WHILE CAROLINE WAS GROWING
BOOKS ABOUT CHILDREN BY JOSEPHINE DASKAM BACON
THE MADNESS OF PHILIP MEMOIRS OF A BABY BIOGRAPHY OF A BOY THE IMP AND THE ANGEL SISTER'S VOCATION TEN TO SEVENTEEN
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY NEW YORK . BOSTON . CHICAGO . SAN FRANCISCO
MACMILLAN & CO., LIMITED LONDON . BOMBAY . CALCUTTA . MELBOURNE
THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD. TORONTO
WHILE CAROLINE WAS GROWING
JOSEPHINE DASKAM BACON
NEW YORK THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 1911
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All rights reserved
Copyright, 1906, by P. F. Collier & Son Copyright, 1907, by the S. S. McClure Co. Copyright, 1909, by the S. S. McClure Co., Benjamin B. Hampton, P. F. Collier & Son, and by the Phelps Publishing Company
* * * * *
Copyright, 1911, by The Macmillan Company
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Set up and Electrotyped. Published March, 1911
Norwood Press: Berwick & Smith Co., Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
To S. B. long Caroline's admirer, from J. D. B.
I. AN IDYL OF THE ROAD 1
II. A LITTLE VICTORY FOR THE GENERAL 38
III. THE PRIZE 77
IV. WHERE THIEVES BREAK IN 113
V. A PILLAR OF SOCIETY 158
VI. HIS FATHER'S HOUSE 202
VII. THE PRETENDERS 235
VIII. A WATCH IN THE NIGHT 269
IX. THE ENDS OF THE EARTH 297
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
With a great sweep of her arm, she brushed aside a portiere and disappeared. 66
"Sh! sh!" he whispered excitedly, "not a vordt! Not a vordt! Mein Gott! but it is marvellous." 74
"What are you doing here, little girl?" he demanded sternly. 118
Caroline danced, bowing and posturing in a bewitched abandon, around the tinkling, glistening fountain. 274
Across the court was a lighted room with a long French window, and in the center of this window there sat in a high, carved chair a very old woman. 282
Caroline was not a hundred yards away, sheltering under a heavy arbor vitae, flat on her stomach. 299
WHILE CAROLINE WAS GROWING
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AN IDYL OF THE ROAD
Caroline rocked herself back and forth from her waist, defying the uncompromisingly straight chair which inclosed her portly little person.
"Bounded 'n th' north by Mass'joosetts; bounded 'n th' north by Mass'joosetts; bounded 'n th' north by Mass'joosetts," she intoned in a monotonous chant. But her eyes were not upon the map; like those of the gentleman in the poem, they were with her heart, and that was far away.
Out of the window the spring was coming on, in waves of tree-bloom and bright grass; the birds bickered sweetly in the sun-patches; everything was reaching on tiptoe for the delicious thrill of May—and she was bounding Connecticut! It was idiotic. What was a knowledge of the uninteresting limits of her native State compared to that soft fresh wind on her cheek, that indescribable odor of brown earth?
Two fat birds descended with a twitter into a crystal rain-pool, and bathed, with splashes of spray; Caroline's feet itched in her ribbed stockings. A soiled and freckled boy, bare from the knees, whistled by the window, jangling a can of bait, his pole balanced prettily on one ragged shoulder. As he reached the puddle, a pure inconsequence of good feeling seized him, and he splashed deliberately in it, grinning around him. Caroline mechanically bent and unbuttoned the top button of her stout boots. He caught her eye.
"Where you going?" she called through the glass.
"Oh, I d'no—anywheres, I guess!" he answered invitingly. "Want to come?"
"I can't. I have to go to school," she said shortly.
"And so ought he—you ought to be ashamed of yourself, calling through the window to that Simms boy!" cried a disgusted voice. Caroline twitched her shoulder spitefully.
"A great girl like you, too! Why, he's no better than a common tramp, that boy," proceeded the voice. "Look at his clothes!"
"Nobody wears good clothes to go fishing," Caroline grumbled. "I wish he had mine!"
"Fishing! He never wears them anywhere. He hasn't got them to wear. And he'd be glad enough to get yours, I can tell you."
"He wouldn't do any such thing! He told me Saturday he'd rather be a dog than a girl; he'd get more use of his legs!"
There was a scandalized silence. Caroline waited grimly.
"What are you doing?" said the voice at last. "Studying my jography," she replied.
"Well, mind you do, then."
"I can't, if everybody talks to me all the time," she muttered sullenly.
Nevertheless she resumed her rocking and crooning.
"Bounded 'n th' east by Rho Disland; bounded 'n th' east by Rho Disland; bounded 'n th' east by Rho Disland."
The housemaid appeared just under the window, dragging a small step-ladder and a pail of glistening, soapy water. Her head was coifed in a fresh starched towel, giving her the appearance of a holy sister of some clean blue-and-white order; her eyes were large and mournful. She appealed instantly to Caroline's imagination.
"Oh, Katy, what a lovely Mother Superior you would make!" she cried enthusiastically.
"I'm a Presbyterian, Miss Car'line," said Katy reprovingly. "You'd better go on with your lessons," and she threw up the window from the outside.
A great puff of spring air burst into the room and turned it into a garden. Moist turf and sprouting leaves, wet flagstones and blowing fruit-blossoms, the heady brew of early morning in the early year assailed Caroline's quivering nostrils and intoxicated her soul.
"Oh, Katy, don't it smell grand!" she cried.
Katy wrung the soapy cloth and attacked the upper sash.
"You've got the nose of a bloodhound," she observed. "I b'lieve you'd smell molasses cookies half a mile."
"I didn't mean them," she said. "I meant——"
"You'd better be at your lesson; your aunty'll be here in a minute if she hears you talking, now!"
Katy was severe, but fundamentally friendly. Caroline groaned and applied herself.
"Bounded 'n th' south by Long Island Sound; bounded 'n th' south by Long Island Sound; bounded 'n th' south—oh, look!"
Up the neat flagged path of the side yard a spotted fox-terrier approached, delicately erect upon his hind legs, his mouth spread in cheerful smiles, his ears cocked becomingly. He paused, he waved a salute, and as a shrill whistle from behind struck up a popular tune, he waltzed accurately up to the side porch and back, retaining to the last note his pleased if painstaking smile.
Caroline gasped delightedly; Katy's severity relaxed.
"That's a mighty cute little dog," she admitted.
Another shrill whistle, and the dog returned, limping on three legs, his ears drooping, his stumpy tail dejected. He paused in the middle of the walk, and at a sharp clap, as of two hands, he dropped limply on his side, rolled to his back, and stiffened there pathetically, his eyes closed.
Caroline's chin quivered; Katy's position on the ladder was frankly that of one who has paid for an orchestra-chair; Maggie had left the cookies and stood grinning in the kitchen door; an aunt appeared in an upper window.
One more clap, and the actor returned to life and left them, but only for a moment. He was back again, erect and smiling, a small wicker basket balanced on his paws. Marching sedately up to Maggie, he paused, and glanced politely down at the basket, then up at her.
Flesh and blood could not resist him. Hastily tugging out from her petticoat a bulging pocket-book, she deposited a dime in the basket; the aunt, with extraordinary accuracy, dropped a five-cent piece from the window; Katy mourned her distance from her own financial center, and Caroline ran for her bank. It was a practical mechanism, the top falling off at her onslaught with the ease of frequent exercise, and she returned in time to slip six pennies under the two hot cookies that Maggie had added to her first contribution. At each tribute the terrier barked twice politely, and only when there was no more to be hoped for did he trot off around the corner of the house, the cookies swaying at a perilous angle under his quivering nostrils.
A moment later a tall young man stepped across the grass and lifted a worn polo-cap from a reddish-yellow head.
"Much obliged, all," he said, with an awkward little bow. "Good day!"
He turned, whistled to the terrier, and was going on, when he caught the heartfelt admiration of Caroline's glance.
"Want to pat him?" he inquired.
She nodded and approached them.
"Shake hands with the lady, William Thayer, and tell her how d'you do," he commanded, as she knelt beside the wonderful creature.
The terrier offered a cool, tremulous paw, and barked with cheerful interrogation as she shook it rapturously.
"Those were fine cookies," said the young man. "I had 'em for breakfast. I'm going to buy a bone for William Thayer, and then he'll have some, too."
"Was that all you had?" she inquired, horror-stricken. He nodded. "But I'll make it up on dinner," he added lightly.
Caroline sprang to her feet.
"You go over there behind that barn and wait a minute," she commanded.
The young man—he was only a boy—blushed under his tan and bit his lip.
"I didn't mean—I'll get along all right; you needn't bother," he muttered, conscious of Katy's suspicious eye.
"Oh, do! Please do!" she entreated. "I'll be out there in just a minute; hurry up, before Maggie gets through those cookies!"
He turned toward the barn, and Caroline ran back to the house.
"Is that man gone? What are you doing, Caroline?" called the invisible voice.
"Yes, he's gone. I was patting the dog," she answered boldly, stepping through the dining-room into the pantry and glancing hastily about. Only a plate of rolls was in sight; the place was ostentatiously clean and orderly. She sighed and pushed through the swinging door; the refrigerator was a more delicate affair. But Maggie's broad back was bent over her ovenful, and Caroline clicked the door-knob unchallenged.
Two chops sat sociably on a large plate; a little mound of spinach rested on one side of them, a huge baked potato on the other. She slid the plate softly from the metal shelf, peeping apprehensively at Maggie, tumbled the rolls on to the top, and sped into the dining-room. From a drawer in the sideboard she abstracted a silver fork which she slipped into her pocket, adding, after a moment of consideration, a salt-shaker. Stepping to the door, she paused on the little porch for a hasty survey. The coast seemed clear, and she sped across the yard, the silver jingling in her pocket. She was safe from the back, but a flank movement on Maggie's part would have been most disastrous, and it was with full appreciation of the audacity of her performance that she scudded around the barn and gained the cherry-tree behind it.
The young man was sitting on the grass, his head against the tree; his eyes brightened as she approached.
"Have any luck?" he inquired.
She held out the plate, and, as he took it, fumbled in her pocket for the fork.
"It's all cold," she murmured apologetically, "but I knew Maggie'd never warm it. Do you mind?"
"Not a bit," he answered, with a whimsical glance at her eagerness to serve him. "I always did like greens," he added, as he accepted the fork and attacked the spinach.
"Here, William Thayer!"
He handed one of the chops to the dog, and stared as Caroline drew out the salt-cellar.
"Did you—well, by—that's pretty kind, now!"
"Potatoes are so nasty without it," she explained.
"Yes, that's why I don't us'ally eat 'em," he replied.
There was a moment's silence, while he ate with the frank morning appetite of twenty, and Caroline watched him, her sympathetic jaws moving with his, her eyes shining with hospitality.
"Nice place you've got here," he suggested, breaking a roll.
"Yes. I wish I'd brought you some butter, but I didn't dare cut any off; it was in a jar, and it clatters so. ("Oh, that's all right!") This is nicer than it used to be out here. It was the chicken-yard, and ashes and things got put here; but nobody keeps chickens any more, and this is all new grass. They took down the back part of the barn, too, and painted it, and now it's the stables, or you can say carriage-house," she explained instructively.
He threw his chop-bone to William Thayer and drew a long breath.
"That was pretty good," he said, "and I'm much obliged to you, Miss." Caroline swelled with importance at the title. "I must have walked four or five miles, and it's not such fun with an empty stomach. I came from Deepdale."
"Oh, how lovely!" cried she. "By the pond?"
"Yes, by the pond. I gave William Thayer a swim, and I had a little nap. It's nice and pretty all around there. I cut some sassafras root; want some?"
He felt in his pockets, and produced a brown, aromatic stump; Caroline sucked at it with a relish.
"Where are you going now?" she asked respectfully, patting William Thayer's back while his master caressed his ear.
"Oh, I don't know exactly. There's some nice woods back of the town; I think I'll look 'em through, and then go on to New Derby. I read in the paper about some kind of a firemen's parade there to-morrow, and if there's a lot of people, we'll earn something. We haven't made much lately, because William Thayer hurt his leg, and I've been sparing of him—haven't I, pup? But he's all right now."
He squeezed the dog's body and tickled him knowingly; the little fellow grinned widely and barked. Caroline sighed.
"It must be grand," she said wistfully, "to walk from one town to another, that way. Where do you sleep?"
"In barns, sometimes, and there's lots of covered wagons all around the farm-houses, outside the towns, you know. A church shed's as good a place as any. I don't like the towns as big as this, though; I like the country this time o' year."
Caroline nodded comprehendingly, breathing deep breaths of the fresh, earth-scented air.
"I wish there never were any houses in the world—nor any schools, either!" she cried.
He smiled. "I never was much for schools, myself," he said. "They don't smell good."
Caroline looked at him solemnly. She felt that the resolution of her life was taken. In one ecstatic flash she beheld her future.
"I shall never go to school again," she announced. "I shall—" A wave of joyous possibility broke over her, but modesty tied her tongue.
"Could I—would you—I'm a real good walker!" she burst out, and blushed furiously. Who was she to associate with a dog like William Thayer?
The young man looked curiously at her. A kind of anxiety clouded his frank gray eyes. "Oh, you mustn't talk like that," he urged, laying one brown hand on her apron. "That wouldn't do for a young lady like you. I guess you better go to school. Girls, you know!"
He waited a moment, but she scowled silently. He began again:
"I guess it's different with girls, anyway. You see, you have to get your education. A young lady——"
"I'm not a young lady," snapped Caroline. "I'm only ten 'n' a quarter!"
"Well, anyway, it isn't respectable," he argued hastily. Caroline opened her eyes wide at him.
"Aren't you respectable?" she demanded, appraising unconsciously his clothes, which were, if not fine, at least clean and whole, his flannel shirt finished with a neat blue tie, his shoes no dustier than the country roads accounted for.
He flushed under his thick freckles, and plucked at the grass nervously.
"N-n—yes, I am!" he shouted defiantly. "I know lots of people don't think so, but I am! We earn our way, William Thayer an' me, an' we don't want much. I don't see as we do any harm. It don't take much to live, anyhow; it's coal-scuttles an' lookin'-glasses an'—an' carpets that cost money. And if you don't want them—oh, what's the use talking? I never could live all tied up."
"Caroline! Caroline!" A loud voice cut across her meditative silence. She shrugged her shoulders stubbornly and put her finger on her lip. The boy shook his head.
"You better go," he said soothingly. "You'll have to sometime, you know. Here, take these," as she jumped up, forgetting the fork and the salt-shaker. "Be sure to put 'em back where you got 'em, won't you?"
"Oh, leave 'em here. I'll come back," she said carelessly, but the boy insisted.
"No, you take 'em right now," he commanded. "I wouldn't want any mistake made."
"Just wait a minute—I'll come back," she repeated, as the call sounded again.
"Caroline! where are you?"
The boy stood up, holding out the silver. "You—you don't want 'em to say I—I took 'em?" he blurted out.
Her eyes opened wide; she looked all the incredulous horror she felt.
"Steal?" she cried, "with a dog like that?"
He nodded. "That's the way I look at it, but some don't," he said shortly. "You better go now. Much obliged for the breakfast. If I come back this way, maybe I'll stop in again, if you'd like to see William Thayer."
"I think she went across behind the stable, Miss Carrie," Katy called helpfully.
Caroline thrust the silver into her pocket and turned to go.
"I'm coming!" she cried desperately, and, patting William Thayer, she took a few backward steps.
"There's a nice brook in those woods," she observed irrelevantly, "if you should want to take another nap," and, turning her back resolutely, she rounded the barn and disappeared.
The boy picked up the empty plate and slipped it into a door at the back of the stable. Then, lifting the dog over the nearest fence, he climbed it and stepped through the next yard into the street.
"That was a mighty nice little girl, William Thayer," he said thoughtfully. "She seemed to understand a lot, for such a little one."
Caroline stalked aggressively into the dining-room, and finding it for the moment empty, hastily replaced the salt-shaker. The fork she laid in the pantry. Hardly was her pocket clear of the telltale stuff when her aunt appeared before her.
"I suppose you know you're late for school, Caroline," she began, with evident self-control. "If you think I am going to write you an excuse, you are very much mistaken."
"All right," Caroline returned laconically. "Is my lunch ready?"
"It was nothing in the world but that dog; I cannot understand the fascination that tramps and loafers have for you! You never got it from this family. Why do you like to talk to dirty tramps! Some day a strange dog will bite you. Then you'll be sorry!"
"He wasn't a bit dirty. If you weren't so afraid of dogs, you'd know William Thayer wouldn't bite!" she retorted indignantly. "I think I might have three cookies—those are nasty little thin ones. And you never put enough butter."
Caroline and her namesake-aunt were as oil and water in their social intercourse.
"Now, that's another thing. I cannot see where you put all the food you eat! You get more than the boys, a great deal. And boys are supposed—not that any one grudges it to you, child, but really——"
"I'm getting later all the time," Caroline remarked impartially. "You needn't cut the crusts off; I like 'em."
Her aunt sighed, and handed her the lunch-basket; a fringe of red-and-white napkin dangled invitingly from the corner.
"Now run along; what are you going in there for?"
She stood for a moment looking out at the flagstone where William Thayer had waltzed so seductively, then strolled slowly out, along the porch and by the house. The lilies-of-the-valley were white in the sidebeds; their odor, blown to her on quick puffs of west wind, filled her with a sort of pleasant sadness, the mingled sorrow and delight of each new spring. She bent her strong little legs and squatted down among them, sniffing ecstatically. What was it she was trying to remember? Had it ever happened? Years ago, when she was very little——
"Caroline! are you trying purposely to be naughty! It is twenty minutes past nine!"
She muttered impatiently, stamped her foot deliberately upon the lilies, and ran out of the yard.
It will never be known what Caroline's definite intentions were on that morning. It is not improbable that she meant to go to school. She undoubtedly walked to the building devoted to the instruction of her generation and began to mount the steps. What power weighted her lagging feet and finally dragged her to a sitting position on the top step, she could not have told; but certain it is that for ten minutes she sat upon the text-book of geography, thoughtfully interposed between her person and the cold stone, her chin in her hand, her eyes fixed and vague. Behind her a chorus of voices arose in the melody that accompanied a peculiarly tedious system of gymnastics; she scowled unconsciously. Before her, clear to the inward vision, lay a pleasant little pond, set in a ring of new grass. Clear lay the pebbles and roots at the bottom; clear was the reflection of the feathering trees about it; clear shone the eyes of William Thayer as he joyously swam for sticks across it. Great patches of sun warmed the grass and cheered the hearts of two happy wanderers, who fortified themselves from a lunch-basket padded with a red-fringed napkin. Happy yellow dandelions were spotted about, and the birds chirped unceasingly; the wind puffed the whole spring into their eager nostrils. Truly a pleasant picture! As in a dream, Caroline walked softly down the steps and toward the north.
For ten minutes she kept steadily on, looking neither to the right nor to the left, when the rattle of a particularly noisy wagon attracted her attention. She caught the eye of the driver; it was the egg-and-chicken man. He nodded cheerfully.
"Hello, there!" said he.
"Hello!" Caroline returned. "You going home?"
"Sure," said the egg-and-chicken man. "Want a ride?"
Caroline wasted no breath in words, but clambered up to the seat beside him.
"Startin' out early, ain't you?" he queried. "Goin' far up my way?"
"Pretty far," she answered cautiously, "but not so very."
"Oh!" said he, impressed by such diplomacy. "'Bout where, now?"
"Have you sold many eggs this morning?" she inquired with amiable interest.
"Twenty-three dozen, an' seven pair o' broilers," he informed her. "Goin' as far as my place?"
"I s'pose it's pretty cold as early as you get up," Caroline suggested pleasantly.
The egg-and-chicken man surrendered. "Middling," he answered respectfully, "but it smells so good and things looks so pretty, I don't mind. I'm glad I don't live in the city. It's all pavin'-stone an' smoke. This time o' year I like to feel the dirt under m' feet, somehow."
"So do I," said Caroline fervently. They jogged on for a mile in silence.
"I have to get out here," said he, finally, "but don't be scared. That horse won't move a peg without me. I'll be back in a minute."
But when he returned she was not there.
The houses were thinning out rapidly; one side of the road was already only a succession of fields, and along a tiny worn path through one of these Caroline was hurrying nervously. She crossed the widening brook, almost a little river now, and kept along its farther bank for half an hour, then left it and struck into the fringe of the woods.
It was very still here; the road was far away, and only the chatter of the birds and the liquid cluck of the little stream disturbed the stillness of the growing things. She walked softly, except for the whisper of brushing against the spreading branches that choked the tiny path. The heat of noon was rising to its climax, and the shafts of light struck warm on her cheeks.
Suddenly a sound disturbed the peace of the woods—a scratching, rattling, scurrying sound. Something was moving through the dead leaves that had gathered among the roots and trunks. She started back nervously, but jumped forward again with a cry of delight, and caught William Thayer in her arms.
Even as he was licking her cheek, the path widened, the trees turned into bushes, the underbrush melted away, and the brook, a little river now, bent in upon them in a broad curve, spanned only by stepping-stones. It ran full between its grassy banks, gurgling and chuckling as it lapped the stones, a mirror for the fat white clouds where it lay in still pools.
In the shelter of a boulder, a lad crouched over a fire, coaxing it with bits of paper and handfuls of dry leaves. Just as the flames shot up, the dog barked cheerily, and the lad turned to welcome him. His eye fell on Caroline; amazement and real pleasure grew into a delighted laugh.
"Well, if you don't beat the Dutch!" he cried. "How'd you get here?"
"I came in the wagon with the egg-and-chicken man," said she happily, "and then I walked 'cross lots. William Thayer knew me just as well!"
"'Course he did. He always knows his friends. Now, see here. You can stay and watch this fire, an' I'll go over there a ways where those men are buildin' a fence; I'll bet they'll give us something. You look after the fire an' put on these old pieces of rail; it was hard work gettin' dry stuff to-day. We won't be long."
They disappeared between the trees, and Caroline sat in proud responsibility before the delightful little fire. The minutes slipped by; from time to time she fed the blaze with bits of bent twigs, and at the proper moment, with a thrill of anxiety, she laid two pieces of the old fence-rail crosswise on the top. There was a second of doubt, and then they broke into little sharp tongues of flame. With a sigh of pleasure, she turned from this success, and, opening the lunch-basket, laid the napkin on the ground and methodically arranged four sandwiches, two cookies, and an orange on it. Then, with her fat legs crossed before her, she waited in silence. Between the sun at her back and the fire on her face, she grew pleasantly drowsy; the sounds about her melted imperceptibly to a soft, rhythmic drone; her head drooped forward....
She jumped and stared at the boy and the dog. For a moment she forgot. Then she welcomed them heartily and listened proudly to his admiring reception of her preparations.
"Well, William Thayer, will you look at that! How's this for a surprise? And see what we've got." He balanced a tin pail carefully between the two crossed sticks in the heart of the fire, and unfolded from a newspaper two wedges of pumpkin-pie. In William Thayer's little basket was a large piece of cheese.
"It's coffee 'n milk mixed together; they had bottles of it," he explained. "William Thayer 'll take back the pail. Are you hungry?"
"Awful," she stated briefly.
"Well, then," he said with satisfaction, "let's begin."
Caroline attacked a sandwich, with shining eyes, and when in another minute the boy took from his pocket a tin ring that slipped miraculously out of itself into a jointed cup, and dipped her a mug of hot coffee from the bubbling pail, she realized with a pang of joy that this was, beyond any question, the master moment of her life.
"I take this along," he explained, "so's when I go by, and they're milking, I can have some warm. Anybody'd give me all I want if William Thayer dances and drops dead for 'em. It tastes good early in the morning, I tell you."
She sighed with pleasure. To drink warm milk in the cool, early dawn, with the cows about you, and the long, sweet day free before!
They sipped turn about; the boy divided the orange mathematically; the pie was filled with fruit of the Hesperides.
"That was mighty good, that dinner," he announced luxuriously, "an' now I'll have a pipe."
The pungent, fresh odor of the burning tobacco was sweet in the air; a dreamy content held them quiet.
He did not ask her whence or whither; she had no apologies or regrets. Two vagabonds from every law of home and duty, they were as peaceful and unthoughtful of yesterday's bed and to-morrow's meal as William Thayer, who slept in the sun at their feet.
For long they did not talk. An unspoken comprehension, an essential comradeship, filled the deep spaces of silence that frighten and irritate those whom only custom has associated; and Caroline, flat on her filled stomach, her nose in the grass, was close in thought and vague well-being to the boy who puffed blue rings toward the little river, his head on his arms.
"I put the plate into that door in the barn," he said, finally. "Did you put those silver things back?"
Caroline grunted assent.
"But they wouldn't think that you—what you said," she assured him earnestly. "It's only tramps they're afraid of."
He glanced quickly over at her, but she was utterly innocent.
"One came to the kitchen once, and asked Mary for some hot tea or coffee, and she hadn't any, but she said if he was very hungry she'd give him a piece of bread and butter, and he said to go to hell with her bread and butter. So she doesn't like them."
The boy gasped.
"You oughtn't to—had you—that isn't just right for you to say, is it?" he asked awkwardly.
"What—hell?" Caroline inquired placidly. "No, I s'pose not. Nor damn nor devil, either. But, of course, I know 'em. Those are the only three I know. I guess they're about the worst, though," she added with pardonable pride. "My cousin, the Captain, knows some more. He's twelve 'n a half. But he won't tell 'em to me. He says boys always know more than girls. I suppose," respectfully, "you know more than those three, yourself?"
Her companion coughed.
"A boy—" he began, then paused, confronted with her round, trustful eyes.
"A boy—" he started again, and again he paused.
"Oh, well, a boy's different," he blurted, finally.
Caroline nodded humbly.
"Yes, I know," she murmured.
There was silence for a while. The river slipped liquidly over the stones, the white clouds raced along the blue above them, the boy smoked. At length he burst out with:
"You're all right, now! You're just a regular little chum, aren't you?"
She blushed with pleasure.
"I never had anybody along with me," he went on dreamily. "I always go alone. I—I didn't know how nice it was. I had a chum once, but he—he—"
The boy's voice trembled. Caroline's face clouded with sympathy.
"Did he die?" she ventured.
"No," he said, shortly; "no, he didn't die. He's alive. He couldn't stand my ways. I tried to stay in school and—and all that, but soon as spring came I had to be off. So the last time, he told me we had to part, him and me."
"What was his name?" she asked gently.
The boy jerked his head toward the dog.
"That's his name," he said, "William Thayer." A little frown gathered on Caroline's smooth forehead; she felt instinctively the cloud on all this happy wandering. The spring had beckoned, and he had followed, helpless at the call, but something—what and how much?—tugged at his heart; its shadow dimmed the blue of the April sky.
He shrugged his shoulders with a sigh; the smile came again into his gray eyes and wrinkled his freckled face.
"Oh, well, let's be jolly," he cried, with a humorous wink. "The winter's comin' soon enough!" and he burst into a song:
"There was a frog lived in a well, Kitty alone, Kitty alone; There was a frog lived in a well; Kitty alone and I!"
His voice was a sweet, reedy tenor; the quaint old melody delighted Caroline.
"This frog he would a-wooing ride, Kitty alone, Kitty alone."
She began to catch the air, and nodded to the time with her chin.
"Cock me cary, Kitty alone, Kitty alone and I!"
The boy lifted his polo-cap in a courtly manner, and began with grimaces and bows to act out the song. His audience swayed responsive to his every gesture, nodding and beaming.
"Quoth he, 'Miss Mouse, I'm come to thee'— Kitty alone, Kitty alone; Quoth he, 'Miss Mouse, I'm come to thee, To see if thou canst fancy me.' Cock me cary, Kitty alone, Kitty alone and I!"
Caroline swung her hat by its ribbons and shrilled the refrain, intoxicated with freedom and melody:
"Cock me cary, Kitty alone, Kitty alone and I!"
She drummed with her heels on the ground, the boy waved his cap, and William Thayer rolled over and over, barking loudly for the chorus. Suddenly the boy jumped up, pulled her to her feet, and with grotesque, skipping steps pirouetted around the dying fire. The dog waltzed wildly on his hind legs; Caroline's short petticoats stood straight out around her as she whirled and jumped, a Bacchante in a frilled pinafore. The little glade rang to their shouting:
"Kitty alone and I!"
He darted suddenly through an opening in the bushes, William Thayer close behind, Caroline panting and singing as she gave chase. Through a field, across a little bridge they dashed. He flung the empty coffee-pail at an astonished group of men, who stopped their work, their fence-posts in hand, to stare at the mad trio.
Breathless at last, they flung themselves on a bank by the road and smiled at each other. Caroline laughed aloud, even, in sheer, irresponsible light-headedness, but over the boy's face a little shadow grew.
"It won't seem so nice alone after this, will it, William Thayer?" he said, slowly.
"But—but I'm coming! I'll be there," she cried. "I'm coming with you!"
He went on as if he had not heard.
"Who'll there be to eat our dinner with us to-morrow, William Thayer?" he questioned whimsically.
Caroline moved nearer and put her hand on his knee.
"There'll be—won't there be me?" she begged.
He shook his head.
"I guess not," he said bluntly.
Her eyes filled with tears.
"But—but you said I was a—a regular little chum," she whispered. "Don't you like me?"
He was silent:
"Don't you? Oh, don't you?" she pleaded. "I don't need much to eat, really!"
The lad looked at her with a strange longing. The fatherhood that lives in every boy thrilled at the touch of her fat little hand on his knee; the comradely glow in her round brown eyes warmed his restless, lonely heart. He shook her off almost roughly.
"I guess they'd miss you more'n that salt-shaker," he said grimly. "I wish I could take you with me—honest, I do. But you better stay home and go to school. You don't want to grow up ignorant, and have your folks ashamed of you."
"But you—you aren't ignorant!" she urged warmly, her admiration shining in her eyes.
He blushed and kicked nervously at the grass.
"I am," he said angrily. "I am, too. Oh, dear, I wish—I wish—"
They looked at each other, troubled and uncertain.
"You're a girl," he began again, "and girls can't; they just can't. They have to stay with their folks and keep nice. It's too bad, but that's the way it is. You'd want to see 'em, too. You'd miss 'em nights."
Caroline winced, but could not deny. "Oh," she cried passionately, "why do girls have to do all the missing? It's just what that Simms boy says: 'If I couldn't be a boy, I'd rather be a dog!'"
"There, there," he said soothingly, "just think about it. You'll see. And you're not exactly like a girl, anyhow. You're too nice."
He patted her shoulder softly, and they lay quietly against the bank. Her breathing grew slow and regular; raising himself cautiously on one elbow, he saw that she had fallen asleep, her arm about William Thayer, her dusty boots pathetically crossed. He watched her tenderly, with frequent glances up and down the road.
Presently an irregular beat of hoofs sounded around a bend, and a clattering wagon drew steadily nearer.
The egg-and-chicken man jumped out and strode angrily toward the little group.
"I've caught you, have I, you young——"
The boy put up a warning hand.
"She's fast asleep," he whispered. "Are you goin' to take her home?"
The man stared.
"Oh, I'm no child-stealer," said the boy lightly. "Here, just lift her soft with me, and I'll bet we can put her in without waking her up at all."
Without a word, the man slipped his hands under Caroline's shoulders, the boy lifted her dusty boots, and gently unloosing her arm from the dog, they carried her lax little body carefully to the wagon and laid her on the clean straw in the bottom, her head on a folded coat. She stirred and half opened her eyes, murmured broken words, and sank yet deeper into her dream.
The man pointed to a book on the seat.
"That's her lesson-book," he whispered hoarsely. It was the despised geography.
"Her folks think a heap of her, I tell you," he added, still eying the boy uncertainly. "She's about as bright as they make 'em, I guess."
"I guess she is," said the lad simply. "She'd ought to have been a boy. She'd have made a fine one."
The man's face cleared.
"Do—do you want a job?" he said abruptly. "We're short up at my place, and I wouldn't mind the dog. I remember you, now. You caught a chicken for me once; my wife gave you a hot supper."
The boy smiled faintly and shook his head. "I remember," he said. "No, I don't believe I want any job, thank you. I—I'm sort of—I have to keep along."
"Keep along? Where?"
He waved his hand vaguely.
"Oh, just along," he repeated. "This year, anyhow. Maybe—well, good-by. Her folks might be gettin' anxious."
He stepped up to the cart and looked once more at the flushed cheeks and brown hands, then strode off up the road.
The egg-and-chicken man gathered up the reins and the wagon started. Caroline scowled a little at the motion, but slept on. The boy whistled to the dog.
"Come on, William Thayer," he said. "I guess it's just you and me now."
A LITTLE VICTORY FOR THE GENERAL
Caroline, Miss Honey, and the General were taking the morning air. Caroline walked ahead, her chin well up, her nose sniffing pleasurably the unaccustomed asphalt, the fresh damp of the river and the watered bridle path. The starched ties at the back of her white pinafore fairly took the breeze, as she swung along to the thrilling clangor of the monster hurdy-gurdy. Miss Honey, urban and blase, balanced herself with dignity upon her roller-skates and watched with patronizing interest the mysterious jumping of young persons with whom she was unacquainted through complicated diagrams chalked on the pavement.
The General sucked a clothespin meditatively: his eyes were fixed on something beyond his immediate surroundings. Occasionally a ravishing smile swept up from the dimples at his mouth to the yellow rings beneath his cap frill; he flapped his hands, emitting soft, vague sounds. At such times a wake of admiration bubbled behind him. Delia, who propelled his carriage, which resembled a victoria except for the rearward position of its motor power, pursed her lips consciously and affected not to hear the enraptured comments of the women who passed them.
To the left the trees, set in a smooth green carpet, threw out tiny, polished, early May leaves; graceful, white-coated children dotted the long park. Beyond them the broad blue river twinkled in the sun, the tugs and barges glided down, the yachts strained their white sails against the purple bluffs of the Palisades. To the right towered the long, unbroken rows of brick and stone: story on story of shining windows, draped and muffled in silk and lace; flight after flight of clean granite steps; polite, impersonal, hostile as the monuments in a graveyard.
Immobile ladies glided by on the great pleasure drive like large tinted statues; dressed altogether as the colored pictures in fashion books, holding white curly dogs in their curved arms; the coachmen in front of them seemed carved in plum-colored broadcloth; only by watching the groom's eyelids could one ascertain that they were flesh and blood. Young girls, two, three, and four, cantered by; their linen habits rose and fell decorously, their hair was smooth. Mounted policemen, glorious in buttons, breathing out authority, curvetted past, and everywhere and always the chug-chug-chug of the gleaming, fierce-eyed motor cars filled one's ears. They darted past, flaming scarlet, sombre olive and livid white; a crouching, masked figure, intent at the wheel, veiled, shapeless women behind a whir of dust to show where they had been a breath before.
And everywhere, as far as the eye could reach, a thin stream of white and pink and blue, a tumbling river of curls and caps and bare legs, were the children. A babble of shrill cries, of chattering laughter, of fretful screams, an undercurrent of remonstrance, of soothing patience, of angry threatening, marked their slow progress up and down the walk; in the clear spaces of the little park they trotted freely after hoops and balls, rolled and ran over the green, and hid, shouting, behind the bushes. It was a giant nursery, and the mere man who trespassed on its borders smiled deprecatingly, and steered a careful course among the parasols and tricycles, stooping now and then to rescue some startled adventurer, sprawling from the disgusted shock of encounter with this large and rapidly moving object.
To Caroline, fresh from untrammeled sporting, through neighborly suburban yards, this disciplined procession, under the escort of Delia and the General, was fascinating to a degree. Far from resenting the authority she would have scorned at home, she derived an intense satisfaction from it, and pranced ostentatiously beside the perambulator, mimicking Miss Honey's unconscious deference to a higher power in the matter of suitable crossings and preferred playfellows with the absorbed gravity of the artist.
"See! General, see the wobblybubble," Delia murmured affectionately. "(Will you see that child turn his head just like a grown person? Did you ever see anything as smart as that?) Did he like the red one best? So does Delia. We'll come over here, and then you won't get the sun in your precious eyes. Do you want me to push you frontwards, so you can see me? (Watch him look at me—he knows what I mean just as well, the rascal!) Just wait till we get across, and I will. Look out, Miss Honey! Take hold of your cousin's hand and run across together, now, like good girls."
Miss Honey made an obedient snatch at Caroline's apron strings, and darted forward with a long roll of her skates. The road was clear for a block. Delia, with a quick glance to left and right, lowered the perambulator to the road-level and forged ahead. Caroline, nose in air, studied the nearest policeman curiously.
"Look out, there! Look out!"
A man's voice like a pistol shot crashed behind them. Caroline heard quick steps and a woman's scream, looked up at the huge, blood-red bulk of an automobile that swooped around the corner and dashed forward. But Miss Honey's hand was clutching her apron string, and Miss Honey's weight as she fell, tangled in the skates, dragged her down. Caroline, toppling, caught in one dizzy backward glance a vision of a face in the automobile staring down on her, white as chalk, under a black moustache and staring goggles, and another face, Delia's, white too, with eyes more strained and terrible than the goggles themselves. One second that look swept her and Miss Honey, and then, shifting, fell upon the General strapped securely into his carriage. Even as Caroline caught her breath, he flew by her like an arrow, his blue eyes round with surprise under a whirl of white parasol, the wicker body of the perambulator swaying and lurching. With that breath still in her nostrils, she was pushed violently against Miss Honey, who was dragged over her from the other side by a large hairy hand. A sharp blow from her boot heel struck Caroline's cheek, and she screamed with the pain; but her cry was lost in the louder one that echoed around her as the dust from the red monster blew in her eyes and shut out Delia's figure, flat on the ground, one arm over her face as the car rushed by.
"My God! She's down!" That was the man.
"Take his number!" a shrill voice pierced the growing confusion.
Caroline, crying with pain, was forced to her feet and stumbled along, one apron string twisted fast in Miss Honey's hand. Instantly they were surrounded by a crowd of nurses, and Miss Honey, dazed and obedient, was shoved and pulled from one to another.
"Here, get out o' this—don't let the children see anything! Let's get home."
"No, wait a minute. Let's see if she's alive. Have they got the ambulance?"
"Look out, there, Miss Dorothy, you just stop by me, or you'll be run over, too!"
"See! She's moving her head! Maybe she's not—"
Sobbing with excitement, Caroline wrenched herself free from the tangle of nurses and carriages, and pushed her way through the crowd. Against the curb, puffing and grinding, stood the great red engine; on the front seat a tall policeman sat, one woman in the back leaned over another, limp against the high cushions, and fanned her with the stiff vizor of her leather cap.
"It's all right, dear, it's all right," she repeated monotonously, with set lips, "the doctor's coming. It wasn't Pullton's fault. It's all right."
Caroline wriggled between two policemen, and made for a striped blue and white skirt that lay motionless on the ground. Across the white apron ran a broad dirty smudge.
Caroline ran forward.
"Delia! Delia!" she gulped. "Is she—is she dead?"
A little man with eyeglasses looked up from where he knelt beside the blue and white skirt.
"I don't believe so, my dear," he said briskly; "is this your nurse? See, she's opening her eyes, now—speak to her gently."
As he shifted a leather-covered flask from one hand to the other, Caroline saw a strange face with drawn purplish lids when she had always known two merry gray eyes, and tight thin lips she could not believe Delia's. The head moved a little from side to side, the lips parted slightly. A nervous fear seized her and she turned to run away; but she remembered suddenly how kind Delia had been to her; how that very morning—it seemed so long now—Delia had helped her with her stubby braids of hair, and chided Miss Honey for laughing at her ignorance of the customs of the park. She gathered her courage together and crouched down by the silent, terrifying figure.
"Hel—hello, Delia!" she began jerkily, wincing as the eyes opened and stared stupidly at the ring of anxious faces. "How do you f-feel, Delia?"
"Lean down," said the little man softly, "she wants to say something."
Caroline leaned lower.
"General," Delia muttered. "Where's General?"
The little man frowned.
"Do you know what she means?" he asked.
Caroline patted her bruised cheek.
"Of course I do," she said shortly. "That's the baby. Oh," as she remembered, "where is the General?"
"Here—here's the baby," called some one. "Push over that carriage," and a woman breathing heavily, crowded through the ring with the general, pink and placid, under his parasol.
"Lift him out," said the little man, and as the woman fumbled at the strap, he picked the baby out neatly, and held him down by the girl on the ground.
"Here's your baby, Delia," he said, with a kind roughness in his voice. "Safe and sound—not a scratch! Can you sit up and take him?"
And then, while the standing crowd craned their necks and even the steady procession moving in the way the police kept clear for them, paused a moment to stare, while the little doctor held his breath and the ambulance came clanging up the street, Delia sat up as straight as the mounted policeman beside her and held out her arms.
"General, oh, General!" she cried, and buried her face in his fat warm neck.
The men coughed, the women's faces twisted, but the little doctor watched her intently.
"Move your leg," he said sharply. "Now the other. Hurt you? Not at all?"
He turned to the young man in a white jacket, who had jumped from the back of the ambulance.
"I thought so," he said. "Though it didn't seem possible. I saw the thing go over her. Right over her apron—never touched her. Half an inch more—"
"Please, is Miss—the other little girl—is she—"
This was Delia's old voice, and Caroline smiled happily at her.
"She's all right, Delia—here she is!"
Miss Honey limped across on one roller-skate, pale, but conscious of her dramatic value, and the crowd drew a long breath of relief.
"You are a very brave girl," said the doctor, helping Delia to her feet and tucking the General, who alternately growled and cooed at his clothespin, into the perambulator. "You have undoubtedly saved the lives of all three of these children, and their parents will appreciate it, you may be sure. The way you sent that baby wagon flying across the street...! Well, any time you're out of a job, just come to me, that's all. Dr. Gibbs, West Forty-ninth. Can you walk now? How far do you have to go?"
The crowd had melted like smoke. Only the most curious and the idlest lingered and watched the hysteria of the woman in the automobile, who clutched her companion, weeping and laughing. The chauffeur sat stolid, but Caroline's keen round eyes saw that he shook, from the waist down, like a man in a chill.
"Yes, sir, I'm all right. It's not so very far." But Delia leaned on the handle she pushed, and the chug-chug of the great car sent the blood out of her cheeks. The little doctor frowned.
"Look here," he said, "I'll tell you what you'll do. You come down these steps with me, there aren't but three of them, you see, and we'll just step in here a moment. I don't know what house it is, but I guess it'll be all right. Oh, yes, you can take him out; he is safe, you know. Come on, youngsters."
Before Delia could protest he had pressed the button, and a man in livery was opening the door.
"We've just escaped a nasty accident out here," said the little doctor easily. "You were probably looking out of the window? Yes. Well, this young woman is a sort of a patient of mine—Dr. Gibbs, West Forty-ninth Street—and though she's very plucky and perfectly uninjured, I want her to rest a moment in the hall here and have a drink of water, if your mistress doesn't object. Just take up this card and explain the circumstances, and"—his hand went into his pocket a moment—"that's about all. Sit down, my dear."
The man took in at a glance the neat uniform of the nurse, the General's smart, if diminutive, apparel, and the unmistakable though somewhat ruffled exterior of Miss Honey.
"Very well, sir," he said politely, taking the card. "It will be all right, sir, I'm sure. Thank you, sir. Sit down, please. It will be all right. I will tell Madame Nicola."
"Well, well, so this is Madame Nicola's!" The little doctor looked around him appreciatively, as the servant ran up the stairs.
"I wish I could stay with you, chickens, but I'm late for an appointment as it is. I must rush along. Now, mind you, stay here half an hour, Delia, and sit down. You're no trouble at all, and Madame Nicola knows who I am—if she remembers. I sprayed her throat once, if I'm not mistaken—she was on a tour, at Pittsburg. She'll take care of you." He opened the door. "You're a good girl, you biggest one," he added, nodding at Caroline. "You do as you're told. Good-by."
The door shut, and Caroline, Miss Honey and Delia looked at each other in a daze. Tears filled Delia's eyes, but she controlled her voice, and only said huskily, "Come here, Miss Honey, and let me brush you off—you look dreadful. Let me take your handkerchief. Did it—were you—are you hurt, dear?"
"No, but you pushed me awful hard, Delia, and a nasty big man grabbed me and tore my guimpe—see! I wish you'd told me what you were going to do," began Miss Honey irritably.
"And you gave me a big kick—it was me he grabbed—look at my cheek!" Caroline's lips began to twitch; she felt hideously tired, suddenly.
"Children, children, don't quarrel. General, darling, won't you sit still, please? You hurt Delia's knees, and you feel so heavy. Oh, I wish we were all home!"
The man in livery came down the stairs. "Will you step up, Madame says, and she has something for you up there. I'll take the baby," as Delia's eyes measured the climb. "Lord, I won't drop her—I've got two o' my own. 'Bout a year, isn't she?"
"He's a boy," panted Delia, as she rested her weight on the rail, "and he's only eight months last week," with a proud smile at the General's massive proportions.
"Well, he is a buster, isn't he? Here is the nurse, Madame, and the children. The doctor has gone."
Caroline stretched her eyes wide and abandoned herself to a frank inspection of her surroundings. For this she must be pardoned, as every square inch of the dark, deep-colored room had been taken bodily from Italian palaces of the most unimpeachable Renaissance variety. With quick intuition, she immediately recognized a background for many a tale of courts and kings hitherto unpictured to herself, and smiled with pleasure at the Princess who advanced, most royally clad in long shell pink, lace-clouded draperies, to meet them.
"You are the brave nurse my maid told me about," said the Princess; "she saw it all. You ought to be very proud of your quick wits. I have some sherry for you, and you must lie down a little and then I will send you home."
Delia blushed and sank into a high carved chair, the General staring curiously about him. "It wasn't anything at all," she said, awkwardly, "if I could have a drink—"
Caroline checked the Princess as she moved toward a wonderful colored decanter with wee sparkling tumblers like curved bits of rainbow grouped about it.
"She means a drink of water," she explained politely. "She only drinks water—sometimes a little tea, but most usu'lly water."
"The sherry will do her more good, I think," the Princess returned, noticing Caroline for the first time, apparently, her hand on the decanter.
At this point Miss Honey descended from a throne of faded wine-colored velvet, and addressed the Princess with her most impressive and explanatory manner.
"It won't do you any good at all to pour that out," she began, with her curious little air of delivering a set address, prepared in private some time before, "and I'll tell you why. Delia knew a nurse once that drank some beer, and the baby got burned, and she never would drink anything if you gave her a million dollars. Besides, it makes her sick."
The Princess looked amused and turned to a maid who appeared at that moment with apron strings rivalling Caroline's.
"Get me a glass of water, please," she said, "and what may I give you—milk, perhaps? I don't know very well what children drink."
"Thank you, we'd like some water, too," Miss Honey returned primly, "we had some soda-water, strawberry, once to-day."
Caroline cocked her head to one side and tried to remember what the lady's voice made her think of; she scowled in vain while Delia drank her water and smiled her thanks at the maid. Suddenly it came to her. It was not like a person talking at all, it was like a person singing. Up and down her voice traveled, loud and soft; it was quite pleasant to hear it.
"Do you feel better now? I am very glad. Bring in that reclining chair, Ellis, from my room; these great seats are rather stiff," said the Princess, and Delia, protesting, was made comfortable in a large curved lounging basket, with the General, contentedly putting his clothespin through its paces, in her arm.
"How old is it?" the Princess inquired, after an interval of silence, during which Miss Honey and Caroline regarded her with a placid interest, and Delia stroked the General's hair, from which she had taken the absurd lace cap.
"He's eight months, Madam, last week—eight months and ten days, really."
"That's not very old, now, is it?" pursued the lady. "I suppose they don't know very much, do they, so young?"
"Indeed he does, though," Delia protested, "You'll be surprised. Just watch him, now. Look at Delia, darlin'; where's Delia?"
The General withdrew his lingering gaze from the clothespin, and turned his blue eyes wonderingly up to her. The corner of his mouth trembled, widened, his eyelids crinkled, and then he smiled delightfully, straight into the eyes of the nurse, stretched up a wavering pink hand, and patted her cheek. A soft, gurgling monosyllable, difficult of classification but easy to interpret, escaped him.
The Princess smiled appreciatively, and moved with a stately, long step toward them.
"That was very pretty," she said, but Delia did not hear her.
"My baby, my own baby!" she murmured with a shiver, and hiding her face in the General's neck she sobbed aloud.
Miss Honey, shocked and embarrassed, twisted her feet nervously and looked at the inlaid floor. Caroline shared these feelings, but though she turned red, she spoke sturdily.
"I guess Delia feels bad," she suggested shyly, "when she thinks about—about what happened, you know. She don't cry usu'lly."
The Princess smiled again, this time directly at Caroline, who fairly blinked in the radiance. With her long brown eyes still holding Caroline's round ones, she patted Delia's shoulder kindly, and both the children saw her chin tremble.
The General, smothered in that sudden hug, whimpered a little and kicked out wildly with his fat white-stockinged legs. Seen from the rear he had the appearance of a neat, if excited, package, unaccountably frilled about with embroidered flannel. Delia straightened herself, dabbed apologetically at her eyes, and coughed.
"It's bottle-time," she announced in horror-stricken tones, consulting a large nickel watch hanging from her belt, under the apron. "It's down in the carriage. Could I have a little boiling water to heat it, if you please?"
"Assuredly," said the Princess. "Ellis, will you get the—the bottle from the baby's carriage and some boiling water, please. Do you mix it here?"
"Mix—the food is all prepared, Madam." Delia spoke with repressed scorn. "I only want to heat it for him."
"Oh, in that case, Ellis, take it down and have it heated, or," as the nurse half rose, "perhaps you would feel better about it if you attended to it yourself?"
"Yes, I think I will go down if you don't mind—when persons aren't used to 'em they're apt to be a little careless, and I wouldn't have it break, and him losing his three o'clock bottle, for the world. You know how it is...."
The Princess shook her head whimsically. "But surely you will leave the baby," and she moved toward them again. "I will hold it," with a half grimace at her own condescension. "It seems so very good and cheerful—I thought they cried. Will it come to me?"
Delia loosened her arms, but tightened them again as the little creature leaned forward to catch at the swinging lace on the lady's gown.
"I—I think I'll take baby with me. Thank you just the same, and he'll go to any one—yes, indeed—but I feel so sort of nervous, I think I'd better take him. If anything should happen.... Wave your hand good-by—now, General!"
The General flapped his arms violently, and bestowed a toothless but affectionate grin upon the wearer of the fascinating, swaying lace, before he disappeared with the delighted Ellis in the van.
"And can you buy all that devotion for twenty, thirty, or is it forty dollars a month, I wonder?" mused the Princess.
"Dear me," she added petulantly. "It really makes one actually want to hold it! It seems a jolly little rat—they're not all like that, are they? They howl, I'm sure."
Again Miss Honey took the floor.
"When babies are sick, or you don't treat them right," she announced didactically, "they cry, but not a well baby, Delia says. I"—with conscious pride—"screamed night and day for two weeks!"
"Really!" observed the Princess. "That must have been—er—trying for your family!"
"Worried to death!" Miss Honey rejoined airily, with such an adult intonation that the Princess started.
"The General, he just laughs all the time," Caroline volunteered, "unless you tease him," she added guiltily, "and then he squawks."
"Yes, indeed," Miss Honey bore witness, jealous of the lady's flashing smile to Caroline, "my mother says I'm twice the trouble he is!"
The Princess laughed aloud. "You're all trouble enough, I can well believe," she said carelessly, "though you particular three are certainly amusing little duds—for an afternoon. But for a steady diet—I'm afraid I'd get a bit tired of you, eh?"
She tapped their cheeks lightly with a cool, sweet-smelling finger. Miss Honey smiled uncertainly, but Caroline edged away. There was something about this beautiful tall lady she could not understand, something that alternately attracted and repelled. She was grown up, certainly; her skirts, her size and her coiled hair proved that conclusively, and the servants obeyed her without question. But what was it? She was not like the other grown up people one knew. One moment she sparkled at you and the next moment she forgot you. It was perfectly obvious that she wanted the General only because Delia had not wanted to relinquish him, which was not like grown people; it was like—yes, that was it: she was like a little girl herself, even though she was so tall and had such large red and blue rings on her fingers.
Vaguely this rushed through Caroline's mind, and it was with an unconscious air of patronage, that she said, as one making allowances for inexperience, "When you get married, then you'll have to get tired of them, you know."
"But you'll be glad you've got 'em, when they're once in bed," Miss Honey added encouragingly. "My mother says I'm a real treasure to her, after half past seven!"
The Princess flushed; her straight dark eyebrows quivered and met for an instant.
"But I am married," she said.
There was an utter silence.
"I was married five years ago yesterday, as it happens," she went on, "but it's not necessary to set up a day nursery, you know, under those circumstances."
Still silence. Miss Honey studied the floor, and Caroline, after an astonished stare at the Princess, directed her eyes from one tapestry to another.
"I suppose you understand that, don't you?" demanded the Princess sharply. She appeared unnecessarily irritated, and as a matter of fact embarrassed her guests to such an extent that they were utterly unable to relieve the stillness that oppressed them quite as much as herself.
The Princess uttered an angry exclamation and paced rapidly up and down the room, looking more regal and more unlike other people than ever.
"For heaven's sake, say something, you little sillies!" she cried. "I suppose you want me to lose my temper?"
Caroline gulped and Miss Honey examined her shoe ties mutely.
Suddenly a well-known voice floated toward them.
"Was his nice bottle all ready? Wait a minute, only a minute now, General, and Delia'll give it to you!"
The procession filed into the room, Delia and the General, Ellis deferentially holding a tiny white coat, the man in livery bearing a small copper saucepan in which he balanced a white bottle with some difficulty. His face was full of anxious interest.
Delia thanked them both gravely, seated herself on the foot of the basket chair, arranged the General flat across her knees, and amid the excited silence of her audience, shook the bottle once or twice with the air of an alchemist on the brink of an epoch-making discovery.
"Want it? Does Delia's baby want it?" she asked enticingly. The General waved his arms and legs wildly; wreathed in smiles, he opened and shut his mouth in quick alternation, chirping and clucking, as she held it up before him; an ecstatic wriggling pervaded him, and he chuckled unctuously. A moment later only his deep-drawn, nozzling breaths could be heard in the room. They watched him in hushed satisfaction; once, as he smiled gratefully at Delia, Ellis sighed with pleasure.
"Ain't he sweet, though!" she murmured, and then glancing at the butler, giggled impressibly as the strained attitudes of the circle struck her.
"That will do, thank you, Haddock," said the Princess quickly, drawing a long breath and seating herself, and the two servants withdrew. Delia noted nothing, her eyes fixed on her charge; clearly, it would not have surprised her in the least if they had all stood, rapt, till the meal was over.
"He takes it beautiful," she said in low tones, looking confidentially at the Princess; "I didn't know but being in a strange place might make a difference with him, but he's the best baby!—"
She wiped his mouth and lifting him, still horizontal, approached her hostess.
"You can hold him now," she said superbly, "but keep him flat for twenty minutes, please. I'll go and take the bottle down, and get his carriage ready. He'll be good. He'll take a little nap, most likely."
She laid him across the rose-colored lap of the Princess, who looked curiously down on him, and offered him her finger tentatively. "I never held one before," she explained. "I—I don't know...." The General smiled lazily and patted the finger, picking at the great sapphire.
"How soft its hands are," said the Princess. "They slip off, they are so smooth! And how good—does it never cry?" This she said half to herself, and Caroline and Miss Honey, knowing there was no need to answer her, came and leaned against her knee unconsciously, and twinkled their fingers at the baby.
"Hello, General! Hello!" they cried softly, and the General smiled impartially at them and caressed the lady's finger.
The Princess stroked his cheek. "What a perfectly exquisite skin!" she said, and bending over him, kissed him delicately.
"How good it smells—how—how different!" she murmured. "I thought they—I thought they didn't."
Miss Honey had taken the lady's other hand, and was examining the square ruby with a diamond on either side.
"My mother says that's the principal reason to have a baby," she remarked, absorbed in the glittering thing. "You sprinkle 'em all over with violet powder—just like doughnuts with sugar—and kiss 'em. Some people think they get germs that way, but my mother says if she couldn't kiss 'em she wouldn't have 'em!"
The Princess bent over the baby again.
"It's going to sleep here!" she said, half fearfully, with an inquiring glance at the two. "Oughtn't one to rock it?"
Miss Honey shook her head severely. "Not General," she answered, "he won't stand it. My mother tried again and again—could I take that blue ring a minute? I'd be awful careful—but he wouldn't. He sits up and he lies down, but he won't rock."
"I might sing to him," suggested the Princess, brushing a damp lock from the General's warm forehead and slipping her ringless finger into his curved fist carefully. "Would he like it?"
"No, he wouldn't," said Miss Honey bluntly, twisting the ring around her finger. "He only likes two people to sing—Delia and my mother. Was that ruby ring a 'ngagement ring?"
Caroline interfered diplomatically. "General would be very much obliged," she explained politely, "except that my Aunt Deedee is a very good singer indeed, and Uncle Joe says General's taste is ruined for just common singing."
The Princess stared at her blankly.
"Oh, indeed!" she remarked. Then she smiled again in that whimsical expressive way. "You don't think I could sing well enough for him—as well as your mother?"
Miss Honey laughed carelessly. "My mother is a singer," she said, "a real one. She used to sing in concerts—real ones. In theatres. Real theatres, I mean," as the lady appeared to be still amused.
"If you know where the Waldorf Hotel is," Caroline interrupted, "she has sung in that, and it was five dollars to get in. It was to send the poor children to a Fresh Air Fund. It—it's not the same as you would sing—or me," she added politely.
The lady arose suddenly and deposited the General, like a doll, with one swift motion in the basket chair. Striding across the room she turned, flushed and tall, and confronted the wondering children.
"I will sing for you," she said haughtily, "and you can judge better!"
With a great sweep of her half bare arm, she brushed aside a portiere and disappeared. A crashing chord rolled out from a piano behind the curtains and ceased abruptly.
"What does your mother sing?" she demanded, not raising her voice, it seemed, and yet they heard her as plainly as when they had leaned against her knee.
"She sings, 'My Heart's Own Heart,'" Miss Honey called back defiantly.
"And it's printed on the song, 'To Madame Edith Holt!'" shrilled Caroline.
The familiar prelude was played with a firm, elastic touch, the opening chords struck, and a great shining voice, masterful, like a golden trumpet, filled the room. Caroline sat dumb; Miss Honey, instinctively humming the prelude, got up from her foot-stool and followed the music, unconscious that she walked. She had been privileged to hear more good singing in her eight years than most people have in twenty-four, had Miss Honey, and she knew that this was no ordinary occasion. She did not know she was listening to one of the greatest voices her country had ever produced—perhaps in time to be known for the head of them all—but the sensitive little soul swelled in her and her childish jealousy was drowned deep in that river of wonderful sound.
Higher and sweeter and higher yet climbed the melody; one last triumphant leap, and it was over.
"My heart—my heart—my heart's own heart!"
The Princess stood before them in the echoes of her glory, her breath quick, her eyes brilliant.
"Well?" she said, looking straight at Miss Honey, "do I sing as well as your mother?"
Miss Honey clenched her fists and caught her breath. Her heart was breaking, but she could not lie.
"You—you—" she motioned blindly to Caroline, and turned away.
"You sing better," Caroline began sullenly; but the lady pointed to Miss Honey.
"No, you tell me," she insisted remorselessly.
Miss Honey faced her.
"You—you sing better than my m-mother," she gulped, "but I love her better, and she's nicer than you, and I don't love you at all!"
She buried her face in the red velvet throne, and sobbed aloud with excitement and fatigue. Caroline ran to her: how could she have loved that cruel woman? She cast an ugly look at the Princess as she went to comfort Miss Honey, but the Princess was at the throne before her.
"Oh, I am abominable," she cried. "I am too horrid to live! It wasn't kind of me, cherie, and I love you for standing up for your mother. There's no one to do as much for me, when I'm down and out—no one!" Sorrow swept over her flexible face like a veil, and seizing Miss Honey in her strong nervous arms she wept on her shoulder.
Caroline, worn with the strain of the day, wept, too, and even the General, abandoned in the great chair, burst into a tiny warning wail.
Quick as thought the Princess was upon him, and had raised him against her cheek.
"Hush, hush, don't cry—don't cry, little thing," she whispered, and sank into one of the high carved chairs with him.
"No, no, I'll hold him," she protested, as Delia entered, her arms out. "I'm going to sing to him. May I? He's sleepy."
Delia nodded indulgently. "For half an hour," she said, as one allowing a great privilege, "and then we must go. The children are tired."
"What do you sing to him?" the Princess questioned humbly.
"I generally sing 'Flow Gently, Sweet Afton,'" the nurse answered. "Do you know it?"
"I think so," and the Princess began a sort of glorified humming, like a great drowsy bee, all resonant and tremulous.
"Tell me the words," she said, and Delia recited them, as a mother would, to humor a petted child.
The Princess lifted her voice and pressing the General to her, began the song,
"Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes, Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise."
Soft the great voice was, soft and widely flowing; to Caroline, who had retreated to the further end of the music-room, so that Delia should not see her tears, it seemed as if Delia herself, a wonderful new Delia, were singing her, a baby again, to sleep. She felt soothed, cradled, protected by that lapping sea of melody that drifted her off her moorings, out of the room....
Vaguely she saw Miss Honey, relaxed on the red throne, smile in her sleep, one arm falling over the broad seat. Was it in her dream that some one in a blue and white apron—not Delia, for Delia was singing—leaned back slowly in the long basket chair and closed her tired eyes? Who was it that held the General close in her arms, and smiled as he patted her cheek at the familiar song and mumbled her fingers with happy cooing noises?
"My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream, Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream!"
Soft as plush, sweet as honey, the warm voice dipped and rose to the old tune. The General's head was growing heavy, but he smiled confidingly into the dark eyes above him and stretched himself out in full-fed, drowsy content. One hand slipped through the lace under his cheek and rested on the singer's soft breast. She started like a frightened woman, and her voice broke.
Down in the hall the butler and the maid sat on the lower stair.
"Ain't it grand?" she whispered, and Haddock nodded dreamily.
"Mother used to sing us that in the old country," he said. "There was Tom and 'Enry an' me—Lord, Lord!"
The General was asleep. Sometimes a tiny frown drew his eyebrows together. Sometimes she clenched and uncurled his warm hands. Sometimes he sucked softly at nothing, with moist, reminiscent lips. But on and on, over and over, rose and fell the quaint old song,
"My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream!"
It flooded the listening house, it spread a net of dreams about the happy people and coaxed them back to childhood and a child's protected sleep. It seemed a song that could not stop, that must return on its simple refrain so long as there were arms to encircle and breasts to lean upon.
Two men came softly up a smaller stair than the grand entrance flight, and paused in amazement at sight of Caroline stretched, full length, across the threshold. The older and smaller of the men had in fact stepped on her, and confused and half awake she listened to his apologies.
"Sh! sh!" he whispered excitedly, "not a vordt! not a vordt! Mein Gott! but it is marvellous! A voice of velvet! Hey? A voice of the heart. My friend, what is this?"
He peeped behind the drawn curtains, and withdrew a face of wonder.
"It is nothing but children—and they sleep!" he whispered. "Oh, but listen, listen! And I offered her fifteen hundred dollars for two hours only of that!"
The other man peeped behind the curtain in his turn, and seizing Caroline by the arm tip-toed with her to a further room.
"What—who—what is the meaning of this?" he whispered hoarsely. "That child—where—"
Caroline rubbed her eyes. The golden voice rose and fell around her.
"General—Delia," she muttered, and stumbled against him. He lifted her limp little body and laid it gently on a leather sofa.
"Another time," he said softly to the other man, "I—we cannot talk with you now. Will you excuse us?"
The man looked longingly at the curtains.
"She will never do more well than that. Never!" he hissed. "Oh, my friend, hear it grow soft! Yes, yes, I am going."
It seemed to Caroline that in a dream some one with a red face and glasses askew, shook her by the shoulder and said to her sternly, "Sh! sh! Listen to me. To-day you hear a great artist—hey? Will you forget it? I must go because they do not vant me, but you will stay and listen. There is here no such voice. Velvet! Honey! Sh! sh!" and he went the way of dreams.
The man who stayed looked long through the curtains.
As a swing droops slow and slower, as the ripples fade from a stone thrown in the stream, the song of the Princess softened and crooned and hushed. Now it was a rich breath, a resonant thread,
"Flow gently, sweet Afton—"
The man stepped across the room and sank below the General at her feet. With her finger on her lips she turned her eyes to his and looked deep into them. He caught his breath with a sob, and wrapping his arm about her as he knelt, hid his face on her lap, against the General. She laid her hand on his head, across the warm little body, and patted it tenderly. Around them lay the sleepers; the General's soft breath was in their ears. The man lifted his head and looked adoringly at the Princess: her hand caressed his cheek, but her eyes looked beyond him into the future.
Caroline sniffed her way luxuriously through the dusky panelled library.
"I think it smells awfully good here, don't you?" she inquired of her hostess.
The lady's wonderful velvet train dragged listlessly behind her. Her neck and arms were dressed in heavy yellowish lace, but all around her slim body waves of deep colored, soft velvet held the light in lustrous pools or darkened into almost black shadows. It was like stained glass in a church, thought Caroline, stroking it surreptitiously, and like stained glass, too, were the lovely books, bloody red, grassy green and brown, like Autumn woods, with edges of gold when the sunlight struck them. They made the walls like a great jewelled cabinet, lined from floor to ceiling: here and there a niche of polished wood held a white, clear-cut head. From the ceiling great opal tinted globes swung on dull brass chains; they swayed ever so slightly when one watched them closely.
"This is my favorite room, Duchess," said Caroline, "isn't it yours?"
"Do you really think I look like one?" returned the lady, "the only duchess I ever saw was fat—horribly fat. It is a very handsome library, of course."
"Then she didn't look like a duchess, that's all," Caroline explained. "What I like about this library is, it's so clean. And you can pull the chairs out and show those big, shiny yellow ones on the bottom shelf."
"Of course; why not?" said the Duchess, dropping into a great carved chair with griffins' heads on the top.
"Why, you can't do that at Uncle Joe's," Caroline confided, sitting on a small griffin stool at the lady's feet, "because General gets at the bottom row and smears 'em. You see he's only two, and you can't blame him, but he licks himself dreadfully and then rubs it on the backs. He marks them, too, inside, with a pencil or a hatpin, or even an orange-wood stick that you clean your nails with. Yours is made of pearl, you know, but most—a great many, I mean—people have them wood. And so the chairs have to be all leaned around against the walls to keep him from the books."
The Duchess drew a long breath. "And your uncle objects?" she said, between her teeth.
"Uncle Joe says," Caroline returned, patting the griffin heads on her little stool, "that if the President had General in his library for half an hour he'd feel different about race suicide."
The Duchess laughed shortly.
"That is possible, too," she agreed. "You said Cousin Joe was well—and Edith?"
"Oh, yes, they're well—I mean, they're very well indeed, thank you," said Caroline. "Uncle Joe says they have to be, with the General's shoes two dollars and a half a pair! You see he has quite thick soles, now—he runs about everywhere. Aunt Edith says he needs a mounted policeman 'stead of a nurse."
"Did Edith get rested after the moving?"
"Oh, yes," Caroline answered absently. She was watching the opal globes sway. "Aunt Edith says before she was married she'd have gone South with a trained nurse after such an experience, but now she has to save the nurse for measles, she s'poses, so she just lies down after lunch."
The Duchess moved restlessly half out of the griffin chair, but sank back again.
"And you have a trained nurse all the time," Caroline mused, stroking the glistering velvet, "isn't that funny? Just so in case you might be sick...." The sunlight peeped and winked on the gold book-edges.
"It amounts to that," the Duchess said, adding very low, "but she is not likely to be needed for measles."
"No," Caroline assented, "you and cousin Richard are pretty old for measles. It's children that have 'em, mostly. I never did, yet. But you don't seem to ever have any children. And such a big house, too! And you're very fond of children, aren't you? It seems so queer that when you like them you can't manage to have any. And people that don't care about them have them all the time. It was only Christmas time that Norah Mahoney—she does the extra washing in the summer—had another. That makes seven. It's a boy. Joseph Michael, he's named, partly after Uncle Joe. Norah says there don't seem to be any end to your troubles, once you're married to a man."
The Duchess turned aside her head, but Caroline knew from the corner of her mouth that her eyes were full of tears. She stroked the hands that clenched the griffin's crest.
"Never mind," she urged, "maybe you'll have some. Most everybody has just one, anyway."
The Duchess shook her head mutely; a large round tear dropped on the griffin.
"Well, then," said Caroline briskly, "why don't you adopt one? The Weavers did, and she was quite a nice girl; I used to play with her. She sucked her thumb, though. But prob'ly they don't, all of them."
"I wouldn't mind, if she did," the Duchess declared. Already she spoke more brightly. "I wanted to adopt one—one could take it when it was very little. But Richard won't hear of it."
"Not a bit?" Caroline looked worried; she knew Richard.
"Not a bit," the Duchess repeated, "that is, he says he is willing under certain conditions, but they are simply impossible. Nobody could find such a child."
"There are lots of 'em in the Catholic Foundling," said Caroline thoughtfully, "all kinds. Aunt Edith went there to sing for them and she took Miss Honey and me. They're all dressed differently and they look so sweet. You can take your choice of them; Aunt Edith cried. But you must let them be Catholics."
"Richard wouldn't let me take one from an institution," the Duchess said, "and somehow I wouldn't care to, myself. But there is a woman I know of who is interested in children that—that aren't likely to grow up happily, and she will get one for anybody, only one can't ask any questions about them. You may have all the rights in them, but you will never know where they came from. And Richard won't have that. I suppose he's right."
"But there are plenty of people who would let you have one, if you would give her a good home and be kind to her," Caroline began, lapsing for the moment into her confusing, adult manner.
"Yes, but Richard says that no people nice enough to have a child we could want would ever give us the child, don't you see," the Duchess interrupted eagerly. "He says the father must be a gentleman—and educated—and the mother a good woman. He says there must be good blood behind it. And they must never see it, never ask about it, never want it. He says he doesn't see how I could bear to have a child that any other mother had ever loved."
"Cousin Richard does make up his mind, so!" she muttered.
"He is unreasonable," said the Duchess suddenly, "unreasonable! He must know all about the child, but the parents must not know about us! Not know our name, even! Just give up the child and withdraw—why, the poorest, commonest people would not do that, and does he expect that people of the kind he requires would be so heartless? We shall never be able to get one—never. And yet he wants one so—almost as much as I!"
The Duchess had forgotten Caroline. Staring at the opal globes she sat, and again the tears rose, brimmed and overflowed.
Caroline slipped off the little stool and walked softly out of the beautiful room. The books glowed jewel-like, the four milky moons swayed ever so little on their brass chains, the white busts looked coldly at the Duchess as she sat crying in her big carved chair, and there was nobody that could help at all.
Through the dark, shiny halls she walked—cautiously, for she had had embarrassing lessons in its waxy polish—and paused from force of habit to pat the great white polar bear that made the little reception room such a delightful place. More than the busts in the library even, he set loose the fancy, and whiled one away to the enchanted North where the Snow Queen drove her white sledge through the sparkling glades, and the Water Baby dived beneath the dipping berg.
Miss Grundman, the trained nurse, appeared in the doorway.
"Did you care to go out with the brougham, to-day, dear?" she asked. "Hunt tells me he has to go 'way down town."
"Yes, I'd like to—can you take care of babies, too?" Caroline returned abruptly.
Miss Grundman started.
"What an odd child you are—of course I can!" she said. "All nurses can; it's part of the training. Have you any you're worried about?" she added pointedly. Caroline flushed.
"You're making fun o' me," she muttered, "you know very well only grown people have them! I don't mean if they're sick, but can you wash them, and cook the milk in that tin thing, and everything like that?"
"Bless the child, of course I can!" Miss Grundman cried, "you bring me one and I'll show you!"
"Oh, I b'lieve you, Miss Grundman, if you say so," Caroline assured her, and slid carefully along the hall for the stairs that led to her hat and coat.
They spun smoothly down the avenue with an almost imperceptible electric whir, Caroline bolt upright on the plum-colored cushion, Hunt and Gleggson bolt upright on the seat outside. It was a matter for congratulation to Caroline that of all the vehicles that glided by them, none boasted a more upright pair than Hunt and Gleggson.
The tall brown houses were gradually changing into bright shops; the carriages grew thicker and thicker; the long procession stopped and waited now almost every moment, so crowded was the brilliant street. Once a massive policeman actually smiled at her as Hunt stopped the brougham close to him, and Caroline's admiring soul crowded to her eyes at the mighty wave of his white, arresting hand. They drew up before a great window filled with broughams and victorias displayed as lavishly as if they had been hats or bonbon boxes—it was like a gigantic toy-shop. Hunt dropped acrobatically to the pavement and was seen describing his mysterious desires to an affable gentleman behind the plate-glass; he measured with his knuckles and illustrated in pantomime the snapping of something over his knee; the clerk shook his head in commiseration and signalled to an attendant, who darted off. Soon Hunt appeared with a small package and they started on again, turning a corner abruptly and winding through less exciting streets. The shops grew smaller and dingier; drays passed lumbering by and street cars jarred along beside them, but vehicles like their own were noticeably lacking. It was plain that they attracted more attention, now, and more than one group of children dancing in the street to the music of the hurdy-gurdy lingered daringly to provoke the thrilling, mellow warning of their horn. At last they stopped at a corner and Hunt dropped again to the pavement, lingering for a short consultation with Gleggson who pointed once or twice behind them to the small occupant of the brougham. On this occasion he took with him a mysterious and powerful handle, and Caroline knew that this was precisely equivalent to running away with the horses. He hurried around an unattractive corner, and Gleggson sat alone in front. Five, ten minutes passed. They seemed very dull to Caroline, and she reached for the plum-colored tube and spoke boldly through it.
"What are we waiting for, please, Gleggson? Where is Hunt?"
"'E just stepped off, Miss, for a minute, like. 'E'll be 'ere directly. Would you wish for me to go and look 'im up, Miss?"
Gleggson spoke very cordially.
"We-ell, I don't know," Caroline said doubtfully. "If you think he'll be right back ... I can wait...."
"Pre'aps I'd better, as you say, Miss," Gleggson continued, "for 'e 'as been gone some time, and I think I could lay me 'and on 'im. You'll not get out, of course, Miss, and I'll be back before you know it."
He clambered down and took the same general course as Hunt had taken, deflecting, however, to enter a little door made like a window-blind, that failed to reach its own door-sill.
"Hunt didn't go there at all," Caroline muttered resentfully, and deliberately opening the door of the brougham, she stepped out.
She had followed Hunt's track quite accurately till a sudden turn confused her, and she realized that after that corner she had no idea in which direction he had gone. She paused uncertainly; the street was dirty, the few children in sight were playing a game unknown to her and not playing very pleasantly, at that; the women who looked at her seemed more curious than kindly. The atmosphere was not sordid enough to be alarming or even interesting; it was merely slovenly and distasteful, and Caroline had almost decided to go back when a young girl stopped by her and eyed her inquisitively.
"Were you lookin' for any particular party?" she asked.
"I was looking for Hunt," said Caroline, "he went this way, I think."
"There's some Hunts across the street there," the girl suggested, "right hand flat, second floor. I seen the name once. I guess you're lost all right, ain't you?"
"Oh, no," Caroline assured her, "I'm not lost. I can go right back. I'll see if Hunt's there."
The threshold was greasy and worn, the stairs covered with faded oil cloth, the side walls defaced and over-scrawled. At the head of the stairs three dingy doors opened in three different directions, and a soiled card on the middle one bore the name of Hunt. A man's voice somewhere behind it talked in a strange loud sing-song; he seemed to be telling a long, confusing story. At the moment of Caroline's timid knock he was saying over and over again,
"Isn't that so? Isn't that so? Who wouldn't have done the same? Put your finger on the place where I made the mistake! Will you? Will anybody? I ask it as a favor—"
"Hush, won't you?" a woman's voice interrupted, "wasn't that a knock?"
Caroline knocked again.
There was a hasty shuffling and a key turned in the door.
"Who is it?" the woman's voice asked. "What do you want? The auction's all over—there's nothing left. We're moving out to-morrow."
Surprise held Caroline dumb. How could one have an auction in such a place? At auctions there were red flags, and horses and carriages gathered around the house, and people brought luncheon; they had often driven to auctions out in the country.
The door opened.
"Why it's only a child!" said the woman, thin and fatigued, with dark rings under her not ungentle eyes. "What do you want here?"
"I'm looking for Hunt," Caroline answered, "doesn't he live here?"
"Heavens, no!" the woman said, "that old card's been there long before we moved in, I guess. They were old renters, most likely. What's the party to you, anyway? Is he your—"
She paused, studying Caroline's simple but unmistakeable clothes and manner.
"He drives the automobile," Caroline explained, "I thought he came this way."
"Come in, won't you?" said the woman, "there's no good getting any more lost than you are, I guess. There's not much to sit on, 'specially if you're used to automobiles, but we can find you something, I hope. I try to keep it better looking than this gen'ally, but this is my last day here. I'm going out West to-morrow."
An old table, two worn chairs and an over-turned box furnished the small room; through an open door Caroline spied a tumbled bed. A kitchen, dismantled and dreary, faced her.
"The agent gave me five dollars for all I left," the woman said, "I don't know which of us got the best o' the bargain. Now, about you. Where do you live? I s'pose they're looking for you right now while we're talking. Do you know where you left the automobile?"
"Oh, yes." Caroline stared frankly about her. "Wasn't there a man in here? Where did he go?"
The woman grunted out a sort of laugh. "If you're not the limit!" she murmured. She stepped to the door of the kitchen, looked in, and beckoned to Caroline.
"I suppose you heard him carrying on," she said, "he's in there. Poor fellow, he's all worn out."
Caroline peered into the kitchen. With his rough, unshaven face resting on his arms, his hair all tossed about, his face drawn in misery, even in his heavy sleep, a young man sat before a table, half lying on it, one hand on a soiled plate still grasping a piece of bread.
"Is he sick?" whispered Caroline.
"N—no, I wouldn't say sick, exactly, but I guess he'd be almost as well off if he was," said the woman. "It would take his mind off. He's had a lot of trouble."
The man scowled in his sleep and clenched his hand, so that the bread crumbled in it.
"And so I won the prize," he muttered, "just as I told her I would. Did I have any pull? Was there any favoritism? No—you know it as well as I do—it was good work won that prize!"
"Was it a bridge prize?" Caroline inquired maturely. The woman stared.
"A bridge prize?" she repeated vaguely. "Why, no, I guess not. It was for writing a story for one of those magazines. He won a thousand dollars."
The man opened his eyes suddenly.
"And if you don't believe it," he said, still in that strange sing-song voice, "just read that letter."
He pulled a worn, creased sheet from an inner pocket and thrust it at Caroline.
"It's typewritten," he added, "it's easy enough to see if I'm lying. Just read it out."
Caroline glanced at the engraved letter-heading and began to read in her careful, childish voice:
MY DEAR MR. WILLISTON:
It is with great pleasure that I have to announce the fact that your story, "The Renewal," has been selected by the judges as most worthy of the thousand-dollar prize offered by us.
The woman snatched the paper from her hand.
"The idea!" she cried, "let the child alone, Mr. Williston! Don't you see she's lost?"
The man dropped like a stone on the table.
"Lost!" he whispered, "lost! Oh, that dreadful word! Yes, she's lost. Poor little Lou. It's all over."
The woman drew Caroline back into the sitting room.
"I'm sorry you should see him," she said. "You must excuse him—he don't really know what he's doing. He lost his wife a week ago and he's hardly slept since. It's real sad. I was as sorry as I could be for 'em, and I'd have kept 'em even longer if she'd lived, though they couldn't pay. I'd keep the baby, too, if I could, it's such a cute little thing, but I can't, and I'm to take it to the Foundling to-day. I'll go right out with you, and see that the police—"
"Oh, is there a baby? Let me see it!" Caroline pleaded. "How old is it?"
"Just a week," said the woman. "Yes, you can see him. He's good as gold, and big—! He weighs nine pounds."