THE MISSION OF JANICE DAY
THE "DO SOMETHING" BOOKS BY HELEN BEECHER LONG
JANICE DAY THE TESTING OF JANICE DAY HOW JANICE DAY WON THE MISSION OF JANICE DAY
12mo. Cloth. Illustrated Price per volume, $1.25 net
SULLY AND KLEINTEICH NEW YORK
THE FOURTH "DO SOMETHING" BOOK
* * * * *
THE MISSION OF JANICE DAY
HELEN BEECHER LONG
AUTHOR OF "JANICE DAY," "THE TESTING OF JANICE DAY," ETC.
Illustrated by CORINNE TURNER
NEW YORK SULLY AND KLEINTEICH
Copyright, 1917, by SULLY AND KLEINTEICH
All rights reserved
I. Something Troubles Uncle Jason 1 II. Something Troubles Everybody 16 III. Marty Speaks Out 25 IV. "I Told You So" 32 V. Janice Goes Her Way 44 VI. The Shadow of Coming Events 55 VII. Echoes 63 VIII. Lottie Seeks a Friend 72 IX. Mrs. Scattergood Talks 82 X. The Only Serious Thing 93 XI. "I Must Go!" 103 XII. Nelson Does Not Understand 113 XIII. Marty Expands 121 XIV. The Black-eyed Woman 132 XV. A Shock to Polktown 141 XVI. Marty Runs Into Trouble 153 XVII. Two Explosions 163 XVIII. Something Very Exciting 174 XIX. The Crossing 183 XX. Roweled by Circumstances 201 XXI. At La Guarda 213 XXII. The Red Vest Again 223 XXIII. The Bandits 232 XXIV. The Situation Becomes Difficult 240 XXV. An Amazing Meeting 249 XXVI. At Last 263 XXVII. Much To Talk About 272 XXVIII. Tom Hotchkiss Reappears 281 XXIX. "Judge B-day" 289 XXX. At Home 298
She approached the charger ridden by the bandit chief. (See page 242.) Frontispiece FACING PAGE
"What do you mean? Has anything happened to daddy?" 92
"Marty Day!" repeated the girl. "How did you come here?" 164
A rising murmur went through the crowd; then they cheered 306
THE MISSION OF JANICE DAY
SOMETHING TROUBLES UNCLE JASON
"He don't look right and he don't sleep right," complained Aunt Almira Day, swinging to and fro ponderously in one of the porch rockers and fanning herself vigorously with a folded copy of the Fireside Favorite. "If it wasn't for his puttin' away jest as many victuals as usual I'd sartain sure think he was sickenin' for something."
"Oh! I hope Uncle Jason isn't going to be ill," Janice said sympathetically. "He has always seemed so rugged."
"He's rugged enough," Aunt 'Mira continued. "Don't I tell ye he's eatin' full and plenty? But there's something on his mind—an' he won't tell me what 'tis."
"Maybe you imagine it," her niece said, pinning on her hat preparatory to leaving the old Day house on Hillside Avenue, overlooking Polktown.
"Imagine nothin'!" ejaculated Aunt 'Mira with more vigor than elegance. She was not usually snappish in her conversation. She was a fleshy, lymphatic woman, particularly moist on this unseasonably warm October day, addicted to gay colors in dress and the latest fashions as depicted in the pages of the Fireside Favorite, and usually not prone to worries of any kind.
"Imagine nothin'!" she repeated. "I've summered and wintered Jase Day for more'n twenty years; I'd ought to know him and all his ways from A to Izzard. When anything is goin' wrong with him he's allus as close-mouthed as a hard-shell clam with the lockjaw. I vum! I don't know what to make of him now."
"I haven't noticed much out of the way with Uncle Jason," Janice said reflectively. "Aren't you——"
"No, I ain't!" interrupted Aunt 'Mira. "I tell ye he don't sleep right. Lays and grunts and thrashes all night long—mutterin' in his sleep and actin' right foolish. I never see the beat. I must say 't in all the years I've slept beside Jase Day he ain't been like he is now."
"Why don't you ask him what the trouble is?"
"Ask him!" said Aunt 'Mira. "Might as well ask the stone Spink they set up as a god or something down there in Egypt. Ye'd get jest as quick an answer from it as ye would from Jase Day when he wants to keep dumb. Dumb! when he wants to say nothin' he says it like a whole deef and dumb asylum."
Janice laughed. She had noticed nothing very strange about her uncle's recent manner, and believed Aunt 'Mira, little as she was given to that failing, was borrowing trouble.
The wine of autumn seemed fairly to permeate the air. It was too beautiful a day for youth to be disturbed by mere imaginary troubles. Janice could scarcely keep from singing as she passed down the pleasant thoroughfare. The wide-branching trees shading it showered her with brilliant leaves. Across the placid lake the distant shore was a bank of variegated hues. Even the frowning height on which the pre-revolutionary fortress stood had yielded to the season's magic and looked gay in burning colors of shrub and vine.
Beyond the jaws of the cove upon the shore of which Polktown was builded, a smart little steamboat flaunted a banner of smoke across the sky. The new Constance Colfax would soon be at the Polktown dock and Janice was on her way to meet it. That is, this was her obvious purpose, as it was of many Polktown folk abroad at the hour. As yet it was the single daily excitement in which one might indulge in this little Vermont town. Soon the branch of the V. C. Railroad would be opened and then Polktown really would be in frequent touch with the outside world.
Its somnolence, its conservatism, even its crass ignorance of conditions in the great centers of industry and population, added a charm to life as it was lived in Polktown. Yet it was wide-awake regarding local affairs, and this pretty and well-dressed girl walking so blithely toward High Street had had an actual and important part in the enlivening of the lakeside community during the past few months.
It was Janice Day's earnestness, her "do something" tactics, that had carried to happy conclusion several important public movements in Polktown. Quite unconsciously at first, by precept and example, she had urged awake the long dozing community, and, once having got its eyes open, Janice Day saw to it that the town did not go to sleep again.
She loved Polktown. The Middle-West community where she was born and had lived most of her girlhood was a tender memory to Janice. Her dear mother had died there, and for several years her father and she had lived very close to each other in their mutual sorrow.
In Greenboro, however, she had had little opportunity for that development of character which contact with the world, with strangers and with new conditions, is sure to bring. She had been merely a schoolgirl at home with "daddy" before coming East to live with Uncle Jason and Aunt 'Mira. In Polktown she had found herself.
It may have been thought of this that curved her lips in the contemplative smile they wore, blossomed the roses in her cheeks, and added the sparkle to her hazel eyes as she tripped along.
To the view of many in Polktown Janice Day was pretty; but in a certain pair of eyes that beheld her to-day while yet she was a great way off, she was the embodiment of everything that was good and beautiful.
Nelson Haley, coming out of the new graded school, of which he was the very capable and unusually beloved principal, owned this particular pair of eyes. He hastened his steps to the corner of the cross street on which the schoolhouse stood and overtook the girl.
"Going right by without noticing me, I presume?" he said, lifting his hat, a frank smile upon his very youthful countenance.
"Of course, Nelson," she said, giving him her hand for a moment and gazing directly into his earnest eyes. That touch and look thrilled them both. Nelson dropped into step with her and they went on down the hill for several moments in a silence which, to these two who knew each other so well, suggested a more certain understanding than speech.
It was Nelson who said as they turned into High Street:
"What meaneth the smile, Janice? What is the immediate thought in that demure head of yours? Something amusing, I'm sure."
Janice laughed outright, flashing him an elfish glance. "I was thinking of something."
"Of course. Out with it," he told her. "Confession is good for the soul and removes the tantalizing element of curiosity."
"Oh, it's not a matter for the confessional. I was just remembering a certain person who arrived in this town not much more than three years ago, and how different she was then—and how different the town!—from the present."
"I acknowledge the immense change which has come over the town; but you, my dear, in your nature and character are as changeless as the hills—even as the Green Mountains of old Vermont."
"Why! I don't know whether that is a compliment or not, Nelson," she cried. "Daddy says the man who doesn't change his politics and his religious outlook in twenty years is dead. They have merely neglected to bury him."
"The fundamentals cannot change," the philosophical young schoolmaster observed. "You have developed, dear girl; but the bud that is blossoming into the flower of your womanhood was curled in the leaf of your character when you first looked at Polktown from the deck of the old Constance Colfax."
"Why, Nelson! that is almost poetical," she said, glancing at him again as they walked side by side toward the dock at the foot of Polktown's principal business thoroughfare. "And whether it is poetry or not I like it," she added, dimpling again.
"Oh, my dear! how different the place looked that day from what it is now. Why, it was only known as Poketown! And it was the pokiest, most rubbishy, lackadaisical village I ever saw. Just think of its original name being lost by years of careless pronunciation! The people had even forgotten that sterling old patriot, Hubbard Polk, who first settled here and defied the 'Yorkers.'"
Janice laughed with a reflective note in her voice. "Why, when they cleaned up the town—— Will you ever forget Polktown's first Clean-Up Day, Nelson?"
"Never," chuckled the young man. "Such a shaking up of the dry bones, both literal and metaphorical!"
"I can see," said Janice more quietly, "that Polktown has changed and developed whether I have or not. We certainly have learned——"
"To do something," finished Nelson with emphasis. "That's it exactly. The teachings instilled into his daughter's mind by that really wonderful man, Mr. Broxton Day, to the end that she is always eager to begin the battle while other folk are merely talking about it, has served to put Polktown on the map."
Janice squeezed his arm, dimpling and smiling. "Dear daddy!" she mused. "If he only could get away from business affairs and come out of distracted Mexico to spend his time here in peace and quiet."
"'Peace and quiet!'" repeated the schoolmaster. "Ask Walky Dexter what he thinks of that. If your father sustains the reputation his daughter has given him, Polktown would be prodded into an even more strenuous existence than that of our recent successful campaign for no license. Walky believes, Janice, you have all the characteristics of a capsicum plaster."
"Fact! You ask him. You're the greatest counter-irritant that was ever applied to any dead-and-alive settlement.... 'Lo, Walky!"
The village expressman, as well known as the town pump and quite as important, drew the bony and sleepy Josephus to an abrupt stop beside the smiling pair of young people. Walky's broad, wind-blown countenance was a-grin and his eyes twinkled as he broke into speech:
"Jefers-pelters! d'you know what I caught myself a-doin' when I seen you two folks goin' down hill ahead of me?"
"I couldn't guess, Walky. What?" asked Janice.
"Whistlin' that there 'Bridle March' they play on the church organ when there's a weddin'—haw! haw! haw!"
Janice colored rosily, but could not refrain from laughter at Walky's crude joke. Nobody could be very angry with Walky Dexter, no matter what he said or did.
"That's a poor brand of humor you are peddling, old man," said the schoolmaster coolly. "Besides, you don't pronounce the word right. It's 'bri-dal' not 'bridle.' You speak it as though it were a part of Josephus' harness."
"Young man," responded Walky solemnly, but with a twinkle in his watery eye, "when they play that march for you ye'll find ye're harnessed all right. I been merried thutty year now and I oughter know if 'tain't a 'bridle' march and a halter they lead ye to 'stead of a altar."
He exploded another laugh in approval of his own wit and rattled on down to the dock. There was little self-consciousness in the manner of the schoolmaster and Janice. They looked at each other understandingly again and smiled.
Why seek to hide an obvious fact? Every person in Polktown who had arrived at the age of understanding and was not yet senile knew that Nelson Haley and Janice Day had "made a match of it." Only the girl's youth and the necessity for the young man to become established in his calling precluded the thought of matrimony for the present. But they were sure of their feeling for each other. Both had been tested in the months that had passed since Nelson came to Polktown fresh from his college course and had shown Janice that he could "make good." There had been conflict in both their lives; there had even been clash in their opinions; but the foundation of their affection for each other was too well established for either to doubt.
The simple romance of their lives seemed very sweet indeed to those of their friends whose eyes were not holden. Nelson Haley and Janice Day were at the beginning of that path which, if sometimes rugged and steep to the travelers thereon, is primrose strewn.
They passed one of the largest stores in Polktown—an "emporium" as the gilt sign stated—which had been opened only a few months. Nelson, picking up the first idle topic, said:
"I wonder what's happened to Tom Hotchkiss? I haven't seen him about for some days—and you can't very well miss that important looking red vest he wears."
"Somebody said he'd gone away," Janice replied, as lightly interested in the subject as the schoolmaster. "To buy goods, I presume. He often makes trips to the city for that purpose."
"Hey, you folks! What're you pokin' along so for?" a shrill voice demanded behind them. "She's comin' into the dock now."
A boy clattered by them, swinging a strapful of books and grinning at Janice and Nelson companionably. He was a sturdy boy with a good-humored face plentifully besprinkled with freckles.
"They can dock the Constance Colfax without our being there, Marty," Janice said.
"Hi tunket! they can't without I say so," her cousin flung back over his shoulder as he clattered on.
Nelson sighed. "You would not believe that boy stood well in his classes and had the benefit of my precept and example in speech for several hours each school day of the year."
"Marty is incorrigible, I fear," Janice returned, with a smile.
"He sheds his knowledge of polite English when he steps out of the school building just as a snake sheds its skin. He is perfectly hopeless."
"And at heart a perfect dear," announced Janice. "There's something better than even a knowledge of good English in Marty Day."
Nelson's eyes twinkled. "Do you know," he observed, "I suspect you are prejudiced in your cousin's favor?"
They reached the wharf just as the passengers landing at Polktown were streaming up from the boat. There were several commercial travelers bound for the Lake View Inn and the ministrations of Marm Parraday, who was now its overseeing spirit. Besides these there was but one disembarking passenger. She attracted Janice Day's immediate attention.
"Look, Nelson; here comes Mrs. Scattergood. She's just returning from a visit to her son. Do you know, she is the first friend I made when I came to Polktown? She was on the boat that day coming over from the Landing."
"The old girl looks as spry as ever," said Nelson disrespectfully. "And I guarantee she already has her hammer out."
"Nelson! And you criticize Marty's language!" laughed Janice.
"There is some slang, young lady, that so adds to the forcefulness of English that the dictionaries adopt it. Say! are you going to stop for her?"
"Oh, I must, Nelson," Janice said with a rueful glance at the schoolmaster.
"Then, to quote my slangiest pupil again—good-night!" and Nelson went away cheerfully to greet several of the young men of the town grouped on the other side of the wharf.
"Well, well, Janice Day!" chirped the little old woman with a birdlike tilt of her head when the girl welcomed her. "You be a pleasant sight to see when a body comes home. And I be glad to get home. I tell my son's wife I can't make many more of these trips to Skunk's Holler. It's too fatiguing, and at my age I like my own bed and my own fireside. I s'pose Rill's well?"
"Very well—and very happy," said Janice softly, looking at the sharp-featured old woman with grave eyes.
"'Sthat so? Well, I s'pect she's relieved in her mind now the bar at the hotel is closed," snapped Mrs. Scattergood. "Hopewell Drugg can't go fur astray if he don't go playin' that fiddle of his to no more o' them dances. Though you can't trust no man too fur—that's been my experience with 'em."
"Oh, dear, me! how unfortunate you have been all your life, Mrs. Scattergood," sighed Janice. There was laughter in her eyes if her lips were grave. Mrs. Scattergood's fault-finding character was well known to the girl.
"Hi, Janice!" broke in Marty Day's voice, and he came puffing up the hill after his cousin and Mrs. Scattergood. "How-do, Miz' Scattergood? Did y'see Tom Hotchkiss come ashore?"
"Why, no, Marty. I did not notice him. Why?" Janice said.
"Dad wanted I should find out if he came home to-day. But I didn't see him."
"What's Jase Day want o' Tom Hotchkiss?" demanded Mrs. Scattergood sharply.
"I really couldn't say," Janice replied.
"Wal, he warn't on the boat; I can tell ye that. And to my notion Tom Hotchkiss is as onsartin a feller to figger on as any party in this town. He was as full o' tricks as a monkey when he was a boy here; and he didn't onlearn none o' them, I'll be bound, all the years he was away, nobody knows where. I wouldn't trust Tom Hotchkiss with a nickel no further than I could swing an elephant by its tail."
"Oh my, Mrs. Scattergood! that wouldn't be far," laughed Janice. They came to the intersection of Hillside Avenue and High Street. "Well, I must leave you here. I'm glad to see you home again, and looking so well."
This was on Friday evening. Janice, happy and care-free, went home to help Aunt 'Mira prepare supper. There seemed nothing in the world now to trouble Janice Day and she had forgotten Aunt 'Mira's prognostications of evil.
News from Mexico—from dear daddy at the mine—had been very favorable for weeks. Of course, back in the girl's mind was always the fear, now lulled to sleep, that something bad might happen to Mr. Broxton Day down in battle-ridden Mexico. But the present de facto government seemed to favor American mining interests, and Mr. Day wrote very hopefully of the outlook for the future.
Uncle Jason Day, a silent man at best, came in to supper much as usual. In the midst of the meal there was a rap upon the kitchen door and Marty clumsily arose to answer the summons.
"Say, Dad!" the boy cried, "it's Aaron Whelpley. Says he wants to see you outside."
"What's he want o' ye, Jase?" asked Aunt 'Mira curiously, as her husband left the table. "Don't he clerk down to Tom Hotchkiss' store?"
Uncle Jase muttered something unintelligible and went out on the porch, closing the door carefully behind him. The air of expectancy over the three left at the supper table in the Day kitchen increased as the minutes passed.
"More secrets," said Mrs. Day lachrymosely. "I might's well be merried to the Shah of Pershy. I'd know jest as much about his business as I do about Jase Day's."
Marty only chuckled at his mother's complaint. Janice felt some little perturbation. It increased as Uncle Jason's absence continued. When finally he opened the door suddenly and almost staggered into the kitchen, his face blanched and his eyes expressing an emotion that she could not fathom, the girl leaped simultaneously to her feet and to a conclusion.
"It's daddy!" she gasped. "Something has happened again in Mexico! Oh, Uncle Jason! what is it?"
SOMETHING TROUBLES EVERYBODY
Uncle Jason stood suddenly straighter and looked at his niece with clearing visage. His wife shrilled:
"Ye wanter scare ev'rybody out o' their seven senses, Jase Day? What's the matter of you?"
"Nothin'," stammered Mr. Day with dry lips.
"Is it about daddy?" questioned Janice again.
"No, 'tain't nothin' about Brocky," said Uncle Jason more stoutly. "I—I felt bad for a minute."
"What's the matter with you? Is it yer digestion again? If you air goin' to get that on ye at your time o' life where'll you be when you're an old man?" demanded Aunt 'Mira. "My victuals ain't never suited ye none too well——"
"I've et 'em for more'n twenty year, ain't I?" snapped her husband, sitting down heavily in his chair again.
"Under protest, I don't doubt," sighed Aunt 'Mira. "I know I ain't as good a cook as some."
"'The Lord sends the food but the devil sends the cooks,'" quoted Marty in an undertone to his cousin.
"You're good enough," Uncle Jason gruffly stated.
"Oh, no I ain't," was the mournful reply. "I know my risin' bread never did suit ye, Jase Day. And ye said yer mother's pies was fur an' away better'n mine."
"When'd I ever say that?" demanded the man.
"Jest after we was merried," Aunt 'Mira said, wiping her eyes on the corner of her apron.
"Oh, gee!" exploded Marty.
"Twenty year an more ago!" snorted Uncle Jason.
"Why, of course he doesn't think so now," urged Janice, seeking to oil the troubled waters of Aunt 'Mira's soul.
"Of all women!" groaned Mr. Day.
"Oh, no," sighed his wife, who was gradually working herself into a tearful state. "I know I ain't been the helpmeet you expected me to be, Jase Day." Uncle Jason snorted. "I know my failin's"—in a tone that admitted they were very few—"and I long ago seen ye didn't trust me, Jase. I never know nothin' about your business. I never know what ye aim to do till it's done. I never——"
"I snum!" cried Uncle Jase. "What is it ye wanter know? There ain't no satisfyin' you women."
Janice tried to smooth matters again. "I'm sure, Aunt 'Mira, if Uncle Jason doesn't always take you into his confidence about business matters it's only because he wants to save you worry."
"Now you've said something," commented Marty vehemently, while his father looked at the girl gratefully.
"I dunno what she wants ter know," he said.
"Well," Aunt 'Mira put in quickly, showing that she was not at all lacking in shrewdness and that there might be method in her procedure, "what did that Aaron Whelpley want ter see ye for, f'rinstance?"
"Oh! him?" gasped Uncle Jason, flushing dully. "Why—jest nothin' at all! nothin' at all! Came to tell me—ahem!—Tom Hotchkiss hadn't come back yet."
"Why, I told you that, Dad!" ejaculated Marty in surprise.
"Ya-as—so ye did," faltered his father. "But Aaron knowed I wanted to see Tom——"
"What for?" demanded Aunt 'Mira, with an insistence in getting at the meat in the kernel that amazed Janice.
"Why—er—on business," admitted Mr. Day stumblingly.
"There it goes!" broke down Aunt 'Mira, fairly sobbing now. "Jest as soon as I wanter know about anything I should know about, I'm put down an' sat upon. Oh! Oh!"
"Woman! you're crazy!" ejaculated Mr. Day, pushing back his chair hastily and leaving his supper but half eaten.
Janice ran to put her arms about Aunt 'Mira's plump and shaking shoulders, meanwhile motioning her uncle toward the sitting room. Marty, having finished, rose to follow his father.
"There!" sobbed Mrs. Day, "it's jest as I tell ye. He don't relish my victuals. He ain't et supper enough for a sparrow."
"Any sparrow that et what dad did," said Marty as he left the room, "would die of apoplexy! Turn off the water-works, Ma. That won't get you nothin'."
"Men air sech heartless critters," sobbed Aunt 'Mira.
"Why, you sound like Mrs. Scattergood!" declared Janice with a little laugh. "To hear her to-day——"
"Do tell!" exclaimed Mrs. Day briskly and wiping her eyes. "Is Miz' Scattergood home again?"
The cloud was dissipated from the good woman's mind as quickly as it had gathered. She bustled about with Janice, clearing the table and washing the supper dishes. Tears never left their mark upon Aunt Almira's smooth and plump cheeks.
But Janice had her doubts regarding Uncle Jason's peace of mind. Through the open doorway she saw him sitting by the reading lamp with his newspaper. She knew that he looked on the first page only, and from the expression on his face doubted if he saw a word of the print before him. When she had polished the last plate she went in and patted his shoulder. He looked up at her with troubled eyes and the girl stooped and lightly kissed his cheek above the tangle of his beard.
"Of course it is really nothing about daddy?" she whispered.
"Not a-tall! Not a-tall, Niece Janice!" he declared. "It's jest—well—nothin'," and he lapsed into a gloomy silence.
The family life at the Day homestead was very different now from what it had been when Janice first came there to live. Like many people of the town, the Day family had got into a rut. Uncle Jason was frankly shiftless, although he was a good farmer and able to earn a fair wage at carpenter's work if he so desired.
Aunt Almira had grown hopeless and careless, too. Ambition seemed to have fled the Polktown Days completely, and Janice could scarcely realize that they were her father's relatives. Marty had been both a lazy and a saucy boy, associating with idle companions in the evenings and hating school only a degree less than he hated work.
It delighted the girl now to see her cousin at the sitting room table with his books. Marty was still no lover of learning; but he had an aim in view—he desired to become a civil engineer, and he had learned that his present studies were necessary if he were to attain his goal.
Nowadays if Marty went out after supper it was to attend a meeting of the Boys' Club affiliated with the Public Library Association, or to go to "class meeting," which was a part of the social activities of the public school established by Nelson Haley.
Matters having quieted down after the supper-table eruption, Aunt 'Mira got her sewing basket and Janice her text-books. The girl was still attending the seminary at Middletown four days a week. She ran over in her Kremlin car her father had given her and returned each afternoon. She would continue to do this until snow flew, by which time it was hoped passenger trains would be running on the V. C. branch between Middletown and Polktown Landing.
Mrs. Day sighed heavily, just to let her husband know that the storm in her breast was not wholly assuaged; but Janice, busy with her studies, had forgotten all about the family bickering until she was suddenly aroused to the fact that it was now Uncle Jason and Marty who had locked horns.
"No. I sha'n't give you another cent!" Mr. Day said with vigor. "You have too much money to spend as it is."
"Gee, Dad!" groaned his son, "there ain't that much money, is there?"
Mr. Day snorted: "Young spendthrift! When I was your age I never had ten cents a month for spending."
"Huh!" said Marty. "I'm glad I didn't know Gran'dad Day then. He must have been some tightwad."
"I saved my money—put it in the bank," snapped his father, who seemed very fretful indeed on this evening.
"Well, I've got money in the savings bank," sniffed Marty. "I s'pose I can take out some and get those hockey sticks and things I want. We're going to have a regular team this winter, Nelse Haley says, and play Middletown High."
"Ye'll not take a cent out of the bank, d'ye hear me?" said his father, more sharply. "Ye'd never had it there if yer mother hadn't opened the account for you and give ye the book."
"Well, now, Jason," put in Aunt 'Mira, "why shouldn't the boy have a little money to spend? All the other boys do. You air the clostest man——"
"Close? close?" repeated Uncle Jason, his voice rising shrilly. "You think I'm close, do you? Well, lemme tell ye, I'll be closer, and this fambly'll live a sight more economical in the future than it has in the past. We ain't got no money to fool away——"
"Aw, rats!" growled Marty under his breath, slamming shut his book and rising from the table. "That's always the way," he added. "Try to touch you for a cent and you'd think you was losing a patch of your hide."
"Oh, Marty!" gasped Janice. "Don't!"
"It's your father's way," croaked Aunt 'Mira, rocking violently. "Tech him in the pocketbook an' ye tech him on the raw."
"By mighty!" ejaculated Mr. Day, crumpling his paper into a ball and throwing it on the floor. "If ever a man was so pestered——"
"They don't mean it, Uncle Jason! They don't mean it," cried Janice, almost in tears. "They don't understand. But something must be the matter—something is troubling you——"
"Well, why don't he tell then?" shrilled Mrs. Day. "If he's hidin' something——"
Her husband rose up and turned to glare at both her and his son. His face was apoplectic; his lips twitched. Janice had never seen him moved in this way before and even Aunt 'Mira looked startled.
"I am hidin' somethin'," the man said harshly. "I been hidin' it for weeks. I'll tell ye all what 'tis now. Ye'd know it soon enough anyway."
"Well, I vum!" murmured Aunt 'Mira. "Is he goin' ter finally tell it?"
"Get it off your chest, Dad," Marty said carelessly. "You'll feel better."
There was no sympathy expressed for him except in Janice Day's countenance. The man wet his lips, hesitated, and finally burst out with:
"I had an int'rest in Tom Hotchkiss' store. Ye all knowed that; but ye didn't know how much. I went on his notes—all of 'em. For nigh twelve thousand dollars. More'n I got in the world. More'n this place is wuth—an' the stock—everything! All I got in the world is gone if Tom Hotchkiss ain't an honest man, and it looks as though he'd run away and didn't intend to come back!"
MARTY SPEAKS OUT
The silence of misunderstanding, almost of unbelief, fell upon the little group in the Day sitting room, shocked as it was by Uncle Jason's declaration. Janice could not find her tongue. Aunt 'Mira's fat face was as blank as a wall. Marty finally recovered breath enough to expel:
"Whew! Hi tunket! That's what was behind his red vest, was it? Has he really stung you, Dad?"
"But, Jase Day!" at last burst out Aunt 'Mira, "ye air jest a-scarin' us for nothin'. Of course you can levy on his goods."
"They're not paid for," Uncle Jason interrupted. "That's what Aaron found out for me. Tom got a line of credit I didn't know nothin' about. The jobbers and wholesalers have first call. There are no outstandin' accounts owin' the store; Tom did a spot cash business."
"But what did he do with the money he got on the notes you indorsed, Uncle Jason?" cried Janice.
"That's what I don't know," Mr. Day replied, sitting down heavily again and resting his head in both hands. "He's gone—and it's gone. That's all I know. I found out to-day he hasn't got ten dollars to his account at the bank. The bank holds most of his notes, and of course they are goin' to come down on me as the notes fall due."
Mr. Day groaned very miserably. Salt tears stung Janice's eyelids.
"Cricky, Dad! can they take everything that belongs to us?" asked Marty, awestruck.
Mr. Day nodded. "Ev'ry endurin' thing. On an indorsement of a note even a man's tools and his household goods ain't exempt."
"Oh, Uncle!" cried Janice in pity.
"Well, then, Jase Day," gasped his wife, regaining her usual volubility, "what have I allus told ye? If ye'd put the homestead in my name they couldn't get that away from ye. It's what I allus wanted ye to do. And I ain't even got dower right in it, as I'd oughter have. Ye don't 'pear to have the sense ye was born with. Write your name on another man's note—an' for sech a feller as Tom Hotchkiss—when ye didn't know nothin' about him."
"I went to school with his father. Old Caleb Hotchkiss and me was chums," defended Uncle Jason weakly. "I allus thought Tom had it in him to make good."
"Oh, he's done good, it 'pears," snapped Aunt 'Mira. "He's done you good an' brown. Ye wouldn't tell me nothin' about it, 'cept ye'd invested a little money in the store when 'twas first opened. That's what ye said."
"And it was the truth," groaned Uncle Jason. "It was later I indorsed the notes."
"Serves you right for not takin' your lawful wife into your confidence," stormed Aunt 'Mira in mingled wrath and tears. "And now what's to become of us I'd like to know? Ev'rything we got taken from us! Kin they really do that, Jase?"
The man nodded his head miserably.
"Well, all I gotter say is that it's mighty hard on me," complained Mrs. Day. "If you was fool enough to trust a scalawag like Tom Hotchkiss——"
"It wasn't two weeks ago you was speakin' so well of him," interrupted her husband, stung to the retort discourteous. "You said he was the smartest man in Polktown and if I'd been ha'f the man he was at his age I'd ha' made a fortune."
Marty suddenly laughed, high and shrilly. "Surely! surely!" he exploded. "You could easy make a fortune the same way Tom Hotchkiss done—by stealin' it from others."
"Well——" began his mother, when to Janice's, as well as his parents', vast surprise, her cousin suddenly dominated the occasion.
"You keep still, Ma! You've said enough. Dad didn't go for to do it, did he? He wasn't aimin' to lose his money and make us poor, was he? D'you think he did it a-purpose?"
"Well—no, Marty," admitted Mrs. Day, "I don't think he did. But——"
"Nuff said, then," declared the youngest of the Day clan briskly. "What's done's done. No use bawlin' over spilt sody-water," and he grinned more or less cheerfully. "What good did the money dad had in the bank ever do us? Not a bit! It might as well have been burnt up. We can hire this house to live in just as well's though we owned it, can't we? And not have to worry about taxes and repairs neither."
"Why, Marty!" murmured Janice, amazed by this outburst, yet somewhat impressed by the sounding sense of it.
"Hi tunket!" exploded her cousin, expanding as he looked around on his surprised relatives. "What does it matter, anyway? Ain't I here, Ma? Have you forgot I'm alive, Dad? Can't I go to work and earn money enough to support this family if I haf to? I—guess—yes! Why!" pursued the excited Marty, "I can go to work next week at Jobbin's sawmill an' earn my dollar-seventy-five a day. Sure I can! Or I bet I could get a job in some store. Or on the Constance Colfax—they pay deckhands a dollar-fifty. And there's the railroad goin' to open up.
"Pshaw! there's nothin' to it," declared the boy. "What if dad has got the rheumatism? I can work an' we won't starve."
"Marty!" cried Janice, running around the table and putting both arms about his neck. "You dear boy—you're a man!"
"Huh!" grunted Marty half strangled. "Who said I wasn't?"
"He's a good, dear child," sobbed his mother. "D'you hear him, Jase Day?"
"Yes," said Mr. Day brokenly. "I dunno but it's wuth while losin' ev'rything ye own to l'arn that ye got a boy like him."
Marty was suddenly smitten with a great wave of confusion. His enthusiasm had carried him out of himself. "Aw, well," he mumbled, "I was just tellin' you. You needn't worry. I can get a job."
"And I'll sell my car, Uncle," Janice said gayly. "That'll help some. And my board money. That comes regularly, thank goodness!
"Of course," she pursued, "as Marty says, we can hire the house to live in if you have to lose the dear old place. We'll be all right."
"'Tain't that. I can work yet," groaned Uncle Jase. "It's losin' all we've saved."
"Well! whose fault is that?" demanded his wife; but Janice stopped her.
"Now, Auntie, Marty's said the last word on that topic. Let us not waste our time in recrimination. We must get a new outlook on life, that is all."
"But all I gotter say——"
"You've said it, Ma, already," put in Marty. "Don't spread it on thicker. Dad ain't likely to forget it. You don't have to keep reminding him of it."
It was hard on the woman, this shutting off her speech. As with many shallow-minded folk, speech was Aunt 'Mira's safety valve. Afterward, when Uncle Jason had gone down town "to see about it" and Marty had accompanied him (the first time in all probability since he was a child the boy had ever willingly accompanied his father anywhere) the pent-up torrent of Aunt 'Mira's feelings burst upon Janice's head.
She put away her books with a sigh. The morrow was a school holiday, anyway. "Aunt 'Mira," she said softly, "don't you suppose Uncle Jason feels this thing keenly? Don't you think his very soul must be embittered because he has made this mistake?"
"Mistake!" repeated the fretful woman. "Needn't ha' been no mistake. If he'd asked me——"
"You would have been no wiser than he, Aunt 'Mira," Janice interrupted with confidence. "I know you. I remember how you had this Mr. Hotchkiss to tea here one night some months ago, and how pleasant he seemed. I expect that must have been when Uncle Jason was about to indorse his notes and he wanted your opinion of the man."
"Goodness, Janice! do you suppose so?" gasped Aunt 'Mira.
"Yes, I do. You know how uncle is—he doesn't talk much, but he thinks a lot of your opinion. And I know he must feel worse over losing your confidence than over losing the money."
"Why, he ain't lost my confidence!" cried her aunt. "I know he never meant to do it."
"Then tell him so when he comes home, dear," Janice whispered with her arms about her aunt's neck. "Don't be harsh to him at a time when he needs all the sympathy we can give him."
Aunt Almira cried a little, then wiped her eyes and kissed her niece.
"You're a great comfort, Janice. What we should do without you I dunno. An' I guess ye air right. We women only hafter suffer for a man's fool tricks. But the man has to suffer and make good for 'em, too. Poor Jase!"
"I TOLD YOU SO"
Janice thought at once of her father when this serious trouble for Uncle Jason and the family arose. She said nothing about doing so, but before going to bed that night she wrote Mr. Broxton Day about his brother's trouble.
Janice's father was considerably younger than his half-brother, had seen a deal more of the world than Jason Day, and had accumulated a much larger fortune than the plodding Polktown farmer and carpenter ever hoped or expected to possess.
Uncle Jason was inclined to criticize Mr. Broxton Day for "putting all his eggs in one basket," as he had done in investing in mining property in Chihuahua, Mexico. But now it seemed as though Uncle Jason, shrewd as he thought himself, had made a similar mistake. He had backed Tom Hotchkiss beyond the value of all his property, both real and personal.
The investment of Janice's father in the Mexican mine had paid him well until insurrection broke out in the district. The superintendent then in charge of the mine had run away while the workmen had joined the insurrectos.
It was necessary for somebody to go down into the troubled country and "do something," and the duty devolved upon Mr. Broxton Day of all the men financially interested in the mining project. He had hastened to the mine while Janice came to Polktown to live during his absence. Of course, neither supposed this parting was for long. Now more than three years had passed, during which time there had been more than one occasion when Mr. Day was in danger of losing his life.
He had managed to hold the property for himself and his business associates, however, and had made friends among most of the warring factions fretting Chihuahua. Of late he had been able to hire workmen and get out ore. The profits began to roll in again. Mr. Broxton Day's share of these profits for a month was more than Uncle Jason saw in cash for several years.
* * * * *
"We must help him, Daddy," wrote Janice. "He has been the dearest man—so kind to me, as they all have been; but Uncle Jason particularly. He is not naturally demonstrative. His actions speak louder than words. He backed me up, you know, when I was arrested for speeding my car that time. And when Nelson was in trouble over those stolen gold coins Uncle Jason went on his bail bond and hired the lawyer to defend him.
"We must do all we can for him. The next letter I write you, dear Daddy, will contain the full particulars of his difficulties—when the notes come due and their amounts. Meanwhile you can be thinking it over and planning in that perfectly wonderful brain of yours, how best to help Uncle Jason ward off disaster."
* * * * *
This kind attitude toward Uncle Jason in his trouble was not assumed by many, as Janice had foretold. A man like Jason Day in a community like Polktown was bound to win disapproval from many of his neighbors.
In the first place "those Days" had been looked upon as shiftless and of little account. Janice's activities had done much to change that opinion; but there were yet families in Polktown that did not number Aunt Almira on their calling lists. Moreover, until the recent town meeting when Uncle Jason, under Janice's spur, had been so active in the no license campaign, he had been on the "wrong side" in politics. Uncle Jason was not of the political party that has made Vermont as "rock-bound" as her own Green Mountains.
So, there were many who, when they heard of Mr. Day's difficulties, said it served the "tight-fisted fellow" just right. And many who might better have remembered Uncle Jason's unfailing if somewhat grim neighborly kindness, whispered and smirked as they discussed the story in public. At the best, most of his friends proved to be of the I-told-you-so variety. When it became publicly known that Tom Hotchkiss had absconded with the funds and the door of his "emporium" was shut, there was scarcely a person in Polktown who, it seemed, could not have told Uncle Jason Tom was dishonest.
It was on Saturday evening, following a long day of sore worry for Uncle Jason, ending in the certain knowledge that scarcely a dollar's worth of property had been left behind by Hotchkiss to meet his liabilities, that Nelson Haley came over to supper, as he often did on this evening in the week. They were still lingering around the supper table when Walky Dexter came stumping up the porch steps.
"Jefers-pelters! still eatin'?" he cackled. "All the fambly here? Where's your gal, Marty?"
"Haven't got none," declared the boy with a scowl as positive as his double negative.
"What?" exploded Walky in apparent surprise. "Then I be needin' spectacles, jest as my ol' woman says. I thought I seen you hangin' around Hope Drugg's store more'n a little lately; and I vum I thought 'twas you 't sat beside little Lottie at the Ladies' Aid supper t'other night an' treated her to ice-cream till the child liketer bust—er—haw! haw! haw!"
"Aw, you don't need glasses, Walky. What you need is blinders," growled Marty with some impatience.
"Ya-as; I've been tol' that before," said the incorrigible joker. "Folks don't take kindly to the idee of my havin' sech sharp eyes, neither. I undertook to tell you a thing or two, Jase, some time ago 'bout that Tom Hotchkiss; but ye wouldn't see it with my eyes."
"If I seen everything and everybody in the town the way you seen it, Walky, I'd get as twisted as a dumbed sas'fras root," snarled Uncle Jason.
"Ye wouldn't ha' been so twisted about Tom," Walky said placidly. He was as thick-skinned as a walrus and the cut direct did not in the least trouble him.
"I tell ye, I 'member what that feller was when he was a boy," he pursued. "Bad blood, there—bad blood."
"By mighty!" ejaculated Uncle Jason. "Cale Hotchkiss was as square a feller as ever walked on sole-leather. I'm glad he's dead. If he'd lived to see his son turn out so bad——"
"'Twarn't Caleb Hotchkiss' blood I was referrin' to," Walky struck in. "Caleb merried one o' them Pickberry gals over to Bowling. An' you know well enough what them Pickberrys was. As for this here Tom, he was as sly as a skunk-bear when he was a boy."
"For goodness' sake!" interrupted Janice, hoping to divert the tide of Walky's talk. "What is a 'skunk-bear'?"
"Wolverine," explained her cousin quickly. "And the meanest creature that ever got on a line of traps. Hey, Walky?"
"Now you've said it, boy," agreed the expressman. "An' that remin's me of one of the meanest things that Tom Hotchkiss done when he was a boy."
"Oh, well!" grunted Uncle Jason, who evidently disliked the discussion of Tom's short-comings. "They say George Washington cut down his father's favorite cherry tree; yet he grew up to be president."
"Huh! but he didn't lie about it—that's why he got to be president," said the astute Walkworthy. "And Tom Hotchkiss lied about this mean thing he done."
"Wal! let's have it," Mr. Day said, with a sigh. "It'll choke ye I can plainly see if ye ain't allowed to unburden your soul."
Walky began to stuff his pipe out of Mr. Day's tobacco sack that he had appropriated from the shelf beside the door.
"Ye see," he said, "Tom worked for ol' man Ketcham a while—him that run the dairy farm over Middletown way. But Tom never did work long in one place when he was a boy. That oughter told ye something, Jase."
Mr. Day grunted. Marty said:
"Go on with your story, Walky. Who told you you was the law and the prophets?"
"I was prophet enough about how Tom Hotchkiss was a-comin' aout," chuckled Walky. "Wal! howsomever, old Ketcham run quite a dairy for them days. He bought up all the neighbors' milk, too, and made butter and cheese. I expect 'twould ha' been called a crematory to-day."
"Ho, ho!" shouted Marty. "That's a hot one. Creamery, you mean, Walky."
"Oh, do I?" said the unruffled Mr. Dexter. "Wal, mebbe I do. Anyhow, he stood Tom and his tricks quite a spell—he was slow to wrath, was old Ketcham, bein' a Quaker by persuasion; but bimeby Tom got too much for him and he turned him away. Tom was a great practical joker—oh, yes! But he was one o' them kind that gits mad when the joke's turned on themselves. So he was sore on the Ketchams."
"Huh! he ain't the only one geared that-a-way," put in Mr. Day.
"No; but he was about the only feller I ever knowed that 'ud ha' thunk up sech a mean way of gittin' square with old Ketcham."
"What did he do?" demanded Marty, becoming impatient at the expressman's leisurely tale, while Aunt 'Mira got up and began to stir about the kitchen, clearing the supper table. She often confessed to Janice that it gave her legs "the twidgets" to listen to one of Walky's long-drawn-out stories.
"Why—he, he!—'twas funny, tubbesure. The old man stored his butter in a stone spring-haouse. The spring was under the floor and cooled the place nicely. Both ends of the buildin' was jest slats 'bout an inch apart, so's to let the air through but keep most critters aout.
"Now, jest about the time old man Ketcham got through with Tom Hotchkiss, Tom, he discovered there was a ol' she-skunk with a young fambly in the neighborhood. 'Tain't no trick a-tall to l'arn when a polecat is located near by, ye know; all ye gotter do, as the fellers says, is ter foller yer nose—haw! haw! haw!
"Tom was mad clean through when Mr. Ketcham turned him away. Didn't take him long, I vum! ter link up them skunks with his idea of vengeance—nossir!" Walky said reflectively. "And he perceeded to put his idee into practice."
"What did he do, Walky?" asked Marty again. "Ye might give us a hint."
"Oh, I'm gittin' to it," said the expressman placidly. "He toled them skunks into the spring-haouse. That's what he done."
"How?" asked Marty, now interested, while the other listeners expressed their several opinions of the young rascal's trick.
"Lard. A lard trail. Skunks love lard er any grease. Tom laid the trail to the spring-haouse and then yanked off two of the lower slats. Plenty room for the biggest skunk livin' to git through. Then he chucked a lump of grease inside, after which he skun out."
"And what happened, Walky?" Janice asked.
"Why, when ol' Miz' Ketcham went aout to the spring-haouse in the morning, there was Miz' Skunk an' four skunk kittens camping in the middle of the floor. She seen 'em through the slats an' didn't darest open the door."
"Couldn't she frighten them out?" asked Nelson.
"Schoolmaster!" said Walky, chuckling, "I'm surprised at your ignerance. Ye sartain sure don't know much about the nature of skunks."
"I admit my failing," Nelson said, smiling. "I've never been much interested in skunkology."
"Ye might be—an' with profit," said Walky, more briskly. "I understand their fur's wuth more'n most animals ye kin trap nowadays.
"Howsomever, the skunk is 'bout the boldest critter that runs wild. Let 'em alone and they'll let you alone. But they ain't afeard of nothin' on two laigs or four—or that flies in the air, neither. When ye see a skunk in the path, go 'round it."
"We do," chuckled Marty. "He's got right of way."
"An' don't never try to chase one or poke one—'nless ye have a mighty long pole," said Walky Dexter. "Miz' Ketcham, she knowed that. The skunk an' her four kittens was camped in that spring-haouse an' they seemed to like it. No way of coaxin' 'em aout and there was two hunder' pound o' June butter in the place."
"Oh!" exclaimed Janice.
"Dear suz!" was Aunt 'Mira's comment. "Why didn't they shoot 'em?"
"Huh!" grunted Uncle Jason.
"The man ain't never drawed the breath o' life yet could shoot a skunk quick enough," Walky declared. "No, ma'am! And there was five in that bunch. Miz' Ketcham was jest as mad as she could be. She knowed that if anything riled 'em while they was quartered in that spring-haouse ev'ry pound of butter stored there would be sp'ilt.
"While they was projectin' around, and a-wonderin' what to do about it, a little fice-dog they owned settled things for 'em—and settled it quick. He was a fool dog and he proberbly took old Lady Skunk for a tabbycat. Seein' her inside the spring-haouse he nosed around till he found the openin' she'd got in by. He squeezed himself in an' then—wal, good-night!
"They heard the dog a ky-yi-ing and smelled the smoke of battle from afar—haw! haw! haw! Jefers-pelters!" ejaculated Walky. "They tell me that after they'd burned all the butter an' butter firkins an' the hull inside of the spring-haouse—purgin' by fire as the Good Book says—the odor still lingered.
"An' that's one o' the tricks Tom Hotchkiss done. Lied about it, o' course. Said he didn't. But to them that was his cronies he boasted about it. I had my doubts of him when he come back to Polktown, nobody knowed from where; and I could ha' told ye, Jase——"
"Too late! too late!" groaned Mr. Day. "All you hind-sight prophets can't do me no good."
It was a bitter cry, and Aunt 'Mira sniveled as she stood over the dish-pan. Marty shuffled heavily as he grabbed his cap and made his way toward the door.
"I'm goin' over to the lib'ry for a book," he explained huskily, and went out.
Janice and Nelson soon retired to the sitting room while the three older people carried on a desultory conversation for the next hour. Suddenly there came a tapping on the sitting room window by Nelson's chair. He pulled aside the shade a little and glanced out.
What he saw made him start suddenly to his feet. "Who is it?" asked Janice, busy with the fancy-work in her lap.
"Somebody who evidently wishes to speak with me in private," Nelson told her with a smile. "I'll be right back."
He went out through the kitchen and found Marty standing in the yard—a very white-faced and trembling Marty, quite unlike his usual self.
"What is it? What has happened?" the schoolmaster asked sharply.
"Oh, Mr. Haley! I can't tell her—I can't let her know it."
"Whom are you talking about—your mother?"
"No. It's Janice."
"What has happened to Janice?" demanded Nelson, his voice changing.
"It's her dad—it's Uncle Brocky!" gasped Marty. "It's in to-day's New York paper. I just happened to see it as they was putting it on the file. I got it here," and the boy drew the folded newspaper from his pocket.
JANICE GOES HER WAY
"Come over to the garage," said Nelson Haley, seizing the boy by the wrist. "Is it unlocked?"
"Yes," gulped Marty.
"I can read it in the light of the side lamp of the car," said the schoolmaster.
His own voice was shaken. He knew that something very serious must have occurred or Marty Day would not act in this manner.
They hurried across the yard and Marty unbarred the garage door. Nobody in Polktown thought of locking any outbuilding, save possibly the corn-crib or the smoke-house.
Marty closed the door tightly before Nelson scratched a match and fumbled for the latch of the kerosene side lamp of Janice's automobile. In the yellow radiance of this he unfolded the newspaper Marty had seized at the public library. The schoolmaster looked at once at the extreme right-hand column of the front page of the paper—the column in which the Mexican news was usually displayed. A sub-heading caught his eye almost instantly:
MORE AMERICANS BUTCHERED
A great revolt had again broken out against the de facto government. It was spreading, the report said, hourly. In the Companos District the wires had been cut, but it was known that there had been much bloodshed there. Several of the former insurrecto leaders who had recently gone over to the existing party in power at Mexico City, were reported assassinated, among them Juan Dicampa.
"And he was Mr. Day's friend—he served him well during the last uprising in that district!" Nelson ejaculated.
"That ain't the worst. Read on," breathed Marty.
"Great heavens! can it be possible?" whispered Nelson.
"The mines in the Companos District have all been seized by the insurrectos. The peons working them have been forced into the ranks of the revolutionists. Not an American has escaped from the district and several are known to have been killed. At the Alderdice Mine, fourteen miles north of San Cristoval, it is said the superintendent, B. Day, has been wounded and is held prisoner."
"Wh—what do you know about that?" stuttered Marty. "Uncle Brocky's hurt and they won't let him go."
"Hush!" commanded Nelson.
"Aw—there's nobody to hear," choked the boy. "And how can we keep it from Janice?"
"We must!" exclaimed Nelson.
"Say, Nelson Haley! You got to be mighty smart to keep Janice from finding out every little thing. You know that. And she's always looking for something to happen to Uncle Brocky."
"We can do it. We must do it," responded the schoolmaster.
Marty was round-eyed and unbelieving. "Say! you don't know Janice yet," he repeated with assurance. "She's a mighty smart girl—the smartest girl in the whole of Polktown. Aw—well, you ought to know."
"I don't know how we are to do it—yet," the schoolmaster agreed. "We'll just have to. When people have to do a thing, Marty, they do it nine times out of ten!"
"Hi tunket!" gasped the boy. "You tell me my part and I'll help all right."
"Come on, then. Stroll in naturally. Make believe there is something up—some joke that we are going to keep Janice out of——"
"Joke!" groaned Marty.
"I tell you," commanded Nelson hotly, "we've got to keep this from her. Her father wounded—think of it!"
"Ain't I thinking of it?" put in the boy. "Uncle Brocky—that I never did see since I was a kid too small to remember him."
"Pull yourself together, old man," said the schoolmaster with his arm over the boy's shoulder.
Nelson's trust in him did much to enable Marty to brace up. He gulped down his sobs and drew his jacket sleeve across his eyes. "You just tell me what to do," he choked.
"I don't know myself yet. I'll keep this paper. I'll leave it to you to divert the New York paper from the library. You can do that, for the postmaster will give you the library mail if you're there on time for it."
"I'll be there," Marty declared.
"We'll tell Walky——"
"Oh—Jehoshophat!" gasped Marty. "He leaks like a sieve. Might's well tell the town crier as tell Walky."
"We'll mend his leak," the schoolmaster said grimly. "Walky loves Janice. We'll easily shut his mouth. Perhaps we can warn other people so that no word will be let drop. I can learn, I suppose, who takes this paper."
"Oh, hookey!" groaned Marty suddenly. "The hull town'll know it next Thursday if they don't before."
"That is the day the Middletown Courier comes out. They had a big piece in it about Uncle Brocky before. They'll grab this story like a hungry dog does a bone. It's news."
"You have a head on your shoulders, boy," admitted Nelson Haley, and all but groaned himself. He would not give way to despair. "I'll think about that. I'll find some way of keeping the Courier out of town."
"And Janice riding right over there to school four days a week," suggested Marty.
"I never thought of that," muttered Nelson.
"'Most everybody takes the Courier here in Polktown. An', oh gee! there's dad's Ledger. She might get hold of that."
"If you can't stop that coming to the house you're no good," declared Nelson.
"Oh, I'll stop it. Dad'll have a fit though. He swears by the Ledger. But ma don't care for nothin' but the Fireside Favorite, and there won't be any Mexican news in that."
"We must be on the watch to keep every line of communication closed—to keep Janice ignorant of this at least until the facts are better known. Perhaps they will be disproved. I'll write to-night to Washington. And you get me the name of that friend of Mr. Broxton Day's down there on the Border who communicated with Janice once before when it looked as though your uncle was lost. Remember?"
"Sure!" agreed Marty.
"I'll tell Walky to-night. You find a chance to speak to your father and mother. Be sure Janice doesn't hear you."
"Well, it's our job. Understand?" Nelson said earnestly.
"I'm with you, Mr. Haley," the boy responded, quite recovered from his first disturbance of mind. "You can bank on me."
"Great boy!" Nelson said, patting him on the shoulder again. "Janice has done so much—so much for the town, so much for us all! We should be able to do something to secure her peace of mind, Marty."
"Hi tunket! I believe you, Mr. Haley."
"Then, come on! It may prove to be a false alarm as before. We'll save her all the anxiety possible."
"Sure we will!" agreed the boy again with emphasis.
They re-entered the house; Marty was even able to call up a giggle and winked broadly at Nelson as he hung up his hat and looked up the parchesi board and the rest of the outfit for that popular game.
"What's a-goin' on now 'twixt you two boys?" asked Aunt Almira comfortably, for she looked upon Nelson, when he came to the house, as she would had he been Marty's brother. "D'ye know what's up, Janice?"
"I haven't an idea," her niece said happily. "I fancy Marty has a joke on somebody."
"'Joke!'" repeated her cousin in such an unconsciously tragic tone that the schoolmaster hastened to say:
"He thinks he is going to beat Walky playing parchesi. Come on, Walky. Show him you have all your wits about you."
"I'm dumbed if I don't!" declared Mr. Dexter, laying aside his pipe to cool. "Who else is a-goin' to play?"
"Not I," said Janice. "Christmas is coming and preparedness is my motto."
"I want ma to play then," Marty said. "She an' I'll play partners and I bet we beat Mr. Haley and Walky out o' their boots."
"Sakes alive, child! you don't want me to play, do ye?" chuckled Aunt 'Mira. "Your father says I ain't got head enough for any game—an' I guess he's right."
"I'll risk ye," said her son, and they really had a very hilarious game while Janice sewed placidly and Uncle Jason looked on, forgetting for the time some of the burden on his mind.
"I'll go along with you, Walky," the schoolmaster said when the game broke up and it was time for the callers to go. "I can cut through your back lots to High Street and reach Mrs. Beaseley's quite as easily as by the other route."
"Proud to hev ye," said Walky. "Good-night, folks. That 'pears to be a funny lookin' necktie you're knitting for Mr. Haley, Janice."
"It's not a necktie and it's not for Nelson," Janice replied, flushing a little and quickly hiding the fleecy article on which she had been working.
"Oh well," chuckled Walky, "I don't 'spect we've got airy right to have eyes in our heads even as long before Christmas as this time. Good-night, everybody."
He went out. Nelson, although he lingered to say something in a low tone to Janice, was right behind the expressman. He went up Hillside Avenue with Walky talking to him seriously.
Marty became woefully nervous when the family was left alone. He went to the water pail half a dozen times. He put out the cat; then let her in again it seemed just for the purpose of shooing her out once more.
Janice, quite unconscious of her cousin's disturbance of mind, finally put away her work and took up her candle.
"Good-night, all!" she said, yawning openly. She kissed her uncle's cheek, and Aunt 'Mira returned with warmth the caress with which she was favored. "Night, Marty."
"Huh!" the boy said huskily, "am I a stepchild? Don't I ever get kissed no more?"
"Why, Marty Day!" cried Janice, laughing. "A great big boy like you! I thought you abhorred such 'girlie' ways."
"Sometimes I do," he said, approaching her boldly. "But to-night——"
He seized her like a young bear and kissed her fiercely. "You're—you're a mighty nice girl, Janice, if you are only my cousin," he said, averting his eyes.
She laughed and patted his cheek lightly. Then carrying the lighted candle she went up to bed with a parting nod and smile to her uncle and aunt.
Marty stood close to the stair door and listened at the crack till he was sure she had entered her own room and closed her door. His mother asked wonderingly:
"What ever is the matter o' you, Marty Day? I never see your beat."
"Sh!" the boy said, his face suddenly displaying all the fear and anxiety he had been hiding.
His father took his bedtime pipe from his lips and stared. "What ever is it's got you?" he asked.
The boy leaned over the table. Like conspirators, with their heads close together, the three talked in whispers. After Aunt Almira's first involuntary cry of horror, which she smothered at once, their voices never reached a key that could have made them audible ten feet away.
Meanwhile the schoolmaster and Walky Dexter were in close consultation. Nelson had made no mistake when he took the expressman into the plot. Walky was by nature a chatterer and a gossip, but he would have cut off his right hand rather than hurt Janice Day. While Janice made ready for bed plans were forming to hide from her as long as possible—until the newspaper story could be verified at least—that which had come over the telegraph wires from Mexico.
The girl was less troubled by fears for her father's safety than she had been for a long time. It was of Uncle Jason's trouble she thought. And she was quite sure her father would be able to help his brother considerably in straightening out the difficulty that confronted Jason Day.
It had been figured out just what it would cost to renew the notes and pay interest on them, if the bank would allow Mr. Day to do that. Over seven hundred dollars per year! An enormous sum for Uncle Jason to contemplate—while the principal would hang over him like a threatening cloud. The interest money alone was more than he could easily earn over and above the family's living expenses.
He had got into the toils of the cunning Hotchkiss through lending the storekeeper a small sum at eight per cent, in the beginning and being paid promptly. The bank carried the notes for six per cent, of course.
The morrow was Sunday. Janice went her usual calm way. People seemed rather nicer to her than usual, but their attitude did not arouse her suspicions in the least. At church there seemed to be more groups than usual both before and after service who whispered together. Mr. Middler, the pastor, who loved Janice as he might his own daughter, added a warmer pressure to his handclasp. Mrs. Middler kissed her several times, and Janice thought with some surprise that the affectionate woman had been crying. Elder Concannon, that stern and bewhiskered patriarch who had once looked upon Janice Day and her ideas as the very leaven of unrighteousness in the community, strode over to the girl and rested his hands upon her shoulders to make her look up at him.
"Ha!" he said. "Just as brave as ever, are you? You're not fearing the future, my girl?"
"How can I when the past has been so lovely?" she asked him soberly.
"Ha!" and he wagged his head. "So that's the way the past has seemed to you, eh?"
He said no more; but Janice wondered what the matter was with Elder Concannon. He was so seldom demonstrative.
THE SHADOW OF COMING EVENTS
Nelson Haley was not at church that Sunday. He was seen to ride away with Walky Dexter early in the morning and they took the lower Middletown road. When they returned late in the afternoon they assured each other that they had accomplished much.
They had prepared the way for Janice when she should go to the seminary on Monday—and more. It seemed to Janice that week as though the girls had never before been so nice to her. One of the instructors kept her in the office it was true when she arrived on Monday, over a really trivial matter, while the principal was addressing the student body; but the subject of the principal's address did not interest Janice, she learned later, she being only a day pupil. In fact she was merely taking a postgraduate course in certain studies.
Nor did she imagine that the editor of the Middletown Courier went to his office that Monday morning and "killed" a two-column news feature he had planned for the front page, as well as an editorial and a certain "intimate note" of neighborhood gossip under the heading of "Polktown Activities."
Nelson Haley was not omnipotent. He could not reach everybody or foretell all combinations of events that might reveal to Janice her father's peril. But he had done his best. The Weekly Courier would not mention Mexican matters in its Thursday's issue. Meanwhile Nelson, with Uncle Jason and Mr. Middler, the pastor of the Polktown Union Church, as a self-appointed committee, endeavored to get the truth from the Border regarding the uprising in the Companos District and particularly the facts of the situation at the Alderdice Mine.
Janice Day's cheerfulness was almost uncanny. She had determined to be cheerful and optimistic about the Day homestead because she knew that her uncle and aunt were so cast down. She was not at all surprised therefore by their frequently solemn countenances and their whispering in corners together.
When she found Aunt 'Mira in tears she comforted her, believing that it was because of her husband's troubles that the woman wept. That Marty should wear a cloud of gloom most of the time merely proved how deeply the boy had been stirred by his father's trouble.
If Uncle Jason was distrait was it any wonder? His lawyer could give him little comfort, Janice understood, regarding the settlement of the absconding storekeeper's notes. A search for assets was being made; but it looked as though Tom Hotchkiss had intended to be dishonest from the start and had laid all his plans accordingly and with judgment worthy of a better cause.
Already attempts were being made to find the absent storekeeper. It was suspected that he had gone to Canada. If he remained there it might be possible to lay hands upon him, for his act constituted a felony and he could be extradited.
"Wherever he's gone," said Uncle Jason gloomily, "he's gone fast and he's gone fur. No doubt o' that. And 'nless he lost the money in speculation or the like, he's probably hid it where we can't find it. It looks like we wouldn't be able to lay our han's on him before the first note goes to protest."
Being so sure of her father's good judgment, his willingness and his ability to help Uncle Jason, Janice Day's heart was still free from any deeper care as the days went by. As she had told Elder Concannon, the past had been so lovely to her, why should she fear the future?
Marty had been urged to remain at school for the present; but the boy was in earnest when he said he was willing and ready to do his share toward the support of the family. Indeed, he obtained a place in Partlett's store to work on the books and write out statements every day after school and until late on Saturday evenings. This saved his self-respect, as he felt, and was not a bad thing for him at all. He was to give his mother the four dollars a week Mr. Partlett promised him.
A letter from Broxton Day (the last Janice was destined to receive from her father for a long time, did she but know it) arrived early in the week following the inception of the conspiracy for Janice's peace of mind. It was a cheerful, jolly letter and the girl had it tucked in the bosom of her blouse when she halted her car on the way back from Middletown on Wednesday afternoon before Hopewell Drugg's store.
When Janice opened the store door the place was empty; but from the rear came the quavering notes of a violin. Being drawn from the wailing strings was a new harmony—new, that is, for Hopewell Drugg. He was fond of the old tunes; but for the most part his musical tastes ran to cheerful ballads or love songs.
Janice, tiptoeing quietly across the shop floor, listened with a rather wistful little smile upon her lips. Like a big bee Hopewell Drugg was humming the words of the song so popular forty years ago when sung by a certain silver-voiced singer:
"'Rock-a-bye, baby, on the tree top, When the wind blows the cradle will rock. If the bough breaks the cradle will fall; Down will come cradle, baby and all! Then, it's rock-a-bye, rock-a-bye, mother is near; And it's rock-a-bye, rock-a-bye, nothing to fear. If the bough breaks the cradle will fall; Down will come cradle, baby and all!'"
"Oh, Mr. Drugg!" murmured Janice, coming into the back room where the bespectacled storekeeper was playing. "That is so pretty! And the time and rhythm are just perfect, aren't they?"
"How-do, Miss Janice?" he said, reddening almost boyishly. "Thank you."
"Is Miss 'Rill inside?" Janice asked, for it was difficult to remember to call the storekeeper's wife by any name but that to which she had responded for so many years while she taught the Polktown ungraded school.
"You'll find her there," said Hopewell with a gesture of his bow. "Go right in—do."
Janice ran across the open porch and into the sitting room. The light-haired and pink-cheeked little woman, who sat sewing by the table, looked up with lips parted for a startled cry. The tiny garment with which she had been busily and so happily engaged was covered flutteringly by her apron while a faint flush dyed her cheeks.
"Oh! is it you, Janice dear?" she said and in a relieved tone.
"'Tis I, honey," cried the girl, running around back of her. She stooped and kissed the flushed cheek—oh! so tenderly—dropping into 'Rill's lap a little parcel.
"What is it? For me?" queried the storekeeper's wife, twitching briskly at the knotted string of Janice's parcel. "You are always bringing me some gift, dear girl."
"But—but this isn't exactly for you," Janice said with some hesitation.
"No?" She unwrapped the tissue covering. Then: "Oh, Janice! how sweet!" She held up the little fleecy cap of Janice's own knitting before her eyes in which the tears trembled. "And bootees, too! You darling!"
Janice sat down and they talked happily.
Since 'Rill Scattergood and Hopewell Drugg had married, their life together—save for a few weeks—had been very happy. And now a greater and holier happiness was on the way to them. Sharing the secret was one of the sweetest experiences that had ever come into Janice Day's life.
"I must put these away," 'Rill said, smiling. "Little Lottie will soon be home from school."
"No, work away," Janice said, rising. "I promised Lottie a ride in my car. I'll meet her before she comes in. I suppose she is as inquisitive as a magpie?"
"Just about," was the response. "The dear child!"
It was as Janice descended the broad store steps that little Lottie appeared. And not so little now. Her father declared she was "growing like a weed."
She caught sight of Janice and ran, delighted, toward her, shouting a greeting:
"Oh, Janice Day! My Janice Day! May I ride with you?"
She had great, violet eyes and a mane of hair that was now becoming tawny—darkening as she grew older. Her vivid face and dancing feet made Lottie seem a fairylike little person, a veritable ray of sunshine, in Hopewell Drugg's dim old store.
During the long time in which she had suffered blindness and when her hearing and speech both threatened to leave the child, Lottie had flitted about almost uncannily. Even now she retained the habit of shutting her eyes and "seeing" with the tips of her fingers—that more than natural sense that is vouchsafed those who are blind.
"See my new coat! Isn't it pretty and blue? Papa sent to Boston for it. And see my pretty blue beads? Mamma 'Rill gave them to me. Aren't they lovely?" crowed Lottie.
Mrs. Scattergood came along the flagstone walk in season to hear this.
"Oh, yes! Oh, yes!" she sniffed. "All very fine, I dessay. Fine feathers make fine birds, I've heard."
"And do ugly feathers make ugly birds?" asked Lottie wonderingly.
"Never you mind! never you mind!" said the tart old woman, going up the store steps. "Your nose will soon be out o' joint, young lady."
Lottie felt her pretty nose and looked at Janice seriously.
"Do—do you s'pose it will?" she queried.
"Do I suppose what will?" the older girl asked, preparing to start the car.
"What about your nose?"
"Will it be put out of joint? It doesn't feel so."
Janice wanted to laugh. Then she felt like crying a little. But finally she became angry with the ill-natured Mrs. Scattergood. The latter had ever been a carping critic of the Drugg household—particularly since her daughter had married her old-time sweetheart quite against Mrs. Scattergood's wishes.
"Don't worry about your pretty nose, Lottie," Janice said rather gruffly. "Nothing she can say will put it out of joint."
"Let's go down to the cove, Janice Day, and call on my echo," Lottie said eagerly. "Do you know, I haven't been there for ever so long. My echo must be awfully lonely with nobody to shout to him any more."
"If you like," the older girl said smilingly, "we will go there first."
Janice turned the car skillfully in the narrow street. She could even safely wave her hand to Mrs. Beaseley who looked from her sitting room window across the street, where Nelson Haley boarded.
There were other people who waved to Janice, or who spoke to her, as the car rolled down the hill. Here was Mr. Cross Moore wheeling his invalid wife in her chair around and around the smooth, graveled walks of their garden. Janice stopped her car and shut off the engine here.
"Good-day, Mrs. Moore. How are you feeling this lovely weather?" Janice asked.
"Ha! fooling away your time same's usual, are you?" snapped the invalid, disapproval written large on her querulous features.
"She's feeling pretty well, for her," Mr. Moore said placidly. "But we hate to see winter coming. Then she can't get out of doors so much."
"I wish you would let me take you out in the car sometimes, Mrs. Moore," Janice said, smiling. "You could see the country while it is so beautiful."
"Huh! risk my neck and bones bein' driven about in one o' them things by a silly girl? Not much!"
"I guess she'd feel safer if I was shoofer," said Cross Moore grimly. "And I've a mind to get one o' them things next year."
"You will not, Cross Moore!" cried his wife, who made it a practice to oppose every suggestion—verbally, at least.
"Oh, I dunno," said the man cheerfully. "You know I've shoofered you in this here chair for many a year without an accident. I reckon I could graduate to an automobile seat pretty easy."
"Why! it's just as e-asy to learn," Janice said, smiling. "And think how far and how quickly you could go, Mrs. Moore."
"Huh! Why should I wish to go far or quick—me that ain't walked right for ten years? I've got all over sech desires."
"Wait till you have tried it," Janice cried as she touched the self-starter and the engine began to purr again.
"Now, ain't that mighty nice, Mother?" they heard Cross Moore say to the fretful woman. "To go spinning about the old roads around Polktown would do you good."
"Oh, you got more uses for your money, Cross Moore, than flitterin' it away on sech things. If you spent money as careless as them Days does,—look at the hole Jase Day is into right now—you'd be 'Owin" Moore, 'stead o' Cross Moore."
"Do you know," Lottie said to Janice as they drove on, "I think Miz' Cross Moore would be lots happier if—maybe—she had an echo."
"Yes," the child said, nodding her head. "Like me. You know, I should have been awfully lonesome, and maybe as short-tempered as she is, if I couldn't have talked to my echo."
"Why?" Janice asked curiously, for the philosophy of the little girl interested her.
"Why," Lottie said, still speaking seriously, "my echo was worse off than I was. Yes it was. It couldn't get away from where it was—not even to fly across the cove—unless I told it to. It had to stay right there in the pine woods on Pine Point. But even while I was blind I could find my way about."
"Very true," agreed Janice, likewise serious. "The echo is a poor little prisoner."
"So it is! so it is!" laughed Lottie gayly, for these queer little imaginings and fancies were part of her very nature. Then she grew grave once more. "You 'member how I went to look for it that time, and it snowed so hard, and Mr. Nelson Haley came to find me? He found me, but I never did find out just where that echo lived. I was 'most afraid it had gone for good, but it was there yet the last time I was down here."
While she was speaking the car ran down to the shore of Pine Cove at a beautiful but rather retired spot with an old fish-house and disused wharf in the foreground and, across the placid pool, the sheltering arm of Pine Point, thickly grown with tall pines. Against the wall of the pine wood Lottie's voice echoed back to her with almost uncanny distinctness as she stood in her old place on the wharf.
"He-a! he-a! he-a!" she shouted shrilly and sweetly; and back to her came the prompt echo:
"'E-a! 'e-a! 'e-a!"
"See! he's there yet," she cried, turning to Janice. "Come up here, Janice, and see if he'll answer you. Mr. Haley says there are echoes everywhere; but I don't believe there is a single one as nice as mine."
Janice came, laughing. "What shall I say to your friend?" she asked.
"Oh! you must not call what I do, of course. You shout somebody's name—somebody you love," the child advised.
Instantly Janice opened her lips and expelled toward the wooded point: "Nelson!"
"'Elson!" shot back the echo.
"Of course," cried Lottie, dancing up and down in her satisfaction. "He knows Mr. Haley. But shout somebody's name he doesn't know."
"Here comes Mr. Thomas Drew's sloop, Lottie," Janice said as the big sailing vessel on which she had several times sailed on fishing excursions shot into the cove before a favoring wind.
"Oh! how pretty!" cried the little girl. "And what a big sail. He's going to drop anchor where he usually does—see!"
The sloop swept majestically between the old wharf and the pine wood where the echo "lived."
"Now, Janice!" urged Lottie, "shout again. Call a name my echo doesn't know."
And Janice, still smiling, cried aloud:
No repetition of the call came back from the wall of pine wood. Lottie seized her friend's hand almost in fear.
"Oh! he doesn't answer! He doesn't know your father, Janice Day." Then, awestruck, she put a question that stabbed Janice to the quick: "Do—do you suppose anything real bad has happened to your father 'way down there in Mexico?"
Afterwards, Janice realized that the big sail of the sloop, flattened as it crossed between the wharf and the distant wood, had caught her voice and held it, echoless. Nevertheless the odd occurrence engendered in her heart a fear of impending peril. She began to worry again about Broxton Day. She counted the days that must elapse before she could possibly hear from her father in reply to the letter she had written about her Uncle Jason's difficulties.
The Day homestead on Hillside Avenue no longer housed a happy and contented family. It grew very difficult for Janice, even, to be cheerful. And Marty positively seemed to have lost his whistle. Janice tried her best to don a sprightly air; but she observed her uncle and aunt and Marty sometimes whispering together and watching her; and this made her feel uncomfortable.
"Daddy" usually wrote his beloved daughter a weekly letter. Sometimes it was delayed a day or so because the ore train was delayed out of Alderdice to San Cristoval. So, when the expected letter did not arrive with the maximum of speed Janice was patient.
"I just won't let that old echo foolishness get on my nerves," she told herself firmly. "I am not superstitious—I won't be!"
It was hard to raise the spirits of the family; but the greater the effort she put forth to that end the more she, herself, was helped. She could not really understand what kept those about her so downhearted. The bank people seemed willing to give Uncle Jason all the leeway possible in settling the affairs of the absconded Tom Hotchkiss. Janice had no idea her relatives were hiding a secret from her, and all of them felt it the very hardest task they had ever undertaken.
Of course, in the general news from Mexico Mr. Day's plight caused little comment in the daily press. Mexican troubles had continued for so long that the American public considered it an old story. Mr. Day was only one of hundreds of courageous Americans who felt as though they must stay by their business in the embattled country, despite Washington's warning to them to get out of the danger zone.
And now, it seemed, Janice's father had paid the toll for heeding his own venturesome spirit. All the information Nelson, Mr. Middler, and Uncle Jason had been able to gather from all sources pointed to the truth of the first report of the situation in the Companos District.
Mr. Day was wounded; and so sorely that his escaping laborers could not take him away from the mine when they were driven forth by the insurrectos. This was the final news Janice's friends had obtained from the Border, and now they did not know what to do next. Successfully keeping the story of her father's peril from the girl was not enough. How to reach and bring Mr. Day out of Mexico was a problem that balked Janice's friends. Indeed, even to communicate with the wounded man was impossible. It was reported that, although San Cristoval had been retaken by the troops of the de facto government of Mexico, the Alderdice and other mines in the Companos District were in the hands of the rebel party.
Janice began to miss Nelson Haley's frequent calls. He had been coming to the Day house several evenings during the week of late; and although he offered the perfectly sound excuse of extra school work, the girl missed him. To tell the truth Nelson shrank from being in Janice's company. He had turned coward! Although he was the first to suggest keeping Mr. Broxton Day's peril secret from his daughter, now Nelson feared all the time that in some way the truth would come to the surface. The conspirators walked upon a volcano that might at any moment break out and overwhelm them. And what would Janice do or say, when this eruption occurred? That query troubled the schoolmaster a great deal.
Naturally of a perfectly frank nature, the situation was bound to irk his mind ceaselessly. Marty and his parents feared a sudden revelation of the truth, too; so that every knock on the kitchen door during an evening gave each of the three a sharp and distinct shock.
One evening Marty heard somebody drive into the yard after supper and he ran hurriedly to open the porch door. He was always expecting to have to head off some person not in the secret who would appear with the news of Mr. Broxton Day's state.
"Who is it, Marty?" shrilled his equally anxious mother at the crack of the door.
"Hi tunket!" ejaculated the boy, "'tlooks like—why, it is! It's Elder Concannon. What's he want here?"
"Never you mind. Go out and hitch his horse in the shelter, and tell him to come right in," ordered Aunt 'Mira. "Dear me! where's your manners, Marty Day?"
"Well, he's safe enough," muttered Marty, starting for the shed.
LOTTIE SEEKS A FRIEND
Elder Concannon came in apparently in a cheerful mood. He was not a frequent caller at the Day house; he never had been, indeed. But he liked to play a game of checkers with Janice, whom he considered quite a scientific player for a young person.
"I drove around by Brother Middler's on an errand—church business," explained the elder; "but he wasn't at home. Gone over to Bowling to marry a couple."
"Who air they?" asked Aunt 'Mira, at once interested.
"Every married woman is deeply int'rested in ev'ry other woman's marriage," Uncle Jason declared. "Havin' got one poor man inter captivity she's hopin' all her sisters'll have as good luck. Who is the poor feller that's got to do penance for his sins, Elder?"
"I don't see but you are both equally int'rested, Brother Day," chuckled the elder. "It's Sam Holder and Susie Pickberry."
"Another of them Pickberry gals gittin' merried, eh?" ejaculated Aunt 'Mira.
"Well, there are a lot of them to get married," the elder said. "All the Pickberrys had big families."
"And none of 'em much good," growled Uncle Jason.
"That may be," agreed the elder. "It does seem as though 'bout the only command in the Scriptures that any of 'em knew, was that one about 'increase and multiply and fill the earth.' And they are given to marrying young," pursued the elder reflectively. "This Sue is a bouncing big gal; but she's barely sixteen year old."
"Hardly sixteen!" exclaimed Janice.
"Cricky!" was Marty's comment, he having come in after blanketing the elder's colt. "You're getting to be an old maid, Janice, 'cordin' to that. You'd better stir about and look yourself up a husband 'fore they put you on the shelf."
Janice looked into his freckled face reflectively. "I've sometimes thought it was too bad they won't let first cousins marry, Marty," she said.
"They do, Janice, except in a few of the States," observed Elder Concannon, looking at the girl until she blushed as rosily as had Marty.
As the laugh at this subsided, the elder went on:
"Those Pickberrys are intermarried so that they don't know the degrees of cousin any more. Why, this Susie's father and mother was closly related. I remember, for I married them."
"I suppose," put in Aunt 'Mira, "Mr. Middler must make quite a bit out o' his merriage fees. He's been havin' a string of 'em lately."
The elder fairly snorted and his beard seemed to bristle.
"That's the way with all you folks," he said, plain disgust in his tone. "Because a minister don't work with his hands you say he must make his livin' easy. And you calculate him makin' from five to twenty dollars ev'ry time a bridal couple raps on his door. Huh! I've had the groom borrow money of me before he got out o' the house."
Marty giggled. "That girl certain sure got a hot one, then. If he'd got the girl without money, I should think he'd calculated to keep her without money."
Elder Concannon was laughing reflectively.
"Do you remember old Deacon Blodgett, Jason?"
"Huh?" grunted Mr. Day. "Not very well. But I remember his darter—she't taught the school here. I went to school to her myself for a while. And a right se-vere old maid she was."
"Yes. Beulah Blodgett was severe," agreed the elder, his eyes still twinkling.
"She used to wallop the boys somethin' awful," added Uncle Jason, rubbing his horny palm on his trouser leg and then looking at it as though the sting of Miss Blodgett's ruler had not even at this late day entirely departed from his memory.
"I remember," agreed the elder. "Not many ever got the start of Beulah Blodgett."
"Only Cale Hotchkiss." Uncle Jason halted in his speech and a positive grimace of pain seized upon his features for the moment. "Oh, well! Caleb wasn't like his son turned out to be, ye know," he muttered.
"True enough," said the elder, with sympathy in his tone.
"Speakin' of Cale and Miss Blodgett," Mr. Day hurried to add, "you know Cale was a great feller for rhyming—makin' po'try, you know. Why, he had lots o' pieces printed in the 'Poet's Corner' of the Middletown Courier. Mostly about folks that had died, you know.
"Howsomever, Cale got cotched once in school writin' po'try. Miss Blodgett come up behind him, looked over his shoulder, and had him out 'on the line' purty prompt. She told him school was no place for sech as that. She had a fierce eye an' a arm like a blacksmith," Uncle Jason continued. "She'd stand on the aidge of her platform and how she would bring down her ruler on a feller's hand! Whew!
"Well, this pertic'lar time she says to Cale Hotchkiss: 'You're sech a smartie at makin' up rhymes, make one now b'fore I hit ye. Hold out your hand!' And by ginger!" chuckled Uncle Jason, "he done it."
"What did he say, Dad?" asked Marty, eager for the particulars of any mischief.
"Cale sings out:
"'Here I stand before Miss Blodgett; She's goin' to strike an' I'm goin' to dodge it!'"
The elder joined in the laughter over this old joke quite as heartily as anybody; but he had not forgotten his own story that had been side-tracked by Uncle Jason's reminiscence.
"Her father, Deacon Hiram Blodgett, was my senior deacon when I first came to Polktown Church," Elder Concannon said. "He was a good man and a just. But like most folks outside the ministry he depreciated the work performed by the pastor of a church like this one at Polktown, considering that 'he made his money easy.'
"I—I had a growing family then, and increasing expenses," said the elder, with a little flutter in his voice that was something Janice had never heard before, and she looked at him with amazement. Elder Concannon was not at all given to timidity; but there seemed right here a hesitation in his manner and in his voice.
"Well, anyhow," he began again, "I thought I needed an increase in my salary of a hundred dollars a year and I talked to Deacon Blodgett about it. He hemmed and hawed. He hated to give up church money just as he hated to give up his own, if he could save it.
"He put up the same claim as Mrs. Day did just now, regarding marriage fees. I allow I had more marriages to perform and traveled farther and got less for them than any minister who ever came into these mountains," and the elder smiled grimly. "However, the deacon got quite warm about it.
"'I tell you,' he says to me, 'even if they don't amount but to two dollars a ceremony, you've made this year over and above your salary agreed upon, the hundred dollars you claim to need.'
"It made me angry. It r'iled me in a most worldly way, I do allow," sighed the elder. "I guess the old Adam was roused in me. I had this Jim Pickberry and 'Mandy Whipple to marry that very night and I knew about what sort of folks they were.
"'Deacon Blodgett,' I said, 'will you give me two dollars for my next marriage fee?'
"'Surely I will,' says he, for he was always on the lookout for a shrewd bargain.
"'Then you'd better drive me over to Bowling to-night to the wedding and I'll give you whatever I get—sight unseen.' He agreed," chuckled the elder, "never thinking that I didn't have a horse and would have had to pay a dollar for the hire of one to get to my appointment.
"Folks don't live so poor now in this neighborhood—not even the Pickberrys. The house we went to was mostly log cabin, built back in Revolutionary times, with newer additions built on from time to time to accommodate a growing family.
"Jim Pickberry was a great, raw-boned, black-haired, and bearded giant of a man, and he was more than half drunk before he stood up with the girl. He wore his work clothes—all he had, it's probable—flannel shirt, shoddy trousers, and high boots. He did take off his hat. And 'Mandy was in a clean gingham; but she was barefooted, it being warm weather.
"There was a crowd there—they oozed out into the yard and looked in through the big room windows where I married the couple, hard and fast. When the ceremony was over and everybody had kissed the bride, Jim took me aside.
"I knew what was coming," said the elder, his eyes twinkling again. "I had already had experience enough to know the symptoms.
"'Parson,' Jim said to me, 'I'm awful much obliged to you for coming 'way over here and splicin' me and 'Mandy. It's mighty nice of ye. I expect it's sort o' customary to pay ye somethin' for your trouble?'
"'Yes,' I said. '"The servant is worthy of his hire," Jim.'
"He hemmed and hawed a bit and finally he blurts out: 'Parson! I ain't got airy a penny. Ye know how 'tis—the licker an' the stuff to eat cleaned me out. But I got a mighty likely litter of pups out in the barn. Come out and take your pick, will you?'
"'No; let Deacon Blodgett do that,' I told him. 'He wants a dog,' and I collected my two dollars from the sorest man who ever passed the contribution plate," concluded the elder amid the hilarity of his listeners.