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Title: Red-Robin
Author: Abbott, Jane, 1881-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Red-Robin" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



RED-ROBIN
BY
JANE ABBOTT

AUTHOR OF KEINETH, HIGHACRES, APRILLY, Etc.

With Illustrations By
HARRIET ROOSEVELT RICHARDS

GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS   NEW YORK

Made in the United States of America

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COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY

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[Illustration: THE EFFECT WAS VERY CHRISTMASY--Page 196]

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TO BETSY

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CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                      PAGE

       Prologue--A Story Before the Story      11
    I. The Orphan Doll                         19
   II. A Prince                                28
  III. The House of Forsyth                    39
   IV. Red-Robin                               49
    V. Jimmie                                  61
   VI. The Forsyth Heir                        70
  VII. Beryl                                   79
 VIII. Robin Asserts Herself                   90
   IX. The Lynchs                             103
    X. The Lady of the Rushing Waters         114
   XI. Pot Roast and Cabbage Salad            126
  XII. Robin Writes a Letter                  138
 XIII. Susy Castle                            151
  XIV. A Gift to the Queen                    164
   XV. The Party                              176
  XVI. Christmas at the Manor                 190
 XVII. The House of Laughter                  204
XVIII. The Luckless Stocking                  220
  XIX. Granny                                 235
   XX. Robin's Beginning                      250
  XXI. At the Granger Mills                   266
 XXII. The Green Beads                        279
XXIII. Robin's Rescue                         292
 XXIV. Madame Forsyth Comes Home              305
       Epilogue--A Story After the Story      318

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ILLUSTRATIONS
                                                           PAGE

The Effect Was Very Christmasy                     Frontispiece
The Beautiful Little Girl Had Not Spoken To Her              20
"Couldn't I Run Away With You?"                              56
"It's Like The House of Bread And Cake"                     119

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RED-ROBIN

PROLOGUE

A STORY BEFORE THE STORY


On a green hillside a girl lay prone in the sweet grass, very still that
she might not, by the slightest quiver, disturb the beauty that was
about her. There was so very, very _much_ beauty--the sky, azure blue
overhead and paling where it touched the green-fringed earth; the
whispering tree under which she lay, the lush meadow grass, moving like
waves of a sea, the bird nesting above her, everything--

And Moira O'Donnell, who had never been farther than the boundaries of
her county, knew the whole world was beautiful, too.

Behind her, hid in a hollow, stood the small cottage where, at that very
moment, her grandmother was preparing the evening meal. And, beyond, in
the village was the little old stone church and Father Murphy's square
bit of a house with its wide doorstep and its roof of thatch, and Widow
Mulligan's and the Denny's and the Finnegan's and all the others.

Moira loved them all and loved the hospitable homes where there was
always, in spite of poverty, a bounty of good feeling.

And before her, just beyond that last steep rise, was the sea. She could
hear its roar now, like a deep voice drowning the clearer pipe of the
winging birds and the shrill of the little grass creatures. Often she
went down to its edge, but at this hour she liked best to lie in the
grass and dream her dreams to its lifting music.

Her dream always began with: "Oh, Moira O'Donnell, it's all yours! It's
all yours!" Which, of course, sounded like boasting, or a miser gloating
over his gold, and might have seemed very funny to anyone so stupid as
to see only the girl's shabby dress and her bare feet, gleaming like
white satin against the green of the grass. But no fine lady in that
land felt richer than Moira when she began her dreaming.

Of late, her dreams were taking on new shapes, as though, with her
growth, they reached out, too. And today, as she lay very still in the
grass, something big, that was within her and yet had no substance,
lifted and sung up to the blue arch of the sky and on to the sun and
away westward with it, away like a bird in far flight.

Beyond that golden horizon of heaving sea was everything one could
possibly want; Moira had heard that when she was a tiny girl. America,
the States, they were words that opened fairy doors.

Father Murphy had told her much about that world beyond the sea. He had
visited it once; had spent six weeks with his sister who had married
and settled on a farm in the state of Ohio. His sister's husband had all
sorts of new-fangled machinery for plowing and seeding, and for his
reaping! And Father Murphy had told her of the free library that was in
the town near his sister's home, where he could sit all day and read to
his heart's content.

Father Murphy (he had spent three whole days in New York) had made her
see the great buildings that were like granite giants towering over and
walling in the pigmy humanity that beat against their sides like the
rise and fall of the tide; he told her of the rush and roar of the
streets and of the trains that tore over one's head.

And he told her of the loveliness that was there in picture and music.
Moira, listening, quivering with the longing to be fine and to do fine
things, could always see it all just as though magic hands swept aside
those miles of ocean dividing that land of marvel from her Ireland.

That was why it was so simple to let her dream-mind climb up and away
westward. Her eyes, staring into the paling blue, saw beautiful things
and her thoughts revelled in delicious fancies.

That slender, gold crowned bit of a cloud--_that_ was Destiny circling
her globe, weaving, and moulding, and shaping; Moira O'Donnell's own
humble thread was on her loom! And Destiny's face was turned westward.
Moira saw shining towers and thronged streets and fields greener than
her own. Far-off music sounded in her ears as though the world off there
just sang with gladness. And it was waiting for her--her. She saw
herself moving forward to it all with quick step and head high, going to
a beautiful goal. Sometimes that goal was a palace-place, encircled by
brilliant flowers, sometimes a farm like Father Murphy's sister's and a
husband who worked with marvelous contrivances, sometimes a free library
with all the books one could want, sometimes a dim, vaulted space
through which echoed exquisite music--

She so loved that make-believe Moira, moving forward toward glowing
things, that she cried aloud: "That's me! _Me!_" And of course her voice
broke the spell--the dream vanished; there was nothing left but the
fleecy cloud, the meadow lark's song, close by.

There was just time enough before her grandmother needed her, to run
down to Father Murphy's. She knew at this hour she would find him by his
wide doorstep. Fleetly, her bare feet scarcely touching the soft earth,
she covered the distance to his house. She ran up behind him and slipped
her fingers over his half-closed eyes.

He knew the familiar touch of the girl's hands. He patted them with his
own and moved aside on his bench that she might sit down with him.

"Father," she said, very low, her eyes shining. "It's my dream again."

The old priest did not chide her for idling, as her grandmother would
have done. The old priest dreamed, too.

"Tell me," she went on. "Can one go to school over there as long as one
likes? Is it too grown-up I am to learn more things from books?"

The old Father told her one could never be too old to learn from books.
He loved her craving for knowledge. Had he not taught her himself, since
she was twelve? He looked at her proudly.

"Father!" She whispered now, and the rose flush deepened in her face.
"It's Danny Lynch that comes every evening to see me."

Now Father Murphy turned squarely and regarded her with startled eyes.
This slip of a girl was the most precious colleen in his flock.

"And, Father, it's of America _he_ talks all the time!"

The old priest shivered as though from a chill. Sensing his feeling,
Moira caught his hand quickly and held it in a close grip.

"But if I go away it's not forgetting you I'll be! Oh, who in all this
world has been a better friend to Moira O'Donnell? Who has taught Moira
but you?"

"Child--"

"Sure it's grown-up I am! See!" She sprang to her feet and stood slimly
erect. "See?"

He nodded slowly. "Yes. And your old priest had not noticed. Moira--" he
caught her arm, leaned forward and peered into her face as though to
see through it into her soul. "Moira, girl, is it courage I have taught
ye? And honor? And faith?"

Her heart was singing now over the secret she had shared with him. Who
would not have courage and faith when one was so happy? With a lift of
her shoulders, a tilt of her head, she shrugged away his seriousness.

"If you could only see me, Father, as I am in my dream. Oh, it's
beautiful I am! And smart! And rich!"

"Not money," broke in the priest with a ring of contempt.

"Sure, no, not money! But fine things. Oh, Father," she clasped her
hands childishly. "It's fine things I want. The very finest in the
world! And I want my Danny to want them, too."

"Fine things," he repeated slowly. "And will ye know the fine things
from the dross, child? That wealth is more times what ye give, aye, than
what ye get? It's rich ye are of your fine things if the heart of you is
unselfish--"

"What talk, you, Father; it's like the croaking frogs in the Widow
Finnegan's pond you are! But, sh-h-h, I will tell you what I saw, as
real as real, as I lay dreaming--Destiny herself, as fine as you please,
sailing to the new world, a-spinning on her loom. She had Moira
O'Donnell's poor thread and who knows, Father Murphy, but maybe this
minute it's a-spinning it with a thread of gold she is!" The girl's
eyes danced. "Ah, 'tis nonsense I talk, for it's a dream it was, but my
poor heart's so light it hurts--here."

The old man laid a trembling hand upon her head. Under his touch it
bowed with quick reverence but not before she had seen a mistiness in
the kindly eyes.

"It's God's blessing I ask for ye--and yes, may your dream come true--"

"Your blessing for Danny, too," whispered Moira.

"For the both of ye!"

"Sure it's a crossing Granny'll be a-giving me and no blessing," laughed
the girl. It was her own word for Granny's sharp tongue. "I'd best be
off, Father dear."

"Wait." The old man disappeared through his door. Presently he came out
carrying a small box. From this he took a crumpled package. Unwrapping
the tissue folds he revealed, in the cup of his hand, a string of green
beads.

"Oh! Oh! How beautiful!" cried the girl. "Are they for me?" with the
youthful certainty that all lovely things were her due.

"Yes. To remember my blessing." He regarded them fondly, lifted them
that she might see their beauty against the sun's glow. "'Twas in a
little shop in London I found the pretty things."

Moira knew how much he must love them as a keepsake--that visit to
London was only next in his heart to the trip to America. She caught his
hands, beads, tissue wrappings and all.

"Oh, it's precious they are! And you too!"

The Father fastened them over the girl's shabby dress. "They are only
beads," he admonished. "But it's of this day they'll remind you."

He watched Moira as she ran off down the lane. He noted the quick, sure
tread of her feet, the challenging poise of her head. "Colleen--" he
whispered with a smile. "Little colleen." He turned to his door and his
lips, even though they still twisted in a smile, moved as though in
prayer.

"And may God keep pure the dream in the heart of ye!"



CHAPTER I

THE ORPHAN DOLL


November--and a chill wind scurrying, snapping, biting, driving before
it fantastic scraps of paper, crackly leaves, a hail of fine cinders. An
early twilight, gray like a mist, enveloped the city in gloom. Through
it lights gleamed bravely from the grimy windows rising higher and
higher to the low-hanging clouds, each thin shaft beckoning and telling
of shelter and a warmth that was home.

High over the heads of the hurrying humanity in a street of tenements
Moira Lynch lighted her lamp and set it close to the bare window. With
her it was a ceremony. She sang as she performed the little act. Without
were the shadows of the approaching night--gloom, storm, disaster,
perhaps even the evil fairies; her lamp would scatter them all with its
glow, just as her song drove the worries from her heart.

Her lamp lighted, she paused for a moment, her head forward, listening.
Then at the sound of a light step she sprang to the door and threw it
open. A wee slip of a girl, almost one with the shadows of the dingy
hallway, ran into her arms.

"And it's so late you are, dearie! And so dark it's grown--and cold.
Your poor little hands are blue. Why, what have you here, hidin' under
your shawl? Beryl Lynch! Dear love us--a doll!" With a laugh that was
like a tinkling of low pitched bells the little mother drew the treasure
from its hiding place. But as her eyes swept the silken splendor of the
raiment her merriment changed to wonder and then to fear.

"You didn't--you didn't--oh, Beryl Lynch, you--"

"Steal it? No. Give me it. I--found it."

But the terror still darkened the mother's eyes.

"And where did you find it?"

"On the bench. She left it. She forgot it. Ain't it mine now?"
pleadingly. "I waited, honest, but she didn't come back."

Mrs. Lynch was examining the small wonder with timid fingers, lifting
fold after fold of shining satin and dainty muslin.

"Who was she?" she asked.

"A kid." Little Beryl kindled to the interest of her story. Had not
something very thrilling happened in her simple life--a life the
greatest interest of which was to carry to the store each day the small
bundle of crocheted lace which her mother made. "She was a swell kid.
She played in the park, waitin' for a big man."

"Did she talk to you?" breathlessly.

Beryl avoided this question. The beautiful little girl had _not_ spoken
to her, though she had hung by very close, inviting an approach with
hungry eyes.

"She was just a little kid," loftily. Then, "Ain't the doll mine?"

Mrs. Lynch patted down the outermost garment. "Yes, it's yours it is,
darlin'. At least--" she hesitated over a fleeting sense of justice,
"maybe the little stranger will be a-coming back for her doll. It's a
fair bit of dolly and it's lonesome and weeping the little mother may be
this very minute--"

Beryl reached out eager arms.

"It's an orphan doll. I'll love it _hard_. Give me it. Oh," with a
breath that was like a whistle. "_Ain't_ she lovely? Mom, is she _too_
lovely for us?"

The timid question brought a quick change in the mother's face, a
kindling of a fire within the mother breast. She straightened her
slender body.

"And if there's anything too good for my girlie I'd like to see it!
Isn't this the land where all men are equal and my girl and boy shall
have a school as good as the best and grow up to be maybe the President
himself?" She repeated the words softly as though they made a creed,
learned carefully and with supreme faith. Why had she come, indeed, to
this crowded, noisy city from her fair home meadows if not for this
promise it held out to her?

"And isn't your brother the head of his class?" she finished
triumphantly. "And it's smarter than ever you'll be yourself with your
little books. Oh, childy!" She caught the little girl, doll and all,
into an impulsive embrace.

From it Beryl wriggled to a practical curiosity as to supper. She
sniffed. Her mother nodded.

"Stew! And with _dumplin's_--" She made it sound like fairy food. "Ready
to the beating when your father comes."

"Where's Dale? And Pop?"

"It's Dale's night at the store. And Pop'll be comin' along any minute.
I've set the lamp for him."

"I'm hungry," Beryl complained. She sat down cross-legged on the
spotless scrap of carpeting and proceeded with infinite tenderness to
disrobe the doll.

"Do you think she will like it here?" she asked suddenly, looking about
the humble room which for the Lynch's, served as parlor, dining-room and
kitchen. Now its bareness lay wrapped in a kindly shadow through which
glinted diamond sparks from much-scrubbed tin. "It's _nice_--" Beryl
meditated. She loved this hour, she loved the singing tea-kettle and the
smell of strong soap and her mother's face in the lamplight, with all
the loud noises of the street hushed, and the ugliness outside hidden by
the closed door, against the paintless boards of which had been nailed a
flaming poster inviting the nation's youth to join the Navy.

"But maybe this home'll be--too different," she finished.

The mother's eyes grew moist with a quick tenderness. Her Beryl, with
this wonder of a dolly in her arms! Her mind flashed over the last
Christmas and the one before that when Beryl had asked Santa Claus for a
"real doll" and had cried on Christmas morning because the cheap little
bit of dolldom which the mother had bought out of her meagre savings
would not open or shut its eyes. And now--the impudent heart of the
blessed child worrying that the home wasn't good enough for the likes of
the doll!

"It's a good home for her where it's loving you are to her. It's the
heart and not the gold that counts. And who knows--maybe it's a bit of
luck the dolly'll be a-bringing."

As though a word of familiar portent had been uttered Beryl lifted a
face upon which was reflected the glow of the little mother's. Babe as
she was, she knew something of the mother's faith in the fickle god of
chance, a faith that helped the little woman over the rough places, that
never failed to brighten her deepest gloom. Did she not staunchly
believe that someday by a turn of good fortune she and her Danny would
know the America and the good things of which they had dreamed, sitting
in the gloaming of their Ireland, their lover's hands close clasped? But
for that hope why would they have left their dear hillsides with the
homely life and the kindly neighbors and good Father Murphy who had
taught her from his own dog-eared books because she was eager and quick
to learn? Through the fourteen years since they had come to America
those girl-and-boy dreams had gone sadly astray, but the little wife
still clung to the faith that they'd have the good things sometime, her
Danny would get a better job and if he didn't there was young Dale,
always at the head of his class in school and even the baby Beryl, as
quick as anything to pick out words from her little books.

"A good luck dolly!" Beryl held the doll close. Her eyes grew round and
excited. "Then I can ride all day on a 'bus and go to the Zoo, can't I?
And can I have a new coat with fur? And go to Coney? And shoot the
shoots? And can Dale ride a horse? And can Dale and me go across the
river where it's like--that?" nodding to the poster.

Mrs. Lynch rocked furiously in her joy at Beryl's anticipations. The
floor creaked and the kettle sang louder than before.

"That you can. And it'll be a fine strong, brave girl you'll be, going
to school and learning more than even poor old Father Murphy knew, God
love him. And by and by--"

But a heavy toiling of steps up the stairs checked her words. That slow
tread was not her big Danny nor the young Dale! At a knock she flew to
the door.

"Oh, and if it isn't Mister Torrence." She caught the old man who stood
on the threshold and laughingly pulled him into the room. "It was afraid
I was that it was bad news! Danny Lynch isn't home yet but you shall
stay and eat dumplin's with us--the best outside of our Ireland--"

[Illustration: THE BEAUTIFUL LITTLE GIRL HAD _NOT_ SPOKEN TO HER]

"No! No!" protested the old man, regretfully. "My old woman's waitin'!
_Bad_ news! It's _good_ news I bring. Dan's had a raise. He's foreman of
the gang now. And I stepped 'round to tell ye the good news and that
Dan'll be a-workin' tonight with an extry shift and'll not be comin'
home to dinner, worse luck for him!" sniffing appreciatively at the
pleasant odor from the stove.

"A raise? My Dan a foreman?" Moira Lynch caught her hands together.
"It's the good luck! And it's deservin' of it he is for no man on the
docks works harder than my big Dan." Her eyes shone like two stars.

"Well, ye'll want to be a-eatin' the dumplin's so I'll go along.
Good-night, Mrs. Lynch."

"God love you, Mister Torrence," whispered Moira, too overcome to manage
her voice.

Closing the door behind her unexpected visitor she turned and caught the
wondering Beryl into her arms.

"And I was a-thinking it would never come! It's ashamed I should be to
have doubted. My big Dan!"

"Is it the dolly that's brought us the good-luck, Mom?" interrupted
Beryl, round-eyed.

"A foreman!" cried the mother in the very tone she would have used if
she had said "a king." She-danced about until the floor creaked
threateningly. "Our good fortune is coming, my precious. And it's fine
and beautiful my girl shall be with a dress as good as the next one.
Wait! Wait!" She flew into the tiny bedroom, returning in a moment with
a small box in her hands. From it she lifted a string of round green
beads and held them laughingly before Beryl's staring eyes.

"My beads! You shall wear them this night. It's the good old Father's
blessing." She clasped them about Beryl's neck, fingering them tenderly.

"Pretty beads. Pretty beads," cried the little girl.

Suddenly quieted by a rush of memories Mrs. Lynch sat down and took
Beryl upon her lap. "Beryl darlin', was the likes of that other little
girl--the one who forgot the dolly--fine and beautiful?"

"Oh, yes!" The child's voice carried a note of wonder.

"And you shall be fine and beautiful, too, Moira Lynch's own girl, just
as I used to dream for my own self, the selfish likes o' me. You shall
go to school and learn from good books. Didn't the old Father tell me of
the fine schools he had seen when he visited his sister in America? And
anybody can go--anybody!"

Little Beryl felt that it was a solemn moment. She lifted serious eyes.
"I promise," she drawled, with a gravity out of all proportion to her
six years, "I promise to go to school and learn lots like Dale and be
fine and boo'ful so's my 'dopted dolly will like me as well as--that
other kid. I've gotta be good 'nough for her. So there."

The child could not comprehend the obstacles which might threaten such a
standard; she stared bravely into the unblinking eyes of the doll who
smiled back her graven smile.

Then: "I'm hungry," she declared, suddenly deciding that dumplings were
more important than anything else. "And can my Dolly sit in Pop's seat?"

"That she can," cried the mother, going to her "mixin'." "And what a gay
supper it will be--with the new dolly and the pretty beads and the
dumplin's. Oh, Himself a foreman!"



CHAPTER II

A PRINCE


Promptly at nine o'clock, young Dale Lynch turned the key in the door of
"Tony Sebastino, Groceries" and started, whistling, homeward. Three
times a week, from the close of school until nine o'clock, he worked in
the store, snatching a dinner of bananas, or bread and cheese, between
customers. Because "Mom" had whispered that there were to be "dumplin's"
this night and that she would keep some warm for him, and because the
wind whipped chillingly through his thin clothing, he broke into a run.

His homeward way led him past a bit of open triangle which in the
neighborhood was dignified by the name of park, a dreary place now,
dirty straw stacked about the fountain, dry leaves and papers cluttering
the brown earth and whipping against the iron palings of the fence.
Dale, still whistling, turned its corner and ran, full-tilt, upon a bit
of humanity clinging, like the paper and leaves, to the fence.

"Giminy Gee!" Dale jumped back in alarm. Then: "Did I scare you, kid?
Oh, say, what's the matter?" For the face that turned to his was red and
swollen with weeping. "Y'lost?" This was Dale's natural conclusion, for
the hour was late, and the child a very small one.

"I lost--my Cynthia."

"Your--_what_?"

"My--my Cynthia. She's my b-bestest doll. I forgot her." The voice
trailed off in a wail.

Dale, touched by her woe, looked about him. Certainly no Cynthia was
visible. By rapid questioning on his part he drew from her the story of
her desertion. She had played a nice game of running 'round and 'round
and counting the "things," waiting for Mr. Tony; Cynthia did not like to
run because it shook her eyes, so she had put her down on the edge of
the straw where the wind would not blow on her. And then Mr. Tony had
come and had told her to "hustle along" and she "had runned away and
for-g-got Cynthia!"

"Well, I guess she's somebody else's Cynthia now, kid. Things don't stay
long in the parks 'round here."

Dale seemed so very old and very wise that the tiny girl listened to his
verdict with blanching face. He knew, of course.

"Where d'you live?" demanded Dale. "Why, you're just a baby! Anybody
with you?"

The child pointed rather uncertainly to one of the intersecting streets.

"I come that way," she said, then, even while saying it, began to wonder
if that were the way she had come. The streets all looked so much
alike. She had run along the curb, so as to be as far away as possible
from the dark alley ways and the doors. And it had been a long way.

Her lip quivered though she would not cry. After Cynthia's fate, just to
be lost herself did not matter.

"Well, don't you know where you live? What's the street? I'll take you
home."

"22 Patchin Place," lisped the child.

Dale hesitated a moment to make sure of his bearings. "Well, then, come
along. I know where that is. And you forget 'bout your Cynthia. You've
got another doll, haven't you? If you haven't, you just ask Santa Claus
for one. Why, say, kiddo, what's this? You lame?" For the little girl
skipped jerkily at his side.

"That's just the way I'm made," the child answered, quite indifferent to
the shocked note in the boy's voice. "I can walk and run, but I go
crooked."

"What's your name?"

"Robin Forsyth." She made it sound like "Wobbin Force."

"Oh, Wobbin Force. Funny name, isn't it? And what's your Ma and Pa going
to say to you for running off?"

Putting a small hand trustingly into the boy's big one, the child
skipped along at his side. "Oh, nothing," she answered, lost in an
admiring contemplation of her rescuer. "What's they, anyway?"

"A Ma? Don't you know what your mother is?"

Little Robin met his astonishment with a ripple of laughter. "Oh a
_mother_! I had a lovely, lovely mother once but she's gone away--to
Heaven. And is a Pa a Jimmie?"

"A--what?" Dale had never met such a strange child.

"'Cause Jimmie's my Parent. I call him Parent sometimes and sometimes I
call him Jimmie."

If his companion had not been so very small Dale might have suspected an
attempt at "kidding." He glanced sidewise and suspiciously at her but
all he saw was a cherub face framed in a tilted sky-blue tam-o'shanter
and straggling ends of flaming red hair.

"Jimmie won't scold me. _He'd_ want me to try to find Cynthia." Robin
smothered a sigh. "He wasn't home anyway."

"D'you live all alone? You and your Jimmie?"

"Oh, yes, only Aunt Milly's downstairs and Grandpa Jones is 'cross the
hall, so I'm never 'fraid. They're not my really truly aunt's and
grandfather's--I just call them that. And Jimmie leaves the light
burning anyway. What's your name? And are you very old? Are you a man
like Jimmie?"

Dale, warming under the adoration he saw on the small face, felt very
big and very manly. He returned the little squeeze that tugged on his
hand.

"Oh, I'm a big fellow," he answered.

"You look awful nice," the little girl pursued. "Just like one of my
make-believe Princes. I wish you lived with Jimmie and me. I wouldn't
mind Cynthia then."

"But the Princes never lived with the little girls in the stories, you
know," argued Dale, finding it a very pleasant and unusual sensation to
act the rôle of a Prince even to a very small girl. "You have to find
me, you see."

Miss Robin jumped with joy. "Oh, goody, goody! I'll always make b'lieve
you are a Prince and I'll find you and you must find me, too. You will,
won't you?"

"You just bet I will," promised Dale, easily. "Here's your street." He
stopped to study the house numbers. Suddenly a door flew open wide and a
bareheaded man plunged into the street, almost tumbling upon them.

"Robin! Good gracious! I thought you were--stolen--lost--"

Robin, very calm, clasped him about his knee.

"I _was_ lost, Jimmie. But this very big boy brought me home. He's a
Prince--I mean he's my make-believe Prince."

"But, Robin--" The man turned from the child to Dale.

"I found her way down by Sheridan Square. She was hunting for her doll
she'd left there."

"While I was walking with Mr. Tony this afternoon I played in the park
and I forgot Cynthia."

"Good Heavens--and you went way off there all by yourself to find the
thing?"

In her pride of Dale, Robin overlooked the slur on Cynthia.

"I went alone," she repeated, "but I came home with my Prince."

Gradually Robin's father was recovering from his shock. The muscles of
his face relaxed; he ran his fingers through his thick hair, red like
the child's, with a gesture of throwing off some horrible nightmare. To
Dale he looked very boyish--with a little of Robin's own cherubic
expression.

"Well, say, you gave me a fright, child. And you must promise not to do
it again. Why, I can't ever leave you alone unless you do."

He turned to Dale, who stood, lingering, loath to leave the little Robin
under the doubtful protection her Jimmie offered. "I'm no end grateful
to you, my boy. If there's anything I can do for you--" He slipped one
hand mechanically into his pocket.

"_I_ don't want anything." Dale spoke curtly and stepped back. "It
wasn't any bother; it's a nice night to walk."

With a child's quick intuition Robin realized that her gallant Prince
was about to slip out of her sight. Her Jimmie had pulled his hand from
his pocket and was extending it to the boy. He was not even inviting him
to come in and smoke like he always invited Mr. Tony and Gerald and all
the others. But of course Princes wouldn't smoke, anyway.

She waited until her father had finished his thanks, then, stepping up
to Dale, she reached out two small arms and by holding on to Dale's,
drew herself up almost to the boy's chin. Upon it she pressed a shy,
warm kiss.

"Good-bye, Prince. You will hunt for me, won't you? Promise! Cross your
heart!"

Dale, flaming red, confused, promised that he would, then wheeled and
stalked off down the street. After he had rounded the corner he lifted
his arm and wiped his chin with the sleeve of his coat. Then he stuck
his hands deep in his pockets and whistled loudly. But after a moment,
at a recollection of sky-blue eyes underneath a sky-blue tam-o'shanter,
he chuckled softly. "A Prince! Gee, some Prince!" But his head
instinctively went higher at the honor thrust upon him.

When he returned from the store, Dale usually found his mother sitting
by the lamp crocheting. But tonight everything was different; scarcely
had he stopped at their landing before the little mother, quite
transformed, rushed to greet him and tell him the wonderful bit of good
fortune.

Before it his own adventure was forgotten.

"And it's only a beginning it is--it's the superintendent he'll be in no
time at all, at all," finished Mrs. Lynch.

"And we can move? And I can join the Boy Scouts? And go to camp next
summer? And have a pair of roller skates?"

Mrs. Lynch nodded her head to each question. Behind each note of her
voice rippled a laugh. "Yes, yes, yes. Sure, it's a wonderful night this
is."

"Where's Pop now?"

"Working with the extra shift," the wife answered, proudly.

"Any dumplings?" eagerly.

"And I was forgetting! Bless the heart of you, of course I saved the
biggest. 'Twas like a party tonight for I dressed your sister in the
beads. It's worn out she is, God love her, with the excitement and
trying to keep her wee eyes open 'til her Pop come home. Hushee or
you'll waken the lamb now."

Dale was deep in thought choosing the words with which he would tell the
good news to the "fellows" on the morrow, his mother was busying herself
with the "biggest" dumpling, when a peremptory knock came at the door.
With a quick cry Mrs. Lynch dropped her spoon--why should anything
intrude upon their joy this night?

A man stood on the threshold presenting a curious figure for he wore a
heavy coat over a white duck suit. Where had she seen such a suit
before? With a catch at her heart she remembered--at the hospital, that
time Dale had been run over. "Oh!" she cried. "My Dan!"

"Mrs. Lynch?" The hospital attendant spoke quickly as one would who had
a disagreeable task and must dispose of it without any delay. "Your
husband's had an accident--he's alive, but--you'd better come."

Mrs. Lynch stood very still in the centre of the room--her hand
clutching her throat as though to stifle the scream that tore it.

"My Dan--hurt!" She trembled but stood very straight. "Quick, Dale, we
must go to him. My Dan. No, no, you stay with Beryl. Oh, _hurry_!" she
implored the interne, rushing bareheaded past him down the stairway.
"_Hurry._"

For a few moments Dale stared at the half-open door. In his thirteen
years he had experienced the pinch of poverty, even hunger, the pain of
injury, but never this overwhelming fear of something, he did not know
what. Pop, his big, strong Pop--hurt! Pop, who could swing him even now,
that he measured five feet three himself, to his shoulder! Oh, no, no,
it could not be true! Someone had made a mistake. Someone had cruelly
frightened his mother. Hadn't their luck just come? Hadn't Pop been made
a boss?

"Mom-ma!" came Beryl's voice, sleepily, from the other room. "Mom-ma,
what's they?" Glad of anything to do Dale rushed to quiet his little
sister. He bade her, brokenly, to "never mind and go to sleep," and he
pulled the old blanket up tight to her chin, his eyes so blinded with
tears that he did not see the waxen head pillowed close to Beryl's.

Then he sat in his mother's chair and dropped his head upon the table
and waited, his hands clenched at his side.

"I _won't_ cry! I _won't_ be a baby! Mom'll maybe need me. I'm big now!"
he muttered, finding a little comfort in the sound of his own voice.

       *       *       *       *       *

Poor Robin's Prince; alas, he felt very young and helpless before the
trouble which he faced.

Big Dan Lynch, he who had been the fairest and sturdiest of the county
of Moira's girlhood, would never work again--as superintendent or even
foreman; the rest of his days must be spent in the wheeled chair sent up
by the sympathetic Miss Lewis of the Neighborhood Settlement House. It
was fixed with a contrivance so that he could move it about the small
room.

Little Beryl started school which made up for a great deal that had
suddenly been taken from her life, for mother never sat by the lamp,
now, or crocheted. She worked at the Settlement House all day and all
evening busied herself with her home tasks.

The "lucky dolly" Beryl hid away in paper wrappings. Somehow, young as
she was, she knew her mother could not bear the sight of it.

And Dale worked every day at Tony's, going to night school on the
evenings when he had used to go to the store. A tightening about the
lips, an older seriousness in the lad's eyes alone told what it had cost
him to give up his ambition to graduate with his class, perhaps at its
head.

Little Robin with the sky-blue eyes was quite forgotten!



CHAPTER III

THE HOUSE OF FORSYTH


It was a time-honored custom at Gray Manor that Harkness should serve
tea at half-past four in the Chinese room.

On this day--another November day, ten years after the events of the
last chapter--Harkness slipped through the heavy curtains with his tray
and interrupted Madame Forsyth, mistress of Gray Manor, in deep confab
with her legal advisor, Cornelius Allendyce.

Mr. Allendyce was just saying, crisply, "Will your mind not rest easier
for knowing that the Forsyth fortune will go to a Forsyth?" when
Harkness rattled the cups.

Then, strangest of all things, Madame ordered him sharply away with his
tray.

Such a thing had never happened before in Harkness' experience and he
had been at Gray Manor for fifty-five years. He grumbled complainingly
to Mrs. Budge, the housekeeper, and to Florrie, Madame's own maid, who
was having a sip of tea with Mrs. Budge in the cosy warmth of the
kitchen.

Florrie asserted that she could tell them a story or two of Madame's
whims and cranks--only it would not become her, inasmuch as Madame was
old and a woman to be pitied. "Poor thing, with this curse on the
house, who wouldn't have jumps and fidgets? I don't see I'm sure how any
of us stand it." But Florrie spoke with a hint of satisfaction--as
though proud to serve where there was a "curse." Harkness and Mrs.
Budge, who had lived at Gray Manor when things were happier, sighed.

"It's an heir they be talking about now," Harkness admitted.

"You don't say so!" exclaimed Mrs. Budge and Florrie in one breath.

Up in the Chinese room Madame Forsyth was saying; "Do you think any
child of that--branch of the family--could take the place of--"

"Oh, dear Madame," interrupted the lawyer. "I am not suggesting such a
thing! I know how impossible that would be. But on my own responsibility
I have made investigations and I have ascertained that your husband's
nephew has the one child. The nephew's an artist of sorts and doubtless
has his ups and downs--most artists do. Now I suggest--"

"That I take this--child--"

Mr. Allendyce tactfully ignored the scorn in her voice. "Exactly," he
purred. "Exactly. Gordon is the child's name. A very nice name, I am
sure."

"The child of an obscure artist--"

"Ah, but, Madame, blood is blood. A Forsyth--"

"P'ff!" Madame made a sound like rock hitting rock. Indeed, as she sat
there, her narrow eyes gleaming from her immobile face, her thin lips
tightly compressed, she looked much more like rock than flesh-and-blood.

Her explosion had the effect of exasperating the little lawyer out of
his habitual attitude of conciliation.

"Madame, I can do no more than advise you in this matter. I have traced
down this child as a possible heir to the Forsyth fortune. However, you
have it in your power to will otherwise. But let me say this--not as a
lawyer but as your friend. You are growing old. Will you not find,
perhaps, more happiness in your old age, if you bring a little youth
into this melancholy old house--"

"I must ask you to withhold your kind wishes until some other time,"
interrupted Madame, dryly. "I am at present seeking your advice as a
lawyer. I have not been regardless of the fact that the House of Forsyth
must have an heir; I have been thinking of it for a long time--in fact,
that is all there is left for me to do. And, though it is exceedingly
distasteful to me, I see the justice in seeking out one of--that family.
But, it must be done in my way. My mind is quite made up to that. You
say there is a--child. I wish you to communicate with this child's
father--this relative of my husband, and inform him that I will make
this child my heir provided he can be brought to Gray Manor at once. He
will live for one year here under your guardianship. I will send for
Percival Tubbs who, you may remember, tutored my grandson. Doubtless he
is old-fogyish but from his long association with our family he knows
the Forsyth traditions and what the head of the House of Forsyth should
be. He will know whether this boy can be trained to measure up to it.
If, after a year, he does not, he must go back--to his father. I will be
fair, of course, as far as money goes. If he does--" She stopped
suddenly, her stony demeanor broken. The thin lips quivered at the
thought of that sunny south room in the great house where had been left
untouched the toys, the books, the games, the precious trophies, the
guns and racquets, golf sticks and gloves which marked each development
of her beloved grandson.

"A very fair plan," murmured the lawyer.

"You have not heard all," went on Madame Forsyth in such a strange voice
that Cornelius Allendyce looked up at her in astonishment. "I am going
away."

"You! Where?" exclaimed the man. He could not quite believe his ears.

"That I do not care to divulge." She enjoyed his amazement. "I am
yielding to a restlessness which in a younger woman you would
understand, but which in me you would no doubt term--crazy. I am going
to run away--to some new place, where, for awhile, no one will know
whether I am the rich Madame Christopher Forsyth or the poor Mrs. John
Smith. Oh, I shall be quite safe; at my bank they will be able to find
me if anything happens. Norris has had entire charge of the mills for a
long time. And Budge and Harkness can take care of things here."

"Madame," the lawyer was moved out of his customary reserve, "are you
not possibly running away from what may bring you happiness--and
comfort?"

For the space of a moment the real heart of the woman shone in her eyes.

"I _am_ running away. I might learn to love this boy and he might not be
what the head of the house of Forsyth _should_ be and I would have to
send him back. And my heart has been torn enough. It is tired. I have a
whim to find new places--new things--to rest--and forget all this."

There was an interval of silence. Then Mr. Allendyce, lifting his eyes
from the patent-leather tips of his shoes, said quietly:

"I will carry out your commands to the best of my ability."

There followed, then, a great deal of discussion over details. And,
while carefully jotting figures and memoranda in a neat, morocco bound
note-book, the little man of law felt as though he were writing the
opening chapters of some fairy-tale.

Yet there was little of the fairy-tale in the old, empty house, a
melancholy house in spite of its wealth of treasure, brought from every
country on the globe. And there was nothing of romance in the Forsyth
family which had come over to Connecticut from England in the early days
of its settlement and had left to all the Forsyths to come, not only the
beginnings of the Forsyth factory where thread was made by the millions
of spools, and the Forsyth fortune, amassed by those same spools, but
also a deal of that courage which had helped those pioneers endure the
hardships and meet the obstacles of the early days.

Her business at an end, Madame expressed embarrassment at her
inhospitality in denying Mr. Allendyce his cup of tea. Would he not stay
and dine with her? Mr. Allendyce did not in the least desire to dine
alone with his client but the Wassumsic Inn was an uninviting place and
New York was a three hours' ride away. So he accepted with a polite show
of pleasure and assured Madame that he could amuse himself in the
library while she dressed for dinner.

Left to himself, the lawyer fell to pacing the velvety length of the
library floor. This led him to one of the long windows. He stopped and
looked out through it across the sloping lawns which surrounded the
house. A low ribbon of glow hung over the edge of the hills which lay to
the west of the town. Silhouetted against it was the ragged line of
roofs and stacks which were the Forsyth Mills. Familiar with them
through years of business association, the little man of law visualized
them now as clearly as though they did not lay wrapped in evening
shadow; he saw the ugly, age-old walls, the glaring brick of the new
additions, the dingy yards, the silver thread of the river and across
that the rows upon rows of tiny houses piled against one another, each
like its neighbor even to the broken pickets surrounding squares of
cinder ground. He knew, although his eyes could not see, that these
yards even now were hung with the lines of everlasting washing, that men
lounged on those back doorsteps and smoked and talked while women worked
within preparing the evening meals. These human beings were machines in
the gigantic industry upon which the House of Forsyth was founded. Did
Madame ever think of them as flesh and blood mortals--like herself?
Cornelius Allendyce smiled at the question; oh, no, the Forsyth
tradition, of which Madame talked, built an impenetrable wall between
her and those toilers.

Staring at the gray hard line of shadow that was the tallest of the
chimneys the man thought how like it was to Madame and old Christopher
Forsyth. His long connection with the family and the family interests
gave the lawyer an intimate understanding of them and all that had
happened to them. And it had been much. Mr. Allendyce himself often
spoke of the "curse" of Gray Manor. Christopher Forsyth and Madame had
had one son, Christopher Junior. Allendyce could recall the elaborate
festivities that had marked the boy's coming of age, the almost royal
pomp of his wedding. Three years after that wedding the young man and
his wife had been drowned while cruising with friends off the coast of
Southern California.

This terrible blow might have crushed old Christopher but for the
toddling youngster who was Christopher the Third. The grandfather and
grandmother shut themselves away in Gray Manor with the one purpose in
life--to bring up Christopher the Third to take his place at the head of
the House of Forsyth.

At this point in his reflections Mr. Allendyce's heart gave a quick
throb of pity--he knew what that handsome lad had been to the old
couple. He thought now how merciful it had been that old Christopher had
died before that cruel accident on the football field in which the lad
had been fatally injured. The brunt of the blow had fallen upon Madame.
And after the boy's death, a gloom had settled over her and the old
house which nothing had seemed able to dispel. As a last desperate
resort the lawyer had suggested, with a courage that cost considerable
effort, the finding of this other heir.

Mr. Allendyce had known very little of that "other branch" of the
family. Old Christopher had had a younger half-brother, Charles, who, at
the time Christopher took over the responsibilities of the head of the
family, went off to South America where he married a young Spanish girl.
And from the moment of that "low" marriage, as old Christopher had
called it, to the investigation by Mr. Allendyce's agents, nothing had
been heard at Gray Manor of this Charles Forsyth.

It had cost considerable money to trace him down but, accomplished, Mr.
Allendyce had with satisfaction tabulated the results in his neat little
note-book. Charles had died leaving one son, James. James had one child,
Gordon. They lived at 22 Patchin Place, New York City.

The thought of the fairy story flashed back into the lawyer's mind. He
knew his New York and he knew Patchin Place, where poverty and ambition
elbowed one another, and squalor stabbed at the heart of beauty. This
Gordon Forsyth had his childhood amid this, lived on the rise and fall
of an artist's day-by-day fortune. Now he would be taken from all that,
brought to Gray Manor, put under special tutorage, so that, some day he
could step into that other lad's place. If that didn't equal an Arabian
Night's tale!

"I'll go down to Patchin Place myself. I'd like to see their faces when
I tell them!" he declared aloud, with a tingle within his heart that was
a thrill although the little man did not know it.

Harkness coughed behind him. He turned quickly. Harkness bowed stiffly.
"Madame awaits you in the drawing-room."

The little man-of-the-law's chin went out. "Madame awaits--" Poor old
Madame; she would not have known how to come in and say "Let us go out
to dinner." There had to be all the ceremony and fuss--or it would not
have been Gray Manor and Madame Christopher Forsyth.

"All right. I'll find her," Mr. Allendyce growled. Then he was startled
out of his usual composure by catching the suggestion of a twinkle in
the Harkness eye which, of course, should not be in a Forsyth butler's
eye at all.



CHAPTER IV

RED-ROBIN


For twenty-five years Cornelius Allendyce had worn nothing but black
ties. On the morning of his contemplated invasion of Patchin Place in
search of a Forsyth heir he knotted a lavender scarf about his neck and
felt oddly excited. Such a sudden and unexplainable impulse, he thought,
must portend adventure.

With a notion that all artists were "at home" at tea time, Mr. Allendyce
waited until four o'clock before he approached his agreeable task. At
the door of 22 Patchin Place he dismissed his taxicab and stood for a
moment surveying the dilapidated front of the building--with a moment's
mental picture of the magnificent pile that was Gray Manor.

A pretentious though slightly soiled register just inside the doorway,
told him that "James Forsyth" lived on the fifth floor, so the little
man toiled resolutely up the narrow, steep stairway, puffing as he
ascended. It was necessary to count the landings to know, in the dimness
of the hallway, when he reached the fifth floor. He had to pause outside
the door to catch his breath; a moment's nausea seized him at the smell
of stale food and damp walls.

But at his knock the door swung back upon so much sunshine and color
that the little man blinked in amazement. A mite of a girl with a halo
of sun-red hair smiled at him in a very friendly fashion.

"Does Mr. James Forsyth live here?" It seemed almost ridiculous to ask
the question for surely it must be some witch's cranny upon which he had
stumbled.

"Yes. But Jimmie isn't home. Won't you come in?"

Mr. Allendyce stared about the room--a big room, its size enhanced by
the great glass windows and the glass skylight. Everywhere bloomed
flowers in gayly painted boxes and pots and tubs. And after another
blink Mr. Allendyce perceived that there were a few real chairs, very
shabby, and a table covered with a cloth woven in brilliant colors and
some very lovely pictures hanging wherever, because of the windows and
the sloping roof, there was any place to hang them.

The young girl closed the door, whereupon there came a gay chirping from
birds perching, the bewildered lawyer discovered, in various places
around the room quite as though this corner of a tenement was a
woodland.

"Hush, Bo, hush. They're dreadfully noisy. They love company. Won't you
sit down?"

Mr. Allendyce sat gingerly upon the nearest chair. His companion pulled
one up close to him. He perceived with something of a shock that she
limped and at this discovery he looked at her again and drew in a quick
breath.

Why, here was the oddest little thing he had ever seen. He had thought
her a child, yet the wide eyes, set deep and of the blue of midnight,
had a quaint seriousness and understanding; in the corner of her lips
lingered a tender droop oddly at variance with the childish dimple of
the finely moulded chin. Though the girl's red hair--like flame, as the
lawyer had first thought, gave her an alive look, the little form under
the queer straight dress was diminutive to frailty.

"Who are you, my dear?"

"Robin Forsyth. Jimmie calls me Red-Robin because I hop when I walk."

"Is Jimmie your--"

"He's my Parent. Do you know Jimmie?"

"N-no, not--exactly." The little man was wondering how his investigators
had failed to report this young girl.

"Jimmie ought to be here soon. He went out to sell a picture to old Mrs.
Wycke. She wanted it but she wanted it cheap, Jimmie says. But we didn't
have anything to eat today so he took the picture to her and he's going
to bring back some cake and ice cream. We'll have a party. Will you
stay?"

"Good heavens," thought Allendyce, startled at her astonishing
frankness. He reached out and patted the small hand.

"You are very kind. Does your Jimmie sell--many pictures?"

"Not many--I heard him and Mr. Tony talking. Mr. Tony's his best friend.
If it were not for me Jimmie'd go away with Mr. Tony. Mr. Tony writes,
you see, and he wants Jimmie to illustrate for him."

"And where is your brother Gordon?"

Robin stared. "My--brother--Gordon?"

"Yes. Gordon--"

"_I_ am Gordon."

"You!"

"My real name is Gordon but Jimmie doesn't like it. He always said it
was too formal for a little girl. So he calls me Red-Robin and he says
he'll never call me anything else. Why do you look so funny?"

For Mr. Allendyce seemed to have crumpled together and to be quite
speechless.

"Don't _you_ think I'm too, oh, sort of insignificant, to be Gordon? I
like Robin much better."

The lawyer did not hear her. Here was a fine balking of all his and
Madame's plans. The Forsyth heir! That that heir should be a girl had
never entered their calculations. And a little lame girl at that; Mr.
Allendyce suddenly recalled how Madame had worshipped the splendid
manliness of young Christopher the Third.

"Is there anything the matter with you, Mr.--why, you haven't told me
your name!"

With a tremendous effort Cornelius Allendyce pulled himself together. He
flushed under the wondering wide-eyed scrutiny of his companion, who
reached out and laid a small, warm hand upon his.

"You're not ill, are you?" with solicitude.

"No--no, my dear. No, I am not ill. But I am upset. You see--I came
here--well, I call it--a most interesting story. Up in Connecticut
there's a small town and a very big mill which has been there for ever
so long, heaping up millions of dollars. And there's a very big house
there that looks like a castle because it's built of gray stone and is
up on a hill--it has everything but the moat itself. And an old lady
lives there all alone." The lawyer paused, a little frightened at a wild
thought that was persistently creeping up over his sensibilities. It
must be the lavender tie or the witchery of the flowers and the absurd
chirping birds.


"Oh, that's the old Dragon!" cried Robin, delightedly, with a chuckle as
though she knew all about the old lady and the lonely castle. "That's
what Jimmie calls her--poor old thing. Jimmie says she must be
dreadfully unhappy in that lonely old house after all that's happened
there."

"Do you--do you mean that--you _know_--"

"About those rich Forsyth's? Why, of course. That's Jimmie's pet
story--about his terrible relatives."

"But your father has never--"

"Seen her? Oh, no. Jimmie's very proud, you see. And he thinks one good
picture is worth more than any old fortune or mill or anything. Oh,
Jimmie's wonderful. Why, we wouldn't trade our little home here for two
of her castles! Jimmie couldn't paint if he were rich. He says money
kills genius. Only--" She stopped abruptly, flushing.

"Only what, my dear--"

"I ought not to rattle on like this to you. Jimmie says I
am--sometimes--_too_ friendly. I suppose it's because I don't know many
people. But I wish I just had a _little_ money. You see _I'm_ not a bit
of a genius. I can't paint like Jimmie or sing like my mother did--or do
a single thing."

Now Mr. Allendyce suddenly felt so excited that he wriggled on the
rickety chair until it creaked threateningly.

"If you had money, Miss Gordon--what would you do?"

"Why I'd run away." She answered with startling promptness. "Oh, I don't
mean that I'm not happy here. I love it. And I adore Jimmie. But I'm a
girl and I'm lame, so I'm a--a millstone 'round Jimmie's neck!"

"What in the world--"

"_Promise_ you won't ever tell him what I'm saying. Oh, he'd feel
dreadfully. You see it's just that. He feels sorry 'cause I'm lame and
he won't believe that I don't mind a bit--why, I can run and do
everything--and he won't ever go anywhere without me. And an artist
shouldn't have to be tied down; I heard Mr. Tony say so, once, when
Jimmie was very blue. He didn't know I heard. Now Mr. Tony's going off
for a long cruise in the South Seas on a sailing boat and he wants
Jimmie to go with him. He's going to write stories and he says if Jimmie
sees it all he will make his fortune painting pictures. And he can
illustrate the stories, too. And Jimmie won't go because he won't leave
me. Don't you see what I'd do if I had some money? I'd run away
somewhere and tell Jimmie that he must go with Mr. Tony."

Mr. Allendyce sprang to his feet and paced up and down the room. In all
his life the world had never seemed so full of youth and color and
adventure as it did at that precise moment; his cautious soul fairly
burst with imaginative daring.

"Miss Gordon--that's what I came for. I mean, I came to tell this Gordon
Forsyth that the old lady, Madame Forsyth, wanted him to come to Gray
Manor to live--for a year. He's to be tutored there. And if at the end
of a year he is a--"

"But there isn't any he! Gordon's me."

"I know. I know. But a Forsyth's a Forsyth."

"You mean--_I_ might go to--the castle--"

"Yes, why not? Madame--and I--just took it for granted that you were a
boy, because of your name. But our mistake does not make you any less a
Forsyth or less a possible heir--" The thought was a full-fledged idea
now!

"Who _are_ you?" broke in Robin, excitedly.

"I am Cornelius Allendyce, attorney for the Forsyth family. And I am--if
your father consents--your future guardian."

"Oh, Jimmie'll _never_ consent, never!"

"Why not?" pressed the lawyer. "You say you have no--particular genius
to be killed by--money."

"Would it mean that I'd have to give Jimmie up forever?"

"No, my dear. Indeed no. Madame's plan is that you are to go to Gray
Manor under my guardianship to live for a year. At the end of that time,
if she is satisfied--Why, your father would simply give up any claim--"

"Oh, you don't know Jimmie. He'd never do it, unless--" she paused, her
eyes suddenly wet, "unless--_I_--gave _him_ up. All his life he's made
sacrifices and given up things for me--big chances. So now--couldn't I
run away with you--and then write and tell him?"

The Cornelius Allendyce who had lived up to that moment of crossing the
threshold of this fifth-floor witchery would have scorned such a
suggestion as "ridiculous! ridiculous!" But the Cornelius Allendyce of
the lavender tie saw mad possibilities in such a step. Take the girl to
Gray Manor and settle with Mr. James Forsyth afterwards.

[Illustration: "COULDN'T I RUN AWAY WITH YOU?"]

"Couldn't I?"

"Why--yes, if you think your father would accept the situation--when he
knew."

"Oh, I'd tell him he _had_ to, that he must go away with Mr. Tony. And
he'd go. But, Mr. Allendyce--I couldn't go tonight. I just couldn't let
Jimmie come back with the ice cream and cake and maybe a pumpkin pie
and--not find me here. Our parties are such fun. If you'll come tomorrow
at three o'clock--I'll be ready. But what will the Dragon say when she
sees that I'm a girl?"

Mr. Allendyce suddenly laughed aloud. The whole thing was so very
simple. Madame only waited a telegram from him to set forth upon her
travels. Why let her know that Gordon was a girl until the year had
passed?

"We will not worry about that, my dear. Madame is going away. She will
not be back at Gray Manor for a long time. I will call at
three--tomorrow. I trust you will make your Jimmie understand. You know
this is a very unusual step--there are some who might call it
abduction--"

"Oh, Jimmie wouldn't!" assured Robin. "Not when I tell him why I'm
running away."

Robin had answered him so indifferently that Cornelius Allendyce felt her
mind was working out a plan for the morrow. He gave a last look about
the room as though he wished to carry away a perfect impression of it,
then patted the girl on the shoulder.

"Here is my card and the telephone number of my office. If you decide
that this step is--too irregular, if perhaps we ought to talk with your
father first--"

"No! No!" cried Robin. "That would spoil everything!"

Down in the street Cornelius Allendyce waved off a persistent taxi
driver, deciding that he needed the vent of exercise to bring him back
to earth. And as he hurried along he felt a curious elation, as though
for the first time he enjoyed a zest in living. As a lawyer his life had
been necessarily cut-and-dried; there had been little room for
adventuring. And now, in a brief half-hour, he had let himself into the
wildest sort of conspiracy. (He stopped suddenly and mopped his
forehead.) He was planning to deliberately deceive Madame Forsyth, to
steal a young and very unusual girl from her parent--and, to assume the
guardianship of this same runaway. Where would it all end?

But in that half-hour just past something must have happened to the
little man's conscience for even after the startling summing up, he
laughed and walked on with a step lighter than before.

       *       *       *       *       *

Back on the fifth floor of the old house in Patchin Place Robin leaned
over the table writing a letter. Her task was made the more difficult
because of the tears which blinded her eyes.

"Jimmie, I love you more than anything in the world but I am going to
run away and leave you. I am going to the Dragon. She wants an heir. I
am going to live in the castle and have a tutor. And my guardian is
going to be the Dragon's lawyer--he's ever so nice and fathery--so you
see I will be looked after as well as can be. Jimmie dearest-darling,
you must not worry about me or try to make me come back for I'll be all
right and you must go away with Mr. Tony and paint lots and I'll be so
proud. And please, please Jimmie, make Aunt Milly promise to take care
of the birds and the flowers for they mustn't die. And you will write to
me, won't you? Good-bye, Jimmie, don't forget your hot milk at night.
Yours always and always, Red-Robin."

She had just signed the letter when James Forsyth opened the door. She
thrust it into her pocket as she turned to meet him.

"Oh, _Jimmie_!" she cried, for under his arm he carried the picture he
had taken to sell to Mrs. Wycke.

"She didn't want it," he explained, testily.

The girl had been well schooled in disappointment; not the slightest
shadow now crossed her face.

"_Someone_ will, Jimmie," she declared, brightly, taking the heavy
package from him. "And you said yourself Mrs. Wycke couldn't tell a
chromo from a masterpiece. We don't want her to have our picture anyway.
I'm not a bit hungry--are you, Jimmie? Let's sit here all cosy and you
read to me--" and thinking of the note that lay in her pocket, she
reached up very suddenly and kissed her Jimmie to hide the break in her
voice.



CHAPTER V

JIMMIE


Robin found running away amazingly simple. Poor Jimmie, at her urging,
went out quite unsuspecting. She was so excited and there was so much to
be done at the last moment, that she had no time to think what the
parting with all she loved so dearly must mean to her.

Promptly at three o'clock Cornelius Allendyce tapped on the door. His
face was very red and moist and his hand, as he reached out for Robin's
bag, shook, but Robin did not notice all that; she slipped quickly
through the door and shut it behind her, as though fearful that at the
last moment she might find it impossible to go.

Out in the thin sunshine, whirring through the traffic of the crowded
streets, neither spoke for breathlessness. Cornelius Allendyce stared at
the buildings and swallowed at regular intervals to steady his nerves--a
trick he had always found most helpful in important legal trials. Robin
kept her eyes glued on the back of the taxi driver's head but he might
have had two heads and one upside down for all she noticed. Her hands in
her lap were clenched very tight and her lips were pressed in a
straight, thin, resolute line.

But as they kept on past Forty-second street and headed toward Central
Park West the lawyer explained that he was taking her to his own home
for the night.

"My sister will make you quite comfortable. Tomorrow we will go out to
Wassumsic." He did not say that it was important, too, to give Madame
Forsyth ample opportunity to get away from Gray Manor.

Robin drew a long breath and relaxed. It had taken so very much courage
to run away that she had little left with which to face her new life.
Tomorrow it might be easier.

Miss Effie Allendyce took her under her wing in a fluttery, mothery sort
of a way with a great many "my dear's."

"I suppose," the lawyer had said, looking at the two, "you, Effie, will
have to get Miss Forsyth some clothes tomorrow--"

"Clothes," Robin cried, astonished. "I--brought some."

"Well, you probably ought to have some other kind. You see, my dear, you
are a Forsyth of Gray Manor now." He turned to his sister. "Effie, can
you get all she needs--everything, before tomorrow at three o'clock?"

Effie's eyes danced at such a task--indeed, she could. She knew a shop
where she could buy everything that a girl might need.

"Well, I'll leave you two to make out lists. Isn't that what you have to
do?"

So, for a few hours the making of these amazing lists kept Robin's
thoughts from that little fifth floor home and Jimmie. Miss Effie began
with shoes and finished with hats, with little abbreviations in brackets
to include caps and scarfs and all sorts of things. "It is very cold in
Wassumsic," she explained, "and you will live a great deal out of doors.
It is very lovely," she added, making a round period after "sweater."

And there was another list which included a wrist watch and a writing
set. "They can send on most of these things," she pondered.

Robin slyly pinched herself to know that she was still a
living-breathing girl; all seemed as unreal as though she had slipped
away into a magician's world.

But the lists completed, dinner over, alone with her new guardian, an
overwhelming loneliness swept her. Cornelius Allendyce, turning from a
protracted study of the blazing fire, was startled to find the girl's
head pillowed in her arm, her shoulders shaking with smothered sobs.

"My dear! My dear!" he exclaimed, very much as Miss Effie would have
done.

"I--I can't help it. I tried--"

Poor Robin looked so very small in the big chair that remorse seized
Cornelius Allendyce. How could he have taken this little girl from her
corner, shabby as it was?

It was not too late--

"Miss Gordon," he began a little uneasily, wondering what guardians did
when their wards were hysterical. "My dear, don't cry, I beg of you.
Come, it is not too late to go back. We will explain--"

Robin lifted her head. "I--I don't want to go back. But I was thinking
of Jimmie. He must be awfully lonesome--now. You see you don't know
Jimmie. He depends on me to remind him of things like his hot milk. And
just at first, it will be hard. But, no, no, I don't want to go back."

"Then I would suggest that you go to bed. You are doubtless very tired
from the excitement of everything. And tomorrow will be a busy day--and
an interesting day."

Robin drew herself slowly from the chair. She limped over to the divan
upon which Cornelius Allendyce sat. Her eyes were very steady, dark with
earnestness.

"I'm ashamed I cried. I won't do it again. But I want you to know, oh,
you must know, that I'm not going to Gray Manor because of all those
clothes and the money or anything like that. There could not be anything
at Gray Manor as nice as Jimmie's and my bird-cage. But I want Jimmie to
have his chance--"

Left alone, Cornelius Allendyce found himself haunted by Robin's "Jimmie
must be awfully lonesome." What a strange pair--the quaint old-young
girl living in a world which circled around this father--the father, by
the girl's own assertion, "depending" upon the girl. And little Robin,
scarcely more than a child, realizing that she hindered the man's
development, talking about giving him "his chance" and at such cost--and
promising that she would not cry again. "There's bravery for you!"
muttered the lawyer aloud.

He believed that Miss Effie's lists of finery and knick-knacks held
little attraction for the girl.

He recalled Madame Forsyth's scornful "that other branch of the family."
Yet this James Forsyth and Gordon had lived for years and often in want
in New York City, and had never approached Madame for as much as a
penny. Robin had said Jimmie couldn't paint if he were rich. Could he
paint if he lost her?

Suddenly Cornelius Allendyce had a vivid understanding of the tie that
bound these two. And it was unthinkable that this man would let the girl
go and do nothing. Yet it was not of any possible embarrassment _he_
might suffer that Cornelius Allendyce thought at this moment; it was of
the heartbreak of the father. He had not considered him at all; carried
away by a mad impulse he had let himself listen to a child and had lost
his own sense of justice. Why, it had been rank robbery! He must go to
this man at once. Muttering to himself he went in search of his hat and
coat.

       *       *       *       *       *

For the third time the little lawyer climbed the flights of stairs at 22
Patchin Place. And this time, so eager was he to square himself with
Robin's Jimmie, he ran up the steps. He knocked twice and when no one
answered he opened the door quietly and walked in.

A man sat at the little table, his head dropped in his outflung arms.
Cornelius Allendyce knew it was Jimmie. Another man stood over him, his
face flushed with impatience. "Mr. Tony," thought the lawyer. He was
evidently just drawing breath after a heated argument.

"Pardon my intrusion, gentlemen. I knocked but I do not think you heard
me." Allendyce stopped short, for his usual measured words seemed out of
place at this moment. "I am Cornelius Allendyce," he finished humbly and
guiltily. "I came back to--explain."

James Forsyth made a lightning-quick movement as though he would spring
at the little lawyer's throat. Mr. Tony held him back.

"Jimmie--wait. Let him talk."

"It was Miss Robin's wish to slip away without telling you. She said
you would not let her go and she had quite made up her mind to give
you--what she calls--your chance. She has an idea that she ties you
down--"

Jimmie choked as a sob strangled in his throat. His anger suddenly
melted to abjection. Mr. Tony laid a comforting hand on his shoulder and
turned to the lawyer.

"The girl is right. She's a wonderful little thing. She always could see
further ahead than her Dad. I have been telling my pal that this is the
best thing all around that could happen--a fine bit of luck for
everyone. Robin will go up to Gray Manor and be as happy and safe as can
be and her father can travel and work--the way Robin wants him to. Robin
took rather unusual means to gain her end but--well, she knew what she
was doing."

Jimmie turned to Cornelius Allendyce and studied his face with a
desperate keenness.

"She isn't like other children," he began slowly. "Poor little crooked
kiddie. She's sensitive. I've kept her away from everything that could
hurt her. I've tried--to make up to her. I thought she was happy; I did
not know she guessed--or knew--"

Mr. Tony had taken a few steps down the room. He wheeled now and came
back with a set expression on his face as though he had to say something
disagreeable and must get it over with.

"Jimmie, suppose, just for once, you look your soul straight in the
eye--honest. Now isn't it the artist heart of you that's hurt by Robin's
crooked little body--and not the child? Don't you keep her shut up in
here because, when people stare at her--_you_ suffer? Have you been fair
to her? Oh, yes--you love her, all right. Well, then, let her go. Robin
thinks she's giving you your chance--well, _I_ say, give the girl her
own."

"I tell you Robin's different--she doesn't want money or clothes!"

"Well, pretty things--and good food--can make even a 'different' girl's
heart lighter. Come, old man, go off with me on this cruise and work
your head off and at the end of the year--if Robin's not happy there,
well, you can make other plans. I'm like Robin, I believe that give you
a year, you'll do something rather big."

James Forsyth suddenly lifted a face so boyishly helpless, so defeated,
that Allendyce's heart went out to him. He understood, all at once, what
little Robin had meant when she had said, "You don't know Jimmie!" He
certainly was not like other men.

"I feel such a--quitter. I promised Robin's mother--I'd make up to the
child for her being lame--the way _she_ would have, if she'd lived. And
I've failed. Why, only last night she went to bed hungry." There
followed a moment of tense silence, then the man went on dully, in a
tone that implied yielding. "I suppose I may know all the circumstances
that led up to--this."

Cornelius Allendyce proceeded to tell everything from the day of his
interview with Madame to the moment of his consternation upon
discovering that Gordon Forsyth was a girl and not a boy. He repeated
word for word Robin's and his conspiring; he described their flight and
Robin's break down in his library.

"She had not lost courage--oh, no. But she was thinking of you. She was
afraid you'd forget to take your hot milk at night or something like
that," he finished simply.

There were other details for the lawyer to explain to James Forsyth,
having to do with allowances and schooling. Then, when everything had
been said that was necessary to be said, James Forsyth rose wearily.

"If that's all, I'd like it if you two would leave me here--alone." He
held out his hand to Mr. Allendyce. "Understand, if she's not happy--"

"Our agreement ends."



CHAPTER VI

THE FORSYTH HEIR


Harkness' mother had once lived in an English duke's family and Harkness
had been brought up on stories of the ceremonious life there. Therefore
he considered it quite fitting that he should take upon himself the
planning for the reception of the Forsyth heir.

"I say it do be a pity Madame could not 'ave waited," he grumbled to
Mrs. Budge. "To 'ave the poor little fellow arrive here alone don't seem
right. But Madame says 'Harkness, you'll do everything--'"

"Everything!" snorted Mrs. Budge, who had just come down from dusting
the "boy's" room. The familiar "clutter," as she had always called it,
had roused poignant memories, so that her wrinkled face was streaked now
and red. "'Pears to me most you do is talk--and talk big. It's Harkness
this and Harkness that! To be sure _my_ mother was a plain New England
woman--"

"Now, Budge, now, Budge," interrupted Harkness, consolingly. "No one as
I know is going to dispute that your mother was a plain New England
woman. And we're not going to quarrel at such a rememberable moment, not
we. And we're going to give Mr. Gordon a welcome as is befitting a
Forsyth. At the appointed hour we'll gather at the door--you must stand
at the head of the long line of servants--"

"Long line of servants! And where do you expect to get them, I'd like to
know? Things have been at sixes and sevens in this house ever since the
gloom came. And that new piece from the village ain't worth her salt's
far as work goes."

Poor Harkness had to recognize the truth of what Budge said. Since the
"gloom" things _had_ been going at sixes and sevens--inexperienced help
called up from the village to fill any need. He was not to be daunted,
however; there were the gardener and the undergardener and the chauffeur
and the stableman and they had wives who might be induced to put on
their Sunday clothes and join in the ceremonial--all in all, they could
make a fair showing.

Into the plans for the dinner Mrs. Budge threw herself with her whole
heart. There must be young turkey and cranberry sauce, and a tasty salad
and a good old New England pumpkin pie, which she would make herself,
and ice cream and little cakes with colored frosting--oh, Budge knew
what a boy liked.

And Harkness would brighten the great dark hall with bitter-sweet and
deck the gloomy rooms with flowers--he knew what was proper for the
coming of the heir of the House of Forsyth.

"Like as not," Budge said, "'twill be the end to this curse."

So the two old retainers, their hearts full of hope for a new happiness
over Gray Manor, labored until the old house shone and bloomed for the
coming of Gordon Forsyth. And a few minutes before the hour of arrival,
the gardener and the undergardener and the stableman and their wives
came in, breathless with importance; Chloe, the old colored cook,
appeared in a brand new turban and 'kerchief. Mrs. Budge, her gray hair
brushed back tighter than ever, donned her black silk which she had not
worn since young Christopher's eighteenth birthday and took her place at
the head of the line just a foot or two behind Harkness who, of course,
had the honor of opening the door.

Mrs. Budge, however, watched the service door at the end of the long
hall with fretful eyes. "That piece," she confided to Harkness, the
moment not being so important as to still her grumbling, "said she
wouldn't come in. And when I told her she could just choose t'wixt this
and the door she said she wouldn't dress up, anyways. Impertinent chit!
Thinks she's too good for the place. Things _have_ gone to sixes and
sevens--"

Harkness was holding his watch in his hand. And just as he shut it with
a significant click, a tall dark-haired girl in a plain gingham dress
slipped into the room and took her place at the end of the line, at the
same moment casting a defiant glance at the knot which adorned the back
of Mrs. Budge's head.

Above the low murmur of voices came the throb of a motor.

"It's him!" cried Harkness, a catch in his voice. Mrs. Budge shut her
eyes tight from sheer nervousness. There was a visible straightening and
a rustling of the line. Then Harkness threw the door open and bent low.

On the threshold stood a small girl; her eyes, under the fringe of red
hair, wide with excitement, frightened.

Harkness had opened his lips for his little speech of welcome but the
first sound died with a cackle in his throat, leaving his mouth agape.
He stared at the little creature and beyond her at Cornelius Allendyce,
who was superintending the unloading of several bags and boxes.

Where was Gordon Forsyth?

Turning, Mr. Allendyce, at one glance, took in the situation. He bustled
up the steps, and thrust a bag in Harkness' limp hand.

"Well, we're here!" he cried cheerily, ignoring the amazement and
disappointment that fairly tingled in the air. "And a fine welcome
you're giving us!" He turned to Robin, who stood rooted to the
threshold. "My dear, these people have served the Forsyths faithfully
and for a long time. Harkness, this is Gordon Forsyth. Mrs. Budge--"

He drew aside to let Robin enter. And Robin, conscious of startled,
curious eyes upon her, limped into her new home. Harkness, because he
had to do something, closed the door slowly behind her.

"I'm sure--we were expecting--" he mumbled.

Mr. Allendyce imperiously waved off whatever Harkness was expecting.

"We hope, Mrs. Budge, you are prepared for two hungry people. We lunched
very early and the ride here is always tiresome. In Madame's absence, I
am sure you will take care of Miss Gordon and--me." There was the finest
inflection on the "miss." "I shall stay a day or two. Robin, my dear,
this is your new home."

Robin had been biting her lips to keep them steady. There was something
so terrible in the great hall, the broad stair that lost itself in a
cavern of darkness above, the brilliant lights, the staring faces. Her
eyes swept from Mrs. Budge's stony face down the line and crossed the
curious glance of the dark-haired girl in the gingham dress. Robin's
brightened, for the girl was young, but the girl flushed a dark red,
tossed her head and stalked through the narrow service door out of the
room.

Robin turned to Cornelius Allendyce and clung to his arm. He seemed the
one nice friendly thing in the whole place. And, as though he knew how
she felt, he patted her hand in a way that seemed to say, "Courage, my
dear."

Mrs. Budge recovered her tongue. "She'll not be wanting the young
_master's_ room," she said crisply. "Madame's orders--"

"I would suggest that Miss Gordon decide for herself what room she will
have." The lawyer's voice carried a rebuke that was not lost upon the
housekeeper. "Harkness, carry the bags upstairs and Miss Gordon and I
will follow."

So Harkness' reception line broke up; the gardener and the undergardener
and their wives following Mrs. Budge's stiff back out through the
service door while Harkness led Robin and her new guardian up the broad
stairway.

In the kitchen, for very want of strength, Mrs. Budge flopped into a
chair.

"Sixes and sevens!" she gasped. "I'll say that things _are_ just going
to sixes and sevens. I've always distrusted all lawyer-men and this one
ain't a bit different. Bringing a _girl_ here, and a cripple. Did you
ever hear the like?" She looked from one to the other of Harkness'
retainers and answered herself with the same breath. "You never did.
Don't know when I've been so flabbergasted. Mebbe she's a Forsyth but
she ain't a worth-while Forsyth. She ain't. As if a girl could step into
our boy's shoes." She sniffed audibly. "She don't take in Hannah Budge."

When Harkness appeared there was a fresh outburst and a reiteration that
Hannah Budge "wasn't going to be taken in by a piece no bigger'n a pint
of cider."

"Well, the girl's here--and hungry," Harkness retorted with meaning
abruptness.

A sense of duty never failed to spur poor Budge. She rose, now, quickly.
"Humph, like as not with everything else going to sixes and sevens that
old Chloe's forgot her turkey," and with a heavy sigh that fairly
rattled the stiff silk on her bosom she went off in search of the cook.

Robin found much difficulty in choosing her room for they all seemed
equally lovely in the perfection of their furnishings. She had stood for
a moment in the door of the south room that had been Christopher the
Third's. "Here's where they'd have put you if you were a boy," her new
guardian had told her. In spite of Mrs. Budge's efforts at cleaning and
dusting, a melancholy hung over the room and about all the boyish things
there was such a sense of waiting that Robin was glad to turn away.
Finally she decided upon a west room the windows of which overlooked the
valley and the hills beyond.

"Oh, wouldn't Jimmie love that?" she had cried, lingering in one of the
windows. "He loves hills, and doesn't that river look like a silver
ribbon tying the brown fields?"

The bedroom opened on one side into a sitting room with a bay window, on
the other into a tiny bathroom, shining and gleaming with nickel and
tile.

"Oh, everything's _lovely_," and Robin ecstatically clasped her hands.
"Only what'll I ever do with everything so big!"

Cornelius Allendyce laughed at her dismay. To be sure he had not spent
his life in such tiny quarters as the bird cage and he could not
understand the girl's state of mind.

"My dear, after a little everything will seem quite natural. And
remember--everything is at your command. This is your home. You are
Gordon Forsyth. You will not have time to be lonely."

Robin's serious face suddenly broke into a bright smile. She patted the
garland of roses which held back the silk hangings.

"I just had the funniest feeling, as if I were not me at all but all of
a sudden someone else. Ever since I was a very little girl I've often
played that I lived a make-believe story--I make it like all the fairy
stories jumbled together. And I fit all the people I know into the
different characters. Jimmie lets me play it because I am alone so much
and it keeps me happy. Sometimes he even plays it with me. It makes
horrid things seem nice. And Jimmie never wanted me to know the boys and
girls at school--because I'm lame, I guess--so I always pretended things
about them and gave them names. You should have seen Bluebeard." She
laughed at the recollection. "And now I'm going on playing. I'm the
little beggar-maid who awakens to find her self in the castle. Do you
suppose there's a fairy godmother somewhere? And--a prince?"

And Cornelius Allendyce who had never read a fairy story in his life,
let alone acted one, laughed with her.

"Yes, this is another chapter in your story."

"Oh, and don't you wish we could just peek to the end and see how it all
turns out? But that isn't fair. And we couldn't--anyway."

Her new guardian shook his head. "No, we couldn't--anyway."



CHAPTER VII

BERYL


A bell tinkling somewhere in the house wakened Robin the next morning.
Through the flowered chintz curtains of her window the sun shone with a
warmth out of all keeping with the time of the year, throwing such a
joyous glow about everything in the room that she rubbed her eyes to be
sure she was not dreaming.

The evening before, everything had seemed so strange that Robin had not
been able to take in small things; now an immense curiosity to explore
Gray Manor, and the grounds that were like Central Park, and the little
town, and the hills around it, seized her. She slipped her feet out of
bed and into the satin slippers which had been one of Miss Effie's
purchases. She dressed with feverish haste, rebuking herself for having
slept so late, for her new wrist watch told her it was after ten
o'clock.

Ten o'clock--why, on Patchin Place the morning was almost over at that
hour, the streets about thundering with the work of the day. And here it
was as still as night, or as--a church on a weekday, Robin thought.

Dressed, she opened the door of her room very quietly and peeped
curiously out. And there in the wide hall, dusting an old highboy, was
the girl with the dark hair.

"Hullo!" exclaimed Robin, delighted at the encounter.

The girl stared for a moment. She was tall and thin; her eyes so
intensely blue as to look black and startling in their contrast to the
whiteness of her skin. They were brooding, smoldering eyes and a too
frequent scowl was making tiny lines between the straight black
eyebrows.

"Isn't this the wonderfulest morning?" Robin advanced, stepping nearer.
"What is your name? I'm Robin--I mean Gordon Forsyth."

"I know that. My name's Beryl but I guess it doesn't make much
difference to you what I'm called. The man who came with you's waiting
downstairs."

In spite of this rebuff Robin lingered for a moment, hopeful of a
pleasanter word. But the girl Beryl shouldered her duster and marched
off, head high.

"I'm going to find out more about her right off," determined Robin as
she went in search of her guardian.

The big rooms below, like her own room, looked very different in the
morning light, even cheery. Mr. Allendyce greeted her with a smile and
Harkness' "Good-morning, Miss Gordon," had pleasant warmth. It was fun
to sit in the high-backed chair before the shining silver and the
flowers and to choose between grapefruit and frosted orange juice. So
fascinated was Robin that she forgot for the time, her interest in the
girl she had encountered upstairs.

"Well, what do you think of Gray Manor in daylight?" asked Mr. Allendyce
as the two walked into the library.

"Oh, it's more like a great castle than ever. But it isn't--half as bad
as I thought it was." When Robin caught the amused twinkle in her
guardian's eye she added hastily: "I mean, it isn't gloomy and sad at
all. It's so beautiful--and I love beautiful things."

Mr. Allendyce thought suddenly that it was the first time for a long
time _he_ had seen these rooms when they had not seemed overhung with
melancholy. But he checked any expression of the thought; instead he
took Robin on a tour through the library and drawing rooms, pointing out
to her the treasures which had been brought from every corner of the
world. There were rare tapestries and bronzes, and tiny ivory carvings
and tables inlaid with bright jade and old crystal candelabra, and
quaint chests and wonderful paintings and rare old books. As he told the
story of each, Cornelius Allendyce marvelled at the girl's quick
appreciation and intelligent interest. Her Jimmie had evidently gathered
travelled people about him and Robin had been always a sharp listener.

Then Harkness interrupted their pleasant occupation by appealing to
Robin for "his orders" with such a comical solemnity that Robin had
difficulty suppressing a nervous giggle. Her guardian came to her rescue
with the suggestion that they drive about the town and the mills, have
an early tea and an early dinner and dispense with luncheon.

"Must I tell him every day just what I want?" thought Robin, in dismay.

The girl's active imagination could well picture the imposing motor
which came to the door as a coach-and-four, resplendent with regal
trappings. And, cuddled in the wolf-skin robes, flying over the frosty
roads which wound through the hills, it was very easy to feel like a
princess from one of her own stories.

Only the mills spoiled her lovely day. The evening before they had
loomed obscurely and interestingly but in broad daylight they were ugly.
The great chimneys belched black smoke into the beautiful blue of the
sky; the monotonous drone of many machines jarred the hillside quiet.
Everything was so dusty and dirty--even the tiny houses where the men
lived. Robin, brought up though she had been in Patchin Place, turned in
disgust from the dreary ugliness about her.

"Does it have to be like that?" she asked her guardian.

"Like what?"

"Oh--dirty. And so dreary. And noisy."

Her guardian laughed. "I'm afraid it does. Work is mostly always
drab--like that. And you see it has grown like a giant. There--there's
the giant for your fairy story, my dear. And giants are usually ugly,
aren't they?"

"Yes, always." Robin spoke with conviction. As they rode on she looked
back over her shoulder. "I'm glad we can't stop today. This ride has
been so lovely that I'd hate to spoil it by--seeing the Giant up close."

"Giants are very powerful. And usually very rich." Cornelius Allendyce
enjoyed the fancy.

"Yes--and they crush and kill, too."

"But didn't a Jack climb something or other and overcome one of them in
his lair?"

At this Robin laughed and then forgot, for the time being, the mills and
the dirty houses; when Mr. Allendyce hoped Mrs. Budge would give them a
very big tea party, she realized she was hungrier than she had ever been
before.

So full had been each moment of her first day at Gray Manor that it was
not until she sat curled in the big divan before the library fire, a
book of colored plates of Italian gardens across her lap that she
thought of her determination to know more of the girl who had called
herself Beryl.

Harkness stood at the long table putting it in order. Harkness seemed
always moving things about just so as to put them back in place again.

"Mr. Harkness."

"Yes, Miss Gordon."

"Do I know everybody here?"

"Why--I'm sure--What do you mean, Miss Gordon?"

"I saw a young girl last night. And I met her in the hall today. Who's
she?"

"That's a person from the village, Miss Gordon. I don't know as I've
heard her name. Budge mostly calls her a piece. I don't think Budge is
satisfied with her."

"You mean she works here?"

"Yes, Miss Gordon. At least now. She helps Budge. Budge is getting on,
you see. I don't know as I've heard the miss' name. Is there anything
more, Miss Gordon?"

Harkness had a warm heart under his faded livery and it went out now to
Robin because she looked very small and very much alone in the big room.
He had heard Mrs. Budge's hostile sputter and he knew the lawyer man was
going the next day; little Miss Gordon would be quite without friends at
Gray Manor. So he stepped closer to the divan and in a very human,
friendly way he added: "Excuse me if I'm so bold as to say, you just
count on old Harkness if you want anything, missy."

Robin caught the kindliness in the man's voice. "Oh, thank you, Mr.
Harkness. I'll be so glad to have you for a friend. And won't you
please call me Robin? You see everyone who's ever liked me real well
called me that and it'll make me feel homey here."

"Well, just between _us_, Miss--Robin." And the old man went off with a
mysterious smile that even Budge's sour face could not dispel.

The house was very still. Mr. Allendyce was in his room writing some
letters. The early dinner had been over for sometime. Robin wondered
what Beryl was doing now and where she was--probably upstairs somewhere.

"I'll go and find her!"

This was more easily said than done for Gray Manor had wiggly wings and
corridors turning in every direction and little stairs here and there so
that one first went up and then down and then up again. Robin had almost
given up her search and had just about decided she was lost, for turn
whichever way she might, nothing seemed familiar, when she heard the
harsh, scraping strains of a violin, vibrant with stormy feeling.

"I'll find that and then maybe it'll be someone who can tell me how to
get back to the library," she thought, laughing silently at the
ridiculousness of being lost in a house, anyway.

She traced the music to a turning which led into a narrow hallway. At
its end a door stood ajar and from it a light streamed. Robin
approached the door on tip toe that she might not disturb the music,
then stood still on its threshold in delighted amazement for the violin
player was the girl for whom she was seeking.

At sight of Robin the girl flung the violin upon the bed.

"Oh, please don't stop. May I come in? I was hunting for you."

It was an absurdly small room as compared to the great rooms below, and
very bare. There was one chair which Beryl, scowling, pushed forward, at
the same time sitting upon the bed. Her eyes said plainly: "What do you
want?"

Robin ignored her unfriendliness. She sat down on the edge of the bed,
close to Beryl.

"I'm awfully glad I found you," she ventured. "You see you're the only
other _young_ person in this house. Though I never had any chums like
most girls do, Jimmie always seemed young and the birds and the flowers
and the Farri children made it--" Robin stopped suddenly, for Beryl was
staring at her with rude amusement. "I--I thought it would be so nice if
you--and I--could be--sort of chums," she managed to finish.

Beryl tossed her head as she moved away, shutting the violin in its case
with an angry little slam.

"I guess it _would_ be sort of," she mocked.

"What do you mean?" Poor Robin's heart beat furiously; it had taken all
the courage she could muster to force her advance upon this girl and
Beryl's rebuff hurt her deeply. She flushed at Beryl's scornful laugh.

"Why--we're as far apart as the poles," Beryl answered. "You're--Gordon
Forsyth. And I'm just Beryl Lynch."

Robin's eyes were like a baby's in their lack of understanding.

"I don't see--" she began but Beryl would not let her go on. Beryl's
whole soul went out in resentment at what she suspected was
"patronizing." "Not me!" she cried in her heart. And aloud: "Oh, you
just _say_ you can't see. Why I'm like a servant here. Though I won't be
that way long with that old crank as uncivil as she is. Mother didn't
want me to do it. But I wanted the money. And I'm going to stick it out,
much as I hate it--"

Robin watched the other girl's stormy face in an ecstasy of delight.
Here was a creature different from anyone she had ever known; almost her
own age, too, full of the fire and spirit and daring which she longed to
possess and knew she did not; beautifully straight and tall.

"I asked old Budge for the place. I heard she wanted someone to help her
and it was work anyone could do. Mother felt dreadfully--she said I'd
hate it. I don't mind the work but I hate--oh, feeling I'm not as good
as anyone here. When Mrs. Budge told me to put on a clean uniform--ugh,
how I hate those uniforms--and go down to the hall to meet you, I told
her I wouldn't. She 'most sent me off then and there."

"You did go, though. I saw you," Robin broke in.

"Oh, yes, I went but I wouldn't change my dress just to spite her. And I
was curious to see the boy they were all making such a fuss about. You
just ought to know how upset they were when _you_ came! Why, old Budge
talked as though it were a disgrace for a Forsyth to be a girl. I was
glad--because it fooled her." Beryl realized suddenly that she was
growing friendily confidential. She sharpened her tone. "_You'd_ better
go down before the old snoop catches you here."

"I wish you wouldn't talk like that," pleaded Robin.

"Like what?"

"Oh, as though we weren't--well just girls alike and couldn't be
friends. We might have such good times--"

"You _are_ a funny little kid, aren't you? And you certainly don't know
how things are run in stiff houses like this. If old Budge could hear
you! I don't mind telling you that the old cat keeps saying she's going
to watch you to see if you act like a Forsyth. So you'd better not let
her hear you asking to be friends with me."

Robin slowly rose to her feet, two bright spots of color flaming in her
cheeks.

"Why, I'll--" Her anger died suddenly and a quaint little dignity fell
upon her. She straightened her slender figure and held her head very
high. "I am a Forsyth and I shall act just as I think a good Forsyth
should and not as Mrs. Budge thinks. And please don't think I'm the
least bit afraid of this Mrs. Budge."

Beryl laughed so gleefully at Robin's defiance that Robin joined in with
her and the friendship for which she sought sprang into being--all
because of an unspoken alliance against the hostile housekeeper.

"I'll go back now--if you'll show me the way."

"They _ought_ to have signs at every turning."

"Oh, what a funny thought!" And giggling, the two tiptoed through the
winding corridors and down the stairs which led to the second floor.

"I'll see you tomorrow," whispered Robin at parting.

"It won't do--you'll see it won't do!" warned Beryl. "I haven't been in
this house two whole days without knowing what it's like!"



CHAPTER VIII

ROBIN ASSERTS HERSELF


The coming of Percival Tubbs to Gray Manor added the one sweet drop to
poor Mrs. Budge's cup of bitterness. Though he brought vividly back
heartbreaking memories of young Chistopher the Third's school days, when
she had waited each day for the lad's boisterous charge upon the kitchen
after the "bite" which was his and her little secret, she hoped to find
in him an ally. _He_ would see how ridiculous it was to have a Forsyth
girl, anyway, and especially a girl who limped around the house like a
scared rabbit, afraid to ask for a crumb. If this Gordon had been a boy,
as they had planned, another comely, happy youth, why, she could have
soon learned to love him. But a girl--how would she look sitting at
Master Christopher's desk, in his chair! Something was all wrong
somewhere, but Percival Tubbs would find out and say what's what.

With this hope strong in her breast she made excuse to go into the
Chinese room, for the Chinese room was only separated from the library
by heavy curtains through which voices could be easily overheard. And
Harkness had said the lawyer and the tutor were talking in the library.

Robin's guardian had given much thought to this interview with the
tutor. Robin's fate worried him not a little. He had, in the few days,
grown very fond of Robin, and he hated to leave her with Harkness and
Budge and this Percival Tubbs, a poor sort of companionship where a
fifteen-year-old girl's happiness was concerned.

"I must make Tubbs see that the child is different--" he was thinking
just as Mrs. Budge tiptoed into the Chinese room.

"Miss Gordon is not like other children and you'll have to plan your
school work a little differently with her," he began, speaking slowly.
"She's bright enough and knows much more about some things than most
girls her age--and nothing at all about others. What I want you to do is
to go easy; easy, that's it. I rather imagine she's always taken a lot
on her own shoulders and I don't believe she's ever thought much of
herself. If you can develop a little assertiveness in her--she'll need
it, here--"

"Yes. She'll need it here," echoed the tutor, because he thought he
ought to say something. He was a tall, lanky man whose shoulders sagged
as though something about them had broken under the strain of being
dignified; his face narrowed from an impressive dome of a forehead to a
straggling Van Dyke beard which he always stroked with the fingers of
his left hand. He was the old type of schoolmaster whom the rapid
forward stride of education had left far behind. His summons to Gray
Manor had come rather in the way of a life-saver and he did not intend
to allow the fact that the Forsyth heir had turned out to be a girl,
perturb him in the least. And so long as his rooms at the Manor were
comfortable, his food good and his salary certain, he could adapt
himself to any fool theory this lawyer guardian might care to advance.

Mr. Allendyce stared hard at the other, his face wrinkled in his effort
to say the right thing.

"Oh, let her have her head," he finished finally. And he liked that idea
so well that he repeated it. "Let her have her head. Do you understand
me? Never mind what's in the old schoolbooks. If she'd rather take a
walk than study Latin verbs, well, let her. I want her to be happy
here--happy, that's most important. You've heard of flowers that bloom
only in shelter and sunshine? This youngster isn't unlike--"

"Well, I never! No, I _never!... I never!_" Mrs. Budge's gasp, rising in
a crescendo, almost betrayed her presence. She gave a pillow a mighty
jab. As though it were not bad enough to bring the girl to the house in
the first place without paying a man a fancy price to teach her to have
her own way! "Flowers! Humph! Old fools--" Unable to endure another word
in silence she stalked off to her own quarters.

In the butler's pantry she found Beryl arranging real flowers in a
squatty Bristol glass bowl and humming gaily as she did so. Now Beryl
should have beep upstairs marking the new linen and she should not be
singing as though she owned the whole world. These two transgressions
and the sight of the bright blossoms in the girl's hand brought the
climax to the old woman's wrath. All Beryl's shortcomings tumbled off
her tongue in an incoherent flow of ill-temper. A stormy scene resulted
which left the old housekeeper spent and Beryl blazing with indignation.

Consequently, when poor Robin, depressed from her first hour with the
tutor, trying not to feel that Gray Manor was going to be a prison
instead of a castle, sought out her new friend she found her throwing
her few possessions into a cheap suitcase that lay, opened, across her
narrow bed.

"Oh, what are you doing?" cried Robin in alarm.

"I'm going--that's what. She fired me."

Robin's first thought upon awaking that morning had been of Beryl; she
had suffered the keenest impatience all through the trying morning,
longing to go in search of her new friend. She could not lose her
now--for a hundred Budges.

"Oh, I won't let you go!"

"A lot _you_ could do!" cried Beryl scornfully, tears very close. "I
just can't please the old thing. But I hate to go home." She sat down,
dolefully, on the edge of the bed. "I wanted to stay until I had earned
two hundred dollars."

Two hundred dollars! That seemed such a very big amount of money to
Robin that she sat silent, thinking about it.

Beryl, misinterpreting her quiet, tossed her head. "I s'pose that
doesn't mean much to you. But it does to me--'specially when I have to
earn it." Then, with a flash of temper: "What do you know about wanting
some one thing with all your whole heart and knowing just where you can
get it and not having the money?"

Beryl made her tragedy very real and pouring out her troubles always
brought her a grain of comfort.

"I've never had a thing in my life that I wanted," she finished.

"Oh, Beryl, I'm so sorry."

"Sorry! Why, a lucky little thing like you are can't even know what I'm
talking about. That's why I said we couldn't be friends. _I've_ had to
work at home like a slave ever since I can remember. Pop's sick all the
time and cross, and poor mother looks so tired and tries to be so
cheerful and brave that your heart aches for her. And even when you're
poor, a girl wants things, pretty things and to do things like other
girls--and work as hard as you can you can't ever seem to reach them. I
get just sick of it. I thought--if I could get this money--"

"Did you want it for your mother?" broke in Robin, sympathetically.

Beryl's face flushed redder. "Well, not exactly. That's the way it
always is in books, but in life, when you're poor, it's each fellow for
himself and there's not any time for your grand sounding self-sacrifice.
I wanted it to buy a violin. That thing I've got's nothing but a cheap
old fiddle. And I can play--I _know_ I can play, or could if I could get
a good violin. I took lessons from an old Belgian who lived above us and
I played once for Martini at the theatre and he said--but what's the use
of caring? What's the use of _thinking_ about it? All a girl like me can
do is just want big things!"

"Oh, Beryl," breathed Robin, a tremble on her lips. She wanted very much
to make Beryl understand that she was not the "lucky thing" Beryl
thought her; that she knew, too, what it was to want something and not
to have it, though perhaps she had not known it as cruelly as Beryl had,
for Jimmie had always contrived to cover their bleak moments with a
makeshift contentment. "Oh, Beryl, honestly I know just how you feel. I
wish I could help you. Maybe I can. My allowance seems awfully big and I
can't ever spend it all--"

"Well, I'm not a beggar and I'm not hinting for your money," flared
Beryl.

"I didn't mean--" Robin began, then faltered. Beryl had spoken with such
real anger that she was frightened. Beryl, turning back to her packing,
gathered up an armful of clothing on top of which lay an oblong bundle.
Its wrappings were old and loose so that as Beryl flounced her burden
toward the suitcase, the content of the package slipped out and down to
the floor. Robin stared in amazement for there lay a doll in faded satin
finery.

With a short, ashamed laugh, Beryl picked it up. "_That_ old thing," she
exclaimed, in half-apology.

Robin caught her arm. "Wait--oh, wait--let me see it!"

"It's just an old doll I've kept."

"It--it looks like my Cynthia. Oh, _please_ just let me look at it. It's
like a doll--I lost, once, ever so long ago." She examined the pretty
clothing.

Now Beryl stared at Robin as though to find in her face a likeness to
the little girl who had deserted her doll.

"Lost? And I found it in Sheridan Square. A little girl went off and
left it. I waited awhile, then I took the doll home."

"Oh, how funny! How _funny_! It was me, Beryl. I'd been playing and Mr.
Tony called to me to hurry and I forgot--and you found it. Why, I cried
myself to sleep night after night thinking poor Cynthia was unhappy
somewhere."

"And I called her my orphan doll and loved her because I thought she
missed her real mother--"

"She was the loveliest dolly I ever had!"

"She was the loveliest dolly I ever saw!"

Both girls burst into a peal of laughter. They sat on the edge of the
bed, the doll between them, the packing forgotten.

Robin clapped her hands. "And to think we find each other now. It's like
a story. I went back to the park all alone that evening and would have
been lost if it hadn't been for my--" she broke off short and flushed.
She was going to tell Beryl about her play-prince but then, Beryl might
laugh and she did not want that.

Beryl's face suddenly grew grave as she smoothed out a fold of the
doll-garment.

"I always kept the doll put away. I never played with it because--" She
hesitated a moment. "That night that I found the doll was a dreadful
night. I wasn't quite six but I'll always remember it. At first mother
and I were so happy, over finding the doll and because Pop had just
gotten a raise. It seemed as though everything were going to be
wonderful and we felt as rich as could be. We called the doll a lucky
doll. And mother dressed me up in her green beads that Father Murphy,
back in Ireland, had given her when she told him she was going to marry
Pop. And we had dumplings--ugh, I've hated dumplings ever since. And
then--"

"What happened?"

"They came for Mom, some man from the hospital. Pop had been terribly
hurt. And, well--nothing's been lucky since. It's just as I said;
mother's had to work and Dale's had to work and Pop just sits in a chair
and scolds and--well, I never wanted to take the doll out when mother
could see it--after all that."

Robin made no effort to conceal how deeply Beryl's story had moved her.
"Oh, Beryl, I'm so sorry. But maybe things will change. They'll have
to--Jimmie always said, it's a long lane that has no turning. I'm so
glad it was you who found my Cynthia. It might have been some one who
wouldn't have loved her at all."

"I s'pose you ought to have her now."

"Oh, no, no. She's yours. Anyway, that doesn't matter," and Robin added
triumphantly, "because we're really truly friends now, no matter what
you say. Cynthia has brought us together."

Beryl shook her head.

"That old crank--" she began.

Robin stamped her foot in impatience. "I don't care a bit about Mrs.
Budge. My guardian told me that I could have anything I wanted here just
for the asking and he's made me the silliest big allowance that three
girls couldn't spend. Oh, I've a plan! Ought not a girl like me have a
companion? Don't they most always in books? You shall stay here at Gray
Manor as my--chum."

Beryl still looked doubtful. "I'm too young--"

"That's just why I want you. Oh, I just can't bear to think of my
guardian going away and leaving me here alone. You see I promised myself
that I'd be happy while Jimmie's having his chance--that's why I came,
you know. But this house is so big and so old and Mr. Harkness and Mrs.
Budge are so old that I know it's going to be hard not to think of
Jimmie and our lovely home and the birds. But if you'd stay it would be
easier. Oh, say you will, say you will."

Beryl stared at Robin with a suspicious scrutiny. She firmly believed
that rich people never did anything except for themselves and Robin, no
doubt, was like all the others. Yet she was such a queer little thing
that perhaps she _was_ trying to be "nice" to her and make a soft place
for her. And Beryl would not allow _that_ for a moment.

"You can study with me, too. That Mr. Tubbs isn't so very bad. And we'll
read together out of all those books in the library. And play--I never
had a real chum because Jimmie thought the girls and boys who went to
the school I did, might make fun of my being lame. Poor Jimmie, he
always minded my being lame much more than I did because he's an artist
and shivers when anything isn't perfect. You shall have a bed in my
room--there's ever so much space. Oh, say you will."

Beryl frowned, uncertainly. "I don't want a penny I don't earn. But if I
can really _do_ things for you--"

"Oh, of course you can, lots of things. But you shan't wear those
uniforms--for then you wouldn't be a girl like me. Oh, we'll have _such_
fun. Let's take this stuff right down."

It took the girls only a very little time to transfer Beryl's belongings
and to establish them in Robin's room, Beryl working mechanically,
unable to believe her good fortune. Then, at Robin's command, she
followed her while she went in search of her guardian.

Cornelius Allendyce and Percival Tubbs, sitting in a blue cloud of cigar
smoke, were pleasantly discussing the pros and cons of the tariff
question upon which they agreed, when Robin interrupted them.

"Please excuse me, but this is very important." Her breathlessness
startled the two men. "I've engaged Beryl to be my chum. I--I thought I
might be lonely here at Gray Manor. I want her to study with me, too.
And do everything. This is she."

Cornelius Allendyce's mouth had dropped open from sheer amazement;
suddenly it broadened into a grin. Here was Miss Gordon taking her
"head" at once, without so much as one lesson. He glanced at Percival
Tubbs but that good gentleman was stroking his silky beard quite
indifferently.

"I'd rather have Beryl than anyone else, 'cause she's almost my own age
and we like each other. Shall I tell Mrs. Budge or--"

"Without so much as a by-your-leave!" murmured the guardian. He surveyed
Beryl; she seemed like a wholesome, spirited sort and the idea of a
little companion for Miss Gordon was not a bad one, not at all--strange
he hadn't thought of it.

"Perhaps, Miss Gordon, you'd better tell her yourself. You must
begin--holding your own, my dear. Don't forget--ever, that you are a
Forsyth, and that name has great power over Hannah Budge."

Robin did not stop to ponder what he meant or why a twinkle shone in his
eyes. She rang the bell as her guardian indicated, then waited with a
resolute squaring of her small chin, for Harkness' coming.

"Please, Mr. Harkness, will you bring Mrs. Budge here? There's something
I want to tell you both."

Mrs. Budge, as she hunted out a clean apron, grumbled at the unusual
summons.

"The girl herself, you say?" she asked, as she followed Harkness to the
library.

Her astonishment changed to white wrath when Robin, standing by her
guardian's chair, spoke.

"I wanted to tell you that Beryl Lynch is going to stay here as my
companion. I'm going to give her half of my room so that I won't be
lonely and please set a place for her next to me at the table."

Once again Cornelius Allendyce caught the twinkle in the butler's eye
which should not be in a Forsyth butler's eye at all. But there was no
twinkle about Mrs. Budge; her cheeks puffed in her effort to speak
without strangling.

"If that piece--" she began, but she was quickly interrupted from every
side. Both Harkness and Cornelius Allendyce cried out, the one
pleadingly, the other in warning: "Careful, Mrs. Budge." Then Robin
stepped forward and slipped her hand through Beryl's arm.

"Please, Mrs. Budge, I have made Beryl promise to stay. She didn't want
to but I begged her. And if anyone is unkind to her it's just the same
as being--unkind to me. That is all," she finished grandly, with an
imperious little motion of her hand that waved the irate woman from the
room before she knew she was moving.

"Now you can't say as that wasn't like a Forsyth," asserted Harkness,
proudly, belowstairs. "If Missy wants a young lydy for a companion,
well, she's a right to the kind of young lydy she wants." But Budge had
escaped the reach of his voice.

In the library Cornelius Allendyce was patting Robin on the head.

"Well, you've won out in the first skirmish, my dear. But keep your
weapons at hand."



CHAPTER IX

THE LYNCHS


The only thing that made the Lynch's cottage any different from the two
hundred others at the mills, was that it stood at the end of a dreary
row and therefore had a window on the side of its living room which
overlooked the hills and the river.

This window was Moira Lynch's delight. Her poor, big Danny could sit in
it all day long. And from it she herself could watch the setting sun
flame over the crest of the hills and the narrow river shake off its
workaday dress and go racing into the shadows of the woods. Poor Moira,
years of heartbreaking work and worry had not changed her very much from
the girl who had liked to lie in the deep sweet grass of her dear
Ireland and let her fancy follow the winging birds into a land of
dreams.

The other window of the tiny living room looked out directly upon the
muddy road, across to the freight tracks.

It was to this window that Moira Lynch ran now, peering as far up the
road as she could see.

"Beryl's late today," she said, with an anxious note.

"Well, what if she is? Things don't run by the clock," Danny Lynch
answered testily. "You're always fussing. If it isn't the girl it's over
Dale."

Mrs. Moira ignored the edge of crossness in her Danny's voice. She went
to him, smoothed the spotless cushion at his back and put a fresh
magazine on his table.

"It's a silly, worryin' hen I am," she laughed. (But, oh, her laugh was
a tragic thing, for while her lips curved in a smile her eyes shadowed
at their mockery).

"But things seem a bit different, today," she added, apologetically.

And just as Danny Lynch's retort of derision died away Beryl burst upon
them.

Her mother needed only to give her one look to know that something _was_
different.

"And what is it, my darlin'? It's that hungry I was getting to set my
eyes on you. Two hours late you are, Beryl."

Beryl welcomed this reproach as it gave her an opportunity to impart her
good news in an impressive way.

"I couldn't get away a minute sooner. I've a new position." She was
going to say "job" but it did not seem fitting.

"What? Without so much as a word to your father and mother? And did the
likes of that old housekeeper fire you?"

Beryl had no intention of telling of her ignominious fray with Mrs.
Budge.

"I'm engaged to be a companion to Gordon Forsyth!" she answered,
grandly.

At this Moira Lynch dropped a spoon with a loud clatter.

"A companion to--that new boy who's come to the Manor?"

Beryl, recognizing that her story needed detailed explanation, slipped
off her outer wraps, threw them into a chair, kissed her father lightly
on his cheek, perched herself on the old sofa and proceeded to tell the
story of Gordon Forsyth's coming to Gray Manor while her mother listened
with breathless interest.

"And it's a girl she is--a little lame girl!"

"The queerest kid you ever saw. Not a bit snippy or rich acting. She
doesn't get at all excited over her new clothes and bossing those old
fogeys around and ordering her motor any minute she wants it. She thinks
the little place she lived in in New York is lots nicer than Gray Manor.
When you look at her you think she's a baby and then when she talks,
why--she seems older than I am! But she's funny like you, Mom; she's
always pretending things are different from what they are and giving
them names. She calls old Budge the wicked woman who wanted to eat the
two children," Beryl giggled. "And she calls the Mills a Giant."

Moira Lynch's face beamed with joyous understanding. Here was a
fellow-soul, "funny" like herself, Beryl described her; Beryl, for whom
black was always and invariably black, and a spade a spade.

"Why, she even wanted to come down here with me," Beryl finished.

There were so many questions trembling on Moira's tongue that, for the
moment, supper was neglected. Not long, however; the striking of the
clock reminded her that in a very few minutes Dale would be home,
hungry. Her mission in life, next to tending her big Danny, was feeding
her two children. For tonight she had made Beryl's favorite dessert, a
bread pudding, the eggs for which she had carefully hoarded during
several days' denial. Beryl, keeping up a running fire of talk, spread
the cloth on the centre table and brought the dishes from the cupboard.

"By'n by, you'll be too fine for the rest of us," broke in big Danny
upon their chatter, the usual discordant tone in his voice.

"Well, I guess it won't be your fault if I am," Beryl flared.
"Everything that I've gotten I've gotten for myself and I don't know of
anyone ever trying to help me."

Like a flash the little mother was between the two, a soothing hand on
the father's shoulder.

"Now don't you two be a-spoiling this night," she laughed a bit
hysterically. "Of course our girl's going to be too fine for anyone, but
it's always a-loving she'll be to her Dad and her Mommy." She declared
it with an ardent triumph. This mother who had once dreamed things for
herself dreamed them now for her boy and girl. From Beryl's infancy she
had taught her to want "fine things." And Beryl wanted them with all
her heart and, with youth's selfishness, wanted them for herself, alone.

After her father's taunt, Beryl, with sullen resentment, locked her lips
on her other pleasant experiences. Nor would she tell now how Robin had
written to her guardian to send down a real violin for her to practice
upon, or what fun it was to study with Mr. Percival Tubbs, whose ears
were distractingly like Brussels sprouts. And that she learned much,
much faster than Robin did! Poor Robin was always wondering the why of
everything.

Her mother suddenly exclaimed: "It's Father Murphy's beads you shall
wear this night, my girl. Didn't the good soul, God rest him, give them
with his blessing? Watch the potatoes while I get them."

Moira's beads had always played a significant part in her life. They
marked what she called her "blessings." Without doubt the rare bright
spots in her life shone like blessings for the dark of their background.
Years ago, when her Danny had had his accident and her world had seemed
to turn upside down until it rested, full-weight, upon her poor
shoulders, her "blessing" had been Miss Lewis at the settlement. Miss
Lewis had given her work so that she could earn money to feed her
family; Miss Lewis had sent the chair to Danny; Miss Lewis had found
cheaper lodgings and had helped her make them homelike. Another blessing
had been Jacques Henri, the old Belgian who lived above them and whose
violin had attracted Beryl as the magnet draws the iron. A lonely soul,
he had found sweet company in the child and had gladly helped the eager
fingers. Later he had come down to supper with them and Beryl had played
a "piece" for her Pop, wearing the beads in honor of the occasion. When
Beryl had graduated from the graded school she had stood as class
prophet before an assemblage of fond relatives, among them Dale and
herself--wearing the green beads. Moira had wished Father Murphy were
there to see her girl.

She clasped them around the girl's neck now with fingers that trembled
and eyes bright with the tears which were always close to them. During
the little ceremony Dale burst in like a gust of strong, sweet air.

"Hullo, everybody! M'm'm, something smells good! What's for tonight,
Mom? Salt pork and thick gravy? Fried potatoes? Good! Hullo, Sis. How
goes it, Pop?" His greeting embraced everything and everyone in a rush,
from the savory supper to the invalid father whose face had brightened
at his coming.

"What're you getting all dolled up for, Sis?"

Beryl and her mother tried to tell the story at the same time. Dale did
not seem at all impressed and Beryl was disappointed. He said he had
heard in the mills that the newcomer at the Manor was a girl, and lame,
too. He didn't know what difference it made to any of them, anyway. He
scowled a little as he said it.

Dale had his father's strong body and his mother's face of a dreamer;
his eyes were brooding like Beryl's but his mouth was wide and tender
and might have seemed weak but for the strength in the square cut jaw.

Since that time, ten years back, when he had resolutely put behind him
his precious ambitions and had taken the first job he could find, he had
been the recognized head of the family. As such he turned to Beryl now.

"I suppose you'll let this rich little girl wipe her feet on you and
you'll love it," he said with such scorn that Beryl turned hot and cold
in speechless anger.

"Now, sonny, now, sonny. Let's wait until we know the poor little
thing," begged his mother.

But for Beryl, except for the fun of wearing the beads, all joy for the
moment had fled. She had particularly wanted to impress Dale with her
good fortune. She had often, of course, heard Dale speak scathingly and
bitterly of the "classes" and the "privileged few" and the unfairness of
things in general, but she had paid little attention to it and could
not, anyway, connect it with unassuming Robin. When he met Robin, he'd
understand--and while Dale ate ravenously and talked to his father
between mouthfuls, she planned how she would bring Robin to supper the
very next time she came home, despite her vow that she would never let
Robin see how humble and small her home was.

After supper Beryl helped her mother clear away and Dale brought out his
"plaything" which was what he laughingly called the contrivance of
strings and spools and little wooden wheels he had made and which he and
his father "played with" each evening. Beryl had often wondered why Dale
seemed to care so much about it; why he spent hours and hours drawing
and figuring on bits of paper. Of course it amused the father, who,
during the day, cut the spools into tiny wheels, with a sharp
jack-knife; but it must be stupid for Dale to spend all of his evenings
over the silly thing. Beryl often lounged on the back of his chair and
listened to discover whether there was any part of the game she might
like.

Tonight Dale's interest seemed forced.

"If I could just find out what's needed _here_--" he growled, touching
the delicate contrivance. "That's the way! While I'm racking my poor old
nut, some other fellow's going to make the whole thing out!"

Danny Lynch's big hand trembled where it lay on the table. "If I had had
the learning--" he began. "I could help, mebbe."

Dale hastened to comfort him. "You don't get that stuff from books,
exactly, Pop. It comes here," touching his head. "If I only had the
money to have the thing made in metal. Oh, well, what's the use of
talking. The thing's got my goat, though. I'm thinking about it all the
time. Say, Mom, can I bring Adam Kraus over to supper some night? He
said he'd like to meet Pop and he's a good sort."

This Adam Kraus had only recently come to the Mills. He had at first
impressed the neighborhood somewhat unfavorably, for he encouraged a
suggestion of mystery, lived at the Inn, kept aloof from everyone, and
seemed to have no family. Moira's own quick thought of him when Dale had
pointed him out on the road in front of the Mill store was that "he
looked too white for a working man." But he seemed to have singled Dale
out for his advances; Dale thought he was a good sort and had met him
more than half-way; Dale who had had to work too hard by day and study
at night to make any close friendships. Whether she liked him or not, he
should have the best she could offer.

"_I'm_ going to bring Robin--I mean, Miss Forsyth, down here the next
time _I_ come," broke in Beryl.

"And of course you can. And Dale shall bring his friend, too."

"And you can wear your fine beads, Sis," finished Dale, teasingly.

"And it's a nice pot roast and cabbage salad we'll have, too. And a bit
of the fruit cake with real butter sauce." Wasn't she going to get her
check soon from the store to which she sent her lace?

So Beryl forgot her vexation and Dale his problem with his wooden toy in
pleasant anticipation of the "dinner party," as Mrs. Moira grandly
called it, out of respect to the pot roast and the fruit cake which Miss
Lewis had sent them and which was hidden away in a huge crock in the
shed.

"Mom, can't I take the beads back with me? They're so pretty and I
haven't a thing that's nice," begged Beryl as the moment for her to
return to the Manor came.

"The Princess and the Beggar-maid!" laughed Dale.

"My fine lady must have her jewels!" added big Danny.

Beryl flushed under their teasing but held her tongue, for didn't she
always have that picture blazed in her heart of the moment when with her
violin she would hold enthralled her unappreciative family and thousands
of others? _Then_ they would not laugh at her!

"I'll be ever so careful of them and only wear them once in a while,"
she promised.

Though Mrs. Moira would, of course, have given her children anything
they wanted that was hers, she hesitated now, not from reluctance to
part with her one "pretty" but because suddenly out of the silent past
came the old father's words: "They are only beads. But they'll remind
you of this day." She had been seventeen then--a slip of a girl. Beryl
was almost sixteen now.

"The shame to me! Sure, it's only beads they are!" she laughed, with a
little catch in her voice. "Of course you shall take them."



CHAPTER X

THE LADY OF THE RUSHING WATERS


"What'll we do today?"

Beryl asked the question, turning from her post between the curtains of
Robin's sitting-room. Not in a tone of complaint did she speak, rather
as though weighing which pastime would be most worthy of the unexpected
holiday.

For poor Percival Tubbs had "neuralgy" and could not leave his room;
Harkness had told them when he carried in their breakfast.

"_This_ is just the kind of a day you'd like _something_ to happen,"
Beryl went on, permitting a sigh to convey how much she would welcome
that something. "It's all gray and mysterious. The hills look awfully
far away. It's lonesomey."

Robin looked anxiously to her companion. _She_ did not feel lonesome at
all. This room, where they ate their breakfast each morning at Harkness'
suggestion, was cosy and full of inviting books and pretty pictures and
comfy chairs; Harkness was ever so nice and concerned as to their
comfort, they were as secure from Mrs. Budge's hostility as thick walls
and Harkness' vigilance could make them and--best of all, a letter from
her Jimmie, full of Mr. Tony's plans and their contemplated sailing, lay
close to her heart.

"What would you like most to do, Beryl?"

"Oh, let's ask Williams to take us for a long ride--I adore going like
the wind," answered Beryl promptly.

This suggestion appealed to Robin, who, although she didn't like to "go
like the wind," never tired of riding among the hills. She went
immediately with Beryl to find Williams, the chauffeur. Williams, like
the others around the Manor, with the exception of Mrs. Budge, had
fallen under Robin's spell and was enjoying the stir that her coming
brought to the old house. So he declared, now, that it would be a "nice
day for a run" and they could take the Cornwall road, because there was
a fellow in Cornwall he ought to see.

Before the holiday fun could begin Beryl had her "duties" to perform.
These were tasks which she had set for herself so that she might not
feel for one moment that she was living on Robin's charity and were most
of them quite unnecessary and little things that Robin would really like
to do herself. However Beryl was too proudly intent upon saving her
pride to realize this and Robin, instinctively understanding, let her
have her way.

Finally started, the girls snuggled close together in the car, holding
hands under the big robe. And, as they sped over the smooth road, each
let her thoughts take wings. Beryl's, with the honest self-centredness
that was characteristic of her, fluttered about herself. How she looked
in this peachy car--how she'd love to steer it and just step on the gas
and fly; some day, when she was famous, she'd have a car like this only
much bigger and painted yellow and she'd take Mom and Pop out and go
through the Mill neighborhood so that that gossipy Mrs. Whaley who had
called her "stuck-up" could see her. What she'd do in Robin's shoes,
anyway! Why, Robin didn't know what money meant, probably because Robin
had never wanted any one big thing, like she did.

Robin, beside her, sat in cosy contentment--mainly because of her
precious letter. She drew a mental picture of her Jimmie, sailing away.
Then her thoughts came back to the gray hills and she wished her father
might see them at that moment, so as to paint them. He would love
Wassumsic, she knew--but, oh, he would hate the Mills. He would think,
as she did, that it was too bad they had built the Mill cottages between
the dingy buildings and the freight yards when they might have built
them where each window could have overlooked the climbing fields and
woods, where the children could have played in sweet grass the livelong
day and built beautiful snow forts when it was winter.

Beryl suddenly broke the silence by a gleeful "Isn't this fun?" as
Williams coasted down a long grade with a breath-catching acceleration
of speed.

The wind had whipped a fine color into the girls' cheeks, the changing
scenes about them were of untiring interest; they exclaimed delightedly
over each curve and hill in the road, each tiny hamlet through which
they passed. All too soon, they reached Cornwall and started on the
homeward way.

At the top of a steep hill Williams slowed down to slip the gear into
second. In the valley below them was a collection of unpainted houses,
leaning towards one another as though for protection against the growing
things about them.

"The Forgotten Village!" cried Robin. "Don't you feel just as though we
might tumble over into it?"

"A good place to drive right _through_," Williams answered with a
scornful laugh.

Alas, poor Williams--he brought the car skilfully and safely down the
difficult hill only to have it stop, with a reproachful snort, in the
very heart of the little village.

"What's the matter?" asked the girls in one breath as Williams, with an
explosive exclamation, jumped from his seat.

There was a moment of investigation, before the man replied.

"No gas!".

"Is _that_ all?"

"All! I'll say that's enough--here. Don't look as though anyone'd know
what gas is in these parts. You sit in the car while I ask someone, Miss
Forsyth."

"You wanted something to happen, Beryl," laughed Robin, as Williams
walked away.

"Pooh! _This_ isn't much of an adventure. And I'm awfully hungry."

Poor Williams returned with the word that he'd have to walk on to the
next town--unless he was lucky enough to meet someone who'd help him
out. He advised the girls waiting in the store.

"There isn't even a telephone in this dump," he grumbled resentfully,
quite forgetting that he had only his own carelessness to blame for the
whole thing.

Neither Robin nor Beryl had the slightest intention of waiting in the
funny little store where the crackers and tea and coffee looked as old
as the old man who came out from behind the counter at their approach.
They waited until Williams had disappeared, then went forth to explore
the Forgotten Village. Unabashed, they stared at the weather-beaten
houses, at the old woman, a faded shawl tied around her head, washing
clothes at a pump, at the hideous square of dingy brick which served as
school house and church, its window frames stuffed here and there with
rags, a pathetic sign upon which was printed "library," hanging crazily
by one nail.

Beyond the church stood an old mill, its roof tumbled in. Exploring it
the girls heard the sound of tumbling water and discovered a stream
breaking its way through thick undergrowth. A lane, marked by two wagon
ruts, edged the course of the stream.

"Let's see where this goes," suggested Beryl.

Robin limped willingly after her. It was an alluring lane, even in
November, for the ghostly gray branches of old trees met and interlocked
close overhead, fir trees, mingling with the silver white trunks of
slender birches, walled it either side, a whirring of invisible wings
added to its apartness and the little stream, tumbling its way, sounded
like laughter.

"Isn't this the loveliest spot? Wherever do you suppose it comes out?"
For the lane twisted and turned as it climbed.

"Robin, there's a house!"

Ahead of them the girls could see through the trees the outlines of a
low square house. And as they drew nearer, walking stealthily, they
stared in amazement. For, unlike its neighbors in the village below,
this house was as white as fresh white paint could make it, at the
windows hung crisply white curtains, a brass knocker dignified its broad
door.

Robin, always imaginative, clutched Beryl's arm with a breathless
giggle. "Beryl, it's like the house of bread and cake with the window
panes of sugar. Do you suppose someone will call out: 'Tip-tap, tip-tap,
who raps on my door'?"

"Sh-h! I'm hungry enough to eat the roof. Let's ask for a drink of water
so's to see the inside."

Robin did not think it was just nice to deliberately intrude upon the
privacy of this shut-away house but Beryl, not waiting for her approval,
knocked boldly on the heavy old door.

When the door swung open, however, and a beaked-nosed woman, absurdly
like the witch of the fairy story, confronted the girls, Beryl stood
tongue-tied and Robin had to come to the rescue.

"Can we--if you please, we had an accident--I mean, we went for a
walk--oh, _may_ we have a drink of water?" she floundered, fairly
blinking before the sharply piercing eyes of the woman in the door.

"Who is it, Brina?" came from within, whereupon the woman answered in
rapid German, her head turned backward over her shoulder, her hand still
on the doorknob.

"Shame on you, Brina. They are two children--lost, perhaps. Let them
come in."

The room was disappointingly like any other old country-house living
room; scrupulously clean and shining, a wide fireplace aglow with a wood
fire that cast bright splotches of color over the low walls, the faded
rag rugs, the piece-work cushions on the old wooden settle.

Close to its warmth sat a white-haired woman, one long thin hand
supporting her head in such a way as to keep her face in a shadow.

[Illustration: "IT'S LIKE THE HOUSE OF BREAD AND CAKE"]

Robin explained their presence in the lane, incoherently, for there was
something frightening about the silent, composed figure and the
intentness with which those shadowed eyes scrutinized her. While Robin
talked, Beryl swiftly surveyed the room and its occupants, not least of
which was a great St. Bernard dog, that, after one "gr'f'f" leaned
against his mistress' chair and regarded the intruders with watchful
eyes as though to reserve advances, friendly or hostile.

Her account finished, Robin smiled bravely back into the grave face,
with that enchanting tenderness which had won Cornelius Allendyce and
enticed him to strange deeds.

The smile worked its spell at least on the dog for he moved slowly over
to her, lifted a big paw and placed it gravely upon her shoulder.

"Cæsar declares you a friend," said the woman in a slow, low-pitched
voice. "He does not welcome many into our seclusion. Please sit down.
Brina, bring these young ladies a pitcher of milk and some cookies."

Brina swung out of the room at her mistress' bidding. Robin,
uncomfortable but immensely curious and excited, sat on the edge of the
settle and chattered, while Beryl, well behind their silent hostess,
made mysterious signs with fingers and lips and eyes.

"We think this is the loveliest spot--the old town and the mill and this
lane--and all. No one would ever dream from the road that this house was
here. Has it a name? First I called it the House of Bread and Cake and
Sugar--like the fairy story, but it ought to be called the House of
Rushing Waters, hadn't it?"

"That will do--very nicely. No, no one would know from the road that the
house stands here."

But when Robin ventured: "Aren't you ever lonely?" there was a
perceptible tightening of the lips that made her sorry she had asked it.

"Robin, there's something funny about that whole place," declared Beryl,
half-an-hour later as they went back down the lane. "I was doing some
thinking while you were talking."

"She's a dear old lady, Beryl. I feel sorry for her."

"Oh, yes, dear enough. _I_ thought she was stand-offish. But you don't
think for a moment she belongs 'round here, in the same town with that
old cheese down at the store?"

Robin admitted that everything about her House of Rushing Waters was
very different from the Forgotten Village.

"Wasn't that Brina just like a witch with her parrot nose and sharp
eyes?"

But Beryl had no patience just now with Robin's beloved fairy lore. Two
little lines wrinkled her brow.

"There's something queer about that place or my name isn't Beryl Lynch.
And I like to know what's what. Wouldn't it be fun to find out what it
is? Whether she's hiding there on account of something or someone's
keeping her a prisoner? Maybe--" Beryl lowered her voice, "maybe she's
crazy."

"Oh, Beryl, she didn't act a bit crazy. Just very sad. She was nice. I
thought the room was lovely, too--and the lunch and that darling dog."
Robin had thoroughly enjoyed the simple hospitality and meant to defend
it.

"Of course the room was nice," Beryl felt that she showed much patience
with Robin's obtuseness, "but didn't you see anything _different_ in
that room? Books and magazines! Country people don't sit and read
magazines and knit on rose wool in the middle of the afternoon! Robin,
_that_ woman's a lady! And you notice she didn't tell us who she was.
And a woman with her talking some foreign jibberish."

"Beryl, you're wonderful to notice all these things. I'd never have
noticed half of them."

Beryl tossed her head with pride. "Nothing much escapes _me_," she
boasted. "And I think it was a good thing we didn't tell her just who
_we_ were. But let's not let a soul know about our finding this place
until we unravel the mystery."

Robin hesitated. "She was so nice to us and it's really none of our
business why she's there or who she is--" she argued so staunchly that
Beryl put in hastily: "Well, let's just have it a secret because
secrets are such fun." And to that Robin agreed gladly, for secrets
_are_ fun and are always a strengthening bond in true friendship.

"I won't tell a soul!" she promised.

They found Williams waiting for them at the store, worried at their
disappearance and annoyed at the delay. He had walked many miles in
payment for his carelessness.

As they rushed homeward, both girls thought of the house they had left
and its lonely occupant.

"Wouldn't wonder a _bit_ if she might be some royalty person hiding here
from anarchists," whispered Beryl, with a burst of imagination, amazing
for her, tinged by a novel she had recently read.

"Would we dare go again to see her?"

"Of course we're going. Even if you don't, I want to find out who she is
and all about her."

"_I'd_ just like to see her again and that darling dog. If she doesn't
want to tell us who she is I don't want her to! It's more fun to pretend
that her house is made of bread and cake and sugar."

"Pooh!" was Beryl's impatient answer.

And that evening, as though in defense of her suspicions she thrust a
newspaper under Robin's nose with an expressive "There, read _that_!" at
the same time pointing to an inconspicuous paragraph.

The paragraph told of the mysterious disappearance of its Dowager Queen
from the little warring Balkan kingdom of Altruria.

"She could be in this country as well as not. I read a book once where a
Duke hid for five years right in the heart of New York and then met his
heir face to face on Broadway. Wouldn't it be fun if that old woman
_was_ this Dowager Queen?"

"But, Beryl, she talked English. Wouldn't she talk--some other
language?"

Beryl was not to be discouraged. "Dowagers don't. They talk ever so many
tongues. English as good as any. I'll bet anything you say. You just
wait."



CHAPTER XI

POT ROAST AND CABBAGE SALAD


The following Wednesday had been set for Mrs. Lynch's dinner of "pot
roast and cabbage salad."

"You'll think we're awfully poor, Robin, when you see that mean old
cottage," Beryl complained as the girls were dressing for the dinner.

Robin, hesitating between a Madonna blue and a yellow dress, turned
quickly at the tone in Beryl's voice.

"Oh, Beryl, what difference does your house make! I want to know your
mother and your father and--Dale."

"Well, there's no use your dressing up--it'll just make everything else
there look absurdly shabby."

Robin laid the garment she held down upon the bed. A puzzled look
darkened the glow in her eyes. There were a great many times when she
found it difficult to understand Beryl's changing moods. She herself was
too indifferent to clothes to know that it was the two pretty gowns she
had brought out from her wardrobe that had now sent Beryl into the
dumps.

"I won't dress up, Beryl. I just thought your mother would like to have
me--out of respect to her party. I didn't think you wouldn't like it.
But if you think I'm going down there to stare around at the things in
the house and pick to pieces the dishes and the food--you're wrong,
Beryl. I think your mother must be a wonderful woman and I am just crazy
to meet her and I know I'm going to love your father and I never talked
to a boy in my whole life except in school when I had to! There!" Robin
stopped for very lack of breath.

This unexpected show of spirit, so unlike Robin's usual gentleness, took
Beryl back. Fond as she was of her mother she had never thought of her
as exactly "wonderful" or of anyone wanting to know her, or her poor,
crippled father, or Dale. She laughed a little shamefacedly.

"Oh, wear what you want to, Robin. I suppose I'm jealous because I
haven't anything except that old gray thing that's just tottering with
age. What a joke to call Dale a boy! Why, he's never been a boy, because
he's worked so hard for everything."

"Well, I'm glad I'm going to meet him, anyway." Robin spoke with
excitement. It did not matter at all what she wore--without a moment's
hesitation she put away the blue and the yellow dress and brought forth
the mouse colored jersey she had worn when she arrived at Gray
Manor--she was going to meet Beryl's family. Robin, who had never had
any family except "Jimmie," imagined beautiful things of family life,
mostly colored by books she had read and pictures she had seen. Brothers
were always big strong fellows who sometimes teased their younger
sisters but were always ready with a helping hand; fathers--well, she
knew about fathers, having had Jimmie, but Beryl's father must be very
different because of his accident. It was "Mom" that she most wanted to
know. She hoped Beryl's mother would kiss her. At the thought her heart
gave a quick little beat.

When Percival Tubbs, to whom Harkness, uncertain as to the propriety of
a Forsyth dining at one of the Mill cottages had appealed, had mildly
endeavored to point out to Robin that this dinner-party was not exactly
"fitting," Robin had simply not been able to understand and had answered
so honestly: "Why, just because I'm a Forsyth doesn't make me a bit
better than those people who work in the Mills, does it?" That Mr. Tubbs
had abandoned his point with a mental reservation not unlike Mrs.
Budge's beloved: "Things _are_ going to sixes and sevens."

And below stairs the loyal Harkness, putting off his own doubt, had met
Mrs. Budge's scorn of the whole "goings-on" with a grand defense of his
little mistress: "Some lydies in 'igh places distribute their bounty in
baskets but if Miss Gordon sees fit to carry 'ers in her pretty little
'eart, I don't say it's for us to be a thinking it isn't the 'appier
way," and Budge knew he was very much in earnest because he forgot his
h's, a little trick of speech he had long ago overcome.

For a finishing touch to her despised "best" dress, Beryl brought forth
her green beads. Robin exclaimed over them, taking them out of Beryl's
hand to hold them to the light.

"Oh, they are lovely, Beryl, see the deep glow! They're like the sea.
You ought to be proud of them."

"They're just some beads an old priest gave mother when she was a girl,"
Beryl explained, making her voice indifferent. She loved Robin's
enthusiasm but half-suspected it might be "put on" in order to make up
to her for the things she did not have. "They do look nice on this
dress, though, don't they?" She laid them against her neck and stared
with satisfaction at the reflection in the long mirror.

The Lynch cottage, in honor of the occasion, sparkled with orderliness.
Mrs. Moira looked very gay in a pretty foulard she had made over from
two of Miss Lewis' old dresses; her fluttering hands alone betrayed her
nervousness and her fears that though the most tempting smells came from
the stove her dinner might not be "just right" for little Miss Forsyth
and for Dale's new friend, too.

However, when Robin came into the room with Beryl she looked so
appealingly small that Mrs. Lynch promptly forgot she was a Forsyth and
that the dinner might not be good enough and put her arms around her and
kissed her. And Robin with an impulsive movement snuggled closer to the
warm embrace.

"Why, it's a mite of a thing you are," cried Mrs. Moira with the singing
note in her voice that always came when she was deeply moved. "And
hungry, I hope. Well, Dale will be here in a moment and then we'll dish
up."

Then everything was just like Robin had hoped it would be. Beryl's
mother called them "children" and let them help her with the finishing
touches of the dinner. Beryl's father smiled at her and patted her hand.
She did not see the little room with Beryl's eyes, its limited space
into which so much had to be crowded, the cracked shade on the lamp, the
dingy carpeting that held together through some kind miracle, she only
thought it cosy and homey; she liked the queer old clock and the blue
bowl filled with artificial jonquils and the crocheted "tidies" with
dogs designed in intricate stitches.

"Here's Dale!" whispered Beryl. "I'm crazy to meet his friend. I'm going
to sit next to him at the table, see if I don't."

In the excitement of Dale's arrival and of introducing the strange "Mr.
Kraus" no one noticed Robin for a moment, or that she stared at Dale
with round, puzzled eyes. Had she ever seen him before? When Beryl
turned suddenly and said: "Dale, this is Gordon Forsyth," she hoped he
would say: "Why, I know her." However, he merely mumbled "How do you
do," stiffly, and turned away, to Beryl's indignation and Robin's vague
disappointment.

The pot roast and the cabbage salad were as delicious as Mrs. Moira's
loving pains could make them; Dale's friend talked mostly to big Danny
and Mrs. Moira listened and Dale occasionally put in a word. Over her
plate Robin watched first one and then another, her eyes invariably
coming back to Dale's face. Beryl, annoyed that no one noticed her and
Robin and treated them "as though they were just children," ate
ravenously, in dignified silence.

The talk centered about the Mills. Adam Kraus freely ridiculed the
Forsyth methods. "They're miles behind the times," he declared and
compared them glibly with other similar industries. "Old Norris belongs
to the has-beens. Look at the machinery he uses--all right in its day,
of course. But if a fellow went to him with some new kind of a loom,
would he look at it? Not he! The old's good enough."

"Hear that, Pop?" put in Dale, exchanging a meaning glance with his
father.

"And look at the way they house the mill hands here, putting a fellow
like Dale with his cleanness and his brains and his possibilities, into
a dump like this. They don't recognize the human element in industries
of this sort or what it's worth to them. Why, there's no argument any
more as to the increased efficiency from giving better living
conditions--but I'll bet Norris hasn't heard of it."

"We haven't been here long enough to know--" Mrs. Lynch began gently but
Dale interrupted her, his voice rough.

"It isn't Norris alone, Adam. You've got to go further up--it's the
House of Forsyth. They're feudal lords--or like to think they are. Do
you suppose it mattered much up there, when the little Castle girl had
her arm crushed in that old wheel last month and died because her body
wasn't nourished enough to stand under the amputation? A lot they
cared--just one bit of machinery gone for a day--another--"

"_Dale_--" cried Mrs. Lynch, in distressed embarrassment, and suddenly
everyone looked at Robin.

Robin had been listening to Adam Kraus and Dale with deep interest. It
was not until Mrs. Lynch exclaimed and all eyes turned in her direction
that she connected what they were saying with her own self. Under Dale's
sudden scrutiny she flushed.

"I forgot you were here, little Miss Forsyth." But this was so far from
an apology that Mrs. Lynch looked more distressed than before and Beryl
glared at her brother.

"Oh, _please_ don't mind me," begged Robin. _She_ was glad Dale did not
say he was sorry for what he had been saying; she wanted to know more.
She wanted to tell them that _she_ called the Mills a Giant and that she
hated them and that Cornelius Allendyce had told her she should look for
a Jack who could climb the Bean Stalk, only she was afraid of the
stranger and a little of Dale, too. "Won't you tell me all about
the--the Castle girl?"

"There isn't much to tell about her that's different from ninety-nine
other cases. She was supporting a younger brother and sister. The
brother's only twelve years old but he had to go to work--said he was
sixteen. The kid sister helps the grandmother as much as she can."

"Do they live in one of these houses?"

"In the old village. They're cheaper, you see. The boy can't earn as
much as Sarah Castle did and they had to move up the river."

"Could I go to see them--sometime?"

Mrs. Lynch answered for Dale. "Of course you can, dearie. And I'll go
with you. It's from my own county they say the grandmother comes and
likely she'll know some of the old people."

"Oh, will you?" Robin's eyes shone like two deep pools reflecting
starlight. "I'd like to know _everyone_ here in the village and what
they do. Perhaps the--the other Forsyths wanted to really know the Mill
people, too, only they--they've been so unhappy. But I'm different, you
see--I'm a girl and so sort of--little."

"Bless the warm little heart of her--defending her own," thought Mrs.
Lynch, and Dale, his face softening until it was boyish, smiled and
said: "You _are_ a little thing, aren't you?"

At his smile, a wave of memory rushed over Robin with such suddenness
that a breathless "oh" escaped her parted lips. A dark night and lonely
streets, a chill wind cutting her face, an iron fence enclosing a
deserted triangle of dead grass and filthy papers--a kind voice telling
her not to cry--of course, her Prince! She peeped almost fearfully at
Dale who was joking with Beryl. _He_ did not know--he had forgotten, of
course. He had been a big boy, then, and he had not gone on playing the
little game the way she had. How wonderful, how _very_ wonderful, to
find him. And Beryl's brother! She did not mind at all what he had said
about the Forsyth's. If he said it, it must be true. She would find out.

Mrs. Lynch, beaming over her simple dinner, little knew that Destiny sat
at her board, shaping, moulding, gathering and weaving the threads of
life, golden and drab.

To Beryl's disgust, after the meal Dale brought forth his "toy." But
Adam Kraus, instead of showing the boredom which Beryl expected, studied
it with absorbed keenness, quickly grasping what Dale wanted to do.

"Have you ever shown this to Morris?" he asked Dale.

Dale shook his head. "No use to do it now--until I've worked the thing
out to perfection. And I can't do that--without money."

Robin, wiping plates for Mrs. Lynch, caught Dale's words and Adam Kraus'
answer.

"I wonder if Norris would see what an invention like that--if you can
make it do what you say you can--would be worth to these mills. It would
lift them out of the boneyard of antiquity and put them fifty years
ahead of their competitors. Why, I'll bet Granger's would give you a
cool twenty thousand for that just as it stands. It would serve Norris
right, too."

Dale's face flushed with excitement. "Do you really think all that,
Adam? Pop and I've gotten so down in the dumps trying to work the thing
out that we've lost our sense of values."

"Inventors never have any," laughed Kraus, with a change in his voice.
And he commenced hastily to talk of other things, to Dale's
disappointment.

Robin pulled timidly at Dale's arm.

"Who's Grangers?"

"Grangers? Don't you know the big mills up at South Falls?"

"Would they--if they took--that--you'd go there--" She tried desperately
to voice the fear that had shaped in her heart; Grangers taking this
funny wooden thing that Mr. Kraus said was worth so much, and Dale going
away from Wassumsic, and Dale's mother--and Beryl.

"You just bet I would," and Dale laughed. "But don't worry, we won't be
going for a while."

Robin had so much to think about that night that she could not go to
sleep. She did not want to go to sleep. Up to this day she had been
just little Robin Forsyth, "Red-Robin," at Gray Manor to let Jimmie
have his chance; happy, because Jimmie was having his chance and Beryl
was with her and Beryl was unfailingly interesting.

Now she realized that a Forsyth couldn't be just "anything." A Forsyth
ought to care about those awful Mills, that were in some sort of a
"boneyard," and about the people who worked in them--especially poor
Sarah Castle's brother and sister. And there were probably many other
boys and girls. She'd ask Mrs. Lynch--or Dale.

Beryl stirred and Robin ventured to speak.

"Beryl, are you awake? If Mr. Norris bought that invention of your
brother's, would it make things easier for--the Mill people?"

Beryl jerked herself up on her elbow.

"Red-Robin Forsyth, are you crazy? Fussing over that absurd toy of
Dale's at this hour? Why should _you_ care?" Beryl sank back into her
pillows and stretched. "Didn't Mr. Kraus have the most glorious eyes?"

Robin answered with amazing positiveness. "No, I hated his eyes. They
were not true eyes. But--I like Dale--lots." And just here, for the
second time, she locked her lips on her precious secret for Dale must
never know that she remembered him; all that belonged to her childhood.
Beryl might laugh, too, as she often did at her "fancies," and call her
"funny."

Thinking of Dale brought her thoughts back to the Mills so that while
Beryl snuggled her sleepy head back into her pillow, she stared at the
thin shaft of light that shone under the door and wished she was big
instead of "a little bit of a thing" and very wise so that she would
know what to do to show these people in Wassumsic that she--a Forsyth,
_did_ care.



CHAPTER XII

ROBIN WRITES A LETTER


Cornelius Allendyce had returned to New York from Gray Manor with his
mind pleasantly at ease so far as Gordon Forsyth was concerned. His
associates noticed a certain smugness and satisfaction about him and
they often caught him smiling at inappropriate moments and then pulling
himself together as though his thoughts had been wandering far from
fields of law.

Cornelius Allendyce _did_ feel pleased with himself. How many men would
have dared put this thing through the way he had? And how well it had
all turned out; Madame somewhere seeking her "rest," living in her past,
her mind undisturbed, Jimmie sailing away to get inspiration, and little
Robin happy in the shelter of Gray Manor. Indeed, it had all turned out
so surprisingly well that he could tuck it away, figuratively speaking,
in the steel box in his safe, marked "Forsyth." Only he did not want
to--he liked to think it all over.

Up to the time of finding Robin, girls were a species of the human race
of which the lawyer knew little. He supposed that they were all
alike--pretty, fun-loving, timid, giggly, prone to curl themselves like
kittens, impulsive, and pardonably vain. He knew absolutely nothing of
the fearless, honest, open-air girls, with hearts and souls as straight
and clean as their healthy young bodies or that there were legions like
little Robin and Beryl who, because they had been cheated of much that
went to the making of these others, stood as a type apart. He only
thought--as he went over the whole thing--that Robin's Jimmie was to
blame for her being "different," leaving her alone so much and letting
her take responsibilities way over her head; now she would enjoy the
girlish pleasures that were her due. His sister Effie had supplied her
with everything in the way of clothes and knick-knacks she could want;
Harkness would keep old Mrs. Budge in line, Tubbs would go light with
the school work--he had certainly made a point of _that_, and, when he
could run up to Wassumsic again, he'd look over this little companion
Robin had adopted. If she were not all that she ought to be (Miss Effie
had somewhat disturbed him on this point) why, a change could be made;
someone a little older and more cultured (Miss Effie's word) could be
sent up from New York.

Upon this train of pleasant contemplation, enjoyed at intervals in his
work, Robin's letter, written a few days after her dinner at Mrs.
Lynch's, fell like a bomb.

     "DEAR GUARDIAN," she had begun,

     I am ever so sorry I haven't written for so long, but I haven't
     had a minute, really, truly. There are so many things to look at
     and to do. I am beginning to really love Gray Manor--it is so
     always and always beautiful. Mr. Harkness is a dear and is very
     good and tells me what to do many times when I am stupid and do not
     see for myself--like the finger-bowls. Jimmie and I never used
     finger-bowls. I don't mind the school work, though I simply can't
     keep up with Beryl. When you come up, I will tell you how wonderful
     Beryl is and all about her family. Her mother had a lovely dinner
     one night and Beryl took me. Beryl is going to be a great
     violinist, you know, and she is saving money to buy a real violin
     that will be all her own and take lessons. She will not let me do a
     thing to help her, which is splendid--I mean, for her to be so
     proud and brave, though I wish she would let me do just a little.

     We have some very good times together, mostly taking lovely rides
     back in the hills to places Harkness tells us about and once we
     took our lunch and Mr. Tubbs and Harkness went, though Mr. Tubbs
     had dreadful neuralgia afterwards. Beryl and I read every evening.
     I love the books. I think I've been hungry for them all my life and
     didn't know it. We're playing a game to see which of us can read
     the most. We can play forever because one day we counted the books
     in the library and there are one thousand and seventy four and
     Harkness says there are more in Christopher the Third's room.
     Harkness has been telling us all about him and he showed us his
     picture--you know, the one in the Dragon's sitting-room (I
     apologize, in Aunt Mathilde's room) and he looked like a young
     prince, didn't he? How will Aunt Mathilde ever reconcile herself to
     a little insignificant, lame thing like me when she sees me?

     Oh, I wish I could really _truly_ meet my good Fairy somewhere--the
     one who forgot to attend my birth--and she'd give me one wish, I'd
     just ask for one. And that wish would be to G-R-O-W. I never cared
     before but now I want to be BIG. Oh, and wise! Mr. Tubbs will tell
     you how stupid I am. A Forsyth ought to be big and wise. You see,
     before this I have never thought of myself as a real true
     Forsyth--I've always just been Jimmie's daughter. But lately I've
     been thinking a lot about what a Forsyth ought to be and there are
     about a million questions I'd like to ask:

     1. Ought Mr. Norris to let the Mills sink into a boneyard of
     antiquity?

     2. What is the very most money I could spend all in one lump and
     can I spend it without telling anyone about it beforehand?

     3. There's an empty cottage just below where the Manor road crosses
     the river and Williams says the Forsyths own it. Can Beryl and I
     use it for a club?

     Thinking of the questions makes me forget the other nine hundred
     ninety nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety seven, (I did that on
     paper) but please come to Gray Manor soon so that I can ask the
     rest.

                                                 Your loving Red-Robin.

     P.S. The violin came and thanks ever and ever so much though Beryl
     says she will not call it hers for one little minute. But she most
     cried over it she loves it so and she makes the most beautiful
     music with it. I am dreadfully jealous because she won't even
     listen to a word I say now. She says she's living in the clouds.
     It's wonderful to have a big dream, isn't it? But I am starting one
     which I'll tell you when it's big enough."

Mr. Allendyce read the letter three times, stopping at intervals to
polish his glasses as though they must be at fault. "What does this
mean?" he exclaimed over and over. "What's up?"

Why on earth was Robin worrying her little head over the Mills and
talking so absurdly about a boneyard? And why did she want more money?
And who were these people with whom she had dined? And what did she and
Beryl want with a club when they had all Gray Manor to play in?

Not able to answer any of these disturbing questions the poor man sought
out Miss Effie--who, having been a girl, once, herself, ought to know
something of the vagaries of a girl's mind.

Miss Effie felt very proud that her brother cared anything for her
opinion. She nodded wisely and smiled reassuringly.

"Girl notions--that's all. Don't worry over the foibles of growing
girls. It's one thing today and something else tomorrow."

The guardian was not so easily reassured. "But Robin isn't like other
girls--" he began, with a disturbing recollection of Robin's
highhandedness in engaging a companion.

"Tush! Bosh!" Miss Effie would not let him go on. "Girls are all alike
under their skins. This poor kiddie's been starved for nice things and
her sudden good fortune's gone to her head. She doesn't know the value
of money, either; what'd seem big to her would be carfare for you. Give
her more to do. And she ought to know some young folks."

Now Cornelius Allendyce beamed fondly upon his sister. She _had_
comforted him. Of course, Robin's subconscious self was reaching out to
touch the lives of others. In spite of their uncertain living she and
Jimmie were of a sociable sort--he ought not to have expected that she
would be content in Gray Manor with no outside interests.

"Couldn't that tutor get up a party?"

"That's a good idea, sister. I'll write to Tubbs. Probably the county's
expecting something of the sort, anyway. I suppose it ought to be rather
simple--she's so young and Madame Forsyth being away. I'll raise the
child's allowance, too--let her spend it if she can, bless her heart."

His mind once more quite at ease, Cornelius Allendyce put Robin's letter
into his pocket. He would write to her the next day and to Percival
Tubbs. He ought to have consulted his sister sooner. Well, a guardian
learned something new every day, he told himself, with a smile.

       *       *       *       *       *

No one had suspected the torment of thought that racked poor Robin's
head for the few days following the dinner-party. She had arisen that
next morning with the firm resolve to "be" a Forsyth, but she did not
know just what she ought to do first and there was no one to tell her.
Beryl was no more sympathetic than she had been the night before and had
answered her persistent questioning absentmindedly. However,
unknowingly, she did give two helpful hints, upon which Robin seized
gratefully.

"Mother says that what Wassumsic ought to have is a clubhouse like Miss
Lewis' place in New York. Mother took care of that, you know. Miss Lewis
is a wonder. She always declared children need fun just the way they
need milk and _she_ fixed it so that they got both."

"Oh, yes, there are ever so many boys and girls in Wassumsic only
they're mostly working in the Mills. I'd have to work there myself only
I've made Dale believe that I can do something--else. If I ever started
in the old Mills I'd be like the others. That's the way--you begin and
then you never know how to do anything different."

"I'm glad you're not there. I'm like--Dale. I know you'll be a wonderful
violinist some day!" Robin never failed to say what Beryl wanted.

Beryl tossed her head. "I could have just settled down into a drudge,
working all day and too tired at night to care what I did and saving
just enough out of my pay envelope to buy me a hair-net but I wouldn't
begin! I wouldn't! They can all call me proud and lazy but I'll show
them--old Henri Jacques and Martini himself said I would! But I've had
to fight to make people believe me--and I s'pose I'll have to go on
fighting." To the egotism of sixteen years these words sounded very
grand; it stirred Beryl to think she had fought for every advantage that
was hers, to read the admiration in Robin's eyes. She had no thought of
disloyalty in claiming the credit that really belonged to the little
mother who had dreamed the dream first for her girl and then, through
years of work and self-denial, had lived for that dream to come true.

After the arrival of the violin Beryl promptly lost herself in a trance
of rapture that left Robin to her own pursuits. Only once the quite
human thought flashed to her mind that Beryl might be a little bit
interested in what _she_ wanted to do but she put it away as unworthy
for, she told herself, Beryl, destined one day to stand on a pedestal,
could not be expected to bother with such every-day things as planning
"fun" for the Mill children.

So Robin left Beryl with her beloved instrument and went alone to talk
to Mrs. Lynch who was so startled at her unexpected coming that she
kissed her and called her "little Robin" before she realized what she
was doing. That, and the fact that she found Mrs. Lynch working in the
shed where big Danny could not hear them, made it much easier for Robin
to talk and talk she did, so rapidly and so imploringly that Mrs. Moira
had to interject more than once: "Now wait a bit, dearie. What was that
again?"

Robin wanted to know about how many Mill children there were.

"Oh, bless the heart of you, it's no one but the doctor himself can tell
you that! They slip in and out of the world as quiet like. But Mrs.
Whaley says the school's so full that her Tommy can only go
afternoons."

Robin remembered Beryl pointing out a dingy brick building as the
schoolhouse. It had a play-yard enclosed on three sides with a high
board fence, disfigured by much scrawling. It had seemed an ugly spot.
She thought of that now.

"And what do the girls--the girls like me--do?"

"Oh, they mostly work. After work? Well, they help at home and do a bit
of sewing maybe and some have beaux and they walk down to the drug store
and hang around there visiting, though Beryl doesn't. 'Tisn't much of a
life a girl in a place like this has," and Mrs. Moira's sigh was happily
reminiscent of her own girlhood in open clean spaces, "it's old they
grow before their time."

"They don't have much fun, do they?" Robin asked.

Mrs. Lynch looked at her curiously. "Fun? They work so hard that they
haven't the gumption to start the fun. But it's so big the world is,
Miss Robin, that it can't all be rosy. Sure, there has to be some dark
corners."

"Mrs. Lynch, if--if--someone started the fun for the girls--would they
like it?"

"Why, what's on your mind, dearie? The likes of you worryin' your little
head over things you don't know anything about!"

Robin could have cried with vexation. She _must_ make Mrs. Lynch
understand her--Mrs. Lynch was her one hope. She gave a little stamp of
her foot as she burst out: "I'm little but that's no reason I can't
think of things. I'm fifteen. Dale said that the Forsyth's didn't care
and they ought to care--and I'm a Forsyth. I want to know everyone in
the Mill neighborhood and how they live and what they do. And I want
them to have--fun. Beryl said your Miss Lewis said everyone ought to
have fun. I--I don't know just how to begin--but I'm going to."

Mrs. Moira patted her hand. To herself she was saying: "The blessed
heart of her, she doesn't even know what she's talking about, poor
lamb," but aloud: "That you shall and if I can help you, I will."

Robin's eyes glowed. "Oh, _thank_ you. You don't know how hard it is for
me to think just what to do. Lovely plans keep popping into my head and
then I think maybe they're silly and I can't tell about them--I just
have to feel them. I'd like to begin with the little children. If my
guardian says we may, can't we open that old cottage down by the bridge
and make it into a--a sort of play-house? There could be a play-yard and
next spring we could make gardens and we could fix one room up with
pretty pictures and have books and games--and a fireplace and
window-seats. Oh, _does_ that sound silly?" Robin brought her enthusiasm
to an abrupt, imploring finish.

"Dearie me--no." There were no reserves in Mrs. Moira's approval. With
an imagination as quick as Robin's she saw the old cottage--it was a
charming old house, snuggled under elms, half-covered in summer with
rambling vines and pink blossoms--alive with romping, happy-voiced
children, some poring over pretty picture-books, others listening to a
story, some working in a garden--some just tumbling about on the soft
grass in a pure exuberance of youthful joy.

"We'll call it the House of Laughter. I always think of names before
anything else. And maybe, some day, the older girls--girls like me--will
use it, too. I'd like to begin by knowing little Susy Castle."

Mrs. Lynch promised to take her the next day to the old village where
Susy lived.

"I'll come down right after our school work is over. Beryl won't mind
because she'll want to practice. And, please, Mrs. Lynch, don't tell
Dale, will you?"

Mrs. Lynch demurred at this, for already she had been looking forward to
telling Dale about Robin and her plans. But Robin stood firm.

"You see I may spoil everything and he'd think I was just stupid. I
don't want him to know--yet."

Robin walked back to the Manor with a light heart. Her world that had
always seemed so small, bounded on its every side by Jimmie, now
suddenly assumed limitless proportions and beautiful possibilities.
There was so much to be done and so much to think about. Tomorrow she
would see Susy Castle; maybe other boys and girls.

Lights were twinkling from some of the windows of the Manor. Robin
paused for a moment at the bottom of the long ascent to "love" the Manor
in its purple cloak of gathering dusk. That first Forsyth who had broken
ground for this gray pile had chosen well; the hill upon which the house
had been built stood apart from the other hills, loftily commanding the
village and valley.

"It looks just like a grand old lady holding off her skirts so's not to
touch anything," Robin thought, now, whimsically.

As though to crown her day's progress toward "being" a Forsyth, Robin
found a letter from her guardian awaiting her. Cornelius Allendyce had
written it keeping in mind his sister's advice not to notice a girl's
"foibles"--"it's one thing today and another tomorrow."

     "... I am delighted that you are happy and finding so much to
     occupy your time. Do not worry about your lessons. Not all
     knowledge is confined within the covers of school books. (He had
     read that somewhere and thought it came in very pat, now.) How
     about some sort of a party. You ought to know the people of the
     country before the winter sets in. Think it over and decide what
     you want. I will double your allowance if you haven't enough. If
     you need a club to make you happy, help yourself. Don't worry
     about the Mills--let Norris do that. I'll run up to Wassumsic very
     soon and answer as many questions as you may wish to ask. Until
     then, I am

                                         Devotedly yours,
                                                 CORNELIUS ALLENDYCE."

"Beryl--read this! I may use that old cottage. I believe my guardian'll
do everything I ask when he understands. He's a _dear_!"

Beryl came slowly down from her "clouds."

"Robin--listen to _this_ vibrato!"



CHAPTER XIII

SUSY CASTLE


The Forsyth Mills had built Wassumsic--in truth, Wassumsic _was_ the
Forsyth's Mills. It had had its beginning in that first small mill where
the first Forsyth worked in his shirt-sleeves; a cluster of houses had
sprung up close to the river, a store, more houses, more stores, a
tavern, a church, a school. And as the Mills grew, so grew the village.
For themselves the Forsyth family had built the stone house on the hill,
that looked, indeed, like a grand old woman holding off her skirts from
contamination. And that lofty apartness had always been the attitude of
the Forsyth family to the workaday life in the village.

The growth of the village had been toward the railroad so that the first
Mill houses had been left by themselves "up the river" and were commonly
known as the "old village." They were so old that they were not worth
keeping in repair and so close to the river that they were damp the year
round and for these very good reasons were offered to the mill workers
at a low rental. Many of the mill workers--such as Dale--looked upon
them as a disgrace to the Mills and felt a hot anger in their hearts
when they thought of them--but unfortunates like the Castles were glad
to move into the worst of them.

The short walk from the Mills to the old village skirted the river and
was overhung with a double row of willows which, on this wintry day,
cast long purple shadows. Robin, walking along it with Mrs. Lynch,
thought it lovely and solemn--like a cathedral aisle. But when they
stopped before a low cottage, one window nailed across with boards where
the panes were missing, the front door propped in place by a rotting
rail tie, tin cans and frozen refuse littering the strip of yard, and
Mrs. Lynch said "This is the house," she wanted to cry out in protest at
the ugliness. They had to pick their way around to a back door upon
which Mrs. Lynch knocked. Several moments elapsed before the door swung
back a little way, a round black eye peered at them cautiously, and a
shrill voice piped "whachy'want?"

"I s'pose that's Susy," thought Robin, her heart skipping a beat with a
terror of shyness.

Mrs. Lynch's pleasant: "We want to see Granny," admitted them. Robin,
blinded for the first moment of coming into the darkness of the room
from the bright sunshine outside, stumbled over a chair and in her
confusion mumbled some incoherent answer to the shrill cackle of welcome
that came from the shrunken bit of humanity bending over a small stove.

"Poor Granny doesn't understand who you are," explained Mrs. Lynch, in
an apologetic whisper, touching her head significantly. "Come here,
Susy," and she motioned the staring child to her. Susy approached with
the hang-back step of a child or a dog not always certain of what he may
get but Mrs. Lynch magically produced a round cookie, fat with currants,
and Susy sprang at her with a quick leap.

The room was heavy with stale air and bare of any comforts. A tattered
First Reader lay on the greasy floor, unwashed dishes cluttered the bare
pine table, on every available shelf and in every corner were piled old
cans and bottles and half-filled paper bags. On a what-not in the corner
a faded bunch of pink paper roses drooped over a cracked vase. The
wallpaper, its ugly pattern mercifully faded, was fantastically streaked
from the dampness, in one corner the ceiling plaster had fallen and
newspapers had been tacked over the laths to keep out the cold.

A sickening revulsion, a longing to escape into the sweet crisp air
swept Robin. She shrank away into a corner for fear the dreadful old
Granny might touch her. But she _must_ say something! She had come here
for a purpose--to know Susy.

At that moment Susy's voice pealed out in a merry, piping laugh--because
she had put her small finger into her cookie and pulled out a fat round
currant! And something in the laugh touched the spark to the mothering
instinct strong in Robin's young heart--the mothering instinct that had
caused her bitter anguish over Cynthia's loss, that had taught her how
to care for her Jimmie, and had given her strength to run away from her
Jimmie that he might have his "chance." She forgot the dirty
surroundings, the old Granny in her rags and her crown of wispy gray
hair, she saw only the child's face, lightened with joy, and laughed
with Susy as Susy held out the currant on the end of an uplifted--and
very dirty--finger.

The ice broken, Susy made friends quickly. She leaned her thin little
self against Robin's knee and stared with rapture into Robin's face.
Like Granny she could not seem to realize that Robin was a Forsyth; to
her she was "a big girl" and big girls did not come to the house now
that Sarah had died. She timidly touched Robin's soft coat sleeve with a
rough, sticky hand and poked at the bright buttons of Robin's blouse,
her eyes round with wonder.

Afterward, after Robin and Mrs. Lynch had, with some difficulty, broken
away from Susy's clinging and Granny's childish lamentations, and were
walking back through the "cathedral aisle" Robin gave herself a little
shake as though to rouse herself from some nightmare.

"Oh, Mrs. Lynch, it's dreadful!"

"What, dearie?" Mrs. Lynch had been thinking that Granny Castle couldn't
be one of the Castle's of her old-country county.

"That place. Are they all like that? How can they live?"

Mrs. Lynch hesitated a moment and there was a perceptible tightening of
her tender lips.

"Well, dearie, people _have_ to live--life goes on in spite of things.
Maybe poor old Granny wishes real often it'd been her that had been
taken instead of that poor Sarah. Things weren't so bad for them when
Sarah lived--they say. She was an up-and-doing girl and kept things nice
though she had to work hard to do it, poor little thing. It's in the
hospital that old woman should be with some one to wait on her and keep
her warm. No one but little Susy--"

"I forgot all I'd planned to say! Susy looked so cold, Mrs. Lynch. I
hated my nice warm clothes."

"Oh, Susy was warm enough. She's a bright child, she is. When she's a
bit older things will ease up."

Robin remembered what Beryl had said of the girls in Wassumsic having
nothing else to do but go into the Mills. Susy would grow older and take
Sarah's place. But what if she didn't want to? What happened to the "big
girls" who didn't want to go into the Mills? Robin could hear Beryl's
contemptuous: "Why they haven't a chance in the world." Well, anyway,
someone could make the Mills so nice that the girls would _want_ to work
in them. "I wish I were big!" cried Robin with such passion that Mrs.
Lynch, not knowing her train of thought, had a sudden qualm at taking a
sensitive little thing like Miss Robin to poor old Granny Castle's.

"Now, dearie, don't you worry. Things come out somehow--in the next
world maybe for the Granny Castles, but they do. Now that idea of yours
of fixing that cottage--"

"Oh, I forgot to tell you! My guardian says I may. At least he said that
if I wanted a club, to help myself, and that must mean he consents. He's
a dear. Have you time to go there with me now and just peek into it? I'm
sure we can get in."

"I'll take the time," cried Mrs. Moira with an interest as eager as
Robin's. "I'll just drop in and tell my Danny when we go past--it's so
lonesome he gets when I'm slow coming."

Robin's House of Laughter looked a little deserted standing alone in the
shadow of the hillside, gaunt branches creaking over its low roof, the
ends of the trailing vines whipping restlessly against the gray
clapboards. But Robin and Mrs. Lynch saw it as they wanted it to
be--neatly painted, its windows curtained, its yard trimmed, its
doorstep dignified by a broad inviting step, and flanked by a trellis
for the rambling rose vine. The door opened for them in the most
promising way and they tiptoed into a big bare room with two windows at
one end looking out over the hills and river.

"Isn't this nice?" cried Robin in delighted staccato. "It's just made
for what we want. Look--a fireplace!" To be sure, it was nothing more
than a gap in the wall. "And these darling windows. We can put a seat
way across, all comfy." She promptly saw, in her mind, Susy curled upon
it with a beautiful picture book and a handful of cookies. "Oh, let's
see the rest. Look, a cunning kitchen. The children can play cooking.
And this room--what can we use this room for?"

Mrs. Lynch was thinking rapidly. Because of her experience with Miss
Lewis she saw possibilities way beyond Robin's eager planning--class
rooms where the older girls could learn other trades--a domestic science
class in the kitchen for the mothers--a sewing room, a library full of
instructive and entertaining books, and the big living room where the
children could gather after school hours, and the men and women and big
boys and girls in the evening. And a playground outside--and gardens.

"Can't we fix it up right away?" Robin's eager questioning brought her
sharply out of her dream to a practical realization that all the House
of Laughter had as endowment was an unselfish girl's enthusiasm.

"Harkness will help if I ask him and maybe Williams, too. And Mrs.
Williams."

"It's quite tidy for standing empty so long," mused Mrs. Lynch, sweeping
the bare rooms with an appraising eye. "That stove's good as new under
the rust."

"Oh, you _will_ help, won't you? I can't do anything without you."

"That I will, Miss Robin." Mrs. Moira promised with no thought of the
added tax it must be on her energy. "It's a beginning everything has to
have and you get your Harkness man and some brooms and some soap and
we'll have your little House of Laughter ready to begin in no time."

A half hour later Robin burst upon Beryl absorbed in her practicing.

"Oh, _please_ listen," she cried and without waiting for encouragement
poured out her precious plans. Beryl obediently listened but with an odd
surprise tugging at her attentiveness--this Robin seemed different, full
of a fire that was quite new, and all over fixing up that old place for
the Mill kids. To Beryl, wrapped in her own precious ambition, that
seemed a ridiculous waste of energy. However she concealed her scorn,
affected a lively interest and put in a few helpful suggestions.

"Mr. Tubbs has been hunting for you," she suddenly informed Robin. "I
heard him talking to Harkness about a party. Your guardian's written to
him, I guess."

"Oh, _dear_!" cried Robin, in dismay. She remembered what Mr. Allendyce
had written to her. A party would be terrible!

"I should think you'd think it was fun--and with all your pretty
clothes. It's exciting meeting people, too. If _I_ were you--"

Beryl simply wouldn't finish--there were so many things she would do if
she were Gordon Forsyth, she could not begin to name them.

Robin's doleful face betrayed her state of mind.

"What will I have to do?"

"That depends upon what kind of a party it is." Beryl felt flattered
that Robin should appeal to her. "And I should think you'd have the say.
_I_ certainly would. Receptions are stiff and dinners aren't much fun. I
think a dance--"

"But I can't dance. And I never went to a young party in my life!"

"Well, you're Gordon Forsyth, now, and you'll have to do lots of things
you never did before," reminded Beryl, a comical sternness edging her
voice.

An hour before, in her empty House of Laughter, poor Robin had thrilled
at the thought of "being" a Forsyth; now, alas, her heart sank to her
boots under the weight of these new obligations she must face. Nor was
she cheered when Mr. Tubbs found her and laid his plans before her. Mr.
Tubbs, short of memory, always carried his thoughts on neat little slips
of paper over-written with memoranda. He fluttered some of these now
before Robin's eyes and Robin saw that they contained lists of names.

"A party--your guardian is quite right--we were remiss--of course Madame
would have wished--in the old days--it must be at least an at-home--yes,
an at-home--I have found the cards of the best people of the county in
Madame's desk--Harkness will know who of them have died--yes, an
at-home, say from four to seven--Mr. Allendyce and his sister will come
to help you receive--I will talk to Budge--yes--" Mr. Tubbs rarely
finished a sentence. He always spoke as though he were thinking
memoranda aloud, and punctuated his words with little tugs at his silky
Van Dyke beard.

Robin had a rebellious impulse to snatch the fluttering lists from his
long fingers and tear the "best people of the county" into tiny bits but
she remembered what Beryl had said about a Forsyth having to do many
things, smothered a sigh, and said meekly: "I don't know much about
parties."

"My dear young lady, experience will teach you. They are important--yes,
for one of your station--important as your books. I will see
Budge--about the date--yes."

"Old grandmother!" cried Beryl, as Mr. Tubbs went off in search of the
housekeeper. "An at-home!" She mimicked his precise tones. "Of all the
tiresome things. He'll invite a lot of doddering old women who'll come
and look you over _this_ way!" Beryl lifted an imaginary lorgnette to
her eyes. "Why didn't you say you'd like a regular party and just have
young people--there's a boys' school only ten miles from here and it
would have been such fun. Of course I couldn't have come down but I
could watch you--"

"Beryl Lynch, you _are_ coming down or I won't stir one foot. You shall
pick out one of my dresses and we'll make it longer or something. And I
think a party with boys I don't know would be lots more terrible than
an at-home. All I hope is that he makes the date soon so that it will be
over with."

Percival Tubbs, inwardly much annoyed at having the peaceful routine of
his days at the Manor thus disturbed, was as anxious as Robin to have
the party over with. After due deliberation with Mrs. Budge he fixed the
date for a day two weeks ahead. Mrs. Budge insisted she needed that much
time to make "things look like anything."

Budge and Harkness welcomed the party as a beginning of the "change"
they had prayed might come to Gray Manor.

"It'll be some'at like old times," Harkness had declared.

"That chit won't look like much," (poor Budge had not yet forgiven Robin
for being a girl) "but it'll make talk if she ain't shown. Talk enough
for Madame going away like she did. I've half a mind to get out the gold
plate. That old Mis' Crosswaithe from Sharon'll be over here the first
of any, peeking around and she ain't going to see how things are going
to sixes and sevens. No one else ain't either or my name ain't Hannah
Budge. It ain't." And Budge squared her shoulders as a challenge to an
inquisitive world.

Harkness, while he anxiously watched the weather, grew loquacious over
the old times. "This house has known great parties, missy," he told
Robin. "The best lydies from miles 'round coming in their carriages.
The Crosswaithes, from Sharon, before old Mr. Crosswaithe died. And the
Cullens and the Grangers--she as was the daughter of a gov'nor. The
Manor was the finest place in the county and things were done right here
and as gay as could be." He launched forth on a long description of
Christopher the Third's eighteenth birthday party. "He come up from
school, missy, with his friends and the young lydies come from New York
and some from these parts and the house was as gay, what with flowers
and palms and music and their talk. And the young master's table was
laid in the conservatory--and the olders sat in the dining-room and Held
come from New York--the best caterer, missy--"

Robin and Beryl listened with breathless interest--Robin with a moment's
vision of that handsome lad laughing and talking with the "young lydies
from New York." How dreadful, she thought, that only a few months after
that brilliant affair he should have been killed--he would have been
about twenty-four, now--and would have been such a splendid Forsyth,
while she was so small and insignificant.

"These automobiles are all very well, missy, but if it snows--" and
Harkness scowled through the window at the darkening sky.

"Do you mean, if it snows--no one will come?"

"I'm not thinking that, missy, but not so many--the Grangers and their
young people."

Robin refrained from saying she hoped it _would_ snow, for if Harkness
and Budge enjoyed fussing over the dreadful party she did not want to
spoil their anticipation.

The entire house seemed ridiculously astir over the approaching event;
extra help came from the village, the air throbbed with the hum of
vacuum cleaners, chairs and tables were beaten with a frenzied
thoroughness, tables polished, everything dusted. Certainly, no one
_was_ going to see that things were going to sixes and sevens!

Robin and Beryl busied themselves making over one of Robin's dresses for
Beryl, a process to which Beryl consented only after a stormy scene and
tears on Robin's part.

Robin's plans for her House of Laughter had to be tucked away for the
time, and when she sighed now and then over her ripping and stitching it
was because she'd so much rather be making frilly, crispy curtains for
those little windows.



CHAPTER XIV

A GIFT TO THE QUEEN


By no means had the girls forgotten their Dowager Queen of Altruria.
They talked of her often; Beryl usually in a speculative vein. Had she
brought the court jewels with her? Did that dreadful Brina kneel on one
knee and kiss the hem of her garment? Did she ever wear her crown?

Royalty meant much more to Beryl than it did to Robin, for Beryl
attached to it a personal interest. Would she not, as sure as anything,
sometime play before crowned heads by royal command? Sometimes, lying
wide-eyed in the dark, she pictured herself at such a moment, gorgeously
gowned, and delightfully disdainful of the bejeweled, becrowned, stately
kings and queens and little princelings, dukes and duchesses and earls
and countesses, all hanging on the exquisite notes she drew from her
strings. After she finished they would forget their crowns and things
and fall upon her in a sort of humble adoration. Beryl shivered
exquisitely, she could make the picture so very real! Now, when she
dreamed, the queens and duchesses looked like the mysterious mistress of
the house by the Rushing Water.

Robin thought of their Dowager Queen of Altruria as perhaps being a
little lonely, sometimes. With everyone, now, watching the weather in
anxious dread of a snowstorm, it occurred to her that such a storm
would shut the little house near the Rushing Water off from the world.

"Beryl, let's go and see our Dowager! It may be the last time we can
until Spring. I'd like to take her something, too. Something Christmasy.
Christmas is only two weeks off and think how dreadful to spend
Christmas all by yourself."

Beryl thought both the visit and the gift a fine idea and set her wits
to working to contrive an offering suitable for one of the Dowager's
station in life.

She suggested helping themselves to what the Manor had to offer, for,
certainly, Robin, being a Forsyth, had such a "right."

"Flowers and fruit and maybe a book. It would never be missed and you
could take one of these that hasn't anything written in the front. See,
here's a collection of Dante's poems--it's as good as new. And who'd
ever want it with all these other books here?"

Beryl's reasoning seemed logical and Robin put aside a tiny doubt she
had as to her right to "help herself" to even a very small volume. Some
day she could explain to her Aunt Mathilde that she had given it to a
nice old lady who lived all alone.

The girls filled a huge basket with luscious fruit from Budge's
storehouse, and gay flowers from the conservatory, and concealed the
little book under the bright foliage. They decided, after much
deliberation, to let Williams into their secret, and show him their
offering, so that he would surely consent to drive them to Rushing
Waters.

"We'll just about get it in before the snow comes," agreed Williams,
scanning the sky with that anxiety to which Robin had grown very
familiar. "A Queen, you say? Well, what do you think of that!" He
laughed uproariously.

"We're not exactly _sure_, but we have our suspicions," corrected Beryl
in a freezing tone.

"And please don't tell a soul because we really have no right to force
ourselves on her if she wants to hide away," begged Robin.

Williams promised with a chuckle. "Funny kids," he said to himself,
enjoying, nevertheless, the adventure. "I'll do the sleuth stuff in the
corner store while you two are interviewing the Duchess--I beg pardon,
the Queen."

The girls left Williams, as he suggested, at the little store, while
they, tugging their basket between them, found and followed the path by
the Rushing Water. It was as alluring as ever--berries still clung to
the undergrowth, gleaming red against the dark of the fir trees; the
dead leaves underfoot crackled softly as though protesting their
intrusion; there was a whirring of wings and always the rush of the
water.

"I'd forgotten how spooky it was," cried Beryl, drawing in her breath.

"I hope she won't be sorry we came."

This time Robin knocked. As before, Brina opened the door a little way.
When she saw the two girls she scowled, but stepped backward, announcing
their presence in crisp German.

The mistress of the house rose a little hastily from the table before
which she was sitting. She was dressed, now, in a warm, trailing robe of
soft velvet, a band of ermine circling her neck and crossing over her
breast, where it was held in place by a brooch of flashing gems. At
sight of her visitors her face softened from haughty surprise to a
resigned amusement. Robin broke the silence.

"May we come in? We thought we'd like--that maybe you'd like--" Oh, it
was dreadful to know what to say, when all the time you were thinking
she really was a Queen!

"You have stumbled upon my little house again? Come in and sit down.
Brina and I do not often have callers; you must pardon us if, perhaps,
we are a little awkward in our hospitality. Cæsar, lie down _He_ is glad
to see you! I have been looking over a book of colored prints of old
cathedrals. Would you like to pull your chairs up to the table and look
at them with me?"

Beryl blinked knowingly at Robin as much as to say: "Isn't that just
what an exiled Queen would be doing?" The prints were rare and
exceedingly lovely and Robin noticed that they had come from a New York
gallery. Their hostess told them of some of the quaint cathedral towns
and the stories of the cathedrals themselves. Robin, who had an
inherited appreciation of beauty, listened eagerly, putting in now and
then a question or a statement of such intelligence that the "Dowager
Queen" studied her with interest.

Beryl, thrilled by the ermine and the gleaming brooch, did not care a
fig about the cathedrals but sat back in a rapture of speculation. There
seemed something in the stately head with its crown of white hair,
vaguely, tantalizingly familiar; she must have seen pictures of the
Queen of Altruria somewhere. She watched each gesture and fitted it to
her dream. This Queen who seemed really truly friendly now and almost
human, might go back some day to Altruria, wherever that was, and of
course, when _she_ toured Europe, or maybe even when she was there
studying, she could go and stay at the Palace just like a relative. It
would be fun to visit in a palace and smile at all the fuss and crowns
and things because you were an American and didn't believe in them.

"Oh, we forgot our basket!" cried Robin, suddenly darting to the door
where Brina had, with a sniff, dropped their precious offering. "We
brought these--for a Christmas greeting."

"They are lovely," cried the "Queen" with sincere delight, her eyes
drinking in hungrily the beauty of the exotic blossoms--for Robin and
Beryl had helped themselves to the best the Manor had. "And fruit--ah,
Brina's heart will rejoice. What is this?" Her slender, shapely hands
fussed over the wrappings of the book, while Robin and Beryl watched.

"Why--" The Queen turned the book over and over, her face bent so that
its expression was hidden. The girls' delight gave way, now, to
concern--the Queen held the book so long and with such curious
intentness that they wondered, anxiously, if there were anything about
Dante's verses displeasing to a Queen of Altruria. "You never _can_ tell
about those jealous kingdoms over there!" Beryl said afterwards.

After their hostess had "most worn the book out staring at it" she
lifted her eyes and fixed a curious gaze upon her visitors.

"This is a rare little treasure," she said in a queer tone. "And may I
not know how it came into your possession--and who you are?"

Robin's heart jumped into her throat. What had they done? It had looked
like any book except that the leather of the binding seemed softer than
most books and smelled very nice and there were beautiful colored
illustrations inside--but the Queen said it was a rare book and was
wondering where they had gotten it. Perhaps they had helped themselves
to the Manor's most precious book! She gulped, looked frantically at
Beryl, who, guessing her intention, gave violent signs of warning, to
which she paid no heed.

"Why, I'm Robin Forsyth, and this is Beryl Lynch who lives with me at
the Manor. We took the book from the library there because there are
ever and ever so many, and we thought you might be lonely--when winter
comes--and enjoy it."

"You are Robin Forsyth?" The old lady said the words slowly.

"My real name is Gordon Forsyth, but I've always been called Red-Robin.
I'm living at Gray Manor now--over in Wassumsic. My father--he's not one
of the rich Forsyths, you see--is an artist and he's travelling with Mr.
Tony Earle, who writes, you know. I wish you could come to the Manor."
Robin's heart was light now, having, by confession, cleared itself of
its moment's dread, and she rattled on, quite oblivious to Beryl's scowl
and the Queen's searching scrutiny. "It's lovely and old. Madame
Forsyth, my great-aunt, isn't there, though--at least now. She's--she's
travelling. We have a tutor and I have a guardian who lets me do about
what I please. You see, first my aunt and my guardian thought I was a
boy--the Forsyths have always _been_ boys; and it was a dreadful shock,
I guess, when my guardian found out I was a girl--and such a small
girl--and lame, too. I think, though, he's forgotten that, now. But the
housekeeper never _will_ forgive me. And my great-aunt doesn't know,
yet. I wish for her sake, I could change myself into a handsome young
man like young Christopher Forsyth who died--but I can't, so I'm just
going to be as good a Forsyth as I can and make up to them all
for--being a girl."

"Whom do you mean--'them all?'" asked the Queen. She had dropped into a
chair and turned her head toward the fire, in very much the same
attitude she had held upon their first visit.

Robin, encouraged, squatted on the hearth rug, the big dog beside her,
and clasped her hands over her knee.

"Oh, I don't mean just Madame Forsyth and my guardian, though I don't
think he cares, now, or that cross old housekeeper; I mean--all the Mill
people. You see the Mills have grown very fast and there are lots and
lots of people working in them, but Mr. Norris, he's the superintendent,
is very old-fashioned and he'll never improve things." Robin racked her
brains to recall Dale's and Adam Kraus' exact words. "He's letting the
people live in awful houses and they don't have any fun or--or anything.
And Dale--he's Beryl's brother--says they'd work much better if they had
everything nice. _He_ says the Forsyths don't care, that they just think
of the Mill people as parts of a machine to make money for them, and not
as human beings. Why, there was a girl, Sarah Castle--" and Robin, her
tongue loosed, told eloquently of Sarah Castle and of Susy and Granny
and the old cottage "up the river," and then--because it made it seem so
real to tell about it--of her House of Laughter.

"Of course," she finished, "if I were a boy I could do much more--or
even if I were big. You see, there's been what Mr. Harkness calls a
gloom over the Manor for a long time; and my great-aunt's been so sad
over that that she couldn't think of anything else--and maybe I'll be
doing something if I just show the Mill people that a Forsyth, even if
she's only a girl, _does_ care--a little bit. Don't you think so?"

At her appeal the Dowager Queen turned such a haughty face upon her and
answered in such a cold voice: "I'm sure I do not know," that Robin
turned crimson with embarrassment. Of course, a Queen could not even be
remotely interested in the Manor and the Mills--especially if she had to
worry over a whole kingdom herself. She had been silly to rattle on the
way she had!

Brina, quite unknowingly, came to the rescue with a tray of cakes and a
pot of cocoa.

Their hostess, her annoyance put aside, smiled graciously again, and
poured the cocoa into little cups while the firelight flashed from the
brooch on her dress. Brina went back and forth with heavy tread,
sullenly watchful of her mistress' smallest need. The girls sat close to
the table upon which still lay the book of cathedral prints and sipped
their cocoa and ate their cakes. The wintry sun shone in through the
curtained windows, giving the room, with its pale glow, a melancholy
cheerfulness.

"Must you really go?" asked their hostess, politely, when, a half-hour
later, Robin and Beryl exclaimed at the lateness of the hour.

"Why, we never meant to stay so long! It has been so nice." Robin
wondered, if she held out her hand, would the Queen take it? She
ventured it with such a shy, appealing movement that the old lady
clasped it in hers, then dropped it abruptly, as though annoyed by her
own impulsiveness.

"The afternoon has passed very pleasantly for me." The Queen's voice was
measuredly polite. "I thank you for thinking of me--in my out-of-the-way
corner, and bringing me such lovely gifts." Her eyes turned from the
flowers which Brina had put in a squat pewter pitcher to the book which
lay on the table. Then she turned to Robin and levelled a glance upon
her which held a queer challenge.

"If you succeed--with your--what did you call it--House of Laughter, let
me know, sometime. I shall be most interested in your experiment."

"Then she _was_ listening," thought Robin, wondering at the bitter tone
in the woman's voice. "Maybe she's so lonely and so unhappy she hates to
think of laughter."

"Well, Red-Robin Forsyth, you certainly did spill everything you knew
and a lot more besides," cried Beryl, when the two were alone. "As if a
Queen cared a fig! I tried to head you off a couple of times." Beryl
laughed scornfully. "It was _funny_!"

Robin still smarted from her recent embarrassment; she did not relish
Beryl's laughing at her.

"We had to talk about something," she cried in defence.

"Well, if you'd given me a chance I'd have talked about things that are
happening in Europe. Sort of led her on, you know, so's maybe she'd give
herself away. _That's_ what _I_ wanted--to find out something about
_her_ instead of telling all about ourselves. Here she knows everything
about you and you notice she didn't say one word about herself! The
whole afternoon's wasted and we might as well not've gone at all. I
wanted to get something on her so's maybe--some day--" Disgusted, Beryl
broke off abruptly, quickening her step to show her companion her
displeasure.

Robin limped in silence after her; she _had_ talked too much, the Queen
was probably laughing at her now--and Beryl was angry and disgusted.

Beryl forgot her moment's displeasure, however, when Williams imparted
to them the "dope" he had on the "Queen-dame," gleaned from the old
storekeeper.

"Old Si says the 'queer party' bought that house off up there last fall
suddenly and moved up from somewhere or t'other with a truck load of
stuff. The Big-gun, beg pardon, I mean the Queen, came herself, with
some sort of a body-guard in an enclosed car, that went away after it'd
landed them in the woods. Si's sore, I suppose, because they get 'their
vittles sent up from New York'--though I don't know as I blame them from
what I saw in his store. Says the 'queer party' walks through the
village sometimes, but she's always with her body-guard and a big dog,
and wears a heavy veil 'like them furrin' women'." Williams chuckled as
he tried to give to his little account the touches Si had put into it.

Beryl caught Robin's hand in an ecstasy of delight. "There. _That_
settles it as sure as anything. I'd like to write to somebody in
Washington and tell what we know and maybe we'd get a reward. Royalty
most always has a price on its head," Beryl finished grandly.

Robin wanted to protest at the thought of there being a price on that
snow-white head, but not certain as to how far she had been restored in
Beryl's favor, she refrained, and merely smiled in assent to Beryl's
excitement.

"We've got to hurry back if we beat that cloud yonder," declared
Williams, nodding toward a gathering bank of dark clouds in the western
sky, and the mention of snow brought back to the girls the approaching
party.

It did snow--long before Williams reached the Manor, so that the car was
covered; throughout the dinner Harkness went again and again to the
window to peer out, always turning back with the worried announcement:
"It's still coming down." And at bedtime Robin, peeping out, saw a world
blanketed white. Even Mr. Tubbs laid his neuralgic head upon his soft
pillow with the regretful thought: "Now the Grangers cannot come. A
pity. Yes."



CHAPTER XV

THE PARTY


The household at Gray Manor looked upon the heavy fall of snow with
varying emotions. Harkness lamented loudly: "It might 'a held off for
Missy's party. If it was the old days--well, the county lydies could a'
come in their sleighs. All right as far as the post road goes, but the
Grangers--"

Downstairs Budge rejoiced that the Grangers might not come. "Eyes like a
ferret that woman has and like as not she never got over our boy's
going. She'd say things _was_ going to sixes and sevens, with a little
thing no bigger'n a penny in our boy's shoes--she would. But I'd like to
know who ever'll eat all the stuff I'm fixing!" The house cleaned to a
fine polish from attic to cellar, Mrs. Budge had turned her attention
most generously to the food.

"Why does everyone care about Mrs. Granger?" asked Robin, of Harkness,
when even Percival Tubbs regretted, with a sigh, that Mrs. Granger might
not find it possible to come.

"Well, you might say she's next lydy to Madame herself," explained
Harkness. "In the old days her people and the Manor people were thick
like and visited backward and forward. And there was talk of young
Christopher some day marrying the young lydy, Miss Alicia. I hear tell
his death was a sad blow to them. They haven't been coming much to the
Manor since, but we laid it to Madame's queer ways and the gloom."

"Will the others be able to come? Won't Mrs. Budge have _lots_ too much
food?"

"Well, you might say most will make it, for they keep the post roads
open. We'll hope for the best, missy," he added, interpreting Robin's
anxious questioning as an expression of disappointment.

But Robin's sudden concern over the party had nothing to do with the
coming of Mrs. Granger or anyone else. As she had stood in the window,
her nose flattened against the pane, staring out at the snowy slopes,
she had been suddenly inspired by a beautiful plan. She turned to Beryl.

"Can something be sent up from New York in a day?"

"Depends." Beryl answered shortly. "What?"

With one of the lightning-like decisions, characteristic of her, Robin
decided not to take Beryl into her confidence--just yet.

"Oh, I was thinking. Something about my party. I'll tell you--later."

Beryl stared at Robin a little suspiciously--Robin looked queer,
all-tight-inside, as though she'd made up her mind to do something. It
was the new Robin again. Oh, well, if she didn't want to tell--

After luncheon Robin donned her warm outer garments and slipped out of
the house while Beryl was practicing. To carry out her plan, now fully
grown, she must send a telegram and see Mrs. Lynch.

Two hours later, flushed and excited, she hunted down Mrs. Budge, whom
she found mixing savory concoctions in a huge bowl.

"M'm, how good things smell," she began, to break down the hostility she
saw in Budge's eye, "Is that for the party?"

"'S going to be," and Budge stirred more vigorously than ever.

"Mrs. Budge, will there be enough food for--some extra ones--I've
invited or I'm--going to invite?"

Budge dropped her spoon. "Well, no one ever went hungry in _this_
house," she answered crisply. "May I ask who _your_ guests are?" Budge
permitted herself the pleasure of a meaning inflection on the "your."

"Well, I'm not quite sure--yet, only I wanted to know about the food--"
Robin retreated step by step toward the door, her limp exaggerated by
the movement. "I'm waiting for word from my guardian."

"_Robin_! Humph," Budge flung at the door as it closed upon the girl.
"If it wasn't that this house depended on me I'd drop my spoon and walk
out this minit, I would, or my name ain't Hannah Budge. Guests! Like as
not some of these Mill truck."

More than the snowstorm threatened the success of Robin's "at-home." For
Cornelius Allendyce was suddenly prostrated by a bad attack of
sciatica. And his sister declared she could not leave him; at such times
only her patient and faithful ministrations eased his intense suffering.

"I'll telephone to Wassumsic right away and don't you worry," she begged
of him, "they'll get along somehow or other."

"They'll have to," the guardian growled, between groans.

But before Miss Effie could telephone, Robin's telegram came. Cornelius
Allendyce opened it with indifferent fingers, read it, then rose upright
with such suddenness that a loud cry of pain burst from him.

"Will you listen to this? That child wants me to express fifty sleds to
the Manor, at once! Read it and see if I've gone crazy."

"There, there, lie still, Cornelius--I don't care if she wants fifty
sleds or fifty hundred. Send them to her and wait until you're well to
find out if she coasted on all of them or wanted them for kindling wood.
There--I knew it'd make your pain worse. Wait--I'll warm this!" All
solicitous, for her brother's face had twisted in agony, the sister
dropped the telegram and busied herself over her patient.

Her advice seemed good. "Well, send them. Tell them to rush the order,"
he groaned, then gave himself over to his suffering with, somewhere back
in his head, the thought that there was quite a bit more to being a
guardian than he had calculated.

So while Harkness and Budge and Mrs. Williams, pressed into service,
made the old Manor festive with flowers and pine boughs, Robin completed
the plans for her part of the party, and confided to Beryl that fifty of
the Mill youngsters were coming to the Manor to coast on the sloping
hillside.

"Robin Forsyth, what ever will they all say?"

"Who?" demanded Robin, with aggravating innocence.

"All the guests. Why, Robin, you're hopeless! You simply can't get it
into your head that the Forsyths are different from--the Mill people."

"They're not. And we haven't time to argue now. They're coming--a lot of
them. Your mother invited them for me through the school teacher--you
see, there wasn't time for me to, because I didn't know where the
younger children lived. My guardian has sent on the duckiest sleds--all
red. Williams brought them up and they're out in the garage. He's going
to take charge of my part of the party."

"Does Budge know?"

Robin hated to admit that she had been afraid to tell Budge. She flushed
ever so slightly. "N-no. At least I told her there were some extra
coming. Oh, Beryl, _don't_ act as though you thought everything was
going to be a failure. I thought--as long as there was going to be this
stupid old reception here and lots of nice food, it was the _only_ time
to have a party for the kiddies, for Budge would never cook a crumb if
it were just for them. I wish my guardian were here--I _know_ he'd
understand."

"Where are they going to eat?"

"The ladies? Oh, the children. I've told Harkness to put a table in the
conservatory and make it Christmasy."

"You're clever, Robin. Harkness will do it for you--but, oh, he'll hate
it; I can hear him--'things aren't like they used to be.' As my father'd
say-you're killing the goose that lays the golden egg, all righto. Budge
will tell Madame, sure's anything."

"What do you mean?" asked Robin quietly, a little gleam in her eyes.

"Why, stupid, the Forsyths aren't going to stand for that sort of thing.
They'll send you back--"

"Beryl, do you think I'm staying here for the Forsyth money--or--or care
about it? I came here so that Jimmie could go away without worrying
about me. When he comes home I shall go back to him, of course."

"Leave Gray Manor?" Beryl's voice rang incredulously.

"Of course. I like it here and there are lots of things I want to do,
but when Jimmie comes back--if he wants me--" her voice trembled.

Beryl stared at Robin as though she saw a strange creature in the
familiar guise. "You _are_ the queerest girl. You don't seem to care for
the things money can get for you!" She had to pause, to pick her words.
"Why, if _I_ had the chance--all the advantages, and taking lovely
trips, and the fun. You could go to one of these girls' schools and play
tennis and golf and ride horseback! And always have pretty clothes!" The
bitter edge to Beryl's voice betrayed how much she would like these
things.

"Would you desert your mother and--and Dale for things like that? Would
you?"

In her relentless dreaming, in her sturdy ambitions, Beryl had never put
such a question to herself. She had simply never seen them in her
picture. She evaded a direct answer now.

"They'd want me to!"

"Of course they would. Mothers and fathers are like that. Just
unselfish. But you wouldn't give your mother up for anything. I know you
wouldn't."

Beryl turned away from Robin's searching eyes. In her innermost
heart--an honest heart it was--she was not quite sure; her life had been
different from Robin's, she had been taught to want fine things and go
straight for them; so had Dale. If getting them meant sacrificing
sentiment--well, she'd do it. So, perhaps, would Dale (and Robin thought
Dale perfect). But she couldn't make Robin understand because Robin had
never wanted anything big--Beryl always fell back upon this comforting
thought.

"Well, you'd better get Harkness in line and don't get so interested in
your kids that you forget Mrs. Granger. She _is_ coming--they
telephoned that the road is open."

Robin dropped an impulsive kiss on the top of Beryl's head to show her
that, no matter how much they disagreed, they were good friends, and
went off in search of Harkness.

The appointed hour for the reception found the Manor and its servants
ready. With myriad lights, gleaming from candles and chandeliers,
reflecting in the polished surfaces of old wood and silver and bronze,
the air sweet with the scent of pine and flowers, the old Manor had
something of the brilliancy of other days. But, in sad contrast to the
old days, now poor Budge watched the extra help from the village with a
dour and suspicious eye and Harkness, dignified in his faded livery,
made the "extra" table in the conservatory as Christmasy as he could,
with a heart heavy with doubt as to the "fitness" of Missy's whims.

Robin, in her Madonna blue dress, looked very small in the stately
drawing room. There Percival Tubbs patiently explained, for the
hundredth time, with just what words she must greet her guests, as
Harkness announced them; and Robin listened dutifully, with her thoughts
on the hillside beyond the long windows where already red sleds were
flying up and down the snowy slope and childish voices were lifting in
glee.

True to Mrs. Budge's predictions, Mrs. Crosswaithe, from Sharon, arrived
first. Robin saw masses of velvet and plumes and a sharp, wizened face
somewhere in the midst of it all. She forgot Mr. Tubbs' careful
teaching, said "I'm pleased to know you," instead, and held out her hand
to the tall, thin, mannishly dressed young woman behind Mrs.
Crosswaithe, who, though Robin did not know it, was Mrs. Crosswaithe's
daughter.

For an hour the guests arrived in as steady a stream as their
high-powered cars could carry them through the heavy roads. The Manor
had not been opened like this for years and the "best people in the
county" took advantage of the opportunity to look for signs of failing
fortunes, to see the "girl" who had come to the Manor, and to find out
just where Madame was travelling. Thanks to Budge's heroic work no one
discovered any sign of change in the old house; their questioning only
met with disappointment, and Budge's food was of much more interest than
the young heiress who, they decided, was a pretty little thing but much
too small for her age.

Robin shook hands until her arm ached, mumbled the wrong thing most of
the time which, however, did not seem to make any difference with
anyone, and kept one eye longingly on the window, and one ear listening
for the shouts outside which were growing louder and louder. She seized
an opportunity to go to the window and watch, so that when the great
Mrs. Granger arrived Mr. Tubbs had to, a little sharply, recall her to
her duty.

"Isn't she--awful?" whispered Robin to Beryl, as Mrs. Granger, after
condescendingly patting Robin's hand, swept on.

"She thinks _she's_ so grand, but she ought to see the Queen!" Which
observation would have enraged Mrs. Granger, had she heard it, for she
had felt particular satisfaction in her dress and hat, sent on, only the
day before, from the most expensive shop in New York.

"Miss Alicia didn't come--she's in California. Say, Robin, there's a
Granger boy, 'bout eighteen. Maybe that's why my lady Granger's so sweet
to you."

"Silly!" Robin flung at Beryl in retort. "Oh, dear, can't I go out to my
own guests now?"

Robin and Williams had planned that the children should be admitted to
the conservatory through a side door, leaving their outer garments in a
vestibule. So, when everything was in readiness for them, Harkness gave
the sign, and Williams herded his noisy troupe to the house.

Many of the older guests had been present at that memorable birthday
party on young Christopher's eighteenth birthday and they recalled now,
over their salad plates, the brilliancy of that affair and touched upon
all that had happened since in the way of change. Mrs. Granger displayed
much emotion.

"_That_ made a picture I will never forget!" and she nodded toward the
glass doors, curtained in soft silk, which led from the dining room to
the conservatory and which Harkness had carefully closed. "I wonder if I
might just peep in? Ah, the memories. My dear Alicia and that handsome
boy--" she touched a lacy handkerchief to her eyes.

Several who had overheard her followed Mrs. Granger to the closed doors
and stood behind her as she opened them. And their eyes beheld a sight
so different from that birthday party that they stepped back in
amazement, Mrs. Granger lifting her lorgnette in trembling fingers.

Youngsters of every size and of every degree of greed crowded around the
long table, the "Christmasy" decoration of which had already been pulled
to pieces by eager reaching hands. Faces, still red from the crisp air
and streaked where dirty coat sleeves had rubbed them, beamed across the
heaping plates, busy fingers crammed away the goodies. One small boy
half-lay across the table; another stood in his chair, his frayed woolen
cap set rakishly back and over one ear. On each excited countenance a
shadow of suspicion mingled with the joy, a fear that the same magic
which had brought it might snatch all this strange and lovely fun away.
Harkness watched at one end of the table, Williams at another. And in
their midst sat Robin.

"Well, I never!" murmured Mrs. Granger. Her exclamation was drowned,
however, in the babble of youthful sound let loose upon the "best people
of the County" by the opening of the door. "Miss Gordon is going in for
the pretty charity thing, is she?"

All might have gone well even then--for Harkness had a stern eye on
everyone of Robin's small guests--had not little Susy seen her beloved
"big girl" slip through the group at the big glass doors. Susy was the
youngest of the children there; she did not go to school regularly
enough to feel at home with the others, she had refused to slide, and,
at the table had not really begun to enjoy herself until Robin had sat
down next to her, put her arm around her and coaxed her to eat the food
on the plate before her. The food had turned out to be very good and
Susy had crammed it down with her fingers, regardless of fork or spoon.
Now her "big girl" had slipped away, she was alone, that man at the end
was staring at her, panic seized her, a mad longing to escape,
anywhere--preferably back to the shelter of the "big girl's" friendly
arm. She slid down from her seat, her eyes wildly sweeping the room;
Harkness, like an ogre, guarded one end of the table, Williams' bulk
stood between her and the outer door; there was only the one way,
through the glass doors. Head down, she ran swiftly the length of the
conservatory and bolted into the little group of people watching from
the dining room door. Someone big blocked her way. With frightened hands
she pushed at her.

"Want Granny! _Want Granny!_ Get 'way! Uh-h-h!"

"The dreadful little thing!" someone said.

Robin, hearing the shrill cry, rushed to the rescue, and, kneeling,
gathered poor weeping Susy into a close embrace. Over the child's
tousled head she smiled nervously at her staring guests.

"Poor little thing, she's shy!" Then, feeling Susy quivering in her
clasp, she whispered something magical in her ears. It was only: "Robin
will keep tight hold of your hand, Susy-girl, and you needn't be a bit
frightened and by and by, if you're quiet, we'll fill a bag of goodies
for your brother and Granny." But it soothed Susy at once, and, clinging
to Robin's hand, she stared at the guests from the shelter of Robin's
skirts.

There was a little stir among the "best people of the County"--a renewal
of the chatter, high-pitched, pleasant nothings, and side remarks, in
careful undertones.

"Certainly, not a bit like a Forsyth."

"I rather think Madame doesn't know what is going on here."

"Fancy entertaining these little persons and Mrs. Granger with the same
spoon, so to speak."

And, in a corner, Mrs. Granger was raging over the damaging imprint of
two sticky hands on the delicate fabric of her costly gown. For her's
had been the bulk that had stood between Susy and her "big girl," and
Susy had been eating chocolate marshmallow cake with both hands!

Mrs. Granger had come to Gray Manor with the intention of coaxing Miss
Gordon to spend Christmas at Wyckham, the Granger home. But, as she made
ineffectual dabs at the greasy spots on her skirt with her silly little
handkerchief, she put such a thought quite away from her mind.

"Brat!" she cried under her breath, angrily, and from the way she glared
at Robin and Susy no one could have told which of the two she meant.



CHAPTER XVI

CHRISTMAS AT THE MANOR


Christmas without Jimmie was, for Robin, a thing not to think about. And
from Beryl, inasmuch as that young lady affected a stoical indifference
to the holiday, she could get little sympathy. Beryl had shocked her
with the heresy: "Christmas is just for rich people, anyway."

"It is not. Oh, it isn't," Robin had cried in remonstrance. But she
could not tell of her and Jimmie's happy Christ-days without giving way
to the tears which, at the thought, scalded the backs of her eyes. It
had not been alone the holly and pine of the shop windows, or the simple
gifts Jimmie's loyal and more fortunate friends brought, or the usual
merry feast that had made them happy; it had been a deep and beautiful
understanding of the Infinite Love that had given the Christ-child to
the world, that Love which surpassed even Jimmie's love for her or hers
for Jimmie, and that was hers and everyone elses. She had felt it first
when, a very little girl, she had gone, once, with Jimmie into the
purple shadows of a great church, where the air was sweet with incense
and vibrating with the muted notes of an organ. She had stood with
Jimmie before a little cradle that had seemed beautiful with gold and
precious colors but, when she looked again, was a humble thing of wood
and straw, and what she had thought so bright was the radiance of
candles and the reflection from the many-colored windows. Then she had
looked at the cradle more closely and had found that it held a beautiful
wax babe. When Jimmie tugged at her hand she had reluctantly turned
away. At the same time a shabby old woman and a little boy, who had been
kneeling nearby, arose, and the old woman and the little boy had smiled
at her--a _different_ smile and she had smiled back. On the way home
Jimmie had explained to her that the Gift of the Christ-child was the
great universal gift and belonged to everyone, the world over. She knew,
then, why the shabby old woman had smiled--it was over the Gift they
shared.

"Christmas is for _everybody_," she finished.

"Well, all it means to me now that I'm big," pursued Beryl, "is stores
full of lovely things and crowded with people lucky enough to have money
to buy them. And talking about how much everything is. I heard a woman
once saying she had to spend five dollars on her aunt because her aunt
always spent five dollars on her. That's why I say Christmas is for the
rich--it's a sort of general exchange and take it back if you don't like
it or have half a dozen like 'em, or put it away and send it to some one
next Christmas. Miss Lewis, at the Settlement where mother worked, gave
a book to a lady one Christmas and got it back the next, and the leaves
weren't even cut."

Robin laughed in spite of her disapproval of Beryl's heresy. "There
_are_ different kinds of Christmases, Beryl, and I'll show you," she
protested, then and there vowing to make the Christmas at the Manor a
merry one, in spite of odds.

"Well, the nicest thing _I_ know that's going to happen is that
Rub-a-dub-dub is going home," retorted Beryl.

"That _is_ nice, but there'll be even nicer things. Let's invite your
mother and Dale for dinner and have a little tree and we'll make all
sorts of foolish things to put on it."

To Beryl this did not sound at all exciting but Robin loved the thought
of sitting with Mrs. Lynch and Dale and Beryl, like one happy family,
around the long table. She'd ask Harkness to cut pine boughs and a nice
smelly tree, which she and Beryl would adorn with gifts that had no more
value than a good laugh.

And she would coax Harkness to get Williams and his nice wife to help
open and clean the House of Laughter. She'd like to have it a Christmas
gift from her to the Mill children.

She found Harkness ready for her wildest suggestion. He had confided to
Williams and Mrs. Budge that he felt sorry for little Missy alone in the
big house on Christmas.

"A lot of pine and holly, Missy, and the old place won't look the same.
A tree--of course there'll be a tree! Whoever heard of Christmas
without a tree. Many's the one I've cut with the young master; he'd have
no one but Harkness do it, for he said I always found the best trees."

But the old man's head began to whirl a little when Robin explained
about the House of Laughter and the dinner that must be "different." She
had to tell him again and again, until her tone grew pleading.

"I'll help you, Missy, only I'm a little slow just understanding. It'll
come, though, it'll come. Williams will give a hand and his wife maybe,
and I'll tell Mrs. Budge about the Christmas cakes and things. It'll be
as merry a Christmas as old Harkness can make it, Missy."

"Oh, Mr. Harkness, you're a dear," Robin cried, with a look that made
the old man's heart almost burst with affection.

"But I won't tell Hannah Budge any more than she has to know," he
thought, as he went off to do Robin's bidding.

With Williams and his wife and his wife's sister, who had married the
telegraph operator at the little station, pressed into the work, the
empty cottage at the turn of the road took on rapid changes. Windows
were opened, doors were thrown wide, letting in the sweet cold air;
under the magic of strong soap and good muscle the old wood-work shone
with cleanliness; the faded walls lost their melancholy. Harkness and
Williams hauled down a load of wood and piled it high by the back door;
Mrs. Lynch transformed the rusty stove into a shiny, efficient, eager
thing.

Williams, who was very clever and would have been a carpenter if he
hadn't been a chauffeur, built tables out of rough boards and, in the
living room, put up shelves for books and the window seat Robin wanted.

Robin and Beryl flew about in everyone's way, eager to help and generous
with advice.

"There, I'd say things were pretty nice," exclaimed Williams, at the end
of the sixth day of work, stepping back to survey with satisfaction the
chair he had made out of "odds and ends."

"But it doesn't look like what we want--yet!" Robin glanced about
dolefully. "It needs such a lot to make it homey. Where'll we ever get
it all?"

"Now, Miss Robin, Rome wasn't built in a day, as I ever heard of,"
protested Harkness, a smudge over his nose and two long nails between
his teeth. "I guess there's truck enough in the attic up there at the
Manor to fill this house and a dozen like it."

"Oh, Mr. Harkness, may we use it? Or--just borrow it until my aunt
returns? Can we?"

Harkness exchanged glances with Williams. Harkness knew that it had long
been Mrs. Budge's custom to make a two day trip to New York during the
week preceding Christmas. They could take advantage of her absence.

"Well, I guess we can borrow enough, Missy, to do." And no one thought
of smiling at his "we" for, indeed, everyone there felt that he or she
had a share in Robin's House of Laughter.

But even stripping the Manor attic of its "truck" did not satisfy Robin
and the day before Christmas found her House of Laughter lacking in the
things she wanted most.

"It ought to have jolly pictures and ever so many books and pillows and
nice, frilly curtains," she mourned, wondering how much they would cost
and how she could ever get them.

On Christmas morning, Harkness dragged to Robin's door a box of gifts
from her guardian. Most of them Miss Effie had selected, as poor
Cornelius Allendyce was still confined to his room, and that
good-hearted woman had, with a burst of real Christmas spirit, simply
duplicated each gift, for, though she wasn't at all sure, yet, that this
"companion" of Robin's choosing was the refined sort Robin ought to
have, nevertheless she was a girl like Robin and Christmas was
Christmas. Beryl appreciated the thoughtfulness more than she could
express and when she found a little book entitled "Old Violins" and
_only one_, she hugged it to her with a rush of happy feeling.

Later in the morning Mrs. Granger's chauffeur arrived with a great box
of bon-bons in queer shapes and colors. Neither Robin nor Beryl had ever
seen anything quite so extravagantly contrived.

"She paid a fortune for _that_," declared Beryl, appraisingly. "She must
have forgiven Susy for spoiling her dress. Or maybe she's thinking of
her son again. Let me read the card. 'Hoping you will coax that nice Mr.
Tubbs to bring you to us before my youngsters go back to school--'
Didn't I tell you, Robin?"

"I won't go," Robin answered briefly, pushing box and card away with a
gesture that disposed of Mrs. Granger and her son. "Now we must trim the
tree."

Harkness, true to his boast, had found quite the straightest,
princeliest balsam in the nearby woods. Its fragrance penetrated and
filled the old house. The girls went about sniffing joyously, carrying
in their arms all sorts of mysterious objects made of bright paper.
Harkness, oddly dishevelled and excited, balanced on a stepladder and
fastened the gay ornaments where Robin directed.

Beryl had laughed at the idea of having a Christmas tree without the
usual tinsel and glittering baubles. But after Robin and Harkness had
worked for a half-hour she admitted the effect was very Christmasy and
"different."

"You're awfully clever, Robin," she declared, in a tone frankly
grudging. "You make little things count for so much--like mother."

"I think _that's_ a compliment. And speaking of your mother, Beryl
Lynch, we have just time to wash our hands and faces and change our
dresses before she comes. Oh, hasn't this day simply flown? And _hasn't_
it been nice, after all? Isn't Harkness darling--look at him." For
Harkness, his head on one side, a sprig of holly over one ear where
Robin had put it, was surveying the effect of an angel which Robin had
made of bright tissue paper and which he had carefully hung by the
heels.

"That kite looks as real as can be, Missy."

Giggling, the girls rushed away to make ready for what Robin declared
(though she had been much hurt by Dale's refusing to come) the nicest
part of Christmas.

Belowstairs Mrs. Budge was directing Chloe with the last touches of the
Christmas feast.

"That's the prettiest cake I ever saw if I do say so," she cried,
patting the round cherry which adorned the centre of the gaily frosted
cake. Then, lest she grow cheerful, she drew a long sigh from the depths
of her bosom. "But, cake or no cake, I never thought I'd live to feed
Mill persons, coming to our table like the best people. Things plain
common. It ain't like the old days--it ain't."

"The old days are old days, Hannah Budge," rebuked Harkness, who had
come into the kitchen. "Mebbe our little lydy's ways aren't our ways but
it isn't so bad hearing the young voices and you'll admit, Mrs. Budge,
that that's a fine cake and there'd be no cake if Missy wasn't here,
now, won't you?"

"I haven't time for your philosophizing, Timothy Harkness. With things
at sixes and sevens I have enough to do!" But Mrs. Budge's tone had
softened. She _had_ not made a Christmas cake (at sixteen Hannah Budge
had taken the prize at the County Agricultural Exhibit for the finest
decorated cake, and she had never forgotten it) since Master Christopher
the Third had left them. And she _had_ enjoyed hearing young voices and
eager steps in the old house and had caught herself that very morning,
as she helped Chloe stuff the turkey, singing:

"Oh, com-m-me let 'tus a-dor-r-re Him."

Chloe's last delectable dish for the dinner eaten, Harkness drew back
the folding doors to reveal the Christmas tree in the conservatory. And
Robin, waiting for Mrs. Lynch's "oh" of admiration, gave vent herself to
a delighted cry of surprise for, at the foot of the tree, so still as to
seem a graven image, sat little Susy, cross-legged, staring in wrapt
contentment at the bright ornaments.

"Susy, you _darling_, where in the world did you drop from?" Robin
rushed to her and knelt at her side.

Without moving her eyes so much as a fraction of an inch, Susy indicated
the side door of the conservatory as her means of entrance. In one hand
she clutched a soiled ragged picture book, on its uppermost page the
colorful illustration of "The Night before Christmas." Susy had not
forgotten the magic of that side door which had opened for her upon a
feast beyond her wildest imaginings; if there were a place on earth
where that Christmas tree of her picture could come really true it must
be at the "big girl's." Alone she had bravely climbed the hill to the
Manor to find out.

Not a word could Robin's questioning drag from her.

"You shall stay here as long as you want," Robin finally declared,
popping a round bon-bon between the child's trembling lips. "We needed a
little girl to sit at the foot of that tree, didn't we?"

At Robin's command, Harkness played the rôle of Santa. The girls had
fashioned all sorts of nonsensical gifts out of paper and cardboard and
paste; no one was forgotten. Mrs. Lynch declared herself "as rich as
rich" with bracelets and a necklace made of red berries. Mrs. Budge,
forgetting, when Robin held a sprig of mistletoe over her head and
daringly kissed her wrinkled cheek, that "things was going to sixes and
sevens," laughed until her sides ached at Harkness in his silly clown's
cap. Robin and Beryl, with much solemnity, exchanged purchases each had
secretly made at the village store and Robin could not resist adding:
"Dare you to send it to me next Christmas."

Beryl had to admit, deep in her heart, that Robin had managed a
Christmas full of joy that had nothing to do with stores full of lovely
things and crowded with people lucky enough to have money to buy them.
Never having thought much about the Christmas spirit, she had no name
with which to explain Mrs. Budge's awkwardly kind manner--even to her,
or her mother's unusual animation, or why the picture of little Susy,
still rooted to the tree, clasping a great paper doll in her arms, made
her glad all over. But after a little she disappeared, and presently,
from the library, came the strains of her violin, low, pulsing with a
deep emotion, now a laugh, now a sob, climbing higher and higher until
they sang like the far-off, quivery note of a bird, flying into the
heavens.

A deep hush fell over the little group of merrymakers. Harkness coughed
into his hand. Mrs. Budge fussed around the spacious belt of a dress for
a handkerchief and, finding none, surreptitiously lifted a corner of her
apron. Mrs. Lynch caught her throat with a convulsive movement as though
something hurt it. Robin, watching her, slipped her hand into the
mother's and squeezed it.

"Don't go," she whispered when the music suddenly ceased. "Beryl's
funny. She likes to be alone when she plays."

"I never heard her play--like _that_!"

"Oh, Beryl's wonderful!" Robin smiled happily in her faith. "She makes
that all up, too, 'cause she hasn't any music. She's going to be the
greatest violinist in the world. Hush!"

Beryl had begun a lilting refrain, as though a mother laughed as she
sang a lullaby. It had in it a familiar strain which carried little Mrs.
Moira back to Beryl's baby days. Then the lullaby swung into the deeper
tones of a Christmas anthem and again into a tempestuous outburst of
melody, as though Beryl had let loose all at once the riotous feelings
that surged within her.

Just as the last note died away a bell pealed through the house. Because
it was still Christmas, really being only nine o'clock, everyone looked
for a surprise. And a surprise it was, indeed, when Harkness placed an
impressive envelope in Robin's hands and said that a stranger had
brought it to the door.

"He looked like one of these motorcycle men, but before I could as much
as say 'Good evening' he was off in the dark."

Robin studied the address, which was printed. It gave no clue
whatsoever. Nor was there anything else on the envelope. She broke the
sealed flap, with an excited giggle. Five crisp bank-notes fell out.

"For goodness' sake," cried Beryl, staring. "Who ever sent them?"

     "TO MISS GORDON FORSYTH. Please use this money for your House of
     Laughter. I am deeply interested in your experiment. Frankly, I do
     not believe it will work; but if it does my little contribution
     will be well spent; and if it doesn't, my own conviction will be
     justified.

                                   YOUR FRIEND NEAR THE RUSHING WATER."

Beryl squealed with delight. "How _larky_ to have her remember every
solitary thing you told her, Robin--even what we called her house. What
are you going to do with it all? I wish _I_ could get money like that."

Robin stood staring at the letter--not at all jubilant over the
unexpected gift. "I wish she hadn't said she didn't believe the
experiment would work. It _isn't_ an experiment and it _will_ work. I'm
not _trying_ anything, am I?" appealing to Mrs. Lynch, who hastily
assured her with a "No, dearie." Then Robin gathered up the bank-notes.

"Though I did wish we had more nice things for the house and now we can
get them. But isn't this an awful lot of money?" For she had seen a one
and two ciphers in a corner of one bank-note. "I never had so much in my
life."

At this Mrs. Budge sniffed and, the Christmas celebration apparently
abandoned in the excitement of the strange letter, she departed
kitchenward.

Harkness volunteered to escort Susy and Mrs. Lynch back to the village.
In a twinkling the house had quieted so that the girls' footsteps, as
they climbed the stairs, resounded strangely.

Robin leaned for a moment against the banister and looked back into the
shadows of the great, dimly-lit hall.

"Listen a moment, Beryl! Can't you hear tiny echoes of voices and
laughter? Don't you s'pose even the things we think and feel get into
the air, too--and linger?"

Beryl tugged at her arm. "Oh, come on, Robin. You make me creepy. You'll
be seeing ghosts in a moment. I want to have a good look at that letter.
_Wasn't_ it a surprise, though?"

But after a close study of it, Beryl threw the letter down in
disappointment. "Not so much as a tiny crown on it! I'll bet she had
someone write it for her, too. It looks all big and scrawly--like a man.
Anyway, Robin, you ought to keep one of the bills as a souvenir."



CHAPTER XVII

THE HOUSE OF LAUGHTER


The day after Christmas, and for many days thereafter, Robin counted
over the five precious bank-notes. She knew with her eyes shut each line
and shading of their fascinating decoration. She kept them in a little
heart-shaped box that had been a favor at a studio party she had gone to
with Jimmie a few years ago.

Their magic opened possibilities for her House of Laughter;
curtains--cushions--books--pictures--games, why, she could have all the
things she had wanted so much to complete her little cottage. And behind
her eager planning was a thought she kept shut tight away in her heart.
If there were any money left--by careful buying--the Queen would surely
want her to give it to Dale to perfect his model. For had not Adam Kraus
and Dale both said that the little invention would make everything at
the Mills better? She would present her gift to him at the "opening" of
the House of Laughter. Mrs. Lynch had assured her Dale would be there.
Under cover of the general merriment she would find an opportunity. She
went over and over, until she could say them backward, the few words
with which she would make him accept the money.

Beryl, not knowing what was going on in Robin's mind, declared she
fussed an awful lot over samples and lists for anyone who had so much
money to spend and Mrs. Lynch encouraged her economy because, she said,
"'Twas likely as not the roof'd leak in the Spring and shingles cost a
lot, they did." When Robin declared the lovely rose-patterned cretonne
too expensive, Mrs. Lynch helped her dye the cheese cloth they bought at
the village store a gay yellow. And she wisely counselled Robin to let
her write to Miss Lewis (remembering the simplicity of the Settlement
House where she had worked) and ask her to send up a few suitable
pictures and the right books with which to begin. "_She'll_ know,
dearie."

While the final preparations were going rapidly forward, Mrs. Lynch took
pains to spread the news of the House of Laughter through the Mill
Village by the simple medium of taking a cup of tea with Mrs. Whaley and
telling her all about it. "It's better it is than the written word," she
explained to Robin, who had worried over just how the Mill people were
going to know about their plans. "And when you send the cute little
cards around it'll be in crowds they come, you mark me."

"Don't you think everything'll be ready by Saturday night?" Robin asked
eagerly.

Percival Tubbs, for one, hoped everything would be, for he had not been
able to hold Robin to serious study since the holidays. And poor
Harkness had developed a stitch in his back hanging the pictures Miss
Lewis sent and laying clean white paper in cupboards and on shelves.

Though Beryl had not cared particularly whether the windows of the
living room of the House of Laughter were hung in rose or yellow, and
laughed when Robin chose a scarlet-robed picture of Sir Galahad, because
he looked as though he were seeing such a beautiful vision, to hang over
the shelf Williams had built as a mantel, she felt a lively interest in
the festivities which were to open the House to the Mill people. Robin
let her help in planning everything to the smallest detail.

The children were to come in the afternoon and play outdoors with their
sleds and indoors with the books and games, eat cookies and cocoa and
depart with beautiful red and blue and yellow balloons. In the evening
the young men and women and the fathers and mothers were to gather in
the living room and play games and sing and maybe dance and lock at the
books and make lovely plans and admire everything. There would be
sandwiches and coffee for them, too. And Robin would make a little
speech, telling them that the House of Laughter was all theirs to do
what they wanted with it and that the key would always hang just behind
the shiny green trellis. Robin had demurred at this last detail,
shrinking in horror at the thought of a "speech," but Beryl had insisted
that she really must because she was a "Forsyth."

Then Robin wrote and sent to each of the Mill houses cards inviting them
to come to the House of Laughter on Saturday night.

And, everything ready, she counted a precious two hundred dollars left
in the heart-shaped box. That, with what she had not spent from her
ridiculously big allowance, seemed a fortune.

Saturday dawned a crisp, cold, bright day, promising to the expectant
sponsors of the House of Laughter, all kinds of success. But at twelve
o'clock a little group of mill workers, chosen by their fellows, went to
Frank Norris, the Superintendent, and asked for higher wages and better
living conditions, Adam Kraus acting as their leader. It was not the
first time these complaints and requests had been laid before the
superintendent--but now, in the hearts of the hundreds of men and girls
who hung around the yards long after the noon whistle blew, a new hope
kindled, for there had never before been a man among them who could talk
so convincingly as Adam Kraus or could more effectually make old Norris
realize that they all knew now, to a man, that they could get more money
almost anywhere else and work and live like decent human beings. Adam
Kraus had opened their eyes. He was their hero--for the moment. As he
came, somewhat precipitously, from the office building they gave a quick
shout that died, however, with a menacing suddenness, as they saw his
failure written on his angry face. They pressed about him, eager for
details, but he would tell them nothing beyond a curt admission that he
had not been able to make Norris listen.

"I say, go to the Manor!" cried a man who had not been at the Mills more
than a month.

A strapping girl, with a coarse prettiness, laughed a mocking strident
laugh that expressed the feelings of the crowd even more than the louder
curses around her. The workers slowly dispersed, in little groups,
talking in excited, angry tones. Dale Lynch detached himself from one of
these groups and walked on alone, a frown darkening his face; nor did he
shake off his absorption even after he sat down at the table to eat his
mother's good Saturday meal--overcooked for standing.

"Has Adam been to Norris again?" asked big Danny.

Dale nodded. It was not necessary for either his father or mother to ask
the outcome of the call. "Norris wouldn't listen to a word. I've been
wondering if Adam is right--about the way to get this."

"He ought to know more'n you do," flared big Danny, who loved something
upon which to vent his own rancor.

"I suppose." Dale admitted, eating with quick, absent-minded gulps. "I'd
like to be the head of these Mills--I'd see both sides and make the
other fellow see, too."

"Sure, it's wonderful you'd be," murmured Mrs. Lynch, caressingly.

"Well, I'm about as far from it as I am from being President of the
United States. Adam has a better chance--if he ever gets his way.
_There's_ a leader."

Mrs. Lynch cut a generous portion of apple pie in a silence that said
plainly she did not agree with her boy. Dale ate the pie, wiped his
lips, pushed back the plate.

"The Rileys have got to move up the river."

"Dale, you don't say so?" Mrs. Lynch was all concern now. The Rileys
were neighbors. Tim Riley had fallen down an unguarded shaft at the
Mills and had hurt his back. Mrs. Lynch had helped Mrs. Riley care for
her husband and had grown very fond of the plucky little woman. "Why,
it's his death he'll get with the dampness up there, and those blessed
little colleens."

"Well, they've got to go. Riley can only work half-time now and he can't
afford one of these houses."

"Oh, dear, oh, dear," sighed Mrs. Lynch. "Don't tell Robin," she begged.
"It's so happy the child is with her House of Laughter, as she calls it
and--Dale, she's a different Forsyth."

"She's just a kid," he answered, in a tone that implied Robin could have
little weight against the impregnable House of Forsyth.

But a few hours later, when, with the coming of night into the valley,
the last tired youngster departed from the House of Laughter, balloon on
high, the "just a kid" fell to restoring the House to its original
perfection with a vim that seemed as tireless as her spirits.

"_Wasn't_ it a success? Didn't the children have a wonderful time?" she
begged to know, with all the happy concern of a middle-aged hostess.
"Are you dreadfully tired, Mother Lynch? Because tonight's the real
test." She stopped suddenly and leaned on her broom, her face very
serious. "I do hope the big girls will like it. I wish the Queen hadn't
said she didn't believe our--experiment would work. Why _won't_ it work?
Don't grown-ups like to be happy just as much as children--when they get
a chance?"

Mrs. Lynch had no answer for Robin's wondering. "Queens don't know about
things in this country," Beryl, instead, assured her. "These books are
just about ruined. I thought Tommy Black would eat up this Arabian
Nights."

"That shows how much they want them! I don't care if they _do_ eat
them." Robin was too happy to be disturbed by anything. Wasn't her
beautiful plan in the process of coming true? And didn't she have her
money in her pocket all ready for Dale's grasp?

She had brought flowers from the Manor which she arranged on the tables
and the mantel under her beloved Sir Galahad. These, with the mellow
glow of the lamps and the sun-yellow of the curtains, and the gleams of
red from the shiny stove, which had to do for the fireplace Robin had
wanted, and the brilliant scarlet of the Sir Galahad, all served to
soften and lend beauty to the faded bits of carpeting and the shabby
furnishings brought from the Manor attic.

"I do think everything's lovely and it's just because you've all been so
kind about helping," Robin declared, viewing the room with pride. "I
hope ever so many people'll come and that they'll believe it's theirs.
But, oh, Beryl, don't you think we could make them know without my
saying a speech?" And Robin shivered with nervousness.

"Of course not," Beryl answered with cruel promptness. "Anyway, as long
as you thought about all this you ought to get the credit." Beryl had no
patience with Robin's "blushing-unseen" nature. "It'll be easy, anyway.
You just ought to know how I felt the day Mr. Henri took me to play for
Martini. Why, my knees turned to putty. But then, _that_ was different.
Listen, there comes some one now! I'll stay in the kitchen until the
sandwiches are made."

Dale opened the door and Adam Kraus followed him in. Then, while Robin,
two bright spots of color burning in her cheeks, was showing them the
new books, a group of mothers arrived, stiff and miserable in their
Sunday best, and she shyly greeted them. When another knock sounded Mrs.
Lynch took the women in charge so that Robin might welcome the
newcomers. They were four of the Mill girls and they crowded into the
room, staring curiously about them and at Robin, whose greeting they
answered awkwardly. Spying Adam Kraus, they rushed to him with noisy
banter and laughter that had a shrill edge.

Robin, left alone and without the courage to join either group, watched
the girls as they gathered about Adam Kraus and Dale. Suddenly panic
seized her. She fought against it, she told herself that everything was
going all right and that in a few moments more people would come, and
these girls, who looked at her so rudely from the corners of their eyes,
would forget about her and have a good time. From the kitchen, where
Harkness was presiding, came the first faint aroma of coffee, and Beryl
and Mrs. Williams were piling dainty sandwiches on plates as fast as
their quick fingers could make them. Mrs. Lynch and the mothers seemed
to be gossiping contentedly at one end of the room but Robin wondered
why they talked so low, and why Mrs. Lynch now and then glanced
anxiously in her direction; once she heard something about "the Rileys"
and an imploring "hush" from Mother Lynch. Adam Kraus and the four girls
were urging Dale to do something and Robin saw a big girl with bold
black eyes lay a persuasive hand on Dale's arm, which Dale shook off
almost rudely. Robin hated the girl, and wished she had the courage to
break into the circle and drag Dale away from her, instead of standing
in such a silly way in the kitchen door with her tongue glued to the
roof of her mouth.

And, oh, why _didn't_ more people come? What was the matter?

After what seemed to Robin an interminable time, though in fact it was
only a few minutes, Adam Kraus moved toward her, trailed by the four
girls. "I've got to run along, Miss Forsyth," he said in his easy, soft
voice. "There's an important meeting in the village. You've fixed a nice
little doll house here."

The girl with the black eyes, standing just back of Adam Kraus'
shoulder, laughed--a scornful laugh.

"Too bad the Rileys can't move here!"

The Rileys again! Robin flushed at the girl's laugh and hateful eyes,
tried to answer Adam Kraus and to beg them all to wait until Harkness
brought in the coffee, but found her throat paralyzed and her feet
rooted to the spot. The Mill mothers saw Adam Kraus and the girls start
for the little hall and hastily moved in that direction themselves.

"Oh, _don't_ go!" Robin managed to cry, then, moving after them, "Mrs.
Lynch, make them stay. Why, I wanted this to be a _party_, to--to--This
is your House of Laughter! I--" She struggled desperately to recall the
words of the "speech" Beryl had declared perfect and to keep from
breaking down into tears before these hard, staring eyes.

The black-eyed girl elbowed her way out from behind the others, casting
a quick look at Adam Kraus as though for his approval. "I guess you
named this house all right, Miss Forsyth. It _is_ to laugh! But there
ain't many of us that know all poor little Mamie Riley's stood, and
cares about her the same way we cared for Sarah Castle that feels like
laughing tonight!" She tossed her head as though proud of her courage,
then singled out Dale for a parting shot. "We're sorry, Mr. Lynch, that
you're too good to come with us! Ma, (turning to a meek-faced woman),
leave the door unlocked. The meeting'll be a long one."

And just as Mrs. Williams patted down the last sandwich, Mrs. Lynch,
with a shaking hand, closed the door and, turning, faced Dale and Robin.

"Well, of all the ungrateful creatures!" cried Beryl, who had taken in
the little scene from the kitchen door.

"Now don't you be a-caring, girlie dear," begged Mrs. Lynch, frightened
at Robin's stricken face.

Robin turned her glance around the deserted room as though she simply
could not believe her eyes. It must surely be an awful dream from which
she would awaken. Mrs. Lynch went on, speaking quickly as though to
keep back her own tears of disappointment. "It's a grand time the
kiddies had this day, bless the little hearts of them, and a loving you
like you were some bit of a fairy--the impudence of them--"

"Who are the Rileys?" demanded Robin, sternly--for she _had_ to know;
the Rileys had spoiled her beautiful plans.

"Now don't you be a-bothering your bright head with the Rileys or anyone
else--"

Dale interrupted his mother. On his face still lingered the dark flush
that had crept up over it at the black-eyed girl's taunt.

"I don't know why Miss Forsyth _shouldn't_ know the reason the Mill
people didn't come tonight. There's a big protest meeting about the
Rileys--it wasn't gotten up until five o'clock or I'd have told you. Tim
Riley's been laid up for six months and he's just back on half-time and
can't ever do any better, I guess--and he's been ordered out of his
house which means--up the river--"

"Up--where Granny Castle lives?" broke in Robin, in a queer voice.

"Yes. And it's hard on Tim's wife and her children--they're just little
things. And he can't go anywhere else, now. It seems Tim's wife went
herself to Norris and begged for a little time until she heard from an
uncle up in Canada or found some way of earning extra money herself, and
Norris wouldn't give in for one day. The men are all pretty sore and
they called this meeting--"

"That's where that girl wanted you to go?"

"Yes. And that's why Adam Kraus had to hurry off."

Robin suddenly clutched at her pocket, her face flaming. "Dale, will you
hurry--down to that meeting--and take them--this?" She held out a thick
roll of bills. "It maybe isn't enough but it will help. I had saved it
for something else, but, oh, those babies just _can't_ go to that
dreadful place--"

Dale shook his head and put his hands behind him.

"That wouldn't go at that meeting, Miss Forsyth. The men would see red.
It isn't charity they want--it's justice. They're giving good honest
labor to Norris and he isn't fair in return. They're willing to pay to
live decently--they just want the chance. And to work decently, too. If
you knew the Rileys you'd know what a proud sort they are--they wouldn't
take your money any more than I would--or mother, here. If your aunt
were home or--if you'd go to Norris--" He considered a moment, frowning.
"The men and girls are so roused up that it'll be only a step to
organizing and all that sort of thing and these Mills have been pretty
free from labor trouble--if only Norris could be made to understand
that. But he's so set and out-of-date--" Dale laughed suddenly, a short,
bitter laugh, "I suppose I'm extra sore because he refused to even look
at my model."

"You all needn't take your spite out on Robin," broke in Beryl,
vehemently.

"Well--Miss Robin is a Forsyth and after all that's happened today, the
Forsyths aren't very popular with the Mill people. You mustn't blame
them too much," turning to Robin. "They're not in the mood to be
patronized and they look upon--all this--as a sort of--oh, charity."

Robin looked so bewildered and so small and so distressed that Dale laid
his hand comfortingly on her shoulder. His voice rang tender like his
mother's. "Don't you be a-worrying your kind little heart! And if you
begin right, you'll get your House of Laughter across to them--yet."

"Oh, what do you mean?" Robin caught desperately at the straw he
offered.

"Let them pay for it. They can. And they'll be willing to--when they get
the idea."

"But I wanted it to be--my gift."

"The opportunity for them to have it _will_ be your gift."

Mrs. Lynch suddenly beamed as though she saw a rift in all the clouds.

"Sure, that's the way Miss Lewis talked. And I forgetting it! Let them
pay as much as they can and it's a lot more they'll be a-treasuring
what's theirs. And no charity about it at all at all! These folks are
good, honest folks, dearie, and it's self-respecting they like to feel
and a-paying for what they get whether it's the food they eat or a bit
of fun. It's a beginning, anyway, this day and you shan't grieve your
blessed heart for, if I'm not mistaken, there'll be laughter enough in
this house by and by. Mind you what I said once about beginnings had to
come first!" Which was a long speech for Mrs. Lynch and amazingly
comforting to Robin.

She slipped the roll of bank-notes back into the pocket of her dress;
she could not even offer them to Dale, now. "You're dear and patient and
I guess I've been stupid and expected too much. But I shan't make any
more mistakes and I'm going to make the most of my 'beginning'."

"And now, Dale boy, why not have a bit of Mr. Harkness' good coffee?"

But, though Beryl and Robin pressed, Dale refused and slipped away and
Robin had a moment's picture of the triumph of the "horrid" girl when
she saw Dale come into the meeting. Then, remembering the plight of the
Rileys' she was ashamed of herself for not wanting Dale to go. Sitting
around the centre table she and Beryl ate sandwiches while Harkness and
Mrs. Lynch and Mrs. Williams sipped coffee. The fire sputtered and
gleamed cheerfully, and Sir Galahad's scarlet coat made a brilliant
splash of color in the soft glow of the room.

"Who was that big girl with the black eyes?" Robin found the courage to
ask Beryl when the whole dreadful evening was over and they were back at
the Manor.

"Oh, she's Sophie Mack. She and Sarah Castle were chums and worked
together. Dale says she's awfully clever but _I_ think she's horrid. The
way she spoke to him tonight."

Robin agreed that she was horrid. And she hated to think that her Prince
could find this Sophie Mack clever.

Too tired from the disappointing evening to want to talk, and too wide
awake to dream of going to sleep, she lay very still until Beryl's deep
breathing told her her companion had slipped into dreamland. Then she
crept from bed and crouched, a mite of a thing, at the window sill and
stared out into the brilliant night. A moon shone coldly over the snowy
hills, throwing into bold relief the stacks and buildings of the Mills.
Robin recalled that day she had first likened them to a Giant. That day
seemed--so much had happened since and she had grown so much
inside--very long ago and she a silly girl thinking stories about
everything. Her guardian, to amuse her, had talked about finding a Jack
to climb the Beanstalk and kill the monster. She smiled scornfully at
the fancy--so futile in the face of the tremendous misery--and
happiness--that Giant had the power to make!



CHAPTER XVIII

THE LUCKLESS STOCKING


Two hours after Robin's lonely vigil at the window ended, fire destroyed
the empty cottage "up the river" into which the Rileys had been ordered
to move.

"I wish it had burned in the daytime when we could have watched it,"
Beryl had declared, almost resentfully. But Robin's concern had been for
old Granny Castle and little Susy.

Harkness, who had brought them the news, reassured her. "Too bad they
couldn't all a' burned but no such luck--only th' one. It's said that
there are some as _knows_ how a' empty house without so much as a crumb
to draw a rat could a' gone up like that did. And Williams says as how
there was men stood around and wouldn't lift a hand to help put out the
blaze though they took care it didn't spread."

"What do you mean, Mr. Harkness?" broke in Robin.

"Why, just this, Missy, Williams says that there's a lot of bad feeling
stirrin' and bad feelings lead to hasty things like revenge."

"You mean some one of the Mill people set it on fire?" asked Beryl
slowly, with wide eyes.

"And who else'd have bad feelings?"

Robin recalled, with alarm, what Dale had said at the House of
Laughter. Could Dale have done this thing--or helped? Or stood around
and watched it burn? Oh, no, no--not Dale.

Harkness, seeing her concern, dexterously broke a soft-boiled egg into a
silver egg-cup and said in a carefully casual voice, intended to put the
fire quite out of their minds: "Well, the constable'll find the man what
did it, so don't you worry your head, Missy."

Robin, her heart heavy with all she wanted to do and couldn't find a way
to do, swallowed a scream at his "Don't you worry your head." Why _did_
everyone say that to her--just because she was little on the outside? If
_she_ didn't worry her head--who was there to worry?

It was with a heavy spirit she dressed herself--girded herself, she
called it--for her call upon Mr. Norris at the Mills. The long hours of
Sunday, through which she had to wait, had filled her with misgiving.
Now she looked so absurdly small in the mirror, her tousled hair so
childish, no matter how much she tried to tuck it out of sight under the
little dark blue toque, why would anyone, especially a manager of a
Mill, listen to her?

Beryl, stirred to sympathy by Robin's daring to face the lion in his
den, told her for the hundredth time just how she had suffered before
that momentous visit to Martini, the orchestra leader, in New York.

"Why, my hands were clammy and my teeth rattled and everything whirled
in front of me and my knees just knocked together, but, say, I gulped
and I said terribly hard to myself, 'You want this thing and you can't
get it if you're all soft inside and a coward', and, Robin, in a
twinkling, something began to grow inside of me and get big and big
until I had courage to do anything! Of course it was different with me
but you'll probably feel just the way I did, all strong inside, when you
face him and get stirred up. Only--I hate to tell you, but I saw you put
your stocking on wrong side out and then change it and _that's_ bad
luck!"

Robin looked down at the luckless stocking. It looked too absurdly a
trifle to have weight with anything as important as righting the wrongs
of the Rileys.

Afterward, however, Robin vowed she'd always take great care in her
dressing!

Frank Norris had been superintendent of the Forsyth Mills for
twenty-five years. Since the death of old Christopher Forsyth he had run
them pretty much as he pleased, for, inasmuch as his accounting was
accurate to the smallest fraction and his profits unfailingly
forthcoming, neither Madame Forsyth nor her financial or legal advisers,
saw fit to interfere with him. For that reason the old man felt
annoyance as well as surprise when Robin broke into the usual routine of
his Monday morning, already disturbed by the mystery of Saturday night's
fire.

He had duly paid his respects to the little Forsyth heir with a Sunday
afternoon call and had afterward reported to Mrs. Norris that she "was a
little thing, all red hair and eyes." But now, as she stood at one end
of his desk, something in the resolute set of her chin arrested and held
his attention; there _was_ something more--he could not at the moment
say what--to the "little thing" than eyes and red hair.

Robin swallowed (as Beryl had instructed) and plunged straight into her
errand. Wouldn't he please let the Rileys stay in their cottage for a
little while--until something could be done?

At the mention of the Rileys the smile he had mustered vanished, and his
bushy eyebrows drew sharply down over his narrow eyes from which angry
little gleams flashed.

"Who asked you to come to me, Miss Forsyth?"

Robin's heart went down into her boots. "No one," she answered in a
faint voice. Then, quite suddenly, something in the hard, angry face
opposite her fired that spark within her that Beryl had assured her she
would feel. She felt the "big thing" grow and grow until she stood
straight, quite unafraid, and could go on calmly. "Only I don't
think--and I don't believe my aunt would think--it is quite fair to put
them out of their house when they've had so much trouble. Hasn't Mr.
Riley always been a very good workman? There are lots of things here I
don't think quite right, and when my aunt comes back I'm going to ask
her to change--"

"May I interrupt you, Miss Forsyth, to inquire upon what experience you
base your knowledge? For I assume, of course, you would not want to
radically change things here without knowing what you were offering in
their place. I was under the impression that you were quite a youngster
and had lived with your father in a somewhat Bohemian fashion--"

A deep rose stained Robin's face. She caught the hint of a slur.

"My father taught me what is honest and fair and kind and cruel and--"
She had to stop to control the trembling in her voice. The man took
advantage of it by breaking in, his voice measured and conciliatory. He
suddenly realized the ridiculousness--and the danger--in quarreling with
even a fifteen-year-old Forsyth.

"My dear child, I can readily understand in what light certain
conditions appear to one of your tender years. When you are older you
will understand that an industry such as I am in charge of here, and
conducting, I believe, quite satisfactorily for the Forsyths, has to be
run by the head and not the heart. I dislike immensely having to do such
things as forcing the Rileys to move but you must see it is my duty. If
I make an exception in their case--there will be hundreds like them. As
it happens--" he let a rasp of anger break into his voice--"the cottage
into which they were to move was burned down Saturday night. However
that will only delay the enforcing of my order and when the man or men
who set fire to it are caught they will be dealt with--severely. Your
Rileys will enjoy a few days of grace until we can put another into
shape."

"If they burned it it's because they had to show--us--how they
felt--that the place wasn't fit to live in! Mr. Norris, the Mill people
_are_ nice people; I heard--I heard someone say that this was the only
Mill in all New England where real white folks worked--but they think
we--I mean--the Forsyths--don't care--"

Norris stood up abruptly. Somehow or another he must end this absurd
interview while he could yet hang on to his temper. Some one of these
miserable agitators--he suspected who it might be--had influenced the
girl, was using her for a tool. He had heard, of course, of the intimacy
between Miss Gordon and the Lynchs.

"My dear girl--you have no idea how much I would like to go into all
this with you and straighten out the muddle in your head--but, really, I
am a very busy man. Tell me, didn't young Dale Lynch persuade you to
come to me?"

Robin's lips parted impulsively to deny it--then closed. Dale _had_
suggested her coming to Norris. Before she could explain, the man went
on, a ring of triumph sharpening his voice.

"Ah, I thought so! Now let me tell you why he is disgruntled. I would
not look at some contrivance he brought to me which he claims will, when
it is perfected, increase the efficiency of our looms fifty per cent.
He's a bright young fellow but he doesn't know his place, and he's too
chummy with a certain man in these Mills to be healthy for him. However,
I'm looking to our friend the town constable to straighten all that out.
Now, Miss Gordon," with a hand on her shoulder he gently and in a
fatherly manner led her toward the door. "I would suggest, that, without
the advice of your aunt--or your guardian--you do not worry your pretty
little red head over this!" And he bowed her with pleasant courtesy out
of the door.

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" _Another_ one telling her not to worry! She clenched her
teeth that no one in the outer office might see how near she was to
tears. Outside, in a stifled voice, she directed Williams to drive her
back to the Manor, then sat very straight in the car as though those
hateful eyes could pierce the thick walls and gloat over her defeat.

Halfway to the Manor she remembered suddenly that she had quite ignored
the study hours and that doubtless poor Percival Tubbs was pulling his
Van Dyke to pieces in his rage. Then in turn she forgot the tutor in a
flash of concern for Dale. That beast of a Norris had said something
about Dale being too chummy with a certain man--and the constable! Did
they suspect Adam Kraus and Dale of setting fire to the cottage? Oh,
why had she let him think Dale had suggested her interfering for the
Rileys--how stupid she had been! If they arrested Dale and accused him
it would be her own fault. A fine way for her to repay dear, dear Mother
Lynch. What _could_ she do?

Beryl met her with the warning that Mr. Tubbs was "simply furious"--and
had said something about "standing this vagary about as long as he
could," which did not mean much to Robin, not half so much as Beryl's
own ill-temper, for the tutor had taken the annoyance of Robin's
high-handed absentedness out on the remaining pupil. With Beryl cross
she could not tell her that she had gotten Dale into trouble. She must
meet the situation alone.

She must warn Dale, first of all. And to do that she must resort to the
distasteful expedient of hanging about in the groceries-and-notions
store until Dale passed by after work or stopped for mail as he might
possibly do.

She found no difficulty in getting away alone, for Beryl, in the sulks,
had buried herself in the deep window-seat of the library. Down in the
store she startled the old storekeeper by an almost wholesale order of
candies and cookies and topped it off by a demand for a pink knitting
wool, which, Robin hoped mightily, might be found only on the topmost
shelf. Then, while he was rummaging and grumbling under his breath, she
hurriedly told him she _didn't_ want it and dropped a crisp five dollar
bill on the counter, for the men were pouring down the street and any
moment Dale might come.

No coquetting miss, contriving to meet the lad of her fancy, could have
planned things to more of a nicety; Robin, her arms full of her absurd
purchases, came out of the store just as Dale and Adam Kraus walked
along. It was not so much the unusualness of the girl's being there--and
alone, that brought Dale to a quick stop; it was the imploring look in
her wide and serious eyes.

"Where's Beryl--or that chauffeur?" He took her packages from her.

"I want to talk to you. I _have_ to. Will you walk just a little way
home with me?"

"Why, what's up? Of course I will. Come, let's cut through here." For
Dale realized that many curious eyes were staring at them, and not too
kindly. Someone laughed. He would be accused of "truckling" to a
Forsyth, which, just then, was likely to bring contempt upon him.

Neither he nor Robin saw the incongruous picture they made; she in her
warm suit of softest duvetyn and rich with fur, he in his working
clothes, swinging a dinner pail in one hand and in the other balancing
her knobby packages. All she thought of was that this was Dale, the
Prince who had once befriended her, whose make-believe presence had
often gladdened her lonely childhood hours, and who was in danger now;
and he looked down into the little face under its fringe of flame-red
hair and wondered what in the world made it so tragic and why it
strangely haunted him as belonging to some far-off picture in the past.

Vehemently, because it had been bottled up so long, Robin told him how
afraid she was for him--that Norris had as much as said he suspected him
and Adam Kraus, and that the constable might arrest them any moment and
wouldn't he please--go away--or--or something?

"He says you're disgruntled 'cause he wouldn't look at your 'toy.' He's
terribly mad about everything--I could see it in his horrid eyes. Oh, I
_hate_ him!" she finished.

They had left the village and were close to the bend in the road where
stood the House of Laughter. Dale stopped short and threw his head back
with a loud laugh. Robin had wondered in her heart with what courage her
Prince would take the news of his danger but she had not expected this!
However, his laugh softened the lines of his face until it looked boyish
and oh, so much like it had that night long ago when she had been lost.

"Well, here I am laughing away and forgetting to thank you for wanting
to help me. But you needn't be afraid for me, Miss Robin. There is still
a little justice in the world, in spite of men like Norris, and I can
prove to anyone that I was snug in my bed until my mother dragged me
out to go off up to the old village. I can't say I helped fight the
fire--what was the use? Nothing could have saved the old place. And I'd
rather like to shake hands with the man who set it on fire, though it
was sort of a low-down trick. Norris won't house anyone in that
rat-hole."

An immense relief shone in Robin's face. She knew Dale had not done the
"low-down trick." She wished she had made Norris believe it!

"About the toy--" Dale went on, soberly. "Maybe in the end it'll be a
good thing for me that Norris turned it down. Adam Kraus has taken it
and he's going to have some little metal contrivances made that it had
to have and then he'll take it to Grangers' and he feels pretty sure
that Granger will buy it. Only I had a sort of feeling that I wanted it
used here--you see these mills gave definite shape to this thing that
has been growing in my head for a long time, just like verses in a
poet's. I went to a technical night school for years, you know, and I
couldn't get enough of the machine shop. One of the teachers in the
school got this job for me here. I'd never been outside of New York
before and I thought this was Heaven, honest."

"Mr. Norris said you claimed it would--oh, something about efficiency,"
Robin floundered.

Dale nodded. "I not only claim, I know. That little thing of mine
attached to the looms here would revolutionize the whole industry for
the Forsyths. You see these Mills are way behind times in their
equipment; with improved looms they could turn out more work, pay better
wages, and give the men better living and working conditions. And
men--the sort they have here--will work better with up-to-date things
around them; gives them an up-to-the-minute respect for their job."

Robin stamped her foot in one of her impetuous bursts of anger.

"He ought to be _made_ to buy it!" she cried.

Dale turned to her and stared at her intently.

"You're a funny little thing. Why do you care so much?"

Robin had a wild longing to bring back to his mind that November night,
long ago, when he had found her clinging abjectly to the palings of the
park fence and had taken her home, that she had declared then that he
was her play-prince and that she would hunt for him until she found him!
And, quite by coincidence, she _had_ found him and now she wanted to do
this thing for him and not entirely to help the Forsyth Mills! But if
she told him--and he laughed--her pretty pretend would be all over and,
because it belonged to that happy childhood in the bird-cage with
Jimmie, it was precious and she did not want to lose it--yet.

So she flushed and answered shyly: "I--don't--know."

"I'm ever so much obliged, Miss Robin, for your interest and your
worry--over me. It gives a fellow a jolly feeling of importance to know
that a little girl is bothering her head over his luck. And Miss Robin,
you've made things tremendously bright for my mother this winter--and
for my father, too. I didn't know whether mother'd be happy here in
Wassumsic after being so busy in New York but it was the only way I
could stop her from working her head off and I'd decided _my_ shoulders
were broad enough to support my family. And you've done a lot for Beryl,
too. I can see it."

"Oh, _don't_!" cried Robin. As if she could let him thank her for Mother
Lynch--as if the debt were not on her side. They had reached the Manor
gate now and Dale handed her the packages.

"Everything will come out all right, Miss Robin, so don't you be
worrying your little head," he admonished and strangely enough Robin
answered him with a smile. _He_ was different.

But Robin's "bad" day had not ended yet. Beryl's "sulk" had grown, like
the gathering clouds of an impending storm, into a big gloom that did
not lighten even when, after dinner, the girls were left alone in the
library with their beloved "one thousand and seventy-four" books. From
over the edge of "Vanity Fair" Robin watched anxiously the preoccupation
and shadow on Beryl's face.

(Oh, why _had_ she changed that inside-out stocking!)

"Beryl, what is the matter?"

"Nothing."

"There _is_. You won't read or talk or--anything."

"Well, I don't feel like it."

"What _do_ you feel like--inside?" persisted Robin.

"Like--nothing. _Just_ like it."

"Beryl, are you discouraged about--your music?"

Robin put her finger so accurately upon the sore spot that Beryl winced.
Robin added: "You ought not to be--you're wonderful!"

"I'm _not_. You think so 'cause you don't know! I can't get something I
used to have. I had it when I played on Christmas night and oh, I felt
as though I'd always have it--it just tingled in my fingers and made my
heart almost burst and then--it went away. I can't rouse it now. I don't
even know--what made it come--inside me. But I do know that I'm as far
away from--what I want, really working and getting ahead--as I ever was.
_Further_, way off here. At least when I was in New York I had dear old
Jacques Henri to help me!"

Robin's book tumbled to the floor. She had an odd feeling as though
Beryl--the first girl friend she had ever had--might be slipping away
from her. "You want to go back to New York?" she asked stupidly.

"Of course, silly. There isn't anything, here."

"Then you ought to go. Beryl, you _must_ go. I'm going to give you the
rest of the money--what I saved from the Queen's Christmas gift
and--and--my allowance. Oh, please, Beryl, _don't_ look like that!"

"Thanks!" Beryl's voice rang cold. "But I'm not reduced to charity, yet.
Of course I've been kidding myself that I earn all the money you pay me
for living here--with a few clothes thrown in. Don't think I don't know
what those horrid creatures at the Mills say about me being proud and
too stuck-up to work like Dale and the others. They even taunt Dale. I
hate myself when I think of it. And all I'm earning wouldn't keep me
very long--if I ever did go to study. Oh, I just hate--_hate_--_hate_
being poor!" Her voice broke in a great sob.

Robin wanted to throw her arms about her and comfort her but she was
afraid for Beryl looked like a different being. And, while she
hesitated, Beryl flung herself out of the room.

Robin stared into the fire, little lines of worry and perplexity
wrinkling her face. Everything was so stupidly hard; no matter what she
tried or wanted to do--she ran up against a wall of pride. Her poor
little treasured money that she had kept in the heart-shaped box! If she
had had it in her hands then she would have thrown it into the fire.

Oh, for a chance to do something, give something that could not be
counted--and spurned--in dollars and cents!



CHAPTER XIX

GRANNY


Thoroughly exhausted by the nervous strain of the day before Robin slept
late. When she awakened it was to the alarming realization that Beryl
was not with her--her bed was empty, the room deserted, from the
bathroom came no sound of splashing water, with which Beryl usually
emphasized her morning dip.

The unhappy happenings of the evening just past flashed into Robin's
mind. Beryl had not even said good-night, had pretended to be asleep.
What if she had gone away from the Manor?

The thought was so upsetting that Robin dressed in frantic haste, paying
careful regard to her stockings, however, and tumbled down the stairs,
almost upsetting Harkness and a tray of breakfast.

"Where's Beryl?" she demanded.

"Miss Beryl's gone, Missy. She got up early and went off directly she
had breakfast."

"Did she--did she have a bag?" faltered poor Robin.

"Why, yes, Missy, she had that bag she come with 'near as I can
remember. Didn't she tell you she was going?"

"Well--not so early," Robin defended.

"If it's a quarrel, and young people fall out more times 'n not, Missy,
don't you feel badly. Miss Beryl'll be back here, mark my words! She's
smart enough to know when things are soft."

"Don't you ever, _ever_ say that again, Harkness! Beryl didn't want to
stay here in the first place. She's proud and she's fine and she had
ambitions that are grander than anything the rest of us ever dreamed of.
It's just because it _is_ soft here that she didn't want to stay. She
thought she wasn't really earning anything. I should think--" and oh,
how her voice flayed poor trembling Harkness, "I should think if you
_cared_ anything about me you'd be dreadfully sorry to have me left
alone here--"

"Now, Missy! Miss Robin! Old Harkness'll go straight down to the village
and bring Miss Beryl--"

Robin laid her hand on the old man's arm. "I just said that to punish
you. No, I'll be very lonesome here but I will _not_ send for Beryl.
We'll get along someway. If I only were not rich, everything would go
all right, wouldn't it, Mr. Harkness?"

"Well, I don't just get your meaning but I will. And I guess so, Missy.
And now what do you say to a bite of breakfast--fetched hot from the
kitchen to your own sunny room?"

Robin knew she would break the old man's heart if she refused his
service so she climbed back up the stairs to the sunny window of the
deserted sitting-room and awaited the tray of hot breakfast. And as she
sat there her eyes suddenly fell upon Cynthia, sitting straight among
the cushions of the chaise longué, staring at her with faded, unblinking
eyes. Beryl had not taken the doll!

A great hurt pressed hard against Robin's throat. Beryl had _wanted_ to
make her feel badly. But why--oh, what had she done?

"You can stay there, Cynthia. _I_ won't touch you," she cried, turning
to the window, and at the same time she registered the vow in her heart
that by no littlest word or act of hers should Beryl know how her
desertion had hurt her.

A week of stormy weather, which made the roads almost impassable, helped
Robin. She threw herself into her studies with a determination almost as
upsetting to Percival Tubbs as her former indifference. And when the
studies were over she buried herself in the great divan before the
library fire with books piled about her while Harkness hovered near at
hand, watching her with an anxious eye.

Robin did not always read the open page. Sometimes, holding it before
her, she let her mind go over word by word what Dale had said to her as
they walked home from the store. It had not been much, to be sure, but
it had been enough to make her feel that her Prince had opened his heart
to her, oh, just a tiny bit. With her blessed powers of imagination and
with what Beryl had told her from time to time concerning him, she could
put everything together into a beautiful picture.

Dale was splendid and brave--_he_ had not been afraid of being poor! And
he dreamed, too, like Sir Galahad, but a dream of machinery. And he had
had a beautiful light in his face when he had said that about his
shoulders being broad enough to support his family. Oh, Robin wished she
could see him in a scarlet coat like Sir Galahad wore in the picture.

The snowstorm abating, Robin sent Williams to the village with a basket
of flowers for Mrs. Lynch and fruit for big Danny, and Williams brought
back a tenderly grateful little note from Mrs. Lynch--but not a word
from Beryl.

"Everything must be all right or she'd have told me," Robin assured
herself. "Anyway Mr. Norris would be _afraid_ to arrest anyone like
Dale."

What Robin did _not_ know--for it was not likely to disturb the
Manor--was that something far crueller than Norris was claiming the
anxiety of the Mill workers. A malignant epidemic had lifted its ugly
head and had crept stealthily into several homes, claiming its victims
in more than one. Norris feared an epidemic more than labor trouble;
unless it could be quickly stamped out it gave the Mills a bad name and
made it difficult to get hands. So, at its first appearance he called
the Mill doctor into consultation, and urged him to do everything in his
power to check the advance of the disease.

The Mill doctor, an overworked man, wanted to tell Norris that it was a
pity that the whole "old village" had not gone up in smoke, but he
refrained from doing so; instead spoke optimistically of the weather
being in their favor, and went away.

On an afternoon three weeks after Beryl's sudden and inexplainable
departure, the drowsy quiet of the old Manor was broken by a shrill
voice lifted in frenzied protest against Harkness' deeper tones. It
brought Percival Tubbs from his nap, Mrs. Budge from the pantry and
Robin from the library. There in the hall stood poor little Susy, her
old cap pushed back from her flaming cheeks, her eyes dark with fright,
struggling to escape from Harkness' tight hold.

At sight of Robin her voice broke into a strangling sob.

"Oh! Oh! _Oh!_"

"She won't tell me her errand," explained Harkness, looking like a
guilty schoolboy caught in a bully's act.

"Harkness, shame on you! Let her go," cried Robin.

Freed from Harkness' hold Susy ran to Robin and clasped her knees. She
was shaking so violently that she could do nothing more than make funny,
incoherent sounds which were lost in the folds of Robin's skirt.

"See how you've frightened her! Susy-girl, don't. _Don't_. You're with
the big girl. Tell me, what is the matter?"

Suddenly Susy pulled at Robin's hand and, still sobbing, dragged her
resolutely toward the door. Robin caught something about "Granny."

"Something dreadful must have happened to frighten her," Robin declared
to the others. "Won't you tell Robin, Susy? Do you want Robin to go with
you to Granny's?"

At this Susy nodded violently, but when Robin moved to get her wraps she
burst forth in renewed wailing and clung tightly to Robin's hand.

"Harkness, please get my coat and hat and overshoes. I'm going back with
Susy. Something's happened--"

"Miss Gordon, indeed, you better not--" implored Harkness.

"Hurry! Haven't you tormented the poor child enough? Don't stand there
like wood. If you don't get my things _at once_ I'll go bareheaded!"

Harkness went off muttering and Percival Tubbs advanced a protest which
Robin did not even hear, so concerned was she in soothing poor Susy.

In a few moments she was hurrying down the winding drive which led to
the village, with difficulty keeping up with Susy, leaving behind in the
great hall of the Manor an annoyed tutor, a worried butler and an
outraged housekeeper.

More than one on the village street turned to stare at the strange
little couple, Susy, pale with fright, two spots of angry red burning
her cheeks, running as though possessed, and Robin limping after her
with amazing speed and utterly indifferent to anyone she met.

As they neared the old village Susy's pace suddenly slowed down and
Robin took advantage of that to ask her more concerning Granny.

"Granny's queer and all cold and she won't speak to me, she won't!" Susy
managed to impart between gasps.

A terrible fear gripped Robin. Perhaps Granny was dead! And her
apprehension was confirmed when a neighbor of the Castles rushed out to
head her off.

"Don't go in there! Don't go in there!" she cried, waving the shawl she
had caught up to wrap around her head. "They've got the sickness. The
old woman's dead. Tommy's staying at Welch's. My man's reportin' it this
mornin'. Poor old woman, went off easy, I guess, but it's hard on the
kid. Say, Miss, you oughtn' get close to her. It's awful catchin' and
you c'n tell by the look o' her she's got it, too." And the neighbor
edged away from Susy.

In a sort of stupefied horror Robin looked at the neighbor, the wretched
house and Susy. Susy had begun to cry again, quietly, and to tremble
violently.

"Susy Castle, you go like a good girl into the house n' stay 'til the
doctor comes and takes you," commanded the woman. "Don' you come near
anyone! Y' got the sickness! See y' shake!"

"Go _'way_!" screamed Susy, clinging to Robin. Robin pulled her fur
from her throat and wrapped it about the shivering, sobbing child.

"Yer takin' awful chances, miss--just _awful_," warned the neighbor,
edging backward toward her house with the air of having completed her
duty. "If y' take my advice you'll leave the kid there 'til some'un
comes. They'll likely take her t' the poor-house!" And with this
cheerful assumption she slammed her door.

"There! There! Robin'll take you home. Don't cry," begged Robin,
kneeling in the path and encircling poor little Susy in her arms. "We'll
go back to the big house and Robin'll make you nice and warm."

"I want Granny!" wailed the child, feeling her miserable little world
rocking about her.

Robin straightened and looked at the house. Granny was dead, the
neighbor had said; nothing more could be done for her. But something in
the desolation of the place, the boarded door, the dingy window stuffed
with its rags, smote Robin. Poor Granny must have died all alone. No one
had even whispered a good-bye. And she lay in there all alone. Robin
knew little of death; to her it had always meant a beautiful passing to
somewhere, with lovely flowers and music and gentle grief. This was
horribly different--there was no one left but little Susy and she was
going to take Susy away at once. Ought she not to just go softly into
that house and do _something_--something kind and courteous that
Granny, somewhere above, might see--and like?

"Wait here, Susy. I'll be back in a moment." She walked resolutely
around to the door which Susy, in her flight, had left half-open. At the
threshold a cold dread seized her, sending shivers racing down her
spine, catching her breath, bringing out tiny beads of moisture on her
forehead. She had never seen a dead person--had she the courage?

She tiptoed softly into the room, her eyes staring straight ahead. In
its centre she stopped and looked slowly, slowly around as though
dragging her gaze to the object she dreaded--across the littered table,
the cupboard, the stove crowded with unwashed pots and pans, the dirty
floor, an overturned chair, the smoke-blackened lamp and last--last to
the bed. There, amid the tumbled quilts, lay poor Granny.

Robin swallowed what she knew was her heart and walked to the bed.
"Granny," she said softly, because she had to say something, then almost
screamed in terror at the sound of her own voice. Strangely enough there
was a smile on the worn, thin lips. In her high-strung condition Robin
thought it had just come--she liked to _think_ it had just come. It gave
her courage. She smoothed the dirty gray covers and folded them neatly
across the still form, careful not to touch the withered hands. Then she
looked about. Her eyes lit on the faded pink flowers that still adorned
the what-not. Moving with frightened speed she caught them up and
carefully laid them on Granny's breast.

"They were beautiful once and so was poor Granny. Good-bye, Granny," she
whispered, moving backward toward the door. Out in the air she leaned
for a moment weakly against the door jamb--then resolutely pulled
herself together, and carefully closed the door behind her.

Susy stood where she had left her. "Come, Susy, let's hurry," Robin
cried. Catching the child's hand she broke into a run, wondering if she
could get back to the Manor before that dreadful sickening thing inside
of her quite overcame her.

But at that moment Williams appeared in the automobile, jumped from the
seat and caught Robin just as she started to drop in a little heap to
the ground.

"Miss Robin!" he cried in alarm.

The feel of his strong arms and the warmth and shelter of his great coat
sent the life surging back through Robin's veins. She laughed
hysterically.

"Take us home, quick," she implored. And so concerned was Williams that
he made no protest at lifting Susy into the car.

Both Harkness and Mrs. Budge, with different feelings, were waiting
Williams' return in the hall of the Manor. Harkness, with real concern,
(he had despatched Williams) and Mrs. Budge with defiance. She had just
announced that she'd stood about as much as any woman "who'd give her
whole life to the Forsyths ought t' be expected to stand" when Robin
half-carried Susy into the Manor.

"Harkness, _please_--Susy's very ill. Will you carry her to my room and
call the doctor?"

"You'll do no such thing while _I_ stay in this house," announced Mrs.
Budge, stepping forward and placing her bulk between Harkness and Susy.
"Bringing this fever what's in the village to _this_ house! Not if my
name's Hannah Budge. We've had just 'bout as much of these common
carryings-on as I'll stand for with Madame away and--"

"But, oh, _please_, Mrs. Budge, Susy's very sick and her grandmother's
just died and she's all alone! Harkness, _won't_ you?"

"Oh, Missy, I think Budge--" began Harkness, his eyes imploring.

Robin stamped her foot.

"Shame on you all! You're just _afraid_. Will you call a doctor at
least--one of you? Get out of my way!" And half carrying--half dragging
Susy, Robin staggered to the stairs and slowly up them.

Poor Robin vaguely remembered Jimmie once commanding Mrs. Ferrari to put
one of her brood into a tub of hot water into which he mixed mustard. So
Robin filled her gleaming tub with hot water and quickly undressed Susy
and put her, wailing, into it. Then she rushed to the pantry,
commandeered a yellow box, fled back and dropped a generous portion of
its contents into the tub. Next she spread a soft woolly blanket on her
bed, wrapped another around the child and rolled her in both until
nothing but the tip of a pink nose showed.

She found Harkness hovering outside in the hall and ordered him to bring
hot lemonade at once, taking it a few minutes later from him through the
half-open door with a gleam of contempt in her eyes which said plainly
"Coward." She slowly fed Susy, watching the child's face anxiously and
wishing the doctor would come quickly.

After an interminable time Dr. Brown came, a little shaky, and gray-eyed
and very concerned over his call to the Manor. After a careful
examination he reported to Percival Tubbs and Harkness that the child
was, indeed, desperately ill; that by no means could she be
moved--although it was of course a pity that Miss Forsyth had so
impulsively brought her to the Manor and thus exposed herself; that the
crisis might come within the next twenty-four hours, for evidently the
disease was well advanced before the grandmother succumbed; that he
would telegraph at once for a fresh nurse from New York as the one in
the village was at the breaking point from overwork; and that he,
himself, would come back and stay with the child through the night.

It was a most dreadful night for everyone in the Manor--except Percival
Tubbs, who had slipped quietly to the station and taken the evening
train to New York. Harkness sat outside of Robin's door, his ear
strained for the slightest sound within. And Mrs. Budge worked far into
the night writing a letter to Cornelius Allendyce, commanding that
gentleman to come to the Manor and see for himself how things were going
and put an end, once and for all, to the whole nonsense--that she'd up
and walk out if it weren't for her loyalty to Madame Forsyth, a loyalty
sadly strained in the last few months. Of course she did not write all
this in just these same words but she made her meaning very clear.

Behind the closed door Dr. Brown and Robin fought for the little life.
Only once the tired doctor said more than a few words--then it was to
tell Robin that she had shown remarkable judgment in her care of Susy
and that--if the child pulled through--it would be due entirely to her
prompt and thorough action. This little thought helped Robin through the
long hours, when her weary eyelids stuck over her hot, dry eyes and her
head ached. All night she willingly fetched and carried at the doctor's
command, stepping noiselessly, sometimes lingering at the foot of the
bed to watch the little face for a sign of change.

Far into the morning the vigil lasted. Then Dr. Brown, his face haggard
but his eyes shining, whispered to Robin to go off downstairs and eat a
good breakfast--that Susy was "better."

"You mean--she'll--get well?"

The doctor nodded. "I believe so. She's sleeping now. Go, my dear."

Robin peeped at the child's face. The deadly pallor and the purple flush
of fever had gone, the lips and eyelids had relaxed into the natural
repose of sleep. She tiptoed into the hall, deserted for the moment,
down the stairs, and into the kitchen. Mrs. Budge turned as she pushed
open the door.

"I--I--" The warm, sweet smell of the room sent everything dancing
before Robin's eyes. She reached out her hand as though groping for
support. "Oh, I--" Then she crumpled into Mrs. Budge's arms.

Now that faithful soul, having sent off her letter to the lawyer-man,
had given herself over to worry, lest once more the "curse" was to visit
the House of Forsyth. Not that it could mean much to Madame, for she
hadn't set eyes on this girl Gordon, but it gave her, Hannah Budge, a
sick feeling "at the pit of her stomach" to think of things going wrong
again! So when Robin just dropped into her arms like a dead little thing
she stood as one stunned, passively awaiting a relentless Fate.

"Quick--she's fainted. Let me take her! Fetch water," ordered Harkness.

"Fetch it yourself! I guess I can hold her!" retorted Budge, tightening
her clasp. And as she looked down at Robin she remembered how Robin had
kissed her on Christmas night. Something within her that was hard like
rock commenced to soften and soften and grow warm and glow all through
her. Her eyes filled with tears and because both hands were occupied and
she could not wipe them away, she shook her head and two bright drops
rolled down her cheeks into Robin's face. At that moment--even before
Harkness brought his water--Robin stirred and opened her eyes and
smiled.

"Oh--where am I? Oh--yes. Oh, I'm _so_ hungry!"

But Budge was certain Robin was desperately ill; under her direction
Harkness carried her to Madame's own room while Mrs. Budge followed with
blankets and a hot water bottle. At noon the nurse arrived from New
York, and that evening the word spread to every corner of Wassumsic that
little Miss Forsyth had the "sickness."



CHAPTER XX

ROBIN'S BEGINNING


Robin had done something that couldn't be counted--or spurned--in
dollars and cents.

From door to door in the village the story spread; how Robin had gone
into the stricken cottage which even the neighbors shunned, and had
performed a last little act (and the only one) of respect for poor old
Granny, then, with her own fur around the child's neck, had taken Susy
back to the Manor. The doctor told of Robin's sensible care and how ably
she had shared with him the night's long vigil. The story was told and
re-told with little embellishments and often tears; the girls in the
Mill repeated each detail of it over their lunches, the men talked about
it in low tones as they walked homeward.

And Robin's little service had a remarkable effect upon the Mill people.
Tongues that had been most bitter against the House of Forsyth suddenly
wagged loudest in Robin's praise; some boldly foretold the beginning of
a "better day." All felt the stirring of a certain, all-promising belief
that a Forsyth, even though a small one--"cared."

But what was to be the cost, they asked one another, with anxious faces?

Upon hearing that Robin herself was ill, Beryl had rushed to the Manor,
in an agony of fear. Robin mustn't be sick--she couldn't die! It was
too dreadful--She ought never to have gone into Granny Castle's
house--or touched Susy.

Among the books Robin loved so well Beryl waited in a dumb misery for
hours, for some word. Harkness only shook his old head at her and Mrs.
Budge ignored her. Finally, standing the suspense as long as she could
she crept to the stairs and up them and in the hall above encountered a
cherry-faced white-garbed young woman.

"May I see Robin, please?" she implored desperately.

The young woman looked at her, hesitating. "Are you Beryl?" she asked.
Beryl nodded. "Then you may go in for a few moments but don't let that
old man and woman know--they've been hounding me to let them see her and
I've refused flatly."

"Oh, thank you so much. There's something I have to tell Robin before--"
Beryl simply could not say it. She closed her lips with tragic meaning.

The nurse stared at her a moment with a hint of a laugh in her eyes,
then nodded toward the door.

"Second door, there. Only a minute!" And then she went on.

Beryl opened the door, softly, her heart pounding against her ribs. What
if Robin were too ill to talk, to even listen--

Beryl had never seen Madame's bed room. It took a moment for her to
single out the great canopied bed from the other mammoth
furnishings--or to take in the small figure that occupied the exact
centre of that bed.

"Beryl!" came a glad cry and Beryl stared in amazement for the little
creature who smiled at her from a pile of soft pillows looked like
anything but a sick person; the vivid hair glowed with more aliveness
than ever, a pink, like the inner heart of a rose, tinted the creamy
skin. A tray remained on a low table by the bed, its piled dishes
indicative of a feast. Beryl's amazed eyes flashed last to these then
back to Robin's smiling face.

"Oh, Beryl, I'm so glad, _glad_ you came!" Robin reached out her arms
and Beryl rushed into them, clasping her own close about Robin.

"I--I thought you were dreadfully sick," she gasped, at last. She drew
back and looked at Robin accusingly. "_Everyone_ thinks you're
dreadfully sick."

"Then I suppose I ought to be," laughed Robin, "I'm not, though, I never
felt better in my life. But, oh, right after I knew Susy would get well
everything inside of me seemed to break into little pieces. Then that
nice Miss Sanford came and put me to bed and nursed and petted and fed
me and--here I am. She says I cannot get up until tomorrow. I'm so
anxious to see Susy!"

Beryl, still holding Robin's hand, stared off into space, uncomfortably.
She had come to the Manor to tell Robin (before Robin should die) that
she had been a mean, selfish, ungrateful thing to run away from the
Manor the way she had done and stay away--and to beg for Robin's
forgiveness. Now she found it difficult to say all this to a pinky,
glowing Robin, and Robin, instinctively guessing what was passing in
Beryl's mind, made her plea for forgiveness unnecessary by asking, with
a tight squeeze of Beryl's hand: "You won't go away, again?"

"No--at least--if you want me--if--" she stumbled.

"_If_ I want you--Beryl Lynch! It was too dreadful living here all alone
with only Mr. Tubbs and Harkness and Mrs. Budge. But, Beryl, I think
maybe everything will be different now; the first thing I knew after I
fainted was that Mrs. Budge was crying! Think of it, Beryl,
_crying_--and over me! And Mr. Tubbs ran away."

"Really, truly?"

"Yes--the poor thing was scared silly. He didn't tell a soul he was
going and after he reached New York he telephoned."

"Dale says everyone at the Mills is talking about you, Robin--and what
you did."

"Why," Robin's face sobered, "I didn't do--anything."

"Well, Dale says your going in to poor old Granny the way you did has
made everyone like you. And they were getting awfully worked up against
the Forsyths and the Mills. I will admit it seems funny to me--making
such a fuss over such a little thing. I wish--as long as you're all
right now--you had done something real heroic, like jumping into the
river to save someone or going into a burning building."

"Oh, I'd have never had the courage to do _that_," protested Robin,
shuddering.

At that moment the nurse put her head in the door.

"Three minutes are up," she warned.

"Please, can't she stay?" begged Robin, in alarm.

"I must go home, anyway, Robin, to tell mother. You have no idea how
anxious she is--everyone is. People hang around our door. I suppose they
think we have the latest news about you. Well, we have, now. And,
Robin--mother was awfully angry about my--leaving you the way I did. She
begged me to come back, long ago. I'm sorry, now, I didn't. Good-bye,
Robin. I'll be back, tomorrow."

Beryl walked to the village in a deep absorption of thought. Certain
values she had fostered had tumbled about and had to be put in order.
Here were not only hundreds of mill folk making a "fuss" over what Robin
had done, but the household of the Manor as well--old Budge, usually as
adamant as a brick wall, crying! No one loved the heroic more than
Beryl, but to her thinking it lay in a spectacular, and with a dramatic
indifference, risking one's own life for another, not in a little
unnecessary sentimental impulse. When she had heard of what Robin had
done she had declared her "crazy" to go near the Castles, to which her
mother had indignantly replied: "And are you thinking the blessed child
ever thinks of herself at all?" _That_ was the quality, of course, about
Robin that you never guessed from anything she said but that you just
felt. And the Mill people were feeling it now.

Turning these thoughts over and over, Beryl suddenly faced the
disturbing conviction that she was moulding her own young life on very
opposite lines. Tell herself as often as she liked--and it was
often--that she'd had to fight to get everything she had and to keep it,
she knew that it never crossed her mind to ask herself what she was
giving--to Dale, who carried a double burden, to poor big Danny, to her
brave little mother who had sheltered her so valiantly from the
coarsening things about her that she might keep "fine" and have "fine"
things.

The next day the nurse let Robin dress, to poor Harkness' tearful
delight. And Robin, roaming the house as though she had returned to it
from a long absence, found, indeed, the change she had prophesied. For
Mrs. Budge, in strangely genial mood, was fussily preparing more
delectable invalid dishes than a dozen convalescing Susies or well
Robins could possibly eat.

One little cloud, however, shadowed Budge's relief. She wished she
hadn't sent the letter to the lawyer-man. "If I'd remembered how my
grandmother always said to look out for the written word, and held my
tongue," she mourned and so complete was her transformation that she
forgot she had written that letter while in full pursuit of her duty to
the Forsyths--as she had seen it then.

Upon this new order of things Cornelius Allendyce arrived, unheralded,
and very tired from a long journey. Budge's letter had been forwarded to
him at Miami where he had been pleasantly recuperating from his siege of
sciatica. It had disturbed him tremendously, and he had spent the long
hours on the railroad train upbraiding himself for his neglect of his
ward. The conditions at which Budge had clumsily hinted grew more
serious as he thought of them, until he found himself wondering if
perhaps he ought not to smuggle his little ward back to her fifth-floor
home before Madame discovered the havoc she had made of the Forsyth
traditions.

Outwardly, the Manor appeared the same, to the lawyer's intense relief.
Within, the most startling change seemed the laughing voices that
floated out to him from the library. Harkness took his coat and hat and
bag a little excitedly and with repeated nods toward the library.

"Miss Robin'll be mighty glad to see you, I'm sure; but she has a lydy
guest for dinner."

"The man actually acts as though I had no right to come unannounced,"
thought Cornelius Allendyce.

Robin met him with a rush and a glad little cry. "I thought you were
never, _never_ coming! I'm so glad. But why didn't you send us word? I
want you to know Beryl's mother and Beryl. They're my best friends. And,
oh, I have _so_ much to tell you!"

"Mrs. Lynch!" A line of Budge's letter flashed across the man's mind,
yet he found himself talking to a gentle-faced woman with grave eyes and
a tender, merry mouth. And Beryl (whom Budge had called "that young
person") did not seem at all coarse or unwholesome. He did not notice
that the clothes both wore were simple and inexpensive--he only
registered the impression that the mother seemed quiet and refined and
the girl had a frank honesty in her face that was most pleasing.

Robin, indeed, had so much to tell him that he made no effort to get
"head or tail" to it; rather he lost himself in wonder at the change in
his little ward. This spirited, assured young person could not be the
same little thing he had left months ago. She'd actually grown, too.

He laughed at Robin's description of the desertion of Percival Tubbs.

"Poor man, I guess I'd driven him crazy, anyway. I simply couldn't learn
the lessons he gave me. But, oh, I haven't wasted my time, truly, for
I've gotten more out of these precious books here than I ever got out
of school. Guardian dear, _they've_ made me grow. I don't think my
pretend stories any more, either. I can't seem to, for everything about
me is so real and so big and so--so important." Robin imparted this
information with a serious note in her voice--as though she feared her
guardian might be sorry that she had put her childish "pretends" behind
her.

"Dear me," he said, "then we won't know whether you meet the Prince in
the last chapter and live happily ever after? You _have_ grown up; I
can't get used to it."

Robin blushed furiously at this and changed the subject lest her
guardian could glimpse under her flaming hair and guess the one pretty
"pretend" she still cherished.

While the girls were upstairs Mrs. Lynch told Cornelius Allendyce the
story of Susy, and Robin's visit to the old house. She told it simply
but in its every detail so that Robin's guardian could follow it very
closely. He listened, with his eyes dropped to the rug at his feet, and
for a few moments he kept them there, so that Mrs. Lynch wondered if he
were angry. Then suddenly he looked at her and a smile broke over his
face.

"Our little girl's letting down a few barriers, isn't she?" he asked,
and Mrs. Lynch, understanding him with her quick instinct, nodded with
bright eyes.

"Ah, 'tis true as true what my old Father Murphy once said to me--that
wealth is what you give, not what you get!"

The most amazing thing to the lawyer in the new order was the cheerful
importance, and the new geniality of Hannah Budge. Accustomed as he was,
from long acquaintance with the family, to her sour nature, he caught
himself watching her now in a sort of unbelief. He understood her
attentiveness to his comfort when she touched his arm and begged a word
with him.

"It's about that letter," she whispered, her eyes rolling around for any
possible eavesdropper. "I'll ask you not to tell Miss Gordon nor Timothy
Harkness. I'm old and new ways are new ways but I'll serve Miss Gordon
as I've always served the Forsyths."

A dignity in the old housekeeper's surrender touched Cornelius
Allendyce. He patted her shoulder and told her not to worry about the
letter; to be sure it had spoiled a rather nice golf match but he ought
to have run up to Wassumsic long before.

"The little girl I found isn't such a bad Forsyth, after all?" he could
not resist asking her, however. But Harkness, appearing at that moment,
spared Mrs. Budge the unaccustomed humiliation of admitting she had been
wrong.

After dinner Robin persuaded her guardian to walk with them to the
village while they escorted "Mother Lynch" home, and then stop at the
House of Laughter. There, Beryl lighted the lamps and Robin led a tour
of inspection through the rooms, telling her guardian as they went, of
her beautiful plans and their failure. At a warning sign from Beryl she
regretfully left out the generous contribution of their mysterious Queen
of Altruria. Most of the furniture, she explained, had come from the
Manor garrets.

While they were talking a knock sounded at the door. Robin opened it to
find Sophie Mack and three companions standing on the threshold.

"Mrs. Lynch said she thought you were up here," Sophie explained,
awkwardly. "We're getting up a social club and we want to know if you'll
let us meet here."

"Of course you can meet here!" Robin made no effort to control the
surprise in her voice. "That's what this little house is for."

"Maybe you'll join, sometime. As an honorary member or something like
that--" one of Sophie's companions broke in.

"Oh, I'd love to."

"We want to pay, you know," persisted Sophie.

"Of course--anything you--think you can."

The girls, refusing Robin's invitation to go into the cottage, turned
and went back to the village. Robin closed the door and leaned against
it with a long-drawn breath of delight.

"Guardian dear, _that's_ the beginning. Dale's right--they'll use it,
if I let them pay. Why are you laughing at me?"

Cornelius Allendyce's face sobered. He drew the girl to him.

"I'm not laughing. I'm only marvelling at the leaps and bounds with
which your education has gone forward. Some people die at an old age
without acquiring one smallest part of the human understanding you are
learning through these--notions--of yours."

Robin made a little face. "Notions! Beryl calls them 'crazy ideas.'
_Someone else_ called them an 'experiment.' Dear Mother Lynch is the
_only_ one who really believes in what I want to do. You see, I just
want the people here to think that a Forsyth cares whether they're happy
or not. Dale says I didn't start right and maybe I didn't--but
anyway--"--She nodded toward the door as though Sophie might still be on
the threshold, "_they're_ a beginning!"

Her guardian did not answer this and looked so strange that Robin went
no further in her confidences. Perhaps something had displeased him, she
must wait until some other time to tell him about Dale and his model and
her visit to Frank Norris.

Back in the library, before the crackling fire, Robin begged Beryl to
play for her guardian.

"She's wonderful," she whispered while Beryl was getting the violin.
"She makes you feel all funny inside."

Beryl stood in the shadow and played. Robin, watching her guardian,
thrilled with satisfaction when the man's face betrayed that he, too,
felt "all funny inside" under the magic of Beryl's bow.

"Come here, my girl," he commanded when Beryl stopped. He bent a
searching look upon her. "Come here and sit down and tell me about
yourself."

"Didn't I say she's wonderful?" chirped Robin, triumphantly.

The lawyer's adroit questioning brought out Beryl's story--of the simple
home in the tenement from which her mother shut out all that was
coarsening and degrading, stirring her child's mind and her tastes with
dreams she persistently cherished against disheartening odds; of the
Belgian musician who had first taught her small fingers and fired her
ambitions for only the best in the art; of school and the lessons she
devoured because she craved knowledge and the advantages of possessing
it.

"How long have you lived here?"

"We came last summer. Dale wanted to work where there were machines and
he got a job in the Forsyth Mills."

"You are planning to go back to New York and study?"

Beryl's face clouded. "Sometime. But I can't until I earn the money, and
it takes such a lot."

"Yes, and courage, too," added the lawyer softly, as though he were
speaking to himself.

Beryl abruptly lifted her violin from her lap to put it in the case. As
she did so, its head caught in the string of green beads which, in
honor of the occasion, she was wearing. The slender cord that held them
snapped and the pretty beads scattered over the floor.

"Oh, dear!" cried Beryl, dismayed, dropping to her knees to find them.

Robin helped her search and in a few moments they had gathered them all.

"They're only beads but they're very old and a keepsake," Beryl
explained, in apology for her moment's alarm.

"They're pretty and they're darling on you!"

"A wonderful color." The lawyer took one and examined it. "If you care
for them you'd better let me take them back to New York with me and have
them strung on a wire that will not break."

"Oh, let him, Beryl. And he can have a good clasp put on. You know you
said that clasp was poor."

Beryl hesitated a moment. Ought she to tell him the beads were her
mother's and that her mother prized them dearly? No, he might laugh at
anyone's caring a fig about just plain beads. She took the envelope
Robin brought her, dropped the beads into it, sealed it, and gave it to
Robin's guardian.

Cornelius Allendyce slept little that night. He laid it to the extreme
quiet of the hills; in reality his head whirled with the amazing
impressions that had been forced upon him.

"Extraordinary!" he muttered, staring at the night light. And he
repeated it again and again; once, when he thought of the little
woman, Mrs. Lynch, with the dreaming eyes which seemed to see beyond
things. What was the absurd thing she had said? "'Tis what you give and
not what you get is wealth." Extraordinary! And where had Robin picked
up these notions concerning the Mill people? And her House of
What-did-she-call-it? There was considerable significance about it.
Uncanny, downright uncanny, though, for a girl her age to have such a
far-reaching vision. Probably the child didn't realize, herself. Well,
there was Jeanne d'Arc, and others, too, he pondered, hazily. And this
talented girl Robin had found--a most unusual girl, who'd grown up in a
tenement like a flower among weeds, yes, he'd seen such flowers growing
amid rankest vegetation! She was not unlike Robin, herself. His mind
circled to Robin's own little fifth-floor nest and the horrible odors of
that dark stairway. Strange, extraordinary, that these two lives had
crossed. "This world's a queer world!" Both girls brought up in a
poverty that denied them all those jolly sort of advantages young girls
liked, and yet each sheltered by a mother's great love from the things
in poverty that coarsen and hurt. "Aye, a mother's love," and the little
lawyer thought of "Mother Lynch" with something very akin to reverence;
and of Jimmie, too, poor Jimmie, who, in his stumbling, mistaken way,
had tried to give a mother's love to Robin.

But suddenly the man aroused from his absorbed philosophizing and sat
bolt upright in bed. All right to think about letting down
barriers--whose barriers were they? Proud old Madame loved those
barriers--and she'd never accept, as Budge had, what Budge called the
"new ways." What then? "There'll be a reckoning--"

With a sharp little exclamation of annoyance the distraught guardian
drew his watch from under his pillow and held it to the tiny shaft of
light. "Half-past-one!" Well, he did not need to cross that bridge until
he came to it! He dug his tired head into his pillow and went to sleep
to dream of Madame Forsyth and Robin and Jeanne d'Arc sitting in a
social club at the House of Laughter.



CHAPTER XXI

AT THE GRANGER MILLS


"I really think, little Miss Robin, that you ought to go."

"Why, I should think you'd be _crazy_ to go!"

"If I may be so bold's to remind you, the man is waiting for an answer."

Robin looked from her guardian's face to Beryl's to Harkness'.

"You're all conspiring against me, I do believe!" she cried. "I'll go if
you say I ought to, but I just hate to. I don't want to meet the young
people, there. And I'm dreadfully afraid of Mrs. Granger since Susy
spoiled her dress."

"Mrs. Granger was one of your Aunt Mathilde's closest friends--until the
death of young Christopher. Then, in the strange mood your aunt
encouraged, she let the intimacy drop. I've often wondered if the
Grangers did not resent that. You have an opportunity now, Robin, to
restore the old terms between the two families, so that when your--aunt
returns she will find the old tie awaiting her."

Robin stared, wide-eyed, at her guardian. It was the first time he had
spoken of her aunt's return.

"When is my aunt coming back? Do you know I never _think_ of her coming
back? Isn't that dreadful? I know she won't like me--"

"Don't let's worry about that now," broke in Cornelius Allendyce with
suspicious haste. And Harkness, standing stiffly by the table, waiting
instructions, fell suddenly to rearranging the books and magazines which
had been in perfect order.

Mrs. Granger's chauffeur had brought a note to the Manor asking Robin to
make them a few days' visit during the coming week. "My son and daughter
have some young people here and you will find it a lively change from
the quiet of your aunt's."

Robin used her last argument. "But you've only been here for a few days,
guardian dear. And there's a _lot_ more I want to tell you--oh, that's
very important."

"Can't it wait until I come again? I'd have to go back to New York
tomorrow, my dear, anyway. Come, this little visit of yours is as
necessary to your education as a Forsyth as any of Mr. Tubbs' tiresome
lessons. And then, as I said, you can win back my lady Granger's
affection."

"Well, I'll go," cried Robin, in such a miserable voice that Beryl gave
her a little shake.

Beryl saw in the visit all kinds of adventure. First, Robin must keep
her eyes open and determine whether Miss Alicia Granger still mourned
for young Christopher or whether she was faithless to his memory. Then
there'd be the young people, probably from New York, with all kinds of
new clothes and new slang and new stories of that happy whirl in which
Beryl fancied all young people of wealth lived. And then there was the
son, Tom. And Robin could wear the white and silver georgette dress.

"I wish it were you going instead of me," Robin mourned, not at all
encouraged by Beryl's enthusiasm. "You're so tall and pretty, Beryl, and
can always think of things to say."

There shone, however, one bright ray in all the gloom--the Granger home,
Harkness had said, was only a mile from the Granger Mills. Adam Kraus
and Dale had spoken of the Granger Mills as though they were almost
perfect. She wanted to see them, at least, on the outside.

With a heart so heavy that she scarcely noticed the sheen of soft green
with which the early spring had dressed the hills, Robin arrived at
Wyckham, the Granger home, at tea time. She was only conscious of a
wide, low door, level with the bricked terrace, flanked by stone seats;
that this door opened and revealed a circle of merry-voiced young people
gathered around a great fireplace. As the impressive under-butler took
her bags from Williams one of the group rose quickly and came toward
her. She was very tall and slender with an oval-shaped face and a
prominent nose like Mrs. Granger's. Robin knew she was Miss Alicia. She
answered something unintelligible to Miss Alicia's informal greeting and
let herself be drawn into the circle.

There were four girls, ranging in age anywhere from sixteen to
twenty--three very pretty, obviously conscious of their modish garments
and wanting everyone else to be conscious of them, too; another, Rosalyn
Crane, tall and tanned and strong in limb and shoulder, with frank dark
eyes and red lips which smiled and displayed regular, gleaming-white
teeth. Robin liked her best, and Rosalyn Crane felt this and promptly
tucked Robin under her wing.

For the next several hours life moved forward for Robin at such a
dizzying pace that she felt as though she were sitting apart from her
body and watching her flesh-and-bones do things they had never dreamed
of doing before; the noisy tea-circle, the room she shared with the nice
girl, the casual welcome from Mrs. Granger, the georgette and silver
dress and the silver slippers that matched, the beautiful drawing room
so alive with color and jollity, the long table gleaming with crystal
and silver, the voices, voices, (everyone's but hers) the bare shoulders
and the bright eyes and the red, red cheeks, the Japanese servants,
velvet-footed, the big, hot-house strawberries, music and dancing,
(everyone dancing but her) and then, at last, bed.

Out of the whirl stood two pleasant moments: one when Mr. Granger had
spoken to her, the other--Tom.

Mr. Granger had a kind face, all criss-crossed with fine lines that
curved up when he smiled. He patted her on the shoulder and said: "A
Forsyth girl, eh?" and made Robin feel that he liked her. And she was
not afraid of him and answered easily and not in the tongue-tied way she
spoke to Miss Alicia and her friends.

And Tom Granger looked like his father. He had a jolly way of talking,
too, and talked mostly to Rosalyn Crane. He had sat between her and
Robin at dinner and had made Robin feel quite comfortable by acting as
though they were old acquaintances and did not need to keep up a fire of
banter like the others.

The next morning Robin came downstairs to find the house deserted except
for the noiseless butlers who stared at her as though she were some
strange freak. Apparently no one stirred before noon, for Tom, coming in
from the garage, greeted her with a pleasant: "Say, you're an early
bird, aren't you?" and then directed one of the butlers to bring her
some breakfast in the sun-room.

"_You've_ got some sense. Al's crowd will miss half of this glorious
day!" he commented, leading Robin into a glass-enclosed room, in the
centre of which splashed a jolly fountain.

Tom sat with her while she ate the breakfast the Jap brought on a
lacquered tray. He kept up a fire of breezy talk just as though she were
the nice Rosalyn Crane. It was mostly about the baseball nine at
Hotchkiss, of which he was manager, and the new golf holes and an
inter-school swimming match and such things, concerning which poor
Robin knew nothing, but he was so boyish and jolly that Robin did not
feel in the least shy or awkward.

"Say, don't you want to go with me while I try out my new car? The road
toward Cornwall is good and I've bet that I can get her up to sixty.
Great morning, too. Are you game?"

Robin felt game for anything that would take her away from Miss Alicia's
friends--except Rosalyn. Tom took her back to the garage and tucked her
into half of the low seat and climbed in beside her.

For the next two hours they tore back and forth over the Cornwall road
at a pace that caught Robin's breath in her throat. Occasionally Tom
talked, but most of the time he bent over the wheel, his eyes on the
road ahead with a frenzied challenge in them, as though the innocent
stretch of macadam was prey for his vengeance.

Just outside of the town he slowed the car down to a snail's pace.

"Some baby, isn't she?" he asked and at Robin's perplexed eyes he went
off into rollicking laughter. "Why she _eats_ the road! Dad said I
couldn't get it out of her. I'll tell the world. Whew!"

Robin sat forward, suddenly alert.

"Are those the Mills?"

"Yep."

They were not so very unlike the Forsyth Mills--brick walls, dust, dirt,
smoke, towering chimneys, and noise, noise. But beyond them and the
river were rows of neat little white cottages, each with a yard, already
green.

"Best mills in New England. But Dad's prouder of his model village--as
Mother calls those cottages over there--than of his profit sheet. And
look at the school--Dad wanted a school good enough for his own son and
daughter, but Mother wouldn't let us go. I wish she had--I'll bet
there's enough good batting material right in this town to whip every
nine in this part of the country. There's Dad's library, too--"

But Robin did not heed the direction of his nod. She had suddenly seen
something that made her heart leap into her throat; Adam Kraus walking
into the office building carrying the square box with the leather
handles, which she knew contained Dale's model. He was taking it to Mr.
Granger.

A panic gripped Robin. She must do something to save that model for the
Forsyth Mills--she did not know just what, but _something_--

"Stop, oh, stop. Couldn't I see your--father? I'd _like_ to."

Tom looked puzzled, but good-naturedly turned the car. Robin climbed out
with amazing speed.

"Take me to his office, oh, _please_ take me," she begged, with such
earnestness that Tom wondered if she'd gone "clean dotty."

Inside the office building there was no sign of Adam Kraus, for the
reason, though Robin did not know it, that it was his second visit; he
was there by appointment, and he had used a stairway that led directly
to Mr. Granger's office, while Tom took Robin through the main office
where a neatly dressed girl blocked their way.

Mr. Granger was busy but the young lady could wait, this efficient young
person informed them, quite indifferent to the fact that she addressed
Thomas Granger and Gordon Forsyth. And Robin walked into an enclosure,
half consulting room, half waiting room, and sat down with fast beating
heart, upon a leather and mahogany chair.

"I'll wait out here 'til you see Dad," Tom told her, to her relief, and
she heard him telling one of the clerks how his "baby" could make sixty
as easy--

Suddenly Robin took in other voices, one deep, one soft and drawling. A
door at the end of the room stood half-open. She leaned toward it,
alertly listening.

"And you say this invention is your own, Kraus? Have you your patents?"

"My applications have all gone in and I have some of the patents. Yes,
sir, it's my own."

"Doran reported very favorably. With one or two changes--suppose we find
Doran, now." There came the sound of a chair scraping backward. "Oh, the
model will be quite safe here. I want Doran to point out one or two
things on our new loom. It will only take a moment. Then we'll bring
him back here."

Oh, would they come out through the waiting-room--thought Robin,
shrinking back. And what had Adam Kraus said?

But Mr. Granger had opened another door--Robin heard it close. She
stepped noiselessly toward that half-open door at the end of the room.
Her head was clear, her heart atingle.

He, Adam Kraus, had _dared_ to say the invention was his! The wicked
man, the traitor--to betray Dale's trust, his friendship!

The office was quite empty. And on the big desk, amid a litter of papers
and letters and books and ledgers, stood the little model in its clumsy
box.

Robin caught it up and held it close to her, defiantly. She snatched a
pencil and scrawled a few lines on the back of an envelope, then she
tiptoed out into the consulting office and on through the main office.
Tom was waiting at the end of the room. It seemed to Robin as though
hundreds of eyes accused her; in reality only a few lifted from the work
of the day to stare at the young girl Tom Granger had brought to see his
father. And if anyone wondered why she carried the queer box, no one of
them was likely to presume to question any friend of the Grangers.

"Did y'see Dad?" But Tom, to Robin's relief, took that for granted and
turned back to his acquaintance among the clerks.

"I'll take you out with me and _prove_ it to you!"

Robin wanted to beg Tom to run but she did not dare. He asked to carry
the box and she let him, for fear, if she refused, he might suspect
something. Queer shivers raced up and down her spine and a dreadful
sinking feeling attacked her heart and dragged at her throat so that she
could scarcely speak.

He helped her into the car and climbed in himself. He leisurely
experimented with the gears, until Robin almost screamed in her anxiety.
Then just as he started the motor, a shout hailed them from the office
door, and both turned to see Adam Kraus tearing down the steps
bareheaded, wildly waving his arms, followed by a half-dozen clerks and
Mr. Granger, himself.

"Go! _Go!_" implored Robin, catching his arm, and so frightened rang her
voice that Tom instinctively obeyed and stepped on the accelerator with
such force that the car shot forward. "Oh, _faster! Faster!_" she
sobbed. "_He's coming._" A backward glance had told her that Adam Kraus
intended to give chase; still bareheaded, he had jumped into a Ford
standing in the road.

"Well, I don't know what we're running away from, but my baby can give
anything on wheels a good go-by!" laughed Tom, his eyes keen. He leaned
over the wheel, his face fixed on the road with its "eat-her-up"
tensity.

They turned into the Cornwall road. At a rise Robin saw the other car
with its bareheaded driver tearing after them.

"Oh, he's coming," she moaned, sinking down into the seat.

"Say, Miss Forsyth----I'm keen----on--running----away--but
what--the--deuce--from? Who's that----fellow----following--us----why are
you----afraid?" He flung the words jerkily, sideways, at Robin.

"I'll tell you--afterwards," Robin gasped back. The wind whistled past
her, she lost her hat. She crouched in her seat, her hands clinging
tightly to the box, her head turned as though expecting their pursuer to
overtake them any moment.

Suddenly Tom frowned. At the same time the engine gave a grating
"b-r-r-r."

"Oh, what is it?"

"Oil's getting low----Bad----" she caught in answer. "Pulling
some----I'll----fool him, though--" He slowed down.

"Don't--" implored Robin.

"We'll turn down this road. _He'll_ go straight on. Clever, eh? Say, I
wouldn't have guessed you had all this spunk in you!" he took the time
to say, casting her an admiring glance.

He made the turn and the "baby" ploughed through the soft rough road at
a perilous clip. The road wound through thickly wooded hills, up and
down, apparently leading to nowhere.

Suddenly it twisted up a long hill. Tom's car climbed easily, slackening
its speed for a few moments at the top. Turning, Robin could make out
the course over which they had come and, to her horror, the little car
plunging over it.

"Look--_look!_" she cried.

"Well, I'll be--blowed!" Tom Granger stared as though he could not
believe his eyes. "He saw the marks of my new tires, I guess. He's a
sharp one. Cheer up--we're not caught yet." He increased the speed; they
tore down the slope in breakneck haste.

But, in the hollow, the car slopped out of the muddy ruts, gave a
sickening lurch sidewise and dropped with a jolt into mud to the axles.

His face white with excitement Tom Granger tore at the gears, tried to
go back, to go forward, but in vain. And, presently, they both heard the
distant throb of a motor.

Robin jumped down from the car, hugging her box. "I'll run. Good-bye,
Tom, thank you _so_ much!" She was far too excited to realize the
familiar way in which she had addressed him. She had cleared the ditch
and stood on the fringe of the deep woods.

"I'll tell you sometime--about it!" she flung to him.
"I'm--not--stealing! That man--will know--" and she disappeared among
the leafing undergrowth.

"Well, I'll--be--Oh, I _say_, Miss Forsyth, don't--" But the boy's
attention, quite naturally, turned to meet the enemy, who at that moment
appeared over the crest of the hill.



CHAPTER XXII

THE GREEN BEADS


Beryl waved Robin off to the Granger's with a forced cheerfulness. Left
alone, she sat in the room she shared with Robin and stared unhappily at
the disarray left from the frenzied packing and unpacking.

Nothing exciting like going off to a house-party of young people with
two bags full of lovely clothes would ever, _ever_ happen to her!

In fact _nothing_ exciting would ever happen. She'd just go on and on
wanting things all her life.

She did not envy Robin, for Robin was such a dear no one could ever envy
her, but she wished she could have just _some_ of the chances Robin
had--and did not appreciate. She straightened. Oh, with just one of
Robin's dresses, couldn't she sail into that drawing room at Wyckham and
hold her own with the proudest of them? Mrs. Granger and the haughty
Alicia had no terrors for _her_, and if they tried to snub her, she'd
put her violin under her chin and then--

The peal of the doorbell reverberated through the quiet house. Beryl
heard Harkness' slow step, as he went to the door; then it climbed the
stairs and stopped outside of Robin's room.

"Miss Beryl--a telegram."

"For me?" Beryl drew back. She had never received a telegram in her life
and the yellow envelope frightened her.

"The boy said as to sign here."

Beryl wrote her name mechanically in letters that zigzagged crazily.
Harkness lingered while she tore open the envelope, concern struggling
with curiosity on his face.

"It's from Robin's guardian. He--he wants--oh, Harkness, am I reading
_right_? He says I must come to New York at _once_--tonight, if I can.
He'll meet me--it's _extremely_ important. Why, Harkness, what in the
world has happened? It doesn't sound awful, does it? Did you ever know
of anything so mysterious in your life?"

Harkness never had. He read the telegram with brows drawn together.

"Mebbe they left out something," he suggested, turning the sheet and
scrutinizing its back.

"Well, I'll _have_ to go." Beryl's voice betrayed her deep excitement.
"I _can_ catch the evening train. Oh, Harkness, how often I've watched
that go out and wished I was on it! And now I'm going to be. I'm going
to New York! Harkness, be a _dear_ and hurry some dinner, will you? I'll
pack. And oh, will you take a note to mother for me? I'll not have time
to stop. Or wait--I won't tell her I'm going until I know what it's
for--she'd worry. Isn't that best?"

"Yes, that's best. I'll get you some nice dinner, don't you fret. And
Joe'll take you down to the station in the truck, he will, for like as
not he'll be meetin' the train anyways for his wife's niece who lives
Boston way. She's a-goin' to help Joe's wife--"

"Oh, that'll be _nice_. But please hurry, Harkness. That boy's waiting
for his book. And I can't think."

Two hours later Beryl sat upright on the plush seat of the evening
train, her old suitcase at her feet packed with every garment she
possessed.

"This is more fun than all your old house-parties," she apostrophized
the black square of window, which dimly reflected her glowing face. Then
she lost herself in a delicious "I wonder" as to why she had been
summoned so mysteriously to New York.

Cornelius Allendyce and Miss Effie met her at the end of her wonderful
journey, no part of which had wearied her in the least, and their
smiling faces put at rest the tiny misgiving that had persisted that she
might be walking into some sort of a scheme to separate her from Robin.

"I am glad you got my telegram in time to catch tonight's train. I've
made an important appointment for you tomorrow morning with a friend of
mine." But not another word concerning the mystery would the lawyer say.
Both he and his sister went about with a queer smile, and treated Beryl
as fond (and rich) parents might a good child on Christmas Eve.

The next morning Miss Effie started the two of them off for the
"appointment" with a fluttery excitement bordering on hysteria.

"You'll think, my dear, you've rubbed Aladdin's lamp," she whispered to
Beryl, patting down the neat white collar of Beryl's coat.

Beryl thought of her words when she followed Mr. Allendyce through a
long dim room, crowded with treasures of fabric and ceramic, rich in
coloring, fragrant of oriental perfumes.

"He's a collector," Cornelius Allendyce explained, nodding sideways and
hurrying on to a room in the back, as though their errand had nothing to
do with the curious things about them.

"Ah, there, Eugene, we're here! Miss Lynch, this is Eugene Dominez,
known to two continents as that rare specimen, an honest collector; to
me, the only man I can't beat at chess!"

A very small man rose from a great carved chair. He had a thin, leathery
face with an exaggerated nose, stretched out as though from sniffing for
curios in dusty dim corners. When he smiled his eyes shut and his mouth
twisted until he looked like a jolly little gnome.

"Ah-ha! You admit you cannot beat me!" He spoke with a soft accent. "And
this is the little lady who owns the green beads." And he peered closely
at Beryl.

The green beads! She had not thought of them once.

"Sit down. Sit down. I will ask you to tell me a story. Then I will tell
_you_ a story. First, my dear young lady, tell me where you found the
beads?" As he spoke, he drew open a drawer, and took from it the
envelope Robin had given to her guardian.

Beryl answered briefly, for the simple reason that she found difficulty
managing her tongue.

"An--an old priest--back in Ireland--gave them--to us. He'd found them
in an antique shop in London."

"Ah, so! Just so! So! So!" crowed the gnome-like man, jumping up and
down in his great chair. "Now I will tell _you_ a story."

"Once upon a time, as you say, a beautiful Queen of the fifteenth
century, while travelling through a forest, came upon a roving band of
gypsies. So great was her beauty that the gypsy chief gave to her a
necklace of precious jade, upon each bead of which had been tooled a
crown, so infinitesimal as to be seen only through a strong lens. The
chief told the fair Queen that the necklace brought good fortune to
whosoever possessed it. But so proud was the young Queen of the precious
beads and the good fortune that was to be hers that she boasted of them
to her Court and aroused the envy of many until a knave among her
courtiers stole them from her. For generations these beads, the
workmanship of a Magyar artisan, have passed from owner to owner,
always mysteriously, for, because of the good fortune they had power to
bestow, no one parted with them except from the most dire necessity, and
only lost them through theft. Ah," he held up one of the glowing green
globes, "the stories they could tell of greed and dishonor and cunning!
The lies that have been told for them! And an old priest found them at
last! It is many years since there has been any trace." He stared at
Beryl as though to see through her into the past. Then he roused quickly
and shook his shoulders. "They have hung about the necks of crowned
people, good people--and wicked people. Perhaps they have brought good
fortune--as the Magyar chieftain said they would. Who knows? You, my
dear--you are a girl with a sensible head on a pair of straight
shoulders--tell me, do you care more for the superstition of this
necklace--than for the money I will pay you for it--say, fifteen
thousand dollars?"

Beryl stood up so suddenly that her chair tumbled backward, making a
crashing noise in the subdued stillness of the little room.

"Are you joking?" she asked in a queer, choky voice.

"No, he is not joking. And I told you he is known the world over as an
honest collector," broke in Cornelius Allendyce.

"Fifteen--thousand--dollars! Why, that's an _awfully_ big amount, isn't
it?" Beryl appealed helplessly to the lawyer. "Why--of _course_ I'll
sell it--if you're sure it's what you think it is. I--I don't want--"

The little collector handed her one of the beads and a strong magnifying
glass. "Look!" he commanded. Beryl obeyed. There, quite plainly, she
made out a tiny crown.

She laughed hysterically. "I see it! I thought that was a scratch. I
never noticed it was on every one. Oh, how queer! A queen wore these!"
She rolled the bead slowly in the palm of her hand. Then she handed it
back. "But I'd much rather have the money than the beads even if a dozen
queens wore them." Her sound practicalness rang harshly in the exotic
atmosphere of the room.

"I explained to Mr. Dominez your situation--and your ambition,"
Cornelius Allendyce put in almost apologetically.

"Mr. Allendyce will represent you in this deal, Miss Lynch, if you care
to think the sale over. However, I am giving you a final offer. You are
young and--"

Beryl reached out both hands with childish impulsiveness. "Oh, I want
the money _now!_ I want to spend it. I want--oh, you don't _know_ all I
want--" She stopped abruptly, confused by the smiles on both men's
faces.

"Mr. Dominez will give you a partial payment in cash and the rest I will
deposit in the bank to your credit," explained Cornelius Allendyce.
"You need not feel ashamed of your excitement, my dear; fortune like
this does not come often to anyone. It's hard, indeed, not to believe
that the little beads _have_ magic."

"I'm dreaming. I'm just _plain dreaming_ and I'll wake up in a minute
and find I'm Beryl Lynch, poor as ever!" Beryl whispered to herself as
she followed Robin's guardian out into the sunshine of the street. She
felt of her bulging pocketbook, into which she had put the roll of bills
the little collector had smilingly given her, and which Robin's guardian
had counted over, quite seriously. It felt real but it just _couldn't_
be true--

"Now where, my dear? You ought to make this day one you'll never
forget."

"Don't I have to go right back to Wassumsic? Oh, then--then--can I go to
see Jacques Henri and tell him? I know the way--I can take the Ninth
Avenue Elevated--or--Would it be _very_ foolish if I took a taxi?" Beryl
colored furiously.

"Not at all, Miss Beryl, not at all. Take the taxi and keep it there to
return to my house; then you and Miss Effie put your heads together and
decide just what you want to do first with your money."

Beryl rejoiced that it was a nice shiny taxi, quite like a real lady's
car. She sniffed delightedly the leathery smell, sat bolt upright with
her chin in the air.

"Go straight down Fifth Avenue," she instructed the driver.

Spring, with its eternal sorcery, caressed the great city. Its spell
threw a sheen over the drab things Beryl remembered so well, the brick
schoolhouse, the Settlement, the dirty narrow street flanked by
dull-brown tenements with their endless fire escapes mounting higher and
higher, hung now with bedding of every color. The street swarmed with
children returning from school, and they gathered about the automobile
climbing on to the running board on either side and peering through the
windows.

"It's the Lynch girl," someone cried and another answered jeeringly.

"Aw, git off! Wot she doin' in this swell autymobile?"

Beryl did not mind in the least the street urchins; even though she had
lived among them, neither she nor Dale had ever been of them, thanks to
her mother's watchful care. She smiled at them and fled into the dark
alley way that led to the court which, all through her childhood, had
been her playground.

As she climbed, a dreadful thought appalled her. What if dear old
Jacques Henri had moved away--or died! But, no, at the very moment she
let the fear halt her climbing step she heard the dear sound of his
violin. She crept to his door and softly opened it.

The old man stood near his window, through which he could see a slit of
blue sky between two walls. On the sill were the pink geraniums he
nursed through winter and summer, their pinkness brightening the gloom
of the bare, dim room. Jacques Henri called them his family.

"Jacques Henri!" Beryl ran to him and threw her strong arms about him.

"Hold! Let me look. My girl? Ah, do my old eyes tell me false things?
No, it's my little Beryl!"

Beryl took his violin from him, kissed its strings lightly and laid it
carefully upon the table. Then she pushed the startled old man back into
the one comfortable chair and perched herself upon its arm.

"Listen, dear Jacques Henri, and I'll tell you the strangest story that
you ever heard--about Queens and gypsies and green beads and a girl you
know. Don't say _one_ word until I'm through." And Beryl told in all its
wonderful detail, the happenings of the morning.

"And don't you see what it means? I can begin to study at _once_! Right
this minute! And, _oh_, how I'll work and practice and learn until--"

She caught up the old man's violin and its bow and drew it across the
strings.

"Play!" commanded Jacques Henri, without so much as a word for the
Aladdin-lamp tale she had told him.

Beryl played and as she played she wished with all her might she could
summon the power that had been hers on Christmas night. She wanted to
play for Jacques Henri as she had played then. But she could not.

"Stop!"

Beryl laid the violin down.

The old man scowled at her until she shifted nervously under his
searching eyes.

"Your fingers--they are clever, your ear is true--but there is
nothing--of _you_--in what you play! Do you know what I mean?"

He did not wait for Beryl to answer; he went on, with a shake of his
great head and his eyes still fixed upon her.

"You come to me and tell me your good fortune and what you will do; how
_you_ can study and _you_ can work and _you_ can learn to make good
music--and you have no word for what that money will mean to your saint
of a mother--aye, the best woman God ever made! Shame to you, selfish
girl, that you should put your ambition before her dreams!"

The color dyed Beryl's face. "I never thought--" she muttered, then
stopped abruptly, ashamed of her own admission.

"No, you never thought! Do you ever think much beyond yourself?" Then,
afraid that he had spoken too harshly, he laid his hand affectionately
upon Beryl's shoulder. "But you are young, my dear, and youth is
careless. Jacques Henri knows that there is good in you--my eyes are
wise and I can see into your heart. It is an honest little heart--you
will heed in time. Ambition is a greedy thing--watch out that you keep
it in your clever head and do not let it wrap its hard sinews about your
heart, crushing all that is beautiful there. Listen to me, child; think
you that your music can reach into the souls of people if you do not
feel that music in your own good soul? Your fingers may be clever and
your body strong, but your music will be cold, cold, if the heart inside
you is a little, cold, mean thing! Many's the one, I grant you, content
to feed the passing plaudits of the crowd, but not the master--he must
go further, he must give of himself to all that they may carry something
beautiful of his gift away in their hearts. _That_ is the master. _That_
is music."

Beryl, always so ready in self-defense, stood mute before the old man's
charge. She had been scolded too often by this dear recluse to resent
it; she had, too, faith in anything he might say.

Then: "You just ought to know Robin," she burst out, irrelevantly, eager
that her old teacher should believe that, even though she might be a
selfish, thoughtless girl herself, she could recognize and respect the
good qualities in others.

"Forgive your old friend if he has hurt you. Go now to your blessed
mother and lay your good fortune at her feet. That I might see her
face!"

"And if she wants to use--_some_ of the money, will you help me?" asked
Beryl, in a meek voice.

"Ah, most surely. And proudly."

Beryl rode back to Miss Erne's in a contritely humble mood.

"I wish there were some sort of medicine one could take to make them
better inside their hearts! I wouldn't care _how_ nasty it tasted," she
mourned, impatient at the long, hard climb that must be hers if she ever
made of herself what her Jacques Henri wanted.

All of Miss Effie's coaxing could not keep Beryl from taking the
afternoon train to Wassumsic.

"I must tell my mother about the beads--at once!" she answered, firmly.



CHAPTER XXIII

ROBIN'S RESCUE


Just as the shrill of the train whistle echoed through the little
valley, Moira Lynch set her lighted lamp in the window. She did not sing
tonight as she performed the customary ceremony, nor had she for many
nights. Her throat seemed too tired, her arms dropped with the weight of
her lamp, a dull little pain at the back of her neck gripped her with a
pulling clutch.

The doctor had told her she was "tired out." She had gone to him very
secretly, lest Dale or big Danny should know and worry. But even to be
"just tired out" was very terrifying to Mother Moira--if her arms and
head and heart failed, who would take care of big Danny and keep a
little home for Dale and watch over Beryl?

With her habitual optimism she tried to laugh away her alarm, but the
pulling ache persisted and her arms trembled under tasks that before had
seemed as nothing. She told herself that it was all her own fault that
her big Danny seemed harder to please, but when, under a particularly
trying moment, she broke down and cried, she knew she was reaching the
end of her endurance.

"Did the train stop?" queried big Danny.

"Sure and it did!" cried Mrs. Moira, trying to throw excitement into
her voice to please the invalid man. Big Danny took childish pleasure in
listening for the incoming and New York-bound trains.

"What's keeping Dale? Prob'bly hanging 'round the Inn!"

Mrs. Moira smothered the quick retort that sprang to her lips in defense
of her boy.

"He'll be here any minute," she said instead, comfortingly. "There he is
now!" Her quick ear had caught a step outside.

Beryl, not Dale, opened the door and confronted them. Suppressed
excitement, impatience, eagerness, an inward disgust of herself for
being a "selfish thing anyway" combined to give Beryl's face such an
unnatural pallor and haggard tensity of expression that big Danny
whirled his chair toward her and Mrs. Lynch caught her hands over her
heart.

"Beryl?" she cried, standing quite still.

Beryl walked to her and very quietly gathered her into her young arms.

"Don't look so scared, Mom, dear. Oh, _don't_ cry! Why, I'm near crying
myself! After I've told you all that has happened I shall just _bawl_.
I'm too dreadfully happy. Sit down here, Mom, and hold my hand tight.
Wait--I must take my things off first."

In a twinkling she had her stage "set" for her surprise. Strangely
stirred herself, she had to gulp once or twice before she could begin
her story. It was difficult to keep it coherent, too, because Mrs.
Moira interrupted her so often with little unnecessary questions.

"Did you really go to New York?"

"And 'twas all night you stayed at the Allendyces themselves?"

Because of her mother's agitation, Beryl abandoned the details with
which she had planned to lead up to the great surprise. She plunged
abruptly to the point of the story.

"Those beads. They _weren't_ just plain beads. They were a precious
necklace made by some queer people, ages and ages ago. _Queens_ have
worn 'em and all sorts of wicked people and they've gone from hand to
hand--I s'pose I ought to say neck to neck--for all these years and
then, suddenly, no one could find them. And Mr. Allendyce's friend--the
collector--gave me _this money_ outright for them and--"

Mrs. Lynch suddenly sprang to furious life. She stood erect, her eyes
flashing, her fingers working in and out, her lips trembling.

"You sold my--_you sold my beads!_ Beryl Lynch, how _dared_ you.
My--my--"

Beryl stared at her. She could not speak for sheer amazement.

"My beads! They--were--the last--thing--I--had that
held--me--to--my--dreams." Her voice died off in a heart-broken whisper
that hurt Beryl to the soul.

"Mother! Mother, _please_ don't. It isn't too late. I can get them
back. I didn't know you cared, don't you see?"

Beryl of course did not know about the pulling ache at the back of
Mother Moira's neck or she would have understood that her mother's
hysteria was due partly to that. She had never seen her mother look so
queer and old and pale and it frightened her.

Mrs. Lynch crossed the room until she stood behind Danny's chair.
Involuntarily her hand moved to his shoulder.

"No, you wouldn't know. It isn't your fault. Of course it's just beads
they were, but they belonged to the young part of me when my heart was
that light and full of beautiful dreams and so strong that it hurt the
inside of me. And nothing in this world was too fine for the likes of my
Danny and me. And we thought 'twas just ours for the asking. And then
when the clouds come--" her hand pressed big Danny's shoulder ever so
lightly, "I told myself the dreams were my own and no one could _take
them_ away from me and if I couldn't make them come true, as true for
himself and me, sure, I'd keep them for my boy and girl. And 'twas the
beads were like a dear voice out of the past telling me to be strong,
for Father Murphy, with the saints in Heaven now, God rest him, gave
them to me himself with his blessing and saying might my dreams come
true! Ah, well--sure it's a punishment, maybe, for me wanting things
just for my own--"

"Mother!" broke in Beryl, sternly. "As if you could be punished for
anything! Will you tell me one thing? Which would you rather have--those
beads--or--or--a nice little farm in the hills with a cow and chickens
and pigs and a little orchard and--and a Ford--and a girl to do the
cooking so's you could stay with Pop, and Dale studying engineering in
some college, if he wanted to, and me--"

"Beryl Lynch, are ye crazy?" cried big Danny, suspecting that the girl
was in someway trying to mock her mother.

"_No_, I'm not crazy, though I ought to be, with old Jacques Henri
scolding me and now mother--" She bit her lip childishly. "Will you
please just answer me, mother?"

"A farm--with a garden--and a cow--and trees and a good stretch of the
green meadow--ah, sure I'd think it a bit of Heaven."

"Mother, you can have it! You can have it!" Beryl rushed to and knelt by
big Danny's chair. "That's what I was trying to tell you. That man will
give you fifteen thousand dollars for those beads! Really, truly. See,
he gave me all this money today. And Mr. Allendyce will put the rest in
the bank. Oh, I know it's hard to believe but it's true. You can ask Mr.
Allendyce."

Big Danny, with trembling hands, took the roll of bills from Beryl's
purse. They were undisputable proof of her story.

"Moira girl, 'tis true!" Big Danny's voice trembled.

"'Tis Father Murphy's blessing," whispered Mrs. Lynch, a strange light
in her eyes. "May I be worthy of it!" Then she roused and laughed, a
tinkling laugh. "Ah--my girl shall have her music, now! Oh, it's too
wonderful."

"Where's Dale?" cried Beryl, her heart jubilant that the unexpected
crisis had passed. "Won't he be surprised?"

"What ever can be keeping the boy? 'Tis long past the hour."

"Now, mother, don't you begin a-worrying. Dale's old enough to look
after himself."

"It's a fussing old hen I am, as true as true!" And because once more
her heart was so light inside of her that it hurt, she kissed her big
Danny on the top of his head.

"I wish Dale would come. I ought to go back to the Manor. Harkness is
probably worrying his head off over my strange visit to New York."

But Harkness had other things to worry about.

Dale burst in upon his family just a few moments after Beryl had spoken
but she did not tell her story. He gave her no opportunity.

"Gordon Forsyth's lost!"

"_Lost?_"

"Yes. Somewhere in the woods between Cornwall and South Falls. Strangest
thing you ever heard. She made young Tom Granger run off with
her--goodness knows where they were headed for, and when his car went
into the ditch she made a dash for the woods and that's the last
anyone's seen of her."

"Why, Dale, she couldn't--" cried Beryl.

"Couldn't? Easiest thing in the world. Woods are thick and miles deep
through there."

"I mean she couldn't be running off with Tom Granger. Why, she never met
him until yesterday--"

"Well, it wasn't exactly _with_ him but she made him, _take_ her off.
She was running away from some one. Granger's been over here talking to
Norris. They called me in. Seems Kraus had taken my model to sell to
Granger, and called it his own, and Miss Gordon heard him. And she just
walked in when they weren't in the room and--took it. Granger wouldn't
say any more. He's too worried. What I think is that Kraus chased
them--Miss Gordon and Tom Granger--"

"How _thrilling! What_ an adventure," exclaimed Beryl, her eyes shining.
Oh, exciting things _were_ happening!

"Thrilling! Won't be thrilling if anything's happened to the kid. It's
four hours now and Granger's had a bunch of men hunting ever since his
son walked into the office and gave the alarm. Can you give me a bite in
a hurry, Mom? The Manor car's going to take six of us over to meet young
Granger and make a thorough search."

"But it's tired to death you look now, Dale. Can't--"

"I'm not tired--just bothered. Mom, I hate to think of that little thing
getting into this fix just for my model. Granger was awfully decent
about the thing; told Norris he was a fool not to jump at it. He said he
had some sort of a note Miss Robin had left and it seemed to amuse him,
but he didn't offer to show it. It isn't only because she's a Forsyth I
care, but she's such a square little thing. Hurry up, please, Mom,
Williams may stop any moment."

"_I_ ought to go up to the Manor. They must be in an awful state."

"Wait, as soon as ever I can fix your father I'll go with you myself,"
cried Mrs. Lynch.

       *       *       *       *       *

Toward noon of the next day, in answer to an urgent telegram, Cornelius
Allendyce arrived at the Manor, having come down from New York by motor.
Just as he was gulping down the coffee Harkness had brought to him, Mr.
Granger, Senior, was ushered in.

The men knew one another well. They shook hands, then Cornelius
Allendyce motioned him to a chair opposite him at the table.

The lawyer only needed to look at the other man's face to know that he
brought no good news.

"Tom telephoned from Cornwall at six o'clock. Not a sign. Not so much as
a red hair! Strangest thing I ever heard of. They're going to search
the ravines today--easy enough for her to stumble into them if she was
frightened or hurrying. Then there's the kidnapping possibility!"

"Improbable!" protested the lawyer.

"Well, _nothing's_ improbable. You'd have said it wasn't to be thought
of that a youngster like that would run off with that model. I want to
give you the details of this whole matter--they'd be extremely
interesting if one were not so concerned." He told of his two interviews
with Adam Kraus and of Dale's invention. "A master contrivance. I can't
understand your man, here, letting it get away from him. Why, it's worth
a lot to me, but in these Mills--well, you may not know what I think of
your mills," he laughed. "I'll tell you another time. The girl saw this
Kraus go into my office, and persuaded my boy, who'd been taking her for
a ride, to stop. She was waiting in my outer office and heard Kraus
claim the invention as his own--scoundrel that he was--and when I took
Kraus to see my head foreman, didn't she walk in, help herself to the
model and leave me this." He drew an envelope from his pocket and handed
it to Cornelius Allendyce. "Read it."

     "This model is Dale Lynch's. I am taking it to him. When I see my
     guardian, I shall make him buy it for the Forsyth Mills.

                                                       GORDON FORSYTH."

Cornelius Allendyce looked up from the bit of paper. He had suddenly
recalled the frightened little girl he had first brought to Gray Manor.

"Who'd believe that the child had the nerve?"

"That's what I said. Well, she ran off with it, Kraus gave chase, Tom
headed toward Cornwall, then switched off on an unimproved road and came
to grief. Just as Kraus was about to overtake them the child ran off
into the wood. Tom didn't have the vaguest idea what it was all about,
but he tried to head off Kraus and when Kraus started for the wood he
did a little wrestling trick that surprised the fellow, got him down,
tied him in the Ford and went himself in search of Miss Gordon. When he
came back after an hour's search he found Kraus and the Ford gone and he
walked back to South Falls. That's all."

"That model may be worth a lot, but it is not worth another tragedy to
this house," groaned Cornelius Allendyce.

"No. It is worth a good deal--but not--that much."

A few moments' deep silence prevailed. Wrinkles of worry twisted the
lawyer's face. What a mess it all was, anyway--he had urged Robin to go
to the Granger's in hopes that she'd bring the two families into close
intimacy again and instead of that she had gotten herself into this fix.
If they found her safe and sound she ought to be spanked and taught to
keep her hands off the Mill affairs until she was older. But down in
his heart he knew this was only a vexatious expression of his
concern--you couldn't punish Robin for anything.

"As her guardian I appreciate your alarm. I share it with you, not alone
because Miss Forsyth was a guest at my house but because I took a great
fancy to the child. It struck me, as I looked at her, that her coming to
Wassumsic--to the Manor, might change things, here, quite a bit."

"It has--it will," mumbled Mr. Allendyce. For a moment, just to relieve
his feelings, he wondered if he might not confide in this very human man
the ordeal he must face with Madame Forsyth when his reckoning came.

"My wife is prostrated with it all. She does not know the particulars
but she is deeply concerned. I do not like to add to your worry but do
you think there is any possibility that the child returned to the road,
and that Kraus, freed from Tom's rope, captured her and went off with
her?"

"Why, every possibility in the world!" shouted Robin's guardian. "Why
did you hug that idea to yourself? We'll telephone the New York police.
He's sure to make straight for the city."

Both men welcomed action. They rushed to the library and put in a long
distance call and then, while waiting, paced the room's length back and
forth. Harkness, shaking and white and miserable, glued his ear to the
crack in the door, hopeful for one crumb of comforting news.

Below stairs Mrs. Budge, flatly refusing to believe that "Miss Robin"
could be lost just when she had learned to love her, beat up a cake for
her homecoming, unmindful of the tears that splashed into the batter.

In the little sitting-room they had shared, Beryl, who did not even have
the heart to play with Susy, sat with her nose against the window
watching the ribbon of road over which anyone would come if they came.
That was why she was the first of the Manor household to spy the
dilapidated Ford approaching, snorting up the incline. Something about
it made her think of the general dilapidation of the Forgotten Village.
It might be some word! She rushed down the stairs, two steps at a time,
past the startled Harkness, through the big front door. The
strange-looking car had turned into the Manor gate. A man with long
white whiskers was driving it. And yes, a bareheaded girl, who looked
like Robin, sat on the back seat. It _was_ Robin. Beryl waved her hand
wildly and Robin answered. But who rode with her? Beryl's flying feet
came to a quick halt.

"As sure as I'm _alive_ it's the Queen of Altruria!"

Turning, Beryl rushed back to the Manor.

"Harkness! _Harkness!_" she cried, bursting in through the door.
"Robin's coming! She's _here!_ And she's brought the Queen of Altruria
with her! Oh, _what'll_ we do?" For surely some ceremony befitting
royalty should be prepared.

"The Queen of _what_--" cried Mr. Granger and Cornelius Allendyce
rushing from the library. "Oh, the girl's _crazy_--" asserted the
lawyer. Nevertheless he ran to the door, followed by Mr. Granger and
Harkness and Beryl and Hannah Budge and Chloe, who had heard Beryl's
glad cry in the kitchen.

At close range the dilapidated Ford looked even more dilapidated; Robin,
letting her royal companion talk terms of payment with the bewhiskered
scion of the Forgotten Village, clambered out the moment the car stopped
and fell into Beryl's arms. From their shelter, after the briefest
instant, she lifted her face to greet her guardian and found him staring
at the Queen in a sort of stupid unbelief.

"I brought--" Robin started an introduction, but did not finish. For,
recovering, with an obvious effort, his natural manner of politeness,
her guardian was hurrying down the steps to the little car.

"Madame Forsyth, I did not expect--"



CHAPTER XXIV

MADAME FORSYTH COMES HOME


"No. I judge from all your faces no one expected me!" exclaimed Madame
Forsyth coldly, extending to Cornelius Allendyce the tips of her
fingers. "Harkness, you look as though you were seeing a ghost!"

Her rebuking words had the effect of galvanizing poor Harkness' limbs to
action--but not his tongue. Though he hobbled down the steps and took
the bag from the lawyer's hand, not a word could he speak from sheer
stupefaction.

And Hannah Budge so forgot her long years of loyalty to the House of
Forsyth as to cry out--"Oh, Miss Robin!" before so much as one word of
greeting for Madame Forsyth.

"You could 'a clean knocked me over," she explained to Harkness
afterward, "Our Madame going away as fine as you please with that
baggage of a Florrie who was as full of tricks as a cat after a mouse,
and coming back in that old car that had moss on it, I do believe, and
with Miss Robin, too, who they all thought was lost though _I_ knew
better. Something _told_ me to beat up that cake yesterday!"

"And Miss Robin didn't know Madame was Madame," explained Harkness, his
face perplexed. "She and Miss Beryl here've been thinking she was some
mysterious lydy or other--Williams says they got it in their little
heads she was a Queen hiding--"

"Madame hiding _where_?" snorted Budge.

"Well, _I_ can't make nothing out of it. My head goes 'round in a circle
like. Only Williams says that lydy must be the lydy the young lydies
visited, mysterious like, just afore Christmas and the lydy's our Madame
all right and that's what I say my head goes 'round in a circle!"

"Your tongue, too, Timothy Harkness. Well, there's lots going to happen
now, or my name ain't Hannah Budge. First thing, I s'pose, she'll clear
that Castle young 'un out of the house and then your Miss Beryl. And
mebbe send Miss Robin off to school somewheres to get these common
notions out o' her little head. You say they're all talking upstairs
now?"

"Only Madame and the lawyer man. Mr. Granger's gone down to the Mills to
send word to his home that Miss Robin's found."

"Saints be praised!" murmured Mrs. Budge, devoutly.

Up in her little sitting-room Robin and Beryl sat arm in arm, and Robin
told Beryl the whole story of her adventure. On the window seat beside
them lay the square box containing Dale's model.

"I just ran, Beryl, as fast as I could and _anywhere_. I was so
frightened I didn't stop to look. I fell down twice and the second time
I was so tired I could scarcely get up. But I had to. And then I thought
I'd found a path, and I followed it, but it stopped at a ravine that
was, _oh_, so deep. Well, I knew I was lost. I called and called and no
one answered. And I heard all sorts of queer noises as though there
might be wild beasts. One came very close, I'm sure, though I couldn't
see it. And I was dreadfully hungry. I sat down on a log and cried,
too--my feet ached so and my arms ached so from carrying this box. I
decided to bury it and leave a note telling about it, for, honestly,
Beryl, I didn't think then I'd live an hour longer, but I didn't have a
pencil and when I started to dig with my hands the ground was so gooy
that I couldn't bear to. Oh, I'll never forget it." She shuddered and
Beryl held her hands tighter. "And it began to get dark. I tried to be
brave and say nothing could hurt me, but I couldn't help but hear the
funny noises and I was so _awfully_ alone. I started to walk again, just
somewhere, because when I walked I couldn't hear all the sounds and
every now and then I'd call out. And just as it was almost pitch dark in
the wood something big came rushing toward me and sprang at me and,
Beryl, I fainted dead away! Well, the next thing I knew something was
licking my face. And someone was saying something queer, and Beryl, it
was Cæsar and that Brina from our House of Rushing Water! Cæsar had
heard me call and found me, and then he had barked and howled until
Brina came with a lantern."

Beryl jumped up and down in excitement.

"What happened then?" she cried.

"Brina carried me--and that box--to the house in the wood. It seemed I'd
gotten most to it and didn't know it. And the Queen was awfully
frightened. But she wouldn't let me say a word; she made Brina put me in
her bed and she covered me with blankets and she fed me herself,
something hot and oh, so good. And she kept petting me and cuddling me
for I guess I shook like a leaf. You see, I couldn't _believe_ I was
safe and sound; I kept seeing that dog jump at me! And finally she sang
to me, the nicest old-fashioned song and I went to sleep, and I never
opened my eyes until this morning, and there she stood by my bed with a
tray of nice breakfast. She wouldn't let me tell her how I got lost
until I'd eaten every crumb. And then I felt so cosy and warm and safe
that I told her everything--_everything_, all about Mother Lynch and how
my plans for the House of Laughter had failed at first, and then the
Rileys and what I thought of the Mills, and how horrid Mr. Norris was
and about Susy and poor Granny and Dale's model, and then what I'd done
at Grangers'. I just got started and I couldn't stop. And Beryl, I told
her _again_ how my aunt was an unhappy old woman who worried over her
own troubles so much that she didn't have time for other people's.
Wasn't that dreadful?" And Robin caught up a pillow and buried her face
in it.

Beryl looked troubled.

"Yes, that _was_ dreadful. What ever did she say?"

"She didn't say anything. She picked up my tray and went out, and I felt
the way I had that other time, all fussed, because I'd bothered a Queen
with my silly affairs. And I could have sworn then she was a Queen,
Beryl, she had such a dignified way of being sweet and she smelled so
nice and perfumy--a different perfume. And that Brina had put the
gorgeousest nightgown on me, too."

"When did you first know the Queen was your aunt?" Beryl broke in.

"Beryl Lynch, on my honor, not until my guardian called her Madame
Forsyth! After she took my tray out she came back, and she did look sort
of funny, now I remember, the way one does when one decides suddenly to
do something you hadn't dreamed of doing, and she told me Brina had gone
into the village to hunt up some sort of a vehicle to get me back to the
Manor. And I didn't think until the last moment that she meant to come,
too. And all the way over I was nearly bursting thinking how surprised
you'd be and what fun it would be to have the Queen visit us. Oh, dear!"
And Robin drew a long breath, half sigh.

"Well, something'll happen _now_," groaned Beryl, in much the same tone
Budge had used. "When she finds out about Susy and me!"

And below in the library the same thought held Robin's
guardian--something must happen, now.

He had gone there to wait while Madame Forsyth freshened herself after
her long ride. And while he waited, in considerable apprehension, he
planned the course he would follow; if Madame refused to accept little
Red-Robin as her heir, because she was a girl and _different_, why, he'd
take her back with him to his own home. She could live with him and his
sister until Jimmie came back and he'd even adopt her if Jimmie would
let him. And he'd take Beryl, too, if Robin wished--and he'd see Susy
was put with some nice family.

But where in the world had Robin found her aunt--or her aunt found
Robin. Everyone acted as though they were knocked stupid by the
mystery--no one had offered a word of explanation. He rubbed his
forehead as though it might have circles, too.

"Which shall we hear first?" a voice asked behind him, "How _you_
happened to bring little Robin here--or how _I_ did?"

The words startled him more because of their tone than their
unexpectedness. And turning, he saw (to his immense relief) that Madame
Forsyth was smiling--and in her eyes was a softened look, though they
were shadowed with fatigue.

"I am immensely curious, I must admit, as to where you found Robin, but
I feel that I owe you the first explanation."

He told then, of his first visit to Patchin Place and of his finding
little Robin in her curious surroundings.

"I really cannot say just what put the notion in my head of taking her
to the Manor--I think it was something appealing about the child."

"You are more honest to admit that than I expected, Cornelius Allendyce.
Your silence in regard to her being a girl might seem inexcusable to me
only that I am glad, now, that you kept silence. For I would have most
certainly, then, sent her back. And--I am glad that never happened. You
see _I_ can be honest, too."

"Before I can explain my finding the child in this last plight of hers I
must tell you a little of my 'wanderings' since I left the Manor. They
were not far. I went to New York and reserved passage on a steamer
sailing for the Mediterranean the next week. That evening I saw the 'for
sale' notice of a house in the Connecticut woods, which advertised
absolute seclusion. I telephoned to my banker, who has been in my
confidence, and he made a hurried trip to Brown's Mill and bought the
house, just as it stood. The next day I discharged Florrie, cancelled my
sailing reservations, picked up a strong German woman for a cook, bought
a dog and rode out to my new home. It offered all that I had hoped it
would. There I planned to find a change that would be a rest, to forget
the world about me and live in my past, which was all I had. And for
several weeks I did--until two girls broke in upon my precious privacy."

She told of Robin and Beryl's first visit and then of their second, and
of the gifts they brought from the Manor.

"I confess it was a shock to me to discover that this child was--Gordon
Forsyth. Yet it was the shock I needed to rouse me from my depression.
For, like you, I fell quickly under the girl's charm. From that day on I
found I could not hold my thoughts to my past--in spite of me they
persisted in dwelling upon the present--and the future. You see I am
frank with you."

Cornelius Allendyce nodded. He dared not speak for he did not want to
betray the relief he felt.

"I do not think I would have returned to the Manor for several weeks
yet, for my health has singularly benefited by my--unusual change,
except that this escapade of Robin's made me feel that I was needed
here. Something she said made up my mind for me, rather quickly.
Cornelius Allendyce--that child has a great gift. It is the gift of
giving. An unusual talent in the Forsyth family, you are thinking! But
like all talents it ought to be trained and directed and strengthened
and my work is--to do it. I had thought my life lived--but it is not,
and I am happy to have found it so. I am too old, perhaps, to learn the
new ways but I am not too old to safeguard them."

"You are a wonderful old woman," the lawyer answered, quite
involuntarily and with such instant alarm at his audacity that Madame
Forsyth smiled.

"Oh, no. I am not wonderful at all. I am revealing my heart to you, now,
in a way I do not often open it, but I shall, to my last day, probably,
be a proud, overbearing old woman with a sharp tongue. You, however,
will know what is underneath."

There was a moment's silence, then Madame Forsyth told him of Cæsar's
finding Robin in the woods and giving the alarm.

"The child was utterly exhausted. I cannot bear to think of what might
have happened if we--had not been living there. Thank God we found her.
May I summon the girls? I am curious to see more of this rather unusual
young person my niece has attached to my household."

Then the lawyer remembered Beryl's great good fortune and that nothing
had been said concerning that. How happy Robin would be!

In answer to Madame's summons Robin and Beryl came to the library,
nervously sedate in manner and with fingers intertwined in a close grip.

Madame beckoned to them with her jeweled white hand.

"Come to me, Robin. Are you sorry to find that your mysterious friend
by the Rushing Waters--is your aunt?"

Robin advanced slowly, her eyes on her aunt's face.

"No, oh, no! Only--maybe _you're_ sorry about--_me_--being a girl and
such a small one--and lame, too--"

"Oh, my _dear_!" And Madame Forsyth held out her arms impulsively and
Robin, her face aglow, snuggled into them.

Every moment of that day something exciting and significant seemed to
happen. Ever so many people called, and it was fun to see their surprise
at finding Madame home. Aunt Mathilde, (Robin could not make the name
sound natural) upon introduction, had acted as though she almost liked
Susy, and Susy had looked very cunning in the new dress the nurse had
made for her. And she hadn't said Susy would have to go! Then Robin flew
off, the very first moment, with Beryl to find Mrs. Lynch and _hug_ her
over the wonderful fortune and talk about the farm which must be very
near Wassumsic. Then Beryl played for Aunt Mathilde and Aunt Mathilde
had looked as though she "felt funny inside!"

And then Dale had come with Tom Granger, both of them looking haggard
from anxiety and lack of sleep. They came in while Beryl was playing.
Robin was glad of that for it gave her a moment to think what she must
say to Tom Granger in explanation.

She did not need to say anything, however. Tom knew the whole story,
from his father and from Dale. He and Dale had become fast friends.

He caught Robin's hand and pumped her small arm until it ached.

"I had to see you to believe you'd turned up," he laughed. "You
certainly gave us a scare we won't forget in a hurry! But you're a good
little sport and I'm coming around, if I may, to take you for a
ride--before I have to go back to school."

"Well, I never want to go _fast_ again in my life," cried Robin,
coloring under the meaning glance Beryl shot at her.

Dale greeted her more shyly, and because Madame Forsyth and Cornelius
Allendyce were talking to Tom, and Beryl had eyes and ears only for the
nice-looking lad, no one overheard what passed between them.

"Miss Robin, I would never have forgiven myself if anything had happened
to you! You should not have taken such a risk--just for my model."

Robin looked at Dale with shining eyes. Would she tell him of her
"pretend?"

"_You_ saved _my_ life once," she exclaimed, impulsively.

"_I_ did!"

"Yes--a long time ago. I was hunting in a little park in New York for
my doll that I'd left there and you found me, crying. And you took me
home--to Patchin Place. I guess maybe you forgot, because you were big
and I was a little bit of a thing!"

Dale stared at her for a moment, then he laughed.

"Why, of _course_--I remember now. You _were_ a little bit of a thing,
with blue eyes and a blue tam. You asked me what a Ma was! Yes, I'd
clean forgotten." He sobered suddenly, and Robin knew it was because he
remembered _why_ he had forgotten. His father had been hurt that
evening.

He looked very big now and very much grown up and Robin wondered, with a
wild confusion sending her blood tingling to her face, would he remember
that she had kissed him and called him her Prince? She watched him,
trembling. But no, he did not remember!

"Well, you've more than repaid me for _that_ little thing," he said.
"Someone else would have found you if I hadn't. And please promise, Miss
Robin, you won't take any more chances for me!"

So Robin locked her precious "pretend" away in her heart--not to be
forgotten, but to be enjoyed, as a big-little girl enjoys taking out
childish toys or dolls or fancies, dusting them carefully, caressing
them tenderly, putting them back reverently--and feeling tremendously
grown-up!

       *       *       *       *       *

A silvery, shimmery young moon shone down upon two heads close together
at a wide-open window. The one was dark and the other red. And the same
young moon audaciously winked at the whispered confidences exchanged in
the brooding quiet of the night.

"Oh, Robin, doesn't it seem an _age_ since you went off to
Granger's?----So much has happened. I don't feel like the same
girl----Tom Granger's awfully nice looking----his eyes are _blue_,
Robin----oh, I won't let myself _think_ of going to New York until
Mom and Pop are settled somewhere away from the Mills----Robin, you're
so _quiet_----I should think you'd be bursting--"

"I'm glad my aunt was nice to Susy and your mother and--Dale. Beryl,
she's going to make Norris take that invention----"

"Well, I never dreamed that old toy really amounted to anything--"

"---- ---- ---- ----"

"Beryl, don't you love the stars? _You're_ quiet now----"

Beryl giggled.

"Robin--I just remembered! Do you realize we gave our--Queen--_her own
book for Christmas_?"

"Beryl, as _sure_ as anything! Oh, how funny!"



EPILOGUE

A STORY AFTER THE STORY


In a hammock hung between two leafing apple trees, a woman lay, so very
still that she seemed sleeping. A fitful breeze stirred the pale foliage
over her head, now and then showering her with pink petals from the
lingering blossoms; from beneath her rose the damp sweet fragrance of
soft earth and green grass, nearby a meadow-lark sang plaintively;
somewhere a robin called arrogantly to his mate in the nest; from the
valley, stretching below the sloping orchard, a violet mist lifted.

A tender smile played over the lips of the reclining woman and her eyes
stared through the lacy canopy of green into the blue sky, where fleecy
clouds sailed off to the west and south.

A lingering echo went singing through her heart. "It is all yours, Moira
Lynch! It is all yours!" The beauty around her--the promise of spring,
the green of orchard and meadow and distant hill, the rest, the
contentment--the happiness, and oh, most precious, the fulfilment.

There was never a day now, in Mother Moira's life, so busy that she
could not snatch a moment to go over, in reverent appreciation, the
blessings that were hers. And no longer were her dreams--for nothing
could change the dreaming heart of the little woman--for herself or
even for her big Danny; they were for her fine lad, a man now, and
Beryl, working so earnestly for her ambition, and little Robin, who
would always _be_ little Robin, and the imp of a Susy, ruddy cheeked and
happy-hearted.

How long, long ago seemed those days when, a slip of a girl, she had
dreamed on that other hillside of a future that would be hers; how
dazzling had been the pictures she had fancied; how much she had dared
to ask. In her youthful bravado she had laughed at Destiny and had made
so bold as to declare Destiny might even then be weaving a bit of gold
into the drab fabric of her life.

(Faith, was not little Robin her bit of gold? Had not the wonderful
change begun in their lives after little Robin came to the Manor?)

Five years had passed, since she and her big Danny had moved from the
village to the little farm that was "just around the corner." During
them she and big Danny had been alone a great deal of the time,
excepting for little Susy; for Dale and Beryl, after settling them
snugly in the old-fashioned farmhouse, (painted as white as white with a
new barn for the gentle-eyed cow, and a pen for the pigs, and a trim
little run-way for the chickens) had gone away, Dale to an engineering
college, Beryl to live with Miss Allendyce and take her precious violin
lessons, and lessons in languages and science. But Mother Moira was
never lonesome, for mere miles could not separate a heart like hers
from those she loved!

There had been significant changes in the village for her to watch
develop. The old Mill cottages had been torn down and across the river
had been built a cluster of white houses, each with its own yard "going
right around it," and trees and a bit of garden. There was a new school
house, too, and a new corps of teachers, and a hospital and a library.
Robin and her aunt had opened this only a month before.

And the House of Laughter had been enlarged to meet the increasing
demands upon it; there were rooms for the girls' clubs and the boys'
clubs, and a billiard room and a bowling alley, and an athletic field
with a basketball court and a baseball diamond.

(Sir Galahad in his scarlet coat still hung over the mantel which
Williams had built. Robin would not let anyone change that.)

Mrs. Riley lived in the upper floor of the House of Laughter and took
care of it.

The Manor car, with Madame Forsyth, passed often now through the streets
of the village and from it Madame nodded pleasantly to this person and
that, stopping sometimes to ask one Mill mother concerning her sick
child, another of her husband--and another whether she had finished the
knit bed-spread upon which Madame had found her working one afternoon
when she had called. Madame had herself regularly visited the new Mill
houses during the process of construction and took delight in dropping
in upon the newly organized school while classes were in session.

"I'll be the same proud, overbearing old lady," she had told her lawyer,
but she had been mistaken--she could never be quite that again, for she
had found too much pure delight in doing the little things Robin quite
artlessly suggested--little things which had not been easy at first and
which had seemed to demand too great a sacrifice of her pride.

The passing of time for the three at the Manor, Madame, Mrs. Budge and
Harkness, was marked, Mother Lynch well knew, by Robin's coming and
going. For, when her Jimmie had returned from southern seas, Robin had
insisted upon going straight to him, and it was not until her aunt had
laid aside the last shred of her old prejudice and invited Robin's
father to the Manor for a long visit that Robin had consented to look
upon the Manor as her "home," though, even then, she steadfastly
asserted "part" of her time must be spent with Jimmie.

While at the Manor James Forsyth had painted his "Wood Sprite," which
won for him quick and wide recognition, and ever afterward Robin and
Madame Forsyth referred to it as "our picture."

No, Mother Moira was never lonesome.

A gay voice roused her now from her happy reverie, footsteps rustled the
grass, cool hands, with a touch as light as the blowing petals, closed
over her eyes.

"Dreaming again, little Mom? You're incurable!" And Beryl, with a laugh,
dropped upon the ground close to the hammock, one hand closing over her
mother's.

"It's a bit of a cat-nap I'm stealing," fibbed Mother Moira, blushing
like a girl. Her eyes lingered adoringly on the glowing, flushed face
close to hers. "Where have you been, Beryl?"

"Susy coaxed me off to her fairy spring. It's really a lovely little
nook she's found and she's made a doll's house in the hollow of an old
tree. She's a funny little thing--almost elfin, isn't she? Are you sure
she isn't too much trouble for you and Dad, Mother?"

"Trouble? Bless the little heart of the colleen, it's something
happening every minute for it's an imp of mischief she is, but, Beryl, I
like it. It keeps my own heart young."

"As though your heart would ever grow old! You're like Robin. Oh,
mother, you can't _know_ how lonesome I've been over there in Milan for
the sight of you and this little place. I think my soul, the one poor
dear Jacques Henri tried to find in me and didn't--wakened one night
when I actually cried myself to sleep just longing to feel your arms
around me! Oh, when one has a mother and a home like mine to want to
come to, it ought to be _easy_ to keep beautiful inside, the way the
dear man said!" And Beryl, staring thoughtfully out over the valley,
did not see the glow that transformed her mother's face.

A shrill whistle from the Mills echoed and reechoed through the valley.
Beryl turned her head suddenly and laid her cheek against the palm of
her mother's hand.

"Mother, I saw a lot of Tom Granger when I was in Paris."

Mother Moira started ever so slightly, with the barest twitching of the
hand Beryl's cheek touched.

"He was very nice to me. Mother, are he and--and Robin--awfully good
friends?"

"What's in your heart, my girl?"

"Mom, couldn't Robin marry almost _anybody_? She's such a dear and she's
so rich and she's travelled around so much."

"Why, bless the heart of her, she's nothing but a child!"

"Mother!" Beryl's voice rang impatiently. "We'll just _never_ grow up in
your eyes! Why, Robin's twenty. Well, I should think _anyone'd_ like Tom
Granger."

"Oh, my dear!" And Mother Moira, reading the girl's heart with her wise
mother-eyes, gave a tiny sigh. Must the shadow of a heartache touch the
splendid friendship between these two, Beryl and Robin?

The thought lingered with her while she watched the girls come hand in
hand out to the orchard from the drive where Robin had left her
roadster. Beryl had only been home for three days and Robin came out to
the farm at every opportunity.

Her girls--her tall, handsome Beryl with the strong shoulders and the
free swing of her, and little Robin, with her deep blue eyes and her
tender lips and her alive hair, and the little limp that gave her walk
the appearance of eagerness.

There was still so much to talk about that the two girls lingered under
the trees while Mother Moira swung gently and listened and watched the
dear young faces. Beryl had been the guest for a weekend at a duke's
house; Robin had spent a month in the Canadian Rockies with her Jimmie;
Dale had brought home all sorts of tales of adventures from an
expedition he had made with an engineering gang into the fastnesses of
South America, and Beryl had been asked to tour in the fall with the
Cincinnati Symphony and was going to accept. Their chatter came back
then to Wassumsic and the new hospital and the library and the new
teachers, who were Smith College graduates, and Sophie Mack who had
started a Girl Scout troop, and the new athletic field at the House of
Laughter.

"Bless me, it's forgetting the supper I am, and Dale coming!" cried
Mother Moira, springing to quick life.

"And Dale has a wonderful secret to tell, too," laughed Robin, her eyes
shining.

Beryl looked at her friend curiously--Robin had the "all-tight-inside"
look that Beryl remembered from the old days at the Manor.

"Do you know the secret?" she asked.

Robin's face flushed rose-red. "Y-yes. But I promised Dale I wouldn't
tell. We both want to see your mother's face--when she hears it."

"Well, I think you're mean to have a secret with Dale that _I_ don't
know!" cried Beryl, with real indignation. "Is it something that's going
to make Mom lots happier?"

"I--hope--so!" And to hide the tell-tale rose on her face Robin threw
her arms around Mother Moira and kissed her.

"Faith, is it any happier I could be without my heart just breaking?"

Dale came and they all, big Danny in his wheel chair, ate supper on the
broad porch where they could enjoy the sunset. Beryl watched her brother
with admiring eyes--he had grown so strong and big and good-looking, his
nice-fitting clothes set off his broad shoulders so well, his voice had
such a ring of confidence.

"I've been offered the management of the Forsyth Mills," he announced
suddenly.

Then _that_ was the secret!

"Really, truly?" exclaimed Beryl.

"And will ye take it, my boy?" asked big Danny, a note of pride
deepening his voice.

"My boy a manager!" trilled Mother Moira.

"Yes. I'll take it. I made one condition with Madame Forsyth--and she
granted it." And Dale flashed a look across to Robin. Everyone followed
his glance and everyone read the truth in Robin's face.

"Robin Forsyth--and you never breathed a _word_!" cried Beryl, not
knowing for the moment whether to give way to great joy or indignation
that her friend had not confided in her.

With a quick little motion, Robin had slipped to Mother Lynch's chair
and, kneeling beside it, she buried her face against the woman's heart.

"I didn't know--myself," came in muffled tones from the embrace.

"Are you happy, mother?" asked Dale, boyishly.

"Ah, I did not know I could be happier--but, I am!" And Mother Moira
smiled through the tears that brimmed in her eyes.

Beryl, staring at her mother and brother and her friend, suddenly gave
voice to a thought that had come with such significance as to sweep away
her girlish reserve.

"Then it _isn't_ Tom Granger at all! You don't care a _bit_ about him?"

Robin's face lifted. "About Tom? Oh, goodness me, no. Why, he isn't
worth Dale's little _finger_--Beryl Lynch, why do you ask me that?"

"Oh--nothing. Really, truly--" And Beryl escaped into the house.

       *       *       *       *       *

Robin drove Dale back to the village. At the turn of the road near the
House of Laughter she stopped the car that they might enjoy for a moment
the twilight glow of the valley. Lights twinkled from the Mill houses
across the river. From the House of Laughter came the sound of singing.
A young crescent of a moon shone silvery against a purple blue sky.

"Little Red-Robin," cried Dale, suddenly, "Are you very sure?"

"Sure--of what?" Robin asked in a voice that trembled in spite of her.

"Someday you will be a rich girl. I am a--working-man. What will the
world say? They may laugh at you!"

Robin's chin lifted. Had she ever reckoned her gifts in dollars and
cents?

"But you're my Prince!" she protested, proudly. "Don't you remember?
That night, a long, long time ago, when you took me home, I called
you--my Prince. You said, then, you couldn't stay with me--that I'd have
to find you. Well," her voice dropped to a whisper, "I have."

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A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST
  The sheer beauty of a girl's soul and the rich beauties of the
  out-of-doors are in the pages of this book.

THE HARVESTER
  The romance of a strong man and of Nature's fields and woods.

LADDIE
  Full of the charm of this author's "wild woods magic."

AT THE FOOT OF THE RAINBOW
  A story of friendship and love out-of-doors.

MICHAEL O'HALLORAN
  A wholesome, humorous, tender love story.

THE SONG OF THE CARDINAL
  The love idyl of the Cardinal and his mate, told with rare delicacy
  and humor.

GROSSET & DUNLAP, Publishers, NEW YORK

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD'S STORIES OF ADVENTURE
May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list

  THE ANCIENT HIGHWAY
  A GENTLEMAN OF COURAGE
  THE ALASKAN
  THE COUNTRY BEYOND
  THE FLAMING FOREST
  THE VALLEY OF SILENT MEN
  THE RIVER'S END
  THE GOLDEN SNARE
  NOMADS OF THE NORTH
  KAZAN
  BAREE, SON OF KAZAN
  THE COURAGE OF CAPTAIN PLUM
  THE DANGER TRAIL
  THE HUNTED WOMAN
  THE FLOWER OF THE NORTH
  THE GRIZZLY KING
  ISOBEL
  THE WOLF HUNTERS
  THE GOLD HUNTERS
  THE COURAGE OF MARGE O'DOONE
  BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY

GROSSET & DUNLAP, Publishers, NEW YORK

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Transcriber's Notes

1. Punctuation has been normalized to contemporary standards.
2. The unusual long dash construction "---- ---- ---- ----" just
   before the Epilogue was retained as in the original.





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