By GRACE S. RICHMOND
TO THE OWNER OF "GRASSLANDS"
PART I.—FIVE MILES OUT
I. Five Miles Out
II. Everybody Explores
III. The Apartment Overflows
IV. Arguments and Answers
V. Telephones and Tents
VI. In the Pine Grove
VII. Everybody is Satisfied
VIII. Problems and Hearts
IX. Max Compromises
PART II.—THE LANES AND THE ACRES
I. What's in a Name
II. In the Old Garden
III. Afternoon Tea
IV. Two and Two
V. On an August Evening
VII. The Southbound Limited
VIII. From April North
IX. Round the Corner
X. Green Leaves
PART I.—FIVE MILES OUT
FIVE MILES OUT
The four Lanes—Max, Sally, Alec and Robert—climbed the five flights of stairs to their small flat with the agility of youth and the impetus of high but subdued excitement. Uncle Timothy Rudd, following more slowly, reached the outer door of the little suite of rooms in time to hear what seemed to be the first outburst.
"Well, what do you think now?"
"Forty-two acres and the house! Open the windows and give us air!"
"Acres run to seed, and the house tumbling down about its own ears! A magnificent inheritance that!" Max cast his hat upon a chair as if he flung it away with the inheritance.
"But who ever thought Uncle Maxwell Lane would ever leave his poor relations anything?" This was Sally.
"Five miles out by road—a bit less by trolley. Let's go and see it to-morrow afternoon. Thank goodness a half holiday is so near."
"Anybody been by the place lately?"
"I was, just the other day, on my wheel. I didn't think it looked so awfully bad." This was Robert, the sixteen-year-old.
As Uncle Timothy entered the tiny sitting-room Sally was speaking. She had thrown her black veil back over her hat, revealing masses of flaxen hair, and deep blue eyes glowing with interest. Her delicate cheeks were warmly flushed, partly with excitement, and partly because for two hours now—during the journey from the flat to the lawyer's office, the period spent therein listening to the reading of Uncle Maxwell Lane's will and the business appertaining thereto, and the return trip home—she had worn the veil closely drawn. Her simple mourning was to her a screen behind which to shield herself from curious eyes, always attracted by those masses of singularly fair hair and the unusual contours of the young face beneath.
"I think it's a godsend, if ever anything was," she was saying. "Here's Max, killing himself in the bank, and Alec growing pale and grouchy in the office, and even Bob—" She was interrupted by a chorus of protests against her terms of description.
"I'm not killing myself!"
"Pale and grouchy! I'm not a patch on—"
"What's the matter with Bob, Sally Lunn?"
"And Uncle Timmy," continued Sally, undisturbed by interpolations to which she was quite accustomed, "pining for fresh air—."
"I walk in the park every day, my dear," Uncle Timothy felt obliged to remind her.
"Yes, I know. But you've lived in a little city flat just as long as it's good for you, and you need to be turned outdoors. So do we all. Oh, boys, and Uncle Timmy!—I just sat there, crying and smiling under my veil in that dreadful office—crying to think that I couldn't cry for Uncle Maxwell, because he was so cold and queer to us always, and yet he had given us this property, after all—."
"And a mighty small fraction of the estate it is, I hope you understand!" growled Max.
But Sally went on without minding. Everybody was used to Max's growls. "And smiling because I couldn't help it just to think we had a chance at last to get out of the city. We can do it. Five miles by trolley is nothing for you boys, or for me, when I need to come in."
"You're not talking about our going to live out there!" Max's tone was derisive.
"Have you seen the place lately?"
"Not since I was a little girl, but I remember I thought it was lovely then."
"It isn't lovely now, if it ever was—which I doubt. In the first place it belongs to that little suburb of Wybury—as commonplace a village as ever existed within five miles of as big a city as this. In the second place it's as much an abandoned farm as neglect can make a place that was once, I suppose, an aristocratic sort of country home. The old mansion is as big as a barn, and as hopeless. You couldn't any more make a home out of it!—Why, you could put this whole apartment into the room at the left of the hall!"
"How do you know so much about it?" demanded Sally. "None of us has been there since Aunt Alicia died—that was when we were children, and Uncle Maxwell used to spend his summers there."
"He hasn't spent them there since she died," Max asserted. "How do I know so much about it? I was down there last summer with Frank Sustis. His father sent him out to look the place over, with a view to buying it himself for a summer home. You should have heard Prank jeer at the idea while we were going about."
"It makes no difference," persisted Sally, removing her hat and folding the veil with care. "I want to see it. We'll go out to-morrow, won't we?"
She appealed to her second brother, Alec, a young fellow of twenty, who had thrown himself listlessly into a chair but who was listening attentively to the discussion. He nodded. "Of course. You couldn't keep one of us away, even Max. He wouldn't be done out of the pleasure of showing us over the place and pointing out the defects, if, by keeping still, he could own the whole ranch himself."
"It'll be jolly fun to go!" cried Bob, quickly. He could not bear sounds of disagreement between the members of his family, because he knew Sally did not like it.
"What do you think about the old place, Uncle Timmy?" questioned Sally presently. She had taken off her one carefully-used street suit, and had put on a fresh little black-and-white print, in which she was setting the table for dinner. All the others except Uncle Timothy had gone out on various errands.
"Well, Sally," said Mr. Timothy Rudd, thoughtfully, "I don't know that I'm a competent judge. Your Uncle Maxwell's place was considered a fine one in its day. Before he made so much money and took to living in town, he used to like it there, I think, though he didn't say much about it. I'm sorry it's been allowed to run down. There was a pine grove on it, and a splendid young apple orchard, and a timber tract at the back that ought to be worth considerable money by this time, if it hasn't been cut. Probably it has, with timber bringing the prices it does now."
"About the house," inquired Sally, after Uncle Timothy had gone into more or less detail concerning the place itself. "I'm especially interested in the house. Do you think it would be out of the question for us to live there?"
"I don't know. It would be something of a change from this," he admitted, looking about the little dining-room. "You've managed to make us all pretty comfortable here, with what there was left of the furniture after the sale. I don't know how far it would go in Maxwell's big house. It's pretty large, that's a fact. According to Max, it's in need of a good deal of repair. Of course, as far as I'm concerned, I should like to live out in the country among the green things, as I used to do, up in New Hampshire. It would be good for us all. But you can tell better after you've seen the place again."
There was no denying this. Sally's head was so full of plans it was difficult to wait until the afternoon of the next day, when everybody should be at liberty to make the trip to Wybury. The moment luncheon was over they started, and by two o'clock the trolley-car, whizzing out through the suburbs to the open country, then following the curve along the river edge to pass through the small settlement called Wybury, had deposited them in the centre of that village.
The Maxwell place lay a quarter of a mile down the river road, and the party set off promptly to cover the short distance. It was early April, sunny and mild, but still rather damp under foot. After leaving the board sidewalks of Wybury there was no accommodation for foot passengers except the path at the side of the road.
"Imagine tramping through this mud every night and morning," was Max's first contribution to the effort he meant to make to disillusionize his romantic sister, whose dreams of life in the country he considered worse than folly. He turned up his trousers widely at the bottom as he spoke.
"It's such a little way, we could soon have a better path," Sally replied. "Look, there are the chimneys, I'm sure, just beyond that grove of pines. It's hardly more than five minutes' walk from the car."
"Five minutes through a February blizzard is five minutes too much."
"But five minutes through a midsummer evening is an hour too little," Sally gave him back.
"That pine grove belongs to the place," called back Bob, who was considerably in advance of the others. Sally, in spite of her eagerness, was adapting her pace to the limitations of Uncle Timothy, who at sixty could hardly be expected to walk in competition with nineteen.
"Pine groves are worth something these days," said Max, eyeing the thick tops critically.
Sally had charmed eyes for the pine grove; but she did not look at it long, for beyond showed the great chimney-tops she remembered from her childhood, when it had been the happiest treat she knew to be invited by Aunt Alicia to spend the day at Uncle Maxwell's country place.
The young Lanes had all been born and brought up in the city. Their home had been one of moderate luxury until, three years before, their father had died suddenly, leaving the mere remnant of an estate which had been supposed to be a large one. The shock, and the change from a life of ease to one of close economy, had weakened the always delicate constitution of the wife and mother until, a year after her husband's death, she had followed him.
Max had left college at the end of his third year and gone into the bank of which his Uncle Maxwell was vice-president. Alec, just ready for college, had reluctantly resigned his purpose and taken a position in the drafting-office of a firm of contractors, friends of his father. Even Robert, the youngest, had found something to do. The family had sold the old home to obtain money with which to meet expenses until the salaries of the workers should begin to count, and had moved into the little flat where the nineteen-year-old sister had, for a year now, done her girlish best to make a home for her "four men," as she called them, while she kept many violent attacks of heartache bravely hidden—for the most part—under a bright exterior. Nobody knew how Sally disliked the flat—unless it was Bob, who was her closest confidant.
"There's your fine family mansion!" called Max, pointing from the curve of the road, which he had reached close after Bob.
Sally stood still in astonished surprise. Could that really be the aristocratic old place of her memory? Max could hardly be blamed for his derisive comments.
A noble house gone to decay is a sight infinitely more depressing than that of an humble one. This once had been an imposing structure; it looked now like a relic of war times.
"Look at the tumbling chimneys!" crowed Alec. "Look at the broken shutters, swinging by one hinge. See those porch pillars—were they ever white? Behold that side entrance—looks as if a cyclone had struck it!"
Sally was silent. Even her buoyant hopes fell before the indisputable evidence given by her eyes. It was so big—the old place! A small house one might hope to repair, but a large building like this—it would cost more than they would have to spare in years. If the outside were any indication of the inside, the situation was hopeless.
She followed Alec in through the gateway, at the dilapidated stone side-posts of which Max gave a significant wave of the hand as he passed. An overgrown hedge ran along the entire front of the place, its untrimmed wildness adding to the general unkempt look, as did the sodden, tangled surface of what had once been a lawn, the rank bunches of shrubbery which half hid the front windows from sight, and the broken bricks in the old walk which led, beside a grass-grown driveway, from gate-post to porch.
"How did Maxwell ever come to let this place go to seed like this?" lamented Uncle Timothy. "He must have cared nothing at all for it. One would think it was forty years instead of only ten that it had been left to wind and weather."
"It's a wonder that some passing tramp hasn't set fire to it," commented Max, searching in his pocket for the key which had been delivered to him by Mr. Sidway, his uncle's executor. "Take a long breath before I let you in. It'll be musty and fusty enough to stifle you, probably."
With considerable difficulty he turned the key in the rusty lock and opened the door, which turned creakingly upon its long unused hinges. But with the first step inside Sally's drooping spirits leaped up again.
"Oh Max," she cried, "what a beautiful old hall!"
"Beautiful, is it?" inquired Max, laughing contemptuously. "Well, I can't say I see it."
"Looks just like a barracks to me!" sniffed Alec. "Phew-w—what air—or lack of it!"
"But it is beautiful," persisted Sally, in genuine enthusiasm. "See how wide and high, sweeping straight through to that door at the back. And see the wide, low staircase with the spindle railing and the curved posts at the bottom. See the carving over the doors—and the fanlight over the outside ones. And look at that fireplace!"
She dragged Max by one arm and Uncle Timothy by the other, to stand in front of it. Halfway down the hall, sharing one of the great chimneys with another fireplace on the other side of the wall, was a chimney-piece of fine old colonial design. The proportions were colossal.
"It would take a cord of wood to keep the thing going an evening," asserted Max.
"And then nobody'd be warm unless he was sitting with his head inside the hood," supplemented Alec.
But Sally was already off upon explorations. She rushed into the room upon the left of the hall; it was a drawing-room thirty feet long by twenty wide. She darted into the room on the right—it was twenty feet square, and back of it lay another of similar size. She could no longer wait for her party, with their slow and indifferent following of her, but ran from room to room, calling back injunctions to note special points of interest.
Bob kept close behind her. If he cared little for old houses, he cared much for Sally, and he liked to see her eyes sparkle and her lips laugh. Sally had times of being very sad and discouraged, as no one knew so well as he, and if she could find interest in this old barracks—he thought Alec had struck the right word—he was not the boy to dampen it.
"Let's skip up this back staircase, Bobby," proposed Sally, as they turned about from exploring the kitchen and store-rooms. "I'm crazy to find if there aren't some smaller rooms—nice, cozy ones, you know. It can't be all so big everywhere."
"Don't you suppose the upstairs rooms are just the shape of the lower ones?" suggested Bob, as they ran up.
"In front, perhaps, but not back here. There ought to be some lovely rambling passageways, and steps up and steps down, and rooms where you don't expect them, and a splendid attic—and perhaps a secret staircase. Bob—what if there should actually be a secret staircase!"
Bob laughed. "You've been reading spooky stories. I suppose—"
"Robert Rudd Lane! Will you behold that little flight of five steps, leading up to that door!"
Sally was down the hall and up the five steps in a flash. She would have burst into the unknown region beyond, but a locked door barred her way. Bob stood below and laughed at her baffled expression. "You'd rather see through that door than into any other spot in the house that isn't locked up, wouldn't you, Sally Lunn?" he commented, knowingly.
"Run down to Max for the keys, will you, dear?" she begged, and Bob ran.
The others came up. Max and Bob, Alec, and even Uncle Timothy, tried every key in the bunch in vain. Sally attempted to peer through the key-hole. Bob ran outside, and returning reported that there were no shutters in the region opposite the probable position of the door.
"It's undoubtedly a dark store-room, with a row of empty shelves," said Max. "Give it up, Sally. There are places enough to explore. A regiment of infantry could be bivouacked in this second story. See the rooms, and rooms inside of rooms."
"Oh, come away home!" cried Alec, impatiently, before Sally was half satisfied.
"I'm going over to the timber tract. You'd better come along, Al. Let Sally stay here and plan her hotel. Maxwell Inn—eh, Sally? A number on each door, and a fire-escape at each end of the hall. A bell-boy and two chambermaids for this floor; in time, an elevator and a manicure shop!" And Max clattered laughing away down the front staircase, the shallow steps of which he took two at a time.
"It isn't a very cozy nest, is it, Sis?" said Bob, sympathetically, as Sally, after one look into the great square rooms over the front, closed the doors with a bang.
At mention of the timber tract Uncle Timothy had gone downstairs after the others. They heard him shut the front door, and from an upper window saw him walking briskly away.
"No, it isn't—now," she admitted, soberly, "but—what a home it could be made!"
"It's pretty near twice as big as our old one, and that was a fairly good size. We could camp out in a corner of it, but that would be lonesome, don't you think so? We might keep summer boarders."
Sally shook her head. She began to walk back through the upper halls. Bob followed her, and they climbed the attic stairs, finding a great space above, lighted by low windows shut in by patterns of ironwork.
"Jolly, what a place for rainy days!" ejaculated the boy, moved to greater enthusiasm than he had felt anywhere below stairs. "You could have a workshop and a gymnasium and all sorts of things. You could make it really festive with a few rugs and pillows and hammocks and things. How the fellows I know would like to get up here!"
He lingered behind his sister, who, after one comprehensive look round the big, bare, dusty place, had slipped away downstairs again, guarding her skirts carefully. When Bob, after planning in detail a possible and desirable arrangement of the attic, reluctantly descended, he found her at the top of the little flight of steps which led to the one locked door.
"Look out! The family skeleton may be hidden behind that door!" he called, racing down the hall. "Or worse. Come away, Fatima!"
"Bob," said Sally, regarding him from the top of the steps, her cheeks brightly flushed, her eyes alight with interest, "I simply have to know what's beyond this door."
"What are you expecting to find there, Sis? Trunks full of gold? Family papers, leaving all the Maxwell Lane estate to the Lanes of Henley Street?"
She shook her head with a laughing challenge. "Wait till I get a locksmith here!" she said.
"I'll wait," and Bob sat composedly down on the bottom step, grinning up at his excited sister. "Going to get him out by wireless?"
Alighting from her mother's carriage in front of the Winona apartments in Henley Street, Josephine Burnside dismissed her coachman and hurried eagerly into the florid vestibule.
"I don't see how Sally endures this sort of thing," she thought, for the hundredth time since the Lane house, near her own in Grosvenor Place, had been sold. The door-latch clicked promptly in answer to her ring, and at the top of the third flight she met Sally.
"I was sure it was you! I'm so glad! I'm all alone," was Sally's joyful welcome; and the next minute Josephine found herself inside the small passage, her outer garments being forcibly removed, and herself borne into the little living-room and established in Uncle Timothy's reading chair, which was the most comfortable one in the place.
"Sewing—as usual? What are you making now? Something lovely out of nothing at all, I suppose?"
"Of course. It's a convenient accomplishment. You didn't know that four and a half yards of Swiss muslin would make a whole frock, did you? Well, it will—under some conditions." And Sally proudly held up the work of her hands, a nearly finished product at which her friend, attired at the moment in some fifteen yards of silk, stared in amazement.
"Sally Lunn! You didn't—you couldn't! It's not skimpy in the least. You must have pieced out with something else. But where?"
"The remains of my old one, re-enforced underneath, and used where the least wear will come on it. It's not an exact match, but I don't think it will show."
"Show! Not a bit. But I thought putting old and new wash goods together wouldn't do."
"I've shrunk the new, and, as I told you, re-enforced the old with some very thin, cheap lawn. I shall wash it myself—with the ends of my fingers, and my eyes looking the other way. Find the old parts!"
Thus challenged, Josephine brought a pair of very bright black eyes to bear upon the pretty frock, turning it over critically, and after some search discovered the resourceful trick which had made the whole lower half of the skirt and part of the sleeves out of the old muslin.
"You genius!" she cried. "I wish I were half as clever as you." She regarded her friend with the genuine admiration and affection which had carried the comradeship of the two girls safely through the test of the Lanes' altered fortunes.
"How good it is to have you back!" said Sally, returning the look. "You haven't half told me about your winter."
"Yes—but never mind that just now," said Josephine. "I've come to hear about you. Jarvis met Max this morning, heard the news, and told it at luncheon. I simply flew down to show you how glad I am, and to hear more. Tell me, is it a beautiful old place, and shall you go there to live? I suppose I've seen it, but I've forgotten."
"It's a forlorn old place, dreadfully run down, but I want to live in it. The boys won't hear of it—as yet. We've only been there once. We're going again Saturday—you know that's the only time they can all get away."
"What fun. Can't I go, too? There must be something nice about it, or you wouldn't want to live there."
"There's a locked door in it," said Sally, smiling, as her thoughts turned to the mystery. She described the finding of the door to Josephine, who exclaimed:
"I must be there to see it opened! What do you suppose you'll find?"
"Dust and empty shelves, Max says. Blue-beard's murdered wives, says Bob. Alec guesses a lot of broken-backed chairs and a desk with the hinges off. Uncle Timothy thinks it merely leads to the roof. But the steps from the attic do that."
"What do you think?"
"I think everything," admitted Sally, "from antique mirrors and old clothes to empty flower pots and battered and rons. I'm prepared for anything—except the empty shelves. Why should the door be locked so securely if there's nothing behind it?"
"Why, indeed? I don't know why, but my imagination shudders deliciously at the thought of seeing it opened. May I go on Saturday? May Jarvis go? He wanted me to ask. He's having a bad time with his eyes again, can't read, and pines for something to do. A locked closet will interest him."
"Of course you may both go, if you'll get Jarvis to promise not to throw any cold water on my schemes."
"He's not likely to discourage any of your schemes, you know well enough. Hasn't he always taken your part, even against me, since we used to quarrel over which should have the shady side of the sand pile? 'Sun won't hurt your gipsy face, Joey,' he'd say. 'Give Sally the shade, like a gentleman.'"
Both girls laughed. Then Sally grew sober. "Seems to me it's only a little while since Jarvis had his last siege with his eyes," she observed. "Are they quite as bad again?"
"He's not shut up in the dark this time, but has to wear blue goggles in the daytime, is forbidden reading and writing absolutely for weeks, and goes to Doctor Meyer every other day for treatment. He's getting as rampageous as a caged lion, and vows he'll go off to the South Seas, or Labrador, or some other place where books and libraries and literary work won't tantalize him. He'd go to-morrow, I believe, if it weren't for mother. She can't bear the idea."
"It was that last awful year's work at college," said Sally regretfully. "Why did he ever conceive the idea of doing two years' work in one—and why did his friends let him do it?"
"I know—that's what we all say now. So does he."
"Of course he must go Saturday; tell him I particularly want him."
"That will please him. Now do tell me about the whole place," and Josephine settled herself to listen.
Long before Sally had finished, her friend was as eager as herself to see the old house, and was planning with all the help of a vivid imagination what it would be like when it should be "restored." When she went away, just before Sally set about getting dinner for her family, it was with assurances that she and her brother would help Sally, to the best of their ability, to realize her hopes.
This assurance was renewed when, on Saturday afternoon, the Lanes met the Burnsides at the appointed hour to take the trolley-car. With the exception of Uncle Timothy, they were all there, even Max, who had declared his only interest in the place was to sell it. But, hearing that Jarvis Burnside was to inspect it, he had decided to point out to Jarvis the impracticability of making a home out of the property—unless for some rich man who might be induced to buy it at a figure worth while. He sat beside Jarvis in the car, talking to him, as Sally could see, in a way intended to prejudice him against the place.
But as the party left the car, Jarvis joined Sally, smiled at her from behind the ugly goggles which half disguised a face by no means ugly, and said in an undertone:
"I believe I'm in possession of all the facts. From now on I intend to let the fancies have full play."
"Good for you! I knew you'd never desert me, no matter how much in the wrong I might be," answered Sally, gratefully.
Jarvis had been a fourth brother to her for so long that it seemed a matter of course for her to depend upon his support, but she appreciated it when occasionally the real brothers failed to remember how lonely the young sister was, with no mother at hand to love or advise her. All but Bob. He, the youngest of the family, was like a faithful dog, always beside her when the others jeered or reproached, and always her strongest, most faithful, ally.
"The walking is better today," Sally called out, as they started. Max, true to his cause, promptly denied the truth of this statement. Josephine came to the rescue.
"Who cares what the walking is like, on an April day like this?" she challenged Max. "Isn't the air glorious? And won't it be lovely, across the bridge and along the river, as soon as the leaves are out?"
Max was escorting Josephine, and as they turned the bend in the road he pointed out to her the boundary lines of the estate. She asked him about the values of land in this neighbourhood and the possibilities of making such a place profitable.
"You sound like a business woman," was his comment. "Thinking of investing out here? You ought to get Sally to talk the place up to you. She estimates that by raising violets on the whole forty-two acres and selling them to the florists in town we can be millionaires the first year."
"Why not, at a dollar a bunch?" laughed Josephine. "And think how picturesque your property will look, all a soft purple in the sunshine!"
"Won't it!" agreed Max. "There, that's the house. I suppose you're prepared to fall into ecstasies with Sally on the door-step, and dance a reel with her down the hall."
"Of course I am. But what I really came for is the locked door."
"The door! I believe Sally's forgotten the subject of her dreams. We haven't a tool, any more than we had a week ago."
"Haven't we though?" shouted Bob, from the rear. He began to extract various implements from his pockets on the spot. Sally herself waved her shopping-bag. Jarvis Burnside pulled off his glove and began to search his own pockets.
"I think we'll effect an entrance," he declared, and produced a curious-looking skeleton key. "This will open any ordinary lock."
Josephine said everything Sally could have hoped for about the exterior of the house, and a few things more. It did seem a little less forlorn than before, the effect, perhaps, of the April sunshine, which lighted its red brick walls into warm and cheerful hues. Jarvis, within the door, removed his goggles and blinked approvingly at the fine colonial features of the wood-work, the lines of the stairway, and the proportions of the fireplace.
"Anybody can see those two are loaded," complained Alec in Max's ear, as they brought up the rear of the procession. "Trust Jarve Burnside to back up Sally every time, and Josephine to join 'em. It's all right enough for him to talk about restoration. He could do it by putting his hand into his pocket. Between 'em they'll get Sally completely off her head."
"There's no harm in looking the thing over," Max replied, absently, but Alec continued to rail. Bob turned and frowned at him as meaningly as Bob's round and sunny face could frown. Why must Alec follow Max's lead? he thought. One could gain one's point quite as readily and much more agreeably by being amiable. At least, this was Bob's philosophy.
"The door, Sally, the door!" urged Josephine, as the party finished the survey of the lower floor. "I can't take an interest in any more open rooms while I know there's a closed one waiting. Do lead the way up that impressive staircase and take us straight to the place of mystery!"
"Sally's still young enough to want to save the plums in the cake till the last," said Jarvis, as they went up. "Well, well, this stairway is certainly a quaint one—risers about five inches, aren't they, Max? Treads fourteen, at least. Fine for infants and invalids. And comfortable for sitting out dances, Sally!"
"But not so interesting as the five steep steps we are coming to," and Sally led the way down the hall to the side passage, from the end of which rose the little flight which approached the locked door. "Here we are. Now who'll let us in?"
It took the combined efforts of Jarvis and Max, working with one tool after another, to effect an entrance. Clearly this was not an ordinary closet lock which barred the way. But at last, with a vigorous wrench, Jarvis held the yielding door under his hand. From the top step he waved his free arm at the company, standing below.
"One last guess apiece," he demanded of them, "before you look."
"Old seed catalogues and empty hair-oil bottles," said Alec.
"A skeleton in armour!" cried Bob.
"All your Aunt Alicia's ball-dresses and your Uncle Maxwell's wedding clothes," guessed Josephine.
"A mahogany sideboard, dining-table and chairs," murmured Sally, at which there was a general shout.
"Dead beetles, fallen plaster, and a musty copy of 'Plutarch's Lives,'" was Max's cynical contribution.
"Open the door!" cried Bob.
But Jarvis still held it. "I think I'll let in one at a time," he declared. "Who'll venture first?"
Sally walked up the steps.
"Oh, don't send her in all alone!" begged Josephine. "Think, what if there should be—"
"The skeleton in armour," urged Bob.
"Go on, Sally, you're game," and Max grinned at Josephine and Bob. "It doesn't take much to rouse some people's imaginations. Go ahead, and confront the seed catalogues and the beetles with a bold front."
Jarvis, smiling at Sally and taking note of her pink cheeks, detained her with an injunction. "Whatever you find," he stipulated, "make no outcry. Retain your composure. Remember your friends are close at hand. Three raps on the inside of this door will summon four stout retainers to your side. Are you ready?"
"Remember that defunct beetles are harmless, old clothes retain no characteristics of their former owners, no matter how blood-thirsty, and empty bottles probably never contained fatal potions. If the place is dark, press your finger on this"—he thrust a small electric search-light into her hand—"and the mystery will be illumined. Brave lady, enter!"
He opened the door just wide enough to admit the slim figure in black, which slipped through and promptly closed the door upon itself.
"Jarvis, don't let her shut that door! Something might happen! There might be a—hole in the floor."
"She has blue eyes and you black!" retorted Jarvis. "She has golden locks, you raven. Don't let the outward attributes belie themselves like that."
"Sh!—Sh-h!" Josephine held up a beseeching finger.
Everybody listened. A silence ensued, unbroken by raps or sounds of any sort. When this had continued for some five minutes, Josephine spoke urgently: "Jarvis Burnside, open that door! It's all right to joke, but things do happen, and it's not right to fool this way!"
"What's the matter with you, Jo Burnside?" demanded Max, while Jarvis, looking quizzical, still held the door. "Don't you know Sally well enough to know she's not afraid of her shadow? She's playing the game through. She'll come back in her own good time, when she's thoroughly explored whatever's behind that door. A mouse won't give her hysterics, or a flapping window-shade make her scream."
Josephine held her peace, but she looked at Bob. Bob was genuinely uneasy, though determined not to show it. There is undeniably a peculiar atmosphere about old and unused houses, and queer fancies are prone to take possession of those who explore them. It was ten years since this house had been lived in. There was something odd about its having been so completely deserted, with not even a tenant left to occupy its kitchen regions and look after it. And the lock on this door had been strangely resistant.
Josephine suddenly opened her lips to say: "I shall not stand here waiting another minute!" when three raps on the door brought back her composure.
Jarvis, himself looking a trifle relieved, promptly turned the knob. But he could not open the door.
"It must be a spring-lock," he grunted disgustedly. "Idiot that I was! All right, Sally!" he called. "Got to work the tools over again."
"Sally, O Sally, are you all right?" called Josephine.
There was no reply. Jarvis worked rapidly, repeating his former processes with an impatient hand. When the lock yielded once more, he threw the door open, and the others crowded up the steps.
"A staircase!" was the common ejaculation.
Bob pushed by the rest and ran up it, closely followed by all except Jarvis. "I'll stay on the outside of this fool lock!" he called. But a moment later, investigating, he found that it could be rendered inoperative by a catch on the inside, which, being set, allowed the door to open and close freely. So, after the others, he hurried up the stairs.
These ascended straight between the walls until a sharp curve at the top brought them to a door now wide open. Within the room beyond stood the party, exclaiming at the tops of their voices.
They might well exclaim. Of all the guesses, none had come within distant range of the real thing.
The room was that of a collector of old books, and it had been closed and left precisely as its former owner had arranged it, so far as could be judged by its present appearance. A faded Turkey carpet covered the floor; sun-rotted and dusty draperies hung at the windows, which were of the same sort as those in the attic, close under the eaves, and shut in by a pattern of ironwork. All around the walls stood bookcases, filled with a large collection of books, the greater proportion of them of an age suggestive, to the inexperienced eye, of worthlessness, to the more discerning, of value. An antique desk and a few straight-backed chairs were all the other furnishings of the room, but of these it needed none. Even in its dust-covered condition it was a room to command respectful consideration.
As Jarvis came in, Max was studying the rows of books. He turned about with a small calf-bound volume in his hand, and his eye fell on Jarvis, entering.
"Jarve," he exclaimed, "I believe this is treasure-trove, sure enough! If this isn't a 'first edition,' I'll eat the book, covers and all!"
Jarvis hurried to his side. He took the book, examined the fly-leaf, and turned its pages. His eyes lighted with interest. "Of course it is!" he declared. "And by the looks of them, there are plenty more. How on earth do they come to be here? This is a gold mine that beats the mahogany sideboard out of sight."
"It's more than I know. Uncle Maxwell was no book-lover, as far as I've ever heard. Perhaps Uncle Tim can tell, though he's on mother's side, and never was here much."
Bob's eyes were round with delight. He did not know much about books, but the flush on Sally's cheeks and the excitement in Max's voice were enough for him. He could not resist giving his elder brother a rap on the back.
"How about the dead beetles now, Max?" he exulted.
Alec was poking in the pigeon-holes of the desk. There were no papers to be found except one bundle of letters, yellow with age. In one of the drawers, there were a few old daguerreo-types in velvet cases and a yellowed meer-schaum pipe.
"'Eliphalet Lane, Esquire,'" read Sally, from the addresses on the letters, which were written on the folded outer sheet of the letters themselves. "Why, I know who he was. He was Uncle Maxwell's elder brother. He lived with them all his life. He died before we were born, but I've heard father tell about him. He was a queer old man when father was a boy. This must be his collection."
"And Uncle Maxwell didn't think enough of it to take it to town with him—just locked it up and left it." This was Max's theory. "Uncle Maxwell knew nothing about books and cared less; he was all for business."
"Luckily for you. This must be worth a good deal, if you care to sell it," said Jarvis, who, close by one of the odd windows, was studying the fine text of a set of English dramatists.
Sally walked over and gently took the books out of his hand. "Jarvis Burnside," said she, decidedly, "the value of this collection is nothing beside the value of your eyes. Put on your goggles, and don't look at another line of type!"
THE APARTMENT OVERFLOWS
The telephone bell in the Lanes' apartment rang sharply. It had rung once before, but Sally, half-asleep on the couch in the middle of a warm April morning, had not roused enough to notice. She moved reluctantly toward it. Max's voice speaking urgently brought her back to her senses with a jump.
"Sally, where on earth are you? I've just had a wire from the Chases that they're coming through, and will stop off to see us. We'll have to put them up somehow. Of course they don't know how we're fixed, but they'll find out."
"Oh, Max!" Sally's tones were dismayed. "Why, we can't!"
"We'll have to. What would you have me do—wire them not to stop? Besides, I couldn't get them. They've left the place they wired from—reach here to-night at nine. You'll have to have some kind of supper for them."
"Oh, figure it out somehow—you can, you know. I haven't a minute more to talk—inspector's here—everybody busy—" and the click of the receiver in Sally's ear ended the interview.
The Chases! They were young married people, who had been neighbours and schoolmates of the Lanes. Dorothy Eustis, as an older girl, had been much admired by Sally and Josephine until she married Neil Chase; that event had made a great difference in their warmth of feeling. Sally did not like Neil, never had liked him, and never would like him. A certain pomposity of manner, which had been a characteristic of his, ever since the days when he wore dresses and lorded it over the other infants in the park, had made him unpopular. He had, however, become a successful young attorney in his father's law firm, and had within the last year gone to a larger city several hundred miles away to start practice for himself.
The thought of entertaining Neil and Dorothy Chase in the little apartment was almost too much for Sally Lane. The Chases had gone away just before the Lanes had sold the old house, and knew nothing of the new quarters—evidently realized nothing of their small dimensions. It had been characteristic of them to telegraph that they were coming, without waiting for a reply. That was precisely like Neil.
Something must be done, and at once. It was now eleven o'clock. There was none too much time in which to make ready. Sally began reluctantly to plan. The Chases must have her room, of course; it was the best in the flat, measuring eight feet by ten. Bob would have to go in with Uncle Timothy and let Sally have his usual quarters, the couch in the living-room. Sally's room must be hastily put in guest-room order—no easy task, in a space where every inch counts because it must be made the most of. She was thankful, for once, that she need expect none of her family home to luncheon.
At noon, however, quite unexpectedly Bob ran in upon her, an errand from the office where he worked having brought him within a stone's throw of home. He liked to surprise Sally with two-minute visits, when he could do so by making time over the rest of his course.
"Hello, what's up?" was his greeting, as he surveyed his sister standing in the centre of an extraordinary confusion of furnishings which seemed to him to extend over the entire flat.
Sally flung down her dust-cloth and sank into a chair, showing a flushed face and disturbed eyes.
"Max telephoned that the Chases are coming to-night—Neil and Dorothy, on their way somewhere. Isn't it horrible? What do you suppose they'll think of things here?"
"Well, well—old Neil's coming to show us his chest expansion, is he? And my Lady Dolly! Hum—well—I guess it will do'em good to see how some people live. Mrs. Chase will bring four trunks and a lot of hand stuff, will she? If she does, we'll move out and leave them the place."
"Mercy! They're only going to stay overnight—at least, I think that's all. The only thing that keeps me up is the thought that at this time to-morrow they'll be gone! A hospitable hostess I am, Bob. But—Oh, Bobby, my head aches so this morning I just can't rise to the occasion!"
"Your head aches? What's the reason for that?" Bob asked, in some dismay. "You're not a headache sort of girl."
"No, and that's why it seems to take the pluck out of me so. It ached yesterday, too. And I feel just heavy and stupid."
As she spoke, she turned and laid her head down on her arms on the back of her chair. Bob darted across from the doorway and laid an awkwardly sympathetic young hand on the flaxen masses of his sister's hair.
"It's a shame!" he said, warmly. "I wish I could stay and help you. But I tell you what I'll do. I'll be up the minute I get out of the office. Leave the heavy things for me to do. And don't try to house-clean the whole flat just because of Mrs. Dorothy Chase. She isn't worth it."
He was as good as his word. Five o'clock in the afternoon saw him at home again, helping Sally in every way he could think of. Bob was good help, and she had seldom needed him more than to-day. She went about with flushed cheeks, moving languidly, yet keeping steadily at work with the determination of the young hostess who sees nothing else to do.
She had spent the afternoon in the kitchen; she spent the evening in all those little final tasks which seem so small and yet in the aggregate do weigh heavily, upon the eve of entertaining.
Work at the bank kept Max until he had barely time to go to the station for his guests. Alec, coming home to dinner, and finding himself put off with what he hungrily characterized as a mere "bite," on account of the necessities of the occasion, went off again somewhere, declaring that he did not see the occasion for starving the family just on account of entertaining two already overfed visitors. Uncle Timothy, as was to be expected, as soon as he heard of the emergency, joined Bob in coming to Sally's aid, and at half past seven in the evening might have been discovered by the curious, sitting in the small kitchen, a blue-checked apron tied about his neck, busily polishing silver.
"It seemed to me pretty bright before, Sally," was his only comment as he worked. "But I suppose no man could really comprehend the difference between the degree of brightness suitable for one's family and that demanded by company."
"If you had seen Dorothy Chase's wedding silver—" responded Sally, and stopped there, as if words could no further go.
"Yes, yes, I suppose so." Uncle Timothy was rubbing away at a set of thin old teaspoons which had belonged to Sally's grandmother. "Still, my dear, it seems as if things taste better out of these old spoons than out of those handsome new ones the boys gave you Christmas."
"Oh, I love the old things." Sally held a china sugar bowl with a gold band round it up to the light as she wiped it. She had taken all the best old china out of its hiding place under the couch, and was giving it a hot-water bath, drying each article herself, not daring to trust the frail pieces to Bob's hands. "But Dorothy hates old stuff, and wants everything modern."
"I remember," said Uncle Timothy, mildly. "I was always too antique for her to notice. I sha'n't be surprised if she stumbles over me to-night, not noticing that I'm here."
"If she does," called Bob, from the depths of a closet which he was sweeping out under Sally's direction, "she'll settle with me! She'll find I've grown a few inches since she used to call me Sally's 'everlasting little brother.'"
It was all done at last. Sally went to dress, wearily exhorting herself to remember that her room was not her room to-night, and that she must not forget and leave so much as a stray hair-pin on the freshly washed and ironed linen of the little toilet-table.
She stowed away, under the couch on which she was to sleep, the clean cambric house-dress she meant to put on the next morning, feeling that it would not be at all surprising if she were unable to rise from that couch to get breakfast, and wondering what Dorothy Chase could do about breakfast if thrown upon her own resources. It was so unusual for Sally's vigorous young frame to experience such exhaustion after even more severe effort than that of the past day that she could only wonder what it meant, and finally decided, after some speculation, that it was the effect of these first warm days of spring, combined with the stress of entertaining under difficulties.
"Well, here we are!" Max's voice could be heard in the hall outside, ushering in his guests. "Go single file down this passage—you can't get through side by side!"
Sally went hurriedly forward and met Dorothy Chase's smartly tailored figure in the middle of the tiny passage.
"Goodness gracious!" Bob and Alec and Mr. Timothy Rudd heard a familiar high-pitched voice exclaim. "You don't mean to tell us you live in this mouse-hole! Actually, my hat hits on both sides!"
Then came Neil Chase's barytone drawl—how well Bob remembered hating the sound of it with a profound hatred when it had been addressed contemptuously to him! "Really, Dorothy—you know—I told you that brim of yours was an inch and a half beyond the limit, and this proves it!"
But Sally's pretty head was held high. If she had a headache, its effect was visible only in her brilliant cheeks.
"You always ran to extremes, Dorothy, dear. Why didn't you take that absurd creation off in the vestibule? Neil, how are you? Have you your best Chesterfieldian manner with you? Because you'd better leave it outside; the apartment's not large enough for you and it, too!"
"The same impertinent child," declared Mrs. Chase, surveying her hostess in the light of the living-room. "And here's smart Alec," as that youth came forward, his smile of welcome undergoing a wry twist at this somewhat unusual greeting. "And Bob—heavens, child, how you've grown! And this is—oh, yes—Mr. Rudd!"
Her careless hand, in its travelling glove, met Uncle Timothy's grasp, and left it as casually as her bright hazel eyes left the glance of his faded blue ones. Bob, watching, grinned at Uncle Timothy meaningly, and received in return the mild sparkle of amusement with which the "antique" was accustomed to show himself invulnerable to neglect from young persons of Dorothy Chase's stamp.
Neil's greetings of the family were also highly characteristic. One who had never before seen him might have argued many things from the style of his opening address:
"This is Alec, eh? Well, Alec, I see you're still the flower of the family. Bob—how do you like sweeping out offices? Better than going to school? And here's Uncle Thomas—beg pardon—Uncle Joshua. Not got it right yet, Sally? Confound my memory—yes, yes—Uncle Timothy. How are you, my dear sir?"
"I see," responded Mr. Rudd, suddenly grown quietly dignified, as he surveyed this jocular young man whom he remembered as a youth whom he had frequently longed to thrash, "that in spite of the pressure of years and responsibility you happily retain your boyish characteristics."
Young Mr. Chase regarded Uncle Timothy for an instant without speaking. Then he turned to Sally with a quite audible comment: "The old gentleman hasn't changed much, has he? Keep him with you all the time?"
"We couldn't live without him," was Sally's quick reply. Uncle Timothy, catching the answer, smiled to himself. It would take more than the advent of these gay comets in his sky to disturb his content in the stars which revolved loyally about him.
The two hours which followed were occupied in instructing the guests how to bestow themselves in the unaccustomed limitations of the Lane apartment without doing themselves physical injury. The Chases evidently felt that the surest way to show their appreciation of the hospitality offered them was to be uninterruptedly mirthful at its character.
"For goodness' sake, Sally," cried Mrs. Chase, with a little shriek, "you're not going to put us both in here! Neil, don't you dare to come in until I get out—there isn't room. Where shall I hang my coat? Oh, is there a closet behind that curtain? Six hooks! Neil, you can't have but one of them—I want the rest. Sally, how did you ever come to it, after that great roomy old house of yours? I should suffocate in a week! It's lucky we're going on to-morrow. I couldn't change my gowns in here."
"I thought you were an experienced traveller," retorted Sally, lightly enough. She had known quite what to expect from Dorothy; it did not disturb her seriously. "Good travellers can tuck themselves away anywhere. Besides, this room is palatial in comparison with Uncle Timothy's. There's not room for a dressing-table in his. You should be thankful that you have one, and a mirror. The mirror's the one real essential for Dorothy Eustis Chase. I made sure you had that."
"It's just like you not to own up that you're cramped." Dorothy was taking full advantage of the mirror pointed out. Her elaborately waved chestnut locks received her full attention for a space, and Sally slipped away to the kitchen.
They sat down presently to something which was not a dinner, and proved decidedly more than a lunch. The guests ate ravenously, but did not forget to take note of their surroundings. Neil's back was too close to the wall for Sally to squeeze by him when she rose to change the plates, and this amused him very much. "Two more guests, and the room would burst, wouldn't it?" he suggested, as he handed a plate at her request. "I didn't know they ever made a flat as small as this"
"They make them much smaller," declared Max, with a sparkle of the eye. "I assure you we have never felt crowded—until to-night."
"Oh, don't mind us!" Dorothy cried. "You see, we've just come from visiting the Grandons, and their house is so enormous it makes everything seem small. It was a day's journey across our room, and Neil's dressing-room was as big as this whole flat. It's a lovely place to visit, they do everything for you. They have so many servants, and such well trained ones, you absolutely forget how to wait on yourself."
"How long were you there?" Alec inquired.
"Why, from Wednesday to—when did we leave there, Neil? Oh, yes, it must have been yesterday morning."
"Three days? No wonder you became too used to such luxury to be able to come down to waiting on yourselves." And Alec applied himself to his plate with a sense of having evened things up with Mrs. Chase in return for her "smart Alec."
It was Sally who kept matters running smoothly, her head throbbing all the while. When the Chases had been finally tucked away—still ironic—in their quarters, and the rest of the family had bestowed themselves in the space belonging to them, she sat down by the open window, too weary to undress. Here Bob, emerging from Uncle Timothy's room in search of belongings necessary to his comfort, found her.
"Why don't you go to bed?" he asked.
"I'm going. But I'd like to sit here all night."
"You'll catch cold by that window. Head still ache?"
"I suppose so. I'm too tired to feel anything any more."
"Cheer up. I'll be around bright and early and do everything I know."
"Of course you will, Bobby," and she held out her hand. He grasped it.
"Your hand's hot," he observed. "Aren't sick, are you?"
"Of course not. I'm never sick. Go to bed, dear. I'll be all right in the morning."
Optimistically, Bob thought she would. The next morning, however, the Sally who confronted him looked so far from herself, as she went slowly about the little kitchen, that he was worried, and said so.
"Never mind. Don't say anything. After breakfast I can rest."
"Can you brace up to get through breakfast?" demanded Bob, anxiously. Sally assured him that she could, and proved it. Somehow, after the manner of women, she came to the table with a smile so bright that nobody noticed that she ate almost nothing, that her hand shook as she poured the coffee, and that her long-lashed blue eyes were very heavy.
Immediately after breakfast the Chases were off—in a cab engaged by Max, in deference to Sally's wishes. Neil and Dorothy took a jocose farewell, the one declaring that their presence had stretched the apartment till it could be seen to gape at the seams, the other vowing that Sally must come to see her soon, in order to be able to take a full breath again. Then the cab bore them away.
"Well, of all the—" Alec left the sentence unfinished.
Max completed it for him. "Nerve! If that's a sample of legal brilliancy of wit, I'm sorry for the defendant who employs him," he grunted.
The Chases had arrived on Saturday night, and were continuing their journey without reference to the fact that it was Sunday. Sally turned back into the passage, remembering that on Sundays her family were to be provided for in the matter of luncheon, and that they were in the habit of looking forward to the extra good things she was accustomed to serve them upon that day. She sank into a chair and stared at the breakfast-table standing just as they had all left it.
"Don't you stir, Sis!" cried Bob, returning with the others. "Al and I'll do the dishes." Then, as he saw an expression of disfavour cross his brother's face at this unwelcome proposal, he added quickly, "She's sick, Sally is, with all this, and it's time somebody noticed it."
They all looked at her. She tried to smile up at them, but the unwilling tears came instead. "I'll be all right, if I can just lie down a while," she said.
Then they rallied, in alarm. Not one of them but loved Sally as the dearest thing in the world, however careless of her comfort one or another of them might now and then seem to be.
Max put a brotherly arm round her. "Tired out, little girl?" he asked, gently, and led her toward the couch in the living-room.
"All for those ungrateful duffers!" As he followed to put a pillow under his sister's head Alec looked as if he would like to knock at least one of the "duffers" down.
"She's had all she could do to keep up, for twenty-four hours!" cried Bob, pulling a small knit rug over Sally's feet.
She managed to smile at them, choking back quite unwonted tears—Sally was no baby, to cry at a touch of fatigue. She had known they would be very good to her, once they understood.
It was Uncle Timothy who at once became practical. He drew up a chair beside the couch and took Sally's wrist in his, counting carefully. Then he laid his hand on her forehead, against her flushed cheeks. He bade her put out her tongue, and surveying that tell-tale member through his spectacles, came to his conclusions. These he did not inflict upon Sally, who had closed her eyes, and lay like a tired child. Instead, he beckoned Max into another room, and said, "She's sick, sure enough. Pulse jumping, skin hot and dry—and too tired to move. Suppose you telephone Doctor Wood to look in this morning."
Max lost no time. He went down stairs to telephone, that Sally-might not hear, and in his suddenly roused anxiety made his message so urgent that the doctor arrived within the hour. He was the family physician long employed by the Lanes, and he had known Sally from her babyhood. It took him but the space of a brief, yet thorough, examination to form his opinion. He communicated it, under his breath, to Sally's "four men," who had tiptoed anxiously out into the hall where he had beckoned them.
"It looks mighty like typhoid," he said—and they winced at the word. "It's too soon to be certain, but there's more or less of it about. You can't take care of her here, and she'll be far better off at the hospital. I'll send a carriage and a nurse by twelve o'clock."
So do hours change outlooks. The last thing any one of the Lanes had expected to be doing at noon on that peaceful spring Sunday was to be standing in the vestibule of the Winona flats, watching the little sister being conveyed away, in the care of a nurse. But so it was.
"Don't look so blue, dears," Sally had murmured, as she left them. "I'll soon be back, you know."
"Heaven grant it!" ejaculated Uncle Timothy, in his heart. As for the others, they filed silently up stairs again, and into the empty room. It was full of all the things that had seemed to make it home—with Sally there. But somehow it looked empty now.
Nobody said much of anything unless it became necessary, but before bedtime four pregnant sentences had been uttered.
"That nurse looked as if she knew something," said Max, suddenly.
"There's not a man in the city equal to Wood," declared Alec.
"Seems as if she couldn't smile quite like that if she was going to be awfully sick," was Bob's contribution to the sum total of hopefulness.
But it was Uncle Timothy, as usual, who hit the nail on the head. "Boys," said he, "we can do our part—on our knees."
And, to a man, they nodded. Suddenly, they could not speak.
ARGUMENTS AND ANSWERS
"I'm sure that's as good a report as we could hope for," urged Josephine Burnside. But the anxiety in her eyes somewhat qualified her cheerfulness.
Maxwell Lane shook his head doubtfully.
"'Holding her own'—that's all they've said the last three days," he said.
"Yes, but that's a good deal at this stage. It's the end of the second week."
"She's out of her head."
"They usually are, I think."
The pair emerged from the door of the hospital.
"Well, I'm glad I met you here," said Max. "It's kind of you to come so often."
"It's not kind at all. I couldn't stay away. And if I could, Jarvis wouldn't let me. No telephone messages will satisfy him."
"Good old fellow. How are his eyes?"
"Worse than ever. Mother and I take turns reading to him, while he tramps the floor. We should try to get him off somewhere into the country, but he won't leave until Sally is out of the hospital. And I've no idea he will leave then, he'll be so anxious to do things for her."
"Good old chap," murmured Max again, absently. He was looking at Josephine as if an idea had struck him. "Are you going to do anything in particular the rest of the afternoon?"
"I don't know that I am. Why?"
"Don't you want to invite me to drive out into the country in your trap? The roads are pretty good now, and I ought to go out and take a look at the farm. Besides, I'm too restless to keep still. Saturday afternoons and Sundays are tough to get through with, just now."
"I shall be delighted. Come home with me, and we'll start right away. I should like to see the place again, too."
Fifteen minutes by trolley-car, and ten to allow for the ordering of the trap, and the two young people were driving away. Josephine held the reins over the back of a fine gray mare that seemed glad to get out of the stable on this sunny May afternoon. The roads were even better than Max had predicted, and the seven-mile drive was soon over.
"There are the pines." Josephine pointed with her whip. "How far away they show, against the lighter foliage. I'm fond of pines—they make me think of the mountains. You're lucky to have that grove. If you ever live here, it will be a lovely spot for hot summer afternoons."
"We'll never live here, if I can help it," answered Max. "As for the pine grove, the best thing to do with that is to cut it down and get the money out of it."
"Max!" exclaimed Josephine. "Don't do that without the permission of every member of your family and most of your friends. What's the money?"
"The money's a good deal to me. This illness of Sally's—"
"Sell the books, if you must, but not the trees. Of course you ought to keep both, but don't—don't cut down those trees!"
"You're as bad as Sally about this old place. Hello, there's some one in the grove now! What's he doing? Standing on his head?"
For a leg could be descried waving in the air, while its owner apparently lay partly on his back, his shoulders against a tree trunk. As the trap came nearer, the man could be seen distinctly; he was reading, with one leg balancing across the knee of the other.
"Seems to have taken possession of my grounds. I suppose he also would object if I offered to cut down the grove. Is he going to see us? No—too absorbed in his yellow novel."
"He sees us. But we're nothing to him. He's turned back to his page. Shall we drive in? Are you going to get out?"
"Yes, of course, if only to show that chap I'm the owner of his lounging place."
Josephine turned in, and the trap swung through the gateway and on past the pine grove. Max saw the reader get to his feet.
"Coming to apologize," murmured Max. "Well, if he asks permission, he can stay—till I cut down the grove."
Before the horse had been tied, the stranger was at hand. "Since I'm caught in the act, I'll come and ask if I may," he said, genially. "This is Mr. Lane, I believe. I'm Donald Ferry, a neighbour of yours. Your fine grove is a sort of 'call of the wild' to me."
Max shook hands, attracted at once by both voice and face. Donald Ferry was a sturdy young man, with broad shoulders and a thick thatch of reddish-brown hair; he possessed a pair of searching but friendly hazel eyes. He was dressed in a rough suit of blue serge, and a gray flannel shirt with a rolling collar and flowing blue tie gave him an out-door air confirmed by the tan and freckles on his face and the sinewy grip of his brown hand. He had closed his book and tucked it under his arm, so that its title could not be observed, but it had not exactly the look of a "yellow novel."
"You're entirely welcome to make use of the grove as much as you like," Max answered, with the cordiality he could not help feeling toward the possessor of so frank and genial a look as that with which the strange young man continued to regard him.
"I live with my mother in the little house on the other side of the grove," explained Mr. Ferry. "We've been living there for a fortnight, but this is the first time I've caught sight of anybody about the place. It seemed so completely deserted I've been proposing to my mother that we appropriate the house. But she seems a trifle appalled by the size of it. On the whole, for us, ours is rather the better fit."
"This house is too big to fit anything but an orphan asylum," said Max, with a wave toward the brick walls now heavily vine-clad with the tender green leafage of May. "It's in bad shape, from chimneys to cellar. Just the same, I've a sister who is wild to live here."
"Yet you are the one who comes out to look over the place? Perhaps you have a sort of sneaking fondness for it, after all!"
"My sister would come if she could. She's in the hospital with typhoid," explained Max, wondering, as he did so, how he came to be giving details like these in his first conversation with a stranger. He really liked the look of the fellow extraordinarily well.
"This will be a great place for her to grow strong in, by and by," suggested the other, his tone indicating his sympathy with the situation. "The pine grove, in June, will be better than a sanatorium."
Max shook his head. "It's not practical for us to think of living here. Of course we can bring her out for a day at a time."
"You might put up a tent in the grove. Nothing like out-doors for convalescents—and for well people. Well, Mr. Lane, thank you immensely for letting me feel free of the grove—until you come to live. I am fairly sure you will come to live here some day. It's an irresistible old place."
He took his leave with a pleasant grace of manner which, in spite of the rough old suit and flannel shirt, spoke of training in other places than pine groves.
When he had gone off among the pines toward the hedge, which lay between the grove and the little white cottage on the side toward Wybury, Max rejoined Josephine. "He looked a pretty good sort, didn't he? If anybody did live here, he'd be an interesting neighbour. I hardly knew there was a house there, did you?"
"Oh, yes, I saw it as we came by. It had been freshly painted white, and I noticed how pleasant it looked. It's a tiny house. Unless his mother is smaller than he is, it certainly must be a tight fit."
"She's probably about the size of a pint pot. Mothers of strapping fellows like that usually are."
"He wasn't any taller than you."
"Wasn't he? I thought he was a giant. He'd outweigh me by fifty pounds."
Josephine glanced at him. It struck her that Max, never of stalwart build, looked paler and thinner than usual. There was a slight stoop in his shoulders. She recalled the straight set of those belonging to the strange young man.
"Max," she asked, quite suddenly, "how much light do you have in your office?"
"Floods of it," replied Max, promptly. "I have to wear a shade sometimes."
"Bless your soul, no! What do you think a ground-floor banking house gets, between a lot of ten-story buildings? Electrics, of course, are the only things possible."
"Then you don't have the daylight at all?"
"I have plenty of light to work by."
"I think it's dreadful!" cried Josephine. She had never thought of it before, or considered Max's pale skin as the direct result of spending his days under such conditions. "If you could see the difference between your face and Mr. Ferry's—"
Max stared at her. "That red-headed, freckle-faced chap seems to have made a great impression on you," he complained. "He probably has an out-door job of some sort—his clothes showed it. Engineering, more than likely. That was undoubtedly a book on dynamics or hydraulics, or something of that sort. You can't expect a bank clerk to have a skin like an Indian's—under electric light. Come on, shall we walk back to the timber tract? That's what I want to look at. I suppose you won't object to my cutting there? There must be a lot of stuff fit to sell, and, as I told you, I need the money. When Sally gets out of the hospital, it will be a long time before she's fit to work. Uncle Tim says typhoid convalescents are pretty slow at getting back to the working stage. We'll have to keep on hiring that Mary Ann Flinders. She polishes the stove with the napkins, I think—they look it."
"Goodness! How poor Sally would feel if she knew!"
"She does know. I told her the last time I saw her—before she got these funny notions in her head. To-day she thought I was an Episcopal bishop come to marry her to the doctor—they got me out right away."
"Max! You must not tell Sally disturbing things about home. She will be anxious enough when she's herself, without hearing about napkins and things from you."
"I suppose so. But I've been so blue ever since she went I couldn't keep in."
"Then keep out."
Max looked at her. Josephine's dark cheeks were pink, partly with indignation, partly with the brisk progress over the slightly rising grade of the cartpath through the fields toward the timber tract.
"Well, you are sort of down on your friends to-day, aren't you? I'm an idiot to think of cutting down the pine grove. I'm a milksop compared with a red-headed Indian you never saw before. Now I'm a blunderbuss for answering a simple question asked me by my sister. What do you think I am, anyhow? Fit to cumber the earth?"
Josephine returned his gaze. She seemed not in the least awed by this burst of wrath. She replied with spirit, not unmixed with good humour:
"I think you're peppery—as usual. Hasn't an old friend like me a right to try to keep things straight? You ought to know better than to say one word to Sally that will give her a minute's anxiety. Goodness knows she's had enough of it, keeping house for you four people for three whole years."
"Haven't we been taking care of her all that time?" demanded Max, with rising colour of his own. "Haven't we all been working our heads off to pay expenses, and giving her every cent we could get to run things with?"
"Of course you have. It's what you ought to do, but I certainly give you credit for doing it. Only I don't think you've fully appreciated Sally's part. She's worked harder than any of you."
"Has she told you so?" Max was looking straight in front of him, and his eyes were angry.
"Never! You know she hasn't. She's not that kind of girl. But I'm another girl, and I can see for myself. Sally's worked hard to make that apartment seem like home. No matter how blue she felt herself, she's never acted blue before you—now has she?"
"I can't say that she has. She's a light-hearted girl—always was, and—"
"Don't you think it. Sally's been putting on a brave face and letting everybody suppose she's cheerful. She's kept you all up when she was bluer than you are now."
Max stopped short, stood still in the cart-path and looked Josephine in the eye. She stopped also, and faced him coolly.
"Will you tell me how you know all this?" he inquired, fiercely.
"I've put two and two together, and found they make four," replied Josephine. "See here, Max "—she spoke more gently, but quite as decidedly as before—"you mustn't think I'm trying to be disagreeable, now, of all times. Of course I know you boys all love Sally as devotedly as brothers can, and do a great deal to show it. But when it comes to sparing her anxiety and letting her have her way about things she has set her heart on, I don't think you're always quite as considerate as you might be. I didn't dream of saying all this to-day. But when you began to talk about cutting down that pine grove, though you knew what a fancy Sally took to it, it came over me that you would be just as likely as anything to do it right now, while Sally is sick—and I just couldn't help speaking out."
The two walked on in silence for some distance. Then Max spoke, gloomily:
"It's all right enough to consider sentiment, and I know you well enough to understand what you mean by pitching into me this way. But the craze Sally's been in over this old place seems to me a thing out of all reason. What are we, a family of bank clerks and office boys, to shoulder a proposition like this? We can't think of moving out here and living in that barracks, and trying to make a living off the soil. Neither can we put a tenant on here, and fit him out with farm tools, and take the responsibility and the risk of his running the place. He'd undoubtedly run us into the ground the first year. I've thought it over and thought it over, and the only course seems to me to be to find a buyer for the place. Money isn't easy just now, and I've no doubt we'd have a hard time to get a decent price. Meanwhile it seems to me only common sense to get what income we can out of it. If I could sell that big pine grove, and cut off what timber is ready for the axe up here, it would bring us something quite substantial."
Now this certainly was a presentation of the case which called for a considerate listening. But, quite as if she had not heard a word of his argument, Josephine cried out:
"Max, why not do what Mr. Ferry proposed, if you think the house can't be lived in? Put up a tent in the grove and bring Sally there as soon as she's fit for it. She'd get strong twice as fast as in that stuffy flat!"
Max gazed at her. "That's just what you get," he ejaculated, "when you try to talk business with a girl. Show her a good and sufficient reason why you can't do a thing, and she instantly asks why you can't do something ten times harder. Will you tell me how, with Sally out here in a tent, we fellows are going to get along in the flat? And what would she do out here, all by herself?"
It was now Josephine's turn to gaze with scorn at her companion. "Do you think I'm proposing for Sally to camp by herself out here, while Mary Ann Flinders keeps house for you in town? No; bring Mary Ann out here to cook for Sally, and you boys come out for the nights. If you had a bit of camp spirit, you'd jump at the chance to get a real outing right along with your work."
"Camp," exclaimed Max, "in your own front yard!"
"The pine grove isn't your front yard, and the farther end of it is so far away from the road, nobody could tell who was who, back there. Besides, what difference, if Sally gets strong again as fast as out-door life can make her?"
"It's not practical," Max continued to object, and Josephine realized afresh that the Lane temperament was not one easily swayed by argument or appeal. There was a stubborn streak in Max which was as hard to deal with now as it had been in the days when Josephine had fought it out with him in playground affairs. Yet she did not lose hope. She had known Max to come round, if left to himself, convinced in the end by logic derived from his own consideration of the case. If he could once see a course as fair and right he would accept it. Clearly, he did not yet see this thing in any such light, and it was of no use to persist in heated argument which would only result in prejudicing him yet further against the plan which seemed to Josephine so wise a one.
The two walked through the timber tract, Max pointing out trees which he thought could be sacrificed with a real gain to the timber to be left standing. Josephine listened and agreed, finding genuine interest in the long vistas of oak and chestnut pillars stretching away to what seemed an infinite distance, for dense undergrowth at the back of the wood prevented the appearance of an outlet anywhere.
As they drove away, they noted with new interest the small white cottage on the farther side of the dividing hedge.
"There's your friend Ferry," observed Max, as they flew by at the gray mare's smartest pace, "working away in a strawberry patch as if his life depended on it. That's where he gets his beautiful Indian complexion you admire so much, when he isn't doing engineering stunts. Probably he's home just now between jobs, fixing up his mother in her new place. Well, we can't all grow strawberries and lie round on our backs reading hydraulics. Some of us have to do the in-door jobs. Of course those are useless—mere folly. All the really sensible chaps are looking after the colour of their skins!"
TELEPHONES AND TENTS
"Hello, Jarve! This you?"
Over the telephone Jarvis Burnside recognized Max Lane's voice, eager and cheerful. The last time he had heard it, it had been so despondent that his own anxiety had been heavily increased. He answered eagerly:
"Yes. What is it?"
"There's a break in her temperature."
"A break! You mean—"
"A drop—a landslide—during the last twelve hours. She's sleeping quietly. She's—"
But something suddenly interfered with the speaker's articulation. Although Jarvis continued to listen with strained attention, a silence succeeded. His imagination filled the gap. He essayed to offer congratulations, but found something the matter with his own powers of speech. After a moment's struggle, however, he was able to say, "I'll be round as quick as I can get there."
Mrs. Burnside, passing the telephone closet at the back of the hall, heard a rush therefrom, and found herself suddenly embraced by a pair of long arms. Although blue goggles concealed her son's eyes from her look of sympathetic inquiry, the smile which transformed his face was not to be mistaken.
"Jarvis, dear—you've had good news!"
"Max couldn't say much, but his voice told. The fever's down—she's sleeping!"
"Oh, I am glad—so glad! The dear child! I couldn't sleep last night, after the discouraging news."
Her son did not say that he had not slept, but he looked it. His finely cut features showed plainly that for more than one night he had been suffering severe and increasing strain.
"We must tell Josephine," said his mother happily, proceeding on her way with Jarvis's arm about her shoulders.
"You look her up, please. I'm going to bolt down to see Max and the rest. Uncle Timothy was about all in last night when I met him. These last five days—"
Jarvis released his mother, seized his hat from a tree they were passing, and escaped out of a side door. Mrs. Burnside hurried away upstairs to find her daughter. If the Burnside family had been bound to the Lanes by ties of blood, each member of it could hardly have been more intimately concerned with the issue of Sally's illness.
Away down town, at the Winona flats, Jarvis's ring brought an instant response, and a minute later Bob was shaking his hand off at the half-way landing. Then Alec was rushing to the top of the stairs, and Max was shouting from the bath-room, where he was shaving. Uncle Timothy alone remained quiet in his chair, but his worn face was bright.
"It's great news, Mr. Rudd, great news!" cried Jarvis, wringing Uncle Timothy's out-stretched hand of welcome.
"Yes, Jarvis—yes. But—I must warn you all to make haste slowly in the matter of assurance. It looks favourable, certainly, but the child has been through a hard fight, and she is not out of danger yet. You know I don't want to dampen your happiness, boys—" and Uncle Timothy looked tenderly from one face to another, out of the wisdom of his greater experience.
Their faces had sobered. "I understand, sir, of course," Jarvis agreed. "But the drop in the fever and the quiet sleep surely mean a promising change?"
"Very promising—no doubt of it. And we are thankful—thankful. It is a wonderful relief after the reports we have been getting." He took off his spectacles and wiped them. Then he wiped his eyes. "With care, now—" he began again, cheerfully.
But Bob could not help interrupting. "She's getting splendid care," he cried. He could not endure the thought that it was still necessary to exercise caution lest they rejoice prematurely. He had taken the leap from boyish despair to boyish confidence at a bound, and he had no mind to drop back to a half-way point of doubt and depression.
"I suppose we ought to wait a few days before we run up any flags," Max admitted, and the others reluctantly agreed.
During the following week they learned the reasons for respecting Mr. Rudd's advice. Though Sally's bark had certainly rounded the most threatening danger point, there yet remained seas by no means smooth to be traversed, and more than once wind and waves rose again sufficiently to cause a return of anxiety to those who watched but could not go to the rescue. But, in due time, recovery became assured, convalescence was established, and finally the great day was at hand, when she should come home from the hospital. She looked still very pale and weak, as they saw her lying in her high white bed in the long ward—how they had mourned that they could not afford to give her a private room!—But she was Sally herself once more, and looking so eagerly forward to being at home again that it was a joy to see her smile at the thought of it.
"I wish it were not so excessively hot," said Uncle Timothy, regretfully.
He stood in the doorway of Sally's room. It had been put in order by Mary Ann Flinders—or, to be more exact, Mary Ann Flinders had attempted to put it in order for Sally's reception the next day.
Max looked in over his uncle's shoulder. "I don't know that it's any hotter in here than anywhere else!" he demurred, irritably. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and he had that moment removed his collar and neck-tie. Uncle Timothy had got as far as taking off his waistcoat and donning an old alpaca coat, in which he had been striving to imagine himself comfortable.
"I think it must be several degrees warmer in this small room than in the dining-room," asserted Uncle Timothy. "And it is ninety-two there. It is unfortunate that the poor child should have to come back to such an oven as this. At the hospital a breeze circulates through the wards. Here there seems to be none."
"She could sleep on the couch in the living-room." suggested Max. "Whew! It is hot! What possesses the weather to start in like this, before June's half over? I believe it was one hundred and twelve in the office to-day."
He threw himself on the couch. After a moment of reclining upon it, during which he mopped his brow and drew his handkerchief about his neck, he rose and jerked the couch toward one of the two open windows. When he had lain in this new situation for the space of two minutes more, he got up again and sought the tiny kitchen, where he could be heard drawing water from the tap. "Ugh—warm as dish water!" Uncle Timothy could hear his distant splutter.
Bob and Alec were out somewhere—presumably cooling off in one of the city parks or on the river front. Also, they were getting impatiently through the hours before Sally's return. The entire Lane household had reached the point where her coming home seemed a thing never to be attained. To a man, they felt that one week more without her would be unendurable.
But the next day—it was Sunday again—she came home. Josephine and Max, with the Burnside carriage and horses, brought her to the door. Max and Alec, making a "chair" of hands and wrists, carried the pitifully light figure up the four flights of stairs, and Josephine hovered over the convalescent as she was established upon the couch, among many pillows. The rest of them stood about in a smiling circle.
"Oh, but it's good to be home!" sighed Sally, happily, looking from one to another with eyes which seemed to them all as big as saucers, so deep were the hollows about them and so thin her cheeks. "But how pale and tired you all look! What in the world is the matter with you?"
"The truth is, I think, dear," explained Josephine, glancing from Max to Uncle Timothy, "your family have been having typhoid." Then, at Sally's startled expression, she added, gently, "It's almost as wearing, you know, to have a fever of anxiety over somebody you love as to have the real thing in the hospital."
"Oh!" exclaimed Sally, softly, and her eyes fell. Then she drooped limply against her pillows. "It's—just a little hot to-day, isn't it?" she murmured.
Alec consulted the thermometer. "It's ninety here now," he announced. "At ten o'clock in the morning! About three this afternoon, Sally, you'll see what we can do here. And no let-up promised by the weather man."
Bob brought a palm-leaf fan, and perching himself at the head of Sally's couch, began to fan her. "I'll produce 'breezes from the north and east,'" he promised. "Al, why don't you get her some ice-water? We began to take ice yesterday."
"Only yesterday?" questioned Sally, with her eyes closed. But she forbore to ask why they had delayed so long. Well she knew that illnesses are expensive affairs.
"If you only had let us take you to our house!" cried Josephine, for the tenth time since she had first proposed that plan. "We could have made you so much more comfortable."
Sally opened her eyes again. "No, you couldn't, Joey," she said, "unless you had taken all the rest of them. I couldn't spare my family another day!"
"May we come in?"
It was Jarvis Burnside, bringing his mother to see Sally. Neither of them had yet set eyes upon her since her illness. Sally had been at home for two days now, two intemperately hot days. During this entire period she had lain on the couch, which was drawn as close to the window as it could be placed. Uncle Timothy had remained at hand with fans and iced lemonade and every other expedient he could think of for mitigating the perfervid temperature of the flat. Just now, at five o'clock in the afternoon, with no breeze whatever entering at the window, the small living-room was at its worst.
"Oh, I'm so glad to see you!" Sally held out a languid hand, but her face lighted up with pleasure.
While his mother bent over Sally, Jarvis pushed up his goggles, then pulled them off. The room was shaded, but even so, the daylight made him blink painfully for a minute. But by the time he got his chance at greeting the invalid, he was able to see clearly for himself just how Sally was looking. He stared hard at her, noting with a contraction of the heart all the evidences of the fight for life she had been through. There was no doubt about it, it was as Josephine had said: she looked as if a breath might blow her away.
"I look like a little boy now, don't I?" suggested Sally, smiling up at him as his hand closed over hers. She put up her other hand to her head, where the heavy masses of fair hair had given way to a short, curly crop most childish in its clustering framing of her now delicate face. "It's a blow to my vanity, but it's growing fast, and by the time I can hold my head up good and strong, like a six-months-old baby, it will be long enough to tie with a bow at my neck."
"You can't hold your head up yet?" questioned Jarvis anxiously.
"Oh, yes, I can," declared Sally, cheerfully. "I just don't seem to want to—not when there's a convenient pillow to lay it on. But I shall get strong pretty soon now. When the weather changes—why, even to-day, if I were lying down on the bank of a brook somewhere, or in the woods—or almost anywhere out-doors—I believe I'd feel quite a lot stiffer in my backbone."
"And still you won't come to us and let us make you comfortable?" Mrs. Burnside looked as if she would enjoy doing it.
But Sally looked over at Uncle Timothy, and her shake of the head was as decided as ever. "Not while Uncle Timmy and the boys stay here. Have you seen Max and Alec lately, Mrs. Burnside? I don't believe I'm a bit paler than they are, working in those hot offices in the artificial light. I shall grow strong fast enough—the nurse told me people always feel like this after typhoid. And when I do get strong I shall be a Trojan—just wait."
"We don't like to wait," said Jarvis, still watching Sally, although his eyes were feeling the adverse influences of the white daylight which beat into the room underneath the shades. He put up his hand for an instant to shield them, and Sally was quick to notice.
"I thought you were wearing goggles, Jarvis," she said. Mrs. Burnside turned with a reproachful expression, and with a laugh Jarvis drew the goggles out of his pocket and replaced them.
"A fellow gets tired of viewing life through these things," he explained. "And I've been seeing you in imagination through blue spectacles, so to speak, for five weeks now. I thought I'd like a glimpse of your true complexion."
Sally put up two thin hands and pinched her cheeks fiercely. "I believe I must resemble a tallow candle," she complained. "What can you people expect of a patient just out of the hospital?"
"We'd like to get you where nature would attend to putting on the rouge—eh, mother?" and Jarvis thought of his friend Max with a strong desire to take that refractory young man by the collar and argue with him with his fists. If it had not been for Max's stubbornness, Sally would not now be suffering the discomfort of this unspeakable apartment.
When he and his mother had reached the outer air again and were driving away, Jarvis burst out: "Something must be done! If Sally won't let you and Jo have her—and that wouldn't be getting her out of the city, only into a more bearable in-door atmosphere—she must be taken into the country. Jo's plan is perfectly feasible. A tent in that pine grove would do the business. Mother, I'm going to put one there. If Max doesn't like it, he can stay away."
"Jarvis, dear, how can you do that? Max would resent that high-handed way of managing his affairs."
"I dare say he would. What of that? If ever a frail child needed to get out-doors, Sally does. Aren't we old friends enough to take things into our own hands?"
"Max won't accept a tent from you—or Sally, either."
"Won't they? They won't have to. It'll be my tent; I'll lend it to them." Jarvis grinned, his white teeth making a striking contrast to the sombre effect of his big goggles.
"Hold on, Cheney," he said to the coachman. "Let me out at the corner of Seventeenth. I will look up the tent business right here and now."
His mother looked after his tall figure as he hurried away through the down town crowds, his straw hat a little pushed back, as it was wont to be in moments of excitement. She herself felt like heartily aiding and abetting his friendly schemes, for Sally was very dear to her motherly heart, and it had seemed to her impossible that the girl should recover her strength while shut up in the little flat. If the heat lasted—and there were no indications of any near break in the high temperature—it would certainly be a severe test on the young convalescent, and might seriously retard her in the important business of getting back her old vigour.
Within an hour Jarvis was at home again, in time for dinner. He came to the table with a catalogue in his hand. Determination was written large upon his face. Josephine had heard from her mother of his expressed intention, and she eyed the catalogue eagerly.
"Are you really going to do it, Jarve?" she cried.
"Of course I'm going to do it—with your help."
"Help! I'll do any thing. Have you told Max?"
"I'll tell him nothing till the tent's up—and furnished. Here, look at this list, and advise me as to size. Would an eighteen by twenty-four wall-tent—of the heaviest duck—be about right?"
"Eighteen by twenty-four! Why, that's—how big would that be?"
"About the size of this dining-room. I could get an eighteen by thirty-four—"
Josephine interrupted him with a burst of delighted laughter.
"You might get Sally a circus tent," she cried. "As big as this dining-room! Why, Jarve—"
"She wants the whole family with her," explained Jarvis, with composure. "That means the tent must be divided off into rooms. And she must have one section for a living-room. I'm going to have a floor made—the carpenter will go out in the morning, if he keeps his word. By quick work we ought to be able to take her out there to-morrow night, but allowing for delays, the next evening will have to do. Mother, have we any cots?"
"I'm afraid we have no cots. There are two single-width white iron beds in the attic—"
"All the better. May I have them?"
"I wonder you stop to ask permission of anybody for anything," observed Josephine. "Mother, have you seen Jarvis look so waked up since he put on goggles?"
Mrs. Burnside smiled. She was very glad to see her son so interested, although she felt decidedly doubtful as to the way in which the Lanes would take his interference in their affairs. Still, as Jarvis had urged, people who have been friends from childhood, with an old family friendship of fathers and grandfathers behind them, should have some rights when it comes to matters so important. And if anybody could manage Max's proud and intolerant temper, Jarvis, with his quiet firmness, should be the one. Josephine, also, was of the make-up which can fight for that which seems right. Between them, if they could not put the thing through, it would be rather remarkable.
"Joey, will you and mother drive out with me this evening and decide on where to put the tent?" Jarvis rose from the table, after having made a hasty meal which did not include any superfluous courses.
"Of course I will." Josephine pushed aside her dessert.
"I will stay at home and look up blankets and bedding," announced Mrs. Burnside. "Have you thought of the cooking question? Shall we try to supply the utensils?"
"If you can spare them, mother. I'll buy what you can't contribute. I've bargained for a little gasolene stove and a small tent for a kitchen. As for the cooking, is that specimen they have in the flat now good enough to import to the camp?"
"She's pretty poor. I had luncheon there yesterday with Sally." Josephine's face spoke louder than her words.
"Mother, could you spare Joanna for a week or two, till they can find somebody? She can cook almost as well as Sarah, you know. She cooked for me last fall, when you were away and Sarah was taken ill."
Jarvis's mother looked at him doubtfully. "I think you had better not go as far as that. Be content with supplying the tent and its equipment, and see how Max and Alec take it. The young girl they have now will do for a time, surely."
"All right—if you think that's the better plan. Ready, Sis?"
Jarvis put the gray mare through her paces, and there was still an hour of daylight left when he and Josephine reached the pine grove.
"It's ten degrees cooler out here than it is in town at this hour," declared Jarvis, with satisfaction. He pushed up the goggles and lowered them again quickly. Even the subdued light in the grove, at a point where the setting sun did not penetrate, was too much for his eyes. "Confound the things!" he exploded. "Shall I ever be anything again but an owl in daylight? Well, where shall the tent go?"
"Over there," replied Josephine, promptly. "There's just one perfect spot for it—on the top of that little rise, looking toward the south, and away from the grove."
"Right you are. But the trees are too thick."
He pulled out a foot-rule and began to measure. Presently he announced the result: "One tree, this little fellow, will have to come down."
"Do you dare?"
"Of course I dare. Where can I get an axe?"
Josephine glanced toward the house. Then she thought of the Ferry cottage. "The little house beyond the hedge—I know the people—at least, I've met one of them. Shall we go and ask?"
Jarvis was already hurrying toward a distant gap in the hedge. "I'll go!" he called back.
In two minutes he reappeared. With him was a sturdy figure. Josephine recognized the broad shoulders, the thick reddish-brown hair, the gleam of the hazel eyes. She nodded at Donald Ferry, noting that he was not now clad in a gray flannel shirt, but in one of white, with a low collar and silk neck-tie, similar to Jarvis's—hot-weather dress with an urban air about it. He carried an axe.
"Thank you," said Jarvis, when they had reached the spot which Josephine had designated. He held out his hand for the axe.
Ferry shook his head, smiling. "Which is the tree?" he inquired.
"Give me the axe, please," repeated Jarvis. "There's no reason why you should chop down trees for us on a sweltering night like this."
"It won't make me swelter as much as it will you," asserted Ferry retaining his hold on the axe. "I'm an old woodman. Come, show me the tree, or I'll chop at a venture. Miss Burnside?"
Josephine pointed out the tree. Ferry lifted the axe and swung it, and it sank deeply into the trunk. Another blow; it struck the same spot. Another and another, with an unerring aim. "You are a woodman," admitted Jarvis, admiringly, watching the powerful swing and the telling blows.
Ferry laughed, without abating the vigour of his work. "There's no better out-door fun that I know of," said he, "than chopping down a tree. I couldn't think of missing this chance."