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´╗┐Title: Prudence Says So
Author: Hueston, Ethel, 1887-
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 "Prudence Says So" ***

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



PRUDENCE SAYS SO

by

ETHEL HUESTON


Author of
Prudence of the Parsonage

With Illustrations by Arthur William Brown



[Illustration: Come on. Let's beat it]



New York
Grosset & Dunlap
Publishers

Copyright 1916
The Bobbs-Merrill Company



                 _To_
          MY LITTLE DAUGHTER
              ELIZABETH
           MY COMRADE AND MY
             INSPIRATION



CONTENTS


       CHAPTER                                    PAGE

          I THE CHAPERON                             1

         II SCIENCE AND HEALTH                      19

        III A GIFT FROM HEAVEN                      39

         IV HOW CAROL SPOILED THE WEDDING           58

          V THE SERENADE                            80

         VI SUBSTITUTION                            95

        VII MAKING MATCHES                         114

       VIII LARK'S LITERARY VENTURE                130

         IX A CLEAR CALL                           154

          X JERRY JUNIOR                           179

         XI THE END OF FAIRY                       193

        XII SOWING SEEDS                           209

       XIII THE CONNIE PROBLEM                     222

        XIV BOOSTING CONNIE                        238

         XV A MILLIONAIRE'S SON                    252

        XVI THE TWINS HAVE A PROPOSAL              277

       XVII THE GIRL WHO WOULDN'T PROPOSE          297



PRUDENCE SAYS SO



CHAPTER I

THE CHAPERON


"Girls,--come down! Quick!--I want to see how you look!"

Prudence stood at the foot of the stairs, deftly drawing on her black
silk gloves,--gloves still good in Prudence's eyes, though Fairy had
long since discarded them as unfit for service. There was open anxiety
in Prudence's expression, and puckers of worry perpendicularly creased
her white forehead.

"Girls!" she called again. "Come down! Father, you'd better hurry,--it's
nearly train time. Girls, are you deaf!"

Her insistence finally brought response. A door opened in the hallway
above, and Connie started down the stairs, fully dressed, except that
she limped along in one stocking-foot, her shoe in her hand.

"It's so silly of you to get all dressed before you put on your shoes,
Connie," Prudence reproved her as she came down. "It wrinkles you up so.
But you do look nice. Wasn't it dear of the Ladies' Aid to give you that
dress for your birthday? It's so dainty and sweet,--and goodness knows
you needed one. They probably noticed that. Let me fix your bow a
little. Do be careful, dear, and don't get mussed before we come back.
Aunt Grace will be so much gladder to live with us if we all look sweet
and clean. And you'll be good, won't you, Connie, and--Twins, will you
come!"

"They are sewing up the holes in each other's stockings," Connie
vouchsafed. "They're all dressed."

The twins, evidently realizing that Prudence's patience was near the
breaking point, started down-stairs for approval, a curious procession.
All dressed as Connie had said, and most charming, but they walked close
together, Carol stepping gingerly on one foot and Lark stooping low,
carrying a needle with great solicitude,--the thread reaching from the
needle to a small hole on Carol's instep.

"What on earth are you doing?"

"I'm sewing up the holes in Carol's stocking," Lark explained. "If you
had waited a minute I would have finished--Hold still, Carol,--don't
walk so jerky or you'll break the thread. There were five holes in her
left stocking, Prudence, and I'm--"

Prudence frowned disapprovingly. "It's a very bad habit to sew up holes
in your stockings when you are wearing them. If you had darned them all
yesterday as I told you, you'd have had plenty of--Mercy, Lark, you
have too much powder on!"

"I know it,--Carol did it. She said she wanted me to be of an
intellectual pallor." Lark mopped her face with one hand.

"You'd better not mention to papa that we powdered to-day," Carol
suggested. "He's upset. It's very hard for a man to be reasonable when
he's upset, you know."

"You look nice, twins." Prudence advanced a step, her eyes on Carol's
hair, sniffing suspiciously. "Carol, did you curl your hair?"

Carol blushed. "Well, just a little," she confessed. "I thought Aunt
Grace would appreciate me more with a crown of frizzy ringlets."

"You'll spoil your hair if you don't leave it alone, and it will serve
you right, too. It's very pretty as it is naturally,--plenty curly
enough and--Oh, Fairy, I know Aunt Grace will love you," she cried
ecstatically. "You look like a dream, you--"

"Yes,--a nightmare," said Carol snippily. "If I saw Fairy coming at me
on a dark night I'd--"

"Papa, we'll miss the train!" Then as he came slowly down the stairs,
she said to her sisters again, anxiously: "Oh, girls, do keep nice and
clean, won't you? And be very sweet to Aunt Grace! It's so--awfully good
of her--to come--and take care of us,--" Prudence's voice broke a
little. The admission of another to the parsonage mothering hurt her.

Mr. Starr stopped on the bottom step, and with one foot as a pivot,
slowly revolved for his daughters' inspection.

"How do I look?" he demanded. "Do you think this suit will convince
Grace that I am worth taking care of? Do I look twenty-five dollars
better than I did yesterday?"

The girls gazed at him with most adoring and exclamatory approval.

"Father! You look perfectly grand!--Isn't it beautiful?--Of course, you
looked nicer than anybody else even in the old suit, but--it--well, it
was--"

"Perfectly disgracefully shabby," put in Fairy quickly. "Entirely
unworthy a minister of your--er--lovely family!"

"I hope none of you have let it out among the members how long I wore
that old suit. I don't believe I could face my congregation on Sundays
if I thought they were mentally calculating the wearing value of my
various garments.--We'll have to go, Prudence.--You all look very
fine--a credit to the parsonage--and I am sure Aunt Grace will think us
well worth living with."

"And don't muss the house up," begged Prudence, as her father opened the
door and pushed her gently out on the step.

The four sisters left behind looked at one another solemnly. It was a
serious business,--most serious. Connie gravely put on her shoe, and
buttoned it. Lark sewed up the last hole in Carol's stocking,--Carol
balancing herself on one foot with nice precision for the purpose. Then,
all ready, they looked at one another again,--even more solemnly.

"Well," said Fairy, "let's go in--and wait."

Silently the others followed her in, and they all sat about,
irreproachably, on the well-dusted chairs, their hands folded
Methodistically in their smooth and spotless laps.

The silence, and the solemnity, were very oppressive.

"We look all right," said Carol belligerently.

No one answered.

"I'm sure Aunt Grace is as sweet as anybody could be," she added
presently.

Dreary silence!

"Don't we love her better than anybody on earth,--except ourselves?"

Then, when the silence continued, her courage waned. "Oh, girls," she
whimpered, "isn't it awful? It's the beginning of the end of everything.
Outsiders have to come in now to take care of us, and Prudence'll get
married, and then Fairy will, and maybe us twins,--I mean, we twins. And
then there'll only be father and Connie left, and Miss Greet, or some
one, will get ahead of father after all,--and Connie'll have to live
with a step-mother, and--it'll never seem like home any more, and--"

Connie burst into loud and mournful wails.

"You're very silly, Carol," Fairy said sternly. "Very silly, indeed. I
don't see much chance of any of us getting married very soon. And
Prudence will be here nearly a year yet. And--Aunt Grace is as sweet and
dear a woman as ever lived--mother's own sister--and she loves us dearly
and--"

"Yes," agreed Lark, "but it's not like having Prudence at the head of
things."

"Prudence will be at the head of things for nearly a year, and--I think
we're mighty lucky to get Aunt Grace. It's not many women would be
willing to leave a fine stylish home, with a hundred dollars to spend on
just herself, and with a maid to wait on her, and come to an ugly old
house like this to take care of a preacher and a riotous family like
ours. It's very generous of Aunt Grace--very."

"Yes, it is," admitted Lark. "And as long as she was our aunt with her
fine home, and her hundred dollars a month, and her maid, I loved her
dearly. But--I don't want anybody coming in to manage us. We can manage
ourselves. We--"

"We need a chaperon," put in Fairy deftly. "She isn't going to do the
housework, or the managing, or anything. She's just our chaperon. It
isn't proper for us to live without one, you know. We're too young. It
isn't--conventional."

"And for goodness' sake, Connie," said Carol, "remember and call her our
chaperon, and don't talk about a housekeeper. There's some style to a
chaperon."

"Yes, indeed," said Fairy cheerfully. "And she wears such pretty
clothes, and has such pretty manners that she will be a distinct
acquisition to the parsonage. We can put on lots more style, of course.
And then it was awfully nice of her to send so much of her good
furniture,--the piano, for instance, to take the place of that old tin
pan of ours."

Carol smiled a little. "If she had written, 'Dear John: I can't by any
means live in a house with furniture like that of yours, so you'll have
to let me bring some of my own,'--wouldn't we have been furious? That
was what she meant all right, but she put it very neatly."

"Yes. 'I love some of my things so dearly,'" Lark quoted promptly, "'and
have lived with them so long that I am too selfish to part with them.
May I bring a few pieces along?' Yes, it was pretty cute of her."

"And do remember, girls, that you mustn't ask her to darn your
stockings, and wash your handkerchiefs, and do your tasks about the
house. It would be disgraceful. And be careful not to hint for things
you want, for, of course, Aunt Grace will trot off and buy them for you
and papa will not like it. You twins'll have to be very careful to quit
dreaming about silk stockings, for instance." There was a tinge of
sarcasm in Fairy's voice as she said this.

"Fairy, we did dream about silk stockings--you don't need to believe it
if you don't want to. But we did dream about them just the same!" Carol
sighed. "I think I could be more reconciled to Aunt Grace if I thought
she'd give me a pair of silk stockings. You know, Fairy, sometimes
lately I almost--don't like Aunt Grace--any more."

"That's very foolish and very wicked," declared Fairy. "I love her
dearly. I'm so glad she's come to live with us."

"Are you?" asked Connie innocently. "Then why did you go up in the attic
and cry all morning when Prudence was fixing the room for her?"

Fairy blushed, and caught her under lip between her teeth for a minute.
And then, in a changed voice she said, "I--I do love her, and--I am
glad--but I keep thinking ahead to when Prudence gets married,
and--and--oh, girls, Prudence was all settled in the parsonage when I
was born, and she's been here ever since, and--when she is gone it--it
won't be any home to me at all!"

Her voice rose on the last words in a way most pitifully suggestive of
tears.

For a moment there was a stricken silence.

"Oh, pooh!" Carol said at last, bravely. "You wouldn't want Prue to
stick around and be an old maid, would you? I think she's mighty lucky
to get a fellow as nice as Jerry Harmer myself. I'll bet you don't make
out half as well, Fairy. I think she'd be awfully silly not to gobble
him right up while she has a chance. For my own part, I don't believe
in old maids. I think it is a religious duty for folks to get married,
and--and--you know what I mean,--race suicide, you know." She nodded her
head sagely, winking one eye in a most intelligent fashion.

"And Aunt Grace is so quiet she'll not be any bother at all," added
Lark. "Don't you remember how she always sits around and smiles at us,
and never says anything. She won't scold a bit.--Maybe Carol and I will
get a chance to spend some of our spending money when she takes charge.
Prudence confiscates it all for punishment. I think it's going to be
lots of fun having Aunt Grace with us."

"I'm going to take my dime and buy her something," Connie announced
suddenly.

The twins whirled on her sharply. "Your dime!" echoed Carol.

"I didn't know you had a dime," said Lark.

Connie flushed a little. "Yes,--Oh, yes,--" she said, "I've got a dime.
I--I hid it. I've got a dime all right."

"It's nearly time," said Fairy restlessly. "Number Nine has been on
time for two mornings now,--so she'll probably be here in time for
dinner. It's only ten o'clock now."

"You mean luncheon," suggested Carol.

"Yes, luncheon, to be sure, fair sister."

"Where'd you get that dime, Connie?"

"Oh, I've had it some time," Connie admitted reluctantly.

"When I asked you to lend me a dime you said--"

"You asked me if I had a dime I could lend you and I said, No, and I
didn't, for I didn't have this dime to lend."

"But where have you had it?" inquired Lark. "I thought you acted
suspicious some way, so I went around and looked for myself."

"Where did you look?"

The twins laughed gleefully. "Oh, on top of the windows and doors," said
Carol.

"How did you know--" began Connie.

"You aren't slick enough for us, Connie. We knew you had some funny
place to hide your money, so I gave you that penny and then I went
up-stairs very noisily so you could hear me, and Lark sneaked around
and watched, and saw where you put it. We've been able to keep pretty
good track of your finances lately."

The twins laughed again.

"But I looked on the top ledge of all the windows and doors just
yesterday," admitted Lark, "and there was nothing there. Did you put
that dime in the bank?"

"Oh, never mind," said Connie. "I don't need to tell you. You twins are
too slick for me, you know."

The twins looked slightly fussed, especially when Fairy laughed with a
merry, "Good for you, Connie."

Carol rose and looked at herself in the glass. "I'm going up-stairs,"
she said.

"What for?" inquired Lark, rising also.

"I need a little more powder. My nose is shiny."

So the twins went up-stairs, and Fairy, after calling out to them to be
very careful and not get disheveled, went out into the yard and wandered
dolefully about by herself.

Connie meantime decided to get her well-hidden dime and figure out what
ten cents could buy for her fastidious and wealthy aunt. Connie was in
many ways unique. Her system of money-hiding was born of nothing less
than genius, prompted by necessity, for the twins were clever as well as
grasping. She did not know they had discovered her plan of banking on
the top ledge of the windows and doors, but having dealt with them long
and bitterly, she knew that in money matters she must give them the
benefit of all her ingenuity. For the last and precious dime, she had
discovered a brand-new hiding-place.

The cook stove sat in the darkest and most remote corner of the kitchen,
and where the chimney fitted into the wall, it was protected by a small
zinc plate. This zinc plate protruded barely an inch, but that inch was
quite sufficient for coins the size of Connie's, and there, high and
secure in the shadowy corner, lay Connie's dime. Now that she had
decided to spend it, she wanted it before her eyes,--for ten cents in
sight buys much more than ten cents in memory. She went into the kitchen
cautiously, careful of her white canvas shoes, and put a chair beside
the stove. She had discovered that the dishpan turned upside down on the
chair, gave her sufficient height to reach her novel banking place.
The preparation was soon accomplished, and neatly, for Connie was an
orderly child, and loved cleanliness even on occasions less demanding
than this.

But alas for Connie's calculations!--Carol was born for higher things
than dish washing, and she had splashed soap-suds on the table. The pan
had been set among them--and then, neatly wiped on the inside, it had
been hung up behind the table,--with the suds on the bottom. And it was
upon this same dishpan that Connie climbed so carefully in search of her
darling dime.

The result was certain. As she slowly and breathlessly raised herself on
tiptoe, steadying herself with the tips of her fingers lightly touching
the stove-pipe, her foot moved treacherously into the soapy area, and
slipped. Connie screamed, caught desperately at the pipe, and fell to
the floor in a sickening jumble of stove-pipe, dishpan and soot beyond
her wildest fancies! Her cries brought her sisters flying, and the sight
of the blackened kitchen, and the unfortunate child in the midst of
disaster, banished from their minds all memory of the coming chaperon,
of Prudence's warning words:--Connie was in trouble. With sisterly
affection they rescued her, and did not hear the ringing of the bell.
They brushed her, they shook her, they kissed her, they all but wept
over her. And when Prudence and her father, with Aunt Grace in tow,
despaired of gaining entrance at the hands of the girls, came in
unannounced, it was a sorry scene that greeted them. Fairy and the twins
were only less sooty than Connie and the kitchen. The stove-pipe lay
about them with that insufferable insolence known only to fallen
stove-pipe. And Connie wept loudly, her tears making hideous trails upon
her blackened face.

"I might have known it," Prudence thought, with sorrow. But her motherly
pride vanished before her motherly solicitude, and Connie was soon
quieted by her tender ministrations.

[Illustration: We love you, but we can't kiss you]

"We love you, Aunt Grace," cried Carol earnestly, "but we can't kiss
you."

Mr. Starr anxiously scanned the surface of the kitchen table with an eye
to future spots on the new suit, and then sat down on the edge of it
and laughed as only a man of young heart and old experience can laugh!

"Disgraced again," he said. "Prudence said we made a mistake in not
taking you all to the station where we could watch you every minute.
Grace, think well before you take the plunge. Do you dare cast in your
fortunes with a parsonage bunch that revels in misfortune? Can you take
the responsibility of rearing a family that knows trouble only? This is
your last chance. Weigh well your words."

The twins squirmed uncomfortably. True, she was their aunt, and knew
many things about them. But they did think it was almost bad form for
their father to emphasize their failings in the presence of any one
outside the family.

Fairy pursed up her lips, puffing vainly at the soot that had settled
upon her face. Then she laughed. "Very true, Aunt Grace," she said. "We
admit that we're a luckless family. But we're expecting, with you to
help us, to do much better. You see, we've never had half a chance so
far, with only father behind us."

The twins revived at this, and joined in the laughter their father led
against himself.

Later in the day Prudence drew her aunt to one side and asked softly,
"Was it much of a shock to you, Aunt Grace? The family drowned in soot
to welcome you? I'm sure you expected to find everything trim and fresh
and orderly. Was it a bitter disappointment?"

Aunt Grace smiled brightly. "Why, no, Prudence," she said in her slow
even voice. "I really expected something to be wrong! I'd have been
disappointed if everything had gone just right!"



CHAPTER II

SCIENCE AND HEALTH


After all, the advent of a chaperon made surprisingly little difference
in the life of the parsonage family, but what change there was, was all
to the good. Their aunt assumed no active directorate over household
matters. She just slipped in, happily, unobtrusively, helpfully. She was
a gentle woman, smiling much, saying little. Indeed, her untalkativeness
soon became a matter of great merriment among the lively girls.

"A splendid deaf and dumb person was lost to the world in you, Aunt
Grace," Carol assured her warmly. "I never saw a woman who could say so
much in smiles, and be so expressive without words."

Fairy said, "She carries on a prolonged discussion, and argues and
orates, without saying a word."

The members of the Ladies' Aid, who hastened to call, said, "She is
perfectly charming--such a fine conversationalist!"

She was always attractively dressed, always self-possessed, always
friendly, always good-natured, and the girls found her presence only
pleasing. She relieved Prudence, admired Fairy, laughed at the twins,
adored Connie. Between her and Mr. Starr there was a frank camaraderie,
charming, but seldom found between brothers- and sisters-in-law.

"Of course, Aunt Grace," Prudence told her sweetly, "we aren't going to
be selfish with you. We don't expect you to bury yourself in the
parsonage. Whenever you want to trip away for a while, you must feel
free to go. We don't intend to monopolize you, however much we want to
do so. Whenever you want to go, you must go."

"I shan't want to go," said Aunt Grace quickly.

"Not right away, of course," Prudence agreed. "But you'll find our
liveliness tiring. Whenever you do want to go--"

"I don't think I shall want to go at all," she answered. "I like it
here. I--I like liveliness."

Then Prudence kissed her gratefully.

For several weeks after her initiation in the parsonage, life rolled
along sweetly and serenely. There were only the minor, unavoidable
mishaps and disciplinary measures common to the life of any family. Of
course, there were frequent, stirring verbal skirmishes between Fairy
and the twins, and between the twins and Connie. But these did not
disturb their aunt. She leaned back in her chair, or among the cushions,
listening gravely, but with eyes that always smiled.

Then came a curious lull.

For ten entire and successive days the twins had lived blameless lives.
Their voices rang out gladly and sweetly. They treated Connie with a
sisterly tenderness and gentleness quite out of accord with their usual
drastic discipline. They obeyed the word of Prudence with a cheerful
readiness that was startlingly cherubimic. The most distasteful of
orders called forth nothing stronger than a bright, "Yes, Prudence."
They no longer developed dangerous symptoms of physical disablement at
times of unpleasant duties. Their devotion to the cause of health was
beautiful. Not an ache disturbed them. Not a pain suggested a
substitute.

Prudence watched them with painful solicitude. Her years of mothering
had given her an almost supernatural intuition as to causes, and
effects.

On Wednesday morning, Mr. Starr bade his family good-by and set out on a
tour of Epworth League conventions. He was to be away from home until
the end of the following week. A prospective Presbyterian theologian had
been selected from the college to fill his pulpit on the Sabbath, and
the girls, with their aunt, faced an unusually long period of running
the parsonage to suit themselves.

At ten o'clock the train carried their father off in the direction of
Burlington, and at eleven o'clock the twins returned to the parsonage.
They had given him a daughterly send-off at the station, and then gone
to the library for books. Prudence, Fairy and Aunt Grace sat sewing on
the side porch as they cut across the parsonage lawn, their feet
crinkling pleasantly through the drift of autumn leaves the wind had
piled beneath the trees.

"We're out of potatoes, twins," said Prudence, as they drew near.
"You'll have to dig some before dinner."

For one instant their complacent features clouded. Prudence looked up
expectantly, sure of a break in their serene placidity.

One doubtful second, then--

"Certainly, Prudence," said Carol brightly.

And Lark added genially, "We'd better fill the box, I guess--so we'll
have enough for the rest of the week."

And singing a light but unharmonic snatch of song, the twins went in
search of basket and hoe.

The twins were not musical. They only sang from principle, to emphasize
their light-heartedness when it needed special impressing.

Prudence's brows knitted in anxious frowns, and she sighed a few times.

"What is the matter, Prue? You look like a rainy Christmas," said Fairy.

"It's the twins," was the mournful answer.

"The twins!" ejaculated Fairy. "Why, they've acted like angels lately."

Even Aunt Grace lifted mildly inquiring eyebrows.

"That's it!--That's just it. When the twins act like angels I get
uneasy right away. The better they act, the more suspicious I feel."

"What have they been doing?"

"Nothing! Not a thing! That's why I'm worried. It must be something
terrible!"

Fairy laughed and returned to her embroidery. Aunt Grace smiled and
began plying her needles once more. But Prudence still looked troubled,
and sighed often.

There was no apparent ground for her alarm. The twins came back with the
potatoes, peeled some for luncheon, and set the table, their faces still
bright and smiling. Prudence's eyes, often fastened upon their angelic
countenances, grew more and more troubled.

In the afternoon, they joined the little circle on the porch, but not to
sew. They took a book, and lay down on a rug with the book before them,
reading together. Evidently they were all absorbed. An hour passed, two
hours, three. At times Carol pointed to a line, and said in a low voice,
"That's good, isn't it?" And Lark would answer, "Dandy!--Have you read
this?"

Prudence, in spite of her devotion to the embroidering of large S's on
assorted pieces of linen, never forgot the twins for a moment.

"What are you reading?" she asked at last aimlessly, her only desire to
be reassured by the sound of their voices.

There was an almost imperceptible pause. Then Carol answered,--her chin
was in her palms which may have accounted for the mumbling of the words.

"_Scianceanelth._"

"What?"

Another pause, a little more perceptible this time. "_Science and
Health_," Carol said at last, quite distinctly.

"_Science and Health_," Prudence repeated, in a puzzled tone. "Is it a
doctor book?"

"Why--something of the sort,--yes," said Carol dubiously.

"_Science and Health_? _Science and Health_," mused Fairy. "You don't
mean that Christian Science book, do you? You know what I mean,
Prudence--Mary Baker Eddy's book--_Science and Health_,--that's the name
of it. That's not what you twins are devouring so ravenously, is it?"

Carol answered with manifest reluctance, glancing nervously at
Prudence, "Y-yes,--that's what it is."

Ominous silence greeted this admission. A slow red flush mantled the
twins' cheeks. Aunt Grace's eyes twinkled a little, although her face
was grave. Fairy looked surprised. Prudence looked dumfounded. When she
spoke, her words gave no sign of the cataclysmic struggle through which
she had passed.

"What are you reading that for?"

"Why--it's very interesting," explained Lark, coming to Carol's rescue.
Carol was very good at meeting investigation, but when it came to
prolonged explanation, Lark stood preeminent. "Of course, we don't
believe it--yet. But there are some good things in it. Part of it is
very beautiful. We don't just understand it,--it's very deep. But some
of the ideas are very fine, and--er--uplifting, you know."

Prudence looked most miserable. "But--twins, do you think--minister's
daughters ought to read--things like that?"

"Why, Prudence, I think minister's daughters ought to be well-informed
on every subject," declared Lark conscientiously. "How can we be an
influence if we don't know anything about things?--And I tell you what
it is, Prue, I don't think it's right for all of us church people to
stand back and knock Christian Science when we don't know anything about
it. It's narrow-minded, that's what it is. It's downright un-Christian.
When you get into the book you will find it just full of fine inspiring
thoughts--something like the Bible,--only--er--and very good, you know."

Prudence looked at Fairy and her aunt in helpless dismay. This was
something entirely new in her experience of rearing a family.

"I--I don't think you ought to read it," she said slowly. "But at the
same time--"

"Of course, if you command us not to read it, we won't," said Carol
generously.

"Yes. We've already learned quite a lot about it," amended Lark, with
something of warning in her tone.

"What do you think about it, Aunt Grace?"

"Why,--I don't know, Prudence. You know more about rearing twins than I
do."

Prudence at that moment felt that she knew very little about it,
indeed. She turned to Fairy. There was a strange intentness in Fairy's
fine eyes as she studied the twins on the floor at her feet.

"You aren't thinking of turning Christian Scientists, yourselves, are
you?" asked Prudence rather humbly.

"Oh, of course, we aren't Scientists, Prudence," was the quick denial.
"We don't know anything about it yet, really. But there are lots of very
helpful things in it, and--people talk about it so much, and--they have
made such wonderful cures, you know, and--we'd thought we'd just study
up a little."

"You take the book and read it yourself, Prue," urged Carol hospitably.
"You'll see what we mean."

Prudence drew back quickly as though the book would sear her fingers.
She looked very forlorn. She realized that it would be bad policy to
forbid the twins to read it. On the other hand, she realized equally
strongly that it was certainly unwise to allow its doctrines to take
root in the minds of parsonage daughters. If only her father were at
home,--ten days between herself and the lifting of responsibility!

"When father comes home--" she began. And then suddenly Fairy spoke.

"I think the twins are right," she said emphatically, and the twins
looked at her with a surprised anxiety that mated Prudence's own. "It
would be very narrow-minded of us to refuse to look into a subject as
important as this. Let them go on and study it; we can decide things
later."

Prudence looked very doubtful, but a warning movement of Fairy's left
eyelash--the side removed from the twins--comforted her.

"Well--" she said.

"Of course, Prudence, we know it would nearly break father's heart for
us to go back on our own church,--but don't you think if folks become
truly convinced that Christian Science is the true and good religion,
they ought to stand by it and suffer,--just like the martyrs of old?"
suggested Lark,--and the suggestion brought the doubt-clouds thick about
Prudence's head once more.

"We may not be convinced, of course," added Carol, "but there is
something rather--assuring--about it."

"Oh, twins," Prudence cried earnestly, but stopped as she caught again
the slight suggestive movement of Fairy's left eyelash.

"Well, let it go for this afternoon," she said, her eyes intent on
Fairy's face. "I must think it over."

The twins, with apparent relish, returned to their perusal of the book.

Fairy rose almost immediately and went into the house, coming back a
moment later with her hat and gloves.

"I'm going for a stroll, Prue," she said. "I'll be back in time for
supper."

Prudence gazed yearningly after her departing back. She felt a great
need of help in this crisis, and Fairy's nonchalance was sometimes very
soothing. Aunt Grace was a darling, of course, but she had long ago
disclaimed all responsibility for the rearing of the twins.

It was two hours later when Fairy came back. Prudence was alone on the
porch.

"Where are the twins?" asked Fairy softly.

"Up-stairs," was the whispered reply. "Well?"

Then Fairy spoke more loudly, confident that the twins, in their
up-stairs room, could hear every word she said. "Come up-stairs, Prue. I
want to talk this over with you alone." And then she whispered, "Now,
you just take your cue from me, and do as I say. The little sinners!
We'll teach them to be so funny!"

In their own room she carefully closed the door and smiled, as she noted
a creaking of the closet door on the twins' side of the wall.
Eavesdropping was not included among the cardinal sins in the twins'
private decalogue, when the conversation concerned themselves.

"Now, Prudence," Fairy began, speaking with an appearance of softness,
though she took great pains to turn her face toward the twins' room, and
enunciated very clearly indeed. "I know this will hurt you, as it does
me, but we've got to face it fairly. If the twins are convinced that
Christian Science is the right kind of religion, we can't stand in their
way. It might turn them from all religion and make them infidels or
atheists, or something worse. Any religion is better than none. I've
been reading up a little myself this afternoon, and there are some good
points in Christian Science. Of course, for our sakes and father's, the
twins will be generous and deny that they are Scientists. But at heart,
they are. I saw it this afternoon. And you and I, Prudence, must stand
together and back them up. They'll have to leave the Methodist church.
It may break our hearts, and father's, too, but we can't wrong our
little sisters just for our personal pride and pleasure in them. I think
we'll have them go before the official board next Sunday while father is
gone--then he will be spared the pain of it. I'll speak to Mr. Lauren
about it to-morrow. We must make it as easy for them as we can. They'll
probably dismiss them--I don't suppose they'll give them letters. But it
must be all over before papa comes back."

Then she hissed in Prudence's ear, "Now cry."

Prudence obediently began sniffing and gulping, and Fairy rushed to her
and threw her arms about her, sobbing in heart-broken accents, "There,
there, Prue, I know--I felt just the same about it. But we can't stand
between the twins and what they think is right. We daren't have that on
our consciences."

The two wept together, encouraged by the death-like stillness in the
closet on the other side of the wall.

Then Fairy said, more calmly, though still sobbing occasionally, "For
our sakes, they'll try to deny it. But we can't let the little darlings
sacrifice themselves. They've got to have a chance to try their new
belief. We'll just be firm and insist that they stand on their rights.
We won't mention it to them for a day or two--we'll fix it up with the
official board first. And we must surely get it over by Sunday. Poor old
father--and how he loves--" Fairy indulged in a clever and especially
artistic bit of weeping. Then she regained control of her feelings by an
audible effort. "But it has its good points, Prue. Haven't you noticed
how sweet and sunny and dear the twins have been lately? It was Science
and Health working in them. Oh, Prudence dear, don't cry so."

Prudence caught her cue again and began weeping afresh. They soothed and
caressed and comforted each other for a while, and then went down-stairs
to finish getting supper.

In the meantime, the shocked and horrified twins in the closet of their
own room, were clutching each other with passionate intensity. Little
nervous chills set them aquiver, their hands were cold, their faces
throbbing hot. When their sisters had gone down-stairs, they stared at
each other in agony.

"They--they wo-won't p-p-put us out of the ch-ch-church," gasped Carol.

"They will," stammered Lark. "You know what Prudence is! She'd put the
whole church out if she thought it would do us any good."

"Pa-p-pa'll--papa'll--" began Carol, her teeth chattering.

"They'll do it before he gets back." Then with sudden reproach she
cried, "Oh, Carol, I told you it was wicked to joke about religion."

This unexpected reproach on the part of her twin brought Carol back to
earth. "Christian Science isn't religion," she declared. "It's not even
good sense, as far's I can make out. I didn't read a word of it, did
you?--I--I just thought it would be such a good joke on Prudence--with
father out of town."

The good joke was anything but funny now.

"They can't make us be Scientists if we don't want to," protested Lark.
"They can't. Why, I wouldn't be anything but a Methodist for anything
on earth. I'd die first."

"You can't die if you're a Scientist--anyhow, you oughtn't to. Millie
Mains told me--"

"It's a punishment on us for even looking at the book--good Methodists
like we are. I'll burn it. That's what I'll do."

"You'll have to pay for it at the library if you do," cautioned frugal
Carol.

"Well, we'll just go and tell Prudence it was a joke,--Prudence is
always reasonable. She won't--"

"She'll punish us, and--it'll be such a joke on us, Larkie. Even
Connie'll laugh."

They squirmed together, wretchedly, at that.

"We'll tell them we have decided it is false."

"They said we'd probably do that for their sakes."

"It--it was a good joke while it lasted," said Carol, with a very faint
shadow of a smile. "Don't you remember how Prudence gasped? She kept her
mouth open for five minutes!"

"It's still a joke," added Lark gloomily, "but it's on us."

"They can't put us out of the church!"

"I don't know. You know we Methodists are pretty set! Like as not
they'll say we'd be a bad influence among the members."

"Twins!"

The call outside their door sounded like the trump of doom to the
conscience-smitten twins, and they clutched each other, startled, crying
out. Then, sheepishly, they stepped out of the closet to find Fairy
regarding them quizzically from the doorway. She repressed a smile with
difficulty, as she said quietly:

"I was just talking to Mrs. Mains over the phone. She's going to a
Christian Science lecture to-night, and she said she wished I wasn't a
minister's daughter and she'd ask me to go along. I told her I didn't
care to, but said you twins would enjoy it. She'll be here in the car
for you at seven forty-five."

"I won't go," cried Carol. "I won't go near their old church."

"You won't go." Fairy was astonished. "Why--I told her you would be glad
to go."

"I won't," repeated Carol, with nervous passion. "I will not. You can't
make me."

Lark shook her head in corroborative denial.

"Well, that's queer." Fairy frowned, then she smiled.

Suddenly, to the tempest-tossed and troubled twins, the tall splendid
Fairy seemed a haven of refuge. Her eyes were very kind. Her smile was
sweet. And with a cry of relief, and shame, and fear, the twins plunged
upon her and told their little tale.

"You punish us this time, Fairy," begged Carol. "We--we don't want the
rest of the family to know. We'll take any kind of punishment, but keep
it dark, won't you? Prudence will soon forget, she's so awfully full of
Jerry these days."

"I'll talk it over with Prudence," said Fairy. "But--I think we'll have
to tell the family."

Lark moved her feet restlessly. "Well, you needn't tell Connie," she
said. "Having the laugh come back on us is the very meanest kind of a
punishment."

Fairy looked at them a moment, wondering if, indeed, their punishment
had been sufficient.

"Well, little twins," she said, "I guess I will take charge of this
myself. Here is your punishment." She stood up again, and looked down
at them with sparkling eyes as they gazed at her expectantly.

"We caught on that it was a joke. We knew you were listening in the
closet. And Prudence and I acted our little parts to give you one good
scare. Who's the laugh on now? Are we square? Supper's ready." And Fairy
ran down-stairs, laughing, followed by two entirely abashed and humbled
twins.



CHAPTER III

A GIFT FROM HEAVEN


The first of April in the Mount Mark parsonage was a time of trial and
tribulation, frequently to the extent of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The twins were no respecters of persons, and feeling that the first of
April rendered all things justifiable to all men, they made life as
burdensome to their father as to Connie, and Fairy and Prudence lived in
a state of perpetual anguish until the twins fell asleep at night well
satisfied but worn out with the day's activities. The twins were
bordering closely to the first stage of grown-up womanhood, but on the
first of April they swore they would always be young! The tricks were
more dignified, more carefully planned and scientifically executed than
in the days of their rollicking girlhood,--but they were all the more
heart-breaking on that account.

The week before the first was spent by Connie in a vain effort to ferret
out their plans in order that fore-knowledge might suggest a sufficient
safe-guard. The twins, however, were too clever to permit this, and
their bloody schemes were wrapped in mystery and buried in secrecy. On
the thirty-first of March, Connie labored like a plumber would if
working by the job. She painstakingly hid from sight all her cherished
possessions. The twins were in the barn, presumably deep in plots. Aunt
Grace was at the Ladies' Aid. So when Fairy came in, about four in the
afternoon, there was only Prudence to note the vengeful glitter in her
fine clear eyes. And Prudence was so intent upon feather-stitching the
hems of pink-checked dish towels, that she did not observe it.

"Where's papa?" Fairy asked.

"Up-stairs."

"Where are the twins?"

"In the barn, getting ready for THE DAY."

Fairy smiled delightfully and skipped eagerly up the stairs. She was
closeted with her father for some time, and came out of his room at last
with a small coin carefully concealed in the corner of her
handkerchief. She did not remove her hat, but set briskly out toward
town again.

Prudence, startled out of her feather-stitching, followed her to the
door. "Why, Fairy," she called. "Are you going out again?"

Fairy threw out her hands. "So it seems. An errand for papa." She lifted
her brows and pursed up her lips, and the wicked joy in her face pierced
the mantle of Prudence's absorption again.

"What's up?" she questioned curiously, following her sister down the
steps.

Fairy looked about hurriedly, and then whispered a few words of
explanation. Prudence's look changed to one of unnaturally spiteful
glee.

"Good! Fine! Serves 'em right! You'd better hurry."

"Tell Aunt Grace, will you? But don't let Connie in until morning. She'd
give it away."

At supper-time Fairy returned, and the twins, their eyes bright with the
unholy light of mischief, never looked at her. They sometimes looked
heavenward with a sublime contentment that drove Connie nearly frantic.
Occasionally they uttered cryptic words about the morrow,--and the
older members of the family smiled pleasantly, but Connie shuddered.
She remembered so many April Fool's Days.

The family usually clung together on occasions of this kind, feeling
there was safety and sympathy in numbers--as so many cowards have felt
for lo, these many years. And thus it happened that they were all in the
dining-room when their father appeared at the door. He had his hands
behind him suggestively.

"Twins," he said, without preamble, "what do you want more than anything
else?"

"Silk stockings," was the prompt and unanimous answer.

He laughed. "Good guess, wasn't it?" And tossed into their eager hands
two slender boxes, nicely wrapped. The others gathered about them with
smiling eyes as the twins tremulously tore off the wrappings.

"A. Phoole's Pure Silk Thread Hose,--Guaranteed!" This they read from
the box--neat golden lettering. It was enough for the twins. With cries
of perfect bliss they flung themselves upon their father, kissing him
rapturously wherever their lips might touch.

"Oh, papa!" "Oh, you darling!" And then, when they had some sort of
control of their joy, Lark said solemnly, "Papa, it is a gift from
Heaven!"

"Of course, we give you the credit, papa," Carol amended quickly, "but
the thought was Heaven-prompted."

Fairy choked suddenly, and her fit of coughing interfered with the
twins' gratitude to an all-suggesting Providence!

Carol twisted her box nervously. "You know, papa, it may seem very
childish, and--silly to you, but--actually--we have--well, prayed for
silk stockings. We didn't honestly expect to get them, though--not until
we saved up money enough to get them ourselves. Heaven is kinder to us
than we--"

"You can't understand such things, papa," said Lark. "Maybe you don't
know exactly how--how they feel. When we go to Betty Hill's we wear her
silk stockings and lie on the bed--and--she won't let us walk in them,
for fear we may wear holes. Every girl in our class has at least one
pair,--Betty has three, but one pair's holey, and--we felt so awfully
poor!"

The smiles on the family faces were rather stereotyped by this
time, but the exulting twins did not notice. Lark looked at Carol
fondly. Carol sighed at Lark blissfully. Then, with one accord,
they lifted the covers from the boxes and drew out the shimmering
hose. Yes,--shimmering--but--they shook them out for inspection!
Their faces paled a little.

"They--they are very--" began Carol courageously. Then she stopped.

The hose were a fine tissue-paper imitation of silk stockings! The
"April Fool, little twins," on the toes was not necessary for their
enlightenment. They looked at their father with sad but unresentful
reproach in their swiftly shadowed eyes.

"It--it's a good joke," stammered Carol, moistening her dry lips with
her tongue.

"It's--one on us," blurted Lark promptly.

"Ha, ha, ha," laughed Carol, slowly, dryly, very dully.

"Yes--ha, ha, ha," echoed Lark, placing the bitter fruit carefully back
in its box. Her fingers actually trembled.

"It's a--swell joke, all right," Carol said, "we see that well
enough,--we're not stupid, you know. But we did want some silk stockings
so--awfully bad. But it's funny, ha, ha, ha!"

"A gift from Heaven!" muttered Lark, with clenched teeth. "Well, you got
us that time."

"Come on, Lark, we must put them sacredly away--Silk stockings, you
know, are mighty scarce in a parsonage,--"

"Yes, ha, ha, ha," and the crushed and broken twins left the room, with
dignity in spite of the blow.

The family did not enjoy the joke on the twins.

Mr. Starr looked at the others with all a man's confused incomprehension
of a woman's notions! He spread out his hands--an orthodox, ministerial
gesture!

"Now, will some one kindly tell me what there is in silk stockings,
to--" He shook his head helplessly. "Silk stockings! A gift from
Heaven!" He smiled, unmerrily. "The poor little kids!" Then he left the
room.

Aunt Grace openly wiped her eyes, smiling at herself as she did so.

Fairy opened and closed her lips several times. Then she spoke. "Say,
Prue, knock me down and sit on me, will you? Whatever made me think of
such a stupid trick as that?"

"Why, bless their little hearts," whispered Prudence, sniffing. "Didn't
they look sorry? But they were so determined to be game."

"Prudence, give me my eight cents," demanded Connie. "I want it right
away."

"What do you want it for?"

"I'm going down to Morrow's and get some candy. I never saw a meaner
trick in my life! I'm surprised at papa. The twins only play jokes for
fun." And Connie stalked grimly out of the parsonage and off toward
town.

A more abashed and downcast pair of twins probably never lived. They sat
thoughtfully in their room, "A. Phoole's Silk Thread Hose" carefully
hidden from their hurt eyes.

"It was a good joke," Lark said, now and then.

"Yes, very," assented Carol. "But silk stockings, Larkie!"

And Lark squirmed wretchedly. "A gift from Heaven," she mourned. "How
they must be laughing!"

But they did not laugh.

Connie came back and shared her candy. They thanked her courteously and
invited her to sit down. Then they all ate candy and grieved together
silently. They did not speak of the morning's disaster, but the twins
understood and appreciated the tender sympathy of her attitude, and
although they said nothing, they looked at her very kindly and Connie
was well content.

The morning passed drearily. The twins had lost all relish for their
well-planned tricks, and the others, down-stairs, found the usually wild
and hilarious day almost unbearably poky. Prudence's voice was gentle as
she called them down to dinner, and the twins, determined not to show
the white feather, went down at once and took their places. They bore
their trouble bravely, but their eyes had the surprised and stricken
look, and their faces were nearly old. Mr. Starr cut the blessing short,
and the dinner was eaten in silence. The twins tried to start the
conversation. They talked of the weather with passionate devotion. They
discussed their studies with an almost unbelievable enthusiasm. They
even referred, with stiff smiles, to "papa's good joke," and then
laughed their dreary "ha, ha, ha," until their father wanted to fall
upon his knees and beg forgiveness.

Connie, still solicitous, helped them wash the dishes. The others
disappeared. Fairy got her hat and went out without a word. Their father
followed scarcely a block behind her. Aunt Grace sought all over the
house for Prudence, and finally found her in the attic, comforting
herself with a view of the lovely linens which filled her Hope Box.

"I'm going for a walk," announced Aunt Grace briefly.

"All right," assented Prudence. "If I'm not here when you get back,
don't worry. I'm going for a walk myself."

Their work done irreproachably, the twins and Connie went to the haymow
and lay on the hay, still silent. The twins, buoyant though they were,
could not so quickly recover from a shock like this. So intent were they
upon the shadows among the cobwebs that they heard no sound from below
until their father's head appeared at the top of the ladder.

"Come up," they invited hospitably but seriously.

He did so at once, and stood before them, his face rather flushed, his
manner a little constrained, but looking rather satisfied with himself
on the whole.

"Twins," he said, "I didn't know you were so crazy about silk stockings.
We just thought it would be a good joke--but it was a little too good.
It was a boomerang. I don't know when I've felt so contemptible. So I
went down and got you some real silk stockings--a dollar and a half a
pair,--and I'm glad to clear my conscience so easily."

The twins blushed. "It--it was a good joke, papa," Carol assured him
shyly. "It was a dandy. But--all the girls at school have silk stockings
for best, and--we've been wanting them--forever. And--honestly, father,
I don't know when I've had such a--such a spell of indigestion as when I
saw those stockings were April Fool."

"Indigestion," scoffed Connie, restored to normal by her father's
handsome amends.

"Yes, indigestion," declared Lark. "You know, papa, that funny, hollow,
hungry feeling--when you get a shock. That's nervous indigestion,--we
read it in a medicine ad. They've got pills for it. But it was a good
joke. We saw that right at the start."

"And we didn't expect anything like this. It--is very generous of you,
papa. Very!"

But he noticed that they made no move to unwrap the box. It still lay
between them on the hay, where he had tossed it. Evidently their
confidence in him had been severely shattered.

He sat down and unwrapped it himself. "They are guaranteed," he
explained, passing out the little pink slips gravely, "so when they wear
holes you get another pair for nothing." The twins' faces had brightened
wonderfully. "I will never play that kind of a trick again, twins, so
you needn't be suspicious of me. And say! Whenever you want anything so
badly it makes you feel like that, come and talk it over. We'll manage
some way. Of course, we're always a little hard up, but we can generally
scrape up something extra from somewhere. And we will. You mustn't--feel
like that--about things. Just tell me about it. Girls are so--kind of
funny, you know."

The twins and Connie rushed to the house to try the "feel" of the first,
adored silk stockings. They donned them, admired them, petted Connie,
idolized their father, and then removing them, tied them carefully in
clean white tissue-paper and deposited them in the safest corner of the
bottom drawer of their dresser. Then they lay back on the bed, thinking
happily of the next class party! Silk stockings! Ah!

"Can't you just imagine how we'll look in our new white dresses, Lark,
and our patent leather pumps,--with silk stockings! I really feel there
is nothing sets off a good complexion as well as real silk stockings!"

They were interrupted in this delightful occupation by the entrance of
Fairy. The twins had quickly realized that the suggestion for their
humiliating had come from her, and their hearts were sore, but being
good losers--at least, as good losers as real live folks can be--they
wouldn't have admitted it for the world.

"Come on in, Fairy," said Lark cordially. "Aren't we lazy to-day?"

"Twins," said Fairy, self-conscious for the first time in the twins'
knowledge of her, "I suppose you know it was I who suggested that
idiotic little stocking stunt. It was awfully hateful of me, and so I
bought you some real silk stockings with my own spending money, and here
they are, and you needn't thank me for I never could be fond of myself
again until I squared things with you."

The twins had to admit that it was really splendid of Fairy, and they
thanked her with unfeigned zeal.

"But papa already got us a pair, and so you can take these back and get
your money again. It was just as sweet of you, Fairy, and we thank you,
and it was perfectly dear and darling, but we have papa's now, and--"

"Good for papa!" Fairy cried, and burst out laughing at the joke that
proved so expensive for the perpetrators. "But you shall have my burnt
offering, too. It serves us both right, but especially me, for it was my
idea."

And Fairy walked away feeling very gratified and generous.

Only girls who have wanted silk stockings for a "whole lifetime" can
realize the blissful state of the parsonage twins. They lay on the bed
planning the most impossible but magnificent things they would do to
show their gratitude, and when Aunt Grace stopped at their door they
leaped up to overwhelm her with caresses just because of their gladness.

She waved them away with a laugh. "April Fool, twins," she said, with a
voice so soft that it took all the sting from the words. "I brought you
some real silk stockings for a change." And she tossed them a package
and started out of the room to escape their thanks. But she stopped in
surprise when the girls burst into merry laughter.

"Oh, you silk stockings!" Carol cried. "Three pairs! You darling sweet
old auntie! You would come up here to tease us, would you? But papa gave
us a pair, and Fairy gave us a pair, and--"

"They did! Why, the silly things!" And the gentle woman looked as
seriously vexed as she ever did look--she had so wanted to give them
the first silk-stocking experience herself.

"Oh, here you are," cried Prudence, stepping quickly in, and speaking
very brightly to counterbalance the gloom she had expected to encounter.
She started back in some dismay when she saw the twins rolling and
rocking with laughter, and Aunt Grace leaning against the dresser for
support, with Connie on the floor, quite speechless.

"Good for you, twins,--that's the way to take hard knocks," she said.
"It wasn't a very nice trick, though of course papa didn't understand
how you felt about silk stockings. It wasn't his fault. But Fairy and I
ought to be ashamed, and we are. I went out and got you some real
genuine silk ones myself, so you needn't pray for them any more."

Prudence was shocked, a little hurt, at the outburst that followed her
words.

"Well, such a family!" Aunt Grace exclaimed. And then Carol pulled her
bodily down beside her on the bed and for a time they were all incapable
of explanations.

"What is the joke?" Prudence asked, again and again, smiling,--but
still feeling a little pique. She had counted on gladdening their sorry
little hearts!

"Stockings, stockings--Oh, such a family!" shrieked Carol.

"There's no playing jokes on the twins," said Aunt Grace weakly. "It
takes the whole family to square up. It's too expensive."

Then Lark explained, and Prudence sat down and joined the merriment,
which waxed so noisy that Mr. Starr from the library and Fairy from the
kitchen, ran in to investigate.

"April Fool, April Fool," cried Carol, "We never played a trick like
this, Larkie--this is our masterpiece."

"You're the nicest old things that ever lived," said Lark, still
laughing, but with great warmth and tenderness in her eyes and her
voice. "But you can take the stockings back and save your money if you
like--we love you just as much."

But this the happy donors stoutly refused to do. The twins had earned
this wealth of hose, and finally, wiping their eyes, the twins began to
smooth their hair and adjust their ribbons and belts.

"What's the matter?" "Where are you going?" "Will you buy the rest of us
some silk stockings?" queried the family, comic-opera effect.

"Where are we going?" Carol repeated, surprised, seeming to feel that
any one should know where they were going, though they had not spoken.

"We're going to call on our friends, of course," explained Lark.

"Of course," said Carol, jabbing her hair pins in with startling energy.
"And we've got to hurry. We must go to Mattie's, and Jean's, and
Betty's, and Fan's, and Birdie's, and Alice's, and--say, Lark, maybe
we'd better divide up and each take half. It's kind of late,--and we
mustn't miss any."

"Well, what on earth!" gasped Prudence, while the others stared in
speechless amazement.

"For goodness' sake, Carol, hurry. We have to get clear out to Minnie's
to-night, if we miss our supper."

"But what's the idea? What for? What are you talking about?"

"Why, you silly thing," said Carol patiently, "we have to go and tell
our friends that we've got four pairs of silk stockings, of course. I
wouldn't miss this afternoon for the world. And we'll go the rounds
together, Lark. I want to see how they take it," she smiled at them
benignly. "I can imagine their excitement. And we owe it to the world to
give it all the excitement we can. Prudence says so."

Prudence looked startled. "Did I say that?"

"Certainly. You said pleasure--but excitement's very pleasing, most of
the time. Come on, Larkie, we'll have to walk fast."

And with a fond good-by to the generous family, the twins set out to
spread the joyful tidings, Lark pausing at the door just long enough to
explain gravely, "Of course, we won't tell them--er--just how it
happened, you know. Lots of things in a parsonage need to be kept dark.
Prudence says so herself."



CHAPTER IV

HOW CAROL SPOILED THE WEDDING


A day in June,--the kind of day that poets have rhymed and lovers have
craved since time began. On the side porch of the parsonage, in a wide
hammock, lay Aunt Grace, looking languidly through half-closed lids at
the girls beneath her on the step. Prudence, although her face was all
a-dream, bent conscientiously over the bit of linen in her hands. And
Fairy, her piquantly bright features clouded with an unwonted frown,
crumpled a letter in her hand.

"I do think men are the most aggravating things that ever lived," she
declared, with annoyance in her voice.

The woman in the hammock smiled slightly, and did not speak. Prudence
carefully counted ten threads, and solemnly drew one before she voiced
her question.

"What is he saying now?"

"Why, he's still objecting to my having dates with the other boys."
Fairy's voice was vibrant with grief. "He does make me wild! Aunt Grace,
you can't imagine. Last fall I mentioned casually that I was sure he
wouldn't object to my having lecture course dates--I was too hard up to
buy a ticket for myself; they cost four dollars, and aren't worth it,
either. And what did he do but send me eight dollars to buy two sets of
tickets! Then this spring, when the baseball season opened, he sent me
season tickets to all the games suggesting that my financial stringency
could not be pleaded as an excuse. Ever since he went to Chicago last
fall we've been fighting because the boys bring me home from parties. I
suppose he had to go and learn to be a pharmacist, but--it's hard on me.
He wants me to patter along by myself like a--like--like a hen!" Fairy
said "hen" very crossly!

"It's a shame," said Prudence sympathetically. "That's just what it is.
You wouldn't say a word to his taking girls home from things, would
you?"

"Hum,--that's a different matter," said Fairy more thoughtfully. "He
hasn't wanted to yet. You see, he's a man and can go by himself without
having it look as though nobody wanted to be seen with him. And he's a
stranger over there, and doesn't need to get chummy with the girls. The
boys here all know me, and ask me to go, and--a man, you see, can just
be passive and nothing happens. But a girl's got to be downright
negative, and it's no joke. One misses so many good times. You see the
cases are different, Prue."

"Yes, that's so," Prudence assented absent-mindedly, counting off ten
more threads.

"Then you would object if he had dates?" queried Aunt Grace smilingly.

"Oh, no, not at all,--if there was any occasion for it--but there isn't.
And I think I would be justified in objecting if he deliberately made
occasions for himself, don't you?"

"Yes, that would be different," Prudence chimed in, such "miles away" in
her voice, that Fairy turned on her indignantly.

"Prudence Starr, you make me wild," she said. "Can't you drop that
everlasting hemstitching, embroidering, tatting, crocheting, for ten
minutes to talk to me? What in the world are you going to do with it
all, anyhow? Are you intending to carpet your floors with it?"

"This is a napkin," Prudence explained good-naturedly. "The set cost me
fifteen dollars." She sighed.

"Did the veil come?" The clouds vanished magically from Fairy's face,
and she leaned forward with that joy of wedding anticipation that rules
in woman-world.

"Yes, it's beautiful. Come and see it. Wait until I pull four more
threads. It's gorgeous."

"I still think you're making a great mistake," declared Fairy earnestly.
"I don't believe in big showy church weddings. You'd better change it
yet. A little home affair with just the family,--that's the way to do
it. All this satin-gown, orange-blossom elaboration with curious eyes
staring up and down--ugh! It's all wrong."

Prudence dropped the precious fifteen-dollar-a-set napkin in her lap and
gazed at Fairy anxiously. "I know you think so, Fairy," she said.
"You've told me so several times." Fairy's eyes twinkled, but Prudence
had no intention of sarcasm. "But I can't help it, can I? We had quite
settled on the home wedding, but when the twins discovered that the
members felt hurt at being left out, father thought we'd better change
over."

"Well, I can't see that the members have any right to run our wedding.
Besides, it wouldn't surprise me if the twins made it up because they
wanted a big fuss."

"But some of the members spoke to father."

"Oh, just common members that don't count for much--and it was mighty
poor manners of 'em, too, if you'll excuse me for saying so."

"And you must admit, Fairy, that it is lovely of the Ladies' Aid to give
that dinner at the hotel for us."

"Well, they'll get their money's worth of talk out of it afterward. It's
a big mistake.--What on earth are the twins doing out there? Is that Jim
Forrest with them? Listen how they are screaming with laughter! Would
you ever believe those twins are past fifteen, and nearly through their
junior year? They haven't as much sense put together as Connie has all
alone."

"Come and see the veil," said Prudence, rising. But she dropped back on
the step again as Carol came rushing toward them at full speed, with
Lark and a tall young fellow trailing slowly, laughing, behind her.

"The mean things!" she gasped. "They cheated!" She dropped a handful of
pennies in her aunt's lap as she lay in the hammock. "We'll take 'em to
Sunday-school and give 'em to the heathen, that's what we'll do. They
cheated!"

"Yes, infant, who cheated, and how, and why? And whence the startling
array of pennies? And why this unwonted affection for the heathen?"
mocked Fairy.

"Trying to be a blank verse, Fairy? Keep it up, you haven't far to
go!--There they are! Look at them, Aunt Grace. They cheated. They tried
to get all my hard-earned pennies by nefarious methods, and--"

"And so Carol stole them all, and ran! Sit down, Jim. My, it's hot. Give
me back my pennies, Carol."

"The heathen! The heathen!" insisted Carol. "Not a penny do you get. You
see, Aunt Grace, we were matching pennies,--you'd better not mention it
to father. We've turned over a new leaf now, and quit for good. But we
were matching--and they made a bargain that whenever it was my turn, one
of them would throw heads and one tails, and that way I never could win
anything. And I didn't catch on until I saw Jim wink, and so of course I
thought it was only right to give the pennies to the heathen."

"Mercy, Prudence," interrupted Lark. "Are you doing another napkin? This
is the sixteenth dozen, isn't it? You'd better donate some of them to
the parsonage, I think. I was so ashamed when Miss Marsden came to
dinner. She opened her napkin out wide, and her finger went right
through a hole. I was mortified to death--and Carol laughed. It seems to
me with three grown women in the house we could have holeless napkins,
one for company, anyhow."

"How is your mother, Jim?"

"Just fine, Miss Prudence, thank you. She said to tell you she would
send a basket of red Junes to-morrow, if you want them. The twins can
eat them, I know. Carol ate twenty-two when they were out Saturday."

"Yes, I did, and I'm glad of it," said Carol stoutly. "Such apples you
never saw, Prudence. They're about as big as a thimble, and two-thirds
core. They're good, they're fine, I'll say that,--but there's nothing to
them. I could have eaten as many again if Jim hadn't been counting out
loud, and I got kind of ashamed because every one was laughing. If I had
a ranch as big as yours, Jim, I'll bet you a dollar I'd have apples
bigger than a dime!"

"'Bet you a dollar,'" quoted Fairy.

"Well, I'll wager my soul, if that sounds more like Shakespeare. Don't
go, Jim, we're not fighting. This is just the way Fairy and I make love
to each other. You're perfectly welcome to stay, but be careful of your
grammar, for now that Fairy's a senior--will be next year, if she
lives--she even tries to teach father the approved method of doing a
ministerial sneeze in the pulpit."

"Think I'd better go," decided the tall good-looking youth, laughing as
he looked with frank boyish admiration into Carol's sparkling face.
"With Fairy after my grammar, and you to criticize my manner and my
morals, I see right now that a parsonage is no safe place for a
farmer's son." And laughing again, he thrust his cap into his pocket,
and walked quickly out the new cement parsonage walk. But at the gate he
paused to call back, "Don't make a mistake, Carol, and use the heathen's
pennies for candy."

The girls on the porch laughed, and five pairs of eyes gazed after the
tall figure rapidly disappearing.

"He's nice," said Prudence.

"Yes," assented Carol. "I've got a notion to marry him after a little.
That farm of his is worth about ten thousand."

"Are you going to wait until he asks you?"

"Certainly not! Anybody can marry a man after he asks her. The thing to
do, if you want to be really original and interesting, is to marry him
before he asks you and surprise him."

"Yes," agreed Lark, "if you wait until he asks you he's likely to think
it over once too often and not ask you at all."

"Doesn't that sound exactly like a book, now?" demanded Carol proudly.
"Fairy couldn't have said that!"

"No," said Fairy, "I couldn't. Thank goodness!--I have what is commonly
known as brains. Look it up in the dictionary, twins. It's something you
ought to know about."

"Oh, Prudence," cried Lark dramatically, "I forgot to tell you. You
can't get married after all."

For ten seconds Prudence, as well as Fairy and their aunt, stared in
speechless amazement. Then Prudence smiled.

"Oh, can't I? What's the joke now?"

"Joke! It's no joke. Carol's sick, that's what's the joke. You can't be
married without Carol, can you?"

A burst of gay laughter greeted this announcement.

"Carol sick! She acts sick!"

"She looks sick!"

"Where is she sick?"

Carol leaned limply back against the pillar, trying to compose her
bright face into a semblance of illness. "In my tummy," she announced
weakly.

This called forth more laughter. "It's her conscience," said Fairy.

"It's matching pennies. Maybe she swallowed one."

"It's probably those two pieces of pie she ate for dinner, and the one
that vanished from the pantry shortly after," suggested Aunt Grace.

Carol sat up quickly. "Welcome home, Aunt Grace!" she cried. "Did you
have a pleasant visit?"

"Carol," reproved Prudence.

"I didn't mean it for impudence, auntie," said Carol, getting up and
bending affectionately over the hammock, gently caressing the brown hair
just beginning to silver about her forehead. "But it does amuse me so to
hear a lady of your age and dignity indulge in such lavish
conversational exercises."

Lark swallowed with a forced effort. "Did it hurt, Carol? How did you
get it all out in one breath?"

"Lark, I do wish you wouldn't gulp that way when folks use big words,"
said Fairy. "It looks--awful."

"Well, I won't when I get to be as old and crabbed as--father," said
Lark. "Sit down, Carol, and remember you're sick."

Carol obediently sat down, and looked sicker than ever.

"You can laugh if you like," she said, "I am sick, at least, I was this
afternoon. I've been feeling very queer for three or four days. I don't
think I'm quite over it yet."

"Pie! You were right, Aunt Grace! That's the way pie works."

"It's not pie at all," declared Carol heatedly. "And I didn't take that
piece out of the pantry, at least, not exactly. I caught Connie sneaking
it, and I gave her a good calling down, and she hung her head and slunk
away in disgrace. But she had taken such big bites that it looked sort
of unsanitary, so I thought I'd better finish it before it gathered any
germs. But it's not pie. Now that I think of it, it was my head where I
was sick. Don't you remember, Lark, I said my head ached?"

"Yes, and her eyes got red and bleary when she was reading. And--and
there was something else, too, Carol, what--"

"Your eyes are bloodshot, Carol. They do look bad." Prudence examined
them closely. "Now, Carol Starr, don't you touch another book or
magazine until after the wedding. If you think I want a bloodshot
bridesmaid, you're mistaken."

They all turned to look across the yard at Connie, just turning in.
Connie always walked, as Carol said, "as if she mostly wasn't there."
But she usually "arrived" by the time she got within speaking distance
of her sister.

"Goodness, Prue, aren't you going to do anything but eat after you move
to Des Moines? Carol and I were counting the napkins last night,--was it
a hundred and seventy-six, Carol, or--some awful number I know. Carol
piled them up in two piles and we kneeled on them to say our prayers,
and--I can't say for sure, but I think Carol pushed me. Anyhow, I lost
my balance, and usually I'm pretty well balanced. I toppled over right
after 'God save,' and Carol screamed 'the napkins'--Prue's wedding
napkins! It was an awful funny effect; I couldn't finish my prayers."

"Carol Starr! Fifteen years old and--"

"That's a very much exaggerated story, Prue. Connie blamed it on me as
usual. She piled them up herself to see if there were two feet of
them,--she put her stockings on the floor first so the dust wouldn't
rub off. It was Lark's turn to sweep and you know how Lark sweeps, and
Connie was very careful, indeed, and--"

"Come on, Fairy, and see the veil!"

"The veil! Did it come?"

With a joyous undignified whoop the parsonage girls scrambled to their
feet and rushed indoors in a fine Kilkenny jumble. Aunt Grace looked
after them, thoughtfully, smiling for a second, and then with a girlish
shrug of her slender shoulders she slipped out and followed them inside.

The last thing that night, before she said her prayers, Prudence carried
a big bottle of witch hazel into the twins' room. Both were sleeping,
but she roused Carol, and Lark turned over to listen.

"You must bathe your eyes with this, Carol. I forgot to tell you. What
would Jerry say if he had a bleary-eyed bridesmaid!"

And although the twins grumbled and mumbled about the idiotic nonsense
of getting-married folks, Carol obediently bathed the bloodshot eyes.
For in their heart of hearts, every one of the parsonage girls held
this wedding to be the affair of prime importance, national and
international, as well as just plain Methodist.

The twins were undeniably lazy, and slept as late of mornings as the
parsonage law allowed. So it was that when Lark skipped into the
dining-room, three minutes late for breakfast, she found the whole
family, with the exception of Carol, well in the midst of their meal.

"She was sick," she began quickly, then interrupting herself,--"Oh, good
morning! Beg pardon for forgetting my manners. But Carol was sick,
Prudence, and I hope you and Fairy are ashamed of yourselves--and
auntie, too--for making fun of her. She couldn't sleep all night, and
rolled and tossed, and her head hurt and she talked in her sleep, and--"

"I thought she didn't sleep."

"Well, she didn't sleep much, but when she did she mumbled and said
things and--"

Then the dining-room door opened again, and Carol--her hair about her
shoulders, her feet bare, enveloped in a soft and clinging kimono of
faded blue--stalked majestically into the room. There was woe in her
eyes, and her voice was tragic.

"It is gone," she said. "It is gone!"

Her appearance was uncanny to say the least, and the family gazed at her
with some concern, despite the fact that Carol's vagaries were so common
as usually to elicit small respect.

"Gone!" she cried, striking her palms together. "Gone!"

"If you do anything to spoil that wedding, papa'll whip you, if you are
fifteen years old," said Fairy.

Lark sprang to her sister's side. "What's gone, Carrie?" she pleaded
with sympathy, almost with tears. "What's gone? Are you out of your
head?"

"No! Out of my complexion," was the dramatic answer.

Even Lark fell back, for the moment, stunned. "Y-your complexion," she
faltered.

"Look! Look at me, Lark. Don't you see? My complexion is gone--my
beautiful complexion that I loved. Look at me! Oh, I would gladly have
sacrificed a leg, or an arm, a--rib or an eye, but not my dear
complexion!"

Sure enough, now that they looked carefully, they could indeed perceive
that the usual soft creaminess of Carol's skin was prickled and sparred
with ugly red splotches. Her eyes were watery, shot with blood. For a
time they gazed in silence, then they burst into laughter.

"Pie!" cried Fairy. "It's raspberry pie, coming out, Carol!"

The corners of Carol's lips twitched slightly, and it was with
difficulty that she maintained her wounded regal bearing. But Lark,
always quick to resent an indignity to this twin of her heart, turned
upon them angrily.

"Fairy Starr! You are a wicked unfeeling thing! You sit there and laugh
and talk about pie when Carol is sick and suffering--her lovely
complexion all ruined, and it was the joy of my life, that complexion
was. Papa,--why don't you do something?"

But he only laughed harder than ever. "If there's anything more
preposterous than Carol's vanity because of her beauty, it's Lark's
vanity for her," he said.

Aunt Grace drew Carol to her side, and examined the ruined complexion
closely. Then she smiled, but there was regret in her eyes.

"Well, Carol, you've spoiled your part of the wedding sure enough.
You've got the measles."

Then came the silence of utter horror.

"Not the measles," begged Carol, wounded afresh. "Give me diphtheria, or
smallpox, or--or even leprosy, and I'll bear it bravely and with a
smile, but it shall not be said that Carol's measles spoiled the
wedding."

"Oh, Carol," wailed Prudence, "don't have the measles,--please don't.
I've waited all my life for this wedding,--don't spoil it."

"Well, it's your own fault, Prue," interrupted Lark. "If you hadn't kept
us all cooped up when we were little we'd have had measles long ago.
Now, like as not the whole family'll have 'em, and serve you right. No
self-respecting family has any business to grow up without having the
measles."

"What shall we do now?" queried Constance practically.

"Well, I always said it was a mistake," said Fairy. "A big wedding--"

"Oh, Fairy, please don't tell me that again. I know it so well. Papa,
whatever shall we do? Maybe Jerry hasn't had them either."

"Why, it's easily arranged," said Lark. "We'll just postpone the wedding
until Carol's quite well again."

"Bad luck," said Connie.

"Too much work," said Fairy.

"Well, she can't get married without Carol, can she?" ejaculated Lark.

"Are you sure it's measles, Aunt Grace?"

"Yes, it's measles."

"Then," said Fairy, "we'll get Alice Bird or Katie Free to bridesmaid
with Lark. They are the same size and either will do all right. She can
wear Carol's dress. You won't mind that, will you, Carol?"

"No," said Carol moodily, "of course I won't. The only real embroidery
dress I ever had in my life--and haven't got that yet! But go ahead and
get anybody you like. I'm hoodooed, that's what it is. It's a punishment
because you and Jim cheated yesterday, Lark."

"What did you do?" asked Connie. "You seem to be getting the
punishment!"

"Shall we have Alice or Katie? Which do you prefer, Lark?"

"You'll have to get them both," was the stoic answer. "I won't
bridesmaid without Carol."

"Don't be silly, Lark. You'll have to."

"Then wait for Carol."

"Papa, you must make her."

"No," said Prudence slowly, with a white face. "We'll postpone it. I
won't get married without the whole family."

"I said right from the start--"

"Oh, yes, Fairy, we know what you said," interjected Carol. "We know how
you'll get married. First man that gets moonshine enough into his head
to propose to you, you'll trot him post haste to the justice before he
thinks twice."

In the end, the wedding was postponed a couple of months,--for both
Connie and Fairy took the measles. But when at last, the wedding party,
marshalled by Connie with a huge white basket of flowers, trailed down
the time-honored aisle of the Methodist church, it was without one
dissenting voice pronounced the crowning achievement of Mr. Starr's
whole pastorate.

"I was proud of us, Lark," Carol told her twin, after it was over, and
Prudence had gone, and the girls had wept themselves weak on each
other's shoulders. "We get so in the habit of doing things wrong that I
half expected myself to pipe up ahead of father with the ceremony. It
seems--awful--without Prudence,--but it's a satisfaction to know that
she was the best married bride Mount Mark has ever seen."

"Jerry looked awfully handsome, didn't he? Did you notice how he glowed
at Prudence? I wish you were artistic, Carol, so you could illustrate my
books. Jerry'd make a fine illustration."

"We looked nice, too. We're not a bad-looking bunch when you come right
down to facts. Of course, it is fine to be as smart as you are, Larkie,
but I'm not jealous. We're mighty lucky to have both beauty and brains
in our twin-ship,--and since one can't have both, I may say I'd just as
lief be pretty. It's so much easier."

"Carol!"

"What?"

"We're nearly grown up now. We'll have to begin to settle down. Prudence
says so."

For a few seconds Carol wavered, tremulous. Then she said pluckily, "All
right. Just wait till I powder my nose, will you? It gets so shiny when
I cry."

"Carol!"

"What?"

"Isn't the house still?"

"Yes--ghastly."

"I never thought Prudence was much of a chatter-box, but--listen! There
isn't a sound."

Carol held out a hand, and Lark clutched it desperately.

"Let's--let's go find the folks. This is--awful! Little old Prudence is
gone!"



CHAPTER V

THE SERENADE


A subject that never failed to arouse the sarcasm and the ire of Fairy
was that of the Slaughter-house Quartette. This was composed of four
young men--men quite outside the pale as far as the parsonage was
concerned--the disreputable characters of the community, familiar in the
local jail for frequent bursts of intoxication. They slouched, they
smoked, they lounged, they leered. The churches knew them not. They were
the slum element, the Bowery of Mount Mark, Iowa.

Prudence, in her day, had passed them by with a shy slight nod and a
glance of tender pity. Fairy and Lark, and even Connie, sailed by with
high heads and scornful eyes,--haughty, proud, icily removed. But Carol,
by some weird and inexplicable fancy, treated them with sweet and
gracious solicitude, quite friendly. Her smile as she passed was as
sweet as for her dearest friend. Her "Good morning,--isn't this glorious
weather?" was as affably cordial as her, "Breakfast is ready, papa!"

This was the one subject of dispute between the twins.

"Oh, please don't, Carol, it does make me so ashamed," Lark entreated.

"You mustn't be narrow-minded, Larkie," Carol argued. "We're minister's
girls, and we've got to be a good influence,--an encouragement to
the--er, weak and erring, you know. Maybe my smiles will be an
inspiration to them."

And on this point Carol stood firm even against the tears of her
precious twin.

One evening at the dinner table Fairy said, with a mocking smile, "How
are your Slaughter-house friends to-day, Carol? When I was at the
dentist's I saw you coming along, beaming at them in your own inimitable
way."

"Oh, they seemed all right," Carol answered, with a deprecating glance
toward her father and her aunt.

"I see by last night's paper that Guy Fleisher is just out after his
last thirty days up," Fairy continued solicitously. "Did he find his
incarceration trying?"

"I didn't discuss it with him," Carol said indignantly. "I never talk to
them. I just say 'Good morning' in Christian charity."

Aunt Grace's eyes were smiling as always, but for the first time Carol
felt that the smiles were at, instead of with, her.

"You would laugh to see her, Aunt Grace," Fairy explained. "They are
generally half intoxicated, sometimes wholly. And Carol trips by, clean,
white and shining. They are always lounging against the store windows or
posts for support, bleary-eyed, dissipated, swaggery, staggery. Carol
nods and smiles as only Carol can, 'Good morning, boys! Isn't it a
lovely day? Are you feeling well?' And they grin at her and sway
ingratiatingly against one another, and say, 'Mornin', Carol.' Carol is
the only really decent person in town that has anything to do with
them."

"Carol means all right," declared Lark angrily.

"Yes, indeed," assented Fairy, "They call them the Slaughter-house
Quartette, auntie, because whenever they are sober enough to walk
without police assistance, they wander through the streets slaughtering
the peace and serenity of the quiet town with their rendition of all the
late, disgraceful sentimental ditties. They are in many ways striking
characters. I do not wholly misunderstand their attraction for romantic
Carol. They are something like the troubadours of old--only more so."

Carol's face was crimson. "I don't like them," she cried, "but I'm sorry
for them. I think maybe I can make them see the difference between us,
me so nice and respectable you know, and them so--animalish! It may
arouse their better natures--I suppose they have better natures. I want
to show them that the decent element, we Christians, are sorry for them
and want to make them better."

"Carol wants to be an influence," Fairy continued. "Of course, it is a
little embarrassing for the rest of us to have her on such friendly
terms with the most unmentionable characters in all Mount Mark. But
Carol is like so many reformers,--in the presence of one great truth she
has eyes for it only, ignoring a thousand other, greater truths."

"I am sorry for them," Carol repeated, more weakly, abashed by the
presence of the united family. Fairy's dissertations on this subject had
usually occurred in private.

Mr. Starr mentally resolved that he would talk this over with Carol when
the others were not present, for he knew from her face and her voice
that she was really sensitive on the subject. And he knew, too, that it
is difficult to explain to the very young that the finest of ideas are
not applicable to all cases by all people. But it happened that he was
spared the necessity of dealing with Carol privately, for matters
adjusted themselves without his assistance.

The second night following was an eventful one in the parsonage. One of
the bishops of the church was in Mount Mark for a business conference
with the religious leaders, and was to spend the night at the parsonage.
The meeting was called for eight-thirty for the convenience of the
business men concerned, and was to be held in the church offices. The
men left early, followed shortly by Fairy who designed to spend the
evening at the Averys' home, testing their supply of winter apples. The
twins and Connie, with the newest and most thrilling book Mr. Carnegie
afforded the town, went up-stairs to lie on the bed and take turns
reading aloud. And for a few hours the parsonage was as calm and
peaceful as though it were not designed for the housing of merry
minister's daughters.

Aunt Grace sat down-stairs darning stockings. The girls' intentions had
been the best in the world, but in less than a year the family darning
had fallen entirely into the capable and willing hands of the gentle
chaperon.

It was half past ten. The girls had just seen their heroine rescued from
a watery grave and married to her bold preserver by a minister who
happened to be writing a sermon on the beach--no mention of how the
license was secured extemporaneously--and with sighs of gratified
sentiment they lay happily on the bed thinking it all over. And then,
from beneath the peach trees clustered on the south side of the
parsonage, a burst of melody arose.

"Good morning, Carrie, how are you this morning?"

The girls sat up abruptly, staring at one another, as the curious ugly
song wafted in upon them. Conviction dawned slowly, sadly, but
unquestionably.

The Slaughter-house Quartette was serenading Carol in return for her
winsome smiles!

Carol herself was literally struck dumb. Her face grew crimson, then
white. In her heart, she repeated psalms of thanksgiving that Fairy was
away, and that her father and the bishop would not be in until this
colossal disaster was over.

Connie was mortified. It seemed like a wholesale parsonage insult. Lark,
after the first awful realization, lay back on the bed and rolled
convulsively.

"You're an influence all right, Carol," she gurgled. "Will you listen to
that?"

For _Rufus Rastus Johnson Brown_ was the second choice of her cavaliers
below in the darkness.

"Rufus Rastus," Lark cried, and then was choked with laughter. "Of
course, it would be--proper if they sang hymns but--oh, listen!"

The rollicking strains of _Budweiser_ were swung gaily out upon the
night.

Carol writhed in anguish. The serenade was bad enough, but this
unmerciful mocking derision of her adored twin was unendurable.

Then the quartette waxed sentimental. They sang, and not badly, a few
old southern melodies, and started slowly around the corner of the
house, still singing.

It has been said that Aunt Grace was always kind, always gentle,
unsuspicious and without guile. She had heard the serenade, and promptly
concluded that it was the work of some of the high-school boys who were
unanimously devoted to Carol. She had a big box of chocolates up-stairs,
for Connie's birthday celebration. She could get them, and make
lemonade, and--

She opened the door softly and stepped out, directly in the path of the
startled youths. Full of her hospitable intent, she was not discerning
as parsonage people need to be.

"Come in, boys," she said cordially, "the girls will be down in a
minute."

The appearance of a guardian angel summoning them to Paradise could not
have confounded them more utterly. They stumbled all over one another
in trying to back away from her. She laughed softly.

"Don't be bashful. We enjoyed it very much. Yes, come right in."

Undoubtedly they would have declined if only they could have thought of
the proper method of doing so. As it was, they only succeeded in
shambling through the parsonage door, instinctively concealing their
half-smoked cigarettes beneath their fingers.

Aunt Grace ushered them into the pleasant living-room, and ran up to
summon her nieces.

Left alone, the boys looked at one another with amazement and with
grief, and the leader, the touching tenor, said with true musical
fervor, "Well, this is a go!"

In the meantime, the girls, with horror, had heard their aunt's
invitation. What in the world did she mean? Was it a trick between her
and Fairy? Had they hired the awful Slaughterers to bring this disgrace
upon the parsonage? Sternly they faced her when she opened their door.

"Come down, girls--I invited them in. I'm going to make lemonade and
serve my nice chocolates. Hurry down."

"You invited them in!" echoed Connie.

"The Slaughter-house Quartette," hissed Lark.

Then Aunt Grace whirled about and stared at them. "Mercy!" she
whispered, remembering for the first time Fairy's words. "Mercy! Is
it--that? I thought it was high-school boys and--mercy!"

"Mercy is good," said Carol grimly.

"You'll have to put them out," suggested Connie.

"I can't! How can I?--How did I know?--What on earth,--Oh, Carol
whatever made you smile at them?" she wailed helplessly. "You know how
men are when they are smiled at! The bishop--"

"You'll have to get them out before the bishop comes back," said Carol.
"You must. And if any of you ever give this away to father or Fairy
I'll--"

"You'd better go down a minute, girls," urged their aunt. "That will be
the easiest way. I'll just pass the candy and invite them to come again
and then they'll go. Hurry now, and we'll get rid of them before the
others come. Be as decent as you can, and it'll soon be over."

Thus adjured, with the dignity of the bishop and the laughter of Fairy
ever in their thoughts, the girls arose and went down, proudly, calmly,
loftily. Their inborn senses of humor came to their assistance when they
entered the living-room. The Slaughter boys looked far more slaughtered
than slaughtering. They sat limply in their chairs, nervously twitching
their yellowed slimy fingers, their dull eyes intent upon the worn spots
in the carpet. It was funny! Even Carol smiled, not the serene sweet
smile that melted hearts, but the grim hard smile of the joker when the
tables are turned! She flattered herself that this wretched travesty on
parsonage courtesy would be ended before there were any further
witnesses to her downfall from her proud fine heights, but she was
doomed to disappointment. Fairy, on the Averys' porch, had heard the
serenade. After the first shock, and after the helpless laughter that
followed, she bade her friends good night.

"Oh, I've just got to go," she said. "It's a joke on Carol. I wouldn't
miss it for twenty-five bushels of apples,--even as good as these are."

Her eyes twinkling with delight, she ran home and waited behind the
rose bushes until the moment for her appearance seemed at hand. Then she
stepped into the room where her outraged sisters were stoically passing
precious and luscious chocolates to tobacco-saturated youths.

"Good evening," she said. "The Averys and I enjoyed the concert, too. I
do love to hear music outdoors on still nights like these. Carol, maybe
your friends would like a drink. Are there any lemons, auntie? We might
have a little lemonade."

Carol writhed helplessly. "I'll make it," she said, and rushed to the
kitchen to vent her fury by shaking the very life out of the lemons. But
she did not waste time. Her father's twinkles were nearly as bad as
Fairy's own--and the bishop!

"I'd wish it would choke 'em if it wouldn't take so long," she muttered
passionately, as she hurried in with the pitcher and glasses, ready to
serve the "slums" with her own chaste hands.

She was just serving the melting tenor when she heard her father's voice
in the hall.

"Too late," she said aloud, and with such despair in her voice that
Fairy relented and mentally promised to "see her through."

Mr. Starr's eyes twinkled freely when he saw the guests in his home, and
the gentle bishop's puzzled interest nearly sent them all off into
laughter. Fairy had no idea of the young men's names, but she said,
quickly, to spare Carol:

"We have been serenaded to-night, Doctor--you just missed it. These are
the Mount Mark troubadours. You are lucky to get here in time for the
lemonade."

But when she saw the bishop glance concernedly from the yellow fingers
to the dull eyes and the brown-streaked mouth, her gravity nearly
forsook her. The Slaughterers, already dashed to the ground by
embarrassment, were entirely routed by the presence of the bishop. With
incoherent apologies, they rose to their unsteady feet and in a cloud of
breezy odors, made their escape.

Mr. Starr laughed a little, Aunt Grace put her arm protectingly about
Carol's rigid shoulders, and the bishop said, "Well, well, well," with
gentle inquiry.

"We call them the Slaughter-house Quartette," Fairy began cheerfully.
"They are the lower strata of Mount Mark, and they make the nights
hideous with their choice selection of popular airs. The parsonage is
divided about them. Some of us think we should treat them with proud and
cold disdain. Some think we should regard them with a tender, gentle,
er--smiling pity. And evidently they appreciated the smiles for they
gave us a serenade in return for them. Aunt Grace did not know their
history, so she invited them in, thinking they were just ordinary
schoolboys. It is home mission work run aground."

The bishop nodded sympathetically. "One has to be so careful," he said.
"So extremely careful with characters like those. No doubt they meant
well by their serenade, but--girls especially have to be very careful. I
think as a rule it is safer to let men show the tender pity and women
the fine disdain. I don't imagine they would come serenading your father
and me! You carried it off beautifully, girls. I am sure your father was
proud of you. I was myself. I'm glad you are Methodists. Not many girls
so young could handle a difficult matter as neatly as you did."

"Yes," said Mr. Starr, but his eyes twinkled toward Carol once more;
"yes, indeed, I think we are well cleared of a disagreeable business."

But Carol looked at Fairy with such humble, passionate gratitude that
tears came to Fairy's eyes and she turned quickly away.

"Carol is a sweet girl," she thought. "I wonder if things will work out
for her just right--to make her as happy as she ought to be. She's
so--lovely."



CHAPTER VI

SUBSTITUTION


The twins came in at dinner-time wrapped in unwonted silence. Lark's
face was darkened by an anxious shadow, while Carol wore an expression
of heroic determination. They sat down to the table without a word, and
helped themselves to fish balls with a surprising lack of interest.

"What's up?" Connie asked, when the rest of the family dismissed the
matter with amused glances.

Lark sighed and looked at Carol, seeming to seek courage from that
Spartan countenance.

Carol squared her shoulders.

"Well, go on," Connie urged. "Don't be silly. You know you're crazy to
tell us about it, you only want to be coaxed."

Lark sighed again, and gazed appealingly at her stout-hearted twin.
Carol never could resist the appeal of those pleading eyes.

"Larkie promised to speak a piece at the Sunday-school concert two weeks
from to-morrow," she vouchsafed, as unconcernedly as possible.

"Mercy!" ejaculated Connie, with an astonishment that was not altogether
complimentary.

"Careful, Larkie," cautioned Fairy. "You'll disgrace the parsonage if
you don't watch out."

"Nonsense," declared their father, "Lark can speak as well as anybody if
she just keeps a good grip on herself and doesn't get stage fright."

Aunt Grace smiled gently.

Connie frowned. "It's a risky business," she said. "Lark can't speak any
more than a rabbit, and--"

"I know it," was the humble admission.

"Don't be a goose, Con," interrupted Carol. "Of course Lark can speak a
piece. She must learn it, learn it, learn it, so she can rattle it off
backwards with her eyes shut. Then even if she gets scared, she can go
right on and folks won't know the difference. It gets to be a habit if
you know it well enough. That's the whole secret. Of course she can
speak."

"How did it happen?" inquired Fairy.

"I don't know," Lark said sorrowfully. "Nothing was ever farther from my
thoughts, I assure you. The first thing I knew, Mrs. Curtiss was
thanking me for my promise, and Carol was marching me off like grim
death."

Carol smiled, relieved now that the family commentary was over. "It was
very natural. Mrs. Curtiss begged her to do it, and Lark refused. That
always happens, every time the Sunday-school gives an entertainment. But
Mrs. Curtiss went on to say how badly the Sunday-school needs the money,
and how big a drawing card it would be for both of us twins to be on the
program, one right after the other, and how well it would look for the
parsonage, and it never occurred to me to warn Lark, for I never dreamed
of her doing it. And all of a sudden she said, 'All right, then, I'll do
it,' and Mrs. Curtiss gave her a piece and we came home. But I'm not
worried about it. Lark can do anything if she only tries."

"I thought it wouldn't hurt me to try it once," Lark volunteered in her
own defense.

Aunt Grace nodded, with a smile of interested approval.

"I'm proud of you, Lark, quite proud of you," her father said warmly.
"It's a big thing for you to make such a plunge,--just fine."

"I'm proud of you now, too," Connie said darkly. "The question is, will
we be proud of you after the concert?"

Lark sighed dolorously.

"Oh, pooh!" encouraged Carol. "Anybody can speak a silly little old
piece like that. And it will look so nice to have our names right
together on the program. It'll bring out all the high-school folks,
sure."

"Yes, they'll come to hear Lark all right," Fairy smiled. "But she'll
make it go, of course. And it will give Carol a chance to show her
cleverness by telling her how to do it."

So as soon as supper was over, Carol said decidedly, "Now, Connie,
you'll have to help me with the dishes the next two weeks, for Lark's
got to practise on that piece. Lark, you must read it over, very
thoughtfully first to get the meaning. Then just read it and read it and
read it, a dozen times, a hundred times, over and over and over. And
pretty soon you'll know it."

"I'll bet I don't," was the discouraging retort, as Lark, with
pronounced distaste, took the slip of paper and sat down in the corner
to read the "blooming thing," as she muttered crossly to herself.

Connie and Carol did up the dishes in dreadful silence, and then Carol
returned to the charge. "How many times did you read it?"

"Fourteen and a half," was the patient answer. "It's a silly thing,
Carol. There's no sense to it. 'The wind went drifting o'er the lea.'"

"Oh, that's not so bad," Carol said helpfully. "I've had pieces with
worse lines than that. 'The imprint of a dainty foot,' for instance.
When you say, 'The wind went drifting o'er the lea,' you must kind of
let your voice glide along, very rhythmically, very--"

"Windily," suggested Connie, who remained to witness the exhibition.

"You keep still, Constance Starr, or you can get out of here! It's no
laughing matter I can tell you, and you have to keep out or I won't help
and then--"

"I'll keep still. But it ought to be windily you know, since it's the
wind. I meant it for a joke," she informed them. The twins had a very
disheartening way of failing to recognize Connie's jokes--it took the
life out of them.

"Now read it aloud, Lark, so I can see if you get the proper
expression," Carol continued, when Connie was utterly subdued.

Lark obediently but unhappily read the quaint poem aloud and Carol said
it was very good. "You must read it aloud often, very often. That'll
give you a better idea of the accent. Now put it away, and don't look at
it again to-night. If you keep it up too long you'll get so dead sick of
it you can't speak it at all."

For two entire weeks, the twins were changed creatures. Lark read the
"blooming piece" avidly, repeatedly and with bitter hate. Carol stood
grimly by, listening intently, offering curt apt criticisms. Finally,
Lark "knew it," and the rest of the time was spent in practising before
the mirror,--to see if she kept her face pleasant.

"For the face has a whole lot to do with it, my dear," said Carol
sagely, "though the critics would never admit it."

By the evening of the Sunday-school concert--they were concerting for
the sake of a hundred-dollar subscription to church repairs--Lark had
mastered her recitation so perfectly that the minds of the parsonage
were nearly at peace. She still felt a deep resentment toward the
situation, but this was partially counterbalanced by the satisfaction of
seeing her name in print, directly beneath Carol's on the program.

          "Recitation_______________Miss Carol Starr.
           Recitation_______________Miss Lark Starr."

It looked very well indeed, and the whole family took a proper interest
in it. No one gave Carol's recitation a second thought. She always
recited, and did it easily and well. It was quite a commonplace
occurrence for her.

On the night of the concert she superintended Lark's dressing with
maternal care. "You look all right," she said, "just fine. Now don't get
scared, Lark. It's so silly. Remember that you know all those people by
heart, you can talk a blue streak to any of them. There's no use--"

"But I can't talk a blue streak to the whole houseful at once," Lark
protested. "It makes me have such a--hollow feeling--to see so many
white faces gazing up, and it's hot, and--"

"Stop that," came the stern command. "You don't want to get cold feet
before you start. If you do accidentally forget once or twice, don't
worry. I know the piece as well as you do, and I can prompt you from
behind without any one noticing it. At first it made me awfully cross
when they wanted us reciters to sit on the platform for every one to
stare at. But now I'm glad of it. I'll be right beside you, and can
prompt you without any trouble at all. But you won't forget." She kissed
her. "You'll do fine, Larkie, just as fine as you look, and it couldn't
be better than that."

Just then Connie ran in. "Fairy wants to know if you are getting stage
fright, Lark? My, you do look nice! Now, for goodness' sake, Lark,
remember the parsonage, and don't make a fizzle of it."

"Who says fizzle?" demanded their father from the doorway. "Never say
die, my girl. Why, Lark, I never saw you look so sweet. You have your
hair fixed a new way, haven't you?"

"Carol did it," was the shy reply. "It does look nice, doesn't it? I'm
not scared, father, not a bit--yet! But there's a hollow feeling--"

"Get her an apple, Connie," said Carol. "It's because she didn't eat any
supper. She's not scared."

"I don't want an apple. Come on, let's go down. Have the boys come?"

"No, but they'll be here in a minute. Jim's never late. I do get sore at
Jim--I'd forty times rather go with him than Hartley--but he always puts
off asking us until the last minute and then I have a date and you get
him. I believe he does it on purpose. Come on down."

Aunt Grace looked at the pale sweet face with gratified delight, and
kissed her warmly. Her father walked around her, nodding approval.

"You look like a dream," he said. "The wind a-drifting o'er the lea
ne'er blew upon a fairer sight! You shall walk with me."

"Oh, father, you can't remember that you're obsolete," laughed Fairy.
"The twins have attained to the dignity of boys, and aren't satisfied
with the fond but sober arm of father any more. Our little twins have
dates to-night, as usual nowadays."

"Aunt Grace," he said solemnly, "it's a wretched business, having a
parsonage full of daughters. Just as soon as they reach the age of
beauty, grace and charm, they turn their backs on their fathers and
smile on fairer lads."

"You've got me, father," said Connie consolingly.

"And me,--when Babbie's in Chicago," added Fairy.

"Yes, that's some help. Connie, be an old maid. Do! I implore you."

"Oh, Connie's got a beau already," said Carol. "It's the fat Allen boy.
They don't have dates yet, but they've got an awful case on. He's going
to make their living by traveling with a show. You'll have to put up
with auntie--she's beyond the beauing stage!"

"Suits me," he said contentedly, "I am getting more than my deserts.
Come on, Grace, we'll start."

"So will we, Connie," said Fairy.

But the boys came, both together, and the family group set out together.
Carol and Hartley--one of her high-school admirers--led off by running a
race down the parsonage walk. And Lark, old, worn and grave, brought up
the rear with Jim Forrest. Jim was a favorite attendant of the twins. He
had been graduated from high school the year previous, and was finishing
off at the agricultural college in Ames. But Ames was not far from home,
and he was still frequently on hand to squire the twins when squires
were in demand. He was curiously generous and impartial in his
attentions,--it was this which so endeared him to the twins. He made his
dates by telephone, invariably. And the conversations might almost have
been decreed by law.

"May I speak to one of the twins?"

The nearest twin was summoned, and then he asked:

"Have you twins got dates for the ball game?"--or the party, or the
concert.

And the twin at the telephone would say, "Yes, we both have--hard luck,
Jim." Or, "I have, but Carol hasn't." Sometimes it was, "No, we haven't,
but we're just crazy to go." And in reply to the first Jim always
answered, "That's a shame,--why didn't you remember me and hold off?"
And to the second, "Well, ask her if I can come around for her." And to
the third, "Good, let's all go together and have a celebration."

For this broad-minded devotion the twins gave him a deep-seated
gratitude and affection and he always stood high in their favor.

On this occasion Carol had answered the telephone, and in reply to his
query she answered crossly, "Oh, Jim, you stupid thing, why didn't you
phone yesterday? I would so much rather go with you than--But never
mind. I have a date, but Lark hasn't. And you just called in time, too,
for Harvey Lane told Hartley he was going to ask for a date."

And Jim had called back excitedly, "Bring her to the phone, quick; don't
waste a minute." And Lark was called, and the date was duly scheduled.

"Are you scared, Lark?" he asked her as they walked slowly down the
street toward the church.

"I'm not scared, Jim," she answered solemnly, "but I'm perfectly
cavernous, if you know what that means."

"I sure do know," he said fervently, "didn't I have to do a speech at
the commencement exercises? There never was a completer cavern than I
was that night. But I can't figure out why folks agree to do such things
when they don't have to. I had to. It was compulsory."

Lark gazed at him with limpid troubled eyes. "I can't figure out,
either. I don't know why I did. It was a mistake, some way."

At the church, which was gratifyingly crowded with Sunday-school
enthusiasts, the twins forsook their friends and slipped along the side
aisle to the "dressing-room,"--commonly utilized as the store room for
worn-out song books, Bibles and lesson sheets. There they sat in
throbbing, quivering silence with the rest of the "entertainers," until
the first strains of the piano solo broke forth, when they walked
sedately out and took their seats along the side of the platform--an
antediluvian custom which has long been discarded by everything but
Sunday-schools and graduating classes.

Printed programs had been distributed, but the superintendent called off
the numbers also. Not because it was necessary, but because
superintendents have to do something on such occasions and that is the
only way to prevent superfluous speech-making.

The program went along smoothly, with no more stumbles than is customary
at such affairs, and nicely punctuated with hand clappings. When the
superintendent read, "Recitation--Miss Carol Starr," the applause was
enthusiastic, for Carol was a prime favorite in church and school and
town. With sweet and charming nonchalance she tripped to the front of
the platform and gave a graceful inclination of her proud young head in
response to the applause. Then her voice rang out, and the room was
hushed. Nobody ever worried when Carol spoke a piece. Things always went
all right. And back to her place she walked, her face flushed, her heart
swelling high with the gratification of a good deed well done.

She sat down by Lark, glad she had done it, glad it was over, and
praying that Lark would come off as well.

Lark was trembling.

"Carol," she whispered, "I--I'm scared."

Instantly the triumph left Carol's heart. "You're not," she whispered
passionately, gripping her twin's hand closely, "you are not, you're all
right."

Lark trembled more violently. Her head swayed a little. Bright flashes
of light were blinding her eyes, and her ears were ringing. "I--can't,"
she muttered thickly. "I'm sick."

Carol leaned close to her and began a violent train of conversation, for
the purpose of distracting her attention. Lark grew more pale.

"Recitation--Miss Lark Starr."

Again the applause rang out.

Lark did not move. "I can't," she whispered again. "I can't."

"Lark, Lark," begged Carol desperately. "You must go, you must. 'The
wind went drifting o'er the lea,'--it's easy enough. Go on, Lark. You
must."

Lark shook her head. "Mmmmm," she murmured indistinctly.

"Remember the parsonage," begged Carol. "Think of Prudence. Think of
papa. Look, there he is, right down there. He's expecting you, Lark. You
must!"

Lark tried to rise. She could not. She could not see her father's clear
encouraging face for those queer flashes of light.

"You can," whispered Carol. "You can do anything if you try. Prudence
says so."

People were craning their necks, and peering curiously up to the second
row where the twins sat side by side. The other performers nudged one
another, smiling significantly. The superintendent creaked heavily
across the platform and beckoned with one plump finger.

"I can't," Lark whispered, "I'm sick."

"Lark,--Lark," called the superintendent.

Carol sighed bitterly. Evidently it was up to her. With a grim face, she
rose from her chair and started out on the platform. The superintendent
stared at her, his lips parting. The people stared at her too, and
smiled, and then laughed. Panic-stricken, her eyes sought her father's
face. He nodded quickly, and his eyes approved.

"Good!" His lips formed the word, and Carol did not falter again. The
applause was nearly drowned with laughter as Carol advanced for her
second recitation.

"The wind went drifting o'er the lea," she began,--her voice drifting
properly on the words,--and so on to the end of the piece.

Most of the audience, knowing Lark's temperament, had concluded that
fear prevented her appearance, and understood that Carol had come to her
twin's rescue for the reputation of the parsonage. The applause was
deafening as she went back. It grew louder as she sat down with a
comforting little grin at Lark. Then as the clapping continued,
something of her natural impishness entered her heart.

"Lark," she whispered, "go out and make a bow."

"Mercy!" gasped Lark. "I didn't do anything."

"It was supposed to be you--go on, Lark! Hurry! You've got to! Think
what a joke it will be."

Lark hesitated, but Carol's dominance was compelling.

"Do as I tell you," came the peremptory order, and Lark arose from her
chair, stepped out before the astonished audience and made a slow and
graceful bow.

This time the applause ran riot, for people of less experience than
those of Mount Mark could tell that the twins were playing a game. As it
continued, Carol caught Larkin's hand in hers, and together they stepped
out once more, laughing and bowing right and left.

Lark was the last one in that night, for she and Jim celebrated her
defeat with two ice-cream sodas a piece at the corner drug store.

"I disgraced the parsonage," she said meekly, as she stepped into the
family circle, waiting to receive her.

"Indeed you didn't," said Fairy. "It was too bad, but Carol passed it
off nicely, and then, turning it into a joke that way took all the
embarrassment out of it. It was perfectly all right, and we weren't a
bit ashamed."

"And you did look awfully sweet when you made your bow," Connie said
warmly,--for when a member of the family was down, no one ventured a
laugh, laugh-loving though they were.

Curious to say, the odd little freak of substitution only endeared the
twins to the people of Mount Mark the more.

"By ginger, you can't beat them bloomin' twins," said Harvey Reel,
chuckling admiringly. And no one disagreed.



CHAPTER VII

MAKING MATCHES


Aunt Grace sat in a low rocker with a bit of embroidery in her hands.
And Fairy sat at the table, a formidable array of books before her. Aunt
Grace was gazing idly at her sewing basket, a soft smile on her lips.
And Fairy was staring thoughtfully into the twilight, a soft glow in her
eyes. Aunt Grace was thinking of the jolly parsonage family, and how
pleasant it was to live with them. And Fairy was thinking--ah, Fairy was
twenty, and twenty-year-olds always stare into the twilight, with dreamy
far-seeing eyes.

In upon this peaceful scene burst the twins, flushed, tempestuous, in
spite of their seventeen years. Their hurry to speak had rendered them
incapable of speech, so they stood in the doorway panting breathlessly
for a moment, while Fairy and her aunt, withdrawn thus rudely from
dreamland, looked at them interrogatively.

"Yes, I think so, too," began Fairy, and the twins endeavored to crush
her with their lofty scorn. But it is not easy to express lofty scorn
when one is red in the face, perspirey and short of breath. So the twins
decided of necessity to overlook the offense just this once.

Finally, recovering their vocal powers simultaneously, they cried in
unison:

"Duckie!"

"Duck! In the yard! Do you mean a live one? Where did it come from?"
ejaculated their aunt.

"They mean Professor Duck of their freshman year," explained Fairy
complacently. "It's nothing. The twins always make a fuss over him. They
feel grateful to him for showing them through freshman science--that's
all."

"That's all," gasped Carol. "Why, Fairy Starr, do you know he's employed
by the--Society of--a--a Scientific Research Organization--or
something--in New York City, and gets four thousand dollars a year and
has prospects--all kinds of prospects!"

"Yes, I know it. You haven't seen him, auntie. He's tall, and has
wrinkles around his eyes, and a dictatorial nose, and steel gray eyes.
He calls the twins song-birds, and they're so flattered they adore him.
He sends them candy for Christmas. You know that Duckie they rave so
much about. It's the very man. Is he here?"

The twins stared at each other in blank exasperation for a full minute.
They knew that Fairy didn't deserve to hear their news, but at the same
time they did not deserve such bitter punishment as having to refrain
from talking about it,--so they swallowed again, sadly, and ignored her.

"He's in town," said Lark.

"Going to stay a week," added Carol.

"And he said he wanted to have lots of good times with us, and
so--we--why, of course it was very sudden, and we didn't have time to
ask--"

"But parsonage doors are always open--"

"And I don't know how he ever wormed it out of us, but--one of us--"

"I can't remember which one!"

"Invited him to come for dinner to-night, and he's coming."

"Goodness," said Aunt Grace. "We were going to have potato soup and
toast."

"It'll keep," said Carol. "Of course we're sorry to inconvenience you at
this late hour, but Larkie and I will tell Connie what to do, so you
won't have much bother. Let's see, now, we must think up a pretty fair
meal. Four thousand a year--and prospects!"

Aunt Grace turned questioning eyes toward the older sister.

"All right," said Fairy, smiling. "It's evidently settled. Think up your
menu, twins, and put Connie to work."

"Is he nice?" Aunt Grace queried.

"Yes, I think he is. He used to go with our college bunch some. I know
him pretty well. He brought me home from things a time or two."

Carol leaned forward and looked at her handsome sister with sudden
intentness. "He asked about you," she said, keen eyes on Fairy's. "He
asked particularly about you."

"Did he? Thanks. Yes, he's not bad. He's pretty good in a crowd."

By the force of her magnetic gaze, Carol drew Lark out of the room, and
the door closed behind them. A few minutes later they returned. There
was about them an air of subdued excitement, suggestive of intrigue,
that Fairy found disturbing.

"You needn't plan any nonsense, twins," she cautioned. "He's no beau of
mine."

"Of course not," they assured her pleasantly. "We're too old for
mischief. Seventeen, and sensible for our years! Say, Fairy, you'll be
nice to Duckie, won't you? We're too young really to entertain him, and
he's so nice we want him to have a good time. Can't you try to make it
pleasant for him this week? He'll only be here a few days. Will you do
that much for us?"

"Why, I would, twins, of course, to oblige you, but you know Gene's in
town this week, and I've got to--"

"Oh, you leave Babbie--Gene, I mean--to us," said Carol airily. Fairy
being a junior in college, and Eugene Babler a student of pharmacy in
Chicago, she felt obliged to restore him to his Christian name,
shortened to Gene. But the twins refused to accede to this propriety,
except when they particularly wished to placate Fairy.

"You leave Gene to us," repeated Carol. "We'll amuse him. Is he coming
to-night?"

"Yes, at seven-thirty."

"Let's call him up and invite him for dinner, too," suggested Lark. "And
you'll do us a favor and be nice to Duckie, won't you? We'll keep
Babb--er, Gene--out of the road. You phone to Gene, Carol, and--"

"I'll do my own phoning, thanks," said Fairy, rising quickly. "Yes,
we'll have them both. And just as a favor to you, twins, I will help
amuse your professor. You'll be good, and help, won't you?"

The twins glowed at Fairy with a warmth that seemed almost triumphant.
She stopped and looked at them doubtfully. When she returned after
telephoning, they were gone, and she said to her aunt:

"I'm not superstitious, but when the twins act like that, there's
usually a cloud in the parsonage sky-light. Prudence says so."

But the twins comported themselves most decorously. All during the week
they worked like kitchen slaveys, doing chores, running errands. And
they treated Fairy with a gentle consideration which almost drew tears
to her eyes, though she still remembered Prudence's cloud in the
parsonage sky-light!

They certainly interfered with her own plans. They engineered her off on
to their beloved professor at every conceivable turn. And Gene, who
nearly haunted the house, had a savage gleam in his eyes quite out of
accord with his usual chatty good humor. Fairy knew she was being
adroitly managed, but she had promised to help the twins with "Duckie."
At first she tried artistically and unobtrusively to free herself from
the complication in which her sisters had involved her. But the twins
were both persistent and clever, and Fairy found herself no match for
them when it came right down to business. She had no idea of their
purpose,--she only knew that she and Gene were always on opposite sides
of the room, the young man grinning savagely at the twins' merry
prattle, and she and the professor trying to keep quiet enough to hear
every word from the other corner. And if they walked, Gene was dragged
off by the firm slender fingers of the friendly twins, and Fairy and the
professor walked drearily along in the rear, talking inanely about the
weather,--and wondering what the twins were talking about.

And the week passed. Gene finally fell off in his attendance, and the
twins took a much needed rest. On Friday afternoon they flattered
themselves that all was well. Gene was not coming, Fairy was in the
hammock waiting for the professor. So the twins hugged each other
gleefully and went to the haymow to discuss the strain and struggle of
the week. And then--

"Why, the big mutt!" cried Carol, in her annoyance ignoring the
Methodist grammatical boundaries, "here comes that bubbling Babler this
minute. And he said he was going to New London for the day. Now we'll
have to chase down there and shoo him off before Duckie comes." The
twins, growling and grumbling, gathered themselves up and started. But
they started too reluctantly, too leisurely. They were not in time.

Fairy sat up in the hammock with a cry of surprise, but not vexation,
when Gene's angry countenance appeared before her.

"Look here, Fairy," he began, "what's the joke? Are your fingers itching
to get hold of that four thousand a year the twins are eternally
bragging about? Are you trying to throw yourself into the old
school-teacher's pocketbook, or what?"

"Don't be silly, Gene," she said, "come and sit down and--"

"Sit down, your grandmother!" he snapped still angrily. "Old Double D.
D. will be bobbing up in a minute, and the twins'll drag me off to hear
about a sick rooster, or something. He is coming, isn't he?"

"I--guess he is," she said confusedly.

"Let's cut and run, will you?" he suggested hopefully. "We can be out of
sight before--Come on, Fairy, be good to me. I haven't had a glimpse or
a touch of you the whole week. What do you reckon I came down here for?
Come on. Let's beat it." He looked around with a worried air. "Hurry, or
the twins'll get us."

Fairy hesitated, and was lost. Gene grabbed her hand, and the next
instant, laughing, they were crawling under the fence at the south
corner of the parsonage lawn just as the twins appeared at the barn
door. They stopped. They gasped. They stared at each other in dismay.

"It was a put-up job," declared Carol.

"Now what'll we do? But Babbie's got more sense than I thought he had,
I must confess. Do you suppose he was kidnaping her?"

Carol snorted derisively. "Kidnaping nothing! She was ahead when I saw
'em. What'll we tell the professor?"

Two humbled gentle twins greeted the professor some fifteen minutes
later.

"We're so sorry," Carol explained faintly. "Babbie came and he and
Fairy--I guess they had an errand somewhere. We think they'll be back
very soon. Fairy will be so sorry."

The professor smiled and looked quite bright.

"Are they gone?"

"Yes, but we're sure they'll be back,--that is, we're almost sure."
Carol, remembering the mode of their departure, felt far less assurance
on that point than she could have wished.

"Well, that's too bad," he said cheerfully. "But my loss is Babler's
gain. I suppose we ought in Christian decency to give him the afternoon.
Let's go out to the creek for a stroll ourselves, shall we? That'll
leave him a clear field when they return. You think they'll be back
soon, do you?"

He looked down the road hopefully, but whether hopeful they would
return, or wouldn't, the twins could not have told. At any rate, he
seemed quite impatient until they were ready to start, and then, very
gaily, the three wended their way out the pretty country road toward the
creek and Blackbird Lane. They had a good time, the twins always did
insist that no one on earth was quite so entertaining as dear old
Duckie, but in her heart Carol registered a solemn vow to have it out
with Fairy when she got back. She had no opportunity that night. Fairy
and Gene telephoned that they would not be home for dinner, and the
professor had gone, and the twins were sleeping soundly, when Fairy
crept softly up the stairs.

But Carol did not forget her vow. Early the next morning she stalked
grimly into Fairy's room, where Fairy was conscientiously bringing order
out of the chaos in her bureau drawers, a thing Fairy always did after a
perfectly happy day. Carol knew that, and it was with genuine reproach
in her voice that she spoke at last, after standing for some two minutes
watching Fairy as she deftly twirled long ribbons about her fingers and
then laid them in methodical piles in separate corners of the drawers.

"Fairy," she said sadly, "you don't seem very appreciative some way.
Here Larkie and I have tried so hard to give you a genuine
opportunity--we've worked and schemed and kept ourselves in the
background, and that's the way you serve us! It's disappointing. It's
downright disheartening."

Fairy folded a blue veil and laid it on top of a white one. Then she
turned. "Yes. What?" She inquired coolly.

"There are so few real chances for a woman in Mount Mark, and we felt
that this was once in a lifetime. And you know how hard we worked. And
then, when we relaxed our--our vigilance--just for a moment, you spoiled
it all by--"

"Yes,--talk English, Carrie. What was it you tried to do for me?"

"Well, if you want plain English you can have it," said Carol heatedly.
"You know what professor is, a swell position like his, and such
prospects, and New York City, and four thousand a year with a raise for
next year, and we tried to give you a good fair chance to land him
squarely, and--"

"To land him--"

"To get him, then! He hasn't any girl. You could have been engaged to
him this minute--Professor David Arnold Duke--if you had wanted to."

"Oh, is that it?"

"Yes, that's it."

Fairy smiled. "Thank you, dear, it was sweet of you, but you're too
late. I am engaged."

Carol's lips parted, closed, parted again. "You--you?"

"Exactly so."

Hope flashed into Carol's eyes. Fairy saw it, and answered swiftly.

"Certainly not. I'm not crazy about your little Prof. I am engaged to
Eugene Babler." She said it with pride, not unmixed with defiance,
knowing as she did that the twins considered Gene too undignified for a
parsonage son-in-law. The twins were strong for parsonage dignity!

"You--are?"

"I am."

A long instant Carol stared at her. Then she turned toward the door.

"Where are you going?"

"I'm going to tell papa."

Fairy laughed. "Papa knows it."

Carol came slowly back and stood by the dresser again. After a short
silence she moved away once more.

"Where now?"

"I'll tell Aunt Grace, then."

"Aunt Grace knows it, too."

"Does Prudence know it?"

"Yes."

Carol swallowed this bitter pill in silence.

"How long?" she inquired at last.

"About a year. Look here, Carol, I'll show you something. Really I'm
glad you know about it. We're pretty young, and papa thought we ought to
keep it dark a while to make sure. That's why we didn't tell you. Look
at this." From her cedar chest--a Christmas gift from Gene--she drew out
a small velvet jeweler's box, and displayed before the admiring eyes of
Carol a plain gold ring with a modest diamond.

Carol kissed it. Then she kissed Fairy twice.

"I know you'll be awfully happy, Fairy," she said soberly. "And I'm glad
of it. But--I can't honestly believe there's any man good enough for our
girls. Babbie's nice, and dear, and all that, and he's so crazy about
you, and--do you love him?" Her eyes were wide, rather wondering, as she
put this question softly.

Fairy put her arm about her sister's shoulders, and her fine steady eyes
met Carol's clearly.

"Yes," she said frankly, "I love him--with all my heart."

"Is that what makes you so--so shiny, and smiley, and starry all the
time?"

"I guess it is. It is the most wonderful thing in the world, Carol. You
can't even imagine it--beforehand. It is magical, it is heavenly."

"Yes, I suppose it is. Prudence says so, too. I can't imagine it, I kind
of wish I could. Can't I go and tell Connie and Lark? I want to tell
somebody!"

"Yes, tell them. We decided not to let you know just yet, but
since--yes, tell them, and bring them up to see it."

Carol kissed her again, and went out, gently closing the door behind
her. In the hallway she stopped and stared at the wall for an unseeing
moment. Then she clenched and shook a stern white fist at the door.

"I don't care," she muttered, "they're not good enough for Prudence and
Fairy! They're not! I just believe I despise men, all of 'em, unless
it's daddy and Duck!" She smiled a little and then looked grim once
more. "Eugene Babler, and a little queen like Fairy! I think that must
be Heaven's notion of a joke." She sighed again. "Oh, well, it's
something to have something to tell! I'm glad I found it out ahead of
Lark!"



CHAPTER VIII

LARK'S LITERARY VENTURE


As commencement drew near, and Fairy began planning momentous things for
her graduation, a little soberness came into the parsonage life. The
girls were certainly growing up. Prudence had been married a long, long
time. Fairy was being graduated from college, her school-days were over,
and life was just across the threshold--its big black door just slightly
ajar waiting for her to press it back and catch a glimpse of what lay
beyond, yes, there was a rosy tinge showing faintly through like the
light of the early sun shining through the night-fog, but the door was
only a little ajar! And Fairy was nearly ready to step through. It
disturbed the parsonage family a great deal.

Even the twins were getting along. They were finishing high school, and
beginning to prate of college and such things, but the twins were
still, well, they were growing up, perhaps, but they kept jubilantly
young along in the process, and their enthusiasm for diplomas and
ice-cream sodas was so nearly identical that one couldn't feel seriously
that the twins were tugging at their leashes.

And Connie was a freshman herself,--rather tall, a little awkward, with
a sober earnest face, and with an incongruously humorous droop to the
corners of her lips, and in the sparkle of her eyes.

Mr. Starr looked at them and sighed. "I tell you, Grace, it's a
thankless job, rearing a family. Connie told me to-day that my collars
should have straight edges now instead of turned-back corners. And Lark
reminded me that I got my points mixed up in last Sunday's lesson. I'm
getting sick of this family business, I'm about ready to--"

And just then, as a clear "Father" came floating down the stairway, he
turned his head alertly. "What do you want?"

"Everybody's out," came Carol's plaintive voice. "Will you come and
button me up? I can't ask auntie to run clear up here, and I can't come
down because I'm in my stocking feet. My new slippers pinch so I don't
put them on until I have to. Oh, thanks, father, you're a dear."

After the excitement of the commencement, the commotion, the glamour,
the gaiety, ordinary parsonage life seemed smooth and pleasant, and for
ten days there was not a ruffle on the surface of their domestic waters.
It was on the tenth day that the twins, strolling down Main Street,
conversing earnestly together as was their custom, were accosted by a
nicely-rounded, pompous man with a cordial, "Hello, twins."

In an instant they were bright with smiles, for this was Mr. Raider,
editor and owner of the _Daily News_, the biggest and most popular of
Mount Mark's three daily papers. Looking forward, as they did, to a
literary career for Lark, they never failed to show a touching and
unnatural deference to any one connected, even ever so remotely, with
that profession. Indeed, Carol, with the charm of her smile, had
bewitched the small carriers to the last lad, and in reply to her
sister's teasing, only answered stoutly, "That's all right,--you don't
know what they may turn into one of these days. We've got to look ahead
to Lark's Literary Career."

So when humble carriers, and some of them black at that, received such
sweet attention, one can well imagine what the nicely rounded, pompous
editor himself called forth.

They did not resent his nicely-rounded and therefore pointless jokes.
They smiled at them. They did not call the _Daily News_ the "Raider
Family Organ," as they yearned to do. They did not admit that they urged
their father to put Mr. Raider on all church committees to insure
publicity. They swallowed hard, and told themselves that, after all, Mr.
Raider was an editor, and perhaps he couldn't help editing his own
family to the exclusion of the rest of Mount Mark.

When, on this occasion, he looked Lark up and down with his usual rotund
complacency, Carol only gritted her teeth and reminded her heaving soul
that he was an editor.

"What are you going to do this summer, Lark?" he asked, without
preamble.

"Why,--just nothing, I suppose. As usual."

"Well," he said, frowning plumply, "we're running short of men. I've
heard you're interested in our line, and I thought maybe you could help
us out during vacation. How about it? The work'll be easy and it'll be
fine experience for you. We'll pay you five dollars a week. This is a
little town, and we're called a little publication, but our work and our
aim and methods are identical with those of the big city papers." He
swelled visibly, almost alarmingly. "How about it? You're the one with
the literary longings, aren't you?"

Lark was utterly speechless. If the National Bank had opened its coffers
to the always hard-pressed twins, she could not have been more
completely confounded. Carol was in a condition nearly as serious, but
grasping the gravity of the situation, she rushed into the breach
headlong.

"Yes,--yes," she gasped. "She's literary. Oh, she's very literary."

Mr. Raider smiled. "Well, would you like to try your hand out with me?"

Again Carol sprang to her sister's relief.

"Yes, indeed, she would," she cried. "Yes, indeed." And then, determined
to impress upon him that the _Daily News_ was the one to profit chiefly
from the innovation, she added, "And it's a lucky day for the _Daily
News_, too, I tell you. There aren't many Larks in Mount Mark, in a
literary way, I mean, and--the _Daily News_ needs some--that is, I
think--new blood,--anyhow, Lark will be just fine."

"All right. Come in, Monday morning at eight, Lark, and I'll set you to
work. It won't be anything very important. You can write up the church
news, and parties, and goings away, and things like that. It'll be good
training. You can study our papers between now and then, to catch our
style."

Carol lifted her head a little higher. If Mr. Raider thought her
talented twin would be confined to the ordinary style of the _Daily
News_, which Carol considered atrociously lacking in any style at all,
he would be most gloriously mistaken, that's certain!

It is a significant fact that after Mr. Raider went back into the
sanctum of the _Daily News_, the twins walked along for one full block
without speaking. Such a thing had never happened before in all the
years of their twinship. At the end of the block, Carol turned her head
restlessly. They were eight blocks from home. But the twins couldn't run
on the street, it was so undignified. She looked longingly about for a
buggy bound their way. Even a grocery cart would have been a welcome
though humbling conveyance.

Lark's starry eyes were lifted to the skies, and her rapt face was
glowing. Carol looked behind her, looked ahead. Then she thought again
of the eight blocks.

"Lark," she said, "I'm afraid we'll be late for dinner. And auntie told
us to hurry back. Maybe we'd better run."

Running is a good expression for emotion, and Lark promptly struck out
at a pace that did full credit to her lithe young limbs. Down the street
they raced, little tendrils of hair flying about their flushed and
shining faces, faster, faster, breathless, panting, their gladness
fairly overflowing. And many people turned to look, wondering what in
the world possessed the leisurely, dignified parsonage twins.

The last block was traversed at a really alarming rate. The passion for
"telling things" had seized them both, and they whirled around the
corner and across the lawn at a rate that brought Connie out into the
yard to meet them, with a childish, "What's the matter? What happened?
Did something bite you?"

Aunt Grace sat up in her hammock to look, Fairy ran out to the porch,
and Mr. Starr laid down his book. Had the long and dearly desired war
been declared at last?

But when the twins reached the porch, they paused sheepishly, shyly.

"What's the matter?" chorused the family.

"Are--are we late for dinner?" Carol demanded earnestly, as though their
lives depended on the answer.

The family stared in concerted amazement. When before this had the twins
shown anxiety about their lateness for meals--unless a favorite dessert
or salad was all consumed in their absence. And it was only half past
four!

Carol gently shoved Connie off the cushion upon which she had dropped,
and arranged it tenderly in a chair.

"Sit down and rest, Larkie," she said in a soft and loving voice. "Are
you nearly tired to death?"

Lark sank, panting, into the chair, and gazed about the circle with
brilliant eyes.

"Get her a drink, can't you, Connie?" said Carol indignantly. "Can't you
see the poor thing is just tired to death? She ran the whole way home!"

Still the family stared. The twins' devotion to each other was never
failing, but this attentiveness on the part of Carol was extremely odd.
Now she sat down on the step beside her sister, and gazed up into the
flushed face with adoring, but somewhat patronizing, pride. After all,
she had had a whole lot to do with training Larkie!

"What in the world?" began their father curiously.

"Had a sunstroke?" queried Fairy, smiling.

"You're both crazy," declared Connie, coming back with the water.
"You're trying to fool us. I won't ask any questions. You don't catch me
this time."

"Why don't you lie down and let Lark use you for a footstool, Carol?"
suggested their father, with twinkling eyes.

"I would if she wanted a footstool," said Carol positively. "I'd love to
do it. I'd be proud to do it. I'd consider it an honor."

Lark blushed and lowered her eyes modestly.

"What happened?" urged their father, still more curiously.

"Did she get you out of a scrape?" mocked Fairy.

"Oh, just let 'em alone," said Connie. "They think it's smart to be
mysterious. Nothing happened at all. That's what they call being funny."

"Tell it, Lark." Carol's voice was so intense that it impressed even
skeptical Connie and derisive Fairy.

Lark raised the glowing eyes once more, leaned forward and said
thrillingly:

"It's the Literary Career."

The silence that followed this bold announcement was sufficiently
dramatic to satisfy even Carol, and she patted Lark's knee approvingly.

"Well, go on," urged Connie, at last, when the twins continued silent.

"That's all."

"She's going to run the _Daily News_."

"Oh, I'll only be a cub reporter, I guess that's what you call them."

"Reporter nothing," contradicted Carol. "There's nothing literary about
that. You must take the whole paper in hand, and color it up a bit. And
for goodness' sake, polish up Mr. Raider's editorials. I could write
editorials like his myself."

"And you might tone down the family notes for him," suggested Fairy. "We
don't really care to know when Mrs. Kelly borrows eggs of the editor's
wife and how many dolls Betty got for Christmas and Jack's grades in
high school. We can get along without those personal touches."

"Maybe you can give us a little church write-up now and then, without
necessitating Mr. Raider as chairman of every committee," interposed
their father, and then retracted quickly. "I was only joking, of course,
I didn't mean--"

"No, of course, you didn't, father," said Carol kindly. "We'll consider
that you didn't say it. But just bear it in mind, Larkie."

Fairy solemnly rose and crossed the porch, and with a hand on Lark's
shoulder gave her a solemn shake. "Now, Lark Starr, you begin at the
beginning and tell us. Do you think we're all wooden Indians? We can't
wait until you make a newspaper out of the _Daily News_! We want to
know. Talk."

Thus adjured, Lark did talk, and the little story with many striking
embellishments from Carol was given into the hearing of the family.

"Five dollars a week," echoed Connie faintly.

"Of course, I'll divide that with Carol," was the generous offer.

"No, I won't have it. I haven't any literary brains, and I can't take
any of your salary. Thanks just the same." Then she added happily: "But
I know you'll be very generous when I need to borrow, and I do borrow
pretty often, Larkie."

For the rest of the week Lark's literary career was the one topic of
conversation in the Starr family. The _Daily News_ became a sort of
literary center piece, and the whole parsonage revolved enthusiastically
around it. Lark's clothes were put in the most immaculate condition, and
her wardrobe greatly enriched by donations pressed upon her by her
admiring sisters. Every evening the younger girls watched impatiently
for the carrier of the _Daily News_, and then rushed to meet him. The
paper was read with avid interest, criticized, commended. They all
admitted that Lark would be an acquisition to the editorial force,
indeed, one sorely needed. They begged her to give Mount Mark the news
while it was news, without waiting to find what the other Republican
papers of the state thought about it. Why, the instructions and sisterly
advice and editorial improvements poured into the ears of patient Lark
would have made an archangel giddy with confusion!

During those days, Carol followed Lark about with a hungry devotion that
would have been observed by her sister on a less momentous occasion. But
now she was so full of the darling Career that she overlooked the once
most-darling Carol. On Monday morning, Carol did not remain up-stairs
with Lark as she donned her most businesslike dress for her initiation
into the world of literature. Instead, she sulked grouchily in the
dining-room, and when Lark, radiant, star-eyed, danced into the room for
the family's approval, she almost glowered upon her.

"Am I all right? Do I look literary? Oh, oh," gurgled Lark, with music
in her voice.

Carol sniffed.

"Oh, isn't it a glorious morning?" sang Lark again. "Isn't everything
wonderful, father?"

"Lark Starr," cried Carol passionately, "I should think you'd be
ashamed of yourself. It's bad enough to turn your back on your--your
life-long twin, and raise barriers between us, but for you to be so
wildly happy about it is--perfectly wicked."

Lark wheeled about abruptly and stared at her sister, the fire slowly
dying out of her eyes.

"Why, Carol," she began slowly, in a low voice, without music.

"Oh, that's all right. You needn't try to talk me over. A body'd think
there was nothing in the world but ugly old newspapers. I don't like
'em, anyhow. I think they're downright nosey! And we'll never be the
same any more, Larkie, and you're the only twin I've got, and--"

Carol's defiance ended in a poorly suppressed sob and a rush of tears.

Lark threw her gloves on the table.

"I won't go at all," she said. "I won't go a step. If--if you think for
a minute, Carol, that any silly old Career is going to be any dearer to
me than you are, and if we aren't going to be just as we've always been,
I won't go a step."

Carol wiped her eyes. "Well," she said very affectionately, "if you feel
like that, it's all right. I just wanted you to say you liked me better
than anything else. Of course you must go, Lark. I really take all the
credit for you and your talent to myself, and it's as much an honor for
me as it is for you, and I want you to go. But don't you ever go to
liking the crazy old stories any better than you do me."

Then she picked up Lark's gloves, and the two went out with an arm
around each other's waist.

It was a dreary morning for Carol, but none of her sisters knew that
most of it was spent in the closet of her room, sobbing bitterly. "It's
just the way of the world," she mourned, in the tone of one who has
lived many years and suffered untold anguish, "we spend our lives
bringing them up, and loving them, and finding all our joy and happiness
in them, and then they go, and we are left alone."

Lark's morning at the office was quiet, but none the less thrilling on
that account. Mr. Raider received her cordially, and with a great deal
of unctuous fatherly advice. He took her into his office, which was one
corner of the press room glassed in by itself, and talked over her
duties, which, as far as Lark could gather from his discourse, appeared
to consist in doing as she was told.

"Now, remember," he said, in part, "that running a newspaper is
business. Pure business. We've got to give folks what they want to hear,
and they want to hear everything that happens. Of course, it will hurt
some people, it is not pleasant to have private affairs aired in public
papers, but that's the newspaper job. Folks want to hear about the
private affairs of other folks. They pay us to find out, and tell them,
and it's our duty to do it. So don't ever be squeamish about coming
right out blunt with the plain facts; that's what we are paid for."

This did not seriously impress Lark. Theoretically, she realized that he
was right. And he talked so impressively of THE PRESS, and its mission
in the world, and its rights and its pride and its power, that Lark,
looking away with hope-filled eyes, saw a high and mighty figure,
immense, all-powerful, standing free, majestic, beckoning her to come.
It was her first view of the world's PRESS.

But on the fourth morning, when she entered the office, Mr. Raider met
her with more excitement in his manner than she had ever seen before.
As a rule, excitement does not sit well on nicely-rounded, pink-skinned
men.

"Lark," he began hurriedly, "do you know the Dalys? On Elm Street?"

"Yes, they are members of our church. I know them."

He leaned forward. "Big piece of news down that way. This morning at
breakfast, Daly shot his daughter Maisie and the little boy. They are
both dead. Daly got away, and we can't get at the bottom of it. The
family is shut off alone, and won't see any one."

Lark's face had gone white, and she clasped her slender hands together,
swaying, quivering, bright lights before her eyes.

"Oh, oh!" she murmured brokenly. "Oh, how awful!"

Mr. Raider did not observe the white horror in Lark's face. "Yes, isn't
it?" he said. "I want you to go right down there."

"Yes, indeed," said Lark, though she shivered at the thought. "Of
course, I will." Lark was a minister's daughter. If people were in
trouble, she must go, of course. "Isn't it--awful? I never knew
of--such a thing--before. Maisie was in my class at school. I never
liked her very well. I'm so sorry I didn't,--oh, I'm so sorry. Yes, I'll
go right away. You'd better call papa up and tell him to come, too."

"I will, but you run along. Being the minister's daughter, they'll let
you right up. They'll tell you all about it, of course. Don't talk to
any one on the way back. Come right to the office. Don't stay any longer
than you can help, but get everything they will say about it,
and--er--comfort them as much as you can."

"Yes,--yes." Lark's face was frightened, but firm. "I--I've never gone
to the houses much when--there was trouble. Prudence and Fairy have
always done that. But of course it's right, and I'm going. Oh, I do wish
I had been fonder of Maisie. I'll go right away."

And she hurried away, still quivering, a cold chill upon her. Three
hours later she returned to the office, her eyes dark circled, and red
with weeping. Mr. Raider met her at the door.

"Did you see them?"

"Yes," she said in a low voice. "They--they took me up-stairs, and--"
She paused pitifully, the memory strong upon her, for the woman, the
mother of five children, two of whom had been struck down, had lain in
Lark's strong tender arms, and sobbed out the ugly story.

"Did they tell you all about it?"

"Yes, they told me. They told me."

"Come on into my office," he said. "You must write it up while it is
fresh in your mind. You'll do it better while the feeling is on you."

Lark gazed at him stupidly, not comprehending.

"Write it up?" she repeated confusedly.

"Yes, for the paper. How they looked, what they said, how it
happened,--everything. We want to scoop on it."

"But I don't think they--would want it told," Lark gasped.

"Oh, probably not, but people want to know about it. Don't you remember
what I told you? The PRESS is a powerful task master. He asks hard
duties of us, but we must obey. We've got to give the people what they
want. There's a reporter down from Burlington already, but he couldn't
get anything out of them. We've got a clear scoop on it."

Lark glanced fearfully over her shoulder. A huge menacing shadow lowered
black behind her. THE PRESS! She shuddered again.

"I can't write it up," she faltered. "Mrs. Daly--she--Oh, I held her in
my arms, Mr. Raider, and kissed her, and we cried all morning, and I
can't write it up. I--I am the minister's daughter, you know. I can't."

"Nonsense, now, Lark," he said, "be sensible. You needn't give all the
sob part. I'll touch it up for you. Just write out what you saw, and
what they said, and I'll do the rest. Run along now. Be sensible."

Lark glanced over her shoulder again. The PRESS seemed tremendously big,
leering at her, threatening her. Lark gasped, sobbingly.

Then she sat down at Mr. Raider's desk, and drew a pad of paper toward
her. For five minutes she sat immovable, body tense, face stern,
breathless, rigid. Mr. Raider after one curious, satisfied glance,
slipped out and closed the door softly after him. He felt he could trust
to the newspaper instinct to get that story out of her.

Finally Lark, despairingly, clutched a pencil and wrote

          "Terrible Tragedy of the Early Morning.
              Daly Family Crushed with Sorrow."

Her mind passed rapidly back over the story she had heard, the father's
occasional wild bursts of temper, the pitiful efforts of the family to
keep his weakness hidden, the insignificant altercation at the breakfast
table, the cry of the startled baby, and then the sudden ungovernable
fury that lashed him, the two children--! Lark shuddered! She glanced
over her shoulder again. The fearful dark shadow was very close, very
terrible, ready to envelope her in its smothering depths. She sprang to
her feet and rushed out of the office. Mr. Raider was in the doorway.
She flung herself upon him, crushing the paper in his hand.

"I can't," she cried, looking in terror over her shoulder as she spoke,
"I can't. I don't want to be a newspaper woman. I don't want any
literary career. I am a minister's daughter, Mr. Raider, I can't talk
about people's troubles. I want to go home."

Mr. Raider looked searchingly into the white face, and noted the
frightened eyes. "There now," he said soothingly, "never mind the Daly
story. I'll cover it myself. I guess it was too hard an assignment to
begin with, and you a friend of the family, and all. Let it go. You stay
at home this afternoon. Come back to-morrow and I'll start you again.
Maybe I was too hard on you to-day."

"I don't want to," she cried, looking back at the shadow, which seemed
somehow to have receded a little. "I don't want to be a newspaper woman.
I think I'll be the other kind of writer,--not newspapers, you know,
just plain writing. I'm sure I shall like it better. I wasn't cut out
for this line, I know. I want to go now."

"Run along," he said. "I'll see you later on. You go to bed. You're
nearly sick."

Dignity? Lark did not remember that she had ever dreamed of dignity. She
just started for home, for her father, Aunt Grace and the girls! The
shabby old parsonage seemed suddenly very bright, very sunny, very
safe. The dreadful dark shadow was not pressing so close to her
shoulders, did not feel so smotheringly near.

A startled group sprang up from the porch to greet her. She flung one
arm around Carol's shoulder, and drew her twin with her close to her
aunt's side. "I don't want to be a newspaper woman," she cried, in a
high excited voice. "I don't like it. I am awfully afraid of--THE
PRESS--" She looked over her shoulder. The shadow was fading away in the
distance. "I couldn't do it. I--" And then, crouching, with Carol, close
against her aunt's side, clutching one of the soft hands in her own, she
told the story.

"I couldn't, Fairy," she declared, looking beseechingly into the strong
kind face of her sister. "I--couldn't. Mrs. Daly--sobbed so, and her
hands were so brown and hard, Fairy, she kept rubbing my shoulder, and
saying, 'Oh, Lark, oh, Lark, my little children.' I couldn't. I don't
like newspapers, Fairy. Really, I don't."

Fairy looked greatly troubled. "I wish father were at home," she said
very quietly. "Mr. Raider meant all right, of course, but it was wrong
to send a young girl like you. Father is there now. It's very terrible.
You did just exactly right, Larkie. Father will say so. I guess maybe
it's not the job for a minister's girl. Of course, the story will come
out, but we're not the ones to tell it."

"But--the Career," suggested Carol.

"Why," said Lark, "I'll wait a little and then have a real literary
career, you know, stories, and books, and poems, the kind that don't
harrow people's feelings. I really don't think it is right. Don't you
remember Prudence says the parsonage is a place to hide sorrows, not to
hang them on the clothesline for every one to see." She looked for a
last time over her shoulder. Dimly she saw a small dark cloud,--all that
was left of the shadow which had seemed so eager to devour her. Her arms
clasped Carol with renewed intensity.

"Oh," she breathed, "oh, isn't the parsonage lovely, Carol? I wish
father would come. You all look so sweet, and kind, and--oh, I love to
be at home."



CHAPTER IX

A CLEAR CALL


The tinkle of the telephone disturbed the family as they were at dinner,
and Connie, who sat nearest, rose to answer the summons, while Carol, at
her corner of the table struck a tragic attitude.

"If Joe Graves has broken anything, he's broken our friendship for good
and all. These fellows that break themselves--"

"Break themselves?" asked her father gravely.

"Yes,--any of his members, you know, his leg, or his arm, or,--If he
has, I must say frankly that I hope it is his neck. These boys that
break themselves at the last minute, thereby breaking dates, are--"

"Well," Connie said calmly, "if you're through, I'll begin."

"Oh, goodness, Connie, deafen one ear and listen with the other. You've
got to learn to hear in a hubbub. Go on then, I'm through. But I haven't
forgotten that I missed the Thanksgiving banquet last year because Phil
broke his ankle that very afternoon on the ice. What business had he on
the ice when he had a date--"

"Ready?" asked Connie, as the phone rang again, insistently.

"Go on, then. Don't wait until I get started. Answer it."

Connie removed the receiver and called the customary "Hello." Then,
"Yes, just a minute. It's for you, Carol."

Carol rose darkly. "It's Joe," she said in a dungeon-dark voice. "He's
broken, I foresee it. If there's anything I despise and abominate it's a
breaker of dates. I think it ought to be included among the
condemnations in the decalogue. Men have no business being broken,
except their hearts, when girls are mixed up in it.--Hello?--Oh; oh-h-h!
Yes,--it's professor! How are you?--Yes, indeed,--oh, yes, I'm going to
be home. Yes, indeed. Come about eight. Of course I'll be here,--nothing
important,--it didn't amount to anything at all,--just a little old
every-day affair.--Yes, I can arrange it nicely.--We're so anxious to
see you.--All right,--Good-by."

She turned back to the table, her face flushed, eyes shining. "It's
professor! He's in town just overnight, and he's coming out. I'll have
to phone Joe--"

"Anything I despise and abominate it's a breaker of dates," chanted
Connie; "ought to be condemned in the decalogue."

"Oh, that's different," explained Carol. "This is professor! Besides,
this will sort of even up for the Thanksgiving banquet last year."

"But that was Phil and this is Joe!"

"Oh, that's all right. It's just the principle, you know, nothing
personal about it. Seven-six-two, please. Yes. Seven-six-two? Is Joe
there? Oh, hello, Joe. Oh, Joe, I'm so sorry to go back on you the last
minute like this, but one of my old school-teachers is in town just for
to-night and is coming here, and of course I can't leave. I'm so sorry.
I've been looking forward to it for so long, but--oh, that is nice of
you. You'll forgive me this once, won't you? Oh, thanks, Joe, you're so
kind."

"Hurry up and phone Roy, Larkie. You'll have to break yours, too."

Lark immediately did so, while Carol stood thoughtfully beside the
table, her brows puckered unbecomingly.

"I think," she said at last slowly, with wary eyes on her father's quiet
face, "I think I'll let the tuck out of my old rose dress. It's too
short."

"Too short! Why, Carol--" interrupted her aunt.

"Too short for the occasion, I mean. I'll put it back to-morrow." Once
more her eyes turned cautiously father-ward. "You see, professor still
has the 'little twinnie' idea in his brain, and I'm going to get it out.
It isn't consistent with our five feet seven. We're grown up. Professor
has got to see it. You skoot up-stairs, Connie, won't you, there's a
dear, and bring it down, both of them, Lark's too. Lark,--where did you
put that ripping knife? Aunt Grace, will you put the iron on for me?
It's perfectly right that professor should see we're growing up. We'll
have to emphasize it something extra, or he might overlook it. It makes
him feel Methuselish because he's so awfully smart. But I'll soon change
his mind for him."

Lark stoutly refused to be "grown up for the occasion," as Carol put it.
She said it was too much bother to let out the tuck, and then put it
right back in, just for nonsense. At first this disappointed Carol, but
finally she accepted it gracefully.

"All right," she said, "I guess I can grow up enough for both of us.
Professor is not stupid; if he sees I'm a young lady, he'll naturally
know that you are, too, since we are twins. You can help me rip then if
you like,--you begin around on that side."

In less than two minutes the whole family was engaged in growing Carol
up for the occasion. They didn't see any sense in it, but Carol seemed
so unalterably convinced that it was necessary that they hated to
question her motives. And, as was both habitual and comfortable, they
proceeded to do as she directed.

If her idea had been utterly to dumfound the unsuspecting professor, she
succeeded admirably. Carefully she planned her appearance, giving him
just the proper interval of patient waiting in the presence of her aunt
and sisters. Then, a slow parting of the curtains and Carol stood out,
brightly, gladly, her slender hands held out in welcome, Carol, with
long skirts swishing around her white-slippered feet, her slender throat
rising cream-white above the soft fold of old rose lace, her graceful
head with its royal crown of bronze-gold hair, tilted most charmingly.

The professor sprang to his feet and stared at her. "Why, Carol," he
exclaimed soberly, almost sadly, as he crossed the room and took her
hand. "Why, Carol! Whatever have you been doing to yourself overnight?"

Of course, it was far more "overnight" than the professor knew, but
Carol saw to it that there was nothing to arouse his suspicion on that
score. He lifted her hand high, and looked frankly down the long lines
of her skirt, with the white toes of her slippers showing beneath. He
shook his head. And though he smiled again, his voice was sober.

"I'm beginning to feel my age," he said.

This was not what Carol wanted, and she resumed her old childish manner
with a gleeful laugh.

"What on earth are you doing in Mount Mark again, P'fessor!" When Carol
wished to be particularly coy, she said "p'fessor." It didn't sound
exactly cultured, but spoken in Carol's voice was really irresistible.

"Why, I came to see you before your hair turned gray, and wrinkles
marred you--"

"Wrinkles won't mar mine," cried Carol emphatically. "Not ever! I use up
a whole jar of cold cream every three weeks! I won't have 'em. Wrinkles!
P'fessor, you don't know what a time I have keeping myself young."

She joined in the peal of laughter that rang out as this age-wise
statement fell from her lips.

"You'll be surprised," he said, "what does bring me to Mount Mark. I
have given up my position in New York, and am going to school again in
Chicago this winter. I shall be here only to-night. To-morrow I begin to
study again."

"Going to school again!" ejaculated Carol, and all the others looked at
him astonished. "Going to school again. Why, you know enough, now!"

"Think so? Thanks. But I don't know what I'm going to need from this on.
I am changing my line of work. The fact is, I'm going to enter the
ministry myself, and will have a couple of years in a theological
seminary first."

Utter stupefaction greeted this explanation. Not one word was spoken.

"I've been going into these things rather deeply the last two years.
I've attended a good many special meetings, and taken some studies along
with my regular work. For a year I've felt it would finally come to
this, but I preferred my own job, and I thought I would stick it out, as
Carol says. But I've decided to quit balking, and answer the call."

Aunt Grace nodded, with a warmly approving smile.

"I think it's perfectly grand, Professor," said Fairy earnestly.
"Perfectly splendid. You will do it wonderfully well, I know, and be a
big help--in our business."

"But, Professor," said Carol faintly and falteringly, "didn't you tell
me you were to get five thousand dollars a year with the institute from
this on?"

"Yes. I was."

Carol gazed at her family despairingly. "It would take an awfully loud
call to drown the chink of five thousand gold dollars in my ears, I am
afraid."

"It was a loud call," he said. And he looked at her curiously, for of
all the family she alone seemed distrait and unenthusiastic.

"Professor," she continued anxiously, "I heard one of the bishops say
that sometimes young men thought they were called to the ministry when
it was too much mince pie for dinner."

"I did not have mince pie for dinner," he answered, smiling, but
conscious of keen disappointment in his friend.

"But, Professor," she argued, "can't people do good without preaching?
Think of all the lovely things you could do with five thousand dollars!
Think of the influence a prominent educator has! Think of--"

"I have thought of it, all of it. But haven't I got to answer the call?"

"It takes nerve to do it, too," said Connie approvingly. "I know just
how it is from my own experience. Of course, I haven't been called to
enter the ministry, but--it works out the same in other things."

"Indeed, Professor," said Lark, "we always said you were too nice for
any ordinary job. And the ministry is about the only extraordinary job
there is!"

"Tell us all about it," said Fairy cordially. "We are so interested in
it. Of course, we think it is the finest work in the world." She looked
reproachfully at Carol, but Carol made no response.

He told them, then, something of his plan, which was very simple. He had
arranged for a special course at the seminary in Chicago, and then would
enter the ministry like any other young man starting upon his life-work.
"I'm a Presbyterian, you know," he said. "I'll have to go around and
preach until I find a church willing to put up with me. I won't have a
presiding elder to make a niche for me."

He talked frankly, even with enthusiasm, but always he felt the curious
disappointment that Carol sat there silent, her eyes upon the hands in
her lap. Once or twice she lifted them swiftly to his face, and lowered
them instantly again. Only he noticed when they were raised, that they
were unusually deep, and that something lay within shining brightly,
like the reflection of a star in a clear dark pool of water.

"I must go now," he said, "I must have a little visit with my uncle, I
just wanted to see you, and tell you about it. I knew you would like
it."

Carol's hand was the first placed in his, and she murmured an inaudible
word of farewell, her eyes downcast, and turned quickly away. "Don't let
them wait for me," she whispered to Lark, and then she disappeared.

The professor turned away from the hospitable door very much depressed.
He shook his head impatiently and thrust his hands deep into his pockets
like a troubled boy. Half-way down the board walk he stopped, and
smiled. Carol was standing among the rose bushes, tall and slim in the
cloudy moonlight, waiting for him. She held out her hand with a friendly
smile.

"I came to take you a piece if you want me," she said. "It's so hard to
talk when there's a roomful, isn't it? I thought maybe you wouldn't
mind."

"Mind? It was dear of you to think of it," he said gratefully, drawing
her hand into the curve of his arm. "I was wishing I could talk with
you alone. You won't be cold?"

"Oh, no, I like to be out in the night air. Oh," she protested, when he
turned north from the parsonage instead of south, as he should have
gone, "I only came for a piece, you know. And you want to visit with
your uncle." The long lashes hid the twinkle the professor knew was
there, though he could not see it.

"Yes, all right. But we'll walk a little way first. I'll visit him later
on. Or I can write him a letter if necessary." He felt at peace with all
the world. His resentment toward Carol had vanished at the first glimpse
of her friendly smile.

"I want to talk to you about being a preacher, you know. I think it is
the most wonderful thing in the world, I certainly do." Her eyes were
upon his face now seriously. "I didn't say much, I was surprised, and I
was ashamed, too, Professor, for I never could do it in the world.
Never! It always makes me feel cheap and exasperated when I see how much
nicer other folks are than I. But I do think it is wonderful. Really
sometimes, I have thought you ought to be a preacher, because you're so
nice. So many preachers aren't, and that's the kind we need."

The professor put his other hand over Carol's, which was restlessly
fingering the crease in his sleeve. He did not speak. Her girlish,
impulsive words touched him very deeply.

"I wouldn't want the girls to know it, they'd think it was so funny,
but--" She paused uncertainly, and looked questioningly into his face.
"Maybe you won't understand what I mean, but sometimes I'd like to be
good myself. Awfully good, I mean." She smiled whimsically. "Wouldn't
Connie scream if she could hear that? Now you won't give me away, will
you? But I mean it. I don't think of it very often, but sometimes, why,
Professor, honestly, I wouldn't care if I were as good as Prudence!" She
paused dramatically, and the professor pressed the slender hand more
closely in his.

"Oh, I don't worry about it. I suppose one hasn't any business to expect
a good complexion and just natural goodness, both at once, but--" She
smiled again. "Five thousand dollars," she added dreamily. "Five
thousand dollars! What shall I call you now? P'fesser is not appropriate
any more, is it?"

"Call me David, won't you, Carol? Or Dave."

Carol gasped. "Oh, mercy! What would Prudence say?" She giggled merrily.
"Oh, mercy!" She was silent a moment then. "I'll have to be contented
with plain Mr. Duke, I suppose, until you get a D.D. Duckie, D.D.," she
added laughingly. But in an instant she was sober again. "I do love our
job. If I were a man I'd be a minister myself. Reverend Carol Starr,"
she said loftily, then laughed. Carol's laughter always followed fast
upon her earnest words. "Reverend Carol Starr. Wouldn't I be a peach?"

He laughed, too, recovering his equanimity as her customary buoyant
brightness returned to her.

"You are," he said, and Carol answered:

"Thanks," very dryly. "We must go back now," she added presently. And
they turned at once, walking slowly back toward the parsonage.

"Can't you write to me a little oftener, Carol? I hate to be a bother,
but my uncle never writes letters, and I like to know how my friends
here are getting along, marriages, and deaths, and just plain gossip.
I'll like it very much if you can. I do enjoy a good correspondence
with--"

"Do you?" she asked sweetly. "How you have changed! When I was a
freshman I remember you told me you received nothing but business
letters, because you didn't want to take time to write letters, and--"

"Did I?" For a second he seemed a little confused. "Well, I'm not crazy
about writing letters, as such. But I'll be so glad to get yours that I
know I'll even enjoy answering them."

Inside the parsonage gate they stood a moment among the rose bushes.
Once again she offered her hand, and he took it gravely, looking with
sober intentness into her face, a little pale in the moonlight. He noted
again the royal little head with its grown-up crown of hair, and the
slender figure with its grown-up length of skirt.

Then he put his arms around her, and kissed her warmly upon the childish
unexpecting lips.

A swift red flooded her face, and receding as swiftly, left her pale.
Her lips quivered a little, and she caught her hands together. Then
sturdily, and only slightly tremulous, she looked into his eyes and
laughed. The professor was in nowise deceived by her attempt at
light-heartedness, remembering as he did the quick quivering of the lips
beneath his, and the unconscious yielding of the supple body in his
arms. He condemned himself mentally in no uncertain terms for having
yielded to the temptation of her young loveliness. Carol still laughed,
determined by her merriment to set the seal of insignificance upon the
act.

"Come and walk a little farther, Carol," he said in a low voice. "I want
to say something else." Then after a few minutes of silence, he began
rather awkwardly, and David Arnold Duke was not usually awkward:

"Carol, you'll think I'm a cad to say what I'm going to, after doing
what I have just done, but I'll have to risk that. You shouldn't let men
kiss you. It isn't right. You're too pretty and sweet and fine for it. I
know you don't allow it commonly, but don't at all. I hate to think of
any one even touching a girl like you."

Carol leaned forward, tilting back her head, and looking up at him
roguishly, her face a-sparkle.

He blushed more deeply. "Oh, I know it," he said. "I'm ashamed of
myself. But I can't help what you think of me. I do think you shouldn't
let them, and I hope you won't. They're sure to want to."

"Yes," she said quietly, very grown-up indeed just then, "yes, they do.
Aren't men funny? They always want to. Sometimes we hear old women say,
'Men are all alike.' I never believe it. I hate old women who say it.
But--are they all alike, Professor?"

"No," he said grimly, "they are not. But I suppose any man would like to
kiss a girl as sweet as you are. But men are not all alike. Don't you
believe it. You won't then, will you?"

"Won't believe it? No."

"I mean," he said, almost stammering in his confusion, "I mean you won't
let them touch you."

Carol smiled teasingly, but in a moment she spoke, and very quietly.
"P'fessor, I'll tell you a blood-red secret if you swear up and down
you'll never tell anybody. I've never told even Lark--Well, one night,
when I was a sophomore,--do you remember Bud Garvin?"

"Yes, tall fellow with black hair and eyes, wasn't he? In the freshman
zoology class."

"Yes. Well, he took me home from a party. Hartley took Lark, and they
got in first. And Bud, well--he put his arm around me, and--maybe you
don't know it, Professor, but there's a big difference in girls, too.
Now some girls are naturally good. Prudence is, and so's Lark. But Fairy
and I--well, we've got a lot of the original Adam in us. Most girls,
especially in books--nice girls, I mean, and you know I'm nice--they
can't bear to have boys touch them.--P'fessor, I like it, honestly I do,
if I like the boy. Bud's rather nice, and I let him--oh, just a little,
but it made me nervous and excited. But I liked it. Prudence was away,
and I hated to talk to Lark that night so I sneaked in Fairy's room and
asked if I might sleep with her. She said I could, and told me to turn
on the light, it wouldn't disturb her. But I was so hot I didn't want
any light, so I undressed as fast as I could and crept in. Somehow, from
the way I snuggled up to Fairy, she caught on. I was out of breath,
really I was ashamed of myself, but I wasn't just sure then whether I'd
ever let him put his arm around me again or not. But Fairy turned over,
and began to talk. Professor," she said solemnly, "Fairy and I always
pretend to be snippy and sarcastic and sneer at each other, but in my
heart, I think Fairy is very nearly as good as Prudence, yes, sir, I do.
Why, Fairy's fine, she's just awfully fine."

"Yes, I'm sure she is."

"She said that once, when she was fifteen, one of the boys at Exminster
kissed her good night. And she didn't mind it a bit. But father was
putting the horses in the barn, and he came out just in time to see it;
it was a moonlight night. After the boys had gone, father hurried in and
took Fairy outdoors for a little talk, just the two of them alone. He
said that in all the years he and my mother were married, every time he
kissed her he remembered that no man but he had ever touched her lips,
and it made him happy. He said he was always sort of thanking God
inside, whenever he held her in his arms. He said nothing else in the
world made a man so proud, and glad and grateful, as to know his wife
was all his own, and that even her lips had been reserved for him like a
sacred treasure that no one else could share. He said it would take the
meanest man on earth, and father thinks there aren't many as mean as
that, to go back on a woman like that. Fairy said she burst out crying
because her husband wouldn't ever be able to feel that way when he
kissed her. But father said since she was so young, and innocent, and it
being the first time, it wouldn't really count. Fairy swore off that
minute,--never again! Of course, when I knew how father felt about
mother, I wanted my husband to have as much pleasure in me as father did
in her, and Fairy and I made a solemn resolve that we would never, even
'hold hands,' and that's very simple, until we got crazy enough about a
man to think we'd like to marry him if we got a chance. And I never have
since then, not once."

"Carol," he said in a low voice, "I wish I had known it. I wouldn't have
kissed you for anything. God knows I wouldn't. I--I think I am man
enough not to have done it anyhow if I had only thought a minute, but
God knows I wouldn't have done it if I had known about this. You don't
know how--contemptible--I feel."

"Oh, that's all right," she said comfortingly, her eyes glowing. "That's
all right. We just meant beaux, you know. We didn't include uncles, and
fathers, and old school-teachers, and things like that. You don't count.
That isn't breaking my pledge."

The professor smiled, but he remembered the quivering lips, and the
relaxing of the lithe body, and the forced laughter, and was not
deceived.

"You're such a strange girl, Carol. You're so honest, usually, so
kind-hearted, so generous. But you always seem trying to make yourself
look bad, not physically, that isn't what I mean." Carol smiled, and her
loving fingers caressed her soft cheek. "But you try to make folks think
you are vain and selfish, when you are not. Why do you do it? Every one
knows what you really are. All over Mount Mark they say you are the best
little kid in town."

"They do!" she said indignantly. "Well, they'd better not. Here I've
spent years building up my reputation to suit myself, and then they go
and shatter me like that. They'd better leave me alone."

"But what's the object?"

"Why, you know, P'fessor," she said, carefully choosing her words, "you
know, it's a pretty hard job living up to a good reputation. Look at
Prudence, and Fairy, and Lark. Every one just naturally expects them to
be angelically and dishearteningly good. And if they aren't, folks talk.
But take me now. No one expects anything of me, and if once in a while,
I do happen to turn out all right by accident, it's a sort of joyful
surprise to the whole community. It's lots more fun surprising folks by
being better than they expect, than shocking them by turning out worse
than they think you will."

"But it doesn't do you any good," he assured her. "You can't fool them.
Mount Mark knows its Carol."

"You're not going?" she said, as he released her hand and straightened
the collar of his coat.

"Yes, your father will chase me off if I don't go now. How about the
letters, Carol? Think you can manage a little oftener?"

"I'd love to. It's so inspiring to get a letter from a
five-thousand-dollars-a-year scientist, I mean, a was-once. Do my
letters sound all right? I don't want to get too chummy, you know."

"Get as chummy as you can," he urged her. "I enjoy it."

"I'll have to be more dignified if you're going to McCormick.
Presbyterian! The Presbyterians are very dignified. I'll have to be
formal from this on. Dear Sir: Respectfully yours. Is that proper?"

He took her hands in his. "Good-by, little pal. Thank you for coming
out, and for telling me the things you have. You have done me good. You
are a breath of fresh sweet air."

"It's my powder," she said complacently. "It does smell good, doesn't
it? It cost a dollar a box. I borrowed the dollar from Aunt Grace. Don't
let on before father. He thinks we use Mennen's baby--twenty-five cents
a box. We didn't tell him so, but he just naturally thinks it. It was
the breath of that dollar powder you were talking about."

She moved her fingers slightly in his hand, and he looked down at them.
Then he lifted them and looked again, admiring the slender fingers and
the pink nails.

"Don't look," she entreated. "They're teaching me things. I can't help
it. This spot on my thumb is fried egg, here are three doughnuts on my
arm,--see them? And here's a regular pancake." She pointed out the
pancake in her palm, sorrowfully.

"Teaching you things, are they?"

"Yes. I have to darn. Look at the tips of my fingers, that's where the
needle rusted off on me. Here's where I cut a slice of bread out of my
thumb! Isn't life serious?"

"Yes, very serious." He looked thoughtfully down at her hands again as
they lay curled up in his own. "Very, very serious."

"Good-by."

"Good-by." He held her hand a moment longer, and then turned suddenly
away. She watched until he was out of sight, and then slipped up-stairs,
undressed in the dark and crept in between the covers. Lark apparently
was sound asleep. Carol giggled softly to herself a few times, and Lark
opened one eye, asking, "What's amatter?"

"Oh, such a good joke on p'fessor," whispered Carol, squeezing her twin
with rapture. "He doesn't know it yet, but he'll be so disgusted with
himself when he finds it out."

"What in the world is it?" Lark was more coherent now.

"I can't tell, Lark, but it's a dandy. My, he'll feel cheap when he
finds out."

"Maybe he won't find it out."

"Oh, yes, he will," was the confident answer, "I'll see that he does."
She began laughing again.

"What is it?"

"I can't tell you, but you'll certainly scream if you ever do know it."

"You can't tell me?" Lark was wide awake, and quite aghast.

"No, I can't, I truly can't."

Lark drew away from the encircling arm with as much dignity as could be
expressed in the dark and in bed, and sent out a series of deep breaths,
as if to indicate that snores were close at hand.

Carol laughed to herself for a while, until Lark really slept, then she
buried her head in the pillow and her throat swelled with sobs that were
heavy but soundless.

The next morning was Lark's turn for making the bed. And when she shook
up Carol's pillow she found it was very damp.

"Why, the little goose," she said to herself, smiling, "she laughed
until she cried, all by herself. And then she turned the pillow over
thinking I wouldn't see it. The little goose! And what on earth was she
laughing at?"



CHAPTER X

JERRY JUNIOR


For some time the twins ignored the atmosphere of solemn mystery which
pervaded their once so cheerful home. But when it finally reached the
limit of their endurance they marched in upon their aunt and Fairy with
an admirable admixture of dignity and indignation in their attitude.

"Who's haunted?" inquired Carol abruptly.

"Where's the criminal?" demanded Lark.

"Yes, little twins, talk English and maybe you'll learn something." And
for the moment the anxious light in Fairy's eyes gave way to a twinkle.
Sad indeed was the day when Fairy could not laugh at the twins.

"Then, in common vernacular, though it is really beneath us, what's up?"

Fairy turned innocently inquiring eyes toward the ceiling. "What
indeed?"

"Oh, don't try to be dramatic, Fairy," counseled Lark. "You're too fat
for a star-Starr."

The twins beamed at each other approvingly at this, and Fairy smiled.
But Carol returned promptly to the charge. "Are Jerry and Prudence
having domestic difficulties? There's something going on, and we want to
know. Father looks like a fallen Samson, and--"

"A fallen Samson, Carol! Mercy! Where did you get it?"

"Yes, kind of sheepish, and ashamed, and yet hopeful of returning
strength. That's art, a simile like that is.--Prudence writes every day,
and you hide the letters. And Aunt Grace sneaks around like a convict
with her hand under her apron. And you look as heavy-laden as if you
were carrying Connie's conscience around with you."

Aunt Grace looked at Fairy, Fairy looked at Aunt Grace. Aunt Grace
raised her eyebrows. Fairy hesitated, nodded, smiled. Slowly then Aunt
Grace drew one hand from beneath her apron and showed to the eagerly
watching twins, a tiny, hand embroidered dress. They stared at it,
fascinated, half frightened, and then looked into the serious faces of
their aunt and sister.

"I--I don't believe it," whispered Carol. "She's not old enough."

Aunt Grace smiled.

"She's older than mother was," said Fairy.

Lark took the little dress and examined it critically. "The neck's too
small," she announced decidedly. "Nothing could wear that."

"We're using this for a pattern," said Fairy, lifting a yellowed, much
worn garment from the sewing basket. "I wore this, and so did you and so
did Connie,--my lovely child."

Carol rubbed her hand about her throat in a puzzled way. "I can't seem
to realize that we ever grew out of that," she said slowly. "Is Prudence
all right?"

"Yes, just fine."

The twins looked at each other bashfully. Then, "I'll bet there'll be no
living with Jerry after this," said Lark.

"Oh, papa," lisped Carol, in a high-pitched voice supposed to represent
the tone of a little child. They both giggled, and blinked hard to
crowd back the tears that wouldn't stay choked down. Prudence! And that!

"And see here, twins, Prudence has a crazy notion that she wants to come
home for it. She says she'll be scared in a hospital, and Jerry's
willing to come here with her. What do you think about it?"

The twins looked doubtful. "They say it ought to be done in a hospital,"
announced Carol gravely. "Jerry can afford it."

"Yes, he wanted to. But Prudence has set her heart on coming home. She
says she'll never feel that Jerry Junior got the proper start if it
happens any place else. They'll have a trained nurse."

"Jerry--what?" gasped the twins, after a short silence due to amazement.

"Jerry Junior,--that's what they call it."

"But how on earth do they know?"

"They don't know. But they have to call it something, haven't they? And
they want a Jerry Junior. So of course they'll get it. For Prudence is
good enough to get whatever she wants."

"Hum, that's no sign," sniffed Carol. "I don't get everything I want, do
I?"

The girls laughed, from habit not from genuine interest, at Carol's
subtle insinuation.

"Well, shall we have her come?"

"Yes," said Carol, "but you tell Prue she needn't expect me to hold it
until it gets too big to wiggle. I call them nasty, treacherous little
things. Mrs. Miller made me hold hers, and it squirmed right off my
knee. I wanted to spank it."

"And tell Prudence to uphold the parsonage and have a white one," added
Lark. "These little Indian effects don't make a hit with me."

"Are you going to tell Connie?"

"I don't think so--yet. Connie's only fourteen."

"You tell her." Carol's voice was emphatic. "There's nothing mysterious
about it. Everybody does it. And Connie may have a few suggestions of
her own to offer. You tell Prue I'm thinking out a lot of good advice
for her, and--"

"You must write her yourselves. She wanted us to tell you long before."
Fairy picked up the little embroidered dress and kissed it, but her fond
eyes were anxious.

So a few weeks later, weeks crowded full of tumult and anxiety, yes, and
laughter, too, Prudence and Jerry came to Mount Mark and settled down
to quiet life in the parsonage. The girls kissed Prudence very often,
leaped quickly to do her errands, and touched her with nervous fingers.
But mostly they sat across the room and regarded her curiously, shyly,
quite maternally.

"Carol and Lark Starr," Prudence cried crossly one day, when she
intercepted one of these surreptitious glances, "you march right
up-stairs and shut yourselves up for thirty minutes. And if you ever sit
around and stare at me like a stranger again, I'll spank you both. I'm
no outsider. I belong here just as much as ever I did. And I'm still the
head of things around here, too!"

The twins obediently marched, and after that Prudence was more like
Prudence, and the twins were much more twinnish, so that life was very
nearly normal in the old parsonage. Prudence said she couldn't feel
quite satisfied because the twins were too old to be punished, but she
often scolded them in her gentle teasing way, and the twins enjoyed it
more than anything else that happened during those days of quiet.

Then came a night when the four sisters huddled breathlessly in the
kitchen, and Aunt Grace and the trained nurse stayed with Prudence
behind the closed door of the front room up-stairs. And the doctor went
in, too, after he had inflicted a few light-hearted remarks upon the two
men in the little library.

After that--silence, an immense hushing silence,--settled down over the
parsonage. Jerry and Mr. Starr, alone in the library, where a faint odor
of drugs, anesthetics, something that smelled like hospitals lingered,
stared away from each other with persistent determination. Now and then
Jerry walked across the room, but Mr. Starr stood motionless by the
window looking down at the cherry tree beneath him, wondering vaguely
how it dared to be so full of snowy blooms!

"Where are the girls?" Jerry asked, picking up a roll of cotton which
had been left on the library table, and flinging it from him as though
it scorched his fingers.

"I--think I'll go and see," said Mr. Starr, turning heavily.

Jerry hesitated a minute. "I--think I'll go along," he said.

For an instant their eyes met, sympathetically, and did not smile though
their lips curved.

Down in the kitchen, meanwhile, Fairy sat somberly beside the table with
a pile of darning which she jabbed at viciously with the needle. Lark
was perched on the ice chest, but Carol, true to her childish instincts,
hunched on the floor with her feet curled beneath her. Connie leaned
against the table within reach of Fairy's hand.

"They're awfully slow," she complained once.

Nobody answered. The deadly silence clutched them.

"Oh, talk," Carol blurted out desperately. "You make me sick! It isn't
anything to be so awfully scared about. Everybody does it."

A little mumble greeted this, and then, silence again. Whenever it grew
too painful, Carol said reproachfully, "Everybody does it." And no one
ever answered.

They looked up expectantly when the men entered. It seemed cozier
somehow when they were all together in the little kitchen.

"Is she all right?"

"Sure, she's all right," came the bright response from their father. And
then silence.

"Oh, you make me sick," cried Carol. "Everybody does it."

"Carol Starr, if you say 'everybody does it' again I'll send you to
bed," snapped Fairy. "Don't we know everybody does it? But Prudence
isn't everybody."

"Maybe we'd better have a lunch," suggested their father hopefully,
knowing the thought of food often aroused his family when all other
means had failed. But his suggestion met with dark reproach.

"Father, if you're hungry, take a piece of bread out into the woodshed,"
begged Connie. "If anybody eats anything before me I shall jump up and
down and scream."

Their father smiled faintly and gave it up. After that the silence was
unbroken save once when Carol began encouragingly:

"Every--"

"Sure they do," interrupted Fairy uncompromisingly.

And then--the hush.

Long, long after that, when the girls' eyes were heavy, not with want of
sleep, but just with unspeakable weariness of spirit,--they heard a step
on the stair.

"Come on up, Harmer," the doctor called. And then, "Sure, she's all
right. She's fine and dandy,--both of them are."

Jerry was gone in an instant, and Mr. Starr looked after him with
inscrutable eyes. "Fathers are--only fathers," he said enigmatically.

"Yes," agreed Carol.

"Yes. In a crisis, the other man goes first."

His daughters turned to him then, tenderly, sympathetically.

"You had your turn, father," Connie consoled him. And felt repaid for
the effort when he smiled at her.

"They are both fine, you know," said Carol. "The doctor said so."

"We heard him," Fairy assured her.

"Yes, I said all the time you were all awfully silly about it. I knew it
was all right. Everybody does it."

"Jerry Junior," Lark mused. "He's here.--'Aunt Lark, may I have a
cooky?'"

A few minutes later the door was carefully shoved open by means of a
cautious foot, and Jerry stood before them, holding in his arms a big
bundle of delicately tinted flannel.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, beaming at them, his face flushed, his
eyes bright, embarrassed, but thoroughly satisfied. Of course, Prudence
was the dearest girl in the world, and he adored her, and--but this was
different, this was Fatherhood!

[Illustration: Let me introduce to you my little daughter]

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said again in the tender, half-laughing voice
that Prudence loved, "let me introduce to you my little daughter, Fairy
Harmer."

"Not--not Fairy!" cried Fairy, Senior, tearfully. "Oh, Jerry, I don't
believe it. Not Fairy! You are joking."

"Of course it is Fairy," he said. "Look out, Connie, do you want to
break part of my daughter off the first thing? Oh, I see. It was just
the flannel, was it? Well, you must be careful of the flannel, for when
ladies are the size of this one, you can't tell which is flannel and
which is foot. Fairy Harmer! Here, grandpa, what do you think of this?
And Prudence said to send you right up-stairs, and hurry. And the girls
must go to bed immediately or they'll be sick to-morrow. Prudence says
so."

"Oh, that's enough. That's Prudence all over! You needn't tell us any
more. Here, Fairy Harmer, let us look at you. Hold her down, Jerry.
Mercy! Mercy!"

"Isn't she a beauty?" boasted the young father proudly.

"A beauty? A beauty! That!" Carol rubbed her slender fingers over her
own velvety cheek. "They talk about the matchless skin of a new-born
infant. Thanks. I'd just as lief have my own."

"Oh, she isn't acclimated yet, that's all. Do you think she looks like
me?"

"No, Jerry, I don't," said Lark candidly. "I never considered you a
dream of loveliness by any means, but in due honesty I must admit that
you don't look like that."

"Why, it hasn't any hair!" Connie protested.

"Well, give it time," urged the baby's father. "Be reasonable,
Connie. What can you expect in fifteen minutes."

"But they always have a little hair," she insisted.

"No, indeed they don't, Miss Connie," he said flatly. "For if they
always did, ours would have. Now, don't try to let on there's anything
the matter with her, for there isn't.--Look at her nose, if you don't
like her hair.--What do you think of a nose like that now? Just look at
it."

"Yes, we're looking at it," was the grim reply.

"And--and chin,--look at her chin. See here, do you mean to say you are
making fun of Fairy Harmer? Come on, tootsie, we'll go back up-stairs.
They're crazy about us up there."

"Oh, see the cunning little footies," crowed Connie.

"Here, cover 'em up," said Jerry anxiously. "You mustn't let their feet
stick out. Prudence says so. It's considered very--er, bad form, I
believe."

"Fairy! Honestly, Jerry, is it Fairy? When did you decide?"

"Oh, a long time ago," he said, "years ago, I guess. You see, we always
wanted a girl. Prue didn't think she had enough experience with the
stronger sex yet, and of course I'm strong for the ladies. But it seems
that what you want is what you don't get. So we decided to call her
Fairy when she came, and then we wanted a boy, and talked boy, and got
the girl! I guess it always works just that way, if you manage it
cleverly. Come now, Fairy, you needn't wrinkle up that smudge of a nose
at me.--Let go, Connie, it is my daughter's bedtime. There now, there
now, baby, was she her daddy's little girl?"

Flushed and laughing, Jerry broke away from the admiring, giggling,
nearly tearful girls, and hurried up-stairs with Jerry Junior.

But Fairy stood motionless by the door. "Prudence's baby," she
whispered. "Little Fairy Harmer!--Mmmmmmm!"



CHAPTER XI

THE END OF FAIRY


Now that the twins had attained to the dignity of eighteen years, and
were respectable students at the thoroughly respectable Presbyterian
college, they had dates very frequently. And it was along about this
time that Mr. Starr developed a sudden interest in the evening callers
at his home. He bobbed up unannounced in most unexpected places and at
most unexpected hours. He walked about the house with a sharp sly look
in his eyes, in a way that could only be described as Carol said, by
"downright nosiness." The girls discussed this new phase of his
character when they were alone, but decided not to mention it to him,
for fear of hurting his feelings. "Maybe he's got a new kind of a sermon
up his brain," said Carol. "Maybe he's beginning to realize that his
clothes are wearing out again," suggested Lark. "He's too young for
second childhood," Connie thought. So they watched him curiously.

Aunt Grace, too, observed this queer devotion on the part of the
minister, and finally her curiosity overcame her habit of keeping
silent.

"William," she said gently, "what's the matter with you lately? Is there
anything on your mind?"

Mr. Starr started nervously. "My mind? Of course not. Why?"

"You seem to be looking for something. You watch the girls so closely,
you're always hanging around, and--"

He smiled broadly. "Thanks for that. 'Hanging around,' in my own
parsonage. That is the gratitude of a loving family!"

Aunt Grace smiled. "Well, I see there's nothing much the matter with
you. I was seriously worried. I thought there was something wrong,
and--"

"Sort of mentally unbalanced, is that it? Oh, no, I'm just watching my
family."

She looked up quickly. "Watching the family! You mean--"

"Carol," he said briefly.

"Carol! You're watching--"

"Oh, only in the most honorable way, of course. You see," he gave his
explanation with an air of relief, "Prudence always says I must keep an
eye on Carol. She's so pretty, and the boys get stuck on her,
and--that's what Prudence says. I forgot all about it for a while. But
lately I have begun to notice that the boys are older, and--we don't
want Carol falling in love with the wrong man. I got uneasy. I decided
to watch out. I'm the head of this family, you know."

"Such an idea!" scoffed Aunt Grace, who was not at all of a scoffing
nature.

"Carol was born for lovers, Prudence says so. And these men's girls have
to be watched, or the wrong fellow will get ahead, and--"

"Carol doesn't need watching--not any more at least."

"I'm not really watching her, you know. I'm just keeping my eyes open."

"But Carol's all right. That's one time Prudence was away off." She
smiled as she recognized a bit of Carol's slang upon her lips. "Don't
worry about her. You needn't keep an eye on her any more. She's coming,
all right."

"You don't think there's any danger of her falling in love with the
wrong man?"

"No."

"There aren't many worth-having fellows in Mount Mark, you know."

"Carol won't fall in love with a Mount Mark fellow."

"You seem very positive."

"Yes, I'm positive."

He looked thoughtful for a while. "Well, Prudence always told me to
watch Carol, so I could help her if she needed it."

"Girls always need their fathers," came the quick reply. "But Carol does
not need you particularly. There's only one of them who will require
especial attention."

"That's what Prudence says."

"Yes, just one--not Carol."

"Not Carol!" He looked at her in astonishment. "Why, Fairy and Lark
are--different. They're all right. They don't need attention."

"No. It's the other one."

"The other one! That's all."

"There's Connie."

"Connie?"

"Yes."

"Connie?"

"Yes."

"You don't mean Connie."

Aunt Grace smiled.

"Why, Grace, you're--you're off. Excuse me for saying it, but--you're
crazy. Connie--why, Connie has never been any trouble in her life.
Connie!"

"You've never had any friction with Connie, she's always been right so
far. One of these days she's pretty likely to be wrong, and Connie
doesn't yield very easily."

"But Connie's so sober and straight, and--"

"That's the kind."

"She's so conscientious."

"Yes, conscientious."

"She's--look here, Grace, there's nothing the matter with Connie."

"Of course not, William. That isn't what I mean. But you ought to be
getting very, very close to Connie right now, for one of these days
she's going to need a lot of that extra companionship Prudence told you
about. Connie wants to know everything. She wants to see everything.
None of the other girls ever yearned for city life. Connie does. She
says when she is through school she's going to the city."

"What city?"

"Any city."

"What for?"

"For experience."

Mr. Starr looked about him helplessly. "There's experience right here,"
he protested feebly. "Lots of it. Entirely too much of it."

"Well, that's Connie. She wants to know, to see, to feel. She wants to
live. Get close to her, get chummy. She may not need it, and then again
she may. She's very young yet."

"All right, I will. It is well I have some one to steer me along the
proper road." He looked regretfully out of the window. "I ought to be
able to see these things for myself, but the girls seem perfectly all
right to me. They always have. I suppose it's because they're mine."

Aunt Grace looked at him affectionately. "It's because they're the
finest girls on earth," she declared. "That's why. But we want to be
ready to help them if they need it, just because they are so fine. They
will every one be splendid, if we give them the right kind of a chance."

He sat silent a moment. "I've always wanted one of them to marry a
preacher," he said, laughing apologetically. "It is very narrow-minded,
of course, but a man does make a hobby of his own profession. I always
hoped Prudence would. I thought she was born for it. Then I looked to
Fairy, and she turned me down. I guess I'll have to give up the notion
now."

She looked at him queerly. "Maybe not."

"Connie might, I suppose."

"Connie," she contradicted promptly, "will probably marry a genius, or a
rascal, or a millionaire."

He looked dazed at that.

She leaned forward a little. "Carol might."

"Carol--"

"She might." She watched him narrowly, a smile in her eyes.

"Carol's too worldly."

"You don't believe that."

"No, not really. Carol--she--why, you know when I think of it, Carol
wouldn't be half bad for a minister's wife. She has a sense of humor,
that is very important. She's generous, she's patient, she's unselfish,
a good mixer,--some of the ladies might think her complexion wasn't
real, but--Grace, Carol wouldn't be half bad!"

"Oh, William," she sighed, "can't you remember that you are a Methodist
minister, and a grandfather, and--grow up a little?"

After that Mr. Starr returned to normal again, only many times he and
Connie had little outings together, and talked a great deal. And Aunt
Grace, seeing it, smiled with satisfaction. But the twins and Fairy
settled it in their own minds by saying, "Father was just a little
jealous of all the beaux. He was looking for a pal, and he's found
Connie."

But in spite of his new devotion to Connie, Mr. Starr also spent a great
deal of time with Fairy. "We must get fast chums, Fairy," he often said
to her. "This is our last chance. We have to get cemented for a
lifetime, you know."

And Fairy, when he said so, caught his hand and laughed a little
tremulously.

Indeed, he was right when he said it was his last chance with Fairy in
the parsonage. Two weeks before her commencement she had slipped into
the library and closed the door cautiously behind her.

"Father," she said, "would you be very sorry if I didn't teach school
after all?"

"Not a bit," came the ready answer.

"I mean if I--you see, father, since you sent me to college I feel as if
I ought to work and--help out."

"That's nonsense," he said, drawing the tall girl down to his knees. "I
can take care of my own family, thanks. Are you trying to run me out of
my job? If you want to work, all right, do it, but for yourself, and not
for us. Or if you want to do anything else," he did not meet her eyes,
"if you want to stay at home a year or so before you get married, it
would please us better than anything else. And when you want to marry
Gene, we're expecting it, you know."

"Yes, I know," she fingered the lapel of his coat uneasily. "Do you care
how soon I get married?"

"Are you still sure it is Gene?"

"Yes, I'm sure."

"Then I think you should choose your own time. I am in no hurry. But
any time,--it's for you, and Gene, to decide."

"Then you haven't set your heart on my teaching?"

"I set my heart on giving you the best chance possible. And I have done
it. For the rest, it depends on you. You may work, or you may stay at
home a while. I only want you to be happy, Fairy."

"But doesn't it seem foolish to go clear through college, and spend the
money, and then--marry without using the education?"

"I do not think so. They've been fine years, and you are finer because
of them. There's just as much opportunity to use your fineness in a home
of your own as in a public school. That's the way I look at it."

"You don't think I'm too young?"

"You're pretty young," he said slowly. "I can hardly say, Fairy. You've
always been capable and self-possessed. When you and Gene get so crazy
about each other you can't bear to be apart any longer, it's all right
here."

She put her arm around his neck and rubbed her fingers over his cheek
lovingly.

"You understand, don't you, father, that I'm just going to be plain
married when the time comes? Not a wedding like Prudence's. Gene, and
the girls, and Prue and Jerry, and you, father, that is all."

"Yes, all right. It's your day, you know."

"And we won't talk much about it beforehand. We all know how we feel
about things. It would be silly for me to try to tell you what a grand
sweet father you've been to us. I can't tell you,--if I tried I'd only
cry. You know what I think."

His face was against hers, and his eyes were away from her, so Fairy did
not see the moisture in his eyes when he said in a low voice:

"Yes, I know Fairy. And I don't need to say what fine girls you are, and
how proud I am of you. You know it already. But sometimes," he added
slowly, "I wonder that I haven't been a bigger man, and haven't done
finer work, with a houseful of girls like mine."

Her arm pressed more closely about his neck. "Father," she whispered,
"don't say that. We think you are wonderfully splendid, just as you are.
It isn't what you've said, not what you've done for us, it's just
because you have always made us so sure of you. We never had to wonder
about father, or ask ourselves--we were sure. We've always had you." She
leaned over and kissed him again. "There never was such a father, they
all say so, Prudence and Connie, and the twins, too! There couldn't be
another like you! Now we understand each other, don't we?"

"I guess so. Anyhow, I understand that there'll only be three daughters
in the parsonage pretty soon. All right, Fairy. I know you will be
happy." He paused a moment. "So will I."

But the months passed, and Fairy seemed content to stay quietly at home,
embroidering as Prudence had done, laughing at the twins as they tripped
gaily, riotously through college. And then in the early spring, she sent
an urgent note to Prudence.

"You must come home for a few days, Prue, you and Jerry. It's just
because I want you and I need you, and I know you won't go back on me. I
want you to get here on the early afternoon train Tuesday, and stay till
the last of the week. Just wire that you are coming--the three of you. I
know you'll be here, since it is I who ask it."

It followed naturally that Prudence's answer was satisfactory. "Of
course we'll come."

Fairy's plans were very simple. "We'll have a nice family dinner Tuesday
evening,--we'll get Mrs. Green to come and cook and have her niece to
serve it,--that'll leave us free to visit every minute. I'll plan the
dinner. Then we'll all be together, nice and quiet, just our own little
bunch. Don't have dates, twins,--of course Gene will be here, but he's
part of the family, and we don't want outsiders this time. His parents
will be in town, and I've asked them to come up. I want a real family
reunion just for once, and it's my party, for I started it. So you must
let me have it my own way."

Fairy was generally willing to leave the initiative to the eager twins,
but when she made a plan it was generally worth adopting, and the other
members of the family agreed to her arrangements without demur.

After the first confusion of welcoming Prudence home, and making fun of
"daddy Jerry," and testing the weight and length of little Fairy, they
all settled down to a parsonage home-gathering. Just a few minutes
before the dinner hour, Fairy took her father's hand.

"Come into the lime-light," she said softly, "I want you." He passed
little Fairy over to the outstretched arms of the nearest auntie, and
allowed himself to be led into the center of the room.

"Gene," said Fairy, and he came to her quickly, holding out a slender
roll of paper. "It's our license," said Fairy. "We think we'd like to be
married now, father, if you will."

He looked at her questioningly, but understandingly. The girls clustered
about them with eager outcries, half protest, half encouragement.

"It's my day, you know," cried Fairy, "and this is my way."

She held out her hand, and Gene took it very tenderly in his. Mr. Starr
looked at them gravely for a moment, and then in the gentle voice that
the parsonage girls insisted was his most valuable ministerial asset, he
gave his second girl in marriage.

It surely was Fairy's way, plain and sweet, without formality. And the
dinner that followed was just a happy family dinner. Fairy's face was
so glowing with content, and Gene's attitude was so tender, and so
ludicrously proud, that the twins at last were convinced that this was
right, and all was well.

But that evening, when Gene's parents had gone away, and after Fairy and
Gene themselves had taken the carriage to the station for their little
vacation together, and Jerry and Prudence were putting little Fairy to
bed, the three girls left in the home sat drearily in their bedroom and
talked it over.

"We're thinning out," said Connie. "Who next?"

"We'll stick around as long as we like, Miss Connie, you needn't try to
shuffle us off," said Lark indignantly.

"Prudence, and Fairy,--it was pretty cute of Fairy, wasn't it?"

"Let's go to bed," said Carol, rising. "I suppose we'll feel better in
the morning. A good sleep is almost as filling as a big meal after a
blow like this. Well, that's the end of Fairy. We have to make the best
of us. Come on, Larkie. You've still got us to boss you, Con, so you
needn't feel too forlorn. My, but the house is still! In some ways I
think this family is positively sickening. Good night, Connie. And,
after this, when you want to eat candy in bed, please use your own. I
got chocolate all over my foot last night. Good night, Connie. Well,
it's the end of Fairy. The family is going to pieces, sure enough."



CHAPTER XII

SOWING SEEDS


"Have you seen Mrs. Harbert lately, Carol?"

"Yes, she's better, father. I was there a few minutes yesterday."

"Yesterday? You were there Tuesday, weren't you?"

Carol looked uncomfortable. "Why, yes, I was, just for a second."

"She tells me you've been running in nearly every day since she took
sick."

Carol bent sharply inquiring eyes upon her father. "What else did she
tell you?"

"She said you were an angel."

"Y-yes,--she seems somehow to think I do it for kindness."

"And don't you?"

"Why, no, father, of course I don't. It's only two blocks out of my way
and it's such fun to pop in on sick folks and show them how
disgustingly strong and well I am."

"Where did you get the money for that basket of fruit?"

"I borrowed it from Aunt Grace." Carol's face was crimson with
mortification. "But it'll be a sweet time before Mrs. Harbert gets
anything else from me. She promised she wouldn't tell."

"Did any of the others know about the fruit?"

"Why--not--exactly."

"But she thinks it was from the whole family. She thanked me for it."

"I--I made her think that," Carol explained. "I want her to think we're
the nicest parsonage bunch they've ever had in Mount Mark. Besides, it
really was from the family. Aunt Grace loaned me the money and I'll have
to borrow it from you to pay her. And Lark did my dusting so I could go
on the errand, though she did not know what it was. And
I--er--accidentally took one of Connie's ribbons to tie it with. Isn't
that a family gift?"

"Mr. Scott tells me you are the prime mover in the Junior League now,"
he continued.

"Well, goodness knows our Junior League needs a mover of some sort."

"And Mrs. Davies says you are a whole Mercy and Help Department all by
yourself."

"What I can't understand," said Carol mournfully, "is why folks don't
keep their mouths shut. I know that sounds very inelegant, but it
expresses my idea perfectly. Can't I have a good time in my own way
without the whole church pedaling me from door to door?"

The twinkle in her father's eyes deepened. "What do you call it, Carol,
'sowing seeds of kindness'?"

"I should say not," came the emphatic retort. "I call it sowing seeds of
fun. It's a circus to go around and gloat over folks when they are sick
or sorry, or--"

"But they tell me you don't gloat. Mrs. Marling says you cried with
Jeanie half a day when her dog died."

"Oh, that's my way of gloating," said Carol, nothing daunted, but
plainly glad to get away without further interrogation.

It was a strange thing that of all the parsonage girls, Carol,
light-hearted, whimsical, mischievous Carol, was the one most dear to
the hearts of her father's people. Not the gentle Prudence, nor charming
Fairy, not clever Lark nor conscientious Connie, could rival the
"naughty twin" in Mount Mark's affections. And in spite of her odd curt
speeches, and her openly-vaunted vanity, Mount Mark insisted she was
"good." Certainly she was willing! "Get Carol Starr,--she'll do it," was
the commonest phrase in Mount Mark's vocabulary. Whatever was wanted,
whatever the sacrifice involved, Carol stood ready to fill the bill. Not
for kindness,--oh, dear no,--Carol staunchly disclaimed any such
niceness as that. She did it for fun, pure and simple. She said she
liked to show off. She insisted that she liked to feel that she was the
pivot on which little old Mount Mark turned. But this was only when she
was found out. As far as she could she kept her little "seeds of fun"
carefully up her sleeve, and it was only when the indiscreet adoration
of her friends brought the budding plants to light, that she laughingly
declared "it was a circus to go and gloat over folks."

Once in the early dusk of a summer evening, she discovered old Ben
Peters, half intoxicated, slumbering noisily on a pile of sacks in a
corner of the parsonage barn. Carol was sorry, but not at all
frightened. The poor, kindly, weak, old man was as familiar to her as
any figure in Mount Mark. He was always in a more or less helpless state
of intoxication, but also he was always harmless, kind-hearted and
generous. She prodded him vigorously with the handle of the pitch-fork
until he was aroused to consciousness, and then guided him into the
woodshed with the buggy whip. When he was seated on a chunk of wood she
faced him sternly.

"Well, you are a dandy," she said. "Going into a parsonage barn, of all
places in the world, to sleep off an odor like yours! Why didn't you go
down to Fred Greer's harness shop, that's where you got it. We're such
an awfully temperance town, you know! But the parsonage! Why, if the
trustees had happened into the barn and caught a whiff of that smell,
father'd have lost his job. Now you just take warning from me, and keep
away from this parsonage until you can develop a good Methodist odor.
Oh, don't cry about it! Your very tears smell rummy. Just you hang on to
that chunk of wood, and I'll bring you some coffee."

Like a thief in the night she sneaked into the house, and presently
returned with a huge tin of coffee, steaming hot. He drank it eagerly,
but kept a wary eye on the haughty twin, who stood above him with the
whip in her hand.

"That's better. Now, sit down and listen to me. If you would come to the
parsonage, you have to take your medicine. Silver and gold have we none,
but such as we have we give to you. And religion's all we've got. You're
here, and I'm here. We haven't any choir or any Bible, but parsonage
folks have to be adaptable. Now then, Ben Peters, you've got to get
converted."

The poor doddering old fellow, sobered by this awful announcement,
looked helplessly at the window. It was too small. And slender active
Carol, with the buggy whip, stood between him and the door.

"No, you can't escape. You're done for this time,--it's the straight and
narrow from this on. Now listen,--it's really very simple. And you need
it pretty badly, Ben. Of course you don't realize it when you're drunk,
you can't see how terribly disgusting you are, but honestly, Ben, a pig
is a ray of sunshine compared to a drunk man. You're a blot on the
landscape. You're a--you're a--" She fished vainly for words, longing
for Lark's literary flow of language.

"I'm not drunk," he stammered.

"No, you're not, thanks to the buggy whip and that strong coffee, but
you're no beauty even yet. Well now, to come down to religion again. You
can't stop drinking--"

"I could," he blustered feebly, "I could if I wanted to."

"Oh, no, you couldn't. You haven't backbone enough. You couldn't stop to
save your life. But," Carol's voice lowered a little, and she grew shy,
but very earnest, "but God can stop you, because He has enough backbone
for a hundred thousand--er, jellyfishes. And--you see, it's like this.
God made the world, and put the people in it. Now listen carefully, Ben,
and I'll make it just as simple as possible so it can sink through the
smell and get at you. God made the world, and put the people in it. And
the people sinned, worshiped idols and went back on God, and--did a lot
of other mean things. So God was in honor bound to punish them, for
that's the law, and God's the judge that can't be bought. He had to
inflict punishment. But God and Jesus talked it over, and they felt
awfully bad about it, for they kind of liked the people anyhow." She
stared at the disreputable figure slouching on the chunk of wood. "It's
very hard to understand, very. I should think they would despise
us,--some of us," she added significantly. "I'm sure I should. But
anyhow they didn't. Are you getting me?"

The bleary eyes were really fastened intently on the girl's bright face,
and he hung upon her words.

"Well, they decided that Jesus should come down here and live, and be
perfectly good, so He would not deserve any punishment, and then God
would allow Him to receive the punishment anyhow, and the rest of us
could go free. That would cover the law. See? Punishing Him when He
deserved no punishment. Then they could forgive us heathens that didn't
deserve it. Do you get that?" She looked at him anxiously. "It all
hinges on that, you know. I'm not a preacher myself, but that's the
idea. So Jesus was crucified, and then God said, 'There He is! Look on
Him, believe in Him, worship Him, and in His name you stand O. K.' See?
That means, if we give Him the chance, God'll let Jesus take our share
of the punishment. So we've just got to let go, and say, 'All right,
here I am. I believe it, I give up, I know I don't amount to a hill of
beans--and you can say it very honestly--but if you want me, and will
call it square, God knows I'm willing.' And there you are."

"Won't I drink any more?"

"No, not if you let go hard enough. I mean," she caught herself up
quickly, "I mean if you let clear go and turn the job over to God. But
you're not to think you can keep decent by yourself, for you can't--it's
not born in you, and something else is--just let go, and stay let go.
After that, it's God's job, and unless you stick in and try to manage
yourself, He'll see you through."

"All right, I'll do it."

Carol gasped. She opened her lips a few times, and swallowed hard. She
didn't know what to do next. Wildly she racked her brain for the next
step in this vital performance.

"I--think we ought to pray," she said feebly.

"All right, we'll pray." He rolled curiously off the stick of wood, and
fell, as if by instinct, into the attitude of prayer.

Carol gazed about her helplessly. But true to her training, she knelt
beside him. Then came silence.

"I--well, I'll pray," she said with grim determination. "Dear Father in
Heaven," she began weakly, and then she forgot her timidity and her
fear, and realized only that this was a crisis in the life of the
drunken man.

"Oh, God, he'll do it. He'll let go, and turn it over to you. He isn't
worth anything, God, none of us are, but You can handle him, for You've
had worse jobs than this, though it doesn't seem possible. You'll help
him, God, and love him, and show him how, for he hasn't the faintest
idea what to do next, and neither have I. But You brought him into our
barn to-night, and You'll see him through. Oh, God, for Jesus' sake,
help Ben Peters. Amen.

"Now, what shall I do?" she wondered.

"What's your father for?" She looked quickly at Ben Peters. He had not
spoken, but something certainly had asked, "What's your father for?"

"You stay here, Ben, and pray for yourself, and I'll send father out.
I'm not just sure what to say next, and father'll finish you up. You
pray for all you're worth."

She was gone in a flash, through the kitchen, through the hall, up the
stairs two at a time, and her arm thrown closely about her father's
shoulder.

"Oh, father, I got stuck," she wailed. "I'm so ashamed of myself. But
you can finish him off, can't you? I honestly believe he's started."

He took her firmly by the arms and squared her around on his lap. "One,
two, three, ready, go. Now, what?"

"Ben Peters. He was drunk in the barn and I took him into the woodshed
and gave him some hot coffee,--and some religion, but not enough to hurt
him. I told him he had to get converted, and he said he would. So I told
him about it, but you'd better tell him again, for I'm afraid I made
quite a mess of it. And then we prayed, and I was stuck for fair,
father, for I couldn't think what to do next. But I do believe it was
God who said, 'What's your father for?' And so I left him praying for
himself, and--you'd better hurry, or he may get cold feet and run away.
Be easy with him, father, but don't let him off. This is the first
chance we've ever had at Ben Peters, and God'll never forgive us if we
let him slip through our fingers."

Carol was dumped off on to the floor and her father was half-way down
the stairs before she caught her breath. Then she smiled. Then she
blushed.

"That was one bad job," she said to herself sadly. "I'm a disgrace to
the Methodist church. Thank goodness the trustees'll never hear of it.
I'll bribe Ben Peters to eternal silence if I have to do it with
kisses." Then her face grew very soft. "Poor old man! Oh, the poor old
man!" A quick rush of tears blinded her eyes, and her throat throbbed.
"Oh, why do they,--what makes men like that? Can't they see, can't they
know, how awful they are, how--" She shuddered. "I can't see for the
life of me what makes God treat us decently at all." Her face brightened
again. "I was a bad job, all right, but I feel kind of pleased about it.
I hope father won't mention it to the girls."

And Ben Peters truly had a start, incredible as it seemed. Yes, as
Carol had warned him, he forgot sometimes and tried to steer for
himself, and always crashed into the rocks. Then Carol, with angry eyes
and scornful voice, berated him for trying to get hold of God's job, and
cautioned him anew about "sticking in when it was not his affair any
more." It took time, a long time, and hard work, and many, many prayers
went up from Carol's bedside, and from the library at the head of the
stairs, but there came a time when Ben Peters let go for good and all,
and turned to Carol, standing beside the bed with sorry frightened eyes,
and said quietly:

"It's all right, Carol. I've let go. You're a mighty nice little girl.
I've let go for good this time. I'm just slipping along where He sends
me,--it's all right," he finished drowsily. And fell asleep.



CHAPTER XIII

THE CONNIE PROBLEM


Mr. Starr was getting ready to go to conference, and the girls hovered
about him with anxious eyes. This was their fifth conference since
coming to Mount Mark,--the time limit for Methodist ministers was five
years. The Starrs, therefore, would be transferred, and where? Small
wonder that the girls followed him around the house and spoke in soft
voices and looked with tender eyes at the old parsonage and the wide
lawn. They would be leaving it next week. Already the curtains were
down, and laundered, and packed. The trunks were filled, the books were
boxed. Yes, they were leaving, but whither were they bound?

"Get your ecclesiastical dander up, father," Carol urged, "don't let
them give us a church fight, or a twenty-thousand-dollar debt on a
thousand-dollar congregation."

"We don't care for a big salary or a stylish congregation," Lark added,
"but we don't want to go back to washpans and kerosene lamps again."

"If you have to choose between a bath tub, with a church quarrel, and a
wash basin with peace and harmony, we'll take the tub and settle the
scrap!"

The conference was held in Fairfield, and he informed the girls casually
that he would be home on the first train after the assignments were
made. He said it casually, for he did not wish them to know how
perturbed he was over the coming change. During the conference he tried
in many and devious ways to learn the will of the authorities regarding
his future, but he found no clue. And at home the girls were discussing
the matter very little, but thinking of nothing else. They were
determined to be pleased about it.

"It really doesn't make any difference," Lark said. "We've had one year
in college, we can get along without any more. Or maybe father would let
us borrow the money and stay at the dorm. And Connie's so far along now
that she's all right. Any good high school will do for her. It doesn't
make any difference at all."

"No, we're so nearly grown up that one place will do just as well as
another," agreed Carol unconcernedly.

"I'm rather anxious to move, myself," said Connie. "I'm afraid some of
the ladies might carry out their designs on father. They've had five
years of practise now, you know."

"Don't be silly, Con. Isn't Aunt Grace here on purpose to chaperon him
and keep the ladies off? I'd hate to go to New London, or Mediapolis,
or--but after all it doesn't make a bit of difference."

Just the same, on Wednesday evening, the girls sat silent, with
intensely flushed faces and painfully shining eyes, watching the clock,
listening for the footstep. They had deliberately remained away from the
station. They thought they could face it better within the friendly
walls of the parsonage. It was all settled now, father knew where they
were going. Oh, why hadn't he wired? It must be terribly bad then, he
evidently wanted to break it to them gently.

Maybe it was a circuit! There was the whistle now! Only a few minutes
now. Suppose his salary were cut down,--good-by to silk stockings and
kid gloves,--cheap, but kid, just the same! Suppose the parsonage would
be old-fashioned! Suppose there wasn't any parsonage at all, and they
would have to pay rent! Sup--Then the door slammed.

Carol and Lark picked up their darning, and Connie bent earnestly over
her magazine. Aunt Grace covered a yawn with her slender fingers and
looked out of the window.

"Hello!"

"Why, hello, papa! Back already?"

They dropped darning and magazine and flew to welcome him home.

"Come and sit down!" "My, it seemed a long time!" "We had lots of fun,
father." "Was it a nice conference?" "Mr. James sent us two bushels of
potatoes!" "We're going to have chicken to-morrow--the Ladies' Aiders
sent it with their farewell love." "Wasn't it a dandy day?"

"Well, it's all settled."

"Yes, we supposed it would be. Was the conference good? We read accounts
of it every day, and acted stuck-up when it said nice things about
you."

"We are to--"

"Ju-just a minute, father," interrupted Connie anxiously. "We don't care
a snap where it is, honestly we don't. We're just crazy about it,
wherever it is. We've got it all settled. You needn't be afraid to tell
us."

"Afraid to tell us!" mocked the twins indignantly. "What kind of
slave-drivers do you think we are?"

"Of course we don't care where we go," explained Lark. "Haven't we been
a parsonage bunch long enough to be tickled to death to be sent any
place?"

"Father knows we're all right. Go on, daddy, who's to be our next
flock?"

"We haven't any, we--"

The girls' faces paled. "Haven't any? You mean--"

"I mean we're to stay in Mount Mark."

"Stay in--What?"

"Mount Mark. They--"

"They extended the limit," cried Connie, springing up.

"No," he denied, laughing. "They made me a presiding elder, and we're--"

"A presiding elder! Father! Honestly? They--"

"They ought to have made you a bishop," cried Carol loyally. "I've been
expecting it all my life. That's where the next jump'll land you.
Presiding elder! Now we can snub the Ladies' Aid if we want to."

"Do you want to?"

"No, of course not, but it's lots of fun to know we could if we did want
to."

"I pity the next parsonage bunch," said Connie sympathetically.

"Why? There's nothing the matter with our church!"

"Oh, no, that isn't what I mean. But the next minister's family can't
possibly come up to us, and so--"

The others broke her sentence with their laughter.

"Talk about me and my complexion!" gasped Carol, wiping her eyes. "I'm
nothing to Connie and her family pride. Where will we live now,
father?"

"We'll rent a house--any house we like--and live like white folks."

"Rent! Mercy, father, doesn't the conference furnish the elders with
houses? We can never afford to pay rent! Never!"

"Oh, we have a salary of twenty-five hundred a year now," he said, with
apparent complacence, but careful to watch closely for the effect of
this statement. It gratified him, too, much as he had expected. The
girls stood stock-still and gazed at him, and then, with a violent
struggle for self-composure Carol asked:

"Did you get any of it in advance? I need some new slippers."

So the packing was finished, a suitable house was found--modern, with
reasonable rent--on Maple Avenue where the oaks were most magnificent,
and the parsonage family became just ordinary "folks," a parsonage
household no longer.

"You must be very patient with us if we still try to run things," Carol
said apologetically to the president of the Ladies' Aid. "We've been a
parsonage bunch all our lives, you know, and it's got to be a habit.
But we'll be as easy on you as we can. We know what it would mean to
leave two ministers' families down on you at once."

Mr. Starr's new position necessitated long and frequent absences from
home, and that was a drawback to the family comradeship. But the girls'
pride in his advancement was so colossal, and their determination to
live up to the dignity of the eldership was so deep-seated, that affairs
ran on quite serenely in the new home.

"Aren't we getting sensible?" Carol frequently asked her sisters, and
they agreed enthusiastically that they certainly were.

"I don't think we ever were so bad as we thought we were," Lark said.
"Even Prudence says now that we were always pretty good. Prudence ought
to think so. She got most of our spending money for a good many years,
didn't she?"

"Prudence didn't get it. She gave it to the heathen."

"Well, she got credit for it on the Lord's accounts, I suppose. But she
deserved it. It was no joke collecting allowances from us."

One day this beautiful serenity was broken in upon in a most unpleasant
way. Carol looked up from _De Senectute_ and flung out her arms in an
all-relieving yawn. Then she looked at her aunt, asleep on the couch.
She looked at Lark, who was aimlessly drawing feathers on the skeletons
of birds in her biology text. She looked at Connie, sitting upright in
her chair, a small book close to her face, alert, absorbed, oblivious to
the world. Connie was wide awake, and Carol resented it.

"What are you reading, Con?" she asked reproachfully.

Connie looked up, startled, and colored a little. "Oh,--poetry," she
stammered.

Carol was surprised. "Poetry," she echoed. "Poetry? What kind of poetry?
There are many poetries in this world of ours. 'Life is real, life is
earnest.' 'There was a young lady from Bangor.' 'A man and a maiden
decided to wed.' 'Sunset and, evening star,'--oh, there are lots of
poetries. What's yours?" Her senseless dissertation had put her in good
humor again.

Connie answered evasively. "It is by an old Oriental writer. I don't
suppose you've ever read it. Khayyam is his name."

"Some name," said Carol suspiciously. "What's the poem?" Her eyes had
narrowed and darkened. By this time Carol had firmly convinced herself
that she was bringing Connie up,--a belief which afforded lively
amusement to self-conducting Connie.

"Why, it's _The Rubaiyat_. It's--"

"_The Rubaiyat!_" Carol frowned. Lark looked up from the skeletons with
sudden interest. "_The Rubaiyat?_ By Khayyam? Isn't that the old fellow
who didn't believe in God, and Heaven, and such things--you know what I
mean,--the man who didn't believe anything, and wrote about it? Let me
see it. I've never read it myself, but I've heard about it." Carol
turned the pages with critical disapproving eyes. "Hum, yes, I know
about this." She faced Connie sternly. "I suppose you think, Connie,
that since we're out of a parsonage we can do anything we like. Haven't
we any standards? Haven't we any ideals? Are we--are we--well, anyhow,
what business has a minister's daughter reading trash like this?"

"I don't believe it, you know," Connie said coolly. "I'm only reading
it. How can I know whether it's trash or not, unless I read it? I--"

"Ministers' daughters are supposed to keep their fingers clear of the
burning ends of matches," said Carol neatly. "We can't handle them
without getting scorched, or blackened, at least. We have to steer clear
of things folks aren't sure about. Prudence says so."

"Prudence," said Connie gravely, "is a dear sweet thing, but she's
awfully old-fashioned, Carol; you know that."

Carol and Lark were speechless. They would as soon have dreamed of
questioning the catechism as Prudence's perfection.

"She's narrow. She's a darling, of course, but she isn't up-to-date. I
want to know what folks are talking about. I don't believe this poem.
I'm a Christian. But I want to know what other folks think about me and
what I believe. That's all. Prudence is fine, but I know a good deal
more about some things than Prudence will know when she's a thousand
years old."

The twins still sat silent.

"Of course, some folks wouldn't approve of parsonage girls reading
things like this. But I approve of it. I want to know why I disagree
with this poetry, and I can't until I know where we disagree. It's
beautiful, Carol, really. It's kind of sad. It makes me want to cry.
It's--"

"I've a big notion to tell papa on you," said Carol soberly and sadly.

Connie rose at once.

"What's the matter?"

"I'm going to tell papa myself."

Carol moved uneasily in her chair. "Oh, let it go this time. I--I just
mentioned it to relieve my feelings. I won't tell him yet. I'll talk it
over with you again. I'll have to think it over first."

"I think I'd rather tell him," insisted Connie.

Carol looked worried, but she knew Connie would do as she said. So she
got up nervously and went with her. She would have to see it through
now, of course. Connie walked silently up the stairs, with Carol
following meekly behind, and rapped at her father's door. Then she
entered, and Carol, in a hushed sort of way, closed the door behind
them.

"I'm reading this, father. Any objections?" Connie faced him calmly, and
handed him the little book.

He examined it gravely, his brows contracting, a sudden wrinkling at the
corners of his lips that might have meant laughter, or disapproval, or
anything.

"I thought a parsonage girl should not read it," Carol said bravely.
"I've never read it myself, but I've heard about it, and parsonage girls
ought to read parsonage things. Prudence says so. But--"

"But I want to know what other folks think about what I believe," said
Connie. "So I'm reading it."

"What do you think of, it?" he asked quietly, and he looked very
strangely at his baby daughter. It was suddenly borne in on him that
this was one crisis in her growth to womanhood, and he felt a great
yearning tenderness for her, in her innocence, in her dauntless courage,
in her reaching ahead, always ahead! It was a crisis, and he must be
very careful.

"I think it is beautiful," Connie said softly, and her lips drooped a
little, and a wistful pathos crept into her voice. "It seems so sad. I
keep wishing I could cry about it. There's nothing really sad in it, I
think it is supposed to be rather jovial, but--it seems terrible to me,
even when it is the most beautiful. Part of it I don't understand very
well."

He held out a hand to Connie, and she put her own in it confidently.
Carol, too, came and stood close beside him.

"Yes," he said, "it is beautiful, Connie, and it is very terrible. We
can't understand it fully because we can't feel what he felt. It is a
groping poem, a struggling for light when one is stumbling in darkness."
He looked thoughtfully at the girls. "He was a marvelous man, that
Khayyam,--years ahead of his people, and his time. He was big enough to
see the idiocy of the heathen ideas of God, he was beyond them, he
spurned them. But he was not quite big enough to reach out, alone, and
get hold of our kind of a God. He was reaching out, he was struggling,
but he couldn't quite catch hold. It is a wonderful poem. It shows the
weakness, the helplessness of a gifted man who has nothing to cling to.
I think it will do you good to read it, Connie. Read it again and again,
and thank God, my child, that though you are only a girl, you have the
very thing this man, this genius, was craving. We admire his talent, but
we pity his weakness. You will feel sorry for him. You read it, too,
Carol. You'll like it. We can't understand it, as I say, because we are
so sure of our God, that we can't feel what he felt, having nothing. But
we can feel the heart-break, the fear, the shrinking back from the
Providence that he called Fate,--of course it makes you want to cry,
Connie. It is the saddest poem in the world."

Connie's eyes were very bright. She winked hard a few times, choking
back the rush of tears. Then with an impulsiveness she did not often
show, she lifted her father's hand and kissed it passionately.

"Oh, father," she whispered, "I was so afraid--you wouldn't quite see."
She kissed his hand again.

Carol looked at her sister respectfully. "Connie," she said, "I
certainly beg your pardon. I just wanted to be clever, and didn't know
what I was talking about. When you have finished it, give it to me,
will you? I want to read it, too; I think it must be wonderful."

She held out a slender shapely hand and Connie took it quickly,
chummily, and the two girls turned toward the door.

"The danger in reading things," said Mr. Starr, and they paused to
listen, "the danger is that we may find arguments we can not answer; we
may feel that we have been in the wrong, that what we read is right.
There's the danger. Whenever you find anything like that, Connie, will
you bring it to me? I think I can find the answer for you. If I don't
know it, I will look until I come upon it. For we have been given an
answer to every argument. You'll come to me, won't you?"

"Yes, father, I will--I know you'll find the answers."

After the door had closed behind them, Mr. Starr sat for a long time
staring straight before him into space.

"The Connie problem," he said at last. And then, "I'll have to be better
pals with her. Connie's going to be pretty fine, I believe."



CHAPTER XIV

BOOSTING CONNIE


Connie was past fifteen when she announced gravely one day, "I've
changed my mind. I'm going to be an author."

"An author," scoffed Carol. "You! I thought you were going to get
married and have eleven children." Even with the dignity of nineteen
years, the nimble wits of Carol and Lark still struggled with the
irreproachable gravity of Connie.

"I was," was the cool retort. "I thought you were going to be a Red
Cross nurse and go to war."

Carol blushed a little. "I was," she assented, "but there isn't any
war."

"Well," even in triumph, Connie was imperturbable, "there isn't any
father for my eleven children either."

The twins had to admit that this was an obstacle, and they yielded
gracefully.

"But an author, Connie," said Lark. "It's very hard. I gave it up long
ago."

"I know you did. But I don't give up very easily."

"You gave up your eleven children."

"Oh, I've plenty of time for them yet, when I find a father for them.
Yes, I'm going to be an author."

"Can you write?"

"Of course I can write."

"Well, you have conceit enough to be anything," said Carol frankly.
"Maybe you'll make it go, after all. I should like to have an author in
the family and since Lark's lost interest, I suppose it will have to be
you. I couldn't think of risking my complexion at such a precarious
livelihood. But if you get stuck, I'll be glad to help you out a little.
I really have an imagination myself, though perhaps you wouldn't think
it."

"What makes you think you can write, Con?" inquired Lark, with genuine
interest.

"I have already done it."

"Was it any good?"

"It was fine."

Carol and Lark smiled at each other.

"Yes," said Carol, "she has the long-haired instinct. I see it now. They
always say it is fine. Was it a masterpiece, Connie?" And when Connie
hesitated, she urged, "Come on, confess it. Then we shall be convinced
that you have found your field. They are always masterpieces. Was
yours?"

"Well, considering my youth and inexperience, it was," Connie admitted,
her eyes sparkling appreciatively. Carol's wit was no longer lost upon
her, at any rate.

"Bring it out. Let's see it. I've never met a masterpiece yet,--except a
dead one," said Lark.

"No--no," Connie backed up quickly. "You can't see it, and--don't ask
any more about it. Has father gone out?"

The twins stared at her again. "What's the matter with you?"

"Nothing, but it's my story and you can't see it. That settles it. Was
there any mail to-day?"

Afterward the twins talked it over together.

"What made her back down like that?" Carol wondered. "Just when we had
her going."

"Why, didn't you catch on to that? She has sent it off to a magazine,
of course, and she doesn't want us to know about it. I saw through it
right away."

Carol looked at her twin with new interest. "Did you ever send 'em off?"

Lark flushed a little. "Yes, I did, and always got 'em back, too--worse
luck. That's why I gave it up."

"What did you do with them when they came back?"

"Burned them. They always burn them. Connie'll get hers back, and she'll
burn it, too," was the laconic answer.

"An author," mused Carol. "Do you think she'll ever make it?"

"Well, honestly, I shouldn't be surprised if she did. Connie's smart,
and she never gives up. Then she has a way of saying things that--well,
it takes. I really believe she'll make it, if she doesn't get off on
suffrage or some other queer thing before she gets to it."

"I'll have to keep an eye on her," said Carol.

"You wait until she can't eat a meal, and then you'll know she's got it
back. Many's the time Prudence made me take medicine, just because I
got a story back. Prudence thought it was tummy-ache. The symptoms are a
good bit the same."

So Carol watched, and sure enough, there came a day when the bright
light of hope in Connie's eyes gave way to the sober sadness of
certainty. Her light had failed. And she couldn't eat her dinner.

Lark kicked Carol's foot under the table, and the two exchanged amused
glances.

"Connie's not well," said Lark with a worried air. "She isn't eating a
thing. You'd better give her a dose of that tonic, Aunt Grace. Prudence
says the first sign of decay is the time for a tonic. Give her a dose."

Lark solemnly rose and fetched the bottle. Aunt Grace looked at Connie
inquiringly. Connie's face was certainly pale, and her eyes were weary.
And she was not eating her dinner.

"I'm not sick," the crushed young author protested. "I'm just not
hungry. You trot that bottle back to the cupboard, Lark, and don't get
gay."

"You can see for yourself," insisted Lark. "Look at her. Isn't she sick?
Many's the long illness Prudence staved off for me by a dose of this
magic tonic. You'd better make her take it, father. You can see she's
sick." The lust of a sweeping family revenge showed in Lark's clear
eyes.

"You'd better take a little, Connie," her father decided. "You don't
look very well to-day."

"But, father," pleaded Connie.

"A dose in time saves a doctor bill," quoted Carol sententiously.
"Prudence says so."

And the aspiring young genius was obliged to swallow the bitter dose.
Then, with the air of one who has rendered a boon to mankind, Lark
returned to her chair.

After the meal was over, Carol shadowed Connie closely. Sure enough, she
headed straight for her own room, and Carol, close outside, heard a
crumpling of paper. She opened the door quickly and went in. Connie
turned, startled, a guilty red staining her pale face. Carol sat down
sociably on the side of the bed, politely ignoring Connie's feeble
attempt to keep the crumpled manuscript from her sight. She engaged her
sister in a broad-minded and sweeping conversation, adroitly leading it
up to the subject of literature. But Connie would not be inveigled into
a confession. Then Carol took a wide leap.

"Did you get the story back?"

Connie gazed at her with an awe that was almost superstitious. Then, in
relief at having the confidence forced from her, tears brightened her
eyes, but being Connie, she winked them stubbornly back.

"I sure did," she said.

"Hard luck," said Carol, in a matter-of-fact voice. "Let's see it."

Connie hesitated, but finally passed it over.

"I'll take it to my own room and read it if you don't mind. What are you
going to do with it now?"

"Burn it."

"Let me have it, won't you? I'll hide it and keep it for a souvenir."

"Will you keep it hidden? You won't pass it around for the family to
laugh at, will you?"

Carol gazed at her reproachfully, rose from the bed in wounded dignity
and moved away with the story in her hand. Connie followed her to the
door and said humbly:

"Excuse me, Carol, I know you wouldn't do such a thing. But a person
does feel so ashamed of a story--when it comes back."

"That's all right," was the kind answer. "I know just how it is. I have
the same feeling when I get a pimple on my face. I'll keep it dark."

More eagerly than she would have liked Connie to know, she curled
herself upon the bed to read Connie's masterpiece. It was a simple
story, but Connie did have a way of saying things, and--Carol laid it
down in her lap and stared at it thoughtfully. Then she called Lark.

"Look here," she said abruptly. "Read this. It's the masterpiece."

She maintained a perfect silence while Lark perused the crumpled
manuscript.

"How is it?"

"Why, it's not bad," declared Lark in a surprised voice. "It's not half
bad. It's Connie all right, isn't it? Well, what do you know about
that?"

"Is it any good?" pursued Carol.

"Why, yes, I think it is. It's just like folks you know. They talk as
we do, and--I'm surprised they didn't keep it. I've read 'em a whole lot
worse!"

"Connie's disappointed," Carol said. "I think she needs a little boost.
I believe she'll really get there if we kind of crowd her along for a
while. She told me to keep this dark, and so I will. We'll just copy it
over, and send it out again."

"And if it comes back?"

"We'll send it again. We'll get the name of every magazine in the
library, and give 'em all a chance to start the newest author on the
rosy way."

"It'll take a lot of stamps."

"That's so. Do you have to enclose enough to bring them back? I don't
like that. Seems to me it's just tempting Providence. If they want to
send them back, they ought to pay for doing it. I say we just enclose a
note taking it for granted they'll keep it, and tell them where to send
the money. And never put a stamp in sight for them to think of using
up."

"We can't do that. It's bad manners."

"Well, I have half a dollar," admitted Carol reluctantly.

After that the weeks passed by. The twins saw finally the shadow of
disappointment leaving Connie's face, and another expression of
absorption take its place.

"She's started another one," Lark said, wise in her personal experience.

And when there came the starry rapt gaze once more, they knew that this
one, too, had gone to meet its fate. But before the second blow fell,
the twins gained their victory. They embraced each other feverishly, and
kissed the precious check a hundred times, and insisted that Connie was
the cleverest little darling that ever lived on earth. Then, when
Connie, with their father and aunt, was sitting in unsuspecting quiet,
they tripped in upon her.

[Illustration: We enclose our check for forty-five dollars]

"We have something to read to you," said Carol beaming paternally at
Connie. "Listen attentively. Put down your paper, father. It's
important. Go on, Larkie."

          "My dear Miss Starr," read Lark. "We are very much
          pleased with your story,"--Connie sprang suddenly
          from her chair--"your story, 'When the Rule worked
          Backwards.' We are placing it in one of our early
          numbers, and shall be glad at any time to have the
          pleasure of examining more of your work. We
          enclose our check for forty-five dollars. Thanking
          you, and assuring you of the satisfaction with
          which we have read your story, I am,

                                    "Very cordially yours,"--

"Tra, lalalalala!" sang the twins, dancing around the room, waving, one
the letter, the other the check.

Connie's face was pale, and she caught her head with both hands,
laughingly nervously. "I'm going round," she gasped. "Stop me."

Carol promptly pushed her down in a chair and sat upon her lap.

"Pretty good,--eh, what?"

"Oh, Carol, don't say that, it sounds awful," cautioned Lark.

"What do you think about it, Connie? Pretty fair boost for a struggling
young author, don't you think? Family, arise! The Chautauqua salute! We
have arrived. Connie is an author. Forty-five dollars!"

"But however did you do it?" wondered Connie breathlessly.

"Why, we sent it out, and--"

"Just once?"

"Alas, no,--we sent it seven times."

"Oh, girls, how could you! Think of the stamps! I'm surprised you had
the money."

"Remember that last quarter we borrowed of you? Well!"

Connie laughed excitedly. "Oh, oh!--forty-five dollars! Think of it. Oh,
father!"

"Where's the story," he asked, a little jealously. "Why didn't you let
me look it over, Connie?"

"Oh, father, I--couldn't. I--I--I felt shy about it. You don't know how
it is father, but--we want to keep them hidden. We don't get proud of
them until they've been accepted."

"Forty-five dollars." Aunt Grace kissed her warmly. "And the letter is
worth a hundred times more to us than that. And when we see the
story--"

"We'll go thirds on the money, twins," said Connie.

The twins looked eager, but conscientious. "No," they said, "it's just a
boost, you know. We can't take the money."

"Oh, you've got to go thirds. You ought to have it all. I would have
burned it."

"No, Connie," said Carol, "we know you aren't worth devotion like ours,
but we donate it just the same--it's gratis."

"All right," smiled Connie. "I know what you want, anyhow. Come on,
auntie, let's go down town. I'm afraid that silver silk mull will be
sold before we get there."

The twins fell upon her ecstatically. "Oh, Connie, you mustn't. We can't
allow it. Oh, of course if you insist, dearest, only--" And then they
rushed to find hats and gloves for their generous sister and devoted
aunt.

The second story came back in due time, but with the boost still strong
in her memory, and with the fifteen dollars in the bank, Connie bore it
bravely and started it traveling once more. Most of the stories never
did find a permanent lodging place, and Connie carried an old box to
the attic for a repository for her mental fruits that couldn't make
friends away from home. But she never despaired again.

And the twins, after their own manner, calmly took to themselves full
credit for the career which they believed lay not far before her. They
even boasted of the way they had raised her and told fatuous and
exaggerated stories of their pride in her, and their gentle sisterly
solicitude for her from the time of her early babyhood. And Connie gave
assent to every word. In her heart she admitted that the twins'
discipline of her, though exceedingly drastic at times, had been
splendid literary experience.



CHAPTER XV

A MILLIONAIRE'S SON


"If Jim doesn't ask for a date for the concert next week, Lark, let's
snub him good."

"But we both have dates," protested Lark.

"What difference does that make? We mustn't let him get independent. He
always has asked one of us, and he needn't think we shall let him off
now."

"Oh, don't worry," interrupted Connie. "He always asks. You have that
same discussion every time there's anything going on. It's just a waste
of time."

Mr. Starr looked up from his mail. "Soup of boys, and salad of
boys,--they're beginning to pall on my palate."

"Very classy expression father," approved Carol. "Maybe you can work it
into a sermon."

"Complexion and boys with Carol, books and boys with Lark, Connie, if
you begin that nonsense you'll get spanked. One member of my family
shall rise above it if I have to do it with force."

Connie blushed.

The twins broke into open derision. "Connie! Oh, yes, Connie's above
that nonsense."

"Connie's the worst in the family, father, only she's one of these
reserved, supercilious souls who doesn't tell everything she knows."

"'Nonsense.' I wish father could have heard Lee Hanson last night. It
would have been a revelation to him. 'Aw, go on, Connie, give us a
kiss.'"

Connie caught her lips between her teeth. Her face was scarlet.

"Twins!"

"It's a fact, father. He kept us awake. 'Aw, go on, Connie, be good to a
fellow.'"

"That's what makes us so pale to-day,--he kept us awake hours!"

"Carol!"

"Well, quite a while anyhow."

"I--I--" began Connie defensively.

"Well, we know it. Don't interrupt when we're telling things. You always
spoil a good story by cutting in. 'Aw, go on, Connie, go on now!' And
Connie said--" The twins rocked off in a paroxysm of laughter, and
Connie flashed a murderous look at them.

"Prudence says listening is--"

"Sure she does, and she's right about it, too. But what can a body do
when folks plant themselves right beneath your window to pull off their
little Romeo concerto. We can't smother on nights like these. 'Aw, go
on, Connie.'"

"I wanted to drop a pillow on his head, but Carol was afraid he'd run
off with the pillow, so we just sacrificed ourselves and let it
proceed."

"Well, I--"

"Give us time, Connie. We're coming to that. And Connie said, 'I'm going
in now, I'm sleepy.'"

"I didn't--father, I didn't!"

"Well, you might have said a worse thing than that," he told her sadly.

"I mean--I--"

"She did say it," cried the twins. "'I'm sleepy.' Just like that."

"Oh, Connie's the girl for sentiment," exclaimed Lark. "Sleepy is not a
romantic word and it's not a sentimental feeling, but it can be drawled
out so it sounds a little mushy at least. 'I sleep, my love, to dream of
thee,'--for instance. But Connie didn't do it that way. Nix. Just plain
sleep, and it sounded like 'Get out, and have a little sense.'"

"Well, it would make you sick," declared Connie, wrinkling up her nose
to express her disgust. "Are boys always like that father?"

"Don't ask me," he hedged promptly. "How should I know?"

"Oh, Connie, how can you! There's father--now, he never cared to kiss
the girls even in his bad and balmy days, did you, daddy? Oh, no, father
was all for the strictly orthodox even in his youth!"

Mr. Starr returned precipitately to his mail, and the twins calmly
resumed the discussion where it had been interrupted.

A little later a quick exclamation from their father made them turn to
him inquiringly.

"It's a shame," he said, and again: "What a shame!"

The girls waited expectantly. When he only continued frowning at the
letter in his hand, Carol spoke up brightly, "Yes, isn't it?"

Even then he did not look up, and real concern settled over their
expressive faces. "Father! Can't you see we're listening?"

He looked up, vaguely at first, then smiling. "Ah, roused your
curiosity, did I? Well, it's just another phase of this eternal boy
question."

Carol leaned forward ingratiatingly. "Now indeed, we are all
absorption."

"Why, it's a letter from Andrew Hedges,--an old college chum of mine.
His son is going west and Andy is sending him around this way to see me
and meet my family. He'll be here this afternoon. Isn't it a shame?"

"Isn't it lovely?" exclaimed Carol. "We can use him to make Jim Forrest
jealous if he doesn't ask for that date?" And she rose up and kissed her
father.

"Will you kindly get back to your seat, young lady, and not interfere
with my thoughts?" he reproved her sternly but with twinkling eyes. "The
trouble is I have to go to Fort Madison on the noon train for that
Epworth League convention. I'd like to see that boy. Andy's done well, I
guess. I've always heard so. He's a millionaire, they say."

For a long second his daughters gazed at him speechlessly.

Then, "A millionaire's son," Lark faltered feebly.

"Yes."

"Why on earth didn't you say so in the first place?" demanded Carol.

"What difference does that make?"

"It makes all the difference in the world! Ah! A millionaire's son." She
looked at Lark with keen speculative eyes. "Good-looking, I suppose,
young, of course, and impressionable. A millionaire's son."

"But I have to go to Fort Madison. I am on the program to-night. There's
the puzzle."

"Oh, father, you can leave him to us," volunteered Lark.

"I'm afraid you mightn't carry it off well. You're so likely to run by
fits and jumps, you know. I should hate it if things went badly."

"Oh, father, things couldn't go badly," protested Carol. "We'll be
lovely, just lovely. A millionaire's son! Oh, yes, daddy, you can trust
him to us all right."

At last he caught the drift of their enthusiasm. "Ah! I see! That fatal
charm. You're sure you'll treat him nicely?"

"Oh, yes, father, so sure. A millionaire's son. We've never even seen
one yet."

"Now look here, girls, fix the house up and carry it off the best you
can. I have a lot of old friends in Cleveland, and I want them to think
I've got the dandiest little family on earth."

"'Dandiest'! Father, you will forget yourself in the pulpit some
day,--you surely will. And when we take such pains with you, too, I
can't understand where you get it! The people you associate with, I
suppose."

"Do your best, girls. I'm hoping for a good report. I'll be gone until
the end of the week, since I'm on for the last night, too. Will you do
your best?"

After his departure, Carol gathered the family forces about her without
a moment's delay.

"A millionaire's son," she prefaced her remarks, and as she had
expected, was rewarded with immediate attention. "Now, for darling
father's sake, we've got to manage this thing the very best we can. We
have to make this Andy Hedges, Millionaire's Son, think we're just
about all right, for father's sake. We must have a gorgeous dinner, to
start with. We'll plan that a little later. Now I think, Aunt Grace,
lovely, it would be nice for you to wear your lavender lace gown, and
look delicate, don't you? A chaperoning auntie in poor health is so
aristocratic. You must wear the lavender satin slippers and have a
bottle of cologne to lift frequently to your sensitive nostrils."

"Why, Carol, William wouldn't like it!"

"Wouldn't like it!" ejaculated the schemer in surprise. "Wouldn't like
it! Why wouldn't he like it? Didn't he tell us to create a good
impression? Well, this is it. You'll make a lovely semi-invalid auntie.
You must have a faintly perfumed handkerchief to press to your eyes now
and then. It isn't hot enough for you slowly to wield a graceful fan,
but we can get along without it."

"But, Carol--"

"Think how pleased dear father will be if his old college chum's son is
properly impressed," interrupted Carol hurriedly, and proceeded at once
with her plans.

"Connie must be a precocious younger sister, all in white,--she must
come in late with a tennis racquet, as though she had just returned from
a game. That will be stagey, won't it? Lark must be the sweet young
daughter of the home. She must wear her silver mull, her gray slippers,
and--"

"I can't," said Lark. "I spilt grape juice on it. And I kicked the toe
out of one of my slippers."

"You'll have to wear mine then. Fortunately that silver mull was always
too tight for me and I never comported myself in it with freedom and
destructive ease. As a consequence, it is fresh and charming. You must
arrange your hair in the most _Ladies' Home Journal_ style, and--"

"What are you going to wear?"

"Who, me? Oh, I have other plans for myself." Carol looked rather
uneasily at her aunt. "I'll come to me a little later."

"Yes, indeed," said Connie. "Carol has something extra up her sleeve.
She's had the millionaire's son in her mind's eye ever since father
introduced his pocketbook into the conversation."

Carol was unabashed. "My interest is solely from a family view-point. I
have no ulterior motive."

Her eyes sparkled eagerly. "You know, auntie darling--"

"Now, Carol, don't you suggest anything--"

"Oh, no indeed, dearest, how could you think of such a thing?"
disclaimed Carol instantly. "It's such a very tiny thing, but it will
mean a whole lot on the general impression of a millionaire's son. We've
simply got to have a maid! To open the door, and curtesy, and take his
hat, and serve the dinner, and--He's used to it, you know, and if we
haven't one, he'll go back to Cleveland and say, 'Ah, bah Jove, I had to
hang up my own hat, don't you know?'"

"That's supposed to be English, but I don't believe it. Anyhow, it isn't
Cleveland," said Connie flatly.

"Well, he'd think we were awfully cheap and hard up, and Andy Hedges,
Senior, would pity father, and maybe send him ten dollars, and--no,
we've got to have a maid!"

"We might get Mamie Sickey," suggested Lark.

"She's so ugly."

"Or Fay Greer," interposed Aunt Grace.

"She'd spill the soup."

"Then there's nobody but Ada Lone," decided Connie.

"She hasn't anything fit to wear," objected Carol.

"Of whom were you thinking, Carol?" asked her aunt, moving uneasily in
her chair.

Carol flung herself at her aunt's knees. "Me!" she cried.

"As usual?" Connie ejaculated dryly.

"Oh, Carol," wailed Lark, "we can't think of things to talk about when
you aren't there to keep us stirred up."

"I'm beginning to see daylight," said Connie. She looked speculatively
at Lark. "Well, it's not half bad, Carol, and I apologize."

"Don't you think it is a glorious idea, Connie?" cried Carol
rapturously.

"Yes, I think it is."

Carol caught her sister's hand. Here was an ally worth having. "You know
how sensible Connie is, auntie. She sees how utterly preposterous it
would be to think of entertaining a millionaire's son without a maid."

"You're too pretty," protested Lark. "He'd try to kiss you."

"'Oh, no, sir, oh, please, sir,'" simpered Carol, with an adorable
curtesy, "'you'd better wait for the ladies, sir.'"

"Oh, Carol, I think you're awful," said their aunt unhappily. "I know
your father won't like it."

"Like it? He'll love it. Won't he, Connie?"

"Well, I'm not sure he'll be crazy about it, but it'll be all over when
he gets home," said Connie.

"And you're very much in favor of it, aren't you, Connie precious?"

"Yes, I am." Connie looked at Lark critically again. "We must get Lark
some bright flowers to wear with the silver dress--sweet peas would be
good. But I won't pay for them, and you can put that down right now."

"But what's the idea?" mourned Lark. "What's the sense in it? Father
said to be good to him, and you know I can't think of things to say to a
millionaire's son. Oh, Carol, don't be so mean."

"You must practise up. You must be girlish, and light-hearted, and
ingenuous, you know. That'll be very effective."

"You do it, Carol. Let me be the maid. You're lots more effective than I
am."

But Carol stood firm, and the others yielded to her persuasions. They
didn't approve, they didn't sanction, but they did get enthusiastic, and
a merrier houseful of masqueraders was never found than that. Even Aunt
Grace allowed her qualms to be quieted and entered into her part as
semi-invalid auntie with genuine zest.

At three they were all arrayed, ready for the presentation. They
assembled socially in the parlor, the dainty maid ready to fly to her
post at a second's warning. At four o'clock, they were a little fagged
and near the point of exasperation, but they still held their characters
admirably. At half past four a telegraph message was phoned out from the
station.

          "Delayed in coming. Will write you later. Very
          sorry. Andy Hedges, Jr."

Only the absolute ludicrousness of it saved Carol from a rage. She
looked from the girlish tennis girl to the semi-invalid auntie, and then
to the sweet young daughter of the home, and burst out laughing. The
others, though tired, nervous and disappointed, joined her merrily, and
the vexation was swept away.

The next morning, Aunt Grace went as usual to the all-day meeting of the
Ladies' Aid in the church parlors. Carol and Lark, with a light lunch,
went out for a few hours of spring-time happiness beside the creek two
miles from town.

"We'll come back right after luncheon," Carol promised, "so if Andy the
Second should come, we'll be on hand."

"Oh, he won't come to-day."

"Well, he just better get here before father comes home. I know father
will like our plan after it's over, but I also know he'll veto it if he
gets home in time. Wish you could go with us, Connie."

"Thanks. But I've got to sew on forty buttons. And--if I pick the
cherries on the little tree, will you make a pie for dinner?"

"Yes. If I'm too tired Larkie will. Do pick them, Con, the birds have
had more than their share now."

After her sisters had disappeared, Connie considered the day's program.

"I'll pick the cherries while it's cool. Then I'll sew on the buttons.
Then I'll call on the Piersons, and they'll probably invite me to stay
for luncheon." And she went up-stairs to don a garment suitable for
cherry-tree service. For cherry trees, though lovely to behold when
laden with bright red clusters showing among the bright green leaves,
are not at all lovely to climb into. Connie knew that by experience.
Belonging to a family that wore its clothes as long as they possessed
any wearing virtue, she found nothing in her immediate wardrobe fitted
for the venture. But from a rag-bag in the closet at the head of the
stairs, she resurrected some remains of last summer's apparel. First she
put on a blue calico, but the skirt was so badly torn in places that it
proved insufficiently protecting. Further search brought to light
another skirt, pink, in a still worse state of delapidation. However,
since the holes did not occur simultaneously in the two garments, by
wearing both she was amply covered. For a waist she wore a red crape
dressing sacque, and about her hair she tied a broad, ragged ribbon of
red to protect the soft waves from the ruthless twigs. She looked at
herself in the mirror. Nothing daunted by the sight of her own
unsightliness, she took a bucket and went into the back yard.

Gingerly she climbed into the tree, gingerly because Connie was not fond
of scratches on her anatomy, and then began her task. It was a glorious
morning. The birds, frightened away by the living scare-crow in the
tree, perched in other, cherry-less trees around her and burst into
derisive song. And Connie, light-hearted, free from care, in love with
the whole wide world, sang, too, pausing only now and then to thrust a
ripe cherry between her teeth.

She did not hear the prolonged ringing of the front-door bell. She did
not observe the young man in the most immaculate of white spring suits
who came inquiringly around the house. But when the chattering of a
saucy robin became annoying, she flung a cherry at him crossly.

"Oh, chase yourself!" she cried. And nearly fell from her perch in
dismay when a low voice from beneath said pleasantly:

"I beg your pardon! Miss Starr?"

Connie swallowed hard, to get the last cherry and the mortification out
of her throat.

"Yes," she said, noting the immaculate white spring suit, and the
handsome shoes, and the costly Panama held so lightly in his hand. She
knew the Panama was costly because they had wanted to buy one for her
father's birthday, but decided not to.

"I am Andrew Hedges," he explained, smiling sociably.

Connie wilted completely at that. "Good night," she muttered with a
vanishing mental picture of their lovely preparations the day previous.
"I--mean good morning. I'm so glad to meet you. You--you're late, aren't
you? I mean, aren't you ahead of yourself? At least, you didn't write,
did you?"

"No, I was not detained so long as I had anticipated, so I came right
on. But I'm afraid I'm inconveniencing you."

"Oh, not a bit, I'm quite comfortable," she assured him. "Auntie is gone
just now, and the twins are away, too, but they'll all be back
presently." She looked longingly at the house. "I'll have to come down,
I suppose."

"Let me help you," he offered eagerly. Connie in the incongruous
clothes, with the little curls straying beneath the ragged ribbon, and
with stains of cherry on her lips, looked more presentable than Connie
knew.

"Oh, I--" she hesitated, flushing. "Mr. Hedges," she cried imploringly,
"will you just go around the corner until I get down. I look fearful."

"Not a bit of it," he said. "Let me take the cherries."

Connie helplessly passed them down to him, and saw him carefully
depositing them on the ground. "Just give me your hand."

And what could Connie do? She couldn't sternly order a millionaire's son
to mosy around the house and mind his own business until she got some
decent clothes on, though that was what she yearned to do. Instead she
held out a slender hand, grimy and red, with a few ugly scratches here
and there, and allowed herself to be helped ignominiously out from the
sheltering branches into the garish light of day.

She looked at him reproachfully. He never so much as smiled.

"Laugh if you like," she said bitterly. "I looked in the mirror. I know
all about it."

"Run along," he said, "but don't be gone long, will you? Can you trust
me with the cherries?"

Connie walked into the house with great decorum, afraid the ragged
skirts might swing revealingly, but the young man bent over the cherries
while she made her escape.

It was another Connie who appeared a little later, a typical tennis
girl, all in white from the velvet band in her hair to the canvas shoes
on her dainty feet. She held out the slender hand, no longer grimy and
stained, but its whiteness still marred with sorry scratches.

"I am glad to see you," she said gracefully, "though I can only pray you
won't carry a mental picture of me very long."

"I'm afraid I will though," he said teasingly.

"Then please don't paint me verbally for my sisters' ears; they are
always so clever where I am concerned. It is too bad they are out.
You'll stay for luncheon with me, won't you? I'm all alone,--we'll have
it in the yard."

"It sounds very tempting, but--perhaps I had better come again later in
the afternoon."

"You may do that, too," said Connie. "But since you are here, I'm
afraid I must insist that you help amuse me." And she added ruefully,
"Since I have done so well amusing you this morning."

"Why, he's just like anybody else," she was thinking with relief. "It's
no trouble to talk to him, at all. He's nice in spite of the millions.
Prudence says millionaires aren't half so dollar-marked as they are
cartooned, anyhow."

He stayed for luncheon, he even helped carry the folding table out
beneath the cherry tree, and trotted docilely back and forth with plates
and glasses, as Connie decreed.

"Oh, father," she chuckled to herself, as she stood at the kitchen
window, twinkling at the sight of the millionaire's son spreading
sandwiches according to her instructions. "Oh, father, the boy question
is complicated, sure enough."

It was not until they were at luncheon that the grand idea visited
Connie. Carol would have offered it harborage long before. Carol's mind
worked best along that very line. It came to Connie slowly, but she gave
it royal welcome. Back to her remembrance flashed the thousand witty
sallies of Carol and Lark, the hundreds of times she had suffered at
their hands. And for the first time in her life, she saw a clear way of
getting even. And a millionaire's son! Never was such a revenge fairly
crying to be perpetrated.

"Will you do something for me, Mr. Hedges?" she asked. Connie was only
sixteen, but something that is born in woman told her to lower her eyes
shyly, and then look up at him quickly beneath her lashes. She was no
flirt, but she believed in utilizing her resources. And she saw in a
flash that the ruse worked.

Then she told him softly, very prettily.

"But won't she dislike me if I do?" he asked.

"No, she won't," said Connie. "We're a family of good laughers. We enjoy
a joke nearly as much when it's on us, as when we are on top."

So it was arranged, and shortly after luncheon the young man in the
immaculate spring suit took his departure. Then Connie summoned her aunt
by phone, and told her she must hasten home to help "get ready for the
millionaire's son." It was after two when the twins arrived, and Connie
and their aunt hurried them so violently that they hadn't time to ask
how Connie got her information.

"But I hope I'm slick enough to get out of it without lying if they do
ask," she told herself. "Prudence says it's not really wicked to get out
of telling things if we can manage it."

He had arrived! A millionaire's son! Instantly their enthusiasm returned
to them. The cushions on the couch were carefully arranged for the
reclining of the semi-invalid aunt, who, with the sweet young daughter
of the home, was up-stairs waiting to be summoned. Connie, with the
tennis racquet, was in the shed, waiting to arrive theatrically. Carol,
in her trim black gown with a white cap and apron, was a dream.

And when he came she ushered him in, curtesying in a way known only on
the stage, and took his hat and stick, and said softly:

"Yes, sir,--please come in, sir,--I'll call the ladies."

She knew she was bewitching, of course, since she had done it on
purpose, and she lifted her eyes just far enough beneath the lashes to
give the properly coquettish effect. He caught her hand, and drew her
slowly toward him, admiration in his eyes, but trepidation in his heart,
as he followed Connie's coaching. But Carol was panic-seized, she broke
away from him roughly and ran up-stairs, forgetting her carefully
rehearsed. "Oh, no, sir,--oh, please, sir,--you'd better wait for the
ladies."

But once out of reach she regained her composure. The semi-invalid aunt
trailed down the stairs, closely followed by the attentive maid to
arrange her chair and adjust the silken shawl. Mr. Hedges introduced
himself, feeling horribly foolish in the presence of the lovely serving
girl, and wishing she would take herself off. But she lingered
effectively, whispering softly:

"Shall I lower the window, madame? Is it too cool? Your bottle, madame!"

And the guest rubbed his hand swiftly across his face to hide the slight
twitching of his lips.

Then the model maid disappeared, and presently the sweet daughter of the
house, charming in the gray silk mull and satin slippers, appeared,
smiling, talking, full of vivacity and life. And after a while the
dashing tennis girl strolled in, smiling inscrutably into the eyes that
turned so quizzically toward her. For a time all went well. The
chaperoning aunt occasionally lifted a dainty cologne bottle to her
sensitive nostrils, and the daughter of the house carried out her
girlish vivacity to the point of utter weariness. Connie said little,
but her soul expanded with the foretaste of triumph.

"Dinner is served, madame," said the soft voice at the door, and they
all walked out sedately. Carol adjusted the invalid auntie's shawl once
more, and was ready to go to the kitchen when a quiet:

"Won't Miss Carol sit down with us?" made her stop dead in her tracks.

He had pulled a chair from the corner up to the table for her, and she
dropped into it. She put her elbows on the table, and leaning her dainty
chin in her hands, gazed thoughtfully at Connie, whose eyes were bright
with the fires of victory.

"Ah, Connie, I have hopes of you yet,--you are improving," she said
gently. "Will you run out to the kitchen and bring me a bowl of soup, my
child?"

And then came laughter, full and free,--and in the midst of it Carol
looked up, wiping her eyes, and said:

"I'm sorry now I didn't let you kiss me, just to shock father!"

But the visit was a great success. Even Mr. Starr realized that. The
millionaire's son remained in Mount Mark four days, the cynosure of all
eyes, for as Carol said, "What's the use of bothering with a
millionaire's son if you can't brag about him."

And his devotion to his father's college chum was such that he wrote to
him regularly for a long time after, and came westward now and again to
renew the friendship so auspiciously begun.

"But you can't call him a problem, father," said Carol keenly. "They
aren't problematic until they discriminate. And he doesn't. He's as fond
of Connie's conscience as he is of my complexion, as far as I can see."
She rubbed her velvet skin regretfully. She had two pimples yesterday
and he never even noticed them. Then she leaned forward and smiled.
"Father, you keep an eye on Connie. There's something in there that we
aren't on to yet." And with this cryptic remark, Carol turned her
attention to a small jar of cold cream the druggist had given her to
sample.



CHAPTER XVI

THE TWINS HAVE A PROPOSAL


It was half past three on a delightful summer afternoon. The twins stood
at the gate with two hatless youths, performing what seemed to be the
serious operation of separating their various tennis racquets and shoes
from the conglomerate jumble. Finally, laughing and calling back over
their shoulders, they sauntered lazily up the walk toward the house, and
the young men set off in the direction from which they had come. They
were hardly out of hearing distance when the front door opened, and Aunt
Grace beckoned hurriedly to the twins.

"Come on, quick," she said. "Where in the world have you been all day?
Did you have any luncheon? Mrs. Forrest and Jim were here, and they
invited you to go home with them for a week in the country. I said I
knew you'd want to go, and they promised to come for you at four, but I
couldn't find you any place. I suppose it is too late now. It's--"

"A week!"

"At Forrests'?"

"Come on, Lark, sure we have time enough. We'll be ready in fifteen
minutes."

"Come on up, auntie, we'll tell you where we've been."

The twins flew up the stairs, their aunt as close behind as she deemed
safe. Inside their own room they promptly, and ungracefully, kicked off
their loose pumps, tossed their tennis shoes and racquets on the bed,
and began tugging at the cords of their middy blouses.

"You go and wash, Carol," said Lark, "while I comb. Then I can have the
bathroom to myself. And hurry up! You haven't any time to primp."

"Pack the suit-case and the bag, will you, auntie, and--"

"I already have," she answered, laughing at their frantic energy. "And I
put out these white dresses for you to wear, and--"

"Gracious, auntie! They button in the back and have sixty buttons
apiece. We'll never have time to fasten them," expostulated Carol,
without diminishing her speed.

"I'll button while you powder, that'll be time enough."

"I won't have time to powder," called back Carol from the bathroom,
where she was splashing the water at a reckless rate. "I'll wear a veil
and powder when I get there. Did you pack any clean handkerchiefs,
auntie? I'm clear out. If you didn't put any in, you'd better go and
borrow Connie's. Lucky thing she's not here."

Shining with zeal and soap, Carol dashed out, and Lark dashed in.

"Are there any holes in these stockings?" Carol turned around, lifting
her skirts for inspection. "Well, I'm sorry, I won't have time to change
them.--Did they come in the auto? Good!" She was brushing her hair as
she talked. "Yes, we had a luncheon, all pie, though. We played tennis
this morning; we were intending to come home right along, or we'd have
phoned you. We were playing with George Castle and Fritzie Zale.--Is it
sticking out any place?" She lowered her head backward for her aunt to
see. "Stick a pin in it, will you? Thanks. They dared us to go to the
pie counter and see which couple could eat the most pieces of lemon pie,
the couple which lost paying for all the pie. It's not like betting, you
know, it's a kind of reward of merit, like a Sunday-school prize. No, I
won't put on my slippers till the last thing, my heel's sore, my tennis
shoe rubbed the skin off. My feet seem to be getting tender. Think it's
old age?"

Lark now emerged from the bathroom, and both twins performed a flying
exchange of dresses.

"Who won?"

"Lark and George ate eleven pieces, and Fritzie and I only nine. So
Fritzie paid. Then we went on the campus and played mumble-te-peg, or
whatever you call it. It is French, auntie."

"Did they ask us to stay a whole week, auntie?" inquired Lark.

"Yes. Jim was wearing his new gray suit and looked very nice. I've never
been out to their home. Is it very nice?"

"Um, swell!" This was from Carol, Lark being less slangily inclined.
"They have about sixteen rooms, and two maids--they call them
'girls'--and electric lights, and a private water supply,
and--and--horses, and cows--oh, it's great! We've always been awfully
fond of Jim. The nicest thing about him is that he always takes a girl
home when he goes to class things and socials. I can't endure a fellow
who walks home by himself. Jim always asks Larkie and me first, and if
we are taken he gets some one else. Most boys, if they can't get first
choice, pike off alone."

"Here, Carol, you have my petticoat. This is yours. You broke the
drawstring, and forgot--"

"Oh, mercy, so I did. Here, auntie, pin it over for me, will you? I'll
take the string along and put it in to-night."

"Now, Carol," said Aunt Grace, smiling. "Be easy on him. He's so nice it
would be a shame to--"

Carol threw up her eyes in horror. "I am shocked," she cried. Then she
dimpled. "But I wouldn't hurt Jim for anything. I'm very fond of him. Do
you really think there are any--er--indications--"

"Oh, I don't know anything about it. I'm just judging by the rest of the
community."

Lark was performing the really difficult feat of putting on and
buttoning her slippers standing on one foot for the purpose and stooping
low. Her face was flushed from the exertion.

"Do you think he's crazy about you, Carol?" she inquired, rather
seriously, and without looking up from the shoe she was so laboriously
buttoning.

"Oh, I don't know. There are a few circumstances which seem to point
that way. Take that new gray suit for instance. Now you know yourself,
Lark, he didn't need a new gray suit, and when a man gets a brand-new
suit for no apparent reason, you can generally put it down that he's
waxing romantic. Then there's his mother--she's begun telling me all his
good points, and how cute he was when he was born, and she showed me one
of his curls and a lot of his baby pictures--it made Jim wild when he
came in and caught her at it, and she tells me how good he is and how
much money he's got. That's pointed, very. But I must confess," she
concluded candidly, "that Jim himself doesn't act very loverly."

"He thinks lots of you, I know," said Lark, still seriously. "Whenever
he's alone with me he praises you every minute of the time."

"That's nothing. When he's alone with me he praises you all the time,
too. Where's my hat, Lark? I'll bet Connie wore it, the little sinner!
Now what shall I do?"

"You left it in the barn yesterday,--don't you remember you hung it on
the harness hook when we went out for eggs, and--"

"Oh, so I did. There comes Connie now." Carol thrust her head out of the
window. "Connie, run out to the barn and bring my hat, will you? It's on
the harness hook. And hurry! Don't stop to ask questions, just trot
along and do as you're told."

Carol returned again to her toilet. "Well, I guess I have time to powder
after all. I don't suppose we'll need to take any money, auntie, do you?
We won't be able to spend it in the country."

"I think you'd better take a little. They might drive to town, or go to
a social, or something."

"Can't do it. Haven't a cent."

"Well, I guess I can lend you a little," was the smiling reply. It was
a standing joke in the family that Carol had been financially hard
pressed ever since she began using powder several years previous.

"Are you fond of Jim, Carol?" Lark jumped away backward in the
conversation, asking the question gravely, her eyes upon her sister's
face.

"Hum! Yes, I am," was the light retort. "Didn't Prudence teach us to
love everybody?"

"Don't be silly. I mean if he proposes to you, are you going to turn him
down, or not?"

"What would you advise, Lark?" Carol's brows were painfully knitted.
"He's got five hundred acres of land, worth at least a hundred an acre,
and a lot of money in the bank,--his mother didn't say how much, but I
imagine several thousand anyhow. And he has that nice big house, and an
auto, and--oh, everything nice! Think of the fruit trees, Larkie! And
he's good-looking, too. And his mother says he is always good natured
even before breakfast, and that's very exceptional, you know! Very! I
don't know that I could do much better, do you, auntie? I'm sure I'd
look cute in a sun-bonnet and apron, milking the cows! So, boss, so,
there, now! So, boss!"

"Why, Carol!"

"But there are objections, too. They have pigs. I can't bear pigs!
Pooooey, pooooey! The filthy little things! I don't know,--Jim and the
gray suit and the auto and the cows are very nice, but when I think of
Jim and overalls and pigs and onions and freckles I have goose flesh.
Here they come! Where's that other slipper? Oh, it's clear under the
bed!" She wriggled after it, coming out again breathless. "Did I rub the
powder all off?" she asked anxiously.

The low honk of the car sounded outside, and the twins dumped a
miscellaneous assortment of toilet articles into the battered suit-case
and the tattered hand-bag. Carol grabbed her hat from Connie, leisurely
strolling through the hall with it, and sent her flying after her
gloves. "If you can't find mine, bring your own," she called after her.

Aunt Grace and Connie escorted them triumphantly down the walk to the
waiting car where the young man in the new sentimental gray suit stood
beside the open door. His face was boyishly eager, and his eyes were
full of a satisfaction that had a sort of excitement in it, too. Aunt
Grace looked at him and sighed. "Poor boy," she thought. "He is nice!
Carol is a mean little thing!"

He smiled at the twins impartially. "Shall we flip a coin to see who I
get in front?" he asked them, laughing.

His mother leaned out from the back seat, and smiled at the girls very
cordially. "Hurry, twinnies," she said, "we must start, or we'll be late
for supper. Come in with me, won't you, Larkie?"

"What a greasy schemer she is," thought Carol, climbing into her place
without delay.

Jim placed the battered suit-case and the tattered bag beneath the seat,
and drew the rug over his mother's knees. Then he went to Lark's side,
and tucked it carefully about her feet.

"It's awfully dusty," he said. "You shouldn't have dolled up so. Shall I
put your purse in my pocket? Don't forget you promised to feed the
chickens--I'm counting on you to do it for me."

Then he stepped in beside Carol, laughing into her bright face, and the
good-bys rang back and forth as the car rolled away beneath the heavy
arch of oak leaves that roofed in Maple Avenue.

The twins fairly reveled in the glories of the country through the
golden days that followed, and enjoyed every minute of every day, and
begrudged the hours they spent in sleep. The time slipped by "like
banana skins," declared Carol crossly, and refused to explain her
comparison. And the last day of their visit came. Supper was over at
seven o'clock, and Lark said, with something of wistfulness in her
voice, "I'm going out to the orchard for a farewell weep all by myself.
And don't any of you disturb me,--I'm so ugly when I cry."

So she set out alone, and Jim, a little awkwardly, suggested that Carol
take a turn or so up and down the lane with him. Mrs. Forrest stood at
the window and watched them, tearful-eyed, but with tenderness.

"My little boy," she said to herself, "my little boy. But she's a dear,
sweet, pretty girl."

In the meantime, Jim was acquitting himself badly. His face was pale. He
was nervous, ill at ease. He stammered when he spoke. Self-consciousness
was not habitual to this young man of the Iowa farm. He was not the
awkward, ignorant, gangling farm-hand we meet in books and see on
stages. He had attended the high school in Mount Mark, and had been
graduated from the state agricultural college with high honors. He was a
farmer, as his father had been before him, but he was a farmer of the
new era, one of those men who takes plain farming and makes it a
profession, almost a fine art. Usually he was self-possessed, assertive,
confident, but, in the presence of this sparkling twin, for once he was
abashed.

Carol was in an ecstasy of delight. She was not a man-eater, perhaps,
but she was nearly romance-mad. She thought only of the wild excitement
of having a sure-enough lover, the hurt of it was yet a little beyond
her grasp. "Oh, Carol, don't be so sweet," Lark had begged her once.
"How can the boys help being crazy about you, and it hurts them." "It
doesn't hurt anything but their pride when they get snubbed," had been
the laughing answer. "Do you want to break men's hearts?" "Well,--it's
not at all bad for a man to have a broken heart," the irrepressible
Carol had insisted. "They never amount to anything until they have a
real good disappointment. Then they brace up and amount to something.
See? I really think it's a kindness to give them a heart-break, and get
them started."

The callow youths of Mount Mark, of the Epworth League, and the college,
were almost unanimous in laying their adoration at Carol's feet. But
Carol saw the elasticity, the buoyancy, of loves like these, and she
couldn't really count them. She felt that she was ripe for a bit of
solid experience now, and there was nothing callow about Jim--he was
solid enough. And now, although she could see that his feelings stirred,
she felt nothing but excitement and curiosity. A proposal, a real one!
It was imminent, she felt it.

"Carol," he began abruptly, "I am in love."

"A-are you?" Carol had not expected him to begin in just that way.

"Yes,--I have been for a long time, with the sweetest and dearest girl
in the world. I know I am not half good enough for her, but--I love her
so much that--I believe I could make her happy."

"D-do you?" Carol was frightened. She reflected that it wasn't so much
fun as she had expected. There was something wonderful in his eyes, and
in his voice. Maybe Lark was right,--maybe it did hurt! Oh, she really
shouldn't have been quite so nice to him!

"She is young--so am I--but I know what I want, and if I can only have
her, I'll do anything I--" His voice broke a little. He looked very
handsome, very grown-up, very manly. Carol quivered. She wanted to run
away and cry. She wanted to put her arms around him and tell him she was
very, very sorry and she would never do it again as long as she lived
and breathed.

"Of course," he went on, "I am not a fool. I know there isn't a girl
like her in ten thousand, but--she's the one I want, and--Carol, do you
reckon there is any chance for me? You ought to know. Lark doesn't have
secrets from you, does she? Do you think she'll have me?"

Certainly this was the surprise of Carol's life. If it was romance she
wanted, here it was in plenty. She stopped short in the daisy-bright
lane and stared at him.

"Jim Forrest," she demanded, "is it Lark you want to marry, or me?"

"Lark, of course!"

Carol opened her lips and closed them. She did it again. Finally she
spoke. "Well, of all the idiots! If you want to marry Lark, what in the
world are you out here proposing to me for?"

"I'm not proposing to you," he objected. "I'm just telling you about
it."

"But what for? What's the object? Why don't you go and rave to her?"

He smiled a little. "Well, I guess I thought telling you first was one
way of breaking it to her gently."

"I'm perfectly disgusted with you," Carol went on, "perfectly. Here I've
been expecting you to propose to me all week, and--"

"Propose to you! My stars!"

"Don't interrupt me," Carol snapped. "Last night I lay awake for
hours,--look at the rings beneath my eyes--"

"I don't see 'em," he interrupted again, smiling more broadly.

"Just thinking out a good flowery rejection for you, and then you trot
me out here and propose to Lark! Well, if that isn't nerve!"

Jim laughed loudly at this. He was used to Carol, and enjoyed her
little outbursts. "I can't think what on earth made you imagine I'd want
to propose to you," he said, shaking his head as though appalled at the
idea.

Carol's eyes twinkled at that, but she did not permit him to see it.
"Why shouldn't I think so? Didn't you get a new gray suit? And haven't I
the best complexion in Mount Mark? Don't all the men want to propose to
a complexion like mine?"

"Shows their bum taste," he muttered.

Carol twinkled again. "Of course," she agreed, "all men have bum taste,
if it comes to that."

He laughed again, then he sobered. "Do you think Lark will--"

"I think Lark will turn you down," said Carol promptly, "and I hope she
does. You aren't good enough for her. No one in the world is good enough
for Lark except myself. If she should accept you--I don't think she
will, but if she has a mental aberration and does--I'll give you my
blessing, and come and live with you six months in the year, and Lark
shall come and live with me the other six months, and you can run the
farm and send us an allowance. But I don't think she'll have you; I'll
be disappointed in her if she does."

Carol was silent a moment then. She was remembering many things,--Lark's
grave face that day in the parsonage when they had discussed the love of
Jim, her unwonted gentleness and her quiet manners during this visit,
and one night when Carol, suddenly awakening, had found her weeping
bitterly into her pillow. Lark had said it was a headache, and was
better now, and Carol had gone to sleep again, but she remembered now
that Lark never had headaches! And she remembered how very often lately
Lark had put her arms around her shoulders and looked searchingly into
her face, and Lark was always wistful, too, of late! She sighed. Yes,
she caught on at last, "had been pushed on to it," she thought angrily.
She had been a wicked, blind, hateful little simpleton or she would have
seen it long ago. But she said nothing of this to Jim.

"You'd better run along then, and switch your proposal over to her, or
I'm likely to accept you on my own account, just for a joke. And be
sure and tell her I'm good and sore that I didn't get a chance to use
my flowery rejection. But I'm almost sure she'll turn you down."

Then Carol stood in the path, and watched Jim as he leaped lightly over
fences and ran through the sweet meadow. She saw Lark spring to her feet
and step out from the shade of an apple tree, and then Jim took her in
his arms.

After that, Carol rushed into the house and up the stairs. She flung
herself on her knees beside her bed and buried her face in the white
spread.

"Lark," she whispered, "Lark!" She clenched her hands, and her shoulders
shook. "My little twin," she cried again, "my nice old Lark." Then she
got up and walked back and forth across the floor. Sometimes she shook
her fist. Sometimes a little crooked smile softened her lips. Once she
stamped her foot, and then laughed at herself. For an hour she paced up
and down. Then she turned on the light, and went to the mirror, where
she smoothed her hair and powdered her face as carefully as ever.

"It's a good joke on me," she said, smiling, "but it's just as good a
one on Mrs. Forrest. I think I'll go and have a laugh at her. And I'll
pretend I knew it all along."

She found the woman lying in a hammock on the broad piazza where a broad
shaft of light from the open door fell upon her. Carol stood beside her,
smiling brightly.

"Mrs. Forrest," she said, "I know a perfectly delicious secret. Shall I
tell you?"

The woman sat up, holding out her arms. Carol dropped on her knees
beside her, smiling mischievously at the expression on her face.

"Cupid has been at work," she said softly, "and your own son has fallen
a victim."

Mrs. Forrest sniffed slightly, but she looked lovingly at the fair sweet
face. "I am sure I can not wonder," she answered in a gentle voice. "Is
it all settled?"

"I suppose so. At any rate, he is proposing to her in the orchard, and I
am pretty sure she's going to accept him."

Mrs. Forrest's arms fell away from Carol's shoulders. "Lark!" she
ejaculated.

"Yes,--didn't you know it?" Carol's voice was mildly and innocently
surprised.

"Lark!" Mrs. Forrest was plainly dumfounded. "I--I thought it was you!"

"Me!" Carol was intensely astonished. "Me? Oh, dear Mrs. Forrest,
whatever in the world made you think that?"

"Why--I don't know," she faltered weakly, "I just naturally supposed it
was you. I asked him once where he left his heart, and he said, 'At the
parsonage,' and so of course I thought it was you."

Carol laughed gaily. "What a joke," she cried. "But you are more
fortunate than you expected, for it is my precious old Larkie. But don't
be too glad about it, or you may hurt my feelings."

"Well, I am surprised, I confess, but I believe I like Lark as well as I
do you, and of course Jim's the one to decide. People say Lark is more
sensible than you are, but it takes a good bit of a man to get beyond a
face as pretty as yours. I'm kind o' proud of Jim!"



CHAPTER XVII

THE GIRL WHO WOULDN'T PROPOSE


It took a long time for Carol to recover from the effect of Lark's
disloyalty, as she persisted in calling it. For several weeks she didn't
twinkle at all. But when at last the smiles came easy again, she wrote
to Mr. Duke, her p'fessor no longer, but now a full-fledged young
minister. She apologized sweetly for her long delay.

          "But you will forgive me when you have read this,"
          she wrote. "Cupid is working havoc in our family.
          Of course, no one outside the home circle knows
          yet, but I insisted on telling you because you
          have been such a grand good friend to us for so
          long. We may seem young to you, because you can't
          forget when we were freshmen, but we are really
          very grown up. We act quite mature now, and never
          think of playing jokes. But I didn't finish my
          news, did I?

          "It is Jim Forrest--he was in high school when we
          were. Remember him? Larkie and I were out to spend
          a week, and--but I needn't go into particulars. I
          knew you would be interested. The whole family is
          very happy about it, he is a great favorite with
          every one. But how our family is going to pieces!
          Still, since it is Jim--! He _is_ nice, isn't he?
          But you wouldn't dare say no."

Carol's eyes glittered wickedly as she sealed this letter, which she had
penned with greatest care. And a few days later, when the answer came,
she danced gleefully up the stairs,--not at all "mature" in manner, and
locked the door behind her while she read:

          "Dear Carol:

          "Indeed I am very interested, and I wish you all
          the joy in the world. Tell Jim for me how very
          much I think he is to be congratulated. He seems a
          fine fellow, and I know you will be happy. It was
          a surprise, I admit--I knew he was doing the very
          devoted--but you have seemed so young to me,
          always. I can't imagine you too grown up for
          jokes, though you do sound more 'mature' in this
          letter than you have before. Lark will be lonely,
          I am afraid.

          "I am very busy with my work, so you will
          understand if my letters come less frequently,
          won't you? And you will be too busy with your own
          happiness to bother with an old professor any more
          anyhow. I have enjoyed our friendship very
          much,--more than you will ever know,--and I want
          once more to hope you may be the happiest woman in
          the world. You deserve to be.

                      "Very sincerely your friend,

                                             "DAVID A. DUKE."

Carol lay down on the bed and crushed the letter ecstatically between
her hands. Then she burst out laughing. Then she cried a little,
nervously, and laughed again. Then she smoothed the letter
affectionately, and curled up on the bed with a pad of paper and her
father's fountain-pen to answer the letter.

          "My dear Mr. Duke: However in the world could you
          make such a mistake. I've been laughing ever
          since I got your letter, but I'm vexed too. He's
          nice, all right; he's just fine, but I don't want
          him! And think how annoyed Lark would be if she
          could see it. I am not engaged to Jim
          Forrest,--nor to any one. It's Lark. I certainly
          didn't say it was I, did I? We're all so fond of
          Jim that it really is a pleasure to the whole
          family to count him one of us, and Lark grows more
          deliriously joyful all the time. But I! I know
          you're awfully busy, of course, and I hate to
          intrude, but you must write one little postal card
          to apologize for your error, and I'll understand
          how hard you are working when you do not write
          again.

                     "Hastily, but always sincerely,

                                                 "CAROL."

Carol jumped up and caught up her hat and rushed all the way down-town
to the post-office to get that letter started for Danville, Illinois,
where the Reverend Mr. Duke was located. Her face was so radiant, and
her eyes were so heavenly blue, and so sparkling bright, that people on
the street turned to look after her admiringly.

She was feverishly impatient until the answer arrived, and was not at
all surprised that it came under special delivery stamp, though Lark
lifted her eyebrows quizzically, and Aunt Grace smiled suggestively, and
her father looked up with sudden questioning in his face. Carol made no
comment, only ran up to her room and locked the door once more.

          "Carol, you awful little scamp, you did that on
          purpose, and you know it. You never mentioned
          Lark's name. Well, if you wanted to give me the
          scare of my life, you certainly succeeded. I
          didn't want to lose my little chum, and I knew
          very well that no man in his proper senses would
          allow his sweetheart to be as good a comrade to
          another man as I want you to be to me. Of course I
          was disappointed. Of course I expected to be busy
          for a while. Of course I failed to see the
          sterling worth of Jim Forrest. I see it now,
          though. I think he's a prince, and as near worth
          being in your family as anybody could be. I'm sure
          we'll be great friends, and tell Lark for me that
          I am waxing enthusiastic over his good qualities
          even to the point of being inarticulate. Tell her
          how happy I am over it, a good deal happier than
          I've been for the past several days, and I am
          wishing them both a world of joy. I'm having one
          myself, and I find it well worth having. I could
          shake you, Carol, for playing such a trick on me.
          I can just see you crouch down and giggle when you
          read this. You wait, my lady. My turn is coming. I
          think I'll run down to Mount Mark next week to see
          my uncle--he's not very well. Don't have any
          dates.

                                          "Sincerely, D. D."

And Carol laughed again, and wiped her eyes.

The Reverend Mr. Duke's devotion to his elderly uncle in Mount Mark was
a most beautiful thing to see. Every few weeks he "ran down for a few
days," and if he spent most of his time recounting his uncle's symptoms
before the sympathetic Starrs, no one could be surprised at that. He and
Mr. Starr naturally had much in common, both ministers, and both--at any
rate, he was very devoted to his uncle, and Carol grew up very, very
fast, and smiled a great deal, but laughed much less frequently than in
other days. There was a shy sweetness about her that made her father
watch her anxiously.

"Is Carol sick, Grace?" he asked one day, turning suddenly to his
sister-in-law.

She smiled curiously. "N-no, I think not. Why?"

"She seems very--sweet."

"Yes. She feels very--sweet," was the enigmatical response. And Mr.
Starr muttered something about women and geometry and went away, shaking
his head. And Aunt Grace smiled again.

But the months passed away. Lark, not too absorbed in her own happiness
to find room for her twin's affairs, at last grew troubled. She and Aunt
Grace often held little conferences together when Carol was safely out
of the way.

"Whatever do you suppose is the matter?" Lark would wonder anxiously. To
which her aunt always answered patiently, "Oh, just wait. He isn't sure
she's grown-up enough yet."

Then there came a quiet night when Carol and Mr. Duke sat in the
living-room, idly discussing the weather, and looking at Connie who was
deeply immersed in a book on the other side of the big reading lamp.
Conversation between them lagged so noticeably that they sighed with
relief when she finally laid down her book, and twisted around in her
chair until she had them both in full view.

"Books are funny," she began brightly. "I don't believe half the written
stuff ever did happen--I don't believe it could. Do girls ever propose,
Mr. Duke?"

"No one ever proposed to me," he answered, laughing.

"No?" she queried politely. "Maybe no one wanted you badly enough. But I
wonder if they ever do? Writers say so. I can't believe it somehow. It
seems so--well--unnecessary, someway. Carol and I were talking about it
this afternoon."

Carol looked up startled.

"What does Carol think about it?" he queried.

"Well, she said she thought in ordinary cases girls were clever enough
to get what they wanted without asking for it."

Carol moved restlessly in her chair, her face drooping a little, and Mr.
Duke laughed.

"Of course, I know none of our girls would do such a thing," said
Connie, serene in her family pride. "But Carol says she must admit she'd
like to find some way to make a man say what anybody could see with half
an eye he wanted to say anyhow, only--"

Connie stopped abruptly. Mr. Duke had turned to Carol, his keen eyes
searching her face, but Carol sank in the big chair and turned her face
away from him against the leather cushion.

"Connie," she said, "of course no girl would propose, no girl would want
to--I was only joking--"

Mr. Duke laughed openly then. "Let's go and take a walk, shan't we,
Carol? It's a grand night."

"You needn't go to get rid of me," said Connie, rising. "I was just
going anyhow."

"Oh, don't go," said Mr. Duke politely.

"Don't go," echoed Carol pleadingly.

Connie stepped to the doorway, then paused and looked back at them.
Sudden illumination came to her as she scanned their faces, the man's
clear-cut, determined, eager--Carol's shy, and scared, and--hopeful. She
turned quickly back toward her sister, pain darkening her eyes. Carol
was the last of all the girls,--it would leave her alone,--and he was
too old for her. Her lips quivered a little, and her face shadowed more
darkly. But they did not see it. The man's eyes were intent on Carol's
lovely features, and Carol was studying her slender fingers. Connie drew
a long breath, and looked down upon her sister with a great protecting
tenderness in her heart. She wanted to catch her up in her strong young
arms and carry her wildly out of the room--away from the man who sat
there--waiting for her.

Carol lifted her face at that moment, and turned slowly toward Mr. Duke.
Connie saw her eyes. They were luminous.

Connie's tense figure relaxed then, and she turned at once toward the
door. "I am going," she said in a low voice. But she looked back again
before she closed the door after her. "Carol," she said in a whisper,
"you--you're a darling. I--I've always thought so."

Carol did not hear her,--she did not hear the door closing behind
her--she had forgotten Connie was there.

Mr. Duke stood up and walked quickly across the room and Carol rose to
meet him. He put his arms about her, strongly, without hesitating.

"Carol," he said, "my little song-bird,"--and he laughed, but very
tenderly, "would you like to know how to make me say what you know I
want to say?"

"I--I--" she began tremulously, clasping her hands against his breast,
and looking intently, as if fascinated, at his square firm chin so very
near her eyes. She had never observed it so near at hand before. She
thought it was a lovely chin,--in another man she would have called it
distinctly "bossy."

"You _would_ try to make me, when you know I've been gritting my teeth
for years, waiting for you to get grown up. You've been awfully slow
about it, Carol, and I've been in such a hurry for you."

She rested limply in his arms now, breathing in little broken sighs, not
trying to speak.

"You have known it a long time, haven't you? And I thought I was hiding
it so cleverly." He drew her closer in his arms. "You are too young for
me, Carol," he said regretfully. "I am very old."

"I--I like 'em old," she whispered shyly.

With one hand he drew her head to his shoulder, where he could feel the
warm fragrant breath against the "lovely chin."

"You like 'them' old," he repeated, smiling. "You are very generous. One
old one is all I want you to like." But when he leaned toward her lips,
Carol drew away swiftly. "Don't be afraid of me, Carol. You didn't mind
once when I kissed you." He laid his hand softly on her round cheek. "I
am too old, dearest, but I've been loving you for years I guess. I've
been waiting for you since you were a little freshman, only I didn't
know it for a while. Say something, Carol--I don't want you to feel
timid with me. You love me, don't you? Tell me, if you do."

"I--I." She looked up at him desperately. "I--well, I made you say it,
didn't I?"

"Did you want me to say it, dearest? Have you been waiting, too? How
long have you--"

"Oh, a long time; since that night among the rose bushes at the
parsonage."

"Since then?"

"Yes; that was why it didn't break my pledge when you kissed me. Because
I--was waiting then."

"Do you love me?"

"Oh, P'fessor, don't make me say it right out in plain English--not
to-night. I'm pretty nearly going to cry now, and--" she twinkled a
little then, like herself, "you know what crying does to my complexion."

But he did not smile. "Don't cry," he said. "We want to be happy
to-night. You will tell me to-morrow. To-night--"

"To-night," she said sweetly, turning in his arms so that her face was
toward him again, "to-night--" She lifted her arms, and put them softly
about his neck, the laces falling back and showing her pink dimpled
elbows. "To-night, my dearest,--" She lifted her lips to him, smiling.


THE END



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's Notes:

   Obvious punctuation errors correcteded.

   Page 17, "make" changed to "made". (made a mistake)

   Page 61, "Fairly" changed to "Fairy". (declared Fairy earnestly)

   Page 72, "envoleped" changed to "enveloped". (enveloped in a)

   Page 112, word "a" added to text. (playing a game)

   Page 135, "ordinariy" changed to "ordinary". (ordinary style of)

   Page 142, "though" changed to "thought". (thought about it)

   Page 150, "Daly" changed to "Raider". (office. Mr. Raider)

   Page 166, "ny" changed to "any". (any business to)

   Page 193, "noisiness" changed to "nosiness". (downright nosiness)

   Page 212, "stanchly" changed to "staunchly". (Carol staunchly
             disclaimed)

   Page 224, "of" changed to "or". (or Mediapolis)

   Page 247, "dissappointment" changed to "disappointment". (shadow of
             disappointment)

   Page 250, "mustn't" changed to "mustn't". (you mustn't. We)

   Page 266, "brough" changed to "brought". (search brought to)

   Page 274, "whisperingly" changed to "whispering". (whispering softly)

   Page 295, "A" changed to "At". (At any rate)

   One instance each of "twinship" and "twin-ship" was retained.





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