PRUDENCE SAYS SO
Author of Prudence of the Parsonage
With Illustrations by Arthur William Brown
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers
Copyright 1916 The Bobbs-Merrill Company
To MY LITTLE DAUGHTER ELIZABETH MY COMRADE AND MY INSPIRATION
I THE CHAPERON 1
II SCIENCE AND HEALTH 19
III A GIFT FROM HEAVEN 39
IV HOW CAROL SPOILED THE WEDDING 58
V THE SERENADE 80
VI SUBSTITUTION 95
VII MAKING MATCHES 114
VIII LARK'S LITERARY VENTURE 130
IX A CLEAR CALL 154
X JERRY JUNIOR 179
XI THE END OF FAIRY 193
XII SOWING SEEDS 209
XIII THE CONNIE PROBLEM 222
XIV BOOSTING CONNIE 238
XV A MILLIONAIRE'S SON 252
XVI THE TWINS HAVE A PROPOSAL 277
XVII THE GIRL WHO WOULDN'T PROPOSE 297
PRUDENCE SAYS SO
"Girls,—come down! Quick!—I want to see how you look!"
Prudence stood at the foot of the stairs, deftly drawing on her black silk gloves,—gloves still good in Prudence's eyes, though Fairy had long since discarded them as unfit for service. There was open anxiety in Prudence's expression, and puckers of worry perpendicularly creased her white forehead.
"Girls!" she called again. "Come down! Father, you'd better hurry,—it's nearly train time. Girls, are you deaf!"
Her insistence finally brought response. A door opened in the hallway above, and Connie started down the stairs, fully dressed, except that she limped along in one stocking-foot, her shoe in her hand.
"It's so silly of you to get all dressed before you put on your shoes, Connie," Prudence reproved her as she came down. "It wrinkles you up so. But you do look nice. Wasn't it dear of the Ladies' Aid to give you that dress for your birthday? It's so dainty and sweet,—and goodness knows you needed one. They probably noticed that. Let me fix your bow a little. Do be careful, dear, and don't get mussed before we come back. Aunt Grace will be so much gladder to live with us if we all look sweet and clean. And you'll be good, won't you, Connie, and—Twins, will you come!"
"They are sewing up the holes in each other's stockings," Connie vouchsafed. "They're all dressed."
The twins, evidently realizing that Prudence's patience was near the breaking point, started down-stairs for approval, a curious procession. All dressed as Connie had said, and most charming, but they walked close together, Carol stepping gingerly on one foot and Lark stooping low, carrying a needle with great solicitude,—the thread reaching from the needle to a small hole on Carol's instep.
"What on earth are you doing?"
"I'm sewing up the holes in Carol's stocking," Lark explained. "If you had waited a minute I would have finished—Hold still, Carol,—don't walk so jerky or you'll break the thread. There were five holes in her left stocking, Prudence, and I'm—"
Prudence frowned disapprovingly. "It's a very bad habit to sew up holes in your stockings when you are wearing them. If you had darned them all yesterday as I told you, you'd have had plenty of—Mercy, Lark, you have too much powder on!"
"I know it,—Carol did it. She said she wanted me to be of an intellectual pallor." Lark mopped her face with one hand.
"You'd better not mention to papa that we powdered to-day," Carol suggested. "He's upset. It's very hard for a man to be reasonable when he's upset, you know."
"You look nice, twins." Prudence advanced a step, her eyes on Carol's hair, sniffing suspiciously. "Carol, did you curl your hair?"
Carol blushed. "Well, just a little," she confessed. "I thought Aunt Grace would appreciate me more with a crown of frizzy ringlets."
"You'll spoil your hair if you don't leave it alone, and it will serve you right, too. It's very pretty as it is naturally,—plenty curly enough and—Oh, Fairy, I know Aunt Grace will love you," she cried ecstatically. "You look like a dream, you—"
"Yes,—a nightmare," said Carol snippily. "If I saw Fairy coming at me on a dark night I'd—"
"Papa, we'll miss the train!" Then as he came slowly down the stairs, she said to her sisters again, anxiously: "Oh, girls, do keep nice and clean, won't you? And be very sweet to Aunt Grace! It's so—awfully good of her—to come—and take care of us,—" Prudence's voice broke a little. The admission of another to the parsonage mothering hurt her.
Mr. Starr stopped on the bottom step, and with one foot as a pivot, slowly revolved for his daughters' inspection.
"How do I look?" he demanded. "Do you think this suit will convince Grace that I am worth taking care of? Do I look twenty-five dollars better than I did yesterday?"
The girls gazed at him with most adoring and exclamatory approval.
"Father! You look perfectly grand!—Isn't it beautiful?—Of course, you looked nicer than anybody else even in the old suit, but—it—well, it was—"
"Perfectly disgracefully shabby," put in Fairy quickly. "Entirely unworthy a minister of your—er—lovely family!"
"I hope none of you have let it out among the members how long I wore that old suit. I don't believe I could face my congregation on Sundays if I thought they were mentally calculating the wearing value of my various garments.—We'll have to go, Prudence.—You all look very fine—a credit to the parsonage—and I am sure Aunt Grace will think us well worth living with."
"And don't muss the house up," begged Prudence, as her father opened the door and pushed her gently out on the step.
The four sisters left behind looked at one another solemnly. It was a serious business,—most serious. Connie gravely put on her shoe, and buttoned it. Lark sewed up the last hole in Carol's stocking,—Carol balancing herself on one foot with nice precision for the purpose. Then, all ready, they looked at one another again,—even more solemnly.
"Well," said Fairy, "let's go in—and wait."
Silently the others followed her in, and they all sat about, irreproachably, on the well-dusted chairs, their hands folded Methodistically in their smooth and spotless laps.
The silence, and the solemnity, were very oppressive.
"We look all right," said Carol belligerently.
No one answered.
"I'm sure Aunt Grace is as sweet as anybody could be," she added presently.
"Don't we love her better than anybody on earth,—except ourselves?"
Then, when the silence continued, her courage waned. "Oh, girls," she whimpered, "isn't it awful? It's the beginning of the end of everything. Outsiders have to come in now to take care of us, and Prudence'll get married, and then Fairy will, and maybe us twins,—I mean, we twins. And then there'll only be father and Connie left, and Miss Greet, or some one, will get ahead of father after all,—and Connie'll have to live with a step-mother, and—it'll never seem like home any more, and—"
Connie burst into loud and mournful wails.
"You're very silly, Carol," Fairy said sternly. "Very silly, indeed. I don't see much chance of any of us getting married very soon. And Prudence will be here nearly a year yet. And—Aunt Grace is as sweet and dear a woman as ever lived—mother's own sister—and she loves us dearly and—"
"Yes," agreed Lark, "but it's not like having Prudence at the head of things."
"Prudence will be at the head of things for nearly a year, and—I think we're mighty lucky to get Aunt Grace. It's not many women would be willing to leave a fine stylish home, with a hundred dollars to spend on just herself, and with a maid to wait on her, and come to an ugly old house like this to take care of a preacher and a riotous family like ours. It's very generous of Aunt Grace—very."
"Yes, it is," admitted Lark. "And as long as she was our aunt with her fine home, and her hundred dollars a month, and her maid, I loved her dearly. But—I don't want anybody coming in to manage us. We can manage ourselves. We—"
"We need a chaperon," put in Fairy deftly. "She isn't going to do the housework, or the managing, or anything. She's just our chaperon. It isn't proper for us to live without one, you know. We're too young. It isn't—conventional."
"And for goodness' sake, Connie," said Carol, "remember and call her our chaperon, and don't talk about a housekeeper. There's some style to a chaperon."
"Yes, indeed," said Fairy cheerfully. "And she wears such pretty clothes, and has such pretty manners that she will be a distinct acquisition to the parsonage. We can put on lots more style, of course. And then it was awfully nice of her to send so much of her good furniture,—the piano, for instance, to take the place of that old tin pan of ours."
Carol smiled a little. "If she had written, 'Dear John: I can't by any means live in a house with furniture like that of yours, so you'll have to let me bring some of my own,'—wouldn't we have been furious? That was what she meant all right, but she put it very neatly."
"Yes. 'I love some of my things so dearly,'" Lark quoted promptly, "'and have lived with them so long that I am too selfish to part with them. May I bring a few pieces along?' Yes, it was pretty cute of her."
"And do remember, girls, that you mustn't ask her to darn your stockings, and wash your handkerchiefs, and do your tasks about the house. It would be disgraceful. And be careful not to hint for things you want, for, of course, Aunt Grace will trot off and buy them for you and papa will not like it. You twins'll have to be very careful to quit dreaming about silk stockings, for instance." There was a tinge of sarcasm in Fairy's voice as she said this.
"Fairy, we did dream about silk stockings—you don't need to believe it if you don't want to. But we did dream about them just the same!" Carol sighed. "I think I could be more reconciled to Aunt Grace if I thought she'd give me a pair of silk stockings. You know, Fairy, sometimes lately I almost—don't like Aunt Grace—any more."
"That's very foolish and very wicked," declared Fairy. "I love her dearly. I'm so glad she's come to live with us."
"Are you?" asked Connie innocently. "Then why did you go up in the attic and cry all morning when Prudence was fixing the room for her?"
Fairy blushed, and caught her under lip between her teeth for a minute. And then, in a changed voice she said, "I—I do love her, and—I am glad—but I keep thinking ahead to when Prudence gets married, and—and—oh, girls, Prudence was all settled in the parsonage when I was born, and she's been here ever since, and—when she is gone it—it won't be any home to me at all!"
Her voice rose on the last words in a way most pitifully suggestive of tears.
For a moment there was a stricken silence.
"Oh, pooh!" Carol said at last, bravely. "You wouldn't want Prue to stick around and be an old maid, would you? I think she's mighty lucky to get a fellow as nice as Jerry Harmer myself. I'll bet you don't make out half as well, Fairy. I think she'd be awfully silly not to gobble him right up while she has a chance. For my own part, I don't believe in old maids. I think it is a religious duty for folks to get married, and—and—you know what I mean,—race suicide, you know." She nodded her head sagely, winking one eye in a most intelligent fashion.
"And Aunt Grace is so quiet she'll not be any bother at all," added Lark. "Don't you remember how she always sits around and smiles at us, and never says anything. She won't scold a bit.—Maybe Carol and I will get a chance to spend some of our spending money when she takes charge. Prudence confiscates it all for punishment. I think it's going to be lots of fun having Aunt Grace with us."
"I'm going to take my dime and buy her something," Connie announced suddenly.
The twins whirled on her sharply. "Your dime!" echoed Carol.
"I didn't know you had a dime," said Lark.
Connie flushed a little. "Yes,—Oh, yes,—" she said, "I've got a dime. I—I hid it. I've got a dime all right."
"It's nearly time," said Fairy restlessly. "Number Nine has been on time for two mornings now,—so she'll probably be here in time for dinner. It's only ten o'clock now."
"You mean luncheon," suggested Carol.
"Yes, luncheon, to be sure, fair sister."
"Where'd you get that dime, Connie?"
"Oh, I've had it some time," Connie admitted reluctantly.
"When I asked you to lend me a dime you said—"
"You asked me if I had a dime I could lend you and I said, No, and I didn't, for I didn't have this dime to lend."
"But where have you had it?" inquired Lark. "I thought you acted suspicious some way, so I went around and looked for myself."
"Where did you look?"
The twins laughed gleefully. "Oh, on top of the windows and doors," said Carol.
"How did you know—" began Connie.
"You aren't slick enough for us, Connie. We knew you had some funny place to hide your money, so I gave you that penny and then I went up-stairs very noisily so you could hear me, and Lark sneaked around and watched, and saw where you put it. We've been able to keep pretty good track of your finances lately."
The twins laughed again.
"But I looked on the top ledge of all the windows and doors just yesterday," admitted Lark, "and there was nothing there. Did you put that dime in the bank?"
"Oh, never mind," said Connie. "I don't need to tell you. You twins are too slick for me, you know."
The twins looked slightly fussed, especially when Fairy laughed with a merry, "Good for you, Connie."
Carol rose and looked at herself in the glass. "I'm going up-stairs," she said.
"What for?" inquired Lark, rising also.
"I need a little more powder. My nose is shiny."
So the twins went up-stairs, and Fairy, after calling out to them to be very careful and not get disheveled, went out into the yard and wandered dolefully about by herself.
Connie meantime decided to get her well-hidden dime and figure out what ten cents could buy for her fastidious and wealthy aunt. Connie was in many ways unique. Her system of money-hiding was born of nothing less than genius, prompted by necessity, for the twins were clever as well as grasping. She did not know they had discovered her plan of banking on the top ledge of the windows and doors, but having dealt with them long and bitterly, she knew that in money matters she must give them the benefit of all her ingenuity. For the last and precious dime, she had discovered a brand-new hiding-place.
The cook stove sat in the darkest and most remote corner of the kitchen, and where the chimney fitted into the wall, it was protected by a small zinc plate. This zinc plate protruded barely an inch, but that inch was quite sufficient for coins the size of Connie's, and there, high and secure in the shadowy corner, lay Connie's dime. Now that she had decided to spend it, she wanted it before her eyes,—for ten cents in sight buys much more than ten cents in memory. She went into the kitchen cautiously, careful of her white canvas shoes, and put a chair beside the stove. She had discovered that the dishpan turned upside down on the chair, gave her sufficient height to reach her novel banking place. The preparation was soon accomplished, and neatly, for Connie was an orderly child, and loved cleanliness even on occasions less demanding than this.
But alas for Connie's calculations!—Carol was born for higher things than dish washing, and she had splashed soap-suds on the table. The pan had been set among them—and then, neatly wiped on the inside, it had been hung up behind the table,—with the suds on the bottom. And it was upon this same dishpan that Connie climbed so carefully in search of her darling dime.
The result was certain. As she slowly and breathlessly raised herself on tiptoe, steadying herself with the tips of her fingers lightly touching the stove-pipe, her foot moved treacherously into the soapy area, and slipped. Connie screamed, caught desperately at the pipe, and fell to the floor in a sickening jumble of stove-pipe, dishpan and soot beyond her wildest fancies! Her cries brought her sisters flying, and the sight of the blackened kitchen, and the unfortunate child in the midst of disaster, banished from their minds all memory of the coming chaperon, of Prudence's warning words:—Connie was in trouble. With sisterly affection they rescued her, and did not hear the ringing of the bell. They brushed her, they shook her, they kissed her, they all but wept over her. And when Prudence and her father, with Aunt Grace in tow, despaired of gaining entrance at the hands of the girls, came in unannounced, it was a sorry scene that greeted them. Fairy and the twins were only less sooty than Connie and the kitchen. The stove-pipe lay about them with that insufferable insolence known only to fallen stove-pipe. And Connie wept loudly, her tears making hideous trails upon her blackened face.
"I might have known it," Prudence thought, with sorrow. But her motherly pride vanished before her motherly solicitude, and Connie was soon quieted by her tender ministrations.
"We love you, Aunt Grace," cried Carol earnestly, "but we can't kiss you."
Mr. Starr anxiously scanned the surface of the kitchen table with an eye to future spots on the new suit, and then sat down on the edge of it and laughed as only a man of young heart and old experience can laugh!
"Disgraced again," he said. "Prudence said we made a mistake in not taking you all to the station where we could watch you every minute. Grace, think well before you take the plunge. Do you dare cast in your fortunes with a parsonage bunch that revels in misfortune? Can you take the responsibility of rearing a family that knows trouble only? This is your last chance. Weigh well your words."
The twins squirmed uncomfortably. True, she was their aunt, and knew many things about them. But they did think it was almost bad form for their father to emphasize their failings in the presence of any one outside the family.
Fairy pursed up her lips, puffing vainly at the soot that had settled upon her face. Then she laughed. "Very true, Aunt Grace," she said. "We admit that we're a luckless family. But we're expecting, with you to help us, to do much better. You see, we've never had half a chance so far, with only father behind us."
The twins revived at this, and joined in the laughter their father led against himself.
Later in the day Prudence drew her aunt to one side and asked softly, "Was it much of a shock to you, Aunt Grace? The family drowned in soot to welcome you? I'm sure you expected to find everything trim and fresh and orderly. Was it a bitter disappointment?"
Aunt Grace smiled brightly. "Why, no, Prudence," she said in her slow even voice. "I really expected something to be wrong! I'd have been disappointed if everything had gone just right!"
SCIENCE AND HEALTH
After all, the advent of a chaperon made surprisingly little difference in the life of the parsonage family, but what change there was, was all to the good. Their aunt assumed no active directorate over household matters. She just slipped in, happily, unobtrusively, helpfully. She was a gentle woman, smiling much, saying little. Indeed, her untalkativeness soon became a matter of great merriment among the lively girls.
"A splendid deaf and dumb person was lost to the world in you, Aunt Grace," Carol assured her warmly. "I never saw a woman who could say so much in smiles, and be so expressive without words."
Fairy said, "She carries on a prolonged discussion, and argues and orates, without saying a word."
The members of the Ladies' Aid, who hastened to call, said, "She is perfectly charming—such a fine conversationalist!"
She was always attractively dressed, always self-possessed, always friendly, always good-natured, and the girls found her presence only pleasing. She relieved Prudence, admired Fairy, laughed at the twins, adored Connie. Between her and Mr. Starr there was a frank camaraderie, charming, but seldom found between brothers- and sisters-in-law.
"Of course, Aunt Grace," Prudence told her sweetly, "we aren't going to be selfish with you. We don't expect you to bury yourself in the parsonage. Whenever you want to trip away for a while, you must feel free to go. We don't intend to monopolize you, however much we want to do so. Whenever you want to go, you must go."
"I shan't want to go," said Aunt Grace quickly.
"Not right away, of course," Prudence agreed. "But you'll find our liveliness tiring. Whenever you do want to go—"
"I don't think I shall want to go at all," she answered. "I like it here. I—I like liveliness."
Then Prudence kissed her gratefully.
For several weeks after her initiation in the parsonage, life rolled along sweetly and serenely. There were only the minor, unavoidable mishaps and disciplinary measures common to the life of any family. Of course, there were frequent, stirring verbal skirmishes between Fairy and the twins, and between the twins and Connie. But these did not disturb their aunt. She leaned back in her chair, or among the cushions, listening gravely, but with eyes that always smiled.
Then came a curious lull.
For ten entire and successive days the twins had lived blameless lives. Their voices rang out gladly and sweetly. They treated Connie with a sisterly tenderness and gentleness quite out of accord with their usual drastic discipline. They obeyed the word of Prudence with a cheerful readiness that was startlingly cherubimic. The most distasteful of orders called forth nothing stronger than a bright, "Yes, Prudence." They no longer developed dangerous symptoms of physical disablement at times of unpleasant duties. Their devotion to the cause of health was beautiful. Not an ache disturbed them. Not a pain suggested a substitute.
Prudence watched them with painful solicitude. Her years of mothering had given her an almost supernatural intuition as to causes, and effects.
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Starr bade his family good-by and set out on a tour of Epworth League conventions. He was to be away from home until the end of the following week. A prospective Presbyterian theologian had been selected from the college to fill his pulpit on the Sabbath, and the girls, with their aunt, faced an unusually long period of running the parsonage to suit themselves.
At ten o'clock the train carried their father off in the direction of Burlington, and at eleven o'clock the twins returned to the parsonage. They had given him a daughterly send-off at the station, and then gone to the library for books. Prudence, Fairy and Aunt Grace sat sewing on the side porch as they cut across the parsonage lawn, their feet crinkling pleasantly through the drift of autumn leaves the wind had piled beneath the trees.
"We're out of potatoes, twins," said Prudence, as they drew near. "You'll have to dig some before dinner."
For one instant their complacent features clouded. Prudence looked up expectantly, sure of a break in their serene placidity.
One doubtful second, then—
"Certainly, Prudence," said Carol brightly.
And Lark added genially, "We'd better fill the box, I guess—so we'll have enough for the rest of the week."
And singing a light but unharmonic snatch of song, the twins went in search of basket and hoe.
The twins were not musical. They only sang from principle, to emphasize their light-heartedness when it needed special impressing.
Prudence's brows knitted in anxious frowns, and she sighed a few times.
"What is the matter, Prue? You look like a rainy Christmas," said Fairy.
"It's the twins," was the mournful answer.
"The twins!" ejaculated Fairy. "Why, they've acted like angels lately."
Even Aunt Grace lifted mildly inquiring eyebrows.
"That's it!—That's just it. When the twins act like angels I get uneasy right away. The better they act, the more suspicious I feel."
"What have they been doing?"
"Nothing! Not a thing! That's why I'm worried. It must be something terrible!"
Fairy laughed and returned to her embroidery. Aunt Grace smiled and began plying her needles once more. But Prudence still looked troubled, and sighed often.
There was no apparent ground for her alarm. The twins came back with the potatoes, peeled some for luncheon, and set the table, their faces still bright and smiling. Prudence's eyes, often fastened upon their angelic countenances, grew more and more troubled.
In the afternoon, they joined the little circle on the porch, but not to sew. They took a book, and lay down on a rug with the book before them, reading together. Evidently they were all absorbed. An hour passed, two hours, three. At times Carol pointed to a line, and said in a low voice, "That's good, isn't it?" And Lark would answer, "Dandy!—Have you read this?"
Prudence, in spite of her devotion to the embroidering of large S's on assorted pieces of linen, never forgot the twins for a moment.
"What are you reading?" she asked at last aimlessly, her only desire to be reassured by the sound of their voices.
There was an almost imperceptible pause. Then Carol answered,—her chin was in her palms which may have accounted for the mumbling of the words.
Another pause, a little more perceptible this time. "Science and Health," Carol said at last, quite distinctly.
"Science and Health," Prudence repeated, in a puzzled tone. "Is it a doctor book?"
"Why—something of the sort,—yes," said Carol dubiously.
"Science and Health? Science and Health," mused Fairy. "You don't mean that Christian Science book, do you? You know what I mean, Prudence—Mary Baker Eddy's book—Science and Health,—that's the name of it. That's not what you twins are devouring so ravenously, is it?"
Carol answered with manifest reluctance, glancing nervously at Prudence, "Y-yes,—that's what it is."
Ominous silence greeted this admission. A slow red flush mantled the twins' cheeks. Aunt Grace's eyes twinkled a little, although her face was grave. Fairy looked surprised. Prudence looked dumfounded. When she spoke, her words gave no sign of the cataclysmic struggle through which she had passed.
"What are you reading that for?"
"Why—it's very interesting," explained Lark, coming to Carol's rescue. Carol was very good at meeting investigation, but when it came to prolonged explanation, Lark stood preeminent. "Of course, we don't believe it—yet. But there are some good things in it. Part of it is very beautiful. We don't just understand it,—it's very deep. But some of the ideas are very fine, and—er—uplifting, you know."
Prudence looked most miserable. "But—twins, do you think—minister's daughters ought to read—things like that?"
"Why, Prudence, I think minister's daughters ought to be well-informed on every subject," declared Lark conscientiously. "How can we be an influence if we don't know anything about things?—And I tell you what it is, Prue, I don't think it's right for all of us church people to stand back and knock Christian Science when we don't know anything about it. It's narrow-minded, that's what it is. It's downright un-Christian. When you get into the book you will find it just full of fine inspiring thoughts—something like the Bible,—only—er—and very good, you know."
Prudence looked at Fairy and her aunt in helpless dismay. This was something entirely new in her experience of rearing a family.
"I—I don't think you ought to read it," she said slowly. "But at the same time—"
"Of course, if you command us not to read it, we won't," said Carol generously.
"Yes. We've already learned quite a lot about it," amended Lark, with something of warning in her tone.
"What do you think about it, Aunt Grace?"
"Why,—I don't know, Prudence. You know more about rearing twins than I do."
Prudence at that moment felt that she knew very little about it, indeed. She turned to Fairy. There was a strange intentness in Fairy's fine eyes as she studied the twins on the floor at her feet.
"You aren't thinking of turning Christian Scientists, yourselves, are you?" asked Prudence rather humbly.
"Oh, of course, we aren't Scientists, Prudence," was the quick denial. "We don't know anything about it yet, really. But there are lots of very helpful things in it, and—people talk about it so much, and—they have made such wonderful cures, you know, and—we'd thought we'd just study up a little."
"You take the book and read it yourself, Prue," urged Carol hospitably. "You'll see what we mean."
Prudence drew back quickly as though the book would sear her fingers. She looked very forlorn. She realized that it would be bad policy to forbid the twins to read it. On the other hand, she realized equally strongly that it was certainly unwise to allow its doctrines to take root in the minds of parsonage daughters. If only her father were at home,—ten days between herself and the lifting of responsibility!
"When father comes home—" she began. And then suddenly Fairy spoke.
"I think the twins are right," she said emphatically, and the twins looked at her with a surprised anxiety that mated Prudence's own. "It would be very narrow-minded of us to refuse to look into a subject as important as this. Let them go on and study it; we can decide things later."
Prudence looked very doubtful, but a warning movement of Fairy's left eyelash—the side removed from the twins—comforted her.
"Well—" she said.
"Of course, Prudence, we know it would nearly break father's heart for us to go back on our own church,—but don't you think if folks become truly convinced that Christian Science is the true and good religion, they ought to stand by it and suffer,—just like the martyrs of old?" suggested Lark,—and the suggestion brought the doubt-clouds thick about Prudence's head once more.
"We may not be convinced, of course," added Carol, "but there is something rather—assuring—about it."
"Oh, twins," Prudence cried earnestly, but stopped as she caught again the slight suggestive movement of Fairy's left eyelash.
"Well, let it go for this afternoon," she said, her eyes intent on Fairy's face. "I must think it over."
The twins, with apparent relish, returned to their perusal of the book.
Fairy rose almost immediately and went into the house, coming back a moment later with her hat and gloves.
"I'm going for a stroll, Prue," she said. "I'll be back in time for supper."
Prudence gazed yearningly after her departing back. She felt a great need of help in this crisis, and Fairy's nonchalance was sometimes very soothing. Aunt Grace was a darling, of course, but she had long ago disclaimed all responsibility for the rearing of the twins.
It was two hours later when Fairy came back. Prudence was alone on the porch.
"Where are the twins?" asked Fairy softly.
"Up-stairs," was the whispered reply. "Well?"
Then Fairy spoke more loudly, confident that the twins, in their up-stairs room, could hear every word she said. "Come up-stairs, Prue. I want to talk this over with you alone." And then she whispered, "Now, you just take your cue from me, and do as I say. The little sinners! We'll teach them to be so funny!"
In their own room she carefully closed the door and smiled, as she noted a creaking of the closet door on the twins' side of the wall. Eavesdropping was not included among the cardinal sins in the twins' private decalogue, when the conversation concerned themselves.
"Now, Prudence," Fairy began, speaking with an appearance of softness, though she took great pains to turn her face toward the twins' room, and enunciated very clearly indeed. "I know this will hurt you, as it does me, but we've got to face it fairly. If the twins are convinced that Christian Science is the right kind of religion, we can't stand in their way. It might turn them from all religion and make them infidels or atheists, or something worse. Any religion is better than none. I've been reading up a little myself this afternoon, and there are some good points in Christian Science. Of course, for our sakes and father's, the twins will be generous and deny that they are Scientists. But at heart, they are. I saw it this afternoon. And you and I, Prudence, must stand together and back them up. They'll have to leave the Methodist church. It may break our hearts, and father's, too, but we can't wrong our little sisters just for our personal pride and pleasure in them. I think we'll have them go before the official board next Sunday while father is gone—then he will be spared the pain of it. I'll speak to Mr. Lauren about it to-morrow. We must make it as easy for them as we can. They'll probably dismiss them—I don't suppose they'll give them letters. But it must be all over before papa comes back."
Then she hissed in Prudence's ear, "Now cry."
Prudence obediently began sniffing and gulping, and Fairy rushed to her and threw her arms about her, sobbing in heart-broken accents, "There, there, Prue, I know—I felt just the same about it. But we can't stand between the twins and what they think is right. We daren't have that on our consciences."
The two wept together, encouraged by the death-like stillness in the closet on the other side of the wall.
Then Fairy said, more calmly, though still sobbing occasionally, "For our sakes, they'll try to deny it. But we can't let the little darlings sacrifice themselves. They've got to have a chance to try their new belief. We'll just be firm and insist that they stand on their rights. We won't mention it to them for a day or two—we'll fix it up with the official board first. And we must surely get it over by Sunday. Poor old father—and how he loves—" Fairy indulged in a clever and especially artistic bit of weeping. Then she regained control of her feelings by an audible effort. "But it has its good points, Prue. Haven't you noticed how sweet and sunny and dear the twins have been lately? It was Science and Health working in them. Oh, Prudence dear, don't cry so."
Prudence caught her cue again and began weeping afresh. They soothed and caressed and comforted each other for a while, and then went down-stairs to finish getting supper.
In the meantime, the shocked and horrified twins in the closet of their own room, were clutching each other with passionate intensity. Little nervous chills set them aquiver, their hands were cold, their faces throbbing hot. When their sisters had gone down-stairs, they stared at each other in agony.
"They—they wo-won't p-p-put us out of the ch-ch-church," gasped Carol.
"They will," stammered Lark. "You know what Prudence is! She'd put the whole church out if she thought it would do us any good."
"Pa-p-pa'll—papa'll—" began Carol, her teeth chattering.
"They'll do it before he gets back." Then with sudden reproach she cried, "Oh, Carol, I told you it was wicked to joke about religion."
This unexpected reproach on the part of her twin brought Carol back to earth. "Christian Science isn't religion," she declared. "It's not even good sense, as far's I can make out. I didn't read a word of it, did you?—I—I just thought it would be such a good joke on Prudence—with father out of town."
The good joke was anything but funny now.
"They can't make us be Scientists if we don't want to," protested Lark. "They can't. Why, I wouldn't be anything but a Methodist for anything on earth. I'd die first."
"You can't die if you're a Scientist—anyhow, you oughtn't to. Millie Mains told me—"
"It's a punishment on us for even looking at the book—good Methodists like we are. I'll burn it. That's what I'll do."
"You'll have to pay for it at the library if you do," cautioned frugal Carol.
"Well, we'll just go and tell Prudence it was a joke,—Prudence is always reasonable. She won't—"
"She'll punish us, and—it'll be such a joke on us, Larkie. Even Connie'll laugh."
They squirmed together, wretchedly, at that.
"We'll tell them we have decided it is false."
"They said we'd probably do that for their sakes."
"It—it was a good joke while it lasted," said Carol, with a very faint shadow of a smile. "Don't you remember how Prudence gasped? She kept her mouth open for five minutes!"
"It's still a joke," added Lark gloomily, "but it's on us."
"They can't put us out of the church!"
"I don't know. You know we Methodists are pretty set! Like as not they'll say we'd be a bad influence among the members."
The call outside their door sounded like the trump of doom to the conscience-smitten twins, and they clutched each other, startled, crying out. Then, sheepishly, they stepped out of the closet to find Fairy regarding them quizzically from the doorway. She repressed a smile with difficulty, as she said quietly:
"I was just talking to Mrs. Mains over the phone. She's going to a Christian Science lecture to-night, and she said she wished I wasn't a minister's daughter and she'd ask me to go along. I told her I didn't care to, but said you twins would enjoy it. She'll be here in the car for you at seven forty-five."
"I won't go," cried Carol. "I won't go near their old church."
"You won't go." Fairy was astonished. "Why—I told her you would be glad to go."
"I won't," repeated Carol, with nervous passion. "I will not. You can't make me."
Lark shook her head in corroborative denial.
"Well, that's queer." Fairy frowned, then she smiled.
Suddenly, to the tempest-tossed and troubled twins, the tall splendid Fairy seemed a haven of refuge. Her eyes were very kind. Her smile was sweet. And with a cry of relief, and shame, and fear, the twins plunged upon her and told their little tale.
"You punish us this time, Fairy," begged Carol. "We—we don't want the rest of the family to know. We'll take any kind of punishment, but keep it dark, won't you? Prudence will soon forget, she's so awfully full of Jerry these days."
"I'll talk it over with Prudence," said Fairy. "But—I think we'll have to tell the family."
Lark moved her feet restlessly. "Well, you needn't tell Connie," she said. "Having the laugh come back on us is the very meanest kind of a punishment."
Fairy looked at them a moment, wondering if, indeed, their punishment had been sufficient.
"Well, little twins," she said, "I guess I will take charge of this myself. Here is your punishment." She stood up again, and looked down at them with sparkling eyes as they gazed at her expectantly.
"We caught on that it was a joke. We knew you were listening in the closet. And Prudence and I acted our little parts to give you one good scare. Who's the laugh on now? Are we square? Supper's ready." And Fairy ran down-stairs, laughing, followed by two entirely abashed and humbled twins.
A GIFT FROM HEAVEN
The first of April in the Mount Mark parsonage was a time of trial and tribulation, frequently to the extent of weeping and gnashing of teeth. The twins were no respecters of persons, and feeling that the first of April rendered all things justifiable to all men, they made life as burdensome to their father as to Connie, and Fairy and Prudence lived in a state of perpetual anguish until the twins fell asleep at night well satisfied but worn out with the day's activities. The twins were bordering closely to the first stage of grown-up womanhood, but on the first of April they swore they would always be young! The tricks were more dignified, more carefully planned and scientifically executed than in the days of their rollicking girlhood,—but they were all the more heart-breaking on that account.
The week before the first was spent by Connie in a vain effort to ferret out their plans in order that fore-knowledge might suggest a sufficient safe-guard. The twins, however, were too clever to permit this, and their bloody schemes were wrapped in mystery and buried in secrecy. On the thirty-first of March, Connie labored like a plumber would if working by the job. She painstakingly hid from sight all her cherished possessions. The twins were in the barn, presumably deep in plots. Aunt Grace was at the Ladies' Aid. So when Fairy came in, about four in the afternoon, there was only Prudence to note the vengeful glitter in her fine clear eyes. And Prudence was so intent upon feather-stitching the hems of pink-checked dish towels, that she did not observe it.
"Where's papa?" Fairy asked.
"Where are the twins?"
"In the barn, getting ready for THE DAY."
Fairy smiled delightfully and skipped eagerly up the stairs. She was closeted with her father for some time, and came out of his room at last with a small coin carefully concealed in the corner of her handkerchief. She did not remove her hat, but set briskly out toward town again.
Prudence, startled out of her feather-stitching, followed her to the door. "Why, Fairy," she called. "Are you going out again?"
Fairy threw out her hands. "So it seems. An errand for papa." She lifted her brows and pursed up her lips, and the wicked joy in her face pierced the mantle of Prudence's absorption again.
"What's up?" she questioned curiously, following her sister down the steps.
Fairy looked about hurriedly, and then whispered a few words of explanation. Prudence's look changed to one of unnaturally spiteful glee.
"Good! Fine! Serves 'em right! You'd better hurry."
"Tell Aunt Grace, will you? But don't let Connie in until morning. She'd give it away."
At supper-time Fairy returned, and the twins, their eyes bright with the unholy light of mischief, never looked at her. They sometimes looked heavenward with a sublime contentment that drove Connie nearly frantic. Occasionally they uttered cryptic words about the morrow,—and the older members of the family smiled pleasantly, but Connie shuddered. She remembered so many April Fool's Days.
The family usually clung together on occasions of this kind, feeling there was safety and sympathy in numbers—as so many cowards have felt for lo, these many years. And thus it happened that they were all in the dining-room when their father appeared at the door. He had his hands behind him suggestively.
"Twins," he said, without preamble, "what do you want more than anything else?"
"Silk stockings," was the prompt and unanimous answer.
He laughed. "Good guess, wasn't it?" And tossed into their eager hands two slender boxes, nicely wrapped. The others gathered about them with smiling eyes as the twins tremulously tore off the wrappings.
"A. Phoole's Pure Silk Thread Hose,—Guaranteed!" This they read from the box—neat golden lettering. It was enough for the twins. With cries of perfect bliss they flung themselves upon their father, kissing him rapturously wherever their lips might touch.
"Oh, papa!" "Oh, you darling!" And then, when they had some sort of control of their joy, Lark said solemnly, "Papa, it is a gift from Heaven!"
"Of course, we give you the credit, papa," Carol amended quickly, "but the thought was Heaven-prompted."
Fairy choked suddenly, and her fit of coughing interfered with the twins' gratitude to an all-suggesting Providence!
Carol twisted her box nervously. "You know, papa, it may seem very childish, and—silly to you, but—actually—we have—well, prayed for silk stockings. We didn't honestly expect to get them, though—not until we saved up money enough to get them ourselves. Heaven is kinder to us than we—"
"You can't understand such things, papa," said Lark. "Maybe you don't know exactly how—how they feel. When we go to Betty Hill's we wear her silk stockings and lie on the bed—and—she won't let us walk in them, for fear we may wear holes. Every girl in our class has at least one pair,—Betty has three, but one pair's holey, and—we felt so awfully poor!"
The smiles on the family faces were rather stereotyped by this time, but the exulting twins did not notice. Lark looked at Carol fondly. Carol sighed at Lark blissfully. Then, with one accord, they lifted the covers from the boxes and drew out the shimmering hose. Yes,—shimmering—but—they shook them out for inspection! Their faces paled a little.
"They—they are very—" began Carol courageously. Then she stopped.
The hose were a fine tissue-paper imitation of silk stockings! The "April Fool, little twins," on the toes was not necessary for their enlightenment. They looked at their father with sad but unresentful reproach in their swiftly shadowed eyes.
"It—it's a good joke," stammered Carol, moistening her dry lips with her tongue.
"It's—one on us," blurted Lark promptly.
"Ha, ha, ha," laughed Carol, slowly, dryly, very dully.
"Yes—ha, ha, ha," echoed Lark, placing the bitter fruit carefully back in its box. Her fingers actually trembled.
"It's a—swell joke, all right," Carol said, "we see that well enough,—we're not stupid, you know. But we did want some silk stockings so—awfully bad. But it's funny, ha, ha, ha!"
"A gift from Heaven!" muttered Lark, with clenched teeth. "Well, you got us that time."
"Come on, Lark, we must put them sacredly away—Silk stockings, you know, are mighty scarce in a parsonage,—"
"Yes, ha, ha, ha," and the crushed and broken twins left the room, with dignity in spite of the blow.
The family did not enjoy the joke on the twins.
Mr. Starr looked at the others with all a man's confused incomprehension of a woman's notions! He spread out his hands—an orthodox, ministerial gesture!
"Now, will some one kindly tell me what there is in silk stockings, to—" He shook his head helplessly. "Silk stockings! A gift from Heaven!" He smiled, unmerrily. "The poor little kids!" Then he left the room.
Aunt Grace openly wiped her eyes, smiling at herself as she did so.
Fairy opened and closed her lips several times. Then she spoke. "Say, Prue, knock me down and sit on me, will you? Whatever made me think of such a stupid trick as that?"
"Why, bless their little hearts," whispered Prudence, sniffing. "Didn't they look sorry? But they were so determined to be game."
"Prudence, give me my eight cents," demanded Connie. "I want it right away."
"What do you want it for?"
"I'm going down to Morrow's and get some candy. I never saw a meaner trick in my life! I'm surprised at papa. The twins only play jokes for fun." And Connie stalked grimly out of the parsonage and off toward town.
A more abashed and downcast pair of twins probably never lived. They sat thoughtfully in their room, "A. Phoole's Silk Thread Hose" carefully hidden from their hurt eyes.
"It was a good joke," Lark said, now and then.
"Yes, very," assented Carol. "But silk stockings, Larkie!"
And Lark squirmed wretchedly. "A gift from Heaven," she mourned. "How they must be laughing!"
But they did not laugh.
Connie came back and shared her candy. They thanked her courteously and invited her to sit down. Then they all ate candy and grieved together silently. They did not speak of the morning's disaster, but the twins understood and appreciated the tender sympathy of her attitude, and although they said nothing, they looked at her very kindly and Connie was well content.
The morning passed drearily. The twins had lost all relish for their well-planned tricks, and the others, down-stairs, found the usually wild and hilarious day almost unbearably poky. Prudence's voice was gentle as she called them down to dinner, and the twins, determined not to show the white feather, went down at once and took their places. They bore their trouble bravely, but their eyes had the surprised and stricken look, and their faces were nearly old. Mr. Starr cut the blessing short, and the dinner was eaten in silence. The twins tried to start the conversation. They talked of the weather with passionate devotion. They discussed their studies with an almost unbelievable enthusiasm. They even referred, with stiff smiles, to "papa's good joke," and then laughed their dreary "ha, ha, ha," until their father wanted to fall upon his knees and beg forgiveness.
Connie, still solicitous, helped them wash the dishes. The others disappeared. Fairy got her hat and went out without a word. Their father followed scarcely a block behind her. Aunt Grace sought all over the house for Prudence, and finally found her in the attic, comforting herself with a view of the lovely linens which filled her Hope Box.
"I'm going for a walk," announced Aunt Grace briefly.
"All right," assented Prudence. "If I'm not here when you get back, don't worry. I'm going for a walk myself."
Their work done irreproachably, the twins and Connie went to the haymow and lay on the hay, still silent. The twins, buoyant though they were, could not so quickly recover from a shock like this. So intent were they upon the shadows among the cobwebs that they heard no sound from below until their father's head appeared at the top of the ladder.
"Come up," they invited hospitably but seriously.
He did so at once, and stood before them, his face rather flushed, his manner a little constrained, but looking rather satisfied with himself on the whole.
"Twins," he said, "I didn't know you were so crazy about silk stockings. We just thought it would be a good joke—but it was a little too good. It was a boomerang. I don't know when I've felt so contemptible. So I went down and got you some real silk stockings—a dollar and a half a pair,—and I'm glad to clear my conscience so easily."
The twins blushed. "It—it was a good joke, papa," Carol assured him shyly. "It was a dandy. But—all the girls at school have silk stockings for best, and—we've been wanting them—forever. And—honestly, father, I don't know when I've had such a—such a spell of indigestion as when I saw those stockings were April Fool."
"Indigestion," scoffed Connie, restored to normal by her father's handsome amends.
"Yes, indigestion," declared Lark. "You know, papa, that funny, hollow, hungry feeling—when you get a shock. That's nervous indigestion,—we read it in a medicine ad. They've got pills for it. But it was a good joke. We saw that right at the start."
"And we didn't expect anything like this. It—is very generous of you, papa. Very!"
But he noticed that they made no move to unwrap the box. It still lay between them on the hay, where he had tossed it. Evidently their confidence in him had been severely shattered.
He sat down and unwrapped it himself. "They are guaranteed," he explained, passing out the little pink slips gravely, "so when they wear holes you get another pair for nothing." The twins' faces had brightened wonderfully. "I will never play that kind of a trick again, twins, so you needn't be suspicious of me. And say! Whenever you want anything so badly it makes you feel like that, come and talk it over. We'll manage some way. Of course, we're always a little hard up, but we can generally scrape up something extra from somewhere. And we will. You mustn't—feel like that—about things. Just tell me about it. Girls are so—kind of funny, you know."
The twins and Connie rushed to the house to try the "feel" of the first, adored silk stockings. They donned them, admired them, petted Connie, idolized their father, and then removing them, tied them carefully in clean white tissue-paper and deposited them in the safest corner of the bottom drawer of their dresser. Then they lay back on the bed, thinking happily of the next class party! Silk stockings! Ah!
"Can't you just imagine how we'll look in our new white dresses, Lark, and our patent leather pumps,—with silk stockings! I really feel there is nothing sets off a good complexion as well as real silk stockings!"
They were interrupted in this delightful occupation by the entrance of Fairy. The twins had quickly realized that the suggestion for their humiliating had come from her, and their hearts were sore, but being good losers—at least, as good losers as real live folks can be—they wouldn't have admitted it for the world.
"Come on in, Fairy," said Lark cordially. "Aren't we lazy to-day?"
"Twins," said Fairy, self-conscious for the first time in the twins' knowledge of her, "I suppose you know it was I who suggested that idiotic little stocking stunt. It was awfully hateful of me, and so I bought you some real silk stockings with my own spending money, and here they are, and you needn't thank me for I never could be fond of myself again until I squared things with you."
The twins had to admit that it was really splendid of Fairy, and they thanked her with unfeigned zeal.
"But papa already got us a pair, and so you can take these back and get your money again. It was just as sweet of you, Fairy, and we thank you, and it was perfectly dear and darling, but we have papa's now, and—"
"Good for papa!" Fairy cried, and burst out laughing at the joke that proved so expensive for the perpetrators. "But you shall have my burnt offering, too. It serves us both right, but especially me, for it was my idea."
And Fairy walked away feeling very gratified and generous.
Only girls who have wanted silk stockings for a "whole lifetime" can realize the blissful state of the parsonage twins. They lay on the bed planning the most impossible but magnificent things they would do to show their gratitude, and when Aunt Grace stopped at their door they leaped up to overwhelm her with caresses just because of their gladness.
She waved them away with a laugh. "April Fool, twins," she said, with a voice so soft that it took all the sting from the words. "I brought you some real silk stockings for a change." And she tossed them a package and started out of the room to escape their thanks. But she stopped in surprise when the girls burst into merry laughter.
"Oh, you silk stockings!" Carol cried. "Three pairs! You darling sweet old auntie! You would come up here to tease us, would you? But papa gave us a pair, and Fairy gave us a pair, and—"
"They did! Why, the silly things!" And the gentle woman looked as seriously vexed as she ever did look—she had so wanted to give them the first silk-stocking experience herself.
"Oh, here you are," cried Prudence, stepping quickly in, and speaking very brightly to counterbalance the gloom she had expected to encounter. She started back in some dismay when she saw the twins rolling and rocking with laughter, and Aunt Grace leaning against the dresser for support, with Connie on the floor, quite speechless.
"Good for you, twins,—that's the way to take hard knocks," she said. "It wasn't a very nice trick, though of course papa didn't understand how you felt about silk stockings. It wasn't his fault. But Fairy and I ought to be ashamed, and we are. I went out and got you some real genuine silk ones myself, so you needn't pray for them any more."
Prudence was shocked, a little hurt, at the outburst that followed her words.
"Well, such a family!" Aunt Grace exclaimed. And then Carol pulled her bodily down beside her on the bed and for a time they were all incapable of explanations.
"What is the joke?" Prudence asked, again and again, smiling,—but still feeling a little pique. She had counted on gladdening their sorry little hearts!
"Stockings, stockings—Oh, such a family!" shrieked Carol.
"There's no playing jokes on the twins," said Aunt Grace weakly. "It takes the whole family to square up. It's too expensive."
Then Lark explained, and Prudence sat down and joined the merriment, which waxed so noisy that Mr. Starr from the library and Fairy from the kitchen, ran in to investigate.
"April Fool, April Fool," cried Carol, "We never played a trick like this, Larkie—this is our masterpiece."
"You're the nicest old things that ever lived," said Lark, still laughing, but with great warmth and tenderness in her eyes and her voice. "But you can take the stockings back and save your money if you like—we love you just as much."
But this the happy donors stoutly refused to do. The twins had earned this wealth of hose, and finally, wiping their eyes, the twins began to smooth their hair and adjust their ribbons and belts.
"What's the matter?" "Where are you going?" "Will you buy the rest of us some silk stockings?" queried the family, comic-opera effect.
"Where are we going?" Carol repeated, surprised, seeming to feel that any one should know where they were going, though they had not spoken.
"We're going to call on our friends, of course," explained Lark.
"Of course," said Carol, jabbing her hair pins in with startling energy. "And we've got to hurry. We must go to Mattie's, and Jean's, and Betty's, and Fan's, and Birdie's, and Alice's, and—say, Lark, maybe we'd better divide up and each take half. It's kind of late,—and we mustn't miss any."
"Well, what on earth!" gasped Prudence, while the others stared in speechless amazement.
"For goodness' sake, Carol, hurry. We have to get clear out to Minnie's to-night, if we miss our supper."
"But what's the idea? What for? What are you talking about?"
"Why, you silly thing," said Carol patiently, "we have to go and tell our friends that we've got four pairs of silk stockings, of course. I wouldn't miss this afternoon for the world. And we'll go the rounds together, Lark. I want to see how they take it," she smiled at them benignly. "I can imagine their excitement. And we owe it to the world to give it all the excitement we can. Prudence says so."
Prudence looked startled. "Did I say that?"
"Certainly. You said pleasure—but excitement's very pleasing, most of the time. Come on, Larkie, we'll have to walk fast."
And with a fond good-by to the generous family, the twins set out to spread the joyful tidings, Lark pausing at the door just long enough to explain gravely, "Of course, we won't tell them—er—just how it happened, you know. Lots of things in a parsonage need to be kept dark. Prudence says so herself."
HOW CAROL SPOILED THE WEDDING
A day in June,—the kind of day that poets have rhymed and lovers have craved since time began. On the side porch of the parsonage, in a wide hammock, lay Aunt Grace, looking languidly through half-closed lids at the girls beneath her on the step. Prudence, although her face was all a-dream, bent conscientiously over the bit of linen in her hands. And Fairy, her piquantly bright features clouded with an unwonted frown, crumpled a letter in her hand.
"I do think men are the most aggravating things that ever lived," she declared, with annoyance in her voice.
The woman in the hammock smiled slightly, and did not speak. Prudence carefully counted ten threads, and solemnly drew one before she voiced her question.
"What is he saying now?"
"Why, he's still objecting to my having dates with the other boys." Fairy's voice was vibrant with grief. "He does make me wild! Aunt Grace, you can't imagine. Last fall I mentioned casually that I was sure he wouldn't object to my having lecture course dates—I was too hard up to buy a ticket for myself; they cost four dollars, and aren't worth it, either. And what did he do but send me eight dollars to buy two sets of tickets! Then this spring, when the baseball season opened, he sent me season tickets to all the games suggesting that my financial stringency could not be pleaded as an excuse. Ever since he went to Chicago last fall we've been fighting because the boys bring me home from parties. I suppose he had to go and learn to be a pharmacist, but—it's hard on me. He wants me to patter along by myself like a—like—like a hen!" Fairy said "hen" very crossly!
"It's a shame," said Prudence sympathetically. "That's just what it is. You wouldn't say a word to his taking girls home from things, would you?"
"Hum,—that's a different matter," said Fairy more thoughtfully. "He hasn't wanted to yet. You see, he's a man and can go by himself without having it look as though nobody wanted to be seen with him. And he's a stranger over there, and doesn't need to get chummy with the girls. The boys here all know me, and ask me to go, and—a man, you see, can just be passive and nothing happens. But a girl's got to be downright negative, and it's no joke. One misses so many good times. You see the cases are different, Prue."
"Yes, that's so," Prudence assented absent-mindedly, counting off ten more threads.
"Then you would object if he had dates?" queried Aunt Grace smilingly.
"Oh, no, not at all,—if there was any occasion for it—but there isn't. And I think I would be justified in objecting if he deliberately made occasions for himself, don't you?"
"Yes, that would be different," Prudence chimed in, such "miles away" in her voice, that Fairy turned on her indignantly.
"Prudence Starr, you make me wild," she said. "Can't you drop that everlasting hemstitching, embroidering, tatting, crocheting, for ten minutes to talk to me? What in the world are you going to do with it all, anyhow? Are you intending to carpet your floors with it?"
"This is a napkin," Prudence explained good-naturedly. "The set cost me fifteen dollars." She sighed.
"Did the veil come?" The clouds vanished magically from Fairy's face, and she leaned forward with that joy of wedding anticipation that rules in woman-world.
"Yes, it's beautiful. Come and see it. Wait until I pull four more threads. It's gorgeous."
"I still think you're making a great mistake," declared Fairy earnestly. "I don't believe in big showy church weddings. You'd better change it yet. A little home affair with just the family,—that's the way to do it. All this satin-gown, orange-blossom elaboration with curious eyes staring up and down—ugh! It's all wrong."
Prudence dropped the precious fifteen-dollar-a-set napkin in her lap and gazed at Fairy anxiously. "I know you think so, Fairy," she said. "You've told me so several times." Fairy's eyes twinkled, but Prudence had no intention of sarcasm. "But I can't help it, can I? We had quite settled on the home wedding, but when the twins discovered that the members felt hurt at being left out, father thought we'd better change over."
"Well, I can't see that the members have any right to run our wedding. Besides, it wouldn't surprise me if the twins made it up because they wanted a big fuss."
"But some of the members spoke to father."
"Oh, just common members that don't count for much—and it was mighty poor manners of 'em, too, if you'll excuse me for saying so."
"And you must admit, Fairy, that it is lovely of the Ladies' Aid to give that dinner at the hotel for us."
"Well, they'll get their money's worth of talk out of it afterward. It's a big mistake.—What on earth are the twins doing out there? Is that Jim Forrest with them? Listen how they are screaming with laughter! Would you ever believe those twins are past fifteen, and nearly through their junior year? They haven't as much sense put together as Connie has all alone."
"Come and see the veil," said Prudence, rising. But she dropped back on the step again as Carol came rushing toward them at full speed, with Lark and a tall young fellow trailing slowly, laughing, behind her.
"The mean things!" she gasped. "They cheated!" She dropped a handful of pennies in her aunt's lap as she lay in the hammock. "We'll take 'em to Sunday-school and give 'em to the heathen, that's what we'll do. They cheated!"
"Yes, infant, who cheated, and how, and why? And whence the startling array of pennies? And why this unwonted affection for the heathen?" mocked Fairy.
"Trying to be a blank verse, Fairy? Keep it up, you haven't far to go!—There they are! Look at them, Aunt Grace. They cheated. They tried to get all my hard-earned pennies by nefarious methods, and—"
"And so Carol stole them all, and ran! Sit down, Jim. My, it's hot. Give me back my pennies, Carol."
"The heathen! The heathen!" insisted Carol. "Not a penny do you get. You see, Aunt Grace, we were matching pennies,—you'd better not mention it to father. We've turned over a new leaf now, and quit for good. But we were matching—and they made a bargain that whenever it was my turn, one of them would throw heads and one tails, and that way I never could win anything. And I didn't catch on until I saw Jim wink, and so of course I thought it was only right to give the pennies to the heathen."
"Mercy, Prudence," interrupted Lark. "Are you doing another napkin? This is the sixteenth dozen, isn't it? You'd better donate some of them to the parsonage, I think. I was so ashamed when Miss Marsden came to dinner. She opened her napkin out wide, and her finger went right through a hole. I was mortified to death—and Carol laughed. It seems to me with three grown women in the house we could have holeless napkins, one for company, anyhow."
"How is your mother, Jim?"
"Just fine, Miss Prudence, thank you. She said to tell you she would send a basket of red Junes to-morrow, if you want them. The twins can eat them, I know. Carol ate twenty-two when they were out Saturday."
"Yes, I did, and I'm glad of it," said Carol stoutly. "Such apples you never saw, Prudence. They're about as big as a thimble, and two-thirds core. They're good, they're fine, I'll say that,—but there's nothing to them. I could have eaten as many again if Jim hadn't been counting out loud, and I got kind of ashamed because every one was laughing. If I had a ranch as big as yours, Jim, I'll bet you a dollar I'd have apples bigger than a dime!"
"'Bet you a dollar,'" quoted Fairy.
"Well, I'll wager my soul, if that sounds more like Shakespeare. Don't go, Jim, we're not fighting. This is just the way Fairy and I make love to each other. You're perfectly welcome to stay, but be careful of your grammar, for now that Fairy's a senior—will be next year, if she lives—she even tries to teach father the approved method of doing a ministerial sneeze in the pulpit."
"Think I'd better go," decided the tall good-looking youth, laughing as he looked with frank boyish admiration into Carol's sparkling face. "With Fairy after my grammar, and you to criticize my manner and my morals, I see right now that a parsonage is no safe place for a farmer's son." And laughing again, he thrust his cap into his pocket, and walked quickly out the new cement parsonage walk. But at the gate he paused to call back, "Don't make a mistake, Carol, and use the heathen's pennies for candy."
The girls on the porch laughed, and five pairs of eyes gazed after the tall figure rapidly disappearing.
"He's nice," said Prudence.
"Yes," assented Carol. "I've got a notion to marry him after a little. That farm of his is worth about ten thousand."
"Are you going to wait until he asks you?"
"Certainly not! Anybody can marry a man after he asks her. The thing to do, if you want to be really original and interesting, is to marry him before he asks you and surprise him."
"Yes," agreed Lark, "if you wait until he asks you he's likely to think it over once too often and not ask you at all."
"Doesn't that sound exactly like a book, now?" demanded Carol proudly. "Fairy couldn't have said that!"
"No," said Fairy, "I couldn't. Thank goodness!—I have what is commonly known as brains. Look it up in the dictionary, twins. It's something you ought to know about."
"Oh, Prudence," cried Lark dramatically, "I forgot to tell you. You can't get married after all."
For ten seconds Prudence, as well as Fairy and their aunt, stared in speechless amazement. Then Prudence smiled.
"Oh, can't I? What's the joke now?"
"Joke! It's no joke. Carol's sick, that's what's the joke. You can't be married without Carol, can you?"
A burst of gay laughter greeted this announcement.
"Carol sick! She acts sick!"
"She looks sick!"
"Where is she sick?"
Carol leaned limply back against the pillar, trying to compose her bright face into a semblance of illness. "In my tummy," she announced weakly.
This called forth more laughter. "It's her conscience," said Fairy.
"It's matching pennies. Maybe she swallowed one."
"It's probably those two pieces of pie she ate for dinner, and the one that vanished from the pantry shortly after," suggested Aunt Grace.
Carol sat up quickly. "Welcome home, Aunt Grace!" she cried. "Did you have a pleasant visit?"
"Carol," reproved Prudence.
"I didn't mean it for impudence, auntie," said Carol, getting up and bending affectionately over the hammock, gently caressing the brown hair just beginning to silver about her forehead. "But it does amuse me so to hear a lady of your age and dignity indulge in such lavish conversational exercises."
Lark swallowed with a forced effort. "Did it hurt, Carol? How did you get it all out in one breath?"
"Lark, I do wish you wouldn't gulp that way when folks use big words," said Fairy. "It looks—awful."
"Well, I won't when I get to be as old and crabbed as—father," said Lark. "Sit down, Carol, and remember you're sick."
Carol obediently sat down, and looked sicker than ever.
"You can laugh if you like," she said, "I am sick, at least, I was this afternoon. I've been feeling very queer for three or four days. I don't think I'm quite over it yet."
"Pie! You were right, Aunt Grace! That's the way pie works."
"It's not pie at all," declared Carol heatedly. "And I didn't take that piece out of the pantry, at least, not exactly. I caught Connie sneaking it, and I gave her a good calling down, and she hung her head and slunk away in disgrace. But she had taken such big bites that it looked sort of unsanitary, so I thought I'd better finish it before it gathered any germs. But it's not pie. Now that I think of it, it was my head where I was sick. Don't you remember, Lark, I said my head ached?"
"Yes, and her eyes got red and bleary when she was reading. And—and there was something else, too, Carol, what—"
"Your eyes are bloodshot, Carol. They do look bad." Prudence examined them closely. "Now, Carol Starr, don't you touch another book or magazine until after the wedding. If you think I want a bloodshot bridesmaid, you're mistaken."
They all turned to look across the yard at Connie, just turning in. Connie always walked, as Carol said, "as if she mostly wasn't there." But she usually "arrived" by the time she got within speaking distance of her sister.
"Goodness, Prue, aren't you going to do anything but eat after you move to Des Moines? Carol and I were counting the napkins last night,—was it a hundred and seventy-six, Carol, or—some awful number I know. Carol piled them up in two piles and we kneeled on them to say our prayers, and—I can't say for sure, but I think Carol pushed me. Anyhow, I lost my balance, and usually I'm pretty well balanced. I toppled over right after 'God save,' and Carol screamed 'the napkins'—Prue's wedding napkins! It was an awful funny effect; I couldn't finish my prayers."
"Carol Starr! Fifteen years old and—"
"That's a very much exaggerated story, Prue. Connie blamed it on me as usual. She piled them up herself to see if there were two feet of them,—she put her stockings on the floor first so the dust wouldn't rub off. It was Lark's turn to sweep and you know how Lark sweeps, and Connie was very careful, indeed, and—"
"Come on, Fairy, and see the veil!"
"The veil! Did it come?"
With a joyous undignified whoop the parsonage girls scrambled to their feet and rushed indoors in a fine Kilkenny jumble. Aunt Grace looked after them, thoughtfully, smiling for a second, and then with a girlish shrug of her slender shoulders she slipped out and followed them inside.
The last thing that night, before she said her prayers, Prudence carried a big bottle of witch hazel into the twins' room. Both were sleeping, but she roused Carol, and Lark turned over to listen.
"You must bathe your eyes with this, Carol. I forgot to tell you. What would Jerry say if he had a bleary-eyed bridesmaid!"
And although the twins grumbled and mumbled about the idiotic nonsense of getting-married folks, Carol obediently bathed the bloodshot eyes. For in their heart of hearts, every one of the parsonage girls held this wedding to be the affair of prime importance, national and international, as well as just plain Methodist.
The twins were undeniably lazy, and slept as late of mornings as the parsonage law allowed. So it was that when Lark skipped into the dining-room, three minutes late for breakfast, she found the whole family, with the exception of Carol, well in the midst of their meal.
"She was sick," she began quickly, then interrupting herself,—"Oh, good morning! Beg pardon for forgetting my manners. But Carol was sick, Prudence, and I hope you and Fairy are ashamed of yourselves—and auntie, too—for making fun of her. She couldn't sleep all night, and rolled and tossed, and her head hurt and she talked in her sleep, and—"
"I thought she didn't sleep."
"Well, she didn't sleep much, but when she did she mumbled and said things and—"
Then the dining-room door opened again, and Carol—her hair about her shoulders, her feet bare, enveloped in a soft and clinging kimono of faded blue—stalked majestically into the room. There was woe in her eyes, and her voice was tragic.
"It is gone," she said. "It is gone!"
Her appearance was uncanny to say the least, and the family gazed at her with some concern, despite the fact that Carol's vagaries were so common as usually to elicit small respect.
"Gone!" she cried, striking her palms together. "Gone!"
"If you do anything to spoil that wedding, papa'll whip you, if you are fifteen years old," said Fairy.
Lark sprang to her sister's side. "What's gone, Carrie?" she pleaded with sympathy, almost with tears. "What's gone? Are you out of your head?"
"No! Out of my complexion," was the dramatic answer.
Even Lark fell back, for the moment, stunned. "Y-your complexion," she faltered.
"Look! Look at me, Lark. Don't you see? My complexion is gone—my beautiful complexion that I loved. Look at me! Oh, I would gladly have sacrificed a leg, or an arm, a—rib or an eye, but not my dear complexion!"
Sure enough, now that they looked carefully, they could indeed perceive that the usual soft creaminess of Carol's skin was prickled and sparred with ugly red splotches. Her eyes were watery, shot with blood. For a time they gazed in silence, then they burst into laughter.
"Pie!" cried Fairy. "It's raspberry pie, coming out, Carol!"
The corners of Carol's lips twitched slightly, and it was with difficulty that she maintained her wounded regal bearing. But Lark, always quick to resent an indignity to this twin of her heart, turned upon them angrily.
"Fairy Starr! You are a wicked unfeeling thing! You sit there and laugh and talk about pie when Carol is sick and suffering—her lovely complexion all ruined, and it was the joy of my life, that complexion was. Papa,—why don't you do something?"
But he only laughed harder than ever. "If there's anything more preposterous than Carol's vanity because of her beauty, it's Lark's vanity for her," he said.
Aunt Grace drew Carol to her side, and examined the ruined complexion closely. Then she smiled, but there was regret in her eyes.
"Well, Carol, you've spoiled your part of the wedding sure enough. You've got the measles."
Then came the silence of utter horror.
"Not the measles," begged Carol, wounded afresh. "Give me diphtheria, or smallpox, or—or even leprosy, and I'll bear it bravely and with a smile, but it shall not be said that Carol's measles spoiled the wedding."
"Oh, Carol," wailed Prudence, "don't have the measles,—please don't. I've waited all my life for this wedding,—don't spoil it."
"Well, it's your own fault, Prue," interrupted Lark. "If you hadn't kept us all cooped up when we were little we'd have had measles long ago. Now, like as not the whole family'll have 'em, and serve you right. No self-respecting family has any business to grow up without having the measles."
"What shall we do now?" queried Constance practically.
"Well, I always said it was a mistake," said Fairy. "A big wedding—"
"Oh, Fairy, please don't tell me that again. I know it so well. Papa, whatever shall we do? Maybe Jerry hasn't had them either."
"Why, it's easily arranged," said Lark. "We'll just postpone the wedding until Carol's quite well again."
"Bad luck," said Connie.
"Too much work," said Fairy.
"Well, she can't get married without Carol, can she?" ejaculated Lark.
"Are you sure it's measles, Aunt Grace?"
"Yes, it's measles."
"Then," said Fairy, "we'll get Alice Bird or Katie Free to bridesmaid with Lark. They are the same size and either will do all right. She can wear Carol's dress. You won't mind that, will you, Carol?"
"No," said Carol moodily, "of course I won't. The only real embroidery dress I ever had in my life—and haven't got that yet! But go ahead and get anybody you like. I'm hoodooed, that's what it is. It's a punishment because you and Jim cheated yesterday, Lark."
"What did you do?" asked Connie. "You seem to be getting the punishment!"
"Shall we have Alice or Katie? Which do you prefer, Lark?"
"You'll have to get them both," was the stoic answer. "I won't bridesmaid without Carol."
"Don't be silly, Lark. You'll have to."
"Then wait for Carol."
"Papa, you must make her."
"No," said Prudence slowly, with a white face. "We'll postpone it. I won't get married without the whole family."
"I said right from the start—"
"Oh, yes, Fairy, we know what you said," interjected Carol. "We know how you'll get married. First man that gets moonshine enough into his head to propose to you, you'll trot him post haste to the justice before he thinks twice."
In the end, the wedding was postponed a couple of months,—for both Connie and Fairy took the measles. But when at last, the wedding party, marshalled by Connie with a huge white basket of flowers, trailed down the time-honored aisle of the Methodist church, it was without one dissenting voice pronounced the crowning achievement of Mr. Starr's whole pastorate.
"I was proud of us, Lark," Carol told her twin, after it was over, and Prudence had gone, and the girls had wept themselves weak on each other's shoulders. "We get so in the habit of doing things wrong that I half expected myself to pipe up ahead of father with the ceremony. It seems—awful—without Prudence,—but it's a satisfaction to know that she was the best married bride Mount Mark has ever seen."
"Jerry looked awfully handsome, didn't he? Did you notice how he glowed at Prudence? I wish you were artistic, Carol, so you could illustrate my books. Jerry'd make a fine illustration."
"We looked nice, too. We're not a bad-looking bunch when you come right down to facts. Of course, it is fine to be as smart as you are, Larkie, but I'm not jealous. We're mighty lucky to have both beauty and brains in our twin-ship,—and since one can't have both, I may say I'd just as lief be pretty. It's so much easier."
"We're nearly grown up now. We'll have to begin to settle down. Prudence says so."
For a few seconds Carol wavered, tremulous. Then she said pluckily, "All right. Just wait till I powder my nose, will you? It gets so shiny when I cry."
"Isn't the house still?"
"I never thought Prudence was much of a chatter-box, but—listen! There isn't a sound."
Carol held out a hand, and Lark clutched it desperately.
"Let's—let's go find the folks. This is—awful! Little old Prudence is gone!"
A subject that never failed to arouse the sarcasm and the ire of Fairy was that of the Slaughter-house Quartette. This was composed of four young men—men quite outside the pale as far as the parsonage was concerned—the disreputable characters of the community, familiar in the local jail for frequent bursts of intoxication. They slouched, they smoked, they lounged, they leered. The churches knew them not. They were the slum element, the Bowery of Mount Mark, Iowa.
Prudence, in her day, had passed them by with a shy slight nod and a glance of tender pity. Fairy and Lark, and even Connie, sailed by with high heads and scornful eyes,—haughty, proud, icily removed. But Carol, by some weird and inexplicable fancy, treated them with sweet and gracious solicitude, quite friendly. Her smile as she passed was as sweet as for her dearest friend. Her "Good morning,—isn't this glorious weather?" was as affably cordial as her, "Breakfast is ready, papa!"
This was the one subject of dispute between the twins.
"Oh, please don't, Carol, it does make me so ashamed," Lark entreated.
"You mustn't be narrow-minded, Larkie," Carol argued. "We're minister's girls, and we've got to be a good influence,—an encouragement to the—er, weak and erring, you know. Maybe my smiles will be an inspiration to them."
And on this point Carol stood firm even against the tears of her precious twin.
One evening at the dinner table Fairy said, with a mocking smile, "How are your Slaughter-house friends to-day, Carol? When I was at the dentist's I saw you coming along, beaming at them in your own inimitable way."
"Oh, they seemed all right," Carol answered, with a deprecating glance toward her father and her aunt.
"I see by last night's paper that Guy Fleisher is just out after his last thirty days up," Fairy continued solicitously. "Did he find his incarceration trying?"
"I didn't discuss it with him," Carol said indignantly. "I never talk to them. I just say 'Good morning' in Christian charity."
Aunt Grace's eyes were smiling as always, but for the first time Carol felt that the smiles were at, instead of with, her.
"You would laugh to see her, Aunt Grace," Fairy explained. "They are generally half intoxicated, sometimes wholly. And Carol trips by, clean, white and shining. They are always lounging against the store windows or posts for support, bleary-eyed, dissipated, swaggery, staggery. Carol nods and smiles as only Carol can, 'Good morning, boys! Isn't it a lovely day? Are you feeling well?' And they grin at her and sway ingratiatingly against one another, and say, 'Mornin', Carol.' Carol is the only really decent person in town that has anything to do with them."
"Carol means all right," declared Lark angrily.
"Yes, indeed," assented Fairy, "They call them the Slaughter-house Quartette, auntie, because whenever they are sober enough to walk without police assistance, they wander through the streets slaughtering the peace and serenity of the quiet town with their rendition of all the late, disgraceful sentimental ditties. They are in many ways striking characters. I do not wholly misunderstand their attraction for romantic Carol. They are something like the troubadours of old—only more so."
Carol's face was crimson. "I don't like them," she cried, "but I'm sorry for them. I think maybe I can make them see the difference between us, me so nice and respectable you know, and them so—animalish! It may arouse their better natures—I suppose they have better natures. I want to show them that the decent element, we Christians, are sorry for them and want to make them better."
"Carol wants to be an influence," Fairy continued. "Of course, it is a little embarrassing for the rest of us to have her on such friendly terms with the most unmentionable characters in all Mount Mark. But Carol is like so many reformers,—in the presence of one great truth she has eyes for it only, ignoring a thousand other, greater truths."
"I am sorry for them," Carol repeated, more weakly, abashed by the presence of the united family. Fairy's dissertations on this subject had usually occurred in private.
Mr. Starr mentally resolved that he would talk this over with Carol when the others were not present, for he knew from her face and her voice that she was really sensitive on the subject. And he knew, too, that it is difficult to explain to the very young that the finest of ideas are not applicable to all cases by all people. But it happened that he was spared the necessity of dealing with Carol privately, for matters adjusted themselves without his assistance.
The second night following was an eventful one in the parsonage. One of the bishops of the church was in Mount Mark for a business conference with the religious leaders, and was to spend the night at the parsonage. The meeting was called for eight-thirty for the convenience of the business men concerned, and was to be held in the church offices. The men left early, followed shortly by Fairy who designed to spend the evening at the Averys' home, testing their supply of winter apples. The twins and Connie, with the newest and most thrilling book Mr. Carnegie afforded the town, went up-stairs to lie on the bed and take turns reading aloud. And for a few hours the parsonage was as calm and peaceful as though it were not designed for the housing of merry minister's daughters.
Aunt Grace sat down-stairs darning stockings. The girls' intentions had been the best in the world, but in less than a year the family darning had fallen entirely into the capable and willing hands of the gentle chaperon.
It was half past ten. The girls had just seen their heroine rescued from a watery grave and married to her bold preserver by a minister who happened to be writing a sermon on the beach—no mention of how the license was secured extemporaneously—and with sighs of gratified sentiment they lay happily on the bed thinking it all over. And then, from beneath the peach trees clustered on the south side of the parsonage, a burst of melody arose.
"Good morning, Carrie, how are you this morning?"
The girls sat up abruptly, staring at one another, as the curious ugly song wafted in upon them. Conviction dawned slowly, sadly, but unquestionably.
The Slaughter-house Quartette was serenading Carol in return for her winsome smiles!
Carol herself was literally struck dumb. Her face grew crimson, then white. In her heart, she repeated psalms of thanksgiving that Fairy was away, and that her father and the bishop would not be in until this colossal disaster was over.
Connie was mortified. It seemed like a wholesale parsonage insult. Lark, after the first awful realization, lay back on the bed and rolled convulsively.
"You're an influence all right, Carol," she gurgled. "Will you listen to that?"
For Rufus Rastus Johnson Brown was the second choice of her cavaliers below in the darkness.
"Rufus Rastus," Lark cried, and then was choked with laughter. "Of course, it would be—proper if they sang hymns but—oh, listen!"
The rollicking strains of Budweiser were swung gaily out upon the night.
Carol writhed in anguish. The serenade was bad enough, but this unmerciful mocking derision of her adored twin was unendurable.
Then the quartette waxed sentimental. They sang, and not badly, a few old southern melodies, and started slowly around the corner of the house, still singing.
It has been said that Aunt Grace was always kind, always gentle, unsuspicious and without guile. She had heard the serenade, and promptly concluded that it was the work of some of the high-school boys who were unanimously devoted to Carol. She had a big box of chocolates up-stairs, for Connie's birthday celebration. She could get them, and make lemonade, and—
She opened the door softly and stepped out, directly in the path of the startled youths. Full of her hospitable intent, she was not discerning as parsonage people need to be.
"Come in, boys," she said cordially, "the girls will be down in a minute."
The appearance of a guardian angel summoning them to Paradise could not have confounded them more utterly. They stumbled all over one another in trying to back away from her. She laughed softly.
"Don't be bashful. We enjoyed it very much. Yes, come right in."
Undoubtedly they would have declined if only they could have thought of the proper method of doing so. As it was, they only succeeded in shambling through the parsonage door, instinctively concealing their half-smoked cigarettes beneath their fingers.
Aunt Grace ushered them into the pleasant living-room, and ran up to summon her nieces.
Left alone, the boys looked at one another with amazement and with grief, and the leader, the touching tenor, said with true musical fervor, "Well, this is a go!"
In the meantime, the girls, with horror, had heard their aunt's invitation. What in the world did she mean? Was it a trick between her and Fairy? Had they hired the awful Slaughterers to bring this disgrace upon the parsonage? Sternly they faced her when she opened their door.
"Come down, girls—I invited them in. I'm going to make lemonade and serve my nice chocolates. Hurry down."
"You invited them in!" echoed Connie.
"The Slaughter-house Quartette," hissed Lark.
Then Aunt Grace whirled about and stared at them. "Mercy!" she whispered, remembering for the first time Fairy's words. "Mercy! Is it—that? I thought it was high-school boys and—mercy!"
"Mercy is good," said Carol grimly.
"You'll have to put them out," suggested Connie.
"I can't! How can I?—How did I know?—What on earth,—Oh, Carol whatever made you smile at them?" she wailed helplessly. "You know how men are when they are smiled at! The bishop—"