as she paused beside the trunk.

"Thank you, no. I can do it."

"But it is such a trial. I love to pack; but unpacking is always rather an anti-climax."

"I don't mind it," Phebe said calmly, while she sorted stockings industriously.

"Let me do that," Theodora urged.

"No; it might be a trial to you, and I really don't mind. Sit down and look at my photographs. They are in the third box from the top of the pile in the corner."

"Methodical as ever, Phebe?"

"I have to be. It takes too much time to sort out things. Your bureau drawers would give me a fit." Phebe rolled up her stockings with an emphatic jerk.

"It is no credit to you to be orderly, Babe; you were born so. I wasn't," Theodora said tranquilly, as she took up the photographs. "Billy's bump of order is large enough for both of us, though."

"I should think you would be terribly trying to him," Phebe remarked frankly.

"Poor old William! Perhaps I am; but he is considerate enough not to mention it."

Phebe rose to bestow an armful of clothing in a bureau drawer.

"He looks so well." she said. "I do wish his mother could see him. She worries about him even now, and gets anxious if the letters are delayed. If she could see him, she would leave that off. He is ever so much stronger than when we went away."

"Married life agrees with him. What is this, Babe? It isn't marked."

"It's the hotel at the foot of the Rigi, not a good picture, but I hadn't time to get any other."

"Was that where you left Mrs. Farrington?"

"Yes."

"What made you do it, Babe?"

"The Ellertons were there on their way home, and I could travel with them. I didn't care to cross half the continent alone, even if I am an American girl."

"No; I don't mean that. What made you come home now?"

"A declaration of independence," Phebe responded enigmatically.

Theodora looked anxious.

"But I hope you didn't hurt Mrs. Farrington's feelings, leaving her so suddenly after all she had done for you."

"I am not a child, Teddy, and I think you might trust me," Phebe answered, with an access of dignity.

"I do, dear; only I couldn't understand your coming home so abruptly, and I was afraid there might have been some trouble between you and Mrs. Farrington."

Phebe shook her head.

"No; Mrs. Farrington is an angel. You can't imagine how good to me she has been. She has always managed to make me feel that it was only for her own pleasure that she asked me to go with her. If I had been her own daughter, she couldn't have been more kind to me, and I know she was sorry to have me come away."

"Then why didn't you stay? Were you homesick, Babe?"

"Not for an hour; I'm not that kind. I missed you all; but I was very happy, and I knew you didn't need me here."

"What made you come home, then?"

Phebe pushed the gowns aside and sat down on the edge of the bed.

"Has it ever occurred to you, Teddy," she asked slowly; "that two years is a great while?"

"Yes; but what then? You were happy."

"I know; but it was a child's happiness, and I am a woman, twenty-two years old. It was lovely to wander over Europe, to wear pretty gowns and to meet charming people, and let Mrs. Farrington pay all the bills."

"But if she loved to do it, Babe? She did."

"Yes, she was fond of me," Phebe admitted; "and she wanted me to stay for one more year."

"I wish you had."

Phebe shook her head.

"I couldn't. At first, I thought it would be delightful, and all our plans were made. Then, one night, I couldn't sleep at all, for thinking about it. By morning, my mind was made up; and then,—"

"And then?" Theodora asked.

Phebe rose and bent over the trunk once more.

"And then I came home," she said quietly.

There was a long pause. Theodora was aimlessly turning over the photographs in her lap, while Phebe methodically packed away the contents of her trunk. The room was quite orderly again before either of the sisters spoke. Then Theodora asked,—

"What are you going to do now, Babe?"

"Study."

"Study what?"

"Medicine."

"Phebe McAlister!"

A sudden flash of merriment came into the shrewd eyes.

"That is my name," she observed. "Do you remember how you worked at Huntington's to get money for college? It is my turn now."

"I remember how you scolded me for it," Theodora responded tartly. "What has turned you to this whim, Babe?"

"It is no whim. It is a good profession, and other women no smarter than I, have succeeded in it."

"You are smart enough, Babe; it's not that. But why do you want to do anything of the kind?"

"What should I do? I sha'n't marry. Billy is the only man I ever liked. You took him, and you appear to be in rude health, so there is no chance for me. I must do something, Teddy, something definite. I can't potter round the house, all my days. The mother is housekeeper; I must have something more absorbing than dusting and salads and amateur photography to fill up my time."

Theodora laughed at the outburst. Then, as she sat looking up at her tall young sister, a sudden gentleness crossed her face. In their childhood, she and Phebe had always clashed. To-day, for the first time, she felt a full comprehension of the girl's point of view.

"Things are out of joint, Teddy," Phebe was saying. "It is all right for a boy to be restless and eager to find his place; but we girls must trot up and down one narrow path, all our days. Sometimes I don't mind it; but there come times when I want to knock down the fences and break away into a new track of my own, a track that goes somewhere, not a promenade. I want to have a goal and keep moving toward it, not swing this way and that like a pendulum. Europe was lovely, and Mrs. Farrington; but—I'm queer, Ted. There is no getting around the fact." Phebe brushed away a tear that hung heavy on her brown lashes.

Theodora held out her hand to her invitingly; but Phebe shook her head.

"No; I don't want to be cuddled, Ted; I'm not a baby. I want to be understood; that is all. You never can understand, though. You have Billy and your writing, more than your fair share, and you grew up into them both. You were foreordained. Other people are. I wish I were; but I'm not, and yet I want to work, to do something definite." She paused with a little laugh. "I said something about it once to some nice English girls I met at Lucerne. They seemed very all-round and energetic, and I thought they would understand. They just put their dear, rosy heads on one side and said, 'Oh, dear me, how very unusual!' Then I gave it up and kept still till I told Mrs. Farrington. She understood."

"Did she?"

"She always understands things. We talked it all over, and she agreed that it was best for me to come home."

"But how did you happen to choose medicine?"

"What else was there? Besides, I ought to inherit it, and papa ought to have some child follow him. Hubert didn't, and I must."

"What about Allyn?"

"He is too young yet to tell whether he will amount to anything or not. I don't believe he is the right kind, either. I am."

"How do you mean?" In spite of herself, Theodora laughed at the assurance in Phebe's tone.

"Oh, I have studied myself a good deal," she said with calm complacency. "I am not nervous, nor very sympathetic, and I think I could operate on people very nicely."

"Phebe!" This time, there was no concealment in Theodora's laugh.

"You needn't make fun of me," she said indignantly. "That helps along; papa says it does. I had a long talk with him, last night, after you and Billy went home."

"What did he say?"

"A good many things that there is no use in repeating," Phebe responded loftily.

"Wasn't he surprised?"

"Yes, as much as he ever is, at anything I do." For the moment, Phebe's sense of humor asserted itself. Then she grew grave again. "It is settled that I am to work with him till summer. Then, next fall, if I really want to go on with it, I am to go to Philadelphia to study there. Hope will be shocked, and Hu will make all manner of fun of me, I know. I do hope you and Billy will stand by me, Ted, and believe it is not a schoolgirl whim, but a real wish to find some work and do it."

Theodora rose and stood beside her sister.

"I do believe it, dear," she said. "I know how I feel about my own work and how I want to succeed in it, for all your sakes. Only, Phebe, the time may come when you will be ready to put your profession, not in the first place, but in the second."

But Phebe shook her head.

"No; I am not that kind, Ted. I'm queer, they all say, and I think my work will always come first. Mrs. Farrington tried to make a society woman of me; but it was no use."

"William Farrington!" Theodora said, that night.

"Yes, madame."

"Once upon a time, there was a girl who came down out of a tree, and took a boy to bring up. That's us, Billy, and I always have supposed that my hands were full with training you. Now I have discovered that they are not."

"Is it a new story?" her husband asked, dropping his book and looking at her expectantly.

"Alas, no! No such luck. I came home with a dozen plans for work simmering in my brain; but I must put them back and let them parboil themselves for a while longer. My family are demanding my whole attention."

"What now?"

"Sisterly confidences. It is funny, Billy; but it is rather distracting to my work. Allyn took me to walk, this morning, and told me the tragic tale of his first love affair. It was Lois Hawes, and it ended most unromantically. He helped her to get ready for the prize speaking, last month, and then she took the prize away from him and neglected to mention that he had coached her. Now he rages at the whole race of girls and says he won't finish his term of dancing school."

"That is unwise of him," Mr. Farrington commented, "Did you bring him to a better way of thinking?"

"I wrestled with him; but he was still proclaiming that 'girls aren't any good,' so I beat a retreat."

"He needs a girl to bring him up, as you brought me," Billy remarked.

"There aren't many who would dare attack Allyn," Theodora said, laughing. "I had you at my mercy; you couldn't escape. Allyn can fight and run away; that makes him doubly dangerous. He does fight, too. He is a dear boy, Billy; but I honestly think that, if he goes on, he won't have a friend left in town. He is a veritable porcupine, and his quills are always rising."

"He has the worst of it. But I do wish you needn't worry about him, Ted"

"I don't really worry; only I wish more people knew the other side of the boy. But now prepare yourself for a shock. It is Babe, this time. She is going to study medicine."

"What!"

"Yes. She came home for that."

"Phebe a doctor! She is about as well fitted for it as for a—plumber."

"So I think; but to hear her talk about it, one would think her whole aim in life was wholesale surgery. She appears to revel in grim details of arteries and ligaments. The fact is, she is restless and wants some occupation, and this seems to appeal to her."

"I believe I know how she feels. I went through something the same experience, my last year in college," Billy said thoughtfully. "It is a species of mental growing pains; one wants to do something, without knowing just what. I don't believe Babe will ever write M.D. after her name, and I devoutly hope she won't kill too many people in trying for it; but the study will be good for her. She has played long enough, and a little steady grind will help her to work off some of her extra energy. Let her go on."

Theodora rose and stood leaning on the back of his chair.

"You are such a comfort, Billy," she said gratefully. "I was afraid you would be horrified at the idea, and feel that Phebe didn't appreciate all your mother has done for her. It was a great deal for her to take a young girl like Babe for two years, and give her the best of Europe. Babe knows it, and she almost reveres your mother." She was silent for a moment. Then she said impetuously, "Billy, are my family too near?"

"Of course not. Why?"

"Are they too much in evidence? We belong to each other, you and I; I want you all to myself, and it seems as if my people were always coming in to interrupt us,—not they themselves, but worries about them. I love them dearly, and I want them; but I could be content on a desert island alone with you. I never have half enough of you, and sha'n't, as long as I have to bring up Allyn and Phebe and Hubert. Your family are well-behaved; they stay in the background."

"They may crop up unexpectedly," Mr. Farrington answered, in a burst of prophecy of whose truth he was unconscious. "But what about the book, Teddy? It is time you were at work."

Theodora clasped her hands at the back of her head and began to pace the floor. Her step was as free and lithe as that of an active boy; and her pale gown brightened the color in her cheeks and in the glossy coils of her hair. Her husband looked up at her proudly. They had been comrades before they had been lovers; and, from the day of their first meeting to the present hour, his admiration and his loyalty had been boundless and unswerving. Suddenly she paused before him.

"William," she said; "I am lazy, utterly lazy. It is so good to be at home again and keeping house all by our two selves that I want to enjoy myself for a space. For a month, a whole month longer, I am going to play and have the good of life. Then I shall shut myself up and say farewell to the world while I create a masterpiece that will rend your heart and your tear glands. Only," she dropped down on a footstool beside him; "only I do hope that Allyn and Babe will return to their wonted habits, and that this new cook will learn that one doesn't usually mash macaroni before bringing it to the table. If it were not for the souls and the digestions of our families, Billy, we could all produce great works."



CHAPTER FOUR

Theodora Farrington's saving grace lay in her sense of humor. It had saved her from many dangers, from none more insidious than that lurking in five years' experience as a successful author. It had rescued her from the slough of despond when unappreciative publishers rejected her most ambitious attempts; it had come to her aid also when a southern admirer whose intentions were better than his rhetoric, sent her a manuscript ode constructed in her honor. She had won success in her profession; but she had won it at the expense of some hard knocks. But, however much the world might be awry, two people had never lost faith in her talent. To her father and her husband, to their encouragement and their belief in her future, Theodora owed her best inspiration.

For the past year, she had forsaken her inky way and given herself up to a well-earned rest, wandering from Mexico to Alaska and back again to Helena. Now that she was settled in her home once more, the spirit of work was lacking. Theodora was domestic, and she found it good to take up her household cares again, so for a month after her return she turned a deaf ear to her publisher while she and her husband revelled in their coming back to humdrum ways much as a pair of children play at housekeeping. Then Theodora's conscience asserted itself, with the discouraging result that she became undeniably cross and, over his paper of an evening, Billy watched her in respectful silence. Past experience had taught him what this portended.

Two days later, Theodora came to luncheon with unruffled brow. Across the table, her husband looked at her inquiringly.

"Under way, Teddy?"

"Yes, at last."

"I'm glad. I do hope nothing will interrupt you."

"Something will; it always does. Fortunately it is Lent and not much is stirring. Anyway, I mean to have my mornings free, whatever comes."

"I'll mount guard on the threshold, if you want," he responded.

Only a week afterward, Theodora was in her writing-room, hard at work. Her desk, surmounted by a shabby photograph of her husband in his boyhood, was orderly and deserted; but the broad couch across the western window was strewn with sheets of manuscript which overflowed to the floor, while in the midst of them Theodora sat enthroned, a book on her knee and her ink insecurely poised on one of the cushions beside her. Across the lawn she could see The Savins among the tall, bare trees, and she paused now and then to watch the yellow sunshine as it sifted down through the branches. All at once she stopped, with a frown.

"But I must see her," Allyn was saying sharply.

"She is busy."

"Never mind; she will see me."

There was a word or two more; then a silence, and Theodora returned to her interrupted sentence. The next minute, she started abruptly, as she heard a boyish fist descend on the panels of her door.

"Go away! Oh, my ink!" she exclaimed. "Please let me alone. It's all tipped over."

"I'm sorry, Ted; but I must come." And Allyn stalked into the room.

"Oh, what do you want?" she asked despairingly, as she took up the dripping pillow by the corners and looked about for a suitable place to deposit it.

"Throw it out of the window," he suggested briefly. "I didn't mean to, Teddy; but there's a row, and I must tell you."

She shut down the window sharply. Then she turned to look at him, and of a sudden the annoyance vanished from her face and in its place there came a new expression gentler and of a great protecting love. Years before, in his invalid boyhood, her husband had known that look. Of late, no one but Allyn had called it forth. To-day there was need for it, for Allyn was in evident want of sympathy. His cheeks were flushed; but there was a white line around his lips, and his hands, like his voice, were unsteady. He was short and slight, with a mass of smooth brown hair and brown eyes that for the moment had lost all their merriment and were sternly sombre under their straight brows. His chin was firm; but his lips were not so full of decision.

Swiftly Mrs. Farrington gathered up her papers and shut them into her Desk. Then she turned abruptly, laid her hands on the boy's shoulders and looked straight down into his eyes.

"What is it, Allyn?" she asked gravely.

For an instant his lips quivered. Then he said briefly,—

"I'm expelled, Teddy."

"Allyn!"

"Yes, I know."

"Not really?"

She read confirmation in his eyes.

"What for?" she demanded.

"For insulting Mr. Mitchell."

"What did you say?"

"I told him what I thought of him, and he didn't like it."

Theodora frowned at the tone of boyish bravado.

"Allyn," she said steadily; "tell me, what you have done."

"I told him he was a great deacon," the boy said hotly; "and I'm glad I did it, too. He ought to know what we think of him. He goes to church every Sunday, with a long face on him; and, all the rest of the week, he bullies the fellows."

"At least, you think he does," Theodora amended.

"He does," Allyn returned fiercely. "He is a coward, too, and never goes for our crowd; but takes boys like Jamie Lyman, stupid, shabby little milksops that don't dare stand up to him. It isn't their fault that they are dunces, and he ought to know it. I told him so."

Theodora looked perplexed.

"Sit down, Allyn," she said. "I want to talk this over quietly. Does papa know?"

"No; it's only just now, and I came straight to you. I thought perhaps you would help me tell him. I'm sorry, Ted, honestly sorry; but there wasn't anything else to do."

Up to this moment, Theodora had been trying to hold on to the threads of her interrupted chapter. Now she dropped them entirely, as she rested her arm on Allyn's shoulder.

"I am glad to have you tell me things," she said. "Now make a clean breast of it, Allyn."

And Allyn did make a clean breast of it, sparing nothing of the detail of weeks of petty tyranny. It was a story which fortunately is rare in these latter days, a story of a nervous, toadying teacher who vented his bad temper in those directions where there was least chance of its rousing a just resentment.

"I couldn't help it, Ted," he said at length. "I've no sort of use for Jamie Lyman; he lisps and he has warts, and he hasn't the pluck of a white rat. He looks like one, anyhow, with his tow head and his little pinky eyes. I told Mr. Mitchell it was a shame. He talked a good deal, and I suppose I did. We both were pretty mad, and then he told me I must take it back, or else get out. I couldn't take it back, so I walked off."

In the boy's excitement, the words came tumbling over each other and his brown eyes lighted. Then they grew dull again, as his sister spoke.

"I am sorry about it, Allyn," she said slowly; "sorry for you, because you must go back and apologize."

"I won't."

"I think you'll have to. There isn't any other way."

"But it was all true."

"Perhaps so. I am not sure. I know you meant to stand up for the right side; still, you must apologize to Mr. Mitchell, all the same."

The boy stared at her reproachfully.

"But I thought you would understand, Ted."

"I do, dear. If I didn't understand quite so well, I shouldn't be so sure what you ought to do. When I was your age, I was always getting into just such scrapes as this, simply because I used to burn up all my powder without taking aim. All the good it did, was to show up the weak spots of my position. Go slow, Allyn, and don't be so ready to fight. It never does any good."

"But I wasn't going to sit still and let him bully that little baby," Allyn argued.

"No; but you needn't have tried to bully him in your turn," his sister answered promptly, though in her heart of hearts she was in perfect sympathy with her young brother. She gloried in his fearlessness, even while she told herself that he must submit to discipline. "It wasn't your place to tell Mr. Mitchell what he ought to do. He is an older man, and he may have reasons that you don't know. He is not accountable to you, Allyn, and his judgment may be better than yours. Moreover, you owe him obedience, and the McAlisters always pay their debts."

"Have I got to eat humble pie and go back, Teddy?"

"You've got to eat humble pie," she said, as a laughing note crept into her voice when she thought of Jamie Lyman, insignificant and warty cause of such a storm. "About your going back, that is for papa to say, dear. I think you ought to do it."

"I hate that school!" he muttered restively.

"Why?"

"Don't like the fellows."

"What is the matter with them?"

"Foolish."

"Try the girls, then."

"They're worse."

"Hm." Theodora mused aloud. "Given ten boys: if nine of them all like each other, and the tenth doesn't like any of them, where does the trouble lie? Allyn you are getting cranky."

"Maybe so; but I can't help it."

"Yes, you can, too. Do you know, you need a chum."

A sudden flash of fun came into Allyn's eyes.

"What's the matter with you, Ted?"

"Me? I'm too old. Besides, I am producing literature."

"And I interrupted," he said penitently, for he took much satisfaction in his sister's work.

"No; at least, not much. I want you to tell me things, Allyn. We have always been chums, and I should be a good deal jealous of any one else."

"But I don't want any one else. What's the use?"

"Yes, you want somebody to antic with, while I am busy, just as I have Billy, somebody of your own age, only you must always like me best. Now come over to see if papa is in his office and talk things over with him. He can advise you a good deal better than I can, Allyn; but, this time, I think I know about what he will say." And she did.

It took more than an hour for Dr. McAlister to explain to his young son the difference between independence and anarchy. There was a fearlessness in the boy's point of view that roused his father's admiration, and more than once he was forced to turn away to hide his amusement at Allyn's disclaimers of anything like personal affection for Jamie.

"Jamie!" he said, in one final outburst. "Jamie! Fifteen years old, and calls himself Jamie! If he'd only brace up and be Jim, there'd be some sort of hope for him."

The result of the discussion was the doctor's sending Allyn back to apologize and take his old place in the school once more, while he sat himself down to write a plain note to the master. Theodora, meanwhile, went in search of Mrs. McAlister. She found her in her own room, humming contentedly to herself over the family mending. Forgetful of her years and her inches, Theodora cast herself down on the floor at her stepmother's feet.

"Whatever made you do it?" she asked without preface.

"Do what?"

"Marry papa."

"Because—well, because he asked me."

"You never would have done it, if you had seen us first," Theodora responded half whimsically, half discontentedly. "Hope and Hubert are all right; but the rest of us are enough to turn your hair white. I was bad enough; and now Phebe is forsaking the world and taking to skeletons, and Allyn is at war with the whole human race, including Mr. Mitchell. Well, Phebe, what now?"

"I heard my name and thought I'd come and take a hand in the discussion," Phebe announced, as she strolled into the room. "Have I done anything you don't like? If I have, just mention it."

"Nothing more than usual," Theodora said, laughing. "Goodness me, Babe! What's that?"

"What's what?" Phebe cast an apprehensive glance behind her.

"In your hand?"

"That? Oh, that's my tibia. I was studying where it articulates into the fibula. It's ever so nice. Just see the cunning little grooves."

"Booh!" Theodora laughed, even in her disgust. "I am not weak-minded, Babe, but those things do not appeal to me."

"Every one to his taste," Phebe said loftily. "I like bones better than Browning, myself. Isabel St. John thinks she will be a nurse."

"Then you can hunt in pairs," Theodora commented irreverently. "I pity the patient. Do you really like this sort of thing, Babe?"

Phebe rested her cheek meditatively against the upper end of her tibia.

"Yes, of course; or else I shouldn't be doing it. Bones, that is, dead ones, are nice and neat; and I don't think I should mind setting live ones. Of course it isn't going to be all bones; but I suppose even literature has its disagreeable sides."

"Yes," Theodora assented, with a passing memory of the pillow reposing on the lawn outside her window. "After all, Babe, I think you lack the real artist's devotion to your work. Even mumps ought to be beautiful in your eyes and meningitis a delight to your soul. The day will come that you will give up medicine and take a course in plain cooking, now mark my words."

"Thanks; but I prefer tibias to tomatoes," Phebe responded. "When I am the great Dr. McAlister, you will change your tune."

"There will never be but one great Dr. McAlister," Theodora answered loyally. "No, mother, I must not stay to lunch, not even if Babe would grill her tibia for me. Billy gets very grumpy, if I leave him alone at his meals. Good-bye, Babe. Don't let anything happen to your grooves."

She went away with a laugh on her lips; but the laugh vanished, as she went up to her writing-room once more and paused for a moment before her closed desk. Then her face cleared, as she hurriedly put herself into Billy's favorite gown and ran down the stairs to meet him in the hall. The woes of book-making and the worries of her family never clouded Theodora's welcome to her husband.



CHAPTER FIVE

"Teddy, did you ever hear me say anything about Gertrude Keith?"

"Why—yes. Wasn't she the cousin who married Harry Everard?"

"Your memory does you credit." Mr. Farrington's eyes belied his bantering tone.

"What about her?"

"Nothing about her. She died, the year before we were married, and left Harry with this one daughter. He has had a housekeeper since then; but the housekeeper took unto herself a husband, a third one, a month ago. Now Harry has been having pneumonia and is ordered to southern France for a while, and he wants to know if the child can come to us."

"What?" Theodora's tone was charged with consternation.

"Isn't it awful? And yet I am sorry for him. We're the nearest relatives the child has except Joe Everard, and naturally she can't be left to the mercies of a bachelor uncle. What shall we do, Ted?"

For one short instant, Theodora stared into the fire. Then she looked up into her husband's blue eyes.

"Take her, of course," she said briskly.

Mr. Farrington had never outgrown certain of his lover-like habits. Now he stretched his hand out to hers for a minute.

"You're a comfort, Ted," he said. "I hated to refuse Harry, for his letter was a blue one. Will she be horribly in the way?"

"No; I sha'n't let her," Theodora answered bluntly. "Don't worry, Billy; we shall get on, I know. Have you ever seen her?"

"Once, when she was in the knitted-sock stage of development. She wasn't at all pretty then."

"How old is she now?"

"Hear what her father saith." And Mr. Farrington took a letter from his breast pocket. Its creases showed signs of the frequent readings it had received that day. As he said, he had disliked to refuse the request of his old friend; but he disliked still more to burden his wife with this new care which would be such an interruption to her work. Moreover, the girl would be in his own way.

"Cicely is just sixteen now," he read, "a bright, sunny-tempered child, and, I hope, not too badly spoiled. You will find her perfectly independent and able to shift for herself; all I want is to have her under proper chaperonage. I should take her with me; but the doctor has forbidden my having the care, and I hate to put the child into a boarding-school."

Theodora laughed, as her husband paused for breath.

"The paternal view of the case, Billy. Cicely is a nice, demure little name; but I suspect that the young woman doesn't quite live up to it. Still, I believe I would rather have an independent damsel than a shrinking one. She will be more in my line."

"But do you think you ought to try it, Teddy?" her husband remonstrated. "Won't it be too hard for you? I can just as well tell Harry to put her into a school."

For one more instant, Mrs. Farrington wavered. Then she saw the frown between her husband's brows, a frown of anxiety, not of discontent.

"No; it will be good for us, Billy. We are getting too staid, and we need some child-life in the house. We can try the experiment, anyway; and it will be easy enough to pack her off to school, after we have grown tired of her. Will you write, to-night?"

"If you are sure you think best."

"I do; and perhaps I'd better put a note into your letter. It may make Harry feel easier about leaving the child with strangers. He will find it hard enough, anyway."

She crossed the room to her desk, to write the letter which was to bring new courage to the anxious, exiled invalid. Suddenly she turned around, with her pen in mid air.

"Billy, the hand of fate is in this. The girl may be just what Allyn needs."

"Ye—es; only it is within the limits of possibility that they may fight."

"Then they will have to make up again, living in such close quarters as this. Besides, that kind of fighting isn't altogether unhealthful. I believe the whole matter is foreordained for Allyn's good."

"It is an optimistic view of the case that wouldn't have occurred to me, Ted. Still, we'll hope for the best."

Valiantly she took his advice and hoped for the best, while she busied herself about the details of receiving her new charge. March was already some days old, and it had been decided that Cicely should arrive on the twentieth, so the time was short. In the midst of her domestic duties, Theodora found time for some hours of writing, each day, for she had a well-founded fear lest the new arrival might be of little help to the cause of light literature. In the intervals, she and Billy discussed the invasion of their hearthstone from every possible point of view; but as a rule the ridiculous side of the situation prevailed and they had moments of wild hilarity over the coming demands on their dignity.

"Uncle William!" Theodora observed, one day. "It suggests a scarlet bandanna and an ivory-headed cane. She will probably embroider you some purple slippers next Christmas too."

"No matter, so long as she doesn't undertake to choose my neckties. Never mind, Ted; the uncertainty will soon be over. She comes, to-morrow."

"I wonder what she really is like," Theodora said slowly. "Paternal testimony doesn't count for much, and I am beginning to be a little alarmed at what I may have undertaken. Independent and not too badly spoiled are not reassuring phrases, Billy."

"Her mother was as staid as a church, and Harry is sobriety itself, so the girl can't have inherited much original sin from either of them. Independent from Harry's point of view doesn't mean the same thing that it would from yours. She probably is a mild-mannered little product of the times."

"I don't know just what I do want," Theodora sighed. "One minute, I hope she will be a modest violet; the next, I am in terror lest she be too insipid. What are girls of that age like, Billy? It is years since I have known any of them. Just now, I am in doubt whether I may not shock her even more than she will shock me. The modern girl is a staid and decorous creature, I suspect; not such a tomboy as I was."

Late the next afternoon they both drove to the station to meet their new relative. In spite of herself, as the time came nearer, Theodora was inclined to treat the whole affair as an immense joke; but her husband had misgivings. Theodora was fitted to cope with any girl he had ever known; but he feared she might find the process more wearing than she anticipated.

"I beg your pardon, but is this Mr. Farrington?"

Both Theodora and Billy started and whirled around. In the rush of incoming passengers, they had been looking for some one smaller, more childish than this tall girl who stood before them. She was not at all pretty. Her brown hair was too straight and lank and light, and her grey eyes had a trick of narrowing themselves to a line; but her expression was frank and open, and she wore her simple grey suit with an air which spoke volumes for her past training. Across her arm hung a bright golf cape with a tag end of grey fur sticking out from the topmost folds.

"Are you Cicely?" Mr. Farrington inquired.

"Yes, and I suppose you are Cousin William. Papa said I'd know you by your hair." She caught herself, with a sudden blush. "Oh, I don't mean that," she added hastily; "I think red hair is just lovely, only it is rather uncommon you know."

Mr. Farrington laughed.

"Yes, fortunately," he remarked.

Cicely eyed him askance for a moment; then she too burst out laughing, while two deep dimples appeared in her cheeks and a queer little pucker came at the outer corners of her eyes. There was something so fresh, so heartily frank about her that Theodora felt a sudden liking for the girl, a sudden homesick twinge for her own healthy girlhood.

"There, I have made another of my speeches!" Cicely was saying, with a contrition that was only half mockery. "I'm always doing it, and you will have to put up with it. But truly I don't mind red hair, as long as it doesn't curl; and I hadn't any idea of being rude."

"Mine is tolerably straight, and I'm not very sensitive about it now for I have had it for some time," Billy observed gravely. "Cicely, this is your Cousin Theodora."

The girl turned around and stretched out her hand eagerly.

"Oh, I am so glad to be with you!" she said. "It seems to me I've loved you always, just from your books. You are so good to let me come to you. Am I going to be very much in the way? I'll try to be very good, just as good as I know how."

"And not be homesick?" Theodora asked laughingly, as she took Cicely's hand in both of hers.

Instantly the grey eyes clouded.

"I'll try not," Cicely answered. "I know I shall be happy, only—I wish papa needn't go so far away. We are all there are, you know, only Uncle Joe." Her lips quivered a little, as Theodora bent down to kiss them.

"Never mind, dear," she said. "It won't be for so very long, and I hope you can be happy with us, even if we are strangers to you. Can't Cousin Will take some of your things?"

"Oh, no; I've only this cape, and there's no need of disturbing Billy," Cicely replied, too absorbed in rubbing away a stray tear or two to heed the glance of astonishment exchanged between her new relatives at the unexpected freedom of her use of Mr. Farrington's name.

Seated in the carriage, all three were conscious of an awkward pause. Cicely broke it.

"Cousin Will, don't you feel as if you had a white elephant on your hands?" she asked so unexpectedly that Theodora blushed and wondered if the girl had been reading her thoughts.

"No; only a grey one. I confess you are larger than I expected to see you. When I met you before, you could have been packed into a peck basket."

"They say I was a good baby," Cicely said reflectively; "they always emphasize the word baby, though, and that hurts my feelings."

"You cried a great deal, and you spent half your energy in trying to eat your own toes. You wore worsted slippers then," Billy answered, amused at a certain off-hand ease that marked her manner. "Perhaps you have improved since then."

"I hope so; but there may be room for it, even now," she returned, laughing.

"Are you going to miss your old friends too much, Cicely?" Theodora asked. "I have a young brother about your age."

"Really? I didn't know that. Is he near you?"

"Next door."

"I'm so glad, for I like boys. I have always been used to them, not flirty; papa wouldn't allow that, but just good friends." Cicely's manner showed her constant association with older people. She and her father had been always together, and their companionship had left its mark upon her. There was no trace of shyness in her manner, no hesitation in taking her share in the conversation. She was perfectly frank, perfectly at ease, yet perfectly remote from any suggestion of pertness. She only assumed it quite as a matter of course that it was worth while to listen to her. "Is your brother like you?"

"No; not really. But you can see for yourself, for he promised to call on you, this evening." Theodora prudently forbore to mention that she had obtained Allyn's promise only at the expense of much coaxing and some bribery.

"That will be good," Cicely remarked with satisfaction. "Papa always says that boys are good for girls; they keep you from getting priggish and conceited. They take all that out of you. What is your brother's name?"

"Allyn."

"I'm glad it is something out of the usual run. Have you some sisters?"

"One, at home."

Cicely clasped her hands contentedly.

"I didn't know I was coming into a whole family. I supposed I should just have to get along with you and Billy—not but what you'd have been enough," she added hastily, as this time she caught the glance exchanged between Theodora and her husband; "only it is rather good to have some young people within reach. Still, it isn't going to be all play for me. Papa wants me to keep up my practice, and that takes five hours a day."

"What kind of practice?" Theodora asked, as the carriage stopped at the steps.

"Piano. I play a good deal. Oh, what a dear place this is! Am I going to live here?" And she ran lightly up the steps, too eager to hear Billy's despairing,—

"Ted! Five hours of strumming, every day! What will you do?"

Or Theodora's laughing reply,—

"I can forgive that, Billy; but it is still rankling within me that we are no longer young. Alas for our vanished youth!"

"Alas for the frankness of childhood, you'd better say," Billy responded.

Inside the broad hall, Cicely walked up to the blazing fire and rested one slim foot on the fender for a moment. Then she bent down and carefully unrolled the cape. The tag end of grey fur stirred itself; there was a little growl, a little bark, and a little grey dog squirmed out of his nest and went waddling away across the rug.

"Mercy on us! What's that?" Theodora gasped, as the little creature shook himself with a vehemence which fairly hoisted him off his hind legs, then flew at the nearest claw of the tiger skin and fell to worrying it.

"That?" Cicely's tone was tinged with a pride almost maternal. "That's Billy. He is a thoroughbred Yorkshire. Isn't he a dear?"



CHAPTER SIX

"Do you know where Billy is?" Theodora asked, coming into the library, one evening.

Cicely glanced up from her book.

"He was here, just a few minutes ago."

"Patrick wants him."

"Who?"

"Patrick."

Cicely looked surprised and closed her book.

"What does Patrick want of him, Cousin Theodora?"

"Why, really, Cicely, he didn't tell me. Did you say he was here just now?"

"Yes, the last I saw of him, he was asleep under the piano."

"Cicely! Oh, you mean the dog."

"Yes. Don't you?"

"No; I meant my husband."

"Oh, I haven't seen him since dinner." And Cicely tranquilly returned to her book, while Theodora departed in search of Mr. Farrington.

"Cicely," she said, when she came back again; "I am sorry; but I am afraid Billy's name will have to be changed."

"Which?" Cicely inquired, as her dimples showed themselves.

"Yours. Mine is the older and has first right to the name. Do you mind, dear? It is horribly confusing and it startles me a little to hear that my husband is asleep under the piano."

The girl laughed, while she tossed her book on the table.

"As startling as it was to me, this noon, when you said my dog was putting on his overcoat in the front hall. It doesn't seem to work well, this duplicating names. What shall we call him,—the puppy, I mean?"

"Melchisedek, without beginning and without end, because his tail and ears are docked," came from the corner.

"Oh, are you there, Babe?"

"Yes, I had some studying to do, and they were too noisy at home, so I came over here. I'm through now, so I am going home. Cicely, I wish you would let me see how many vertebra there are left in Billy's tail. I think he hasn't but one. That is butchery, not surgery, for it doesn't leave him enough to waggle." And Phebe gathered up an armful of books and took her departure.

Silence followed her going. Theodora had dropped down on the couch before the fire and lay staring at the coals. For the moment, she was forgetful of the girl sitting near her, forgetful even of her story which was pressing upon her insistently, yet eluding her just as insistently. In certain moods, she loved the old willow couch. It had played a large part in her girlhood; and now at times it was good to turn her back upon the present and think of the days when, after the memorable Massawan Bridge disaster, Billy Farrington's boyhood had been largely spent upon that lounge and in that library, while she had brought the fresh zest of her work and her play and all her gay girlish interests into his narrow life. Her father's skilful treatment had laid the foundations for the cure which the years had completed, until to-day her husband was as strong a man as she could hope to see. Year after year, her life had grown better and brighter; yet she loved to linger now and then over the good old days. She pressed her cheek into the cushion, and her lids drooped to keep the modern actual scene from destroying the old-time imaginary one.

"Tired, Cousin Ted?" Cicely had dropped down on the couch beside her.

"Not a bit."

"Worried?"

"No, indeed."

"I was afraid something was wrong, you were so quiet." The girl bent over and fell to touching Theodora's hair with light fingers. Suddenly she stooped and snuggled her face against Theodora's cheek. "Oh, I do love to cuddle you," she said impulsively. "I hope you don't mind. Papa used to let me; I wonder if he doesn't miss it sometimes."

Putting out her arm, Theodora drew the girl down at her side.

"Are you homesick, Cicely?"

"For papa, not for anything else. If he were here, or even well, I should be perfectly happy here. Only, Cousin Theodora—"

"Well?"

"Are we very much in the way, Billy and I? We don't belong here, I know; and it isn't our doing that we came. Are you sorry that we are here?"

"No. I am glad to have you with us, Cicely."

Theodora spoke the truth. In some strange fashion she had grown unaccountably fond of Cicely during the past four weeks. The girl was no saint; she was only a clean-minded, healthy young thing, born of good stock, trained by a wise father who believed that, even at sixteen, his tall daughter was still a child, not a premature society girl. He insisted upon plain gowns and a pigtail, upon hearty exercise and wholesome friendships with boys as well as with girls. So far as lay in his power, he had taught Cicely "to ride, to row, to swim, to tell the truth and to fight the devil," and the result was quite to the liking of Billy and Theodora. They enjoyed Cicely's irresponsible fun and her frank expressions of opinion; they enjoyed the atmosphere of ozone that never failed to surround her; they even confessed, when they were quite by themselves, to a sneaking sense of enjoyment in her rare flashes of temper. True, it was not always helpful to Theodora to be roused from her work by the monotonous er-er, er-er of scales and five finger exercises, and there were moments when she wondered if pianos were never built with only a soft pedal and that lashed into a position which would entail chronic operation. There were moments when the house jarred with the slamming of doors and echoed to the shouts of a high, clear young voice; and there were hours and hours when Melchisedek, as he was now to be called, whimpered without ceasing outside her door, with an exasperating determination to come in and sit supreme in the midst of her manuscript.

And then there was Allyn to be considered.

In her most optimistic moments, Theodora had pictured Cicely as a dainty, clinging little maiden who would cajole and coddle Allyn out of his unfriendly moods. Cicely certainly did rouse Allyn from those moods; but it was by no process of feminine cajolery. She went at him, as the phrase is, hammer and tongs. Good-tempered herself, she demanded good temper from him. Failing that, she lectured him roundly. Failing again, she turned her back upon him and left him severely alone, with the result that, in an inconceivably short time, Allyn generally came to terms and exerted himself to be agreeable once more. Allyn still kept up the pretence of indifference to her, of superiority over her; Cicely had no pretences. She showed her liking for him frankly; just as frankly she showed her disgust at his hours of gloom.

Upon one point, however, Allyn maintained a firm stand. He would put up with no endearments. Theodora was the only person who dared lay affectionate hands upon him, who dared address him in affectionate terms. Just once, in the early days of her being in the Farringtons' household, Cicely, moved with pity at the sight of a bruised forefinger, had ventured upon a caressing pat on Allyn's cheek. It was much the caress she would have bestowed upon Melchisedek, if she had chanced to step on his paw; but she never forgot the look of disgusted scorn with which Allyn had marched out of the room. Accustomed from her babyhood to petting her father and being petted by him, the girl was at first at a loss to interpret the situation. When the truth dawned upon her that Allyn was really in earnest, she refused to be suppressed, and persecuted the boy with every species of endearment which her naughty brain could invent.

"Oh, but you are the dearest boy in the world!" she announced, one day, walking into the library at The Savins where Allyn sat reading.

"What do you want now?" he asked gruffly.

"You, of course. I'm lonesome, and I want your society."

"Let my hair alone," he commanded, ducking his head, as she approached his chair.

"I'm not touching it."

"No; but you do sometimes, and I won't have it."

"Yes, it seems so like Melchisedek's that I love to straighten the parting," she said demurely, as she came around to the fire. "Where is Phebe?"

"Playing with her everlasting old skeleton."

"What are you doing?"

"Trying to read, if you'd let me be," growled Allyn, with a despairing look at the book in his hand. "What do you want?"

"You."

"What do you want of me?"

"I'm so fond of you. Besides, I am tired of being alone. Don't you want me to play for you?" Cicely's eyes shone mischievously, as she made the offer.

"Not for a farm. I don't like your diddle-diddles; they haven't a particle of tune to them."

"Come and take me to ride, then."

"Why don't you go alone? I'm busy."

Cicely took forcible possession of his book.

"Allyn, you must come. I've a bad attack of the blues."

"Get rid of them, then."

"That comes well from you."

"What's the matter, Cis?"

"Papa isn't coming home till fall, and I've got to stay here."

Allyn looked up sharply. Then he whistled.

"You don't mean it!"

She nodded, without raising her eyes, and Allyn suddenly discovered that her lids were unusually pink.

"Do you mind it so much?" he added. "Or is he worse?"

"No; only the doctor wants him to stay over there till the lung is all in order again."

"And you are homesick?"

"No,—yes,—a little," she said despondently. "But it's not all that."

"What is it, then?"

"It's the being left here till called for, like a sack of potatoes. Cousin Theodora is too polite to say so; but I know she must wish I were in—Dawson City. It's dreadful, Allyn, not having any real home."

"If that's the way you feel over there, you'd better come here to The Savins and stay," he suggested.

The dimples came back into Cicely's cheeks.

"We should fight, Allyn."

"Who cares? It's only skin deep," he returned, with a sudden gravity which surprised her.

She looked at him steadily for a moment. Then she held out her hand to him.

"Let's not any more, then."

He touched her fingers gingerly, gave them a sudden squeeze and then plunged his fists into his pockets.

"Come on and ride, if you must," he said ungraciously.

She had never seen him in a brighter mood. He chattered ceaselessly, quaint stories of his schoolboy friends, quainter jokes and whimsies and bits of advice for her edification. In such moods, Allyn was well-nigh irresistible, and it was with genuine regret that Cicely turned her face towards home. Her regret, however, was as nothing in comparison with the consternation that seized her, as she entered the house. Before the fireplace in the hall, there always lay the skin of a superb tiger. To-night, before the tiger lay Melchisedek, and before Melchisedek lay a triangular scrap of brownish fur. As Cicely entered, the dog looked up with a bland smile; but the smile changed to a snarl, as she came near and stooped to view the ruin he had wrought. Then he rose, gripped his booty in his sinful little teeth, and trotted before her to the library door. On the threshold, he appeared to come to a sudden realization that justice was in store for him. His mien changed. The pointed, silky little ears drooped, and walking on three legs, stiffly and as if with infinite difficulty, he preceded his mistress to the fireside and laid the severed ear of the tiger on the floor at Theodora's feet, while Cicely exclaimed penitently,—

"Cousin Theodora, what will you do with us? It's bad enough to have me stranded on your threshold, without having Melchisedek hunting big game in your front hall."

The words were flippant; but the tears were near the surface. Billy interposed, for he saw Theodora's color come, and he knew that the rug, his own contribution to her college room, was one of her dearest possessions. He shook his head at the six-pound culprit who stood before him, waggling his stumpy tail in smug satisfaction over the success of his undertaking.

"Change his name to Nimrod, Cis," he said gravely; "and send for Babe to mend her first emergency case."



CHAPTER SEVEN

"Where is Babe?" Dr. McAlister asked, one noon in late May.

"Here." Phebe's voice came from the piazza outside.

"Can you ride over to Bannook Bars, this afternoon?"

"Yes, I suppose so. What for?"

"As substitute for me. Mrs. Richardson has consumed all her pills, and she wants some more."

"Why doesn't she get them, then? You're not an apothecary."

"She refuses to take them, unless I inspect them personally. These are the patients who try one's soul, Babe. I would rather deal with Asiatic cholera than with one fussy old woman with a digestion. They eat hot bread and fried steak, and then they eat pepsin."

"Start a cooking crusade," Phebe suggested lazily. "Well, I'll go."

"Thank you. You need the ride anyway; it will do you good, for you have been working too hard lately. I don't want my apprentice to wear herself out." The doctor patted her shoulder with a fatherly caress; then he turned to go into the house.

"Give me leave to prescribe for Mrs. Richardson?" she called after him.

"Yes, I make her over to you, and you can date your first case from this afternoon," he answered.

"No; I'd rather have something a little younger and more interesting. I will be ready to start, right after lunch."

The office door closed behind her father, and Phebe let her book slide from her knee, as she rested her tired eyes on the fresh green lawn before her. For the past three months, she had worked hard, eager to prove that her home-coming had been inspired by no sudden whim, still more eager to win her father's professional approval. Her work was interesting; and yet at times bones and arteries and nerves had a tendency to pall upon her. She had never dreamed that so much drudgery would attend the early stages of her professional studies. She was heartily sick of the theoretical, and she longed for the practical. She had even teased her father to let her go with him on his rounds. Instead, he had laughed at her and prescribed a further course of drudgery.

"Never mind." she said to herself sturdily. "I'll get there, some day. I won't always carry pills to old women; and when I do get a real case of my own won't I astonish them all!" And events justified her assertion.

She was still sitting there, dreaming of future deeds, when Allyn came out to the veranda.

"Oh, Allyn?"

"Hullo, sawbones!"

"What are you going to do this afternoon?"

"Nothing."

"Don't you want to ride with me?"

"Maybe. Where?"

"To Bannock Bars."

"What for?"

"To take some pills to Mrs. Richardson."

"Not much. Mrs. Richardson is frabjous and a gossip."

"What if she is? You needn't talk to her."

But Allyn shook his head.

"Not if I know myself. I'll oil your wheel for you, Babe, and pack your pills; but I won't go within range of Mrs. Richardson, for she gives me the creeps."

"She won't hurt you."

"No; but she makes me feel clammy in the spine of my back, and then she gives me good advice. I'll tell you, Babe, I'll go and get Cis, and we will ride part way with you. If two people escort you half way, that is as good as having one of them go all the way. Besides, I never feel quite easy when I am all alone with you. If anything happened, you might be moved to experiment on me, and that would be fatal."

On the veranda, after luncheon Allyn and Phebe stood waiting for Cicely. She came running across the lawn at last, trim and dainty in her short grey suit.

"I am sorry to be late," she panted; "but I had to stop to chastise Melchisedek. I found him asleep in Cousin Theodora's fernery. It was so soft and cool that I suppose it tempted him, this hot day, poor little man! But aren't you forcing the season, Babe?"

Phebe looked down at her immaculate duck suit.

"No; it is almost the first of June, and so warm. Besides, I am only going out to the wilderness. I am clean and comfortable, and that is the main thing."

"Unless we get a shower," Allyn suggested.

Phebe looked up at the sky.

"There isn't a cloud in sight, Allyn. It's not going to rain, I know."

"It's sultry. You can't ever tell about a day like this. Still, if you want to risk it,—"

"I do." And Phebe mounted her bicycle.

The Savins lay at the western edge of the town. Beyond it, the road to Bannock Bars led away straight toward the sunset, over hill and hollow, through stretches of sand and along narrow footpaths. It was a road to terrify an amateur; but Phebe's riding was strong and steady, and she was glad to be in the saddle once more, forgetful of her work and only conscious of the sweet spring life about her. It was only an hour later that The Savins was ten miles behind her, and she was setting up her wheel against Mrs. Richardson's stone horse-block.

Mrs. Richardson met her accusingly.

"I hope you've got them pills," she demanded, without any formal preliminaries.

"Yes, my father has sent them."

"I wrote for them, day before yesterday. I thought sure they'd come yesterday."

"He was busy," Phebe said curtly, as she took off her sailor hat and fanned herself.

"Jim Sykes said he see him drivin' off over Wisdom way."

"Yes, he had a case there, an important case." Phebe's head was tilted at an aggressive angle.

"I guess I was some important, or he'd have said so, if he'd see me, last night. I had a bad spell, and like to fainted."

"What had you been eating?" Phebe inquired, with a sudden access of professional severity.

"Be you his youngest girl?" Mrs. Richardson asked rather irrelevantly.

"Yes."

"The one that was in Paris?"

"Yes."

"I wonder at your father's lettin' you go. They say it's an awful wicked city, and I hear it's nip and tuck whether a person comes home as good as she went."

"I didn't find it so."

"Maybe not. Still, it's risky and I don't think much of folks that don't find America good enough for 'em. You look hot. Come in and get a drink of water."

Inside the house and with a glass of water in her hand, Phebe felt that it devolved upon her to make some efforts at conversation.

"You said you were worse, last night; didn't you? What were the symptoms?" she asked, between her sips.

"What's generally the symptoms? I felt sick and wanted to keel over."

"Had you been—?"

"No; I hadn't. You tell your father that I'll tell him about it, when he comes. I ain't goin' to be doctored by hearsay. Did you see Sol Bassitt's barn, as you come over the hill?"

"I came by the lower road."

"What did you do that for? It's a good mile further."

"Yes; but it's better riding, that way."

"You'd better go back over the hill. The barn's worth seein', the best one this side of town." Mrs. Richardson rocked to and fro in exultation at having some one to listen to her month's accumulation of gossip. Bannock Bars was an isolated hamlet, and visitors were few. "Sol's girl, Fannie, has gone to Oswego for a week. She's had scarlet fever, and it left her ailin'. It's too bad, for she is a likely girl."

"Very likely," Phebe assented, half under her breath.

"What?"

"I said it was extremely probable."

"What was?" Mrs. Richardson glared at her guest who was tranquilly waving a palm-leaf fan.

"That Fannie is a good girl."

"Well, she is," Mrs. Richardson returned shortly.

There was a silence, while Phebe inspected the black cambric binding of her fan, and tried to gather energy to go out into the hot sun once more. Mrs. Richardson had rocked herself into more placid humor.

"They've got a boarder over to Sykes's," she resumed.

"Have they?" Phebe spoke indifferently. Bannock Bars was too near town for her to realize how countrified it was, how the coming of a single stranger could stir the placid current of its existence.

"He's from New York, Bartlett is his name, or some such thing. They say he's a music feller."

"A what?" Phebe wondered whether Mrs. Richardson had reference to a member of a German band. The words suggested something of the kind.

"A feller that writes music. I don't know anything about it only what they say. Anyhow, he's brought a pianner with him, and they say he bangs away on it like all possessed, and then stops short and scolds. I went past there, one day, when the windows was open, and I heard him thumpin' and tiddlin' away for dear life. It didn't seem to me there was much tune to it, nor time neither; you couldn't so much as tell where one line left off and the next begun."

Phebe's fan slid out of her lap, and, as she stooped to pick it up, she dropped her handkerchief.

"Have you seen him?" she asked, when she was upright once more.

"How?"

"Have you ever seen this Mr. Bartlett?"

"Yes. He goes round in one of these short-pant suits and great coarse stockin's and shoes, and he never acts as if he knew what he was about. Half-baked, I call him. He holds his head like this, and he struts along as if Bannock Bars wa'n't half good enough for him. Mis' Sykes says he ain't a mite fussy, though, takes what she gives him and don't complain. Land! If he can stand Eulaly Sykes's cookin', he must be tough."

"Perhaps he will keel over, some day," Phebe suggested.

"I should think he would. But then, they say folks like him eat all sorts of things at night suppers, so I suppose he is used to it." She rocked in silence, for a moment; then she went on, "What do you find to do with yourself, now you're home again? You was with Mis' Farrington's folks; wasn't you, she that was Theodora McAlister?"

"Yes."

"She does a good deal of writin', I hear. Does she get much out of it?"

Phebe hesitated, assailed by doubts as to how large a story Mrs. Richardson would swallow, and her hostess swept on,—

"She's spreadin' herself a good deal, and it can't all be her earnin's. Do you take after her?"

"No; I am studying medicine."

"I want to know! What for?"

"To be a doctor, I suppose." Phebe rose and put on her hat.

Mrs. Richardson took a step towards her.

"You don't want a skeleton; do you?" she asked. "I've got one I'd sell cheap."

For one instant, Phebe hesitated. Unexpected as was the offer, it appealed to her. There was a certain dignity in having one's own skeleton; it was the first step toward professional life. That one instant's hesitation settled the matter, for Mrs. Richardson saw it and was swift to take advantage of it.

"It belonged to His sister's husband," she said, with a jerk of her head toward the portrait of her late husband. "He was a doctor and, when he died, all his trumpery was brought here and stowed away in our garret. It's as good as new, and you can have it for five dollars."

"I—don't—know," Phebe said slowly.

Mrs. Richardson interposed.

"I don't want to be hard on you. 'Tain't a very big one, and it ain't strung up," she said persuasively. "You can have it for three. It's a splendid chance for you."

Phebe yielded.

"Well, I'll take it, if it is all there."

"I'll get it, and you can let your father count it up. I'm willing to leave it to him." And Mrs. Richardson went hurrying out of the room.

She was gone for some time. When she came back again she bore in her arms a bundle, large, knobby and misshapen. It was wrapped in newspapers which had cracked away here and there over the end of a rib; but it was enclosed in a network of strings that crossed and crisscrossed like a hammock.

"I thought you might just as well take it right along with you," she said. "You can send me the money in a letter, if it's all right, but land knows when you will be here again, and I hain't got anybody to send it by."

Phebe looked appalled. In a long experience of bicycling, she had scorned a carrier, and she stood firmly opposed to the idea of converting her wheel into a luggage van.

"I can't carry that," she said.

"Yes, you can. Just string it over your forepiece and it will go all right. It ain't heavy for anything so bulky. I'll help you tie it on." And she prepared to execute her offer.

"Oh, don't! At least, I'm much obliged; but—Oh, dear, if I must take it, I suppose I must; but I think I'd better tie it on, myself."

"Just as you like. You'd better hurry up a little, though, for I shouldn't wonder if it rained before sundown."

"Rain? Then I can't take this thing." Phebe paused, with the string half tied.

"Oh, I'll risk it. Besides if you don't take it, there's a man in Greenway that will."

Phebe looked at her hostess, shut her teeth, jerked the knot tight, and was silent; but there was a dangerous gleam in her eyes, as she mounted and rode away, with her three-dollar skeleton clattering on the handle-bars before her.



CHAPTER EIGHT

There is a certain inconvenience coupled with being called upon to pose as a genius at the comparatively early age of twenty-six. Popular theory to the contrary, notwithstanding, it is easier to plod slowly along on the path to fame. Greatness does not repeat itself, every day in the week. But fate had overtaken Gifford Barrett, and had hung a wreath of tender young laurels about his boyish brow. He deserved the wreath, if ever a boy did. Two years before, fresh from the inspiration of his years in Germany and of his German master, he had composed his Alan Breck Overture. It would have been well done, even for a man many years his senior, and it quickly won a place on the programmes of the leading orchestra's of the country. He had known what it was to be called out from his box at the Auditorium or Carnegie Hall to bow to the audience, while the orchestra thumped their approval on their music racks. He had been hailed even as the American Saint Saens, and it was small wonder that he began to feel the wreath too tight a fit for his brows.

His family was well known and, from the first, society had claimed him for her own. He had the gift of talking well, of dancing better; and he had found it easy to drift along from day to day, neglecting his music for the sake of the invitations that poured in upon him. In his more conscientious moments, he told himself that he would do all the better work as the result of seeing the life of his native city; but so far its influence had been only potent to move him to write a triplet of light songs and to dedicate them to three of the prettiest girls in his set, no one of whom was able to sing a note in tune.

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