MARIA THOMPSON DAVIESS
Author of The Tinder Box, The Melting of Molly, etc.
With Illustrations by Percy D. Johnson
New York The Century Co.
HELENA RUTH KETCHAM
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Down that garden path I flew (Frontispiece)
Then Roxanne and the bottle and I all collapsed on the grass together
He stood there in the doorway and laughed until his big shoulders shook
I never saw my father's face so lovely
Tony ... nosed almost every inch of the shed
He just moaned he was making an explosion
The Colonel handed me the medal
"You stand right here and tell me how it all looks"
The country is so much larger than the city and so empty that you rattle around in it until you wonder if you are ever going to get stuck to any place, especially if there isn't a house numbered anywhere. Our street is named Providence Road and the house Byrd Mansion and I am afraid I'll never be at home there as long as I live. But the doctor says Mother has to live in the country for always, and I'm only glad it isn't any countrier than Byrdsville.
The worst thing about it to me is that this house I live in and the town I live in are named for the lovely dark-eyed girl who lives down in the old-fashioned cottage that backs up on our garden. She moved out for me to move in, just because I am rich and she is poor. I can't look at her straight, but I love her so that I can hardly stand it. All the other girls in school love her too, and she is not at all afraid of the boys, but treats them just as if they were human beings and could be loved as such. That awful long-legged Tony walks home with her almost every day and they all laugh and have a good time.
I always wait until everybody has gone down the street with everybody else so they won't see how lonesome I am. Crowded lonesomeness is the worst of all. There are many nice boys and girls just about my age here in Byrdsville; but they can never like me. I'm glad I found it out before I tried to be friends with any of them. The first day I came to the Byrd Academy I heard Belle tell Mamie Sue how to treat me, and that is what settled me into this alone state.
"Of course, be polite to her, Mamie Sue," Belle said, not knowing that I was behind the hat-rack, pinning on my hat. "But there never was a millionaire in Byrdsville before, and I don't see how a girl who is that rich can be really nice. The Bible says that it is harder for a rich man to get to heaven than for a knitting-needle to stick into a camel, because he and it are blunt, I suppose; and it must be just the same with such a rich girl. Poor child, I am so sorry for her; but we must be very careful."
"Why, Belle," said Mamie Sue, in a voice that is always so comfortable because she is nice and fat, "Roxy said she was going to like her a lot, and she's got Roxy's lovely house while Roxy has to live in the cottage, which is just as bad as moving into a chicken coop after the Byrd Mansion. If Roxy likes her, it seems to me we might. She didn't turn us out of house and home, as the almanac says."
"Don't you see that Roxy has to be nice to her, because if she isn't we will think it is spite about the house? Roxy can't show her resentment, but her friends can. I'm a friend."
Belle uses words and talks like a grown person in a really wonderful way. She is the smartest girl in the rhetoric class and, of course, she knows more than most people, and Mamie Sue realizes that. So do I. I saw just how they all felt about me, and I don't blame them—but I just wish every time Roxanne Byrd smiles at me that I didn't have to make myself stop and remember that she does it because she has to.
"But I believe Phyllis is a nice girl," Mamie Sue said. Mamie Sue reminds me of a nice, fat molasses drop, with her yellow hair and always a brown dress on.
"The city is an awful wicked place, Mamie Sue, even if it is only just a hundred miles away. Let's don't think about the poor thing." Belle answered positively, and they went out of the door.
I wanted to sit down and cry as I feel sure any girl has a right to do; only I never have learned how to do it. Crying with only a governess to listen to and reprove a person is no good at all; only mothers can make crying any comfort, and mine is too feeble to let me do anything but tiptoe in and hold her hand while the nurse watches me and the clock to send me out. Fathers just stiffen girls' backbones instead of encouraging wet eyelashes—at least that is the way mine affects me.
No, I didn't sit down and cry when I found out that I wasn't to have any friends in Byrdsville for the just cause of being too rich, but I stiffened my mind to bear it as a rich man's daughter ought to bear her father's mistakes in conduct.
What made me know that the girls had the right view of the question was what I had found out about it for myself this spring from reading magazines, and I have been distressed and uneasy about Father ever since. His own cousin, Gilmore Lewis, who is a fine man, as everybody knows and as is often published, runs one of the greatest weekly magazines in New York, and he put a piece in it that would have proved to a child in the second reader how wicked it is to be millionaire men. Father's name was not mentioned, but many of his friends' were, and of course I knew that it was just courtesy of his Cousin Gilmore to leave it out.
I know it is all wrong, with so many poor people and starvation at every hand. I see that! But in spite of his terrible habit of making money I love and trust my father and expect to keep on doing it. He understands me as well as a man can understand a girl, and he is regardful for me always. He looked at me for a long time one night a week before he moved down here in this Harpeth Valley, where the air is to keep Mother a little longer for us to know she's here even if we can't always see her every day, and then he said:
"Phil, old girl, I'm not going to take Miss Rogers with us to go on with your solitary brand of education. There is a little one-horse school in Byrdsville that they call the Byrd Academy, and I watched a bunch of real human boys and girls go in the gate the morning I got there. I think you will have to be one of them. I want to see a few hayseeds sprinkled over your very polished surface."
I laughed with him. That is the good thing about Father: you can always laugh with him, even if you are not sure what you are laughing about. Laughing at a person is just as rude as eating an apple right in his face. Father always divides his apple. Though rich, he is a really noble man.
But although I didn't cry when I heard Belle talking a course of righteous action into fat Mamie Sue about me, I made up my mind that I would have to have some sort of person to talk to, so I bought this book. I am going to call it "Louise" and do as good a stunt of pretending that it has got brown hair and blue eyes and a real heart as I can. All I have written up to now has just been introducing myself to Louise. Our real adventures and conversations will come later.
Before I have gone to bed all this week I have been taking a peep out of my window down over the back garden to Roxanne Byrd's cottage and asking her in my heart to forgive me for taking her home, and asking God to make her love the cottage as I would like to be let to love her. To think that I have to sleep in her great-grandmother's four-poster bed that Roxanne has always slept in! I have to pray hard to be forgiven for it and to be able to endure the doing of it. Good-night!
This has been a very curious and happy kind of day, Louise, and I feel excited and queer. I have had a long talk with Roxanne Byrd over our garden fence, and she is just as wonderful as I thought she was going to be. A person's dream about another person is so apt to be a kind of misfit, but Roxanne slipped into mine about her just as if it had been made for her.
The little Byrd boy is named Lovelace Peyton for his two grandfathers, and he looks and sounds just like he had come out of a beautiful book; but he doesn't act accordingly. He is slim and rosy and dimply, with yellow curls just mopped all over his head, and he has blue eyes the color that the sky is hardly ever; but from what Roxanne says about him I hardly see how he will live to grow up. He falls in and sits in and down and on and breaks and eats things in the most terrible fashion, and he has all sorts of creeps and crawls in his pocket all of the time. He pulls bugs and worms apart and tries to put them together again; and he choked the old rooster nearly to death trying to poke down his throat some bread and mud made up into pills.
That is what I ran to help Roxanne about, and the poor old chicken was gaping and gasping terribly. I held him while she made Lovelace Peyton put his finger down in the bill and pull up the wad he had been trying to push down.
"That old rooster have got rheumatiz, Roxy, and now he'll die with no pill for it," said Lovelace, as he worked his dirty little finger down after the mud and bread; but he got it out and the poor old chicken hopped off with all his feathers ruffled up and stretching his neck as if to try it.
"Oh, Lovey, please don't kill the chickens," Roxanne said in a tone of real pleading.
"I don't never kill nothing, Roxy," he answered indignantly. "If a thing can't get well from me doctoring it, it dies 'cause it wants to. Since Uncle Pomp let me put that mixtry of nice mud and brick dust on his shoe he don't suffer with his frost-bit heel no more. He's going to stop limping next week if I put it on every day. I'm going to pound another piece of brick right now," and he went around the house with the darlingest little lope, because he always rides a stick horse, which prances most of the time.
"Oh, isn't he awful?" said Roxanne; but there was the kind of pride in her voice and the kind of look in her eyes that I would have if I had a little brother like that, even if he was so dirty that he would have to be handled with tongs.
"He's so awful I wish he was mine," I answered, and then we both laughed.
I had never thought, leather Louise, that I would have a nice laugh like that with a girl who was only treating me kindly to keep from the sin of spite. It was hard to believe that Roxanne didn't really like me when she went on to tell me some of the dreadful funny things Lovelace Peyton does almost every hour. I forgot about her feeling for me and was laughing at her description of how she came home from school one day and found old Uncle Pompey, who is as black and old as a human being can be and is all the servant Roxanne has to help her, cooking dinner with a piece of newspaper pasted in strips all over his face, which was Lovelace Peyton's remedy for neuralgia.
But just as I was enjoying myself so as to be almost unconscious I saw Belle and Mamie Sue and Tony Luttrell coming around the corner of the street past the front gate of Byrd Mansion and down toward the cottage. Nobody knows how hard it is for me to see every nice body my own age pass right by my gate in a procession to see Roxanne when I can't go, too.
Tony didn't see me standing by the garden fence, and he gave the funny little whistle that he calls the Raccoon whistle for the Palefaces and which he always whistles when he wants to signal something to one of the girls. Then suddenly they all saw me, and that politely enduring look came over all three faces at once, though Mamie Sue's face is so jolly and round by nature that it is very hard to prim it down suddenly, and I don't believe she would always trouble to put it on for me, only Belle seems to demand it of her as an echo of her sentiments toward me. Some people can't seem to be sure of themselves unless they can get somebody else to echo them and I think that is why Belle has to keep poor Mamie Sue at her elbow all the time.
But when I saw the politeness plaster spread itself over all their faces at the sight of me enjoying myself like any other girl, I just turned away wearily and started back along my own garden path, back to my own house which I felt that I ought not to be living in. But something sweet happened to me before I left that makes me feel nice and warm even now to think about.
"Please don't go away, Phyllis," said Roxanne, looking right into my face with such a lovely look in her own eyes that it was almost impossible, for an instant, for me to believe it was charity.
For a moment I wanted to stay, and almost did; but if she could be generous, so could I, and I didn't intend to spoil their fun for even a minute, so I just smiled at her and bowed to them as I walked away.
Nobody knows how it does hurt me to be this kind of an outcast! I have lived fifteen years with a sick mother, and a governess and trained nurses, and never a chance of having friends; and now that one is just at my back door I can't have her because useless wealth is between us. Is there no way the rich can turn poor without disgrace? But I've got that smile from Roxanne and I'm going to believe it was meant for the real me. Good-night!
* * * * *
I'm so full of happiness and scare and a secret that if I didn't have this little book to spill some of it out to I don't know what I would do. A secret sometimes makes a girl feel like she would explode worse than a bottle of nitroglycerin, though it makes me nervous even to write the word when I think of what might have happened to Lovelace Peyton if I hadn't had a father who is cool enough to keep his head at all times and handed that quality down to me.
Tony Luttrell is the leader of the Raccoon Patrol of the Boy Scouts, and he has a star for pulling Pink Chadwell out of the swimming-pool one day last summer when Pink had eaten too many green apples and the cold water gave him cramps. Tony had to hit him on the head to keep them both from being drowned. It was a grand thing for him to do, and everybody in this town looks up to Tony as a hero. Roxanne says the thing that hurts her most is that she can't tell all the boys and girls how brave I am because of the secret which I had to find out when I saved the life of Lovelace Peyton.
"Oh, Phyllis, to think they can't all know what a noble girl you are to risk your life, when you knew it, to get Lovey out for me," Roxanne said, after we had locked things up and got Lovelace to promise never to go near that window again and were sitting on the little back porch of the cottage trembling with fear and being very happy together.
"I don't care what they think about me, Roxanne, just so you will be my friend sometimes in private when the others are not around," I said, in a voice that wanted to tremble, but I wouldn't let it.
"Do you think I would do a thing like that, Phyllis—be a girl's friend in private?" Roxanne asked, and her head went up into a stiff-necked pose like that portrait of her great-grandmother Byrd that looks so haughtily out of place hanging over the fireplace in the living hall in the little old cottage, in spite of the room full of old mahogany furniture and silver candlesticks brought from Byrd Mansion to keep her company. "I'm going to be your friend all the time, and it is none of the others' business. I have always wanted to be, but you were so stiff with me; and Belle said she felt that you had so many friends out in the world, where you have traveled, that you wouldn't want us."
If I had answered what I wanted to about Belle Kirby, I should have been very much ashamed by this time. Like a flash it came over me that it would be a poor way to begin being friends with Roxanne to make her see what a freak one of her best friends was, so I held the explosion back.
"She was mistaken, Roxanne," I said; and I couldn't help being a little sad as I spoke the truth out to her, for I am fifteen years old, and fifteen are a good many years to live lonely. "I haven't any friends in all the world. We have traveled everywhere trying to get mother well, but I've had no chance to make friends. This is the first time a girl ever talked to me in my life, and I never did talk to a boy—and I never want to."
"Oh, Phyllis, how dreadful!" said Roxanne; and she gave me such a hug around the neck that it hurt awfully, only I liked it. It did feel funny to have somebody sniffing tears of sympathy against your cheek, and I didn't know exactly what to do. Petting has to be learned by degrees and you can't come to it suddenly. But I was happy.
And I'm happier to-night than I ever was in my life, only still scared quite a little, too. I wonder how the boys and girls are going to like Roxanne's being friends with me. How can they hate me if I haven't ever done anything to them? It makes me nervous to think about it, and that combined with the secret and the accident that didn't happen to Lovelace Peyton make my writing so shaky that I may never be able to read it.
This is the accident and the secret. Of course, I knew that there never was such a glorious person born in the world as Roxanne's grown brother, Mr. Douglass Byrd, but I didn't know what kind of a genius he was. It was something of a shock to find out, for I felt sure he was a wonderful poet that the world was waiting to hear sing forth. That is what he looks like. He's tall and slim except his shoulders, which are almost as broad as father's, and his eyes are the night-sky kind that seem to shine because they can't help it. His smile is as sweet as Roxanne's, only the saddest I ever saw; and his hair mops in curls like Lovelace Peyton's, only it is black, and he won't let it. This description could fit a great artist or a novelist or an orator, but he isn't even any of these; he's an inventor.
The invention has something to do with the pig iron out at the Cumberland Iron Furnaces that father owns in the Harpeth Valley, and Mr. Douglass works for him. It turns it into steel sooner than anybody else has ever discovered how to do it before, and it is such a wonderful invention that it will make so much money for him and his family that they won't know what to do with it. Roxanne is going to tell me more about it to-morrow.
I didn't say anything to keep Roxanne from being happy over her brother getting all that money, but it made me sad. The more money you get the less happiness there seems to be on the market to buy. All Father's dollars couldn't have bought me even one of those hugs around the neck from Roxanne—I had to risk my life to get them. And that's where Lovelace Peyton and his badness come in. I'm catching my breath as I think about it.
Mr. Douglass has a little shed down in the cottage garden boxed off to make his experiments in. He keeps it locked up with a padlock, and has commanded that nobody is to go even near the door. There is one big bottle that has some kind of nitroglycerin mixture in it that is going to blow the iron into steel while it is hot, he hopes. Roxanne knows it because he showed it to her, and he told her if the cottage ever got on fire to run and get it and carry it carefully away first before it could blow up the town. It must never be jolted in any way. She has a key to the shed that she guards sacredly.
If there is one thing in the world that Lovelace Peyton wants worse than any other, it is bottles. He takes every one he can find and just begs for more. He has a place down by the garden wall, behind a chicken coop, where he makes his mixtures and keeps all the bottles. He's going to be a famous surgeon and doctor some day if he lives, which I now think is doubtful.
I was down in my garden on the other side of the wall from him picking some leaves off the lavender bushes Roxanne's great-grandmother had planted in that lovely old garden, which is so full of Roxanne's ancestral flowers that it grieves me to think I have to own them instead of her. I haven't been letting myself go down there often, because I was afraid she would suspect how much I wanted her to come out and talk to me like she did the day of Lovelace Peyton's rooster excitement; but sometimes I think my dignity ought to let me go and pick just a little of the lavender, and I go. I went this afternoon, and I believe God sent me and so does Roxanne.
Suddenly, as I bent over the bushes picking, I heard a wail in Roxanne's sweet voice and I looked up quick. There she stood in the back door, as white as a pocket handkerchief, shuddering and pointing to me to look down at the end of the garden right near me.
"Oh, Phyllis," she chattered through her shaking teeth just so I could hear it, "if he drops that big bottle, the whole town will be blown to pieces. How can we save it and him?"
And when I looked and saw Lovelace Peyton, I began to shudder too. He was hanging half in and half out of a little window high up in the shed like a skylight, and the big bottle was slowly slipping as he tried to wriggle either in or out. There was no ladder in sight, and neither of us was near tall enough to reach him. He was beginning to whimper and be scared himself, and I could see the heavy bottle start to slip faster from his arm. We had less than a second to lose. I thought and prayed both at the same time, which I find is a good thing to do in such times of danger. You haven't got time to do them separately. The idea came! I have had lots of teaching by different gymnasium teachers wherever we happened to live for a few months, and I'm as strong as most boys. I know how to do things with myself like boys do.
"Hold your bottle tight, Lovelace Peyton; don't let it fall; it'll be good for mixing in and I can get you loose," I called as I scrambled over the wall and met Roxanne just under the window. I saw him hug it up tight again as he stopped squirming.
"Quick, Roxanne, step on my shoulder," I told her; and I bent down and held up my hand to her.
"Oh, can you hold me up, Phyllis?" she gasped; but she put her foot on my right shoulder and, leaning against the wall, I pulled myself up little by little, holding her hand while she clung to the wall to balance herself.
"Keep still, Lovey, just a minute longer," she said shakily. "Just an inch more, Phyllis," she whispered to me; and, though I was almost strained to death, I stretched another inch. Then I heard her give a sob and I knew she had the bottle.
But even if she did have the bottle we had to get it down without a jar, and I was giving way in every bone in my body. But I thought of Napoleon Bonaparte and Gen. Robert E. Lee and braced a minute longer as Roxanne climbed down over me with that horrible bottle in her arms.
Then Roxanne and the bottle and I all collapsed on the grass together; and if we had known how, I think the poetic thing for us to have done was to have fainted. But we did know how to giggle and shake at the same time, and that is what we did until Lovelace Peyton howled so loud we had to begin to get him down. And the getting him loose took us a nice long time that was very good for him. We had to get the key and unlock the shed and get a table and a chair on both the inside and outside, and Roxanne pushed while I pulled. We tore him and his clothes both a great deal, but at last we landed him. Then Roxanne put him to bed to punish him and to mend his dress at the same time. That was when she told me the great secret that it is hurting me to keep, because it has got my Father mixed up in it in a sort of conspiracy like you read about in books. I don't dare write it even to you, leather Louise.
Changing a lifelong principle is almost as difficult as wearing new shoes that don't exactly fit you, and it makes you feel just as awkward and limp in mind as the shoes do in feet. Still I believe in adopting new ideas. I have never liked the appearance of boys, and I never supposed that when you knew one it would be a pleasant experience; but in the case of Tony Luttrell it is, and in the case of Pink Chadwell it is almost so.
I don't know what Roxanne said to them all to explain her relations of friendship with the heathen—myself—but it was funny to see how they tried to please her by seeming to like me, only Tony didn't seem. He offered me himself as a friend along with all the bites I cared to take off the other side of a huge apple he was eating. I took the bites and Tony at the same time with fear and trembling, but my confidence in him grows every day. It grows in Pink, also, only much more slowly.
Tony is long-legged and colty looking, with such a wide mouth and laughing kind of eyes that the corners of your own mouth go up when you look at him, and he raises a giggle in your inside by just a funny kind of flare his eyes have got; but Pink Chadwell is different. Poor Pink is so handsome that he is pitiful about it. He carries a bottle of water in his pocket to keep the curl of his front hair sopped out, but he can't keep his lovely skin from having those pink cheeks. Tony calls him "Rosebud" when he sees that he has got used to hearing himself called "Pinkie" and is a little happy.
The surprise to me was that the boys were so much nicer to me than the girls when Roxanne adopted me; but then it didn't make so much difference to them. The girls are always together in all of the important things of their lives, while most of the time the boys just forget all about us, unless they need us for something or we get ahead of them in class.
"I'm so glad that you are going to stay and have lunch with us to-day," Belle said to me the first time I let Roxanne beg me into bringing my lunch instead of going home for it, as I had been doing every day to keep from seeming to be so alone, eating all by myself while they had spread theirs all together out on the side porch or even out on the big flat stone when it was warm enough. "When Roxy wanted to invite you, I felt sure you wouldn't come."
Some people have a way of freezing up all the pleasure that they can get close enough to talk over. Belle is that kind. She made me so uncomfortable that I was about to do some freezing on my own account when Mamie Sue lumbered into the conversation in such a nice, friendly way that I laughed instead.
"I hope you brought a lot of food, for I'm good and hungry to-day," she said. "I ate so many biscuits for breakfast that I left myself only five to bring for lunch. Our cook makes the same number every day and I just see-saw my lunch and breakfast in a very uncomfortable way. So many biscuits for breakfast, so few for lunch!" That jolly, plump laugh of Mamie Sue's is going to save some kind of a serious situation yet, friend leather Louise.
If you are the kind of person that has dumb love for your friends, you see more about them than folks who can express themselves on the sacred subject. That lunch party with those five jolly girls out in the side yard of the Byrd Academy gave me a funny, uneasy feeling, and I now know the reason. Roxanne Byrd brought one small apple, two very thin biscuits, and some cracked hickory nuts. She carefully ate less than she brought. Something took my appetite when I saw her eat so little, and there was a quantity of food left for somebody to consume, and she hungry. I was afraid we'd have to send for a doctor for Mamie Sue after she had cleared my large napkin we spread to put it all on. The Jamison biscuits are cut on the same plump pattern that Mamie Sue is and all my sandwiches were good and thick.
But when Roxanne didn't eat I suffered. One of the most awful situations in life is to have one of your friends be the sort of girl that has a town named after her and wonderful family portraits and such dainty hands and feet that shabby shoes don't even count, and then to know that she is hungry most of the time from being too poor to get enough food. For two days I have had to keep my mind off Roxanne Byrd to make myself swallow one single morsel of anything to eat. I suspected it at the school lunch but I was certain of it from the way Lovelace Peyton consumed the first cooky I offered him over the fence. Thank goodness, he has no family pride located in his stomach, and when my feelings overcome me he is the outlet. I can feed him anything at all hours and he is always ready for more. It may be wrong to keep it from his sister when I know how she feels about it, but I can't help that. I have to fill him up. His legs look too empty for me.
But, to do Lovelace Peyton justice, he has got his own kind of pride, and I understand it better than I do Roxanne's.
"For these nice eatings, I'll cut a cat open for nothing and let you see inside what makes him go, if you get the cat," he offered, after he had eaten two slices of buttered bread and the breast of half a chicken out behind one of the lilac bushes in his ancestral garden that is now mine.
Now, I call that a fair proposition, considering the circumstances, and I wish I could make Roxanne be as sensible in spirit. But I can't. Family pride is a terrible thing, like lunacy or hysterics when a person gets it bad.
However, I decided to talk to Roxanne about her financial situation, and I began as far off from the subject as I could, so as to approach it with caution.
I made a start with a compliment. A sincere compliment is a good way to start being disagreeable to a person for her own benefit.
"Roxanne," I said, with decided palpitation in my heart that I kept out of my voice, "you didn't know, did you, that you are one fifteen-year-old wonder, done up in a feminine edition with curls and dark eyes? How do you manage it all?"
"I'm not, and I don't," answered Roxanne with a laugh as she drew a long needle across a mammoth darn she was making on the knee of a stocking which was quite as small as the darn was large. "I don't manage at all; everybody will tell you so. Miss Prissy Talbot says she can't get to sleep at night until twelve o'clock because she has to pray about so many things that might happen to us poor forlorns if she didn't. I am mighty thankful to her, for I don't have time to pray much. I am so tired when I go to bed. I just say 'God, you know,' and go to sleep. He understands, 'cause Miss Prissy has told him all about it beforehand."
"I just guess He does—without Miss Talbot's telling Him either," I answered as I came and sat on the front steps beside Roxanne. "And another thing, Roxanne—I—er, I don't quite know how to say it—but you—you talk like you are—that is, you seem to be friends with God just like you are with Tony Luttrell and Belle and Miss Prissy and the Colonel—and me," I continued with embarrassment.
"I am," answered Roxanne, with beautiful positiveness. "I decided to have Him for one of my friends 'most two years ago after Father and Mother died almost together. When Douglass told me that we would have to sell Byrd Mansion and move down here in this old cottage that had been great-grandfather's gardener's house, with only Uncle Pompey to help me take care of it and him and Lovelace Peyton, he asked me if I couldn't stand by. I held my head up just as high as great-grandmother Byrd does in her portrait and said: 'Yes!' 'Then God help you,' he said, and he hugged me up under his chin. Then we all moved; and God has helped."
"He must have," I answered devoutly, meaning what I said. And as I spoke something in me was loosened and I felt a wonderful difference about God. The God that a governess explains out of a book to you and the One that really comes down and helps a girl friend so that she can speak of Him with confidence as a friend, are two distinct people. I am going to feel about Him as Roxanne does and speak of Him when I want to and write about Him to you, Louise, just as I do about all of the other interesting inhabitants of Byrdsville.
"Oh," laughed Roxanne, as she snipped a thread and began to cross-stitch the mammoth cavern, never dreaming of the momentous resolve she was interrupting in my heart, "it is not so bad this year, because Lovey has got so nice and steady on his feet and doesn't put things in his mouth any more. Now he is so busy hunting and doctoring his 'squirms' as he calls them, that I have lots of free time to mend and darn and work. Of course, it is hard to have him keep them in his apron pocket and always carrying them in his hand when he hasn't a bottle that smells bad to carry. Just yesterday he brought a queer kind of—Oh, what do you suppose he has found now?"
And with the fear and trembling that all girls have the right to feel of "squirms" both Roxanne and I sat petrified while Lovelace Peyton came around the house at full gallop and drew up in front of us on the brick walk. His face was streaked with mud, and in one hand he held an old tomato can and in another a dangerous-looking pointed stick.
Lovelace Peyton is freckled and snub-nosed and patched in various unexpected places and his eyes were sweet like Roxanne's as they flared with excitement when he paused for breath before he unfolded his tale of the adventure from which he had just arrived.
"Guess what crawl I have founded now, Roxy?" he demanded with confidence that sympathy would be extended him over his good-fortune.
"I can't guess, Lovey, but please don't let it out," answered Roxanne with the expected sympathy slightly tinged with entreaty in her voice. I moved down one step so as to be nearer the capture, for Lovelace Peyton's enthusiasm was contagious.
"It's a chicken sk-snake," he proclaimed proudly; and while both Roxanne and I tucked our feet up under our skirts and squealed, he drew with triumph a very fat, red fishing-worm out of the can and displayed it, hanging across one of his chubby fingers. "It's a lovely chicken-eating sk-snake," he said with breathless admiration.
"Y-e-s," I said doubtfully. "But it couldn't eat a chicken very well, could it, Lovelace Peyton?" I asked politely, with my doubts of the helpless red string hanging on his finger well under control. Roxanne had gone back to her darning with relief plainly written all over her face.
"This sk-snake could eat up five chickens or maybe more if you give him time," defended his captor warmly.
"It—it looks rather small to be so savage, Lovey," argued Roxanne mildly as she went on darning.
"It's sick some—wait till I put it in pepper tea," said Lovelace Peyton as he lifted the worm.
"Ask Uncle Pomp what he thinks," advised Roxanne, hoping to get rid of the squirm.
"I bet Uncle Pomp will be skeered to death of him," answered the proud hunter as he took his departure around the house.
"Oh," sighed Roxy, "some day he will find a real snake and then what will I do?"
"That is just what I was talking about, Roxanne," I said, returning to my subject, which is the way my slow, methodical mind works in direct contrast to Roxanne's way of forgetting one thing because of enthusiastic interest in the next. "I don't see how you attend to all of this, this—" I paused to find a name for Roxanne's tumultuous household.
"Menagerie," Roxanne suggested, with a laugh that floated out over the bed of ragged red chrysanthemums as sweet and clear as the note of the cardinal in the tall elm by the gate.
"It's how you get your lessons and stay high up in your class I don't understand," I answered, still using my compliment tactics. "I've only known you less than a month, so it might be just luck that you got first mention for your character sketch of Hawthorne in the rhetoric class; but Tony says you always get it. You recite your German poems like they were English, and you feel them as much as you do Cassabianca. When do you study?"
"Never," answered Roxy with a ruthful smile; "but, Phyllis, in school I listen. I have to. Just school hours are all I have; but I learn lessons while they are being recited, and write exercises and things in that one free hour I have at ten o'clock. If nothing like mumps or whooping-cough happens to Lovey this winter or next, I believe I will be ready to go to college with you and Belle and Mamie Sue and Tony and Pink. I've asked Miss Prissy to be sure and pray away those mumps and whooping-cough. I could manage measles."
"But you are just one girl, Roxanne, with the usual number of hands and feet and eyes and things," I said, with an intention of bringing things to the point of the embarrassing hunger. But my point was reached in the conversation by Roxanne herself without my being quite ready for it.
"Yes, I know that, but for a little while I have got to be several," she answered with a laugh. "Douglass has succeeded in the experiments out there in the back yard, but he can't be certain of the process until he tries it on a whole oven full of ore some night out at the furnaces. He just works every minute he can get, all night sometimes, and that is why I mend and darn and save and save—it costs so much for him to get the things he needs out in his shop. Of course, I never let Lovey or Uncle Pomp get really hungry, but Douglass and I do—that is—" Roxanne stopped, for the pain would come out on my face. "Oh, Phyllis, not really hungry," she said mercifully, "but just tired of corn-bread and molasses. Douglass kisses me and I kiss him good-by in the morning and we pretend it is butter on his bread, like the poet said. Please don't feel bad about it, Phyllis. It was cruel for me to tell it when I am as happy as I can be."
"Well, you'll never be hungry again while I have two feet and hands to 'tote' food to you, as Uncle Pompey calls it," I answered with a masterly control of that troublesome lump in my throat that I had discovered for the first time since I began to love Roxanne Byrd.
"I couldn't let you do that—bring me food, Phyllis," said Roxanne gently; and her little head with its raven black, heavy curls again rose to the stately pose of the Byrd great-grandmother.
"I don't see why not," I answered bluntly.
"Taking food and clothes would be charity, and I couldn't do that. I couldn't even let Miss Prissy give Lovelace Peyton any aprons, only I did take some scraps of her pink gingham dress to piece him with—that's why he looks like such a rainbow with his pink on blue. Please don't be mad with me, Phyllis. I don't mind at all doing without grand things to eat, but I can't—can't do without your—your love," and Roxanne hid her head on my shoulder, much to my surprise.
"You'd better have my cookies and roast chicken," I muttered as I shook her back into her own place again.
"The taste of love lasts longer than any kind of cake," answered Roxanne with a comforted laugh. "And truly, Phyllis, it has been a comfort to tell you all about it. It is hard to have to skimp like I do and it makes a girl nervous to have to keep looking down at her feet to be sure that a toe isn't poking out of the shoe since the last time she looked, also to know that the last inch of hem is let out of her dress and her legs are growing while she sleeps. I can take Douglass's old shirts and make shirt waists for me and aprons of the scraps for Lovey, and lots of things for Lovey out of his old trousers, only he says that he has to wear them himself until he feels ashamed of his appearance whenever he meets anybody; but my own skirts are what seem the last straw, or rather the bricks that I haven't any straw to make. The last one was made out of some dead Somebody Byrd's black cashmere shawl, I don't know whose, but I can't see the next even in the dim future."
"I heard Belle Kirby say that your white linen is the most stylish dress in Byrdville, and I agreed with her," I said, with the emphasis that truth always makes possible. "In fact, you always look different from other people, Roxanne—like—like the town was named for you—as it is."
"Oh, that linen dress is really a wonder, considering," laughed Roxanne with pleased delight. "It is made out of a linen sheet that came off one of my great-grandmother's looms, and I found it in an old trunk. Miss Prissy embroidered it and helped me make it and a suit for Lovey and a shirt for Douglass out of the other one of the pair. Uncle Pompey helps me wash and iron all three of them every Saturday. He has a necktie off of them, too, and Sunday we all go to church 'of a piece', he calls it. Douglass says, when the Emperor of Germany invites the great inventor and his family to come to court to meet the royal family we are all going to wear our parts of the family sheets, if only folded in our pockets like handkerchiefs. Sometimes in the middle of the night, when something goes right in the shop, Douglass comes in and wakes me up. I dress up in a blanket for a court dress, and we wake up Lovey and play our royal visit. Do you blame me for not minding washing and ironing and cooking and toe-poking or dress-shrinking with a brother who is an idol like that?"
"No, Roxanne, I don't blame you. He—er—Mr. Douglass is worth it all," I answered with controlled emotion. I thereupon adopted the word "Idol" to use for him in private between you and me, good Louise. He deserves it. "He is so perfectly grand that I step on my own toes whenever I see from a long way off that I must meet him on the street," I continued. "I turn a corner rather than speak to him. I never intend to. The sight of him makes me so shy that it is agony." I didn't in the least mind confessing such a feeling to Roxanne, because she is the "Idol's"—it looks nice written—sister and will understand.
"And all the time he is afraid that he will have to back up against a fence sometime to hide his patches from you," laughed Roxanne in such merriment that anybody with any sense of pleasant humor would have joined her at the thought of the Idol and me dancing a minuet to keep out of each other's way.
The way Roxanne feels about her brother is the way I feel about Father even after I saw that article in the magazine. He is my father and nobody is wholly bad. I always will love him devotedly and go to him with my sorrows.
At night in the study of Roxanne's forefathers, before the log fire where the fifth old Colonel Byrd used to entertain Andrew Jackson, I told him all about that terrible starving that is going on down at the little cottage beyond the garden.
"Well," said Father, in the voice I still think so noble and good and that still comforts me, "we'll have to see to all that. When I bought this place from young Byrd, I liked him better than any youngster I had met in a long time, and I offered him a better place out at the furnaces than he could fill. I have tried to have him advanced twice, but the young stiffneck says he won't have more than he earns. Still he gets a hundred a month and things ought not to be so tight down at the Byrd nest. Wonder what he does with the money? He's not a gamer, I take it."
"Oh, Father, no!" I answered, shocked that anybody should think that of the Idol. "It's for the experiments that all the money goes. Roxanne's so proud of him for the wonderful thing he has discovered that she will starve herself to death, and him too, before all the world hears about it, even the Emperor of Germany."
"Experiments?" Father asked, with a quick look that he has when business and things interest him very much. "What experiments?"
"I can't tell you that, for you're the very person not to know," I answered quickly, a little bit scared.
"Then don't," answered Father, looking me square in the face in a way that I wished that magazine could have seen. "And if you have a secret of importance, don't ever even hint it, Phil."
"I won't," I answered, glad to see that he wasn't going to ask any more about it all.
"And, Phil," he continued, speaking slowly and looking at me as lovingly as any father could look at a daughter, even a poor one, "you go right ahead filling up the youngster and standing by the Byrds. That's what I want you to learn—standing-by-ness. Have the other 'poor but prouds' thawed to you to any extent?" I had told Father some of the ways Belle and the others had treated me, only not so as to hurt his feelings about his money being the cause of it.
"Some of them have and the others are going to, I think," I said, even more hopefully than I really felt about it.
"Here's hoping," said Father, and this time he did laugh.
A great resolve has come into my mind since this talk with Father. I am going to reform him about money-making if it takes me all my life. He is too good a man for God not to have in heaven. His honor must be saved. Amen!
Miss Priscilla Talbot might by some people be called an old maid, as she must be either a little before or after fifty years old; but if I had to invent just one word to describe her darling self it would be "precious."
Tony Luttrell calls all of the girls collectively and singly "bubbles," which is both disrespectful and funny at the same time. But real affection in any disrespect can keep it from being at all wicked—and Tony's always is affectionate, especially when he insults Miss Priscilla by calling her Miss Bubbles right to her face. Nobody else dares to do it, but she likes it. It is a good thing that she is fifty years young instead of old, for if she wasn't I don't know what the Palefaces and Scouts would do without her. She lets Tony beg her into doing everything with us so the grown-up people, like mothers and fathers, will be deceived into thinking that we are being taken care of, while the truth is that Miss Prissy is just as much trouble for us to look after as Lovelace Peyton and we love her in exactly the same way. We also love the Colonel a great deal for her sake, and to make up for the way she treats him.
Miss Prissy lives just next to Roxanne, on the other side, and she is such a comfort to her, though a great added responsibility. She worries so over everything that Roxanne doesn't have that it gets on Roxanne's nerves, as the people say when things make them cross. Not that Roxanne ever is cross with Miss Prissy. But I made up my mind after that first remonstrance that if Roxanne Byrd had the pluck to let herself go hungry and cold and ragged for a great proud cause like an inventor in the family, I was going to let her get all the fun out of it she could and not mope over it. I still fill up Lovelace Peyton so regularly that he is getting so fat I am afraid Roxanne will notice and suspect something. I may have to diet him soon.
Roxanne and I were just talking about Miss Prissy and the poor Colonel out on the front steps of the cottage when there came one of the proud moments of my life. It's wonderful how Roxanne's enthusiasm can throw such a magic over her shabby shoes and the little cottage with the young green vines running over the eaves and old Uncle Pomp and a darning bag full of ragged stockings, that you want to stay feeling it forever and ever. It doesn't even take the rosy hue off the dream to talk about Lovelace Peyton.
"Oh, Lovey will be a famous surgeon some day, I feel sure," Roxanne said, as she began on another interminable job of stocking-patching. "And Douglass is going to be a Supreme Judge of the United States while I help him. Just as soon as the money comes we shall all go to college, Lovey, Douglass, Uncle Pomp and I, to get ready for our life work."
"What course will Uncle Pompey take?" I couldn't help asking, because Uncle Pompey is so old he couldn't learn to turn one of his own batter cakes the wrong way around.
"Domestic Science," Roxanne laughed back at her own self; and just then Tony came in with his pie catastrophe that caused so much trouble.
"You two hubbies, you had better lay aside the darning-needle and seize the pie plate," he said, fanning himself with Roxanne's scissors. "We've just decided in Scout Council to take the Palefaces out to the Harpeth ridge to hunt spring shoots and roots, and we always count on you for pies, Roxy, Stocking-darner."
"How lovely, Tony!" exclaimed Roxanne, rising right above the pies which sank my heart like lead to think of her having to furnish; and where would she get them? I was so dismayed that I never thought of being embarrassed about being left out, as I, of course expected to be; and so it came as a proud surprise when Tony asked me, in the nicest way a boy could think of, to go with them. That is, he didn't ask me, but ordered me what to bring like I had been going on the Raccoon outings since infancy.
"You are to bring a white mountain cake in a cocoanut snowstorm, City Bubbles," he said, with that funny flare of his eyes that always sets me laughing inside whether I want to or not. "Belle is brewing sandwiches and Mamie Sue is croquetting with some chicken. Don't tell the dumpling, but we are going to rub asafetida on her shoes and leave her to rest on a stone so as to lose her good and then find her by smelling her track like true Scouts. Now, don't spoil a single pie, Roxy; we'll need all six."
"I won't, I won't," answered Roxanne; and I saw that grandmother pose begin to come to her head and I knew that it meant that she would shake six pies out of that empty larder like the widow in the Bible did the meal. "Did you ask Miss Prissy, Tony?" she asked, as if to change the subject for an instant's relief.
"I did," answered Tony with a laugh; "and Miss Bubbles said she would go accompanied by a basket of stuffed eggs to return accompanied by a bunch of stuffed Scouts. We also asked the Colonel, and he made us a speech of acceptance twenty minutes long, Pink and me. But I must hurry along and encourage Mamie Sue not to eat all the chicken tasties as she makes them. Do you two Palefaces promise to rustle around as soon as I go?"
"We do," we both answered as he went out of the gate. Then we sat still, paralyzed, instead of the promised rustling. Only I was the most upset. Roxanne always brings out the rainbow and shakes it when the clouds get down very low.
"What are you going to do about the pies?" I asked, forgetting my promise to myself never to force Roxanne to look any kind of problem in the face as long as she could keep her back to it.
"Well," she answered so placidly that I felt ashamed of myself, "I have just been thinking those apples up. I can starve Lovey and myself enough to get the things for the crust, but where are the apples to come from? Won't it be fun to look back from richness and remember when an apple looked as big as one of the Harpeth Hills?"
"But, haven't you got any apple plan at all?" I again forgot my resolve and asked. I'm often ashamed of myself for being so practical about things, but I can't help it, and I couldn't see those pies coming down on a rainbow. She had to have the apples to save her family pride, and apples don't grow on dream trees.
"Not a plan," she answered, snipping a thread with a steady hand. "But they'll come from some place. Now, I've got to think up stories to make Lovey forget that he wants anything but some corn-bread and buttermilk for supper. That'll save the batter-cake flour for the pie-crust and some of the lard and butter too. If I can amuse him past breakfast with just corn meal mush, I'll have enough flour for them all. Uncle Pompey has lots of spice and things, so it'll only be the apples. Maybe I can—"
"Wait a minute, I've got a plan!" I exclaimed quickly; for being Roxanne's friend often makes me need to think very quickly indeed. "You go on believing they'll come, and your believing and my plan will be almost sure to get them. I'll have to go home right now."
"Your plan won't make me have to—to let anybody give them to me, will it, Phyllis?" And Roxanne's eyes were so soft with entreaty to spare that family pride that I had to swallow the inconvenient lump in my throat again. I wish my eyes knew how to mist with tears like a girl's ought to do instead of my choking up like a boy. But I had my voice good and steady by the time I got opposite Father across his office table.
"And so," he said, as he looked at me with an expression I feel on myself when I am going to take hold of some of the knots in Roxanne's affairs, "I am to buy two barrels of apples here in the spring when they are gold nuggets, and help you pack up ten baskets of them for me to send to the furnace office force as a seasonable compliment, just so that stiff-necked young Byrd can carry his family pride along home in the basket with the apples for the making of six pies. Right expensive pies, those!"
"Yes, Father, I know they are," I answered firmly but pathetically. "But I told you Lovelace Peyton and Roxanne are starving to save the crust; and my friends' troubles are mine. When he gets the chance to prove that steel explosion thing and people buy the process from him, they won't need friends, or rather they will need friends more than they ever did, with all that money, but they won't need apples. I'm sorry it is being such an expensive thing for me to have a friend, but I must stand by her now if you will let me."
"Steel!" said Father, and his eyes went into narrow slits in a way I don't like, because he forgets I'm living. And he was in one of those spells of turning himself inside himself to think, when I glanced at Rogers, his foreman at the furnaces, who was going over some papers at another desk. And as I glanced at him Father came out of his inside and looked at him too. I never did like Mr. Rogers.
"Rogers," said Father briskly, "go telephone the Hill Grocery Company to pack up ten large baskets of apples and send them over to the office. You go over and give them to the boys and cover up Miss Phyllis's track effectually by a speech of presentation. And remember, Rogers, that whatever Miss Phyllis says in my office is strictly business and is to be observed as absolutely confidential."
As Rogers went out of the door I felt my heart sink in a queer way, and I turned to find Father looking at me sternly.
"Phil," he said, in the tone of voice I feel sure fathers use to their errant sons, "if you have another person's secret to guard, do it carefully and do not let the excitement of the moment make you let it slip."
"Oh, Father," I fairly gasped, "did I tell you anything about Mr. Douglass's secret that I ought not?"
"You told about all you know, daughter; but fortunately you didn't know enough to do much damage. I happen to know I can trust Rogers as myself. Now, go to your pie fixings, for I'm unusually busy."
I turned to the door with a queer sinking feeling coming up in me when he called me back again.
"Of course, Phil, you know what a pleasure it is to me for you to shower apples on the Byrds and others, and I want to speak to you about a little matter that is troubling me and ask your help. We have got to spend some money in Byrdsville, and you must help me to do it. I can't get Henri to buy his supplies for the kitchen here, under any circumstances—he shrugs his French shoulders, gives me two uneatable meals, and orders from New York as usual. I can't very well wear Byrdsville clothes myself, and there seems no way to drop cash in the town unless you can find some way. Buy things at all the stores and charge them to me. Give away and use what you can, but buy. We owe it to the town and we must do it. Can you promise to take part of the job for me?"
"I'll try, Father," I answered doubtfully. "I like the kind of clothes the girls wear, so I will get mine in the stores, and I can give presents to all who will allow it."
"That's it—presents—presents to your friends," said Father in a relieved tone of voice, and I could see that he had no idea of the burden he had put on my shoulders. "Now fade away, and let me work, kiddie. You are all to the good!"
As I walked along home my heart was so heavy down in my toes that my feet almost stuck to the pavement—not only about the task of spending the money, but about the secret. However, I reasoned it up into my breast again. If my father is one of the men that magazines write against and say is too rich to be good, he has always told me the truth; and when he said I hadn't done the great secret any damage I believed him. If he can trust Rogers as himself, I can, too.
But after this, when I know anything that all the world can't know I'm going to wear a horsehair ring, like Belle makes Mamie Sue do, to remind me not to forget and tell. I thought I was stronger-minded than that, but I see I'm not. You see, leather Louise, I must be more trustworthy than just any girl; for if I'm untrustworthy, then it will be a tragedy, because it will prove that I inherited it and so be an evidence against Father in my own mind and the world's too.
Since I have been with Roxanne so much, and seen so many things which prove that God is looking directly after her, as my getting the apple plan shows, I feel so much nearer to Him. I am going to pray to Him to help me to help Father, and take both our honors in His keeping. Amen! Goodnight!
Of course, the whole spring keeps springing wonderful days on a person, each one lovelier than the last; but the one that came down from over Old Harpeth, as the tallest hump on the ridge is called, was so lovely that it was hard to believe that I was not just seeing it with Roxanne's eyes. If it was so beautiful, with its orchard smells and blooms and buzzing of bees and soft little winds, to me, I wonder what it did look like to her. And to think that Roxanne was almost in tears before it was nine o'clock.
The interurban that runs by Byrdsville and out over the ridge to the city has cars only every two hours, so if we didn't catch the eight-ten one, we couldn't go until the ten-ten, and that would make it very late for the Scouts to go through all the kinds of drills they had planned for. Some of us had to sprain ankles and make believe to step on snakes, and then Mamie Sue had to be lost and traced, only she didn't know it yet; so Tony said that we would have to start very early. It was about half past seven when he came for me while all the rest of them waited at the corner for us. We then trooped down to get Roxanne and Lovelace Peyton; but disaster met us at the door. It was Lovelace Peyton dancing and yelling like a wild Indian while Roxanne tried to quiet him and unbutton his white linen dress-up at the same time.
"Please everybody go on. We can't come," Roxanne called to us at the gate. "Lovey sat down on one of the hot pies that Uncle Pomp had just taken out of the stove for me to put in the basket, and it burned him through his trousers and blouse and all. Uncle Pomp has got a dreadful fit of asthma, and the pie is all over everything where Lovey ran around and around. I've got to scrub him and the whole house. Please go on and don't be late for the train." And as Roxanne looked out at us over the dancing Lovelace Peyton that was the first time I had ever seen her face without its dimple on the left side of her chin, or her head down out of the rosy cloud.
"It always happens just this way, Roxy," said Belle in a reproving tone of voice. "You promised to begin to get ready last night, so as not to delay anything or anybody. We're just not going to wait!"
"I did try, Belle," answered Roxanne, with a little sob coming into her voice that made both Tony and me so mad at one time that it is a wonder that we didn't both explode together.
"Here, you bubbles," said Tony, jumping the gate as I went through it, "get busy with this situation. We've got almost a half-hour, so be doing something, everybody. Belle, you help Roxy skin that kid and get him into clean clothes while I swab up and light old Pomp's jimson-weed pipe for him?" And as Tony spoke he started to the rear of the house.
"No, no. I'm hurted bad, and I won't let anybody but Phyllis touch me. I'll out off Belle's arm if she comes nigh me," said Lovelace Peyton in the rudest voice; but it did me good to get hold of him and begin to peel him while Roxanne stood petrified at the idea of hurrying all her calamities onto the car in twenty minutes.
"Oh, I'm not dressed and the pies are not packed and—" began Roxanne, but the dimple also began to play at the same time.
"I'll help you dress, Roxanne," said Belle meekly; for Belle is more afraid of Tony's explosions than of anything else on earth, and he had looked at her with a stern expression as she had fussed at and threatened to leave Roxanne.
"I'll pack the pies," said Mamie Sue, with plain delight at the prospect.
"Well, hurry, Dumpling, and don't take a bite out of a stray corner of more than half those pies," Tony answered her as he rolled up his shirt sleeves and started toward the kitchen. All the other members of the Raccoon Patrol were with the other girls at the station, and nobody could go without Tony, who had bought the combination ticket for everybody, at a bargain.
It is all very well to say that "haste makes waste," but there is a kind of hurry that gets things done, and Tony knows how to put that kind into action. He and Mamie Sue kept to the kitchen as their scene of operations, and before we knew it old Uncle Pomp was seated humped over his pipe and beginning to breathe easy. Mamie Sue had hopped around to keep out of the swirls of Tony's mop while she packed those ill-fated but precious pies in the basket, and she was breathing almost as hard as Uncle Pompey.
I did the best I could with Lovelace Peyton, though only the blue apron with the largest pink patches was whole and clean; so he had to go that way, which I know hurt Roxanne, for he had been so lovely to look at in his part of the grandmother's sheet.
Belle was buttoning Roxanne's festive white linen up the back as Tony came down the hall shooing panting Mamie Sue with the basket in front of him, and collected us all. I grabbed Roxanne's hat from the closet for her and swung Lovelace Peyton up on Tony's shoulder so he could run on ahead with him. Belle followed Roxanne, buttoning her up all the way to the front gate, while Mamie Sue trundled along steadily with the two baskets.
I've heard about the excitements of the city and the quiet of the country, but I have the opinion that the terms in this case are mixed. We all fell aboard the car half dead, but we caught it!
I'm not going to describe this Scout outing in detail to you, my leather-bound Louise, because it would take all night. I'm so tired that I doubt if I get up in the morning until it is afternoon, but there are a few high lights I will mention because I never want to forget them. A girl wants to keep the details of the first happiest day of her life always, even if she has many others.
Mamie Sue got lost satisfactorily, but they forgot she had Belle's basket with her, and when they found her some of the sandwiches were lost forever; but Mamie Sue was happy. It was wonderful the way Pink tracked her shoes by the asafetida. That is one of the reasons Scouts can't smoke: they must keep their sense of smell to track things with. One of the Willis girls let Sam Hayes treat her for snake-bite by the rules of the book and never said a word; but then neither one of those Willis girls ever says anything except what they have to in classroom, and we like them immensely. They are Tony's first cousins and both are of the first families of Byrdsville.
But the sensation of the day was when Tony really fell and skinned his arm bad—and what do you think he did? He let Lovelace Peyton do all the things to it that he showed him how to do out of the book. I never saw any human being in my life so happy as that little patched boy was, and it was marvelous how he understood just what Tony said and did it quicker than any of us could. His slender little fingers worked like a grown-up's.
"Oh, if his father, the doctor, could have just seen him," said Miss Prissy in such a sweetly sympathetic voice that the Colonel blew his nose. He was Roxanne's father's best friend, and had watched him cut up what was left of people on the battle-field in the Civil War. He told us all about it. I feel that we must take better care of Lovelace Peyton, but I am sorry for Roxanne to have two geniuses in her family to watch over. It is such a responsibility and requires even more of my help.
The luncheon was a success. Everybody ate everything, especially the great surgeon and Mamie Sue. The dried sticks made the sparks on the leaves for Pink so much to his pride that Tony had to call him Rosebud to keep him cool, he said, and Sam's kettle hung on the forked sticks the first time and boiled the best potatoes I ever tasted.
The boys signaled to the Colonel by the Scout language and he got the signals perfectly. Then he told them war tales until time to start home. He carried Lovelace Peyton, who had gone to sleep on the car, home in his arms, while Miss Prissy walked behind him with Roxanne. I wonder why Miss Prissy doesn't want to marry such a grand man as the Colonel is?
But a strange thing happened to Tony and me as we came by the side wall of our garden after we had taken the quiet Willises home and he was bringing me to my front gate. It makes me nervous to think about it. That secret about the steel, which is going to keep Roxanne from living in such poverty, weighs on my mind so that I never forget it. It is right out there in the little shed and it is both dangerous and precious.
Suddenly Tony stopped me right opposite the shed and gave the Scout signal of warning.
"Tip-hist-toe," he said under his breath. "Did you see a shadow dodge behind Roxy's cottage just a minute ago, Phyllis?" he asked, in a whisper that was enough to make almost any girl's blood run cold in her body.
"I did," I answered him in just as blood-curdling a whisper, "but Uncle Pompey goes out to see after his hens just about this time every night. I think that was the shadow."
"Of course," Tony laughed in a human voice again. "Say Phyllis, you are one brick, a yard wide, all wool, and a foot thick. There are not the usual bubble squeals in you." I never was so confused in all my life. I don't know how to answer people when they express a liking for me, because I have never had many compliments passed on me.
"Thank you, Tony," I said, just as humbly as I felt, which was very humble indeed.
"Now, Phyllis, I wasn't patting any Fido on the head," Tony laughed in a funny way; for what I said had teased him, though I don't know just why. "And also I didn't say that to you because you didn't yelp when I scared up a bogie for you, but because I saw how you came near beating me to Roxy's catastrophes this morning when Belle wanted to give her the jolly go-by. Old Roxanny has some rough going at times, and it is good to know that she has got a bubble next door to stand by her in a stocking-darning way a fellow can't. Good-night!"
Tony Luttrell is an honorable gentleman, if he is just in short trousers yet, and I appreciate his friendship.
That shadow will make me uneasy. I feel like that cross, nervous white hen of Uncle Pompey's, only as if I were sitting on dynamite bottles instead of eggs. I will and do trust my father, but can I trust him to trust Rogers? Oh, I wish he was just a lawyer with almost no practice, like Tony's father, and was sitting in the office all day long doing nothing, where I knew he was, instead of going back and forth from the city with other men that have more money than it is right to have! I'd even be willing to have him keep the grocery store even if it did mean that he wasn't quite as first-family as Judge Luttrell and the Byrds.
Oh, I do love my father—I do—I do!
It does seem a pity that a person can't put an Idol on a pedestal and keep it here without having it come down and bother around the house. The idea of being introduced to Mr. Douglass Byrd and having to speak directly to him with my own voice has kept me miserable all this month in which I have been so perfectly happy being Roxanne's friend and confidante, but it has happened and I'm glad it's over, though it was under trying circumstances.
These are they. My fears have come to pass and in this eventful month Lovelace Peyton has grown from a slender, frail little boy into almost as much of a roly-poly as Mamie Sue, and looks more like her than he does like Roxanne. I try not to feed him more than four times a day extra, but he is stern with me about it. Sometimes he will trade the cake I give him about four o'clock for a new shaped bottle, but lots of times he gets the bottle and the cake both away from me. I just can't be strong-minded with Lovelace Peyton, like I ought to be to make up for the way Roxanne forgets to see him from the rosy cloud.
"If you'll give me a bottle, I'll give you one mouth-kiss, Phyllis; but for cake and bottles too, I can maybe make it two," is the way he bargains with me. Fifteen years is a long time to starve for a little brother to love, so Lovelace Peyton almost always gets both the cake and bottles.
But his fat has begun to burst out of all the clothes he has and somebody has got to get him new ones. Roxanne and I were managing it when Mr. Douglass interrupted us this morning; and I'm glad a man is so much stupider than a woman or maybe his feelings would have got hurt and I'd have had to argue him into my plan like I did Roxanne. I feel sure I would have failed with him. He is the first Idol I ever had and I am new at managing either friends or idols. However, I have got so I can get the best of Roxanne when it is urgently necessary.
"It's the funniest thing to me, Phyllis," Roxanne said the other afternoon, as I went over to see her about my rhetoric lesson, "but rich as you are, I don't at all mind your seeing my scrimps like I do the other girls, even Mamie Sue. You are like finding a grandmother's thimble that fits you exactly and is pure gold."
Oh, I wish I could learn to be gracious and say lovely things like Roxanne, but I'm just a corked bottle and I can't get the stopper out.
"What are you doing?" I asked her instead of giving her a squeeze and saying, "You are the dearest thing on earth to me, Roxanne," which was what I really felt.
"I'm sitting here before this old dress I found in the trunk in the attic and trying to think how I could make Lovey wear the flowered aprons I can make out of it. I almost know he won't, for he has begun to say what 'looks boy' and what 'looks girl.' I did hope I could keep him ignorant of the difference this summer at least. Would you ask him before you make the aprons or trust to his not noticing?"
The old dress was the full skirt of fifty years ago, with huge red roses on a white-and-green dotted background, and, as aprons, would have made the snake doctor look like a very young circus. I couldn't stand the thought and cranked my mind as hard as I could for a half minute. The idea came, and it is a good thing to be perfectly straight in the treatment of your friends at all times, so that when a crisis comes they will depend on you.
"Roxanne," I said, looking determinedly and sternly into her face with Father's own expression, "have I ever offered you a single thing to eat except when you were company like the other girls, or anything else that would hurt the Byrd pride?"
"No, you haven't, Phyllis, and that's why I don't mind telling or letting you see things. You understand that it is for the cause, and I don't have to be afraid that you will hurt—hurt my feelings."
I never thought it would be possible for a girl to look at me like Roxanne Byrd looked at me across the pile of ragged little aprons and old dresses. I thank God for it!
"Well," I said, "for that dress I want to trade you this blue gingham I have got on to make the aprons out of. It will make three if the tucks are ripped out of the skirt. I want the old flowered skirt to make some cushions for the window seat in the room I sleep in, for it will be just the thing to go with the old mahogany of your grandmother's. It is real old-fashioned chintz and is worth just about ten times as much as this dress I have got on, which you know I bought at Mr. Hadley's, with the other dozen ones that Miss Green is making for me, at twenty-five cents a yard. Will you?"
Roxanne doesn't know about that awful spending burden I have had laid on me and she is just as interested in helping me go and buy myself Byrdsville clothes as a friend can be in another's pleasure—not knowing it to be painful responsibility.
I locked the box that came from New York with all my spring and summer things in it, in a closet the day it came, and while these things are, of course crude, I like to be in clothes like the other girls. I seem to fit in better. I spent seventy-five dollars at that store by hard effort, and I think won Mr. Hadley's good will for life for both Father and me. Also Miss Green's check was gratifyingly large both to her and me.
"Will you trade, Roxanne?" I asked again, keeping the eagerness out of my voice with my father's stern will.
"Oh, I don't think I ought." Roxanne hesitated and then said: "Are you sure you don't—that is, are you sure?"
"I am," I answered briskly, and in a business like tone. "You can't say that lovely old stuff won't make the very cushions for that very room, Roxanne."
"They truly will be lovely, Phyllis, and that gingham will solve the problem for Lovey's whole summer. To-morrow we will—"
"Not to-morrow; right now, and I'll help you rip and cut out from the skirt," I said, and began to undo my belt. I knew better than to let that family pride get to simmering in Roxanne in the wee small hours of the night. "A trade is a trade, as soon as it is made. Give me my dress."
"Oh, Phyllis, there never was anybody like you," laughed Roxanne in a voice that is like music to a person who understands what friendship really is and hasn't had very much.
We both laughed as I slipped the quaint old dress over my head and buttoned the low-necked waist, with its short puffy-sleeves, straight down the front. It had such a style of its own and fitted me so that I began to prance in front of the long mirror in the living room, which is gilt, a hundred years old, and belonged to the stiff grandmother over the mantel who had probably pranced in the same gown in the same way fifty years ago, if her heart was as young and happy as mine.
And those were the trying circumstances under which I met the Idol. He stood there in the doorway and laughed until his big shoulders shook, and his wonderful eyes danced like sparks. I blushed so painfully that it felt like measles; but when he saw my embarrassment break out on me like that, a wonderful sad kindness came into his eyes and he stopped laughing.
"It's Miss Phyllis Forsythe, isn't it, that I have come home to find masquerading as my own grandmother?" he said, in a warm voice so like Roxanne's that the scarlatina on my face began to subside and my knees stopped trembling. "You don't know how indebted to you I am for coming over to make Roxy take a playtime."
Playtime, with all that pattern and darned aprons and my gingham dress in a pile on the ancestral sofa in the corner with the scissors and needle and thread gaping at Roxanne and me from the table! Women ought to be very thankful at times for men's stupidity.
It was all very well for the red on my face to pale and my breath to come easier again; but no fifteen-year-old girl has an answer ready for a remark of a man who is as great and wonderful and famous as Mr. Douglass Byrd is going to be soon. I was just getting so loose-jointed from mortification that my mind had fainted away at the very time I needed it, when Tony and Pink Chadwell came and broke into the situation with the Raccoon whistle for the palefaces. They also broke through the side window with their "Tip-hist-toe" signal that always gives the girls cold creeps even in daytime. Mamie Sue calls it goose-flesh and Tony reproves Belle for telling her that was what she had all the time. I don't know what we would do with Belle if it wasn't for Tony's powerful disposition. And one thing I am sure of, never were there in this world such grand boys as Anthony Wayne Luttrell and Matthew Foster Chadwell—that's Pink's whole name—for they didn't any more notice that old flowered dress than if it had been the blue gingham, or either Roxanne or me, but they gave the scout-master salute to Mr. Douglass and began their business right away.
"Raccoon Chief," said Tony, "the patrol awaits you in the Crotch, at your call."
"On my way," answered Mr. Douglass with just as much seriousness as Tony had in his voice. Tony had told me how Mr. Douglass had organized the Raccoon Patrol and taught it all it knows and was just the guiding star of all their young lives, only Tony didn't put it that way; he called him their "jolly old peace-maker." That means that all the Raccoons look up to him and adore him and try to be exactly like him. In the Bible if David had been eight years older than Jonathan, there would have been the same situation in Jerusalem as in Byrdsville, Tennessee.
"I wonder what is the matter with the Scouts," said Roxanne, as we both began to rip on the dress so I could help her cut the aprons. "Douglass didn't say what he came home for in the middle of the afternoon and Tony was so serious that I hardly knew him. Pink was speechless from excitement. They all acted that way when they found out about the queer man who hung around selling patent medicine, trying to find out where Miss Prissy kept the Talbot emerald necklace that came from England before the Revolution."
Because Miss Prissy lives alone it is the duty of all of the Raccoons to patrol her ever so many times in the day, and Judge Luttrell lets Tony go out the last thing before he goes to bed and give Miss Prissy that signal we hear every night about half past nine. Miss Prissy says it makes her comfortable the whole night, and the Colonel gave the Raccoons their wireless outfit for being such "Knights of the Round Miss Prissy" instead of the "Table," Pink said; though the Colonel never mentioned Miss Prissy in the speech of presentation at all, but called it Table.
I'm not romantic myself, but I could never treat a man with the lack of heart with which Miss Prissy treats Colonel Stockell. She makes herself as beautiful as possible and sits on the front porch with him, and I would call that an honorable cause for marriage, but Roxanne says that in Byrdsville no tie binds a lady to marry a gentleman until after it is done. Such treatment does not look to me like what father calls a "square deal"; but Miss Priscilla may have some way of squaring it to her conscience, as she is very religious and charitable.
"I'm glad Douglass doesn't have to know that we traded dresses, Phyllis," said Roxanne, as we both snipped away on the long seams, after he had gone with Tony and Pink. Why it is so much more fun to rip things than to sew them, is a question I put to you, leather Louise.
"Just last night," Roxanne continued, "he made me sit out here on the porch with him and he told me it might be all summer that he will have to use his wages to get the things for the experiments. Mr. Rogers has acted queerly and he is afraid to try anything out at these furnaces, so we have to save up enough for him to go up to Kentucky to some little furnaces there and make the experiment. It will cost a lot for the trip and the things, but I think we can do it. This simple life agrees with us all. Just look how fat Lovey is getting with hardly anything but buttermilk and corn-bread. It makes me happy to look at him."
The giggle that I had to smother down in my heart was one of the good things that come in a person's life and leave a mark on their natures for always. I think it is a fine plan to save little happinesses and put them up on a spirit shelf to take down to feed your remembers on in days when pleasures are scarce. I can't believe that this life of being with and of other people is going to last for me; so if I have to go back into loneliness I will have had it to remember.
Any mention of that dynamite secret and Rogers in the same conversation always makes me uneasy and that is why I had loneliness thoughts.
"What has Mr. Rogers done to make your brother uneasy about the secret?" I asked Roxanne in a voice that I could see, myself, was worried.
"Nothing at all," laughed Roxanne; "but we are all just as superstitious as old Uncle Pompey, and because Douglass has a 'feeling' about Mr. Rogers, we all have to have it, too. We make it a point to 'feel' with each other as both Douglass and I did when we just knew with Uncle Pompey that the white rooster would die from the lye soap that Lovey made him take in a pill. It took Douglass and me two whole days to get Lovey to go on his honor about doctoring the chicken, but he finally agreed, if we would promise to let him do things to all of us whenever he wanted to. Douglass lets him treat his head with cold water, which is just hard rubbing that he likes better than anything, every night before supper. I'm wearing a yarn string around my ankle now for rheumatism that I haven't got. In fact we are all 'on honor' with Lovey, to save the 'live stock,' as Uncle Pompey calls himself and the chickens."
Never having had any experience with little boys, I can't say positively that Lovelace Peyton is a wonder, but I firmly believe it and his honor is entirely grown up while he is not quite five. I've seen it work. If he says he will or he won't, he acts accordingly, no matter what happens to him or anybody else. But he is careful how he promises and he leaves himself plenty of room to carry on what he calls his practice, to the uneasiness of himself and all the neighbors. It cost Miss Prissy ten bottles, a pint of red paint, and a package of sulphur to buy the life of her gray cat for this year, but now she has no uneasiness about Tab at all.
I suppose if Roxanne and I sat down and talked one month straight through without eating and sleeping we might make up all the time we have lost out of each other's company, at least just skim the cream off each other's lives, but we'll never get to it. Too many people want Roxanne besides me, and I'm grateful to be allowed to be in the things she is in. I try to keep the other girls from feeling that I am in the way, and I don't believe they would feel that way at all if Belle didn't still keep prodding them up with her distrust of my money. I wish Belle just had a little wealth and would find out that it isn't anything at all and can be forgotten without the least trouble.
Mamie Sue wants to like me and the two silent Willises do, also, but Belle dusts my gold into their eyes so they can just blink at me so far. But the blinks get friendlier every day and I hope some shock will make them open their eyes to me like kittens do on the ninth day—and their hearts, too.
The tallest Willis gave me the first peony that bloomed on their bush to take to my mother, and I caught a sight of her awkward heart that did me good. I defied the nurse and told the white, white little thing on the pillow, that is all the mother I ever had, that one of my friends sent it to her, and I got a flash of a smile, such as I had never had before. The nurse said just that little bit of excitement made her worse, and I've promised never to do anything but take my daily look at her again—but—she is my mother, even if—
Well, anyway, Louise of leather, just as Roxanne and I had got the skirt ripped up and the pattern straightened out, we saw all the girls coming, and from the way they were talking we saw something interesting was surely happening, had happened, or was going to happen.
"Hide the gingham, Roxanne, while I slip over the wall and change my dress," I said quickly. "Our business arrangements are nobody else's business."
"Will you come right back?" asked Roxanne in a way that made me know she would worry if I didn't.
I would rather have stayed at home until the girls had had their visit and gone home, but I have thought out just how I ought to act about Roxanne and her friends and me. It is only fair to pay no attention to how they feel, but to do what makes Roxanne happy in case of the mix-up of us all. My pride and Roxanne's are different. Hers has been handed down for generations and she can act on it without argument with herself, but mine is my own kind and only I understand it. It is new and I have to plan it out by thinking. The girls all think that because I have finer clothes and travel and am rich, that I think I am better than they are and am proud of it. Richness is not my fault, any more than a hunched back would be, and it is my duty to forget it whether they do or not. I act accordingly.
Another thing: I believe something is making my father see the error of his ways and I hope that some day I will see him settled into being a good and great man just like Judge Luttrell and the Colonel are and Roxanne's father was. He has acted in a peculiar way just lately. Last night he drew me up close to him and stood by the window a long time without speaking.
"Phil," he finally said, not in the voice he generally uses as if he were speaking to his only son—but with a daughter tone in it—"you have made good in Byrdsville, and I want to tell you that I'm proud of you. I doubted whether you could do it. A bunch of such youngsters as you have made friends with would be a test for any man, much less a young woman. I'm their friend because they are yours, and pretty soon I am going to prove it—like the sentimental fools that all fathers of almost-grown daughters get to be. Go to bed, kiddie, and say an extra one for Father."
Now all this is directly connected with the state I found the girls in over at the Byrd cottage, when I finally dressed and got back again, after stopping to bargain with Lovelace Peyton to go without the four-o'clock cookies for half a tube of perfectly harmless tooth-paste that he wanted for some kind of plaster to put on Uncle Pompey's heel, which is always painful enough to occupy most of the snake-doctor's time.
"No, I don't see why we should always tell Phyllis every interesting thing that happens to us or is going to happen," Belle was saying in such a decided tone of voice that it carried through the front door, across the porch, and halfway down the front walk.
Disagreeability has a kind of force that knocks one down before pleasantness hardly gets to him. I knew Roxanne said something in answer to that; in my heart I knew, but I couldn't hear what it was with my ears.
"Well," came Mamie Sue's voice, muffled through a piece of fudge she always carries in her pocket, in case she goes a square away from home and is overtaken by her appetite. She always has enough for everybody else, too, I must not forget to add. "Well, if it is Miss Prissy's robber come back, that makes the boys act so, Phyllis might just as well be scared as the rest of us; and if it is something pleasant, why, let her have a share of that, too." Some day I'm going-to break loose from myself and hug Mamie Sue's funny fatness until she squeals.
"I don't believe that if it was just a frolic the boys would have got Douglass to come away from his work to the Crotch; but maybe he was going up-town anyway, and they knew that," said Roxanne as I came in the door and was given welcomes of different degrees. The tall Willis is getting so that she moves over for me to sit down by her, even if she is just sitting on one small chair. I wish she could know how that pleases me.
"Did the boys look to you as if the thing that is making them all act so important was nice or disagreeable, Phyllis?" asked Roxanne as she got out the inevitable darning bag.
The short Willis moved nearer and began to help sort and get ready for patching. I always keep a thimble in Roxanne's darning bag now, but sometimes the short girl beats me to it. The others never notice that Roxanne's hands are never empty of patching jobs. Still Mamie Sue does attentively feed her fudge in hunks while she darns.
"I don't know boys well enough to diagram their expressions," I answered. "They always look excited and queer to me, and I can't tell their jokes from their other affairs. What have they been doing?"
"Being as hateful and secret as they know how to be," answered Belle crossly. "Boys are nothing but rough, rude miseries; and the next time Tony Luttrell tells me to 'bubble along' as he did Mamie Sue and me, when Mamie Sue only wanted to stop him to give him a piece of fudge, I am going to tell him what I think of him."
"Hope I'll be there," said the tall Willis behind my shoulder, and I never enjoyed a silent remark more. Belle is as afraid of Tony's laugh as she is of a cow in the lane.
"Now I know that something awful has happened or is coming if Tony spoke that way," said Roxanne, with such anxiety coming into her face that the timid Willis dropped her stocking and Mamie Sue gulped down such a large piece of candy that she almost had to choke. "Oh, girls, do you suppose that dreadful man has got out of jail in the city and is coming back to maybe—maybe—?"
But the words were stopped in Roxanne's mouth with a great, pleasant laugh as the Idol stood in the door. You would know that "Idol" is the name for him by the way all the girls look awed and afraid of him, but interested too. Tony and Pink and Sam were in the background like the angels in the picture of Sir Galahad.
"This is an official committee to invite you to be the guests of Mr. William Forsythe on a hay-mooning on Friday next, to start from his home at the hour of seven-thirty, in honor of the birthday of his daughter, Miss Phyllis, who is quite as surprised as the rest of you. The rest of this speech will be continued on that evening." And he was gone before anybody got any breath again.
That's what my father meant by showing my friends that he appreciated them.
But Belle Kirby's expression would make anybody with a sense of humor laugh. Can live coals be showered on a person if nobody ever intended it?
The desire to be popular may be one of the unworthy ambitions of a person's heart, yet there is nothing in the world so delightful as having it happen to you. And if having almost everybody like you, and show it by being nice and friendly to you on all occasions, makes you happy your own self, how much more happy you are when somebody you love gets a slice of it all along with you!
My father is getting to be one of the beloved men of this town, like Judge Luttrell and the Colonel. It has been going on gradually for some time, but I was afraid to notice it for fear I was mistaken. Such is the result of the sincere prayers of a daughter, and I certainly was sincere in wanting this reform. And better than even his sitting and smoking and joking in the Judge's office and walking down the street in a friendly manner with Mr. Chadwell is the notice that Mr. Douglass Byrd has been taking of him lately. The Idol has been to see him twice, in the evening, and both times I have heard my father's jolly laugh boom out in a way the nurse says will have to stop, for it made Mother ask to see him and be ill because she couldn't. And just day before yesterday Father came up the street with the great inventor, and they both came in and sat with Roxanne and me on the cottage porch to smoke their cigars. Roxanne was just sweet and good and easy with Father like she always is. I don't believe that girl was ever conscious of her feet and hands and blushes In all her life. I forget mine when I am with her.
Well anyway, Father was delighted with her and showed it plainly. And if he liked her, he was positively funny when he met Lovelace Peyton. The snake-doctor came around the house, as usual galloping on the stick horse, and in one hand he had one of his best bottles full of something awful to look at and that smelled worse, even through the cork.
"Mister," he said, looking Father gravely and courteously in the face, "you got cholera bad and might die to-night if you don't take medicine quick. It's in this bottle; shake it well." And while the Idol made a grab for him he put that bottle right in Father's hand and backed off out of reach.
Roxanne was distressed at Father's having taken that awful smell into his hands, and Mr. Douglass tried to make him give it back to Lovelace Peyton; but Father wrapped it in two handkerchiefs and put it, smell and all, into his pocket.
"Thank you, Doctor Byrd," he said, just as gravely as he talks to the great surgeons and doctors that come to see Mother. "Shall I report my condition to you to-morrow?"
"That medicine will work fine," answered Lovelace Peyton; "but if it kills you, can I cut you open to see how you work inside? When Douglass dies, I'm going to cut him into little pieces; he's done promised."
"Oh, Lovey," was all Roxanne could say, while Father and the Idol both roared.
I never saw my father's face so lovely as it was when he looked down on that little raggedy boy as we left him swinging on the front gate. His heart is softening away from wealth to his fellow-man, I know. And, as if it had not made me happy enough to have Father sitting and smoking with such a great character as Mr. Douglass Byrd, what should happen but for us to meet Tony at our front gate, coming to see Father especially? They made me go in and wait on the front steps while they talked, because they didn't want me to hear; and they both laughed so that Father tried to get out his handkerchief and succeeded in dropping the awful bottle Lovelace had given him, while Tony leaned against the fence and shook with chuckles at Lovey's giving him such an awful smell. Oh, if they were to elect my father an honorary member of the Raccoon Patrol like the Colonel and the Idol, I could not stand the happiness. Tony's friendship for him gives me one of the deepest joys that ever came to me. Tony's high sense of honor cannot help but impress Father.
This little town of Byrdsville, that nestles down in a hollow of the Old Harpeth Hills on the old pioneer road they called the Road to Providence, when the first settlers traveled it from Virginia to Tennessee, is the most wonderful place in the world, I think, and I wish Father could have been born and reared here, for then he wouldn't have strayed into a career of making money. Nobody in Byrdsville ever did, and Mr. Douglass Byrd will be the first one. And besides having the soul of honor and loving-kindness in it, Byrdsville looks like it might be one of the outposts of heaven, where tired souls can come to rest before going up the shining ladder.
All the houses are old-fashioned, with wide doors for welcoming and with vines running over the chimneys and up to the eaves, while blooms and buds tumble over the walls and burst from the gardens into the street. Yes, I think Byrdsville might be called the smile-place on the old earth's round face.
But to return to Father and Tony at the front gate; only I didn't. Father went on down the street and Tony came in to sit on the steps and talk to me. I wouldn't be so frivolous and growny as to have a boy come sit on my front steps talking to me like a "suitor," as Belle thinks it is smart to have; but Tony is different. He's my friend, and I would almost as soon talk to him as Roxanne.
"Well, I must say, girliky, that it was mighty considerate of you to be born about the full moon time of the first of May," said Tony, with one of those funny flares of his eyes. "Suppose you had opened your peepers along in December; we would have had to have an apple-roasting to celebrate for you, and I, for one, prefer the hay-lark. Your parent is one fine old boy, and me for him."
"Oh, Tony, I am so glad you like Father, and it was fine of him to have the hay ride for me. Do you suppose they will all go?" When I said "all," I really meant Belle.
I don't know why, but somehow I hoped this hay ride would shake up Belle's heart into being soft toward me. There are just eleven of us in the junior class in the Byrd Academy: Tony and Pink and Sam and the two Logan boys, while Roxanne and Mamie Sue and Belle and the two Willises, with me, make up the girls. Eleven is a sacred number, and I don't like for Belle and me to break the link by not being friends.
Tony is such a wise boy that he sometimes knows what a girl is thinking about when she doesn't tell him. Most of the time he just grins and leads us all on and we do tell him everything; especially Mamie Sue, if we don't warn her beforehand and make her wear a horsehair ring not to forget when he asks her questions. It makes Belle mad for him to do Mamie Sue that way, and she calls it "prying"; but I think it is just kindness. How can you sympathize with your friends' affairs if you don't make them tell you all? And sympathy applied to life is like the gasoline in a motorcar, I think.