By Josephine Lawrence
Illustrated by Thelma Gooch
NEW YORK CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
I GOOD NEWS 1
II THE WILLIS WILL 12
III AUNT TRUDY COMES 23
IV DOCTOR HUGH TAKES COMMAND 34
V WINNIE'S VOLUNTEERS 45
VI ROSEMARY HAS HER WAY 54
VII THE RUNAWAY 65
VIII SARAH IN DISGRACE 76
IX WHEN PATIENCE SLIPS 87
X THE LAST STRAW 98
XI A CHAIN OF PROMISES 109
XII ONE DISASTROUS AFTERNOON 121
XIII JACK STRAIGHTENS THINGS OUT 132
XIV A NEW SCHOOL TERM 144
XV TOO MUCH NATURAL HISTORY 156
XVI MR. OLIVER AND SARAH 168
XVII THE INSTITUTE DINNER 180
XVIII SHIRLEY IN MISCHIEF 192
XIX BUCKING THE STUDENT COUNCIL 204
XX DRESSMAKER ROSEMARY 216
XXI MR. JORDAN LEARNS SOMETHING 228
XXII SHOPPING WITH NINA 240
XXIII SARAH LOSES A MENAGERIE 252
XXIV A MYSTERY SOLVED 264
XXV GARDEN DAYS 276
XXVI THE SCHOOL PICNIC 288
XXVII A LONG YEAR'S END 300
The Willis house was very quiet. The comfortable screened porch was deserted, though a sweater in the hammock and a box of gay paper dolls on the floor showed that it had served as a play-space recently. Inside, not a door banged, not a footfall sounded.
The late afternoon June sunshine streamed in through the hall window and made a broad band to the stairway which was in the shadow. The light touched the heads of three girls huddled closely together in the cushioned window-seat and turned the hair of one to gleaming, burnished golden red, another to a fairy web of spun yellow silk and searched out the faint copper tint in the dark locks of the third. The girls sat motionless, their faces turned toward the stairs, as silent as everything else in that silent house.
"Rosemary!" whispered the dark-haired one suddenly, "Rosemary, you don't think—"
The girl with the gold-red hair, who sat between the other two, started nervously. Her violet blue eyes transferred their anxious gaze from the shadowy staircase to her sister's face.
"Oh, no!" she said passionately. "No! Do you hear me, Sarah? That couldn't happen to us. Why do you say such things?"
"I didn't say anything," protested Sarah sullenly. "Did I, Shirley?"
The little girl with the fairy-web of yellow hair did not answer. She started from her seat and ran toward the stairs.
"Hugh's coming!" she cried.
Quick, even steps sounded on the hardwood treads and a young man with dark hair, darker eyes behind eye-glasses and a keen, intelligent face, descended rapidly. He picked up the child and strode across the hall to the window-seat.
"Poor children!" he said compassionately, sitting down beside Rosemary and holding the younger girl in his lap. "Has the time seemed long? I came as quickly as I could."
Rosemary looked at him piteously.
"All right, dear," he said instantly. "Mother is going to get well. Dr. Hurlbut and I have decided that all she needs is a long rest. I am going to take her to a quiet place in the country day after to-morrow and she is to stay until she is entirely recovered. Why Rosemary!"
The gold-red head was on his shoulder and Rosemary was crying as though her heart would break.
"That's the way she is," said the dark and placid Sarah. "She jumps on me if I say anything and then she cries herself sick thinking things. I would rather," she declared with peculiar distinctness, "have folks talk than think, wouldn't you, Hugh?"
"I'm sorry to say I can't agree with you," replied the young man briefly. "Here, Shirley, I didn't know you were such a heavy-weight—you run off with Sarah and tell Winnie what I have told you about Mother. Quietly now, and no shouting. Rosemary, dear," he put a protecting arm around the weeping girl, "you will feel better now—we have all been under a strain and the worst is over. Here comes Miss Graham with Dr. Hurlbut and I must see him off. Don't run—he'll probably go right out without seeing you."
But the famous specialist stopped squarely in the hall and the pleasant-faced middle-aged nurse, standing respectfully on the lower step, nodded reassuringly to Rosemary who was frantically mopping her eyes.
"Well, Dr. Willis," said the great man heartily, "I am mighty glad to have been of some little service. I'm sure you will find Pine Crest sanatorium all that it is said to be and the right place for your mother. She mustn't be allowed, of course, to worry about home affairs. There are younger children, I believe?"
"Three girls," said Hugh Willis. "Rosemary—" he summoned her with a glance,—"my sister, Dr. Hurlbut."
Dr. Hurlbut shook hands kindly letting his quizzical gray eyes rest a moment longer on the tear-stained face.
"Ah, we cry because of past sorrow," he said quietly, "and, a little, because of present joy; is it not so?"
Rosemary lifted her head in quick understanding, tossing back her magnificent mane and showing her violet blue eyes still wet with tears. She smiled radiantly and her face was vivid, glowing, almost startling in its beauty.
"I am so happy!" she said clearly, and her girl-voice held a note of pure joyousness. "So happy that I do not think I can ever be unhappy again!"
The two doctors smiled a little in sympathy.
"Ah, well," said the famous specialist, after a moment's silence, gently, "let us hope so."
He turned toward the door and the younger man went with him to the handsome car drawn up at the curb. Rosemary, with a swift hug for Miss Graham, dashed past her upstairs to her own room, always a haven in time of happiness or stress.
"Mother is going to get well!" whispered the girl, starry-eyed. "All she needs is rest, and then she will be quite well again. Cora Mason's mother died—" the expressive face sobered and, sitting on the edge of her pretty white bed, Rosemary's twelve-year old mind filled with somber thoughts. Presently she slipped noiselessly to her knees and buried her curly head in the comforting cool white pillow.
"Dear God—" she began, but the tide of joy and relief began to beat loudly again in her heart, sending rich waves of color into her hidden face.
"I am so happy," prayed Rosemary tumultuously. "I am so happy! I am so happy!"
Presently she rose and dragged her white shoes from the closet. Sitting in the middle of the floor, she started contentedly cleaning them.
"Rosemary?" sounded a little voice. "Rosemary, you in here?"
Rosemary straightened up so that she could see across the bed which stood between her and the doorway.
"Yes, Shirley darling," she answered. "Did you tell Winnie about mother?"
"Yes," said Shirley scrambling upon the bed. "We told her. What you doing, Sister?"
"Cleaning my white shoes," replied Rosemary, applying whitener vigorously. "I'm going to put them on and wear my white linen dress. Don't you want to dress up to-night, Shirley? Bring me your shoes, if they are dirty, and I'll do them for you."
"All right, I'll get them," decided Shirley, sliding off the bed backward. "Could I put on my blue sash, Rosemary?"
"Not with that dress," said Rosemary firmly. "I'll have to wash your face and hands and neck and then you can wear the cross-bar muslin with the lace yoke."
"Are you up here, Rosemary?" demanded another voice. "What are you doing?"
"Cleaning my shoes," said Rosemary patiently. "Say, Sarah, don't you think it would be nice if we dressed up a little for dinner to-night?"
"Why?" asked Sarah bluntly.
"Oh, because—because, well, we know Mother is going to get well," explained Rosemary. "And everything has been in such a mess this week, the table half set and nobody caring whether they ate or not. I'd like to show Hugh that we can have things done properly."
"What difference does it make?" drawled Sarah lazily. "I hate a lot of fuss, you know I do. Rosemary, do you suppose it hurts worms to use them for fishing bait? Will you ask Jack Welles?"
"I'll ask him the next time I see him, if you will put on your tan linen with the red tie," promised Rosemary. "And do brush your hair back the way Mother likes it, Sarah. She can't bear to see it stringing into your eyes."
"Oh—all right," agreed Sarah. "Don't forget to ask about the worms."
She departed and in her place came Shirley, carrying a pair of diminutive and soiled white shoes.
"I wish," she announced pleasantly, sitting down on the floor beside Rosemary to watch the cleaning process, "I wish we could have ice-cream."
"Well I'll ask Winnie," said Rosemary promptly. "What dessert do you suppose we are going to have to-night?"
"Berries," Shirley answered wisely. "I saw 'em. Couldn't Winnie make us chocolate ice-cream?"
"Oh, she wouldn't have time to make it," said Rosemary, "but I'll ask her if I can't telephone the drug-store and have them send us some. There your shoes are, honey. Now hurry and get dressed."
Dr. Hugh Willis, coming down from his mother's sick-room at the summons of the musical chime which announced the dinner hour, thought he had never seen a pleasanter sight than greeted his eyes in the dining-room. The room itself was pleasant and airy and the last rays of the sun struck the table set with fresh linen and a simple and orderly array of silver. But it was the three joyous faces turned expectantly toward him that caught and held his attention. Rosemary, in white from head to foot, stood behind her mother's chair and all the light in the room seemed to center in her eyes and hair. Shirley, looking like a particularly wholesome and adorable cherub from her sunny curls and wide, gray eyes to her fat and dimpled knees scuffled in an impatient circle around her own special seat and Sarah, a stout and stolid little Indian in tan linen and scarlet tie, showed her one beauty—a set of strong, even white teeth—in an engaging smile.
"Well how smart we are," smiled the doctor, surveying them appreciatively. "Seems to me everyone is dressed up to-night."
"We wanted to have things nice—because Mother is going to get well," said Rosemary with simple directness.
For answer Dr. Hugh came forward and pulled out her chair for her, "just as if I were a grown-up woman," she recounted with pride to her mother later, and then lifted Shirley to her seat and tied on her bib dexterously.
"We're going to have ice-cream," Sarah informed him.
"That's fine," he commented a trifle absently, beginning to carve. When he had served them all, he spoke seriously.
"Girls," he said, "I'm going to send a telegram after dinner to-night to Aunt Trudy Wright. Mother wants her to come and stay with you while she is away; I don't think she can begin to mend until she knows that she has provided for you."
"Oh, Hugh!" Rosemary mashing potato for Shirley's hungry consumption, looked distressed. "I can keep house, I know I can. We don't need Aunt Trudy."
"She won't let me keep any mice in my room," wailed Sarah. "I don't like her, either."
"Let me eat it now," said Shirley, referring to her potato. "Let's tell Aunt Trudy not to come. She says oatmeal is good for me and I don't like oatmeal."
"Have you all finished?" asked the doctor calmly. "Well then, I have something to say: Aunt Trudy is coming, just as soon as I can get her here; if for no other reason than Mother wants her and will go away happy in the belief that you will be well taken care of. There is to be no argument and I absolutely forbid you to mention the subject to Mother; if she says anything to you, try to act as though you were pleased at the prospect. For my part, I should think you would be glad she could come. An aunt is pretty nice to have when you are in trouble."
"You don't know Aunt Trudy," said Sarah pertly.
"Rosemary, will you go up and sit with Mother while Miss Graham has her dinner, when we are through?" asked Dr. Hugh, ignoring Sarah's remark. "I am going down to the drug-store for a few things and I'll be back within half an hour."
The dessert of berries and ice-cream were eaten almost in silence. Three of the people at the table were busy with conflicting thoughts. Shirley alone was concentrating her attention on the delight of a larger slice of cake than usual.
THE WILLIS WILL
"It's the first real warm night we've had isn't it?" said Mrs. Hollister conversationally. "I got to thinking about you to-night, Winnie, and I said to Mamie that I believed I'd come up and see you for a minute or two; I thought you might be glad to have a little help with the dishes or something."
Winnie, a tall gaunt woman, the gray hair on her temples hardly perceptible because of the ash-blondness of her tightly pulled hair, stood beside the kitchen table apparently figuring some problem on a slip of paper.
"My dishes are done," she said capably, "but sit down, do Mrs. Hollister; I'm not denying that I'm glad to see a friend after the day I've had."
Mrs. Hollister sank heavily into the cushioned rocker drawn up near the table and removed her cotton gloves.
"I said to Mamie I knew you'd be tuckered out," she observed. "Am I keeping you, Winnie—is that important?" she indicated the slip of paper in the other's hand.
"I can do it any time before to-morrow morning," Winnie explained. "It's the laundry list and I have about everything counted up. The man comes Wednesdays."
"Where are the girls?" asked the visitor, her quick eyes roving approvingly around the immaculate kitchen. "Did the poor lady get off safely?"
"The girls are in bed," said Winnie, taking the questions in order. "They were worn out and I told 'em bed was the best place for them to be. They've lost all their good sensible habits these last two weeks and it's glad I am the young doctor is going to be here to look after 'em. They need to be settled down if ever anybody did."
"And Mrs. Willis? She will really get well?" urged Mrs. Hollister.
Winnie's face changed. Her eyes softened.
"They all say she will be better than she's been for years, bless her! All of 'em, Dr. Hurlbut, that big specialist that came from New York, and Dr. Jordan and Doctor Hugh, who's as good as any of them if he is young, all of 'em say if she only rests a year in this sanatorium and doesn't have to worry we'll never know she was sick."
"She was taken sudden, wasn't she?" asked the visitor. "Mamie said you found her, Winnie."
Winnie snapped on the light for the summer dusk was deepening into dark.
"That I did," she answered. "I'll never forget it, never. I was going up to her room to ask her whether I should wait for the butter and egg woman or send down to the store and in the upstairs hall I walked right into her, lying so still and white on the floor. I got her on the bed myself and sent Rosemary flying down to Dr. Jordan's office for Dr. Hugh. Dr. Jordan came up with the young doctor and they got the trained nurse and for over a week we didn't know whether the dear lady would stay with us or not. Then she got a little better and Dr. Hugh wanted her to go off to this sanatorium place, but she wouldn't hear of it till the specialist put in his word and all three doctors promised her she'd be cured."
"They say Dr. Hugh is going to take Dr. Jordan's practice," said Mrs. Hollister irrelevantly.
"I don't know who 'they' are, but for once they've told the truth," said Winnie a bit tartly. "Dr. Jordan is going away for two months, or three, and Dr. Hugh is to look after his office and patients. He may settle down in Eastshore, if he likes it well enough."
Winnie did not add what she, as a confidante of the family, had heard discussed, namely that Dr. Hugh would likely buy the practice of Dr. Jordan who was an old man and anxious to retire from active service.
"Dr. Hurlbut came down in a great big car this afternoon and took Mrs. Willis," Winnie went on, "Dr. Hugh went with her and he's coming back in the morning. The girls behaved beautifully and not one of 'em cried till their mother was well out of sight."
"Well I should say you'll have your hands full with the housekeeping," was Mrs. Hollister's next comment. "I don't suppose you can depend on much help from the girls, though Rosemary is old enough to do considerable if she's a mind to. How old is she now?"
"Twelve," replied Winnie. "But you musn't think I'm to do everything, Mrs. Hollister. Miss Trudy Wright is coming to-morrow, to stay till Mrs. Willis gets home."
"Who's she?" asked Mrs. Hollister bluntly. "Anybody you can rely on?"
"I'm not saying I don't like her, for I do," said Winnie with admirable conservatism, "Miss Wright means well, if ever a woman did. She's the half sister of Mrs. Willis's husband and she sets great store, she's always saying, by her dead brother's family."
"You don't sound as if you were so terribly pleased," said Mrs. Hollister shrewdly. "Does she put her nose into things that are no concern of hers?"
"No, I wouldn't say that for her," answered Winnie. "I don't know as there is any one thing I can put my finger on. Of course she has never been in charge of the house before—it will be queer to be taking orders from her. She's been here off and on, making visits and she never bothered me. Mrs. Willis, poor dear, went away feeling sure that the girls would be well looked after and I'd be the last one to think of disturbing her thoughts. But, between you and me, Mrs. Hollister, Miss Wright can't manage a family like this. She just hasn't got it in her."
"You mean the girls are a handful?" suggested Mrs. Hollister. "I thought as soon as you said she was coming, that a woman without any children of her own would find it hard trying to look after three lively girls."
"Children of your own has got nothing to do with it," asserted Winnie, tossing her head. "I can make any one of the children stand round, if I give my mind to it, and they're as fond of me as can be. But remember I say if I give my mind to it—Miss Wright hasn't got the patience to keep repeating the same thing fifty times and if she gives an order and they don't pay attention she drops it right there. I'm not blaming her—she's fat and has plenty of money and likes to be comfortable; she must be fifty years old, too, and at her time of life it's only fair to expect to have a little peace. But I know the Willis family, and giving in to the girls is the worst thing you can do. I get wore out lots of times and knuckle down, but Dr. Hugh won't. I've been watching him, the little time he's been here, and I'll bet he can hold out against even Rosemary."
"I suppose it's her red hair," said Mrs. Hollister vaguely.
"Rosemary is an angel from heaven," declared Winnie, loyally rising to the defense of the absent. "She's always been the sweetest child the Lord ever made and when she was a baby I could never bear to scold her because she'd look at me so sad-like from those big blue eyes of hers. But Rosemary has the Willis will and the Willis temper and when she is on her high horse the house won't hold her. Sooner or later she's going to try to have her way against the young doctor's orders and then there will be war. All the girls are getting out of hand now, anyway, what with their mother sick and the house upset and no regular plan to follow. I caught Sarah yesterday making her breakfast off of lemonade, raisin pie and fancy cakes."
"She's a queer one, that Sarah," said Mrs. Hollister, chuckling. "She nearly frightened the little Percey girl into fits showing her a live snake one afternoon."
"Sarah's got a good heart, if you can find it," declared Winnie, "but unless you handle her just right, you're in for a peck of trouble. Rosemary's temper blazes up and burns fierce enough dear knows, but it burns itself out good and clean and leaves a good clean ash. Now you take Sarah—she goes into a fit of the sulks and likely as not she won't speak to anyone in the house for a week."
"She would if she was my child," announced Mrs. Hollister grimly. "I'd soon shake that out of her."
"It's my private belief that you can't shake anything out of Sarah, once she makes up her mind to it," said Winnie solemnly. "She's got the Willis will and that is a caution. Even Shirley, six years old and looking like a cherub straight from above, even Shirley has got a temper of her own and as for will—well you try to make that baby do a thing she says she won't do. The Willis will is something to reckon with, Mrs. Hollister."
"Why do you keep talking about the Willis will?" asked Mrs. Hollister with curiosity.
"Because I've lived with it for twenty-eight years and I know all about it," said Winnie. "Twenty-eight years ago, this spring, have I lived with this family and in that time I've seen Doctor Hugh grow from the baby that was laid in my arms into a fine young man with the Willis will made a help to him instead of a hindrance. Mr. Willis—you never knew him, he died six months after Shirley was born and Mrs. Willis has never been the same woman since—had it, too, and the temper along with it, but he made them both his servants and himself the master, as the Bible says. Many's the time I've heard the story of Governor Willis, (his picture hangs in the hall) and of how he held out against the whole legislature and the public and proved himself right in the end. Old Judge Willis, the father of Doctor Hugh's father, once came near being lynched for a decision he made, but no howling mob could make him retract. As I tell Mrs. Willis, when she gets to worrying about the strong wills the girls have, it's worse not to have a mind of your own than to have too much; I'm not one to preach breaking anyone's will—bend it the right way, I always say."
"Yes, that sounds all right," admitted Mrs. Hollister who had listened eagerly, "but I don't know as I'd want to have the bending of three wills all at once. It strikes me that the young doctor is going to be pretty busy if he tries to 'tend to 'em all at the same time. And you say he's going to take Dr. Jordan's practice, too."
"He'll be busy, but he can handle anything," declared Winnie confidently. "Dr. Hugh was my baby—I took care of him till he was five years old—and I know he'll manage all right. The girls are delighted to have a big brother, and they'll try to please him, I know they will."
"It's funny to say, but he's almost a stranger to them, isn't he?" said Mrs. Hollister reflectively. "How many years has he been away from Eastshore?"
"Counting from the time he went away to school, about twelve years," answered Winnie. "He came home vacations, of course, but the last two years he wasn't home at all. He's been studying abroad and Mrs. Willis was so happy to think he'd be home with her this summer. She was pleased as could be that he wanted to settle in Eastshore. She's talked a lot to me, since Mr. Willis died, about what she hoped the children would do and when Dr. Hugh wrote her that he didn't want to be a fashionable city doctor and hoped he could do as much good in a quiet, industrious, uncomplaining way as Doctor Jordan had done during the forty-five years he's lived in Eastshore, why Mrs. Willis just about cried she was so happy."
"Well, we never know what's going to happen, do we?" sighed Mrs. Hollister, beginning to pull on her gloves as she noted that the plain-faced kitchen clock said quarter of nine. "I'm sure I hope she'll get the rest she deserves and come home to find nothing bad has happened."
"Of course she will," Winnie's voice held a faint trace of indignation. "What do you think is going to happen while she is gone? With Doctor Hugh and Miss Trudy Wright, to say nothing of me, around to see to everything, what else do you expect but smooth sailing?"
The kitchen door opened a crack and a dark head poked itself in.
"Winnie, do you care if I take a piece of the chocolate cake from the buffet closet?" asked Sarah politely. "I'm hungry."
"Your brother says you eat too much cake—go to bed and you'll fall asleep again and forget that you're hungry," commanded Winnie.
"Can't I have just one piece?" insisted Sarah.
"You can not," said Winnie firmly.
"Well, I thought you'd say that," announced Sarah calmly, "so I took it first, before I asked you."
"Give it to me this instant," cried Winnie, swooping upon the small girl.
"Oh, I've eaten it," declared Sarah pleasantly. "I thought you'd make a fuss."
Winnie looked at Mrs. Hollister, who was moving toward the door.
"All I have to say," said the visitor majestically, "is Heaven help the young doctor."
AUNT TRUDY COMES
"Are you going to the station, Sarah?" Sarah, stretched in luxurious comfort on the porch rug, raised a rumpled head above her book and frowned.
"Why should I go to the station?" she drawled.
"You know perfectly well," answered Rosemary with some impatience. "Aunt Trudy is coming on the 4:10 and Hugh asked us to meet her."
"You go—you're the oldest," said Sarah calmly. "I want to read about sick rabbits."
"Sarah, you know you promised mother to be good and to do the things you thought would please her. Come on and meet Aunt Trudy—we'll all go, you and I and Shirley," wheedled Rosemary, beginning to roll up her knitting.
"Where's Hugh—why doesn't he go?" asked Sarah who usually exhausted all arguments before giving in.
"Hugh's down at Dr. Jordan's and he won't be home till dinner time," replied Rosemary. "Mother would want us to be nice to Aunt Trudy, you know she would."
"Well, I'm going to be nice," insisted Sarah, scrambling to her feet and hurling the book under the swing where she kept the larger part of her dilapidated library. "I'll go to the station if I can go as I am—I have to clean the rabbit hutch when I get back and I won't have time to be dressing and undressing all the afternoon."
"You can't go as you are!" Rosemary surveyed her sister appraisingly. "Your face is black and your dress has a grease spot across the front. And you haven't any hair ribbon."
"I'll go as I am, or I won't go at all," repeated Sarah coolly.
Rosemary stabbed her long needles into her half-finished sweater and hung her knitting bag on the back of her chair.
"Then you can stay home," she said crossly. "I'll go up and get Shirley now and we'll go without you."
She ran upstairs, coaxed the protesting Shirley from her play of sailing boats in the bath-tub, and was buttoning her into a clean frock when Sarah came tramping through the hall. She occupied a room with Shirley, while Rosemary had a room to herself connected with the younger girls' room by a rather narrow door.
"Wait a minute and I'll go," said Sarah, jerking down her tan linen dress from its hook in the closet.
"Is Aunt Trudy's room all ready, Winnie?" asked Rosemary, as the three sisters stopped in the kitchen to notify that faithful individual of their departure. "Do we look nice?"
It was impossible to look at the three faces without an answering smile. Rosemary glowed, pink-cheeked, star-eyed, in a frock of dull blue linen made with wide white pique collar and cuffs. Her hair waved and rippled and curled, despite its loose braiding, almost to her waist. Rosemary was simply going to the station to meet the 4:10 train, but nothing was ever casual to her; she met each hour expectantly on tip-toe and, as her mother had once observed, laughed and wept her way around the clock. Sarah smiled broadly—going to the station to meet Aunt Trudy had, for some inexplicable reason, resolved itself into a joke for her. Sarah was not excited and she represented solid common-sense from her straight Dutch-cut hair to her square-toed sandals, for no amount of argument from Rosemary could induce her to put on her best patent leather slippers. And Shirley—well Winnie picked up Shirley and hugged her fervently, which was the emotion Shirley generally inspired in all beholders. She was a young person, all yellow curls and fluffy white skirts and tiny perfect teeth and distracting dimples.
"Miss Wright's room is in perfect order," reported Winnie, setting Shirley down and straightening her pink sash. "I put on the embroidered bureau scarf and the best linen sheets and pillow cases, just as you said, Rosemary."
"And I put a bowl of lilacs on her table this morning," said Rosemary happily, "so I guess everything has been attended to. Do you want us to get anything up town? We're going to the station, Winnie."
"No, my dinner's all planned," answered Winnie with pride. "What train's Miss Wright coming on—the 4:10?"
"Yes, and Hugh said to have Bernard Coyle bring us up to the house with his jitney," said Rosemary. "I suppose Aunt Trudy will have some bags and parcels. You'll be round when we get back, won't you, Winnie? I don't know exactly what to say to her."
"Bless you, child, you'll do all right," Winnie encouraged her. "Doctor Hugh will be home to dinner and 'tisn't as if your aunt was a total stranger."
"But she really is a total stranger," commented Rosemary, as they began their walk to the station. "Of course she has been here a couple of days last summer and she spent New Year's with us; but Mother entertained her and we only saw her now and then, mostly at the table."
"Well, we have to make the best of it now, because Hugh says we can't upset Mother," said Sarah. "I know she will be an awful lot of trouble and she won't know the first thing about animals."
"Maybe she'll read all the time," offered Shirley in her soft, baby voice. "Dora Ellis has an aunt who reads books all the time and Dora can do just as she pleases. She told me so."
"Well, don't you listen to everything Dora Ellis tells you," said Rosemary severely. "Mother doesn't like you to play with her and Hugh said you were not to go across the street without asking permission; doesn't Dora Ellis live on the other side of the street?"
"Yes, she does, but I didn't go over in her yard, not for weeks and weeks," explained Shirley earnestly. "She told me 'bout her aunt last year, in kindergarten."
"All right, honey, I'm not scolding," declared Rosemary, giving her a kiss. "There's the station clock and it says half-past four. But, pshaw, that clock never keeps time."
It was not half-past four they found, when they consulted the clock in the ticket office, but it was close to ten minutes past and when the three girls stepped out on the platform the smoke of the train was already visible far up the track.
There were several people waiting, most of them Eastshore people, and these came up and asked about Mrs. Willis. Rosemary, assuring them that her mother was definitely declared to be out of danger, was fairly radiant.
"Rosemary!" a girl about her own age hailed her. "I'm so glad to see you. Daddy told us last night your mother is better, but I didn't like to call you up because I thought perhaps you still had the phone muffled. Mother and I are going down to the beach to stay till after Labor Day."
"How lovely!" cried Rosemary. "You have the nicest things happen to you, Harriet. Are you going on this train?"
"Yes, and don't I wish you were coming!" responded Harriet warmly. "Couldn't you come down next month, if your mother is well enough to leave?"
"Oh, goodness, Mother has gone away, to be gone a year," said Rosemary hurriedly. "I can't go anywhere, you see. Besides Aunt Trudy Wright is coming on this train, and Hugh is going to be home all summer. There's your mother beckoning—run, Harriet, and be sure you write to me."
They kissed each other and Harriet ran back to her mother and was lost in the anxious pushing group that surrounded the steps of the slowly stopping train.
"Hang on to Shirley, while I try to find Aunt Trudy," directed Rosemary, with a sudden panicky feeling that she couldn't remember what her aunt looked like.
But, as soon as she saw her, she recognized her.
"Well, Rosemary darling, you came to meet me—that's lovely I'm sure," cried Aunt Trudy, panting slightly from her leap off the last step of the car, to the conductor's unconcealed amazement. "And Mother is much better, the telegram said. As soon as I heard, I resolved nothing should keep me from you—Oh, there's Shirley and Sarah, the dears!"
Shirley responded affectionately to her aunt's caresses, but Sarah stood like a wooden image and submitted to being kissed with bad grace. Aunt Trudy was too excited to be critical.
"What do I do about my trunks?" she fluttered. "And these bags are both heavy—I've brought you girls each a little something. Is Hugh home? And Winnie is still with you, of course?"
Rosemary wisely did not attempt to answer all these questions and, considering that Winnie had been in the Willis family for twenty-eight years and Aunt Trudy had unfailingly put this question to some member of the family at every meeting for the last twenty-seven, this particular query might be said to be more a comment than a question.
"We'll go up to the house in Bernard Coyle's jitney," said Rosemary, leading the way around to the side platform. "He will take your trunk checks, Aunt Trudy, and the express man will deliver them."
Bernard Coyle ran two of the three Eastshore jitneys and personally conducted the least ancient of his two cars. He welcomed the prospect of four passengers with a glad smile and swung Aunt Trudy's bags to a safe place under the seat at a nod from Rosemary. While they climbed in, he departed with the trunk checks and returned in a few minutes to report that the three trunks would be in the front hall of the Willis home within an hour.
Then he took the wheel of his wheezy little car and without another word drove frenziedly and rackingly through the quiet streets till the Willis house was reached. Winnie, mindful of Rosemary's plea, came out to the curb to meet them.
"Well, Winnie, I'm glad to see you again," was Miss Wright's greeting. "You and I are to keep house and look after these flighty young folks, I understand."
"Yes'm," nodded Winnie. "Your room's all ready, Miss Wright—the one you always have, next to Mrs. Willis'. And Doctor Hugh said to tell you he'd be home at quarter of six."
Aunt Trudy Wright was a rather short, dumpy woman and inclined to be stout and short of breath. She had iron-gray hair, near-sighted dark eyes and very pretty, very plump small hands. She exclaimed over her room when she saw it, said that everything was lovely and insisted on kissing the three girls again. Sarah promptly left at this point and was discovered by her brother when he came home, lying flat on the porch rug and absorbed in a book which dealt, in detail, with the health and welfare of rabbits.
"Well you look comfortable," he said good-humoredly. "Aunt Trudy come? Who went to meet her? Where are the other girls?"
"Uh-huh," grunted Sarah, interested at that moment in a description of a balanced diet for her pets.
Dr. Hugh laughed and went on. The house seemed strangely quiet to him, though he could hear Winnie humming in the kitchen and appetizing odors promised a dinner on time. In the upstairs hall, Rosemary tip-toed to meet him, her eyes dark with mystery.
"Hello, where is everyone?" asked her brother, giving her a kiss. "What has happened to Aunt Trudy?"
"She's getting ready for dinner," explained Rosemary. "She's been crying in Mother's room for almost an hour and then her trunks came and she thought she'd change her dress."
"Crying in Mother's room—what for?" demanded Doctor Hugh quickly.
"Oh, because memories were too much for her," quoted Rosemary solemnly. "She made Shirley and me cry, too, but Sarah went down stairs when she tried to kiss her, so she didn't hear her talk."
"I'll give Sarah credit for good sense," said Doctor Hugh grimly.
He strode down the hall to his mother's room, took the key from the inside and locked the door and dropped the key in his pocket.
"And that's that," he announced, smiling a little at Rosemary's puzzled face.
DR. HUGH TAKES COMMAND
Miss Wright appeared at dinner in rustling black silk, and kissed Dr. Hugh affectionately. In her plump arms she carried three packages.
"I brought each of the girls a box of French chocolates," she explained, smiling. "They're simply delicious and there is just one shop in town which imports them."
Rosemary dimpled as she untied her package, Shirley shrieked with glee and even Sarah's "thank you, Aunt Trudy" had an unusual depth of warmth in it. Two-pound boxes of chocolates did not appear at dinner every day.
Dr. Hugh put down his carving knife as Shirley lifted the lid from her beribboned box.
"I think I'll have to take charge of these boxes," he said quietly. "Aunt Trudy is very generous to remember you so bountifully, but I can not let you make yourselves sick. I'll keep them carefully for you in the office and you may have a safe number every day I promise you."
"Oh, Hugh!" Rosemary's voice was reproachful.
"I won't be sick," said Shirley with cheerful confidence.
Sarah did not speak, but she thrust her box under the edge of the tablecloth.
"It's perfectly pure candy, Hugh, and won't hurt them," Miss Wright assured him briskly.
"Well, I'm sorry, but I believe that the purest and most expensive candy taken in sufficient amount, will upset the digestion of an ostrich," said Doctor Hugh firmly. "Put the boxes on the serving table till after dinner, Rosemary."
"And I hope you'll keep 'em under lock and key," observed Winnie as she passed the creamed potatoes. "Sarah will be eating chocolates for breakfast if there's none to interfere with her."
Winnie considered herself a member of the family, as indeed she was, and she frequently took part in the table conversation except when there were strange guests present.
Rosemary gathered up the boxes and put them on the side table and dinner proceeded pleasantly enough. Aunt Trudy was a social soul and seldom at a loss for something to say. She sat in the absent mother's place and beamed upon the little circle, Dr. Hugh across from her, Rosemary at his right, Shirley next to her and on the other side of the round table, Sarah the silent. Sarah was certainly a child of few words and she was never troubled by any idea that something might be expected from her in the way of a contribution to the general talk. To-night she sat stolidly, her dark eyes roving now and then to the candy boxes which were behind Rosemary.
"So you're going to practice right here in Eastshore, Hugh?" Miss Wright was saying as Winnie brought in the salad, "your mother wrote me, before she was ill, that you expected to take Doctor Jordan's office; has he retired?"
"No, not retired exactly," answered Hugh, "but he is planning to take a long and much-needed vacation. He left for Maine this afternoon. We both thought it better for many reasons to make no change in the office—I'll take his just as he left it. Of course I'll have some kind of a place here, too, but not many patients will call here."
Sarah created a diversion by pushing back her plate and slipping down from her chair.
"Where are you going, dear?" her aunt asked in surprise. "Don't you want any dessert?"
"No, it's cornstarch pudding," said Sarah calmly.
Miss Wright apparently accepted the explanation, but Doctor Hugh spoke sharply.
"Sarah, come back here—dinner isn't over yet."
Sarah stopped and faced him defiantly.
"I don't want any pudding," she declared, scowling. "Winnie knows I don't like it and she always makes it."
"Come back and sit down and wait until you are excused—" Doctor Hugh's level gaze seemed to draw the rebellious Sarah back to her chair. "If you don't care for the pudding you needn't eat it, but don't criticise anything that is placed before you."
His staccato tones seemed to have a tonic effect on Sarah, for she ate the pudding when it came, without further discussion. But the moment her aunt rose from the table, she made a bee-line for the candy boxes.
"It's mine, Aunt Trudy gave it to me," she insisted when her brother interfered.
"Two apiece, of such rich candy, is enough for any one," he declared. "And one for Shirley—take the kind you want, sweetheart, and then I'll show you where I am going to keep them for you."
"I must say I think you're too fussy, Hugh," commented Aunt Trudy, as Shirley made a lingering selection and Rosemary passed her box to her aunt and Winnie and then chose two of the enormous candies for herself. "All children are fond of candy and I read only the other day that a craving for sweets is the mark of a healthy appetite."
Doctor Hugh made no direct reply.
"Sarah, have you eaten your candy?" he asked pleasantly.
"If I can't have my own box," said Sarah with emphasis, "I won't eat any."
"I'll put them away for you, then," declared her brother equably. "Come and see where they'll be—in the glass cabinet in the office. You may have two apiece after dinner till they are gone. They'll last twice as long that way, Sarah," he added, smiling at her as he turned the key in the cabinet and replaced his key ring in his pocket.
The telephone rang and Winnie answered it. The doctor was wanted and it was eight o'clock before he returned. Aunt Trudy was reading under the living-room lamp—for the nights were still a little too cool to be comfortable on the porch—Rosemary knitting, and Shirley and Sarah playing dominoes on the floor.
"What time does Shirley go to bed?" the doctor asked, standing in the doorway.
Rosemary looked up, a little troubled.
"Why she always went to bed at half-past seven when Mother was well," she answered, "but since she was sick, Shirley got in the habit of staying up till Sarah goes and sometimes Sarah won't go till I do."
"And what time do you go?" inquired her brother.
Rosemary blushed and began to knit faster.
"I'm supposed to go at nine," she admitted, "but sometimes it is—later. Honestly, Hugh, I don't see why I should go to bed at nine o'clock like a little girl; I'm twelve, you know."
"Half-past eight would be better," said her brother, coming over to sit on the arm of her chair, "but if Mother didn't object, we'll still say nine. You are a little girl, dear, in spite of your great age, you see. What about Sarah?"
"You ask more questions than any one I ever knew," cried the exasperated Sarah with bitter frankness. "I wanted to read my rabbit book, but Shirley teased and I played dominoes to please her. And now I suppose you'll be saying I ought to go to bed!"
"Rosemary?" said Doctor Hugh.
"Sarah is supposed to go to bed at eight o'clock," announced Rosemary reluctantly. "She used to argue with Mother nearly every night. No one ever wants to go to bed early, Hugh, and lots of the girls stay up till ten."
"Then I'm sorry for lots of girls," rejoined the doctor. "Shirley is going to be my good girl and go to bed every night at half-past seven, aren't you, dear? Sarah at eight and Rosemary at nine—and that's all settled. Put up the dominoes, children, and run along for it's twenty minutes past eight this minute."
"I don't want to go to bed," wailed Shirley.
"I'll go up with you, darling," promised Rosemary, putting down her knitting. "I'll tell you a story about the little brown bear."
"Don't want a story," said Shirley with finality.
Aunt Trudy put down her book and surveyed her youngest niece sympathetically.
"What's the matter with my sweetheart?" she asked, her voice tender. "Is she afraid of the big dark?"
The doctor made an impatient exclamation.
"That's nonsense, Aunt Trudy," he said curtly. "No child of my mother has ever been frightened of the dark; we were not brought up that way. Every one of us has been trained to go up to bed alone at the right time, as a matter of course. Sarah, put away those dominoes and go upstairs to bed with Shirley."
Sarah tumbled the game into the box and stalked from the room without a word to any one. Shirley simply threw herself flat on the floor and cried with anger. She was sleepy and tired and she resented this summary curtailment of her privileges. For the last two weeks she had been going to bed when Rosemary did and she liked the plan.
"I hope you will excuse us, Aunt Trudy," said the harassed Doctor Hugh, scooping his small sister up from the floor and carrying her toward the door. "We're in sad need of a little discipline, I'm afraid."
"And you're not going to enforce it," he said grimly to himself as he marched upstairs with the screaming Shirley. "I seem to have my work cut out for me—I wonder how about Rosemary?"
When he came downstairs again, having seen both Shirley and Sarah quiet and asleep, he found his sister and aunt deep in the problem of "narrowing off."
"I just waited to say good-night to you, Hugh," said Aunt Trudy brightly. "I'm tired from the trip and I want to start the day well to-morrow."
She kissed him and rustled out of the room, and Rosemary folded up her work as the deep chime of the hall clock sounded nine.
"Shirley was tired, Hugh," she said, a little timidly. "She hardly ever acts that way. And Sarah doesn't mean to be obstinate, but she just can't help it."
"Well, I'm glad you think to-night isn't an average performance," declared her brother humorously. "You're a sweet older sister, Rosemary. The girls couldn't do better than to pattern after you."
"Oh, Hugh! You are nice—" Rosemary's voice rose in a crescendo of pure pleasure. "But I'm not a good example—you won't say that when you know me. I get as mad, as mad—as—Shirley."
"The more shame to you," said the doctor unbelievingly, kissing her vivid little face. "Go to bed, child, and don't talk to me about losing your temper."
At eleven o'clock the light was still burning in the office and Winnie knocked lightly on the door.
"I brought you a glass of milk and a sandwich, Hughie," she said, using the old pet name she had given him when a little lad.
"Well that's mighty thoughtful of you, Winnie dear," he said, smiling at her. "I've been doing a little thinking this evening and that's hungry work."
Winnie regarded him, wisdom and pride in her eyes.
"I'm thinking that healthy folks is more of a problem than sick ones," she observed sagely. "But you're enough like your mother, to be able to manage all right, never fear. You've her understanding and the endurance and will of your father, Hughie, and you'll be needing it all, but you'll work it out. Shirley is spoiled and we're all to blame—it wasn't all done in these two weeks, either; your mother gave in a little at a time for she was tired and her illness has been long coming. 'Tis nothing to set right a little wrong when the heart is pure gold like Shirley's. And you'll soon set Sarah in her place—she needs to be set frequent-like, though if you find the way to her liking, she'll be fond enough of you in time. It's Rosemary I'd speak to you about at the risk of seeming to meddle."
The doctor stirred a little, but his face encouraged Winnie to go on.
"A rose in the bud—that's Rosemary," said Winnie who scorned to read poetry and often employed poetical fancies in her rather quaint phrasing. "A rose in the bud and a flower of a girl. A temper that blazes, a quick pride that bleeds at a word and a passion for loving that sometimes frightens me. The sick and the helpless and the young—Rosemary would mother 'em all. And she's hurt so easy, and she dashes herself against the stone wall so blindly—you'll be careful and patient, won't you, Hughie? For she has the Willis will, has Rosemary and times there is no holding her."
Doctor Hugh smiled into the anxious eyes, dim with the loving anxiety of many years.
"I'll be careful, Winnie," he promised. "And you'll help me. Thank you for telling me—what you have."
For the first few days after Miss Wright's arrival it seemed that the proverb, "Many hands make light work" was to be the household motto. Winnie was fairly swamped with offers of help and "Miss Trudy" as she had asked Winnie to call her, and the three girls vied with each other as to which should be the most industrious.
"For I want to be useful, Winnie," said Aunt Trudy, a winning sincerity in her kind voice. "Only tell me what to do, because I don't want to interfere with your daily schedule."
"And Sarah and I will make the beds and dust," promised Rosemary, looking up from copying music.
"I'll run all your errands," chirped Shirley and was promptly rewarded with a hug.
Winnie was a shrewd and practical general, as her answers proved. A less experienced person would have made a vague reply, put off the offers with a promise to "let you know when I need you" or politely told them "not to bother." Not so Winnie.
"Well, I'll tell you, Miss Trudy," she said capably, "I don't mind saying if you'll plan the meals, you'll be taking a load off my shoulders. I can cook and I can serve and I can keep things hot when the doctor is late as he'll be many a time; but unless I can have the three meals a day printed right out and hung on my kitchen door, I'm lost-like. It drives me wild to have to figure out what we should eat, when it's nothing at all, to my way of thinking, to cook it."
"I'll be glad to plan the menus," Aunt Trudy assured her. "Home I write out the meals for the whole week every Saturday morning; I'll do that for you without fail, Winnie."
"Thank you ma'am," Winnie replied. "Now Rosemary, if you want to help, you answer the telephone. I can't abide to be called away from my baking and sweeping to tell folks where the doctor is, or why he isn't here. I don't always get messages straight, so you take 'em and when you're not home, let Sarah do it."
"I like to answer the telephone," beamed Rosemary.
Winnie, orderly soul, proceeded to clinch the remaining two offers of assistance.
"Sarah, there's no one can beat you making beds, when you put your mind to it," she announced diplomatically. "You make the beds mornings, when Rosemary is doing her practising and I won't ask you to do another thing."
"But me?" urged Shirley. "What can I do, Winnie?"
"Bless your little heart, you run to the store for Winnie, and help her make cookies," cried Winnie, "that's enough for one little girl, dearie."
"I don't think any of us has much to do," observed Rosemary. "I can do lots more to help, Winnie. And so can Sarah."
"If you'll do just one thing and do it every day, I won't be complaining," Winnie returned. "You'll find it's easy to get tired and it's then you'll want to skip a day."
The girls were sure that nothing would induce them to "skip" a day, and Winnie went back to her kitchen well-pleased with her bestowal of commissions.
The house seemed strangely empty without the gentle little mother and at first time hung heavy on the three pairs of young hands. Doctor Hugh was very busy adjusting his work to run smoothly and his hours were irregular so that he did not see much of his sisters. Then, as the mother's absence became an established fact, gradually old interests and friends absorbed their attention and normal life was resumed with the difference that a great gap was always present and unfilled. Aunt Trudy was kindness itself and overflowing with affection for her nieces, but her attitude toward them was that of a placid outsider, gently watching them from a little distance. Aunt Trudy did their mending exquisitely, because she liked to sew, but she would not leave the mending and come down stairs to meet Nina Edmonds, a new-comer to the neighborhood, though Rosemary was anxious to have every social courtesy shown the rather critical young person who seemed older than her thirteen years.
"I don't want to drop my work now, dearie," said Aunt Trudy in response to her niece's appeal. "I always lose my needle when I get up; I'll meet your little friend some other time. Ask her to dinner to-night if you wish—Winnie is going to have veal loaf and egg salad."
Rosemary acted on this suggestion, and Doctor Hugh, coming in late, was surprised to find a fourth girl at the table, a freckle-faced little girl with light bobbed hair and incredibly thin arms and hands. Nina Edmonds talked incessantly and, after a few ineffectual attempts to carry on a conversation with his aunt, the young doctor devoted himself to his dinner, keeping, however, an observant eye on the guest and on Rosemary who listened in evident fascination to the steady stream of words. He had a call to make, immediately after dinner and was surprised and distinctly annoyed when he returned at half-past ten to find Nina and Rosemary still talking animatedly, their arms around each other, in the window seat. Aunt Trudy was placidly reading, and the younger girls had gone to bed.
"Is it late?" Rosemary started up as her brother came in.
"Half-past ten," he answered briefly. "I'll take you home, Miss Edmonds, if you'll tell me where you live. I'm afraid your mother will be worried about you."
"Oh, my mother never worries—she knows I'll come home all right," said Nina. "I didn't wear a coat, it was so warm—will I be cold in the car?"
"The car is in the garage," said the doctor grimly, holding open the door for her. "We'll have to walk. Go to bed, Rosemary please," he flung over his shoulder. "Don't wait up for me."
There was a soft rush and a quick sigh, and Rosemary's arms went about his neck.
"Kiss me good night, Hugh," she whispered, "I'm sorry."
He held her close for a moment, then the screen door shut with a click, and they were gone.
"I hope Hugh didn't hurt Nina's feelings," worried Rosemary as she and Aunt Trudy went upstairs. "She doesn't have to go to bed at nine o'clock and she thinks it is queer that I do. I'm afraid she will call Hugh cross."
"Oh, I don't believe she will," said Aunt Trudy comfortably. "She seemed to me a nice little girl and you need plenty of young friends, darling."
Her new friend had made a great impression on Rosemary and Sarah was forced to listen the next day to glowing accounts that rather bored her. Sarah's present interests were confined to one sick rabbit and one well rabbit who lived in a hutch in the roomy side yard.
"I'm sick of hearing about Nina Edmonds," declared Sarah as they sat down to dinner the following evening. "I don't call her anything wonderful."
Doctor Hugh had not come in, and Rosemary had volunteered to serve in his place. Aunt Trudy frankly disliked either carving or serving.
"I think she is lovely," maintained Rosemary, "and I'm going to have my hair bobbed like hers."
It was a warm night and under the glow of the electrolier Rosemary's magnificent hair curled and shone like polished bronze. Even Aunt Trudy stared at her, surprised, and the practical Sarah was moved to protest.
"I think your hair is nice the way it is," she said. "I'd leave it alone if I were you."
Winnie paused, on her way to the kitchen.
"Don't let Doctor Hugh hear you say any such nonsense," she scolded. "The idea! Bobbing a head of hair like that—it's going directly against the generosity of the Lord!"
"What is?" demanded a pleasant voice, and Doctor Hugh came into the room.
He had changed to a fresh linen suit at the Jordan office, as the town had designated it to distinguish it from his home office, and he looked so wholesome and clean and strong and smiling that the four faces brightened at once.
"You have to bring 'em up when I'm not around, don't you, Winnie?" he said humorously, slipping into the chair vacated by Rosemary. "What mischief are they into now?"
Winnie vanished into the kitchen, murmuring something about a salad, and Rosemary answered for her. Rosemary's blue eyes were unclouded.
"Winnie is mad because I am going to have my hair bobbed like Nina Edmonds'," she informed her brother. "I think bobbed hair is as pretty as it can be, don't you, Hugh?"
"It seems a pity when she has such nice hair," murmured Aunt Trudy weakly.
"Bob your hair!" thundered Doctor Hugh. "Of all the foolish notions, that is the worst. This comes from talking foolish clatter with that empty-headed silly little chit last night. The babbling brook must have been named for her."
"Yes, isn't she silly?" said Sarah scornfully. "Shirley doesn't like her, either."
"Nina Edmonds is my friend," began Rosemary, scarlet-cheeked. "You—"
"I beg your pardon, Rosemary," said the doctor instantly. "I honestly do. I had no right to speak like that. But you mustn't think of bobbing your curly mop, dear."
"Sarah's hair is bobbed," Rosemary pointed out.
"It was cut to make it grow," answered the doctor. "Mother told me. You certainly don't need to treat your hair to make it grow, Rosemary."
"Write and ask Mother," suggested Sarah.
"No, Mother isn't to be asked a single question for a year," Doctor Hugh announced firmly. "We'll settle our problems without bothering her. Rosemary is not to meddle with her hair—that's flat."
"Oh, Hugh, I want to bob it!" insisted Rosemary. "Ever so many of the girls do—not just Nina Edmonds, but half the girls in school. I don't see why you are so cross about it. Can't I get it cut to-morrow? Please?"
Doctor Hugh's dark eyes behind their glasses rested on the pretty, willful face.
"I said NO!" he repeated. "Once and for all, Rosemary, I positively forbid you to have your hair cut. Do you understand me?"
ROSEMARY HAS HER WAY
"Sarah, Oh, Sarah! Sally Waters, I'm calling you!"
Sarah glanced up at the merry face regarding her over the fence and frowned.
"Well, what do you want?" she asked ungraciously. "Don't you dare call me Sally, Jack Welles!"
"I'll call you Sadie, then," said the boy obligingly. "Where's Rosemary?"
He was a short, stocky lad, between fifteen and sixteen years old, with a freckled snub nose, engaging brown eyes and a chin that promised well for future force of character.
"Where's Rosemary?" he asked again.
"I don't know—I haven't seen her since lunch," answered Sarah. "Don't you think Elinor looks better to-day, Jack?"
Elinor was the sick rabbit and Sarah waited Jack's decision anxiously.
"Sure, leave her alone and she'll come out all right," he said heartlessly. "You're always fussing with animals, aren't you, Sarah? I believe you like 'em better when they're sick because it gives you an excuse to pet them more."
Sarah's brown, stolid little face kindled suddenly with passionate earnestness.
"Nobody cares!" she cried. "Nobody! Winnie wouldn't let me keep the sick kittens in the kitchen and they died and Elinor would have died, too, if it hadn't been for me. When I grow up, I'm going to have a big house and there isn't going to be a single person in it. Just animals—so there!"
"I suppose you'll have a trained cow to do the cooking, and a dog to wash dishes," teased Jack. "Never mind, Sarah, there'll always be plenty of animals needing a friend like you. Maybe Hugh will doctor them for you, and I'll come take your patients out for airings in my best and newest airplane!"
"Hello, what's all this confabbing?" called Doctor Hugh, coming across the grass toward the fence. "Rabbits improving, Sarah? Where's Rosemary?"
"Hello, Hugh," Jack greeted him with a cheerful grin. "All the patients cured this early in the day? Sarah is going to follow in your footsteps, but she won't give her services to people, only to mistreated animals."
"I've been late for dinner two nights running and I thought I'd surprise the family by a punctual appearance this time," explained the doctor. "My chief difficulty now is to find some one to surprise. Aunt Trudy has gone to the library, Winnie says, Shirley is playing with some neighbor's child on the porch and no one seems to know where Rosemary is. I saw you and Sarah from upstairs, or I should have added her to the list of the missing, too."
"I wanted to show Rosemary my new fishing rod," Jack explained. "It's a beauty and my uncle sent it to me from Canada."
Sarah stood up and shook a lapful of dirt from her frock.
"I think you are cruel to catch fish," she said indignantly.
"Why you eat fish, don't you?" retorted Jack. "Someone has to catch them, you know."
Poor Sarah had no answer for this argument and she turned and retreated to the house without another word.
"Queer little dick, isn't she?" smiled Jack to the doctor. "Crazy about animals and always fussing over 'em. Well, I have to go dig worms for bait—great day ahead to-morrow with nothing to do but fish and try out the new rod."
"Good luck to you," called Doctor Hugh, going back to his office to indulge in the rare luxury of a half hour's reading.
Vaguely he heard Aunt Trudy come in, speak to the two little girls on the porch, and go on upstairs. He knew when Sarah came down because she played "chop sticks" on the piano till Winnie came and called her to go after a loaf of bread. The doctor wondered lazily if the bread were a real need or a handy invention of Winnie's to break up the musical program; she was quite capable of the latter. After the piano was silenced, he lost himself again in his book to be recalled by an undecided knock on the door. He waited, not sure that it was a knock. The timid tap came again and he called, "Come in." The door opened, closed, and Rosemary stood facing him, her back against it. In her hands she held a brown paper parcel.
Doctor Hugh stared at her in genuine amazement. She was breathing quickly, as though she had been running, and the lovely color flooded her face. Her eyes were almost black with excitement and a touch of fear. But it was her hair that held her brother's attention. Gone was the rippling glory, the gold-red mane that had reached to the girl's waist. In its place was a soft aureole of hair, standing out fluffily on the small head and curling under at the ends.
Anger flamed in Doctor Hugh's face, then receded, leaving him white. Before he could speak Rosemary's eyes filled with tears.
"Oh, Hugh!" she sobbed. "I want my hair! And it's gone!"
For answer her brother opened his arms and she fled into them. She clung to him frantically while she wept out her remorse and grief.
"I didn't know it was going to be like this," she wailed, sobs shaking the slender shoulders. "The barber didn't want to cut it, but I made him. And then, as soon as I saw it on the floor, I began to cry. Oh, Hugh, I'm so sorry—I don't want short hair at all! And what can I do?"
The doctor said nothing for a little while, only smoothed the cropped head with a gentle touch. Presently when Rosemary sat up and wiped her eyes, he motioned toward the parcel still in her hands.
"It's—it's my hair," stammered Rosemary. "The barber tied it up for me—he said I might want a switch some time."
"Well you won't!" declared Doctor Hugh with decision. "Leave it here with me, dear, and I'll see that a lock is saved for Mother. You mustn't feel so badly, Rosemary. The hair will grow again, you know. And it is very pretty, still."
"Hugh," said Rosemary solemnly, "why do I have to find things out for myself? I didn't know that I hated bobbed hair till I had mine cut—why am I like that?"
"Oh, my dear," the doctor smiled a little sadly, "why do we all want our own way at any cost? You wouldn't believe that I knew better in this instance, would you?"
Rosemary blushed and looked ashamed.
"I'm glad to have this opportunity to speak to you alone, dear," the doctor went on. "You've had your hair cut because I forbade it and now you are sorry, but what about the next time? It's silly to think you can go through life and always have your own way, child. No one can. Each one of us must acknowledge some authority. I'm a good many years older than you girls and I've had more experience and discipline and at present I am taking Mother's place; you'll have to accept my decisions for the time being. If I exact obedience, Rosemary, it isn't because I am a tyrant—I've put in a good many years obeying orders myself and I know that obedience is a valuable lesson."
"Have you a temper, Hugh?" asked Rosemary, shyly. "Have you the Willis will?"
Doctor Hugh's mouth twitched.
"Guilty on both counts," he admitted. "I'm a cross, cranky old brother with a gun-powder temper that sometimes gets the best of me. As for the Willis will—what do you think about that, Rosemary?"
"Winnie is always talking about it," said Rosemary. "She says I have it and so have Sarah and Shirley. I suppose it is very wrong."
"Don't you believe it!" announced the doctor. "Not a bit of it. A good, strong will is a virtue, child, and please remember that. But, of course, you want to train it—flying in the face of orders isn't a proof of will power; more often it is foolish obstinacy. A stiff will keeps us from being persuaded to do wrong, from tumbling into pitfalls. It is the weak-willed person who yields to temptation. You and I, and Shirley and Sarah, have constantly to remember that we have the Willis will and are proud of it; and then resolve not to yield easily to the little devils of temper and disobedience and false pride. Which is the end of my sermon and long enough it's been!"
The big swivel chair accommodated them comfortably and Rosemary remained in her brother's lap quietly, her eyes downcast. He watched her silently. At last she raised her face bravely.
"Are you going to punish me?" she asked clearly.
He shook his head.
"I know you are sorry," he replied. "Punishments are only to help us remember, and you are not going to forget, are you? But I tell you what I am going to do—ask you to give up Nina Edmonds as a chum."
Rosemary was silent.
"You do not have to be unkind or discourteous," continued the doctor's even voice. "Just do not go over to her house so often and by and by she will not come to see you. Play more with Shirley and Sarah, dear—they look up to you and love you so."
"Don't you like Nina—but I know you don't," Rosemary answered her own question.
"Since we are talking confidentially," said Doctor Hugh and Rosemary felt a thrill of pleasure at his tone, "I'll tell you my real reasons for objecting to Nina as a friend for you. She is too old—that's all. What is she—thirteen?—well, she has all the ideas and manners of a girl of eighteen. And you're still a little girl, Rosemary, thank fortune. I don't want you to grow up too fast and it would break Mother's heart to come home and find a grown up daughter in the place of the little girl she left. Be twelve years old while you can, honey, for the minute you are thirteen you leave that happy year forever. I'm a serious old codger this afternoon, am I not? But we understand each other better, don't we?"
"Oh, yes!" Rosemary threw her arms around his neck. "I love you most to pieces!" she confided.
From that moment Rosemary began to worship her brother with all the depth and power of her warm and affectionate nature. She did not immediately become a model of obedience and she often disputed his edicts and decisions. There were misunderstandings and tears and many hard lessons to be learned still ahead. But Hugh would never again be a stranger with her respect and love yet to be won. She could admire his strength of will and purpose whole heartedly and as she contrasted them with Aunt Trudy's characteristics, Rosemary insensibly found her aunt wanting.
She said something of this to Jack Welles the day after the memorable hair cutting. Rosemary had endured the comments and questions of the household at dinner that night with fair composure, but she had flared up in wrath at Jack's laughter when he first met her the following afternoon.
"My mother says it is extremely ill-bred to indulge in comments on a person's personal appearance," declared Rosemary heatedly. "My hair is a part of my personal appearance."
"What a dub you were to have it cut," said Jack, sobering. "But it might look worse, Rosemary, honestly it might. I think it is rather becoming with those ends curling under like that."
Rosemary permitted herself to be calmed.
"It's fun to brush it," she laughed. "And my head feels as light as a feather."
"What did Hugh say?" asked Jack curiously. "Or didn't you ask him? And Aunt Trudy makes such a fuss about your hair—wasn't she horrified?"
Rosemary's expressive face shadowed.
"Hugh was just dear to me!" she said enigmatically, "but Aunt Trudy was so silly. She cried and cried and said what would my mother say and wasn't I ever going to have any respect for her wishes—she is so tiresome, she really is, Jack."
"Then you must have been told not to have it bobbed and went ahead like your usual perverse small self," declared Jack shrewdly. "I'll bet Hugh didn't weep though—he looks to me as though he could talk to you like a Dutch uncle."
"Well I don't care if he did!" said Rosemary. "I'd rather be scolded or punished than cried over. And Aunt Trudy doesn't cry because she is sorry—she does it to get her own way. That's the way she makes us mind—she cries and says we don't love her and that makes us feel mean.
"But I don't think it is fair one bit and afterward I'm so mad I could throw a sofa cushion at her. You needn't look at me like that, Jack Welles! Your aunt doesn't cry over you."
June slipped quietly into July and with the long, hot sunny days came the inclination to slight regular tasks as Winnie had predicted. Sarah tried to beg off from making the beds morning after morning and Shirley began to grumble when called from her play to go to the store. Aunt Trudy declared that the heat always affected her and demanded an electric fan in her room and drove Winnie frantic with repeated requests for ice-water. Rosemary alone remained faithful to her duties, feeling the responsibility of an oldest daughter. She answered the many calls on the telephone, kept the messages straight and even wrote out the cards for the office file. Doctor Hugh declared he did not know what he should do without her. When Sarah left her work undone, it was Rosemary who finished it for her, Rosemary who listened sympathetically to Aunt Trudy's complaints about the weather, Rosemary who coaxed Shirley into clean frocks and amiability each afternoon and tried to soothe Winnie when Sarah's side-yard menagerie insisted on invading the house.
"Rosemary, this is the second time Shirley has stayed away from lunch," declared Aunt Trudy one noon. "Don't you think I should speak to your brother about it?"
"Oh, no, Aunt Trudy, not right away," protested Rosemary, her troubled eyes wandering to the little sister's vacant place. "I don't believe she really means to run away. I'll get her to promise not to go out of the yard and she will be all right. Shirley never broke her promise yet."
"Sarah ought to play with her more, instead of fussing with those silly rabbits," said Aunt Trudy severely.
"I do play with her," retorted Sarah irritably. "I play with her lots. But she likes Rosemary. I can't help it if she gets mad at me and goes to play with those Bailey children, can I? Rosemary is always practising."
This was not quite fair on Sarah's part, for Rosemary though devoted to her music and already an advanced pupil, seldom practised more than an hour in the morning and another in the afternoon. The fact was that six year old Shirley was developing the running-away habit at an alarming rate.
She came home late that afternoon, tired and cross, and to Rosemary's questions returned the briefest answers. Yes, she had been playing with the Bailey children. No, not in their yard. No, they had not gone with her when she went further on. She had gone by herself. Yes, she had had some lunch, a pound of sweet crackers.
"Where did you get them?" asked Rosemary, who was brushing the sunny hair.
"At the grocery," admitted Shirley.
"But you didn't have any money, dear, did you?" said Rosemary in surprise.
"I charged 'em—Mr. Holmes said it would be all right," announced Shirley complacently.
"Shirley Willis! And you know Mother positively never allows us to charge a thing unless she orders it," cried Rosemary. "What do you suppose Hugh would say? Did you eat a whole pound?"
No, Shirley confessed, she had had crackers to give away. She had given some to a strange dog and some to a little boy and girl she met.
"What little boy and girl?" demanded Rosemary, beginning to feel that this youngest sister was too much for her. "Where did you meet them?"
"At the dump lot," said Shirley sweetly.
Rosemary stared at her. The "dump lot" was on the other side of the town and furnished an annual topic of discussion for the Eastshore Woman's Club. To it the town refuse and garbage was carted and it was regularly hauled over and searched by bands of men, women and children intent on salvage.
"What shall I do with you?" groaned poor Rosemary. "After this, you'll have to stay in the yard, Shirley. You know Hugh would scold if he heard you were playing in the dump lot. Promise Sister you won't go away from the house to-morrow morning."
Shirley, looking more than ever like an adorable cherub in freshly ironed pink chambray, shook her head naughtily.
"I might want to go," she argued.
"But you mustn't!" Rosemary's voice was earnest. "You can't run all over town like this, darling. You'll be run over by an automobile, or something dreadful will happen to you. Promise to stay in your own yard like a good girl."
Shirley would not promise. The worried Rosemary went to Winnie.
"I don't want to tell Hugh," she explained, "he's busy and when he's home Shirley is so cunning and funny I don't believe he thinks she can be naughty. Besides Mother told me to look after the children—what can I do, Winnie?" and Rosemary, a child herself waited Winnie's reply anxiously.
"Running away is something most children go through," pronounced Winnie. "You never had the trick, Rosemary, but Hugh did and so did Sarah. Your father spanked Hugh and cured him and your mother and I together cured Sarah. We tied her to a tree with a rope and she was so ashamed to have the other children see her that she promised not to leave the yard without permission."
"But Shirley won't promise," said Rosemary. "She keeps saying she might want to go. Aunt Trudy thinks we should tell Hugh about her."
"Well I think myself he might be able to break her of the trick," admitted Winnie. "Shirley thinks a heap of him and yet she's a little afraid of him too. But I'm like you, Rosemary—I hate to bother him just now. He's worried about that hospital case and last night he was called out twice."
"Could we tie Shirley to a tree?" asked Rosemary hopefully.
"She's too big for that," Winnie advised her. "Sarah was only three years old when that was tried. Shirley would untie the knots or cut the rope or get someone to unloose her. No, we'll have to keep a good watch on her and trust to making her see she's doing wrong. You can reason with Shirley, if she is only six years old."
"Oh dear," sighed Rosemary, quite worn out with her experiences, "I never knew it was so hard to bring up children!"
"Biggest job in the world," Winnie said shortly. "Mothers never rest and their work is never done."
The next morning Rosemary coaxed Sarah to play paper dolls with Shirley on the porch while she practised and she went to her music with a clear conscience. For an hour the scales and trills sounded and wound up with a grand march for good measure. Stepping out on the porch Rosemary found it deserted, the paper dolls scattered on the rug, the box overturned where the children had left it.
"Shirley!" cried Rosemary. "Sarah!"
"I'm cleaning the rabbit house," shouted Sarah, and Rosemary hurried around to the side yard.
"Where's Shirley?" she demanded anxiously.
"Shirley? Isn't she on the porch?" Sarah's dirt-streaked face peered through the wire netting which surrounded her pets.
"No, she isn't, and I'm afraid she has run away again," said Rosemary, troubled. "How long ago did you leave her, Sarah?"
"Oh, about half an hour," replied Sarah carelessly. "She wanted to cut out more dolls and I got her the scissors and asked her if she minded if I came and cleaned the pens. Elinor gets sick so easily I don't like to let the house go without cleaning it every other day."
"Bother Elinor!" said Rosemary impatiently. "Come help me look for Shirley. Hugh is coming home for lunch—he telephoned and Winnie answered it."
They hunted through the house, but no Shirley could be found. Rosemary even went to two or three of the nearest neighbors, but the small girl was not there.
"Shirley? I saw her going down the street with her express wagon," volunteered Ray Anderson, a four year old boy who lived a few doors away. "She was on the other side of the street."
"If I knew where to go look for her, I would," said the worried Rosemary, "but there are twenty streets she could be on. I'll run over to the dump lot, Sarah; perhaps she has gone there again."
"You'll have to run all the way, if you get back by half-past twelve," observed Sarah dispassionately. "Aunt Trudy said she was going to tell Hugh the next time any of us were late to meals."
And though Rosemary ran most of the way to the dump lot on the other side of town—where a single hasty glance satisfied her that Shirley was not among the groups engaged in pulling over the unsavory messes—and all the way back, the others were seated at the luncheon table when she reached the house. She heard a distinct rumble of thunder as she entered the door.
"Mercy, child, how hot you look!" was Aunt Trudy's greeting. "I don't see why you girls don't try to come to your meals on time; I take so much pains to have the things you like and Winnie is such a good cook. And yet the three of you haven't been punctual for a week."
"I'm afraid I set them a bad example," smiled Doctor Hugh. "Let's form a compact—when Aunt Trudy tells me that not one of you has been late for a week to any meal, I'll have the clock fixed."
The dining-room clock was an old joke in the Willis family. It was a cuckoo clock and had been broken for more than a year, but remained one of those things that are never attended to. Several times a week the little mother had mentioned that the dining-room clock really must be mended, but it was always forgotten. Since Hugh had been home he had often declared that the clock must be fixed but it still remained mute and useless.
"Shirley loves to hear the cuckoo call," said Rosemary, and instantly regretted her remark.
"Where is Shirley?" was the doctor's natural question.
"I dare say she's run away again," announced Aunt Trudy, her tone resigned.
"Run away?" repeated Doctor Hugh sharply. "Why, what do you mean?"
"Well, Hugh I'm sorry to tell you, but Shirley has run away several times lately," said Aunt Trudy. "She has been absent from lunch twice this week. I've talked to her and I know Rosemary has, but nothing seems to do any good."
A vivid flash of lightning, followed by a roar of thunder and a sudden torrent of rain heralded the arrival of the thunder shower.
"Do you mean to tell me that that baby has been allowed to run around this town alone?" demanded the doctor sternly. "What have you been thinking of? What have you all been doing?"
"Well she is very self-willed," offered Aunt Trudy, "and I have no strength left this hot weather. I said yesterday that you ought to know about it."
"Why didn't you tell him, then?" suggested Sarah impertinently.
"That will do," said her brother. "Rosemary, how long has Shirley been gone?"
"About an hour now," admitted Rosemary reluctantly. "I've been over to the dump lot, Hugh, and she isn't there."
"The dump lot!" ejaculated the doctor. "Is that where Shirley is in the habit of going? Suppose you tell me about this and how long it has been going on."
The shrill ring of the telephone bell interrupted Rosemary's recital. Doctor Hugh answered it. He came back to the dining-room frowning, yet oddly enough looking relieved.
"Shirley is in the Moreland police station," he announced. "She was picked up during the height of the storm with her express wagon. I'll go over in the car and bring her home. Want to come, Rosemary?"
Rosemary did, and the sun was shining out again as they took their places in the roadster.
"Don't look so sober, dear," said Doctor Hugh, glancing at the grave face close to his shoulder. "I'm not blaming you, except that I wish you had told me at once. This experience will probably quite cure Shirley from running off. Heigh-o, I wonder what you girls will think of to do next?"
Moreland was the town adjoining Eastshore, and ten minutes' ride brought them to the door of the police station. Rosemary clung tightly to her brother's arm as they went up the steps.
"There is nothing to be afraid of," he assured her.
Then someone folded back one of the heavy oak doors and they found themselves in a large, bare room.
SARAH IN DISGRACE
The first person Rosemary saw was Shirley, looking very small and forlorn. She sat on a chair so high that her little feet dangled in mid-air. One hand clutched a half eaten bun, the other held a scarcely tasted glass of milk.
"Oh Rosemary!" cried the familiar little voice. "I'm so glad you've come!"
An obliging man in a blue uniform took the bun and the glass of milk and Rosemary hugged Shirley tightly.
"How could you run away again, darling?" the older sister whispered reproachfully. "You worried us so! Were you out in the rain?"
"Only a little," said Shirley, restored to cheerfulness now that Rosemary was here to take care of her.
"She got frightened when it began to thunder," the sergeant at the desk was saying to Doctor Hugh. "As nearly as I can make out, from what she says, she started to run at the first clap, and ran away from her home, instead of toward it. She crossed the line from Eastshore into Moreland before Jim Doran found her, running as hard as she could and jerking the express wagon behind her and crying as though her heart would break. He brought her here and as soon as she calmed down a bit and told us her name and address, we telephoned you. Oh, no thanks due us at all—we get a lost child every week or so. But you ought to break her of running away—the automobile traffic is so heavy, specially in the summer time, it's dangerous for a child to be crossing the streets alone."
Doctor Hugh shook hands with the sergeant and turned toward Rosemary and Shirley.
"Come here, Shirley," he said quietly.
A little frightened, Shirley approached him dubiously. He lifted her gently and swung her to the top of the table before the sergeant's desk.
"There's a sand box and a box of sand toys coming to our house to-morrow," he said unexpectedly, "but I couldn't think of letting a little runaway girl touch them. Perhaps I had better send them back to the store."
A sand-box had been one of Shirley's fondest wishes.
"Oh, no, Hugh," she begged, "Don't send them back, please don't. I won't run away again, ever. Honestly."
"Will you promise not to leave the yard again unless you first ask Rosemary or Winnie or Aunt Trudy?" asked the doctor.
"Yes," nodded Shirley instantly.
"Well then, if you are not going to run away again, I'll keep the sand-box," decided Doctor Hugh. "And now we must be getting home for I have a busy afternoon ahead of me."
The sergeant shook hands with Shirley and told her that she was wise to make up her mind to play in her own yard. His little girl, he said, never ran away. The blue-coated man who had taken the bun and the milk, carried the express wagon down and put it in the car, and fifteen minutes later Shirley was deposited safely on her own front porch.
The sand-box and the toys came the next morning and Shirley played for hours with them. Sometimes she induced Sarah to play with her, but more often that young person was otherwise engaged. She had a lame cat to care for now in addition to the rabbits and Winnie declared that if it came to a choice between cream for her aunt's tea or the cat, she wouldn't trust Sarah with the bottle.
"I don't think you have a very kind heart, Winnie," said Sarah one morning when she had been discovered in a raid on the refrigerator.
"Well I have some conscience and you haven't, or you wouldn't be wanting to feed loin chops that cost forty-five cents a pound to a cat," declared Winnie grimly.
"Sick animals need good food," maintained Sarah, swinging on the screen door, a habit which invariably irritated Winnie.
"Go on out and play, do," she now advised Sarah. "How can I get my work done with you buzzing around me like a fly! Well what do you suppose struck the child that minute—" Winnie broke off in amazement. Sarah had dashed around to the front of the house, banging the screen door noisily behind her. Not curious enough to speculate further, Winnie went on with her task of scrubbing the table top already immaculate in its snowy purity.
Aunt Trudy was descending the front stairs leisurely an hour or two later, pleasantly contemplating the nearness of the lunch hour, when the door bell rang sharply. Really it sounded as though someone had jabbed it viciously. Aunt Trudy approached the door with reproving dignity.
"You're Miss Wright, aren't you?" said a rasped voice. "Well, I'm Mrs. Anderson and I want to tell you that something has got to be done to Sarah; that child is simply unbearable. She slapped the face of my Ray this morning and the poor lamb came into the house crying with pain. He's only four years old, and I think when a great girl of nine takes to slapping babies' faces, she needs a sound whipping. No, I won't come in, but I was determined you should know about it. That child will end up in prison if her temper isn't curbed."
"No one ever spoke to me like that, Hugh," complained Aunt Trudy tearfully to her nephew when he came in a few minutes later. "She didn't give me a chance to say a word. I'm sure I don't approve of Sarah slapping any one's face."
"Of course you don't," agreed the doctor soothingly. "Where is the culprit? We'll see what she has to say for herself. Look here, Sarah," he opened fire as that young person came up the porch steps and into the hall, "Mrs. Anderson says you slapped Ray's face this morning."
"Well?" inquired Sarah coolly.
"Did you?" said the doctor matching her briefness.
"I certainly did," Sarah assured him. "He is a bad, cruel boy and I wish I had slapped him harder. He was stepping on poor baby ants!"
Aunt Trudy stared in astonishment, but something pathetic in Sarah's defiant little figure touched Doctor Hugh. She so evidently considered she had vindicated herself.
"That wasn't being kind, was it?" he said gently, "but, Sarah, slapping his face didn't teach him not to step on ants—it merely taught him that one of his neighbors was a very impolite little girl. I want you to go over now and apologize to Mrs. Anderson."
"But I slapped Ray," hedged Sarah cannily.
"Well Ray is so little he probably doesn't hold malice," explained Doctor Hugh seriously. "It is Mrs. Anderson's feelings that are hurt; don't you think you are a little ashamed, Sarah, to know you struck a child so much younger than you are?"
"Go and tell her you are sorry, dearie," suggested Aunt Trudy.
"I won't say I am sorry, because that would be a lie," said Sarah virtuously.
"If you are not sorry you slapped Ray you ought to be, because such an act is the height of discourtesy," declared the doctor. "However, if you apologize, I don't doubt that will be satisfactory. Go right away, Sarah."
"I think Mrs. Anderson should apologize to us," announced Sarah with explosive suddenness. "She came over here telling tales and that is the meanest thing any one can do. You hate tale-bearers, you said so Hugh."
The doctor's long-suffering patience snapped.
"What Mrs. Anderson does is no concern of yours," he said testily. "If you do not go to her house immediately and apologize, Sarah, I'll march you over there and wait while you do it. I've listened to all the argument I intend to."
"I'll go," surrendered Sarah sullenly.
What she said could only be conjectured but apparently Mrs. Anderson was mollified for peace reigned the remainder of the week. Sunday afternoon though, a fresh storm broke, with Sarah again the center.
"Where's Sarah?" Doctor Hugh demanded, meeting Rosemary in the hall on his return from a round of calls.
Rosemary was dressed in white and ready for a sedate walk with Aunt Trudy.
"She's in your office, reading," she answered. "She likes the goat skin rug, you know."
"All right," nodded the doctor, "run along, chick, and tell Aunt Trudy to keep on the shady side of the street. The sun is blazing."
Sarah was not visible from the door, but walking around his desk, her brother discovered her stretched full length in her favorite reading attitude, on the white goat skin rug. Her book dealt with the health of cats.
"Sarah," began the doctor looking down at her, "did you take a telephone message from Mrs. Anderson yesterday morning?"
Sarah looked obstinate.
"Did you?" her brother insisted. "Answer me," he commanded, pulling her to her feet.
"Yes I did," muttered Sarah. "Rosemary was busy practising and Winnie's bread was in the oven."
"Why didn't you tell me she wanted me to call there Saturday night?" demanded the doctor sternly.
"'Cause," murmured Sarah uneasily.
"You're ashamed to tell me, and I don't wonder," Doctor Hugh said crisply. "You'd let a miserable little thing like an apology you were forced to make her, interfere with your loyalty to service. I thought you were bigger than that, Sarah," he added.
Sarah said nothing.
"If you were a nurse in a hospital or a doctor's office, you'd be dismissed," her brother went on, "for all you know I might have been needed seriously. As it happened, no harm was done, but that doesn't excuse you. Hereafter you are not to answer the phone under any circumstances. You can't be trusted to deliver the messages you receive."
If he had only known it, Doctor Hugh had delivered a severe blow to Sarah's pride. She had been extremely proud of her ability to answer the telephone and welcomed the rare opportunities when Rosemary was out or busy with her beloved music. But she said nothing and after a day or two the doctor realized that she was not on "speaking terms" with him.
"She ought to be spanked," he confided to Winnie, "but I don't believe in that form of punishment for children as old as she is."
"It wouldn't do any good," said Winnie, "your mother spanked her years ago when she'd take these silent fits. It only made her more obstinate. You can do more with Sarah, Hughie, by helping her out of a tight place than any way I know. She's always getting into trouble and she never forgets the ones that stand by her. You keep your eyes open and the chance will come."
The opportunity came sooner than either of them expected. For nearly a week Jack Welles had been storming, to any one who would listen to him, about the "low-down" thief who nightly took his can of fishing worms.
"Plumb lazy, I call it," grumbled Jack, "to cart away the worms a fellow breaks his back digging. Some worthless tramp is catching fish with my worms and I intend to catch him."
His wails had reached the ears of Doctor Hugh, himself an ardent fisherman when time permitted and his sympathies were entirely with the defrauded one.
"Sit up some night and watch," he advised the lad. "Put the can in the usual place—where do you keep it—on the back step?—all right, put it there, and then hide back of the willow tree. You say it is done sometime between ten and twelve, for you go to bed at ten and your father comes home at midnight and finds the can empty? That ought to make it easy for you, for you know when to watch for the thief."
Jack's father was engaged in some delicate electrical experiments that were conducted in his factory at night to escape the vibration caused by the heavy machines.
Coming home from the Jordan office a little after then the next night after he had given Jack his advice, Doctor Hugh remembered what he had said and wondered if the boy had been successful in detecting the thief. As he neared the Welles house he heard loud and angry voices.
WHEN PATIENCE SLIPS
"If I ever catch you touching my can of worms again, I'll—I'll—" words apparently failed Jack and he began to sputter.
"Got him, Jack?" the doctor leaped the hedge lightly and ran diagonally across the lawn to the back of the Welles's house.
"Him?" growled Jack in disgust. "Him! Look at this—" and he flashed a pocket light that revealed to the astonished Doctor Hugh the tear-streaked face of Sarah.
"For the love of Mike!" gasped her brother. "Have you been taking Jack's worms?"
"Yes she has," Jack answered for her. "She's been dumping the can out every night. And if she does it again I'll shake her if she is a girl."
"Hold on, hold on," said Doctor Hugh pacifically. "Let's get the hang of this; why did you empty Jack's can of worms, Sarah?"
"It—it hurts them to be jabbed with a hook," wept Sarah.
"Like fun it does," retorted Jack scornfully. "Worms haven't any feelings, hardly."
"Well fishes have and if you haven't any worms you can't catch fishes," stormed Sarah. "I will too throw away your worms."
"You will not!" flashed Jack, taking a step toward her.
Sarah, the defiant, turned and fled toward her brother. He put his arm about her and found that she was shaking with nervous sobbing.
"I'll see you to-morrow, Jack," he said quietly. "There is no use in rousing the whole neighborhood. Come on, Sarah, we're going home."
He lifted the little girl in his arms and strode across the grass, entering the door of the house noiselessly and depositing her in a large arm chair in the office. Then he went into the kitchen, warmed a glass of milk and made her drink it.
"Now tell me all about it," he said, sitting down at his desk to face her. Sarah, he knew, had a horror of being "fussed over" and he did not dare pet her though he wished his mother were there to cuddle the pathetic little figure in her arms.
"I emptied the can every night, after Jack went to bed," said Sarah. "That's all. He doesn't care how much he hurts them, but I do."
"But how could you stay awake from eight till ten o'clock?" asked the doctor curiously, "and how could you come down stairs without waking Shirley or being seen by Aunt Trudy or Winnie?"
"I didn't go to bed, that is not really," confided Sarah. "I lay down with all my clothes on, because Rosemary always comes in to see that our light is out before she goes to bed. But after nine o'clock I stayed up till I saw Jack shut the kitchen door of his house and then I knew he was through digging worms."
"Didn't you ever go to sleep before Rosemary came in to look at you?" asked her brother. "Not once?"
"Not once," said Sarah firmly. "I put three of Shirley's building blocks under my back so I couldn't. And when I got up I sat on the window sill so if I went to sleep I'd wake up when I fell out."
"Well you are thorough," admitted the doctor. "Weren't you afraid Aunt Trudy would come in and find you sitting up? Or hear you falling out of the window?"
"I didn't fall," declared Sarah, matter-of-factly. "And Aunt Trudy never comes to see if we are in bed. Mother used to, every night."
"I see," the doctor frowned a little. "Well, Sarah, you'll have to let Jack's worms alone after this. I'm not going to argue with you about the feelings of the worms or the fish (you'll get that point better when you are a little older) but I'll put it to you this way; they're Jack's worms and you mustn't touch what belongs to him. And, also, you can't go about making people think as you do. If you don't believe in fishing, all right; you are at perfect liberty not to fish. But you have no call to try to stop other people from fishing. Jack may not approve of the way you keep your rabbits. He may think they should be turned loose and allowed to destroy the garden. If he came over here night after night and let your rabbits out, think how angry you would be. Do you see, dear? You do what you feel to be right and let the other fellow keep tabs on his own conscience."