BY HAROLD STEELE MACKAYE
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1904
COPYRIGHT, 1904, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Published, April, 1904
I. THE THEORY OF COPERNICUS DROOP 1
II. A VISIT TO THE PANCHRONICON 23
III. A NOCTURNAL EVASION 38
IV. A CHANGE OF PLAN 58
V. DROOP'S THEORY IN PRACTICE 86
VI. SHIPWRECKED ON THE SANDS OF TIME 103
VII. NEW TIES AND OLD RELATIONS 123
VIII. HOW FRANCIS BACON CHEATED THE BAILIFFS 157
IX. PHOEBE AT THE PEACOCK INN 179
X. HOW THE QUEEN READ HER NEWSPAPER 208
XI. THE FAT KNIGHT AT THE BOAR'S HEAD 242
XII. HOW SHAKESPEARE WROTE HIS PLAYS 258
XIII. HOW THE FAT KNIGHT DID HOMAGE 277
XIV. THE FATE OF SIR PERCEVALL'S SUIT 297
XV. HOW REBECCA RETURNED TO NEWINGTON 317
XVI. HOW SIR GUY KEPT HIS TRYST 324
XVII. REBECCA'S TRUMP CARD 340
THE THEORY OF COPERNICUS DROOP
The two sisters were together in their garden.
Rebecca Wise, turned forty and growing slightly gray at the temples, was moving slowly from one of her precious plants to the next, leaning over each to pinch off a dead leaf or count the buds. It was the historic month of May, 1898, and May is the paradise of flower lovers.
Phoebe was eighteen years younger than her sister, and the beauty of the village. Indeed, many declared their belief that the whole State of New Hampshire did not contain her equal.
She was seated on the steps of the veranda that skirted the little white cottage, and the absent gaze of her frank blue eyes was directed through the gate at the foot of the little path bordered by white rose-bushes. In her lap was a bundle of papers yellowed by age and an ivory miniature, evidently taken from the carved wooden box at her side.
Presently Rebecca straightened her back with a slight grimace and looked toward her sister, holding her mold-covered hands and fingers spread away from her.
"Well," she inquired, "hev ye found anythin'?"
Phoebe brought her gaze back from infinity and replied:
"No, I ain't. Only that one letter where Isaac Burton writes her that the players have come to town."
"I don't see what good them letters'll do ye in the Shakespeare class, then."
Rebecca spoke listlessly—more interested in her garden than in her sister's search.
"I don't know," Phoebe rejoined, dreamily. "It's awful funny—but whenever I take out these old letters there comes over me the feelin' that I'm 'way off in a strange country—and I feel like somebody else."
Rebecca looked up anxiously from her work.
"Them sort o' philanderin' notions are foolish, Phoebe," she said, and flicked a caterpillar over the fence.
Phoebe gave herself a little shake and began to tie up the papers.
"That's so," she replied. "But they will come when I get these out, an' I got 'em out thinkin' the' might be somethin' about Shakespeare in 'em for our class."
She paused and looked wistfully at the letters again.
"Oh!" she cried, "how I do wonder if he was among those players at the Peacock Inn that day! You know 'players' is what they called play-actors in those days, and he was a play-actor, they say."
"Did he live very far back, then?" said Rebecca, wishing to appear interested, but really intent upon a new sprout at the foot of the lilac-bush.
"Yes, three hundred years ago. Three of these letters has a date in 1598 exactly."
There was a long silence, and at length Rebecca looked up from the ground to ascertain its cause. She frowned and drew her aching back stiffly straight again.
"Everlastin'ly lookin' at that pictur'!" she exclaimed. "I declare to goodness, Phoebe Wise, folks'll think you're vain as a pouter pigeon."
Phoebe laughed merrily, tossed the letters into the box and leaped to her feet. The miniature at which she had been gazing was still in her hands.
"Folks'll never see me lookin' at it, Rebecca—only you," she said.
Then with a coaxing tone and looking with appealing archness at her sister, she went on:
"Is it really like me, Rebecca? Honest true?"
The elder woman merely grunted and moved on to the next bed, and Phoebe, with another laugh, ran lightly into the house.
A few moments later she reappeared at the front door with consternation on her face.
"Land o' goodness, Rebecca!" she cried, "do you know what time it is? Near onto one o'clock, an' I've got to be at the Shakespeare class at half past. We'll have to dish up dinner right this minute, and I don't see how I can change my dress after it an' help with the dishes too."
She whisked into the house again, and Rebecca followed her as rapidly as possible.
She was very proud of her baby sister, proud of her having been "clear through high school," and proud of her eminence in the local literary society. There was certainly something inspiring in having a sister who was first corresponding secretary of the Women's Peltonville Association for the Study of Shakespearian History and Literature; and it was simply wonderful how much poetry she could repeat from the pages of her favorite author.
* * * * *
Peltonville Center, New Hampshire, was one of those groups of neatly kept houses surrounding a prettily shaded, triangular common which seem to be characteristic of New England. Standing two miles from the nearest railway station, this little settlement possessed its own combined store and post-office, from whose narrow veranda one might watch the rising generation playing Saturday base-ball on the grassy triangle.
The traditional old meeting-house stood on the opposite side of the common, facing the store. The good old days of brimstone theology were past, and the descendants of the godly Puritans who raised this steeple "in the fear of the Lord," being now deprived of their chief source of fear, found Sunday meetings a bore, and a village pastor an unnecessary luxury.
Indeed, there seemed little need of pastoral admonition in such a town as Peltonville Center. There was a grimly commonplace and universal goodness everywhere, and the village was only saved from unconsciousness of its own perfection by the individual shortcomings of one of its citizens. Fortunately for the general self-complacence, however, the necessary revealing contrast was found in him.
Copernicus Droop was overfond of the bottle, and in spite of the prohibition laws of his State, he proved himself a blessed example and warning by a too frequent and unmistakable intoxication in public. He was gentle and even apologetic in his cups, but he was clearly a "slave of rum" and his mission was therefore fulfilled.
On this first of May, 1898, a number of idle young men sat in a row on the edge of the store veranda. Some were whittling, some making aimless marks in the dust with a stick. All leaned limply forward, with their elbows on their knees.
It was clearly not a Sunday, for the meeting-house was open, and from time to time, one or perhaps two young women together passed into the cool and silent room. The loungers at the store let none escape their notice, and the name of each damsel was passed down the line in an undertone as its owner entered the church.
A lantern-jawed young farmer at the end of the row slowly brushed the shavings from his clothes and remarked:
"Thet's the secon' meetin' of the Shekspeare class this month, ain't it?"
"Yep, an' there'll be two more afore the summer boarders comes up——"
The second speaker would have continued, but he was here interrupted by a third, who whispered loudly:
"Say, fellers, there goes Copernicus."
All eyes were raised and unanimously followed the shabby figure which had just emerged from behind the church and now started into the road leading away from the common toward the north.
"Walks pretty straight fer him, don't he?" snickered the first speaker.
"He's not ben tight fer two days."
"Bet ye a jack-knife he'll be spreein' it fer all he's wuth to-morrow."
Fortunately these comments did not reach the ears of their object, who, all unconscious of the interest which he inspired, made good his way at a fairly rapid pace.
Presently he stopped.
With muslin skirts swaying, hair rumpled, and fair young face flushed with exertion, Phoebe Wise was hurrying toward the common. She was almost running in her haste, for she was late and the Shakespeare class was a momentous institution.
"Oh, say, Cousin Phoebe," was the man's greeting, "can you tell me ef yer sister's to home?"
The young girl came to a sudden full stop in her surprise. This cousinly greeting from the village reprobate was as exciting and as inexplicable as it was unheard of.
"Why, Mr. Droop!" she exclaimed, "I—I—I s'pose so."
The truth was the truth, after all. But it was hard on Rebecca. What could this man want with her sister?
Droop nodded and passed on.
"Thank ye. Don't stop fer me," he said.
Phoebe moved forward slowly, watching Copernicus over her shoulder. She noted his steady steps and pale face and, reassured, resumed her flying progress with redoubled vigor. After all, Rebecca was forty-two years old and well able to take care of herself.
Meanwhile, Rebecca Wise, having carefully wrung out her dishcloth, poured out the water and swept the little sink, was slowly untying her kitchen apron, full of a thankful sense of the quiet hour before her wherein to knit and muse beside the front window of her little parlor.
In the centre of this room there stood a wide, round table, bearing a large kerosene-lamp and the week's mending. At the back and opposite the two windows stood the well-blacked, shiny, air-tight stove. Above this was a wooden mantel, painted to imitate marble, whereon were deposited two photographs, four curious Chinese shells, and a plaster cross to which there clung a very plaster young woman in scant attire, the whole being marked "Rock of Ages" in gilt letters at the base.
Horse-hair furniture in all the glory of endless "tidies" was arranged against walls bedight with a rainbow-like wilderness of morning-glories. The ceiling was of white plaster, and the floor was painted white and decked here and there with knitted rag-carpets, on whose Joseph's-coated surfaces Rebecca loved to gaze when in retrospective mood. In those humble floor-coverings her knowing eyes recognized her first clocked stockings and Phoebe's baby cloak. There was her brother Robert's wool tippet embalmed in loving loops with the remnants of his wife's best Sunday-go-to-meetin' ribbons. These two had long been dead, but their sister's loving eyes recreated them in rag-carpet dreams wherein she lived again those by-gone days.
Rebecca had just seated herself and was unrolling her work, when her eyes caught a glimpse of a man's form through the window. He had passed into her gate and was approaching the door. She leaned forward for a good look and then dropped back into her chair with a gasp of surprise.
"Copernicus Droop!" she exclaimed, "did you ever!"
She sat in rigid astonishment until she heard his timid knock, followed by the sound of shoes vigorously wiped upon the door-mat.
"Well, come! Thet's a comfort!" she thought. "He won't muss the carpet"—and she rose to admit her visitor.
"Good mornin'," said Droop, timidly. "I seen Cousin Phoebe a-runnin' down the road, an' I sorter thought I'd run in an' see how you was."
"Come right in," said Rebecca, in non-committal tones. She shut the door and followed him into the parlor.
"Here, give me yer hat," she continued. "Set right there. How be ye?"
Droop obeyed. In a few moments the two were seated facing each other, and Rebecca's needles were already busy. There was an interval of awkward silence.
"Well, what did ye come fer?"
It was Rebecca who broke the spell. In her usual downright fashion, she came to the point at once. She thought it as well he should know that she was not deceived by his polite pretence of casual friendly interest.
Droop settled forward with elbows on his knees and brought his finger-tips carefully and accurately together. He found this action amazingly promotive of verbal accuracy.
"Well, Cousin Rebecca," he began, slowly, "I'm lookin' fer a partner." He paused, considering how to proceed.
The spinster let her hands drop in speechless wonder. The audacity of the man! He—to her—a proposal! At her age! From him!
Fortunately the next few words disclosed her error, and she blushed for it as she lifted her work again, turning nearer the window as if for better light.
"Yes," Droop proceeded, "I've a little business plan, an' it needs capital an' a partner."
He waited, but there was no response.
"Capital an' a partner," he repeated, "an' intelligence an' ambition. So I come to you."
Rebecca turned toward him again, scarcely less surprised now than before.
"To me! D'ye mean to say ye've me in yer mind fer a partner—with capital?"
Droop nodded slowly and compressed his lips.
"Well, I want to know!" she exclaimed, helplessly.
"Oh, I know you ain't overly rich right now," said Droop, apologetically; "but it warn't no secret thet ye might hev hed Joe Chandler ef ye hadn't ben so shifty in yer mind an' fell betwixt two stools—an' Lord knows Joe Chandler was as rich as—as Peter Craigin down to Keene—pretty nigh."
Again Rebecca blushed, but this time in anger.
"See here, Copernicus Droop—" she began.
"Oh, I don't mean nothin' mean, now," he insisted, earnestly. "I'm jest leadin' up to the pint sorter natural like—breakin' the thing easy, ye know."
"What air you a-drivin' at?"
Droop shifted uneasily in his seat and ran his finger around inside of his collar before he replied:
"Ye see, it's sorter hard to explain. It's this way. I hev a mighty fine plan in my mind founded on a mixin' up of astronomical considerations with prior inventions——"
"Mister Droop!" exclaimed his hostess, gazing severely into his eyes, "ef you think I'll let you go to drinkin' rum till——"
"Honest to goodness, Miss Wise, I've not teched a drop!" cried Droop, leaping to his feet and leaning forward quickly. "You may smell my breath ef——"
A violent push sent him back to his chair.
"Thet'll do, Mr. Droop. I'll undertake to believe ye fer once, but I'll thank ye to speak plain English."
"I'll do my best," he sighed, plaintively. "I don't blame ye fer not takin' to it quick. I didn't myself at first. Well—here. Ye see—ye know——"
He paused and swallowed hard, gazing at the ceiling for inspiration. Then he burst out suddenly:
"Ye know the graphophone an' the kodak and the biograph an' all them things what ye can see down to Keene?"
Rebecca nodded slowly, with suspicion still in her eye.
"Well, the's a heap o' things ben invented since the Centennial of 1876. Don't you s'pose they've made hills o' money out o' them things—with patents an' all?"
"An' don't you s'pose that ef anybody in 1876 was to up an' bring out sech inventions all at once he'd be bigger than all the other inventors put together!"
Rebecca slowly pushed her needle through her hair, which was a sign of thoughtfulness.
"Wal, o' course," she said, at length, "ef anybody hed aben smart enough to've invented all them things in 1876 he'd aben a pretty big man, I guess."
Droop edged forward eagerly.
"An' s'posen' that you hed married Joe Chandler back in 1876, an' you was rich enough to back up an inventor like that, an' he come to you an' offered to give you half ef you'd up an' help him put 'em on the market, an' s'posen'——"
"What the land sake's the use o' s'posin'?" Rebecca cried, sharply. "This is 1898, an' I ain't married, thanks be to goodness!"
"Ah, but ye could be, ef we was in 1876! There, there—I know what you want to say—but 'taint so! What would ye say ef I was to tell ye that all ye've got to do is jest to get into a machine I've got an' I can take ye back to 1876 in next to no time! What would ye say——"
"I'd say ye was tighter'n a boiled owl, Copernicus Droop."
"But I ain't, I ain't!" he almost screamed. "I tell ye I hevn't teched liquor fer two days. I've reformed. Ef ye won't smell my breath——"
"Then you're plum crazy," she interrupted.
"No, nor crazy either," he insisted. "Why, the whole principle of it is so awful simple! Ef you'd ben to high school, now, an' knew astronomy an' all, you'd see right through it like nothin'."
"Well, then, you c'n explain it to them as hez ben to high school, an' that's sister Phoebe. Here she comes now."
She went at once to the door to admit the new-comer. Her visitor, watching the pretty younger sister as she stepped in, rosy and full of life, could not but remark the contrast between the two women.
"Twenty-two years makes a heap o' difference!" he muttered. "But Rebecca was jest as pretty herself, back in 1876."
"Look, Rebecca!" cried Phoebe, as she entered the door, "here's a new book Mrs. Bolton lent me to-day. All about Bacon writing Shakespeare's plays, an' how Bacon was a son of Queen Elizabeth. Do you s'pose he really did?"
"Oh, don't ask me, child!" was the nervous reply. "Mr. Droop's in the parlor."
Phoebe had forgotten her short interview with Droop, and she now snatched off her hat in surprise and followed her elder sister, nodding to their visitor as she entered.
"Set down, both o' ye," said Rebecca. "Now, then, Mr. Droop, perhaps you'll explain."
Rebecca was far more mystified and interested than she cared to admit. Her brusque manner was therefore much exaggerated—a dissimulation which troubled her conscience, which was decidedly of the tenderest New England brand.
Poor Copernicus experienced a sense of relief as he turned his eyes to those of the younger sister. She felt that Rebecca's manner was distinctly cold, and her own expression was the more cordial in compensation.
"Why, Miss Phoebe," he said, eagerly, "I've ben tellin' your sister about my plan to go back to the Centennial year—1876, ye know."
"To—to what, Mr. Droop?"
Phoebe's polite cordiality gave place to amazed consternation. Droop raised a deprecating hand.
"Now don't you go to think I'm tight or gone crazy. You'll understand it, fer you've ben to high school. Now see! What is it makes the days go by—ain't it the daily revolution of the sun?"
Phoebe put on what her sister always called "that schoolmarm look" and replied:
"Why, it's the turning round of the earth on its axis once in——"
"Yes—yes—It's all one—all one," Droop broke in, eagerly. "To put it another way, it comes from the sun cuttin' meridians, don't it?"
Rebecca, who found this technical and figurative expression beyond her, paused in her knitting and looked anxiously at Phoebe, to see how she would take it. After a moment of thought, the young woman admitted her visitor's premises.
"Very good! An' you know's well's I do, Miss Phoebe, that ef a man travels round the world the same way's the sun, he ketches up on time a whole day when he gets all the way round. In other words, the folks that stays at home lives jest one day more than the feller that goes round the world that way. Am I right?"
Droop glanced triumphantly at Rebecca. This tremendous admission on her learned young sister's part stripped her of all pretended coldness. Her deep interest was evident now in her whole pose and expression.
"Now, then, jest follow me close," Droop continued, sitting far forward in his chair and pointing his speech with a thin forefinger on his open palm.
"Ef a feller was to whirl clear round the world an' cut all the meridians in the same direction as the sun, an' he made the whole trip around jest as quick as the sun did—time wouldn't change a mite fer him, would it?"
Phoebe gasped at the suggestion.
"Why, I should think—of course——"
She stopped and put her hand to her head in bewilderment.
"Et's a sure thing!" Droop exclaimed, earnestly. "You've said yerself that the folks who stayed to home would live one day longer than the fellow that went round. Now, ef that feller travelled round as fast as the sun, the stay-at-homes would only be one day older by the time he got back—ain't that a fact?"
Both sisters nodded.
"Well, an' the traveller would be one day younger than they'd be. An' ain't that jest no older at all than when he started?"
"My goodness! Mr. Droop!" Phoebe replied, feebly. "I never thought of that."
"Well, ain't it so?"
"Of course—leastways—why, it must be!"
"All right, then!"
Droop rose triumphantly to his feet, overcome by his feelings.
"Follow out that same reasonin' to the bitter end!" he cried, "an' what will happen ef that traveller whirls round, cuttin' meridians jest twice as fast as the sun—goin' the same way?"
He paused, but there was no reply.
"Why, as sure as shootin', I tell ye, that feller will get jest one day younger fer every two whirls round!"
There was a long and momentous silence. The tremendous suggestion had for the moment bereft both women of all reasoning faculty.
At length the younger sister ventured upon a practical objection.
"But how's he goin' to whirl round as fast as that, Mr. Droop?" she said.
Droop smiled indulgently.
"Et does sound outlandish, when ye think how big the world is. But what if ye go to the North Pole? Ain't all the twenty-four meridians jammed up close together round that part of the globe?"
"Thet's so," murmured Rebecca, "I've seen it many's the time on the map in Phoebe's geography book."
"Sure enough," Droop rejoined. "Then ain't it clear that ef a feller'll jest take a grip on the North Pole an' go whirlin' round it, he'll be cuttin' meridians as fast as a hay-chopper? Won't he see the sun gettin' left behind an' whirlin' the other way from what it does in nature? An' ef the sun goes the other way round, ain't it sure to unwind all the time thet it's ben a-rollin' up?"
Rebecca's ball of yarn fell from her lap at this, and, as she followed it with her eyes, she seemed to see a practical demonstration of Droop's marvellous theory.
Phoebe felt all the tremendous force of Droop's logic, and she flushed with excitement. One last practical objection was obvious, however.
"The thing must be all right, Mr. Droop," she said; "an' come to think of it, this must be the reason so many folks have tried to reach the North Pole. But it never has been reached yet, an' how are you agoin' to do it?"
"You think it never hez," Copernicus replied. "The fact is, though, that I've ben there."
"You!" Phoebe cried.
"And is there a pole there?" Rebecca asked, eagerly.
"The's a pole there, an' I've swung round it, too," Droop replied, sitting again with a new and delightful sense of no longer being unwelcome.
"Here's how 'twas. About a year ago there come to my back door a strange-lookin' man who'd hurt his foot some way. I took him in an' fixed him up—you know I studied for a doctor once—an' while he was bein' fixed up, he sorter took a fancy to me an' he begun to give me the story of his life. He said he was born in the year 2582, an' had ben takin' what he called a historical trip into the past ages. He went on at a great rate like that, an' I thought he was jest wanderin' in his mind with the fever, so I humored him. But he saw through me, an' he wouldn't take no but I should go down into Burnham's swamp with him to see how he'd done it.
"Well, down we went, and right spang in the thickest of the bushes an' muck we come across the queerest lookin' machine that ever ye see!
"Right there an' then he told me all the scientific talk about time an' astronomy thet I've told you, an' then he tuck me into the thing. Fust thing I knew he give a yank to a lever in the machinery an' there was a big jerk thet near threw me on the back o' my head. I looked out, an' there we was a-flyin' over the country through the air fer the North Pole!"
"There, now!" cried Rebecca, "didn't Si Wilkins' boy Sam say he seen a comet in broad daylight last June?"
"Thet was us," Droop admitted.
"And not a soul believed him," Phoebe remarked.
"Well," continued Droop, "to make a long story short, thet future-man whirled me a few times 'round the North Pole—unwound jest five weeks o' time, an' back we come to Peltonville a-hummin'!"
"And then?" cried the two women together.
"Ef you'll believe me, there we was back to the day he fust come—an' fust thing I knew, thet future-man was a-comin' up to my back door, same ez before, a-beggin' to hev his foot fixed. It was hard on him, but I was convinced fer keeps."
Copernicus shook his head sadly, with retrospective sadness.
"An' where is the future-man now?" Phoebe asked.
"Tuk cold on his lungs at the North Pole," said Droop, solemnly. "Hed pneumonia an' up'n died."
"But there warn't nobody round heerd of him except you," said Rebecca. "Who buried him?"
"Ah, thet's one o' the beauties o' the hull business. He'd showed me all the ropes on his machine—his Panchronicon, as he called it—an' so I up'n flew round the North Pole the opposite way as soon's he passed away, till I'd made up the five weeks we'd lost. Then when I got back it was five weeks after his funeral, an' I didn't hev to bother about it."
The two sisters looked at each other, quite overcome with admiration.
"My land!" Rebecca murmured, gathering up her yarn and knitting again. "Sence they've invented them X-rays an' took to picturin' folks' insides, I kin believe anythin'."
"You don't hev to take my word fer it," Droop exclaimed. "Ef you'll come right along with me this blessed minute, I'll show you the machine right now."
"I'd jest love to see it," said Rebecca, her coldness all forgotten, "but it's mos' too late fer this afternoon. There's the supper to get, you know, an'——"
"But the plan, Rebecca," Phoebe cried. "You've forgotten that I haven't heard Mr. Droop's plan."
"I wish 't you'd call me 'Cousin Copernicus,'" said Droop, earnestly. "You know I've sworn off—quit drinkin' now."
Phoebe blushed at his novel proposal and insisted on the previous question.
"But what is the plan?" she said.
"Why, my idea is this, Cousin Phoebe. I want we should all go back to 1876 again. Thet's the year your sister could hev married Joe Chandler ef she'd wanted to."
Rebecca murmured something unintelligible, blushing furiously, with her eyes riveted to her knitting. Phoebe looked surprised.
"You know you could, Cousin Rebecca," Droop insisted. "Now what I say is, let's go back there. I'll invent the graphophone, the kodak, the vitascope, an' Milliken's cough syrup an' a lot of other big modern inventions. Rebecca'll marry Chandler, an' she an' her husband can back up my big inventions with capital. Why, Cousin Phoebe," he cried, with enthusiasm, "we'll all hev a million apiece!"
The sentimental side of Droop's plan first monopolized Phoebe's attention.
"Rebecca Wise!" she exclaimed, turning with mock severity to face her sister. "Why is it I've never heard tell about this love affair before now? Why, Joe Chandler's just a fine man. Is it you that broke his heart an' made him an old bachelor all his life?"
Rebecca must have dropped a stitch, for she turned toward the window again and brought her knitting very close to her face.
"What brought ye so early to home, Phoebe?" she said. "Warn't there no Shakespeare meetin' to-day?"
"No. Mis' Beecher was to lead, an' she's been taken sick, so I came right home. But you can't sneak out of answerin' me like that, Miss Slyboots," Phoebe continued, in high spirits.
Seating herself on the arm of her sister's chair, she put her arms about her neck and, bending over, whispered:
"Tell me honest, now, Rebecca, did Joe Chandler ever propose to you?"
"No, he never did!" the elder sister exclaimed, rising suddenly.
"Now, Mr. Droop," she continued, "your hull plan is jest too absurd to think of——"
Droop tried to expostulate, but she raised her voice, speaking more quickly.
"An' you come 'round again after supper an' we'll tell ye what we've decided," she concluded.
The humor of this reply was lost on Copernicus, but he moved toward the door with a sense of distinct encouragement.
"Remember the rumpus we'll make with all them inventions," Droop called back as he walked toward the gate, "think of the money we'll make!"
But Rebecca was thinking of something very different as she stood at the front door gazing with softened eyes at the pasture and woods beyond the road. She seemed to see a self-willed girl breaking her own heart and another's rather than acknowledge a silly error. She was wondering if that had really been Rebecca Wise. She felt again all the old bewitching heart-pangs, sweetened and mellowed by time, and she wondered if she were now really Rebecca Wise.
A VISIT TO THE PANCHRONICON
At precisely eight o'clock that evening, a knock was again heard at the door of the Wise home, and Droop was admitted by the younger sister. She did not speak, and her face was invisible in the dark hall. The visitor turned to the right and entered the parlor, followed by his young hostess. Rebecca was sitting by the lamp, sewing. As she looked up and nodded, Droop saw that her features expressed only gloomy severity. He turned in consternation and caught sight for the first time of Phoebe's face. Her eyes and pretty nose were red and her mouth was drawn into a curve of plaintive rebellion.
"Set down, Mr. Droop. Give me yer hat," she said; and there was a suspicious catch in her voice.
The visitor seated himself by the centre-table beside the lamp and sat slowly rubbing his hands, the while he gazed mournfully from one to the other of the silent sisters. Phoebe sat on the long horse-hair "settle," and played moodily with the tassel hanging at its head.
There was a long pause. Each of the women seemed bent on forcing the other to break the silence.
Poor Droop felt that his plans were doomed, and he dared not urge either woman to speech, lest he hear the death-sentence of his hopes. Finally, however, the awkward silence became unbearable.
"Well?" he said, inquiringly, still rubbing his hands.
"Well," Rebecca exclaimed, "it seems it's not to be done," and she looked reproachfully at Phoebe.
The words fulfilled his fears, but the tone and glance produced a thrill of hope. It was evident that Rebecca at least favored his plans.
Turning now to the younger sister, Droop asked, in a melancholy tone:
"Don't you want to get rich, Cousin Phoebe?"
"Rich—me!" she replied, indignantly. "A mighty lot of riches it'll bring me, won't it? That's just what riles me so! You an' Rebecca just think of nothin' but your own selves. You never stop to think of me!"
Droop opened his eyes very wide indeed, and Rebecca said, earnestly:
"Phoebe, you know you ain't got any call to say sech a thing!"
"Oh, haven't I?" cried Phoebe, in broken accents. "Did either of you think what would happen to me if we all went back to 1876? Two years old! That's what I'd be! A little toddling baby, like Susan Mellick's Annie! Put to bed before supper—carried about in everybody's arms—fed on a bottle and—and perhaps—and perhaps getting spanked!"
With the last word, Phoebe burst into tears of mingled grief and mortification and rushed from the room.
The others dared not meet each other's guilty eyes. Droop gazed about the room in painful indecision. He could not bear to give up all hope, and yet—this unforeseen objection really seemed a very serious one. To leave the younger sister behind was out of the question. On the other hand, the consequences of the opposite course were—well, painful to her at least.
In his nervousness he unconsciously grasped a small object on the table upon which his left hand had been lying. It was a miniature daintily painted on ivory. He looked vacantly upon it; his mind at first quite absent from his eyes. But as he gazed, something familiar in the lovely face depicted there fixed his attention. Before long he was examining the picture with the greatest interest.
"Well, now!" he exclaimed, at length. "Ain't that pretty! Looks jest like her, too. When was that tuck, Miss Wise?"
"That ain't Phoebe," said Rebecca, dejectedly.
"Ain't Phoebe!" Droop cried, in amazement. "Why, it's the finest likeness—why—but—it must be yer sister!"
"Well, 'tain't. Thet pictur is jest three hundred years old."
"Three hundred—" he began—then very slowly, "Well, now, do tell!" he said.
"Phoebe's got the old letter that tells about it. The's a lot of 'em in that little carved-wood box there. They say it come over in the Mayflower."
Droop could not take his eyes from the picture. The likeness was perfect. Here was the pretty youthful oval of her face—the same playful blue eye—the sensitive red lips seeming about to sparkle into a smile—even the golden brown mist of hair that hid the delicately turned ear!
Then Droop suddenly remembered his plans, and with his hand he dropped the picture as his mind dismissed it. He rose and looked about for his hat.
"Ye wouldn't want to come back to '76 with me an' leave Cousin Phoebe behind, would ye?" he suggested, dismally.
"What!" cried Rebecca, giving vent to her pent-up feelings, "an' never see my sister again! Why, I'd hev to come livin' along up behind her, and, all I could do, I'd never catch up with her—never! You'd ought to be ashamed to stand there an' think o' sech a thing, Copernicus Droop!"
For some time he stood with bent head and shoulders, twirling his hat between his fingers. At length he straightened up suddenly and moved toward the door.
"Well," he said, "the' isn't any use you seem' the Panchronicon now, is the'?"
"What's it like, Mr. Droop?" Rebecca inquired.
He paused helpless before the very thought of description.
"Oh," he said, weakly, "et's like—et's a—why—Oh, it's a machine!"
"Hez it got wings?"
"Not exactly wings," he began, then, more earnestly, "why don't ye come and see it, anyway! It can't do ye any harm to jest look at it!"
Rebecca dropped her hands into her lap and replied, with a hesitating manner:
"I'd like to fust rate—it must be an awful queer machine! But I don't get much time fer traipsin' 'round now days."
"Why can't ye come right along now?" Droop asked, eagerly. "It's dry as a bone underfoot down in the swamp now. The's ben no rain in a long time."
She pondered some time before replying. Her first impulse was to reject the proposal as preposterous. The hour seemed very ill chosen. Rebecca was not accustomed to leaving home for any purpose at night, and she was extremely conservative.
On the other hand, she felt that only under cover of the darkness could she consent to go anywhere in company with the village reprobate. Every tongue in the place would be set wagging were she seen walking with Copernicus Droop. She had not herself known how strong was the curiosity which his startling theories and incredible story had awakened in her. She looked up at her visitor with indecision in her eyes.
"I don't see how I could go now," she said. "Besides, it's mos' too dark to see the thing, ain't it?"
"Not a mite," he replied, confidently. "The's lights inside I can turn on, an' we'll see the hull thing better'n by daylight."
Then, as she still remained undecided, he continued, in an undertone:
"Cousin Phoebe's up in her room, ain't she? Ye might not get another chance so easy."
He had guessed instinctively that, under the circumstances, Rebecca preferred not revealing to Phoebe her own continued interest in the wonderful machine.
The suggestion was vital. Phoebe was in all probability sulking in her own bedroom, and in that event would not quit it for an hour. It seemed now or never.
Rebecca rolled up her knitting work and rose to her feet.
"Jest wait here a spell," she said, rapidly. "I won't be a minute!"
* * * * *
Shortly afterward, two swiftly moving, shadowy figures emerged from the little white gate and turned into a dark lane made more gloomy by overhanging maples. This was the shortest route to Burnham's swamp.
Copernicus was now more hopeful. He could not but feel that, if the elder sister came face to face with his marvellous machine, good must result for his plans. Rebecca walked with nervous haste, dreading Phoebe's possible discovery of this most unconventional conduct.
The night was moonless, and the two stumbled and groped their way down the lane at a pace whose slowness exasperated Rebecca.
"Ef I'd a-known!" she exclaimed, under her breath.
"We're 'most there, Cousin Rebecca," said Copernicus, with deprecating softness. "Here, give me holt o' yer hand while we climb over the wall. Here's Burnham's swamp right now."
Accepting the proffered aid, Rebecca found herself in the midst of a thicket of bushes, many of which were thorny and all of which seemed bent upon repelling nocturnal adventurers.
Droop, going ahead, did his best to draw aside the obstinate twigs, and Rebecca followed him with half-averted head, lifting her skirts and walking sidewise.
"'Mighty lucky, 'tain't wet weather!" she mumbled.
At that moment her guide stood still.
"There!" he exclaimed, in a low, half-awed voice.
Rebecca stopped and gazed about. A little to the right the dark gray of the sky was cut by a looming black mass of uncertain form.
It looked like the crouching phantom of some shapeless sea-monster. Rebecca half expected to see it dissolve like a wind-driven fog.
Their physical sight could distinguish nothing of the outer characteristics of this mysterious structure; but for this very reason, the imagination was the more active. Rebecca, with all her directness of nature and commonplace experience, felt in this unwonted presence that sense of awed mystery which she would have called a "creepy feeling."
What unknown and incomprehensible forces were locked within that formless mass? By what manner of race as yet unborn had its elements been brought together—no, no—would they be brought together? How assume a comfortable mental attitude toward this creation whose present existence so long antedated its own origin?
One sentiment, at least, Rebecca could entertain with hearty consistency. Curiosity asserted its supremacy over every other feeling.
"Can't we get into the thing, an' light a candle or suthin'?" she said.
"Of course we can," said Droop. "That's what I brought ye here fer. Take holt o' my hand an' lift yer feet, or you'll stumble."
Leading his companion by the hand, Copernicus approached the dark form, moving with great caution over the clumps of grassy turf. Presently he reached the side of the machine. Rebecca heard him strike it with his hand two or three times, as though groping for something. Then she was drawn forward again, and suddenly found herself entering an invisible doorway. She stumbled on the threshold and flung out her free hand for support. She clutched at a hand-rail that seemed to lead spirally upward.
Droop's voice came out of the blackness.
"Jest wait here a minute," he said. "I'll go up an' turn on the light."
She heard him climbing a short flight of stairs, and a few moments later a flood of light streamed from a doorway above her head, amply lighting the little hallway in which Rebecca was standing.
The hand-rail to which she was already clinging skirted the iron stairs leading to the light, and she started at once up this narrow spiral.
She was met at the door by Copernicus, who was smiling with a proud complacency.
"Wal, Cousin Rebecca," he said, with a sweeping gesture indicating their general surroundings, "what d'ye think o' this?"
They were standing at the head of a sort of companion-way in a roomy antechamber much resembling the general cabin of a luxurious old-time sailing-packet. The top of the stairs was placed between two windows in one side wall of the machine, through which there was just then entering a gentle breeze. Two similar openings faced these in the opposite side wall, and under each of the four windows there was a long wooden bench carrying a flat mattress cushion.
In the middle of the room, on a square deep-piled rug, stood a table covered with a red cloth and surrounded by three or four solid-looking upholstered chairs. Here were some books and papers, and directly over the table a handsome electric chandelier hung from the ceiling of dark-wood panels. This was the source of their present illumination.
"This here's the settin'-room," Droop explained. "An' these are the state-rooms—that's what he called 'em."
He walked toward two doors in one of the end walls and, opening one of them, turned the switch of the lamp within.
"'Lectric lights in it, like down to Keene," Rebecca remarked, approaching the cabin and peering in.
She saw a small bedroom comfortably furnished. The carpet was apparently new, and on the tastefully papered walls hung a number of small oil-paintings.
Droop opened the other door.
"They're both alike," he said.
Rebecca glanced into the second apartment, which was indeed the counterpart of its companion.
"Well, it wouldn't do no harm to sweep an' beat these carpets!" she exclaimed. Then, slipping her forefinger gingerly over the edge of a chair: "Look at that dust!" she said, severely, holding up her hand for inspection.
But Droop had bustled off to another part of the room.
"Here's lockers under these window-seats," he explained, with a dignified wave of the hand. "Here's books an' maps in this set o' shelves. Here's a small pianner that plays itself when you turn on the electricity——"
There was a stumbling crash and a suppressed cry at the foot of the stairs.
With his heart in his mouth, Droop leaped to the chandelier and turned out the lights; then rushed to the state-rooms and was about to turn their switches as well, when a familiar voice greeted their ears from below—
"Don't be scared—it's only Phoebe."
"What ever possessed—" began Rebecca, in a low tone.
But at that moment Phoebe's head appeared over the stair rail in the light shed from the two state-rooms.
"Won't you light up again, Mr. Droop?" she said, merrily, smiling the while into her sister's crestfallen face. "I heard you two leavin' the house, an' I just guessed what you'd be up to. So I followed you down here."
She dropped into one of the chairs beside the table just as Droop relighted the lamps.
With one slender hand resting upon the table, she looked up into Droop's face and went on:
"I was havin' a dreadful time, stumbling over stocks an' stones at every step, till suddenly there was quite a light struck my face, and first I knew I was lookin' right into your lighted windows. I guess we'll have a pleasant meetin' here of all the folks in town pretty soon—not to mention the skeeters, which are comin' right early this year!"
"Lands sakes!" cried Rebecca.
"There now!" exclaimed Copernicus, bustling toward the windows, "I must be a nateral born fool!"
Phoebe laughed in high spirits at thought of her prank, while Droop closed the tight iron shutters at each window, thus confining every ray of light.
Rebecca seated herself opposite Phoebe and looked severely straight before her with her hands folded in her lap. She was ashamed of her curiosity and much chagrined at being discovered in this unconventional situation by her younger sister.
Phoebe gazed about her and, having taken in the general aspect of the antechamber in which they were assembled, she explored the two state-rooms. Thence she returned for a more detailed survey. Droop followed her about explaining everything, but Rebecca remained unmoved.
"What's all those dials on the wall, Mr. Droop?" asked the younger sister.
"I wish't you'd call me Cousin Copernicus," said Droop, appealingly.
Phoebe ran up very close to a large steel dial-plate covered with figures.
"Now what the land is this for?" she exclaimed.
"Thet," said Droop, slowly, "is an indicator of height above ground and tells yer direction."
"And what d'ye do with this little handle?"
"Why, you set that for north or west or any other way, an' the hull machine keeps headed that way until ye change it."
"Oh, is that the rudder?"
"No, that is fer settin' jest one course fer a long ride—like's ef we was goin' north to the pole, ye know. The rudder's in here, 'long with the other machinery."
He walked to one of the two doors which faced the state-rooms.
Phoebe followed him and found herself in the presence of a bewildering array of controlling and guiding handles—gauges—test cocks—meters and indicators. She was quite overawed, and listened with a new respect for her distant relative as he explained the uses of the various instruments. It was evident that he had quite mastered the significance of each implement.
When Droop had completed his lecture, Phoebe found that she understood the uses of three of the levers. The rest was a mystery to her.
"This is the starting-lever," she said. "This steers, and this reverses. Is that it?"
"That's correct," said Droop, "an' if——"
She cut him short by whisking out of the room.
"What drives the thing?" she asked, as he meekly followed her.
"Oh, the's power storage an' all kinds o' works down below stairs."
"An' what's this room for?" she asked, opening the door next the engine-room.
"Thet's the kitchen an' butler's pantry," said Droop. "It's mighty finely fitted up, I tell ye. That future-man was what ye call a conusure. My, but he could cook up fine victuals!"
Rebecca found this temptation stronger than her ill humor, and she rose with alacrity and followed her companions into the now brightly lighted kitchen.
Here the appointments were the completest possible, and, after she and Phoebe had mastered the theory of the electric range, they agreed that they had never seen such a satisfactory equipment.
Phoebe stood in the middle of the room and looked about her with kindling eyes. The novelty of this adventure had intoxicated her. Rebecca's enthusiasm was repeated threefold in the more youthful bosom of her sister.
"My!" she cried, "wouldn't it be lovely if we could make this our house down here for a while! What would the Mellicks an' the Tituses an'——"
"They'd take us for a lunatic asylum," Rebecca exclaimed, severely.
Phoebe considered a moment and then gravely replied:
"Yes, I s'pose they would."
Copernicus was pacing slowly up and down from range to china-closet and back, rubbing his hands slowly over each other.
"I wish't you'd try to see ef ye couldn't change yer mind, Cousin Phoebe," he said, earnestly. "Jest think of all there is in this extrordnery vessel—what with kitchen an' little cunnin' state-rooms—what with the hull machinery an' all—it's a sinful waste to leave it all to rot away down in this here swamp when we might all go back to the Centennial an' get rich as—as Solomon's temple!"
Phoebe led the way in silence to the outer room again, and Droop carefully extinguished the lights in the kitchen and engine-room.
As the three stood together under the main chandelier their faces were the exponents of three different moods.
Droop was wistful—anxious.
Rebecca looked grimly regretful.
In Phoebe's eyes there shone a cheerful light—but her expression was enigmatic.
"Now let's go home," she said, briskly. "I've got somethin' that I want to talk to Rebecca about. Can't you call in to-morrow mornin', Mr. Droop?"
"Don't ye believe ye might change yer mind?" he asked, mournfully.
"We'll be through with the breakfast an' have things set to rights by eight o'clock," said Phoebe.
A NOCTURNAL EVASION
Promptly at the appointed time, Copernicus Droop might have been seen approaching the white cottage. Still nursing a faint hope, he walked with nervous rapidity, mumbling and gesticulating in his excitement. He attracted but little attention. His erratic movements were credited to his usual potations, and no one whom he passed even gave him a second glance.
Nearing the house he saw Phoebe leaning out of one of the second-story windows. She had been gazing westward toward Burnham's swamp, but she caught sight of Droop and nodded brightly to him. Then she drew in her head and pulled down the window.
Phoebe opened the door as Copernicus entered the garden gate, and it was at once apparent that her buoyant mood was still upon her, for she actually offered her hand to her visitor as he stood at the threshold wiping his feet.
"Good mornin'," she said. "I've ben tryin' to see if I could find the Panchronicon out of my window. It's just wonderful how well it's hidden in the bushes."
She led him to the parlor and offered him a seat.
"Where's Cousin Rebecca?" he said, as he carefully placed his hat on the floor beside his chair.
Phoebe seated herself opposite to her visitor with her back to the windows, so that her face was in shadow.
"Rebecca's upstairs," she replied.
Then, after a moment's pause: "She's packin' up," she said.
Droop straightened up excitedly.
"What—packin'!" he cried. "Hev ye decided ye'll go, then?"
"Well," said Phoebe, slowly, "we have an'—an' we haven't."
"What d'ye mean?"
"Why, Mr. Droop, it's just like this," she exclaimed, leaning forward confidentially. "Ye see, Rebecca an' I are both just plumb crazy to try that wonderful plan of cuttin' meridians at the North Pole—an' we're wild fer a ride on that queer kind of a boat or whatever ye call it. At the same time, Rebecca has to acknowledge that it's askin' too much of me to go back to two years old an' live like a baby. For one thing, I wouldn't have a thing to wear."
"But ye might make some clothes before ye start," Droop suggested.
"Mr. Droop!" Phoebe exclaimed, severely, "what do you s'pose folks would say if Rebecca and I was to set to work makin' baby clothes—two old maids like us?"
Droop looked down in confusion and plucked at the edge of his coat.
"Phoebe Wise, you're only just tryin' to be smart fer argument!"
This sentence was delivered with a suddenness which was startling. Droop looked up with a jump to find Rebecca standing at the door with a pile of clean sheets on her arm.
She was gazing sternly at Phoebe, who appeared somewhat disconcerted.
"You know's well's I do," continued the elder sister, "that every one o' your baby clothes is folded an' put away as good as new in the attic."
Phoebe rallied quickly and repelled this attack with spirit.
"Well, I don't care. They'll stay right where they are, Rebecca," she answered, with irritation. "You know we settled it last night that I wasn't to be pestered about goin' back to 1876!"
"That's true," was the reply, "but don't you be givin' such fool reasons for it. It's really just because you're afraid o' bein' whipped an' put to bed—an' goodness knows, you deserve it!"
With this, Rebecca turned grimly and went into the garden to hang the sheets up for an airing.
There was a moment's awkward pause, and then Phoebe broke the silence.
"Our plan's this, Mr. Droop," she said, "an' I hope you'll agree. We want to have you take us to the North Pole and unwind about six years. That'll take us back before the World's Fair in Chicago, when I was eighteen years old, an' we can see fer ourselves how it feels to be livin' backward an' growin' younger instead of older every minute."
"But what's the good of that?" Droop asked, querulously. "I ain't goin' to do it jest fer fun. I'm growin' too old to waste time that way. My plan was to make money with all them inventions."
"Well, an' why can't ye?" she replied, coaxingly. "There's that X-ray invention, now. Why couldn't you show that at the World's Fair an' get a patent fer it?"
"I don't understand that business," he replied, sharply. "Besides I can't get one o' them X-ray machines—they cost a heap."
This was a blow to Phoebe's plan and she fell silent, thinking deeply. She had foreseen that Droop would take only a mercenary view of the matter and had relied upon the X-ray to provide him with a motive. But if he refused this, what was she to do?
Suddenly her face lighted up.
"I've got it!" she cried. "You know those movin' picture boxes ye see down to Keene, where ye turn a handle and a lot of photograph cards fly along like rufflin' the leaves of a book. Why, it just makes things look alive, Mr. Droop. I'm sure those weren't thought of six years ago. They're span spinter new. Why won't they do?"
"I ain't got one o' those either," Droop grumbled. "I've got a kodak an' a graphophone an' a lot o' Milliken's cough syrup with the recipe——"
"Why there!" cried Phoebe, exultantly. "Milliken's cough syrup is only four years old, ain't it?"
Droop did not reply, but his silence was a virtual assent.
"The's a mint o' money in that—you know there is, Mr. Droop," she urged. "Why, I guess Mr. Milliken must have two or three millions, hasn't he?"
Rebecca returned at this moment and seated herself on the haircloth settle, nodding silently to Droop.
"What's about Mr. Milliken's money, Phoebe?" she asked.
"Why Mr. Droop says the X-ray is no good because it costs a heap and he hasn't got a machine fer it—an' I was tellin' him that Milliken's cough syrup was just as good—for that wasn't invented six years ago, an'——"
"Phoebe Wise, what do you mean!" exclaimed Rebecca. "Why, it would be jest like robbery to take Mr. Milliken's syrup, an' palm it off as Mr. Droop's. I'm surprised at ye!"
This attack upon the ethical plane struck Phoebe speechless. She blushed and stammered, but had no reply to make. The seeming defeat really concealed a victory, however, for it instantly converted Copernicus into an ally.
"You don't understand the thing, Cousin Rebecca," he said, gently but firmly. "Ye see ef we go six years back, it'll be a time when Mr. Milliken hadn't ever thought of his cough syrup. How could we be robbin' him of somethin' he hasn't got?"
Rebecca looked confused for a moment, but was not to be so easily convinced.
"'Tain't somethin' he ain't thought of," she said, stoutly. "He's makin' money out of it, an' ef we get back before him, why, when time comes agin for him to invent it he won't have it to invent. I'm sure that's jest as bad as robbin' him, ain't it?"
Phoebe looked anxiously at Copernicus and was much pleased to find him apparently unmoved.
"Why, you certainly don't understand this yet," he insisted. "Milliken ain't agoin' back six years with us, is he? He'll jest go right along livin' as he's ben doin'."
"What!" Rebecca exclaimed. "Will he be livin' in one time an' we be livin' in another—both at the same—" She stopped. What was she saying!
"No—no!" replied Copernicus. "He'll go on livin'. That's what he will do. We'll go on havin' lived. Or to put it different—we have gone on livin' after we get back six years—to 1892. Ye see, we really have past all the six years—so the's no harm in it. Milliken won't be hurt."
Rebecca glanced at Phoebe, in whose face she found her own perplexity reflected. Then, throwing out her hands, as though pushing away her crowding mental obstructions, she cried:
"There—there! I can't get the hang of it. It's too much for me!"
"Oh, when you've done it once it'll be all easy and clear," said Droop, soothingly.
Phoebe looked hopefully into his face.
"Will you take us, Mr. Droop?" she asked.
"Oh, I s'pose I'll hev to."
"An' only unwind six years?"
"Yes—jest six years."
She jumped up excitedly.
"Then I'll be off to my packin'!"
She ran to the door and, pausing here, turned again to their visitor.
"Can we start to-night, Mr. Droop?"
"Yes, indeed!" he replied. "The sooner the better."
"That's splendid!" she cried, and ran quickly up the stairs.
The two older people sat for a while in melancholy silence, looking down. Each had hoped for more than this. Copernicus tried to convince himself that the profit from the cough syrup would comfort him for his disappointment. Rebecca dismissed with a sigh the dreams which she had allowed herself to entertain—those bright fictions centering on Joe Chandler—not the subdued old bachelor of 1898, but the jolly young fellow of the famous Centennial year.
At length Rebecca looked up and said:
"After all, Mr. Droop, come to think of it, you've no call to take us with ye. I can't do ye any good—goin' back only six years."
"Yes ye can," said Droop. "I'll need somebody to help me keep house in the Panchronicon. I ain't no hand at cookin' an' all, an' besides, it'll be mighty lonely without anybody in there."
"Well," she rejoined, rising, "I'll jest go up an' finish my packin'."
"An' I'll go tend to mine."
As they parted at the front door, it was arranged that Droop was to bring a wheelbarrow after supper and transport the sisters' belongings, preparatory to their departure.
The rest of the day was spent in preparation for the momentous voyage. Phoebe went to the little bank at Peltonville station and withdrew the entire savings of herself and sister, much to the astonishment and concern of the cashier. She walked all the way to the bank and back alone, for it was obviously necessary to avoid inconvenient questions.
When the two sisters stood in their little dining-room with the heap of greenbacks on the table before them, Rebecca was attacked by another conscientious scruple.
"I don't hardly know as we're doin' right, Phoebe," she said, shaking her head dubiously. "When we get back to 1892 we'd ought to find some money in the bank already. Ef we hev this with us, too, seems to me we'll hev more'n we're entitled to. Ain't it a good deal like cheatin' the bank?"
"Mercy, no!" Phoebe exclaimed, pettishly. "You're forever raisin' some trouble like that! Ain't this our money?"
"Well, then, what's the use o' talkin' 'bout it? Just wait till we can mention your trouble to Mr. Droop. He'll have a good answer for you."
"But s'posin' he can't answer it?" Rebecca insisted.
"Well, if he can't we can give back the difference to the bank."
So saying, Phoebe took her share of the bills and quickly left the room.
"I've got lots of things to do before night," she remarked.
At promptly half-past nine all the lights in the house were extinguished, and the two sisters sat together in the dark parlor awaiting Copernicus. It was Rebecca who had insisted on putting out the lights.
"Ef folks was to see lights here so late in the night," she said, "they'd suspicion somethin' an' they might even call in."
Phoebe admitted the justness of this reasoning, and they had both directed every endeavor to completing all their arrangements before their accustomed bed-time.
It was not long after this that a stealthy step was heard on the gravel path and Phoebe hurried to the door. Copernicus came in with a low word of greeting and followed the ghostly shadow of his hostess into the parlor.
The three stood together in the dark and conversed in an undertone, like so many conspirators surrounded by spies.
"Hev ye got everythin' ready?" Droop asked.
"Yes," said Phoebe. "The's only two little trunks for you. Did you bring the wheelbarrow?"
"Yep—I left it outside the gate. 'Twould hev made a lot of noise on the gravel inside."
"That's right," said Phoebe. "I guess you'll not have any trouble to carry both o' those trunks at once. We haven't packed only a few things, 'cause I expect we'll find all our old duds ready for us in 1892, won't we?"
"Why, 'f course," said Droop.
"But how 'bout linen—sheets an' table-cloths an' all?" said Rebecca. "We'll need some o' them on the trip, won't we?"
"I've got a hull slew o' them things in the Panchronicon," said Copernicus. "Ye won't hev to bother a bit about sech things."
"How long do you s'pose it'll take to make the trip," asked Phoebe. "I mean by the clock? We won't have to do any washing on the way, will we?"
"I don't see how we can," Rebecca broke in. "The's not a blessed tub on the hull machine."
"No, no," said Droop, reassuringly. "We'll make a bee-line for the pole, an' we'll go 'bout three times as fast as a lightnin' express train. We'd ought to reach there in about twenty-four hours, I guess. Then we'll take it easy cuttin' meridians, so's not to suffer from side weight, an'——"
"Side weight!" exclaimed the two women together.
"Yes," said Droop. "That's a complaint ye get ef ye unwind the time too fast. Ye see, growin' young isn't a thing folks is used to, an' it disgrummages the hull constitution ef ye grow young too fast. Well, 's I was a-sayin', I guess it'll take 'bout eighteen hours by the clock to cut back six years. Thet's by the clock, ye understand. As a matter of fact, of course, we'll be just six years less'n no time in finishin' the trip."
"Well," said Phoebe, briskly, "that's no kind o' reason fer dawdlin' about it now. Let's be startin'."
"Where's the trunks?" said Droop.
The trunks were pointed out, and with very little trouble Copernicus put them onto the barrow. He then came to the door for his last instructions.
"'S anythin' more?" he asked.
"No," said Rebecca. "We'll bring on our special duds in our arms. We'll wait a spell an' come on separate."
The door was carefully closed and they soon heard the slight creak of the weighted wheel as Droop set off with the trunks for Burnham's swamp.
"Now, then," said Phoebe, bustling into the parlor, "let's get our things all together ready to start. Have ye got your satchel with the money in it?"
Rebecca gently slapped a black leather bag hanging at her side.
"Here 'tis," she said.
"Let's see," Phoebe went on. "Here's my box with the letters an' miniature, here's the box with the jewelry, an' here's that book Mrs. Bolton gave me about Bacon writin' Shakespeare."
"Whatever air ye takin' that old book fer, Phoebe?"
"Why, to read on the train—I mean on the way, ye know. We'll likely find it pretty pokey in that one room all day."
"I don't know what ye mean by 'all day,'" Rebecca exclaimed in a discouraged tone. "So far's I see, th'ain't goin' to be any days. What'll it feel like—livin' backward that way? D'ye guess it'll make us feel sick, like ridin' backward in the cars?"
"Don't ask me," Phoebe exclaimed, despairingly. "'F I knew what 'twas like, perhaps I wouldn't feel so like goin'."
She straightened herself suddenly and stood rigid.
"Hark!" she exclaimed. "Is that Mr. Droop comin' back, d'you s'pose?"
There were distinctly audible footsteps on the path.
Phoebe came out into the hall on tiptoe and stood beside her sister.
There was a knock on the door. The two sisters gripped each other's arms excitedly.
"'Taint Copernicus!" Rebecca whispered very low.
The knock was repeated; rather louder this time. Then—
"Miss Wise—Miss Wise—are ye to home?"
It was a woman's voice.
"Sarah Allen!" Phoebe exclaimed under her breath.
"Whatever shall we do?" Rebecca replied.
"Miss Wise," the voice repeated, and then their visitor knocked again, much more loudly.
"I'll go to the door," exclaimed Phoebe.
"I must. She'll raise the whole town if I don't."
So saying, Phoebe walked noisily to the door and unlocked it.
"Is that you, Mis' Allen?" she asked.
The door was opened, and Phoebe found herself face to face with a short, light woman whose white garments shone gray in the night.
"Why, you're up'n dressed!" exclaimed Mrs. Allen. She did not offer to enter, but went on excitedly:
"Miss Phoebe," she said, "d'you know I b'lieve you've ben robbed."
"Yes; on'y a minute ago I was a-comin' up the road from M'ria Payson's—you know she's right sick an' I've ben givin' her massidge—an' what sh'd I see but a man comin' out o' your gate with suthin' on his shoulder. I couldn't see who 'twas, an' he was so quiet an' sneaky without a light that I jest slipped behind a tree. You know I've ben dreadful skeery ever sence Tom was brought home with his arm broke after a fight with a strange man in the dark. Well, this man to-night he put the bundle or what not into a wheelbarrow an' set off quiet as a mouse. He went off down that way, an' says I to myself, 'It's a robber ben burglin' at the Wise's house,' says I, an' I come straight here to see ef ye was both murdered or what. Air ye all right? Hez he broken yer door? Hev ye missed anythin'?"
As the little woman paused for breath, Phoebe seized her opportunity.
"Did you say he went off to the north, Mis' Allen?" she said, with feigned excitement.
"Oh, dear—oh, dear!" cried Phoebe, wringing her hands. "Didn't I say I heard a noise—I told you I heard a burglar, Rebecca," she went on, hysterically, turning to her sister.
"Is Miss Rebecca there?" asked Mrs. Allen.
Rebecca came forward in silence. She was quite nonplussed. To tell the truth, Phoebe's sudden outburst was as great a tax upon her nerves as Mrs. Allen's unwelcome visit. Surely Phoebe had said nothing about a burglar! It was Droop that Mrs. Allen had seen—of course it was. She dared not say so in their visitor's presence, but she wondered mightily at Phoebe's apparent perturbation.
Phoebe guessed her sister's mental confusion, and she sought to draw Mrs. Allen's attention to herself to avoid the betrayal of their plans which would certainly follow Rebecca's joining the conversation.
"Mis' Allen," she exclaimed, excitedly, "the's just one thing to be done. Won't you run's quick's ever you can to Si Pray, an' ask him to bring his gun? You won't meet the burglar 'cause he's gone the other way. Rebecca 'nd I'll jest wait here for you an' Si. I'll get some hot water from the kitchen, in case the burglar should come back while you're gone. Oh, please will you do it?"
"Course I will," was the nervous reply. This hint of the possible return of the robbers made an immediate retreat seem very desirable. "I'll go right now. Won't be gone a minute. Lock your door now—quick!"
She turned and sped down the path. She had not reached the gate before Phoebe walked rapidly into the parlor.
"Quick—quick!" she panted, frantically gathering up her belongings. "Get your duds an' come along."
"But what d'you——"
"Come—come—come!" cried Phoebe. "Come quick or they'll all be here. Gun and all!"
With her arm full of bundles, Phoebe rushed back through the hall and out of the front door. Rebecca followed her, drawn along by the fiery momentum of her sister.
"Lock the front door, Rebecca," Phoebe cried. Then, as she reached the gate and found it fastened: "Here, I can't undo the gate. My hands are full. Oh, do hurry, Rebecca! We haven't a minute!"
The elder sister locked the front door and started down the path in such a nervous fever that she left the key in the lock. Half way to the gate she paused.
"Come on—come on!" Phoebe cried, stamping her foot.
"My land!" stammered Rebecca. "I've forgot everythin'!" She started back, running with short, unaccustomed steps.
"My umbrella!" she gasped. "My recipes—my slips!"
Phoebe was speechless with anger and apprehension at this delay, and Rebecca was therefore allowed to re-enter the house without objection.
In a short time she reappeared carrying an umbrella, two flower-pots, and a folded newspaper.
"There!" she panted, as she came up to her sister and opened the gate. "Now I guess I've got everythin'!"
Silently and swiftly the two women sped northward, following the imaginary burglar, while the devoted Mrs. Allen ran breathless in the opposite direction for Si Pray and his gun.
"We'll hev to go more careful here," said Rebecca as they turned into the lane leading down to the swamp.
With many a stumble and some scratches they moved more slowly down the rutted track until at length they reached the point where they were to turn into the swamp.
Here the sisters leaned against the wall to rest and recover breath.
"My goodness, but that was a narrow escape!" murmured Phoebe.
"Yes," said Rebecca, with reproachful sadness; "but I'm afraid you paid a heavy price fer it, Phoebe!"
"What do you mean?"
"Why, 's fur's I could make out, you told Mis' Allen a deliberate wrong story, Phoebe Wise."
"What did I say?" said Phoebe, in shocked surprise.
"You said you hed told me you'd heerd a burglar!"
"Did I say that? Those very words?"
"Why, you know you did."
"Wasn't it a question, Rebecca?" Phoebe insisted. "Didn't I ask you ef I hadn't told you I heard a burglar?"
"No, it was a plain downright wrong story, Phoebe, an' you needn't to try to sneak out of it."
Phoebe was silent for a few moments, and then Rebecca heard her laugh. It was a very little, rippling thing—but it was genuine—there was real light-heartedness behind it.
"Phoebe Wise!" exclaimed Rebecca, "how ken you laugh so? I wouldn't hev the weight of sech a thing on my mind fer a good deal."
"Well, Rebecca," tittered her sister, "I didn't have it on my mind yesterday, did I?"
"An' won't it be yesterday for us mighty soon—yes, an' a heap longer ago than that?"
She laughed again merrily and began to climb over the wall, a proceeding not rendered easier by the various articles in her hands.
A few minutes later the two women had joined Copernicus within his mysterious machine and were standing in the brightly lighted antechamber at the head of the stairs.
"Well—well!" cried Droop, as he caught sight of the two women for the first time in the light. "Where ever did ye get them funny dresses? Why, your sleeves is all puffed out near the shoulders!"
"These are some of our old dresses," said Rebecca. "They was made in 1891, an' we thought they'd prob'bly be more in the fashion back in 1892 when we get there than our newer dresses."
"Never mind our dresses, Mr. Droop," said Phoebe. "Where can we put down all these things? My arms are breakin' off."
"Right here, Cousin Phoebe."
Droop bustled over to the state-rooms, opening both the doors at once.
"Here's a room apiece fer ye. Take yer choice."
"Oh, but where'll you sleep?" said Phoebe. "P'raps Rebecca and I'd better have one room together."
"Not a bit of it," said Droop. "I'll sleep on one o' them settles under the windows. They're real comfortable."
"Well—just as you say."
The sisters entered their rooms and deposited their bundles, but Phoebe returned at once and called to Droop, who had started down the stairs.
"Mr. Droop, you've got to start right straight off. Mrs. Allen knows 't you've carried off the trunk and she's comin' after us with Si Pray an' a gun."
Just then they heard the loud barking of a dog. He was apparently running rapidly down the lane.
"Sakes alive!" cried Phoebe, in alarm. "Slam to that door, Copernicus Droop! Si has let his dog loose an' he's on your tracks!"
The baying was repeated—now much nearer. Droop clattered frantically down the stairs, and shut the door with a bang. At the next moment a heavy body leaped against it, and a man's voice was heard close at hand.
"Sic um, Touser, sic um! Where is he, boy?"
Up the stairs went Copernicus two steps at a time. He dashed into the anteroom, pale and breathless.
"Lie down on the floor!" he shouted. "Lie down or ye'll get throwed down. I'm agoin' to start her!"
By this time he had opened the engine-room door.
The two women promptly lay flat on their backs on the carpet.
Droop braced himself firmly and had just grasped the starting lever when a cry from Rebecca arrested him.
"Copernicus Droop—hold on!" she cried.
He turned to her, his face full of anxious fear. Rebecca lay on her back with her hands at her sides, but her head was raised stiffly from the floor.
"Copernicus Droop," she said, solemnly, "hev ye brought any rum aboard with ye? 'Cause if ye have I won't——"
She never concluded, for at this moment her head was jerked back sharply against the floor by a tremendous upward leap of the machine.
There was a hissing roar as of a thousand rockets, and even as Rebecca was wondering, half stunned, why she saw so many jumping lights, Si Pray gazed open-mouthed at the ascension of a mysterious dark body apparently aimed at the sky.
The Panchronicon had started.
A CHANGE OF PLAN
It was long after their bed-time and the two sisters were utterly exhausted; but as the mysterious structure within which they lay glided northward between heaven and earth with the speed of a meteor, Rebecca and Phoebe long courted sleep in vain.
The excitement of their past adventures, the unreal wonder of their present situation, the bewildering possibilities and impossibilities of their future plans—all these conspired to banish sleep until long past midnight. It was not until, speeding due north with the unswerving obedience of a magnet, their vessel was sailing far above the waters of the upper Saguenay, that they at length sank to rest.
They were awakened next morning by a knocking upon Rebecca's door.
"It's pretty nigh eight-thirty," Droop cried. "I've got the kettle on the range, but I don't know what to do nex'."
"What! Why! Who! Where! Sakes! what's this?"
Rebecca sat up in bed, unable to place herself.
"It's pretty nigh half-past eight," Copernicus repeated. "Long after breakfast-time. I'm hungry!"
By this time Phoebe was wide awake.
"All right!" she cried. "We'll come in a minute."
Then Rebecca knew where she was—or rather realized that she did not know. But fortunately a duty was awaiting her in the kitchen and this steadied a mind which seemed to her to need some support in the midst of these unwonted happenings.
Phoebe was the first to leave her bedroom. She had dressed with frantic speed. In her haste to get to the windows and see the world from the sky, she had secured her hair very imperfectly, and Droop was favored with a charming display of bright locks, picturesquely disarranged.
"Good-mornin', Cousin Phoebe," he said, with his suavest manner.
"Good-morning, Mr. Droop," Phoebe replied. "Where are we? Is everything all right?"
She made straight for one of the windows the iron shutters of which were now open.
"I wish't you'd call me Cousin Copernicus," Droop remarked.
"Oh—oh! What a beautiful world!"
Phoebe leaned her face close to the glass and gazed spell-bound at the wonderful landscape spread before her.
The whole atmosphere seemed filled with a clear, cold sunlight whose brilliance irradiated the giant sphere of earth so far away.
Directly below and to the right of their course, as far as she could see, there was one vast expanse of dark blue sea, gilded dazzlingly over one portion where the sun's beams were reflected. Far ahead to the north and as far behind them the sea was bordered with the fantastic curves of a faint blue coast dotted and lined with the shadows of many a hill and mountain. It was a map on which she was gazing. Nature's own map—the only perfect chart in the world.
So new—so intensely, almost painfully, beautiful was this scene that Phoebe stood transfixed—fascinated. She did not even think of speaking.
The scene was not so new to Droop—and besides he was a prey to an insistent appetite. His mental energies, therefore, sought expression in speech.
Approaching Phoebe's side, he said:
"Mighty pretty, ain't it?"
She did not reply, so he continued:
"That water right under us is Hudson Strait. The ocean to the right is the Atlantic. Ye can see Hudson's Bay off to the left out o' one o' them windows. I've ben lookin' it up on the map."
He strolled toward the table, as if inviting Phoebe to see his chart which lay there unrolled. She did not follow him.
"Yes," he continued, "that's Hudson Strait, and we're four miles high, an' that's all I'll tell ye till I have my breakfast."
He gazed wistfully at Phoebe, who did not move or speak, but let her eyes wander in awed delight over the wonders thus brought before them.
Just then Rebecca emerged from her room.
"Good-mornin'," she said. "I guess I'm late."
"Good-mornin', Cousin Rebecca; I guess ye are a mite late. Cousin Phoebe won't move—so I'm sayin' we're four miles high an' right over Hudson Strait, an' that's all I'll tell ye till I get my breakfast."
"Goodness me!" exclaimed Rebecca. "Ain't that mos' too high, Mr. Droop?" She hurried to the window and looked out.
"Sakes alive!" she gasped.
She was silent for a moment, awed in her turn by the immensity of the prospect.
"Why—but—it's all water underneath!" she exclaimed at last. "Ef we was to fall now, we'd be drowned!"
"Now don't you be a mite skeert," said Droop, with reassuring politeness. "We've ben scootin' along like this all night an'—an' the fact is, I've got the kettle on—p'raps it's b'iled over."
Rebecca turned from the window at once and made for the kitchen.
"Phoebe," she said, briskly, "you set the table now an' I'll hev breakfast ready in a twinklin'."
Reluctantly Phoebe left the window and Droop soon had the satisfaction of sauntering back and forth between kitchen and dining-table in pleased supervision of the progress of both.
In due time a simple but substantial breakfast was in readiness, and the three travellers were seated around the table partaking of the meal each in his own way.
Droop was business-like, almost enthusiastic, in his voracious hunger. Rebecca ate moderately and without haste, precisely as though seated in the little Peltonville cottage. Phoebe ate but little. She was overcome by the wonders she had seen, realizing for the first time the marvellous situation in which she found herself.
It was not until the table was cleared and the two women were busy with the dishes that conversation was resumed. Droop sat with his chair tilted backward against the kitchen wall enjoying a quiet satisfaction with his lot and a kindly mental attitude toward all men.
He glanced through the kitchen door at the barometer on the wall in the outer room.
"We've climbed near a mile since before breakfast," he remarked.
Rebecca paused before hanging up the soap-shaker.
"Look here, Mr. Droop," she said, anxiously, "we are mos' too high a'ready, I think. S'posin' we was to fall down. Where do you s'pose we'd be?"
"Why, Rebecca," said Phoebe, laughing, "do you suppose five miles is any worse than four? I guess we'd be killed by falling one mile jest as quick as five."
"Quicker!" Droop exclaimed. "Considerable quicker, Cousin Rebecca, fer it would take us a good deal longer to fall five miles than it would one."
"But what ever's the use o' keepin' on a-climbin'?"
"Why, that's the nature of this machine," he replied. "Ye see, it runs on the rocket principle by spurtin' out gases. Ef we want to go up off the ground we squirt out under the machine an' that gives us a h'ist. Then, when we get 'way up high, we spread out a pair o' big wings like and start the propeller at the stern end o' the thing. Now them wings on'y holds us up by bein' inclined a mite in front, and consequence is we're mighty apt to climb a little right 'long."
"Well, but won't we get too high?" suggested Phoebe. "Ain't the air too thin up very high?"
"Of course, we mustn't go too high," Droop conceded, "an' I was just a-thinkin' it wouldn't go amiss to let down a spell."
He rose and started for the engine-room.
"How do you let down?" Phoebe asked, pausing in her work.
"Why, I jest turn the wings horizontal, ye know, an' then we sink very slow till I incline 'em up again."
He disappeared. Phoebe gave the last of the dishes a brief touch of the dish-towel and then ran into the main room to watch the barometer.
She was much interested to observe a gradual but continual decrease in their altitude. She walked to the window but could see no apparent change, save that they had now passed the sea and only the blue land with silver streaks of river and indigo hill shadows was beneath them.
"How fast do you s'pose we're flyin', Mr. Droop?" she asked.
"There's the speed indicator," he said, pointing to one of the dials on the wall. "Ye see it says we're a-hummin' along at about one hundred an' thirty miles an hour."
"My gracious!" cried Phoebe. "What if we was to hit something!"
"Nothin' to hit," said Droop, with a smile. "Ye see, the's no sort o' use goin' any slower, an' besides, this quick travellin' keeps us warm."
"Why, how's that?"
"The sides o' the machine rubbin' on the air," said Droop.
"That's so," Phoebe replied. "That's what heats up meteors so awful hot, ain't it?"
Rebecca came out of the kitchen at this moment.
"I must say ye wasn't particler about gettin' all the pans to rights 'fore ye left the kitchen, Phoebe. Ben makin' the beds?"
"Land, no, Rebecca!" said Phoebe, blushing guiltily.
Rebecca said no more, but her set lips and puckered forehead spoke much of displeasure as she stalked across to the state-rooms.
"Well, I declare to goodness!" she cried, as she opened her door. "Ye hevn't even opened the window to air the rooms!"
Phoebe looked quite miserable at thought of her remissness, but Copernicus came bravely to the rescue.
"The windows can't be opened, Cousin Rebecca," he said. "Ef ye was to open one, 'twould blow yer head's bald as an egg in a minute."
"Yes," said Phoebe, briskly, "I couldn't air the beds an' make 'em because we're going one hundred and thirty odd miles an hour, Rebecca."
"D'you mean to tell me, Copernicus Droop," cried the outraged spinster, "that I've got to go 'thout airin' my bed?"
"No, no," Copernicus said, soothingly. "The's special arrangements to keep ventilation goin'. Jest leave the bed open half the day an' it'll be all aired."
Rebecca looked far from pleased at this.
"I declare, ef I'd known of all these doin's," she muttered.
Unable to remain idle, she set to work "putting things to rights," as she called it, while Phoebe took her book to the west window and was soon lost in certain modern theories concerning the Baconian authorship of Shakespeare's works.
"Is these duds yourn, Mr. Droop?" asked Rebecca, sharply, pointing to a motley collection of goods piled in one corner of the main room.
"Yes," Droop replied, coming quickly to her side. "Them's some of the inventions I'm carryin' along."
He stooped and gathered up a number of boxes and bundles in his arms. Then he stood up and looked about him as though seeking a safe place for their deposit.
"That's all right," said Rebecca. "Ye can put 'em right back, Mr. Droop. I jest wanted to see whether the' was much dust back in there."
Droop replaced his goods with a sigh of relief. One box he retained, however, and, placing it upon the table, proceeded to unpack it.
Rebecca now turned her attention to her own belongings. Lifting one of her precious flower-pots carefully, she looked all about for a more suitable location for her plants.
"Phoebe," she exclaimed at length, "where ever can I set my slips? They ought to be in the sun there by the east window, but it'll dirt up the coverin' of the settle."
Phoebe looked up from her book.
"Why don't ye spread out that newspaper you brought with you?" she said.
Rebecca shook her head.
"No," she replied, "I couldn't do thet. The's a lot o' fine recipes in there—I never could make my sweet pickle as good as thet recipe in the New York paper thet Molly sent me."
Phoebe laid down her book and walked over to her sister's side.
"Oh, the' must be some part of it you can use, Rebecca," she said. "Land sakes!" she continued, laughing. "Why, it's the whole of the New York World for a Sunday—pictures an' all! Here—take this advertisin' piece an' spread it out—so."
She tore off a portion of the voluminous paper and carefully spread it out on one of the eastern settles.
"Whatever did you bring those slips with you for?" she asked.
Rebecca deposited the flower-pots carefully in the sun and slapped her hands across each other to remove the dust on them.
"One o' them is off my best honeysuckle thet come from a slip thet Sam Mellick brought from Japan in 1894. This geranium come off a plant thet was given me by Arabella Slade, 'fore she died in 1896, an' she cut it off'n a geranium thet come from a lot thet Joe Chandler's father raised from slips cut off of some plants down to Boston in the ground that used to belong to our great-grandfather Wilkins 'fore the Revolution."