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The Cricket
by Marjorie Cooke
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THE CRICKET



Books by the Same Author

BAMBI

CINDERELLA JANE

"DR. DAVID"

THE DUAL ALLIANCE

THE GIRL WHO LIVED IN THE WOODS

THE THRESHOLD







THE CRICKET

BY

MARJORIE BENTON COOKE



ILLUSTRATED BY J. SCOTT WILLIAMS

GARDEN CITY NEW YORK DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY 1919



Copyright, 1919, by

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

All rights reserved, including that of translations into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian

Copyright, 1918, 1919, by THE INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE COMPANY (Harper's Bazar)



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

"What do you mean by acting like this when I give you a birthday party?" (See page 6) Frontispiece

FACING PAGE She watched Jerry and Althea pacing the deck together 162

"You've made my summer for me, little witch," Cartel said 182

"Ye're a comfortable cricket, when ye want to be. I'd like to capture ye, to sing on my hearth!" 240



THE CRICKET



CHAPTER ONE

"I won't have it! I won't have it! If they come, I'll run away and hide!" shouted the child, wildly.

"That will be very rude. No one acts like that—no one except a barbarian," said Miss Wilder, calmly.

"I want to be a bar——one of those things you said."

"You act like one most of the time."

The child brain caught at a new idea.

"What is that—that what you said?"

"Barbarian? B-a-r-b-a-r-i-a-n," she spelled slowly. "It is a savage creature with no manners, no morals, no clothes even. It lives in a hut or a tree, and eats roots and nuts, and nearly raw meat," Miss Wilder remarked, none too accurately, but slowly, in order to distract Isabelle's attention from the late subject of unpleasantness. The little girl considered her words thoughtfully.

"Do they have children?"

"Yes."

"Where do they live?"

"Oh, strange places; Fiji Islands, for one."

"Are there any near here?"

"Not that I know of."

"I want to go live with the bar-barbarians."

Miss Wilder's stern face underwent no change. She answered seriously:

"You would not like it; you would be very uncomfortable. The children have no pretty clothes, no nice homes with gardens to play in, no kind parents or patient teachers."

"Do they have horses?"

"I suppose so."

"Do they swim?"

"Probably. They have rude boats called dug-outs," continued Miss Wilder, glad of an absorbing subject.

"Do the children go in the boats?"

"No doubt."

"They can't get their clothes spoiled if they don't wear any."

"Obviously. Come, now, Isabelle, put on your dress like a nice girl. The children will be coming to the party, and you won't be dressed."

"I won't put on that dress, and I'm not going to the party, I tell you; I hate them."

Miss Wilder tried force, but in vain. She tried strategy, with no results. Isabelle wriggled out of her grasp and darted out of the room. Miss Wilder called; no reply. She commanded; no answer. Then she closed her lips more firmly and betook herself to the door of Mrs. Bryce's room.

"What is it? I told you not to bother me," an irritated voice called, at her knock.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Bryce, but Isabelle refuses to be dressed for the party. She says she won't go."

"Come in," called the voice.

The governess opened the door and entered. It was a hot day, and Mrs. Bryce, in a cool neglige, lay stretched out on a chaise longue, with a pitcher of something iced beside her, a book open on her lap. She was the picture of luxurious comfort, except for the frown upon her pretty brow.

"Why don't you make her behave, Miss Wilder?"

"I do my best, Mrs. Bryce, but she is very difficult," the older woman sighed.

"Of course she's difficult—she's a brat! But that is what I have you for, to teach her some manners, and make her act like a civilized being. Where is she?"

"She ran away when I tried to put her dress on her."

"What do you expect me to do about it?"

"I thought you might order her to get dressed."

"Much good it would do! I don't see why I have to be bothered with it. I didn't want the party; it's a perfect nuisance, cluttering up the place with noisy kids; but she owes it to them, and she has to have them here once a season."

A small, determined figure appeared at the door, in a brief petticoat and socks.

"I won't go to that party," she announced.

"Come here to me this instant," exploded her mother at sight of her.

The child walked slowly to her mother's side, with disconcerting dignity, all out of proportion to her four brief years.

"What do you mean by acting like this when I give you a birthday party? There is everything on earth ordered to eat, and all the children in the colony are asked to come and play with you, and you make a monkey of yourself."

"I won't go."

"Why won't you go?"

"You didn't ask Patsy."

"You can't ask that common little Irishman to a party," objected her parent.

"I won't go. He's my friend. I like him best, an' if he don't come, I won't go."

"But it's your party——"

"I hate 'em."

"You ought to whip her!" Mrs. Bryce said to the governess.

A maid appeared at the door to announce the first arrivals.

"Now, you see, your guests are coming, and you aren't even dressed."

"I won't go," reiterated the child, sullenly.

"If we ask Patsy, will you go?" asked Mrs. Bryce desperately.

"No—o; yes."

"Put on her clothes, Miss Wilder, and telephone the Lodge that Isabelle wants Patsy for her party."

"But, Mrs. Bryce, do you think we ought to humour her? Will not the children's mothers object to Patsy?"

"Well, if you want her to go to this party, you'd better make a bargain with her. I know her."

"Come on. Hurry up, Miss Wilder; I want to go after Patsy myself," cried the tyrant, racing down the hall.

Miss Wilder followed, and Mrs. Bryce turned to her book, with a sense of irritated futility which her only child always aroused in her. But the party soon faded from her mind, save when shrill shouts from the lawn below caught her attention.

Eventually Mr. Walter Bryce, familiarly known as Wally, appeared at his wife's door. He was an undersized, dapper little man, with almost no chin. His sole claim to attention lay in the millions accumulated by his father.

"Nice row you've got on down stairs," he remarked.

"Isabelle's birthday party," yawned his wife.

"Looks to me like poor old Wilder's birthday party. Just as I came along, a line of kids was marching up to give their hostess their presents. Old Wilder was hanging on to Isabelle so she wouldn't bolt, and the little beast wouldn't take one of the packages. Said she didn't want their presents. The poor Wilder appealed to me, and I told Isabelle to act like a lady, and whadye think she said to me—right there before all those smart-aleck kids?—'Get out, Wally, this is my party'!"

Mrs. Bryce laughed.

"You ought to know better than to give her a chance like that."

"Look here now, Max, she's got to be attended to. She's the limit. She's got no more manners than an alley cat."

"That's no news to me, Wally."

"Why don't you do something about it?"

"Do something? Don't I get her a new governess every month? Nobody can do anything with her."

"I don't see where she gets it," said Wally.

"She gets it from you, and she gets it from me. She's the worst of both of us personified."

"Poor kid, that's tough luck for her"—seriously.

"A little late for vain regrets"—sarcastically.

He went over to the window and looked down at the party scattered about below.

"Why wouldn't it be a good idea to keep her with you awhile every day, Max?"

"Not much! I come down here to rest, not to play nursemaid. You might take her round with you, if you feel that she needs uplifting."

"She's beyond me. I don't understand her; and, on the whole, I don't like her."

"Nobody likes her; she's queer. And plain; my word, why do you suppose I had to have a child that looks like that? She hasn't one good point."

"Um—she's got eyes."

"Great big goopy eyes too big for her head! This parent business is too much of a gamble. If you could go pick out a nice blue-eyed, pink-and-white, ready-made infant——"

"I suppose you should have picked out a pink-and-white ready-made husband, if you wanted that kind," Wally interposed.

"Well, I never would have picked out Isabelle."

"After all, you're her mother, Max," he began.

"Look here, Wally, don't begin on that mother stuff. I didn't want her any more than you did, and we were fools to have her. That may be abnormal, unnatural, and all the rest of it, but it's the truth, and there are lots of other women just like me. You can't lump us, any more than you can lump men. We don't all of us have the maternal instinct, not by a long shot."

"Don't talk like that, Max; it's not nice."

"There you go. It's all right for you not to want a child, but it's indecent in me. That's a man-made idea, and it won't work any more. Lots of us don't find motherhood either satisfying or interesting, and we're getting courage enough to say so."

"The less you say about it, the better," counselled Wally.

"To get back to Isabelle, she's here, and she's just as much your responsibility as she is mine."

"Being here isn't her fault, poor kid. Seems as if somebody ought to—well—love her," he finished in embarrassment.

"Go ahead. I've no objection."

Mrs. Bryce returned to her book.

"By Jove, Max, you're hard as rocks."

"Oh, get out, Wally. I'm not interested in your conversation. Go liven up the party."

"Why don't you try a younger governess, for a change?" he went on, undeterred. "Wilder is so old and sort of set."

Mrs. Bryce closed her book with irritated finality.

"Wally, I will give you a chance at running our darling child for the rest of this summer. I declare a strike! You get her governesses, you donate your society to her. You've got nothing to do. She may keep you out of mischief."

"Oh, I say, I don't want to butt in, I only thought——"

"She's yours. I'm through until September first."

There was an uproar from below, louder than before. Wally looked out.

"I wonder what they're up to," he said.

A maid, red and flustered, appeared at the door.

"Oh, Mrs. Bryce, please come down to the party. Isabelle ran away with Patsy and we've just found her."

Mrs. Bryce, oblivious of her costume, followed Mr. Bryce and the maid down the stairs, as fast as possible. Evidently a crisis had occurred below. All the girls in their white dresses and pink or blue sashes, all the boys in their white collars of ceremony, were grouped about on the lawn, around the base of a big shade tree. Pink hair bows were a-flutter with excitement. The patent leather pumps of the boys trod upon the white slippers of the little girls in their efforts to see what was happening.

At the foot of the tree stood Miss Wilder red and tired, speaking sternly to some one overhead. Mr. and Mrs. Bryce rushed to join her, brushing children aside.

"What is the matter, Miss Wilder?" demanded Mrs. Bryce.

"Oh, Mrs. Bryce, she's—she's——"

"Isabelle Bryce, come down here this moment," commanded her mother, loudly.

There was a whispered colloquy overhead, among the branches.

"That wretched Patsy is with her," wailed Miss Wilder. "They ran away, and hid for hours, and then we found them up here."

"Isabelle!" shouted her father.

"All right. We're going to drop," said a voice from above.

Suddenly two white and shining little bodies hung side by side from a limb, then two naked youngsters dropped into the midst of the astounded party.

"Isabelle Bryce!" gasped her mother.

"We're playing barbarian," said Isabelle, coolly; "Miss Wilder told me about them."

"Miss Wilder!" protested Wally.

"But I didn't—I mean—I——"

"You said they lived in trees and never wore clothes."

The children began to titter.

"This is your affair, I believe, Wally," remarked Mrs. Bryce, and she walked in a leisurely way into the house.

"Oh, I say," he called after her; then: "Get her indoors, will you? Who's the boy?"

"The gardener's child, Patsy."

"Where are your clothes?" he demanded.

"Up in the tree, sorr," said the boy.

"Get them, and cut home," said Wally, severely.

Patsy obeyed, but Isabelle resisted force. "I won't hurry and I won't be carried, I'll walk," said she, and—properly clad in her "birthday clothes"—Isabelle Bryce disposed of her first party!



CHAPTER TWO

Following upon the exit of his daughter came the realization to Wally that something must be done about the "party." He turned to the group of children, huddled together in horror, like butterflies in a rain storm. Serious and large-eyed, they focussed their attention upon him, in the apparent belief that, being a parent, he would be able to handle this unprecedented situation. They ranged in age from three to six; they were the children of his neighbours and life-long associates; and yet Wally had the feeling that he was hemmed in by a pack of alert, curious little animals.

"Well, children," he managed to say, "I'm sorry that Isabelle was such a naughty girl at her own party, but she is only four years old, we must remember, and I suppose she did not know any better."

"I'm free an' a half, an' I don't take off my cloves at a party," bragged one of the female infants.

"No, I'm sure you don't. It isn't done," said Wally, helplessly.

"She always spoils parties. I wanted not to have her at mine, but mother made me," remarked Tommy Page.

"Hard luck, old man," said Wally.

"She always wants to boss everything," Margie Hunter complained.

"Are you going to whip her?" demanded another child.

"She will be punished, believe me," replied Wally, firmly. "But I think we'd better call the party over."

"We can't go yet, the nurses and chauffeurs haven't come," Tommy protested. "I'd like to hear her yell when she's licked."

"Our man will take you all home in the big station wagon, so get on your hats," Wally ordered.

Fifteen minutes later the smallest child was packed in, with one of the maids in command, and the motor slid off down the drive, leaving Wally on the door step.

"Little beasts!" he remarked, feelingly.

In the hall he met Miss Wilder, still bearing marks of the late excitement.

"I have put Isabelle to bed, Mr. Bryce. Mrs. Bryce says that you are to prescribe her punishment."

Wally looked his misery.

"I don't want to punish her. Can't you manage it alone?" he said.

"No, I cannot. Isabelle needs the authority of her parents now and then to back me up," said Miss Wilder, severely.

"Well, I'll have a talk with her."

"I think a severe spanking is what she needs."

"What do ye suppose ever put such an idea in her head?"

"You never know what she is going to do. She asked me about barbarians when I was trying to induce her to get dressed for the party. I told her some facts, just to occupy her mind."

"It occupied her mind all right," laughed Wally, who left Miss Wilder with the idea that he thought the joke was at her expense. She determined to give notice at once, and leave at the end of her month.

Wally went upstairs and turned his unaccustomed feet into the nursery. He hesitated before he opened the door, but no sounds of repentant sobs met his ear, so he went in. Isabelle, the picture of alert interest, sat up in bed and eyed him.

"Have you come to punish me?" she asked.

"Something like that."

"Go ahead," said she.

He sat down on the edge of her bed and looked at her. Max was right; she was no prize beauty, with her baby face like an old woman's, with her nondescript features, her short brown hair. But her eyes were disturbing—big dusky, wise eyes, with no effect of childishness.

"Look here, Isabelle, why do you act like this?" That was regular parent-talk, so she made no answer.

"Here you are, four years old, and you can't behave at your own party," he continued.

"I hate parties."

"Well, but you have to have parties."

"Why?"

"Oh, all children do."

"Nasty things! I hate 'em all, except Patsy."

"Hate those nice little girls?"

"Yes!"—hotly.

"And those handsome boys?"

"Yes. They're ugly. Patsy is handsome."

"Why are you so crazy about this Patsy?"

"Because he always does what I say." Wally stifled a smile.

"But don't you know you mustn't take off your clothes before mixed company?"

"But we were playing barbarian."

"Well, you shouldn't play that kind of game."

"Why not?"

"Because——" He floundered. "Now, look here, you must never take off your clothes again."

"Not when I go to bed?"—with interest.

"I mean before people."

"Not before Miss Wilder, or Mary?"

"Don't be stupid," he exploded. "You know what I mean—before boys and girls."

"Why not?"

"Because it isn't nice. Don't you know what modesty is?"

"No; what is it?"

"It's—it's—well, it's just that you mustn't show your body to people."

"Isn't my face my body?"

"That's different. Everybody shows his face." She considered that.

"If everybody showed their bodies it would be nice, wouldn't it?"

"No," Wally said, harshly, because he felt she was making a fool of him.

"But the barbarians never wore any clothes, and they were nice."

"That's different. They didn't know any better."

"Didn't they? Why didn't God tell them any better?"

"I don't know."

"Did Jesus wear clothes?" she inquired.

"Who?" he demanded, caught unawares.

"Jesus. You know, God's boy," she replied, earnestly.

"Of course he wore clothes," Wally protested.

"Why didn't he tell the barbarians?"

"O Lord, I don't know. This has got nothing to do with your performance this afternoon," Wally urged, trying to get back to the subject and on to solid ground.

"What kind of punishing are you going to do?" she inquired.

"I don't know," he admitted. "What do you think I ought to do?"

She thought about that with awakened interest.

"There's whipping, but I don't mind that."

"You don't?"

"No. There's shutting up, but that's fun. I play I'm a prisoner then."

"Are there any punishments you don't like?"

"Yes. Parties are punishment, and kindiegarden in winter is punishment."

"You think the party this afternoon was punishment, do you?"

"Yes."

"Who punished you?"

"Max."

"I wish you wouldn't call your mother 'Max.'"

"Why not?"

"Why do you call her that?"

"Because you do."

"I don't have to be respectful to her—I mean——"

"If you call her that, I'm going to," she said, dismissing that subject.

"You're being punished now, you know, being sent off to bed in broad daylight."

"But I like it, when you talk to me."

He rose promptly.

"I'm not going to talk to you. Your punishment is that nobody will talk to you for the rest of the day."

"All right"—cheerfully.

"You'll just lie here, all alone."

"Oh, no," she corrected him, "my playmates will be here, and God's always around."

"No playmates shall come in here," he reiterated.

"But you can't keep Dorothy and Reginald out, because they're just pretend," she defied him.

Wally knew he was beaten. He had never felt so futile in his life. She sat there with her straight little back, her wise eyes fixed on him, and he wished he were well out of the room.

"I hope you will lie here and think of what I have said to you," he remarked sonorously. "I'm surprised at you, Isabelle," he added sternly.

He rose and hurried toward the door.

"Good night, Wally," she said pleasantly, and smiled at him.

It is not too much to say that Wally fled. He sought out his wife, who was dressing for dinner.

"Well, did you whip her?" she inquired.

He evaded that.

"I've had a good talk with her"—firmly.

She turned her face over her shoulder at him, and laughed.

"Terrified her, no doubt."

"Where on earth does she get her ideas?"

"Not from me,—" indifferently.

"She's—she's uncanny, that kid."

"Hurry and dress, we're dining at the club. I wish you the joy of your job," she added, as he left her.

A day or two later, when Wally came out of the bath house on the way to swim, he encountered his daughter on the beach.

"I'll swim with you, Wally," she said.

"No, thanks. I'm going to the raft."

"So am I," she answered.

He looked at her and laughed. She looked like a Kewpie in her abbreviated bathing suit, with water wings fastened to her back. She walked rapidly into the sea, and, perforce, he followed. Miss Wilder shouted orders in vain from the shore. The tide was running in, and nearly high, so she was over her depth in a second, but she paddled out toward the distant raft, her head well out of the water, thanks to her wings. Much amused, Wally swam beside her into deep water.

"It was a great surprise to me, the day I found I could swim," she said.

"It must have been," he laughed.

"It was a pleasant day," she added.

"It is deep here," he said, to test her.

"I know it. Don't you put your hands on me, Wally. I don't want to be touched," she admonished him.

"Aren't you afraid?"

"No."

In due time they reached the raft. The youngster was winded, but undaunted. Bryce watched her with real admiration. Here was a dare-devil courage he vastly respected. He was timid and cautious himself.

"Throw me off the raft, Wally; I like to splash," she ordered.

"You're crazy," he said.

"No. Mr. Page threw me off the club raft, when I asked him to."

"Better not let me catch him at it. You sit still and get your breath and then we'll start back."

He dived off the raft and instantly she followed him. He caught her by the arm, strangling and coughing.

"You little devil," he said; "you'll drown."

"No, I won't. Let go, Wally; I won't be helped."

He headed her for shore, by pretending to race her, and once on land he urged Miss Wilder to watch her every minute, lest she swim for the raft alone.

But this adventure had fixed Isabelle on her father's mind. He thought about her a good deal, and laughed at the thought. She certainly was a sport, and she was nobody's fool. He wondered if other children were like her, and began to watch them. He asked their fathers about them, but the fathers never knew. They always said: "I don't see much of the kids; too busy," or: "That's Mabel's job (or Kate's or Mary's)."

He could not seem to remember seeing much of his father when he was a boy, save on state occasions when his parent was called upon to administer extra stiff punishment. He wondered if the other mothers knew more about their youngsters than Max did about hers? But when he asked them at the club, or on the golf course, they looked surprised and said: "I don't know anything about them, Wally; the governess looks after them."

It evidently wasn't the thing, in their set, to bother about children. So he did not get much help from his friends in the difficult situation in which Max had placed him. She stood by her determination to leave the child to him, with irritating completeness. She even refused to give advice or help.

Of course, he could leave well enough alone, let Miss Wilder blunder along with her somehow. That was evidently the way the rest of them did. He had almost decided upon this course, when he met Isabelle, standing on the pony's bare back, making him run, while poor Miss Wilder panted behind, protesting at every step.

It brought him to a resolution. The kid ought to have a younger woman to look after her, one who could swim and ride and take some interest in her sports. If she was going to leap head first into every danger, she needed a girl to stand by, and leap in after her, if necessary.

It took him several days to get up his nerve to dismiss Miss Wilder, but in the end, she met him half way. She said she could not stand the strain, that she had aged ten years in the two months she had been in charge of his daughter.

"She is a very remarkable child, Mr. Bryce, and she needs very special treatment."

"I suppose that is it. I will give you a month's extra salary, Miss Wilder, so you may take a rest. I know you need it."

The next morning he bustled into Mrs. Bryce's room, where she was taking her breakfast in bed.

"Mercy, Wally, are you sick?" she inquired; "it's barely nine o'clock."

"I've got to go to town."

"Town, this hot day?"

"Yes. I fired old Wilder and I've got to get a new victim for our offspring. Where do you get 'em?"

"Poor Wally," laughed his wife. "I advertise, or go to teachers' agencies, or any old way. Telephone in, and they'll send you something."

"No; I'm going to get a young one."

"And pretty, I suppose."

"Don't be an idiot."

He turned as the door opened and Isabelle came in. She was booted and hatted.

"Good morning, Max," she said, sweetly.

"Morning. Where are you going?"

"To town, with Wally."

"What?"

"Well, I thought I'd better take her. She has to live with 'em, you know, and she has ideas on the subject."

Mrs. Bryce laughed aloud.

"You two!" she exclaimed.

"Come on, Wally," urged Isabelle, taking her father by the hand.

"Which car are you using?" inquired Max.

"She prefers the train," he explained.

This brought another outburst of mirth.

"My word, Wally! You're becoming a wonderful parent!" exclaimed Mrs. Bryce; and they fled before her laughter.



CHAPTER THREE

Wally was surprised to find the trip to town shorter than usual. His daughter conducted herself with great dignity, and never missed a thing. An unbroken stream of conversation flowed from her lips, to the amusement of the people in the seats near by.

There was one difficult moment, when in hurrying for their seats, Mrs. Page spied them out.

"For goodness sake, Wally, where are you going?"

"Taking Isabelle to town."

"Without a nurse?"

"I have a governess, not a nurse," protested Isabelle, indignantly.

"Oh, excuse me," laughed Mrs. Page. "Where's Max?"

"Home in bed," replied Isabelle, before Wally had formed an excuse.

"I hear your infant introduced an Adam-and-Eve scene into her party," Mrs. Page continued.

Wally glanced anxiously at Isabelle.

"This is Tommy Page's mother," he explained.

"I know. He's a horrid boy," she answered, feelingly.

Mrs. Page retired after this, and Wally undertook to argue with his daughter about unbecoming frankness.

"It's true," she protested.

"You don't have to tell everything you know."

"Don't you have to tell the truth?"

"Not when it hurts people's feelings."

She thought that over, and he wondered what she would make of it. The little monkey seemed to remember every word that was said to her.

"Let's have a punkin coach taxi," she said when they arrived in town.

"What kind is that?"

"All yellow, like the Cinderella one."

"They don't have them at this station."

"Make them get us one," urged the young arrogant.

He laughed and they went out into the street and waited until a yellow taxi came. As they took their seats in the coach, Isabelle gazed at her father speculatively.

"I am Cinderella, an' you've got to be the Fairy God-mother, I s'pose, but you don't look like her."

"Couldn't I be the Prince?" inquired Wally.

"No. Besides, he didn't ride in the coach," she corrected him, scornfully.

They stopped at a drug shop to get a list of agencies, picked at random from the telephone book. The first one was very depressing. There were several governesses, but Isabelle would have none of them, and Wally did not blame her. The second agency offered to summon a dozen candidates if he would come back in two hours. He agreed to that, and made the same arrangement with the third place.

"Now, we've got two hours to kill. What do you want to do?" he inquired.

"I want to go on top the 'bus."

"It's too hot."

"Well, that's what I want to do."

Wally sighed.

"All right, come along," he said, aware of what her determination usually accomplished.

He thought of Max, and felt himself absolutely martyred. This was her job. She was a slacker to put it off on him. In his irritation he glanced down at the cause of it, and found her looking at him.

"Wally, does the hot make you sick?"

"Why?"

"We could go to the Zoo in a taxi."

"Thank you, I should prefer that."

"All right"—cheerfully.

"You're a good old thing!" he remarked, as he called a second coach.

* * * * *

They inspected the animals, and endured the awful smells thereof, with great satisfaction on the part of Isabelle and much self-restraint on the part of her parent.

"Couldn't we have a gorilla out at The Beeches, Wally?" she inquired.

"Lord, no! What do you want of a beast like that?"

"I like them. They're so . . . different!" she said, hesitating over the adjective.

Wally burst out laughing.

"Don't you think they are?" she inquired politely.

"Yes, all of that."

On the way back to the agency, he counselled her on her behaviour.

"Now, don't be fresh, Isabelle, and say, 'I don't like the wart on your nose,' or that kind of thing."

"Do I have to get one with a wart on her nose?" she asked seriously.

"No, no. I mean—don't say the wrong thing all the time."

"But I don't know what is the wrong thing, Wally," she assured him.

"I should say you didn't! You just let me do the talking. If you like the one I'm interviewing, just nod; if you don't, why shake your head. Get me?"

"Like this?"—with neck-breaking violence of the head.

"No—no. Gently, like this."

They seated themselves in the agency room, and the governesses were presented. The usual drab, rather faded women, used to living in the background. Some of them resented Isabelle's presence, some of them spoke to her as to a baby. After about three sentences had been spoken, her head would move violently, and Wally got rid of the candidate.

"Lord! they're a sad lot," he exclaimed.

"What makes them sad?" she inquired.

"Kids like you."

They finished the first consignment without any luck, and went to the second place. It was simply a repetition. Isabelle seemed to sense their adhesion to type, for she finally burst out with:

"Wally, I'd like one with a wart on the nose."

He finally approached the woman in charge.

"Look here," he said, "we want a young one, with some pep."

The woman stared in amazement.

"Isn't there some place where the new ones go to register?" he continued.

"You might try the college agencies. Their graduates sometimes try governessing."

She gave him some addresses.

"Thanks. I think we'll try them. My daughter, here, is rather exacting."

The manager peered over her desk at the child, hostilely.

"I don't like you, either," said Isabelle, promptly.

Wally hurried her out. He was about worn out with this unaccustomed and exhausting strain. It had been years since Wally spent a whole day boring himself. His rage at Max grew, and he vented it on Isabelle.

"For God's sake, don't sass the managers! We may have to go back there."

"Does God care?"

"What?"

"You said, 'for God's sake.'"

"Did I? Excuse me. Now go easy this time. We've got to get somebody, and we won't find an archangel, either."

"I'd like an archangel," she remarked earnestly, her flagging interest reviving. "But she couldn't swim with wings, could she?"

Wally groaned, but made no reply. At the college agency, they telephoned for two applicants, and after what seemed to Wally a week of tedium, they arrived. The first one was pretty and she knew it. She talked a great deal, and was saccharine to the little girl. Isabelle shook her head twice, but Wally seemed hypnotized by the woman's eloquence.

"Don't let her talk, Wally; I won't have her," announced Isabelle.

It took considerable finesse on Wally's part to get this explained and to get the young woman out of the room.

"One more remark from you, like that last one, and I will engage the next hatchet-face that appears," he thundered.

"What is a hatchet-face?" she asked, with interest.

The other girl was tall, and undeniably plain. She was deeply tanned by the sun. She looked athletic, boyish in fact. She had a nice voice, and clear grey eyes. She met Isabelle's inspection with a grin. The child slid off her chair and went over to her.

"What's your name?" she asked.

"Ann. Ann Barnes."

"Can you swim?"

"Yes," smiled the girl.

Isabelle took her hand.

"I'll take you," she said.

The girl stared at Wally, who, so far, had made no explanation.

"Is she your child?" she inquired.

"Yes."

"Is her mother dead?"

"No, Max is my mother," explained the youngster.

"You see," said Wally, "Isabelle is a little devil. You might as well know the worst at once. She's got no manners at all, and she's spoiled to death."

"Wally, you don't have to tell everything you know," quoted Isabelle, sharply.

"Upon my word!" said Miss Barnes. "How old is she?"

"She's just had her fourth birthday."

"But she needs a nurse, not a governess."

"I won't have a nurse. I want you."

"She's had a lot of women, mostly old ones. I told Mrs. Bryce I thought she ought to have a young woman with her, and she told me that if I knew so much about it, I could get her a governess myself."

"I see," said Miss Barnes; "and just what do you want her governess to do?"

"Ride and swim with her, and keep her out of mischief. I suppose you would teach her something—letters and counting, and all that?"

"A governess usually does," she smiled.

"You would have full charge of her. We live in the country from April till Thanksgiving, and in town the rest of the time."

"Come on, Ann, let's go; I'm tired," interrupted Isabelle.

"But you aren't letting this baby decide who is to take care of her?" she protested.

"I thought it was better. She gets rid of one a month, so in the end she does decide."

"But it's so absurd."

"We're—we're an absurd family," he admitted, gravely.

"Don't talk, Wally; come on."

"What does she call you?" Miss Barnes inquired.

"Wally. My name is Walter, but every one calls me Wally. She calls her mother Max. We try to break her of it, but we can't."

Miss Barnes shook her head.

"I want to be a governess, you know, not a nurse."

Isabelle realized that a crisis was at hand.

"Sometimes I'm nice, aren't I, Wally?" she appealed.

Miss Barnes could not have told why, but for the first time this abnormal, prissy child, with her self-assurance, and her impertinence, caught at her sympathies. Wally saw that she wavered.

"Suppose that we call it an experiment for a month. I'll pay a hundred dollars a month. Come out with us this afternoon and try it. She's the limit of a kid, but she's got a lot of sense for her age, and maybe she'd be all right if somebody just gave her mind to her."

"I'm willing to try it for a month, if I may have full charge of her. Would her mother agree to that?"

"Oh, Max is never home; besides, she never sees me," spoke up the child.

"She does see you," protested Wally.

Isabelle made no reply, but somehow Miss Barnes caught the situation—the sense of neglect, of the child's loneliness.

"I'll come for a month at the salary you mentioned."

"Good. Can you pack a bag and go out on the 4:10 with us? We'll send you home in a taxi and send for you."

She considered a moment.

"All right."

She rose, explained to the head of the bureau, and later they went out together.

"Wally, when's lunch?" demanded Isabelle.

"Now. We'll send Miss Barnes off in our cab, and pick up another. A cab will come for you at three thirty, Miss Barnes, and we'll meet you at the Information booth."

"I'll be there. Good-bye, Isabelle."

"Good-bye, Ann."

Wally and Isabelle made their way to his club, where she insisted upon all the verboten things for lunch.

"Are you allowed to eat that?" he demanded.

"Oh, yes, at parties."

"Don't it make you sick?"

"Yes. You're always sick after parties," she replied.

A man stopped at the table to address a few jocose remarks to Wally, and he turned his glance upon the small girl.

"Who is your beautiful companion, Wally?" he inquired.

"My daughter, Isabelle. This is Duncan, the Club cut-up," he added to his guest.

She inspected the man closely.

"Who cuts you up?" she inquired.

"The other club members," he retorted, followed by laughter and applause from the surrounding tables. Isabelle beamed in the spotlight.

"I like this better than Max's club," she said, to the amusement of the next table.

"Take us on, Wally, will you?" called one of them, and at his invitation they all moved over.

"She doesn't look like her pretty mother, Wally," said one of them after they were presented.

"No, poor kid, she looks like me," laughed Wally.

"I look like Wally, but I'm smart!" she said, and beamed again at their uproar of mirth.

She left, later, amidst reiterated invitations to come again. One man tried to kiss her, but she promptly blocked that.

"I don't like kissing," she said.

Wally inspected her on the way to the station. Her eyes were bright, her colour was high. She certainly had been a success at the club. There was something about the little beggar——

"I liked those men," she remarked.

"You were too fresh," he said, anxious to prick the bubble of her egotism. She made no answer, but he had the uncomfortable feeling that she knew he had been proud of her.

"If you like this new girl, and want her to stay, you've got to turn over a new leaf," he warned her.

"I haven't any new leaf," she said.

"To turn over a new leaf means to make a new beginning, to be good, to act like a lady," he explained.

They found Miss Barnes waiting for them. As soon as they were in their seats, aboard the train, Isabelle went to sleep, leaning against her new friend. Miss Barnes smiled, made the child comfortable, and opened a magazine, thus relieving Wally of any necessity of conversation.

As they drove up to the house, they saw Mrs. Bryce come out on the terrace, where the butler was arranging the tea-table and chairs. She wore a soft pink gown, and a broad, rose-laden hat. She looked very young and lovely. She sauntered to meet them with her slightly disdainful smile.

"Well?" she said.

Wally turned to present Miss Barnes, but Isabelle was before him.

"Max, this is Ann Barnes," she explained.

Mrs. Bryce nodded at the newcomer.

"What did you do in town?" she inquired of the child.

"The Zoo, and Wally's club."

"I hope you don't confuse them," laughed her mother.

"I don't envy you your job," she added, over her shoulder to Miss Barnes.

"What room is Miss Barnes to have, Max?" Wally called.

"You'll have to attend to that," she replied, with a sort of arrogant disregard of Wally's protegee.

"I'll show you, Ann," said Isabelle, adding: "nasty old Max!"

"Isabelle! your own mother!" protested Miss Barnes.

The child took her by the hand and led her into the house, with a dignity which would have been admirable, had it not been so pathetic. Miss Barnes felt that she was stepping off terra firma, and lighting on Mars, so strange and muddled was this new world she had entered upon.



CHAPTER FOUR

It was a strange throw of Chance that tossed Ann Barnes into the heart of the Bryce family—or rather into its midst, for it seemed to Ann that there wasn't any heart to the family. The first weeks she spent at The Beeches were positively bewildering.

She was the eldest daughter of a small-town lawyer, in Vermont. There were five younger children, and after Ann's graduation at the State University, she set forth to make fame and fortune, with the ultimate object of rescuing her father and mother from the financial anxieties which had always beset them.

She was just an average healthy, fine American girl brought up in a normal, small-town American family. As the eldest, she had been her mother's assistant. She had served her apprenticeship in cooking, nursing babies, patching small clothes, turning old things around and upside down, in order to make them over. She could market wisely, she could "manage" on little.

So much for her practical training. She knew all the inconveniences and anxieties of an insufficient and variable income. But she also knew the unselfishness, the affectionate give-and-take of a big family. She knew what miracles the loving patience of her mother daily performed. She knew the selflessness of her father, which kept him at the treadmill of his profession that his children might have an education, might have their chance. Hospitality, kindness, love; these were of the very fibre of Ann's being.

It was part of the trick Fate played on her that Wally's offer had come to her the first week she was in New York, when the terror of the Big Town had just laid hold of her. New York, contemplated from Vermont, was the city of all opportunity; but New York, face to face, with a financial reserve of fifty dollars, was a very different matter.

Isabelle had amazed and interested her, and Wally had offered her what seemed a fabulous salary. No wonder she had seized the opportunity, with happy plans of sending the first check home, intact. But daily for the first week, amidst the undreamed-of luxuries of The Beeches she felt that she must run away, back to the things she knew and understood. And yet every day brought her evidences of Isabelle's need of her, and Ann's intrinsic sense of fairness made her feel that somebody ought to stand by the child.

Her first interview with Mrs. Bryce did not occur until the second day after her arrival. She waited to be summoned all of the first day, but heard nothing, saw nothing of her new employer. The second day she sent word asking for a conference. She was given an audience while Mrs. Bryce's maid was dressing her to go out to lunch. She nodded casually to Ann.

"You wanted to see me?"

"Yes; I—I thought we would better talk over your plans for Isabelle."

"I haven't any plans for her. My only desire is to keep her out of the way."

"But I don't know what she is permitted to do," Ann began.

"She is permitted to do anything she wants to," laughed Mrs. Bryce.

"But that isn't good for her"—earnestly.

Mrs. Bryce's glance at the girl was full of scornful amusement.

"No, but it's good for the rest of us. We can't live in the house with her otherwise."

Ann stared. She did not know how to cope with this kind of woman. Mrs. Bryce made her feel a clumsy fool, a sort of country bumpkin.

"This isn't my job anyway, it's Wally's. He is guiding Isabelle's destiny this summer. Didn't he tell you?"

"Yes, but I thought the child's mother would naturally want to say——" blundered Ann.

"Well, her mother doesn't. Do anything you can to make her less of a nuisance, that's my only advice."

It was clear that the interview was ended, so Ann rose. With glowing appeal Mrs. Bryce turned her pretty face, with its sudden smile, upon the girl.

"Nice, kind Miss Barnes, don't bother me about Isabelle, will you? She bores me to death."

Ann got out of the room somehow. She felt cold shivers down her spine, as if she had touched something revolting. She thought of her mother, and Jinny, the little sister nearest Isabelle's age. She was so homesick for them, she just thought she would die. She went to the nursery where she had left Isabelle, and, as she entered, the child was shaking hands with an imaginary guest, saying in perfect imitation of her mother's manner: "Oh, howdye do, Mrs. Page?"

"Dorothy and Reginald and I are having a bridge party," she explained.

But Ann didn't listen. She just picked Isabelle up in her arms, and hugged her tight, kissing her over and over again.

"You poor baby—you poor little mite!" she said over and over.

But after the first shock of surprise, Isabelle rebelled.

"Don't! Put me down! I don't like to be kissed!" she cried.

Ann set her down and knelt before her.

"Why don't you like to be kissed?" she demanded.

"Because"—defiantly.

"Isabelle, have you ever been rocked and sung to and tucked into bed at night?"

Isabelle shook her head, her big eyes fixed on Ann's face, so full of emotion.

"Did you ever have anybody tickle you awake, in the morning, and kiss you until you laughed?"

The child shook her head again.

"It's a shame!" cried Ann. "Why Jinny gets kissed a hundred times a day by everybody."

"Who's Jinny?"

"My little sister, who is your age."

"Where is she?"

"In my home, up in Vermont."

"What does she do?"

"Sit down, and I'll tell you about her."

Isabelle promptly sat down on the floor beside Ann.

"In the morning, after breakfast, she picks up the papers and school books and toys and things the children leave around——"

"What children?"

"My other brothers and sisters. There's Walter and Helen and Tommy and Barbara, but Jinny is our baby. When she gets things picked up she dusts the bottoms of the chairs and the legs of the tables. Then she helps mother make the beds. She can beat up the pillows and tuck the sheets neatly."

"Isn't there any chambermaid?"

"No. Then she studies her letters. She almost knows them. She goes to market with mother, and then she plays in the yard until dinner."

"Max doesn't go to market."

Ann ignored that.

"Then the children troop in to dinner, from school. Such a scramble, such a wrestling, and shouting, and face washing! You ought to hear it."

"But it's lunch at noon," corrected Isabelle.

"No; we have dinner."

"What do you have for dinner?"

"Boiled beef and potatoes, bread and butter and jam, and a pudding. Then the older ones tramp off to school again and Jinny takes her nap."

"I hate naps."

"Jinny doesn't. She likes them. She knows they make her strong and sweet-tempered and pretty."

"Would naps make me pretty?"

"I think so. Everybody is pretty who has pink cheeks, and a kind expression, don't you think so?"

"Max hasn't a kind expression; she's cross"—quickly.

"But she has lovely skin, all pink and white."

"I think you're prettier than Max. Then what does Jinny do next?"

So the story went on with elaborate detail, until every waking moment of Jinny's day was accounted for. It was absorbing to Isabelle, and it was a satisfaction for Ann to have this outlet for her homesickness. So it began, but it grew to be a significant make-believe, for as the days went by, she discovered that Isabelle could be absolutely ruled by her imagination. The new game was called "Playing Jinny." She began to dust the nursery chairs and to pick up toys and playthings. She demanded lessons in letters. Any misdemeanour that was met with the remark, "Of course, Jinny would never do that," was never repeated.

Day after day she demanded the story again, and daily Ann added to the picture of her mother, always at the call of her children, of her father, reading aloud on Friday nights, as a special treat, while they all sat round the fire in the shabby old living room.

She described how they all worked and saved to buy Christmas presents for one another; how happy they were over simple gifts, even a red lead pencil. How they hid the presents all over the house and had a "hunt" on Christmas morning, instead of having a tree. The story went on and on, until Isabelle actually lived in the circle of the Barnes family.

But one unfortunate day, Isabelle strayed into her mother's room, determined upon experiment.

"Max, will you take me to market with you?" she inquired.

"I don't go to market, silly; the housekeeper markets."

"Why don't you tuck me in, and kiss me good-night?" the child continued, her eyes fixed on her mother's startled face.

"I'm never here when you go to bed," defended Mrs. Bryce. "What is all this? I thought you didn't like to be kissed."

"I wish you'd have six children," Isabelle sighed.

"Good heavens! Isabelle, don't be silly!"

So Isabelle gave it up. She realized that something was lacking. She sought out Miss Barnes with the problem.

"Why don't Max and Wally do like father and mother Barnes?"

"Well," Ann evaded, "it is different, you see. Your father and mother are rich, and mine are poor. Your parents have lots to do—golf and bridge and parties—and father and mother Barnes have only their children to interest them. They're just regular parents," she added, lamely.

"But I want some regular parents," replied Isabelle.

Ann was nonplussed.

"We can't all have them, honey," she said. "Jinny would like lots of things you have—a pony, and toys, and pretty clothes."

"She can have mine."

"She has to do many things you would not like to do."

"I don't care. I'd do them."

"But you can't change your parents. God gives them to you, and you have to keep them," she laughed.

"Then why didn't God give me regular parents?"

Ann hastily diverted the youngster's thoughts into other channels, but she came back to it again and yet again—her desire for "regular parents."

One of the habits acquired from Jinny was a daily nap. She religiously put herself to bed, after luncheon, and each day upon rising she inspected herself in the glass to see if she was growing prettier.

"I don't see that it helps much," she said frequently.

But Ann encouraged her to persevere, partly because she felt that the highly strung child needed the rest, and partly because it was Ann's only breathing space in the twenty-four hours. Usually she went for a walk, carrying a book under her arm.

One day as she started off on such a ramble Mrs. Bryce sent for her.

"Miss Barnes, would you do me a favour? The dry-cleaner in Rockville has a lace gown of mine which I want to wear this afternoon, when some people are coming to tea. Would you motor over and get it? You could take the imp with you."

"Isabelle is asleep just now."

"Go before she wakes up, then."

"Could one of the maids look after her, if she wakes?"

"Yes, of course. I shall be so obliged."

So Ann set forth in the motor, glad of a free hour or two in the open. She enjoyed it to the full, and although it took longer than she had anticipated, she carried the gown to Mrs. Bryce's door at five.

"So much obliged," said that lady, sweetly.

The nursery was empty, so were the bedrooms. Ann asked the maids where Isabelle was. No one had seen her. She went out into the grounds and to all her favourite haunts, but no Isabelle. Then, thoroughly alarmed, she went to Mrs. Bryce's door again.

"Mrs. Bryce, did you send a maid to look after Isabelle?"

"Oh, no, I forgot it"—in an annoyed tone.

"I can't find her."

"Can't find her? Oh, she must be somewhere,"—absently.

"But I have looked everywhere. No one saw her go out. I have been gone over two hours, you know."

Something of Ann's excitement affected Mrs. Bryce.

"Oh, she couldn't get away far. Kate," she called to a maid in the dressing room, "did you see Isabelle?"

"I saw her just after Miss Barnes left," said the girl. "She had on her best hat and coat, and I sez to her: 'Where ye goin?' an' she sez to me: 'I'm goin' to look for some reg'lar parunts' an' she went out the side door. I thought somebody was lookin' after her."

"Oh, Mrs. Bryce, she's run away!" cried Ann.

"Wouldn't you know she'd do it on a day when I was having a special tea!" she blazed.

"Oh!" said Ann, looking the other woman straight in the eyes, and Mrs. Bryce knew that this girl despised her. Not that it mattered, but it was annoying at the moment.

"Don't stand there talking. Get the chauffeur and tell him to go look for her," she ordered, turning to receive the lace gown that the maid held over her head.

Ann ran out of the room, and down the stairs. She started for the beach where they went swimming. Henry the chauffeur passed her, calling out that he was going to the neighbours to inquire. Ann turned back to go to the gardener's lodge and find out the whereabouts of Patsy. As she ran she sobbed to herself, at the thought of the forlorn little figure in its best hat and coat, setting out on a crusade to find "regular parents!"



CHAPTER FIVE

Mrs. Bryce wore the white lace gown, and had her tea. Wally commandeered all the servants except the cook and the butler to help in the search for Isabelle. He and the chauffeur and Ann conducted scouting parties in all directions.

"Where's Wally, Max?" inquired Mrs. Page.

"He's dashing around somewhere looking for Isabelle. She's lost."

"Lost? But where is the jewel who looks after her? Wally told me yards about her."

"I sent her on an errand, and Isabelle got away. She can't have gone far."

"Do you share Wally's enthusiasm over the new governess?"

"I do not," replied Mrs. Bryce, adding, "Wally has become a passionate parent."

"Whatever started him?"

"I did, worse luck! You know how all the useless men in the world dote on telling a woman about her duties? Now Wally's only job is to invest money in the wrong things, but he is full of ideas about being a mother."

There was general mirth at this point, on the part of the guests.

"I was so moved by his remarks that I dumped my cares upon him for the summer. He is outrageously superior about himself as parent. He has found the perfect governess, he discovers that our offspring has a brain; you should hear him go on."

"I have," protested Mrs. Page. "He used to make love to me, but now he tells me his domestic problems."

"He has the entire house upset now, because she has run off, but when he finds her, he won't have backbone enough to spank her," laughed Mrs. Wally.

"It always amuses me how parents agonize over the lost child, and spank it when it's found," said Martin Christiansen, the guest of honour at the tea.

"Not being a parent you don't realize that there is a large, well-defined body of parentisms. We all say the same things, do the same things to children, instinctively and without thought," Mrs. Page assured him.

"Puts you at such a disadvantage with your child, for the youngster thinks freshly, doesn't it, Mrs. Bryce?"

"I know mine thinks freshly—she's a brat! I keep out of her way, myself," remarked his hostess.

Presently dusk fell and still no signs of the child. Wally came back to telephone the police stations of the towns near them. He barely glanced at the laughing group on his terrace, but Mrs. Page spied him, and came to call out:

"Found her yet, Wally?"

"No."

"Better come have your tea, Wally," Mrs. Bryce suggested.

"Damn," said Wally, under his breath, as he hurried into the house without any reply.

"Had we not better go? Aren't you anxious, Mrs. Bryce?" inquired Christiansen.

"Oh, no; she'll turn up."

"Nothing will happen to her, she's too smart," commented Mrs. Page.

They took their departure shortly. Mrs. Bryce ordered the cook to hold back dinner. Then she let her vexation grow. It was outrageous that this little pest should upset things so completely. She had been especially anxious to impress this Mr. Christiansen, whom she had recently met. He was a distinguished litterateur and critic, as well as a stunning giant of a man. The white lace gown had been entirely for his benefit. And yet because of Isabelle he had been critical of her. Man-like he had convictions about woman's job. He probably thought she should have been running around the country, in hysterics, looking for her chee-ild.

At nine o'clock she heard the motor come to the door. She went into the hall. Ann got out first and helped Wally. He was carrying the heroine—asleep, in the utter relaxation of tired babyhood. She was dirty, and her best hat dangled from its elastic, crushed and dusty.

"Well," remarked Mrs. Bryce, "where was she?"

"I'll take her up to the bedroom, Miss Barnes," Wally said, and he started off.

"Really, Wally, Miss Barnes can certainly manage to get her to bed," protested Mrs. Bryce.

"She's rather heavy. I'll just——"

"Put her down and let her walk then. I've waited for my dinner as long as I intend to."

Wally went on upstairs with his burden, and as Ann passed Mrs. Bryce her scorn and hatred of that lace-clad lady was as obvious as a spoken word. Mrs. Bryce went to the table and ordered her dinner. When Wally joined her he looked "all in."

"I suppose you don't care whether she gets killed or not."

"Well, but she didn't get killed, so I don't have to excite myself, do I?"

"You might show a little decent feeling before Miss Barnes."

"I don't have to please Miss Barnes—or any of my servants, if it comes to that."

"You're a brute, Max!"

"If you're going to be tiresome, I'll finish my dinner upstairs," she replied. "Heaven knows, if I'd had any idea you would be such a bore about her, I'd never have turned her over to you."

"Do you know why she ran away? She went to find some 'regular parents'—so she said."

"We don't suit then?" Mrs. Bryce laughed crisply.

"The poor little devil walked and walked, and when she was too tired to go any farther she asked a milk wagon driver to give her a lift, so she got away over to Rockville."

"Where did she get this idea about parents?"

"Miss Barnes explained to me on the way home, that she and Isabelle have a game called 'Playing Jinny.' Jinny is Miss Barnes's little sister and Isabelle pretends that she lives in the Barnes family."

"So, it is your paragon who has set her against her own parents."

"No, she didn't mean to do that. She says she had no idea that the child would take it seriously and start off to find the Barnes home."

"Do you think it desirable to have your child in the sole charge of a woman who poisons her mind against you and me?"

"But she doesn't do that, Max. Isabelle adores her. It was just a game, I tell you."

"So she says."

On the way to the library, after dinner, they came upon Ann in the hall.

"May I speak to you, Miss Barnes?" Max inquired coolly.

"Certainly," the girl replied, and followed them into the room beyond.

"Just what is it that you have been telling Isabelle, which sets her off on this ridiculous jaunt?" demanded Mrs. Bryce, insolently.

"I told her about my home, and my little sister, who is her age. She started off to find her," answered Ann, simply.

"Do you think it is a part of your duty to set her against her parents?"

"I have never discussed her parents with her."

"I'm sure Miss Barnes isn't to blame, Max," put in Wally.

"I think she is." Mrs. Bryce cut him off. "You may take the noon train to town to-morrow, Miss Barnes."

"Oh, I say, Max!" protested Wally.

"It's all right, Mr. Bryce," Ann said. "I hate to leave Isabelle, but what can I do to help her? She's just doomed!"

"Doomed to live with us, Wally," laughed Mrs. Bryce.

"Yes, doomed to live with you," the girl replied. "To get along without help, or love. To see her mother occasionally—a strange woman in the house. What right have you and your crowd to have children?" she demanded, hotly.

"Such impudence!" burst out Mrs. Bryce.

"I've never known any one like you before, and you fill me with horror!" Ann retorted.

"This may amuse you, Wally, but it doesn't me," remarked Mrs. Bryce, walking out of the room.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Bryce; I didn't mean to say all that. I am so tired and excited from hunting Isabelle, and it seemed so terrible to me that she didn't care about her own baby being lost, that I just burst out."

"I know how overstrained you are, but of course, under the circumstances you will see——" he answered miserably.

"Oh, I couldn't stay in the house another minute."

"Mrs. Bryce is very self-contained, she's not excitable as you and I are," he tried to explain.

"I hate to leave Isabelle. Oh, Mr. Bryce, try to look after her a little, try to love her a little, she does need it so!"

The next day as she stepped to the platform of the train the chauffeur handed her a letter from Wally. There was an enclosure of two hundred dollars, which he begged she would accept as a present from Isabelle. He thanked her and regretted the necessity of her going.

So Ann passed out of Isabelle's life, mourned and lamented for months by the child. She represented the only tenderness, the only understanding and sympathy that came into Isabelle's childhood. The little belated tendrils of affection she had put forth toward her world, under Ann's warm influence, shrivelled and died. Her wits against them all, that was the motto she decided upon, in the bitter wisdom of her four brief years.



CHAPTER SIX

During the years that followed many were the governesses set up by Mrs. Bryce to be promptly knocked down, as it were, by Isabelle. They would either depart of their own accord, or they would be sent flying by the irate Mrs. Bryce after some escapade of her incorrigible offspring.

"She'll end in a reform school!" she remarked to Wally one day, upon the dismissal of the latest one.

He sought out his daughter and laboured with her.

"Look here, kid, how many governesses have you had lately?"

"Oodles of 'em."

"But what do you do to them?"

"Get rid of 'em, they're no good. Can't you get Max to let me have Ann again?"

"I'm afraid not."

"I won't have any of these she gets me—old snoops!"

"She does the best she can," Wally defended.

"She does not. She doesn't even look at 'em, just telephones for one to be sent out. Let's you and me go pick out another one, Wally."

"I'm sorry, but your mother won't stand for it. Ann gave her a piece of her mind before she left, and Max blames me for it."

"If she'd get Ann, I'd be so good she'd never have to change again."

"Why don't you tell her that?"

"I did. It makes her mad. You tell her, Wally."

"She gets mad at me, too."

"If you get mad back and yell at her, she stops. That's what I do," she advised him.

"Look here, it would be a lot more comfortable for you to put up with some woman, even if you don't like her. You always have to get used to a new one."

"I don't. They have to get used to me," the imp replied. "Where you going?" she added.

"I'm going to exercise Nero."

"Take me."

"Can't look after you and that horse, too."

"I'm not a baby," she scorned him. "Tell them to bring the pony round, Wally."

Later when she threw her breeched leg over her horse, and waited for Wally to mount, he exclaimed:

"Lord, I wish you'd been a boy!"

"So do I."

They started off. She had discarded the old Shetland pony as too childish, and demanded a real steed. So Wally had given her a small Peruvian horse, delicately made and fleet of foot. She rode him like a leaf on the wind. She jumped hedges and fences and ditches; she did circus tricks, and finally nagged Wally's Nero into a race.

"You're some rider, Isabelle," he said, on the way home.

"You bet I am!" she replied.

At the door Matthews, the butler, announced that the new governess had arrived.

"Damn it!" ejaculated Isabelle.

Wally reproved her sharply, but she was inattentive.

"Let's fire her, Wally, and you take care of me."

"Would you like that?" he said, touched by this unusual mark of affection.

"Yes. You always do what I want you to," replied his tactless child.

"I have other things to do than to look after a fresh little shrimp like you."

The "new one" was a middle-aged English gentlewoman of the usual governess type. Isabelle knew the kind thoroughly. She had initiated whole companies of them into life at The Beeches. Miss Watts, this one was called. She was putting her things into bureau drawers, when Isabelle appeared at the door of the bathroom which joined their rooms.

"Is this Isabelle?" inquired the new victim.

The child nodded.

"How do you do? I am Miss Watts."

"I know."

"I hope we are going to be friends——"

"I never like governesses—only one."

"Why did you like this one?" inquired Miss Watts.

She was so used to the lack of manners in the children she taught, that this one seemed no worse than usual.

"Because she was young and could swim and ride and tell me stories."

"I'm too old to swim and ride, but I can tell stories."

She went on with her unpacking.

"What kinds of stories?"

"All kinds. I know hundreds of stories. Can you read?"

"I know letters, and 'cat' and 'rat,' but I can't read big books. Let's hear you tell a story."

"I will, with pleasure, when I finish here."

"But I want it now."

"It will take me only a little while."

"But I won't wait."

Miss Watts became aware that this was the initial clash of arms.

"No? Well, don't let me keep you then. Is that your room?"

"If you don't do what I want, I'll yell so everybody in the house will come to see what's the matter."

Miss Watts glanced at her and smiled.

"That will be interesting," she said.

Whereupon Isabelle opened her mouth and emitted long, loud shrieks. Miss Watts continued counting handkerchiefs. The howls grew more artificial in quality, but louder in volume. Isabelle grew red in the face. This was hard work. After about three minutes of bedlam Miss Watts remarked:

"But where is the audience, Isabelle? I'm afraid you have cried 'Wolf! Wolf!' too often."

Isabelle stopped long enough to shout:

"I didn't cry 'Wolf!'"

"No?" said Miss Watts, seating herself by the window. "I've finished now. Is your concert over?"

The child stared at her.

"Maybe you'd be interested in the story of the man who cried 'Wolf! Wolf!'"

Isabelle smarted under a sense of defeat.

"I won't have any stories now."

"Very good. Of course, I only tell stories as a favour," she added, pointedly.

The youngster went into her own room. Miss Watts heard her banging around in there. Presently she appeared again.

"Why did the man cry 'Wolf! Wolf!'?" she demanded.

"Sit down, and I'll tell you," answered Miss Watts, pleasantly.

So the story was told, and the new relationship inaugurated which was to last for several years.

Miss Watts was a woman of considerable intellectual capacity, with a passion for books. She was ill-fitted for the sole charge of a five-year-old girl of Isabelle's vitality, but her poise and sense of humour won the child's respect. After that first experiment there were no more spasms of howling. Miss Watts never tried to sentimentalize their relationship. She recognized the child's unusual quality, and her precocity. She was at present an unendurable human being, thanks to her bringing up. Her ideas and ideals were servant-made. If she could be brought to see herself as socially an outcast, because of her bad manners, Miss Watts knew it would effect a cure.

On her side, Isabelle found Miss Watts's mind a storehouse of treasures. She told stories of all countries, and all times, and she told them well. The only punishment ever inflicted was the abolishment of the story hour, and this was the only chastisement Isabelle had ever regarded as such. There was a marked improvement in her behaviour and the members of her household drew a long breath of relief.

Miss Watts piqued the girl's interest in the study hours, and, as if by a miracle, she learned to read. The teacher found an extraordinary concentration of effort to acquire anything the girl desired. Promised the joy of finding stories for herself, the student applied herself and learned by magic. She was extremely proud of the new accomplishment, and would have read constantly if Miss Watts had not settled upon literary pursuits as the reward of virtue.

One of the by-products of the new ability was a tighter hold on her leadership of the children she played with. Everything she read suggested new and wonderful games. As originator and inventor she always played the leading roles, assisted by the others.

Summer days provided uninterrupted opportunity for her talents. She turned the playhouse into a theatre, and organized a supporting company. Sometimes Miss Watts assisted with the scenario, sometimes Isabelle was sole author or adapter.

It was the year when she was eight, and just beginning to read Dickens, that she prepared a presentation of "A Tale of Two Cities." She worked at it with great enthusiasm for fully a week. Then she appeared in her mother's room.

"Max, can I have lemonade and cake for the audience this afternoon?"

"What audience?"

"At the Isabelle Theatre."

"Who's coming?"

"Everybody. Parents and relatives. I rode around to all the houses this morning and issued the invitations. They all accepted."

"Why didn't you consult me before you invited the neighbourhood in?"—hotly.

"I thought you'd kick about the refreshments."

"If you ever do this again you will get no refreshments and I will send your friends home."

"They're yours too. Martin Christiansen said he would not miss it for a kingdom."

"You call him Mr. Christiansen, when you speak of him, Miss Impudence. What do you intend to do to entertain all these people?"

"'A Tale of Two Cities,' by Charles Dickens."

"In the playhouse?"

"Yes; it will be crowded, but people can sit on the floor."

"You can't ask people to sit on the floor in that stuffy box!"

"Well, I asked you to let me use the garage and you wouldn't."

"So that's why you asked all these people."

"That's only one reason. Matthews and Henry can carry chairs to the garage this morning. We can move the stage our own selves. The play begins at two."

"Hottest time in the day."

"You don't have to come."

"Who's in your show?"

"I am the star, and Tommy Page is Carton. He's no good because he giggles, but Mr. Christiansen wouldn't play it. I asked him first."

Mrs. Bryce laughed.

"I suppose you could do with ice cream and cake."

"We could"—promptly.

"What are you going to wear?"

"I have several costumes. I took your velvet opera coat for the rehearsal. Do you mind?"

"Mind? Certainly I mind. Don't you dare touch anything in my closet."

"All right," replied her daughter, coolly; "Tommy brought over his mother's best coat in case you were huffy."

"I shall call Madge Page up this minute and tell her."

"Very well, but if you do, I'll announce before the curtain goes up, that because of traitors there are no costumes."

She saw that that shot took effect.

"You'd better let it alone, Max. I've got it all thought out," she added.

"I'd like to spank you!" Max exploded.

At the door Isabelle turned.

"Don't you care anything about ART?" she demanded.



CHAPTER SEVEN

As Mrs. Bryce and Wally came out from luncheon, they beheld the first consignment of friends and relatives, a motor car full from the Pages.

"We've come to the matinee," laughed Mrs. Page.

"It's ridiculous of you," retorted her hostess.

"I would not have missed it for anything," said Martin Christiansen.

"I hear she invited you to play Carton," jeered Wally.

"I never was more flattered in my life. But I persuaded her that I was not the type."

Other motors began to arrive with beaming parents, and excited children. The terrace was almost crowded when finally, after much delay, and trips to and from the house, Teddy Horton rushed into view, announcing through a megaphone that the doors of the Isabelle Theatre were open. Everybody strolled toward the garage and soon all the "stalls" were full.

Isabelle appeared before the sheets which served as curtain. She was pale, composed, and in deadly earnest.

"Fathers and mothers, and ladies and gentlemen," she began, "we are going to give a play called 'A Tale of Two Cities,' by Charles Dickens and me."

She was undisturbed by their laughter and applause.

"We didn't have time to print programmes, so I will tell you the characters: Mademoiselle Lucy Manet—Isabelle Bryce; Dr. Manet, her father—Margie Hunter; Madame La Farge—Isabelle Bryce; Mr. Lorry—Margie Hunter; Charles D'Arnay—Teddy Horton; Sidney Carton—Tommy Page. Manager—Isabelle Bryce."

More applause.

"The first scene is An Inn. Mr. Lorry is waiting for Lucy Manet."

She made a low bow, and walked off, followed by much hand clapping. Some time elapsed, and then by slow laborious jerks the sheets were parted, and Margie Hunter, a fat serious girl of nine, was discovered in her father's overcoat and hat, pacing the floor. She rather overdid the pacing, so a strident voice prompted: "My Blood!" and yet again, and louder: "My Blood!"

"Oh, yes," said Mr. Lorry. Then in a deep chest tone, he inquired: "My Blood! Why doesn't Mademoiselle Lucy Manet, my old client's, child, appear?"

Enter Lucy Manet. She wears Mrs. Page's best opera coat, which extracts a groan from the owner. Her bobbed brown hair is barely covered by the long yellow shaving curls which more or less crown her head. A Gainsborough hat of her mother's threatens to submerge her countenance, and she carries a walking stick of Wally's as a staff. But for all the ridiculous figure she cut, there was an earnestness and a sort of style to her entrance, that cut short the first outburst of laughter.

"Sir, are you Mr. Lorry?" she demanded.

"I am. I kiss your hand, Miss."

"I have had a long trip in the stage coach. . . . Did you bring me to England when I was an orphan child?"

"Miss Manet, it was me, but you aren't an orphan."

She kneels.

"Quick, sir, the truth!" she cries.

"Your father is found. He is a wreckage in prison."

Lucy Manet faints. Curtain.

Both actors were forced to take a curtain call after this. Isabelle manages to push fat Margie into the wings while she stays on, bowing, to announce:

"Margie Hunter is Dr. Manet this scene."

The next scene discovers Margie Hunter, in a long beard, cobbling a shoe, hastily contributed by Tommy Page at the last moment. A dramatic and tender meeting between father and child was played in a tense key, only slightly marred by the frequent loss of Father Manet's hirsute appendage.

The scene changed suddenly and unexpectedly to the court room in England where D'Arnay appears as prisoner. Margie Hunter played the judge. Teddy Horton as D'Arnay was so overcome with stage fright that Isabelle had to tell him all his lines. However, when it came to Lucy Manet's testimony the scene lifted. At the climax, just when Sidney Carton was to make his dramatic entrance into the story, it was discovered that Tommy had not his shoe. In the quick change, it had been left in the corner of Manet's garret. The action was held up while it was restored to him, but he put it on so hastily that he lost it once or twice during the scene. It kept his mind off his lines, rather. The moment came when the striking resemblance between D'Arnay and Carton is pointed out by Lucy. Tommy Page—plump, short, red-haired, with freckles—and Teddy Horton—tall, gangling, half a head taller than his double—stood side by side facing the audience.

Up to this moment a certain restraint had marked that body, but at this sight they went into uncontrolled spasms of delight. Martin Christiansen, dramatic critic, was seen to wipe tears of joy from his cheeks. The actors were spurred to renewed efforts.

Carton declared his eternal devotion to Lucy, in words that were scarcely Dickensian.

"I like you, Lucy; you're all right. I'll stick to you for ever," he improvised frantically.

The marriage scene between Lucy and D'Arnay ran something like this. D'Arnay, very accurate in his lines, remarks to Dr. Manet:

"Dr. Manet, I love your daughter—fondly, dearly. You loved once yourself; let your old love speak for me!"

Dr. Manet's lines escaped him, so he replied informally:

"Oh—all right."

Whereupon the bridal procession entered, with Isabelle as climax, in her mother's best tulle scarf as a veil.

The scene once more shifted to Paris. D'Arnay was arrested, and resisted. It took the entire company to overpower and drag him forth to the Bastille.

A bit of unequalled histrionism followed in which Isabelle entered as Lucy, with little Nancy Holt as her child. She proceeded to impersonate both that heroine and Madame La Farge. It was simpler than it sounds. As Lucy she still wore the wedding veil, as Madame La Farge she snatched off the veil, wrapped a fur boa around her, seized her mother's knitting, and by leaping from one side of the stage to the other, by using now a high voice now a low one, the illusion was perfect. The chee-ild was rather roughly pushed about during the scene, which was highly emotional.

"Be merciful to my husband for the sake of my chee-ild," cried Lucy, passionately, pushing Nancy forward.

"Never!" growled Madame La Farge, pushing Nancy back.

"Don't, Isabelle, you hurt," objected Nancy, but quailed into silence at Isabelle's terrible look.

The audience was almost hysterical.

The part where Carton rescues D'Arnay and changes places with him, important climax though it is in the book, was omitted by the dramatist, because it had no opportunity for Isabelle. D'Arnay arrived in Carton's clothes, many inches too small for him, and explained to Lucy what had occurred. So she and her child and her husband escape.

The curtains were closed now, and the audience stirred as if to rise. Isabelle rushed forth.

"Sit still," she commanded, "it isn't over yet."

There was a long wait, and much hammering back on the stage. Then the curtains parted again on the big realistic moment of the drama. Suspended at back was what at first glance looked to be a wooden window frame. It was suspended from above by ropes, which disappeared over the gallery which ran around the garage. Under this frame was a wooden saw-horse, and beneath that a pail. Only a look sufficed to show that this was La Belle Dame sans Merci, the guillotine.

A ragged rabble appeared at back, shouting and shaking fists. Then—led forward by D'Arnay and the able Margie who had been Dr. Manet, Lorry, and the Judge—came the blind-folded figure of the hero, Carton. They led him to the foot of that terrible machine of destruction, and after several vain promptings from the gallery above, Carton cried in a loud, manly voice:

"It's a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to, than I have ever known."

Then he laid his noble head on the saw horse, and bing! went the window frame down on his neck.

"Gosh!" yelled Carton, just as it struck; and then no more.

"Good Lord! Tommy!" cried his mother excitedly from the audience. "I think she's killed him."

"He's all right," cried Isabelle from the gallery. "There wasn't any knife in it—it couldn't hurt him much, unless it just broke his neck."

Carton sat up and lifted a red and angry face toward her.

"It just about did break my neck, you big nut!" he cried, feeling himself, gently. "I told you that darned thing wouldn't work."

"Draw the curtain," hissed Isabelle fiercely, sensing that the shouts of the audience were too abandoned to be complimentary.

The curtains were hitched shut, and she looked over the balustrade on to the group below. Wally was beating Christiansen on the back, and Max was laughing hysterically. Mrs. Page, whose stupid maternal plans had nearly ruined the climax, was now panting for breath.

Isabelle, even while she was delighted with their applause, despised them. Had they no feeling for the noble tragedy of Carton? Of course, Tommy Page, the fool——just then she caught Martin Christiansen's eye. He held up his hands to her, clapping, and bowing and throwing kisses. He rushed to the garden, and came back with a huge sunflower which he tossed to her, calling: "Author!"

After many and prolonged calls, Isabelle came modestly forth.

"Thank you," she said. "I think Mr. Charles Dickens is dead; if he is, I will thank you for him."

"Company! Company!" shouted the parents and relatives. Isabelle felt this to be bad discipline for the actors, but after a moment's hesitation, she led them all forth.

Martin Christiansen was the first to reach her side. With a low bow he indicated the sunflower which she carried.

"My flower!" he murmured tenderly. "Isabelle, I've seen them all, Bernhardt, Duse, Fiske, but I've never seen any acting that could be compared with yours!"

It was that supreme moment which made up to Isabelle for everything else. She knew then the joy of appreciation—knew that Martin Christiansen was a finer soul, and akin unto her own!



CHAPTER EIGHT

Isabelle's debut as dramatist and actress was much discussed and laughed over in the colony. Her pranks had long been a favourite topic, but this last one marked her as a real personality.

"Isabelle," Martin Christiansen said to her, a day or so after the performance, "you gave me so much pleasure with your interpretation of Mr. Dickens's work, that I want to do something for your pleasure."

"Do you?" said Isabelle, enthusiastically.

"Theatrical stars are so temperamental, I scarcely know what to suggest. What does a leading lady and producer like to do in her moments of idle ease?"

It was a great opportunity, and Isabelle considered it at length.

"I should like to go bathing on the club beach, and have lunch afterwards on the club porch."

"Most reasonable of Leading Ladies, what day would suit you best?"

"To-morrow"—promptly.

"Good. Shall we say at eleven? I will give myself the honour of coming for you."

"You ask Max to let me go, will you?"

"With pleasure. Shall we ask the other members of your company, too? Does a star permit the company to eat below the salt?"

"Oh no, don't let's have them—just you and me."

"Most flattering. I would prefer that."

"You won't ask the Wallys?"

"You refer to your parents?"

She nodded.

"This is your party—you may ask the guests," he laughed.

So it was decided, and Christiansen broke the news to her mother.

"I think she should have a chaperon. You might ask me."

"She was very explicit that the party was to be a tete-a-tete."

"She'd never ask me," laughed her mother.

"Aren't you friendly?"—curiously.

"Oh, not at all."

The next morning Max honoured Miss Watts and Isabelle with an unexpected call.

"What is she going to wear, Miss Watts?" she inquired.

"I'm going to wear my riding clothes," announced Isabelle.

"How ridiculous! You're going in a motor, not on a horse."

"I don't care. I look better in my riding clothes."

"You'll put on a white organdie frock and a big hat."

"I won't! I hate those girl-things! They look silly on me."

"All children of your age wear white dresses and pink sashes, Isabelle," interpolated Miss Watts.

"Well, I'm not a pink-sash child!" quoth Isabelle, with one of her flashes of insight.

"Oh, well, Miss Watts, let her go in her riding boots. If she wants to make a laughing-stock of herself, let her! Poor Mr. Christiansen will be sorry he ever asked her!" said Mrs. Bryce.

"Very well. I'll wear a white linen dress, with a black belt, and my black hat," announced the girl.

"Chaste, but not gaudy," laughed her mother, as she sauntered from the room.

When she was finally dressed Isabelle walked to a long mirror and surveyed herself at length. Her slim, pretty legs in their black silk stockings caught her eye.

"Don't you think I have nice legs?" she inquired of Miss Watts.

"Um—rather. They are serviceable at least."

* * * * *

The party was a marked success. A great many people were bathing, which always made it exciting. They went out to the raft and Christiansen and some other men took turns in throwing her off. It was perfect for Isabelle. Then, afterward, all the tables were full on the club veranda, when Mr. Christiansen led his guest to a two-chair table, marked "RESERVED." Everybody smiled and nodded at them. She saw Wally and Max cross the room grinning at her. But she bore herself with great dignity, and it seemed to her that life held nothing more, when Christiansen seated her. There was a tiny, old-fashioned bouquet at her plate.

"Is this for me?" she inquired.

"Yes. My offering on the day of your triumph was so inadequate, I wanted to do better to-day. By the way, I ordered the lunch. I trust you do not mind."

"Oh, no. That's all right," she replied graciously.

"It seems to me you are looking very fine to-day."

She looked at him gravely.

"I had an awful time about my clothes," she confessed. "Max wanted me to wear a party dress and a sweety hat——"

"What is a sweety hat?" he inquired with interest.

"Oh, you know the kind—floppy, with cherries on it, and everybody says: 'Oh, isn't she sweet?'"

Her host smiled.

"You object to being thought sweet?"

"Yes. I'm not that kind of a child."

"What kind of a child are you, Isabelle?"

"I'm plain, but I've got a great line of talk," was her unexpected answer.

"A witty tongue is worth all the pretty faces in the world," laughed Christiansen. "But I wouldn't call you so plain."

"I look very well in my riding clothes."

"Do you?"

"Have you seen me in them?"

"No, I regret to say."

"Well, you must."

"Thank you. I take it that you did not accept your mother's advice upon your costume?"

"Oh, no. I never do. Parents have such silly ideas, don't you think?"

"I suppose they do, poor things."

"You have to have them, of course"—politely.

"In this badly arranged world," he admitted.

"So many people are having babies this summer," she remarked.

"Are they, indeed?"

"Oh, yes. The Hunters and the Reillys, both have them."

"Do I know the Reillys?"

"He is the gardener at The Beeches. Patsy is my best friend."

"Is he a member of your company?"

"Oh, yes. He was away when we did 'The Tale of Two Cities.' He speaks rather Irishly, but he's a good actor."

"Your leading man seemed to have a comedy talent."

"Tommy Page? He's a terrible fool, but we had to have him. There never are enough boys to go round for the parts."

"So often happens in summer resorts," he agreed. "Why not have a company of Amazons and disdain the weaker sex?"

"You mean all girls?"

"The Amazons were, you know."

"They fuss so, and get mad. They always want to play the best parts. With boys, you can just settle them."

"You nearly settled poor Tommy Page on the guillotine," he laughed.

"He nearly spoiled everything, the poor coward. He couldn't stand a little pain."

"Peculiar to our sex, Isabelle; not Tommy's fault, strictly speaking."

"He'll never get another good part," she said firmly.

They were just finishing their ice cream, chatting amiably, when Wally came to their table.

"Hello," he remarked.

Isabelle bowed.

"Hope I don't interrupt?" he added.

"Not at all. Won't you sit down?"

"No, thanks. Just ran over to say that we'll take the kid off your hands after lunch."

"Oh, don't bother——"

"Certainly we will. The car is going back in ten minutes with Max, and she can go along."

Isabelle could have cried with rage. As it was she swallowed hard, and when Christiansen said: "Is that agreeable to you, Isabelle?" she nodded assent, but the look she cast at Wally might have assassinated him. He, blissfully unaware of it, sauntered away.

"Don't hurry. Wouldn't you like some more ice cream?" her host suggested.

"Yes, thank you."

She did not really want it, but it might serve to delay the hated departure. The car might go without her, and Christiansen would then take her home. She dawdled over the second ice cream, chatting feverishly to prevent his suspecting her plan. But the end came, as the end needs must, and on the veranda they found her mother waiting.

"If she has been eating all this time, you must be bankrupt," she laughed as they joined her.

"Our conversation absorbed considerable time, didn't it, Isabelle?"

"Yes"—gravely.

"Did you behave yourself?" inquired her mother.

"Perfectly," Christiansen hastened to say.

"Well, make your manners and get into the car," ordered her parent.

Christiansen leaned over her hand gallantly.

"Thank you for giving me so much pleasure," he said in a confidential tone.

"Thank you. I loved it," she whispered ardently.

On the way home her mother glanced at her.

"Have a good time?"

"You and Wally spoiled it!"—hotly.

"What did we do?"

"Treating me like a infunt!"

"Which you are," retorted her mother.

Later, in talking it over with Miss Watts, Isabelle said:

"Mr. Christiansen is my ideal. He thinks he would not call me very plain," she added. Then, "Miss Watts, what is an Amazon?"

"The Amazon is a river."

"But he said a comp'ny of Amazons."

"Oh, they were women warriors," instructed the teacher, and expounded the subject at some length.

"What did they wear?" demanded Isabelle.

"We'll look up some pictures of them and find out."

"Riding clothes would do," mused Isabelle.

"Nicely, I should say."

The next day she organized the Isabelle Amazons. They were only four in number, counting Nancy Holt, who was under size, but they drilled and hunted and rode to battle in the wake of their peerless leader. They met imaginary foes. They challenged Tommy Page and Teddy Horton to mortal combat, and put them to flight. It was a wonderful game, and Isabelle thrilled to think that it was "her ideal" who had suggested it.

"When am I going to entertain Mr. Christiansen?" she asked her mother.

"You entertain him?"

"Certainly. He had me to lunch, didn't he?"

Mrs. Bryce laughed.

"I'm having a house party over the week end and he is coming."

"This week end?"

"Yes. Your beau arrives on the noon train Saturday."

"But I am spending the day with the Hunters Saturday," the child protested.

"I can't help that," replied her parent.

"May I come down to dinner Saturday night?"

"Certainly not."

"Can't I come in with the cocktails, and stay till you go to the dining room?"

"Nobody wants you under foot."

"He's my friend just as much as he is yours!" blazed Isabelle.

"You can see him at tea."

"With everybody around? I have something private to tell him."

"What, pray?"

"About Amazons."

"Well, we'll not have Amazons with the cocktails, I can tell you that," said her mother with finality.

Isabelle brooded over the matter until the end of the week. She tried to get out of the day with Margie Hunter, but Mrs. Bryce was glad to be rid of her and forced her to go. She ordered Miss Watts not to go after her until half past five, when tea would be safely over.

Isabelle composed a note of explanation and left it on the bureau in the room which Christiansen was to occupy.

DEAR FRIEND: Because of others, and Margie Hunter's mother I cannot meet you at the station. I have to spend the day with old Margie Hunter. I have organized the Amazons, as you said, and we are strong and true, in riding breeches. I have a plan, but don't tell Max. Your loving friend, ISABELLE BRYCE.

She forgot her troubles somewhat at the Hunters'. All the Amazons were there, as well as Margie's brother, Herbert, an elderly person of twelve, with some of his friends. They treated the girls with great scorn until Isabelle told them the story of the persecutions she endured at home, in order to be an Amazon. It featured imprisonment in a tower room, on a diet of bread and water, branding irons and flogging with a buckled strap. They formed a delighted circle about her, and urged her on.

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