RED-ROBIN BY JANE ABBOTT
AUTHOR OF KEINETH, HIGHACRES, APRILLY, Etc.
With Illustrations By HARRIET ROOSEVELT RICHARDS
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Made in the United States of America
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
Prologue—A Story Before the Story 11 I. The Orphan Doll 19 II. A Prince 28 III. The House of Forsyth 39 IV. Red-Robin 49 V. Jimmie 61 VI. The Forsyth Heir 70 VII. Beryl 79 VIII. Robin Asserts Herself 90 IX. The Lynchs 103 X. The Lady of the Rushing Waters 114 XI. Pot Roast and Cabbage Salad 126 XII. Robin Writes a Letter 138 XIII. Susy Castle 151 XIV. A Gift to the Queen 164 XV. The Party 176 XVI. Christmas at the Manor 190 XVII. The House of Laughter 204 XVIII. The Luckless Stocking 220 XIX. Granny 235 XX. Robin's Beginning 250 XXI. At the Granger Mills 266 XXII. The Green Beads 279 XXIII. Robin's Rescue 292 XXIV. Madame Forsyth Comes Home 305 Epilogue—A Story After the Story 318
The Effect Was Very Christmasy Frontispiece The Beautiful Little Girl Had Not Spoken To Her 20 "Couldn't I Run Away With You?" 56 "It's Like The House of Bread And Cake" 119
A STORY BEFORE THE STORY
On a green hillside a girl lay prone in the sweet grass, very still that she might not, by the slightest quiver, disturb the beauty that was about her. There was so very, very much beauty—the sky, azure blue overhead and paling where it touched the green-fringed earth; the whispering tree under which she lay, the lush meadow grass, moving like waves of a sea, the bird nesting above her, everything—
And Moira O'Donnell, who had never been farther than the boundaries of her county, knew the whole world was beautiful, too.
Behind her, hid in a hollow, stood the small cottage where, at that very moment, her grandmother was preparing the evening meal. And, beyond, in the village was the little old stone church and Father Murphy's square bit of a house with its wide doorstep and its roof of thatch, and Widow Mulligan's and the Denny's and the Finnegan's and all the others.
Moira loved them all and loved the hospitable homes where there was always, in spite of poverty, a bounty of good feeling.
And before her, just beyond that last steep rise, was the sea. She could hear its roar now, like a deep voice drowning the clearer pipe of the winging birds and the shrill of the little grass creatures. Often she went down to its edge, but at this hour she liked best to lie in the grass and dream her dreams to its lifting music.
Her dream always began with: "Oh, Moira O'Donnell, it's all yours! It's all yours!" Which, of course, sounded like boasting, or a miser gloating over his gold, and might have seemed very funny to anyone so stupid as to see only the girl's shabby dress and her bare feet, gleaming like white satin against the green of the grass. But no fine lady in that land felt richer than Moira when she began her dreaming.
Of late, her dreams were taking on new shapes, as though, with her growth, they reached out, too. And today, as she lay very still in the grass, something big, that was within her and yet had no substance, lifted and sung up to the blue arch of the sky and on to the sun and away westward with it, away like a bird in far flight.
Beyond that golden horizon of heaving sea was everything one could possibly want; Moira had heard that when she was a tiny girl. America, the States, they were words that opened fairy doors.
Father Murphy had told her much about that world beyond the sea. He had visited it once; had spent six weeks with his sister who had married and settled on a farm in the state of Ohio. His sister's husband had all sorts of new-fangled machinery for plowing and seeding, and for his reaping! And Father Murphy had told her of the free library that was in the town near his sister's home, where he could sit all day and read to his heart's content.
Father Murphy (he had spent three whole days in New York) had made her see the great buildings that were like granite giants towering over and walling in the pigmy humanity that beat against their sides like the rise and fall of the tide; he told her of the rush and roar of the streets and of the trains that tore over one's head.
And he told her of the loveliness that was there in picture and music. Moira, listening, quivering with the longing to be fine and to do fine things, could always see it all just as though magic hands swept aside those miles of ocean dividing that land of marvel from her Ireland.
That was why it was so simple to let her dream-mind climb up and away westward. Her eyes, staring into the paling blue, saw beautiful things and her thoughts revelled in delicious fancies.
That slender, gold crowned bit of a cloud—that was Destiny circling her globe, weaving, and moulding, and shaping; Moira O'Donnell's own humble thread was on her loom! And Destiny's face was turned westward. Moira saw shining towers and thronged streets and fields greener than her own. Far-off music sounded in her ears as though the world off there just sang with gladness. And it was waiting for her—her. She saw herself moving forward to it all with quick step and head high, going to a beautiful goal. Sometimes that goal was a palace-place, encircled by brilliant flowers, sometimes a farm like Father Murphy's sister's and a husband who worked with marvelous contrivances, sometimes a free library with all the books one could want, sometimes a dim, vaulted space through which echoed exquisite music—
She so loved that make-believe Moira, moving forward toward glowing things, that she cried aloud: "That's me! Me!" And of course her voice broke the spell—the dream vanished; there was nothing left but the fleecy cloud, the meadow lark's song, close by.
There was just time enough before her grandmother needed her, to run down to Father Murphy's. She knew at this hour she would find him by his wide doorstep. Fleetly, her bare feet scarcely touching the soft earth, she covered the distance to his house. She ran up behind him and slipped her fingers over his half-closed eyes.
He knew the familiar touch of the girl's hands. He patted them with his own and moved aside on his bench that she might sit down with him.
"Father," she said, very low, her eyes shining. "It's my dream again."
The old priest did not chide her for idling, as her grandmother would have done. The old priest dreamed, too.
"Tell me," she went on. "Can one go to school over there as long as one likes? Is it too grown-up I am to learn more things from books?"
The old Father told her one could never be too old to learn from books. He loved her craving for knowledge. Had he not taught her himself, since she was twelve? He looked at her proudly.
"Father!" She whispered now, and the rose flush deepened in her face. "It's Danny Lynch that comes every evening to see me."
Now Father Murphy turned squarely and regarded her with startled eyes. This slip of a girl was the most precious colleen in his flock.
"And, Father, it's of America he talks all the time!"
The old priest shivered as though from a chill. Sensing his feeling, Moira caught his hand quickly and held it in a close grip.
"But if I go away it's not forgetting you I'll be! Oh, who in all this world has been a better friend to Moira O'Donnell? Who has taught Moira but you?"
"Sure it's grown-up I am! See!" She sprang to her feet and stood slimly erect. "See?"
He nodded slowly. "Yes. And your old priest had not noticed. Moira—" he caught her arm, leaned forward and peered into her face as though to see through it into her soul. "Moira, girl, is it courage I have taught ye? And honor? And faith?"
Her heart was singing now over the secret she had shared with him. Who would not have courage and faith when one was so happy? With a lift of her shoulders, a tilt of her head, she shrugged away his seriousness.
"If you could only see me, Father, as I am in my dream. Oh, it's beautiful I am! And smart! And rich!"
"Not money," broke in the priest with a ring of contempt.
"Sure, no, not money! But fine things. Oh, Father," she clasped her hands childishly. "It's fine things I want. The very finest in the world! And I want my Danny to want them, too."
"Fine things," he repeated slowly. "And will ye know the fine things from the dross, child? That wealth is more times what ye give, aye, than what ye get? It's rich ye are of your fine things if the heart of you is unselfish—"
"What talk, you, Father; it's like the croaking frogs in the Widow Finnegan's pond you are! But, sh-h-h, I will tell you what I saw, as real as real, as I lay dreaming—Destiny herself, as fine as you please, sailing to the new world, a-spinning on her loom. She had Moira O'Donnell's poor thread and who knows, Father Murphy, but maybe this minute it's a-spinning it with a thread of gold she is!" The girl's eyes danced. "Ah, 'tis nonsense I talk, for it's a dream it was, but my poor heart's so light it hurts—here."
The old man laid a trembling hand upon her head. Under his touch it bowed with quick reverence but not before she had seen a mistiness in the kindly eyes.
"It's God's blessing I ask for ye—and yes, may your dream come true—"
"Your blessing for Danny, too," whispered Moira.
"For the both of ye!"
"Sure it's a crossing Granny'll be a-giving me and no blessing," laughed the girl. It was her own word for Granny's sharp tongue. "I'd best be off, Father dear."
"Wait." The old man disappeared through his door. Presently he came out carrying a small box. From this he took a crumpled package. Unwrapping the tissue folds he revealed, in the cup of his hand, a string of green beads.
"Oh! Oh! How beautiful!" cried the girl. "Are they for me?" with the youthful certainty that all lovely things were her due.
"Yes. To remember my blessing." He regarded them fondly, lifted them that she might see their beauty against the sun's glow. "'Twas in a little shop in London I found the pretty things."
Moira knew how much he must love them as a keepsake—that visit to London was only next in his heart to the trip to America. She caught his hands, beads, tissue wrappings and all.
"Oh, it's precious they are! And you too!"
The Father fastened them over the girl's shabby dress. "They are only beads," he admonished. "But it's of this day they'll remind you."
He watched Moira as she ran off down the lane. He noted the quick, sure tread of her feet, the challenging poise of her head. "Colleen—" he whispered with a smile. "Little colleen." He turned to his door and his lips, even though they still twisted in a smile, moved as though in prayer.
"And may God keep pure the dream in the heart of ye!"
THE ORPHAN DOLL
November—and a chill wind scurrying, snapping, biting, driving before it fantastic scraps of paper, crackly leaves, a hail of fine cinders. An early twilight, gray like a mist, enveloped the city in gloom. Through it lights gleamed bravely from the grimy windows rising higher and higher to the low-hanging clouds, each thin shaft beckoning and telling of shelter and a warmth that was home.
High over the heads of the hurrying humanity in a street of tenements Moira Lynch lighted her lamp and set it close to the bare window. With her it was a ceremony. She sang as she performed the little act. Without were the shadows of the approaching night—gloom, storm, disaster, perhaps even the evil fairies; her lamp would scatter them all with its glow, just as her song drove the worries from her heart.
Her lamp lighted, she paused for a moment, her head forward, listening. Then at the sound of a light step she sprang to the door and threw it open. A wee slip of a girl, almost one with the shadows of the dingy hallway, ran into her arms.
"And it's so late you are, dearie! And so dark it's grown—and cold. Your poor little hands are blue. Why, what have you here, hidin' under your shawl? Beryl Lynch! Dear love us—a doll!" With a laugh that was like a tinkling of low pitched bells the little mother drew the treasure from its hiding place. But as her eyes swept the silken splendor of the raiment her merriment changed to wonder and then to fear.
"You didn't—you didn't—oh, Beryl Lynch, you—"
"Steal it? No. Give me it. I—found it."
But the terror still darkened the mother's eyes.
"And where did you find it?"
"On the bench. She left it. She forgot it. Ain't it mine now?" pleadingly. "I waited, honest, but she didn't come back."
Mrs. Lynch was examining the small wonder with timid fingers, lifting fold after fold of shining satin and dainty muslin.
"Who was she?" she asked.
"A kid." Little Beryl kindled to the interest of her story. Had not something very thrilling happened in her simple life—a life the greatest interest of which was to carry to the store each day the small bundle of crocheted lace which her mother made. "She was a swell kid. She played in the park, waitin' for a big man."
"Did she talk to you?" breathlessly.
Beryl avoided this question. The beautiful little girl had not spoken to her, though she had hung by very close, inviting an approach with hungry eyes.
"She was just a little kid," loftily. Then, "Ain't the doll mine?"
Mrs. Lynch patted down the outermost garment. "Yes, it's yours it is, darlin'. At least—" she hesitated over a fleeting sense of justice, "maybe the little stranger will be a-coming back for her doll. It's a fair bit of dolly and it's lonesome and weeping the little mother may be this very minute—"
Beryl reached out eager arms.
"It's an orphan doll. I'll love it hard. Give me it. Oh," with a breath that was like a whistle. "Ain't she lovely? Mom, is she too lovely for us?"
The timid question brought a quick change in the mother's face, a kindling of a fire within the mother breast. She straightened her slender body.
"And if there's anything too good for my girlie I'd like to see it! Isn't this the land where all men are equal and my girl and boy shall have a school as good as the best and grow up to be maybe the President himself?" She repeated the words softly as though they made a creed, learned carefully and with supreme faith. Why had she come, indeed, to this crowded, noisy city from her fair home meadows if not for this promise it held out to her?
"And isn't your brother the head of his class?" she finished triumphantly. "And it's smarter than ever you'll be yourself with your little books. Oh, childy!" She caught the little girl, doll and all, into an impulsive embrace.
From it Beryl wriggled to a practical curiosity as to supper. She sniffed. Her mother nodded.
"Stew! And with dumplin's—" She made it sound like fairy food. "Ready to the beating when your father comes."
"Where's Dale? And Pop?"
"It's Dale's night at the store. And Pop'll be comin' along any minute. I've set the lamp for him."
"I'm hungry," Beryl complained. She sat down cross-legged on the spotless scrap of carpeting and proceeded with infinite tenderness to disrobe the doll.
"Do you think she will like it here?" she asked suddenly, looking about the humble room which for the Lynch's, served as parlor, dining-room and kitchen. Now its bareness lay wrapped in a kindly shadow through which glinted diamond sparks from much-scrubbed tin. "It's nice—" Beryl meditated. She loved this hour, she loved the singing tea-kettle and the smell of strong soap and her mother's face in the lamplight, with all the loud noises of the street hushed, and the ugliness outside hidden by the closed door, against the paintless boards of which had been nailed a flaming poster inviting the nation's youth to join the Navy.
"But maybe this home'll be—too different," she finished.
The mother's eyes grew moist with a quick tenderness. Her Beryl, with this wonder of a dolly in her arms! Her mind flashed over the last Christmas and the one before that when Beryl had asked Santa Claus for a "real doll" and had cried on Christmas morning because the cheap little bit of dolldom which the mother had bought out of her meagre savings would not open or shut its eyes. And now—the impudent heart of the blessed child worrying that the home wasn't good enough for the likes of the doll!
"It's a good home for her where it's loving you are to her. It's the heart and not the gold that counts. And who knows—maybe it's a bit of luck the dolly'll be a-bringing."
As though a word of familiar portent had been uttered Beryl lifted a face upon which was reflected the glow of the little mother's. Babe as she was, she knew something of the mother's faith in the fickle god of chance, a faith that helped the little woman over the rough places, that never failed to brighten her deepest gloom. Did she not staunchly believe that someday by a turn of good fortune she and her Danny would know the America and the good things of which they had dreamed, sitting in the gloaming of their Ireland, their lover's hands close clasped? But for that hope why would they have left their dear hillsides with the homely life and the kindly neighbors and good Father Murphy who had taught her from his own dog-eared books because she was eager and quick to learn? Through the fourteen years since they had come to America those girl-and-boy dreams had gone sadly astray, but the little wife still clung to the faith that they'd have the good things sometime, her Danny would get a better job and if he didn't there was young Dale, always at the head of his class in school and even the baby Beryl, as quick as anything to pick out words from her little books.
"A good luck dolly!" Beryl held the doll close. Her eyes grew round and excited. "Then I can ride all day on a 'bus and go to the Zoo, can't I? And can I have a new coat with fur? And go to Coney? And shoot the shoots? And can Dale ride a horse? And can Dale and me go across the river where it's like—that?" nodding to the poster.
Mrs. Lynch rocked furiously in her joy at Beryl's anticipations. The floor creaked and the kettle sang louder than before.
"That you can. And it'll be a fine strong, brave girl you'll be, going to school and learning more than even poor old Father Murphy knew, God love him. And by and by—"
But a heavy toiling of steps up the stairs checked her words. That slow tread was not her big Danny nor the young Dale! At a knock she flew to the door.
"Oh, and if it isn't Mister Torrence." She caught the old man who stood on the threshold and laughingly pulled him into the room. "It was afraid I was that it was bad news! Danny Lynch isn't home yet but you shall stay and eat dumplin's with us—the best outside of our Ireland—"
"No! No!" protested the old man, regretfully. "My old woman's waitin'! Bad news! It's good news I bring. Dan's had a raise. He's foreman of the gang now. And I stepped 'round to tell ye the good news and that Dan'll be a-workin' tonight with an extry shift and'll not be comin' home to dinner, worse luck for him!" sniffing appreciatively at the pleasant odor from the stove.
"A raise? My Dan a foreman?" Moira Lynch caught her hands together. "It's the good luck! And it's deservin' of it he is for no man on the docks works harder than my big Dan." Her eyes shone like two stars.
"Well, ye'll want to be a-eatin' the dumplin's so I'll go along. Good-night, Mrs. Lynch."
"God love you, Mister Torrence," whispered Moira, too overcome to manage her voice.
Closing the door behind her unexpected visitor she turned and caught the wondering Beryl into her arms.
"And I was a-thinking it would never come! It's ashamed I should be to have doubted. My big Dan!"
"Is it the dolly that's brought us the good-luck, Mom?" interrupted Beryl, round-eyed.
"A foreman!" cried the mother in the very tone she would have used if she had said "a king." She-danced about until the floor creaked threateningly. "Our good fortune is coming, my precious. And it's fine and beautiful my girl shall be with a dress as good as the next one. Wait! Wait!" She flew into the tiny bedroom, returning in a moment with a small box in her hands. From it she lifted a string of round green beads and held them laughingly before Beryl's staring eyes.
"My beads! You shall wear them this night. It's the good old Father's blessing." She clasped them about Beryl's neck, fingering them tenderly.
"Pretty beads. Pretty beads," cried the little girl.
Suddenly quieted by a rush of memories Mrs. Lynch sat down and took Beryl upon her lap. "Beryl darlin', was the likes of that other little girl—the one who forgot the dolly—fine and beautiful?"
"Oh, yes!" The child's voice carried a note of wonder.
"And you shall be fine and beautiful, too, Moira Lynch's own girl, just as I used to dream for my own self, the selfish likes o' me. You shall go to school and learn from good books. Didn't the old Father tell me of the fine schools he had seen when he visited his sister in America? And anybody can go—anybody!"
Little Beryl felt that it was a solemn moment. She lifted serious eyes. "I promise," she drawled, with a gravity out of all proportion to her six years, "I promise to go to school and learn lots like Dale and be fine and boo'ful so's my 'dopted dolly will like me as well as—that other kid. I've gotta be good 'nough for her. So there."
The child could not comprehend the obstacles which might threaten such a standard; she stared bravely into the unblinking eyes of the doll who smiled back her graven smile.
Then: "I'm hungry," she declared, suddenly deciding that dumplings were more important than anything else. "And can my Dolly sit in Pop's seat?"
"That she can," cried the mother, going to her "mixin'." "And what a gay supper it will be—with the new dolly and the pretty beads and the dumplin's. Oh, Himself a foreman!"
Promptly at nine o'clock, young Dale Lynch turned the key in the door of "Tony Sebastino, Groceries" and started, whistling, homeward. Three times a week, from the close of school until nine o'clock, he worked in the store, snatching a dinner of bananas, or bread and cheese, between customers. Because "Mom" had whispered that there were to be "dumplin's" this night and that she would keep some warm for him, and because the wind whipped chillingly through his thin clothing, he broke into a run.
His homeward way led him past a bit of open triangle which in the neighborhood was dignified by the name of park, a dreary place now, dirty straw stacked about the fountain, dry leaves and papers cluttering the brown earth and whipping against the iron palings of the fence. Dale, still whistling, turned its corner and ran, full-tilt, upon a bit of humanity clinging, like the paper and leaves, to the fence.
"Giminy Gee!" Dale jumped back in alarm. Then: "Did I scare you, kid? Oh, say, what's the matter?" For the face that turned to his was red and swollen with weeping. "Y'lost?" This was Dale's natural conclusion, for the hour was late, and the child a very small one.
"I lost—my Cynthia."
"My—my Cynthia. She's my b-bestest doll. I forgot her." The voice trailed off in a wail.
Dale, touched by her woe, looked about him. Certainly no Cynthia was visible. By rapid questioning on his part he drew from her the story of her desertion. She had played a nice game of running 'round and 'round and counting the "things," waiting for Mr. Tony; Cynthia did not like to run because it shook her eyes, so she had put her down on the edge of the straw where the wind would not blow on her. And then Mr. Tony had come and had told her to "hustle along" and she "had runned away and for-g-got Cynthia!"
"Well, I guess she's somebody else's Cynthia now, kid. Things don't stay long in the parks 'round here."
Dale seemed so very old and very wise that the tiny girl listened to his verdict with blanching face. He knew, of course.
"Where d'you live?" demanded Dale. "Why, you're just a baby! Anybody with you?"
The child pointed rather uncertainly to one of the intersecting streets.
"I come that way," she said, then, even while saying it, began to wonder if that were the way she had come. The streets all looked so much alike. She had run along the curb, so as to be as far away as possible from the dark alley ways and the doors. And it had been a long way.
Her lip quivered though she would not cry. After Cynthia's fate, just to be lost herself did not matter.
"Well, don't you know where you live? What's the street? I'll take you home."
"22 Patchin Place," lisped the child.
Dale hesitated a moment to make sure of his bearings. "Well, then, come along. I know where that is. And you forget 'bout your Cynthia. You've got another doll, haven't you? If you haven't, you just ask Santa Claus for one. Why, say, kiddo, what's this? You lame?" For the little girl skipped jerkily at his side.
"That's just the way I'm made," the child answered, quite indifferent to the shocked note in the boy's voice. "I can walk and run, but I go crooked."
"What's your name?"
"Robin Forsyth." She made it sound like "Wobbin Force."
"Oh, Wobbin Force. Funny name, isn't it? And what's your Ma and Pa going to say to you for running off?"
Putting a small hand trustingly into the boy's big one, the child skipped along at his side. "Oh, nothing," she answered, lost in an admiring contemplation of her rescuer. "What's they, anyway?"
"A Ma? Don't you know what your mother is?"
Little Robin met his astonishment with a ripple of laughter. "Oh a mother! I had a lovely, lovely mother once but she's gone away—to Heaven. And is a Pa a Jimmie?"
"A—what?" Dale had never met such a strange child.
"'Cause Jimmie's my Parent. I call him Parent sometimes and sometimes I call him Jimmie."
If his companion had not been so very small Dale might have suspected an attempt at "kidding." He glanced sidewise and suspiciously at her but all he saw was a cherub face framed in a tilted sky-blue tam-o'shanter and straggling ends of flaming red hair.
"Jimmie won't scold me. He'd want me to try to find Cynthia." Robin smothered a sigh. "He wasn't home anyway."
"D'you live all alone? You and your Jimmie?"
"Oh, yes, only Aunt Milly's downstairs and Grandpa Jones is 'cross the hall, so I'm never 'fraid. They're not my really truly aunt's and grandfather's—I just call them that. And Jimmie leaves the light burning anyway. What's your name? And are you very old? Are you a man like Jimmie?"
Dale, warming under the adoration he saw on the small face, felt very big and very manly. He returned the little squeeze that tugged on his hand.
"Oh, I'm a big fellow," he answered.
"You look awful nice," the little girl pursued. "Just like one of my make-believe Princes. I wish you lived with Jimmie and me. I wouldn't mind Cynthia then."
"But the Princes never lived with the little girls in the stories, you know," argued Dale, finding it a very pleasant and unusual sensation to act the role of a Prince even to a very small girl. "You have to find me, you see."
Miss Robin jumped with joy. "Oh, goody, goody! I'll always make b'lieve you are a Prince and I'll find you and you must find me, too. You will, won't you?"
"You just bet I will," promised Dale, easily. "Here's your street." He stopped to study the house numbers. Suddenly a door flew open wide and a bareheaded man plunged into the street, almost tumbling upon them.
"Robin! Good gracious! I thought you were—stolen—lost—"
Robin, very calm, clasped him about his knee.
"I was lost, Jimmie. But this very big boy brought me home. He's a Prince—I mean he's my make-believe Prince."
"But, Robin—" The man turned from the child to Dale.
"I found her way down by Sheridan Square. She was hunting for her doll she'd left there."
"While I was walking with Mr. Tony this afternoon I played in the park and I forgot Cynthia."
"Good Heavens—and you went way off there all by yourself to find the thing?"
In her pride of Dale, Robin overlooked the slur on Cynthia.
"I went alone," she repeated, "but I came home with my Prince."
Gradually Robin's father was recovering from his shock. The muscles of his face relaxed; he ran his fingers through his thick hair, red like the child's, with a gesture of throwing off some horrible nightmare. To Dale he looked very boyish—with a little of Robin's own cherubic expression.
"Well, say, you gave me a fright, child. And you must promise not to do it again. Why, I can't ever leave you alone unless you do."
He turned to Dale, who stood, lingering, loath to leave the little Robin under the doubtful protection her Jimmie offered. "I'm no end grateful to you, my boy. If there's anything I can do for you—" He slipped one hand mechanically into his pocket.
"I don't want anything." Dale spoke curtly and stepped back. "It wasn't any bother; it's a nice night to walk."
With a child's quick intuition Robin realized that her gallant Prince was about to slip out of her sight. Her Jimmie had pulled his hand from his pocket and was extending it to the boy. He was not even inviting him to come in and smoke like he always invited Mr. Tony and Gerald and all the others. But of course Princes wouldn't smoke, anyway.
She waited until her father had finished his thanks, then, stepping up to Dale, she reached out two small arms and by holding on to Dale's, drew herself up almost to the boy's chin. Upon it she pressed a shy, warm kiss.
"Good-bye, Prince. You will hunt for me, won't you? Promise! Cross your heart!"
Dale, flaming red, confused, promised that he would, then wheeled and stalked off down the street. After he had rounded the corner he lifted his arm and wiped his chin with the sleeve of his coat. Then he stuck his hands deep in his pockets and whistled loudly. But after a moment, at a recollection of sky-blue eyes underneath a sky-blue tam-o'shanter, he chuckled softly. "A Prince! Gee, some Prince!" But his head instinctively went higher at the honor thrust upon him.
When he returned from the store, Dale usually found his mother sitting by the lamp crocheting. But tonight everything was different; scarcely had he stopped at their landing before the little mother, quite transformed, rushed to greet him and tell him the wonderful bit of good fortune.
Before it his own adventure was forgotten.
"And it's only a beginning it is—it's the superintendent he'll be in no time at all, at all," finished Mrs. Lynch.
"And we can move? And I can join the Boy Scouts? And go to camp next summer? And have a pair of roller skates?"
Mrs. Lynch nodded her head to each question. Behind each note of her voice rippled a laugh. "Yes, yes, yes. Sure, it's a wonderful night this is."
"Where's Pop now?"
"Working with the extra shift," the wife answered, proudly.
"Any dumplings?" eagerly.
"And I was forgetting! Bless the heart of you, of course I saved the biggest. 'Twas like a party tonight for I dressed your sister in the beads. It's worn out she is, God love her, with the excitement and trying to keep her wee eyes open 'til her Pop come home. Hushee or you'll waken the lamb now."
Dale was deep in thought choosing the words with which he would tell the good news to the "fellows" on the morrow, his mother was busying herself with the "biggest" dumpling, when a peremptory knock came at the door. With a quick cry Mrs. Lynch dropped her spoon—why should anything intrude upon their joy this night?
A man stood on the threshold presenting a curious figure for he wore a heavy coat over a white duck suit. Where had she seen such a suit before? With a catch at her heart she remembered—at the hospital, that time Dale had been run over. "Oh!" she cried. "My Dan!"
"Mrs. Lynch?" The hospital attendant spoke quickly as one would who had a disagreeable task and must dispose of it without any delay. "Your husband's had an accident—he's alive, but—you'd better come."
Mrs. Lynch stood very still in the centre of the room—her hand clutching her throat as though to stifle the scream that tore it.
"My Dan—hurt!" She trembled but stood very straight. "Quick, Dale, we must go to him. My Dan. No, no, you stay with Beryl. Oh, hurry!" she implored the interne, rushing bareheaded past him down the stairway. "Hurry."
For a few moments Dale stared at the half-open door. In his thirteen years he had experienced the pinch of poverty, even hunger, the pain of injury, but never this overwhelming fear of something, he did not know what. Pop, his big, strong Pop—hurt! Pop, who could swing him even now, that he measured five feet three himself, to his shoulder! Oh, no, no, it could not be true! Someone had made a mistake. Someone had cruelly frightened his mother. Hadn't their luck just come? Hadn't Pop been made a boss?
"Mom-ma!" came Beryl's voice, sleepily, from the other room. "Mom-ma, what's they?" Glad of anything to do Dale rushed to quiet his little sister. He bade her, brokenly, to "never mind and go to sleep," and he pulled the old blanket up tight to her chin, his eyes so blinded with tears that he did not see the waxen head pillowed close to Beryl's.
Then he sat in his mother's chair and dropped his head upon the table and waited, his hands clenched at his side.
"I won't cry! I won't be a baby! Mom'll maybe need me. I'm big now!" he muttered, finding a little comfort in the sound of his own voice.
* * * * *
Poor Robin's Prince; alas, he felt very young and helpless before the trouble which he faced.
Big Dan Lynch, he who had been the fairest and sturdiest of the county of Moira's girlhood, would never work again—as superintendent or even foreman; the rest of his days must be spent in the wheeled chair sent up by the sympathetic Miss Lewis of the Neighborhood Settlement House. It was fixed with a contrivance so that he could move it about the small room.
Little Beryl started school which made up for a great deal that had suddenly been taken from her life, for mother never sat by the lamp, now, or crocheted. She worked at the Settlement House all day and all evening busied herself with her home tasks.
The "lucky dolly" Beryl hid away in paper wrappings. Somehow, young as she was, she knew her mother could not bear the sight of it.
And Dale worked every day at Tony's, going to night school on the evenings when he had used to go to the store. A tightening about the lips, an older seriousness in the lad's eyes alone told what it had cost him to give up his ambition to graduate with his class, perhaps at its head.
Little Robin with the sky-blue eyes was quite forgotten!
THE HOUSE OF FORSYTH
It was a time-honored custom at Gray Manor that Harkness should serve tea at half-past four in the Chinese room.
On this day—another November day, ten years after the events of the last chapter—Harkness slipped through the heavy curtains with his tray and interrupted Madame Forsyth, mistress of Gray Manor, in deep confab with her legal advisor, Cornelius Allendyce.
Mr. Allendyce was just saying, crisply, "Will your mind not rest easier for knowing that the Forsyth fortune will go to a Forsyth?" when Harkness rattled the cups.
Then, strangest of all things, Madame ordered him sharply away with his tray.
Such a thing had never happened before in Harkness' experience and he had been at Gray Manor for fifty-five years. He grumbled complainingly to Mrs. Budge, the housekeeper, and to Florrie, Madame's own maid, who was having a sip of tea with Mrs. Budge in the cosy warmth of the kitchen.
Florrie asserted that she could tell them a story or two of Madame's whims and cranks—only it would not become her, inasmuch as Madame was old and a woman to be pitied. "Poor thing, with this curse on the house, who wouldn't have jumps and fidgets? I don't see I'm sure how any of us stand it." But Florrie spoke with a hint of satisfaction—as though proud to serve where there was a "curse." Harkness and Mrs. Budge, who had lived at Gray Manor when things were happier, sighed.
"It's an heir they be talking about now," Harkness admitted.
"You don't say so!" exclaimed Mrs. Budge and Florrie in one breath.
Up in the Chinese room Madame Forsyth was saying; "Do you think any child of that—branch of the family—could take the place of—"
"Oh, dear Madame," interrupted the lawyer. "I am not suggesting such a thing! I know how impossible that would be. But on my own responsibility I have made investigations and I have ascertained that your husband's nephew has the one child. The nephew's an artist of sorts and doubtless has his ups and downs—most artists do. Now I suggest—"
"That I take this—child—"
Mr. Allendyce tactfully ignored the scorn in her voice. "Exactly," he purred. "Exactly. Gordon is the child's name. A very nice name, I am sure."
"The child of an obscure artist—"
"Ah, but, Madame, blood is blood. A Forsyth—"
"P'ff!" Madame made a sound like rock hitting rock. Indeed, as she sat there, her narrow eyes gleaming from her immobile face, her thin lips tightly compressed, she looked much more like rock than flesh-and-blood.
Her explosion had the effect of exasperating the little lawyer out of his habitual attitude of conciliation.
"Madame, I can do no more than advise you in this matter. I have traced down this child as a possible heir to the Forsyth fortune. However, you have it in your power to will otherwise. But let me say this—not as a lawyer but as your friend. You are growing old. Will you not find, perhaps, more happiness in your old age, if you bring a little youth into this melancholy old house—"
"I must ask you to withhold your kind wishes until some other time," interrupted Madame, dryly. "I am at present seeking your advice as a lawyer. I have not been regardless of the fact that the House of Forsyth must have an heir; I have been thinking of it for a long time—in fact, that is all there is left for me to do. And, though it is exceedingly distasteful to me, I see the justice in seeking out one of—that family. But, it must be done in my way. My mind is quite made up to that. You say there is a—child. I wish you to communicate with this child's father—this relative of my husband, and inform him that I will make this child my heir provided he can be brought to Gray Manor at once. He will live for one year here under your guardianship. I will send for Percival Tubbs who, you may remember, tutored my grandson. Doubtless he is old-fogyish but from his long association with our family he knows the Forsyth traditions and what the head of the House of Forsyth should be. He will know whether this boy can be trained to measure up to it. If, after a year, he does not, he must go back—to his father. I will be fair, of course, as far as money goes. If he does—" She stopped suddenly, her stony demeanor broken. The thin lips quivered at the thought of that sunny south room in the great house where had been left untouched the toys, the books, the games, the precious trophies, the guns and racquets, golf sticks and gloves which marked each development of her beloved grandson.
"A very fair plan," murmured the lawyer.
"You have not heard all," went on Madame Forsyth in such a strange voice that Cornelius Allendyce looked up at her in astonishment. "I am going away."
"You! Where?" exclaimed the man. He could not quite believe his ears.
"That I do not care to divulge." She enjoyed his amazement. "I am yielding to a restlessness which in a younger woman you would understand, but which in me you would no doubt term—crazy. I am going to run away—to some new place, where, for awhile, no one will know whether I am the rich Madame Christopher Forsyth or the poor Mrs. John Smith. Oh, I shall be quite safe; at my bank they will be able to find me if anything happens. Norris has had entire charge of the mills for a long time. And Budge and Harkness can take care of things here."
"Madame," the lawyer was moved out of his customary reserve, "are you not possibly running away from what may bring you happiness—and comfort?"
For the space of a moment the real heart of the woman shone in her eyes.
"I am running away. I might learn to love this boy and he might not be what the head of the house of Forsyth should be and I would have to send him back. And my heart has been torn enough. It is tired. I have a whim to find new places—new things—to rest—and forget all this."
There was an interval of silence. Then Mr. Allendyce, lifting his eyes from the patent-leather tips of his shoes, said quietly:
"I will carry out your commands to the best of my ability."
There followed, then, a great deal of discussion over details. And, while carefully jotting figures and memoranda in a neat, morocco bound note-book, the little man of law felt as though he were writing the opening chapters of some fairy-tale.
Yet there was little of the fairy-tale in the old, empty house, a melancholy house in spite of its wealth of treasure, brought from every country on the globe. And there was nothing of romance in the Forsyth family which had come over to Connecticut from England in the early days of its settlement and had left to all the Forsyths to come, not only the beginnings of the Forsyth factory where thread was made by the millions of spools, and the Forsyth fortune, amassed by those same spools, but also a deal of that courage which had helped those pioneers endure the hardships and meet the obstacles of the early days.
Her business at an end, Madame expressed embarrassment at her inhospitality in denying Mr. Allendyce his cup of tea. Would he not stay and dine with her? Mr. Allendyce did not in the least desire to dine alone with his client but the Wassumsic Inn was an uninviting place and New York was a three hours' ride away. So he accepted with a polite show of pleasure and assured Madame that he could amuse himself in the library while she dressed for dinner.
Left to himself, the lawyer fell to pacing the velvety length of the library floor. This led him to one of the long windows. He stopped and looked out through it across the sloping lawns which surrounded the house. A low ribbon of glow hung over the edge of the hills which lay to the west of the town. Silhouetted against it was the ragged line of roofs and stacks which were the Forsyth Mills. Familiar with them through years of business association, the little man of law visualized them now as clearly as though they did not lay wrapped in evening shadow; he saw the ugly, age-old walls, the glaring brick of the new additions, the dingy yards, the silver thread of the river and across that the rows upon rows of tiny houses piled against one another, each like its neighbor even to the broken pickets surrounding squares of cinder ground. He knew, although his eyes could not see, that these yards even now were hung with the lines of everlasting washing, that men lounged on those back doorsteps and smoked and talked while women worked within preparing the evening meals. These human beings were machines in the gigantic industry upon which the House of Forsyth was founded. Did Madame ever think of them as flesh and blood mortals—like herself? Cornelius Allendyce smiled at the question; oh, no, the Forsyth tradition, of which Madame talked, built an impenetrable wall between her and those toilers.
Staring at the gray hard line of shadow that was the tallest of the chimneys the man thought how like it was to Madame and old Christopher Forsyth. His long connection with the family and the family interests gave the lawyer an intimate understanding of them and all that had happened to them. And it had been much. Mr. Allendyce himself often spoke of the "curse" of Gray Manor. Christopher Forsyth and Madame had had one son, Christopher Junior. Allendyce could recall the elaborate festivities that had marked the boy's coming of age, the almost royal pomp of his wedding. Three years after that wedding the young man and his wife had been drowned while cruising with friends off the coast of Southern California.
This terrible blow might have crushed old Christopher but for the toddling youngster who was Christopher the Third. The grandfather and grandmother shut themselves away in Gray Manor with the one purpose in life—to bring up Christopher the Third to take his place at the head of the House of Forsyth.
At this point in his reflections Mr. Allendyce's heart gave a quick throb of pity—he knew what that handsome lad had been to the old couple. He thought now how merciful it had been that old Christopher had died before that cruel accident on the football field in which the lad had been fatally injured. The brunt of the blow had fallen upon Madame. And after the boy's death, a gloom had settled over her and the old house which nothing had seemed able to dispel. As a last desperate resort the lawyer had suggested, with a courage that cost considerable effort, the finding of this other heir.
Mr. Allendyce had known very little of that "other branch" of the family. Old Christopher had had a younger half-brother, Charles, who, at the time Christopher took over the responsibilities of the head of the family, went off to South America where he married a young Spanish girl. And from the moment of that "low" marriage, as old Christopher had called it, to the investigation by Mr. Allendyce's agents, nothing had been heard at Gray Manor of this Charles Forsyth.
It had cost considerable money to trace him down but, accomplished, Mr. Allendyce had with satisfaction tabulated the results in his neat little note-book. Charles had died leaving one son, James. James had one child, Gordon. They lived at 22 Patchin Place, New York City.
The thought of the fairy story flashed back into the lawyer's mind. He knew his New York and he knew Patchin Place, where poverty and ambition elbowed one another, and squalor stabbed at the heart of beauty. This Gordon Forsyth had his childhood amid this, lived on the rise and fall of an artist's day-by-day fortune. Now he would be taken from all that, brought to Gray Manor, put under special tutorage, so that, some day he could step into that other lad's place. If that didn't equal an Arabian Night's tale!
"I'll go down to Patchin Place myself. I'd like to see their faces when I tell them!" he declared aloud, with a tingle within his heart that was a thrill although the little man did not know it.
Harkness coughed behind him. He turned quickly. Harkness bowed stiffly. "Madame awaits you in the drawing-room."
The little man-of-the-law's chin went out. "Madame awaits—" Poor old Madame; she would not have known how to come in and say "Let us go out to dinner." There had to be all the ceremony and fuss—or it would not have been Gray Manor and Madame Christopher Forsyth.
"All right. I'll find her," Mr. Allendyce growled. Then he was startled out of his usual composure by catching the suggestion of a twinkle in the Harkness eye which, of course, should not be in a Forsyth butler's eye at all.
For twenty-five years Cornelius Allendyce had worn nothing but black ties. On the morning of his contemplated invasion of Patchin Place in search of a Forsyth heir he knotted a lavender scarf about his neck and felt oddly excited. Such a sudden and unexplainable impulse, he thought, must portend adventure.
With a notion that all artists were "at home" at tea time, Mr. Allendyce waited until four o'clock before he approached his agreeable task. At the door of 22 Patchin Place he dismissed his taxicab and stood for a moment surveying the dilapidated front of the building—with a moment's mental picture of the magnificent pile that was Gray Manor.
A pretentious though slightly soiled register just inside the doorway, told him that "James Forsyth" lived on the fifth floor, so the little man toiled resolutely up the narrow, steep stairway, puffing as he ascended. It was necessary to count the landings to know, in the dimness of the hallway, when he reached the fifth floor. He had to pause outside the door to catch his breath; a moment's nausea seized him at the smell of stale food and damp walls.
But at his knock the door swung back upon so much sunshine and color that the little man blinked in amazement. A mite of a girl with a halo of sun-red hair smiled at him in a very friendly fashion.
"Does Mr. James Forsyth live here?" It seemed almost ridiculous to ask the question for surely it must be some witch's cranny upon which he had stumbled.
"Yes. But Jimmie isn't home. Won't you come in?"
Mr. Allendyce stared about the room—a big room, its size enhanced by the great glass windows and the glass skylight. Everywhere bloomed flowers in gayly painted boxes and pots and tubs. And after another blink Mr. Allendyce perceived that there were a few real chairs, very shabby, and a table covered with a cloth woven in brilliant colors and some very lovely pictures hanging wherever, because of the windows and the sloping roof, there was any place to hang them.
The young girl closed the door, whereupon there came a gay chirping from birds perching, the bewildered lawyer discovered, in various places around the room quite as though this corner of a tenement was a woodland.
"Hush, Bo, hush. They're dreadfully noisy. They love company. Won't you sit down?"
Mr. Allendyce sat gingerly upon the nearest chair. His companion pulled one up close to him. He perceived with something of a shock that she limped and at this discovery he looked at her again and drew in a quick breath.
Why, here was the oddest little thing he had ever seen. He had thought her a child, yet the wide eyes, set deep and of the blue of midnight, had a quaint seriousness and understanding; in the corner of her lips lingered a tender droop oddly at variance with the childish dimple of the finely moulded chin. Though the girl's red hair—like flame, as the lawyer had first thought, gave her an alive look, the little form under the queer straight dress was diminutive to frailty.
"Who are you, my dear?"
"Robin Forsyth. Jimmie calls me Red-Robin because I hop when I walk."
"Is Jimmie your—"
"He's my Parent. Do you know Jimmie?"
"N-no, not—exactly." The little man was wondering how his investigators had failed to report this young girl.
"Jimmie ought to be here soon. He went out to sell a picture to old Mrs. Wycke. She wanted it but she wanted it cheap, Jimmie says. But we didn't have anything to eat today so he took the picture to her and he's going to bring back some cake and ice cream. We'll have a party. Will you stay?"
"Good heavens," thought Allendyce, startled at her astonishing frankness. He reached out and patted the small hand.
"You are very kind. Does your Jimmie sell—many pictures?"
"Not many—I heard him and Mr. Tony talking. Mr. Tony's his best friend. If it were not for me Jimmie'd go away with Mr. Tony. Mr. Tony writes, you see, and he wants Jimmie to illustrate for him."
"And where is your brother Gordon?"
Robin stared. "My—brother—Gordon?"
"I am Gordon."
"My real name is Gordon but Jimmie doesn't like it. He always said it was too formal for a little girl. So he calls me Red-Robin and he says he'll never call me anything else. Why do you look so funny?"
For Mr. Allendyce seemed to have crumpled together and to be quite speechless.
"Don't you think I'm too, oh, sort of insignificant, to be Gordon? I like Robin much better."
The lawyer did not hear her. Here was a fine balking of all his and Madame's plans. The Forsyth heir! That that heir should be a girl had never entered their calculations. And a little lame girl at that; Mr. Allendyce suddenly recalled how Madame had worshipped the splendid manliness of young Christopher the Third.
"Is there anything the matter with you, Mr.—why, you haven't told me your name!"
With a tremendous effort Cornelius Allendyce pulled himself together. He flushed under the wondering wide-eyed scrutiny of his companion, who reached out and laid a small, warm hand upon his.
"You're not ill, are you?" with solicitude.
"No—no, my dear. No, I am not ill. But I am upset. You see—I came here—well, I call it—a most interesting story. Up in Connecticut there's a small town and a very big mill which has been there for ever so long, heaping up millions of dollars. And there's a very big house there that looks like a castle because it's built of gray stone and is up on a hill—it has everything but the moat itself. And an old lady lives there all alone." The lawyer paused, a little frightened at a wild thought that was persistently creeping up over his sensibilities. It must be the lavender tie or the witchery of the flowers and the absurd chirping birds.
"Oh, that's the old Dragon!" cried Robin, delightedly, with a chuckle as though she knew all about the old lady and the lonely castle. "That's what Jimmie calls her—poor old thing. Jimmie says she must be dreadfully unhappy in that lonely old house after all that's happened there."
"Do you—do you mean that—you know—"
"About those rich Forsyth's? Why, of course. That's Jimmie's pet story—about his terrible relatives."
"But your father has never—"
"Seen her? Oh, no. Jimmie's very proud, you see. And he thinks one good picture is worth more than any old fortune or mill or anything. Oh, Jimmie's wonderful. Why, we wouldn't trade our little home here for two of her castles! Jimmie couldn't paint if he were rich. He says money kills genius. Only—" She stopped abruptly, flushing.
"Only what, my dear—"
"I ought not to rattle on like this to you. Jimmie says I am—sometimes—too friendly. I suppose it's because I don't know many people. But I wish I just had a little money. You see I'm not a bit of a genius. I can't paint like Jimmie or sing like my mother did—or do a single thing."
Now Mr. Allendyce suddenly felt so excited that he wriggled on the rickety chair until it creaked threateningly.
"If you had money, Miss Gordon—what would you do?"
"Why I'd run away." She answered with startling promptness. "Oh, I don't mean that I'm not happy here. I love it. And I adore Jimmie. But I'm a girl and I'm lame, so I'm a—a millstone 'round Jimmie's neck!"
"What in the world—"
"Promise you won't ever tell him what I'm saying. Oh, he'd feel dreadfully. You see it's just that. He feels sorry 'cause I'm lame and he won't believe that I don't mind a bit—why, I can run and do everything—and he won't ever go anywhere without me. And an artist shouldn't have to be tied down; I heard Mr. Tony say so, once, when Jimmie was very blue. He didn't know I heard. Now Mr. Tony's going off for a long cruise in the South Seas on a sailing boat and he wants Jimmie to go with him. He's going to write stories and he says if Jimmie sees it all he will make his fortune painting pictures. And he can illustrate the stories, too. And Jimmie won't go because he won't leave me. Don't you see what I'd do if I had some money? I'd run away somewhere and tell Jimmie that he must go with Mr. Tony."
Mr. Allendyce sprang to his feet and paced up and down the room. In all his life the world had never seemed so full of youth and color and adventure as it did at that precise moment; his cautious soul fairly burst with imaginative daring.
"Miss Gordon—that's what I came for. I mean, I came to tell this Gordon Forsyth that the old lady, Madame Forsyth, wanted him to come to Gray Manor to live—for a year. He's to be tutored there. And if at the end of a year he is a—"
"But there isn't any he! Gordon's me."
"I know. I know. But a Forsyth's a Forsyth."
"You mean—I might go to—the castle—"
"Yes, why not? Madame—and I—just took it for granted that you were a boy, because of your name. But our mistake does not make you any less a Forsyth or less a possible heir—" The thought was a full-fledged idea now!
"Who are you?" broke in Robin, excitedly.
"I am Cornelius Allendyce, attorney for the Forsyth family. And I am—if your father consents—your future guardian."
"Oh, Jimmie'll never consent, never!"
"Why not?" pressed the lawyer. "You say you have no—particular genius to be killed by—money."
"Would it mean that I'd have to give Jimmie up forever?"
"No, my dear. Indeed no. Madame's plan is that you are to go to Gray Manor under my guardianship to live for a year. At the end of that time, if she is satisfied—Why, your father would simply give up any claim—"
"Oh, you don't know Jimmie. He'd never do it, unless—" she paused, her eyes suddenly wet, "unless—I—gave him up. All his life he's made sacrifices and given up things for me—big chances. So now—couldn't I run away with you—and then write and tell him?"
The Cornelius Allendyce who had lived up to that moment of crossing the threshold of this fifth-floor witchery would have scorned such a suggestion as "ridiculous! ridiculous!" But the Cornelius Allendyce of the lavender tie saw mad possibilities in such a step. Take the girl to Gray Manor and settle with Mr. James Forsyth afterwards.
"Why—yes, if you think your father would accept the situation—when he knew."
"Oh, I'd tell him he had to, that he must go away with Mr. Tony. And he'd go. But, Mr. Allendyce—I couldn't go tonight. I just couldn't let Jimmie come back with the ice cream and cake and maybe a pumpkin pie and—not find me here. Our parties are such fun. If you'll come tomorrow at three o'clock—I'll be ready. But what will the Dragon say when she sees that I'm a girl?"
Mr. Allendyce suddenly laughed aloud. The whole thing was so very simple. Madame only waited a telegram from him to set forth upon her travels. Why let her know that Gordon was a girl until the year had passed?
"We will not worry about that, my dear. Madame is going away. She will not be back at Gray Manor for a long time. I will call at three—tomorrow. I trust you will make your Jimmie understand. You know this is a very unusual step—there are some who might call it abduction—"
"Oh, Jimmie wouldn't!" assured Robin. "Not when I tell him why I'm running away."
Robin had answered him so indifferently that Cornelius Allendyce felt her mind was working out a plan for the morrow. He gave a last look about the room as though he wished to carry away a perfect impression of it, then patted the girl on the shoulder.
"Here is my card and the telephone number of my office. If you decide that this step is—too irregular, if perhaps we ought to talk with your father first—"
"No! No!" cried Robin. "That would spoil everything!"
Down in the street Cornelius Allendyce waved off a persistent taxi driver, deciding that he needed the vent of exercise to bring him back to earth. And as he hurried along he felt a curious elation, as though for the first time he enjoyed a zest in living. As a lawyer his life had been necessarily cut-and-dried; there had been little room for adventuring. And now, in a brief half-hour, he had let himself into the wildest sort of conspiracy. (He stopped suddenly and mopped his forehead.) He was planning to deliberately deceive Madame Forsyth, to steal a young and very unusual girl from her parent—and, to assume the guardianship of this same runaway. Where would it all end?
But in that half-hour just past something must have happened to the little man's conscience for even after the startling summing up, he laughed and walked on with a step lighter than before.
* * * * *
Back on the fifth floor of the old house in Patchin Place Robin leaned over the table writing a letter. Her task was made the more difficult because of the tears which blinded her eyes.
"Jimmie, I love you more than anything in the world but I am going to run away and leave you. I am going to the Dragon. She wants an heir. I am going to live in the castle and have a tutor. And my guardian is going to be the Dragon's lawyer—he's ever so nice and fathery—so you see I will be looked after as well as can be. Jimmie dearest-darling, you must not worry about me or try to make me come back for I'll be all right and you must go away with Mr. Tony and paint lots and I'll be so proud. And please, please Jimmie, make Aunt Milly promise to take care of the birds and the flowers for they mustn't die. And you will write to me, won't you? Good-bye, Jimmie, don't forget your hot milk at night. Yours always and always, Red-Robin."
She had just signed the letter when James Forsyth opened the door. She thrust it into her pocket as she turned to meet him.
"Oh, Jimmie!" she cried, for under his arm he carried the picture he had taken to sell to Mrs. Wycke.
"She didn't want it," he explained, testily.
The girl had been well schooled in disappointment; not the slightest shadow now crossed her face.
"Someone will, Jimmie," she declared, brightly, taking the heavy package from him. "And you said yourself Mrs. Wycke couldn't tell a chromo from a masterpiece. We don't want her to have our picture anyway. I'm not a bit hungry—are you, Jimmie? Let's sit here all cosy and you read to me—" and thinking of the note that lay in her pocket, she reached up very suddenly and kissed her Jimmie to hide the break in her voice.
Robin found running away amazingly simple. Poor Jimmie, at her urging, went out quite unsuspecting. She was so excited and there was so much to be done at the last moment, that she had no time to think what the parting with all she loved so dearly must mean to her.
Promptly at three o'clock Cornelius Allendyce tapped on the door. His face was very red and moist and his hand, as he reached out for Robin's bag, shook, but Robin did not notice all that; she slipped quickly through the door and shut it behind her, as though fearful that at the last moment she might find it impossible to go.
Out in the thin sunshine, whirring through the traffic of the crowded streets, neither spoke for breathlessness. Cornelius Allendyce stared at the buildings and swallowed at regular intervals to steady his nerves—a trick he had always found most helpful in important legal trials. Robin kept her eyes glued on the back of the taxi driver's head but he might have had two heads and one upside down for all she noticed. Her hands in her lap were clenched very tight and her lips were pressed in a straight, thin, resolute line.
But as they kept on past Forty-second street and headed toward Central Park West the lawyer explained that he was taking her to his own home for the night.
"My sister will make you quite comfortable. Tomorrow we will go out to Wassumsic." He did not say that it was important, too, to give Madame Forsyth ample opportunity to get away from Gray Manor.
Robin drew a long breath and relaxed. It had taken so very much courage to run away that she had little left with which to face her new life. Tomorrow it might be easier.
Miss Effie Allendyce took her under her wing in a fluttery, mothery sort of a way with a great many "my dear's."
"I suppose," the lawyer had said, looking at the two, "you, Effie, will have to get Miss Forsyth some clothes tomorrow—"
"Clothes," Robin cried, astonished. "I—brought some."
"Well, you probably ought to have some other kind. You see, my dear, you are a Forsyth of Gray Manor now." He turned to his sister. "Effie, can you get all she needs—everything, before tomorrow at three o'clock?"
Effie's eyes danced at such a task—indeed, she could. She knew a shop where she could buy everything that a girl might need.
"Well, I'll leave you two to make out lists. Isn't that what you have to do?"
So, for a few hours the making of these amazing lists kept Robin's thoughts from that little fifth floor home and Jimmie. Miss Effie began with shoes and finished with hats, with little abbreviations in brackets to include caps and scarfs and all sorts of things. "It is very cold in Wassumsic," she explained, "and you will live a great deal out of doors. It is very lovely," she added, making a round period after "sweater."
And there was another list which included a wrist watch and a writing set. "They can send on most of these things," she pondered.
Robin slyly pinched herself to know that she was still a living-breathing girl; all seemed as unreal as though she had slipped away into a magician's world.
But the lists completed, dinner over, alone with her new guardian, an overwhelming loneliness swept her. Cornelius Allendyce, turning from a protracted study of the blazing fire, was startled to find the girl's head pillowed in her arm, her shoulders shaking with smothered sobs.
"My dear! My dear!" he exclaimed, very much as Miss Effie would have done.
"I—I can't help it. I tried—"
Poor Robin looked so very small in the big chair that remorse seized Cornelius Allendyce. How could he have taken this little girl from her corner, shabby as it was?
It was not too late—
"Miss Gordon," he began a little uneasily, wondering what guardians did when their wards were hysterical. "My dear, don't cry, I beg of you. Come, it is not too late to go back. We will explain—"
Robin lifted her head. "I—I don't want to go back. But I was thinking of Jimmie. He must be awfully lonesome—now. You see you don't know Jimmie. He depends on me to remind him of things like his hot milk. And just at first, it will be hard. But, no, no, I don't want to go back."
"Then I would suggest that you go to bed. You are doubtless very tired from the excitement of everything. And tomorrow will be a busy day—and an interesting day."
Robin drew herself slowly from the chair. She limped over to the divan upon which Cornelius Allendyce sat. Her eyes were very steady, dark with earnestness.
"I'm ashamed I cried. I won't do it again. But I want you to know, oh, you must know, that I'm not going to Gray Manor because of all those clothes and the money or anything like that. There could not be anything at Gray Manor as nice as Jimmie's and my bird-cage. But I want Jimmie to have his chance—"
Left alone, Cornelius Allendyce found himself haunted by Robin's "Jimmie must be awfully lonesome." What a strange pair—the quaint old-young girl living in a world which circled around this father—the father, by the girl's own assertion, "depending" upon the girl. And little Robin, scarcely more than a child, realizing that she hindered the man's development, talking about giving him "his chance" and at such cost—and promising that she would not cry again. "There's bravery for you!" muttered the lawyer aloud.
He believed that Miss Effie's lists of finery and knick-knacks held little attraction for the girl.
He recalled Madame Forsyth's scornful "that other branch of the family." Yet this James Forsyth and Gordon had lived for years and often in want in New York City, and had never approached Madame for as much as a penny. Robin had said Jimmie couldn't paint if he were rich. Could he paint if he lost her?
Suddenly Cornelius Allendyce had a vivid understanding of the tie that bound these two. And it was unthinkable that this man would let the girl go and do nothing. Yet it was not of any possible embarrassment he might suffer that Cornelius Allendyce thought at this moment; it was of the heartbreak of the father. He had not considered him at all; carried away by a mad impulse he had let himself listen to a child and had lost his own sense of justice. Why, it had been rank robbery! He must go to this man at once. Muttering to himself he went in search of his hat and coat.
* * * * *
For the third time the little lawyer climbed the flights of stairs at 22 Patchin Place. And this time, so eager was he to square himself with Robin's Jimmie, he ran up the steps. He knocked twice and when no one answered he opened the door quietly and walked in.
A man sat at the little table, his head dropped in his outflung arms. Cornelius Allendyce knew it was Jimmie. Another man stood over him, his face flushed with impatience. "Mr. Tony," thought the lawyer. He was evidently just drawing breath after a heated argument.
"Pardon my intrusion, gentlemen. I knocked but I do not think you heard me." Allendyce stopped short, for his usual measured words seemed out of place at this moment. "I am Cornelius Allendyce," he finished humbly and guiltily. "I came back to—explain."
James Forsyth made a lightning-quick movement as though he would spring at the little lawyer's throat. Mr. Tony held him back.
"Jimmie—wait. Let him talk."
"It was Miss Robin's wish to slip away without telling you. She said you would not let her go and she had quite made up her mind to give you—what she calls—your chance. She has an idea that she ties you down—"
Jimmie choked as a sob strangled in his throat. His anger suddenly melted to abjection. Mr. Tony laid a comforting hand on his shoulder and turned to the lawyer.
"The girl is right. She's a wonderful little thing. She always could see further ahead than her Dad. I have been telling my pal that this is the best thing all around that could happen—a fine bit of luck for everyone. Robin will go up to Gray Manor and be as happy and safe as can be and her father can travel and work—the way Robin wants him to. Robin took rather unusual means to gain her end but—well, she knew what she was doing."
Jimmie turned to Cornelius Allendyce and studied his face with a desperate keenness.
"She isn't like other children," he began slowly. "Poor little crooked kiddie. She's sensitive. I've kept her away from everything that could hurt her. I've tried—to make up to her. I thought she was happy; I did not know she guessed—or knew—"
Mr. Tony had taken a few steps down the room. He wheeled now and came back with a set expression on his face as though he had to say something disagreeable and must get it over with.
"Jimmie, suppose, just for once, you look your soul straight in the eye—honest. Now isn't it the artist heart of you that's hurt by Robin's crooked little body—and not the child? Don't you keep her shut up in here because, when people stare at her—you suffer? Have you been fair to her? Oh, yes—you love her, all right. Well, then, let her go. Robin thinks she's giving you your chance—well, I say, give the girl her own."
"I tell you Robin's different—she doesn't want money or clothes!"
"Well, pretty things—and good food—can make even a 'different' girl's heart lighter. Come, old man, go off with me on this cruise and work your head off and at the end of the year—if Robin's not happy there, well, you can make other plans. I'm like Robin, I believe that give you a year, you'll do something rather big."
James Forsyth suddenly lifted a face so boyishly helpless, so defeated, that Allendyce's heart went out to him. He understood, all at once, what little Robin had meant when she had said, "You don't know Jimmie!" He certainly was not like other men.
"I feel such a—quitter. I promised Robin's mother—I'd make up to the child for her being lame—the way she would have, if she'd lived. And I've failed. Why, only last night she went to bed hungry." There followed a moment of tense silence, then the man went on dully, in a tone that implied yielding. "I suppose I may know all the circumstances that led up to—this."
Cornelius Allendyce proceeded to tell everything from the day of his interview with Madame to the moment of his consternation upon discovering that Gordon Forsyth was a girl and not a boy. He repeated word for word Robin's and his conspiring; he described their flight and Robin's break down in his library.
"She had not lost courage—oh, no. But she was thinking of you. She was afraid you'd forget to take your hot milk at night or something like that," he finished simply.
There were other details for the lawyer to explain to James Forsyth, having to do with allowances and schooling. Then, when everything had been said that was necessary to be said, James Forsyth rose wearily.
"If that's all, I'd like it if you two would leave me here—alone." He held out his hand to Mr. Allendyce. "Understand, if she's not happy—"
"Our agreement ends."
THE FORSYTH HEIR
Harkness' mother had once lived in an English duke's family and Harkness had been brought up on stories of the ceremonious life there. Therefore he considered it quite fitting that he should take upon himself the planning for the reception of the Forsyth heir.
"I say it do be a pity Madame could not 'ave waited," he grumbled to Mrs. Budge. "To 'ave the poor little fellow arrive here alone don't seem right. But Madame says 'Harkness, you'll do everything—'"
"Everything!" snorted Mrs. Budge, who had just come down from dusting the "boy's" room. The familiar "clutter," as she had always called it, had roused poignant memories, so that her wrinkled face was streaked now and red. "'Pears to me most you do is talk—and talk big. It's Harkness this and Harkness that! To be sure my mother was a plain New England woman—"
"Now, Budge, now, Budge," interrupted Harkness, consolingly. "No one as I know is going to dispute that your mother was a plain New England woman. And we're not going to quarrel at such a rememberable moment, not we. And we're going to give Mr. Gordon a welcome as is befitting a Forsyth. At the appointed hour we'll gather at the door—you must stand at the head of the long line of servants—"
"Long line of servants! And where do you expect to get them, I'd like to know? Things have been at sixes and sevens in this house ever since the gloom came. And that new piece from the village ain't worth her salt's far as work goes."
Poor Harkness had to recognize the truth of what Budge said. Since the "gloom" things had been going at sixes and sevens—inexperienced help called up from the village to fill any need. He was not to be daunted, however; there were the gardener and the undergardener and the chauffeur and the stableman and they had wives who might be induced to put on their Sunday clothes and join in the ceremonial—all in all, they could make a fair showing.
Into the plans for the dinner Mrs. Budge threw herself with her whole heart. There must be young turkey and cranberry sauce, and a tasty salad and a good old New England pumpkin pie, which she would make herself, and ice cream and little cakes with colored frosting—oh, Budge knew what a boy liked.
And Harkness would brighten the great dark hall with bitter-sweet and deck the gloomy rooms with flowers—he knew what was proper for the coming of the heir of the House of Forsyth.
"Like as not," Budge said, "'twill be the end to this curse."
So the two old retainers, their hearts full of hope for a new happiness over Gray Manor, labored until the old house shone and bloomed for the coming of Gordon Forsyth. And a few minutes before the hour of arrival, the gardener and the undergardener and the stableman and their wives came in, breathless with importance; Chloe, the old colored cook, appeared in a brand new turban and 'kerchief. Mrs. Budge, her gray hair brushed back tighter than ever, donned her black silk which she had not worn since young Christopher's eighteenth birthday and took her place at the head of the line just a foot or two behind Harkness who, of course, had the honor of opening the door.
Mrs. Budge, however, watched the service door at the end of the long hall with fretful eyes. "That piece," she confided to Harkness, the moment not being so important as to still her grumbling, "said she wouldn't come in. And when I told her she could just choose t'wixt this and the door she said she wouldn't dress up, anyways. Impertinent chit! Thinks she's too good for the place. Things have gone to sixes and sevens—"
Harkness was holding his watch in his hand. And just as he shut it with a significant click, a tall dark-haired girl in a plain gingham dress slipped into the room and took her place at the end of the line, at the same moment casting a defiant glance at the knot which adorned the back of Mrs. Budge's head.
Above the low murmur of voices came the throb of a motor.
"It's him!" cried Harkness, a catch in his voice. Mrs. Budge shut her eyes tight from sheer nervousness. There was a visible straightening and a rustling of the line. Then Harkness threw the door open and bent low.
On the threshold stood a small girl; her eyes, under the fringe of red hair, wide with excitement, frightened.
Harkness had opened his lips for his little speech of welcome but the first sound died with a cackle in his throat, leaving his mouth agape. He stared at the little creature and beyond her at Cornelius Allendyce, who was superintending the unloading of several bags and boxes.
Where was Gordon Forsyth?
Turning, Mr. Allendyce, at one glance, took in the situation. He bustled up the steps, and thrust a bag in Harkness' limp hand.
"Well, we're here!" he cried cheerily, ignoring the amazement and disappointment that fairly tingled in the air. "And a fine welcome you're giving us!" He turned to Robin, who stood rooted to the threshold. "My dear, these people have served the Forsyths faithfully and for a long time. Harkness, this is Gordon Forsyth. Mrs. Budge—"
He drew aside to let Robin enter. And Robin, conscious of startled, curious eyes upon her, limped into her new home. Harkness, because he had to do something, closed the door slowly behind her.
"I'm sure—we were expecting—" he mumbled.
Mr. Allendyce imperiously waved off whatever Harkness was expecting.
"We hope, Mrs. Budge, you are prepared for two hungry people. We lunched very early and the ride here is always tiresome. In Madame's absence, I am sure you will take care of Miss Gordon and—me." There was the finest inflection on the "miss." "I shall stay a day or two. Robin, my dear, this is your new home."
Robin had been biting her lips to keep them steady. There was something so terrible in the great hall, the broad stair that lost itself in a cavern of darkness above, the brilliant lights, the staring faces. Her eyes swept from Mrs. Budge's stony face down the line and crossed the curious glance of the dark-haired girl in the gingham dress. Robin's brightened, for the girl was young, but the girl flushed a dark red, tossed her head and stalked through the narrow service door out of the room.
Robin turned to Cornelius Allendyce and clung to his arm. He seemed the one nice friendly thing in the whole place. And, as though he knew how she felt, he patted her hand in a way that seemed to say, "Courage, my dear."
Mrs. Budge recovered her tongue. "She'll not be wanting the young master's room," she said crisply. "Madame's orders—"
"I would suggest that Miss Gordon decide for herself what room she will have." The lawyer's voice carried a rebuke that was not lost upon the housekeeper. "Harkness, carry the bags upstairs and Miss Gordon and I will follow."
So Harkness' reception line broke up; the gardener and the undergardener and their wives following Mrs. Budge's stiff back out through the service door while Harkness led Robin and her new guardian up the broad stairway.
In the kitchen, for very want of strength, Mrs. Budge flopped into a chair.
"Sixes and sevens!" she gasped. "I'll say that things are just going to sixes and sevens. I've always distrusted all lawyer-men and this one ain't a bit different. Bringing a girl here, and a cripple. Did you ever hear the like?" She looked from one to the other of Harkness' retainers and answered herself with the same breath. "You never did. Don't know when I've been so flabbergasted. Mebbe she's a Forsyth but she ain't a worth-while Forsyth. She ain't. As if a girl could step into our boy's shoes." She sniffed audibly. "She don't take in Hannah Budge."
When Harkness appeared there was a fresh outburst and a reiteration that Hannah Budge "wasn't going to be taken in by a piece no bigger'n a pint of cider."
"Well, the girl's here—and hungry," Harkness retorted with meaning abruptness.
A sense of duty never failed to spur poor Budge. She rose, now, quickly. "Humph, like as not with everything else going to sixes and sevens that old Chloe's forgot her turkey," and with a heavy sigh that fairly rattled the stiff silk on her bosom she went off in search of the cook.
Robin found much difficulty in choosing her room for they all seemed equally lovely in the perfection of their furnishings. She had stood for a moment in the door of the south room that had been Christopher the Third's. "Here's where they'd have put you if you were a boy," her new guardian had told her. In spite of Mrs. Budge's efforts at cleaning and dusting, a melancholy hung over the room and about all the boyish things there was such a sense of waiting that Robin was glad to turn away. Finally she decided upon a west room the windows of which overlooked the valley and the hills beyond.
"Oh, wouldn't Jimmie love that?" she had cried, lingering in one of the windows. "He loves hills, and doesn't that river look like a silver ribbon tying the brown fields?"
The bedroom opened on one side into a sitting room with a bay window, on the other into a tiny bathroom, shining and gleaming with nickel and tile.
"Oh, everything's lovely," and Robin ecstatically clasped her hands. "Only what'll I ever do with everything so big!"
Cornelius Allendyce laughed at her dismay. To be sure he had not spent his life in such tiny quarters as the bird cage and he could not understand the girl's state of mind.
"My dear, after a little everything will seem quite natural. And remember—everything is at your command. This is your home. You are Gordon Forsyth. You will not have time to be lonely."
Robin's serious face suddenly broke into a bright smile. She patted the garland of roses which held back the silk hangings.
"I just had the funniest feeling, as if I were not me at all but all of a sudden someone else. Ever since I was a very little girl I've often played that I lived a make-believe story—I make it like all the fairy stories jumbled together. And I fit all the people I know into the different characters. Jimmie lets me play it because I am alone so much and it keeps me happy. Sometimes he even plays it with me. It makes horrid things seem nice. And Jimmie never wanted me to know the boys and girls at school—because I'm lame, I guess—so I always pretended things about them and gave them names. You should have seen Bluebeard." She laughed at the recollection. "And now I'm going on playing. I'm the little beggar-maid who awakens to find her self in the castle. Do you suppose there's a fairy godmother somewhere? And—a prince?"
And Cornelius Allendyce who had never read a fairy story in his life, let alone acted one, laughed with her.
"Yes, this is another chapter in your story."
"Oh, and don't you wish we could just peek to the end and see how it all turns out? But that isn't fair. And we couldn't—anyway."
Her new guardian shook his head. "No, we couldn't—anyway."
A bell tinkling somewhere in the house wakened Robin the next morning. Through the flowered chintz curtains of her window the sun shone with a warmth out of all keeping with the time of the year, throwing such a joyous glow about everything in the room that she rubbed her eyes to be sure she was not dreaming.
The evening before, everything had seemed so strange that Robin had not been able to take in small things; now an immense curiosity to explore Gray Manor, and the grounds that were like Central Park, and the little town, and the hills around it, seized her. She slipped her feet out of bed and into the satin slippers which had been one of Miss Effie's purchases. She dressed with feverish haste, rebuking herself for having slept so late, for her new wrist watch told her it was after ten o'clock.