The Wide Awake Girls Series
THE WIDE AWAKE GIRLS IN WINSTED
KATHARINE RUTH ELLIS
Author of "The Wide Awake Girls"
Illustrated from drawings by Sears Gallagher
Boston Little, Brown, and Company
Copyright, 1909, By Little, Brown, and Company. All rights reserved
Printers S. J. Parkhill & Co., Boston, U. S. A.
who has been the friend of many boys and girls this book is affectionately inscribed.
The author wishes to acknowledge gratefully the kindness of Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin and Company in allowing her to use the poem Vantage, by Josephine Preston Peabody in this book. She also thanks Miss Margaret Sherwood for consenting to a similar use of her poem, Indian Summer.
Books for girls are frankly suggestive, their value lying in their kindling power. Among the girls of all sorts who may read this story, there will be, here and there, one who loves right words. It is for the sake of such an occasional reader that the poems mentioned have been included. The schools sometimes lead their pupils to believe that English literature, like Latin, belongs to the past. But there are, here and now, "musicians of the word" who, partly because they are living, can touch our hearts as none of the dead-and-gone ones can. If through these pages some girl finds her way to the little green volume of Singing Leaves, or the sweet stories of Daphne and King Sylvaine and Queen Aimee, Catherine Smith and her friends will have done the world of girls a service worth the doing.
I. CATHERINE'S INSPIRATION 3 II. GETTING STARTED 15 III. ORGANIZATION 28 IV. WITH PAIL AND BROOM 46 V. A DAY OFF 58 VI. THE OPENING 71 VII. A PARTY AT POLLY'S 86 VIII. A FORTUNATE MEETING 101 IX. LANDING 109 X. THE MAKING OF A COMPACT 120 XI. BROOKMEADOW 133 XII. ARRIVAL AT WINSTED 151 XIII. CAUGHT IN A SHOWER 164 XIV. AN INTERLUDE 176 XV. SUNDAY SCHOOL 186 XVI. ALICE ON THE WAY 203 XVII. FINDING A VOCATION 212 XVIII. DOCTOR'S ORDERS 221 XIX. JOURNALISM 246 XX. THE THREE R's 254 XXI. THE LAST PARTY 271 XXII. AUF WIEDERSEHEN 284
"Here is a little souvenir for you, Judge Arthur" Frontispiece
"We must find a good place for it" 17 "How much for your tickets?" 77 "Sure I am not too heavy, Karl?" 112 Frieda was telling a story and the others were listening attentively 184
STARTING A LIBRARY
THE WIDE AWAKE GIRLS IN WINSTED
"Alma Mater, Dexter darling, do re mi—O dear! It's much harder to write than I supposed. I wonder why! When your heart is full of love, why should it be hard to express it?"
Catherine Smith, sitting on the top step of the porch of her home, Three Gables, bent her red-gold head over the pad of paper on her knee and wrote painfully, her forehead puckered earnestly. She had been a year at college and was just beginning her summer vacation. All through the busy year, full of delightful new experiences, she had looked forward to the leisure of summer, in which she might adequately declare her devotion to the college which had been her mother's and was now her own. From the day, the June before, when she had gone there to visit her friend, Hannah Eldred, she had felt a keen sense of "belonging," especially pleasant because her frail health had compelled her to lead a somewhat secluded life at home, and she had not felt really acquainted with the young people in the little town of Winsted, where she had always lived.
Now all that was changing. At college she had been forced to conquer her shyness, and, to her delight, she soon found that the boys and girls at home were more than glad to receive her into their circle upon equal terms. Her physician parents were everybody's friends, and Catherine, who adored her father and mother, was eager to show herself worthy to be their daughter. In order to do so, she reasoned, she must be of real service to the town and to her college. The only way she had thought of so far was to write an Alma Mater song, expressive not only of the rapturous loyalty of undergraduates, but of the graver love of alumnae like her mother.
"It is very hard," she sighed. "It must be stately and yet not heavy. O me! And here comes Algernon."
With a resigned air she folded her scribbled papers and thrust her pencil into the coil of red braids encircling her head. Algernon Swinburne, ever since his foolish mother had christened him for the poet, had, by turns, amused and wearied his fellow-citizens. While Catherine had lived apart, she had been spared his lengthy visits, but with the pleasures of social life had come its penalties and she was now on Algernon's list and obliged to spend frequent hours in his really trying society. He came up the long walk now with a curious springing gait, and Catherine tried to summon a hospitable smile to her lips.
Algernon refused a chair. He always appeared to be just going, "and yet," as Polly Osgood said with a groan, "he almost never goes!" He perched uncomfortably upon the railing and opened fire at once.
"Have you seen the last North American Review?"
Catherine confessed that she had not.
"There was a corking article in it on municipal corruption, comparing San Francisco, New York and Pittsburg as to graft, police efficiency and so on. They say Pittsburg spends two million dollars a year—"
"My upper legs is going barefoot."
Catherine lifted her eyes with a flash of pleasure. Elsmere Swinburne was the occasional relief from his big brother's monotony. Catherine loved little folk, and though Elsmere was known to be a rascal who would have tried the patience of Job, she somehow always found forgiveness for his enormities, and a delighted appreciation for his funny sayings. Just now he stood proudly before her, his hands in his pockets, his eyes fixed upon his fashionably clad little legs, with bruised brown knees showing above new half-hose.
"My mamma buyed 'em for me. Her buys me everything."
Catherine smiled, but shook her head a little. Mrs. Swinburne was a source of grief to all her neighbors, because of her persistent refusal to allow Algernon the chance at college that he desired, and even more because of her unwise indulgence of her younger son's lightest wishes.
Algernon cleared his throat and took up the thread of his narrative. "Pittsburg, this fellow Chapman in the Review says, spends two million dollars a year on—"
"Talking, talking, all the time Algy talking," Elsmere broke in. "I want to talk. Tell Caffrin 'bout my cat-pussy. Her awful sick. Her—"
Catherine sprang up. Elsmere's conversation often needed to be suppressed.
"Let's play tennis. Algernon, will you get the balls and rackets? You know where they are,—just inside the hall there. And Elsmere may run after balls for us. He can, so nicely!"
Algernon obeyed the unexpected request patiently, and when he was gone, Catherine averted her face for the space of a minute. What she had hoped for came to pass, and when Algernon returned, his small brother had quietly vanished. "The older one may be monotonous, but the younger one is positively dangerous," Catherine thought to herself, as she took the balls from Algernon, saying:
"Let's not play, after all. It's so very warm and Elsmere thought he didn't want to run after balls. You don't mind, do you?"
"Why, no, I wasn't keen about playing," and Algernon, unconscious of the maneuver he had helped to execute, dropped back upon the railing and continued his resume of the North American article.
Catherine, meanwhile, having slipped the balls one by one into the pocket of her steamer chair, rested her long white hands upon the chair arms and sat quietly, hearing nothing of Mr. Chapman's statistics, her brown eyes dreamily fixed upon the sloping lawn, but seeing instead the Dexter campus, across which girls were moving, as she loved best to see them, in pretty light gowns on the way to evening chapel. Among them all her thought rested most lovingly upon a little girl with a plain face and big round glasses. "You dear old Alice!" she murmured, almost aloud, and roused herself guiltily to hear Algernon saying:
"There are a lot of wide-awake men in Pittsburg."
"Wide-awake girls in Winsted!"
This time Catherine really did speak aloud, and Algernon looked up in surprised inquiry.
"I beg your pardon," she said contritely. "It was very rude of me, but you set me off, yourself. The Wide Awake Girls are really going to be in Winsted this summer. Don't you know about them?" as Algernon still looked puzzled.
"Why, no. All the Winsted girls seem wide-awake enough, I should say."
"But I'm the only one who has a right to be called so in capital letters. I'll tell you all about it, but it has been such an important part of my life for the last year and more, that I forget every one who knows me doesn't know about it all.
"You see, about two years ago, when I was fifteen and Hannah Eldred, who lives in Massachusetts, was not quite fourteen, she wrote a letter to Wide-Awake, the magazine, you know, asking for correspondents. And I answered it. Several other girls did, too. One was Alice Prescott, who lives out in Washington, and another was Frieda Lange, of Berlin, whose mother had known Mrs. Eldred in Germany years ago. Hannah kept on writing to the three of us, and before the end of the year she had met us all and really lived with each of us in turn. It doesn't sound probable, but it came about naturally enough. The Eldreds went to Berlin for a few months and boarded at the Langes'. Then Mrs. Eldred's mother was taken ill, and they had to come back to this country. The grandmother lived over here at Delmar, and Father was called in consultation and brought Hannah back to stay with me a little while; and then, as her mother couldn't leave, they sent Hannah to Dexter, to the preparatory department, and there she found Alice, whom she had lost sight of for a long time. Then when I went to Dexter, I learned to know Alice, and this year Frieda Lange is coming to America to school and she is going to Dexter, too. Hannah is coming out for a few weeks' visit here before college opens, and I'm going to try to get Alice at the same time, for we've never all four been together. I am so eager about it that I can't keep my mind on anything else very long, so that's why I said 'Wide Awake Girls in Winsted' aloud. Isn't it an interesting story?"
"Coincidences are always interesting," said Algernon. "And I think a great many things that go by the name of telepathy are nothing more. I'm keeping a record of peculiar coincidences that come under my notice. I'll put these down, about the two happening to go to the same college, and about the German and American girls finding their mothers were acquainted." He produced a note-book to make an entry.
"You can't include the last one," Catherine protested. "It was because Mrs. Lange recognized Hannah from the letter that Frieda wrote. But the meeting between Alice and Hannah was mere chance."
Algernon closed his note-book and went placidly on as if Catherine's story had not interrupted him:
"As I was saying, those men in Pittsburg—"
The telephone bell rang and Catherine went into the house to answer it.
"I'll have to be excused, Algernon," she said, coming back a minute later. "Father wants something of me. You can tell me the rest another time."
Then, as Algernon slowly got off the porch, she added impulsively:
"I marvel just to see you walk, Algernon. You know so very much! You seem to me to be a veritable walking library."
Algernon twisted his body uncomfortably and flushed.
"I'd be more use to Winsted if I were a real one," he said, with a wistful sound in his voice that made Catherine look at him sharply. She waved him a smiling good-by as he went down the walk, and then turned to her father's desk to look up some papers he wanted. Her mind, however, still dwelt on that unexpected shade in Algernon's tone.
"I've thought of him as a mere talking machine instead of a human being," she said to herself reproachfully. "I must make a salmon scallop for Father's supper. Inga doesn't know how to do anything but scramble eggs and boil potatoes, and Father's tired, I know by his voice. It sounded tired, but Algernon's was lonely. I wonder—"
Dr. Harlow Smith and his wife, Dr. Helen, drove up to their pretty gabled house on the hill slope a few minutes later, their faces lighting with pleasure as the tall girl in a blue apron came out to meet them. The stable-boy came to take the horse, and Catherine escorted her parents to the house. While they made themselves ready for supper, she put the last orderly touches to the table in the panelled dining-room, and was ready for them with kisses when they arrived.
The silent grace over, Catherine spoke:
"Eat and be filled, dearly beloved, because I have a new project and I need you to be enthusiastic."
"What is it this time?" asked Dr. Harlow, serving the golden scallop generously. "You have shown diplomacy in your choice of a dish, if I am the one you wish to wheedle."
Dr. Helen, pouring yellow cream from a fat silver jug into thin hexagonal cups, sent an interested glance across the table at her daughter.
"Tell us," she said.
"It's quite new," said Catherine, hesitating a little. "In fact it's not a half-hour old, but I do believe it is a good plan. You know Algernon Swinburne?"
"We have met him," agreed Dr. Harlow cautiously.
"So had I!" said Catherine with sudden spirit, "and this afternoon it came to me that I didn't know him at all. All any of us ever do to Algernon is to avoid him,—those of us who don't laugh at him. And he's lonely, Father! Lonely!"
"Did he tell you so?"
"No. But I suddenly knew. I've seen homesick girls at college, and—and—well, there was a little while, just a little while, when I was getting strong enough to do things, and before Hannah came to visit, that I felt that way myself, so I know."
Dr. Helen's look was like a pressure of the hand, and she answered gently:
"I think you are very likely right, Catherine. And this plan of yours is to make Algernon less lonely?"
"Do you think he knows he's lonely?" asked Dr. Harlow. "I've thought the boy had good stuff in him, and if he should ever wake up to the fact that he's a bore, he might amount to something worth while. You don't think he has, do you?"
"Not exactly," Catherine confessed, remembering the note-book's appearance at the end of her little story. "But I think he has an inkling that he might be of more use. I told him he was a walking library. He does know such an amazing amount, you know! And he said Winsted would be better off if it had a real library instead of his kind; and then it flashed into my mind how he would love living among books, and how fine it would be for the town if all that knowledge of his could be used—"
"Like wasted water power?" suggested her father.
"Yes. That's just it. He has read more than any one in this town, except you, Father dear, and you are very old-fashioned in your reading. You never heard of some of the modern books that Algernon knows all about. Why couldn't we start a library and have Algernon run it? It would make people appreciate him."
"It would keep him occupied at certain hours, and assure you of freedom from his calls," said Dr. Harlow, but Catherine was in earnest and refused to be teased.
"Wouldn't it be practical, really, Mother? Algernon can't go away to school. His mother isn't willing, you know, and he needs to be here to look after Elsmere. But he could study there, and lots of towns as small as this do have libraries."
The doorbell rang and Dr. Harlow went to answer it.
"Some one to see you, Catherine," he said, returning.
Catherine found Algernon himself standing in the doorway, his big pale eyes full of distress.
"Excuse my coming just at supper time," he said, "but I've lost Elsmere. No one seems to have seen him since we did this afternoon, and I thought perhaps you would remember which direction he went in. It was while I was in the house he disappeared, you know. He almost always comes home for meals!"
Catherine meditated. "I didn't see him go. I was looking at some papers, and when I glanced up he wasn't there. Let's go out on the porch again, and think. You had been sitting on the railing and I was in the steamer chair—O Elsmere Swinburne, where have you been?"
Out from under the porch, rubbing eyes and yawning, came a rumpled little figure, bits of straw and dead leaves clinging to him, and a big red Irish setter following.
Algernon bent down and gathered the baby figure up with a tenderness that made Catherine's heart beat more quickly, as she picked the straws from the stylish shoes and socks, and the barefoot upper legs.
"Where were you?" she repeated.
"Hotspur's house, all cozy," sighed Elsmere. "Warm house. Did go to sleep. Bosquitoes bite me. Bite my legs. I want my supper," and drooping over his tall brother's shoulders he fell asleep again.
"Come around to-morrow afternoon early, Algernon," said Catherine, as he moved away with his burden. "I have a plan I want you to help me carry out. I know you'll like it. It's something nice for you and Winsted."
By fifteen minutes past three the next day, Algernon and Catherine had definitely decided that Winsted was to have a library, and that they were to devote their own energies to the cause and persuade as many as possible of their acquaintances to join them.
"The Boat Club will go in for it as a committee of the whole," said Algernon.
"The Three R's will be interested," said Catherine, "though it is not Rest, Recreation or Refreshment!"
"And all the churches."
"And the school teachers."
"And there are Miss Ainsworth's novels."
"Algernon, how perfectly splendid! Do you suppose she would let us have them?"
"I don't see why not. They simply stand there, never opened. She can't any more than refuse. I'll ask her."
"And I'll go with you. Let's do it right this minute."
As she spoke, Catherine sprang up, and Algernon, his usual inertia overcome, plunged down the walk beside her.
"We must find a good place for it, before we get many books collected. We could use Father's twenty-five dollars for rent, of course, but it would be so much nicer if some one would give us a room."
"Let me see. There's that little frame shop where the red-haired milliner used to be. We might get that. It's no good for business, away off up the street that way."
"Be careful what you say about red hair," warned Catherine. "Who owns the building?"
"Judge Arthur. He's a public-spirited man. He'll let us have it cheap anyway."
"Good! O, I am so happy and excited about it I feel like one of Hannah Eldred's squeals; I'm afraid if she were here I'd join her in one. Here we are at Miss Ainsworth's. Are you sure we dare ask her?"
Before the prim white house set back from the street, Catherine's buoyancy suffered a collapse. She had been inside that house, calling, with her mother, but to go there—or anywhere—on a begging errand! Here Algernon's long familiarity with rebuffs proved of value.
"Of course, we dare. Come on, or I'll go alone if you don't want to."
"No, no, I'll come," Catherine answered hastily. She had counted, without conceit, on her own popularity to offset Algernon's handicap. The daughter of the Doctors Smith could not be turned coldly away. And after all, Miss Ainsworth's novels might better be read than standing idle. Two years ago, a young bicyclist had sprained an ankle at Miss Ainsworth's door, and she had promptly taken him in and cared for him, scornfully refusing pay. Therefore the youth, upon returning to his home, had sent out to her a great box full of modern fiction, an article which he had deeply and vainly desired while under her roof. Miss Ainsworth had never been given to the reading of novels. Her life had been quite too busy for such frivolities, and now her eyes were making it impossible for her to read without using glasses, which, as a confession of frailty, she despised. So the books stood, new and unopened, in a fascinating row upon the "secretary" shelf. No one so far had ventured to ask for them. It had been reserved for these young adventurers to demand them in the name of public spirit.
"We will have your name put inside them, Miss Ainsworth, on a neat little card,—'Gift of Miss Anna Ainsworth,' you know. Just as they do in large libraries," Catherine explained persuasively, when Algernon had stated the object of their call, and Miss Ainsworth was regarding them in a silence which they took to be ominous.
"And your name will go down in the records with Dr. Smith's as one of the first contributors to the library. We intend to keep very full records and have them buried under the corner stone of the new building when we get it. We hope to get a Carnegie building, you know," Algernon went on calmly while Catherine caught her breath. "He always insists that the townspeople do their share."
"The young people will use the library if we have good novels," Catherine put in helpfully, when Algernon's imagination showed signs of exhaustion. "And then we can get them to reading more serious books by and by."
Then Catherine too, subsided, and the clock behind its painted glass door ticked obtrusively. Presently Miss Ainsworth opened her thin lips.
"I'm perfectly willin' 't you should have the books," she said grimly. "They ain't no manner o' use to me, and never was. I don't care to have my name wrote inside 'em, though. And I ain't perticular about havin' it buried under any corner stones. But I'll be much obliged if you'll take 'em away soon, for I've just subscribed to a set of me-mores of missionaries an agent was sellin' yesterday, and I'd like that top shelf to put 'em on."
The enthusiasts, feeling a trifle quenched, but yet pleased at having accomplished their purpose, rose and withdrew with what grace they could summon, mingling thanks with promises to remove the undesired literature as soon as possible.
"Now for Judge Arthur and the building," sighed Catherine, as they reached the street again. "He can't be any more gloomy about it than she was, and maybe he'll do what we want."
The judge was not in his office, so they sat down to wait in the stuffy room where dusty books and papers sprawled and spilled over desk, table and the top of a big black safe. Algernon attached himself to a grimy magazine, having first jotted down Miss Ainsworth's gift in his ever-present note-book. Catherine, looking about her, soon found herself unable to restrain her housewifely fingers. She was busily sweeping the dust off the big table with a dilapidated feather duster, and putting the papers into trim piles when the door opened and Judge Arthur, little and weazened and gray, slipped softly in.
"There!" said Catherine half aloud. "That is infinitely better. I wish I dared throw half of these papers away. I know they're perfectly worthless." She took a step toward the big wire basket, as though to bring it conveniently near.
"Not to-day, Miss Catherine," and the judge took her hand and bowed over it. "Is this what they teach you at college?"
Catherine laughed. She had never been afraid of Judge Arthur.
"They teach us all the womanly graces, Your Honor," she answered, "and not least among them is tidiness. I should have had you looking beautifully neat in another five minutes."
Judge Arthur shivered. "And you would doubtless have made a bonfire of this," picking up one dog's-eared document, "old Mr. Witherton's will; and this, a deed to an estate; and this, a bit of important evidence in a criminal case."
"Well," Catherine argued, "they shouldn't be left about so carelessly, under paper-weights and ash-trays. I do want to do some housecleaning for you, Judge Arthur. That's why I'm here this afternoon. Not just an office, either, but a whole building."
The judge placed a chair for her, dusting it elaborately with Mr. Witherton's will as he did so.
"Tell me all about it," he invited.
Catherine took the chair, her fresh white gown contrasting as sharply with its shabby leather as her warm youth did with the judge's withered look. He watched her with keen, appreciating eyes. Algernon in his corner read on, and Catherine thought best not to disturb him. Men found it harder to meet Algernon on fair ground than women did.
The judge asked a pertinent question or two as Catherine unfolded the great scheme; then he drew a check-book from under a broken-backed dictionary.
"There is another twenty-five for your project," he said, as he signed his name with a flourish surprisingly big for so cramped a little man; "and the room is at your disposal for six months, rent free. I would have it cleaned, but you seem to delight in doing such work yourself. I can assure you that the Three R's will back you up. The next meeting is called for a week from to-day."
Catherine's face wore its blithest smile. "You are a dear to do so much," she declared. "I was sure you'd be interested. If you ever want any cleaning done, anywhere, please let me do it!"
Algernon had to be aroused almost forcibly, and Catherine carried him away, still so lost in the article on the jury system he had been reading that he could not quite take in the wonderful success of the call. He followed Catherine's eager steps to the little square frame building a few blocks up Main Street, and turned the key she gave him. It was a dingy little room, all dirt and cobwebs. A few old straw hats and wire frames piled among some big green boxes indicated the last occupant's business, and a scurrying of tiny feet, only too clearly, the present occupants' nature. Catherine lifted her nose in dainty scorn, and her skirts in private apprehension.
"We shall have to get a lot of girls and come down here to-morrow and clean up; but let's get out for now," she said, and Algernon consented.
They strolled along the street till they came to the little park, and there, sitting on its one green bench, talked over their list of assets.
"I keep having ideas all the time," cried Catherine. "Listen! We must go over to Hampton and visit the library there, and find out how they do things. When can you?"
"Any time. I was just thinking I must ask Mr. Morse to give us a good write-up."
"Of course. He'll be interested. Let's go over now. Or perhaps you'd better go alone. I don't know him, and I never was in a newspaper office."
"Afraid of the devil?" jested Algernon, getting up and leaving her. Catherine watched him disappear into the office across the street.
"He walks better already," she thought with pride. "And he never made such a frivolous remark as that before. I do think this library will be the making of Algernon."
Back he came in a minute or two, with a promise of plenty of space in the Courier, and a free atlas.
"One they had in the office, of course; but we ought to have one, and every little helps. He was awfully interested and said it would be a fine thing for the town, and he'd boost every way he could."
"Aren't people lovely?" sighed Catherine rapturously. "I believe even Miss Ainsworth was more enthusiastic than she appeared to be. And we haven't even mentioned it to the Boat Club yet."
"Or the Three R's. They are chiefly Boat Club fathers and mothers."
"We must see the school superintendent."
"The ministers will announce it in the churches."
"Yes, we must see them to-morrow. O dear, I am so tired! What time is it anyway?"
Algernon drew a big watch from his pocket.
Catherine started up in horror.
"O! And I forgot all about helping with supper. What will mother think?"
Algernon watched her hasten away up the hill, and turned toward his own home with some anxiety. He had to coax his mother to take an interest in the new undertaking, and wished the operation over, but he squared his shoulders and determined to do his best and do it that very evening.
Catherine, for her part, spent the evening discussing the plan with her already sympathetic mother.
"It almost takes my breath away, Mother dear," she confided as they sat on the porch in the dusk, watching the fireflies, "the way people fall in with suggestions. It didn't occur to me before that I could start things going. But at college I had only to see that something should be done, and then to say so; and it almost always was done. And I was more surprised than anybody!"
Dr. Helen smiled, and put out her hand to stroke Catherine's head, which rested on her knee.
"They were pretty good ideas, I judge."
"They were perfectly simple ones. Just little things like having the mail-boxes assigned alphabetically, instead of by the numbers of the rooms. It saved the mail girls a lot of work, and Miss Watkins was glad of the suggestion. I helped Alice sort mail, you know,—she does it to help pay her way. And then the little notices on the bulletin board were always getting lost under the big ones, and I was on a Students' committee and often had notices to post, and I got them to make a rule that all notices should be written on a certain size sheet, and the board looks much neater now. And then there weren't any door-blocks. Aunt Clara told me that they had them at Vassar, little pads hanging outside your door, with a pencil attached, and if you are out, your callers leave their messages, you know. It seemed as though we needed something like that, for some of us don't like walking into people's rooms, and hunting around for paper. So I started that, and they all took it up in no time. They were only little things, but it was remembering a lot of little things like that that made me dare try to get the library. It's what we need, and I do believe it's going to come easily."
"Mr. Kittredge asked me to-day if I thought you would take the infant class in the Sunday-school for the summer. Mrs. Henley is to be away. I told him I'd ask you." Dr. Helen waited.
Catherine was silent a moment.
"Do you know, Mother, it seems as though you just get started doing one thing and you see another one ahead of you. If I am going around asking every one to help the library, I don't see how I can refuse to help when I'm asked! But I never did teach anybody. Who is in the class?"
"I asked him that. He says some of the children are rather old for it, but the school is too small, or rather the teachers are too few, to make another class. So the ages run from the Osgood twins—"
"O, Peter and Perdita! I do love them. They are such a droll little pair. I beg your pardon, dear. I didn't mean to interrupt. From Peter and Perdita to—to Elsmere, possibly?"
Dr. Helen laughed. "Exactly! Could you undertake Elsmere?"
Catherine sat up straight. "Yes, I could. Elsmere is unlucky, just as Algernon is. Everybody expects to be bored by Algernon and bothered or shocked by Elsmere. I know he is a little 'limb o' Satan,' but if I'm going to take one brother on my shoulders, I might as well take them both. When does Mr. Kittredge want me to begin?"
"Not this week. You can go and see Mrs. Henley and talk it over with her. You're showing a fine public spirit, Daughter mine, but let me suggest that you really can't do much work for the town this summer, especially if you expect to entertain guests! I don't approve of vacations that are busier than the school year!"
"O, the library won't take long to start, if it starts at all. And Algernon will run it and his being busy will give me several extra hours weekly! And the children will only be Sundays. I promised Alice I'd do some Bible study this summer, anyway, and it might as well be done for that. She thought I was something of a heathen because I knew Shakespeare better than the Bible."
"That only means you know Shakespeare very well, however. By the way, would you like that little old set in the guest-room for your library? I put it there, because there wasn't a shelf free anywhere else, and we are rather overstocked with the gentleman's writings in the rest of the house. Clara Lyndesay laughed at finding them there. She says she is going to write an essay some day on guest-room literature, and its implications."
Catherine laughed, too. "It would be delicious if she did. I wish she would write things, Mother, and not just paint pictures. Do you suppose there's any hope of her coming back to this country this summer?"
"I shouldn't be greatly surprised. She plans to spend some weeks on the Isle of Wight, and that is so near this side that perhaps we can lure her over. An aunt left her a place in New England, you know, which she means to fit up for a studio sometime. Father should be coming home now. Let's go down to the corner and see if we can see him. O, my daughter!" as Catherine sprang up and took her mother's arm, "how you have grown beyond me!"
"It's just my head that's above you," said Catherine, tucking her mother's arm into her own. "It's the fashion nowadays for girls to be taller than their mothers, but they don't begin to come up to them in mind and manners. Miss Eliot told us so in History!"
"How about their hearts?" asked Dr. Helen.
"I don't know about the other girls', but my heart is just as high as my mother's!" And Catherine bent her head the least little bit, and kissed her mother's cheek, as Dr. Harlow, turning the corner, met them.
The "stub" train on the Central was due to leave Winsted at 7:30. Catherine, having reluctantly left the washing of the breakfast dishes to the reckless Inga, to whom their quaint blue pattern was as naught, hurried down the hill and reached the dingy little station as the train shambled in. Algernon, full of good cheer, because his mother had taken it into her head to approve his undertaking, gallantly helped her aboard, and began at once to show a list of questions he had ready to ask the Hampton librarian.
The train stood still a little longer while a few milk cans were put on, then whistled, puffed and pulled slowly out. Hampton was only a short distance from Winsted, and Catherine and Algernon soon got off the train, and made their way to the library where they were welcomed by the kindly librarian and her young assistant, who proved to be a Dexter graduate.
The "stub" train meanwhile jogged and jolted on its way, carrying with it, fast asleep, the little "limb o' Satan" known as Elsmere Swinburne. Elsmere could sleep anywhere on the slightest provocation. Deeming it unwise to make his presence known to his brother until the train was started beyond recall, he had curled up on a seat behind a large family, and while waiting his opportunity had fallen asleep. The conductor, taking him to be one of the overflow from the family in front, paid no attention to him until after they had left. Then he tried to rouse the child.
"Wake up, kid! Here, you've gone past your station. Wake up, I say! Gee! We're running a sleeper on this train to-day, all right," as Elsmere, lifted by the collar, only sank heavily back on the seat when released.
The conductor, goaded by the jests of the passengers, yelled in the boy's ear, to no avail. Just as he was abandoning the task in wrath, the child suddenly popped up, wide awake and interested.
"I want zwieback," he announced.
Mrs. Swinburne, having read in a child-study book that dry food was bone-building, had brought her youngest up on long crumbly strips of zwieback, and he was seldom seen without one.
"What you givin' us?" asked the conductor.
"I want zwieback," answered Elsmere cheerfully, in the persistent tone he had learned to value for its efficacy.
"Where was your ma goin'?" asked the conductor.
"I want zwieback," replied Elsmere.
"Let me try," suggested a soft-voiced little lady. "I talked with his mother quite a bit while she was on. Want to find your mamma, little boy, and go to Grandma's and play with all the pigs and chickies?"
"I want zwieback."
"You talked with the woman, did you?" said the conductor. "Did you find out what her name was?"
"Let me see. Yes. It's Peters. She was talking about going to his folks', two miles out of Edgewater. She'll be worried to death about this one."
"I should think she might be," remarked the conductor grimly, "for fear he'd come back. Here, you young Sweebock, you get off here."
Elsmere obligingly followed to the platform and suffered himself to be given into the custody of the station agent, to whom he presented his petition for food.
"A little weak in the upper story," explained the conductor. "His ma had about as many as she could manage and gettin' off at Edgewater she forgot this one. Name's Peters, stayin' with old Mis' Peters, two miles from Edgewater. You wire 'em to meet the express, and then you pass him back. Tell McWhire not to let him get to sleepin'. He ain't an easy proposition, when he's gone to Bylow, now I tell you," and the conductor of No. 5 swung himself aboard.
Elsmere had the time of his life in the two hours before the arrival of the noon express. The station agent was a sociable soul. He had a guinea-pig in a box, so delightful to observe that Elsmere forgot his desire for zwieback and became conversational. He told the agent the history of the polly-wogs he had raised "till they was all froggies, only one was deaded." He showed the place where he had cut his finger in the mower-lawn. He explained how fond he was of back-horse-saddle-riding, and declared his intention of some day having "frickers," caressing the agent's own sandy growth with great admiration. He tried to perform on the telegraph instrument and cried "Boo" with all his strength at a lady, peering in at the ticket window. Altogether, Elsmere found traveling very much to his taste. The noon express stopped for a minute, he was thrust aboard the last car, and a few minutes later, according to instructions, the newsboy put him off at Edgewater, with a cheery:
"Here y'are, Bub, and there's Ma and Gramma."
Elsmere had taken a fancy to the newsboy and did not at all wish to stop at Edgewater. He ran down the track after the retreating train, howling miserably.
As for "Ma and Gramma," they had been overtaken by the dispatch just as they were starting to drive out to the farm, and had come in great perplexity to the station. The wailing baby running down the track suggested nothing to them, and the agent could give them no satisfaction. He was locking up his office. There was not another train to stop till No. 5 should return toward evening. So, still bewildered, Mrs. Peters and her mother-in-law gave up their fruitless errand and drove away, taking with them a problem for a lifetime's pondering.
Elsmere, as the train vanished around a curve, sat down on the track for a while and listened to his own howls. Tiring of that amusement presently, he strolled back to the station. Outwardly it looked much like that hospitable one where he had enjoyed life earlier in the day. This one, however, offered no entertainment beyond wandering about the platform and the unoccupied waiting-room. Across the street was a little restaurant. There were pies in the window.
Elsmere obeyed the summons.
"Pie," he said, presenting his nose to the edge of the lunch counter.
"Don't you monkey with anything," snapped a girl from behind the counter.
"I'm aren't a monkey. I'm are a boy. Want pie," Elsmere answered sweetly.
"You can't get pie without money," said the girl.
Elsmere felt in his pocket and produced a quarter. Whatever his failings, Elsmere had a redeeming trait of forehandedness, and had always on hand a hoard of articles which might be useful in an hour of need. The quarter bought respect at once and plenty of pie, also a sandwich, a tall glass of milk and a big "rubber doughnut."
When he had satisfied his hunger, the traveller returned to the depot, and, lying comfortably in the shade of a baggage truck, indulged in a siesta, a sleep so light this time, however, that the rolling back of the baggage-room door shattered it.
Sitting up, Elsmere watched the baggage-man get a tin trunk and a canvas telescope ready for shipping. Presently the stub train arrived, stopped, and while the conductor and the agent were exchanging gossip, Elsmere got inconspicuously aboard, and stowed himself away in a corner, so successfully that it was not till the brakeman called "Hampton" that the conductor discovered him.
Swearing softly and scratching his head in mystification, the conductor stood in the aisle staring at the ubiquitous babe, when a double cry arose:
"Elsmere, where in thunder?"
The young assistant, who had accompanied Catherine to the station for the sake of talking over mutual friends at Dexter, looked up in surprise as the dignified youth who had impressed her greatly by his intelligence and earnestness suddenly stooped and lifted a dirty, tear-and-pie-stained little boy in his arms. Catherine laughed. Elsmere could not greatly surprise her.
"Miss Adams," she said, "you have shown your interest in the new Winsted library. Let me introduce you to its mascot."
* * * * *
The morning after the Hampton expedition, Catherine struggled awake from dreams of book-lined trains, with Miss Adams and Elsmere as engineer and fireman, to open her eyes gratefully upon the substantial reality of her own great room in its fresh bareness. At the foot of her big carved bed, the broad window open to its utmost seemed to bring all out-of-doors within the room. A squirrel whisked his tail across the sill as he scurried in and out of the branches of the window-oak where a grosbeak and a wren chatted sociably. The sunshine through the leafy boughs lighted the bare floor and rested on the great writing table in the center of the room and on the high dark dresser. Catherine's gaze, following the light, rested at last upon the low bookcases filling the chimney corners.
"I can spare one Child's Garden of Verses," she mused, "and that second Little Women. I wish they could have the Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway picture-books, but I couldn't possibly let them go. I loved those little urchins in the children's room,—especially that curly-headed little boy reading a bound Wide-Awake—O!" She sat up in bed and tossed her thick braids back. "I wonder if I ought? Or even if I could?" Out of bed she slipped, and crossed the room to the bookcases. Opening one, she ran her finger-tips tenderly along the stout backs of a row of dark red volumes. "My very own Wide-Awakes! What a storehouse they would be for the little folk! They needn't be allowed to circulate, so they'd not wear out badly. They could just come in and read them there. I was going to give them my little rocking-chair, anyhow. O, dear! I'm afraid I'm really going to let them have you, you dear, dear books. It would be selfish to keep you up here all the time, when I almost never open you. Nobody shall have this one, though, with Hannah's letter in it."
She turned the pages of one of the latest volumes and paused at a neat little paragraph:
"I have been taking you ever since I was a child. I will be fourteen my next birthday. I like you very much. I would like to correspond with any one who is about my age. I have no brothers and sisters, and get very lonely. I have read all Miss Alcott, but I wish she had let Jo marry Laurie. I like the Wide-Awake stories. Please have a good long one about boarding-school in the next number. I like Dickens, but I can't bear Scott. I know John Gilpin and Baby Bell by heart, and I am in the eighth grade. I like skating and rowing. There is a fine pond near us.
"Your loving reader,
"Violet Ethelyn Eldred.
"P. S. Nobody knows that I am writing this letter, so please print it soon to surprise them."
Catherine kissed the page and closed the book. "Isn't it too unbelievable that that queer little letter with that ridiculous fancy name at the end should have done so much? Violet Ethelyn Eldred! It hasn't nearly so pleasant a sound to me now as Hannah. And the child thought no one would write to her if she signed her own name,—it was so 'homely'! Ah me! I suppose I should be getting dressed instead of sitting about in the sunshine, mooning. I wonder if Inga will remember the muffins for breakfast."
* * * * *
"Polly Osgood wants to see you, Catherine."
Catherine, busily sorting linen in the up-stairs linen room a little later in the morning, leaned over the railing in answer to her mother's announcement from the hall below.
"O, Polly, do come on up. I've a little more to do and we might just as well talk while I'm at it. Have you called the Boat Club meeting?"
Polly Osgood came running up the stairs. She was a slender little girl with big blue eyes and yellow hair.
"Yes," she answered brightly. "I've called it at ten. It's almost that now. Tom can't come, of course; he's always so busy daytimes, but I think all the others will be there."
"Hasn't Bert something to keep him?"
"Not just now," Polly laughed. "He substituted in the post-office last week, and the week before that in a hardware store, but just now he says nobody seems to need him, and he's reading law in private."
"He's such a goose," and Catherine put two mated pillow-cases together with a little pat. "Inga never knows enough to put things in pairs, and Mother wouldn't dare begin to look them over. If she should do anything so domestic, half Winsted would break out with mumps or chickenpox. Where did you say we'd have the meeting?"
"At the boat house. We might as well use it, now we have it. But I didn't know you broke out with mumps."
"That's only figurative. Polly, why have you gone back to braids and bows? You look very infantile for a real Wellesley sophomore."
"I got tired of the bird-cages and puffs, and decided I'd go back to nature. Besides, playing around with Peter and Perdita you need something stationary. They work dreadful havoc with a stylish coiffure."
"I wonder if I'd have to put my hair down just to teach them on Sundays? Mrs. Henley is going away, you know, and I've been asked to take her class."
"O, I do hope you will," cried Polly. "You would have a civilising influence on Perdita, and she needs it. Peter keeps her in order so well she never does anything very bad, but she is potentially a little terror."
"She always seems very mild when I see her," commented Catherine, patting her piles into straight lines. "But you can't always tell about people by looking at them. I, for instance, have all my life been expected to be lady-like, just because when I was little I hadn't strength enough to be naughty. And many and many a time I have felt like doing something wild and shocking!"
"Why, Catherine Smith!" exclaimed Polly in amazement. "You always seemed to me a sort of beautiful princess up here on the hill, and, good as any of the rest of us might try to be, we never could hope to be as good as you. Have you honestly ever wanted to be bad?"
Catherine laughed, a funny little gurgling laugh. "I honestly have—not wicked you know, but—well, reckless! And I never had the courage to do anything very startling till last year at college."
She stopped and laughed again.
"Tell me," Polly insisted. "I'll never tell. What did you do? Was it fun? Tell me!"
Catherine's eyes twinkled. "I made up my mind that it was my one chance, for no one there belonged to me, and my tiresome reputation for propriety hadn't had time to get started. So one day I got up late, and was late to breakfast, and cut a class, and—" She laughed so hard that Polly wanted to shake her. "O, Polly it was such a ridiculous thing to do! I talked slang and chewed gum!"
Polly gasped. "Did you like it? What made you stop?"
"People. They were so astonished. And, besides, I hated the gum. Inez Dolliver used to chew it with such gusto that I thought it must be rather good. And the slang sounded so easy and,—O! lighthearted, you know, and friendly. When you and Hannah Eldred use it, it never seems offensive, just pleasant and gay. But everyone looked so worried and puzzled all day at me, that I decided to stop. And next day they seemed so relieved. I told Dy-the Allen later about it (she's the dearest thing!) and she was very philosophical. She told me it wasn't becoming to my general character, just as pink wasn't becoming to my hair. I told her I had always loved pink, and wanted to wear it, and she suggested that I wear it at night. It wouldn't show in the dark and it was an innocent desire; and perhaps if I did that, I'd not want to use slang or chew gum. I didn't, after I had tried once, anyhow! Polly Osgood, here we are sitting around and I'm telling you foolish stories about myself, when we ought to be discussing library matters."
"The other was more interesting," sighed Polly. "I'm going to give up slang myself soon. I never did chew gum! But I've been terribly bored lately by some rather flip young creatures I've had to see more or less, and I decided to cut it out and talk plain English. What are you smiling at?"
Then, as her own earnest sentences came back to her, she reddened a little, and joined Catherine in smiling. "Isn't that a fright? I mean, isn't that startling? I didn't know I used it so much. Do you suppose I can cure myself and still have time and attention to give to starting the library? It's time we were down there now."
"All right. I'm ready, as soon as I get my hat. Do you ever wear them at college?"
"Never. Now while we go along, tell me just what your idea is. What did the Hampton ladies say?"
Catherine thrust her hatpins in, as she hurried down the steps.
"They advised having some club take it up, for a time at least, and they thought it would be nice to have it be the Boat Club instead of a literary one, because the literary ones often have a spirit of competition, and if one of them started the library the others might not feel inclined to use it."
"I see, and the Boat Club, besides being unsectarian and interdenominational and non-partisan, has a lot of waste enthusiasm and energy that might just as well be put to work. Father says he is sure that when the thing is really running, the council will vote a tax and take it off our hands. You are sure Algernon can run it? I thought it took years of special training."
"It does," Catherine answered gravely, "but we could not afford a trained librarian, and Algernon is intelligent and will study. Miss Adams gave him hints as to books to get, and she will help him. He can go over there when he gets into difficulties. She seemed to like him. They talked about all sorts of technical things,—Algernon had a lot of information stowed away in his head, of course,—and she didn't seem bored at all."
"I've often thought I shouldn't be, if I knew anything about the subjects he talks about," confessed Polly. "There are Bertha and Agnes." She trilled to the two girls ahead, who turned and waited.
On the flat roof of the boat house half a dozen members of the club were assembled. Polly hastened to take her seat and call the meeting to order.
"Max Penfield will act as secretary, and we shall expect the minutes done in the most approved University style. Archie Bradly, will you please state the object of the meeting?"
"Fo' de lan's sake, no!" ejaculated Archie, sitting up and shutting his knife. "That's the very thing I came to find out!"
"Very well," said Polly, twinkling. "Then, of course, you will pay close attention. It will do you more good than carving Andover on the benches. There's not much space left on them, now, and it's still early in the season. Catherine, will you tell us the object of the meeting? Ouch!" for Archie had reached lazily behind her and given one of her yellow braids a gentle yank.
"You all know, already," began Catherine, "except perhaps Archie! We've talked it over with the older people, and they think it's perfectly practical, only some one or some organization has to take it in charge."
"What's 'it'?" asked Archie innocently.
"Why, the library. The Boat Club is going to see that Winsted has a public library."
"Turn into Carnegies?" inquired Max, doing a sketch of Geraldine Winthrop on the margin of the secretary's book.
"Not exactly. We haven't got our own dock built yet, and I don't think we are in a position to endow libraries. But I mean we can work and talk—"
"Talking's work," complained Archie. "That's redundancy."
"It is, when you keep interrupting," cried Bertha Davis. "Go on, Catherine. Don't mind him. Just how can we work?"
"Well, the room will have to be cleaned thoroughly, and we girls can do most of that if the boys will help a little. And there will have to be some plain shelves put up for the books."
"Me for the carpenter job!" cried a long-legged youth who had lain thus far in the shade of his own hat, in entire silence and apparent unconsciousness. "It's just what I want to cure my brain fever."
"Overstudy? Or overwork reading postals last week?" asked Agnes, smiling into Bert's half-shut eyes.
"It's more likely fatty degeneration of the brain, if it's Bert Wyman that has it," said an emphatic voice, and a spruce energetic maiden joined the group. "I just got in on the 10:10, and Mother said you were all over here. What's before the house?"
"Nothing. We're all on the house," explained Archie dryly, but Polly answered the question with careful courtesy. Dorcas listened.
"Very well," she said, when Polly finished. "If it is in order, I move you, Madam President, that we proceed to clean the library at once."
"O, Dorcas, not to-day!" groaned two or three, while Max remarked in an aside to no one that if it was in order it shouldn't need cleaning.
"Why not to-day?" asked Dorcas briskly. "How you-all can loaf around the way you do is more than I can comprehend. Dot, your hair is coming down."
Dot, who was called Dot, because she was a dot, though her parents had intended her to go through life as Geraldine, lifted her eyebrows slightly, and removing her four hairpins, shook down her hair and did it up again. The process took four seconds.
"I'd rather have Dot's curls than Dorcas' brains," growled Bert to Agnes, who reproached him with a look.
While Dorcas' motion was waiting for a second, there came down the road two pretty girls, in fluffy gowns, their white sunshades tilted charmingly. Max slammed the secretary's book shut.
"Hurry up and let's adjourn," he said, and Archie, suddenly energetic, seconded the motion and carried it, so far as it concerned himself, by going out to meet the newcomers and invite them to go canoeing at once. Max followed suit, and the meeting broke up unceremoniously, but with a sense of valuable achievement.
Dorcas, uttering harsh judgments upon the parliamentary methods of Polly Osgood, and, by inference, of all Wellesley College, attached herself to Bertha and Agnes for the homeward walk.
"See here, Dorcas Morehouse," said Bertha so suddenly that her sister and Dorcas jumped. "If you think that just because you have been to Chicago University for a quarter, you are going to run us all, this summer, you are mightily mistaken. Agnes and Dot and I never went away to school, and neither did Bess nor Winifred, but we aren't stupid, and we won't have you patronizing us. Catherine Smith is intellectual enough for any one, and she never snubs or patronizes; and as for Polly Osgood, you wouldn't dare hint a criticism of Wellesley if she were within hearing, and you know it. So there! If this library scheme is good enough for them, it is for the rest of us, and if you don't like it, you can just stay out of it!"
Whereupon, Bertha, having delivered herself, even more to her own astonishment than to any one else's, turned at the first corner and walked rapidly away, leaving her embarrassed sister to placate the wrathful Dorcas in any way her gentle heart suggested.
WITH PAIL AND BROOM
"Please forscuse me. Here's the key," and Elsmere held out to Catherine the aforesaid article, his honeyed voice and polite words matched by a cherubic smile.
"The key?" asked Catherine. "O, the key to the library. How did you get it?"
"Algy give it to me. I Algy's little help-boy," smiled the cherub.
Catherine tried to take the key, but it refused to come.
"What's the matter?" she asked. "It seems to be caught."
Elsmere squirmed a little. "Tieded," he murmured, and Catherine, bending closer to investigate, discovered that the key was so secured to the child's apparel that sharp steel was necessary to sever the connection.
"Algy hasn't too much confidence in his little help-boy, after all," she thought. "Thank you, Elsmere. Now run along home like a good boy."
"No, Elsmere go, too, like a good boy. I help."
Catherine sighed. The library was to be cleaned that morning as soon as the girls could be spared by their respective mothers. She had been waiting for Algernon to bring the key, and had counted on his muscular assistance in the labor before her. Now, instead, she had only the key, and that almost as hopelessly affixed to Elsmere as it had been before she cut it loose. She took up her bundle of rags, scrubbing-brush and soap resignedly, and calling "Good-by" to Dr. Helen started off down the hill. On the way she stopped for Agnes, who came out with a broom. Polly, bearing a pail, met them at the corner. At the library they found Bertha, mop-laden, pressing her nose against the pane to see inside.
"Hello!" she called to them. "How can we get hot water?"
"Let's go over to Henderson's and borrow a little oil stove for a few hours, and we'll heat the water in this pail. One of you might go to the pump in the park and get it full now. Whose broom?" touching one, leaning by the window.
"Dot's. She came and went off again. Bert passed, driving a ten-cent express and she hailed him and they've gone over to Mr. Kittredge's to get the books he promised."
"The crazy children! Where will we ever put books to-day, with the room in such a state?"
Catherine fitted the key to the lock, and the band of cleaners entered, unrolled their big aprons and began, with much energy and good nature, to sweep down the walls and ceiling and gather the milliner's rubbish into two big baskets found in the shed. Elsmere picked over the pile, making rapturous discoveries.
"Aren't these very small bushel baskets?" asked Agnes. "They fill up so fast."
"They're just about the average size, I think," remarked Catherine. "They don't vary much more than yardsticks do in length! But I do wish some of those lazy boys were here to carry them out and empty them for us."
"What's that?" asked Max's voice in the doorway. Immaculate in white flannels, with Bess by his side, bewilderingly beruffled, he viewed the scene before him dispassionately.
Catherine and Agnes, red and warm and somewhat dishevelled, returned the gaze for a moment silently. In that moment an entirely natural resentment was forced into outward pleasantness.
"We were just wishing some one was here to make a bonfire of this debris for us," said Catherine cheerfully, "but never mind. There comes Polly with a man from Henderson's, and he'll take it out."
"All right. Wish you luck. We'd stop and help, only we've got to meet Arch and Win, and we're late already. So long!" and Max lifted his cap, Bess waved her sunshade, and the two went around the corner out of sight.
The man from Henderson's did some lifting very willingly, rescued what was left of the water Bertha was tugging from the park, lighted the stove and even stayed to poke the bonfire he made for them in the street, and keep it from spreading.
"It's a good thing," he said, as he went away amid a chorus of "Thank you." "Everybody'd ought to help all they can."
"I'd like to make him a member of the club," growled Polly, "and turn one or two people I could mention out."
"Dorcas doesn't seem so zealous as she did yesterday," remarked Catherine. "I hope she isn't angry, because we didn't fall in with her suggestions."
Bertha looked conscious, and stole a glance at Agnes, but said nothing. Catherine, catching the look, laughed.
"Father says Dorcas does us all a lot of good, as a counter-irritant. Whenever we begin to feel a little cross with each other, we all turn in and feel very cross with Dorcas. I was simply raging when Max and Bess sailed by in their purple and fine linen, but at least they hadn't pretended to be interested, and Dorcas—"
"She may be busy," said Agnes. "There's a lot of work at their house, and Dorcas usually does her share. I'll say that much for her, though she does make me awfully angry sometimes. Where is Elsmere? He might go over to the store and get something to polish this window-glass with."
"I don't know. Elsmere! Elsmere! Where are you? Come here, dear." No response.
"O, never mind," sighed Catherine wearily. "I'm not responsible for him. It is a relief to have him out of the way for a while. I wanted to send him home before, but he had such a sweet lady-like way with him this morning, I couldn't bring myself to. Girls! Hark!"
The four laborers had dropped upon a long box to rest a few minutes from their toil. Their low voices had been the only sound. Now distinctly, in a remote corner of the room, could be heard a little scratch, scratch. Then across the floor, serene and fearless, "right where I had been sweeping," Catherine said later with a shiver, ran a small gray mouse.
With one accord the four tucked their skirts about them and sat closer. No one spoke, but each measured the distance to the door with an accurate eye. And then, silently, but with haste, they beat a swift retreat.
The fair wide street before them, the door shut behind them, they drew deep breaths of relief, though each avoided the others' eyes.
"Some girls wouldn't mind going right up and killing it," said Polly, "but I simply could not."
"Nor I," said Catherine firmly. "I could go to battle or the stake like Joan of Arc, but I draw the line at mice."
"What's the matter? What are you all out here for? I thought you came to clean."
It was Dorcas, of course. The girls hung their heads with shame, and Bertha, who had defied her so boldly when last they met, answered with meekness.
"We did. But there's a mouse."
Dorcas looked them all over with an expression of deep scorn.
"Give me the key," she said, and it was given to her.
Then the fearful ones flattened their faces against the unwashed window-pane to see what would happen. The little gray creature placidly nibbled a tidbit in a corner. Dorcas approached him. He lifted his head and regarded her. She faltered a little and glanced behind her. She even felt hastily of her skirts. The respect in the watching faces lightened a little. Every woman is born knowing how mice delight to hide in skirts.
After a moment Dorcas opened the door and came out, passed the group of watchers without a word and crossed the street to Henderson's. Coming back a minute later with a trap, she re-entered the room, set the trap and waited. So did the others, breathless, clinging to each other. Bert and Dot, driving up on their ten-cent express, saw that something unusual was going on, and drove quietly around into the alley. Peeping in at the back window, they took in the situation quickly: Dorcas on one side of the room, the little gray mouse on the other, the trap between. The silence lasted for several seconds. Then came a sharp crack! And Dorcas, throwing her arm across her eyes, ran out of the room with a shriek and fell upon Agnes, who was nearest.
"He's killed," she sobbed. "I—I saw him!"
"So he is," soothed Agnes. "None of the rest of us would have dared set the trap, if we had been bright enough to think of it. There! It was harrowing, but it's all over now."
"No, no," shuddered Dorcas. "He's in there yet, and he's dead!"
Catherine spied Bert's two mischievous eyes looking around the corner of the building. In an instant she had despatched him to clear the room of its horror, and was bringing Dot, a protesting prisoner, to join the group.
"Where did you come from?" asked every one, while Dorcas collected herself.
"O, our chariot's just outside," answered Dot. "We saw you all peeping in, so we drove around behind to have a look ourselves. Got there in time to see the final fatality. Dorcas was heroic until she won. Are you girls honestly afraid of mice?"
"I am of live ones," confessed Catherine.
"I am of dead ones," said Dorcas.
"Dead or alive, they, 'turn my blood to ice within me, and make the breath of my heart wax pale,' as the lecturer said last night," said Polly. "But now that you dare-devil people have cleared the field for action, we may as well go in and scrub. We'd only just finished sweeping. Dot, you may take the death-bed boards. And, O, there comes Bert, back from the funeral. As President of the Winsted Boat Club and Library Association, I hereby appoint you and Geraldine Winthrop a Standing Mouse Committee with full power to act."
"Dorcas to be official executioner, I trust," and Bert held the door open for Dorcas, bowing low as she passed.
That afternoon the B. C. & L. A. gathered in force. Even Tom Davis, brother of Bertha and Agnes, asked for a half-day's vacation and helped Algernon whitewash. Bert had impressed Max into carpentering, and the work of bookcase-building went on noisily inside the shed. The girls sat on the weedy patch of ground outside, sewing sash curtains.
"It would be quicker to make them on the machine at home, but not nearly so much fun," said Agnes. "How many books did you and Bert gather up this morning, Dot?"
"Fifty-three volumes besides Miss Ainsworth's. Those were already over here in the shed. Where is Archie?"
"He and Winifred are coming. They were going to bring a rug Win's mother said we could have, and two lamps."
"They will enjoy carrying them over this hot afternoon!" said Bess, deftly hemming a curtain. "But it can't be so bad as this morning. Girls, we had a perfectly dreadful time. It was all on account of that terrible little Swinburne boy. You see, we thought we'd take the big Penfield boat, instead of the canoes, and just as we were pushing off, that child stepped into the boat from the dock and announced serenely that he was going boating-ride. He did look dear, and quite clean, and we all knew that it was hard to make him change his mind, so we let him come. He sat very still and was as good as gold till we had got a long way from home, and then he began."
Catherine sighed appreciatively. "I can imagine, Bess dear. But do tell us."
"You can't imagine. Nobody could. He talked a blue streak. And the things he said! He asked what he was made of, and how God got the eyes in. He told about somebody's having a tooth out and went into dreadful details. And then he got off on a worse tack, and asked Archie where his wife was, and when Archie said he wasn't married, he sighed and looked so sorry, and said: 'Wasn't you ever marwied, Archie? Not even once?' He simply spoiled our morning. It wasn't so much what he did say, as what we thought he might be going to. We had to turn around and come home long before we wanted to, just on account of that child."
"If you had only thought to have Win sing to him," said Catherine. "He will drop off to sleep with the least assistance, even when he seems widest awake, and Win's lullabies are irresistible. There! that's the last curtain. And there come Archie and Win with a donkey-cart, and—why, what do you think they have? It can't be just a rug and two lamps."
Every one broke off work to go to meet the donkey-cart, a low, long, box affair, with Winifred and Archie on the seat, and a quantity of furniture and boxes in the back.
Algernon, still holding a brush, took the donkey by the bridle and backed him up.
"There, unload everything. It's all right. I sent these folks after them. Didn't have time to go myself. Yes, yes, they belong here. The Three R's sent the table."
With eager exclamations, the boys and girls unloaded six chairs, an oak table, a rocker, a box spilling over with stationery and colored cards, a miscellaneous lot of books, two neat rugs and half a dozen lamps of a variety of styles and shapes.
"The Three R's gave the table and chairs," explained Algernon, "and Mrs. Kittredge said to call at her house for the rocker and some of those lamps. And these other things I bought. Miss Crockett over at Hampton told me what to order and they came to-day, and I opened them up at the house."
Catherine came up beside Algernon and watched him unpack the boxes of cards, pens, paper clips, mending tissue, paste, shears and other new and shining articles. She was distinctly surprised. A large share of their little capital must have gone into these purchases. And Algernon had told no one, not even herself, that he was buying them.
Dorcas caught up a sheet of the paper.
"It seems to me it's rather fresh of you to spend the association's money for paper with your name on it, without knowing whether the permanent organization will want you or not."
The glow faded from Algernon's eyes. The consideration with which he had been treated these last few days had taught him to estimate properly the tolerance which had been all he had received before. Catherine, even, looked puzzled and not quite pleased.
"O, I say," he protested sadly. "You don't think I'd go and spend the public money, do you? I thought it would be fun to have these things all ready. I didn't know you'd rather have had me give the money and let the rest of you send in the order. I just did it for my share,—I'm awfully sorry."
Catherine lifted her head brightly.
"Indeed, you did exactly right. None of us would have known half so wisely how to use it. What did I tell you people? How many towns have librarians who work without pay, and furnish all their materials besides?"
Bert suddenly mounted the seat of the donkey-cart.
"What's the matter with the Boat Club?" he inquired hoarsely.
"We're all right," modestly replied the Boat Club, boys and girls together.
"What's the matter with the Three R's?"
"They're all right."
"What's the matter with the library?"
"It's all right."
"And now three cheers and a tiger for A. Swinburne, librarian. Hip, hip, hooray!"
A DAY OFF
"Not going over to the library to work to-day?"
"Not this morning. Mother Nature says I'd better not."
Dr. Helen put her hand on her daughter's forehead. "Too tired?" she queried, with a note of anxiety in her voice. It had been only in the last year or so that Catherine had been well enough to do the things other girls did, and she was always on the lookout for indications of over-exertion.
"No," answered Catherine, pulling her mother's firm strong hand down to her lips and kissing it. "And I don't intend to become so. Things can wait for a day, or the others can go on without me. I'm going to be a private citizen and stay at home and mend. Can't you sit and sew too, Mother?"
"Perhaps I can for half an hour," said Dr. Helen, "and you certainly need to give your clothes some attention. When you go up stairs to get your things, bring down that brown silk waist, and I'll make the collar over for you."
In a few minutes the two were cozily settled in the little alcove off the big book-lined living-room, a pleasant breeze bringing morning freshness in by way of an open window.
"Mother," said Catherine suddenly, "you and Father have brought me up very differently from most girls."
"Why, about taking care of myself. Some of the really nice girls seem to think it's perfectly all right to be sick, even when it could have been avoided. And some of them think it's rather fine to be ailing."
"Do you mean they want to be petted? That's natural enough."
"Not just that. I don't mind that. But Dy-the Allen—"
"Stop a minute, Catherine. Once for all, what is her ridiculous name? I have wanted to know for nearly a year and never think to ask."
Catherine laughed. "She was christened Edith, but when she was in High School she had a silly streak and wrote it with a 'y' for the 'i' and an 'e' on the end, so her brother called her E-dy-the, the way it looks, you know, just to tease her, and it turned into Dy-the and stayed that, though she signs herself Edith. She is one of the very dearest girls I ever knew, and how we shall get along without her next year at Dexter is more than I can guess. All the little preps adore her. But that was the very thing that made me crossest about her carelessness. She would go out in the snow with little thin dancing slippers on and lace stockings, and then take a horrible cold and be ill for days, and shut herself up in her room and have everybody bringing her flowers and meals and writing her notes. And then all her little satellites did similar things and it made a lot of bother for everybody. Little Hilda went to see a measles child because she thought it was fine to be reckless the way Dy-the is, and then she gave it to her roommate and two other girls. I got quite angry once and let Dy-the know just how it looked to me. I told her she ought to be ashamed to disobey Nature and be sent to bed for it, and she only laughed and quoted things from Stevenson about people who live on tepid milk and wear tin shoes. I told her Stevenson certainly tried to look out for his own health, for all that, but I couldn't make her think it a serious matter at all. She just laughed. She's such a dear, she doesn't know how to be angry, Dy-the doesn't," and Catherine smiled, in spite of her own earnestness, at the visions the name brought to her mind.
"Here comes somebody else of the dear variety," said Dr. Helen. "Go and let Polly in."
"She doesn't need to be let in," said that young person, appearing with the words. "She let her own self in. I'm on an errand, Catriona darling. I want your mother's advice and yours. What do you think of a regular library opening, with refreshments and all that? And have people bring books for admission fees?"
"Do sit down, Polly, and rest for a minute. You look as though you expected to be called to the telephone."
Polly dropped, sighing, into a comfortable chair.
"It does feel good to let down for a minute," she admitted. "I get so into the habit of tearing through space at college that I can't stop rushing for a month after I get home, and this library business has kept me jumping. I suppose the public could get on a day or two longer without it, seeing they have so many years. I worked all day yesterday with Algernon, and then in the evening it was too hot to stay in the house, and the mosquitoes were so thick outside that it was harder work trying to keep comfortable than anything I had done all day."
"They are worse than ever this year," sighed Dr. Helen, "and, really, I think they are harder to bear when we all know that a little public-spirited co-operation would rid us of them. Can't you get the people who draw books at the new library to agree to sprinkle the breeding-places with oil?"
Polly suddenly chuckled. "I beg your pardon, Dr. Helen, for being rude, but I just remembered a woman who addressed an open air meeting on the campus this spring. She was a missionary returned from somewhere and she appeared at one of the houses and wanted to talk, so we got a few girls together on the lawn to hear her. The mosquitoes were simply unbearable. We all sat there slapping ourselves and making grabs at the air, and trying to look interested, and then she opened her Bible and read about being encompassed about with a cloud of witnesses: That was bad enough, when you could see them settling all about us like a great dotted veil, but nobody cracked a smile until she gave out the hymn. And that, if you please, was 'My soul be on thy guard, ten thousand foes arise!' You know how it goes." And Polly sang:
"'Ne'er think the vict'ry won, Nor once at ease sit down, Thy arduous work will not be done Till thou obtain thy crown.'"
"She might have asked for 'Christian, up and smite them,'" said Dr. Helen. "Now, children, I should like nothing better than to sit and hear college yarns all the morning, but I have an office hour to keep. Catherine, did you tell Inga to order peas for dinner?"
"That reminds me," said Polly, springing up. "Mamma wanted me to do some marketing before I came home, and I was forgetting it entirely. And I haven't found out yet what you think of the opening!"
"I should think it would be a good way to advertise it and get people interested. We ought to get a lot of books, too, though they wouldn't all be worth much. Are you going to work to-day? I decided I'd have to take a day off."
"I don't believe any one will go down. Win won't, because Max has gone up to Madison to take a re in Trig and she won't bother about anything when he's not around. Dorcas said she'd see to the card-pockets at home—her Sunday-school class will do it, poor infants! And Bertha and Agnes have to help their mother because she's going to have the Ladies' Aid this afternoon. They are the best pair of workers I ever saw."
"Aren't they? Bess was fine about the curtains, too. She is so changeable, though, that I don't know what to think of her."
"Only a question of whether there's a man body about, my dear," said Polly oracularly. "Many a girl is all right and sensible when there are just girls around, but let a lad heave in sight, and the whole situation is altered. I've known Bess since she came to Winsted in a ruffled white apron, and no one can teach me anything about her. Now, having dissected all my friends, I think I really must do my marketing."
"We haven't said anything about Dot, the dear," said Catherine, following Polly to the door.
"Dot, the dear," echoed Polly. "That's all there is to say about her. Good-by, honey. To-morrow we'll go at it for a grand finale. That was the name of the last piece in my first music book, and I always like to say it. It sounds so complete, someway. You don't know, Catherine," and Polly stopped on the last step to look up at her tall friend, "how pleasant it makes things to have you in them. I'm just loving this library work, and so are the rest of us. Playing with you is like having one's Sunday doll all the week, or as if the princess in the fairy stories had turned into a real mortal. Good-by this time for truly true!"
Humming a Wellesley song, Polly was off down the walk at a brisk pace, and Catherine, who had answered her last words with a look more expressive than speech, stood watching her a minute, and then went happily back to her mending.
The grocer's boy, who arrived with the peas a little later, also brought the mail. He was devoted to Inga and enjoyed doing gratuitous favors for the doctor's family for her sake. Inga brought in two letters to Catherine, who joyfully dropped her darning and tore them open.
"Belovedest Goldilocks;" the first began, in Hannah Eldred's writing, not much improved in the two years she and Catherine had been corresponding.
"We are here at the shore for the summer, or that part of it which must pass before I come flying out to you with Frieda. Mamma and I are here all the time and Dad and Herr Karl come out for Sundays.
"People are so puzzled about Karl. I say over and over: 'No, not my tutor. No, not a cousin. Not even a ward of my father's. Just a German boy we learned to know in Berlin, and now a student at Harvard. Yes, we met him quite simply. He lived in the apartment under us, and he had hurt his leg and couldn't walk, and we used to entertain him. Frieda Lange and I did. It was at her house we were staying. His father is Herr Director Von Arndtheim, and they are very respectable!' People at a summer resort, even a little one, are the curiousest in the world, I think!
"Who do you think is coming to spend a few days with us next week? Nice old Inez! I'm awfully glad she is coming, but honestly I do hope she has learned to put her clothes on straight and to keep her room tidy. She's so good, and so faithful that I love her anyhow, but Mother does like neat guests dreadfully well! She would love you for a guest, Catherine. But there! You always are just ex-actly right, without the tiniest drawback,—unless Dexter has changed you. Has it?
"I feel as though I were having my second childhood. It was so nice to be at college that term with the grown-up girls, and now I have to go with infants like little Hilda and Gertrude, only not so nice. I had first year Math in High School, you know, last year, and my German Prof regarded me as a babe and wouldn't let me read things because I wasn't old enough—things that weren't suitable for children. Frieda's mother has never let her read a love story, you know, and this man has the same idea! He talked to me, the stiffest conversation lessons you ever heard. It was like the dialogues in Ruskin. I wonder what he would think if he should hear Karl and me sometimes. We jabber it all the time, he and Mamma and I. Dad won't let us when he's around, so we talk English then, and that instructs Karl. He's good except for his pronunciation. You should hear him do the Harvard yell! He rolls the 'r's' so far he almost loses them. They are even worse than you-ers, my western de-ar.
"We are going to have a hop to-night, a really hop, and I am going. They can't put me off with the children because I haven't any nurse or governess, and there aren't any other girls between infants and real young ladies. The hop won't be very big, because there are only a few families (it's not a fashionable place, you know), but we'll have a perfectly good time all the same. I am so pleased to be going as a Herrschaft, and I have a darling new frock for this and everything. It's a soft rosy silk with tiny tight rosebuds all over it. And I have a little wreath of buds to wear in my hair. There are two or three awfully nice people coming over. One of Karl's classmates at Harvard, and two boys from the Tech and a nice curly-haired freshman from Dartmouth. And there is a Smith girl, perfectly charming, and a rather frumpy one from Wellesley who knows your Polly Osgood, or rather knows who she is. This girl's name is Violet, and I saw a letter addressed to her and her middle initial was E, and I asked if her name was Ethelyn, but she said it was Emma!
"I wish you could see my little hop-gown. And the dear wreath. It makes me think of Ivy-Planting Day at Dexter and the way the seniors sang 'Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.' Wasn't Lilian the sweetest thing? She is studying in Boston this year, you know, and I saw her once. And weren't the little pig-tailed preps dear with their pink doves, I mean pink-ribboned doves? That was your pretty idea, my beautiful Catherine. I never could have thought of anything so lovely.
"I'm almost at the bottom of the inkstand, and I haven't told you yet what I started to write about. But Mamma has written your mother, so it's all right. Frieda is to land the last of July, and I'm going to take her out to you as soon after that as your mother and mine think best. I think she will need a long time to get acquainted, don't you? I know you will love each other, but she must know you thoroughly before college opens. It is tantalizing to think of you and her and Alice all being together. I do think I ought to be there, too, since I was the one who introduced you to each other. I'd like to keep Frieda with me next year, but every one seems to think the best place for her is right in the dormitory with the other girls,—and of course, it will be easier for her out there than in any of the big colleges nearer us. She is so obstinate she wouldn't learn English if she were near any one who could talk anything she would recognize for German. What most of the girls at college talk for that, she wouldn't know from Choctaw.
"Lots of love to the dear doctors, and for yourself bushels and quarts and pecks. I had a card from Miss Lyndesay from the Isle of Wight yesterday.
"Now I must shut, as Frieda said in her last letter!
"Your loving Hannah."
Catherine gathered up the scattered pages of this voluminous letter and then opened the slender one which had accompanied it. This bore a far western postmark, and its neat little pages resembled copperplate.
"My Dear Roommate:
"I'm waiting for a youth to whom I am to give a toot lesson. He is very stupid. I have him in Greek and English literature. In Greek he translates the word for Lord, 'Cyrus.' We have been reading the New Testament, and you can think how very oddly that would come in, in some passages! And in an English test he assured me that Milton wrote Pilgrim's Progress, and the author of Bacon's Essays was Charles Lamb. He makes me wonder whether I shall have courage enough to tackle teaching as a profession, if tutoring is so difficult. But I like his money very well, and Mother is going away for a real vacation and will take Cora, and that couldn't happen if I hadn't found work this summer.
"I have a Sunday-school class, too, and that is entertaining, at least. It is at a mission, and such queer dirty little chaps as are in it!
"I started in to teach them an alphabet of Christian graces, or desirable qualities. The first week we had A for Attention, and the second, B for Bravery, and the third week I thought they all had the idea, and asked them to guess what C would be. They thought very hard, and then one piped out: 'Cabbages!' The same little boy told me that the priests burned insects in the temple!
"My whole letter seems to be nothing but my pupils' absurdities. But really I have very little else to write about that would interest any one. I'm busy all day, and too tired at night to read or write. I take more pleasure getting acquainted with my darling little brother Jack again, than in anything else I do. He has been Ariel now for a week, and it's very convenient, for there are many errands to be done. He sleeps at night in a cow-slip bell, very romantically, but I have no hope the spell will last. He will be a robber chief or a street-car conductor next week. The poetry in his system is in streaks, not continuous. O! that reminds me—and it's the last 'bright saying' I shall quote in this letter, I promise you! He asked me rather shyly the other day what poetry was, and after I had attempted to explain, he said: 'It's queer, Allie. I thought it was chickens!'
"Here comes my pupil, looking very sad. I wish he didn't regard me as an old, old woman. I suppose I seem so to him, but I do hate to feel for two hours a day that I have lost all my youth.
"When does Hannah come? And Frieda? I am all eagerness to see her. Did you carry my embroidered waist home with you by any chance? I can't find it, and I really need it.
"My love to your mother, always.
The opening of the library had been vigorously advertised. Bert and Dot had wheeled the country roads over within a radius of three miles from town, posting bills of announcement. The ministers urged it upon their congregations as a civic duty to attend. At social gatherings the week before nothing else was talked of. And everybody was going to bring books.
"Such a lot of trash as we'll get!" groaned Dorcas.
"I know it," assented Polly, "but they will all take an interest, and that is what we are after now. Once properly established, we can buy good books, and these old ones will just stand idle or wear out or get lost or something."
"I don't think it's very appropriate to serve refreshments," objected Dorcas once more. "And Algernon doesn't think it is a dignified way to do."
"O, well," put in Catherine, appeasingly. "Mrs. Graham says, you know, that we'll 'have to get people pretty well educated readin' our encyclopedias and dictionaries before they'll think anything's worth goin' to that there ain't somethin' to eat at!' And Mrs. Graham is going to take charge of all that part, anyhow, so I don't feel like finding fault. There won't be any expense, with everything contributed."
"They might have given the money instead of ice-cream and cakes."
"O, Dorcas, Dorcas, you would expect people to be all made over. Did you ever read Stevenson's fable of the reformer who thought the first step in reforming the world was to abolish mankind? Let's not worry about it. I know it's going to be a success. Isn't this room the cleanest spot you ever saw?" And Catherine threw back her arms with a gesture to rest her tired shoulders, and looked about her with affection and pride. Bare white walls, with one good engraving, loaned by Judge Arthur, for ornament; plain shelves with rows of neat books, their orderly labels smiling like sets of teeth; the reading-table in the exact center of the room, with three chairs in military array on each side of it, and a few contributed magazines in mathematical piles between two student lamps; and last, Algernon's small charging desk, with its mysterious cards and rubber stamps under one of the bracket lamps, shining from the polishing Agnes had just given it.
"Isn't it spick and span?" repeated Catherine, sitting down with precision in the arm-chair, discovered in somebody's attic.
"Ye-es," answered Dot slowly, dropping upon one of the arms. "But for all its cleanness it's about as bare and as inviting as the contagious ward of a hospital, or the dining-room of a state's prison."
"Don't say discouraging things like that, Dot dear," pleaded Agnes, taking the other arm and snuggling her head against Catherine's cheek. "A library isn't supposed to be a parlor, and that engraving is really valuable."
"I'd rather have a chromo that comes with soap, myself," said Bert. "Its cold steely look only adds to that hygienic and sanitary aspect Dot detected. It makes me homesick for sunflowers and red flannel."
"I have an idea," and Dorcas rose and departed with her usual abruptness.
As she went out of the door, Bess came in.
"O dear!" she said. "Are you all here? I hoped nobody would be."
"Shall we withdraw?" asked Bert. "We were just commenting on the barrenness of this place, but your presence causes it to blossom as the rainbow. We bask in the refulgence."
Bess laughed. "That's really what I came for, to prettify it a little. It seemed such a pity not to have anything bright and attractive on the walls, so I made this at odd minutes. Do you all like it? I was going to put it up and surprise you."
She unrolled a big parcel she carried and the others, crowding around to see, looked upon a beautifully illuminated motto:
"God be thanked for books."
"Bess, you are an inspired angel," cried Polly, while Catherine gave her a squeeze which was meant to express pleasure and also compunction for more than one reflection that Bess was not doing her share for the library.
"And here comes another," exclaimed Agnes, running to open the door for Dorcas, staggering under the weight of a great armful of golden glow.
"Dorcas, you must have taken every stalk you had!"
"Well, and whose business is it, I'd like to know?" asked Dorcas briskly and justly. Polly shrugged her shoulders, but helped Bertha to find receptacles for the bright flowers, continuing to exclaim over their beauty, in spite of Dorcas' apparent indifference. It had not been Algernon alone who had been misunderstood at the beginning of the library campaign in Winsted. The flowers arranged effectively, and the motto given a place where it could be read from all parts of the room, the workers trudged off to their respective homes to make elaborate toilets before the "party" should begin.
Seven o'clock found the lamps lighted inside the little building, and Japanese lanterns making the freshly-mown weed patch a festive place, with little tables set for the ice-cream and cake which were to be served from the shed, leaving the library proper, clean and crumbless. Bess and Winifred, with their attendant squires, were to act as Mrs. Graham's lieutenants outside, and the other members of the club were variously on duty within. Dr. Helen assisted Algernon and the school superintendent in receiving—an unsectarian combination warranted to disturb no prejudice. Bertha, with a book and pen, was ready at the reading-table to receive and register gifts. Catherine sat at Algernon's desk to issue cards, and take in the annual fee of fifty cents. The other girls and boys were "floating," ready to entertain the guests, to explain the whole scheme, and see to it that every one was invited to the lawn for "light refreshments and ice-cream" as the Courier had announced.
The fathers and mothers of the Boat Club were early arrivals, looking with proud amused eyes upon their spotless sons and daughters in their disinterested public zeal. First of all came Mrs. Swinburne in a long black net gown elaborately spangled, her hair coquettishly arranged in a Janice Meredith curl, several years out of date, a slender ivory-sticked fan, somewhat broken, swaying from her belt by a long ribbon. She plainly felt that her entrance should excite attention and was by no means disappointed. Dot and Polly took her in charge and stood by with grave courteous faces while she gave Bertha her contribution, wrapped up in tissue paper and white ribbon.
"It's a copy of The Ring and The Book I got for Elsmere's Christmas last year. I wanted so to read it. I am devoted to Byron. But Algernon gave me the Complete Works, so that I felt I could give this away to advantage. It is a little damaged. The dear child uses his books to build stables with, but I knew that the public would not mind."
She arched her eyebrows in surprise when Catherine asked fifty cents for the card she made out for her. "As Algernon's mother, really, Miss Catherine, I did not expect—" and Catherine, catching Algernon's imploring glance from his position between the doctor and the superintendent, murmured an apology and gave the card.
Then Mrs. Swinburne sank delicately into the arm-chair, and rested her eyes upon the scene before her.
It was soon sufficiently animated. A whole family arrived at once, climbing out of a big farm wagon. Dot beckoned to Bert.
"It's that man we talked to out on the Ridge Road."
"Is this your liberry?" asked a mighty voice from the doorway. "Where's the young fellow that invited us to come in this evening? O, it's you, is it? I didn't recognize you with those clothes on. Men folks didn't wear white pants in my day. Well, Mother, come along in. I guess they won't nobody bite you."
With this encouragement, a little washed-out looking woman slipped uncomfortably in, six children of various degrees of awkwardness stumbling after her, studiously avoiding the outstretched hands of the receiving committee. Dr. Helen stepped forward and took the woman's hand. The wan face under the dusty black straw hat lighted with the smile that Catherine loved to see her mother call forth.
"Clary," said the little woman proudly, "here's the doctor. Let her see how fat and well you be. Not much like she was that winter!"
Clary's father, meanwhile, was walking about the room with a tread that rattled the lamp-shades. He looked the books over with an air of wisdom, listened to Bert's talk in silence, and presently drew up at the desk where Catherine sat waiting for customers.
"How much for your tickets?"
Catherine met the unforeseen question promptly.
"Where there are more than three in a family, the tickets are only thirty-five cents apiece."
"So. Well, give me one," and he drew a handful of small change from his pocket. "Holcomb's the name. Chester G. Holcomb."