E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE S. W. F. CLUB
CAROLINE E. JACOBS
Author of Joan of Jupiter Inn, Joan's Jolly Vacation, Patricia, etc.
The Goldsmith Publishing Co. Cleveland, Ohio George W. Jacobs & Company
I PAULINE'S FLAG II THE MAPLES III UNCLE PAUL'S ANSWER IV BEGINNINGS V BEDELIA VI PERSONALLY CONDUCTED VII HILARY'S TURN VIII SNAP-SHOTS IX AT THE MANOR X THE END OF SUMMER
Pauline dropped the napkin she was hemming and, leaning back in her chair, stared soberly down into the rain-swept garden.
Overhead, Patience was having a "clarin' up scrape" in her particular corner of the big garret, to the tune of "There's a Good Time Coming."
Pauline drew a quick breath; probably, there was a good time coming—any number of them—only they were not coming her way; they would go right by on the main road, they always did.
"'There's a good time coming,'" Patience insisted shrilly, "'Help it on! Help it on!'"
Pauline drew another quick breath. She would help them on! If they would none of them stop on their own account, they must be flagged. And—yes, she would do it—right now.
Getting up, she brought her writing-portfolio from the closet, clearing a place for it on the little table before the window. Then her eyes went back to the dreary, rain-soaked garden. How did one begin a letter to an uncle one had never seen; and of whom one meant to ask a great favor?
But at last, after more than one false start, the letter got itself written, after a fashion.
Pauline read it over to herself, a little dissatisfied pucker between her brows:—
Mr. Paul Almy Shaw, New York City, New York.
MY DEAR UNCLE PAUL: First, I should like you to understand that neither father nor mother know that I am writing this letter to you; and that if they did, I think they would forbid it; and I should like you to believe, too, that if it were not for Hilary I should not dream of writing it. You know so little about us, that perhaps you do not remember which of us Hilary is. She comes next to me, and is just thirteen. She hasn't been well for a long time, not since she had to leave school last winter, and the doctor says that what she needs is a thorough change. Mother and I have talked it over and over, but we simply can't manage it. I would try to earn some money, but I haven't a single accomplishment; besides I don't see how I could leave home, and anyway it would take so long, and Hilary needs a change now. And so I am writing to ask you to please help us out a little. I do hope you won't be angry at my asking; and I hope very, very much, that you will answer favorably.
I remain, Very respectfully, PAULINE ALMY SHAW. WINTON, VT., May Sixteenth.
Pauline laughed rather nervously as she slipped her letter into an envelope and addressed it. It wasn't a very big flag, but perhaps it would serve her purpose.
Tucking the letter into her blouse, Pauline ran down-stairs to the sitting-room, where her mother and Hilary were. "I'm going down to the post-office, mother," she said; "any errands?"
"My dear, in this rain?"
"There won't be any mail for us, Paul," Hilary said, glancing listlessly up from the book she was trying to read; "you'll only get all wet and uncomfortable for nothing."
Pauline's gray eyes were dancing; "No," she agreed, "I don't suppose there will be any mail for us—to-day; but I want a walk. It won't hurt me, mother. I love to be out in the rain."
And all the way down the slippery village street the girl's eyes continued to dance with excitement. It was so much to have actually started her ball rolling; and, at the moment, it seemed that Uncle Paul must send it bounding back in the promptest and most delightful of letters. He had never married, and somewhere down at the bottom of his apparently crusty, old heart he must have kept a soft spot for the children of his only brother.
Thus Pauline's imagination ran on, until near the post-office she met her father. The whole family had just finished a tour of the West in Mr. Paul Shaw's private car—of course, he must have a private car, wasn't he a big railroad man?—and Pauline had come back to Winton long enough to gather up her skirts a little more firmly when she saw Mr. Shaw struggling up the hill against the wind.
"Pauline!" he stopped, straightening his tall, scholarly figure. "What brought you out in such a storm?"
With a sudden feeling of uneasiness, Pauline wondered what he would say if she were to explain exactly what it was that had brought her out. With an impulse towards at least a half-confession, she said hurriedly, "I wanted to post a letter I'd just written; I'll be home almost as soon as you are, father."
Then she ran on down the street. All at once she felt her courage weakening; unless she got her letter posted immediately she felt she should end by tearing it up.
When it had slipped from her sight through the narrow slit labeled "LETTERS," she stood a moment, almost wishing it were possible to get it back again.
She went home rather slowly. Should she confess at once, or wait until Uncle Paul's answer came? It should be here inside of a week, surely; and if it were favorable—and, oh, it must be favorable—would not that in itself seem to justify her in what she had done?
On the front piazza, Patience was waiting for her, a look of mischief in her blue eyes. Patience was ten, a red-haired, freckled slip of a girl. She danced about Pauline now. "Why didn't you tell me you were going out so I could've gone, too? And what have you been up to, Paul Shaw? Something! You needn't tell me you haven't."
"I'm not going to tell you anything," Pauline answered, going on into the house. The study door was half open, and when she had taken off her things, Pauline stood a moment a little uncertainly outside it. Then suddenly, much to her small sister's disgust, she went in, closing the door behind her.
Mr. Shaw was leaning back in his big chair at one corner of the fireplace. "Well," he asked, looking up, "did you get your letter in in time, my dear?"
"Oh, it wasn't the time." Pauline sat down on a low bench at the other end of the fireplace. "It was that I wanted to feel that it was really mailed. Did you ever feel that way about a letter, father? And as if, if you didn't hurry and get it in—you wouldn't—mail it?"
Something in her tone made her father glance at her more closely; it was very like the tone in which Patience was apt to make her rather numerous confessions. Then it occurred to him, that, whether by accident or design, she was sitting on the very stool on which Patience usually placed herself at such times, and which had gained thereby the name of "the stool of penitence."
"Yes," he answered, "I have written such letters once or twice in my life."
Pauline stooped to straighten out the hearth rug. "Father," she said abruptly; "I have been writing to Uncle Paul." She drew a sharp breath of relief.
"You have been writing to your Uncle Paul! About what, Pauline?"
And Pauline told him. When she had finished, Mr. Shaw sat for some moments without speaking, his eyes on the fire.
"It didn't seem very—wrong, at the time," Pauline ventured. "I had to do something for Hilary."
"Why did you not consult your mother, or myself, before taking such a step, Pauline?"
"I was afraid—if I did—that you would—forbid it; and I was so anxious to do something. It's nearly a month now since Dr. Brice said Hilary must have a change. We used to have such good times together—Hilary and I—but we never have fun anymore—she doesn't care about anything; and to-day it seemed as if I couldn't bear it any longer, so I wrote. I—I am sorry, if you're displeased with me, father, and yet, if Uncle Paul writes back favorably, I'm afraid I can't help being glad I wrote."
Mr. Shaw rose, lighting the low reading-lamp, standing on the study table. "You are frank enough after the event, at least, Pauline. To be equally so, I am displeased; displeased and exceedingly annoyed. However, we will let the matter rest where it is until you have heard from your uncle, I should advise your saying nothing to your sisters until his reply comes. I am afraid you will find it disappointing."
Pauline flushed. "I never intended telling Hilary anything about it unless I had good news for her; as for Patience—"
Out in the hall again, with the study door closed behind her, Pauline stood a moment choking back a sudden lump in her throat. Would Uncle Paul treat her letter as a mere piece of school-girl impertinence, as father seemed to?
From the sitting-room came an impatient summons. "Paul, will you never come!"
"What is it, Hilary?" Pauline asked, coming to sit at one end of the old sofa.
"That's what I want to know," Hilary answered from the other end. "Impatience says you've been writing all sorts of mysterious letters this afternoon, and that you came home just now looking like—-"
"Well, like what?"
"Like you'd been up to something—and weren't quite sure how the grown-ups were going to take it," Patience explained from the rug before the fire.
"How do you know I have been writing—anything?" Pauline asked.
"There, you see!" Patience turned to Hilary, "she doesn't deny it!"
"I'm not taking the trouble to deny or confirm little girl nonsense," Pauline declared. "But what makes you think I've been writing letters?"
"Oh, 'by the pricking of my thumbs'!" Patience rolled over, and resting her sharp little chin in her hands, stared up at her sisters from under her mop of short red curls. "Pen! Ink! Paper! And such a lot of torn-up scraps! It's really very simple!"
But Pauline was on her way to the dining-room. "Terribly convincing, isn't it?" Her tone should have squelched Patience, but it didn't.
"You can't fool me!" that young person retorted. "I know you've been up to something! And I'm pretty sure father doesn't approve, from the way you waited out there in the hall just now."
Pauline did not answer; she was busy laying the cloth for supper. "Anything up, Paul?" Hilary urged, following her sister out to the dining-room.
"The barometer—a very little; I shouldn't wonder if we had a clear day to-morrow."
"You are as provoking as Impatience! But I needn't have asked; nothing worth while ever does happen to us."
"You know perfectly well, Pauline Almy Shaw!" Patience proclaimed, from the curtained archway between the rooms. "You know perfectly well, that the ev'dence against you is most in-crim-i-na-ting!" Patience delighted in big words.
"Hilary," Pauline broke in, "I forgot to tell you, I met Mrs. Dane this morning; she wants us to get up a social—'If the young ladies at the parsonage will,' and so forth."
"I hate socials! Besides, there aren't any 'young ladies' at the parsonage; or, at any rate, only one. I shan't have to be a young lady for two years yet."
"Most in-crim-i-na-ting!" Patience repeated insistently; "you wrote."
Pauline turned abruptly and going into the pantry began taking down the cups and saucers for the table. As soon as Hilary had gone back to the sitting-room, she called softly, "Patty, O Patty!"
Patience grinned wickedly; she was seldom called Patty, least of all by Pauline. "Well?" she answered.
"Come here—please," and when Patience was safely inside the pantry, Pauline shut the door gently—"Now see here, Impatience—"
"That isn't what you called me just now!"
"Patty then—Listen, suppose—suppose I have been—trying to do something to—to help Hilary to get well; can't you see that I wouldn't want her to know, until I was sure, really sure, it was going to come to something?"
Patience gave a little jump of excitement. "How jolly! But who have you been writing to—about it, Paul!"
"I haven't said that—"
"See here, Paul, I'll play fair, if you do; but if you go trying to act any 'grown-up sister' business I'll—"
And Pauline capitulated. "I can't tell you about it yet, Patty; father said not to. I want you to promise not to ask questions, or say anything about it, before Hilary. We don't want her to get all worked up, thinking something nice is going to happen, and then maybe have her disappointed."
"Will it be nice—very nice?"
"I hope so."
"And will I be in it?"
"I don't know. I don't know what it'll be, or when it'll be."
"Oh, dear! I wish you did. I can't think who it is you wrote to, Paul. And why didn't father like your doing it?"
"I haven't said that he—"
"Paul, you're very tiresome. Didn't he know you were going to do it?"
Pauline gathered up her cups and saucers without answering.
"Then he didn't," Patience observed. "Does mother know about it?"
"I mean to tell her as soon as I get a good chance," Pauline said impatiently, going back to the dining-room.
When she returned a few moments later, she found Patience still in the pantry, sitting thoughtfully on the old, blue sugar bucket. "I know," Patience announced triumphantly. "You've been writing to Uncle Paul!"
Pauline gasped and fled to the kitchen; there were times when flight was the better part of discretion, in dealing with the youngest member of the Shaw family.
On the whole, Patience behaved very well that evening, only, on going to bid her father good-night, did she ask anxiously, how long it took to send a letter to New York and get an answer.
"That depends considerably upon the promptness with which the party written to answers the letter," Mr. Shaw told her.
"A week?" Patience questioned.
"Probably—if not longer."
"Have you been writing a letter to someone in New York?" her father asked.
"No, indeed," the child said gravely, "but," she looked up, answering his glance. "Paul didn't tell me, father; I—guessed. Uncle Paul does live in New York, doesn't he?"
"Yes," Mr. Shaw answered, almost sharply. "Now run to bed, my dear."
But when the stairs were reached. Patience most certainly did not run. "I think people are very queer," she said to herself, "they seem to think ten years isn't a bit more grown-up than six or seven."
"Mummy," she asked, when later her mother came to take away her light, "father and Uncle Paul are brethren, aren't they?"
"My dear! What put that into your head?"
"Then why don't they 'dwell together in unity'?"
"Patience!" Mrs. Shaw stared down at the sharp inquisitive little face.
"Why don't they?" Patience persisted. If persistency be a virtue, Patience was to be highly commended.
"My dear, who has said that they do not?"
Patience shrugged; as if things had always to be said. "But, mummy—"
"Go to sleep now, dear." Mrs. Shaw bent to kiss her good-night.
"All the same," Patience confided to the darkness, "I know they don't." She gave a little shiver of delight—something very mysterious was afoot evidently.
Out on the landing, Mrs. Shaw found Pauline waiting for her. "Come into your room, mother, please, I've started up the fire; I want to tell you something."
"I thought as much," her mother answered. She sat down in the big armchair and Pauline drew up before the fire. "I've been expecting it all the evening."
Pauline dropped down on the floor, her head against her mother's knee. "This family is dreadfully keen-sighted. Mother dear, please don't be angry—" and Pauline made confession.
When she had finished, Mrs. Shaw sat for some moments, as her husband had done, her eyes on the fire. "You told him that we could not manage it, Pauline?" she said at last. "My dear, how could you!"
"But, mother dear, I was—desperate; something has to be done for—Hilary, and I had to do it!"
"Do you suppose your father and I do not realize that quite as well as you do, Pauline?"
"You and I have talked it over and over, and father never says—anything."
"Not to you, perhaps; but he is giving the matter very careful consideration, and later he hopes—"
"Mother dear, that is so indefinite!" Pauline broke in. "And I can't see—Father is Uncle Paul's only brother! If I were rich, and Hilary were not and needed things, I would want her to let me know."
"It is possible, that under certain conditions, Hilary would not wish you to know." Mrs. Shaw hesitated, then she said slowly, "You know, Pauline, that your uncle is much older than your father; so much older, that he seemed to stand—when your father was a boy—more in the light of a father to him, than an older brother. He was much opposed to your father's going into the ministry, he wanted him to go into business with him. He is a strong-willed man, and does not easily relinquish any plan of his own making. It went hard with him, when your father refused to yield; later, when your father received the call to this parish, your uncle quite as strongly opposed his accepting it—burying himself alive in a little out-of-the-way hole, he called it. It came to the point, finally, on your uncle's insisting on his making it a choice between himself and Winton. He refused to ever come near the place and the two or three letters your father wrote at first remained unanswered. The breach between them has been one of the hardest trials your father has had to bear."
"Oh," Pauline cried miserably, "what a horrid interfering thing father must think me! Rushing in where I had no right to! I wish I'd known—I just thought—you see, father speaks of Uncle Paul now and then—that maybe they'd only—grown apart—and that if Uncle Paul knew! But perhaps my letter will get lost. It would serve me right; and yet, if it does, I'm afraid I can't help feeling somewhat disappointed—on Hilary's account."
Her mother smiled. "We can only wait and see. I would rather you said nothing of what I have been telling you to either Hilary or Patience, Pauline."
"I won't, Mother Shaw. It seems I have a lot of secrets from Hilary. And I won't write any more such letters without consulting you or father, you can depend on that."
Mr. Paul Shaw's answer did not come within the allotted week. It was the longest week Pauline had ever known; and when the second went by and still no word from her uncle, the waiting and uncertainty became very hard to bear, all the harder, that her usual confidant, Hilary, must not be allowed to suspect anything.
The weather had turned suddenly warm, and Hilary's listlessness had increased proportionately, which probably accounted for the dying out of what little interest she had felt at first in Patience's "mysterious letter."
Patience, herself, was doing her best to play fair; fortunately, she was in school the greater part of the day, else the strain upon her powers of self-control might have proved too heavy.
"Mother," Pauline said one evening, lingering in her mother's room, after Hilary had gone to bed, "I don't believe Uncle Paul means answering at all. I wish I'd never asked him to do anything."
"So do I, Pauline. Still it is rather early yet for you to give up hope. It's hard waiting, I know, dear, but that is something we all have to learn to do, sooner or later."
"I don't think 'no news is good news,'" Pauline said; then she brightened. "Oh, Mother Shaw! Suppose the letter is on the way now, and that Hilary is to have a sea voyage! You'd have to go, too."
"Pauline, Pauline, not so fast! Listen, dear, we might send Hilary out to The Maples for a week or two. Mrs. Boyd would be delighted to have her; and it wouldn't be too far away, in case we should be getting her ready for that—sea voyage."
"I don't believe she'd care to go; it's quieter than here at home."
"But it would be a change. I believe I'll suggest it to her in the morning."
But when Mrs. Shaw did suggest it the next morning, Hilary was quite of Pauline's opinion. "I shouldn't like it a bit, mother! It would be worse than home—duller, I mean; and Mrs. Boyd would fuss over me so," she said impatiently.
"You used to like going there, Hilary."
"Mother, you can't want me to go."
"I think it might do you good, Hilary. I should like you to try it."
"Please, mother, I don't see the use of bothering with little half-way things."
"I do, Hilary, when they are the only ones within reach."
The girl moved restlessly, settling her hammock cushions; then she lay looking out over the sunny garden with discontented eyes.
It was a large old-fashioned garden, separated on the further side by a low hedge from the old ivy-covered church. On the back steps of the church, Sextoness Jane was shaking out her duster. She was old and gray and insignificant looking; her duties as sexton, in which she had succeeded her father, were her great delight. The will with which she sang and worked now seemed to have in it something of reproach for the girl stretched out idly in the hammock. Nothing more than half-way things, and not too many of those, had ever come Sextoness Jane's way. Yet she was singing now over her work.
Hilary moved impatiently, turning her back on the garden and the bent old figure moving about in the church beyond; but, somehow, she couldn't turn her back on what that bent old figure had suddenly come to stand for.
Fifteen minutes later, she sat up, pushing herself slowly back and forth. "I wish Jane had chosen any other morning to clean the church in, Mother Shaw!" she protested with spirit.
Her mother looked up from her mending. "Why, dear? It is her regular day."
"Couldn't she do it, I wonder, on an irregular day! Anyhow, if she had, I shouldn't have to go to The Maples this afternoon. Must I take a trunk, mother?"
"Hilary! But what has Jane to do with your going?"
"Pretty nearly everything, I reckon. Must I, mother?"
"No, indeed, dear; and you are not to go at all, unless you can do it willingly."
"Oh, I'm fairly resigned; don't press me too hard, Mother Shaw. I think I'll go tell Paul now."
"Well," Pauline said, "I'm glad you've decided to go, Hilary. I—that is, maybe it won't be for very long."
That afternoon Pauline drove Hilary out to the big, busy, pleasant farm, called The Maples.
As they jogged slowly down the one principal street of the sleepy, old town, Pauline tried to imagine that presently they would turn off down the by-road, leading to the station. Through the still air came the sound of the afternoon train, panting and puffing to be off with as much importance as the big train, which later, it would connect with down at the junction.
"Paul," Hilary asked suddenly, "what are you thinking about?"
Pauline slapped the reins lightly across old Fanny's plump sides. "Oh, different things—traveling for one." Suppose Uncle Paul's letter should come in this afternoon's mail! That she would find it waiting for her when she got home!
"So was I," Hilary said. "I was wishing that you and I were going off on that train, Paul."
"Where to?" Paul asked. After all, it couldn't do any harm—Hilary would think it one of their "pretend" talks, and it would he nice to have some definite basis to build on later.
"Anywhere," Hilary answered. "I would like to go to the seashore somewhere; but most anywhere, where there were people and interesting things to do and see, would do."
"Yes," Pauline agreed.
"There's Josie," Hilary said, and her sister drew rein, as a girl came to the edge of the walk to speak to them.
"Going away?" she asked, catching sight of the valise.
"Only out to the Boyds'," Pauline told her, "to leave Hilary."
Josie shifted the strap of school-books under her arm impatiently. "'Only!'" she repeated. "Well, I just wish I was going, too; it's a deal pleasanter out there, than in a stuffy school room these days."
"It's stupid—and you both know it," Hilary protested. She glanced enviously at Josie's strap of hooks. "And when school closes, you'll be through for good, Josie Brice. We shan't finish together, after all, now."
"Oh, I'm not through yet," Josie assured her. "Father'll be going out past The Maples Saturday morning, I'll get him to take me along."
Hilary brightened. "Don't forget," she urged, and as she and Pauline drove on, she added, "I suppose I can stick it out for a week."
"Well, I should think as much. Will you go on, Fanny!" Pauline slapped the dignified, complacent Fanny with rather more severity than before. "She's one great mass of laziness," she declared. "Father's spoiled her a great deal more than he ever has any of us."
It was a three-mile drive from the village to The Maples, through pleasant winding roads, hardly deserving of a more important title than lane. Now and then, from the top of a low hill, they caught a glimpse of the great lake beyond, shining in the afternoon sunlight, a little ruffled by the light breeze sweeping down to it from the mountains bordering it on the further side.
Hilary leaned back in the wide shaded gig; she looked tired, and yet the new touch of color in her cheeks was not altogether due to weariness. "The ride's done you good," Pauline said.
"I wonder what there'll be for supper," Hilary remarked. "You'll stay, Paul?"
"If you promise to eat a good one." It was comforting to have Hilary actually wondering what they would have.
They had reached the broad avenue of maples leading from the road up to the house. It was a long, low, weather-stained house, breathing an unmistakable air of generous and warm-hearted hospitality. Pauline never came to it, without a sense of pity for the kindly elderly couple, who were so fond of young folks, and who had none of their own.
Mrs. Boyd had seen them coming, and she came out to meet them, as they turned into the dooryard. And an old dog, sunning himself on the doorstep, rose with a slow wag of welcome.
"Mother's sent you something she was sure you would like to have," Pauline said. "Please, will you take in a visitor for a few days?" she added, laying a hand on Hilary's.
"You've brought Hilary out to stop?" Mrs. Boyd cried delightedly. "Now I call that mighty good of your mother. You come right 'long in, both of you: you're sure you can't stop, too, Pauline?"
"Only to supper, thank you."
Mrs. Boyd had the big valise out from under the seat by now. "Come right 'long in," she repeated. "You're tired, aren't you, Hilary? But a good night's rest'll set you up wonderful. Take her into the spare room, Pauline. Dear me, I must have felt you was coming, seeing that I aired it out beautiful only this morning. I'll go call Mr. Boyd to take Fanny to the barn."
"Isn't she the dearest thing!" Pauline declared, as she and Hilary went indoors.
The spare room was back of the parlor, a large comfortable room, with broad windows facing south and west, and a small vine-covered porch all its own on the south side of the room.
Pauline pulled forward a great chintz-cushioned rocker, putting her sister into it, and opened the porch door. Beyond lay a wide, sloping meadow and beyond the meadow, the lake sparkled and rippled in the sunshine.
"If you're not contented here, Hilary Shaw!" Pauline said, standing in the low doorway. "Suppose you pretend you've never been here before! I reckon you'd travel a long ways to find a nicer place to stay in."
"I shouldn't doubt it if you were going to stay with me, Paul; I know I'm going to be homesick."
Pauline stretched out a hand to Captain, the old dog, who had come around to pay his compliments. Captain liked visitors—when he was convinced that they really were visitors, not peddlers, nor agents, quite as well as his master and mistress did. "You'd be homesick enough, if you really were off on your travels—you'd better get used to it. Hadn't she, Captain?" Pauline went to unpack the valise, opening the drawers of the old-fashioned mahogany bureau with a little breath of pleasure. "Lavender! Hilary."
Hilary smiled, catching some of her sister's enthusiasm. She leaned back among her cushions, her eyes on the stretch of shining water at the far end of the pasture. "I wish you were going to be here, Paul, so that we could go rowing. I wonder if I'll ever feel as if I could row again, myself."
"Of course you will, and a great deal sooner than you think." Pauline hung Hilary's dressing-gown across the foot of the high double bed. "Now I think you're all settled, ma'am, and I hope to your satisfaction. Isn't it a veritable 'chamber of peace,' Hilary?"
Through the open door and windows came the distant tinkle of a cow bell, and other farm sounds. There came, too, the scent of the early May pinks growing in the borders of Mrs. Boyd's old-fashioned flower beds. Already the peace and quiet of the house, the homely comfort, had done Hilary good; the thought of the long simple days to come, were not so depressing as they had seemed when thought of that morning.
"Bless me, I'd forgotten, but I've a bit of news for you," Mrs. Boyd said, coming in, a moment or so later; "the manor's taken for the summer."
"Really?" Pauline cried, "why it's been empty for ever and ever so long."
The manor was an old rambling stone house, standing a little back from a bit of sandy beach, that jutted out into the lake about a mile from The Maples. It was a pleasant place, with a tiny grove of its own, and good-sized garden, which, year after year, in spite of neglect, was bright with old-fashioned hardy annuals planted long ago, when the manor had been something more than an old neglected house, at the mercy of a chance tenant.
"Just a father and daughter. They've got old Betsy Todd to look after them," Mrs. Boyd went on. "The girl's about your age, Hilary. You wasn't looking to find company of that sort so near, was you?"
Hilary looked interested. "No," she answered. "But, after all, the manor's a mile away."
"Oh, she's back and forth every day—for milk, or one thing or another; she's terribly interested in the farm; father's taken a great notion to her. She'll be over after supper, you'll see; and then I'll make you acquainted with her."
"Are they city people?" Pauline asked.
"From New York!" Mrs. Boyd told her proudly. From her air one would have supposed she had planned the whole affair expressly for Hilary's benefit. "Their name's Dayre."
"What is the girl's first name?" Pauline questioned.
"Shirley; it's a queer name for a girl, to my thinking."
"Is she pretty?" Pauline went on.
"Not according to my notions; father says she is. She's thin and dark, and I never did see such a mane of hair—and it ain't always too tidy, neither—but she has got nice eyes and a nice friendly way of talking. Looks to me, like she hasn't been brought up by a woman."
"She sounds—interesting," Pauline said, and when Mrs. Boyd had left them, to make a few changes in her supper arrangements, Pauline turned eagerly to Hilary. "You're in luck, Hilary Shaw! The newest kind of new people; even if it isn't a new place!"
"How do you know they'll, or rather, she'll, want to know me?" Hilary asked, with one of those sudden changes of mood an invalid often shows, "or I her? We haven't seen her yet. Paul, do you suppose Mrs. Boyd would mind letting me have supper in here?"
"Oh, Hilary, she's laid the table in the living-room! I heard her doing it. She'd be ever so disappointed."
"Well," Hilary said, "come on then."
Out in the living-room, they found Mr. Boyd waiting for them, and so heartily glad to see them, that Hilary's momentary impatience vanished. To Pauline's delight, she really brought quite an appetite to her supper.
"You should've come out here long ago, Hilary," Mr. Boyd told her, and he insisted on her having a second helping of the creamed toast, prepared especially in her honor.
Before supper was over. Captain's deep-toned bark proclaimed a newcomer, or newcomers, seeing that it was answered immediately by a medley of shrill barks, in the midst of which a girl's voice sounded authoritively—"Quiet, Phil! Pat, I'm ashamed of you! Pudgey, if you're not good instantly, you shall stay at home to-morrow night!"
A moment later, the owner of the voice appeared at the porch door, "May I come in, Mrs. Boyd?" she asked.
"Come right in, Miss Shirley. I've a couple of young friends here, I want you should get acquainted with," Mrs. Boyd cried.
"You ain't had your supper yet, have you, Miss Shirley?" Mr. Boyd asked.
"Father and I had tea out on the lake," Shirley answered, "but I'm hungry enough again by now, for a slice of Mrs. Boyd's bread and butter."
And presently, she was seated at the table, chatting away with Paul and Hilary, as if they were old acquaintances, asking Mr. Boyd various questions about farm matters and answering Mrs. Boyd's questions regarding Betsy Todd and her doings, with the most delightful air of good comradeship imaginable.
"Oh, me!" Pauline pushed hack her chair regretfully, "I simply must go, it'll be dark before I get home, as it is."
"I reckon it will, deary," Mrs. Boyd agreed, "so I won't urge you to stay longer. Father, you just whistle to Colin to bring Fanny 'round."
Hilary followed her sister into the bedroom. "You'll be over soon, Paul?"
Pauline, putting on her hat before the glass, turned quickly. "As soon as I can. Hilary, don't you like her?"
Hilary balanced herself on the arm of the big, old-fashioned rocker. "I think so. Anyway, I love to watch her talk; she talks all over her face."
They went out to the gig, where Mr. and Mrs. Boyd and Shirley were standing. Shirley was feeding Fanny with handfuls of fresh grass. "Isn't she a fat old dear!" she said.
"She's a fat old poke!" Pauline returned. "Mayn't I give you a lift? I can go 'round by the manor road 's well as not."
Shirley accepted readily, settling herself in the gig, and balancing her pail of milk on her knee carefully.
"Good-by," Pauline called. "Mind, you're to be ever and ever so much better, next time I come, Hilary."
"Your sister has been sick?" Shirley asked, her voice full of sympathetic interest.
"Not sick—exactly; just run down and listless."
Shirley leaned a little forward, drawing in long breaths of the clear evening air. "I don't see how anyone can ever get run down—here, in this air; I'm hardly indoors at all. Father and I have our meals out on the porch. You ought to have seen Betsy Todd's face, the first time I proposed it. 'Ain't the dining-room to your liking, miss?'" she asked.
"Betsy Todd's a queer old thing," Pauline commented. "Father has the worst time, getting her to come to church."
"We were there last Sunday," Shirley said. "I'm afraid we were rather late; it's a pretty old church, isn't it? I suppose you live in that square white house next to it?"
"Yes," Pauline answered. "Father came to Winton just after he was married, so we girls have never lived anywhere else nor been anywhere else—that counted. Any really big city, I mean. We're dreadfully tired of Winton—Hilary, especially."
"It's a mighty pretty place."
"I suppose so." Pauline slapped old Fanny impatiently. "Will you go on!"
Fanny was making forward most reluctantly; the Boyd barn had been very much to her liking. Now, as the three dogs made a swift rush at her leaping and barking around her, she gave a snort of disgust, quickening her pace involuntarily.
"Don't call them off, please!" Pauline begged Shirley. "She isn't in the least scared, and it's perfectly refreshing to find that she can move."
"All the same, discipline must be maintained," Shirley insisted; and at her command the dogs fell behind.
"Have you been here long?" Pauline asked.
"About two weeks. We were going further up the lake—just on a sketching trip,—and we saw this house from the deck of the boat; it looked so delightful, and so deserted and lonely, that we came back from the next landing to see about it. We took it at once and sent for a lot of traps from the studio at home, they aren't here yet."
Pauline looked her interest. It seemed a very odd, attractive way of doing things, no long tiresome plannings of ways and means beforehand. Suppose—when Uncle Paul's letter came—they could set off in such fashion, with no definite point in view, and stop wherever they felt like it.
"I can't think," Shirley went on, "how such a charming old place came to be standing idle."
"Isn't it rather—run down?"
"Not enough to matter—really. I want father to buy it, and do what is needed to it, without making it all new and snug looking. The sunsets from that front lawn are gorgeous, don't you think so?"
"Yes," Pauline agreed, "I haven't been over there in two years. We used to have picnics near there."
"I hope you will again, this summer, and invite father and me. We adore picnics; we've had several since we came—he and I and the dogs. The dogs do love picnics so, too."
Pauline had given up wanting to hurry Fanny; what a lot she would have to tell her mother when she got home.
She was sorry when a turn in the road brought them within sight of the old manor house. "There's father!" Shirley said, nodding to a figure coming towards them across a field. The dogs were off to meet him directly, with shrill barks of pleasure.
"May I get down here, please?" Shirley asked. "Thank you very much for the lift; and I am so glad to have met you and your sister, Miss Shaw. You'll both come and see me soon, won't you?"
"We'd love to," Pauline answered heartily; "'cross lots, it's not so very far over here from the parsonage, and," she hesitated, "you—you'll be seeing Hilary quite often, while she's at The Maples, perhaps?"
"I hope so. Father's on the lookout for a horse and rig for me, and then she and I can have some drives together. She will know where to find the prettiest roads."
"Oh, she would enjoy that," Pauline said eagerly, and as she drove on, she turned more than once to glance back at the tall, slender figure crossing the field. Shirley seemed to walk as if the mere act of walking were in itself a pleasure. Pauline thought she had never before known anyone who appeared so alive from head to foot.
"Go 'long, Fanny!" she commanded; she was in a hurry to get home now, with her burden of news. It seemed to her as if she had been away a long while, so much had happened in the meantime.
At the parsonage gate, Pauline found Patience waiting for her. "You have taken your time, Paul Shaw!" the child said, climbing in beside her sister.
"Fanny's time, you mean!"
"It hasn't come yet!" Patience said protestingly. "I went for the mail myself this afternoon, so I know!"
"Oh, well, perhaps it will to-morrow," Pauline answered, with so little of real concern in her voice, that Patience wondered. "Suppose you take Fanny on to the barn. Mother's home, isn't she?"
Patience glanced at her sharply. "You've got something—particular—to tell mother! O Paul, please wait 'til I come. Is it about—"
"You're getting to look more like an interrogation point every day, Impatience!" Pauline told her, getting down from the gig.
Patience sniffed. "If nobody ever asked questions, nobody'd ever know anything!" she declared.
"Is mother home?" Pauline asked again.
"Who's asking things now!" Patience drew the reins up tightly and bouncing up and down on the carriage seat, called sharply—"Hi yi! Hi yi!"
It was the one method that never failed to rouse Fanny's indignation, producing, for the moment, the desired effect; still, as Pauline said, it was hardly a proceeding that Hilary or she could adopt, or, least of all, their father.
As she trotted briskly off to the barn now, the very tilt of Fanny's ears expressed injured dignity. Dignity was Fanny's strong point; that, and the ability to cover less ground in an afternoon than any other horse in Winton. The small human being at the other end of those taut reins might have known she would have needed no urging barnwards.
"Maybe you don't like it," Patience observed, "but that makes no difference—'s long's it's for your good. You're a very unchristiany horse, Fanny Shaw. And I'll 'hi yi' you every time I get a chance; so now go on."
However Patience was indoors in time to hear all but the very beginning of Pauline's story of her afternoon's experience. "I told you," she broke in, "that I saw a nice girl at church last Sunday—in Mrs. Dobson's pew; and Mrs. Dobson kept looking at her out of the corner of her eyes all the tune, 'stead of paying attention to what father was saying; and Miranda says, ten to one. Sally Dobson comes out in—"
"That will do, Patience," her mother said, "if you are going to interrupt in this fashion, you must run away."
Patience subsided reluctantly, her blue eyes most expressive.
"Isn't it nice for Hilary, mother? Now she'll be contented to stay a week or two, don't you think?" Pauline said.
"I hope so, dear. Yes, it is very nice."
"She was looking better already, mother; brighter, you know."
"Mummy, is asking a perfectly necessary question 'interrupting'?'"
"Perhaps not, dear, if there is only one," smiled Mrs. Shaw.
"Mayn't I, please, go with Paul and Hilary when they go to call on that girl?"
"On whom, Patience?"
Patience wriggled impatiently; grown people were certainly very trying at times. "On Paul's and Hilary's new friend, mummy."
"Not the first time, Patience; possibly later—"
Patience shrugged. "By and by," she observed, addressing the room at large, "when Paul and Hilary are married, I'll be Miss Shaw! And then—" the thought appeared to give her considerable comfort.
"And maybe, Towser," she confided later, as the two sat together on the side porch, "maybe—some day—you and I'll go to call on them on our own account. I'm not sure it isn't your duty to call on those dogs—you lived here first, and I can't see why it isn't mine—to call on that girl. Father says, we should always hasten to welcome the stranger; and they sound dreadfully interesting."
Towser blinked a sleepy acquiescence. In spite of his years, he still followed blindly where Patience led, though the consequences were frequently disastrous.
It was the next afternoon that Pauline, reading in the garden, heard an eager little voice calling excitedly, "Paul, where are you! It's come! It's come! I brought it up from the office myself!"
Pauline sprang up. "Here I am, Patience! Hurry!"
"Well, I like that!" Patience said, coming across the lawn. "Hurry! Haven't I run every inch of the way home!" She waved the letter above her head—"'Miss Pauline A. Shaw!' It's type-written! O Paul, aren't you going to read it out here!"
For Pauline, catching the letter from her, had run into the house, crying—"Mother! O Mother Shaw!"
UNCLE PAUL'S ANSWER
"Mother! O mother, where are you!" Pauline cried, and on Mrs. Shaw's answering from her own room, she ran on up-stairs. "O Mother Shaw! It's come at last!" she announced breathlessly.
"So I thought—when I heard Patience calling just now. Pauline, dear, try not to be too disappointed if—"
"You open it, mother—please! Now it's really come, I'm—afraid to." Pauline held out her letter.
"No, dear, it is addressed to you," Mrs. Shaw answered quietly.
And Pauline, a good deal sobered by the gravity with which her mother had received the news, sat down on the wide window seat, near her mother's chair, tearing open the envelope. As she spread out the heavy businesslike sheet of paper within, a small folded enclosure fell from it into her lap.
"Oh, mother!" Pauline caught up the narrow blue slip. She had never received a check from anyone before. "Mother! listen!" and she read aloud, "'Pay to the order of Miss Pauline A. Shaw, the sum of twenty-five dollars.'"
Twenty-five dollars! One ought to be able to do a good deal with twenty-five dollars!
"Goodness me!" Patience exclaimed. She had followed her sister up-stairs, after a discreet interval, curling herself up unobtrusively in a big chair just inside the doorway. "Can you do what you like with it, Paul?"
But Pauline was bending over the letter, a bright spot of color on each cheek. Presently, she handed it to her mother. "I wish—I'd never written to him! Read it, mother!"
And Mrs. Shaw read, as follows—
NEW YORK CITY, May 31, 19—.
Miss Pauline A. Shaw, Winton, Vt.
MY DEAR NIECE: Yours of May 16th to hand. I am sorry to learn that your sister Hilary appears to be in such poor health at present. Such being the case, however, it would seem to me that home was the best place for her. I do not at all approve of this modern fashion of running about the country, on any and every pretext. Also, if I remember correctly, your father has frequently described Winton to me as a place of great natural charms, and peculiarly adapted to those suffering from so-called nervous disorders.
Altogether, I do not feel inclined to comply with your request to make it possible for your sister to leave home, in search of change and recreation. Instead, beginning with this letter, I will forward you each month during the summer, the sum of twenty-five dollars, to be used in procuring for your sisters and yourself—I understand, there is a third child—such simple and healthful diversions as your parents may approve, the only conditions I make, being, that at no time shall any of your pleasure trips take you further than ten miles from home, and that you keep me informed, from time to time, how this plan of mine is succeeding.
Trusting this may prove satisfactory,
Very respectfully, PAUL A. SHAW.
"What do you think, mother?" Pauline asked, as Mrs. Shaw finished reading. "Isn't it a very—queer sort of letter?"
"It is an extremely characteristic one, dear."
"I think," Patience could contain herself no longer, "that you are the inconsideratest persons! You know I'm perfectly wild to know what's in that letter!"
"Run away now, Patience," her mother said. "You shall hear about it later," and when Patience had obeyed—not very willingly, Mrs. Shaw turned again to Pauline. "We must show this to your father, before making any plans in regard to it, dear."
"He's coming now. You show it to him, please, mother."
When her mother had gone down-stairs, Pauline still sat there in the window seat, looking soberly out across the lawn to the village street, with its double rows of tall, old trees. So her flag had served little purpose after all! That change for Hilary was still as uncertain, as much a vague part of the future, as it had ever been.
It seemed to the girl, at the moment, as if she fairly hated Winton. As though Hilary and she did not already know every stick and stone in it, had not long ago exhausted all its possibilities!
New people might think it "quaint" and "pretty" but they had not lived here all their lives. And, besides, she had expressly told Uncle Paul that the doctor had said that Hilary needed a change.
She was still brooding over the downfall of her hopes, when her mother called to her from the garden. Pauline went down, feeling that it mattered very little what her father's decision had been—it could make so little difference to them, either way.
Mrs. Shaw was on the bench under the old elm, that stood midway between parsonage and church. She had been rereading Uncle Paul's letter, and to Pauline's wonder, there was something like a smile of amusement in her eyes.
"Well, mother?" the girl asked.
"Well, dear, your father and I have talked the matter over, and we have decided to allow you to accept your uncle's offer."
"But that—hateful condition! How is Hilary to get a chance—here in Winton?"
"Who was it that I heard saying, only this morning, Pauline, that even if Uncle Paul didn't agree, she really believed we might manage to have a very pleasant summer here at home?"
"I know—but still, now that we know definitely—"
"We can go to work definitely to do even better."
"But how, mother!"
"That is what we must think over. Suppose you put your wits to work right now. I must go down to Jane's for a few moments. After all, Pauline, those promised twenty-fives can be used very pleasantly—even in Winton."
"But it will still be Winton."
"Winton may develop some unexplored corners, some new outlooks."
Pauline looked rather doubtful; then, catching sight of a small dejected-looking little figure in the swing, under the big cherry-tree at the foot of the lawn, she asked, "I suppose I may tell Patience now, mother? She really has been very good all this time of waiting."
"She certainly has. Only, not too many details, Pauline. Patience is of such a confiding disposition."
"Patience," Pauline called, "suppose we go see if there aren't some strawberries ripe?"
Patience ran off for a basket. Strawberries! As if she didn't know they were only a pretext. Grown people were assuredly very queer—but sometimes, it was necessary to humor, their little whims and ways.
"I don't believe they are ripe yet," she said, skipping along beside her sister. "O Paul, is it—nice?"
"Mother thinks so!"
"Maybe I will—after a while. Hilary isn't to go away."
"Is that what you wrote and asked Uncle Paul? And didn't you ask for us all to go?"
"Certainly not—we're not sick," said Pauline, laughing.
"Miranda says what Hilary needs is a good herb tonic!"
"Miranda doesn't know everything."
"What is Uncle Paul going to do then?"
"Send some money every month—to have good times with at home."
"One of those blue paper things?"
"I suppose so," Pauline laughed.
"And you don't call that nice! Well of all the ungratefullest girls! Is it for us all to have good times with? Or just Hilary?"
"All of us. Of course, Hilary must come first."
Patience fairly jumped up and down with excitement. "When will they begin, and what will they be like? O Paul, just think of the good times we've had without any money 't all! Aren't we the luckiest girls!"
They had reached the strawberry-bed and Patience dropped down in the grass beside it, her hands clasped around her knees. "Good times in Winton will be a lot better than good times anywhere else. Winton's such a nice sociable place."
Pauline settled herself on the top rail of the fence bordering the garden at the back. Patience's enthusiasm was infectious. "What sort of good times do you mean?" she asked.
"We have such a lot of picnics—year after year!"
"A nice picnic is always sort of new. Miranda does put up such beautiful lunches. O Paul, couldn't we afford chocolate layer cake every time, now?"
"You goosey!" Pauline laughed again heartily.
"And maybe there'll be an excursion somewhere's, and by'n'by there'll be the town fair. Paul, there's a ripe berry! And another and—"
"See here, hold on, Impatience!" Pauline protested, as the berries disappeared, one after another, down Patience's small throat. "Perhaps, if you stop eating them all, we can get enough for mother's and father's supper."
"Maybe they went and hurried to get ripe for to-night, so we could celebrate," Patience suggested. "Paul, mayn't I go with you next time you go over to The Maples?"
"We'll see what mother says."
"I hate 'we'll see's'!" Patience declared, reaching so far over after a particularly tempting berry, that she lost her balance, and fell face down among them.
"Oh, dear!" she sighed, as her sister came to her assistance, "something always seems to happen clean-apron afternoon! Paul, wouldn't it be a 'good time,' if Miranda would agree not to scold 'bout perfectly unavoidable accidents once this whole summer?"
"Who's to do the deciding as to the unavoidableness?" Pauline asked. "Come on, Patience, we've got about all the ripe ones, and it must be time for you to lay the supper-table."
"Not laying supper-tables would be another good time," Patience answered. "We did get enough, didn't we? I'll hull them."
"I wonder," Pauline said, more as if speaking to herself, "whether maybe mother wouldn't think it good to have Jane in now and then—for extra work? Not supper-tables, young lady."
"Jane would love it. She likes to work with Miranda—she says Miranda's such a nice lady. Do you think she is, Paul?"
"I'm thinking about other things just now."
"I don't—There's mother. Goodness, Miranda's got the cloth on!" And away sped the child.
To Patience's astonishment, nothing was said at supper, either of Uncle Paul's letter, or the wonderful things it was to lead to. Mr. Shaw kept his wife engaged with parish subjects and Pauline appeared lost in thoughts of her own. Patience fidgeted as openly as she dared. Of all queer grown-ups—and it looked as though most grown-ups were more or less queer—father was certainly the queerest. Of course, he knew about the letter; and how could he go on talking about stupid, uninteresting matters—like the Ladies' Aid and the new hymn books?
Even the first strawberries of the season passed unnoticed, as far as he was concerned, though Mrs. Shaw gave Patience a little smiling nod, in recognition of them.
"Mother," Pauline exclaimed, the moment her father had gone back to his study, "I've been thinking—Suppose we get Hilary to pretend—that coming home is coming to a new place? That she is coming to visit us? We'll think up all the interesting things to do, that we can, and the pretty places to show her."
"That would be a good plan, Pauline."
"And if she's company, she'll have to have the spare room," Patience added.
"Jolly for you, Patience!" Pauline said. "Only, mother, Hilary doesn't like the spare room; she says it's the dreariest room in the house."
"If she's company, she'll have to pretend to like it, it wouldn't be good manners not to," Patience observed. The prospect opening out ahead of them seemed full of delightful possibilities. "I hope Miranda catches on to the game, and gives us pound-cake and hot biscuits for supper ever so often, and doesn't call me to do things, when I'm busy entertaining 'the company.'"
"Mother," Pauline broke in—"do keep quiet. Impatience—couldn't we do the spare room over—there's that twenty-five dollars? We've planned it so often."
"We might make some alterations, dear—at least."
"We'll take stock the first thing to-morrow morning. I suppose we can't really start in before Monday."
"Hardly, seeing that it is Friday night."
They were still talking this new idea over, though Patience had been sent to bed, when Mr. Shaw came in from a visit to a sick parishioner. "We've got the most beautiful scheme on hand, father," Pauline told him, wheeling forward his favorite chair. She hoped he would sit down and talk things over with them, instead of going on to the study; it wouldn't be half as nice, if he stayed outside of everything.
"New schemes appear to be rampant these days," Mr. Shaw said, but he settled himself comfortably in the big chair, quite as though he meant to stay with them. "What is this particular one?"
He listened, while Pauline explained, really listened, instead of merely seeming to. "It does appear an excellent idea," he said; "but why should it be Hilary only, who is to try to see Winton with new eyes this summer? Suppose we were all to do so?"
Pauline clapped her hands softly. "Then you'll help us? And we'll all pretend. Maybe Uncle Paul's thought isn't such a bad one, after all."
"Paul always believed in developing the opportunities nearest hand," Mr. Shaw answered. He stroked the head Towser laid against his knee. "Your mother and I will be the gainers—if we keep all our girls at home, and still achieve the desired end."
Pauline glanced up quickly. How could she have thought him unheeding—indifferent?
"Somehow, I think it will work out all right," she said. "Anyhow, we're going to try it, aren't we. Mother Shaw? Patience thinks it the best idea ever, there'll be no urging needed there."
Pauline went up to bed that night feeling strangely happy. For one thing the uncertainty was over, and if they set to work to make this summer full of interest, to break up the monotony and routine that Hilary found so irksome, the result must be satisfactory. And lastly, there was the comforting conviction, that whatever displeasure her father had felt at first, at her taking the law into her own hands in such unforeseen fashion, had disappeared now; and he was not going to stay "outside of things," that was sure.
The next morning, as soon as breakfast was over, Pauline ran up-stairs to the spare room. She threw open the shutters of the four windows, letting in the fresh morning air. The side windows faced west, and looked out across the pleasant tree-shaded yard to the church; those at the front faced south, overlooking the broad village street.
In the bright sunlight, the big square room stood forth in all its prim orderliness. "It is ugly," Pauline decided, shaking her head disapprovingly, but it had possibilities. No room, with four such generous windows and—for the fire-board must come out—such a wide deep fireplace, could be without them.
She turned, as her mother came in, duly attended by Patience. "It is hideous, isn't it, mother? The paper, I mean—and the carpet isn't much better. It did very well, I suppose, for the visiting ministers—probably they're too busy thinking over their sermons to notice—but for Hilary—"
Mrs. Shaw smiled. "Perhaps you are right, dear. As to the unattractiveness of the paper—"
"We must repaper—that's sure; plain green, with a little touch of color in the border, and, oh, Mother Shaw, wouldn't a green and white matting be lovely?"
"And expensive, Pauline."
"It wouldn't take all the twenty-five, I'm sure. Miranda'll do the papering, I know. She did the study last year. Mother, couldn't we have Jane in for the washing and ironing this week, and let Miranda get right at this room? I'll help with the ironing, too."
"I suppose so, dear. Miranda is rather fussy about letting other people do her regular work, you know."
"I'll ask her."
"And remember, Pauline, each day is going to bring new demands—don't put all your eggs into one basket."
"I won't. We needn't spend anything on this room except for the paper and matting."
Half an hour later, Pauline was on her way down to the village store for samples of paper. She had already settled the matter with Miranda, over the wiping of the breakfast dishes.
Miranda had lived with the Shaws ever since Pauline was a baby, and was a very important member of the family, both in her own and their opinion. She was tall and gaunt, and somewhat severe looking; however, in her case, looks were deceptive. It would never have occurred to Miranda that the Shaws' interests were not her interests—she considered herself an important factor in the upbringing of the three young people. If she had a favorite, it was probably Hilary.
"Hmn," she said, when Pauline broached the subject of the spare room, "what put that notion in your head, I'd like to know! That paper ain't got a tear in it!"
So Pauline went further, telling her something of Uncle Paul's letter and how they hoped to carry his suggestion out.
Miranda stood still, her hands in the dish water—"That's your pa's own brother, ain't it?"
Pauline nodded. "And Miranda—"
"I reckon he ain't much like the minister. Well, me an' Sarah Jane ain't the least bit alike—if we are sisters. I guess I can manage 'bout the papering. But it does go 'gainst me, having that sexton woman in. Still, I reckon you can't be content, 'till we get started. Looking for the old gentleman up, later, be you?"
"For whom?" Pauline asked.
"Your pa's brother. The minister's getting on, and the other one's considerable older, I understand."
"I don't think he will be up," Pauline answered; she hadn't thought of that before. Suppose he should come! She wondered what he would be like.
Half way down the street, Pauline was overtaken by her younger sister. "Are you going to get the new things now, Paul?" she asked eagerly.
"Of course not, just get some samples."
"There's always such a lot of getting ready first," Patience sighed. "Paul, mother says I may go with you to-morrow afternoon."
"All right," Pauline agreed. "Only, you've got to promise not to 'hi yi' at Fanny all the way."
"I won't—all the way."
"You needn't say what we want the new paper for, or anything about what we are planning to do—in the store I mean."
"Mr. Ward would be mighty interested."
"I dare say."
"Miranda says you're beginning to put on considerable airs, since you've been turning your hair up, Paul Shaw. When I put my hair up, I'm going on being just as nice and friendly with folks, as before, you'll see."
Pauline laughed, which was not at all to Patience's liking. "All the same, mind what I say," she warned.
"Can I help choose?" Patience asked, as they reached the store.
"If you like." Pauline went through to the little annex devoted to wall papers and carpetings. It was rather musty and dull in there, Patience thought; she would have liked to make a slow round of the whole store, exchanging greetings and various confidences with the other occupants. The store was a busy place on Saturday morning, and Patience knew every man, woman and child in Winton.
They had got their samples and Pauline was lingering before a new line of summer dressgoods just received, when the young fellow in charge of the post-office and telegraph station called to her: "I say, Miss Shaw, here's a message just come for you."
"For me—" Pauline took it wonderingly. Her hands were trembling, she had never received a telegram before—Was Hilary? Then she laughed at herself. To have sent a message, Mr. Boyd would have first been obliged to come in to Winton.
Out on the sidewalk, she tore open the envelope, not heeding Patience's curious demands. It was from her uncle, and read—
"Have some one meet the afternoon train Saturday, am sending you an aid towards your summer's outings."
"Oh," Pauline said, "do hurry, Patience. I want to get home as fast as I can."
Sunday afternoon, Pauline and Patience drove over to The Maples to see Hilary. They stopped, as they went by, at the postoffice for Pauline to mail a letter to her uncle, which was something in the nature of a very enthusiastic postscript to the one she had written him Friday night, acknowledging and thanking him for his cheque, and telling him of the plans already under discussion.
"And now," Patience said, as they turned out of the wide main street, "we're really off. I reckon Hilary'll be looking for us, don't you?"
"I presume she will," Pauline answered.
"Maybe she'll want to come back with us."
"Oh, I don't believe so. She knows mother wants her to stay the week out. Listen, Patty—"
Patience sat up and took notice. When people Pattied her, it generally meant they had a favor to ask, or something of the sort.
"Remember, you're to be very careful not to let Hilary suspect—anything."
"About the room and—?"
"Won't she like it—all, when she does know?"
Patience wriggled excitedly. "It's like having a fairy godmother, isn't it? And three wishes? If you'd had three wishes, Paul, wouldn't you've chosen—"
"You'd better begin quieting down, Patience, or Hilary can't help suspecting something."
Patience drew a long breath. "If she knew—she wouldn't stay a single day longer, would she?"
"That's one reason why she mustn't know."
"When will you tell her; or is mother going to?"
"I don't know yet. See here, Patience, you may drive—if you won't hi yi."
"Please, Paul, let me, when we get to the avenue. It's stupid coming to a place, like Fanny'd gone to sleep."
"Not before—and only once then," Pauline stipulated, and Patience possessed her soul in at least a faint semblance of patience until they turned into the avenue of maples. Then she suddenly tightened her hold on the reins, bounced excitedly up and down, crying sharply—"Hi yi!"
Fanny instantly pricked up her ears, and, what was more to the purpose, actually started into what might almost have been called a trot. "There! you see!" Patience said proudly, as they turned into the yard.
Hilary came down the porch steps. "I heard Impatience urging her Rosinante on," she laughed. "Why didn't you let her drive all the way, Paul? I've been watching for you since dinner."
"We've been pretty nearly since dinner getting here, it seems to me," Patience declared. "We had to wait for Paul to write a letter first to—"
"Are you alone?" Pauline broke in hurriedly, asking the first question that came into her mind.
Hilary smiled ruefully. "Not exactly. Mr. Boyd's asleep in the sitting-room, and Mrs. Boyd's taking a nap up-stairs in her own room."
"You poor child!" Pauline said. "Jump out, Patience!"
"Have you brought me something to read? I've finished both the books I brought with me, and gone through a lot of magazines—queer old things, that Mrs. Boyd took years and years ago."
"Then you've done very wrong," Pauline told her severely, leading Fanny over to a shady spot at one side of the yard and tying her to the fence—a quite unnecessary act, as nothing would have induced Fanny to take her departure unsolicited.
"Guess!" Pauline came back, carrying a small paper-covered parcel. "Father sent it to you. He was over at Vergennes yesterday."
"Oh!" Hilary cried, taking it eagerly and sitting down on the steps. "It's a book, of course." Even more than her sisters, she had inherited her father's love of books, and a new book was an event at the parsonage. "Oh," she cried again, taking off the paper and disclosing the pretty tartan cover within, "O Paul! It's 'Penelope's Progress.' Don't you remember those bits we read in those odd magazines Josie lent us? And how we wanted to read it all?"
Pauline nodded. "I reckon mother told father about it; I saw her following him out to the gig yesterday morning."
They went around to the little porch leading from Hilary's room, always a pleasant spot in the afternoons.
"Why," Patience exclaimed, "it's like an out-door parlor, isn't it?"
There was a big braided mat on the floor of the porch, its colors rather faded by time and use, but looking none the worse for that, a couple of rockers, a low stool, and a small table, covered with a bit of bright cretonne. On it stood a blue and white pitcher filled with field flowers, beside it lay one or two magazines. Just outside, extending from one of the porch posts to the limb of an old cherry tree, hung Hilary's hammock, gay with cushions.
"Shirley did it yesterday afternoon," Hilary explained. "She was over here a good while. Mrs. Boyd let us have the things and the chintz for the cushions, Shirley made them, and we filled them with hay."
Pauline, sitting on the edge of the low porch, looked about her with appreciative eyes. "How pleasant and cozy it is, and after all, it only took a little time and trouble."
Hilary laid her new book on the table. "How soon do you suppose we can go over to the manor, Paul? I imagine the Dayres have fixed it up mighty pretty. Mr. Dayre was over here, last night. He and Shirley are ever so—chummy. He's Shirley Putnam Dayre, and she's Shirley Putnam Dayre, Junior. So he calls her 'Junior' and she calls him 'Senior.' They're just like brother and sister. He's an artist, they've been everywhere together. And, Paul, they think Winton is delightful. Mr. Dayre says the village street, with its great overhanging trees, and old-fashioned houses, is a picture in itself, particularly up at our end, with the church, all ivy-covered. He means to paint the church sometime this summer."
"It would make a pretty picture," Pauline said thoughtfully. "Hilary, I wonder—"
"So do I," Hilary said. "Still, after all, one would like to see different places—"
"And love only one," Pauline added; she turned to her sister. "You are better, aren't you—already?"
"I surely am. Shirley's promised to take me out on the lake soon. She's going to be friends with us, Paul—really friends. She says we must call her 'Shirley,' that she doesn't like 'Miss Dayre,' she hears it so seldom."
"I think it's nice—being called 'Miss,'" Patience remarked, from where she had curled herself up in the hammock. "I suppose she doesn't want it, because she can have it—I'd love to be called 'Miss Shaw.'"
"Hilary," Pauline said, "would you mind very much, if you couldn't go away this summer?"
"It wouldn't do much good if I did, would it?"
"The not minding would—to mother and the rest of us—"
"And if you knew what—" Patience began excitedly.
"Don't you want to go find Captain, Impatience?" Pauline asked hastily, and Patience, feeling that she had made a false move, went with most unusual meekness.
"Know what?" Hilary asked.
"I—shouldn't wonder, if the child had some sort of scheme on hand," Pauline said, she hoped she wasn't—prevaricating; after all, Patience probably did have some scheme in her head—she usually had.
"I haven't thought much about going away the last day or so," Hilary said. "I suppose it's the feeling better, and, then, the getting to know Shirley."
"I'm glad of that." Pauline sat silent for some moments; she was watching a fat bumble bee buzzing in and out among the flowers in the garden. It was always still, over here at the farm, but to-day, it seemed a different sort of stillness, as if bees and birds and flowers knew that it was Sunday afternoon.
"Paul," Hilary asked suddenly, "what are you smiling to yourself about?"
"Was I smiling? I didn't know it. I guess because it is so nice and peaceful here and because—Hilary, let's start a club—the 'S. W. F. Club.'"
"The 'S. W. F. Club.' No, I shan't tell you what the letters stand for! You've got to think it out for yourself."
"A real club, Paul?"
"Who's to belong?"
"Oh, lots of folks. Josie and Tom, and you and I—and I think, maybe, mother and father."
"Father! To belong to a club!"
"It was he who put the idea into my head."
Hilary came to sit beside her sister on the step. "Paul, I've a feeling that there is something—up! And it isn't the barometer!"
"Where did you get it?"
Pauline sprang up. "Feelings are very unreliable things to go by, but I've one just now—that if we don't hunt Impatience up pretty quick—there will be something doing."
They found Patience sitting on the barn floor, utterly regardless of her white frock. A whole family of kittens were about her.
"Aren't they dears!" Patience demanded.
"Mrs. Boyd says I may have my choice, to take home with me," Hilary said. The parsonage cat had died the fall before, and had had no successor as yet.
Patience held up a small coal-black one. "Choose this, Hilary! Miranda says a black cat brings luck, though it don't look like we needed any black cats to bring—"
"I like the black and white one," Pauline interposed, just touching Patience with the tip of her shoe.
"Maybe Mrs. Boyd would give us each one, that would leave one for her," Patience suggested cheerfully.
"I imagine mother would have something to say to that," Pauline told her. "Was Josie over yesterday, Hilary?"
Hilary nodded. "In the morning."
As they were going back to the house, they met Mr. Boyd, on his way to pay his regular weekly visit to the far pasture.
"Going to salt the colts?" Patience asked. "Please, mayn't I come?"
"There won't be time, Patience," Pauline said.
"Not time!" Mr. Boyd objected, "I'll be back to supper, and you girls are going to stay to supper." He carried Patience off with him, declaring that he wasn't sure he should let her go home at all, he meant to keep her altogether some day, and why not to-night?
"Oh, I couldn't stay to-night," the child assured him earnestly. "Of course, I couldn't ever stay for always, but by'n'by, when—there isn't so much going on at home—there's such a lot of things keep happening at home now, only don't tell Hilary, please—maybe, I could come make you a truly visit."
Indoors, Pauline and Hilary found Mrs. Boyd down-stairs again from her nap. "You ain't come after Hilary?" she questioned anxiously.
"Only to see her," Pauline answered, and while she helped Mrs. Boyd get supper, she confided to her the story of Uncle Paul's letter and the plans already under way.
Mrs. Boyd was much interested. "Bless me, it'll do her a heap of good, you'll see, my dear. I'm not sure, I don't agree with your uncle, when all's said and done, home's the best place for young folks."
Just before Pauline and Patience went home that evening, Mrs. Boyd beckoned Pauline mysteriously into the best parlor. "I always meant her to have them some day—she being my god-child—and maybe they'll do her as much good now, as any time, she'll want to fix up a bit now and then, most likely. Shirley had on a string of them last night, but not to compare with these." Mrs. Boyd was kneeling before a trunk in the parlor closet, and presently she put a little square shell box into Pauline's bands. "Box and all, just like they came to me—you know, they were my grandmother's—but Hilary's a real careful sort of girl."
"But, Mrs. Boyd—I'm not sure that mother would—" Pauline knew quite well what was in the box.
"That's all right! You just slip them in Hilary's top drawer, where she'll come across them without expecting it. Deary me, I never wear them, and as I say, I've always meant to give them to her some day."
"She'll be perfectly delighted—and they'll look so pretty. Hilary's got a mighty pretty neck, I think." Pauline went out to the gig, the little box hidden carefully in her blouse, feeling that Patience was right and that these were very fairy-story sort of days.
"You'll be over again soon, won't you?" Hilary urged.
"We're going to be tre-men-dous-ly busy," Patience began, but her sister cut her short.
"As soon as I can, Hilary. Mind you go on getting better."
By Monday noon, the spare room had lost its look of prim order. In the afternoon, Pauline and her mother went down to the store to buy the matting. There was not much choice to be had, and the only green and white there was, was considerably beyond the limit they had allowed themselves.
"Never mind," Pauline said cheerfully, "plain white will look ever so cool and pretty—perhaps, the green would fade. I'm going to believe so."
Over a low wicker sewing-chair, she did linger longingly; it would look so nice beside one of the west windows. She meant to place a low table for books and work between those side windows. In the end, prudence won the day, and surely, the new paper and matting were enough to be grateful for in themselves.
By the next afternoon the paper was on and the matting down. Pauline was up garret rummaging, when she heard someone calling her from the foot of the stairs. "I'm here, Josie," she called back, and her friend came running up.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
Pauline held up an armful of old-fashioned chintz.
"Oh, how pretty!" Josie exclaimed. "It makes one think of high-waisted dresses, and minuets and things like that."
Pauline laughed. "They were my great-grandmother's bed curtains."
"Goodness! What are you going to do with them?"
"I'm not sure mother will let me do anything. I came across them just now in looking for some green silk she said I might have to cover Hilary's pin-cushion with."
"For the new room? Patience has been doing the honors of the new paper and matting—it's going to be lovely, I think."
Pauline scrambled to her feet, shaking out the chintz: "If only mother would—it's pink and green—let's go ask her."
"What do you want to do with it, Pauline?" Mrs. Shaw asked.
"I haven't thought that far—use it for draperies of some kind, I suppose," the girl answered.
They were standing in the middle of the big, empty room. Suddenly, Josie gave a quick exclamation, pointing to the bare corner between the front and side windows. "Wouldn't a cozy corner be delightful—with cover and cushions of the chintz?"
"May we, mother?" Pauline begged in a coaxing tone.
"I suppose so, dear—only where is the bench part to come from?"
"Tom'll make the frame for it, I'll go get him this minute," Josie answered.
"And you might use that single mattress from up garret," Mrs. Shaw suggested.
Pauline ran up to inspect it, and to see what other treasures might be forthcoming. The garret was a big, shadowy place, extending over the whole house, and was lumber room, play place and general refuge, all in one.
Presently, from under the eaves, she drew forward a little old-fashioned sewing-chair, discarded on the giving out of its cane seat. "But I could tack a piece of burlap on and cover it with a cushion," Pauline decided, and bore it down in triumph to the new room, where Tom Brice was already making his measurements for the cozy corner.
Josie was on the floor, measuring for the cover. "Isn't it fun, Paul? Tom says it won't take long to do his part."
Tom straightened himself, slipping his rule into his pocket. "I don't see what you want it for, though," he said.
"'Yours not to reason why—'" Pauline told him. "We see, and so will Hilary. Don't you and Josie want to join the new club—the 'S. W. F. Club'?"
"Society of Willing Females, I suppose?" Tom remarked.
"It sounds like some sort of sewing circle," Josie said.
Pauline sat down in one of the wide window places. "I'm not sure it might not take in both. It is—'The Seeing Winton First Club.'"
Josie looked as though she didn't quite understand, but Tom whistled softly. "What else have you been doing for the past fifteen years, if you please, ma'am?" he asked quizzically.
Pauline laughed. "One ought to know a place rather thoroughly in fifteen years, I suppose; but—I'm hoping we can make it seem at least a little bit new and different this summer—for Hilary. You see, we shan't be able to send her away, and so, I thought, perhaps, if we tried looking at Winton—with new eyes—"
"I see," Josie cried. "I think it's a splendiferous ideal"
"And, I thought, if we formed a sort of club among ourselves and worked together—"
"Listen," Josie interrupted again, "we'll make it a condition of membership, that each one must, in turn, think up something pleasant to do."
"Is the membership to be limited?" Tom asked.
Pauline smiled. "It will be so—necessarily—won't it?" For Winton was not rich in young people.
"There will be enough of us," Josie declared hopefully.
"Like the model dinner party?" her brother asked. "Not less than the Graces, nor more than the Muses."
And so the new club was formed then and there. There were to be no regular and formal meetings, no dues, nor fines, and each member was to consider himself, or herself, an active member of the programme committee.
Tom, as the oldest member of their immediate circle of friends, was chosen president before that first meeting adjourned; no other officers were considered necessary at the time. And being president, to him was promptly delegated the honor—despite his vigorous protests—of arranging for their first outing and notifying the other members—yet to be.
"But," he expostulated, "what's a fellow to think up—in a hole like this?"
"Winton isn't a hole!" his sister protested. It was one of the chief occupations of Josie's life at present, to contradict all such heretical utterances on Tom's part. He was to go away that fall to commence his studies for the medical profession, for it was Dr. Brice's great desire that, later, his son should assist him in his practice. But, so far, Tom though wanting to follow his father's profession, was firm in his determination, not to follow it in Winton.
"And remember," Pauline said, as the three went down-stairs together, "that it's the first step that counts—and to think up something very delightful, Tom."
"It mustn't be a picnic, I suppose? Hilary won't be up to picnics yet awhile."
"N-no, and we want to begin soon. She'll be back Friday, I think," Pauline answered.
By Wednesday night the spare room was ready for the expected guest. "It's as if someone had waved a fairy wand over it, isn't it?" Patience said delightedly. "Hilary'll be so surprised."
"I think she will and—pleased." Pauline gave one of the cushions in the cozy corner a straightening touch, and drew the window shades—Miranda had taken them down and turned them—a little lower.
"It's a regular company room, isn't it?" Patience said joyously.
The minister drove over to The Maples himself on Friday afternoon to bring Hilary home.
"Remember," Patience pointed a warning forefinger at him, just as he was starting, "not a single solitary hint!"
"Not a single solitary one," he promised.
As he turned out of the gate. Patience drew a long breath. "Well, he's off at last! But, oh, dear, however can we wait 'til he gets back?"
It was five o'clock that afternoon when Patience, perched, a little white-clad sentry, on the gate-post, announced joyously—"They're coming! They're coming!"
Patience was as excited as if the expected "guest" were one in fact, as well as name. It was fun to be playing a game of make-believe, in which the elders took part.
As the gig drew up before the steps, Hilary looked eagerly out. "Will you tell me," she demanded, "why father insisted on coming 'round the lower road, by the depot—he didn't stop, and he didn't get any parcel? And when I asked him, he just laughed and looked mysterious."
"He went," Pauline answered, "because we asked him to—company usually comes by train—real out-of-town company, you know."
"Like visiting ministers and returned missionaries," Patience explained.
Hilary looked thoroughly bewildered. "But are you expecting company? You must be," she glanced from one to another, "you're all dressed up,"
"We were expecting some, dear," her mother told her, "but she has arrived."
"Don't you see? You're it!" Patience danced excitedly about her sister.
"I'm the company!" Hilary said wonderingly. Then her eyes lighted up. "I understand! How perfectly dear of you all."
Mrs. Shaw patted the hand Hilary slipped into hers. "You have come back a good deal better than you went, my dear. The change has done you good."
"And it didn't turn out a stupid—half-way affair, after all," Hilary declared. "I've had a lovely time. Only, I simply had to come home, I felt somehow—that—that—"
"We were expecting company?" Pauline laughed. "And you wanted to be here?"
"I reckon that was it," Hilary agreed. As she sat there, resting a moment, before going up-stairs, she hardly seemed the same girl who had gone away so reluctantly only eight days before. The change of scene, the outdoor life, the new friendship, bringing with it new interests, had worked wonders,
"And now," Pauline suggested, taking up her sister's valise, "perhaps you would like to go up to your room—visitors generally do."
"To rest after your journey, you know," Patience prompted. Patience believed in playing one's part down to the minutest detail.
"Thank you," Hilary answered, with quite the proper note of formality in her voice, "if you don't mind; though I did not find the trip as fatiguing as I had expected."
But from the door, she turned back to give her mother a second and most uncompany-like hug. "It is good to be home, Mother Shaw! And please, you don't want to pack me off again anywhere right away—at least, all by myself?"
"Not right away," her mother answered, kissing her.
"I guess you will think it is good to be home, when you know—everything," Patience announced, accompanying her sisters up-stairs, but on the outside of the banisters.
"Patty!" Pauline protested laughingly—"Was there ever such a child for letting things out!"
"I haven't!" the child exclaimed, "only now—it can't make any difference."
"There is mystery in the very air!" Hilary insisted. "Oh, what have you all been up to?"
"You're not to go in there!" Patience cried, as Hilary stopped before the door of her own and Pauline's room.
"Of course you're not," Pauline told her. "It strikes me, for company—you're making yourself very much at home! Walking into peoples' rooms." She led the way along the hall to the spare room, throwing the door wide open.
"Oh!" Hilary cried, then stood quite still on the threshold, looking about her with wide, wondering eyes.
The spare room was grim and gray no longer. Hilary felt as if she must be in some strange, delightful dream. The cool green of the wall paper, with the soft touch of pink in ceiling and border, the fresh white matting, the cozy corner opposite—with its delicate old-fashioned chintz drapery and big cushions, the new toilet covers—white over green, the fresh curtains at the windows, the cushioned window seats, the low table and sewing-chair, even her own narrow white bed, with its new ruffled spread, all went to make a room as strange to her, as it was charming and unexpected.
"Oh," she said again, turning to her mother, who had followed them up-stairs, and stood waiting just outside the door. "How perfectly lovely it all is—but it isn't for me?"
"Of course it is," Patience said. "Aren't you company—you aren't just Hilary now, you're 'Miss Shaw' and you're here on a visit; and there's company asked to supper to-morrow night, and it's going to be such fun!"
Hilary's color came and went. It was something deeper and better than fun. She understood now why they had done this—why Pauline had said that—about her not going away; there was a sudden lump in the girl's throat—she was glad, so glad, she had said that downstairs——about not wanting to go away.
And when her mother and Patience had gone down-stairs again and Pauline had begun to unpack the valise, as she had unpacked it a week ago at The Maples, Hilary sat in the low chair by one of the west windows, her hands folded in her lap, looking about this new room of hers.
"There," Pauline said presently, "I believe that's all now—you'd better lie down, Hilary—I'm afraid you're tired."
"No, I'm not; at any rate, not very. I'll lie down if you like, only I know I shan't be able to sleep."
Pauline lowered the pillow and threw a light cover over her. "There's something in the top drawer of the dresser," she said, "but you're not to look at it until you've lain down at least half an hour."
"I feel as if I were in an enchanted palace,", Hilary said, "with so many delightful surprises being sprung on me all the while." After Pauline had gone, she lay watching the slight swaying of the wild roses in the tall jar on the hearth. The wild roses ran rampant in the little lane leading from the back of the church down past the old cottage where Sextoness Jane lived. Jane had brought these with her that morning, as her contribution to the new room.
To Hilary, as to Patience, it seemed as if a magic wand had been waved, transforming the old dull room into a place for a girl to live and dream in. But for her, the name of the wand was Love.
There must be no more impatient longings, no fretful repinings, she told herself now. She must not be slow to play her part in this new game that had been originated all for her.
The half-hour up, she slipped from the bed and began unbuttoning her blue-print frock. Being company, it stood to reason she must dress for supper. But first, she must find out what was in the upper drawer.
The first glimpse of the little shell box, told her that. There were tears in Hilary's gray eyes, as she stood slipping the gold beads slowly through her fingers. How good everyone was to her; for the first time some understanding of the bright side even of sickness—and she had not been really sick, only run-down—and, yes, she had been cross and horrid, lots of times—came to her.
"I'll go over just as soon as I can and thank her," the girl thought, clasping the beads about her neck, "and I'll keep them always and always."
A little later, she came down-stairs all in white, a spray of the pink and white wild roses in her belt, her soft, fair hair freshly brushed and braided. She had been rather neglectful of her hair lately.
There was no one on the front piazza but her father, and he looked up from his book with a smile of pleasure. "My dear, how well you are looking! It is certainly good to see you at home again, and quite your old self."
Hilary came to sit on the arm of his chair. "It is good to be at home again. I suppose you know all the wonderful surprises I found waiting me?"
"Supper's ready," Patience proclaimed from the doorway. "Please come, because—" she caught herself up, putting a hand into Hilary's, "I'll show you where to sit, Miss Shaw."
Hilary laughed. "How old are you, my dear?" she asked, in the tone frequently used by visiting ministers.
"I'm a good deal older than I'm treated generally," Patience answered. "Do you like Winton?"
"I am sure I shall like it very much." Hilary slipped into the chair Patience drew forward politely. "The company side of the table—sure enough," she laughed.
"It isn't proper to say things to yourself sort of low down in your voice," Patience reproved her, then at a warning glance from her mother subsided into silence as the minister took his place.
For to-night, at least, Miranda had amply fulfilled Patience's hopes, as to company suppers. And she, too, played her part in the new game, calling Hilary "Miss," and never by any chance intimating that she had seen her before.
"Did you go over to the manor to see Shirley?" Patience asked.
Hilary shook her head. "I promised her Pauline and I would be over soon. We may have Fanny some afternoon, mayn't we, father?"
Patience's blue eyes danced. "They can't have Fanny, can they, father?" she nodded at him knowingly.
Hilary eyed her questioningly. "What is the matter, Patience?"
"Nothing is the matter with her," Pauline said hurriedly. "Don't pay any attention to her."
"Only, if you would hurry," Patience implored. "I—I can't wait much longer!"
"Wait!" Hilary asked. "For what?"
Patience pushed back her chair. "For—Well, if you just knew what for, Hilary Shaw, you'd do some pretty tall hustling!"
"Patience!" her father said reprovingly.
"May I be excused, mother?" Patience asked. "I'll wait out on the porch."
And Mrs. Shaw replied most willingly that she might.
"Is there anything more—to see, I mean, not to eat?" Hilary asked. "I don't see how there can be."
"Are you through?" Pauline answered. "Because, if you are, I'll show you."
"It was sent to Paul," Patience called, from the hall door. "But she says, of course, it was meant for us all; and I think, myself, she's right about that."
"Is it—alive?" Hilary asked.
"'It' was—before supper," Pauline told her. "I certainly hope nothing has happened to—'it' since then."
"A dog?" Hilary suggested.
"Wait and see; by the way, where's that kitten?"
"She's to follow in a few days; she was a bit too young to leave home just yet."
"I've got the sugar!" Patience called.
Hilary stopped short at the foot of the porch steps. Patience's remark, if it had not absolutely let the cat out of the bag, had at least opened the bag. "Paul, it can't be—"
"In the Shaw's dictionary, at present, there doesn't appear to be any such word as can't," Pauline declared. "Come on—-after all, you know, the only way to find out—is to find out."
Patience had danced on ahead down the path to the barn. She stood waiting for them now in the broad open doorway, her whole small person one animated exclamation point, while Towser, just home from a leisurely round of afternoon visits, came forward to meet Hilary, wagging a dignified welcome.
"If you don't hurry, I'll 'hi yi' you, like I do Fanny!" Patience warned them. She moved to one side, to let Hilary go on into the barn. "Now!" she demanded, "isn't that something more?"
From the stall beside Fanny's, a horse's head reached inquiringly out for the sugar with which already she had come to associate the frequent visits of these new friends. She was a pretty, well-made, little mare, light sorrel, with white markings, and with a slender, intelligent face.
Hilary stood motionless, too surprised to speak.
"Her name's Bedelia," Patience said, doing the honors. "She's very clever, she knows us all already. Fanny hasn't been very polite to her, and she knows it—Bedelia does, I mean—sometimes, when Fanny isn't looking, I've caught Bedelia sort of laughing at her—and I don't blame her one bit. And, oh, Hilary, she can go—there's no need to 'hi yi' her."
"But—" Hilary turned to Pauline.
"Uncle Paul sent her," Pauline explained. "She came last Saturday afternoon. One of the men from Uncle Paul's place in the country brought her. She was born and bred at River Lawn—that's Uncle Paul's place—he says."
Hilary stroked the glossy neck gently, if Pauline had said the Sultan of Turkey, instead of Uncle Paul, she could hardly have been more surprised. "Uncle Paul—sent her to you!" she said slowly.
"Bless me, that isn't all he sent," Patience exclaimed. It seemed to Patience that they never would get to the end of their story. "You just come look at this, Hilary Shaw!" she ran on through the opening connecting carriage-house with stable.
"Oh!" Hilary cried, following with Pauline.
Beside the minister's shabby old gig, stood the smartest of smart traps, and hanging on the wall behind it, a pretty russet harness, with silver mountings.
Hilary sat down on an old saw horse; she felt again as though she must be dreaming.
"There isn't another such cute rig in town, Jim says so," Patience said. Jim was the stable boy. "It beats Bell Ward's all to pieces."
"But why—I mean, how did Uncle Paul ever come to send it to us?" Hilary said. Of course one had always known that there was—somewhere—a person named Uncle Paul; but he had appeared about as remote and indefinite a being as—that same Sultan of Turkey, for instance.
"After all, why shouldn't he?" Pauline answered.
"But I don't believe he would've if Paul had not written to him that time," Patience added. "Maybe next time I tell you anything, you'll believe me, Hilary Shaw."
But Hilary was staring at Pauline. "You didn't write to Uncle Paul?"
"I'm afraid I did."
"Was—was that the letter—you remember, that afternoon?"
"I rather think I do remember."
"Paul, how did you ever dare?"
"I was in the mood to dare anything that day."
"And did he answer; but of course he did."
"Yes—he answered. Though not right away."
"Was it a nice letter? Did he mind your having written? Paul, you didn't ask him to send you—these," Hilary waved her hand rather vaguely.
"Hardly—he did that all on his own. It wasn't a bad sort of letter, I'll tell you about it by and by. We can go to the manor in style now, can't we—even if father can't spare Fanny. Bedelia's perfectly gentle, I've driven her a little ways once or twice, to make sure. Father insisted on going with me. We created quite a sensation down street, I assure you."
"And Mrs. Dane said," Patience cut in, "that in her young days, clergymen didn't go kiting 'bout the country in such high-fangled rigs."
"Never mind what Mrs. Dane said, or didn't say," Pauline told her.
"Miranda says, what Mrs. Dane hasn't got to say on any subject, wouldn't make you tired listening to it."
"Patience, if you don't stop repeating what everyone says, I shall—"
"If you speak to mother—then you'll be repeating," Patience declared. "Maybe, I oughtn't to have said those things before—company."
"I think we'd better go back to the house now," Pauline suggested.
"Sextoness Jane says," Patience remarked, "that she'd have sure admired to have a horse and rig like that, when she was a girl. She says, she doesn't suppose you'll be passing by her house very often."
"And, now, please," Hilary pleaded, when she had been established in her hammock on the side porch, with her mother in her chair close by, and Pauline sitting on the steps, "I want to hear—everything. I'm what Miranda calls 'fair mazed.'"
So Pauline told nearly everything, blurring some of the details a little and getting to that twenty-five dollars a month, with which they were to do so much, as quickly as possible.
"O Paul, really," Hilary sat up among her cushions—"Why, it'll be—riches, won't it?"
"It seems so."
"But—Oh, I'm afraid you've spent all the first twenty-five on me; and that's not a fair division—is it, Mother Shaw?"
"We used it quite according to Hoyle," Pauline insisted. "We got our fun that way, didn't we, Mother Shaw?"
Their mother smiled. "I know I did."
"All the same, after this, you've simply got to 'drink fair, Betsy,' so remember," Hilary warned them.
"Bedtime, Patience," Mrs. Shaw said, and Patience got slowly out of her big, wicker armchair.
"I did think—seeing there was company,—that probably you'd like me to stay up a little later to-night."
"If the 'company' takes my advice, she'll go, too," her mother answered.
"The 'company' thinks she will." Hilary slipped out of the hammock. "Mother, do you suppose Miranda's gone to bed yet?"
"I'll go see," Patience offered, willing to postpone the inevitable for even those few moments longer.
"What do you want with Miranda?" Pauline asked.
"To do something for me."
"Can't I do it?"
"No—and it must be done to-night. Mother, what are you smiling over?"
"I thought it would be that way, dear."
"Miranda's coming," Patience called. "She'd just taken her back hair down, and she's waiting to twist it up again. She's got awful funny back hair."