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Title: In Apple-Blossom Time - A Fairy-Tale to Date
Author: Burnham, Clara Louise, 1854-1927
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 "In Apple-Blossom Time - A Fairy-Tale to Date" ***

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IN APPLE-BLOSSOM TIME

A Fairy-Tale to Date

by

CLARA LOUISE BURNHAM

With Illustrations



Boston and New York
Houghton Mifflin Company
The Riverside Press Cambridge
Copyright, 1919, by Clara Louise Burnham
All Rights Reserved



[Illustration: Lifted the Girl in after it]



CONTENTS


       I. The Princess

      II. The Ogre

     III. The Prince

      IV. The Good Fairy

       V. The New Help

      VI. The Dwarf

     VII. A Midnight Message

    VIII. The Meadow

      IX. The Bird of Prey

       X. The Palace

      XI. Mother and Son

     XII. The Transformation

    XIII. The Goddess

     XIV. The Mermaid Shop

      XV. The Clouds Disperse

     XVI. Apple Blossoms



ILLUSTRATIONS

_Drawn by B. Morgan Dennis_


   Lifted the Girl in after it

   Tingling with the Increasing Desire to knock down his Host
   and catch this Girl up in his Arms

   "Geraldine Melody belongs to me. Her father gave her to me"



DRAMATIS PERSONÆ

In the Order of their Appearance


The Good Fairy      _Mehitable Upton_

The Princess        _Geraldine Melody_

The Ogre            _Rufus Carder_

The Dwarf           _Pete_

The Slave           _Mrs. Carder_

The Prince          _Benjamin Barry_

The Grouch          _Charlotte Whipp_

The Queen           _Mrs. Barry_



IN APPLE-BLOSSOM TIME



CHAPTER I

The Princess


Miss Mehitable Upton had come to the city to buy a stock of goods for
the summer trade. She had a little shop at the fashionable resort of
Keefeport as well as one in the village of Keefe, and June was
approaching. It would soon be time to move.

Miss Upton's extreme portliness had caused her hours of laborious
selection to fatigue her greatly. Her face was scarlet as she entered a
popular restaurant to seek rest and refreshment. She trudged with all
the celerity possible toward the only empty table, her face expressing
wearied eagerness to reach that desirable haven before any one else
espied it.

Scarcely had she eased herself down into the complaining chair, however,
before a reason for the unpopularity of this table appeared. A steady
draught blew across it strong enough to wave the ribbons on her hat.

"This won't do at all," muttered Miss Mehitable. "I'm all of a sweat."

She looked about among the busy hungry horde, and her eye alighted on a
table at which a young girl sat alone.

"Bet she'll hate to see me comin', but here goes," she added, slipping
the straps of her bag up on her arm and grasping the sides of the table
with both hands.

Ben Barry was wont to say: "When Mehit is about to rise and flee, it's a
case of Yo heave ho, my hearties. All hands to the ropes." But then it
was notorious that Ben's bump of reverence was an intaglio.

Miss Upton got to her feet and started on her trip, her eyes expressing
renewed anxiety.

A lantern-faced, round-shouldered man, whose ill-fitting clothes, low
collar several sizes too large, and undecided manner suggested that he
was a visitor from the rural districts, happened to be starting for the
young girl's table at the same moment.

Miss Upton perceived his intention.

"Let him set in the draught," she thought. "He don't look as if he'd
ever been het up in his life."

With astonishing swiftness her balloon-like form took on an extra
sprint. The man became aware of her object and they arrived at the
coveted haven nearly simultaneously.

Miss Mehitable's umbrella decided the victory. She deftly moved it to
where a hurdle would have intervened for her rival in their foot-race,
and the preoccupied girl at the table looked up somewhat startled as a
red face atop a portly figure met her brown eyes in triumph. The girl
glanced at the defeated competitor and took in the situation. The man
scowled at Mehitable's umbrella planted victoriously beside its owner
and his thin lips expressed his impatience most unbecomingly. Then he
caught sight of the vacant table and started for that with the haste
which, like many predecessors, he was to find unnecessary.

"I'm sorry to disturb you," said Miss Upton, still excited from her
Marathon, "but you'd have had him if you hadn't had me."

The girl was a sore-hearted maiden, and the geniality and good-humor in
the jolly face opposite had the effect of a cheery fire in a gloomy and
desolate room.

"I would much rather have you," she replied. "I couldn't have sat
opposite that Adam's apple."

Miss Mehitable laughed. "He wasn't pretty, was he?" she replied; "and
wasn't he mad, though?"

Then she became aware that if the disappointed man had not been
prepossessing, her present companion was so. A quantity of golden hair,
a fine pink-and-white skin, with dark eyebrows, eyes, and lashes, were
generous gifts of Nature; and the curves of the grave little mouth were
very charming. The girl's plain dark suit and simple hat, and above all
her shrinking, cast-down demeanor made her appear careless, even unaware
of these advantages, and Miss Mehitable noticed this at once.

"Hasn't the child got a looking-glass?" she thought; and even as she
thought it and took the menu she observed a tear gather on the dark
lashes opposite.

As the girl wiped it away quickly, she glanced up and saw the look of
kindly concern in her neighbor's face.

"I'd rather you would be the one to see me cry, too," she said. "I can't
help it," she added desperately. "They just keep coming and coming no
matter what I do, and I must eat."

"Well, now, I'm real sorry." Miss Upton's hearty sincerity was a sort of
consolation. After she had given her luncheon order she spoke again to
her vis-à-vis who was valiantly swallowing.

"Do your folks live here in town?" she asked in the tone one uses toward
a grieving child.

"Oh, if I had folks!" returned the other. "Do people who have folks ever
cry?"

"Why, you poor child," said Miss Mehitable. For the girl caught her
lower lip under her teeth and for a minute it seemed that she was not
going to be able to weather the crisis of her emotion: but her
self-control was equal to the emergency and she bit down the battling
sob. Miss Mehitable saw the struggle and refrained from speaking for a
few minutes. Her luncheon arrived and she broke open a roll. She
continued to send covert glances at the young girl who industriously
buttered small pieces of bread and put them into her unwilling mouth,
and drank from a glass of milk.

When Miss Upton thought it was safe to address her again, she spoke:
"Who have you got to take care of you, then?" she asked.

"Nobody," was the reply, but the girl spoke steadily now. Apparently she
had summoned the calm of desperation.

"Why, that don't seem possible," returned Miss Mehitable, and her voice
and manner were full of such sympathetic interest that the forlorn one
responded again; this time with a long look of gratitude that seemed to
sink right down through Miss Upton's solicitous eyes into her good
heart.

"You're a kind woman. If there are any girls in your family they know
where to go for comfort. I'm sure of that."

"There ain't any girls in my family. I'm almost without folks myself;
but then, I'm old and tough. I work for my livin'. I keep a little
store."

"That is what I wanted to do--work for my living," said the girl. "I've
tried my best." Again for a space she caught her lip under her teeth.
"First I tried the stores; then I even tried service. I went into a
family as a waitress. I"--she gave a determined swallow--"I suppose
there must be some good men in the world, but I haven't found any."

Miss Upton's small eyes gave their widest stare and into them came
understanding and indignation.

"I'm discouraged"--said the girl, and a hard tone came into her low
voice--"discouraged enough to end it all."

"Now--now--don't you talk that way," stammered Miss Mehitable. "I s'pose
it's because you're so pretty."

"Yes," returned the girl disdainfully. "I despise my looks."

"Now, see here, child," exclaimed Miss Upton, prolonging her troubled
stare, "perhaps Providence helped me nearly trip up that slab-sided
gawk. Perhaps I set down here for a purpose. Desperate folks cling to
straws. I'm the huskiest straw you ever saw, and I might be able to give
you some advice. At least I've got an old head and you've got a young
one, bless your poor little heart. Why don't we go somewheres where we
can talk when we're through eating?"

"You're very good to take an interest," replied the girl.

"I'm as poor as Job's turkey," went on Miss Upton, "and I haven't got
much to give you but advice."

The girl leaned across the table. "Yes, you have," she said, her soft
dark eyes expressive. "Kindness. Generosity. A warm heart."

"Well, then, you come with me some place where we can talk; but," with
sudden cheerfulness, "let's have some ice-cream first. Don't you love
it? I ought to run a mile from the sight of it; and these fried potatoes
I've just been eatin' too. I've no business to look at 'em; but when I
come to town I just kick over the traces. I forget there is such a thing
as Graham bread and I just have one good time."

She laughed and the young girl regarded her wistfully.

"It's a pity you haven't any daughters," she said.

"I haven't even any husband," was the cheerful response, "and I never
shall have now, so why should I worry over my waistline? Queen Victoria
had one the same size and everybody respected _her_. Now I'm goin' to
order the ice-cream. That's my treat as a proof that you and I are
friends. My name is Upton. What's yours, my dear?"

"Melody."

"First or last?"

"Last. Geraldine Melody."

"It's a _nawful_ pretty name," declared Miss Upton impressively. "There
ain't any discord in melody. Now you take courage. Which'll you have?
Chocolate or strawberry?"



CHAPTER II

The Ogre


It proved that Miss Upton's new acquaintance had an appointment later at
a hotel near by, so thither they repaired when the ice-cream was
finished.

"Now tell me all about it," said Miss Mehitable encouragingly, when they
had found the vacant corner of a reception-room and sat down side by
side.

"I feel like holding on to you and not letting you go," said the girl,
looking about apprehensively.

"Are you afraid of the folks you're goin' to meet here? Is it another
job you're lookin' for? I can tell you right now," added Miss Mehitable
firmly, "that I'm goin' to stay and see what they look like if I lose
every train out to Keefe."

"You are so good," said the girl wistfully. "Are you always so kind to
strangers?"

"When they're a hundred times too pretty and as young as you are I am,"
returned Miss Upton promptly; "but this is my first experience. What
sort of position are you tryin' for now?"

"I don't know what to call it," replied Geraldine, with another
apprehensive look toward the door. "General utility, I hope." She looked
back at her companion. "When my father died, it left me alone in the
world; for my stepmother is the sort that lives in the fairy tales; not
the loving kind who are in real life. I know a girl who has the dearest
stepmother. I was fourteen years old when my father married again. My
mother had been dead for three years. I was an only child and had always
lived at home, but my stepmother didn't want me. She persuaded my father
to send me away to school. I think Daddy never had any happiness after
he married her. He had always been very extravagant and easy-going.
While my precious mother lived she helped him and guided him, and
although I was only a little girl I always believed he married again
because he was greatly embarrassed for money. This woman appeared to
have plenty and she was so in love with him! If you had seen _him_, I
think you would have said he was a hundred times too handsome. Well,
from what I could see at vacation time she was never sufficiently in
love with him to let him have her money; and I am sure the last years of
his life were wretched and full of hard places because of his financial
ill-success. Poor father." The girl's voice failed and she waited,
looking down at the gloved hands in her lap. "I had been at home from
school only a few months when he died," she went on. "My stepmother
endured me and that was all. She is a quite young woman, very fond of
gayety, and she made me feel that I was very much in her way no matter
how hard I tried to keep out of it."

"I'll bet you were," put in Miss Upton _sotto voce_.

"As soon as my dear father was gone she threw off all disguise to her
impatience. She put on very becoming mourning and said she wanted to
travel. She said my father had left nothing, but that I was young and
could easily get a position. She broke up the home, found a cheap room
for me to lodge, gave me a little money and went away." Again
Geraldine's voice broke and she stopped.

"You poor child," said Miss Upton; "to try as you have and find all your
efforts failures!"

"My stepmother has some relatives who live on a farm," went on the girl.
"Before my father died we three had one talk which it always sickens me
to remember. My stepmother was saying that it was high time I went out
into the world and did something for my own support. My father perhaps
knew that he was very ill; but we did not. His death came suddenly. That
day while my stepmother talked he walked the floor casting troubled
looks at me and I knew she was hurting him. 'Everybody should be where
she can be of some use,' said my stepmother. 'I think the Carder farm
would be a fine place for Geraldine, and after all Rufus Carder has done
for you I should think you'd be glad to send her out there.'

"I shall never forget the light that came into Daddy's eyes as he
stopped and turned on her. 'What Rufus Carder has done for me is what
the icy sidewalk does for the man who trips,' he answered. My stepmother
shrugged her shoulders. 'That was your own weakness, then,' she said. 'I
think a more appropriate simile for Rufus would be the bridge that
carried you over!' Her voice was so cold and contemptuous! Daddy came to
me and there was despair in his face. He put his hand on my shoulder
while she went on talking: 'Many times since the day that Rufus saw
Geraldine in the park,' she said, 'he has told me they would be glad to
have her come out to the farm and live with them. I think you ought to
send her. She isn't needed here and they really do need somebody.' The
desperate look in my father's face wrung my heart. He did not look at my
stepmother nor answer her; but just gazed into my eyes and said over and
over softly, 'Forgive me, Gerrie. Forgive me.' I took his hands in mine
and told him I had nothing to forgive." The young girl choked.

When she could go on she spoke again: "A couple of days after that he
died. My stepmother was angry because he left no life insurance, and she
talked to me again about going to work, and again brought up the subject
of the Carder farm. She tried to flatter me by talking of her cousin's
admiration of me the day he saw me in the park. I told her I could not
bear to go to people who had not been kind to my father, and she replied
that what Daddy had said that day must have been caused by his illness,
for Rufus Carder had befriended him times without number."

The girl lifted her appealing eyes to Miss Upton's face as she
continued: "Of course I knew that my dear father had been weak and I
couldn't contradict her; so after trying and failing, trying and failing
many times, as I've told you, I came to feel that the farm might be the
right place for me after all. Work is the only thing I'm not afraid of
now. It must be a forlorn place if they need help and can't get it. I
think they said he and his mother live alone, but I shan't care how
forlorn it is if only Mrs. Carder is like--like--you, for instance!" The
girl laid her hand impulsively on her companion's knee.

At that moment a man appeared in the wide doorway to the reception-room
and looked about uncertainly. Instantly Miss Upton recognized the long,
weather-beaten face, the straggling hair, the half-open mouth, and the
revealing collar of her restaurant rival.

She gave her companion a mirthful nudge.

"He's right on my trail, you see," she whispered. "Adam's apple and
all."

Geraldine glanced up and the stranger's roving gaze fell straight upon
hers. He came toward her.

"Miss Melody?" he said in a rasping voice.

She rose as if impelled by some inner spring, her light disdain
swallowed in dread.

"This is Mr. Carder, then," she returned.

"You've guessed right the very first time," responded the man with an
air of relief. "I recognize you now, but you look some different from
the only other time I ever saw you."

"This is Miss Upton, Mr. Carder, a lady who has befriended me very
kindly while I have been waiting for you."

"Yes, and who prevented me from havin' lunch with you," responded the
stranger, eying Miss Upton jocosely; but as if he could not spare time
from the near survey of Geraldine his eyes again swept over her hair and
crimsoning cheeks. "I thought I felt some strong drawin' toward that
particular table," he added. "Well, we'll make up for it in the future
you can bet. That your bag here? We'd better be runnin' along. Time,
tide, and business don't wait for any man. Good-bye, Miss Upton, I'll
forgive you for takin' my place, considerin' you've been good to this
little girl."

Miss Mehitable's face was as solemn as lies in the power of round faces
to be. At close quarters one observed a cast in Mr. Carder's right eye.
She disapproved his assured proprietary air and she disapproved him the
more that she could see repulsion in the young girl's suddenly pale
countenance. She had time for only one strong pressure of a little hand
before Geraldine was whisked away and she was left standing there
stunned by the suddenness of it all.

"I never asked where it was!" she ejaculated suddenly. "I've lost the
child!" People began to look at her and she continued mentally: "The
critter looked as if he wanted to eat her up, the poor little lamb.
Unless the mother's something different from the son she'll be driven to
desperation. No knowin' what she'll do." Miss Upton clasped her plump
hands together in great trouble of spirit. "I believe I said Keefe
more'n once. Perhaps she'll have sense enough to write to me. Why didn't
I just tell that old rawbones that her plans was changed and she was
goin' with me. Oh, I am a fool! I don't know what I'd have done with
her; but some way would have opened. Let's see. Where am I!" Miss Upton
delved distractedly into the large bag that hung on her arm. "Where's my
list? Am I through or not?" She seemed to herself to have lived long
since her wearied entrance into that restaurant.

In her uneventful life this brief experience took deep hold on her
imagination. As she rode out to Keefe on the train that afternoon she
constructed the scenes of the story in her mind.

The weak, handsome, despairing father begging his child's forgiveness.
The dismantling of the home. The placing of Geraldine in a cheap lodging
while her father's widow shed all responsibility of her and set forth in
new raiment for green fields and pastures new.

The shabby and carelessly put on suit in which Geraldine had appeared
this morning told a tale. The girl had said she despised her looks. Her
appearance had borne out the declaration. The lovely hair had been
brushed tightly back; the old hat would have been unbecoming if it
could: all seemed to testify that if the girl could have had her way not
an element of attractiveness would have been observable in her. Miss
Upton waxed indignant as she went on to picture the probable scenes
which had frightened and disgusted the child into such an abnormal frame
of mind. The memory of Rufus Carder's gaze, as his oblique eye had
feasted upon his guest, brought the blood to Miss Mehitable's face.

"I'll find out where she is if I have to employ a detective," she
thought, setting her lips. "Now there's no use in bein' a fool," she
muttered after a little more apprehensive thought. "I shall get daffy if
I go on thinkin' about it. I'll do my accounts and see if I can take my
mind off it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Geraldine with her escort was also on a moving train. A
creeping train it seemed to her. Rufus Carder was trying to make himself
agreeable. She strove with herself to give him credit for that. She had
not lived to be a nineteen-year-old school girl without meeting
attractive young men. Her stepmother had always kept her in the
background at times when it was impossible to eliminate her altogether,
quite, as Geraldine had said, like the stepmother of a fairy tale; but
there had been holidays with school friends and an occasional admirer;
although these cases had been rare because Geraldine, always kept on
short allowance as to money and clothes, avoided as much as possible
social affairs outside the school.

She tried now to find amusement instead of mental paralysis in the
proximity of her present escort, contrasting him with some men she had
known; but recent bitter experiences made his probably well-intentioned
familiarities sorely trying. There was a lump in his cheek. Geraldine
hoped it arose from an afflicted tooth, but she strongly suspected
tobacco. Oh, if he would but sit a little farther away from her!

"So you've renounced the city, the world, the flesh, and the devil,"
said Rufus when the conductor had left them, and he settled down in an
attitude that brought his shoulder in contact with Geraldine's.

She drew closer to the window and kept her eyes ahead. "He is as old as
Father," she thought. "He means to be kind."

"There is not much chance for those at school," she replied. "School is
about all I know."

"Well, you don't need to know anything else," returned Rufus
protectingly. "I'll bet Juliet kept you out of sight." He laughed, and
his companion turning saw that he had been bereft of a front tooth.

"I didn't see very much of my stepmother," she answered in the same
stiff manner.

"I'll bet you didn't," declared Rufus, "not when she saw you first."
Again he laughed, convinced that his companion must enjoy the
implication.

"I mean that I have been away from home at school for several years,"
said the girl coldly.

"Oh, I know where you have been, and why, and when, and just how long,
and all about it." The tone of this was quiet, but there was something
disquieting to Geraldine in his manner. "Perhaps you didn't know," he
added after a pause filled by the crescendos and diminuendos of the
speeding train, "that your father and I were pretty thick." At this the
girl's head turned and her eyes raised to his questioningly. "Yes," he
added, receiving the look, appreciative of the curves of the long lashes
and lovely lips, "I don't believe anybody knew Dick Melody better than I
did."

"Do you mean," asked the girl, "that you were fond of my father?"

Charming as her self-forgetful, earnest look was, her companion seemed
unable to sustain it. He gave a short laugh and turned his head away.

"My wife attended to that part of it," he replied.

A flash of relief passed over Geraldine's face. "Your wife," she
repeated. "I--I hadn't heard--I didn't know--I thought the Mrs. Carder
they mentioned was your mother."

"She is. My wife died nearly a year ago, but she had the nerve to think
your father was handsomer than me." The speaker looked back at his
companion with a cheerful grin. "She said Dick Melody'd ought to be set
up on a pedestal somewheres to be admired. I don't know as bein'
good-lookin' gets a man anywhere. What good did those eyes ever do him!"

Geraldine sank closer to her window. The despair in those eyes, as her
father begged for her forgiveness, rose before her. Never had she felt
so utterly alone; so utterly friendless.

"Yes, I say leave the looks to the womenfolks," pursued Rufus Carder,
feasting his gaze on the girl's profile. "When Juliet set out to get
Dick, I warned her, but it wasn't any use. She had to have him, and she
knew pretty well how to look out for herself. I guess she never lost
anything by the deal."

"Would you mind not talking about them?" said Geraldine stiffly.

"Please yourself and you'll please me as to what we talk about,"
returned Rufus cheerfully. "Shouldn't wonder if you were pretty sore at
Juliet. Look out for number one was her motto all right." A glance at
the shrinking girl showed the host that her eyes were closed. "Tired,
ain't you?" he added.

"Dead tired," she answered. And as she continued to keep her eyes closed
he contented himself by watching the lashes resting on her pale cheeks.

"Ketch a little nap if you can, that's right," he said. She kept
silence.

She did not know how long the blessed relief from his voice had lasted
when he announced their arrival.

"Be it ever so humble," he remarked, "There's no place like home."

To have him get out of the seat and leave her free of the touch of his
garments was a blessing, and she rose to follow mechanically. The
eternal hope that dies so hard in the human breast was suggesting that
his mother might be not impossible; and at any rate a farm was wide. She
would never be imprisoned in a car seat with him again.

"There now, my lady," he said triumphantly when they were on the
platform. "I suppose you thought you were comin' to Rubeville. That
don't look so hay-seedy? Eh?"

He pointed to a dusty automobile whose driver, a boy of eighteen or
twenty, with a torn hat, eyed her with dull curiosity.

"I suppose you expected a one-hoss shay. No, indeedy. You've come to all
the comforts of home, little girl." His airy geniality of tone changed.
"What you starin' at, you coot? Come along here, Pete."

The boy moved the car toward the spot where they waited with their bags.

Rufus put these in at the front and himself entered the tonneau with his
guest. His conversation as they sped along the country road consisted
mainly of pointing out to her the cottages or fields owned by himself.
The information fell on deaf ears. The roughness of her host's tone to
the boy added one more item against him and lessened her hope that the
woman responsible for his existence could be a better specimen.

"I'm free," thought Geraldine over and over. "I don't need to stay
here." Of course the proprietary implication in every word the man said
arose simply from the conceit of a boor. She would be patient and
self-controlled. It might be possible still that she should find this a
haven where she could live her own life in her leisure hours, few though
they might be.

It was with a weary curiosity that she viewed the weather-beaten house
toward which they finally advanced. In front of it stood an elm-tree
whose lower branches swept the roof of the porch.

"That's got to come down, that tree," said Rufus meditatively.

His companion turned on him. "You would cut down that splendid tree?"

He regarded her suddenly vital expression admiringly.

"Why not, little one?" he asked. "It's makin' the house damp and
injurin' property. Property, you understand. Property. If I'd indulged
in sentiment do you s'pose I'd be owner of all the land I've been
showin' you?" He smiled, the semi-toothless smile, and met her horrified
upturned eyes with an affectionate gaze. "However, what you say goes,
little girl. You look as if you were goin' to recite--'Woodman, spare
that tree.' Consider the tree spared for the present."

The automobile drew up at the house and in high good-humor the master
jumped out and removed Geraldine's bag to the steps of the narrow
piazza. A woman's face could be seen appearing and disappearing at the
window, and Pete, the driver, looked with furtive curiosity at the guest
as she stepped to the porch without touching the host's outstretched
hand.

Rufus threw open the door. "Where are you, Ma?" he shouted, and a thin,
wrinkled old woman came into the corridor nervously wiping her hands on
her apron.

Geraldine looked at her eagerly.

"Well, you have to take us as you find us, little girl," remarked Rufus,
scowling at his parent. "Ma hasn't even taken off her apron to welcome
you."

At this Mrs. Carder fumbled at her apron strings, but Geraldine advanced
to her and put out her hand.

"I like aprons," she said; and the old woman took the hand for a loose,
brief shake.

"I'm very glad to see you, Miss Melody," she said timidly. "I'm glad it
has been a pretty day."

"Show her her room, Ma, and then perhaps she'd like some tea. City
folks, you know, must have their tea."

Geraldine followed her hostess with alacrity as she went up the narrow
stairway; glad there was an upstairs; and a room of her own, and a woman
to speak to.

She was ushered into a barely furnished chamber; a bowl and pitcher on
the small wash-stand seemed to indicate that modern improvements had not
penetrated to the Carder farm.

"I s'pose you'll find country livin' a great change for you," said Mrs.
Carder, pulling up the window shade. Geraldine wondered how in this
beautiful state could have been found such a treeless tract of land. She
remembered the threatened fate of the elm. Perhaps there had been other
destruction. "My son never seemed to take any interest in puttin' in
water here."

The girl met the wrinkled face. The apprehension in the old eyes under
Carder's scowl had given place to curiosity.

"I have come to help you," said Geraldine, "I must get used to fewer
conveniences."

"It's nice of you to say that," said the old woman, "Rufus don't want
you to work much, though."

"But of course I shall," returned the girl quickly. "I'm much better
able to work than you are."

"Oh, I've got a wet sink this year," said Mrs. Carder. "I told Rufus I
just had to have it. I was gettin' too old to haul water."

"I should think so!" exclaimed Geraldine indignantly. "Mr. Carder is
well off. He shouldn't allow you to work any more the rest of your
life."

Mrs. Carder smiled and shook her head, revealing her own need of
dentistry. "I'm stronger than I look. I s'pose if I was taken out of
harness I might be like one o' these horses that drops down when the
shafts don't hold him up any longer."

Geraldine regarded her compassionately. "I've heard--my stepmother told
me it was very hard for you to get help out here. I suppose it is lonely
for maids."

The old woman regarded her strangely, and her withered lips compressed.

"I don't mind loneliness," went on Geraldine eagerly. She had thrown her
hat on the bed and the gold of her hair shone in the mean little room.
"I love to be alone. I long to be."

"That ain't natural," observed Mrs. Carder, regarding her earnest,
self-forgetful loveliness. "Rufus told me you was a beauty," she went on
reflectively. "Your father was the handsomest man I ever saw."

"You knew him, then," said Geraldine eagerly.

"He was out here a number o' times. Rufus seemed to be his favorite man
o' business, as you might say."

"Oh, Mrs. Carder, tell me all you can about his visits here." The girl's
heart began to beat faster and she drew the clean, dried-up old woman
down upon the edge of the bed beside her. Why should her father choose
this dreadful place, this impossible man as a refuge? It could only have
been as a last resort for him, just as it now was for her.

"I was always away at school after his marriage," she went on. "I saw so
little of him."

Mrs. Carder looked uneasy.

"I saw nothin' of him except at a meal sometimes. He and my son was
always shut up in Rufus's office."

"Did he seem--seem unhappy, Mrs. Carder?"

"Well--yes. He was a sort of an absent-minded man. Perhaps that was his
way. Really, I don't know a thing about their business, Miss Melody."
The addition was made in sudden panic because the girl had grasped both
the wrinkled hands and was gazing searchingly into the old woman's face
as if she would wring information out of her.

"You wouldn't tell me if you did," said Geraldine in a low voice. "You
are afraid of your son. I saw it in your eyes downstairs. Had my father
reason to be afraid of him? Tell me that. That is what I want to know."

"Your father is dead. What difference does it make?" asked the old
woman, looking from side to side as if for a means of escape from the
strong young hands and eyes.

"Yes, poor Daddy. Well, I have come to help you, Mrs. Carder." The
speaker released the wrinkled hands and the old woman rose in relief. "I
have come to work for you, not for your son, and I am not going to be
afraid of him."

The mother shook her head.

"We all work for him, my dear. He holds the purse-strings."

Geraldine seemed to see him holding the actual bag and leering at her
over it with his odious, oblique eye and smile.

"And let me give you a word of advice," continued the old woman,
lowering her voice and looking toward the door. "Don't make him mad.
It's terrible when he's angry." She winked and lowered her voice to a
whisper. "He's crazy about you and he's the biggest man in the county."
The old woman nodded and snapped her eyes knowingly. "You've got a home
here for life if you don't make him mad. For life. I'll go down and make
the tea. You come down pretty soon."

She disappeared, leaving Geraldine standing in the middle of the room.
She looked about her at the cheap, meager furniture, the small mirror
that distorted her face, the bare outlook from the window.

"For life!" she repeated to herself. "For life!"



CHAPTER III

The Prince


Miss Upton's accounts were still in a muddle when she reached Keefe. Try
as she might her unruly thoughts would wander back to the golden hair
and dark, wistful eyes of that forlorn girl.

"I was such a fool to lose her!" she kept saying to herself. "Such a
fool."

Arrived at her station she left the car, encumbered by her bulging bag
and the umbrella which had performed a nobler deed to-day than keeping
off the rain.

"I don't know, though," soliloquized Miss Mehitable. "If I hadn't had my
umbrella I couldn't have stopped him and he'd have sat with her and I
shouldn't be havin' a span-tod now."

From the car in front of her she saw descend a young man with a bag. He
was long-legged, lean and broad-shouldered, and Miss Upton, who had
known him all his life, estimated him temperately as a mixture of
Adonis, Apollo, and Hercules. He caught sight of his friend now and a
merry look came into his eyes. Miss Mehitable's mental perturbation and
physical weariness had given her plump face a troubled cast, accented by
the fact that her hat was slightly askew. The young man hurried forward
and was in time to ease his portly friend down the last step of her car.

"Howdy, Miss Mehit?" he said. "You look as if the great city hadn't
treated you well."

"Ben Barry, was you on this train?" she asked dismally.

"I was. My word, you're careful of your complexion! An umbrella with
such a sky as this!"

"You don't know what that umbrella has meant to me to-day," returned
Miss Upton with no abatement of the portentous in her tone. "Let me have
my bag, Ben. The top don't shut very good and you might drop something
out."

"You must let me take you home," he said. "You don't look fit to walk.
You have certainly had a big day. Anything left in the shops? The Upton
Emporium must be going to surprise the natives."

As he talked, the young man led his friend along the platform to where a
handsome motor waited among the dusty line of vehicles. "Gee, I'm off
for a vacation and I'm beginning to appreciate Keefe, Miss Upton. The
air is great out here."

"That's nice for your mother," observed Miss Mehitable wearily.

They both greeted the chauffeur, who wore a plain livery. Miss Upton
sank back among the cushions. "It's awful good of you to take me home,
Ben. I'm just beat out."

"Miss Upton's celebrated notions, I suppose," returned the young fellow
as the car started. "They get harder to select every year, perhaps."

"I've come home with just one notion this time," returned his companion
with sudden fierceness. "It is that I'm a fool."

"Now, Mehit, don't tell me you've fallen a prey in the gay metropolis
and lost a lot of money."

"That's nothin' to what has happened. I'm poor and I don't know what I'd
do if I lost money, but, Ben Barry, it's much worse than that."

"Look here, you're scaring me. I'm timid."

"If I'd seen you on the train I could have told you all about it; but
there isn't time now." In fact the motor was rapidly traversing the
short distance up the main street and was now approaching a shop on the
elm-shaded trolley track which bore across its front a sign reading:
"Upton's Notions and Fancy Goods."

Before Miss Mehitable disembarked, and this was a matter of some
moments, she turned wistfully to her companion.

"Ben, do you think your mother ever gets lonely?"

"I've never seen any sign of it. Why? What were you thinking of--that I
ought to give up the law school and come home and turn market-gardener?
I sometimes think I'd like it."

Miss Upton continued to study his clean-cut face wistfully.

"Don't she need a secretary, or a sort of a--a sort of a companion?"

"Why? Have you had about as much of Bright-Eyes as you can stand? Do you
want to make a present of her to some undeserving person?"

Miss Upton shook her head. "No, indeed, it ain't poor Charlotte I'm
thinkin' of, Ben," again speaking impressively. "Can you spare time to
come over and see me a little while to-morrow afternoon? I know your
mother always has a lot of young folks in for tea for you Sundays."

"She won't to-morrow. I told her I wanted to lie in the grass under the
apple-blossoms and compose sonnets; but your feelings will do just as
well."

"I must tell somebody, and you know Charlotte isn't sympathetic."

"No, except perhaps with a porcupine. You might try her with one of
those. Tether it in the back yard, and when she is in specially good
form turn her out there and let them sport together.--Easy now,
Mehit--easy." For Miss Upton's escort had jumped out and she was
essaying to leave the car.

"If I ever knew which foot to put first," she said desperately,
withdrawing the left and reaching down gingerly with her right.

"Let me have the bag and the umbrella," suggested her companion. "Now,
then, one light spring. Steady!" For clutching both the young man's
hands she made him quiver to the shock as she fell against him.

"I'm clumsy when I'm tired, Ben," she explained. "I'm so much obliged to
you, and you will come over to-morrow afternoon?"

"To hear about the umbrella? Yes, indeed! Look at its fine open
countenance. You can see at once that it has performed some great deed
to-day." He shook the capacious fluttering folds and handed it to its
owner.

"Thank you so much, Ben, and give my love to your mother."

The young fellow jumped into the car and sped away and Miss Upton
plodded slowly up to her door whose bell pealed sharply as it was pulled
open by an unseen hand, and a colorless, sour-visaged woman appeared in
the entrance. Her hay-colored hair was strained back and wound in a
tight, small knot, her forehead wore a chronic scowl, and her one-sided
mouth had a vinegary expression.

"Think you're smart, don't you?" was her greeting; "comin' home in a
grand automobile with the biggest ketch in the village."

"Yes, wasn't I lucky?" responded Miss Upton nasally. "I hope the
kettle's on, Charlotte. I'm beat out."

"Well, what did you stay so long for? That's what you always do--stay
till the last dog's hung and wear yourself out." The speaker snatched
the bag and umbrella and Miss Mehitable followed her into the house,
through the shop, and into the little living-room at the back where an
open fire burned in the Franklin stove and the tea-table was neatly set
for two.

Miss Upton regarded the platter of sliced meat, the amber preserve, and
napkin-enfolded biscuit listlessly.

"How nice you always make a table look," she said.

"Well, set right down and give me your hat and jacket. Drink some tea
before you talk any more. I should think you'd have some sense by this
time."

Scolding away, Charlotte poured the tea and Miss Mehitable drank it in
silence. Her companion's monotonous grumbling was like the ticking of
the clock so far as any effect it had upon her. The autumn before, this
woman's drunken husband, Whipp by name, had passed out of her life. She
was penniless, not strong, and friendless as much by reason of her
sharp tongue as by her poor circumstances. Miss Upton hired her one day
a week for cleaning and once upon a time fell ill herself, when this
unpromising person developed such a kindly touch in nursing and so much
common sense in tending the little shop, that Miss Mehitable, seeing
what a godsend it would be to the poor creature, asked her to stay on;
since which time, though no gratitude had ever been expressed in words,
Mrs. Whipp had taken upon herself the ruling of the small establishment
and its mistress with all the vigor possible. Miss Upton had told her to
bring with her anything she valued and the widow had twisted her thin,
one-sided mouth: "There ain't a thing in that shanty I don't wish was
burned except Pearl," she said. "I'll bring her if you'll let me. She's
a Malty cat."

"Oh, bring her along," Miss Mehitable had replied. "I suppose I won't
really sense that I'm an old maid until there's a cat in the house."

So Pearl came, and to-night she sat blinking at the leaping flame in the
open stove while the two women ate their supper in the long spring
evening.

"I brought some things home in my bag," said Miss Upton, "but most o'
them are comin' out Monday."

"Put in a good day, did you?" asked Charlotte, who, now that her mind
was relieved of rebukes, was ready to listen to the tales she always
expected when Miss Mehitable returned from her trips.

"Yes, I think I did pretty well," was the answer.

But the widow regarded her friend with dissatisfaction. This dispirited
manner was very different from the effervescence which usually bubbled
over in anecdote.

"Well, next time don't stay till you're worn to a frazzle," she said.

"I missed the train, Charlotte. That was what happened."

"Well, didn't Mr. Barry have anything to say comin' out on the train?"
asked Mrs. Whipp, determined to get some of her usual proxy satisfaction
from Miss Upton's outing.

"I never saw him till we got to Keefe. Oh, Charlotte, if I'd ever met a
boy like him when I was young I wouldn't be keepin' a store now with
another woman and a cat."

"H'm, you're better off as you are. Ben Barry's young yet. He'll be in
plenty of mischief before he's forty. His mother was in the shop to-day.
With all her money it's queer she never married again."

"Oh, she's just wrapped up in her flowers and chickens," remarked Miss
Mehitable.

"Well," returned Charlotte, "seems to me if I had a big house and
grounds like that, I'd want somebody around besides servants."

Miss Mehitable lifted her eyes from her meat and potato and gazed at her
companion.

"Queer you should say that," she returned. "I was speakin' of that very
thing to Ben to-day. I should really think his mother would like
somebody; somebody young and--and pleasant, you know."

"Well," returned Charlotte, breaking open a biscuit, "I suppose havin'
got rid of her husband she thinks she'll let well enough alone. She's
the happiest-lookin' woman in town. Why not? She's got the most money
and no man to bother her."

"Why, Charlotte Whipp, you don't know what you're sayin'. Ben's father
was a fine man. For years after he died Mrs. Barry couldn't hardly
smile. Yes"--Miss Upton's thoughtful manner returned--"Ben's away so
much I should think she'd like to have somebody, say a nice young girl
with her. Of course, to folks with motors Keefe ain't much more'n a
suburb to the city now, and Mrs. Barry, with her three months in town
and three months to the port and six months here, has a full, pleasant
life, and I s'pose that fine son fills it. Wasn't she fortunate to get
him out o' the war safe? You'd ought to 'a' seen him in his Naval
Aviation uniform, Charlotte. He looked like a prince; but he could 'a'
bitten a board nail because he never got to go across the water. I
s'pose his mother's average patriotic, but I guess she thanked Heaven he
couldn't go. She didn't dare say anything like that before him, though.
It was a terrible disappointment. Oh, Charlotte"--Miss Upton bent a
wistful smile on her table-mate--"I can't help thinkin' what a
wonderful home the Barry house would be for some needy girl--a lady, you
know."

"H'm!" Charlotte's twisted mouth contracted further as she gave a dry
little sniff. "She'd probably fall in love with Ben, and he wouldn't
give a snap for her, so she'd be miserable anyway."

Miss Mehitable shook her head. "If all your probablys came true,
Charlotte, what a world this would be."

"What a world it _is_!" retorted the other. "Have some more tea"--then
as Miss Mehitable demurred--"Yes, have some. It'll do you good and maybe
brighten up your wits so's you can remember somethin' that's happened to
you to-day."

Miss Upton cudgeled her brain for the small occurrences of her shopping
and managed to recall a few items; but she was not in her usual form and
Charlotte received her offerings with scornful sniffs and silence.

Miss Upton's dreams that night were troubled and the sermon next morning
fell on deaf ears. Ben and his mother were both in the Barry pew near
the memorial window to his father. She could not resist the drawing
which made her head turn periodically to make certain that Ben was
really there. Miss Mehitable respected men in general, especially in
time of trouble, and in this case the legal mind attracted her. Ben was
going to be a lawyer even if he wasn't one yet. The Barrys had money and
influence, they were always friendly to her, and while she could not
impart poor little Geraldine's story to Mrs. Barry direct without
appearing to beg, it might reach and interest her via Ben.

When the last hymn had been sung and the benediction pronounced, Miss
Upton watched with jealous eyes the various interruptions to the Barrys'
progress down the aisle. Everybody liked to have a word with them. All
the girls were willing to make it easy to be asked to the hospitable
house for Sunday tea. Miss Mehitable glowered at the bolder and more
aggressive of these as she moved along a side aisle.

When mother and son finally reached the sunlit out-of-doors they found
Miss Upton waiting beside the steps.

"Why, if here isn't the fair Mehit," remarked Ben as they approached,
and his mother smiled and shook her regal head and Miss Upton's hand
simultaneously.

"I don't understand why you allow Ben to be so disrespectful," she said.

"Law, Mrs. Barry," replied Miss Upton, "you must know that women don't
care anything about bein' _respected_. What they want is to be _liked_;
and Ben's a good friend o' mine."

"Sure thing," remarked the young fellow, something in Miss Mehitable's
eyes reminding him of her portentous yesterday and his promise. "Oh, I
forgot to tell you, mother, Miss Upton is going home to dinner with us
to-day."

"No, no, I'm not, Ben," put in Miss Mehitable hastily. "I couldn't leave
Charlotte alone for Sunday dinner; but"--she looked at Mrs. Barry--"I do
want to see Ben about something and he promised me a little time this
afternoon."

"Mehit got into trouble yesterday," Ben explained to his mother.
"Somebody tried to rob her of her notions and she beaned him with her
umbrella. She's scared to death and she wants to consult the law." The
speaker delivered a blow on his chest.

"I know you hate to spare him the little time he's home, Mrs. Barry,"
said Miss Upton apologetically; "but I'll keep him only a short time
and--and I couldn't hardly sleep last night, though it ain't any o' my
business, _really_."

"It's a good business if you're in it, I know that," said Mrs. Barry
kindly, "and I'll lend you Ben with pleasure if he can do you any good!"

"Then when will you be over, Ben?" asked Miss Mehitable anxiously. "I'd
like to know just when to expect you."

"You don't tr-r-ust me, that's what's the matter," he returned. "Will
you promise to muzzle Merry Sunshine?"

"I--I think perhaps Charlotte will go out to walk," returned Miss Upton,
somewhat troubled herself to know how to insure privacy in her
restricted domain. "She does, sometimes, Sundays."

"How does it affect the Keefe springtime to have her walk out in it?"
inquired Ben solicitously.

"I'll tell you, Ben," said his mother, sympathetic with the anxiety in
Miss Mehitable's face, "bring Miss Upton over to see our
apple-blossoms, and you can have your talk at our house."

Relief overspread Miss Upton's round countenance.

"Certainly. I'll call for you at three," said Ben, "Blackstone under my
arm. If Merry Sunshine attacks me it will be a trusty weapon. Hop into
the car, Mehit, and we'll run you home."

Mrs. Barry laughed. "The sermon doesn't seem to have done him any good
this morning, Miss Upton. We shall be glad to take you home."



CHAPTER IV

The Good Fairy


So again Mrs. Whipp saw her friend and employer descend from the Barry
car.

She didn't open the door for her this time, but sat, rocking, in the
shop with Pearl in her lap, and sniffed at her as she entered.

"You and your fine friends," she scoffed. "Pretty soon you won't demean
yourself to use the trolley at all."

"If you had only been willing to come to church, Charlotte, they'd have
brought you home, too," said Miss Mehitable, hoping she was telling the
truth.

"'The Sabbath was made for man,'" snapped Mrs. Whipp, "not man for the
Sabbath, to go and hear that man talk through his nose!"

"Now, Charlotte, I refused to go home to dinner with them just so's you
and I could have our meal together; so don't you make me sorry."

Mrs. Whipp had started up at once alertly on her friend's entrance,
spilling Pearl, and was already removing Miss Mehitable's jacket and hat
with deft fingers and receiving the silk gloves she pulled off.

"H'm, I don't believe they'll eat any better things than we're goin' to
have. How can I go to church and have us a good hot dinner?"

"Sunday dinner should be cold mainly," returned Miss Upton calmly. "Mine
always was till you came. Of course you're such a splendid cook,
Charlotte, it's kind of a temptation to you to spoil me and feed me up,
yet you know I ought not to eat much."

"Oh, pshaw," returned Mrs. Whipp. "More folks die from the lack o' good
things than from eatin' 'em."

"You'll have to look out," said Miss Mehitable warningly, following her
friend's lead to the sunny living-room where the table was spread. "It's
a sayin' that good cooks are always cross. The better you cook the more
you must watch to have your temper as sweet as your sauces."

"Ho! Vinegar's just as important as oil," retorted the other. "You're so
smooth to everybody it's a good thing I came to live with you and keep
you from bein' imposed upon."

Miss Mehitable laughed. "You think together we make a pretty good salad,
do you?" she returned.

When dinner was on the table and they were both seated, Miss Upton spoke
again:

"I wonder how you're goin' to like it to the port?" she said.

"Awful rheumatic, I sh'd think 'twould be," returned Mrs. Whipp.

"Pretty soon we'll have to be goin'," said Miss Upton. "I usually lock
everything up here tight as a drum for three months. I was talkin' to a
man in town yesterday that thought it was a joke that folks in Keefe
just went a few miles to their seashore cottages. He was from Chicago
where you have to go a thousand miles to get anywhere. I told him I
couldn't see anything funny about it. Keefe was a village and Keefeport
was a resort; but he kept on laughin' and said it was like lockin' the
door of one home and goin' across the street to another, then back again
in the fall. I told him I was full as satisfied as I would be to have
to make my way through Indians and buffaloes to get anywhere as you have
to in those wild Western cities. He claimed that it was perfectly
civilized around Chicago now; but of course he'd say that."

"H'm," returned Mrs. Whipp, non-committally.

"Now I was thinkin', Charlotte, that there ain't a reason in the world
why you should go to the port if you don't want to. You can stay right
here and look after the house. I shall move the shop goods just as I
always do to my little port place."

"You don't get along there alone, do you?" asked Charlotte hastily.

"No; one o' the schoolgirls is always glad to live with me in vacation
and work for her board. I had Nellie McIntyre last summer."

"Oh, of course, if you'd rather have Nellie."

"I wouldn't," said Miss Upton calmly; "but she don't have rheumatism nor
mind the dampness. She thinks it's a great chance to be to the shore and
swim every day, and she's happy as a bird from mornin' till night. If
she ain't to go this year, I must let the child know, for I expect
she's lottin' on it."

The silence that followed this was broken only by the purring of Pearl
who had established herself upon a broad beam of sunshine which lay
across the ingrain carpet. Miss Mehitable was recklessly extravagant of
carpets in Mrs. Whipp's opinion. She would not allow the shutting-out of
the sunlight.

Miss Upton drank her tea busily now to conceal her desire to smile. Some
of Ben Barry's comments upon her companion returned to her irresistibly;
for she easily followed Charlotte's present mental processes.

Mrs. Whipp was in a most uncomfortable corner and her friend had driven
her into it with such bland kindness that it made the situation doubly
difficult. There was nothing Charlotte could resent in being offered a
summer of ease in the Keefe cottage; but to be confronted with the
alternatives of renouncing all right to complain of fog and storm, or
else to part from Miss Mehitable and allow her to run her own life and
notions for the whole summer, was a dilemma which drove her also to
drinking a great deal of tea, and leaving the floor to Pearl for some
minutes.

Miss Upton did not help her out, but, regaining control of her risibles,
continued to eat and drink placidly, allowing her companion to
cerebrate.

Well she knew that now was the time to defend herself from a summer of
grumbling as continuous as the swish of waves on the shore; and well she
knew also her companion's verbally unexpressed but intense devotion to
herself which made any prospect of their separation a panic. So she
waited and Pearl purred.

One Mr. Lugubrious Blue flits through the drawings of a certain famous
cartoonist. Mr. Blue's mission is to take the joy out of life and
Charlotte Whipp was his blood kin. The tip of her long nose was as
chilly as his and her gloom was similarly chronic. Miss Upton was
determined that she would not be the first to break in upon Pearl's
solo.

Finally Charlotte spoke:

"Do the Barrys have a house to the port?"

"Yes, a real cottage. The rest of us have shelters, but you can't call
'em houses."

Mrs. Whipp looked up apprehensively. "Do you mean they let in the rain?"

"Sometimes in storms," returned Miss Upton cheerfully, "but we run
around with pans and catch it."

Mrs. Whipp viewed her bread and butter gloomily, the down-drawn corner
of her one-sided mouth unusually depressed.

Miss Mehitable felt a wild desire to laugh. She wished she could keep
Ben Barry out of her mind during this important interview. Her kind
heart administered a little comfort.

"You see, there isn't any lath and plaster to the cottage, but it's good
and tight except in very bad weather," she said.

"It's a wonder you don't get rheumatics yourself," vouchsafed Charlotte.

"Nobody thinks of such a thing in that beautiful sun-soaked place,"
returned Miss Upton.

"Sun-stroke did you say?" asked Mrs. Whipp, looking up quickly.

"No." Miss Mehitable indulged in one frank laugh. "Sun-soaked."

"Sounds more like water-logged to me from your description," said the
other sourly, returning to her dinner. "I don't see why you go there."

"For two reasons. First, because I love it better than any place on
earth, and second, because it's good business. I do a better business
there than I do here. You think it over, Charlotte, because I ought to
let Nellie know."

"Well, you can let Nellie know that I'm goin'," replied Mrs. Whipp
crossly. "What sense is there in your takin' a girl to the port to go in
swimmin' while you work?"

"Nellie was a very good little helper," declared Miss Mehitable, again
taking refuge in her teacup. When she set it down she continued: "If you
think, Charlotte, that you can make up your mind to take the bitter with
the sweet, the rain and the sun, the fog and the wind, why, come along;
but it don't do a bit o' good to argue with Neptune. He'll stick his
fork right through you if you do."

Mrs. Whipp stared, but Miss Upton's eyes were twinkling so she suspected
this was just one of her jokes.

"I never was one to shirk," she declared curtly.

"Then I can tell Nellie you want to go?"

That word "want" made Charlotte writhe and was probably accountable for
the extra acidity of her reply:

"Yes, unless you're tongue-tied," she returned.

When dinner was over and the dishes washed and put away (Miss Upton's
Sunday suit being enveloped in a huge gingham apron during the
performance), Miss Mehitable watched solicitously to see if Charlotte
manifested any symptoms of going out for a constitutional. She asked
herself, with a good deal of severity, why she should dread to inform
Mrs. Whipp of her own plan for the afternoon.

"I guess I'm free, white, and twenty-one," thought Miss Upton. But all
the same she continued to cast furtive glances at Mrs. Whipp, who showed
every sign of relapsing into a rocking-chair with Pearl in her lap.

"It's a real pleasant day, Charlotte," she said. "Ain't you goin' to
walk?"

Mrs. Whipp yawned. "Dunno as I am."

"I've got to go out again," pursued Miss Mehitable intrepidly, but she
felt the dull gaze that at once turned and fixed upon her. "I've got to
see Ben Barry about some business that came up in the city yesterday."

"I knew you had something on your mind last night," returned Mrs. Whipp,
triumphantly. "I notice you wouldn't tell _me_."

"You ain't a lawyer, Charlotte Whipp."

"Neither is that young whipper-snapper," rejoined the widow, "but then
of course he's a Barry."

"You do try my patience dreadfully, Charlotte," declared Miss Mehitable,
her plump cheeks scarlet. "If you didn't know when you came here that
Mrs. Barry is one o' the best friends I've got in the world, I'll tell
you so now. You needn't be throwin' 'em up to me just because they've
got money. I'm goin' there whenever they ask me, and this afternoon's
one o' the times."

She felt like a child who works its elbows to throw off some hampering
annoyance. How her companion managed to hold her under the spell of
domination which seemed merely a heavy weight of silent disapproval, she
did not understand. It always meant jealousy, Miss Mehitable knew that,
and usually her peace-loving, sunny nature pacified and coaxed the
offended one, but occasionally she stood her ground. She knew that
presently the Barry car would again draw up before her gate and she felt
she must forestall Charlotte's sneers.

"How soon you goin'?" inquired the latter mildly.

"At three o'clock," returned Miss Upton bravely.

"Let me fix your collar," said Charlotte, rising; "your apron rumpled it
all up."

"Why can't I remember to bully her oftener?" thought Miss Mehitable. "It
always does her good just like medicine."

Promptly at three Ben Barry jumped out of his car before Miss Upton's
Emporium, and Mrs. Whipp dodged behind the window-curtain and watched
them drive away.

"I saw that cute Lottie looking after us," said Ben.

"Poor thing, I kind o' hate to leave her on a Sunday," said Miss Upton,
sighing.

"'The better the day, the better the deed,'" remarked her companion.
"You've got me all het up about you and your umbrella. What's my part?
To keep you out of the lock-up? Whom did you 'sault 'n' batter? When
are you going to tell me?"

"You see that's one thing that's the matter with Charlotte," said Miss
Mehitable. "She does hate to think I'm keepin' anything from her and she
felt it in the air."

"Do you believe she'll visit you in prison? I'll address the jury
myself. I maintain that one punishment's enough. You at least deserve a
holiday. Say, Mehit, me dear, I've a big surprise for you, too. You know
I told you I warned mother to have no guests this afternoon."

"Yes, you said you wanted to write poetry--Ben"--the speaker suddenly
grasped the driver's coat-sleeve--"I never thought of it till this
minute, but, Ben Barry"--Miss Upton's voice expressed acute dismay--"are
you in love?"

"Why, does it mean so much to you, little one?" responded Ben
sentimentally.

"You wouldn't take near as much interest, not near as much if you've got
a girl on your mind."

"One? Dozens, Mehit. I'm only human, dear."

"If it's dozens, it's all right," returned Miss Upton, relieved.
"There's always room for one more in that case, but what is your
surprise, then, Ben?"

"I didn't want to be alone to write poetry. I wanted to gloat,
undisturbed. My dandy mother is giving me something I've been aching to
have."

Miss Upton's face brightened. "Yes, I know. Something's being built way
back o' your house. Folks are wonderin' what it is. It looks like some
queer kind of a stable. What in the world can you want, Ben! You've got
the cars and a motor-cycle, and a saddle-horse."

"Well"--confidentially--"don't tell, Mehit, but I wanted a zebra. Horses
are too commonplace."

"But they can't be tamed, zebras can't," returned Miss Upton, much
disturbed. "I've read about 'em. You'll be killed. I shall--"

"I _must_ have a zebra and a striped riding-suit to be happy. While
you're wearing the stripes in jail I'll come and ride up and down
outside your barred window and cheer you up."

"I don't believe it's a zebra," declared Miss Mehitable; "but if it is I
shall tell your mother you cannot have it, Ben Barry."

"And yet you expect me to sympathize with your umbrella--"

"Oh, how beautiful!" exclaimed Miss Upton suddenly; for now the tinted,
pearly pink cloud of the Barrys' apple-orchard came in view.

The house was a brick structure with broad verandas, set back among
well-kept lawns and drives, and its fine elm trees were noted. Mrs.
Barry was reclining in a hammock-chair under one of them as the car
drove in, and she rose and came to meet the guest. Miss Mehitable
thought she looked like a queen as her erect, graceful figure moved
across the lawn in the long silken cape that floated back and showed its
violet lining.

"It's perfectly beautiful here to-day," she said as the hostess greeted
her; "but, oh, Mrs. Barry, I suppose I'm a fool to ever believe
Ben"--the speaker cast a glance around at her escort--"but you won't let
him have a zebra, will you? They're the most dangerous animals. He says
you're goin' to give him--"

"My dear Miss Upton," Mrs. Barry laughed, "I do need a scolding, I know.
I've allowed myself to be talked into something crazy--crazy. It's much
worse than a zebra, but you know what a big disappointment Ben had last
year--flapping his wings and aching and longing to go across the sea
while Uncle Sam obstinately refused to let him go over and end the War?
All dressed up and no place to go! Poor Benny!" Mrs. Barry glanced at
her son, laughing. "He did need some consolation prize, and anyway he
persuaded me to let him have an aeroplane."

"Mrs.--_Barry_!" returned Miss Mehitable, and she gazed around at Ben
with wide eyes.

"I'm such a bird, you see," he explained.

"Well," said the visitor after a pause, drawing her suspended breath,
"I'm glad I can talk to you before you're killed."

"Oh, not so bad as that," said Mrs. Barry. "He is at home in the air,
you know, and he assures me they will soon be quite common. Come up on
the veranda, Miss Upton. I'm going to hide you and Ben in a corner
where no one will disturb you."

"What a big place for you to live in all alone," observed Mehitable as
they moved toward the house, and Ben drove the car to the garage.

"Yes, it is; but I'm so busy with my chickens and my bees I'm never
lonely. I'm quite a farmer, Miss Upton. See how fine my orchard is this
year? I tell Ben that so long as he doesn't light in my apple-trees we
can be friends."

"I think you're awful venturesome, Mrs. Barry!"

That lady smiled as they moved up the steps to the veranda, the black
and violet folds of her shimmering wrap blowing about her in lines of
beauty that fascinated her companion.

"What else can the mother of a boy be?" she returned. "Ben has been
training me in courage ever since he was born; apparently the prize-ring
or the circus would have been his natural field of operations; so I have
chained him down to the law and given him an aeroplane so he can work
off his extra steam away from the publicity of earth."

At last the hostess withdrew, and Miss Upton found herself alone with
her embryo lawyer in a sheltered corner of the porch where the vines
were hastening to sprout their curtaining green, and a hammock,
comfortable chairs, a table and books proclaimed the place an
out-of-door sitting-room.

"Your mother is wonderful," she began when her companion had placed her
satisfactorily and had stretched himself out in a listening attitude,
his hands clasped behind his head and his eyes on hers.

What eyes they were, Miss Upton thought. Clear and light-brown, the
color of water catching the light in a swift, sunny brook.

"She is a queen," he responded with conviction.

"A pity such a woman hasn't got a daughter," said Miss Mehitable
tentatively.

"I'm going to give her one some day." A smile accompanied this.

"Is she picked out?"

Ben laughed at his companion's anxious tone. "You seem interested in my
prospects. That's the second time you have seemed worried at the idea.
No, she isn't picked out. I'm going to hunt for her in the stars. Why?
Have you some one selected?"

"Law, no!" returned Miss Upton, flushing. "It is a--yes, it is a girl
I've come to talk to you about, though." The visitor stammered and grew
increasingly confused as she proceeded. "I thought--I didn't know--the
girl needs somebody--yes, to--to look after her and I thought your
mother bein'--bein' all alone and the house so big, she might have some
use for a--young girl, you know, a kind of a helper; but Charlotte says
the girl would fall in love with you and--and--" Miss Upton paused,
drawing her handkerchief through and through her hands and looking
anxiously at her companion who leaned his head back still farther and
laughed aloud.

"Come, now, that's the most sensible speech that ever fell from Lottie's
rosebud lips." He sat up and viewed his visitor, who, in spite of her
crimson embarrassment, was gazing at him appealingly. "I don't believe,
Mehit, my dear, that you've begun at the beginning, and you'll have to,
you know, if you want legal advice."

"I never do, Ben; I am so stupid. I always do begin right in the middle,
but now I'll go back. You know I went to the city yesterday."

"You and the umbrella."

"Yes, and I was mad at myself for luggin' it around all the mornin' when
the weather turned out so pleasant and I had so many other things; but
never _mind_"--the narrator tightened her lips impressively--"that
umbrella was all _right_."

"Sure thing," put in Ben. "How could you have rescued the girl without
it?"

Miss Upton's eyes widened. "How did you know I did?"

"The legal mind, you know, the legal mind."

"Oh, but I didn't rescue her near enough, not near enough," mourned Miss
Mehitable. "I must go on. I got awful tired shoppin' and I went into a
restaurant for lunch. I got set down to one table, but it was so
draughty I moved to another where a young girl was sittin' alone. A man,
a homely, long-necked critter made for that place too, but I got there
first. I don't know whether I'm glad or sorry I did. Ben, she was the
prettiest girl in this world."

Miss Upton paused to see if this solemn statement awakened an interest
in her listener.

"Maybe," he replied placidly; "but then there are the stars, you know."

"She had lots of golden hair, and dark eyes and lashes, with kind o'
long dark corners to 'em, and a sad little mouth the prettiest shape you
ever saw. We got to talkin' and she told me about herself. It was like a
story. She had a cruel stepmother who didn't want her around, so kept
her away at school, and a handsome, extravagant father without enough
backbone to stand up for her; and on top of everything he died suddenly.
Her stepmother had money and she put this poor child in a cheap
lodgin'-house tellin' her to find a job, and she herself went calmly off
travelin'. This poor lamb tried one place after another, but her beauty
always stood in her way. I'm ashamed to speak of such things to you,
Ben, but I've got to, to make you understand. She said she wondered if
there were any good men in this world. She was in despair."

Ben's eyes twinkled, but his lips were serious as he returned his
friend's valiant gaze.

"Her name is Geraldine Melody. Did you ever hear such a pretty name?"
Miss Upton scrutinized her listener's face for some stir of interest.

"I never did. Your girl was a very complete story-teller. You blessed
soul! and you've had all these thrills over that!" Ben leaned forward
and took his companion's hand affectionately. "I didn't believe even you
would fall for drug-store hair, darkened eyes, and that chestnut story.
What did the fair Geraldine touch you for?"

Miss Upton returned his compassionate gaze with surprise and
indignation. "She didn't touch me. What do you mean? Why shouldn't she
if she wanted to? I tell you her eyes and her story were all the truth,
Ben Barry. I ain't a fool."

"No, dear, no. Of course. But how much did you give her?"

"Give her what?"

"Money."

"I didn't give her any, poor lamb." Into Miss Mehitable's indignant eyes
came a wild look. "I wonder if I'd ought to have. I wonder if it would
have helped any."

Ben gave a low laugh. "I'll bet she had the disappointment of her young
life: to tell you that yarn, and tell it so convincingly, and yet dear
old Mehit never rose to the bait!"

Miss Upton glared at him and pulled her hand away. He leaned back and
resumed his former easy attitude. "When are you going to reach the
umbrella?" he asked.

"I've passed it," snapped Miss Mehitable, angry and baffled. "I kept
that long-necked, gawky man off with it, pretty near tripped him up so's
I could get to the table with that poor child."

Ben shook his head slowly. "To think of it! That good old umbrella after
a well-spent life to get you into a trap like that. All the same"--he
looked admiringly at his companion--"there's no hay-seed in _your_ hair.
The dam-sell--pardon, Mehit, it's all right to say damsel, isn't
it?--didn't think best to press things quite far enough to get into your
pocket-book. You call it a rescue. Why do you? Geraldine might have got
something out of the gawk."

Miss Upton's head swung from side to side on her short neck as she gazed
at her friend for a space in defiant silence. His smile irritated her
beyond words.

"Look here, Ben Barry," she said at last; "young folks think old folks
are fools. Old folks _know_ young folks are. Now I want to find that
girl. I see you won't help me, but you can tell me where to get a
detective."

Ben raised his eyebrows. "Hey-doddy-doddy, is it as serious as that?
Geraldine is some actress. It would be a good thing if you could let
well enough alone; but I suspect you'll have to find her before you can
settle down and give Lottie that attention to which she has been
accustomed. I will help you. We won't need any detective. You shall meet
me in town next Saturday. We'll go to that restaurant and others. Ten to
one we'll find her."

"She's left the city," announced Miss Upton curtly.

"She told you so?" the amused question was very gentle.

"That cat of a stepmother had a relative on a farm, some place so
God-forsaken they couldn't keep help, so the cat kindly told the girl
she was desertin' that if other jobs failed she could go there. I've
told you why the other jobs did fail, and it's the truth whether you
believe it or not, and at the time I met her the poor child had given up
hope and decided to take that last resort."

Ben bit his lip. "Back to the farm, Geraldine!"

Miss Upton's head again swung from side to side and again she glared at
her companion.

"It would surprise you very much if we were to meet her in town next
Saturday, wouldn't it?" he added.

"I'd be so glad I'd hug her beautiful little head off," returned Miss
Mehitable fervently.

"Do that, dear, if you must. It would be better than bringing her out
here to be a companion to mother." Miss Upton's eyes were so fiery that
Ben smothered his laugh. "I'm nearly sure that Miss Melody wouldn't suit
mother as a companion."

"I wouldn't allow her to come anywhere near you," returned Miss Upton
hotly. "I s'pose you think she didn't go to the farm. Well, I saw her go
myself with that very gawk I tripped up with my umbrella."

"Of course you did," laughed Ben; "and pretty mad he was doubtless when
she told him she hadn't got a rise out of you. Those people usually work
in pairs. We'll probably see him, too."

Miss Upton clutched the iron table in front of her and swung herself to
her feet with superhuman celerity.

"Ben Barry, you're entirely too smart for the law!" she said. "You'll
never stoop to try a case. You'll know everything beforehand. You're a
kind of a mixture of a clairvoyant and a Sherlock Holmes, you are. If
you'd seen as I did that beautiful, touchin' young face turn to stone
when that raw-boned, cross-eyed thing looked at her so--so hungry-like,
and took possession of her as though he was only goin' to wait till they
got home to eat her up--and I let 'em go!" Miss Upton reverted to her
chief woe. "I let 'em go without findin' out _where_, when in all the
world that poor child had nobody but me, a country jake she met in a
restaurant, to care whether that Carder picked her bones after he got
her to his cave."

"That what?"

"Carder, Rufus Carder. The one thing I have got is his hateful name. He
lives 'way off on a farm somewheres, but knowin' his name, a detective
ought to--"

Ben Barry leaned forward in his chair and his eyes ceased to twinkle.

"Rufus Carder? If it is the one I'm thinking of, he's one of the biggest
reprobates in the country."

"That's him," returned Miss Upton with conviction. "At first I sized him
up as just awkward and countrified; but the way he looked at the child
and the way he spoke to her showed he wa'n't any weaklin'."

"I should say not. He's as clever as they make 'em and he has piles of
money--other people's money. He can get out of the smallest loophole
known to the law. He always manages to save his own skin while he takes
the other fellow's. Rufus Carder." Ben frowned. "I wonder if it can be."

Miss Upton received his alert gaze and looked down on him in triumph.

"You're wakin' up, are you?" she said. "I guess I don't meet you in town
next Saturday, do I? Oh, Ben"--casting her victory behind her--"do you
mean to say you know where he lives?"

"I know some of the places."

"That farm"--eagerly--"do you know that?"

"Yes. Pretty nearly. I can find it."

"And you mean you will find it? You dear boy! And you'll take me with
you, and we'll bring her back with us. I can make room for her at my
house."

"Hold on, Mehitable. We're dealing with one of the biggest rascals on
the top side of earth. If he wants to keep the girl it may not be simple
to get her. At any rate, it's best for me to go alone first. You write a
note to her and I'll take it and bring back news to you of the lay of
the land."

Miss Upton gazed in speechless hope and gratitude at the young man as he
rose and paced up and down the piazza in thought.

"Oh, Ben," she ejaculated, clasping her hands, "to think that I'm in
time to get you to do this before you kill yourself in that aeroplane!"

"Nothing of the sort, my dear Mehit" he returned. "Remember that, unlike
the zebra, they are tamable in captivity, you'll be soaring with me
yet."

Miss Upton laughed in her relief. "If all they want is something heavier
than air, I'm _it_," she returned.



CHAPTER V

The New Help


Geraldine, begging to be excused from supper on the night of her
arrival, drank the glass of milk that Mrs. Carder gave her, and at an
early hour laid an aching head on her pillow and slept fitfully through
the night.

A heavy rain began to fall and continued in the morning. She still felt
singularly numb toward the world and life in general. Her own room was
bad enough, but outside it was the bare landscape, the desolate house,
and its vulgar host.

Mrs. Carder, under orders from her son, presented herself early with a
tray on which were coffee and toast, and the girl had more than a twinge
of compunction at being waited on by the worn, wrinkled old woman.

"This is Sunday," she said. "I feel very tired. If you will let me stay
here and be lazy until this afternoon, I should like it, but only on
condition that you promise not to bring me anything more or take any
trouble for me."

"Just as you say," responded the old woman; and she reported this
request below stairs. Her son received it with a nod.

All the afternoon he hovered near the parlour with its horsehair
furniture, and about four-thirty the young girl came downstairs. He
greeted her effusively and she endeavored to pass him and go to the
kitchen. The most lively sensation of which she was conscious now was
compassion for the old woman who had brought up her breakfast.

"No, don't go out there," said Rufus decidedly. "Ma is giving the hands
their supper. You'd only be in the way. Sit down and take it easy while
you can."

The speaker established the reluctant guest in a slippery rocking-chair
of ancient days. The atmosphere seemed to indicate that the room had
awakened from a long sleep for her reception.

Rufus sat down near her. "We're a democratic bunch here," he said, eying
his companion as if he could never drink in enough of her youth and
beauty. "We usually eat all together, but distinguished company, you
know," he smiled and winked at her while she listened to the clatter of
knives and forks at the long table in the kitchen. "We'll have our
supper when they get through."

"I should think the servants might relieve your mother of that work,"
said Geraldine.

"Servants! Hired girl, do you mean? Nice time we'd have tryin' to keep
'em here. Oh, Ma's pert as a cricket. She don't mind the work. That's
real kindness, you know, to old folks," he continued. "All a mistake to
put 'em on the shelf. They're lots happier doin' the work they're
accustomed to."

"To-morrow I shall be helping her," said Geraldine mechanically, her
whole soul shrinking from the gloating expression in her companion's
face.

"Depends on how you do it," he responded protectingly. "I don't want
those hands put in dishwater."

"I shall do whatever your mother will let me do," responded the girl
quickly. "That is what I came for. I've come here to earn my living."

Rufus Carder laughed leniently, and leaning forward would have patted
her hand, but she drew it away with a quick motion which warned him to
proceed slowly. In her eyes was an indignant light.

"You can do about as you like with me, little girl," he said fondly. "If
it's a dishwasher for Ma that you want, why, I'll have to get one,
that's all."

"I heard that you have found it very difficult to get help out here."

"I always get whatever I go after," was the reply. And the guest had a
fleeting consolation in the thought that she might make easier the lot
of that wrinkled slave in the kitchen.

"You don't know yet all I can do for you," pursued Carder, and Geraldine
writhed under the self-satisfied gaze which seemed to be taking stock of
her person from head to foot; "nor what I intend to do," he added. "My
wife was a plain sort of woman and I've been wrapped up in business. See
that little buildin' down there side o' the road? That's my office. I
can see everybody who comes in or goes out of the place and can keep my
hand on everything that's doin' on the farm. I've held my nose pretty
close to the grindstone and I've earned the right to let up a little. I
know you find things very plain here, but I'm goin' to give you leave to
do it all over. I intend you shall have just what you want, little
girl."

Every time Rufus Carder used that expression, "little girl," a strange
sensation of nausea crept again around Geraldine's heart. It was as if
he actually caressed her with those big-jointed and not over-clean
hands. She still remembered the pleading of his mother not to make him
angry.

"Your mother should be your first thought," she said.

"Well, that's all right," he returned. "Of course she's gettin' along
and I put water in the kitchen for her this year; but it's legitimate
for young folks to begin where old folks leave off. If it wa'n't so, how
would there be any improvement in the world? You and I'll make lots o'
trips to town until you get this old house to lookin' just the way you
want it. I'm sorry Dick Melody can't come out and see us here."

Tears sprang to the girl's eyes. Tears of grief and an infinite
resentment that this coarse creature could so familiarly name her
father.

Mrs. Carder here appeared to announce that their supper was ready, so no
more was said until in the next room they found a small table set for
two.

"Have you eaten your supper, Mrs. Carder?" Geraldine asked of the
harassed and heated little woman who was hurrying back and forth loaded
with dishes.

"Yes, much as I ever do," was the reply. "I get my meals on the fly."
Then, meeting her son's lowering expression, she hastened to add, "I get
all I want that way, you know. It's the way I like the best."

"It isn't the way you must do while I'm here," responded Geraldine
firmly. "You're tired out. Come and sit down with your son and let me
wait on you while you rest."

"Don't that sound daughterly?" remarked Rufus exultantly. "Perhaps I
didn't know how to pick out the right girl. What?" His mother, relieved
by his returned complacence, became voluble with reassurances; and
Geraldine, seeing that Rufus's hand was approaching her arm, hastily
slid into her chair and he took the opposite place.

"Didn't I tell you we'd make up for the lunch that great porpoise
cheated us out of yesterday?" he said in high good-humor.

Geraldine's desolate heart yearned after the kind friend so soon lost.

"That'll do, Ma. I guess the grub's all on the table. Go chase yourself.
Miss Melody'll pour my coffee."

"Don't wash any of the dishes, Mrs. Carder, please, until I get out
there," said Geraldine.

The old woman disappeared with one last glance at her son whom Geraldine
eyed with sudden steadiness.

He smiled at her with semi-toothless fondness.

"Give me my coffee, little girl. I'm famished. Isn't this jolly--just
you and me?"

Geraldine poured the coffee and handed him the cup; then she spoke
impressively.

"Mr. Carder, this is the last time this must happen. I refuse to sit
down and make a waitress of your old mother. If you insist on showing
her no consideration, I shall go away from here at once."

Her companion laughed, quietly, but with genuine amusement and
admiration.

"By ginger," he said, "when you're mad, you're the handsomest thing
above ground. Go away! That's a good one. Don't I tell you, you can do
anything with me?" The speaker paused to drink his coffee noisily,
keeping his eyes on the exquisite, stiff little mouth opposite him. "I
know I ain't any dandy to look at. I've been too busy rollin' up the
money that's goin' to make you go on velvet the rest o' your days:
you're welcome to change all that, too. Yes, indeed. Never fear. When we
do over the house we're goin' to do over yours truly, too. I'll do
exactly as you say and you can turn me out a fashion plate that'll be
hard to beat."

"I'm not interested in turning you out a fashion plate," returned
Geraldine coldly. "I'm interested in making the lot of your mother
easier, that is all."

Rufus regarded her thoughtfully and nodded. It penetrated his brain that
he had been going too fast with this disdainful beauty. He rather
admired her for her disdain; it added zest to the certainty of her
capitulation.

"Have it your own way, little girl," he said leniently. "I know you're
tired, still. You're not eatin'. Eat a good supper and to-night take
another long sleep and to-morrow everything will look different."

Geraldine still regarded him with an unfaltering gaze. "We are
strangers," she said. "I wish you not to call me 'little girl!'"

Rufus smiled at her admiringly. "It's hard for me to be formal with Dick
Melody's girl," he said. "What shall I call you? My lady? That's all
right, that's what you are. My lady. Another cup o' coffee please, my
lady. It tastes extra good from your fair hands. We'll do away with this
rocky tea-set, too. You're goin' to have eggshell China if you want it;
and of course you do want it, you little princess."

His extreme air of proprietorship had several times during this
interview convinced Geraldine that her host had been drinking. In spite
of his odious frank admiration and the glimpses that he gave of some
disquieting power, Geraldine scorned him too much to be afraid of him,
and while she doubted increasingly that it would be possible for her to
remain here, she determined to see what the morning would bring forth.
The man's passion for acquisition, evidenced by his showmanship of his
accumulations, might again absorb him after the first flush of her
novelty wore off. She would enter into the work of the house, she would
never again sit _tête-à-tête_ with him, and he should find it impossible
to see her alone. His mother had warned her that he was terrible when he
was angry, and Geraldine suspected that the mother always felt the brunt
of his wrath. She must be careful, therefore, not to make the lot of
that mother harder while endeavoring to ease it.

As soon as she could, Geraldine escaped to the kitchen where she found
Mrs. Carder at her wet sink.

"I asked you to wait for me, Mrs. Carder," she said.

The old woman looked up from her steaming pan, her countenance full of
trouble.

"Now, Rufus don't want you to do anything like this, Miss Melody, and
Pete's helpin' me, you see."

Geraldine turned and saw a boy who was carrying a heavy, steaming kettle
from the stove to the sink, and she met his eyes fixed upon her. She
recognized him at once as the driver of the motor in which she and her
host had come from the station. As the chauffeur he had appeared like a
boy of ordinary size, but now she saw that his arms were long and his
legs short and bowed, and in height he would barely reach her shoulder.

The dwarf had a long, solemn, tanned face and a furtive, sullen eye.
Geraldine remembered Rufus Carder's rough tone as he had summoned him at
the station. He was perhaps a wretched, lonely creature like herself.
She met his look with a smile that, directed toward his master, would
have sent Rufus into the seventh heaven of complacence.

"I have met Pete already," she said, kindly. "He drove us up from the
station. I'm glad you are helping Mrs. Carder, Pete. She seems to have
too much to do."

The boy did not reply, but he appeared unable to remove his eyes from
Geraldine's kind look, and careless of where he was going he stumbled
against the sink.

"Look out, Pete!" exclaimed his mistress. "What makes you so clumsy? You
nearly scalded me. I guess he's tired, too." The old woman sighed.
"Everybody picks on Pete. They all find something for him to do."

"Then run away now," said Geraldine, still warming the boy's dull eyes
with her entrancing smile, "and let me take your place. I can dry dishes
as fast as anybody can wash them."

The dwarf slowly backed away, and disappeared into the woodshed, keeping
his gaze to the last on the sunny-haired loveliness which had invaded
the ugliness of that low-ceiled kitchen.

Geraldine seized a dish-towel, and Mrs. Carder, her hands in the suds,
cast a troubled glance around at her.

"Rufus won't like it," she declared timorously.

"Why should you say anything so foolish? What did I come out here for?"

The old woman looked around at her with a brief, strange look.

"You couldn't get help," went on Geraldine, "and so as I needed a home I
came."

"Is that what they told you?"

"Yes. That is what my stepmother told me, and I see it is true. You seem
to have no one here but men."

"Yes," replied Mrs. Carder. "It--it hasn't been a healthy place for
girls." She cast a glance toward the door as she spoke in a lowered
voice.

"Dreadfully lonely, you mean?" inquired Geraldine, unpleasantly affected
by the other's timidity. "The woman has no spirit," she added mentally
with some impatience.

Mrs. Carder looked full in her eyes for a silent space; then: "Rufus can
do anything he wants to--anything," she whispered.

Geraldine, in the act of wiping a coarse, thick dinner-plate, met the
other's gaze with a little frown.

"Don't give in to him, my dear," went on the sharp whisper. "You are too
beautiful, too young. He's crazy about you, so you be firm. Don't give
in to him. Insist on his marrying you!"

The thick dinner-plate fell to the floor with a crash.

"Marrying him!" ejaculated Geraldine.

"Sh! Sh! Oh, Miss Melody, hush!"

Geraldine began to shiver from head to foot. The lover-like words and
actions of her host seemed rushing back to memory with all the other
repulsive experiences of past weeks.

The kitchen door opened and the master appeared.

"Who's smashing the crockery?" he inquired.

"It's your awkward help," rejoined Geraldine, her teeth chattering as
she stooped to pick up the plate.

"I knew you weren't fit for this kind of thing," he said tenderly,
approaching, to the girl's horror. "Where's that confounded Pete?"

"I sent him away," said Geraldine, indignant with herself for trembling.
"I wanted to do this; it is what I came for. The plate didn't break."

The man regarded her flushed face with a gaze that scorched her.

"Break everything in the old shack if you want to--that is, all but one
thing!"

He stood for half a minute more while his mother scalded a new pan full
of dishes.

"What is that poem," he went on--"What's that about, 'Thou shalt not
wash dishes nor yet feed the swine'? Well, well, we'll see later."

Geraldine's heart was pounding too hard to allow her to speak. She
seized another plate in her towel, his mother, her wrinkled lips pursed,
kept her eyes on her dishpan, so with a pleased smile at his own apt
quotation the master reluctantly removed his presence from the room.

"I'm very sorry for you, Mrs. Carder," said Geraldine breathlessly,
meanwhile holding her plate firmly lest another crash bring back the
owner, "but I can't stay here. I must go away to-morrow."

Her companion gave a fleeting glance around at the girl, and her
withered lips relaxed in a smile as she shook her head.

"Oh, no, you won't, my dear."

At the unexpected reply Geraldine's heart thumped harder.

"I certainly shall, Mrs. Carder. I'm sorry not to stay and help you, but
it's impossible."

"It will be impossible for you to go," was the colorless reply. "Nobody
goes away from here till Rufus is ready they should; then they leave
whether they have any place to go to or not. It's goin' to be different
with you. I can see that. You needn't be scared by what I said, a minute
ago. You are safe. You've got a home for life. I only hope you won't let
him send me away." The old woman again turned around to Geraldine and
her tired old eyes filled with tears.

"Nothing should be too good for you with all your son's money," rejoined
Geraldine hotly.

Her panic-stricken thought was centered now on one idea. Escape. The
night was closing in. The clouds had cleared away. The stretches of
fields in all directions, the lack of neighbors, the horrors of the old
woman's implications, all weighed on the girl like a crushing nightmare.
The dishes at last put away, she bade the weary old woman good-night,
and apprehensively looking from side to side stole to the stairway
without encountering anyone and mounting to her dreary chamber she
locked the door.

She hurried to the window and looked out.

A half-moon in the sky showed her that the distance down was too far to
jump. She might sprain or break one of those ankles which must go fast
and far to-night.

Packing her belongings back in her bag she sat down to wait. Gradually
all sounds about the house ceased. Still she waited. The minutes seemed
hours, but not until her watch pointed to midnight did she put on her
hat and jacket and slip off her shoes.

Then going to the door she gradually turned the key. The process was
remarkably noiseless. If only the hinges were as friendly. Very, very
slowly she turned the knob and very, very slowly opened the door. Not a
sound.

When the opening was wide enough to admit her body she was gliding
through, when her stockinged foot struck something soft. She thought it
was a dog lying across the threshold, and only by heroic effort she
controlled the cry that sprang to her lips. The dark mass half rose, and
by the faint moonlight she could see two long, suddenly out-flung arms.
"Pete," she whispered, "Pete, you _will_ let me pass!"

"I'm sorry, lady. He'd kill me. He'd tear me to pieces," came back the
whisper.

"Please, Pete," desperately, "I'll do anything for you. Please,
_please_!"

For answer the long arms pushed her back through the open door. Another
door opened and Rufus Carder's nasal voice sounded. "You there, Pete?"

A sonorous snore was the only answer. For a minute that other door
remained open, but the rhythmical snoring continued, and at last the
latch was heard to close.

Geraldine again cautiously opened her door a crack.

"Pete," she whispered.

The dwarf snored.

"Please talk to me, Pete. I'm sure you are a kind boy." The pleading
whisper received no answer beyond the heavy breathing.

"I want to ask your advice. I want you to tell me what I can do. I'm
sure you don't love your master."

A sort of snort interrupted the snoring which then went on rhythmically
as before.

Geraldine closed her door noiselessly. She sat down white and unnerved.
She was a prisoner, then. For a time her mind was in such a whirl that
she was unable to form a plan.

She put her hand to her head.

"I must try to sleep if I can in this hideous place. Then to-morrow I
may be able to think."

Locking the door, she drew the bureau against it; then she undressed and
fell into bed. Her youth and exhaustion did the rest. She slept until
morning.



CHAPTER VI

The Dwarf


"You, Pete," said his master, approaching the pump where the boy was
performing his morning ablutions, "what was the noise I heard in Miss
Melody's room last night?"

"Dunno," sullenly.

"Well, you'd better know. I'll skin you alive if anything happens to
her."

"How--how could I help it if she jumps out the winder?"

Carder smiled. "You're thinkin' of somebody else. _She_ went to the
hospital. If Miss Melody hurts herself, we'll keep her here. She won't
do that, though, and I hold you accountable for anything else she does.
Night and day, remember. You've got to know where she is all the time.
You understand?"

The dwarf grunted and combed his thick, tousled hair with his fingers.

"Watch yourself now. You'll pay if anything goes wrong. What was that
noise I heard? Out with it!"

The dwarf grunted his reply. "She moved the furniture ag'in' the door, I
guess."

"Oh, that was it."

Rufus laughed and turned toward the house.

The hired men had had their breakfast and gone to the fields and the
drudge in the kitchen was prepared for the arrival of her son and his
guest.

Geraldine came downstairs fresh from sleep and such a cold bath as was
obtainable from the contents of a crockery pitcher. Rufus's eyes
glittered as he beheld her.

"Well, my little--I mean my lady, you look wonderful. I guess there was
some sleep in the little old bed after all; but you shall have down to
sleep on if you want it."

Geraldine regarded him.

"I don't see how you expected I could sleep when you let a dog lie
outside my door, a dog with the nightmare, I should judge, snoring and
snorting. Be sure he is not there to-night. He frightened me."

"Too bad, too bad," returned Rufus; "but you see you slept, or you
couldn't look like a fresh rosebud as you do this morning; and you'll
get used to good old Sport. He's a splendid watchdog."

Geraldine turned to her hostess.

"I don't know what your hours are, Mrs. Carder--whether five, or six, or
seven is over-sleeping, but I'm ashamed not to have been down here to
help you get breakfast. It shan't happen again."

"Don't fret about that," said Rufus, "Sleep as long as you want to,
little girl. It's good for your complexion."

Geraldine flatly refused to sit down to breakfast unless Mrs. Carder was
also at the table, so the old woman wiped her hands on her apron and
took her place between her son and the beautiful girl, and Geraldine
jumped up and fetched and carried when anything was needed.

Rufus watched this proceeding discontentedly. "We've got to start in
new, Ma," he said. "The Princess Geraldine and me are goin' to do this
house over, and we'll get some help, too--help that knows how; the
stylish kind, you know. Geraldine thinks the time has come for you to
hold your hands the rest o' your days."

"Just as you say, Rufus," returned his mother meekly, nibbling away at
the bacon on her plate and feeling vastly uncomfortable.

"What she says goes; eh, Ma?"

"Just as you say, Rufus," repeated the mother.

A light was glowing in Geraldine's eyes. It was day. She was young and
strong. The world was wide. She laughed at her fears of the night. The
right moment to escape would present itself. Rufus would have to go to
the city, and even if he refused to leave without her, once in town she
could easily give him the slip. Perhaps that was going to prove the best
solution after all.

"Your trunk came last night," he said, when at last the three rose from
the breakfast-table. "You can show Pete where you want it put."

Geraldine tried not to betray the eagerness with which she received this
permission.

The dwarf's strong arms carried her modest trunk up the stairs as easily
as if it had been a hatbox. She feared Carder might follow them, but he
did not.

"Pete," she said, low and excitedly, as soon as they reached her room
and he had deposited his burden, "you _will_ help me! I know you are
going to be the one to help me get away from here."

The dwarf shook his head. "Then I'd be killed," he answered, but he
gazed at her admiringly. "I've got the marks of his whip on me now."

"Why do you stay?" asked Geraldine indignantly.

"He says nobody else would give me work. I'm too ugly. He says I'd
starve."

"That isn't so!" exclaimed the girl. "I will help you." The
consciousness of the futility of the promise swept over her even as she
made it. Who was she to give help to another!

The dwarf, gazing fascinated at her glowing face, saw her eyes suddenly
fill. A heavy step sounded on the stair.

"Move it, move the trunk, Pete," she whispered, dragging at it herself.

Rufus Carder appeared at the door just as the dwarf was shoving the
trunk to another part of the room.

"What's the matter?" he asked. "Seems to me you take a long time about
it."

"I'm always so undecided," said Geraldine. "I believe I will have it
back under the window after all, Pete."

So back under the window the boy lifted the trunk, his master meanwhile
looking suspiciously from one to the other. It was quite in the
possibilities that his fair guest might try to corrupt that dog which at
night lay outside her door; but the dog well knew that no corner of the
earth could hide him from Rufus Carder if he played him false, and the
master felt tolerably safe on that score.

All that day Geraldine watched to observe the habits of those around
her. She found that the small yellow building near the drive which
Carder had pointed out to her was the place where he spent most of his
time: the cave of the ogre she named it. The driveway came in from a
road which passed the farm and no one entered it except persons who had
business with the owner.

Again the girl marveled at the character of the country surrounding the
farmhouse. Not a tree provided a hiding-place or shade for man or beast.
Stones had been removed and built into low walls that intersected the
fields. Even in the lovely late spring with verdant crops growing there
were no lines of beauty anywhere. The ugly yellow office building reared
itself from a strip of grass where dandelions fought for their rights,
but a wide cement walk led to its door.

"Come down and see my den," said Rufus late that afternoon. "The washing
dishes and feeding swine can come later if you are determined to do it.
It's a great little old office, that is. There's more business
transacted there than you might suppose." He met Geraldine's grave gaze,
and added: "Many a profitable half-hour your father has spent there.
Yes, indeed, Dick Melody knew which side his bread was buttered on, and
I'm in hopes of being as good a friend to his daughter as I was to him."

Geraldine yielded to the invitation in silence. She wished to discover
every possible detail which could make her understand how her father, as
popular with men as with women, and with every custom of good manners,
had often sought this brute. Doubtless it was to obtain money. Probably
her father had died in debt to the man. Probably it was that fact which
gave her jailer his evident certainty that he had her in his power. Her
father was dead. Was there anything in the law that could hold her, a
girl, responsible for his debts? It was surely only a matter of days
before she could make her escape and meanwhile she would try not to let
disgust overpower her reason. She was not sorry to be asked to see the
abode of the spider, in the center of which he sat and watched the
approach from any direction of those who dragged themselves of necessity
into his web. Let him tell what he would about her father. She wished to
know anything concerning him, of which Carder had proof. She would not
allow her poise to be shaken by lies.

It was bright day and the office was but a few hundred yards from the
house. All the same, as they walked along, she was glad to hear a sharp
metallic clicking a little distance behind them, and turning her head,
to see Pete ambling along with his clumsy, bow-legged gait, dragging a
lawn-mower. Little protection was this poor oaf with the scars of his
master's whip upon him, but Geraldine had seen a doglike devotion light
up the dull eyes in those few minutes up in her room, and in spite of
the dwarf's hopeless words she felt that she had one friend in this
place of desolation. She expected the master would drive the boy away
when the mower began to behead the dandelions, but Rufus appeared
unaware of the monotonous sound.

"Pretty ship-shape, eh?" he said when they were inside the office. He
indicated the open desk with its orderly files of papers and well-filled
pigeon-holes. Placing himself in the desk-chair he drew another close
for his visitor.

Geraldine moved the chair back a little and sat down, her eyes fixed on
the telephone at Carder's left. That instrument connecting with the
outside world, the world of freedom, fascinated her. If she could but
get ten minutes alone with it! She had some friends of her school days,
and the pride which had hitherto prevented her from communicating with
them was all gone, immersed in the flood of fear and repulsion which,
despite all her reasoning, swept over her periodically like a paralysis.
Rufus leaned back in his seat and surveyed his guest. She looked very
young in the soft, pale-green dress she wore.

"Here I am, you see, master of all I survey, and of a good deal that I
don't survey--except with my mind's eye." He shook his head
impressively. "I can do a lot for anybody I care for." He pulled his
check-book toward him. "I can draw my check for four figures, and I'll
do it for you any time you say the word. How would you like to have a
few thousands to play with?"

Geraldine removed her longing gaze from the telephone and looked at her
hands. She could not meet the insupportable expression of his greedy
eyes.

"Two figures would do," she said, "if you would allow me to go to town
and spend it as I please."

"Why, my beauty," he laughed, "you can spend any amount, any way you
please."

"Alone?" asked Geraldine, her suddenly eager eyes looking straight into
his, but instantly shrinking away.

"Of course not," he returned cheerfully. "I ought to get something for
my money, oughtn't I?"

She was silent, and he watched her as if making up his mind how to
proceed.

"Look here," he said at last in a changed tone, "I don't know what I've
got to gain by beating about the bush. I've shown you plain enough that
I'm crazy about you and I've told you that I always get what I go
after."

Geraldine's heart began to beat wildly. She kept her eyes on her folded
hands and the extremity of her terror made her calm.

"I'm goin' to treat you as white as ever a girl was treated; but I want
you, and I want you soon. I know we're more or less strangers, but you
can get acquainted with me as well after marriage as before. I know all
this ain't regulation. A girl expects to be courted, but I'll court you
all your life, little girl."

The lawn-mower clicked through the silence in which Geraldine summoned
the power to speak. Indignation helped to steady her voice. She looked
up at her companion, who was leaning forward in his chair waiting for
her first word.

"It is impossible for me to marry you, Mr. Carder," she said, trying to
hold her voice steady, "and since your feeling for me is so extreme, I
intend to leave here immediately. You speak as if you had bought me as
you might have bought one of your farm implements, but these are modern
days and I am a free agent."

Carder did not change his position, his elbows leaning on the arms of
his chair, his fingers touching.

"I have bought you, Geraldine," he answered quietly.

She started up from her chair, her indignation bursting forth. "I knew
it!" she exclaimed. "My father died owing you money and you have
determined that I shall pay his debts in another coin! He would turn in
his grave if he heard you make such a cruel demand."

The frank horror and repulsion in the girl's eyes made the blood rise to
her companion's temples.

He pointed to her chair. "Sit down," he said. "You don't understand
yet."

She obeyed trembling, for she could scarcely stand. His unmoved
certainty was terrifying. "Your father was a very popular man. His
vanity was his undoing. Juliet was too smart to let him throw away her
money, so rather than lose his reputation as a good sport, rather than
not keep up his end, he looked elsewhere for the needful, and he came to
me, not once, but many times. At last he wore out my patience and the
Carder spring ran dry, so far as he was concerned; then, Geraldine"--the
narrator paused, the girl's dilated eyes were fixed upon him--"then, my
proud little lady, handsome Dick Melody fell. He began helping himself."

"What do you mean--helping himself?" The girl leaned forward and her
hands tightened until the nails pressed into her flesh.

Rufus Carder slipped his fingers into an inside pocket and drew forth
two checks which he held in such a way that she could read them.

"You don't know my signature," he went on, "but that is it. Large as
life and twice as natural. Yes"--he regarded the checks--"twice as
natural. I couldn't have done them better myself."

Geraldine's hands flew to her heart, her eyes spoke an anguished
question.

"Yes," Rufus nodded, "Dick did those." The speaker paused and slipped
the checks back into his pocket. "I breathed fire when I discovered it,
and then very strangely something occurred which put the fire out."
Again he leaned his elbows on the chair-arms, and bent toward the wide
eyes and parted lips opposite. "I saw you sitting in the park one day,"
he went on slowly, "you got up and walked and laughed with a girl
companion. I found out who you were. I went to your father, who was
nearly crazy with apprehension at the time, and I told him there was no
girl on earth for me but you, and that if he would give you to me I
would forgive his crime. I didn't want a forger for a father-in-law. It
was arranged that this month he should bring you out here and make his
wishes known. His reputation was safe. Even Juliet suspected nothing. He
is still mourned at his clubs as the prince of good fellows; but his
sudden death prevented him from puttin' your hand in mine."

A silence followed, broken only by the rasping of the lawn-mower and
Rufus Carder watched the girl's heaving breast.

"So you see," he went on at last, "all you have to do to save your
father's name is to sit down in the lap of luxury; not a very hard
thing to do, I should think. You'll find that I'll take--" The speaker
paused, for another sound now broke in upon the click of the lawn-mower,
an increasingly sharp noise which brought him to his feet and to one of
the many windows which gave him a view in every direction.

A motor-cycle was speeding up the driveway.

"That's Sam Foster comin' to pay his rent," he said. "There'll be many a
one on that errand along about now," he declared with satisfaction.
"Cheer up," he added, turning back to the pale face and tremulous lips
of the young girl. "Your father wasn't the first fine man to go wrong;
but they don't all have somebody to stick by 'em and shield 'em as he
did. The more you think it over, the more--"

The motor-cycle had stopped during this declaration, and the rider now
stepped into the office-door. Geraldine, her hands still unconsciously
on her heart, gazed at the newcomer. Could it be that Rufus Carder had a
tenant like this youth? The well-born, the well-bred, showed in his
erect bearing and in his sunny brown eyes, and the smile that matched
them.

The owner started and scowled at sight of him.

"Mr. Carder, I believe," said the visitor.

Rufus's chair grated as he advanced to edge the stranger back through
the door.

"Your business, sir," he said roughly. "Can't you see I'm in the midst
of an interview?"

Ben's eyes never left those of the young girl, and hers clung to him
with a desperate appeal impossible to mistake. She rose from her chair
as if to go to him.

"Yes, Mr. Carder, and I won't interrupt you. I'll wait outside. I came
to see Miss Melody with a message from one of her friends and I'm sure
from the description that this is she." The young fellow bowed
courteously toward Geraldine, who stood mute drinking in the inflections
of his voice; the very pronunciation of his words were earmarks of the
world of refinement from which she was exiled. In her distraction she
was unconscious of the manner in which she was gazing at him above the
tumult of grief at her father's double treachery. Her father had sold
her, sold her in cold blood, and her life was ruined. Had the visitor in
his youth and strength and grace been Sir Galahad himself, she could not
have yearned more toward his protection.

To Ben she looked, as she stood there, like a lovely lily in a green
calyx, and her expression made his hands tingle to knock flat the
scowling, middle-aged man with the unkempt hair and the missing tooth
who was uneasily edging him farther and farther out the door.

"Miss Melody don't wish to receive calls at present and you can tell her
friend so," said Rufus in the same rough tone. "She don't wear black,
but she's in mournin' all the same. Her father died recently. Ain't you
in mournin', Geraldine?" He turned toward the girl.

She had dropped her hands and seized the back of her chair for support.

"Yes," she breathed despairingly.

"Can't I see you for a few minutes, Miss Melody?" said Ben over the
wrathful Carder's shoulder. "Miss Upton sent me to you. My name is
Barry."

"No, you can't, and that's the end of it!" shouted Rufus.

Ben's smile had vanished. His eyes had sparks in them as he looked down
at the shorter man.

"Not at all the end of it," he returned. "Miss Melody decides this. Can
you give me a few minutes?"

As he addressed her he again met the wonderful, dark-lashed eyes that
were beseeching him.

Rufus Carder looked around at the girl his thin lips twitching in ugly
fashion.

"_You_ can tell him, then, if he won't take it from me," he said, "and
mind you're quick about it. We ain't ready here for guests. Miss Melody
don't want to receive anybody. She's tired and she's recuperatin'. Tell
him so, Geraldine."

The girl's lips moved at first without a sound; then she spoke:

"I'm very tired, Mr. Barry," she said faintly. "Please excuse me."

Rufus turned back to the guest.

"Good-day, sir," he ejaculated savagely.

Ben stood for a silent space undecided. His fists were clenched.
Geraldine, meeting his glowing eyes, shook her head slowly. Her keen
distress made him fear to make another move.

"At some other time, then, perhaps," he said, tingling with the
increasing desire to knock down his host and catch this girl up in his
arms.

"Yes, at some other time," said Rufus, speaking with a sneer. "Tell Miss
Upton that Mrs. Carder may see her later."

A tide of crimson rushed over Ben's face. He saw that there must be a
pressure here that he could not understand, and again Geraldine's fair
head and wonderful eyes signaled him a warning. He could not risk
increasing her suffering.

"Good-day, sir," repeated Rufus; and the visitor stepped down from the
office-door in silence and out to his machine.

Carder turned back to Geraldine, who met his angry gaze with despairing
eyes.

"What have I to hope for from you when you treat a stranger so
inexcusably?" she said in a low, clear voice that had a sharp edge.

[Illustration: Tingling with the Increasing Desire to knock down his
Host and catch this Girl up in his Arms]

"Let me run this," said Rufus with bravado. "You'll find out later what
you'll get from me, and it will be nothin' to complain of when once
you're Mrs. Carder. You can have that fat porpoise or any other woman
come to see you, and when you're ridin' 'em around in the new car I'm
goin' to get you, they'll be green with envy. You'll see. Let me run
this."

His absorption in Geraldine had distracted Carder's attention from the
fact that he was not hearing the departure of that most satirically
named engine of misery, "The Silent Traveler."

He strode to a window and saw Ben Barry mounting his machine close to
where Pete was mowing the grass.

He hurried to the door. "Come here, you damned coot!" he yelled. And
Pete dropped the mower and ambled up to the office-door.

"What did that man want of you?" he asked furiously.

"Wanted to know the shortest road to Keefe," replied Pete in his usual
sullen tone.

"You lie!" exclaimed Rufus. If Ben Barry had looked like a dusty Sir
Galahad to Geraldine, he had looked dangerously attractive to Carder,
who cursed the luck that had made him invite the girl to his office on
this particular afternoon. "You lie!" he repeated, and stepping back to
his desk he seized a whip which lay along one side of it.

Geraldine cried out, and springing forward grasped his arm. He paused at
the first voluntary touch he had ever received from her.

"Don't you dare strike that boy!" she exclaimed breathlessly.

Carder looked down at the white horror in her face and in her shining
eyes.

"I'm goin' to get the truth out of him," he said, his mouth twitching.
"You go up to the house."

"I will not go up to the house! Put down that whip! If you strike Pete,
I'll kill myself." She finished speaking, more slowly, and Rufus,
looking down into her strangely changed look, became uneasy.

"I guess not," he said. "You go up to the house."

"I mean it," declared Geraldine in a low tone. "What have I to live for!
My own father, the only one on earth I had to love, has sold me to a man
who has shown himself a ruffian. One thing you have no power over is my
life, and what have I now to live for!"

Carder dropped the whip. There was no doubt of her sincerity.

"Now, Geraldine, calm down," he said, anxiety sounding through his
bravado. "I'm sorry I had to give you that shock about Dick; but it was
your own high-headed attitude that made it necessary. Calm down now. I
won't touch Pete. What was it, boy," he went on, addressing the dwarf in
his usual tone--"What did that man ask you?"

"The shortest way to Keefe," repeated the dwarf. His eyes were fixed
dully on Geraldine, but his heart was thumping. She had said she would
kill herself if his master struck him.

Rufus looked at him, unsatisfied.

"What did he give you?" he asked after a silence.

Pete put his hand in the pocket of his coarse blue shirt and drew out a
half-dollar.

"Humph!" grunted Rufus. "You can go."

He turned back to Geraldine.

"Is one allowed to write letters from here?" she asked.

"Of course, of course," replied Rufus genially. "What a foolish
question." His face had settled into its customary lines.

"Where do we take them? Out to the rural-delivery box? I should like to
write to Miss Upton. She was very kind to me."

"No, don't mail anything there. It isn't safe. Right here is the place."
He indicated a box on his desk. "Drop anything you want to have go right
in here. I'll take care of it."

"Yes," thought Geraldine bitterly. He will take care of it.

Another motor-cycle now sped into the driveway and approached. This time
it was the tenant Carder had expected, and Geraldine left the office and
went back to the house. At the moment when she stepped out of the yellow
building, Pete ceased mowing the grass. Looking back when she had
traversed half the distance, she saw that he was following her, the
mower clicking after him.

"Poor slaves," she thought heavily. "Poor slaves, he and I!"



CHAPTER VII

A Midnight Message


Sitting down at the supper table that evening was a severe ordeal.
Geraldine had angered Carder, but she had also frightened him, and he
was mild in manner and words and did not attempt to be either
affectionate or jocose. Instead he dwelt on the good promise of the
crops, and mentioned having extended the time of payment to a delinquent
tenant.

Geraldine forced herself to eat something, and the host addressed most
of his remarks to his mother, who was again compelled to sit at table
and allow the young girl to do the serving.

"What do you think of throwin' out a wing or two or say a bay window to
the house, Ma, while we're refurnishin'?" he asked pleasantly.

"Just as you say, Rufus," was her docile response. "I think, though,
Miss Geraldine would like a bathroom better."

"Bathroom, eh?" returned Carder, regarding the girl's stiffly immobile
face and downcast eyes. "It would mean a lot of expense, but what
Geraldine says goes. I can stand the damage, I guess."

No word from Geraldine. Rufus was made thoroughly uneasy by her rigid
pallor. He blamed himself for not having waited longer to produce his
trump card and clinch his possession of her.

His own dreams were troubled that night and long in coming. Geraldine,
as soon as the dishes were dried and put away, went up to her room and
locked the door. She sat down to think, and strangely accompanying the
paralyzing discovery of her father's downfall was the memory of the tall
stranger with the dusty clothes and gallant bearing. She shut out the
memory of his delightful speech, his speaking eyes, and the way he
towered above Rufus and held himself in check for her sake.

"For my sake!" she repeated to herself bitterly. "They are all
alike--men. He would be just the same as the other at close quarters.
Some have no veneer like this boor, and some have the polish, but they
are all the same underneath. Even Father, poor Father."

Geraldine felt hot, slow tears begin to scald her eyes. The last time
she had cried she had been with Miss Upton and felt her hearty, motherly
sympathy. That young man had come from her. Miss Upton was thinking of
her. The tears came faster now under the memory of the kindness of her
chance acquaintance on the day--it seemed months ago--that she had left
the world and entered upon this living death.

Miss Upton's messenger would return to her and tell of his fruitless
quest and describe Rufus Carder, and she knew how that kind heart would
ache; but Mr. Barry would also tell her that her young friend had
repulsed him and would discourage her from further effort. Geraldine
knew that no letter from the outside would be allowed to reach her, nor
would any be allowed to go out from her, until she had paid the ghastly
price which her father's protection necessitated.

She did not know how long she sat on that hard chair in the ugly room
that night. She only knew how valiantly she struggled to stifle the
sobs that wrenched her slight body. Early in the evening she had heard a
soft impact against her door, which she knew meant that the watchdog was
in his place.

Her kerosene lamp was burning low, when again a slight sound against her
door made her look that way apprehensively and wish that she had
barricaded it as on the night before.

Something white caught her eye. It was paper being slowly pushed beneath
the door and now an envelope was revealed. Geraldine started up and
noiselessly crept toward it. Seizing it she carried it to the light. It
was a letter addressed to herself:

_Miss Geraldine Melody_

And down in the left-hand corner were the words--_"Kindness of Mr.
Barry."_ Across the face of the envelope was scrawled in another hand
these words: "Courage. Walk in meadow. Wear white."

Geraldine stared at this with her swollen eyes, the aftermath of her
wild weeping causing convulsive catches in her throat which she stifled
automatically. Turning the envelope over she saw that it was sealed
clumsily with red wax.

Running a hairpin through the flap she opened it and took out the letter
with trembling hands. This is what she read:

     DEAR MISS MELODY:

     I can't help worrying about you, not knowing what you found when
     you got to the farm, and whether Mr. Carder and his mother turned
     out to be the kind you like to live with. I've wished a hundred
     times that I'd brought you home with me instead of letting you go,
     because, after all the hard experiences you went through, I wanted
     to be sure that you found care and protection where you was going.
     I'm poor and have only a small place, but I'd have found some way
     to take care of you.

     I worried so much about it, and Mr. Carder, the little I saw of him
     that day at the hotel, acted so much as if he owned you, that I
     thought it would be just as well to hear what a lawyer would say;
     so I went to see Benjamin Barry. He's studying to be a lawyer and
     he's the young man who has consented to hunt up the Carder farm
     and take my letter to you. I know it ain't etiket to seal up a
     letter you send by hand, but I'm going to seal this with wax just
     so you'll know that Ben hasn't read it. After your experience with
     men it will be hard for you to trust any man, I'm pretty sure. So I
     just want to tell you that I've known Ben Barry from a baby and
     he's the cleanest, _finest_ boy in the world. You can't always tell
     whether he's in fun or in earnest, because he's a great one to
     joke; but his folks are the finest that you could find anywhere.
     He's got good blood and he's been brought up with the greatest care
     and expense. If I had ten daughters I'd trust him with them all. He
     is the soul of honor about everything, so don't hesitate to tell
     him just how you're fixed. If you are happy and contented, that's
     all I want to know; but if you ain't I want to know that posthaste,
     for I shall want you to come right here to me at Keefe. Ben will
     tell you how to come and you can tell Mr. Carder that you have
     found a better position. Give him a week's notice; that's
     _honorable_ and _long enough_. I shan't be easy in my mind till Ben
     gets back, and he's so good to go for me that I should love him
     for it all the rest of my life if I didn't already.

     Now, good-bye, dear child, and be _perfectly frank_ with Ben.

     Your loving friend
     MEHITABLE UPTON

In her utter despair and desolation this homely expression of
affectionate solicitude went to Geraldine's heart like a message from
heaven. She held the senseless paper to her breast, and her pulses beat
fast as she read again those words scribbled across the face of the
envelope.

They meant an understanding that she was not a free agent. They meant
that the young knight had not given up. He could never know--kind Miss
Upton must never know--what it was that compelled her, and why nothing
that they might contrive could save her.

Good little Pete had risked brutal treatment to bring her this. Her
heart welled with gratitude toward him. She felt that she could continue
to protect him to a degree, for the infatuation of their master gave her
power to that extent.

She was no longer pale. Her cheeks were flushed, her sobs ceased. There
were hearts that cared for her. Some miracle might intervene to save
her. The knight was a lawyer. The law was very wonderful. A sudden
shudder passed over her. What it could have done to her father--still
honored at his clubs as the prince of good fellows!

She reviewed her situation anew. It was established that she was a
prisoner. Then in order to obey the message on the envelope she must
follow the example of the more ambitious prisoners and become a trusty.
Poor Geraldine, who had ceased to pray, began to feel that there might
be a God after all; and when she was between the coarse, mended sheets
of her bed she held Miss Upton's letter to her breast and thanked the
unseen Power for a friend.

When she awoke, it was with the confused sense that some happiness was
awaiting her. As her mind cleared, the mental atmosphere clouded.

Did not any hope which imagination held out mean the cruel revenge of
her jailer? Could she betray her father as he had betrayed her?

She dressed and went downstairs to help Mrs. Carder. The precious letter
was against her breast.

Pete was washing at the pump. She did not dare approach him to speak;
but she soon found that as to that opportunities would be plentiful; for
whenever she left the house she had a respectful shadow; never close,
but always in the vicinity, and remembering yesterday and the lawn-mower
she now realized that the watchdog who guarded her by night had orders
to perform the same office by day.

Rufus felt some relief at seeing his guest appear this morning. His
dreams would have been pleasanter had he been perfectly sure that she
would not in her youthful horror and despair evade him in the one way
possible. He bade her good-morning with an inoffensive commonplace. He
had shot his bolt; now his policy must be soothing and unexacting until
her fear of him had abated and custom had reconciled her to her new
life. She was silent at breakfast, speaking only when spoken to, and
observant of his mother's needs; waiting upon him, too, when it was
necessary.

"I must get one o' these reclinin'-chairs for you, Geraldine," he said,
"and put it out under the elm tree. Your elm tree, we'll have to call
it, because you've saved its life, you know."

"It is nice that there is one bit of shade here," she replied. "I
suppose you hang a hammock there in summer for your mother."

Rufus grinned at his parent, who was vastly uncomfortable under the new
régime of being waited upon by a golden-haired beauty.

"How about it, Ma?" he said. "Did you ever lie down in a hammock in your
life? Got to do it now, you know. Bay windows and hammocks belong
together. We got to be stylish now this little girl's goin' to boss us.

"It's a sightly day, Geraldine. How would you like to go for a drive and
see somethin' of the country around here? It's mighty pretty. You seem
stuck on trees. I'll show you a wood road that's a wonder."

Geraldine cringed, but controlled herself. Renewed contact with Rufus
was inexorably crushing every reviving hope of the night.

"I think it would be a refreshing thing for your mother," she answered.

"No, no, indeed!" exclaimed the old woman, with an anxious look at her
son. "I'm scared of autos. I don't want to go."

"Well, you're goin', Ma," declared Rufus, perceiving that Geraldine
would as yet refuse to go alone with him, and considering that as
ballast in the tonneau his mother's presence would be innocuous. "This
little girl's got the reins. You and me are passengers. Don't forget
that."

So later in the fresh, lovely spring day, Mrs. Carder, wrapped in an
antiquated shawl and with a bonnet that had to be rescued from an unused
shelf, was tucked into the back seat of the car.

Rufus held open the front door for Geraldine, and though she hesitated
she decided not to anger him and stepped in to sit beside him. He did
all the talking that was done, the girl replying in monosyllables and
looking straight before her.

"I thought I'd stop to the village," he said, "and wire into town to
have some help sent out. How would you word it?"

"I came as help," replied Geraldine. "I think we get along with the work
pretty well. Pete is very handy for a boy. Your mother seems to dread
servants. Don't send for anybody on my account."

The girl's voice was colorless, and she did not look at Rufus who
regarded her uncertainly.

"All right," he said at last. "Perhaps it would be as well to wait till
some day we're in town and you can talk to 'em. I'll wire for some eats
anyway."

When they reached the village the car stopped before the
telegraph-office. Carder left the car, and at the mere temporary relief
of him Geraldine's heart lightened. A wild wish swept through her that
she knew how to drive and could put on all the power and drive away,
even kidnapping the shrunken, beshawled slave in the tonneau.

But the thought of the dusty knight intervened. If she were going to
betray her father, let it be under his guidance whatever that might be.
She could not do it, though. She could not!

A man loafing on the walk saw Mrs. Carder and, stopping, addressed her
with some country greeting. Geraldine instantly turned to him.

"Where is Keefe?" she asked quickly.

"What?" he returned stupidly, with a curious gaze at her lovely, eager
face.

"Keefe. The village of Keefe. Where is it?"

"Oh, that's yonder," said the man, pointing. "T'other side o' the
mountain."

She turned to Mrs. Carder. "I have a friend who lives there, a very good
friend whom I would like to see."

She made the explanation lest the old woman should tell her son of her
eager question.

Rufus came out, nodded curtly to the man beside his machine, jumped in,
and drove off.

Geraldine spoke. "I'm surprised this country seems so flat. I thought it
would be hilly about here."

"Not so close to the sea," replied Carder. "There is what they call the
mountain, though, over yonder." He jerked his head vaguely. "Pretty
good-sized hill. Makes a water-shed that favors my farm."

Geraldine appeared to listen in silence to the monologue that followed
concerning her companion's prowess as a self-made man and the cleverness
with which he had seized every opportunity that came his way. Her mind
was in a singular tumult. An incoming wave of thought--the reminder that
she must be clever, too, and earn Carder's confidence in order that he
might relax his espionage--was met by the counter-consideration that if
she disappointed his desire he would blast her father's name. Just as
happens in the meeting of the incoming and outgoing tide, her thoughts
would be broken and fly up in a confusion as to what course she really
wished to pursue. By the time she gained the privacy of her own room
that night, she felt exhausted by the contradictions of her own beaten
heart and she sat down again in the hard chair, too dulled to think.

At last she put her hand in her bosom and drew out her letter. She would
feel the human touch of Miss Upton's kindliness once again. Even if she
gave "her body to be burned" and all life became a desert of ashes, one
star would shine upon her sacrifice, the affectionate thought of this
good woman who had made so much effort for her.

She closed her eyes to the exhortation scribbled on the envelope.
Whatever plan the tall knight had in mind, it was certain that her
escape was the end in view. Did she wish to escape? Did she? Could she
pay the cost? What happiness would there be for her when all her life
she Would be hearing in fancy the amazement at her father's crime, the
gossip and condemnation that would go the rounds of his associates.

She held the letter to her sick heart and gazing into space pictured the
hateful future.

There was a slight stir outside her door. Something was again being
pushed beneath it by slow degrees. Again it looked like an envelope, but
this time the paper was not white. Geraldine regarded the small dusky
square, scarcely discernible in the lamplight, and rising went toward
it.

She picked up the much-soiled object by its extreme corner. It bore no
address. She believed Pete must have written to her, and was greatly
touched by the thought that the poor boy might wish to express to her
his sympathy or his gratitude. It had been a brave soul who stood
stolidly before Rufus Carder and refused to give up Miss Upton's letter.
Moving cautiously and without a sound, she took the letter to the
bureau, and holding down the bent and soiled envelope with the handle of
her hairbrush, she again used the woman's universal utensil, opened the
seal, and drew out a letter. Her heart suddenly leaped to her throat,
for it was her father's handwriting that met her eye. Unfolding the
sheet, and cold with dread, she began to read:

     MY DEAR GERRIE:

     If this letter ever reaches you I shall be dead. The heart attacks
     have been worse of late and it may be I shall go off suddenly. If I
     do, I want to get word to you which if I live it will not be
     necessary for you to read. I have not been a good father and I
     deserve nothing at your hands. The worst mistake of all those that
     I have made was marrying the woman who has shirked mothering you;
     and after I am gone I know you have nothing to expect from her. I
     am financially involved with Rufus Carder to an extent that gives
     me constant anxiety. He has happened to see you and taken a
     violent fancy to you, and this fact has made him withdraw the
     pressure that has made my nights miserable. He has been trying to
     persuade me to let you come out here. He knows that his cousin
     Juliet is not attached to you, and, since seeing me in one of my
     attacks of pain, he is constantly reminding me how precarious is my
     life and that if he had a daughter like you she should have every
     advantage money could buy. He is a rough specimen with a miserly
     reputation. I won't go into the occasions of weakness and need
     which have resulted in his power over me. Suffice it to say that he
     may bring cruel pressure to bear on you, and I want to warn you
     solemnly not to let any consideration of me or what people may say
     of me influence your actions. You are young and beautiful, and I
     pray that the rest of your life may have in it more happiness than
     your childhood has known. I have interceded with Carder for Pete
     several times, winning the poor fellow's devotion. He can't read
     writing and will not be tempted to open this. I'm sure he will hide
     it and manage to give it to you secretly if you come to this
     dreary place. My poor child! My selfishness all rises before me and
     the punishment is fearful. If there is a God, may He bless you and
     guard you, my innocent little girl.

     Your unworthy
     FATHER

Geraldine's hungry heart drank in the tender message. Again and again
she kissed the letter while tears of grief ran down her cheeks. A tiny
hope sprang in her breast. She read her father's words over and over,
striving to glean from them a contradiction of the accusation that he
had planned and carried out a deliberate crime.

Rufus Carder had promised her father to treat her as a daughter. How
that assertion soothed the wound to her filial affection, and warmed her
heart with the assurance that her father had not sold her into the worst
slavery!

She soon crept into bed, but not to sleep. Her father's exhortation
seemed to give her permission to speculate on those words of the
stranger knight:

"Courage. Walk in meadow. Wear white."



CHAPTER VIII

The Meadow


The knight was doubly dusty when, returning from his quest in the late
twilight, he halted his noisy steed before Upton's Fancy Goods and
Notions. He was confronted by a sign: "Closed. Taking account of stock."

The young man tried the door which resisted vigorous turns of its
handle. Nothing daunted, he knocked peremptorily, then waited a space.
Getting no response, he renewed his assaults with such force that at
last the lock turned, the door opened, and an irate face with a
one-sided slit of a mouth was projected at him threateningly.

"Can't you read, hey?" was the exasperated question, followed by an
energetic effort to close the door which was foiled by the interposition
of a masculine foot.

"Yes, Mrs. Whipp, I learned last year. I'm awfully sorry, but I have to
come in." As he spoke the visitor opened the door in spite of the
indignant resistance of Charlotte's whole body, and walked into the
empty shop where kerosene lamps were already burning. "I have to see
Miss Upton. Awfully sorry to disturb you like this," he added, smiling
down at the angry, weazened face which gradually grew bewildered. "Why,
it's Mr. Barry," she soliloquized aloud. "Just the same," she added, the
sense of outrage holding over, "we'd ruther you'd 'a' come to-morrer."

Ben strode through the shop and out to the living-room, Mrs. Whipp
following impotently, talking in a high, angry voice.

"'T ain't my fault, Miss Upton. He would come in. Some folk'll do jest
what they please, whatever breaks."

"Law, Ben Barry!" exclaimed Miss Mehitable with a start. "You've surely
caught me in my regimentals!"

Miss Upton's regimentals consisted of ample and billowy apron effects
over a short petticoat. Her hair was brushed straight off her round face
and twisted in a knot as tight as Charlotte's own; and she wore large
list slippers.

"Don't you care, Mehit. I look like a blackamoor myself. I had to see
you"--the young fellow grasped his friend's hands, his eyes sparkling.
"I'd kiss you if I was wearing a pint less dust. She's an angel, a star,
a wonder!" he finished vehemently.

Miss Upton forgot her own appearance, her lips worked, and her eyes were
eager. "Ain't she, ain't she?" she responded in excitement equal to his
own. "Is she comin'? When?"

"Heaven knows. She's a prisoner, with that brute for a jailer."

Miss Upton, who had been standing by the late supper-table in the act of
assisting Charlotte to carry off the wreck, fell into a chair, her mouth
open.

"And you left her there!" she cried at last. "You didn't knock him down
and carry her off!"

"Great Scott, how I wanted to!" replied Ben between his teeth, his fists
clenched; "but she wouldn't let me. There's something there we've got to
find out. She shook her head and signaled me to do nothing. He told her
to bid me go away and she obeyed him. Oh, Miss Upton, how she looked!
The most beautiful thing I ever saw in my life, but the most haunted,
mournful, despairing face--"

"Ben, you're makin' me sick!" responded Miss Mehitable, her voice
breaking. "Did you give the poor lamb my letter?"

"He wouldn't let me get near enough to do that; but I gave it to a
stupid-looking dwarf who was mowing the grass near by. I'm not even sure
he understood me. Perhaps he was deaf and dumb. I don't know; but it was
the best I could do. She showed me so plainly that I was only making it
harder for her by insisting on anything, there was nothing for me to do
but to come away, boiling." Ben began striding up and down the
living-room, his hands in his pockets, his restlessness causing Pearl to
leap up, barely escaping his heavy shoe. Her arched back and her
mistress's face both betokened an outraged bewilderment.

Mrs. Whipp's eyes and ears were stretched to the utmost. This autocratic
young upstart had broken into the house and nearly stepped on her pet.
All the same, if he hadn't done so, Miss Upton would still be keeping
secrets from her. She had felt sure ever since Miss Mehitable's last
trip to the city that there was something unusual in the air and that
she was being defrauded of her rights in being shut out from
participation therein. Had this young masculine hurricane not stormed in
to-night, no telling how long she would have been kept in the dark; so
she stopped, looked, and listened, with all her might.

"Well, what are you goin' to _do_, Ben?" asked Miss Upton, beseechingly.
"You're not goin' to leave it so, are you?"

"I should say not. Carder is going to have me on his trail till that
exquisite creature is out of his clutches. Never was there a sleuth with
his heart in his business as mine will be. Oh!"--Ben, pausing not in the
march which sent Pearl to the top of a bookcase, raised his gaze
heavenward--"what eyes, Miss Upton! Those beautiful despairing eyes in
that dreary, sordid den, cut off from the world!"

"Ben, you stop!" whimpered Miss Mehitable, using her handkerchief.
"You're breakin' my heart. And to think how you scoffed at me on
Sunday!"

"Wasting time like a fool!" ejaculated Ben. He suddenly stopped before
the weeping Mehitable, nearly tripping over her roomy slippers. "Now,
Miss Upton, this is what you are to do. I'm going to town the first
thing in the morning and take steps to get on the trail of that sly fox.
You go right up to see Mother and tell her all about Miss Melody." Again
his gaze sought the ceiling. "Melody! What a perfect name for the most
charming, graceful, exquisite human flower that ever bloomed!" Turning
suddenly, the rapt speaker encountered Mrs. Whipp's twisted, acid,
hungrily listening countenance. He emitted a burst of laughter and
looked back at Miss Mehitable, who was wiping her eyes. "Tell Mother the
whole story," he went on, "just as you did to me; and here's hoping my
skepticism isn't inherited. And now, Mrs. Whipp"--addressing the faded
listener who gave a surprised sniff--"I'll go home and wash my face. I
know you'll approve of that. Good-night, Miss Upton; don't you cry. I'm
going to put up a good fight and perhaps Geraldine--oh, what a lovely
name!--perhaps she has the comfort of your letter by this time." Ben
scowled with sudden introspection. "What hold has that rascal over her?
That's what puzzles me. What hold _can_ he have?"

Miss Mehitable blew her nose grievously. "Why, he's cousin to her rascal
stepmother, you know. No tellin' what they cooked up between 'em."

Of course, after her emissary had departed Miss Upton had to face Mrs.
Whipp and her injured sniffs and silent implications of maltreatment;
but she sketched the story to her, eliciting the only question she
dreaded.

"What did you say to the girl in your letter? Did you write her to come
here?" Mrs. Whipp's manner was stony.

"Yes, I did," replied Miss Mehitable bravely.

"Then I s'pose I'd better be makin' other plans," said Charlotte, going
to Pearl and picking her up as if preparing for instant departure.

Miss Upton's eyes shone with exasperation. "I wish you wouldn't drive me
crazy, Charlotte Whipp. If you haven't any sympathy for a poor orphan in
jail on a desolate farm, then I wouldn't own it, if I was you. You can
see what chance she has o' comin' here. If the _law_ has to settle it,
she's likely to be toothless before she can make a move."

Mrs. Whipp was startled by the wrathful voice and manner of one usually
so pacific.

"I didn't mean to make you mad, Miss Upton," she said with a meek change
of manner; and there the matter dropped.

Now was a crucial time for Geraldine Melody. Her father's exhortation to
her not to consider him and the doubt which his letter had raised as to
his legal guilt, coupled with the memory of the vigorous young knight in
knickerbockers, gave her the feeling that she might at least obey the
latter's mysterious hint.

Rufus Carder was still in fear that he had pushed matters too fast, and
the next morning, when his captive came downstairs to help get the
breakfast, he contented himself with devouring her with his eyes. She
felt that she must guard her every look lest he observe a vestige of her
reviving hope and courage. She must return to the thought of becoming a
"trusty." It would be difficult to steer a course between the docility
that would encourage odious advances on the one hand, and on the other
a too obvious repugnance which would put her jailer on his guard. Of
course there were moments when the lines of her father's letter seemed
to her to admit criminality, but at others the natural hopefulness of
youth asserted itself, and she interpreted his words to indicate only
his humiliation and disgraceful debts.

There was an innate loftiness, an ethereal quality, about the girl's
personality which Carder always felt, in spite of himself, even at the
very moments when he was obtruding his familiarities upon her. She was
like a fine jewel which he had stolen, but which baffled his efforts to
set it among his own possessions.

Already in the short time which had elapsed since bringing her to the
farm, she had fallen away to an alarming delicacy of appearance. Her
mental conflict and the blows she had received showed so plainly in her
looks that Carder's whole mind became absorbed in the desire to build
her up. She might slip away from him yet without any recourse to
violence on her own part.

That morning, her father's letter in the same envelope with Miss Upton's
and both treasures against her heart, she came downstairs and saw Pete
washing at the pump. Rufus Carder was not in sight, and she moved
swiftly toward the dwarf, who looked frightened at her approach.

"How can I thank you, Pete!" she exclaimed softly, and her smile
transformed her pale face into something heavenly to look upon. Her eyes
poured gratitude into his dull ones and his face crimsoned.

"Keep away," was all he said.

Carder appeared, as it seemed, up through the ground, and the dwarf
rubbed his face and neck with a rough, grimy towel.

"Good-mornin'," said Rufus in his harsh voice.

Geraldine turned a lightless face toward him. "Good-morning," she said.
"Is this well a spring?"

"Yes. Have you noticed how good the water is?"

"I was just coming for a drink when you startled me. I didn't see you."

"Allow me," said Rufus, picking up the half cocoanut shell which was
chained to the wood. "Let's make a loving-cup of it. I'm thirsty, too."

He held the cup while Pete pumped the water over it, and finally shaking
off the clinging drops offered it to the guest.

Geraldine made good her words. An inward fever of excitement was burning
in her veins. The proximity of this man caused her always the same
panic. Oh, what was meant by those written words of the sunny-eyed,
upstanding young knight who had obeyed her so reluctantly? Now it was
her turn to obey him, and she must see to it that no suspicion of
Carder's should prevent her.

When she had drunk every drop, Rufus took a few sips--he had not much
use for water--and they returned to the house together.

When Mrs. Carder and Pete had sent the hired men afield, the three sat
down to breakfast as usual, and Rufus, moved by the guest's transparent
appearance and downcast eyes, played unconsciously into her hands.

"This is great weather, Geraldine," he said. "You don't want to mope in
the house. You want to spend a lot o' time outdoors. I'll take you out
driving whenever you want to go."

Geraldine lifted her eyes to his--the eyes with the drooping, pensive
corners deepened by dark lashes which Miss Upton had tried to describe.

"I think I'm not feeling very strong, Mr. Carder," she said listlessly.
"Long drives tire me."

"Long walks will tire you more," he answered, instantly suspicious.

"Yes, I don't feel equal to them now," she answered, her grave glance
dropping again to her plate.

He regarded her with a troubled frown.

"That hammock chair and a hammock will be out to-day," he said. "I'll
put 'em under the elm you're so stuck on, and I guess we can scare up
some books for you to read."

Geraldine's heart began to quicken and she put a guard upon her manner
lest eagerness should crop out in spite of her.

"It is early for shade," she replied. "The sun is pleasant. Everything
is so bare about here," she added wearily. "I wish I could find some
flowers."

Then it was that Mrs. Carder, poor dumb automaton, volunteered a remark;
and the most silver-tongued orator could not have better pleased
Geraldine with eloquence.

"Used to be quite a lot grow down in the medder," she said.

Geraldine's heart beat like a little triphammer, but she did not look up
from her plate, nor change her listless expression.

"I'd like to go and see if there are any," she said. "I love them. Where
is the meadow?"

"Oh, it's just that swale to the right of the driveway," said Rufus.
"It's low ground, and I s'pose the wild flowers do like it. I hope the
cows haven't taken them all. You needn't be afraid o' the cows."

"No, I'm not," replied Geraldine. "Perhaps I'll go some time."

"Go to-day, go while the goin's good," urged Rufus. "Never can tell when
the rain will keep you in. You shall have a flower garden, Geraldine.
You tell me where you'd like it and I'll have the ground got ready right
off."

"Thank you," she answered, "but I like the wild flowers best."

As soon as the dishes were dried, Geraldine went up to her room and
delved into her little trunk. She brought out a white cotton dress. It
had not been worn since the summer before, and though clean it was badly
wrinkled. She took it down to the kitchen and ironed it.

"Goin' to put on a white dress?" asked Mrs. Carder. "Kind o' cool for
that, ain't it?"

"I don't think so. I have very few dresses, and I get tired of wearing
the same one."

Mrs. Carder sighed. "Rufus will buy you all the dresses you want if
you'll only get strong. I can see he's dreadful worried because you look
pale."

"Well, I am going to try to become sunburned to-day. I'm so glad you
thought of the meadow, Mrs. Carder. Perhaps you like flowers, too."

The old woman sighed. "I used to. I've 'most forgot what they look
like."

"I'll bring you some if there are any."

Geraldine's eyes held an excited light as she ironed away. After the
eleven o'clock dinner she went up to her room to dress. Color came into
her cheeks as she saw her reflection in the bit of mirror. What a
strange thing she was doing. Supposing Miss Upton's paragon had already
become absorbed in his own interests. How absurd she should feel
wandering afield in the costume he had ordered, if he never came and she
never heard from him again.

"Wear white."

What could it mean? What possible difference could the color of her gown
make in any plan he might have concocted for her assistance? However, in
the dearth of all hope, in her helplessness and poverty, and aching from
the heart-wound Rufus Carder had given her, why should she not obey?

The color receded from her face, and again delving into her trunk she
brought forth an old, white, embroidered crêpe shawl with deep fringe
which had belonged to her mother. This she wrapped about her and started
downstairs. She feared that Carder would accompany her in her ramble.
She could hear his rough voice speaking to some workmen in front of the
house, and she moved noiselessly out to the kitchen.

Mrs. Carder looked up from the bread she was moulding and started,
staring over her spectacles at the girl.

"You look like a bride," she said.

"I'll bring you some flowers," replied Geraldine, hastening out of the
kitchen-door down the incline toward the yellow office.

"Hello, there," called the voice she loathed, and Carder came striding
after her. She stood still and faced him. The long lines and deep,
clinging fringe of the creamy white shawl draped her in statuesque
folds. Carder gasped in admiration.

"You look perfectly beautiful!" he exclaimed.

The young girl reminded herself that she was working to become a trusty.

"What's the idea," he went on, "of makin' such a toilet for the benefit
of the cows?" At the same time, the wish being father to the thought,
the glorious suspicion assailed him that Geraldine was perhaps not
unwilling to show him her beauty in a new light. It stood to reason that
she must possess a normal girlish vanity.

She forced a faint smile. "It's just my mother's old shawl," she
replied.

"Want me to help you find your flowers?" he asked.

"If you wish to," she answered, "but it isn't discourteous to like to be
alone sometimes, is it, Mr. Carder? You were saying at dinner that I
looked tired. I really don't feel very well. I thought I would like to
roam about alone a while in the sunshine."

Her gentle humility brought forth a loud: "Oh, of course, of course,
that's all right. Suit yourself and you'll suit me. Just find some roses
for your own cheeks while you're about it, that's all I ask."

"I'll try," she answered, and walked on. Carder accompanied her as far
as his office, where he paused.

"Good-bye, bless your little sweet heart," he said, low and ardently, in
the tone that always seemed to make the girl's very soul turn over.

"Good-bye," she answered, without meeting the hunger of his oblique
gaze; and crossing the driveway she forced herself to move slowly down
the grassy incline that led to the meadow where a number of cows were
grazing.

Carder watched longingly her graceful, white figure crowned with gold.
She was safe enough in the meadow. Even if she desired to go out of
bounds, she would not invade any public way, hatless, and in clinging
white crêpe. The cows were excellent chaperones. Nevertheless--he
snapped his fingers and Pete came out from behind the office.

Carder did not speak, but pointed after the white figure, and Pete,
again dragging the mower, ambled across the driveway and followed on
down the slope.

Geraldine heard the clicking and glanced around, sure of what she should
see. She smiled a little and shook her head as she walked on.

"Poor little Pete. Good little Pete," she murmured. "I owe him every
moment of comfort I've known in this place."

When she considered that she had gone far enough to be free from
observation, she turned to let him catch up with her; but when she
paused he did likewise and waited immovable.

"I want to talk to you, Pete. I'm so glad of the chance. I'm so thankful
to you," she called softly.

The dwarf drank in the delicate radiance of her face with adoring eyes.

"Go on," he replied. "He is watching. He is always watching. You look
like an angel, but the devil is at the window. Go on."

She turned back obediently and continued down the slope. When she
reached the soft, spongy green of the meadow, the cows regarded her
wonderingly. Pete began mowing the long grass on the edge, working so
slowly that the sound did not mar the hush of the place; and sometimes
he sank down at ease and pulled apart a jointed stem, his eyes feasting
on his charge.

The cows had scorned certain blooms which grew lavishly and which
Geraldine waited to gather until it should be time to return. Near a
large clump of hazel-bushes she found a low rock, and she stretched out
there in the sunshine and quiet, and tried to think.

There had been a little warm spot in her heart ever since that hour when
she read Miss Upton's letter. She was no longer utterly friendless. If
some miracle should give her back her freedom, this good woman would
help her to find independence. She longed to see that village of Keefe.
She wished never again to see a city. Did Benjamin Barry live in Keefe?
Geraldine summoned his image only too easily. Despite Miss Upton's
recommendation she did not wish to know him, or to trust him; but think
about him she must since she was dressed to his order and in the spot of
his selection. How absurd it all was! What dream could he have been
indulging when he wrote those words?

The girl could not keep her eyes from the driveway nor banish the
pulsing hope that she should see a motor-cycle again speeding up the
road. She even rose from her reclining posture lest she should not be
sufficiently conspicuous in the field; but the hours passed and nothing
occurred beyond the cows' occasional cessation from browsing to regard
her when she moved, and the occasional arising of Pete from the ground
to push his mower idly along the turf.

The flat landscape, the broad sky, everything was laid bare to the
windows of the yellow office. She felt certain that should the dusty
knight reappear, he would be recognized from afar, and that Rufus Carder
would circumvent any plan he might have. He would stop at nothing, that
she knew. She wondered if the law would excuse a man for murdering an
intruder who had once been warned off his premises. She did not doubt
that Carder would be as ready with the shot-gun she had noticed in his
office as he was with the cruel whip. She covered her face with her
hands as she recalled the sunny-eyed knight and shuddered at the thought
of another meeting between the two. It had been plain that the visitor's
youth, strength, and good looks had thrown Carder into a panic. He would
stop at nothing. Nothing.

A lanky youth with trousers tucked in his boots at last appeared,
slouching down toward the meadow to get the cows.

Geraldine came out of her apprehensive mental pictures with a sigh, and
rose. She gathered her flowers, and moved slowly back toward the house.

She must appear to have enjoyed her outing, else it would not seem
consistent for her to wish to come again to-morrow; and she must, she
must come again! Her poor contradictory little heart found itself
clinging to the one vague, absurd hope, despite its fears.



CHAPTER IX

The Bird of Prey


Not until another sunny day had passed uneventfully did Geraldine
realize how much hope she was hanging upon the knight of the
motor-cycle. Despite his youth, his manner and voice had been those of
one accustomed to exercising authority. He certainly had had something
definite in mind when he wrote that message to her. She knew so well
Pete's stupid demeanor, that, as she roamed in the meadow that second
day, she meditated on the probability that the visitor had despaired of
her receiving the message, and had concluded to abandon his idea,
whatever it might have been.

It was at least a relief from odious pressure to be out in the field
alone. The soft-eyed cows, an occasional bird flying overhead, and the
intermittent clicking of Pete's lawn-mower as he kept his respectful
distance were all peaceful. There was not a tree for a bird to light
upon. Even birds fled from the Carder farm. The great elm could have
sheltered many, but the feathered creatures seemed not to trust it.
Perhaps a reason lay in the fact that numbers of cats lived under the
barn and outhouses. Nearly always one might be seen crouching and
crawling along the ground looking cautiously to the right and left. None
was ever kept for a pet or allowed in the house or fed. They lived on
rats, mice, birds, and the field mice, and were practically wild
animals. In their frightened, suspicious actions at sight of a human
being, Geraldine recognized a reflection of her own mental attitude; and
she pitied the poor things even while they excited her repugnance.

Spring and no birds, she thought sadly, gathering her few wild flowers
when the cows had gone home that second afternoon. She strained her eyes
down the driveway, Blankness. Blankness everywhere. At the house,
misery.

The old fairy tales came to her mind. Tales where the captive princess
pines and hopes alternately.

"'On the second day all happened as before,'" she murmured in quotation.
It was always on the third day that something really came to pass, she
remembered, and she scanned the sky for threatening clouds. Ah, if it
should rain to-morrow and the leaden hours should drag by in that odious
house! After having indulged a ray of hope, such a prospect seemed
unbearable.

In her rôle of trusty she had constrained herself to civility. She had
taken Mrs. Carder the flowers last night, and Rufus had put some tiny
blooms in his buttonhole and caressed them at supper-time with
significant glances at her.

When she awoke on the following day her first move was to the window
with an anxious look at the sky. As soon as she was satisfied that it
was not threatening, a reaction set in to her thought. She always
hastened to dress in the morning, for her compassion for Mrs. Carder
made her hurry to her assistance. Pete's eyes in this few days had taken
on a seeing look and he worked with energy to follow every direction of
his golden-haired goddess. In the kitchen he did not avoid her eyes, and
the smiles he received from her were the only sunbeams that had ever
come into his life.

She was in many minds that morning about going again to the meadow. It
seemed so absurd, so humiliating to costume herself as for private
theatricals, and to go repeatedly to keep a tryst which the other party,
and that a man, had forgotten.

Would the princess in the fairy tale do so? she wondered; but then if
she had not persisted the story could never have been written.

"Ain't you sick o' that meadow and the cows?" asked Rufus at the
dinner-table. "Hadn't you better go drivin' to-day? I've got an errand
to the village and just as lieve do it myself as send one o' the men if
you'll go."

Geraldine, the two braids of her hair brought up around her head in a
golden wreath that rested on fluffy waves, was looking more than usually
appealing, he thought, and he congratulated himself on the restraint
with which he was allowing her mind to work on the proposition he had
made to her. She was evidently becoming more normal, finding herself as
it were. Those flashes of red and white that had passed across her face
in her intensity of feeling had ceased. Her voice was steady and civil.

"The meadow seems to agree with me," she answered. "Why should my not
going with you prevent you from doing your errand at the village?"

Why, indeed? thought Carder, regarding her. She had no money, she was in
a part of the world strange to her. If she again strolled forth arrayed
in the white costume in which her girlish vanity seemed to revel, how
could she do anything unsafe during the short time of his absence,
especially with Pete to guard her? The dwarf had had it made perfectly
clear to him that his life depended on Geraldine's presence.

However, it was Carder's policy never to take a very small chance of a
very big misfortune. 'Safe bind, safe find,' was a favorite saying of
his.

"As soon as you feel thoroughly rested, we must take a trip to town," he
said, and he advanced a bony, ill-kept hand toward hers as if he would
seize it. "I think Ma works too hard," he added diplomatically as
Geraldine slid her hand off the table. "We must go and see if we can get
the right kind of help. You'll know how to pick it out. Then what do
you say to havin' an architect come out and look over the old shack here
and see what he thinks he can do with it, regardless of expense?"

Geraldine felt that unnerving nausea again steal around her heart.

"It isn't too late for us to take a little flyer in to-day," he added
eagerly, and the suggestion made the meadow and its cows look like a
glimpse of paradise. Supposing _he_ should come and she be gone! This
was the great third day. "I--really--I"--stammered Geraldine--"I feel a
little shaky yet."

"Oh, all right," Rufus laughed leniently. "Be it ever so humble and all
that you know. _Home_ for you, eh, Gerrie?"

She longed to rise and strike his ugly smile at the sound of her
father's pet name, and she trembled from head to foot. "A trusty," she
said to herself commandingly. "A trusty."

She did not hear another word that was said during dinner, and when she
was free she flew up to her room and put on the poor little
grass-stained dress and the rich crêpe of her mother's heirloom.

"O God, send him!" she prayed, as her fingers worked on the fastenings.
"O God, let him come"--then with tardy, desperate recollection, she
added--"and O God, save his life!"

It seemed difficult for Rufus Carder to separate himself from her that
day. When she emerged from the house, she found him watching for her and
she reminded herself again that if she angered him he might prevent her
from doing as she pleased. It seemed to her now so intensely vital that
she should get to the meadow that she felt panic lest something happen
to prevent it.

"You don't want to go down there again to-day," said Rufus coaxingly.
"Let's take a walk up to the pond."

"Is there a pond?" asked Geraldine quickly. She had often wondered if
there were any body of water about the place deep enough for a girl to
be covered in it if she lay face down.

"Oh, yes, I have a cranberry bog with a dam. Makes a pretty decent pond
part o' the year. How would you like it if I got you a canoe, Gerrie?
Say! would you like that?" The interest that had come into the girl's
face at mention of the pond encouraged him. "Come on, let's go. You've
had enough o' the cows."

He grasped her arm and she set her teeth not to pull away.

"Would you mind waiting?" She put the question gently and even gave him
a little smile, the first he had ever seen on her face. The
exquisiteness of it, her pearly teeth, the Cupid's bow of her lips
flushed him from head to foot. "I seem to be getting attached to that
meadow," she added. "You'd better have one more buttonhole bouquet,
don't you think?"

The delight of it rushed to Carder's head. He, too, had to put a strong
restraint upon himself to let well enough alone. All was going so
nicely. He must not make a false move.

"Well," he responded with a sort of gasping sigh, the blood in his face,
"as I've always said, suit yourself and you'll suit me. Wind me right
around your finger as you always have done and always will do."

He walked completely down the incline with her to-day.

She wondered if he had any sense of humor when she heard the clicking of
Pete's lawn-mower behind them and knew that he was following. Carder did
not seem to notice it; but he said: "I've a great mind to stay down here
with you to-day and find out what the charm is."

"I suppose it is just peace," she answered, and she was so frightened
lest he carry out this threat that she felt herself grow pale to the
lips. "I've passed through a great deal of excitement," she added
unsteadily. "The silence seems healing to me."

"Oh, well, little one," he replied good-humoredly, "if it's doing you
good, that's the main thing. You have had it pretty hard, I know that.
I'm goin' to make it up to you, Gerrie, I'm goin' to make it up to you.
Don't you be afraid. You're safe to be the most envied girl in this
county. You'll make some splash, let me tell you, when my plans are
carried out." He patted her cringing shoulder, and with one more longing
look turned and left her.

Her knees were still trembling and she sank down on her rock and watched
Carder's round shoulders and ill-fitting clothes as he ascended the
incline to the office.

Pete was using a sickle on the stubbly grass, too stiff and
interspersed with stones for the mower.

The cows' big soft eyes were regarding Geraldine, as they always did for
a time after her arrival.

She turned her tired, listless look back to them and wondered what they
did here for comfort in the heat of summer. There was no shade, and no
creek to walk into.

When Rufus Carder arrived at his office he found the telephone ringing.
The message he received necessitated sending some word to a man out in
the field.

He went to the window and looked down at the white spot which was
Geraldine. He saw her rise and walk about. Perhaps she was picking
flowers. The distance was too great for him to be certain.

"I shall be right here," he muttered. Then he went to the corner of the
office and picked up a megaphone. Going outside the door he called to
Pete. "Come up here!" he shouted. The boy dropped his sickle and began
to amble up the hill as fast as his bow-legs would permit.

Geraldine heard the shout, and turning saw the dwarf obeying the
summons.

"Nobody but you to guard me now," she said to the prettiest of the cows
with whom she had made friends.

She watched Pete reach the summit of the incline and vanish into the
yellow office.

Presently he came out again and started off in the direction of the
fields.

"I think there is some one beside you to guard me now," went on
Geraldine to the cow, who gave her an undivided attention mindful of the
bunches of grass which the girl had often gathered for her. "I think the
ogre has come out to the edge of his cave and is scarcely winking as he
watches us down here. Oh, Bossy, I'm the most miserable girl in the
whole world." Her breath caught in her throat, and winking back
despairing tears she stooped to gather the expected thick handful of
grass when a humming sound came faintly across the stillness of the
field. She paused with listless curiosity and listened. The buzzing
seemed suddenly to fill all the air. It increased, and her upturned face
beheld an approaching aeroplane. Before she had time to connect its
presence with herself it began diving toward the earth. On and on it
came. It skimmed the ground, it ran along the meadow, the cows
stampeded. She clasped her hands, and with dilated eyes saw the aviator
jump out, pull something out of the cockpit and run toward her. She ran
toward him. It was--it couldn't be--it was--he pushed back his
helmet--it was her knight! Her excited eyes met his. "I've come for
you," he called gayly, and her face glorified with amazed joy.

"He'll kill you!" she gasped in sudden terror. "Hurry!"

Ben was already taking off the crêpe shawl and putting her arms into the
sleeves of a leather coat. A shout came from the top of the hill. Rufus
Carder appeared, yelling and running. His gun was in his hand. The men
from the fields, who had heard and seen the aeroplane, and Pete, who had
not yet had time to reach them, all came running in excitement to see
the great bird which had alighted in such an unlikely spot.

"He'll kill you!" gasped Geraldine again. A shot rang out on the air.

Ben laughed as he pushed a helmet down over her head.

"It can't be done," he cried, as excited as she. He threw the shawl into
the cockpit, lifted the girl in after it, buckled the safety belt across
her, jumped in himself, and the great bird began to flit along the
ground and quickly to rise.

Another wild shot rang out, and frightful oaths. Geraldine heard the
former, though the latter were inaudible, and she became tense from her
head to the little feet which pushed against the foot-board as if to
hasten their flight. She clutched the side of the veering plane. With
every rod they gained her relief grew. Ben, looking into her face for
signs of fear, received a smile which made even his enviable life better
worth living than ever before. No exultant conqueror ever experienced
greater thrills. Up, up, up, they flew out of reach of bullets and all
the sordidness of earth; and when the meadow became a blur Geraldine
felt like a disembodied spirit, so great was her exaltation. Not a
vestige of fear assailed the heart which had so recently wondered if the
cranberry pond was deep enough to still its misery. She rejoiced to be
near the low-lying, fleecy clouds which a little while ago had aroused
her apprehensions for the morrow. Let come what would, she was safe from
Rufus Carder and she was free. Her sentiment for her leather-coated
deliverer was little short of adoration. Gratitude seemed too poor a
term. He had taken her from hell, and it seemed to her as they went up,
up, up, they must be nearing heaven. At last he began flying in a direct
line.

Below was her former jailer, foaming at the mouth, and Pete, poor Pete,
lying on the ground rolling in an agony of loss. "She's gone, she's
gone," he moaned and sobbed, over and over; and even Carder saw that if
there had been any plot afoot the dwarf had not been in it. So long as
the plane was in sight, all the farm-workers stared open-mouthed. None
of them loved the master, but none dared comment on his fury now or ask
a question. His gun was in his hand and his eyes were bloodshot. His
open mouth worked. They had all seen the beautiful girl who had now been
snatched away so amazingly, and there was plenty to talk about and
wonder about for months to come on the Carder farm. Rufus Carder, when
the swift scout plane had become a speck, tore at his collar. The veins
stood out in his neck and his forehead. He felt the curious gaze of his
helpers and in impotent fury he turned and walked up to the house. His
mother, still in the kitchen, saw him come in and started back with a
cry. His collar and shirt flying open, his face crimson and distorted,
his scowl, and his gun, terrified her almost to fainting. She sank into
a chair. Her lips moved, but she could not make a sound.

"What did the girl tell you!" cried her son.

She clutched her breast, her lips moved, but no sound emerged.

Rufus saw that she was too frightened to speak.

"Don't be scared," he said roughly. "All you've got to do is to tell me
the truth." He made a mighty effort to control his rasping voice. "Did
you know Geraldine was goin' away?"

Mrs. Carder shook her head speechlessly.

"Sit up, Ma. Talk if you've got any sense. What did the girl tell you?
Why was she dressin' up every day?"

"I--I thought"--stammered Mrs. Carder, "I thought she wanted to look
pretty. I--I thought you were goin' to marry her. She never told me
anything. Gone away?" Some curiosity struggled through the old woman's
paralyzing fear. "How could she go away? She hadn't any hat on." She
spoke tremulously.

"Come up to her room," said Rufus sternly.

He flung his gun into a corner and strode toward the stairs, the shaky
old woman following him.

Up in Geraldine's chamber he stood still for a moment scowling and
viewing its neatness, then strode to the closet and opened the door. Her
shabby suit was hanging there, and the pale-green challie gown she had
worn in his office. He grasped its soft folds in crushing fingers. The
gingham dress in which she worked every morning was also hanging on its
hook. Her hat was on the shelf. That was all. Her few toilet articles
were neatly arranged on the shabby old bureau. He opened its drawers and
tossed their meager contents ruthlessly, searching for some letter or
scrap of paper to throw light on her exit. He went to the trunk which
contained some sheets of music and a few books. These he scattered
about searching, searching between their leaves.

His mother, trembling before him, spoke tremulously. "Did she have any
money to go away?"

"No," he growled.

"You can see she didn't expect to go, Rufus," said the old woman
timidly. "All her things are here. Why--why don't you take the car
and--and go after her?"

"Because she went up in the air, that's why; and I'll kill him!" He
shook his fists in impotent rage. "He'll find he didn't get away with it
as neat as he thought."

He stormed out of the room, and lucky it was for Pete that that
threshold could tell no tales.

The old woman stared after him in a new terror. Her son, the most
important man in the county, had lost his mind, and all for the sake of
that girl who had managed in some mysterious way to give him the slip.
"Gone up in the air!" Poor Rufus. He had gone mad. She managed that
night to get an interview in the woodshed with the grief-stricken Pete,
and in spite of his incoherence and renewed sobs she learned what had
happened. The dwarf believed that his goddess had been kidnapped. It
never occurred to his dull brain to connect her disappearance with the
letters he had conveyed to her.

The next day Carder was amazed to have the boy seek him. Never before
had Pete ventured to volunteer a word to him. He was sitting in his den
gnawing his nails and revolving in his mind some scheme for Geraldine's
recovery when the dwarf appeared at the door. His shock of hair stood up
as usual and his eyes were swollen.

"Can't we--can't we--look for her, master?" he asked beseechingly. "They
may hurt her--the man that stole her. Can't you--find him, master?"

Carder's scowl bent upon the humble suppliant.

"I ought to have shot him the first time he came," he said savagely.

"Did the--the areoplane ever come before?" asked Pete, amazed, his
heart's desire to see again and save his goddess supplying him with
courage to speak. His dull eyes opened as wide as their puffiness would
permit.

"No," snarled Carder; "but it was that damned fool on the motor-cycle
without a doubt. I don't see how he got at her. No letter ever came."

The speaker went back to gnawing his nails in bitter meditation and
forgot the mourner at his door whose slow wits began to
remember--remember; and who, as he remembered, began to shake in his
poor broken shoes and feel nailed to the ground. At last he ambled away,
thankful that his master did not recur to the questioning of that other
day. His dull wits received a novel sharpening.

Carder's few words had transformed the situation. His goddess had not
been stolen. He recalled that first night when he had forced her back
into her room to save his own life, unmoved by her pleading. Her
sweetness had given him courage to risk concealing the tall visitor's
letter and conveying it to her.

If Carder should suddenly revert to that day and cross-question him, he
must have his denials ready. He must show no fear.

He fell now on the ground and rested his head on his long arms to think.
It was so hard for him to think, and dry sobs kept choking him; but the
wonderful fact slowly possessed him that he had served her. Pete, the
stupid dwarf, butt of rough jokes and ridicule, had saved the bright
being he adored. He understood now her fervent efforts to convey thanks
to him. He felt dimly that the angel whose kindness had brightened his
life for those few days had gone back to the skies she had left. The man
of the motor-cycle had looked stern as he slipped the letter into his
ragged blouse and said the few low words that imposed secrecy and the
importance of the message.

"I'm sure you love her," the man had said. "I'm sure you want to help
her."

The words had contained magic that worked; and Pete had helped her, and
outwitted the man with the whip who owned him body and soul.

Henceforth the dwarf had a wonderful secret, a secret that warmed his
heart with divine fire.

Remembering how his goddess had wanted to go out into the night alone to
escape, he realized that she must have been as unhappy as himself. When
he prevented her from departing, she had not hated him. Compassion was
still in her eyes and voice when she spoke to him that next morning.

Now he had helped her. An angel had fallen into that smoky kitchen and
toiled with her white hands. He had helped her back to heaven. Pete, the
dwarf had done it: Pete.

He rolled over on his back and looked up at the sky. Clouds were
gathering, but she had gone into the blue. She was there now, and it was
through him. Perhaps she was looking at him at this moment. He knew how
her face would glow. He knew how her voice would sound and her eyes
would smile.

"Thank you, Pete. Thank you, good little Pete."

He gazed up at the scudding clouds and his troubled soul grew quiet.



CHAPTER X

The Palace


Ben, taking an occasional look around at his passenger, flew directly on
toward a landing-field. Their destination had hardly yet interested
Geraldine. The whole experience, in spite of the noise of the motor,
seemed as yet unreal to her. In reaction from the frightful nightmare of
the last few days, her whole being responded to the flight through the
bright spring air, and had Ben seen fit to do a figure eight she would
have accepted it as part of the reckless joyousness of the present
dream.

As the plane began to descend and objects below came into view, she
wondered for the first time where the great bird was coming to earth.
Perhaps Miss Upton's ample and blessed figure would be waiting to greet
her. Nothing, nothing was too good to be true.

The plane touched earth and flitted along to a standstill. They were in
a field, just now deserted, and her escort, pushing back his helmet,
smiled upon her radiantly.

"First time you've ever flown?" he asked.

"Yes, except in dreams," she answered. "This seems only one more."

"Were they happy dreams?"

"None so happy as this."

"You weren't afraid, then? You're a good sport."

"I think I shall never be afraid again. I've sounded the depths of fear
in the last week."

The two sat looking into one another's eyes and the appeal in those
long-lashed orbs of Geraldine continued the havoc that they had begun.
Her lips were very grave as she recalled the precipice from which she
had been snatched.

"I saw that he frightened you terribly that day he gave me such a warm
welcome."

"He was going to marry me," explained Geraldine simply.

"How could he--the old ogre?"

"I was to consent in order to save my father's name. I'm going to tell
you about it because you're a lawyer, aren't you, and the finest man in
the world? I have it here."

Geraldine loosened her coat and felt inside her white blouse for Miss
Upton's letter.

Ben laughed and blushed to his ears. "I haven't attained the former yet.
The latter, of course, I can't deny."

Geraldine produced the letter, inside of which was folded that from her
father.

"Miss Upton wrote me about you and--"

"You're not going to show it to me," interrupted Ben hastily. "I'm
afraid the dear woman spread it on too thick for the victim to view."

"You see, she knew how I hate men," explained Geraldine, "and she knew
how friendless I was and she wanted me to trust you."

"And do you?" asked Ben with ardor.

"Yes, perfectly. I have to, you know." She tucked back the rejected
letter in its hiding-place.

"And you're not going to hate me?"

"I should think not," returned the girl with the same simple gravity;
"not when you've done me the greatest kindness of my whole life!"

"I'm so glad I haven't named the plane yet," said Ben impulsively. "You
shall name it."

"There's no name good enough," she replied--"unless--unless we name it
for that carrier pigeon that was such a hero in the War. We might name
it _Cher Ami_."

"Good," declared Ben. "It is surely a homing bird."

"And such a _cher ami_ to me," added Geraldine fervently.

Ben wondered if this marvelous girl never smiled.

"You were going to tell me how the ogre was able to force you to marry
him," he said.

"Yes; I don't like to tell you. It is very sad, and he crushed me with
it." The girl's lips trembled for a silent moment, and Cupid alone knows
how Ben longed to kiss them, close to him as they were.

"He said that my father forged two checks, and that he only refrained
from prosecuting him because of me. He said my father had promised that
he should have me."

Ben scowled, and the dark eyes fixed upon him brightened with sudden
eagerness. "But that was a lie--about father giving me to him. I have
Daddy's letter here." She felt again inside her blouse. "You will have
to know everything--how my poor father was his own worst enemy and came
to rely for money on that impossible man."

She took out the letter and gave it to Ben and he read it in silence.

"Probably it was a lie also about the checks," he said when he had
finished.

"No, oh, no," she replied earnestly. "He showed me those. He said that
my father was held in affectionate remembrance at his clubs and among
his friends, and that he could ruin all that and hold him up to contempt
as a criminal, unless--unless I married him." Geraldine's bosom heaved
convulsively. "I have been wild with joy ever since you came," she
declared. "If I ever go to heaven I can't be happier than I was flying
up from that meadow where there seemed a curse even on the poor little
wild flowers but you can see how it is going to keep coming over me in
waves that perhaps I have done wrong. You see, Daddy tells me not to
consider him; but should I not guard his name in spite of that? That is
the question that will keep coming up to me. Nevertheless"--she made a
gesture of despair--"if I went through with it--if I married Mr. Carder,
I'm sure I should lose all control and kill myself. I'm sure of it."

Here Ben gave rein to the dastardly instinct which occasionally causes a
poor mortal to fling all conscience to the winds when he sees an
unexpected opportunity to attain a longed-for prize.

"For you to become his wife cannot be right," declared Ben, endeavoring
to speak with mature and legal poise; "but as you say, that heartrending
doubt of your duty may attack you at times. How would it be to put it
beyond your power to yield to his wishes by marrying some one else--me,
for instance?"

Geraldine regarded the speaker with grief and reproach. "Can you joke
about my trouble?" She turned away and he suspected hurt tears.

"Miss Melody--Geraldine." What Ben had fondly hoped was the judicial
manner disappeared in a whirlwind of words. "I'm in earnest! I've
thought of nothing but you since the day I saw you with that cut-throat.
It's my highest desire to guard you, to make you happy. Give me the
right, and every day of my life will prove it. Of course, I saw that
Carder had some hold over you. I've spent all my time ever since that
day trying to ferret out facts that could give me some hold on him. I
haven't found them. The fox has always left himself a loophole. Marry me
to-day: now: before we go home. I'm well known in the town yonder. I can
arrange it. Marry me, and whatever comes you will be safe from him.
Geraldine!"

The girl's gaze was fixed on the flushed face and glowing eyes beside
her and she leaned as far away from him as possible.

"You really mean it?" she said when he paused.

"As I never meant anything before in my life."

"Have you a mother?"

"The best on earth."

"And yet you would do this to her, just because I have nice eyes."

It was a frigid bucket of water, but Ben stood up under it.

"Yes, I could give her nothing better."

"You don't even know me," said Geraldine. "How strange men are."

"Yes, those you hate; but how about me? You said you liked me."

At this the girl did smile, and the effect was so wonderful that it
knocked what little sense Ben Barry had left into oblivion.

"Love at first sight is a fact," he declared. "No one believes it till
he's hit, but then there's no questioning. You looked that day as if you
would have liked to speak to me--yes"--boldly--"as if to escape Carder
you would have mounted that motor-cycle with me and we should have done
that Tennyson act, you know--'beyond the earth's remotest rim the happy
princess followed him'--or something like that. I don't know it exactly
but I'm going to learn it from start to finish and read law afterward.
I've dreamed of you all night and worked for you all day ever since and
yet I haven't accomplished anything!"

"Haven't!" exclaimed Geraldine. "You've done the most wonderful thing in
the world."

"Oh, well, _Cher Ami_ did that. Tell me you'll let me take care of you
always, and knock Carder's few remaining teeth down his throat if he
ever comes in sight. Tell me you do--you like me a little."

Geraldine's entrancing smile was still lighting her pensive eyes.

"Oh, no, I don't like you. How can I? People don't like utter strangers.
One feels worship, adoration for a creature that drops from the skies,
and lifts a wretched helpless girl out of torturing captivity into the
free sweet air of heaven."

"Well, that'll do," returned Ben, nodding. "Adoration and worship will
do to begin with. Let us go over to the village and be married--_my
beautiful darling_."

Geraldine colored vividly under this escape of her companion's
ungovernable steam, but she did not change her expression.

"I certainly shall not do that," she answered quietly.

Ben relaxed his tense, appealing posture.

"Well, then," he said, drawing a long breath, "if you positively decline
the trap--oh, it was a trap all right--if you are determined to postpone
the wedding, I'll tell you that I really don't believe your father
forged those checks."

"Oh, Mr. Barry--" the girl leaned toward him.

"Ben, or I won't go on."

"Ben, then. It is no sort of a name compared to the one I have been
giving you. I've been calling you Sir Galahad."

Ben smiled at her blissfully. "Nice," he said. "I don't believe Miss
Upton went beyond that."

"Oh, please go on, Mr. Barry--Ben--Sir Galahad."

"Why couldn't our cheerful friend have shown you any checks he drew to
your father's name and claim that they were forged?"

Geraldine's eyes shone. "I never thought of that."

"Of course I cannot be sure of it. I would far rather get something
definite on the old scamp."

Geraldine shuddered. "He is so cruel. He is so rough to that poor little
fellow Pete. Think what I owe that boy! He managed to get your message
to me even when threatened with his master's whip. Mr. Carder saw you
speaking to him and questioned him."

"Oh, you mean that nut who took my letter?"

"The hero who took your letter. He had to lie outside my door every
night to keep me from escaping, and he slipped your message under it.
Where should I be now but for him? Poor child, he is as friendless as I
am"--Geraldine interrupted herself with a grateful look at her
companion--"as I was, I mean. He had to follow me and guard me wherever
I went, always keeping at a distance, because he mustn't speak to me and
the ogre was always watching. How I thank Heaven," added Geraldine
fervently, "that Mr. Carder himself had called Pete off duty for the
first time before the--the archangel swooped down from the sky."

"I'm getting on," said Ben. "If you keep on promoting me, I'll arrive
first thing you know."

"I should honestly be wretched if I had to think Mr. Carder was blaming
Pete for my escape. The boy did tell me his life depended on my safety."

"Well, I don't understand," said Ben with a puzzled frown. "Who lies in
front of Pete's door? Why does he stay there? Why doesn't he light out
some time between two days?"

"Oh, Mr. Carder has told him no one would employ him, that Pete would
starve but for him. Did you notice how ragged and neglected he looked?"

"He looked like a nut. I was afraid he was so stupid that you would
never receive the message." Ben looked thoughtful. "How long has he
lived at the farm?"

"For years. Mrs. Carder took him from the orphan asylum when he was a
child. She thought he would be more useful than a girl. They keep him as
a slave. You saw how very bow-legged he is. He can't get about normally,
but he drives the car and helps in the kitchen and does every sort of
menial task. There was such a look in his eyes always when he saw me.
Little as I could do for him, or even speak to him, I'm afraid he is
missing me terribly." Geraldine's look suddenly grew misty. "See how
faithful he was about Daddy's letter. Poor little Pete. Mr. Carder will
be out of his mind at my flight. I hope he doesn't visit it on that poor
boy."

"Well," said Ben, heroically refraining from putting his arms around
her, "why don't we take him?"

"We? Take Pete? How wonderful!" she returned, her handkerchief pausing
in mid-air.

"Sure thing, if you want him. Send him to the barber and have his hair
mowed. Have some trousers cut out for him with a circular saw and fix
him up to the queen's taste."

"Oh, Mr. Barry--Ben! You don't know what you're saying. It would give me
more relief than I can express, for the boy's lot is so miserable and
starved."

"Well, then, that is settled, my princess."

"But you can't get him. I can't help feeling that anyone who has lived
there so long, and been so unconsidered and unnoticed, must know more
than Mr. Carder wishes to have go to the outside world. His mother
hinted some things." Geraldine gasped with reminiscent horror of that
low-ceiled kitchen.

Her companion suddenly looked very alert. "Highly probable," he
returned. "Why didn't you say that before? We certainly will take Pete
in. What are his habits? You say he drives the car."

"Yes, he did until he was set to dog my movements. I often heard it
referred to. Do you mean--you could never get him in this blessed
chariot. He will probably never see the meadow again unless they send
him to get the cows."

Ben shook his head. "No; I think he will have to be bagged some other
way. What's the matter with my going back to the farm on my motor-cycle
and engaging him, overbidding the ogre?"

Geraldine actually clasped her hands on the leathern arm beside her.
"Promise me," she said fervently, looking into her companion's
eyes--"promise me that you will never go back to that farm alone."

"You want to go with me?"

"Don't joke. Promise me solemnly."

Ben's lips took a grave line and he put one hand over the beseeching
ones.

"Then what will you promise me?" he returned.

The blood mantled high over the girl's face. "You're taking me to Miss
Upton, aren't you?" she returned irrelevantly.

"Yes, if you positively refuse still to go to the parson."

The expression of her anxious eyes grew inscrutable.

"I want your mother to love me," she said naïvely.

Ben lifted her hands and held them to his lips.

"You haven't promised," she said softly. "I know he suspects you now. I
think he is a madman when he is angry."

"Very well, I promise." Ben released her hands and smiled down with
adoring eyes. "Now, we will go home," he said.

Again the great bird rose and winged its way between heaven and earth.

Now it was not as before when Geraldine's whole being had seemed
absorbed in flight and freedom. The earth was before her and a new life.
She had a lover. Wonderful, sweet, incredible fact. A good man, Miss
Upton said. Could it be that never again desolation and fear should
sicken her heart; that like the princess of the tales her great third
day had come and brought her love as well as liberty? Happiness deluged
her, flushed her cheeks, and shone in her eyes. She longed and dreaded
to alight again upon that earth which had never shown her kindness.
Could it be possible that she should reign queen in a good man's heart?
For so many years she had been habitually in the background, kept there
either by her stepmother's will or her own desire to hide her
shabbiness, and when need had at last forced her to initiative, she had
received such humiliating stabs from the greed of men--could it be that
she was to walk surrounded by protection, and love, and _respect_?

She closed her eyes. Spring, sunlight, joy coursed through every vein.
When at last they began again to dip toward earth, the question surged
through her: "Shall I ever be so happy again?"

And now Miss Upton's figure loomed large and gracious in the foreground
of her thoughts. She longed for the refuge of her kindly arms until she
could gather herself together in the new era of safety and peace.

The plane touched the earth, ran a little way toward an arched building,
and stopped.

Ben jumped out, and Geraldine exclaimed over the beauty of a rose-tinted
cloud of blossoms.

"Yes. Pretty orchard, isn't it?" he said. He unstrapped her safety belt
and lifted her out of the cockpit. Her eager eyes noted that they were
at the back of a large brick dwelling.

"Is Miss Upton here?" she asked while her escort took off her leather
coat and her helmet. The latter had been pushed on and off once too
often. The wonder of her golden hair fell over the poor little white
cotton gown and Ben repressed his gasp of admiration.

"Oh, this is dreadful," she said, putting her hands up helplessly.

"Don't touch it," exclaimed her companion quickly. "You can't do
anything with it anyway. There isn't a hairpin in the hangar. Miss Upton
will love to see it. She will take care of it."

"Oh, I can't. How can I!" exclaimed Geraldine.

"Certainly, that's all right," said Ben hastily. "Miss Upton is right
here. She will take you into the house and make you comfy. Let me put
this around you."

He took the crêpe shawl and put it about her shoulders, lifting out the
shining gold that fell over the fringes.

"I know it is very old-fashioned and queer," said Geraldine, pulling the
wrap over the grass stains and looking up into his eyes with a childlike
appeal that made him set his teeth. "It was my mother's and you said
'white.' It was all I had."

Miss Upton had come to Mrs. Barry's to receive her protégée provided Ben
could bring her. The two ladies were sitting out under the trees
waiting. Miss Mehitable had obeyed Ben, and some days since had given
Mrs. Barry the young girl's story, and that lady had received it
courteously and with the tempered sympathy which one bestows on the
absolutely unknown.

Miss Upton's excitement when she heard the humming of the aeroplane and
saw it approaching in the distance baffles description. She had been
forcing herself to talk on other subjects, perceiving clearly that her
hostess was what our English friends would term fed up on the subject of
the girl with the fanciful name; but now she clasped her plump hands and
caught her breath.

"Well, she ain't killed, anyway," she said. She longed to rush back to
the landing-place, but instinctively felt that such action on the part
of a guest would be indecorous. She hoped Mrs. Barry would suggest it,
but such a move was evidently far from that lady's thought. She sat in
her white silken gown, with sewing in her lap, the picture of unruffled
calm.

Miss Upton swallowed and kept her eyes on the approaching plane. "She
ain't killed, anyway," she repeated.

"Nor Ben either," remarked Mrs. Barry, drawing the fine needle in and
out of her work. "He is of some importance, isn't he?"

"Oh, do you suppose he got her, Mrs. Barry?" gasped Miss Mehitable.

"Ben would be likely to," returned that lady, who had been somewhat
tried by her son's preoccupation in the last few days and considered the
adventure a rather annoying interlude in their ordered life.

"Why don't she say let's go and see! How can she just set there as cool
as a cucumber!" thought Miss Mehitable, squeezing the blood out of her
hands.

The plane descended, the humming ceased. Miss Upton sat on the edge of
her chair looking excitedly at the figure in white who embroidered
serenely. Moments passed with the tableau undisturbed; then:

"Oh! Oh!" exclaimed Miss Mehitable, still holding a rein over herself,
mindful that she was not the hostess.

Mrs. Barry looked up. She was a New Englander of the New Englanders,
conservative to her finger tips. Ben was her only son, the light of her
eyes. If what she saw was startling, it can hardly be wondered at.

There came through the pink cloud of the apple blossoms her aviator son
looking handsomer than she had ever beheld him, leading a girl in
white-fringed crêpe that clung in soft folds to her slenderness. All
about her shoulders fell a veil of golden hair, and her appealing eyes
glowed in a face at once radiant and timid.

Mrs. Barry started up from her chair.

"Mother!" cried Ben as they approached, "I told you I should bring her
from the stars."

The hostess advanced a step mechanically, Miss Mehitable followed close.
Geraldine gazed fascinated at the tall, regal woman, whose habitually
formal manner took on an additional stiffness.

"This is Miss Melody, I believe." Mrs. Barry held out her smooth, fair
hand. "I hear you have passed through a very trying experience," she
said with cold courtesy. "I am glad you are safe."

The light went out of the girl's eager eyes. The color fled from her
face. She had endured too many extremes of emotion in one day. Miss
Mehitable extended her arms to her with a yearning smile. Geraldine
glided to her and quietly fainted away on that kindly breast.

"Poor lamb, poor lamb," murmured Miss Mehitable, and Ben, frowning,
exclaimed: "Here, let me take her!"

He gathered her up in his arms and carried her into the house and laid
her on a divan, Miss Upton panting after his long strides and his mother
deliberately bringing up the rear. Mrs. Barry knew just what to do and
she did it, while Miss Upton wrung her hands above the recumbent white
figure. When the long eyelashes flickered on the pallid cheek, Ben spoke
commandingly: "I'll take her upstairs. She must be put to bed."

Miss Mehitable came to herself with a rush. "Not here," she said
decidedly. "If you'll let me have the car, Mrs. Barry, we'll be out of
your way in five minutes."

Ben looked at his mother, who was still cool and unexcited; and the
expression on his face was a new one for her to meet.

"She isn't fit to be moved, Mother, and Miss Upton hasn't room. Miss
Melody is exhausted. She has had a frightful experience," he said
sternly.

If he had appealed she might have been touched, but it is doubtful. The
grass stains, the quaint shawl, the hair that was rippling down to the
rug, were none of them part of her visions of a daughter-in-law, and, at
any rate, Ben shouldn't look at her like that--at her! for the sake of a
friendless waif whose existence he had not suspected one week ago.

Miss Upton, understanding the situation perfectly, saved the hostess the
trouble of replying.

"It won't hurt her a bit to drive as far as my house after she's been
caperin' all over the sky!" she exclaimed, seizing Geraldine's hands.

The girl heard the declaration and essayed to rise while her eyes fixed
on the round face bending over her.

"I want to go with you," she said.

"And you're going, my lamb," returned Miss Mehitable.

"Certainly, you shall have the car," said Mrs. Barry suavely.

She wished to send word to the chauffeur, she wished to give Geraldine
tea, she was entirely polite and sufficiently solicitous, but her heir
looked terrible things, and, bringing around the car, himself drove the
guests to Miss Upton's Fancy Goods and Notions.

Geraldine declined his help to walk to the door of the shop. Miss Upton
had her arm around her, and though the girl was pale she gave her
rescuer a look full of gratitude; and when he pressed her hand she
answered the pressure and restored a portion of his equanimity.

"I never, never shall forget this happiest day of my life," she said.

"And don't forget we are going to get Pete," he responded eagerly,
holding her hand close, "and everything is going to come out right."

"Yes"--she looked doubtful and frightened; "but if you get Pete don't
let your mother see him. She is--she couldn't bear it."

"Don't judge her, Geraldine," he begged. "She is glorious. Ask Miss
Upton. Just a little--a little shy at first, you know. Miss Upton, you
explain, won't you?"

"Don't fret, Ben," said Miss Mehitable. "You're the best boy on earth,
and I want to hear all about it, for I'm sure you did something
wonderful to get her."

"Yes, wonderful, Miss Upton!" echoed Geraldine, with another
heart-warming smile at her deliverer whose own smile lessened and died
as he walked back to his car. By the time he entered it he was frowning,
thinking of his "shy" mother.



CHAPTER XI

Mother and Son


Miss Upton had looked upon the parting amenities of the two young people
with beaming approval; and Geraldine's first words when they were alone
astonished her.

As soon as they were inside the shop and the door closed, the young girl
looked earnestly into her friend's eyes. Miss Mehitable returned her
regard affectionately. The golden hair had been wound up and secured
with Mrs. Barry's hairpins.

"I wish there were some way by which I need never see him again," she
said.

"Why, Miss Melody, child, what do you mean? Every word I told you in my
letter was true. Perhaps you never got it, but I told you that he is the
_finest_--"

"Yes, yes, I believe it," was the hasty reply. "I did receive your
letter, and some time I'll tell you how, and what a comfort it was to
me. Oh, Miss Upton"--the girl threw her arms around the stout
figure--"I can't tell you what it means to me for you to take me in; and
this is your shop you told me of--" she released Miss Mehitable and
looked about--"and I'm going to tend it for you and help you in every
way I can. It is paradise--paradise to me, Miss Upton."

Her fervor brought a lump to her companion's throat, but she knew that
Mrs. Whipp was listening from the sitting-room, and Miss Mehitable did
love peace.

"Yes, yes, dear child; it'll all come out right," she said vaguely,
patting the white shoulder. "I have another good helper and I want you
to meet her. Come with me." She led the girl through the shop.

Mrs. Whipp had retreated violently from the front window when she saw
the closed car drive up, and now she was standing, at bay as it were,
with eyes fixed on the doorway through which her employer would bring
the stranger. Pearl was placidly purring in the last rays of the sinking
sun, her milk-white paws tucked under her soft breast, the only
unexcited member of the family.

Mrs. Whipp had excuse for staring as the young girl came into view.
Short wisps of golden hair waved about her face. Her beauty struck a
sort of awe to the militant woman, who was standing on a mental fence in
armed neutrality holding herself ready to spring down on that side which
would regard the stranger as an interloper come to sponge on Miss Upton,
or possibly she might descend upon the other side and endure the
newcomer passively.

"This is our little girl, Charlotte," said Miss Mehitable; "our little
girl to take care of, and who wants to take care of us. This is Mrs.
Whipp, Geraldine."

Charlotte blinked as the newcomer's face relaxed in her appealing smile,
and she came forward and took Mrs. Whipp's hard, unexpectant hand in her
soft grasp. "Such a fortunate girl I am, Mrs. Whipp," she said, "I'm
sure I shall inconvenience you at first (this fact had been too plainly
legible on the weazened face to be ignored), but I will try to make up
for it--try my very best, and it may not be for long."

Charlotte mumbled some inarticulate greeting, falling an instant victim
to the young creature's humility and loveliness.

"I look very queer, I know," continued Geraldine, "but you see I just
came down out of the sky."

"She really did," put in Miss Upton. "She came in Mr. Barry's
areoplane."

"Shan't I die!" commented Mrs. Whipp, continuing to stare with a
pertinacity equal to Rufus Carder's own. "I believe it. She looks like
an angel," she thought. Miss Mehitable watched her melting mood with
inward amusement.

"What a beautiful cat!" said Geraldine. "She's tame, isn't she? Will she
let you touch her?"

"Well," said Charlotte with a broader smile than had been seen on her
countenance for many a day, "I guess they don't have cats in the sky."
She lifted Pearl and bestowed her in Geraldine's arms.

The girl met the lazy, golden eyes rather timorously, but she took her.

"All the cats where--where I was--were wild--and no one--no one fed
them, you see."

"Well, this cat is named Pearl," said Miss Mehitable. "She's Charlotte's
jewel and you can bet she does get fed. How about us, Charlotte?" She
turned to the waiting table. "I want to give Miss Melody her supper and
put her to bed, and after she has slept twelve hours we'll get her to
tell us how it feels to fly. Thank Heaven, she's here with no broken
bones."

Meanwhile Ben Barry had reached home and made a rather formal toilet for
the evening meal. Even before his mother saw it, she knew she was going
to be disciplined. While the waitress remained in the room the young
man's gravity and meticulous politeness would have intimidated most
mothers with a conscience as guilty as Mrs. Barry's. She was forced to
raise her napkin several times, not to dry tears, but to conceal smiles
which would have been sure to add fuel to the flame.

She showed her temerity by soon dismissing the servant. Her son met her
twinkling eyes coldly. She leaned across the table toward him and
revealed the handsome teeth he had inherited.

"Now, Benny, don't be ridiculous," she said.

This beginning destroyed his completely. He arrived at his climax at
once.

"How could you be so heartless!" he exclaimed. "She had told me she
wanted you to love her. Your coldness shocked her."

This appeal, so pathetic to the speaker, caused Mrs. Barry again to
raise her napkin to her rebellious lips.

"I tell you," went on Ben heatedly, "she has been through so much that
the surprise and humiliation of your manner made her faint."

"Now, dear, be calm. Didn't I bring her to again? Didn't I do up her
hair--it's beautiful, but I like it better wound up, in company--didn't
I want to give her--"

"Do you suppose," interrupted Ben more hotly, "do you suppose she wasn't
conscious, and hurt, too, by her unconventional appearance?"

He was arraigning his parent now with open severity.

"How about my shock, Ben? I'm old-fashioned, you know. You come, leading
that odd little waif and displaying so much--well, enthusiasm, wasn't
it--wasn't the whole thing a little extreme?"

"Yes, the situation was certainly very extreme. An old rascal had
managed to capture that flower of a girl, and made her believe that to
save her dead father's good name she must marry him. I come along with
the Scout and pick her up out of a field where she was walking, he
running, and yelling, and firing his gun at us. There was scarcely time
for her to put on a traveling costume to accord with your ideas of
decorum, was there?"

Mrs. Barry's eyes widened as they gazed into his accusing ones.

"How dreadful," she said.

"Yes; and even in all her relief at escaping, Miss Melody was in doubt
as to whether she was not deserting her father's cause--torn, as the
books say, with conflicting emotions. You may think it was all very
pleasant."

"Benny, I think it was dreadful! Awfully hard for you, dear; and, oh,
that wretch might have disabled the plane and hurt you! Why did I ever
let you have it?"

"To save her! That's why you let me have it."

His mother regarded his glowing face. "What a wretched mess!" she was
thinking. "What a bother that the girl is so pretty!"

"You remember the other evening when I came home from that motor-cycle
trip, and the next day Miss Upton came and told you Miss Melody's
story?"

"Yes, dear." Mrs. Barry added apologetically, "I'm afraid I didn't pay
strict attention."

"Well, it is a pity that you did not, for I've known ever since that day
that Geraldine Melody is the only girl I shall ever marry."

His mother's heart beat faster as she marked the expression in those
steady, young eyes.

There was silence for a space between them. She was the first to speak,
and she did so with a cool, unsmiling demeanor which reminded him of
childhood days when he was in disgrace.

"Then you care nothing for what sort of mind and character are possessed
by your future wife. The skin-deep part is all that interests you."

"That's what she said," he responded quickly. "I suggested that she put
affairs in a shape where it would be of no use for an irritating
conscience to try to make trouble. I urged her to marry me this
afternoon before we came home."

Mrs. Barry's nonchalance deserted her with a rush. Her face became
crimson.

"How--how criminal!" she ejaculated.

"That's what she said," returned Ben. "She asked if I hadn't a mother. I
told her I had a glorious one; and she just looked at me and said: 'And
you would do that to her just because I have nice eyes.'"

Mrs. Barry bit her lip and did not love the waif the more that she had
been able to defend her.

"What is the use of being a mother!" she ejaculated. "What is the use of
expending your whole heart's love on a boy for his lifetime, when he
will desert you at the first temptation!"

"Well, she wouldn't let me, dear," said Ben more gently, flushing and
feeling his first qualm. "I would stake my life that she is as beautiful
within as without and that you would have a treasure as well as I. It
wasn't deserting you. I was thinking of you. I felt she was worthy of
you and no one else is."

"This is raving, Ben," said his mother, quiet again. "He has escaped,"
she thought, "and now nothing will come of it." She raised her drooping
head and again regarded him deprecatingly. "Let us talk of something
else," she added.

"No," he returned firmly; "not until you understand that I am entirely
in earnest. You had your love-affair, now I am having mine, and I am
going through with it, openly and in the sight of all men. I urged her a
second time to marry me this afternoon, and she looked at me soberly
with those glorious eyes and her only answer was: 'I want your mother to
love me.'" Ben looked off reminiscently. "It encouraged me to hope that
she cares for me a little that your coldness bowled her over so
completely."

Mrs. Barry looked at him helplessly, and this time when she put up her
napkin she touched a corner of her eye.

"We stopped at the landing-field at Townley and had our talk," he went
on.

"And she seemed refined?" Mrs. Barry's voice was a little uncertain.

"Exquisite!" he exclaimed.

"You have standards, Ben," she said. "You couldn't be totally fooled by
beauty."

He smiled upon her for the first time and a very warming light shone in
his eyes. "The best," he replied, leaning toward her. "You."

She drew a long, quavering breath; but she scorned weeping women.

Ben watched her repressed emotion.

"Now you examine, Mother," he said gently. "Take your New England
magnifying-glass along, and when she will see you, put her to the test."

"When she will see me? What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Barry quickly.

"Well"--Ben shrugged his shoulders--"we'll see. How much she was hurt,
how long it will last, I don't know, of course. You can try."

"_Try!_" repeated the queen of Keefe, her handsome face coloring faintly
above her white silken gown.

"Yes. Miss Upton will be a good go-between, when she is placated. You
saw the partisan in her."

Of course, it was all very absurd, as Mrs. Barry told herself when they
arose from the table; but there was no denying that her throne was
tottering. Her boy was no longer all hers. Bitter, bitter discovery for
most mothers to make even when the rival is not Miss Nobody from
Nowhere.

The next morning betimes Ben presented himself at the Emporium. He drove
up in his roadster and rushed in upon Miss Upton with an arm full of
apple blossoms.

"How is she?" he inquired eagerly.

"Hush, hush! I think she's goin' to sleep again. She's had her
breakfast."

"Mother sent her these," he went on, laying the fragrant mass on the
counter behind which Miss Mehitable was piling up goods for packing.

She looked at him and the corners of her mouth drew down. "Ben Barry,
what do you want to tell such a lie for?"

"Because I think it sounds nice," he returned, unabashed. "Really, I
think she would if she dared, you know. We had it out last night. Now
what are you going to do about Miss Melody's clothes?"

"Yes, what am I?" said Miss Upton. "Say, Ben"--she gave his arm a push
and lowered her voice--"what do you s'pose Charlotte's doin'? She's out
in the shed washin' and ironin' Geraldine's clothes." She lifted her
plump shoulders and nudged Ben again. They both laughed.

"Good for Lottie!" remarked Ben.

"Oh, she's in love, just in love," said Miss Mehitable. "It's too funny
to see her. She wants to wait on the child by inches; but clothes--Ben!
You should have seen Geraldine in my--a--my--a wrapper last night!" Miss
Mehitable gave vent to another stifled chuckle. "She was just lost in
it, and we had to hunt for her and fish her out and put her into
something of Charlotte's. Charlotte was tickled to death." Again the
speaker's cushiony fist gave Ben's arm an emphatic nudge.

He smiled sympathetically. "I suppose so," he said; "but aren't you
going to town to-day to buy her some things?"

"What with?" Miss Upton grew sober and extended both hands palms upward.
"I've been thinkin' about it while I was workin' here. She's got to have
clothes. I shouldn't wonder if some o' my customers had things they
could let us have. Once your mother would 'a' been my first thought."

"Hand-me-downs?" said Ben, flushing. "Nothing doing. Surely you have
credit at the stores."

"Yes, I have, but it's my habit to pay my bills," was the defiant reply,
"and that girl needs everything. I can't buy 'em all."

Ben patted her arm. "Don't speak so loud, you'll wake the baby. You buy
the things, Mehit. I'll see that they're paid for."

"How your mother'd love that!"

"My mother will have nothing to do with it."

"Why, you ain't even self-supportin' yet," declared Miss Upton bluntly.
"'T ain't anything to your discredit, of course; you ain't ready," she
added kindly.

Ben's steady eyes kept on looking into hers and his low voice replied:
"My father died suddenly, you remember. He had destroyed one will and
not yet made another. I have money of my own, quite a lot of it, to tell
the truth. Now if you'd just let me fly you over to town--"

Miss Mehitable started. "Fly me over, you lunatic!"

"Well, let us go in the train, then. I'll go with you. I know in a
general way just what she ought to wear. Soft silky things and a--a
droopy hat."

"Ben Barry, you've taken leave o' your senses. Don't you know that
everything I get her, that poor child will want to pay for--work, and
earn the money? If I buy anything for her, it's goin' to be somethin'
she can pay for before she's ninety."

Ben sighed. "All right, Mehit! have it your own way, only get a move. I
can't take her out till she gets a hat."

"You haven't got to take her out," retorted Miss Upton decidedly. "She
don't want to go out with you. It was only last night she was sayin' she
wished she might never see you again."

"Huh!" ejaculated Ben. "Poor girl, I'm sorry for her, then. She is going
to stumble over me every time she turns around. She is going to see me
till she cries for mercy."

He smiled into Miss Upton's doubtful, questioning face for a silent
space.

"Don't worry about that," he said at last. "Just go upstairs and put on
your duds, like the dear thing you are, and get the next train." The
speaker looked at his watch. "You can catch it all right."

"I never heard o' such a thing," said Miss Mehitable. She had made her
semi-annual trip to the city. The idea of going back again with no
preparation was startling--and also expensive.

Ben perceived that if there were to be any initiative here he would have
to furnish it.

"You don't expect to open the shop again until you have moved, do you?"

"No," admitted Miss Upton reluctantly.

"Then you can take your time. Take these flowers upstairs, ask her what
size things she wears, and hurry up and catch the train."

Miss Upton brought her gaze back from its far-away look and she appeared
to come to herself. "Look here, Ben Barry, I'm not goin' to be crazy
just because you are. Her clean clothes'll be all ready for her by
night. I can buy her a sailor hat right here in the village and maybe a
jacket. She's got to go to town with me. The idea of buyin' a lot of
clothes and maybe not havin' 'em right."

"You're perfectly correct, Miss Upton."

The young man took out his pocket-book and handed his companion a bill.
"This is for your fares," he said.

Miss Mehitable's troubled brow cleared even while she blushed, seeing
that he had read her thoughts.

"I don't know as this is exactly proper, Ben," she said doubtfully.

"Take my word for it, it is," he replied. "Let me be your conscience for
a few weeks. I may not see you for a day or two. I have another little
job of kidnapping on hand; so I put you on your honor to do your part."

He was gone, and Miss Upton, placing the sturdy stems of the apple
blossoms in a pitcher of water, carried them upstairs. She tiptoed into
the room where Geraldine was in bed, but the girl was awake and gave an
exclamation of delight.

"Have you an apple tree, too?" she asked.

"No, Mr. Barry brought these over."

The girl's face sobered as she buried it in the blooms Miss Upton
offered. Miss Mehitable looked admiringly at the golden braids hanging
over the pillows.

"Do you feel rested?" she asked.

"Perfectly, and I know I have taken your bed. To-night we will make me a
nice nest on the floor."

Miss Upton smiled. "Oh, I've got a cot. We'll do all right. Do you
s'pose there is any way we could get your clothes from that fiend on the
farm?" she added.

Geraldine shrank and shook her head. "I wouldn't dare try," she replied.

"Then you and I've got to go to town to-morrow," said Miss Upton, "and
get you something."

The girl returned her look seriously and caught her lip under her teeth
for a silent space.

"Yes, I know what you're thinkin'," said Miss Mehitable cheerfully; "but
the queerest thing and the nicest thing happened to me this mornin'. I
got some money that I didn't expect. Just in the nick o' time, you see.
We can go to town and--"

Geraldine reached up a hand and took that of her friend, her face
growing eager.

"How splendid!" she exclaimed. "Then we will go and get me the very
simplest things I can get along with and we'll keep account of every
cent and I will pay it all back to you. Do you know I think this bed of
yours is full of courage? At any rate, when I waked up this morning I
found all my hopefulness had come back. I feel that I am going to make
my living and not be a burden on anyone. It's wonderful to feel that
way!"

"Of course you are, child." Miss Upton patted the hand that grasped
hers. "But first off, you'll have to help me move. I've got a lot o'
packin' to do, you understand. I'm movin' my shop to Keefeport. I always
do summers."

For answer Geraldine, who had been leaning on her elbow, sat up quickly,
evidently with every intention of rising.

"Get back there," laughed Miss Mehitable. "Your clothes ain't ironed
yet. I'll move the apple blossoms up side of you--"

"Don't, please," said Geraldine, as she lay down reluctantly. "I think
I'd rather they would keep their distance--like their owner."

"Now, child," said Miss Mehitable coaxingly. "Mrs. Barry's one o' the
grandest women in the world. I felt pretty hot myself yesterday--I might
as well own it--but that'll all smooth over. She didn't mean a thing
except that she was surprised."

"We can't blame her for that," returned Geraldine, "but--but--I'm sorry
he brought the flowers. I wonder if you couldn't make him
understand--very kindly, you know, Miss Upton, that I want to be--just
to be forgotten."

Miss Upton pursed her lips and her eyes laughed down into the earnest
face. "I'm afraid, child, I don't know any language that could make him
understand that."

Geraldine did not smile. She felt that in those intense hours of
yesterday, freed from every convention of earth, they two had lived a
lifetime. She would rather dwell on its memory henceforth than run the
risk of any more shocks. Peace and forgetfulness. That is what she felt
she needed from now on.

"He said he was goin' on another kidnappin' errand now," remarked Miss
Upton.

The girl looked up quickly from her introspection. A startled look
sprang into her eyes and she sat up in bed.

"Oh, Miss Upton, you know him!" she exclaimed, gazing at her friend.
"Does he keep solemn promises?"

"I'm sure he does, child. What's the matter now?"

"He promised me--oh, he promised me, he wouldn't go back to that farm
alone." The girl's eyes filled with tears that overflowed on her
suddenly pale cheeks.

Miss Mehitable sat down on the edge of the bed and patted her, while
Geraldine wiped the drops away with the long sleeve of Charlotte's
unbleached nightgown. "Then he won't, dear, don't you worry," she said
comfortingly. "Where's that courage you were talkin' about just now?"

"That was for myself," said the girl grievously, accepting the
handkerchief Miss Upton gave her.

"Who else does he want out o' that God-forsaken place?" asked Miss Upton
impatiently. "I wish to goodness that boy could stay put somewhere."

"It's a servant, a dwarf, a poor little friendless boy who was kind to
me there. If it hadn't been for him I shouldn't be here now. I should be
dying--there! Mr. Barry is going to get him and bring him away. Oh, why
didn't I prevent him!" Geraldine broke down completely, weeping
broken-heartedly into the handkerchief.

Miss Upton smiled over her head. She knew nothing of Rufus Carder's
shot-gun, and she was thinking of Geraldine's earnest request that Ben
Barry should forget her.

"Now, stop that right away, my child," she said, enjoying herself
hugely. She had seen Ben Barry's heart in his eyes as he came walking
under the apple blossoms yesterday and this revelation of Geraldine's
was most pleasing.

"Stop cryin'," she said with authority. "Ben Barry's just as smart as he
is brave. He ain't goin' to take any foolish risk now that you're safe.
I don't know what he wants the boy for, but probably it's some good
reason; and if you don't stop workin' yourself up, you won't be fit to
go to town to-morrow. I want you should stay in bed all day. Now, you
behave yourself, my lamb. Ben'll come back all right."

Geraldine flushed through her tears. It was heavenly to be scolded by
someone who loved her.

She looked at the pitcher exiled to the bureau. "I--I think you might as
well move the apple blossoms here," she said, wiping her eyes and
speaking meekly.

"All right," said Miss Mehitable, beaming, and she proceeded to set a
light stand beside the bed and placed the rosy mass upon it.

Toward night came a parcel-post package for Miss Geraldine Melody. Miss
Upton and Charlotte both stood by with eager interest while the girl sat
up in bed and opened it. None of the three had ever seen such a box of
bon-bons as was disclosed. It was a revelation of dainty richness, and
the older women exclaimed while Geraldine bowed her fair head over this
new evidence of thoughtfulness. The long sleeves of Charlotte's
nightgown, the patchwork quilt of the bed, the homely surroundings, all
made the contrast of the gift more striking. There was a card upon it.
Ben Barry's card: Geraldine turned it over and read: "Is the princess
happy?"

She was back among the clouds, the bright spring air flowing past her,
each breath a wonderful memory.

The two women looked at one another. They saw her close her hand on the
card. She lifted the box to them, and raised her pensive eyes.

"It is for us all," she said softly; but her ardent thought was
repeating:

"He would--he _will_ take care of himself, for me!"



CHAPTER XII

The Transformation


Into the village nearest the Carder farm rolled Ben Barry's roadster. He
stopped at the inn which made some pretension to furnishing
entertainment to the motorists who found it on their route, and after a
luncheon put up his car and walked to the village center to the
post-office and grocery store. He had most hope of the latter as a
bureau of information.

After buying some cigarettes and chocolate, and exchanging comments on
the weather with the proprietor, he introduced his subject.

"I believe Rufus Carder lives near here," he remarked.

"Yus, oh, yus," agreed the man, who was in his shirt-sleeves, and who
here patronized the cuspidor.

"He's pretty well-to-do, I understand. I should suppose if he is
public-spirited his being in the neighborhood would be a great
advantage to the village."

"Yus, _if_," returned the grocer, scornfully. "The bark on a tree ain't
a circumstance to him. Queer now, ain't it?" he went on argumentatively.
"Carder's a rich man, and so many o' these-here rich men, they act as if
they wasn't ever goin' to die. Where's the satisfaction in not usin'
their money? You know him?" The speaker cocked an eye up at the handsome
young stranger.

"I--I've met him," returned Ben.

"You might be interested, then, to hear about what happened out to the
farm yisterday. P'r'aps it'll be in the paper to-night. A young girl
visitin' the Carders was kidnapped right out o' the field by an
areoplane. Yes, sir, slick as a whistle." Ben's look of interest and
amazement rewarded the narrator. "One o' the hands from the farm come in
last night and told about it, but the editor o' the paper thought't was
a hoax and he didn't dare to work on it last night. Lots of us saw the
plane, but the feller's story did sound fishy, and if the
_Sunburst_--that's our paper--should print a lot o' stuff about Carder
shootin' guns and foamin' at the mouth when he saw the girl he was
goin' to marry fly up into the sky _and't wa'n't so_--ye see, 't would
go mighty hard with our editor."

"Why didn't he send somebody right out to the farm to inquire?" asked
Ben.

The grocer smiled, looked off, and shook his head.

"You say you've met Rufus Carder? Well, ye don't know him or else ye
wouldn't ask that. Don't monkey with the buzz-saw is a pretty good
motter where he's concerned. I'm lookin' fer Pete now. This is his day
to come in an' stock up. He's so stupid he couldn't make up anything,
and we'll know fer sure if there's any truth at all in the story."

"Who is Pete--a son?" Ben put the question calmly, considering his
elation at his good luck. He had made up his mind that he might have to
spend days in this soporific hamlet.

The grocer looked at him quickly from under his bushy eyebrows.

"What made ye ask that? Some folks say he is. Say, are you one o' these
here detectives? Be you after Carder? Pete's a boy they took out of an
asylum, and if he'd ever had any care he wouldn't be bandy-legged and
undersized, but don't you say I've told ye anything, 'cause I haven't."

Ben smiled into the startled, suspicious face. "Not a bit of it," he
answered. "I'm just motoring about these parts on a little vacation, and
I got out of cigarettes, so I called on you."

"There's Pete now!" exclaimed the grocer eagerly, hurrying out from
behind the counter and to the door.

Other of the neighbors recognized the Carder car and came out to
question the boy, who by the time he entered the grocery found himself
confronting an audience who all asked questions at once. Pete's shock of
hair stood up as usual like a scrubbing-brush; he wore no hat, and his
dull eyes looked about from one to another eager face. Ben had strolled
back of a tall pile of starch-boxes.

"Is it true an areoplane come down in Mr. Carder's field yisterday?" The
question volleyed at the dwarf from a dozen directions.

He stared at them all dumbly, and they cried at him the more, one woman
shaking him by the shoulder.

"Look here, shut up, all of you!" said the proprietor; "let the boy do
his business first. Ye'll put it all out of his head. What d'ye want,
Pete?"

The dwarf drew a list out of his pocket and handed it to the grocer upon
which the bystanders all fell upon him again.

As Ben regarded the dwarf, he felt some reflection of Geraldine's
compassion for the forlorn little object in his ragged clothes, and he
realized that it was a wonder that the poor, stultified brain had
possessed enough initiative to carry out the important part he had
played in their lives.

While the grocer's clerk was putting up the packages the man himself
laid his hand on Pete's shoulder.

"Now then, boy," he said kindly, "an areoplane dived down out o' the sky
into your medder yisterday and picked up a homely, stupid girl and flew
off with her."

"She was an angel!" exclaimed the dwarf. His dull eyes brightened and
looked away. "She was more beautiful than flowers."

"She was, eh?" returned the grocer, and the crowd listened
breathlessly. "They say your master was goin' to marry her? That a
fact?"

The light went out of Pete's face and his lips closed.

The grocer shook him gently by the shoulder. "Speak up, boy. Was there
any shootin'? Did the air turn blue 'round there?"

Pete's lips did not open for a moment. "Master told me not to talk," he
said at last.

A burst of excited laughter came from the crowd. "Then it's true, it's
true!" they cried.

The grocer kept his hand on the dwarf's shoulder. "Ye might as well
tell," he said, "'cause Hiram Jones come in last night and told us all
about it."

Pete's lips remained closed.

"Give ye a big lump o' chocolate if ye'll tell us," said one woman.

"Master told me not to talk," was all the boy would say.

The grocer's clerk went out to the auto with a basket and packed the
purchases into it.

Ben came from behind the starch boxes, went out the door, and accosted
him.

"Do you want to make five dollars?" he asked.

"Do I?" drawled the boy, winking at him. "Ain't I got a girl?"

"Then jump in and drive this car out to the Carder farm. I want to talk
to Pete."

"Eh-h-h! You're a reporter!" cried the boy. "Less see the money."

Ben promptly produced it. "In with you now."

"Sure, I'll have to speak to Pete," the boy demurred. "He can't walk out
to the farm with them phony legs."

"In with you," repeated the tall stranger firmly. "Go now or not at
all." He held the bill before the boy's eyes. "I have my car at the inn.
I'll take care of Pete."

The boy looked eagerly at the money. "Can't I tell the boss?"

"I'll fix it with the boss. Here's your money. In with you."

The next minute the car was rattling down the street and Ben went back
into the store where Pete was still being badgered by a laughing crowd
persisting in questions about the angel.

As Pete caught sight of him, the obstinate expression in his dull eyes
did not at first change, but in a minute something familiar in the look
of the stranger impressed him, and suddenly he knew.

"Was it you? Was it you?" the boy blurted out, elbowing the others aside
and approaching Ben eagerly.

The bystanders looked curiously at the stranger and at the excited boy.

"I want to have a little talk with you, Pete," said Ben. The dwarf's
staring eyes had filled.

"Is she here? Has she come down again?" he cried, unmindful of the
gaping listeners.

"Be quiet," returned Ben. Then he turned to the grocer. "I've sent your
boy on an errand," he said, and he handed the man a bill. "Will that pay
you for his time? I've paid him."

He put his hand on Pete's shoulder and led him through the crowd out to
the street.

"Master's car has gone," cried the dwarf, looking wildly up and down the
street.

"I have taken care of it," said Ben quietly.

"But I must find it," declared Pete, beginning to shake.

Ben saw his abject terror.

"There's nothing to be afraid of, Pete, nothing any more," said Ben. "Do
you want to see Miss Melody?"

"Oh, Master!" exclaimed the boy, looking up and meeting a kindly look.

"Then come with me. Let us hurry." Reaching the inn, Ben paid his bill
while Pete's eyes roved about in all directions for his goddess.

Leading the boy out to the garage he bade him enter the machine. Even
here Pete hesitated, his weight of terrifying responsibility still
hanging over him.

"Master's car!" he gasped, looking imploringly up into Ben's face.

"It has gone home, back to the farm," said Ben. "Don't worry. There's
nothing to worry about."

Pete was trembling as he entered the roadster. He wondered if he were
dreaming. All this couldn't be real. Nothing had ever happened to him
before except his goddess.

Ben put on speed and the car flew out of the village and along the
highroad. They entered another village, but halted not. Through it they
sped and again out into the open country.

Pete felt dazed, but the man of the motor-cycle, Master had said, was the
man of the aeroplane. He was here beside him, big, powerful. The dwarf
felt that he was risking his own life on the hope of seeing his goddess,
for what would Rufus Carder say to him when he finally returned to the
farm, a deserter from his duty.

Silently they sped on. Just once Pete spoke, for his heart had sunk.

"Shall we see her, Master?" he asked unsteadily.

Ben turned and smiled at him cheerfully.

"Sure thing," he answered. "She is well and she wants to see you."

Pete had had no practice in smiling, but a joyful reassurance pervaded
him. Let Rufus Carder kill him, if it must be. This would come first.

Darkness had fallen when they finally entered a town and drove to a
hotel. Ben looked rather ruefully at the poor little scarecrow beside
him with his hatless scrubbing-brush of a head, but the keeper of the
garage consented to give the boy a place to sleep.

"At least," thought Ben, "it will be more comfortable than the boards
outside Geraldine's door."

He saw to it that the dwarf should have a good supper, after which Pete
presented himself at Ben's room as he had been ordered to do. Never
before in his life had he had all the meat and potato he wanted, and
still marveling at the wonderful things happening to him he was
conducted to Ben, and stood before him with questioning eyes.

"Is she here, Master?" he asked.

"No, but we shall see her to-morrow."

"When--when do I go back to the farm?" asked the boy.

"Never," replied Ben calmly.

"Master!" exclaimed the dwarf, and could say no more. His tanned face
grew darker with the rush of crimson.

"You're my servant now," said Ben, and his good-humored expression shone
upon an eager face that worked pitifully.

"What--what can I do?" stammered Pete, his rough hands with their
broken nails working together.

"You can get into the bathtub."

"Wha--what, Master?"

Ben threw open the door of his bathroom.

"Draw that tub full of water and use up all the soap on yourself. Make
yourself clean for to-morrow. Understand?"

Pete didn't understand anything. He was in a blissful daze. He had never
seen faucets except the one in the Carder kitchen. Ben had to draw the
water for him, showing him the hot and the cold; finally making him
understand that he was not to get in with his clothes on, and that he
was to use any and all of those fresh white towels, the like of which
the boy had never seen; then his new master came out, closed the door,
and laughing to himself sat down to wait and read a magazine.

There was a mighty splashing in the bathroom.

"Clean to see her. Clean to see her," Pete kept saying to himself. He
was going to be able to speak to her with no one to object. He was going
to work for this god who could fly down out of the sky. Rufus Carder
might come to find him later and kill him, but that was no matter.

When finally the bathroom door opened and again arrayed in his
disreputable clothes the dwarf appeared, Ben spoke without looking up
from his magazine.

"Did you let the water out of the tub?"

"No, Master. I didn't know."

Ben got up, and Pete followed him, eager for the lesson. Ben viewed the
color of the water frothing with suds.

"I think you must be clean," he remarked dryly, as he opened the
waste-pipe, "or at least you will be after a few more ducks."

"Yes, Master, to see her."

He showed the boy how to wash out the tub which the little fellow did
with a will.

"Now, then, to bed with you, and we'll have an early breakfast, for we
have a busy day to-morrow. Good-night."

Pete ambled away to the garage so happy that he still felt himself in a
dream. To see his goddess, and never to go back to Rufus Carder! Those
two facts chased each other around a rosy circle in his brain until he
fell asleep.

When Ben Barry came out of his room the next morning he found Pete
squatting outside his door. He regarded the broken, earth-stained shoes
and the ragged coat and trousers, which if they had ever been of a
distinct color were of none now, and the thick mop of hair. The eyes
raised to his met a gay smile.

"Hello, there," said Ben. "Did you think I might get away?"

The dwarf rose. "I--I didn't--didn't know how much--much was a dream,"
he stammered.

"I hope you had a real breakfast," said Ben.

The dwarf smiled. It was a dreary, unaccustomed sort of crack in his
weather-beaten face. "I had coffee, too," he replied in an awestruck
tone.

Ben laughed. "Good enough. You go out to the car and wait till I come.
I'm going to my breakfast now."

In less than an hour they were on their way. Pete's eyes had lost their
dullness.

Ben drove to a department store, on a small scale such as the cities
boast. He parked his car, and when he told Pete to get out the boy
began looking about at once for Geraldine.

"Is she here, Master?" he asked as they entered the store.

"No, we shall see her to-night," was the reply.

Then more miracles began to happen to Pete. He was taken from one
section to another in the store and when he emerged again into the
street, he hardly knew himself. He was wearing new underclothes,
stockings, shoes, coat, vest; even the phony legs had been cared for in
the trousers, cut off to suit the little fellow's peculiar needs, and
his eyes seemed to have grown larger in the process. Under his arm he
carried a box containing more underwear.

Next they drove to a barber's where Pete's hair was properly cut; then
to a hat store and he was fitted to a hat.

When they came out, Ben regarded his work whimsically. The boy was not a
bad-looking boy. He liked the direct manner of the dwarf's grateful,
almost reverent, gaze up into his own merry eyes. There was nothing
shifty there.

When they reëntered the roadster, Ben spoke to him before he started the
car.

"Do you know why I have done all this, Pete?"

The boy shook his head. "Because you came down out of the sky?" he
questioned.

"No, it is just because you took care of Miss Melody; because you put
those letters underneath her door."

Pete's face crimsoned with happiness. "I helped her--I--I helped her get
away," he said.

"Yes, and she will never forget it, and neither will I."

"You--you--asked me if I loved her," said Pete, his mind returning to
the day of the motor-cycle visit.

"Yes, and you did, didn't you?"

"Yes, and--and when she was gone up to--to heaven, I wanted to die till
I--I remembered that she--she wanted to go."

"Yes, wanted to go just as much as you did, and more. Now _that_ life is
all over, Pete. Just as much gone as those old clothes of yours that we
left to be burned. You've been a faithful, brave boy, and Miss Melody
and I are going to look after you henceforth."

Pete couldn't speak. Ben saw him bite his lip to control himself. The
roadster started and moving slowly out of the town sped again along a
country road.



CHAPTER XIII

The Goddess


On the same day Geraldine and Miss Upton were patronizing the department
stores in the city and getting such clothing as was absolutely necessary
for the girl. Geraldine's purchases were rigidly simple.

"I think you're downright stingy, child," commented Miss Upton when the
girl had overruled certain suggestions Miss Mehitable had made with the
fear of Ben Barry before her eyes.

"No, indeed. Don't you see how it's counting up?" rejoined Geraldine
earnestly. "All these things on your bill, and no telling how soon I can
pay for them."

Miss Upton noticed how the salesgirls appreciated the beauty they had to
deal with, and she was in sympathy with their efforts to dress Geraldine
as she deserved.

There were some shops into which the girl refused to enter, and it was
plain to her companion that these had been the scenes of some of her
repulsive experiences.

Also they shunned the restaurant where they had met; and every minute
that they were on the street Geraldine held tight to Miss Upton's
substantial arm.

"I shall be so glad when we get home," she said repeatedly.

"Now, look here," said Miss Upton, "there's one thing you've got to
accept from me as a present. You're my little girl and I've a right to
give you one thing, I hope."

"I'd much rather you wouldn't," returned Geraldine anxiously--"not until
I've paid for these."

She had changed the white dress she wore into town for a dark-blue skirt
and jacket which formed the chief item of her purchases, and on her head
she had a black sailor hat which Miss Upton had procured in Keefe.

"I want to give you," said Miss Upton--"I want to give you a--a droopy
hat!"

Geraldine laughed. "What in the world for, you dear? What do I need of
droopy hats?"

"To wear with your light things--your white dress, and--and everything."

"Miss Upton, how absurd! I don't need it at all. Don't think of such a
thing. I shan't go anywhere."

"I don't believe you know what you'll do," returned Miss Mehitable.
"Just come and try one on, anyway. I want to see you in it."

So, coaxing, while the girl demurred, she led her to the millinery
section of the store they were in. Of course, putting hats on Geraldine
was a very fascinating game, which everybody enjoyed except the girl
herself. There was one hat especially in which Miss Upton reveled,
mentally considering its devastating effect upon Ben Barry. It was very
simple, and at the most depressed point of the brim nestled one soft,
loose-leaved pink rose with a little foliage. Miss Upton's eyes
glistened and she drew the saleslady aside.

"I've bought it," she said triumphantly when she came back.

"It isn't right," replied Geraldine, although it must be admitted that
she herself had thought of Ben when she first saw the reflection of it
in the glass.

"Don't you want me to have any fun?" returned Miss Mehitable, quite
excited, for the price of the hat caused the matter to be portentous.

"Let him pay for it," she considered recklessly. "What's the harm as
long as he and I are the only ones who know it, and wild horses couldn't
drag it out of me?"

So, Geraldine carrying the large hatbox, they at last pursued their way
to the railway station and with mutual sighs of relief stowed themselves
into the train for Keefe.

"What you thinkin' about, child?" demanded Miss Mehitable after a long
period of silence.

Geraldine met her regard wistfully. "I was wondering if anybody is ever
perfectly happy. Isn't there always some drawback, some 'if' that has to
be met?"

"Was you thinkin' about Mrs. Barry, Geraldine? I'm sorry she had one o'
her haughty spells that day--"

"No, I was not thinking of her; it is Mr. Barry--Ben. He went on a very
dangerous errand yesterday."

"You don't say so! Why, he came in as gay as a lark with those apple
blossoms and he went out to his machine whistlin'. He couldn't have had
much on his mind. You know I told you yesterday he's as sensible as he
is brave."

"What good is bravery against a madman with a gun--still he promised, he
promised me he would not go to the farm alone."

"Then he'll abide by it. You do give me a turn, Geraldine, talkin' about
madmen and guns."

The girl sighed.

"I haven't had anything but 'turns' ever since I first saw the Carder
farm; but it is unkind to draw you into it. Sometimes I wish I had never
mentioned Pete to Mr. Barry, yet it seems disloyal to leave the boy
there when I owe him so much."

And then Geraldine told her friend in detail the part the dwarf had
played in her life.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Barry was, of course, able to think of little else than the new
element which had come so suddenly into her calm, well-ordered life. She
shrank fastidiously from anything undignified, and she felt that through
no fault of her own she was now in an undignified position. In her son's
eyes she was a culprit. Even her humble friend, Mehitable Upton, had
revealed plainly an indignation at her attitude. When Ben left yesterday
telling her that he might be gone several days, without explaining why
or where, she felt the barrier between them even while he kissed her
good-bye. He had made a vigorous declaration of independence that night
at dinner, and now he had gone away to let her think it over, not even
noticing that her eyes were heavy from a sleepless night.

All that day, as she moved about her customary occupations, the thought
of Geraldine haunted her; the way the girl had avoided her eyes after
their first encounter, how she had clung to Miss Upton, and how eagerly
she had urged departure.

"So silly," thought Mrs. Barry while she fed her pigeons. "How absurd of
her to expect anything different from a civil reception."

Side by side with this condemnation, however, ran the consideration of
how Ben had probably flung himself at her feet so far as the Scout plane
would allow, and how he had even urged immediate matrimony. That hurt
too much! Mrs. Barry saw the pigeons through a veil of quick tears. One
more night she slept or waked over the problem, and as her thought
adjusted itself more to Geraldine, the practical side of the girl's
situation unfolded to her consideration. There would seem to be no
question of returning to the irate farmer to get her clothing, yet that
might be the very thing Ben was doing now; risking his precious life
again for this stranger who was nothing to them. The more Mrs. Barry
thought about it, the more restless she became. At last there was no
question any longer but that her only peace lay in going to Miss Melody.
After all, it was merely courteous to inquire how the girl had borne the
excitement of her escape; but in the back of Mrs. Barry's mind was the
hope that she might discover where her boy had gone now.

She made a hasty toilet, jumped into her electric, and drove
to Upton's Fancy Goods and Notions. The shades were drawn. The
taking-account-of-stock notice was still on the door which resisted all
effort to open it.

Knocking availed nothing. Mrs. Barry's lips took a line of firmness
equal to her son's. Walking around to the back door, she found it open
and entered the kitchen. It was empty.

She moved through the house into the shop. There was Mrs. Whipp, her
head tied up in a handkerchief, bending over a packing-box. She started
at a sound, raised her head, and stood amazed at the visitor's identity.

"I knocked, but you didn't seem to hear me," said Mrs. Barry with
dignity.

"Yes'm, I did hear a knock," returned Charlotte, "but they pound there
all day, and o' course I didn't know't was you. I tell Miss Upton if we
kept the door locked and the shades down all the time, we'd do a drivin'
business. Folks seem jest possessed to come in and buy somethin' 'cause
they can't. Did you want somethin' special, Mrs. Barry?"

"I came to see Miss Melody. I wished to inquire if she has recovered
from her excitement."

A softened expression stole over Charlotte's weazened face.

"She ain't here. They've gone to the city."

"Who--who did you say has gone?"

Mrs. Barry controlled her own start. Visions of two in that roadster
swept over her. Perhaps, she herself having forfeited her right to
consideration--there was no telling what might have happened by this
time. Mrs. Whipp's smile was frightfully complacent.

"Miss Upton and her went together," was the reply. "Of course, all the
girl's clo'es was in the den o' that fiend she got away from, and she
had to git some more."

Mrs. Barry breathed freer.

"Miss Upton cal'lated to get some things from her customers and fix 'em
over, but Mr. Barry, he wouldn't have it so."

"Are you referring to my son?"

"Yes, Miss Upton said he turned up his nose at hand-me-downs, so she had
to jest brace up and git 'em new."

Mrs. Whipp's eyes seemed to see far away and her expression under the
protecting towel was one quite novel.

Mrs. Barry cleared her throat.

"My son was here, then, before he went away on his--his little trip."

"Yes," replied Mrs. Whipp, appearing to perceive Dan Cupid over her
visitor's shoulder. "He come in to bring the apple blossoms and ask how
Geraldine was, and that night sech a box o' candy as he sent her! You'd
ought to 'a' seen it, Mis' Barry. P'r'aps you did see it." Charlotte met
the lady's steady eyes eagerly.

"No, I did not see it."

"Well, that poor little girl she couldn't half enjoy them bon-bons,
'cause she was so scared somethin' was goin' to happen to Mr. Barry."

"What do you mean?"

"Why, she was afraid he'd gone back to that farm where they murder folks
as quick as look at 'em." Charlotte sniffed a sniff of excited
enjoyment.

"What would he go there for?" demanded Mrs. Barry. "Surely not to get
those foolish clothes!"

"I don't know. I only know Geraldine cried. Miss Upton said so; but she
told her how Mr. Barry was jest as smart as he was brave and she took
her to the city to git her mind off."

Charlotte smiled with as soft an expression as the unaccustomed lips
could reveal, and nothing but stamping her aristocratic foot could have
expressed Mrs. Barry's exasperation.

"I am quite sure my son would not take any absurd and unnecessary step,"
she said, with such hauteur that Mrs. Whipp came out of her day-dream
and realized that the great lady's eyes were flashing. Without another
word the visitor turned and left the shop, her black and violet cape
sweeping through living-room and kitchen and back into her machine.

The rest of the day was spent by the lady in alternations of scorn,
vexation, and anxiety.

Late in the afternoon she heard a motor enter the grounds, and hurrying
to the door saw with a happy leap of the heart that it was Ben's
roadster. Her relief drove her to forgive and forget and to hurry out to
the piazza. The machine came on and she saw that her son was not alone.
A boy sat beside him.

The roadster stopped. Ben jumped out and kissed his mother, then
beckoned to Pete, who obediently drew near and stood on his curved legs,
his hat in his hand. He looked up at the queenly lady, and his eyes
which had ceased to wonder were still seeking.

"Is she here, Master?" he asked.

"No, but near by," replied Ben.

"Mother, I've engaged a new boy. His name is Pete. He is here for
general utility. He is very willing."

Mrs. Barry gazed in disapproval at the quaint, clean figure in his
brand-new clothes. Pete's rough hands constantly twirled his straw hat.

"You should have asked me," she said. "We don't need any more help."

Ben put his arm around her and drew her close to him. "Yes, we do," he
replied cheerfully, "down at Keefeport. Pete will go there and keep
things in shape. You will wonder how you ever got along without him; but
I need him first. He was one of the hands at the Carder farm--has been
there from a child and he knows more about his master's devilment than
anybody else."

"Ben!" His mother looked up reproachfully into the young fellow's happy
eyes. "Why did you need to risk your life again--"

"Oh, not a bit of that," laughed Ben. "I picked Pete out of a grocery
store--"

"Where is she, Master?" The voice of the boy was pleading again.

"Pete was a good friend to Miss Melody, the only one she had, and now
his reward is going to be to see her."

"You don't mean," exclaimed Mrs. Barry, "that you have spent a couple of
days to get this boy and dress him up in order to allow him to see Miss
Melody?"

"No, not exactly. I kidnapped him as an information bureau."

"Why can't you let that disgusting farmer alone?" asked the lady
despairingly.

"Because if I do, he won't let us alone," returned Ben shortly. "Well,
now, we've shown ourselves to you and we'll be off to keep my word to
Pete. Hop in, boy."

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Upton and Geraldine had reached home, hatbox and all, and were in
the dismantled shop answering Charlotte's questions when they heard an
automobile stop before the door and a cheery whistle sounded. The
repellent shades were still down at the windows.

"That's Ben Barry!" exclaimed Miss Mehitable. "Don't you dare to touch
that hat!" she added severely to Geraldine, whose cheeks flushed deeply
as a tattoo began on the locked door.

So the girl was standing in the middle of the room wearing the droopy
hat when Ben came in, followed by the dwarf at whom Miss Mehitable and
Charlotte stared.

Geraldine forgot her hat, and Ben Barry--forgot everything but the eager
adoration in the face of the transformed slave. "Why, Pete, Pete!" she
cried joyously, running to meet him.

The boy bit his lips to keep back the tears and his clumsy fingers
worked nervously as his goddess rested both her hands on his shoulders.
He couldn't speak, but gazed and gazed up into the eyes under the droopy
hat.

Ben Barry, his arms folded, looked on at the tableau while Geraldine
murmured welcome and reassurance.

"Aren't we the happiest people in the world, Pete?" she finished softly.

He choked. "Yes, and I'm not going back," he was able to say at last.

"I should say not," put in Ben. "I've brought somebody to help you move,
Mehit," he added. Miss Upton was still staring at the dwarf's legs.

"That's fine," said Geraldine. "Pete is just the right one for us."

The boy kept his eyes on hers.

"He can't ever get you again," he said, with trembling eagerness,
"'cause I know all about the girls he had there before you, and how one
jumped out the winder, and I know what hospital they took her to, for I
drove, and I'm goin' there with Mr. Barry, and he's goin' to--"

"Never mind, Pete," interrupted Ben quietly. "We're going to take care
of that without troubling Miss Melody."

The dwarf dropped back as Ben advanced. Charlotte said afterward that it
gave her a turn to see the manner in which the young man took both the
girl's hands and scanned her changed appearance.

"It looks perfectly absurd with this tailor suit," she said, blushing
and laughing. "Miss Upton _would_ give it to me. So extravagant!"

The elaborate wink which Miss Mehitable bestowed on Ben as he glanced
at her over his love's head was intended to warn him that he had a bill
to pay.

"Miss Upton has been your good fairy all along, hasn't she?" His look
was so intense and he spoke so seriously that Geraldine glanced up at
him half timidly and down again.

Charlotte pulled Miss Upton's dress and motioned with her head toward
the living-room; but, as Miss Mehitable said afterward, "What was the
good of _their_ goin' and leavin' that critter there?"

"Thank you for the candy, Mr. Barry," said Geraldine, meeting his eyes
again steadily, "but please don't. You have put me under everlasting
obligation, but will you do me one more favor? Will you let me help
these dear women and--and stay away, and--don't send me anything?"

Miss Mehitable understood this prayer, and she had a qualm as she
thought of the price of the bewitching hat which was at the present
moment doing its worst.

"Yes, for a little while," replied Ben. "Pete will get you moved and
settled at the Port and then he and I will take a trip. I don't know
how long we shall be away; but when we return you will understand that
the ogre's teeth have been extracted, the tiger's claws cut, and the
spider's web rent. How's that?" He smiled down into the girl's grave
eyes, still holding her hands close.

"If I could only find out what my father's debt to him really is, I
would consecrate my life to paying it," she said in a low tone.

Miss Mehitable felt that the atmosphere was getting very warm.

"Come here, Pete," she said. "I want to show you my kitchen." The dwarf
walked slowly backward to the door, his eyes on the young couple, as if
he feared to let them out of his sight lest they vanish and he waken.
"Come on, Charlotte."

The three disappeared, Miss Mehitable urging Pete by the shoulder.

"I'll try to find out," returned Ben; "and if it is possible to do that,
the debt shall be paid."

Geraldine caught her lip under her teeth and swallowed the rising lump.

"Oh, Mr. Barry--Ben," she said at last, "of course I have no words to
thank you--"

"I don't wish to be thanked in words."

"You're too generous."

"Not in the least," returned Ben quietly. "I want to be thanked. I want
each of us to thank the other all our lives. I to be grateful to you for
existing, and you to thank me for spending my days with the paramount
thought of your happiness."

They looked at each other for a long silent minute.

"Mrs. Whipp says your mother came to call on me to-day," said Geraldine
at last. "She described her manner so well that it is evident she came
at the point of your bayonet. I understand the situation entirely. I've
already heard that she is the great lady of the town. You are her only
son. Do you suppose I blame her when out of a clear sky you produced me
and made your feeling plain to her? Is it any wonder that she made hers
plain to me? I should think"--Geraldine gave an appealing pressure to
the hands holding hers--"I should think you could be generous enough
to--to let me alone."

Her eyes pleaded with him seriously.

"What am I doing?" asked Ben. "What do you suppose is the reason that
I'm wasting all these minutes when I might be holding you in my arms!"
He had to stop here himself and swallow manfully. "If you knew how you
look at this moment--and I don't kiss you--just because I'm giving
Mother a little time, so that you will be satisfied--"

"Then you'll promise--will you promise--you kept your promise about the
farm?"

"Yes; I found Pete in the village."

"Then you do keep promises! Tell me solemnly that you will leave your
mother in freedom. If you don't, Ben--Sir Galahad--I'll run away. I
really will--"

In her earnestness she lifted her face toward his, her eyes were
irresistible, and in an instant he had swept her into his arms and was
kissing her tenderly, fervently, to the utter undoing of the droopy hat
which fell unnoticed to the floor.

Voices approaching made him release her.

Very flushed, very grave, both of them, they looked into each other's
eyes, and Geraldine, being a woman, put both hands up to her ruffled
hair.

"I do promise you, Geraldine," he said, low and earnestly. "Whatever my
mother does after this you may know is of her own volition."

Pete burst into the room wild-eyed, followed by Miss Mehitable, who was
talking and laughing.

"He was afraid you'd go away without him," she said--"Mercy's sakes,
Geraldine Melody, look at your hat!" She darted upon it and snapped some
dust off its chiffon. "You'd better be careful how you throw this
around. We can't buy a hat like this every day."

"Oh, do forgive me, Miss Upton!" murmured the girl, her eyes very
bright. "It was her present to me," she added to Ben. "I'm so sorry!"
She went to Miss Mehitable and laid her cheek against hers, and Miss
Upton bestowed another prodigious wink upon the purchaser of the hat.

It did not break his gravity; a gravity which Miss Upton but just now
noticed.

"Come, Pete, we'll be going," said Ben, and his flushed, serious face
worried Miss Mehitable's kind heart, especially as no sign of his merry
carelessness returned in his brief leave-taking.

When they were gone and the door had closed after them, she looked at
the girl accusingly.

"Something has happened," she said, in a low tone not to attract
Charlotte.

"Don't be cross with me about the hat," said the girl, nestling up close
to her again. "I just love it--much better even than I did in the
store."

Miss Mehitable put an arm around her, not because at the moment she
loved her, but because she was there.

"I wonder," she said, "if there's anything in this world that can make
anything but a fool out of a girl before it's too late. I know you're
just as crazy about him as he is about you! If you wasn't, would you
have been snivellin' around because he might get hurt to the farm? And
yet jest 'cause o' your silly, foolish pride you've gone and refused
him. It's as plain as the nose on his splendid face. As if in the long
run it mattered if Mrs. Barry was a little cantankerous. She's run
everything around here so long that she forgets her boy's a man with a
mind of his own. It's awful narrow of you, Geraldine, awful narrow!"

Upon this the girl lifted her head and smiled faintly into the accusing
face.

"Won't it be nice to have Pete help us move," she said innocently.

Miss Upton's lips tightened. She dropped her arm, moved away, and put
the droopy hat back in its box.

"You're heartless!" she exclaimed. There was such a peachy bloom on the
girl's face. "I won't waste my breath."

"I love _you_," said Geraldine, meekly and defensively.

"Ho!" snorted her good fairy, unappeased.



CHAPTER XIV

The Mermaid Shop


For the next few days Miss Mehitable had no time to worry over
love-affairs. No matter how early she arose in the morning she found
Pete arrayed in overalls sitting on the stone step of Upton's Fancy
Goods and Notions, and when by the evening of the third day all her
goods, wares, and chattels were deposited in the little shop at
Keefeport, she wondered how she had ever got on without him.

On that very day Ben Barry received a threatening letter from Rufus
Carder demanding the return of Pete, and he knew that no more time must
be lost. He flew over to the Port that afternoon, and alighting on the
landing-field which had been prepared near his cottage walked to the
little shop near the wharf. Here he found Pete industriously obeying
Miss Upton's orders in company with his idol, the whole quartet gay amid
their chaos. Even Mrs. Whipp had postponed the fear of rheumatism and
had learned how to laugh.

They had formed a line and were passing the articles from boxes to
shelves when the leather-coated, helmeted figure stood suddenly before
them.

The effect of the apparition upon Geraldine with its associations was so
extreme as to make her feel faint for a minute, and Ben saw her face
change as she leaned against the counter.

Miss Mehitable saw it too. "Aha!" she thought triumphantly. "Aha! It
isn't so funny to break a body's heart, after all."

"Well, Ben Barry," she said aloud, "why didn't you wait till we got
settled?"

The aviator stood in the doorway, but came no farther.

"Because I have to take Pete away. I've had a _billet doux_ from Rufus
Carder and he wants him."

The dwarf rushed to his new master on quaking legs. "Oh, Master! I won't
go! I can't go." He looked off wildly on the big billows rolling in.
"I'll throw myself in the sea."

Ben put a hand on the boy's shoulder.

"Of course you won't go," he said; "but you want to brighten up your
wits now and remember everything that will help us. We're going to the
city to-night and begin at once to settle that gentleman's affairs." He
gave Geraldine a reassuring look. "I should like to take your father's
letter with me," he added quietly.

"But we mustn't get Pete into trouble," she replied doubtfully.

"I'm not intending to show it. I want to familiarize myself with his
handwriting. I expect to have an interview and perhaps there will be
notes to examine."

"But not at the farm," protested the girl quickly. "You'll not go near
the meadow?"

"No; the cows have nothing to fear from us this time."

"And you'll"--Geraldine swallowed--"you'll be careful?"

Ben nodded. "All my promises hold," he replied, looking straight into
her eyes with only the ghost of his old smile, as Miss Upton noticed.

Geraldine ran upstairs, brought down her father's letter, and gave it to
him.

He took it with a nod of thanks. "How do you think you will like to
fly, Pete?" he asked. "You can go home with me, or, if you prefer it, in
the trolley."

"Anywhere with you, Master," returned the boy. He felt certain that
Rufus Carder would not be met among the clouds, but who could be sure
that he would not pop up in a trolley car.

"Very well, then. Good-bye, everybody, and expect us when you see us."

"Good-bye, you dear boy," cried Miss Mehitable. _Somebody_ should call
him "dear." She was determined on that. "Always workin' for others," she
continued loudly, "and riskin' your life the way you are." She moved to
the door, and raised her voice still higher as the strangely assorted
pair moved away up the road. "I hope you'll get your reward sometime!"
she shouted; then she turned back and glared at Geraldine.

The girl put her hand on her heart. "It startled me so to see him--just
as he looked on that--that--dreadful day," she was going to say, but how
could she so characterize the day of her full joy and wonder? So her
voice died to silence, and Miss Upton began slamming articles up on the
shelves with unnecessary violence, while Geraldine, smiling into the
packing-boxes, meekly set about helping her.

Pete, like Geraldine before him, was in such terror of his former master
and so full of trust in his present one, that he swallowed his fears as
the plane rose for its short trip, and he found the experience
enjoyable. Ben, when they reached the house, sought his mother. She was
walking on the piazza.

"You didn't tell me you were off for a flight," she said in an annoyed
tone.

"Well, it was now you see me and now you don't this time, wasn't it? You
had hardly time to miss me. I flew over to the Port to get Pete. We have
to go to the city to-night. I'll be gone a few days, Mother, perhaps a
week."

"On some disgusting business connected with that unspeakable man, I
suppose."

"Verily I believe it will be very disgusting; but it has to be gone
through with."

"Why does it?" His mother stood before him and spoke desperately. "Why
can't you let it alone?"

"I've told you--because it affects the happiness of my future wife."

Mrs. Barry's eyes were hard, though her cheeks grew crimson. "You
haven't announced your engagement to me. Don't you think I should be one
of the first to know?" she said.

"I'm not engaged." Ben smiled into her angry, hurt eyes. "Something
stands in the way as yet."

"What?"

"Can't you guess?"

They continued to exchange a steady gaze. She spoke first.

"Do you mean to say that anyone concerned in the affair still considers
_me_?"

Her boy's smile became a laugh at the deliberate manner of her sarcasm.

"Oh, cut it out, Mother mine," he said. And though she tried to hold
stiffly away from him, he hugged her and kissed her and pulled her down
beside him on a wicker seat.

She could not get away from his encircling arm and probably she did not
wish to.

"Ben, I've had a most disagreeable day," she declared. "Everybody within
fifteen miles knows that you flew into the village with a strange girl."

"They said she was pretty, didn't they?"

"I can't leave the house without somebody stopping me and asking me
about it, and I'll have to order the telephone taken out if this goes
on. I can hardly bear to answer it any more. I called on Miss Melody,
but she had gone to town, and that hopeless Mrs. Whipp babbled about
your attentions. I don't want you to break the apple blossoms anyway."

"All right, honey, I won't. They're nearly gone; but I shall always love
apple blossoms. They're fragrant like her spirit, pink and white like
her, wholesome like her, modest like her. You see she has always been
kept in the background. No one has taken the bloom from her freshness.
She has had blows, has come in contact with some of the world's mud, but
it washed away and disappeared under her own purity."

Mrs. Barry looked into the speaker's flashing eyes. "My poor boy," she
said at last. "I wonder whether you're crazy or whether you're right.
What am I going to do!"

"Of course I don't know what you're going to do," he returned, his lips
and voice suddenly serious. "It depends largely upon whether you want
my future wife to hand out ice-cream cones to the trippers at
Keefeport."

"What do you mean now?" Mrs. Barry asked it severely.

"Why, the little girl is going to try to earn her living, of course, and
she will be slow to leave Miss Upton's protection, for she has proved,
that a girl's beauty may be her worst enemy. Miss Upton will do a bigger
business than ever, that is easily prophesied. The hilarious, rowdy
parties that come over in motor-boats will pass the word along that
there is something worth seeing at Upton's this year. They will crack
their jokes, and Miss Melody will be loyal to her employer. She won't
want to discourage trade. They will make longer visits than usual and
the phonograph will work overtime."

Mrs. Barry had risen slowly during this harangue and now looked down
upon her son with haughty, displeased eyes.

"I shall speak to Miss Upton," she said.

"I advise you not to," returned Ben dryly, crossing one leg over the
other and embracing his knee. "I don't think you are in any position to
dictate. I left a merry party down there just now. Mrs. Whipp cracking
the air with chuckles, Mehitable rocking the store with her activities,
Miss Melody enveloped in a gigantic apron and with a large smudge across
her cheek, having the time of her life unpacking boxes. I was sorry to
bereave them of Pete, but it won't take them long now to be ready for
business."

Mrs. Barry did not speak. A catbird sang in an apple tree, a call to
vespers.

"This won't do for me," said Ben, suddenly rising. "I'll go up and throw
a few things into my bag. Give us a bite to eat, Mother dear, and tell
Lawson to bring the car around. We must get the seven-thirty."

After her boy and his humble lieutenant had left for the train, the
mother sat a long time on the piazza thinking. The telephone rang at
last. She sighed, went to its corner, and sat down to stop its annoying
peremptoriness. For days it had reminded her of an inescapable, buzzing
gnat, a thousand times magnified.

"Oh, Mrs. Barry," came a girlish voice across the wire. "Don't think me
too inquisitive, but we're all dying to know if that beautiful girl,
Miss Melody, is going to live with Miss Upton? Mrs. Whipp said they were
going to take her to Keefeport with them, and somebody said they did
move to-day and that she did go with them. We thought she was visiting
you and I wanted to ask when we might come to call. We're all dying to
meet her. You know Ben has been a sort of brother to us all, and we're
simply crazy to know this girl and hear about her rescue."

While this speech gushed into Mrs. Barry's unwilling ear, her martyred
look was fixed upon the wall and her wits were working. It was Adele
Hastings talking. She had always liked Adele. In fact this young girl
had been her secret choice for Ben in those innocent days when she
supposed she would have some voice in the most important affair of his
life. She could not turn Adele off as she had other questioners.

"I suppose this is Adele Hastings speaking."

"Oh, didn't I say? I do beg your pardon. I just saw Ben on the station
platform with the queerest little bow-legged boy. Ben looked like a
giant beside him. I just flew home to the telephone to ask how you were
and--and--about everything."

"That is just a servant Ben has picked up." ("A member of our new
menagerie," Mrs. Barry felt like adding, but held her peace and
continued to look at the wall.)

"Well, Mother wanted me to say to you that if you were house cleaning,
or there was any other reason why it was inconvenient for you to have
Miss Melody with you, she would be so glad to have her come to us till
you are ready. I told Mother she had probably gone to Keefeport to
recuperate in the quiet before the season really begins. I haven't seen
Miss Upton or that cross thing that tends store for her, but some people
have, and we've heard such fairy tales about that lovely creature--I saw
her on the train with Miss Upton--about her being shut up with a madman
and Ben literally flying to her rescue and carrying her off under the
creature's nose. Why, it's perfectly wonderful! I can hardly wait to
hear the truth about it. Talk about the prince on a milk-white steed
that always rescued the princess--Ben in his aeroplane makes _him_ look
like thirty cents."

"Tut, tut," said Mrs. Barry; "you know I don't like slang."

The girlish voice laughed. "But, dear Mrs. Barry, 'marry come up' and
'ods bodikins' were probably slang in the day of the spear and shield.
When may I see you and hear about it?"

This direct question forced Mrs. Barry to a decision. The impossible
Charlotte Whipp, who had not hesitated to tell her regal self of her
son's attentions to the waif, had doubtless poured enough of the yeast
of gossip into eager ears to set the whole village to swelling with
curiosity, and her dignity as well as Ben's depended on the attitude she
took at the present moment.

Her rather stiff and formal voice took on a more confidential tone. "I'm
going to ask you to wait a few days, Adele. We have been passing through
rather stirring times. I thank your mother very much for her kind offer,
but it seemed best for Miss Melody to go to the sea, at least for a few
days. You know what an excellent soul Miss Upton is. Miss Melody knew
her before, and as the girl was a good deal upset by some exciting
experiences, and as I was a complete stranger, Miss Upton stepped into
the breach. Please don't believe the exaggerated stories that may be
going about. Ben was able to do the young lady a favor, that is all. As
you say, she is very charming to look upon. We shall all know her better
after a while."

"Well, just one thing before you hang up, dear Mrs. Barry. I know you
will excuse my asking it, because I know your standards, and you have
been an even stronger influence upon me socially than my own mother; but
is--is Miss Melody the sort of girl you will entertain as an--an equal?
or does she--it sounds horrid to ask it--or does she belong more in good
Miss Upton's class?"

Mrs. Barry ground her teeth together, and luckily the wall of her
reception room was of tough stuff or her look would have withered it.
She had a mental flashlight of Geraldine serving trippers with ice-cream
cones behind Miss Upton's counter.

"My dear," she said suavely, "do you sound a little bit snobbish?"

"No more than you have taught me to be," was the prompt reply. "I want
to behave toward Miss Melody just as you wish me to. It looks to us all,
of course, as if she were Miss Upton's friend and not yours."

Mrs. Barry's cheeks flamed. This dreadful youngster was forcing her,
hurrying her, and she would be spokesman to the village. Ben's
infatuation left her no choice.

"Oh, quite in ours, quite, I judge," she said graciously. "Ben thinks
her quite exceptional."

The girlish voice laughed again: not so gleefully as Mrs. Barry could
have wished. She hoped they were not sister-sufferers!

"I should judge so, from what Mrs. Whipp has told people. Well, I will
be patient, Mrs. Barry. We want to show all courtesy to Ben's friend
when the right time comes. Good-bye."

"Good-bye," replied Mrs. Barry, and hung up the receiver.

She sat a few minutes more without moving, deep in thought.

"I have no choice," she said to herself at last. "I have no choice."

The next day she moved about restlessly amid her accustomed occupations
and by evening had come to a conclusion and made a plan which on the
following afternoon she carried out.

After an early luncheon she set forth in her motor for Keefeport. Miss
Upton's little establishment was in nice order by this time and the sign
had been hung up over the door: "The Mermaid Shop." By the time Mrs.
Barry's car stopped before it, the three residents had eaten their
dinner and the dishes were set away.

"There's so few folks here yet, there's hardly anything to do in the
store," said Miss Mehitable to Geraldine. "Now's the time for you to go
out and walk around and see the handsome cottages and the grand rocky
shore. This wharf ain't anything to see."

"Do you think Pearl would like to go to walk?" said the girl, picking up
the handsome cat, while Charlotte looked on approvingly.

"Pearl does hate this movin' business," she said. "It'll be weeks before
she'll find a spot in the house where she can really settle down."

Geraldine was burying her face in the soft fur when the motor flashed up
to the grassy path before the shop, and stopped.

"For the land's sake!" said Miss Mehitable. "It's the Barry car." She
hurried forward, and Geraldine, still holding the cat against her cheek,
saw the chauffeur open the door and Mrs. Barry emerge.

Ben's assurance flashed into her thought. "Whatever she may do
hereafter, remember it is of her own volition."

The lady came in, and, smiling a return to Miss Mehitable's welcome,
looked at the girl in the blue dress. She liked the self-possessed
manner with which Geraldine greeted her.

"I'm trying to make Pearl feel at home, you see," said the girl. "Mrs.
Whipp says it is very hard for her to move."

"Yes, I know that is a pussy's nature. I like cats, but I like birds
better, so I don't keep any. How nice you look here. Oh, what charming
roses!" going to the nodding beauties standing in a vase on the counter.
"Are those for sale? If so they're going home to Keefe."

"No, Mrs. Barry, they ain't for sale," replied Miss Mehitable. "I'm so
proud of 'em I can hardly stand it. Ben sent 'em to me. Wasn't he the
dear boy to give the Mermaid such a send-off?"

"He is a nice boy, isn't he, Miss Upton?" returned the visitor
graciously. "I'm glad to see you looking so well, Miss Melody."

Geraldine certainly had plenty of color and she held to the cat as an
embarrassed actor does to a prop. "I tried to see you one day at Keefe,
but you were out."

"Yes, I was dressin' the doll that day," said Miss Mehitable, smiling.
She discerned friendliness in the air and was elated.

"The result is very nice," said Mrs. Barry graciously.

"Yes, I think blue serges are about the best thing at the seaside. I
wanted to get her one o' these here real snappy sailor dresses, but she
kept holdin' me back, holdin' me back, till it's a wonder we got any
clothes at all!" Miss Upton laughed, and as Geraldine turned toward her
with a smile, Mrs. Barry was conscious of a faint echo of that smile's
effect upon her son.

Charlotte stood at the back of the shop looking on and reflectively
picking her teeth with a pin. "She's a real good worker, Geraldine is,"
she remarked with a sniff, "I'll say that for her."

An angry flash leaped up Mrs. Barry's spine. That settled it. This
exquisite creature must not stay where that charwoman could speak of her
so familiarly.

"Certainly there has been a lot of good work done here," she said,
looking about, "but it is a little early to come down yet. I have a lot
of curtains to make for my cottage. Miss Melody"--turning to the girl
with her most winning look--"you have these people all settled, don't
you want to come home with me and help me make my curtains?"

Geraldine's heart leaped in her throat. Although she had put up a brave
front she was terribly afraid of the queen of Keefe.

"Why, that would be fine!" exclaimed Miss Mehitable, her optimistic
spirit at once seeing her clouds roll away and disperse in mist.

"I don't think everything is done here," said Geraldine; "I don't think
you can spare me."

"Of course I can," returned Miss Mehitable vehemently. "You can go just
as well as not." She perceived that this was not at all the answer the
girl wanted, but she was determined to override all objections and even
Geraldine's own feelings.

The latter looked at Mrs. Barry with a faint smile. She only hoped that
Miss Upton's mental processes were not such an open book to the visitor
as they were to herself. She saw plainly that if it came to the
necessity Miss Mehitable would throw her into the motor with her own
hands.

"She is not very complimentary, is she?" she remarked. "I thought I was
so important."

"She hain't seen the Port yet either. Have you, Gerrie?" came from the
back of the store.

Miss Mehitable turned on the speaker. "As if there was any hurry about
that!" she said, so fiercely that Charlotte evaporated through the back
door of the shop into the regions beyond.

"I'm sure you were important," said Mrs. Barry, "but it is I who need
you now."

"I'll help you get your things," said Miss Upton, moving to the stairs
with alacrity.

Geraldine dropped Pearl. She could not defend her any longer.

"Wait, Miss Upton," said Mrs. Barry. "How would it be for you to pack
Miss Melody's trunk and express it after we are gone?"

Miss Mehitable's face was one broad beam. A trunk!

"She hasn't got any," she replied. "Of course hers was left in that No
Man's Land and we just brought things down here in suit-cases and
boxes."

"Very well, then, we can take them with us."

"But I shan't need--" began Geraldine.

Mrs. Barry interrupted her. "It is always hard to foresee just what one
will need even in a week's time. We may as well take everything."

"Such a small everything," added Geraldine.

A little pulse was beating in her throat. She dreaded to find herself
alone with this _grande dame_. She believed that Ben had kept his
promise and that this move of his mother was being made of her own
volition, but in what capacity was she being invited? Was it a case of
giving a piece of employment to a needy girl in her son's absence, or
was she being asked on the footing of a friend? In any case, she knew
her lover would wish her to go, and as for Miss Upton she would use
violence if necessary.

She went upstairs and came down wearing the black sailor hat of the
Keefe brand, and carrying a suit-case. Miss Mehitable followed with
sundry boxes which she took to the motor. Lamson jumped out and came to
the shop to get the suit-case.

"One moment more, please," said Miss Upton, and vanished upstairs. She
returned bearing a large hatbox.

"Oh, no, Miss Upton!" exclaimed Geraldine as Miss Mehitable had known
she would. "Keep that till I come back. It's a seashore hat."

"It is not," said Miss Mehitable defiantly. "It is a town hat. She got
the present of a beautiful hat, Mrs. Barry--"

"Dear Miss Upton doesn't say that she gave it to me herself," put in
Geraldine.

No, dear Miss Upton did not; for she had a New England conscience; but
she continued firmly:

"She may want to wear it; she's got a white dress."

Geraldine colored. Mrs. Barry had seen her white dress.

"By all means let us take the hat," said that lady, and Lamson bore off
the box.

"_Au revoir_, then," said Geraldine, trying to speak lightly, and
kissing Miss Mehitable. "I'll let you know what day I am coming back.
Say good-bye to Mrs. Whipp for me."

Mrs. Barry's face became inscrutable as Geraldine spoke. She had seen
the counter, and the phonograph, and in fancy she could see the
impending excursionists.

"Good-bye, Miss Upton." And the shining motor started. "To Rockcrest,
Lamson."

Miss Mehitable went back into the house. She suspected she should find
Charlotte weeping, and she did.

"I s'pose I can't never say anything right," sniffed the injured one
upon her employer's entrance.

"Never mind _us_, Charlotte," responded Miss Upton. "That's a very big
thing that's just happened. I'm so tickled I'd dance if I thought the
house would stand it."

"I don't see anything so wonderful in that stuck-up woman givin' the
girl a job o' sewin'," returned Mrs. Whipp, blowing her nose. "When will
Gerrie come back? How we'll miss her!"

"I think," said Miss Upton, impressively--"I think it is very safe to
say--Never!"

"Why, what do you mean!"

"I mean Mrs. Barry ain't goin' to let that girl stand behind my counter
this summer." Miss Mehitable gave a sudden, sly laugh. "I wasn't goin'
to let her anyway," she added, in a low tone as if the walls might have
ears, "but Mrs. Barry don't know that, and I'm glad she don't."

Miss Upton sat down and laughed and rocked, and rocked and laughed until
Mrs. Whipp began to worry.

"Thumbscrews," said Miss Mehitable, between each burst, "thumbscrews!"

"Where shall I git 'em?" asked Charlotte, rising and staring about her
vaguely.

"Nevermind. Let's have some tea," said Miss Mehitable, wiping her eyes.



CHAPTER XV

The Clouds Disperse


And so with the entrance into that automobile began still another
chapter in Geraldine Melody's life. While they drove through the
attractive avenues of the resort and Mrs. Barry pointed out the cottages
belonging to well-known people, the young girl was making an effort for
her own self-possession. To be alone with the mother of her knight was
exciting, and her determination was not to allow any emotion to be
observable in her manner. She did not yet know whether she was present
as a seamstress or as a guest. She felt that in either case she had been
summoned for inspection, for of course Ben had left his mother in no
doubt as to his sentiments. Mrs. Barry evinced no embarrassment. Her
smooth monologue flowed on without a question. Perhaps she suspected the
tumult in the fluttering heart beside her, and was giving the young girl
time. At all events, nothing that she said required an answer, and
Geraldine obediently looked, unseeing, at every object she pointed out.

The motor rolled across a bridge. "Here you see Keefeport even boasts a
little river," said Mrs. Barry. "The young people can enjoy a mild canoe
trip as well as their exciting yachting. I am going to stop at my
cottage and give a few orders, so long as I am here."

Another five minutes of swift riding brought them to the driveway
leading to a cottage placed on a rocky height close to the sea. "We have
a rather wonderful view, you see," Mrs. Barry's calm voice went on.
"Perhaps you would like to get out and walk about the piazza while I
speak with the caretaker."

Geraldine followed her out of the luxurious car, feeling very small and
insignificant and resenting the sensation made upon her by the imposing
surroundings. She wished herself back with Miss Upton and the cat; but
she mounted the steps and stood on the wide porch looking on the jagged
rocks beneath. The sea came hissing in among them, flinging up spray and
dragging back noisily in the strong wind to make ready for another
onslaught. The vast view was superb and suggested all the poems she had
ever read about the sea. Mrs. Barry had gone into the house and now came
out with the caretakers, a man and wife, with whom she examined the
progress of flowers and vines growing in sheltered nooks. Geraldine
resolutely shut out memories of her knight. The girls whose summers were
spent among these scenes were his friends, and among them his mother had
doubtless selected some fastidious maiden who had never encountered
disgraceful moments.

"I belong to myself," thought Geraldine proudly, forcing back some
stinging drops, salt as the vast waters before her. "I don't need
anybody, I don't." She fought down again the memory of her lover's
embraces. Ever afterward she remembered those few minutes alone on the
piazza at Rockcrest, overwhelmed by the sensation of contrast between
herself on sufferance in her cheap raiment, and the indications all
about her of the opposite extreme of luxury--remembered those moments as
affording her a poignant unhappiness.

"I won't ask you to come into the cottage," said Mrs. Barry, approaching
at the close of her interview. "The rugs haven't been unrolled yet, and
it is all in disorder. Isn't that a superb show of sky and sea, and
never twice alike?"

"Superb," echoed Geraldine.

"You are shivering," said her hostess. "It is many degrees colder here
than over in the sheltered place where Miss Upton has her shop. I have
quite finished. Let us go back."

They went down to the car and were soon speeding toward Keefe. Beside
Lamson sat the imposing hatbox. Somehow it added to Geraldine's
unhappiness, as if jeering at her for an effort to appear what she was
not.

She must talk. Her regal companion would suspect her wretchedness.

"What are you going to make your curtains of, Mrs. Barry?" she asked.

The commonplace proved a most felicitous question. The lady described
material, took her measurements out of her purse, and discussed ruffles
and tucks and described location and size of windows, during which talk
the young girl was able to throw off the spell that had held her mute.

She did not suspect how her companion was listening with discriminating
ears to her speech, and the very tones of her voice, and watching with
discriminating eyes her manner and expression. Ben had told his mother
to take her magnifying glass and she had begun to use it.

When the motor entered the home grounds at Keefe, Geraldine resisted the
associations of her last arrival there. A faint mist of apple blossoms
still clung in spots to the orchard.

Lamson carried her poor little effects and the hateful, grandiose hatbox
into the living-room where one day she had regained her scattered
senses.

"You may take these things up to the blue room," Mrs. Barry said to the
maid who appeared, "and you will give Miss Melody any assistance she
requires."

Geraldine followed the girl upstairs to the charming room assigned to
her. Every dainty convenience was within its walls. The pleasant maid's
manner was all alacrity. It was safe to believe that she knew more than
her mistress about Geraldine, and the attitude toward her of the young
master of the house. The guest looked about her and recalled her room at
the Carder farm, the patchwork quilt at the Upton Emporium, and her last
shakedown under the eaves of the Keefeport shell house.

Between the filmy white curtains at these windows she could see the rosy
vestiges of the orchard bloom. The furniture of the room was apparently
ivory, the bathroom silver and porcelain. Azure and white coloring were
in all the decorations. The maid was unpacking her boxes. Geraldine was
ashamed of her own mortification in allowing her to see the contents.

"I think I'd rather do that myself," she said hastily.

"Some ladies do," returned the girl.

"Especially," rejoined Geraldine, "when they are not used to being
waited upon!"

She accompanied this with a look of such frank sweetness that she
counted one more victim to her charms.

"She isn't one bit stuck-up," the maid reported downstairs, "and I
never saw such hair and eyes in all my life."

"They've done for Mr. Ben all right," remarked the chauffeur. "I guess
Madam thought it was about time to get acquainted."

When Geraldine came downstairs an hour later, she was arrayed in the
cheap little green-and-white house dress which had been one of her
purchases with Miss Upton, and was intended for summer use in the shop.
As she wandered into the living-room, Mrs. Barry walking on the piazza
perceived her through the long, open windows and came to join her.

"Did you find everything quite comfortable?" she asked solicitously.

"Perfectly," replied Geraldine. "It is quite wonderful after one has
been leading a camping-out life."

Mrs. Barry continued to approve her intonation and manner.

"You certainly have passed through strange vicissitudes," she replied.
"Sometime you must tell me your story-book adventures."

"They are not very pleasant reminiscences," said Geraldine.

"Very well, then, you shall not be made to rehearse them."

A maid appeared and announced dinner.

Geraldine's repressed excitement took away her appetite for the
perfectly served repast. Mrs. Barry's regal personality seemed to
pervade the whole establishment. One could not imagine any detail
venturing to go wrong; any food to be underdone or overdone; any servant
to venture to make trouble. The machinery of the household moved on
oiled wheels. A delicate cleanliness, quietness, order, pervaded the
home and all its surroundings.

Mrs. Barry made no comment on her guest's lack of appetite. When they
had finished, she led her out to the porch where their coffee was
served.

"Now, isn't this an improvement on Rockcrest?" she asked as they sat
listening to the sleepy, closing evening songs of the thrushes. "Imagine
trying to drink our coffee on that piazza where we were this afternoon.
There is a more sheltered portion, a part that I have enclosed in glass;
but my son likes the front to be all open to the elements."

"It is very beautiful here," said Geraldine. "It must be hard for you to
tear yourself away even later in the season."

"That is what does it," returned Mrs. Barry, waving her hand toward a
large thermometer affixed to one of the columns. "When you come down
some morning and find the mercury trying to go over the top, you are
ready to flit where there are no great trees to seem to hold in the
air." The speaker paused, regarding the young girl for a moment in
silence. An appreciation of her had been growing ever since they left
Keefeport, and now for the first time she allowed herself a pleasure in
Geraldine's beauty. It was wonderful camouflage if it was nothing more.
"Do you enjoy music, Miss Melody?" she asked suddenly.

The girl gave her a faint smile.

"Foolish question, isn't it?" she added. "I usually play awhile in the
evening." She set down her cup and rose.

Geraldine rose also, looked pleased and eager.

"I'm so glad," she replied. "I have no accomplishments myself."

A vague memory of having heard something about a cruel stepmother
assailed the hostess. She smiled kindly at the girl. "Some people have
gifts instead," she said. "Stay here. I will go in and try to give you
some happy thoughts."

Geraldine sank back in her chair, her eyes fixed on the graceful elms
and the vivid streaks across a sunset sky.

As the strains of Chopin, Schumann, and Brahms came through the open
window it necessitated some, effort not to have too happy thoughts. The
skillful musician modulated from one number to another, and Geraldine,
all ignorant in her art-starved life, of what she was hearing, gave
herself up to the loveliness of sight and sound.

When Mrs. Barry reappeared, the girl's eyelids were red, and as she
started up to meet her she put out her hands impulsively, and the
musician laughed a little as she accepted their grasp, well pleased with
the eloquent speechlessness.

When Geraldine waked the next morning her first vague thought was that
she must shake off sleep and help Mrs. Carder. That troubling sense
faded into another, also troubling. She was to spend a whole day,
perhaps several whole days, with the rather fearful splendor of the
mother of her knight. That in itself would not be so bad, Mrs. Barry had
shown a kind intention, but the knight himself might return at any hour.
Why had she come? Yet how refuse when her previous hostess had so
energetically thrown her out of the nest?

The sun had gone behind clouds. She rose, closed her windows, and made
her toilet, then descended to the hall where Mrs. Barry met her with a
pleasant greeting and they went in to breakfast.

"We're going to catch some rain, it seems," she said. "It is nice Miss
Upton is moved and settled."

"Yes," rejoined Geraldine, "and curtain-making can go on just as well in
the rain."

"You had a good sleep, I'm sure," said the hostess, regarding her
freshness.

"Yes, I am ready and full of energy to begin," said the girl. "I feel
that I am going to do the work quickly and go back sooner than Miss
Upton expects. It is nice for them to have some young hands and feet to
call upon."

"I hope you don't feel in haste," returned Mrs. Barry politely. She was
so courteous, so gracious, so powerful, and such leagues away from her,
Geraldine longed to get at the work, and know what to do with her hands
and her eyes.

Very soon the curtain material was produced. Mrs. Barry had the sewing
machine moved into the living-room where there was plenty of space for
the billowy white stuff, and they began their measuring.

The air was sultry preceding the storm, and a distant rumbling of
thunder was heard. The house door was left open as well as the long
French windows which gave upon the piazza.

The guest had slept late, delaying the breakfast hour, and the two had
been working at the curtains only a short time when a man, strange to
Mrs. Barry, walked into the living-room. Approaching on the footpath to
the house, Geraldine only had been visible to him through the window. He
believed her to be alone in the room, and the house door standing open
he had dispensed with the formality of ringing and walked in.

Something in the wildness of the intruder's look startled the hostess
and she pressed a button in the wall.

She saw Geraldine's face blanch and her eyes dilate with terror as the
man approached her, but no sound escaped her lips. The stranger put out
his hand. The girl shrank back. The queen of Keefe stepped forward.

"What do you mean by this?" she exclaimed sternly. "What do you wish?"

The man turned and faced her. "I've come on important business with this
girl. My name is Rufus Carder--you may have heard of it. Geraldine
Melody belongs to me. Her father gave her to me." He turned back quickly
to the girl, for Mrs. Barry's face warned him that his time was short.

"You may have gone away against your will, Gerrie," he said. "It ain't
too late to save your father. Come back with me now and there won't be a
word said. Refuse to come, and to-morrow all his pals shall know what he
was."

[Illustration: "Geraldine Melody belongs to me. Her Father gave her to
me"]

Geraldine straightened her slight body. Terror was in every line of her
delicate face, but Mrs. Barry saw her control it. The details of the
stories she had heard came back to her vividly. She realized the
suffering and the fate from which her boy had delivered the captive.
Geraldine was exquisite to look at now as she faced her jailer. That
ethereal quality which was hers gave her spirituelle face a wonderful
appeal.

"Ben was right," thought Mrs. Barry with a thrill of pride. "She is a
thoroughbred."

"Mr. Carder," she said, approaching still nearer, her peremptory tone
forcing him to turn his long, twitching face toward her, "Miss Melody is
about to marry my son. He will attend to any business you may have with
her."

"Huh! That's it, is it? You don't look like the kind of woman who will
enjoy having a forger in the family."

The girl's eyes closed under the stab.

"Geraldine, I should like you to go upstairs, dear," said Mrs. Barry
gently. The girl moved slowly toward the door, Carder's eyes following
her full of a fierce, baffled hunger.

He turned on Mrs. Barry with the ugliest look she had ever beheld in a
human countenance.

"Your son has stolen my boy, too, my servant, and I've come after him,"
he said. "The law'll teach that fellow whether he can take other
people's property. That boy was bound to me out o' the asylum and I
won't stand such impudence, I warn you. Where is he? Where is Pete? I've
got a few things to teach him." The furious man was breathing heavily.

"I understand that you have taught him a few things already," replied
Mrs. Barry, her eyes as steady as her voice. "I think, as you say, the
law may take a hand in your affairs. My son and Pete have gone to the
city now, and I fancy it is on your business."

"What business?" ejaculated Carder, fumbling his hat, his rage appearing
to feel a check.

"That I don't know, really. I was not interested; but I seem to remember
hearing my son use your name.--Lamson, is that you?" she added in the
same tone.

The chauffeur was standing at the door. "Yes, Mrs. Barry, you rang."

"Show this man the way to the station, Lamson."

Rufus Carder gave her one parting, vindictive look, and strode to the
door.

"Out of my way!" he said savagely, as he pushed by the chauffeur and
proceeded out of doors and down the path like one in haste. Mrs. Barry
believed he was, indeed, in haste and driven by fear.

She proceeded upstairs to Geraldine's room and found the girl pacing the
floor. She paused and gazed at her hostess, her eyes dry and bright.
Mrs. Barry approached and took her in her arms. At the affectionate
embrace a sob rose in the girl's throat.

"When he says it, it seems true again," she said brokenly. "Ben says it
is probably a lie, but I don't know, I don't know."

"That wretch declaring it makes it likely to be untrue. Ben tells me you
have lost your father, and if no proceedings were taken against him in
his lifetime, I should not fear now. My son hints at disreputable things
committed by this man, and if he can prove them, which he has gone to
do, and Pete promises that they can do, then the culprit will not want
to draw attention to himself by starting any scandal, not even for the
joy of revenge on you. Forget it all, Geraldine." The addition was made
so tenderly that the girl's desperate composure gave way and she
trembled in the enfolding arms.

Mrs. Barry loved her for struggling not to weep. She kissed her cheek as
she gently released her. "You are safe, and beloved, and entering a new
world. You are young to have endured so many sorrows, but youth is
elastic and the future is bright."

Geraldine's breast heaved, she bit her lip, and no eyes ever expressed
more than the speaking orbs into which the queen of Keefe was looking.

"I know all that you are thinking," said Mrs. Barry. "I know all that
you would like to say. Don't try now. You have had enough excitement. I
have always wanted a daughter. I hope you will love me, too."

She kissed the girl again, on the lips this time, and there was fervor
in the return.

The next day Mrs. Barry telephoned to half a dozen of her son's girl
friends and invited them to come to a sewing-bee and help with the
curtains for her cottage. She said that Miss Melody was visiting her and
that she would like them to know her. So they all came, wild with
curiosity to see the girl that their own Ben had kidnapped and who was
going to make him forget them; and Geraldine won them all by her modesty
and naturalness. The fact that Ben's mother had accepted her gave her
courage in the face of this bevy who had grown up with her lover from
childhood. They were too uncertain of the exact status of affairs
between the beautiful stranger and their old friend to speak openly of
him to her, but almost every reminiscence or subject of which they
talked led up to Ben. Of course, some among the six pairs of eyes
leveled at Geraldine had a green tinge, and there were some girlish
heartaches; and when the chattering flock had had their tea and cakes
and left for home, there were certain ones who discussed the
impossibility of there being anything serious in the wind.

Ben was not even at home. Would he have gone away for an indefinite time
as his mother said he had done, if he was as engrossed in the girl as
gossip had said? Had not that very gossip proceeded from the humble
walls of Miss Upton's shop where the stranger had apparently found her
level? The Barrys had always held such a fine position, etc., etc., etc.

"Oh, but," said Adele Hastings, "that girl is a lady. Every movement and
word proves it."

"Besides," added another maiden, "her being humble wouldn't have
anything to do with it. It never has, from the time of King Cophetua
on."

"Well," put in the poor little girl with the greenest eyes of all, "I
think it is very significant that Ben has gone away. You notice Mrs.
Barry didn't invite her to come until he had gone, and that common Mrs.
Whipp called her by her first name. I heard her myself."

On the whole, Geraldine had scored, and really, although she was at
peace with the whole world, the fact of Mrs. Barry's approval dwarfed
every other opinion and event; for it meant that no longer need she set
up a mental warning and barrier against thoughts of her lover.

A few days afterward Ben telephoned to have Lamson at the station at a
certain hour, and he and Pete returned from their strange quest. Little
he dreamed of the stir that telephone message caused in his home.

All the way out to Keefe on the train he was planning interviews with
his mother and wondering whether the seed he had dropped into her mind
before leaving had borne fruit. He had promised Geraldine not to coerce
her, and the girl's pride he knew would not submit to opposing his
mother's wish. Therefore, when Mrs. Barry walked out on the piazza to
meet him, it was a very serious son that she encountered.

"What is the matter, Benny?" she asked as she kissed him. "Have you
failed?"

"No, indeed. I have succeeded triumphantly. I've got Carder in a box,
and, believe me, he won't try to lift up the lid and let anybody see
him."

"He was here soon after you left," said Mrs. Barry calmly.

Ben looked surprised and alert.

"What did he want?"

"Pete; and he was going to have him or put you in the lock-up. Also he
wanted Miss Melody. He's a wretch, Ben. I'm glad you went after him."

"He'll not trouble her any more," said the young fellow, walking into
the house with his mother clinging to his arm. "Carder is going to have
ample leisure to think over the game he has played. Isn't it a strange
satire of fate that should make insignificant little Pete the boomerang
to turn back and floor him? Pete's an ideal witness. He sees what he
sees and he knows what he knows, and nothing can shake him because he
doesn't know anything else. Great Scott! when I located the facts at
that hospital and linked them together and brought an accusation against
Carder, it was like opening a door to a swarm of hornets. He has made so
many people hate him that when the timid ones found it would be safe to
loosen up, they were ready to fall upon him and sting him to death. He's
safe to get a long sentence, and it will be time enough when he comes
out to talk to him about Mr. Melody's debts--if Geraldine wishes it."

Ben looked around suddenly at his mother.

"Have you been to Keefeport to see Geraldine?"

She returned his gaze smiling, and feigned to tremble. "I'm so glad I
have, Ben. You look so severe."

"And did you take that magnifying glass?"

"Yes."

"Wasn't I right?" asked Ben with some relief.

"You were. I like the girl. I feel we are going to be friends."

"Well, then, how about her being a clerk for Miss Upton?"

Ben asked the question frowning, and flung himself down beside his
mother where she had seated herself on a divan. Why couldn't her blood
run as fast as his? Why must she be so cold and deliberate at a crucial
time? "Going to be friends!" What an utterly inadequate speech!

"I want to talk to you about that," rejoined his mother. "Will you
please go into my study and bring me a letter you'll find on the table?"

Without a word, and still with the dissatisfied line in his forehead,
the young man rose and moved away toward the closed door of the
sanctum.

He opened it and there was a moment of dead silence. Mrs. Barry could
visualize Geraldine as she looked standing there, radiantly expectant,
mischievously blissful. The door slammed, and all was silence.

The mother laughed softly over the bit of sewing she had picked up. For
a minute she could not see very plainly, but she wiped her eyes and it
passed.



CHAPTER XVI

Apple Blossoms


Of course Ben wanted to be married at once, and whatever he wanted
Geraldine wanted, but Mrs. Barry overruled this.

"I hope you will go back to school, Ben, and get your sheepskin," she
said. "I want you to live in the city, too, and leave Geraldine with me.
I would like to have some happiness with a daughter before she is
engrossed in being your wife. Wait for your wedding until the orchard
blooms again."

Ecstatic as Ben was, he could see sense in this; but vacation came first
and Geraldine was a belle at Keefeport that summer. Her beauty
blossomed, and all the repressed vivacity of her nature came to the
surface. Her room at Rockcrest commanded the ocean, and every night
before she slept she knelt before her window and gave thanks for a
happiness which seemed as illimitable as the waters rolling to the
horizon. She yachted, and danced, and canoed, and flew, all that
summer. She gained the hearts of the women by her unspoiled modesty and
consideration, while Ben was the envy of every bachelor at the resort.
Nor did Geraldine forget Miss Upton. Every few days she called at the
shop, and the two women there were never tired of admiring and
exclaiming over the charming costumes in which Mrs. Barry dressed her
child, and many a gift the girl brought to them, never forgetting what
she owed to her good fairy.

Pete was a happy general utility man and Miss Upton borrowed him at
times; but he liked best working on the yacht, where he was never
through polishing and cleaning, keeping it spick and span. He was given
a blue suit and a yachting cap and rolled around the deck the jolliest
of jolly little tars.

When autumn came, Ben Barry took rooms in the city, coming to Keefe for
the week-ends. Geraldine, who had had the usual school-girl fragments of
music and languages, studied hard, and Mrs. Barry took her to town for
one month instead of the three which she usually spent there. It was
best not to divert Ben too much.

So the winter wore away, and the snow melted and the crocuses peeped up
again. The robins returned, and Ben understood at last why their
insistent, joyous cry was always of _Geraldine, Geraldine, Geraldine_!

The orchard was under solicitous surveillance this spring, and though it
takes the watched pot so long to boil, at last the rosy clouds drifting
in the sky seemed to catch in the apple boughs and rest there, and then
the wedding day was set.

The spacious rooms of the old house were cleared for dancing, for the
ceremony was to take place out under the trees at noon. Miss Upton had a
new black silk dress given her by the bridegroom with a note over which
she wept, for it acknowledged so affectionately all that he owed to his
bride's good fairy from the day when she so effectively waved her
umbrella wand in the city. One of her gowns was made over for Mrs.
Whipp, who on the great day stood with the maids and watched the wedding
party as it filed out over the lawn to the rosy bower of the orchard.
The six bridesmaids wore pale-green and white, and, as Miss Upton viewed
with satisfaction, "droopy hats." She scanned the half-dozen of Ben's
men friends who supported him on the occasion and mentally noted their
inferiority to her hero.

Geraldine--but who could describe Geraldine in her beautiful happiness
and her happy beauty! Look over your fairy tales and find a princess in
clinging, lacy robes, her veil fastened with apple blossoms, and the
golden sheen of her hair shining through. Her bouquet of
lilies-of-the-valley showered down before her and clung to her filmy
gown as she stepped, and the sweet gravity of her eyes never left the
face of the good old minister who had baptized Ben in his babyhood,
until he came to the words: "Who giveth this woman to be married to this
man?" Mrs. Barry stepped forward, took the hands of her children and
placed them together. Mehitable Upton was not the only one in the large
gathering who dissolved at the look on those three faces.

In a minute it was over. The two were made one, and a soft, happy
confusion of tongues ensued. After the kissing and the congratulations,
a breakfast was served on the wide piazzas, and the orchestra behind
the screen of palms began its strains of gay music.

After Geraldine had cut the bride's cake and disappeared to put on her
going-away gown, one of the waiters brought out the rice.

Mrs. Barry begged the company not to be too generous with it. "Just a
pinch apiece," she said. "Don't embarrass them."

Adele Hastings, the maid of honor, laughed with her maids. She had come
very close to Geraldine in the last weeks, and she had managed to get
both umbrellas of bride and groom and put as much rice into them as the
slim fastenings would permit. She believed the bridal pair were going to
take a water trip, and she felt that the effect of opening the umbrellas
on a sunny deck some day would be exhilarating.

Mrs. Barry, as serene as ever, and very handsome in her lavender satin,
disappeared upstairs for a few minutes. When she returned, Lamson was
driving the automobile around to the front of the house.

"Now, be merciful to those poor youngsters," she said again, as, armed
with rice, they ranged themselves on the piazza and steps, making an
aisle for the hero and heroine to pass through. They waited, talking
and laughing, when suddenly there was a burst of sound. Over the
house-top came an increasing whirr, and an aeroplane suddenly flew over
their heads. An excited cry arose from the cheated crowd. Laughter and
shrieks burst from every upturned face. _Cher Ami_ circled around the
house, flew away and returned, the young people below shouting messages
that were never heard. At last down through the laughter-rent air came
the bridal bouquet, and scrambling and more shrieks ensued. The little
girl with the greenest eyes of all--one of the bridesmaids she
was--secured it. We'll hope it was a comfort to her.

Lamson was demurely driving the car back to the garage, and Mrs. Barry,
her dignity for once all forgotten, was laughing gayly. The wedding
party fell upon her with reproaches while the orchestra gave a spirited
rendition of "Going Up," the aviation operetta of the day.

They all watched the flight for a time, but the music invited, and soon
the couples were disappearing through the windows into the house and
gliding over the floor.

Mrs. Barry and Miss Upton stood together, still following the swiftly
receding aeroplane.

Mrs. Barry shook her head and sighed, smiling. "Young America! Young
America!" she murmured.

"Yes," said Miss Upton, "what would our grandfathers have thought of it?
Talk about fairy tales! Do any of the old stories come up to that?"

"No," returned Mrs. Barry, "but there is one feature of them that is
ever new. It is the best part of all and no story is complete without
it."

"Yes, I know," said Miss Mehitable, nodding. They were both looking now
at a small dark point vanishing into a pearly cloud. "I know," she
repeated. "'And they lived happily ever afterward!'"

THE END



By Clara Louise Burnham

    IN APPLE-BLOSSOM TIME. Illustrated.
    HEARTS' HAVEN. Illustrated by Helen Mason Grose.
    INSTEAD OF THE THORN. With frontispiece.
    THE RIGHT TRACK. With frontispiece in color.
    THE GOLDEN DOG. Illustrated in color.
    THE INNER FLAME. With frontispiece in color.
    CLEVER BETSY. Illustrated.
    FLUTTERFLY. Illustrated.
    THE LEAVEN OF LOVE. With frontispiece in color.
    THE QUEST FLOWER. Illustrated.
    THE OPENED SHUTTERS.  With frontispiece in color.
    JEWEL: A CHAPTER IN HER LIFE. Illustrated.
    JEWEL'S STORY BOOK. Illustrated.
    THE RIGHT PRINCESS.
    MISS PRITCHARD'S WEDDING TRIP.
    YOUNG MAIDS AND OLD.
    DEARLY BOUGHT.
    NO GENTLEMEN.
    A SANE LUNATIC.
    NEXT DOOR.
    THE MISTRESS OF BEECH KNOLL.
    MISS BAGG'S SECRETARY.
    DR. LATIMER.
    SWEET CLOVER.  A Romance of the White City.
    THE WISE WOMAN.
    MISS ARCHER ARCHER.
    A GREAT LOVE. A Novel.
    A WEST POINT WOOING, and Other Stories.


    HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
    Boston and New York





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